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Separation Anxiety And Dogs: The Complete Guide

 

Dog with separation anxiety reading a book on training methods

What is Separation Anxiety?

In Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, Dr. Karen Overall defines dog separation anxiety as, “A condition in which animals exhibit symptoms of anxiety or excessive distress when they are left alone.” You might recognize the symptoms as any of these:

  • Drool, pant, or salivate way more than usual
  • Barking, whining, or howling
  • Pace, often in an obsessive pattern
  • Attempting to escape from the crate or room
  • Destroying items in the home
  • Scratching at walls, doors, windows or floors
  • Chewing up household items
  • Urinating and Defecating
  • Coprophagia

Sounds like your pup huh? Don’t worry, we’ve got you, keep reading 🙂

20 years ago, no one had ever heard of separation anxiety in dogs. Today, it is widely known as one of the most common problems we experience with our beloved canines. And sadly, one of the main reasons that end-of-the-rope owners feel forced to give a dog up for adoption. But as the intelligent beings who’ve brought dogs in our homes, it is our responsibility to fix it (and we can!).

Our mission? Put you in touch with the solution: understand how your dog is trying to communicate with you and how to permanently rewire unwanted behavior patterns.

How to Distinguish Between Separation Anxiety and Bad Behavior:

Dogs are really smart. They live in our entirely human worlds, and by necessity have become so finely attuned to our schedules and patterns. So it’s really easy for our dogs to tell when we’re about to shut their world down, separate them from their pack, remove all sources of love. Humans call this leaving the house.

Knowing they’re about to be alone and dreading it, many dogs will do ANYTHING to get your attention. And that includes bad behavior. Because even being reprimanded for it becomes a reward in which they’ve got your attention.

In these cases, the canine behavior has a quality that we in the professional world call “naughtiness”. Just kidding. But you do know it when you see it; they won’t come when you call, they grab your shoe and run into the kitchen, maybe start digging in the yard.

There is not fear behind this behavior, that is the distinction. The remedy here is more training and careful discipline, and it is fairly easy to overcome.

But what if there is fear behind the misbehavior? Your dog might just have a full-blown case of separation anxiety. But that’s ok too, because we’re about to pinpoint the problem.

Other Potential Problems to Rule Out:

Puppy Destruction
Puppies chew things up. Their teeth are coming in and it’s so exciting and delicious to test them on your shoes! This behavior is almost always just age-related and not separation anxiety. Nothing to worry about.

Bored?
Canines need stimulations like all mammals. If you’ve left them with nothing to do, they’ll find something to do and you probably won’t like their choice nearly as much. If this dog doesn’t seem anxious, it’s probably just boredom/lack of exercise.

Excitement/Submission Urination
Dogs get really excited to greet us, some get too excited and lose control of their bladders. Or maybe pee when you discipline them. To identify if this just excitement/submissive urination, watch for submissive behavior: tucked tail between the legs, flattened ears and lowered head, hunching down low or displaying the belly. In all cases, this behavior is NOT anxiety-related.

Poor House Training
If your dog repeated urinates or defecates in the house, but shows no other signs of anxiety, his symptoms probably indicate an unfinished house training education.

Scent Marking
This almost falls under the category of unfinished house training, but I thought I’d give its own to distinguish a dog that’s deliberately urinating because of the need to mark its territory. It’s a slightly different behavior problem, but once again, unlikely related to a fear of being left alone.

Why Do Dogs Develop Separation Anxiety?

Dogs are pack animals. In their wild settings––evolutionarily where they’ve spent most of their lives––they are never alone and always stimulated and engaged. Now imagine that creature, living your high-rise apartment and surrounded by none of those natural stimuli? (And in fact, immersed in only the confusing ones of honks and beeps and rings they can’t understand). Their perfect, immediately-adapted behavior to this strange world is a lot for us to ask of them. So it’s up to us, their intelligent, loving guardians, to make that situation as calm and happy as possible.

  • Notice: there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that dogs adopted from a shelter are far more prone to separation anxiety than a puppy reared with the same family. It’s believed instability and/or the loss of a significant family member can cause this fear.

So how can we remedy this? Pay the most attention to any changes you make in your life (because your dog is certainly paying attention!). Transitions, schedule changes, any shifts in your normal routine are some of the most common triggers for separation anxiety. Have any of these happened in your household recently?

  1. Change of Owner:
      • Have you just brought a new pup home? From the shelter or breeder? A change in environment or family is a HUGE shift for a dog. Leaving everything they’ve known? It’s no wonder such a radical change can trigger separation anxiety.
  2. Change of Household
      • Moving houses is another common reason. Or perhaps they’ve started going to a boarding facility? Pay attention to any potential change in environment.
  3. Change in Family Membership
      • Did someone new just join the family? A baby or perhaps an elderly relative? Suddenly there’s someone new and they’re taking all the attention away from your dog!
  4. Change in Routine
    • The above are some common examples, but you know your household best. Has there been another change in schedule or structure, such as the loss of a family member or other pet that might cause this new anxiety?
  5. Boredom and a lack of exercise
    •  Sometimes it can simply be boredom. Dogs need stimulation and excitement just like we do. Imagine how you’d feel left in a house with nothing to do for 8 hours. You might be tempted to start some trouble too!
  6. Being left alone for the first time
    • If you’ve got a new dog and leave for the first time, they’re probably going to be confused and unhappy, display all the symptoms we’ve talked about. In this case, it’s important to nip this behavior in the bud before it develops into full-blown paranoia.
  7. Suffering a Traumatic Event
    • A singular traumatic event where your dog is shocked or really afraid can also be a cause. Can you think of anything? Perhaps an unmonitored new time at a shelter or boarding kennel? This can be the trigger if you notice a radical change in behavior.

