This time of year is called thunder storm season in vet hospitals across the country. Every year there is an influx of behavior related veterinary visits. Symptoms of thunder storm phobia include: pacing, panting, drooling, shaking, cowering, hiding and sometimes destruction in the home from dogs trying to escape the storm.
What are some causes of thunder storm phobia?
Changes in the barometric pressure can alert dogs to oncoming storms hours ahead of arrival.
The thunder itself is not only loud, but it's also unpredictable.
Thunder causes vibrations which our dogs can feel more acutely than we can.
The combination of environmental changes, and the sometimes deafening noise can paint a very scary picture for any dog.
What can we do to help?
First and foremost I want to start by saying that you can not reinforce a feeling, only a behavior. This means that you will not teach your dog to be afraid by offering it physical or verbal comfort. If being pet or spoken to in a soft voice helps reduce your dog's symptoms of anxiety, then by all means comfort them.
Ignoring the behaviors caused by fear will not resolve the issue. Your dog will still be anxious, and the behaviors caused by the anxiety may get worse over time. Correcting or punishing your dog while they are fearful will only create a rebound effect. Your dog will associate the correction with the thunder NOT with her behavior. This makes the thunder even scarier!
Giving your dog a safe place to wait out the storm can be incredibly helpful. Some dogs will try to hide in a closet, under furniture or in the bath tub. My childhood dog, Nora, had significant noise related fear. She was always chose to lay in her crate when the noise (thunder, fireworks and gun shots) was overwhelming to her. A crate can be a vital management tool for fear, but only if it's already a safe space for your dog.
My first recommendation in helping to alleviate thunder storm phobia is the use of a ThunderShirt. Wearing a ThunderShirt can help your dog to feel secure. The constant gentle pressure of the shirt is similar to swaddling an infant. Ideally, the shirt should be put on prior to the arrival of the storm or at the first sign of anxiety.
Secondly, if your dog's anxiety leads to destructive behaviors like digging, chewing, or jumping through windows, a visit to the vet is in order. There are several different kinds of behavior modifying medications that can significantly reduce your dog's symptoms.
There are many herbal remedies that are available to help with anxiety. They can be used in addition to, or in place of, a prescription medication. Rescue Remedy, VT Pet Naturals Calming Chews and VetriScience Composure are just a few supplements that are available. Consult with your veterinarian before adding a supplement on top of prescribed medication.
In order to help your dog permanently overcome thunder storm phobia it's important to follow a behavior modification plan.
First order of business is the desensitization of your dog to the sound of thunder. This can be achieved by utilizing an audio recording of thunder. You can buy a CD, look up a video on YouTube or try Sound Snap. Start by playing the recording at a very low volume while hand feeding your dog high value food, like cheese or hot dogs. As your dog is able to remain calm with the noise, slowly increase the volume.
Hand in hand with desensitization comes counter conditioning. We want to show your dog that he can exhibit relaxed behavior in an anxiety provoking situation, in this case thunder. Dr. Karen Overall's protocol for relaxation is a great tool to use in conjunction with mat work. Neither the relaxation protocol or the mat work should be utilized in a high stress situation until the exercises have been introduced successfully without stressful stimuli (ex: thunder, fireworks).
I highly recommend consulting with a qualified positive trainer to help set you and your dog on the right path. With patience and a well thought out plan, thunder storm phobia can be manged successfully.
I was recently asked by a friend what medical issues they should be prepared for at home, and what they should include in their pet first aid kit.
Below I'll list some common medical issues that come up, and what items will come in handy for treating them. This list is by no means comprehensive, and you should always seek treatment from your veterinarian.
#1 - Insect Stings & Bites
One time when we were out hiking Toby sat on a ground wasp nest. He was stung many times all over his body. Soon, his face began to swell and he began biting himself because of the discomfort.
Once we were out of stinging distance, I sprayed him down with water to get rid of any wasps still hanging around. Then I gave him Benadryl, before jogging back to the car and bringing him to the vet.
He needed a large dose of steroids as well as several days worth of Benadryl to completely reduce the swelling from his anaphylactic reaction.
The dose for benadryl is 1mg per pound, although your vet may dose higher than that based on the severity of the reaction. Always seek medical attention if your dog experiences any facial swelling or difficulty breathing.
#2 - Lacerations
When we lived up in North Hero, we were right on the water, which was great for swimming. The big risk with swimming dogs in Lake Champlain (other than blue green algae toxicity) is sharp zebra mussel shells.
