Keep Your Pets Calm For The 4th Of July

In addition to these suggestions for keeping your pets safe around fireworks, there are a number of things you can try that can help lower your pet’s level of anxiety this 4th of July and during other stressful times.  Check out these products & techniques for keeping your pets calm—some of them might be new to you.

 

1.  Try calming supplements like:

2.  pheromone products like D.A.P., Feliway, Pet-Ease, etc. and can come in sprays, diffusers, & collars
3.  get an Anxiety Wrap or Thunder Shirt, both of which use pressure to calm your pup—Saffron has a Thunder Shirt and it really makes a difference in all kinds of stressful situations.  We’ve also used a child’s t-shirt that fits our dog Saffron tightly.
4.  cd from Through A Dog’s Ear—specially arranged music developed by psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leeds and veterinary neurologist Susan Wagner, which I know sounds awfully “woo-woo”, but you can find out more about psychoacoustic studies and the field of psychoacoustics.  You can listen to samples(via FullVetted)
5.  try:

6.  see your veterinarian for anti-anxiety medication specifically for your pet

Training Tips: Fearful Dogs Part II

About a year ago I wrote Fearful Dogs Part I.  It arose from watching a stressed dog being handled badly at the dog park.  Part II is about another incident I saw.

In this case, a woman was walking 2 dogs down our street—down the middle of our street.  Just as they came along side a parked car, a man in the car hollered out the window to someone.  One dog was very startled and became fearful.  How do I know?  The frightened dog had it’s ears pinned back, the whites of her eyes showing, a tense face, and she was desperately trying to get out of the street.  As they got to the sidewalk, the fearful dog kept looking back at the man in the car and getting underfoot, so walking was difficult.  The woman’s response was to loudly scold, “Get over it!” and to jerk the dog.  All the while, the second dog is just walking along normally.  Next, the woman stood at the corner of a busy street for a long time waiting to cross and the dog’s anxiety only increased.  The fearful dog was lifting one foot & then the other, looking away, ears back, with whites of eyes still showing.  Finally, the woman dragged her into the street to cross and they went on their unhappy way.

The problem here started before they ever left the house.

  1. The fearful dog needed someone working with her on her fears.  From the little I saw, I think she’s scared by traffic, loud noises, the woman walking her, possibly men and cars—even parked cars.
  2. Walking her in the street when she’s not ready to do that heightens her anxiety.
  3. Hurrying to keep walking after the dog was startled by the man shouting may reinforce her fear.  The dog might interpret it as “My person is hurrying from the thing that scared me.  It really must be dangerous.”  More stress.
  4. Loudly telling the dog to “Get over it!” isn’t going to help the dog’s fear.  All it tells her is that in addition to the “danger” they’re hurrying from, her person is also angry at her.  More stress.
  5. Jerking the dog by her neck doesn’t help the dog.  Now physical discomfort and another startling event has been added to the situation.  More stress.
  6. Waiting a long time at a busy street only adds to the fearful dog’s anxiety.
  7. Cap it all off with the woman dragging the dog into the street and it doesn’t look like these two have a very good relationship.

So what would work better?

  1. Some basic understanding of canine body language would be a start.  Being able to recognize when a dog is stressed makes all the difference in being able to do something about it.  I don’t think this woman was aware of how frightened her dog was. (Want to learn more about your dog?  Check out Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide, a favorite of mine.)
  2. Short, relaxed walks so there’s time to work with the dog on her fears, to accommodate her needs when her stress is too high, and to watch her reaction to things .
    • When the dog was startled by the man, the woman could have helped by slowly & calmly walking towards the car, pausing before they got too close for the dog to tolerate, praising the dog, and then calmly turning back to their walk.
    • Instead of walking down the middle of the street (which seems stupid anyway when there are sidewalks on both sides), she should stick to the sidewalk.
    • And rather than waiting a long time at a busy street, the woman needs to work up to exposing the fearful dog to traffic that frightens her so much.  I had to work with our dog Saffron on the same fear and I started by walking with traffic (so she wasn’t facing cars coming at her), walking with her on the side away from the street, and alternately walking 1 block on a busy street and then on quieter streets.  Gradually, I lengthened the time spent on busy streets until Saffron was ok with it.  And we had fun doing it!  This woman and her 2 dogs were not having fun.
  3. Sometimes the presence of a calm dog helps to reassure a fearful dog, which is great.  But, I do think this dog would benefit from some walks just one-on-one so the human isn’t distracted and can focus on what stresses the dog.

