Behavior Counseling

Veazie Veterinary Clinic realizes that behavior can have one of the largest impacts on an owner and pet’s quality of life.

Having a great relationship with your dog or cat takes time and effort, but the staff at Veazie Vet is ready to lend support and tips should you need our help.

Behavior Counseling For Dogs

Veazie Veterinary Clinic realizes that behavior can have one of the largest impacts on an owner and pet’s quality of life. Having a great relationship with your dog takes time and effort, but the staff at Veazie Vet is ready to lend support and tips should you need our help.

What to Expect at Your Behavioral Consultation
Veazie Veterinary Clinic offers behavior consultation exams to owners and their pets who are having difficulty with training. We may ask you to leave your dog behind, but bring any family members who are affected by the pet’s behavior. A thorough history will be used to diagnose the cause of the undesirable behavior. We will then go over a treatment plan based on your pet’s specific behaviors. We provide written instructions and tools to work with your pet and always encourage follow-up!

Common Behavioral Issues:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Aggression (fear or territorial)
  • Common doggie manners
  • Jumping, walking on a leash, barking

We base our dog training on the theory that “nothing in life is free”. This is a simple, day-to-day training process that doesn’t take any extra time and anyone can do.

Much of a dog’s behavior is geared towards getting your attention. They demand attention and we give it to them. This makes it pretty easy for them to assume that they are the boss. Nothing in life is free means that they need to do the expected behavior in order to get the reward (your attention, a toy or food).

You might think, “But I don’t pet him, I tell him no and push him off me!” You can reinforce a dog’s behavior (good or bad) by paying attention to it. There are three basic ways to give a dog attention:

Eye contact: Looking at your dog

Voice: Talking to your dog, saying “good dog”, or even “NO!” is paying attention to them

Touch: Petting your dog, or even pushing them off you, grabbing them to take something away

  • Start by making your dog work for attention, food, etc. Make him sit before you give him anything. Don’t give him his dinner, treats, toys or even attention until he is sitting quietly. If he is already sitting, you can go so far as to make him lay down first. This establishes your authority to control when the dog gets attention, food or toys. If he doesn’t follow your command, ignore him for 5 minutes and try again.
  • If your dog comes over and teases for attention by biting at your hands and clothes, butting her head against you, barking or other undesirable behavior, look at her and tell her to sit. If she doesn’t sit, look away and ignore her. If she tries to get up in your lap, stand up and walk away. Wait a few minutes, and then go back to making her sit, then inviting her into your lap.
  • Every time your dog goes outside or is crated for the night, go around and pick up all his toys. Throughout the day, make him sit, then give him a toy and let him go play. This way, they become your toys, not the dog’s toys. You dictate when he can play with them, and if necessary you have the authority to take the toy (or other objects) away from him as needed.
  • These are a few basic steps that work with puppies and adult dogs that can help you establish a base for good behavior and more advanced training. Our veterinarians and technicians are well-versed on behavior and training and are always happy to answer your questions.

You can call and let the staff know what you are having a problem with and we can help you address the behavior. For more destructive or dangerous behaviors and problems like separation anxiety and barking, we can arrange a 30 to 60 minute behavior consultation with one of our veterinarians.

Introducing to Other Pets
If you already have other pets, the most important pet in the world must be the animal(s) in your home already. That animal must feel secure in its surroundings and its place in the family. It must also not feel like its territory is being invaded. Your old pet will be very defensive if the new animal is just plopped into the middle of its house and given the run of everything. To avoid conflicts there are several steps that can be taken to help.

  1. Introduce the new pet in a neutral area. A friend’s house or a park are good choices. Ideally the introductions should be done before the new pet is chosen in case they absolutely despise each other. This process usually works better with dogs than cats.
  2. Once the new pet arrives at your home it should be limited to only one area or room of your house for a few days. This should not be your other pet’s favorite room and should not cut them off from access to their regular feeding area and/or litter box or sleeping area. This lets the old pet know they are still king of the house and sets up limits and security for the new pet. The old pet will also be able to get used to the smell of the new pet before actually letting it out into the rest of the house.
  3. You may want to have a separate play/cuddle time for a few days to a week where the old pet doesn’t encounter you spending time with the new pet. You’re still giving plenty of attention to the new pet but the old pet doesn’t feel displaced.
  4. When it’s time to introduce them to each other in the house make sure to pay all your attention to the previous pet and/or children. Ignore the new pet. This lets the new pet know who gets attention first and sets up a good routine.
  5. For the first several days, if not weeks, the new pet should only play with other pets and children with adult supervision. This will let you be sure things do not get out of hand and continue to reinforce the routine in the house.