Toby was unfortunately the victim of a razor sharp shell, which made a deep laceration in his pad. I applied pressure to his wound while Kate ran inside to get some vet wrap and gauze. When she came back, I packed some gauze pads against the wound and wrapped his foot with vet wrap to continue pressure application on our trip to the vet.
The veterinarian had to put in several staples to close the wound and prescribed both pain medication and antibiotics. The staples came out a week later, and Toby was returned to tip top shape.
If the wound had been shallow, I would have cleaned it with antibacterial soap, dried it well and applied triple antibiotic ointment (make sure you don't buy the kind with pain relief added). Keep shallow wounds clean and dry, applying triple antibiotic ointment 2-3 times daily. Seek veterinary attention if redness, swelling or discharge are present or if your pet seems uncomfortable.
#3 - Broken Nails
When a dog breaks a nail, it exposes the quick. This causes bleeding and discomfort. It also leaves your pet vulnerable to infection.
Clip back the nail if you can. Sometimes your vet may need to remove part of the nail with hemostats. Apply styptic powder to stop the bleeding. If this doesn't work, apply gauze and vet wrap for pressure, removing the bandage in 1 hour.
Depending on the severity of the break, you may need to involve your veterinarian to cauterize the quick, remove broken nail fragments and prescribe antibiotics. Keep your dogs nails trimmed short to help prevent breaks.
#4 - Diarrhea
At some point in your time as a pet parent, you're going to have to deal with stomach upset. Diarrhea can have many causes from intestinal parasites to lymphoma. Here are some warning signs that you should seek veterinary attention:
• Black, tarry stool, or stool with copious amounts of fresh blood (bright red)
• Loss of appetite
• Marked lethargy
• Frequent vomiting
• Signs of abdominal pain (bloating, groaning, panting rapidly or avoidance response when belly is touched)
• Lasts longer than 48 hours (Since it can rapidly weaken puppies and geriatrics, or dogs with chronic diseases, they may need veterinary attention sooner.)
If your dog doesn't meet that criteria, it's safe to try treating at home. Fast your dog from it's usual food and feed only boiled white rice mixed with small amounts of boiled chicken or ground beef. You can also administer 1cc of pepto bismol for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily. As the diarrhea resolves, slowly reintroduce your dog's regular food.
#5 - Toxic Substance & Foreign Body Ingestion
There are a lot of things we eat that our pets shouldn't. To name a few:
As a vet tech I saw dogs come in to the clinic having eaten a wide variety of things including baby diapers, socks, rocks, tennis balls and jewelery. These foreign objects can cause intestinal obstructions requiring major surgery.
If your dog eats something it shouldn't, and you catch it within 20 minutes, you can induce vomiting at home with hydrogen peroxide (3%). Give 1 cc per pound of body weight. Do not dose more than once, too much peroxide can cause gastric ulcers. Seek medical attention from your vet who has other ways to induce vomiting or neutralize a toxin.
DO NOT induce vomiting if your dog has ingested cooked bones, they can splinter and cause perforation. Feed your dog several pieces of white bread and monitor closely for vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty defecating, loss of appetite and discomfort. Seek medical attention if any of those symptoms occur.
Things to Remember:
If your pet's body temperature is above 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit that constitutes a fever. If it goes above 103.5, seek immediate medical attention.
All of the conditions mentioned above are painful. Pain can cause any animal, no matter how friendly under normal circumstances, to bite. Having a muzzle on hand is a must.
If you're taking your pet on vacation with you, have the number of the local emergency veterinary service at your disposal.
When in doubt, contact your veterinarian immediately. It's always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your pet's health.
First Aid Kit Must Haves:
For the last six weeks we have been fostering Fisher, a 6 month old beagle mix puppy. If you've read my blog posts in the past, you know he was brought in to the NCSPCA terribly injured and requiring major surgery. He has had his left front leg amputated and his left hip repaired with an FHO surgery. He had several badly broken teeth in his left bottom jaw, which have fallen out because thankfully they were just puppy teeth.
Through all of his trials he has been a trooper. We've spent endless hours together, from his painful early recovery, to physical therapy, to socialization and training. Never once has he complained or balked at anything I've asked him to do or had to do to him.
I quickly realized that I had been gifted with another heart dog in the shape of this tripawed pup. I began cooking up plans for Fisher and I to compete in CPE agility, WCRL rally, and to become a therapy dog team. Our adult dogs, Callie and Toby, have both come to accept him in to our daily routine. Most importantly, my wife Kate, fell in love too!
