Thunderstorms & Lost Pets


We had a huge thunderstorm last night here in our corner of the Pacific NW.  Like Texas-size huge.  Our cats deal with it better than our dog, Saffron.  We gave her the valerian-based calming supplement we use (RelaxSaver), put her in her awesome Thundershirt, and draped her in a sheet.  I’m always thankful when the weather is bad that Saffron is with us now and not still a feral dog left exposed outside to such scary things.

Sadly, this morning our neighborhood blog is full of notices of lost dogs & cats and one found dog because they ran off during the thunder.  Unless they just let their animals roam, most people don’t expect to lose their pets.  So, any lost-pet posters you see and any pets you see running loose who clearly have a family belong to someone who didn’t think their pet would get lost—meaning those pets belong to someone like you and me, someone who thought their pets were safe & protected.  We can all probably do more to make sure our pets are safe.

Thunder actually factors into the decisions I make about our cats and our dog. (Of course, it isn’t the only thing that informs our decisions.)

Thunder means:

  1. Our pets are micro-chipped, and we keep the contact information up-to-date.
  2. Our dog always has a collar with tags on when she’s outside.
  3. We never leave our dog tied up anywhere.  Ever.  (This is a bad practice at any time, but even worse for a panicked dog since escape or strangulation are quite possible.)
  4. Our cats are indoor cats.
  5. We never walk our dog off-leash in an unfenced area.
  6. Our dog isn’t left in our backyard when we’re not home.
  7. Our yard is has a fence tall enough that our dog can’t get over it.  You should realize, though, that a panicked dog can clear extremely tall fences, tear through a fence, squeeze through very small gaps, or quickly dig under a fence.
  8. We keep our gates locked, so they can’t be opened by strangers.
  9. We have gate springs to automatically shut the gates.  (Check out this post on how to install gate springs.  It’s easy & cheap!)
  10. I taught our cats and dog to never bolt through an open door and we have storm/screen doors, all to avoid accidental escapes.
  11. I make sure any open window has a screen that cannot be knocked out.
  12. We have calming supplements and calming pheromone spray on hand.  (I’ve been using RelaxSaver for our dog & Comfort Zone Spray for our cats.)
  13. We have a Thundershirt.
  14. Our cats have lots of hiding places around our house.
  15. We reassure our dog Saffron.  It doesn’t reinforce their fear to comfort your frightened dog.
  16. We run a fan and play music or watch TV, to help mask the thunder.

If your pet does panic and run away, this very thorough article has excellent advice, including putting out items scented strongly with your smells and your pet’s like your dirty clothes and your pets bedding or your cat’s litterbox.  Here are more good tips from a pet detective on finding your lost pet. Advice on how to make the most effective posters for your lost pet.  Post lost notices on Craigslist, with newspapers, and on your neighborhood blogs.  Be sure to watch out for scams.

Recognizing Good Play Behavior In Dogs

Dogs are constantly communicating with body language.  It’s helpful and fascinating when you know what it all means.  Polite play behavior can look and sound fierce.  If you understand what you’re seeing, you’ll be able to tell if you need to step in the calm things down or if everything is fine despite the sounds and teeth you’re seeing.

Being a dog & data dork myself, I could watch videos like this all them time. I spotted a number of behaviors that weren’t pointed out in the video that also tell you how the playtime is going.  What do you see happening?  Look for:

  • hip checks, where the dog swings its hip towards the other dog
  • muzzle fencing  play biting, snout jousting, where teeth are shown and muzzles are waved around, but no actual tooth contact may even place
  • most of the time is spent playing side-by-side, rather than head on, which can be more confrontational
  • the extended period of time Bentley, the Golden Retriever, spends in a down position is a form of self-handicapping so that the “fight” is fair
  • I spotted “whale-eye” from both dogs, this is the silly “I’m-bat-shit-crazy” eye-rolling they do when the whites of their eyes show
  • lots of play breaks that can last only a few second
  • blinking from Lacey the puppy to break any tension after she got too pushy

Want to learn more?  Check out this super-useful book on canine body language.

If We Can Teach A Whale To Pee In A Cup…


I LOVE Lili Chin’s work over at Doggie Drawing!  She does neato pet portraits and donates a portion of the proceeds to Boston Buddies rescue for Boston Terriers or to the rescue group of your choice.  Sweet!  Lili has illustrated books by very well- respected dog trainers & animal behaviorists, like Sophia Yin.  Equally awesome are her educational posters on dog body language, training, how to pet dogs, etc.

I particularly like this poster on what different wild & domesticated animals have been taught without resorting to force, intimidation, or pain.  If we can teach a whale to pee in a cup, can’t we train our dogs without force, intimidation, or pain?


Training Tips: Fearful Dogs Part III

This is the 3rd part of a series on fearful dogs, which I started after seeing a bunch of different fearful dogs with clueless humans.  These are real-life examples with detailed suggestions on better ways to handle the anxious dog involved.  Don’t miss Part I & Part II. (Note: These are fearful with a strong flight instinct rather than a fight instinct.  I don’t feel qualified to write about such a complex issue as severely reactive dogs, but I recommend: 

  • Feisty Fido: Help For the Leash Reactive Dog, 2nd Edition by Patricia McConnell & Karen London
  • Scaredy Dog!: Understanding and Rehabilitating Your Reactive Dog, Revised Edition by Ali Brown
  •  Behavior Adjustment Training: BAT For Fear, Frustration, and Aggression In Dogs by Grisha Stewart

As many of you know, our dog Saffron is a fearful dog.  I had to learn a lot about fearful dogs so I could help her become a well-adjusted, happy dog.  I have a particular soft spot for anxious dogs.   Sometimes their people know how to help them.  Lots of times they don’t.  Sometimes they don’t even know their dog is afraid.