An important note: Dog separation anxiety is often unknowingly supported by owners. When we make a big show of leaving or arriving, we surround the event with a ton of charged emotion. This encourages our dog to be concerned too (since we’re clearly so excited for some reason!!!!) and thus creates stress around the whole structure of departure/arrival.

How to Treat Separation Anxiety in Dogs:

There are a lot of ways to begin working with your dog’s anxiety, ranging from easy solutions to more difficult work. We’ll begin with the easy solutions––because who doesn’t love an easy solution––try these first before moving into the more intensive ones.

Here’s an easy tip straight from our friend Cesar Milan: Stay Calm and Assertive

When it’s time to leave the house, don’t surround the event with a ton of emotion. Weeping, kissing, saying goodbye, excessive cuddles are all great things in their time and place, but not when you depart. Don’t exude guilt or sadness, instead, project the calm-assertive energy of an owner who is completely in control of the situation and has a plan of action. This reassures your dog that everything is happening as it should be and there is no reason to fear. You set the vibe, they listen.

Get ’em some exercise before work!

This is a great one for all parties actually. I won’t cite any studies for the importance of exercise because at this point we don’t need science to confirm such an integral part of mammalian happiness, but a tired dog is much likelier to avoid trouble than an energetic one. End sessions 15-20 minutes before you leave so they have time to wind down. This training creates a pattern of reward/happiness around your departure because they can recognize they get to go play before! And perhaps even, that we are paying enough attention to consider them as part of our day.

Create a space of fun and safety:

  1. Dedicate a room, enclosed yard spot, or perhaps a crate, to be HIS space when you’re gone. There is safety in rituals and routines for dogs; they LOVE consistency.
      • Pro Tip: A laundry room is usually almost already dog-proofed and easy to convert.
  2. Make sure they have ample access to food and water (and ideally, access to a place to relieve themselves).
  3. Leave some of your clothing in the space to remind him of your presence. Our friends at Adaptil also make great calming pheromones for dogs left alone.
  4. Stimulate his mind! There are tons of great puzzling toys out there intended for dogs at home. We love a well-stuffed Kong.
  5. Shameless plug because how could I not: leave Through a Dog’s Ear music playing. It’s clinically demonstrated to relieve separation anxiety and is a beautifully calming part of your exit routine. I suggest starting the music when you’re home together––it works on humans too––then peacefully make your departure after your dog has laid down for a snooze.

Want more on crate training? Here’s our favorite YouTube on it:

Explore Creative Solutions:

Do you have a friendly elderly neighbor that could come let your pup out early? Perhaps a neighbor dog that gets along with yours could be kept in the same space. A friend who’s having the same problem could perhaps fix yours! Two dogs, one stone 😉 You’ll have to get creative here because it’s so situationally dependent, but your pup will thank you. They’re pack creatures and always have more fun with another packmate around. And of course, you can always pay to board them/find a doggie daycare.

Herbal and Homeopathic Medicine:

Drugs only ever mask the problem and not treat the solution. Plus who wants to be paying for gallons of CBD dog treats the rest of their life? Not me. That being said, many do find temporary relief with a lot of these options, and in combination with a calm training protocol, they can have a positive effect in temporarily assisting tranquility. If you think this would be a helpful part of your regimen, we recommend our friends over at Honest Paws.

 

Conditioning:

I’m sure you’ve noticed already, but all of these options are about creating new patterns. Conditioning is the technical term for this work, and there are varying degrees of difficulty and strategy that may be needed, depending on the degree of canine separation anxiety. For your ease, I’ll start with the simplest before moving into our two-day intensive program.

Establish a word or action

Create a pattern that becomes their new routine and tells your dog you’ll be back. When you authoritatively create routines, your pup takes on the same confidence, such as knowing he can be left alone, because he knows you’ll come back and trusts your leadership.

      • Choosing a word: Create a keyword or phrase that your pup associates with your calm, unemotional departure. Remember: dogs don’t understand language, but they do understand your energy communicated through words. Make sure your phrase conveys the tone you want. I would probably say “Goodbye Yara. I’ll be home after work.”