Today it became official, I signed on the dotted line and Fisher is ours. He will spend the rest of his life being loved unconditionally, as he loves us. As a dog who was so damaged at the hands of humans one would expect him to be fearful. However, Fisher is the most gentle and unflinchingly friendly dog I've met in a long time.
I am so proud to have him be a part of our pack, and I've promised him that his injuries will not have been in vain. I hope that Fisher and I can work with children and veterans, and share the joy he's brought me with others. Stay tuned for more stories about our journey together.
Fisher has had very few accidents in the house. Any accidents he has had, have been my fault. I didn't follow my own advice, leading to him going potty in the house. It's our job to set our dogs up for success, and when they don't succeed the fault is often ours.
Whether you're bringing home a new puppy, or adopting an adult dog, they need to be potty trained. There is a lot of misinformation about how best to go about potty training, and how to deal with bathroom accidents. Have you ever heard that you should put your dog's nose in the puddle or pile that they left behind? Have you ever been told to swat your pup with a rolled up newspaper if they make a mistake in the house? These methods are scary for your dog, and are counter productive to the ultimate goal of having your dog use the bathroom outdoors.
For successful potty training, there are two positive and effective methods that you can use. One option is crate training, in which you use an appropriately sized crate to contain your pup when you can't give her 100% of your attention. The second option is the umbilical method in which you attach your dog's leash to your waist to keep him from sneaking off and using your carpet as the restroom. Fisher and I have been using a combination of the two methods based on the day's activities.
For either method to work you need to apply the following rules: 1) Your dog is NEVER left unattended while loose in the house. 2) Your dog isn't allowed loose in the house unless he has JUST gone potty outdoors.
3) Your dog is on a strict feeding schedule - one meal in the morning and one in the evening (or 3 evenly spaced meals for young puppies).
4) When it's time for your dog to go potty put him on leash, then have him sit at the door. Bring him outside on leash to his "potty place" (this will be the place he uses the bathroom EVERY time). When he does his business give a cue like "go potty". Once he's done, give lots of praise and some yummy treats. 5) As a reward for going potty outside, your dog can have free time in the house to explore and play.
In either case, sometimes your dog won't go to the bathroom when you bring them outside. When this happens, follow these rules: For the crate method bring him indoors, put him in the crate and wait about 15 minutes, then repeat steps 4-6 as needed. For the umbilical method bring him indoors, attach the leash to your waist and wait about 15 minutes, then repeat steps 4-6 as needed.
Some things to note: your pup will have to do it's business after pretty much every activity. Your puppy naps, then when he wakes up he needs to be brought outside. Your puppy plays, when she takes a break she needs to be brought outside. Your puppy chews a bone, which stimulates gastrointestinal activity, then he needs to be brought out. With a young puppy you can expect to be going out for potty breaks a least hourly. As your puppy ages, the bathroom breaks become more spread out.
Fisher can currently go 2-3 hours between potty breaks. At night, he can sleep for 5-6 hours before waking me up to go out. You can expect that you won't be sleeping through the night for several months when you get a new puppy. An advantage of adopting an older dog is better bladder control!
Remember, that sometimes accidents happen no matter how careful we are. If your pup makes a mistake in the house, and you catch her in the act, immediately pick her up and bring her out to her potty place. Reward her for finishing her business outdoors. If you don't catch your dog in the act, don't try to correct him. He doesn't know what he did wrong! Use a pet specific enzymatic cleaner to remove the smells and stains that encourage dogs to continually soil the same place. With patience and consistency any dog can learn how to use the bathroom outside.
I know this sounds crazy, but as an adult I have never had a puppy. Don't get me wrong, I love puppies. I've worked with innumerable puppies over the years, and they are fuzzy, wiggly, balls of love. I've always felt however, that a puppy is going to be a dog in the blink of an eye. I might as well skip the tough stuff, like teething and potty training, and adopt a less desirable, but no less awesome, adult dog.
Two weeks ago I was working at the North Country SPCA, as I do several times a month, when everything changed. It was business as usual for me until one of the staff members brought a puppy back to the shelter from the local vet. She walked in with quite honestly, one of the cutest puppies I'd ever seen. He was also special needs, which spoke to my heart (okay, yelled at it).
Fisher had been brought to the shelter with terrible injuries that necessitated the amputation of his left front leg. His left hip was also broken, and he was waiting for surgery to repair it. As I sat in his kennel with him, I knew there was no way I could leave him to recover in the shelter. The NCSPCA is an amazing facility, and if you have to be in a shelter, it's the best place to be. For this puppy though, I knew his best chance at a complete recovery was in a home environment - namely, mine.