Introducing to Children
If you don’t have other pets but do have children the same approach should still be taken, especially with younger children. While a child won’t necessarily feel displaced in the family, the new pet needs to know that the children are going to get attention first. This will help set up a routine with the children.

After a week or two the children should be feeding the pet, with supervision. If they are old enough they can also help with grooming and walking tasks.

It is also important that the children understand the rules of having a pet in the house.

  • Pets are not toys; they are living creatures that can be hurt by rough physical behavior.
  • They may not like being poked, having their hair pulled or being teased any more than the child would.
  • Loud noises and surprises don’t usually mix well with animals.
  • Teach other good habits like always allowing the pet to come to you, don’t chase.
  • Pet the animal from the collar back, moving slowly with the direction of the fur.
  • Establish and enforce the rules with your children from the beginning to avoid any unfortunate incidences.

A Few Other Tips

  • Begin handling all parts of the pet early on.
  • Play with feet, ears, tail, mouth, etc. This will get the animal used to being handled, especially for things such as children handling the pet, vet visits and other times when the animal may be stressed. It is important the pet feel comfortable with being touched.
  • Practice taking things away from the dog.
  • Make the dog get up and move out of your way instead of going around it.

Carsickness is only one of the problems that riding in a car can present when managing a dog. Some dogs leap all over the car, making driving dangerous. Some create noise that impairs safe driving. Aggression toward people through car windows makes a dog dangerous to take along. In most cases, transporting your dog in a car can be done safely and sanely if you take some basic precautions.

Carsickness

Young puppies often get carsick and then outgrow it as they mature. This may be related to the maturing of the ear canals, a process that also makes human children more susceptible to motion sickness than human adults.

You can often help a carsick dog by positioning the dog to see out the front of the vehicle in the direction of movement. This allows the eyes to help orient the confusing sensations from the ears. It also often helps to open one or more windows about three inches, to help equalize the air pressure.

Other Causes of Car Sickness

Consult your veterinarian if it seems a medical problem could be affecting the dog’s ability to cope with car riding.  An ear infection is one example of a medical condition that can contribute to carsickness.

Orthopedic conditions can make getting in and out of a car and bracing against the car’s movement painful. If the dog feels profoundly ill or experiences pain with every car ride, the medical issue needs to be handled to relieve that before you’ll make much training progress.

Stress contributes to carsickness, and a dog who has lost a previous home via a car ride may be stressed by riding in your car at first. The same happens with dogs who have only been driven to the veterinarian’s office for treatment and never to places they enjoyed going.

More About Stress

You can help remedy the stress factor by taking the dog on short car rides to fun places. Make some of these enjoyable social outings to the veterinarian’s office for treats (and petting, if the dog enjoys it) from the staff when no treatment is scheduled. Call your veterinarian’s office about what times are convenient for such trips. You certainly would not want to interfere with the staff’s ability to provide essential care to other animals.

If you have another dog who loves car rides and gets along well with this dog, take the two on some rides together. If, on the other hand, the other dog dislikes car rides, avoid taking the new dog on rides with the other one! Every dog needs regular individual time with you anyway, and you’ll be better able to shape a positive attitude toward the car in the new dog if you avoid the influence of a dog who doesn’t like car riding.

If your dog has extreme problems with the car, you’ll need to start at the level that doesn’t trigger the problems and very slowly practice more and more success until the dog can go for rides without problems. In some cases it will take many “baby steps” (see below) to achieve the goal.

Taking the dog on a long car ride in the middle of trying to recondition the dog to riding in the car through baby steps can ruin the program. The goal is to systematically change how the dog experiences riding in the car, so of course it can create a huge setback if you put the dog into a situation that brings back all the original problems.