Mix Up Your Patterns

Dogs are smart. They are constantly studying all of our behaviors, actions, and routines. If you always put on your shoes right before you leave the house for the day, the shoes tell your pup that you are leaving. If picking up your car keys is always a precursor to leaving, your dog may start to panic just at the sight of your keys. Start mixing up your routine. Pick up your keys and start cooking dinner. Put on your shoes and walk to your computer. Do the opposite and put on your shoes, open the door, but don’t leave. The idea is to keep your pup guessing so that he starts to unscramble the patterns you’ve already set in place. This stops his anxiety from building to a fever pitch when he sees the first cue in the departure sequence. Humans are creatures of habit too, so it can be difficult, but think of it as a fun chance to try some variance in your life. Certified Professional Dog Trainer and behavior specialist Nicole Wilde calls it “The Faux Go”. In her book, Don’t Leave Me! she says, “You’ll be teaching your dog that the door opening and you walking out is nothing to worry about.”

If you are training a new puppy or dog that hasn’t been left before, start practicing this method with very short departures initially. Think stepping out to get groceries. If all goes well, start increasing your time, little by little. A human minute may equal a dog hour, so take puppy steps when increasing your time away incrementally.

  • Training Tip: Want a protocol that walks you through it? Separation Anxiety training protocol by famed dog trainer Victoria Stilwell can be found here.

dog with separation anxiety holding a clock

Try House Training Your Dog

Spend time training around the house. Show your dog how to behave in simple daily routines. Little increments and minutes, anything can be an opportunity for training. Instead of just going for a walk, ask him to sit at stopwalks, lay down when you’re having a coffee outside at Starbucks, wait for your OK to greet new people and dogs. Train your dog to sit and wait to be greeted by guests, move aside when you go to the refrigerator, and go to the bathroom on cue. Establishing these routines––and of course rewarding good behavior––helps create new patterns for house behavior that gives them strong guidelines, discipline, and confidence. Dogs want to be good and please us, we just have to show them how.

Have you tried it all?? Then it’s time to dive into our reconditioning program:

9 Steps, 1 weekend

1. Dedicate two, or even three days in severe cases, to having some time you can spend uninterrupted with your dog. (I know, I know, you’re busy and who has two days for a dog?? You do. Because the reward is a lovely balanced dog that fills your house with so much love. Best investment ever).

2. Prepare their den: this looks like a crate, or outdoor pen, or a dog-proofed room like the laundry room example.

3. Give your pup a chance to take care of any bodily functions outside, and then reenter the house together for 30 minutes of calm and close supervision. Introduce him to his beautiful new den with a happy vocal tone, treats, soft Through a Dog’s Ear playing, a stuffed KONG toy, good scents, and your clothing in it. Guide him inside and stay in the room.

4. Initially, stay close and attentive, but not lasered on all his moves. Read a book, check Instagram. Ignore any whining or fussiness. When he finally falls quiet, go over and calmly say hello, give affection. Then go back to your activity. Repeat many times: reward his behavior when he’s silent and not begging for attention. You’re teaching him that whining is not a rewarded behavior, and that you leave and return according to your own timeframe. He begins to understand: if you leave, you will return. During this time, it should only be you two. He needs to learn that its ok to be alone.

5. Now, begin to step away, gradually increasing the distance between you. Leave the room and come back when he’s quiet. Go outside and return again under the same conditions (if you can fit this around your actual lived schedule and doing things, extra credit to you!). Eventually, you can wander around the house without upsetting your dog. He’s not finely tuned to your moves because he’s learning its random and not based on any behavior pattern of his. Therefore, he can’t make you react/come when he’s lonely. Every reentrance, greet him calmly and with love. Reward and tell your dog how good he is.

6. After an hour or so, take a break. Go outside for a pee and play time. Chase each other around and have some relaxed, untrained fun. Then go back inside and resume den training, following steps 4 and 5. This step is important because it clarifies the difference between training and play. He needs to know the difference between unstructured free time and disciplined work.

7. Day two. Continue to repeat steps 4 and 5 from the first day, but a little faster and with more distance this time. Follow your own intuition in determining length. Start to live your life, do chores around the house, but be sure to pop in frequently when he’s quiet and reward the good behavior. Dogs are smart and will very quickly learn they only get rewarded when they’re quiet and calm.

8. Keep increasing your distance. On day three or four, if he’s taking to the training well, try and step outside of the house. For short amounts of time initially. Return after 5 minutes and greet your dog, if he is quiet. You may lose a little momentum here as they are going to be more excited about your reentrance. But wait for quiet, then reward. It’s usually the first 20 minutes of separation that are most difficult. If it’s going well, continue varying times and distances. Remember to mix up the times so he doesn’t start anticipating your return. And of course plenty of outside breaks: young puppies will need every hour, older dogs can go for 3-4 hours, but try for more breaks during this training.

9. How’s it going? Are you stuck on some of these steps? If it’s not taking, you may have to spend longer amounts of time in each stage. Every dog is different and your own intuition will be the best guide for determining how long your dog needs in each stage. If you’re making absolutely no progress and your dog is freaking out, you just might need the personal help of a trained professional. But if it is going well, begin to live your life more normally, checking in and continuing to reward as often as possible with a modern schedule. Your dog, your family, and your clean rugs will thank you for this hard work in the long run. Cheers to you two! You just graduated separation anxiety academy!

happy sleeping dog with no separation anxiety curled around an iCalmDog speaker

 

 

Has your dog experienced separation anxiety? What have you found to help? Sharing your experiences in a comment below so I can improve this guide. Thanks for reading and sharing!