While in my care he has received the surgery to repair his hip, and is recovering well. This five month old puppy is an inspiration. I know that if I had a limb amputated, and another one broken, I would be inconsolable. Fisher however, is happy and loving. He has literally charmed everyone he has met, person and animal alike.
The little guy is working with what amounts to two and a half legs, and has only had one accident in the house. His crate training is going well, and he can be left alone for several hours at a time while occupied with a food dispensing toy or marrow bone. He has started teething in his time with me, and I'm working on redirecting his urges to appropriate chew items when he begins to nip me. Did I mention he's a beagle? This little man has a big voice! We're also working on learning to be calm and quiet for attention.
That being said, having a puppy (especially a three legged beagle) is an awful lot of work, even for a professional dog trainer! He has to go out to potty after practically every activity, he barks, he nips, he tries to chew things that he shouldn't, and he doesn't respect the older dogs personal space with out gentle reminders from me. I don't think I'll ever seek out a puppy for myself, but if one should happen to find me, I'll be well prepared.
In honor of this super beagle, and the amazing progress he has made, my next posts will be about common puppy issues: potty training/crate training and teething/nipping. Stay tuned for some great tips and tricks. Until then, happy training!
I often get phone calls from frustrated people about their dog's behavior problems. I return their call expecting to have a conversation about anxiety or aggression, only to find that the dog has been jumping up on everyone or eating the garbage (which secretly makes me sigh in relief).
These phone calls have led me to the need for this post - What is a behavior problem? What is a problem behavior?
Let's start with the "easy" one - problem behaviors. These are behaviors that are unacceptable for a pet dog, but are actually a normal dog behavior. Some examples of this are scavenging (eating out of the trash & counter surfing), mouthing and nipping, jumping up, digging, and nuisance barking. Of course those are only a few of the naughty behaviors our pets can display that can easily push us to the breaking point.
The great thing about problem behaviors is that they are all fixable with proper management and training. For example: if you don't want your dog to eat something, don't leave it out! Teach leave it and drop it commands, so that you have control over what your dog puts in it's mouth. Any qualified positive trainer can help you deal with a problem behavior.
Then there are the much more complex behavior problems. These include generalized anxiety, separation anxiety, dog to dog (intraspecies) aggression, dog to human aggression, leash reactivity, obsessive compulsive disorder, and resource guarding. If a person displayed these behaviors they would need counseling, and sometimes behavior modifying medication. The same goes for our dogs!
Treatment begins with having a team of qualified professionals assembled to help you and your dog. The team should be comprised of you (the dog owner), your dog's veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, and/or a dog training professional with education and experience in dog behavior.
Training is just a small part of the equation. Medical issues need to be ruled out and treated accordingly if present, behavior modifying medications are sometimes needed, and a well thought out behavior modification plan must be put in to place. Luckily, if caught in time, most behavior problems are treatable, or at the very least manageable.
The truth is, both problem behaviors and behavior problems can be traumatizing and frustrating for us as doggie guardians. It's essential that help is sought out sooner rather than later to ensure that you and your dog can live in harmony. Do your research when selecting a dog trainer/behaviorist, and don't hesitate to ask questions.
An ethical and effective dog trainer will be able to answer your questions with complete transparency. They will be able to discuss humane training, and how your dog will learn through positive reinforcement. If you're facing behavior problems, the right dog trainer/behaviorist will be knowledgeable about the specific problem you're dealing with, and about the strategies that can be used to help your dog. They won't have a problem referring you to someone better qualified to handle your unique situation if they are unable to.
If you're facing a problem behavior, or a behavior problem, the Pet Professional Guild is a fantastic resource to find a qualified professional in your area.
The holiday season is a time of stress for many of us. While we scramble to get all of our shopping done, get the house ready for company and still finish all of our regular tasks, our dogs some times fall by the wayside.
It's important to any house party, holiday or otherwise, that your dog is well behaved. In order to make that happen, you have to carve out some time for your dog.
Here MUST do list for your dog and the holidays:
1) Exercise - even if the weather stinks, even if you have a trillion pies in the oven. Make sure your pooch has had a nice long walk, a run or a rousing game of fetch before your company arrives.
2) Mental stimulation - food dispensing toys and puzzle games will keep your pooch occupied AND tire out his brain. You can utilize these tools while you prepare your meal, and while you company is over. They will surely enjoy watching Fido figure out a food puzzle.
3) Dog friendly treats - while we indulge, it's our nature to allow our pets to indulge along side us. However, many human foods can be dangerous for our dogs to consume.