Systematic Steps

Some of the steps in reconditioning the dog for the car can include:

  1. Feed the dog outside the car, at whatever distance the dog will happily eat. Move the next meal closer. Gradually, meal after meal after meal, work your way up to having the dog eat in the car. At first have the car door open and the food barely inside. An intermediate step would be to gently close the door part way. Gradually work up to the food well inside the car and the door closed.
  2. Advance this only at the pace that keeps the dog happy for every single step. If the dog shows stress, including reluctance to eat, back up to an earlier step in the program.
  3. Sit in the car for a short time with the dog, without turning on the engine. Give treats. Work your way up to turning on the engine in future sessions. Eventually move the car a little. Next step might be down the block.
  4. Gradually increase the distance, while including treats as well as making the destination pleasant for the dog.
    • One example for a dog who enjoys going for a walk would be to drive down the street, get out with the dog on leash and take a short walk, and then get back into the car and drive back down the street to your house.
  5. If the dog finds the engine a trigger to stress, you can turn on the car and do the feeding routine, starting at a distance and working closer, meal-by-meal, until the dog is eating happily inside the running car.
  6. Associate the rewards used in conditioning the dog to the car very closely with the car. If you take the dog for a short ride and then give a big reward AFTER you get back home, that’s rewarding being home, not riding in the car. Keep in mind what you actually want to reinforce, and make sure the happy things happen when the behavior you wish to reinforce is happening.

Other Car-Riding Problems

Bouncy Dogs
For the dog who leaps all over the car while you are driving, you’ll need a method of restraint. This is recommended, anyway, to keep your dog safe in case of an accident. The most secure restraint for the dog’s safety is a good dog crate.

If for some reason you don’t wish to use a dog crate, a dog seat belt harness is another option. Check your dog supply resources for one that fits your needs.

Aggressive Riders
Some people may feel that a dog who behaves aggressively in the car seems like useful protection, but it’s more likely the dog will bite the wrong person than an actual criminal. Restrain this dog to protect your community–and your bank account.

Barking Passengers
Barking in the car can drive you nuts, and there is no perfect solution for this problem. Experiment with what the dog is able to see. Some dogs are stimulated by sight and will be much quieter in a crate or other situation that restricts their view. Make sure, though, not to overheat the dog. Give the dog something interesting to chew in the crate.

Citronella anti-bark collars can have some benefit with dogs who bark in cars. Keep the dog adequately restrained so that the collar won’t spray too near the car’s driver.

Use the ideas in the “Systematic Steps” to build your dog’s ability to remain calm and quiet in the car. Reinforce with treats and other things the dog likes when the dog is quiet. Avoid any reward when the dog is making noise.

If you are going to administer treats to do any other dog training in a moving car, make sure there is one person to drive and at least one other person to work with the dog. Dog training is a huge distraction from driving.

Stay Safe: Dogs in Hot Cars

We can’t talk about transporting a dog in a car without mentioning the heat and oxygen problem that kills so many dogs in cars in warm weather. Dogs have to cool their bodies through respiration, which is an inefficient method. They cannot tolerate nearly the heat that a human can. Add the limited oxygen in a closed car, and your dog can quickly die.

Even if the car is not hot enough to kill the dog, excess warmth in the car will contribute to carsickness. For safety and to help create in your dog an enjoyment of car rides, keep it cool inside your car whenever you transport a dog.

It’s Worth It!
Every bit of effort you put into gently conditioning your dog to enjoy car rides will yield huge benefits. Essential tasks such as visits to the veterinarian will become more convenient and less stressful. You’ll be able to take the dog along on outings for fun, increasing the time you and your dog can spend together. Car rides make a dog’s life more interesting. In difficult times, such as a dog experiencing grief over a lost family member, car rides can actually aid recovery.

For most of us, having a dog who can ride safely and calmly in a car is so important that this is truly essential training. Start it as soon as possible with any new puppy or dog who joins your family. Remember to take the steps as slowly as necessary to keep the process enjoyable and not stressful for the dog. With care, you have an excellent chance of winding up with a dog who shows great pleasure when asked “Do you want to go in the car?!”

Everyone knows that dogs, especially puppies, like to chew. Here is some information on chew toys and what is safe for your dog to chew on and play with.