 

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6 Tips for Keeping Your Dog Safe on Halloween

 

halloween pumpkin witch dog

It can be very fun for children to dress up as ghouls and goblins. But, dogs don’t understand the concept and can be very fearful of people wearing masks and costumes. And the huge number of children ringing the doorbell yelling “Trick or Treat” can cause excessive barking and put many dogs into sensory overload.

In my early adult years, I had a small dog with a heart murmur that had a heart attack on Halloween and died. The constant activity was too much for him. If I knew then what I know now, I would have kept him away from the stress of all of the noisy activity and immersed him with canine sound therapy.

keeping dogs safe on halloween

1. Keep Your Dog from Turning Into Houdini

Outside of July 4th in the U.S., Halloween is the most popular night for pets to escape their homes. Keep your dog in a quiet back room with some soothing music playing. Or if Buster is near the front door,  make sure he’s on a leash held by another family member. Praising and rewarding him for calm, quiet behavior is also invaluable. It will help inspire him to choose to stay inside. For precautionary measures, it’s best to make sure that all of your pets are wearing IDs.

dogs and halloween

2. Keep All Candy Out of Reach Of Your Pets

Many treats can be harmful for your pets, including chocolate. Laura Cross from Vetstreet tells us, “Sugar-free candy is also a risk, as it may contain xylitol, which can cause low blood sugar and liver damage in dogs.”

keep candy away from dogs on halloween

3. Watch Out for Lit Jack-O-Lanterns

While a small amount of pumpkin is healthy for dogs and cats, consuming an entire raw pumpkin can make them sick. And, if it’s a lighted Jack-O-Lantern, you run the risk of your pet knocking it over and starting a fire. Best to go with the battery operated ones this year.

rsz_catwoman_and_batdog_cropped

4. Pets in Costumes

Some dogs can tolerate wearing costumes. But, many can’t. If your dog wants to get out of his costume, let him. Make sure all costumes are comfortable and that accessories or buttons are not chewable. Gina tolerated her batdog costume because she was very well paid when I put each piece of it on her when we entered the USDAA Cynosport World Games costume contest.

 

5. Tire Her Out

Make sure you get your dog out for a good romp during the day and tire her out. Frequent games of fetch along with some extra training sessions can also help  her be less reactive during the evening festivities.

6. Put Her In A Quiet Room with Soothing Canine Music 

In my early adult years, I had a small dog with a heart murmur that had a heart attack on Halloween and died. The constant activity was too much for him. If I knew then what I know now, I would have kept him away from the stress of all of the noisy activity and immersed him with canine sound therapy.

How do your pets do during Halloween? Thanks for sharing your experiences in a comment below.

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7 Simple Tips for Calming Your Dog During Fireworks

BWP_Gina_Flag_Lisa_Piano_PhotoCredit

July 4th is quickly approaching. It can be a fun holiday for children and adults, but most dogs don’t share their enthusiasm. In fact, almost all people with dogs in the U.S. declare this day the worst day of the year for their dogs. Veterinarians say July 3rd is usually the most trafficked day in their clinics, with clients coming in to get drugs for their dogs.

July 5th tends to be the busiest day of the year for shelters. Dogs become Houdini when they hear fireworks and escape from their yards that appear perfectly secure other days of the year.

7 Simple Tips for Calming Your Dog During Fireworks

BWP_GinaStickJoyPhotoCredit

1. Exercise

A tired dog is a happy dog. Take your dog for a big hike early in the day. Play fetch with him. Enjoy some training time together. Tug with her. These are all things that will tire her out before the fireworks begin, so she has less ability to focus on the disturbing noise.

iCalmDog dog home alone

2. Stay home

Keep your dogs inside during fireworks, preferably with human companionship. Bringing your dogs to a fireworks display is never a good idea. Instead, provide a safe place inside for your dogs to retreat. When scared of sounds they can’t orient, dogs often prefer small enclosed areas. I once had a dog who climbed into the bathtub during windstorms.

Sanchez See no Evil cropped

3. Remove visual stimulation

Keep your windows and curtains closed. Covering their crate and lowering the blinds can also be helpful. Removing visual stimulation has been known to calm dogs.

Gina Peanut Butter Kong

4. Keep them busy

Give your dog something fun to do that is distracting. Dogs enjoy the challenges of food puzzles. Feed him his dinner in a food puzzle. Freeze a kong with his favorite treats in the morning. For dessert, hand him the kong just when the fireworks start. He may even start to associate fireworks with yummy treats.

Please note: a very sound sensitive dog may not even take food when afraid of the noises and may also need the below suggestions…

Sensory Enrichment

Rescue Italian Greyhound Cyrus gets cozy with his iCalmDog

5. Sound Therapy

Canine sound therapy can be a huge help for dogs afraid of fireworks. The rearranged classical compositions of Through a Dog’s Ear have been clinically shown to reduce canine anxiety, including fireworks phobia. Dogs can enjoy the soothing soundtracks on their iCalmDog, CDs, downloads, or streaming on Apple Music and Spotify. As the pianist on the music series, it warms my heart hearing all the ways the music comforts dogs during stressful times.