Avoid: cooked bones, turkey skin, fatty meat, garlic, onions, grapes, raisins, chocolate, nuts, alcohol, yeast, bread dough, avocado, and caffeine. This is just a short list, there are many more foods you shouldn't feed your pets.
Do: Have some stuffed Kong toys, raw marrow bones, or bully sticks handy so that your pup can have a holiday treat or two. Allow your guests to offer your dog a little bit of lean meat, sweet potato or carrot.
4) Have a safe space for your furry friend. Weather it's their crate or your bedroom, your dog should be able to escape the crowd if it wants to. If your dog is shy or anxious in social situations, a holiday meal isn't the time to work on training. Set them up in their safe spot with a good chew toy, and all the both of you to relax.
I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. As I light my menorah tonight, I'll be thinking of my friends and family - including your fur babies!
In my first post, I touched on the subject of ethics. This topic is especially important to me because of the adorable dog in the photo at the bottom of this post. When I was in 5th grade, my parents finally relented to the constant pressure from my sisters and I to get a puppy. We went to our local shelter, and picked out a fuzzy white puppy with a black eye patch and freckles.
Never having had a dog, my parents didn't give any thought to breed background or temperament. Our best guess as to Casey's genetic heritage was border collie/pointer mix, but ultimately who really knows. Regardless, she was an incredibly high energy dog who needed tons of exercise and mental stimulation. She also needed to be trained to live successfully in our home.
Casey had a lot of typical puppy behaviors - jumping, chewing, nipping, barking. She was also an escape artist, and ran away frequently. She always came back, but our neighbors didn't love her visits. At their wits end, my parents hired a local trainer who was highly recommended. We thought we were finally going to solve the problems that kept Casey from being a fully integrated member of our family.
The trainer came to our home, and immediately took a prong collar from his bag. He put it on Casey, showed us how to "correct" her, and left. There may have been some more assessment and instruction, but that is all I recall from his visit. I remember thinking the prong collar looked scary, and I hated that he made my dog scream using it. He told us that unless she cried, we weren't doing it right. Even as a child, I knew that using pain and fear to 'train' our dog wasn't okay.
The prong collar, which was supposed to be our saving grace, only seemed to make things worse. Casey ran away more frequently and one day she pulled my sister down the porch steps, knocking out one of her baby teeth. My parents came to the heartbreaking decision to find a new home for Casey.
They found her a family with a fenced in back yard, who had experience with high energy dogs. They loved Casey, and were able to integrate her into their lives rather quickly. At the time, I was completely devastated that I had lost my furry friend. Now, I am thankful to my parents for giving Casey a better life.
If the 'trainer' we had worked with had known about and educated our family on how dogs learn, and training without adversives, Casey might have been able to stay in our home. I would like to think that with the proper tools, we would have rallied around her as a family and made it work.
What Casey really needed was directed exercise, mental stimulation, management of her environment and positive science based training. Now, an adult and professional dog trainer, it is my mission to help families like mine understand the needs of their unique dog. It is my goal to keep dogs out of shelters and in loving homes.
More than 80% of the dogs in shelters, both pure bred and mixed breed alike, end up there due to problem behaviors that could have been eliminated with proper training and management. I want to thank my parents for trying. I want to thank them for finding Casey a home, instead of bringing her back to the shelter. I want to honor her memory by practicing my trade with a code of ethics that would have kept Casey in our home, and that will keep dogs like Casey in their homes now.
If you're interested in leaning more about ethical dog training, I invite you to check out the Pet Professional Guild. It's the only force free professional dog training organization that currently exists, and I am a proud member.
I've been told by clients, friends and family that I need to write a blog for a long time now. Every time it was mentioned I brushed it off with the thought, "who would want to read my blog?".
Eventually that question turned in to "why do I, as a dog trainer, need a blog?" I came up with several answers the most important of which can be summed up with a single word: transparency.
Dog training is an unregulated industry. That means anyone can wake up one day and decide to call themselves a dog trainer. How are you, the consumer, supposed to know which dog trainer is best for you and your unique dog?
Anyone can have a good looking website or a fun facebook page. What can't be contrived are ethics and education. By writing this blog I hope to not only share with you my knowledge about canine health and behavior, but display through both deed and discussion my educational background and the code of ethics I strictly adhere to.
You can look forward to posts about everything dog, from nutrition to joint disease to basic obedience skills to behavior issues like anxiety and aggression. I hope that you enjoy following me on this dog training journey.
Emily Lewis is a professional dog trainer and veterinary technician. She lives in Vermont with her three rescue dogs, tuxedo cat, corn snake, crested geckos and Russian tortoise.