Non-Edible and Long Lasting:

  • Kong Toys come in a variety of shapes, sizes and durability
  • Nylabone products are long lasting but can still carry a risk of fractured teeth, use with care
  • Planet Dog is a Maine company that makes recycled, non-toxic toys in a variety of chew strengths

Edible Toys:

  • Nylabone Healthy Edibles, Greenies

Real Bones:

  • Bones can cause stomach upset, intestinal blockages, worn and even broken teeth

Rawhide:

  • Some dogs tolerate rawhide well while others experience stomach upset or intestinal blockages if swallowed whole.

Tennis Balls:

  • Traditional tennis balls have an abrasive fiber cover that can wear down a dog’s teeth over time.
  • Look for dog-safe tennis balls made by Kong, or any that have a felt nap instead of nylon or fiberglass

Dental Treats:

  • A lot of treats & chews say that they reduce tartar, but only products that have the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal have been proven to reduce tartar build up on teeth.

Socialization
Socialization is the process by which a dog learns how to behave appropriately with others in its environment. Puppies must learn how to interact with adults, children, dogs and other pets in a variety of social situations, from the dog park to the front yard.

Why is it Important to Socialize Your Dog?
If dogs do not become socialized, they may become anxious, fearful and antisocial with people and other animals. Behavior problems are a leading cause of pet relinquishment to shelters and lead to the death of more animals per year than any infectious disease.

How Do I Go About Introducing My Puppy (or Dog) to the World?
Invite family and friends (one at a time) and their pets to visit you and your puppy. This initial visit should be one friend and one pet, working up to having more friends and pets at the same time. Once your puppy knows how to sit, have them sit when they meet a new person and have that person give them a treat.

Once adequately vaccinated, take your puppy on walks and short car outings. It is important for your puppy to meet all types of people, and especially children, even if no children live with you. If your puppy is not exposed to children, they may react poorly to them when they are older.

As your puppy matures, expose them to sounds such as alarms, airplanes, sirens and other neighborhood noises so that they become used to them.

When Should I Take My Puppy (or Dog) to Obedience Class?
Ideally between 8-16 weeks of age. Obedience class is a great way to expose your puppy to new situations, dogs and people, and to teach them good behavior when they are most eager to learn. But taking your dog at any age is better than never taking them at all.

Gentle Collars: Follow My Lead

By Amy Marder, V.M.D.

Does your dog pull on leash? Use your head–and your dog’s–with these training collars.

In the shelter, Sharon and Emmy seemed made for each other. Sharon felt as if she had visited a thousand times looking for that special dog. At the age of eight months, Emmy was a lovable Doberman cross in need of a home. But she was also large, strong, and completely untrained.

After completing the adoption papers, Emmy bolted from the shelter with her new owner, nearly dislocating Sharon’s shoulder in the bargain. Understandable, thought Sharon, after the stress of the shelter. Unfortunately, Emmy’s on-leash behavior failed to improve at home. Clearly, this was a canine that hadn’t a clue as to what constitutes a polite promenade.

Fortunately, a new type of collar that fits over a dog’s head offered a gentle, humane training method that helped their relationship blossom. Before discovering it, however, Sharon and Emmy traveled the more usual route of canine-confining tradition.

When first faced with the problem, Sharon consulted friends at a pet-friendly store, who recommended the use of a choke collar. Although Sharon found the choke collar easy to apply, it seemed cruel. Watching Emmy, who still did not know how to walk on a leash, repeatedly dash to the end of the lead and “choke” herself was a definite put-off. Even pulling to the point of gagging and coughing did not deter the young dog. Sharon, afraid Emmy would injure herself, had reached her wit’s end.

She reported her experience to her friends at the store whose next recommendation was to try a prong, or pinch, collar. What they presented her with looked like a medieval torture device: basically a large choke collar with metal prongs that dig into the dog’s neck when pressure is applied. Sharon was horrified at the thought of hurting Emmy, however, and left the store empty-handed.

Finally, Sharon consulted her veterinarian, who recommended a training collar she called the Promise system. The Promise head collar (previously called Gentle Leader) consists of a “mother dog control strap” that fits tightly around the back of the dog’s neck, plus a connected “leader dog loop” that fits snugly over the dog’s muzzle and continues down to a “control ring” situated under the chin, where the leash is connected. As part of the system, an indoor control lead, a training book, and a brochure detailing how to fit and apply the collar are included.

The idea behind this and similar head collars, such as the Halti and Mikki Walkee, is that they control the dog’s head and nose, instead of applying force to the dog’s neck as do traditional choke collars. And where the dog’s nose goes, his body is sure to follow.