Halle  even stopped jumping out of 12 foot high windows on July 4th once she discovered canine sound therapy. Some dogs also benefit from desensitization training programs that help them build a positive association to fireworks, such as Fireworks Prep-Pak.

Sanchez Thundershirt

6. Tactile

There are several canine wraps on the market that reportedly help sound phobic dogs. The original Anxiety Wrap was created by professional dog trainer Susan Sharpe, CPDT-KA. The patented design uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress. Thundershirt is also a wrap for dogs that provides gentle, constant pressure. Many dog lovers use one of these wraps in combination with canine sound therapy.

ThinkstockPhotos-479639911

7. Scent

Calm Aroma Mist can help dogs relax and cope more effectively with loud noises and other stressful situations. Spray Calm Aroma Mist in the room and on your dog’s crate. It’s equally enjoyable and calming for people.

Do you have any additional tips for helping keep dogs calm and safe on this noisy holiday? Thanks for sharing your suggestions in a comment below. And feel free to share how your dogs have responded to fireworks on previous holidays.

Gina and I wish you and your canine household a calm and safe 4th of July!

 

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7 Tips for Calming Your Dog During Fireworks

BWP_Gina_Flag_Lisa_Piano_PhotoCredit

July 4th is quickly approaching. It can be a fun holiday for children and adults, but most dogs don’t share their enthusiasm. In fact, almost all people with dogs in the U.S. declare this day the worst day of the year for their dogs. Veterinarians say July 3rd is usually the most trafficked day in their clinics, with clients coming in to get drugs for their dogs.

July 5th tends to be the busiest day of the year for shelters. Dogs become Houdini when they hear fireworks and escape from their yards that appear perfectly secure other days of the year.

7 Calming Tips for Calming Your Dog During Fireworks

BWP_GinaStickJoyPhotoCredit

1. Exercise

A tired dog is a happy dog. Take your dog for a big hike early in the day. Play fetch with him. Enjoy some training time together. Tug with her. These are all things that will tire her out before the fireworks begin, so she has less ability to focus on the disturbing noise.

iCalmDog dog home alone

2. Stay home

Keep your dogs inside during fireworks, preferably with human companionship. Bringing your dogs to a fireworks display is never a good idea. Instead, provide a safe place inside for your dogs to retreat. When scared of sounds they can’t orient, dogs often prefer small enclosed areas. I once had a dog who climbed into the bathtub during windstorms.

Sanchez See no Evil cropped

3. Remove visual stimulation

Keep your windows and curtains closed. Covering their crate and lowering the blinds can also be helpful. Removing visual stimulation has been known to calm dogs.

Gina Peanut Butter Kong

4. Keep them busy

Give your dog something fun to do that is distracting. Dogs enjoy the challenges of food puzzles. Feed him his dinner in a food puzzle. Freeze a kong with his favorite treats in the morning. For dessert, hand him the kong just when the fireworks start. He may even start to associate fireworks with yummy treats.

Please note: a very sound sensitive dog may not even take food when afraid of the noises and may also need the below suggestions…

Sensory Enrichment

Rescued Italian Greyhound Cyrus listens to his iCalmDog, or is it his iPawd?

5. Sound Therapy

Canine sound therapy can be a huge help for dogs afraid of fireworks. The rearranged classical compositions of Through a Dog’s Ear have been clinically shown to reduce canine anxiety, including fireworks phobia. As the pianist on the music series, it warms my heart hearing all the ways the music comforts dogs during stressful times.

listen-samples-buster-headphones

Halle  even stopped jumping out of 12 foot high windows on July 4th once she discovered canine sound therapy. Some dogs also benefit from desensitization training programs that help them build a positive association to fireworks. We offer a variety of Fireworks Prep calming tools.

Sanchez Thundershirt

6. Tactile

There are two canine wraps on the market that reportedly help sound phobic dogs. The original Anxiety Wrap was created by professional dog trainer Susan Sharpe, CPDT-KA. The patented design uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress. Thundershirt is also a wrap for dogs that provides gentle, constant pressure. Many dog lovers use one of these wraps in combination with canine sound therapy.

ThinkstockPhotos-479639911

7. Scent

Calm Aroma Mist can help dogs relax and cope more effectively with loud noises and other stressful situations. Spray Calm Aroma Mist in the room and on your dog’s crate. It’s equally enjoyable and calming for people.

Lisa and Sanchez July 4

Do you have any additional tips for helping keep dogs calm and safe on this noisy holiday? Thanks for sharing your suggestions in a comment below. And feel free to share how your dogs have responded to fireworks on previous holidays.

Sanchez, Gina and I wish you and your canine household a calm and safe 4th of July!

 

 

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Costumes For Dogs: Yea or Nay?