Here’s the To Do List:

  1. gradually work up to what frightens your dog, don’t flood them with it—you’ll only make them feel vulnerable
  2. pay attention to what scares your dog, how anxious they are, and what calms them
  3. don’t yell or physically punish your dog, you’ll only add to her stress
  4. don’t drag your dog—I think it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that if you have to drag your dog, her anxiety level is too high

There’s a happy ending to this story.  Weeks later I encountered a friend walking the same fearful dog.  Without thinking, I mentioned I’d seen her being walked by someone who was clueless about how scared the dog was and I found out my friend shared responsibility for the dog with the woman I had seen.  My friend asked if the woman had been harsh with the dog and when I said yes, she said she’d speak to the woman.  But, my friend did better than that—she made the woman realize the dog would be better off with my friend, so know the fearful dog has a much happier life with someone who understands her and works on her fears.  Yea!

News Bites: Dog Brains, Animal Emotions, Stem Cell Therapy For Pets

Brains

  • A recent study indicates the selective breeding of dogs hasn’t just changed their appearance, it’s also changed their brains by causing rotation and reorganization most notable in brachycephalic dogs like pugs, some mastiffs, bulldogs, etc. The position of the olfactory lobe has dramatically moved in these dogs, possibly affecting their sense of smell, which is comparable to changing a human’s sense of sight. It’s unknown at this point if these changes in the brain have led to changes in behavior. (You can also read the original journal article on the study at PloSOne.)

Emotions

  • Emotions help animals make decisions in a way similar to humans.  For example, animals and humans in a negative emotional state (anxiety, fear) “tend to judge ambiguous stimuli negatively.”  If anxious, something ambiguous like a rustling noise in the grass is judged negatively as a predator or danger of some kind.  Likewise, animals and humans in a positive emotional state tend to judge something ambiguous like rustling noise in the grass in a positive way as prey or reward of some kind.  It seems to me this could have interesting bearing on training methods, for example, the effects of coercive training versus operant conditioning such as clicker training. (You can aslo read the original journal article on this study at the Royal Society of Biological Sciences.)

Stem Cell Therapy

A Look At Pill-Popping Pets

Here’s a great article on the complexities and ethics of diagnosing and treating psychological problems like separation anxiety, canine compulsive disorder, phobias, and rage in our pets. This isn’t light reading, but wow, is it interesting!

How have we gotten to the place that so many dogs are on medication for psychological issues? Probably because so many people want a dog that doesn’t act like a dog. Dogs bark, they’re social beings and miss their families, they get bored without something to do. Also, the unhealthy environment we live in full of stress, not enough time with loved ones, and short on inspiration is the same one our pets inhabit.

The experts interviewed in the article agree that there is no magic pill and that any medication will work better combined with behavior modification and training. Ian Dunbar, the well respected vet, animal behaviorist, & writer, thinks drugs should only be used in the absolute worst cases. He proposes that almost any problem can be solved with behavior modification through training and the underlying tenet of that training is to ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior. (Read more about this approach.) In fact, Dunbar is working on an interactive treat dispenser that will monitor behavior in dogs home alone and reward calm behavior, but will withhold treats when the dog is barking, for example.

The article also looks at the sticky questions of consciousness and emotion in animals. And what it means to diagnose and medicate animals whose reality we can’t really fully understand. It’s true, diagnosing psychological problems in humans is different than diagnosing our pets.

The article isn’t anti-drug and it does a good job of looking at the questions around this issue. It’s definitely worth checking out.