At first, Sharon was reluctant to use the new system because it looks so much like a muzzle, but she soon became a believer when she saw its dramatic effect on Emmy. Although the Rowdy pup tried to rub the head collar off at first, within 10 minutes, Emmy was walking next to Sharon–no forging ahead, no pulling at all!

Sharon and Emmy’s problem is a common one. Unfortunately, their solution has not yet become as common. Most people continue to struggle with their choke chains for years, jerking and tugging ineffectively on their best friends’ necks–supposedly the “strongest” part of a dog’s body, according to choke-chain aficionados.

But things are slowly beginning to change. In a recent article in The Veterinary Clinics of North America, Advances in Companion Animal Behavior, Susan Myles, a professional dog trainer and coordinator of the International Network for Ethical Training, wrote that dog trainers who prescribe only choke-chain training demonstrate “a poor understanding of … proper techniques and senseless devotion to tradition.” She also points out that “using a choke chain effectively is a difficult skill to master. Dog trainers often take years to learn the skill, sometimes damaging a dog or two along the way.” More than a few dogs have suffered eye hemorrhages and tracheal injury from handlers using a choke chain too forcibly.

Instead of choking or pressing on the dog’s throat, head collars simulate a pack leader’s control, according to Robert K. Anderson, director emeritus of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the University of Minnesota, and a co-developer of the Promise system. In a dog or wolf pack, the dominant leader exercises control by holding the muzzle of subordinates with his mouth. The head halter acts like the lead dog’s mouth by encircling the nose and lower jaws.

Owners need to be aware that although a head collar may look like a muzzle to those unfamiliar with it, it by no means functions like one. A dog wearing a head collar can fully open his mouth, eat, drink, pant, and even carry a ball or stick. And just a warning: although aggressive dogs will be better managed when they are wearing the halter, they can still bite.

In addition to providing excellent head control, head collars offer another benefit: they work with little pressure, so strength is not needed. It is certainly the method of choice for the big-dog-little-owner syndrome and for people with physical handicaps.

Like more and more obedience teachers, I recommend the Promise system in my obedience classes for owners and dogs that need a little more control than routine collars provide. Although the system is helpful for treating some behavior problems, I stress to owners that the Promise system is designed to make conventional training easier. After the eight-week course, in which most of the dogs learn what heel means, I instruct owners to gradually wean their dogs onto a plain collar.This is not always possible, however, and some dogs and owners just always do better when using the Promise system.

Unlike Anderson, who recommends that his Promise halter and the indoor control lead be worn “like a pair of shoes” and removed only at bedtime, I advise owners to use it only when walking their dogs or when extra control is needed during training sessions. Anderson also likes to begin training with the system during puppyhood. Although it is very effective in puppies, in most cases I find that there is no need to begin using the halter until the dog is five or six months old.

While head collars are probably the best and most humane training devices available at the present time, they do have drawbacks. Some dogs manage to slip out of the Halti when backing up (not a problem with the Promise collar). Also, these collars are easily confused with muzzles, and so can cause reactions of fear in some people. The producers of Promise are planning to overcome this soon by coming out with “designer” halters of plaid or a western-style bandanna pattern.

Owners have to be prepared to get past their dogs’ initial reaction to head collars. Many dogs don’t like the halter at first and act like bucking broncos attempting to get it off. Most dogs, however, quickly respond if plenty of praise, “happy talk,” and food treats are used.

Finding a good head collar is the final obstacle. Promise is available only through veterinarians or through the Promise Helpline (800-333-1231). Other head collars, such as the Halti and Mikki Walkee, are available through pet supply catalogs and in some pet supply stores.

Making the effort to get a good head collar is worth the effort. Working with your dog’s instincts will be a lot more effective and gentler on you both.

Timid Dogs – the Best Approach

By Kathy Diamond Davis

Timid dogs–also sometimes called shy dogs–can become sweet and loving companions. On the other hand, some will be unsuited to life in busy households or with small children. They may find life in the fast lane of dog sports too stressful. Sometimes, the fearfulness you see in a puppy can turn into aggression as the dog matures.