Gina Batman

In recent years, dogs have become part of our families. There is a wealth of good information readily available about their health and behaviors, they often sleep with us, we take them on our vacations and we might even call ourselves pet parents. But, unlike our human children, they don’t understand the concept of Halloween or dressing in costumes to pretend they are someone else.

rsz_catwoman_and_batdog_cropped
Catwoman & Batman at 2014 Cynosport Costume Contest

Some dogs (and even less cats) can tolerate wearing costumes. Others may even enjoy the extra attention if their costume is comfortable. But, many can’t. They don’t like their paws being touched and put through sleeves, don’t like hats on their head and aren’t comfortable with anything that restricts their natural movement.

Bumblebee Family
My Bumblebee Family

Even so, I have to admit, I do dress my dogs, Sanchez and Gina, in costume every Halloween. I wouldn’t say the enjoy it, but they tolerate it just fine. I make sure they are very well paid with yummy treats when I am dressing them and while they stay in costume (usually for less than 10 minutes). And Gina gets her favorite activity afterwards, a game of tug with me.

Don't limit vision, including peripheral
Don’t limit vision, including peripheral

If you do dress your pets, make sure:

  • You allow your dog to sniff and investigate the costume before putting it on
  • All costumers are loose fitting and comfortable
  • There are no chewable accessories or buttons
  • Nothing is covering their eyes that limit their vision
  • They are able to get out of their costume if showing signs of stress
  • Your pet is extremely well paid

As you can see in the video below, Sanchez and Gina, are quite enjoying their payment for wearing their bumblebee costumes.

If your dogs are in costume and you are in the vicinity of other dogs, be careful that your dog’s costume doesn’t obscure body behavior other dogs need to read to understand your dog. If your dog is dressed in a big dinosaur suit, another dog may barely recognize him as a dog and can’t observe his natural body language.

Do you dress up your pets for Halloween? If so, how do they respond? Thanks for sharing your stories in a comment below. And feel to include pictures of your dogs on Facebook.

 

Related:
3 Surprising Health Benefits of Pumpkin for Dogs and Cats
5 Tips for Keeping Dogs Safe on Halloween
Happy Halloween from the Bumblebees

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How Do You Know If Your Dog Is Sound Sensitive?

Hear no Evil

As a musician with a discerning ear, I’m ultra sound sensitive. When I enter a restaurant, I make my decision to stay for a meal based as much on the sound environment as the menu and atmosphere. I’ve also been known to go into sensory overload in large crowds with loud music playing.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a pet calming maestro or a sound sensitive human, but I’m always amazed by the number of sound sensitive dogs I meet whose caring, loving people are not aware of their dog’s fear of noises. So, it didn’t surprise me when I read in Applied Animal Behaviour Science about the results of a study by Dr. Rachel Casey at the School of Veterinary Sciences, University of Bristol.

Casey’s objective was to gain insight into how domestic dogs react to noises. Only a quarter of the people reported their dog as ‘fearful’ of noises, yet nearly half of the owners reported at least one behavioral sign typical of fear when exposed to disturbing noises such as fireworks, thunder and gunshots.

Science Daily reported, “This suggests that whilst they are aware of their pet’s behavioural response when exposed to a loud noise, owners do not necessarily recognise this as being indicative of fear or anxiety. This has relevance both for awareness of compromised welfare, and the methodology for surveying such behaviour.”

Hide and seek

The most common behavioral signs reported:

  • Vocalizing
  • Trembling/ Shaking
  • Hiding
  • Seeking people

Other fear signs not often reported because they aren’t typically seen as fear:

  • Decreased activity
  • Salivation
  • Urination
  • Destruction

Dr Rachel Casey said:

“Our results suggest that the characteristics of dogs, their early environment, and exposure to specific loud noises are involved in the development of fear responses to noises. Interestingly, less than a third of owners sought professional advice about treatment for their pet’s response to noises.”

vacuum cleaner

Causes for Noise Phobias:
It’s difficult to pinpoint the causes of noise phobias. In some cases it’s related to breed (herding breeds being notorious for sound phobias), in other situations it’s simply lack of exposure to those sounds as a puppy. And, it’s not unusual for noise anxiety to increase with age, for no apparent reason.

Sound Associations:
Dogs are very quick to build associations. Fido may cower when you take out your camera with a flash. But, it only appears that he’s afraid of the camera. He actually may be afraid of the sound of the flash, as it could remind him of lightening during a thunderstorm.

Helping Sound Sensitive Dogs:
Become aware of your home sound environment and any sound environment your dog enters. Take a Sonic Inventory (click here for guidelines) and lower the volume on all home appliances. Sound is like air. We rarely notice these two common elements unless the air suddenly becomes polluted or the sound becomes chaotic. The sonic inventory is one way of becoming aware of the noise in your pet’s environment and take measures to improve it.

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Provide a healthy sound environment that is pleasant for the 4- and 2-leggeds in your household. Listen to sound samples of species specific music for both dogs and cats. Invite your 4-legged friends in for a listen. Notice their behavior. Do they move closer to the sound source or away from it?
Note: If you are playing the music on a computer, it’s always best to play through external speakers with good sound quality. We have found that it does make a difference for Fido and Fluffy.