In this 3rd case, the fearful dog I encountered was a physically mature, but young, Golden Retriever being walked by a man and a woman.  Our timing was such that we both approached a residential intersection at the same time, with them at one corner and me & Saffron at the other corner facing them.

Right away I saw the dog was anxious and submissive.  Why did I think that?  Because she balked at stepping off the curb, turned her head to the side facing away from her person so she wasn’t facing them, the street, or us across the street.  She also crouched some and licked her lips.  She did not want to cross the street and I wasn’t sure if it was the street or if it was me & Saffron.

While I was judging if it was a good idea to cross towards this fearful dog, her person was trying to pull her into the street saying “Come on.”  She wouldn’t budge and continued giving stressed & submissive signals.  I decided it might help the other dog if Saffron & I crossed and she got to meet Saffron on their corner instead of in the street.  I knew Saffron was very gentle and friendly with fearful, submissive dogs.  But, before we could get to the other side, her person had hauled her into the street.  As she cautiously, but bravely walked past us, I automatically gave her a heartfelt “Good girl!” even though she wasn’t my dog.  Her people probably though I was a loon.  Too bad!

This case wasn’t as serious as the two previous posts’ examples, but it could have been handled better.  So what went wrong?

  1. I’m pretty sure this dog was afraid of both the street and by Saffron, so she was being asked to do too much by having to deal with both at the same time.
  2. Her people shouldn’t have pulled her into the street by her collar.
  3. And, finally, when she did what they wanted her to do, they failed to praise her.  Poop!

What would I recommend instead that would have been better for their dog and ultimately for them too?

1. Get her a tight t-shirt or a Thundershirt to help calm her.

2. Use a no-pull harness like the Halti Dog Harness, Freedom Harness, Easy Walk Harness, or Walk Your Dog With Love Harness.  Your dog will never be pulled by her neck and she won’t slip loose if she panics.

3. Avoid asking her to do something that is so stressful she balks.  Instead, continue around the block or cross to a different corner.  Or ask me to cross first and let their dog meet mine.  When you have a fearful dog, it’s up to you to be their advocate.  Ask if other dogs are friendly before you let them meet your fearful dog.

4. Work on her fear of crossing streets.

  • Start small on a quiet street with no traffic.
  • Use what you need to to get her to cross the street.  Lure her with treats.  If she likes playfulness, put on your imaginary clown shoes.  As you approach the corner, start happy talking & being silly and continue it as you get her to cross the street.  Have one of her people stand on the opposite corner so the dog (& her other person) can cross over towards someone the dog loves.
  • Repeat this in short training sessions over several days and gradually remove the lures of food, play, or the other familiar person.
  • Then try a more challenging street—wider, busier, or maybe just unfamiliar.  You may need to reintroduce the lures.  Continue until she can cross any street.

5. Work on her fear of meeting other dogs.

  • Find a laid back dog who likes other dogs and has good manners for your dog to meet.
  • Try to have them meet on neutral territory—not your house.  Pick a place where your dog will feel the least stress.  Some dogs prefer meeting outside where they don’t feel trapped.  Another dog might feel too exposed outside and would do better inside.
  •  Go slowly.
  • Monitor the introduction.  If your dog starts getting overwhelmed, give her some space by leading (or calling, if off-leash) the other dog away.
  • Stop the introduction before your dog gets too stressed.
  • Continue by having them meet every few days.  If you know another good dog for your fearful dog to meet, repeat the process with that dog.
  • Check out this excellent video on introducing an anxious dog to another dog.

In the meantime, you’ll undoubtedly be encountering dogs on your walks.  Before your dogs get close enough to meet, ask the other person if their dog is friendly and if it’s okay for them to meet.  If it’s okay, let them meet briefly and then walk on.  If they hit it off, you can let them linger, but you want to move on before your dog gets stressed.

6. PRAISE HER!! (See my post on Praising the Good for more information.)  As she starts crossing the street, praise her.  When she gets to the other side have a praise party—“Woohoo!  Good girl!  You’re so brave!”  Anytime your dog interacts with another dog, praise her.

7. Stay calm and don’t broadcast your own anxiety to your dog.  Don’t pull her away from what scares her, such as another dog.  Don’t hold your breath or stiffen up.  Try to relax.  This was hard when I was with Saffron.  I so wanted her interactions with dogs and people to go well, I had to work at not broadcasting my concern.

7. Know that it’s okay to calmly reassure your dog.  It won’t reinforce her fears.

Introducing An Anxious Dog To Another Dog

Here’s a good video with very helpful commentary showing a low stress way to introduce an anxious dog to another dog.  This was one long session with careful monitoring.  Be sure to watch your dog and don’t push her to where she’s overwhelmed.  Multiple shorter sessions might work better with some dogs.