Do you have a sound sensitive dog or cat? What has helped them? Thanks for sharing your experiences in a comment below.

 

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5 Ways to Nurture Your Dog on National Spoil Your Dog Day

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We bring dogs into our human world because we love them with our hearts and souls. We ask them to adjust. Some do, many can’t. As responsible pet parents, it’s up to us to provide ways to help make our crazy human world more manageable for them.

Today is National Spoil Your Dog Day. While there are an infinite number of ways to spoil your dog, here are my suggestions for creating a well-balanced dog. I don’t regard any of these as spoiling Buster, just treating him with respect. Our dogs spend so much of their time observing us and fitting into our world, it’s equally important that we provide them the same appreciation.

As humans, we have the option to take care of ourselves by practicing yoga, drinking green tea and meditating.There are ways that we can provide similar nurturing experiences for our dogs. Recent research shows that stressed dogs live shorter lives. Now you can think of pampering as extending their lives.

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1. Silent Meditation Walk

Have you ever walked with your dog in total silence? When I do this with Sanchez and Gina, it inspires me to be more observant of them and connect with them in a way that I don’t through verbal communication. It’s very interesting just trying to observe the world from their point of view. Try it while following your dog’s cues. He may just want to stop and sniff to his heart’s content. Taking in the scents gives him all sorts of information and provides enrichment for him. And non-verbal communication between the two of you often creates an even deeper bond.

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2. D.I.Y. Dog Treats

Whether your dog fancies Pumpkin Squeaks or Banana “Mutt” cookies, it’s easy making your own dog treats. Buster will be taking in all the delightful smells, and you’ll be saving money on store bought treats. Best to use all organic ingredients, and make sure the peanut butter doesn’t include xylitol, which is often lethal for dogs.

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3. Enroll in a Sport Together

If you have an athletic dog, she might love dog agility. It’s a team sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy. Dogs run off leash, and treats and toys are used in training, but not in competition. Any breed can do it, no matter the size. Best to make sure they are in good physical shape first. Other fun, popular sports and activities include dock diving, canine freestyle, disc dogs, fly ball, lure coursing, tracking and nose-work. Find one that your dog loves and you will be amazed how much fun you’ll be having together.

4. Environmental Enrichment

Providing environmental enrichment helps stimulate Buster’s mind. There are a variety of ways to enhance a dog’s environment. Many often help dogs with behavior challenges, and they can relieve boredom. Examples include food puzzles, music designed to calm the canine nervous system, calming aroma sprays, rotating their toys, and teaching them new tricks.

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5. Canine Massage

Dogs reduce our stress. Canine massage is a way of giving back to them so that we reduce theirs. Veterinarian Narda Robinson, Director at Colorado State University’s Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, teaches classes on canine massage. She believes that when administered with science knowledge, canine massage can help dogs recover from injuries, illness and stress.

How do you spoil your dogs and show respect for them? Thanks for sharing your suggestions in a comment below.

 

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6 Loving Ways To Comfort Your Senior Dog

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I have to admit, now that Sanchez is 12-years-old and showing signs of slowing down, I think often about ways to comfort him. While I’m very blessed that he is in good health, it’s not unusual for senior dogs to lose memory, eyesight and experience hearing loss. Dogs also can experience some changes in behavior as they mature.

Some of Sanchez’s new behaviors remind me of his puppy years, such as chewing tissues from the bathroom waste basket. But, more serious behavior changes like resource guarding and separation anxiety developed later in life. I have heard from many people with senior dogs that get restless and agitated at night-time, yet they calmly sleep all day. It’s easy to feel helpless watching their discomfort, yet there are many simple things we can do to help.

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1. Time

Spend time with them doing what they enjoy, whether that’s cuddling on the sofa or long, slow walks in nature. They may not need the amount of exercise they had as a youngster, but they still need quality time shared together. Sadly, they may not have an abundance of time left. Make every moment count.

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2. Nature

Sanchez can’t manage the long hikes of his youth. But, he still really enjoys walks in nature, taking in all the sights and smells. We live near the Pacific Ocean and walks by the beach are the highlight of his days.

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3. Patience

Dogs, like people, move slower with age. Don’t rush them. They like to take more time to stop and smell the roses, and everything else in their path. Allow them this time. It’s a good reminder for you too that every moment is precious.

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4. Train

Dogs love to learn, and you actually can teach an old dog new tricks. I still spend time clicker training every night with Sanchez. If it gets late, he starts whining and begging for this time with me. The bonding time is precious, and it stimulates him to keep learning and being challenged. He has no complaints about his rewards either.

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5. Work

Sanchez has been our loyal Through a Dog’s Ear mascot since 2008. Truth be told, he’s retired all of his previous careers ~ guide dog puppy, agility competitor, canine musical freestyler, and actor (playing Helen Keller’s dog in The Miracle Worker). But, he still really enjoys being in the limelight and posing for the camera. So, his work still continues as long as he is enjoying it.

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5. Physical Assistance

Sanchez still goes almost everywhere with me. But, now I carry a ramp to help him get in and out of the car. I’ve been doing this since he had a slipped disc in his neck at age nine. I’d recommend a ramp for most senior dogs that are too large to be lifted out of the car. Their joints will thank you for it.

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6. Sound Therapy

Most senior dogs don’t have the same tolerance for noise they used to in their youth. The immune system of a senior dog is often heavily taxed. A natural reaction is to self-limit the amount of auditory or visual stimulation coming into the system. That is why senior dogs will often shut down in overstimulating sound environments. Sound therapy can often  help facilitate the nutrients of sound needed for maximum sound intake while conserving energy output. Music to Comfort Your Elderly Canine has also been helpful for pain management with senior dogs and night-time restlessness.

What has brought comfort to your senior dogs in their later years? Thanks for adding your stories in a comment below.

 

Related:
5 Surprising Ways to Protect Your Dog’s Hearing
How Could My Puppy Be 12-Years-Old Already?

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Do Dogs Really See With Their Noses?

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What would it be like to experience the world as a dog?

You might hear things you don’t normally hear (dogs can hear almost double the frequency that humans can), and you might not see as clearly as you do in a human body (dogs see fewer colors and less contrast).

But you’d experience a whole new world through your nose.

Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog and assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College, explains in the video above how dogs actually use their noses to see and track past and future events. If your dog seems suspicious about any visitors, it may be because their nose is telling them where they’ve been, what they had for breakfast, and how they are feeling. Think you can pull a fast one on your dog and stop at McDonalds on your way home without him? He’ll even smell your french fries if you’ve already eaten all of them.

The olfactory system is more essential to dogs than any other sense. Dogs often lose partial to full hearing as they age but can still function just fine in our human world. Dogs can manage with vision loss, too. (I’ve seen dogs chase balls at full speed who had no vision. I only later was told that they were blind.) But without their ability to smell, dogs couldn’t function easily.

A dog’s nose is so amazing, it can even smell stress and anger through the hormones that are released when someone experiences these emotions. That’s why your dog knows when you had a rough day at work. And they can use that sense of smell to alert us to invisible threats, such as bombs and cancer cells.

Next time you greet your dog after being away, remember that he’ll not only know where you’ve been, but he might know your future, too. If there is a breeze, he’ll be able to detect any visitors coming your way, long before they can be heard or seen. Sounds like that psychic you’ve wanted to consult might have four paws and a nose.

 

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5 Signs of a Responsible Dog Owner

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Being a responsible pet parent may have many different definitions. But, it is more than just loving your dog and meeting his basic needs. Being responsible means learning how to understand the world from your dog’s point of view. Dogs speak a different language than people, and they are constantly studying everything we do to understand our behaviors and language. Being responsible means understanding their language and ways of communicating.

Here are some of the ways that you can be a responsible dog owner that go beyond the basics of neutering and spaying, exercising your dog, feeding them healthy meals and treats, and being there for them until the end of their life.

1. You Give Them Space.

Some dogs are very comfortable around a multitude of dogs and activity, many aren’t and need extra space. Learn to read your dog’s stress signals and make sure you keep her in an environment that is safe, determined by her needs. If you are aware of signs of stress in crowds, then it’s better to leave her home than take her with you to your local wine and art fair. Some dog-friendly events aren’t always friendly for all dogs.

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2. You Pay Attention To Their Sound Environment.

We brings dogs into our human world and we say “adjust.” Some do, many don’t. When dogs can’t orient the source of a sound to determine whether it is safe, they can easily go into sensory overload and develop anxiety behaviors along with health problems. Humans hear sounds between 20-20,000 Hz. Dogs hear at least twice as high, sometimes all the way up to 55,000 Hz. While I think it’s great that more events and public places are dog friendly, so often those environments are created for humans. A fundraising party for dogs and their people that benefits your local shelter, doesn’t benefit your dog when a loud band is playing. Please safeguard your dog’s sound environment.

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3. You Treat Dogs Like Dogs, Not Little Humans.

As humans, we tend to anthropomorphize our pets. It’s only natural if we love them. But, when we start to understand life from their point of view, we realize that dogs rarely show affection the way humans do. Most don’t like being pat on the head, especially from a stranger, and most don’t naturally take to hugs.

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4. You Prioritize Humane Training.

While it’s our responsibility to train our dogs, it’s also our responsibility to humanely train them with positive reinforcement. Humane training is not only the kind, loving way to train, but it’s scientifically proven and it works and helps to create an emotional bond between you and your dog that is priceless.

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5. You Provide Opportunities for Stimulation.

We can read a book or study a subject online when we want to learn, grow, and educate ourselves. But, it’s our responsibility to keep our dog’s minds stimulated. Feed her out of food puzzles instead of a bowl, enjoy a canine sport together, and teach her new tricks that help her keep thinking and making decisions.

Are you a responsible dog owner? Or maybe you prefer the terminology ‘pet parent’? Thanks for sharing your thoughts on what makes you responsible in a comment below.

 

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