Is This the Dog For You?
When meeting a puppy or a dog to adopt, carefully consider whether a timid one will fit your needs and be happy in your lifestyle. Just as it’s unwise to marry someone you feel needs a lot of changing to become the spouse you want, choosing a dog with problems you plan to solve can have a sad result.

“Interview” the potential new family member away from familiar territory in order to get a more accurate picture of personality. Puppies and dogs who are confident at home may not cope well with unfamiliar environments. Don’t assume this is a temporary, fixable problem. It may be much more permanent and persistent than you think.

Genetics and experiences both contribute heavily to a dog’s personality. Some dogs have such solid genetic temperaments that they rise above all bad experiences. Others have such problems in their genetic temperaments that they can’t do well with even the ideal environments.

More often, the genetic temperament serves as a limiting factor to how much personality improvement you can achieve through providing the right experiences. The wrong experiences, especially early in life, are typically impossible to totally overcome, though an outstanding program of reconditioning can help a lot.

Don’t expect miracles, and don’t underestimate the length of time and the amount of work this can involve.Think carefully about whether this is really the kind of dog who will make you happy, and equally important, whether your home is the right place for this dog to be happy.

Slower is Faster
The old thinking that led to throwing children into the water so they would learn to swim is now known to be ineffective for both children and dogs. To improve a timid dog’s confidence requires a gentle, positive, gradual approach. Whenever the process is pushed faster than the dog’s ability to enjoy it, you lose ground.

Start with the dog at a distance from whatever the dog finds intimidating. When the dog is relaxed, you know you’ve found the right distance. It may be much further than you would expect.

By the way, this is another thing to consider in whether or not to bring a timid dog into your family. If you can’t provide the dog with enough distance within the home from things the dog fears, the fears will only be made worse.

When a dog feels cornered, you get “fight or flight” survival behavior, and neither reaction is helpful. When it’s fight behavior, the dog is faulted as aggressive.

The solution to this problem is not to try to punish the dog into better behavior–that approach only increases the dog’s need for self-defense, both on that occasion and in the future. Instead, you need to reduce the intensity of the situation for the dog, with distance as well as other factors. For example, if the dog is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, start working on that fear at a distance from the vacuum cleaner when it is not running.

When you have found a degree of intensity low enough that the dog can relax, use treats and games to help the dog form a positive association with this experience. Move a little closer to the feared object while continuing the pleasurable activities. Your goal is to stay at a distance that keeps the dog comfortable, and yet, gradually, over many sessions, reach the point that the dog will be comfortable close to the feared thing, and with it operating in a normal manner. This is the case whether the thing is a person, another animal, a piece of equipment, a place, etc.

One exception to note here to the rule of gradual conditioning to a feared thing is when the fear is recent. If the dog had just been frightened by something and you immediately respond by jollying the dog with treats and/or games in the presence of that thing, you may be able to resolve the problem in one session. More precisely, what you’re doing is preventing that fearful experience from becoming a permanent new problem. Whenever your dog has a negative experience, EVEN IF THE DOG DOESN’T SEEM UPSET, do this remedial conditioning. It never hurts, and it will frequently prevent serious problems.

Do not attempt to overcome a dog’s fear of something that is actually dangerous for the dog. For example, if your dog is afraid of being in the vicinity of a running lawn mower, well, dogs should not be in the vicinity of running lawn mowers as it’s not safe! Anyway, if your dog is afraid when the people across the street run their lawnmower, you’ll want to work on that fear, never going closer than a safe distance.

Sideswiping
One way to work toward getting the dog closer to a feared situation is to hold the dog’s attention with your voice and treats as you walk with the dog past that thing “sideswiping” it. This has a similar effect to placing distance between the dog and the feared thing, because the dog is thinking about something else instead. Thus the intensity of the feared thing is reduced for the dog.

Before performing this maneuver, work in quiet settings to develop a strong focus between yourself and the dog. The following method, developed by expert trainer Linda O’Hare Newsome, is effective for the purpose:

Have treats on your person (lots of tiny pieces of tempting food), but keep them out of the dog’s sight. To initiate the focused attention sequence, say “[Dog’s Name]!” and YOU MOVE ABRUPTLY away from her. If you want to say “Heel” or “Come” or “Front” or “By Me,” that’s fine too. The main thing is, say the name–this is going to become the word on which she will learn to look at you–then MOVE.

When she moves with you, quickly PRAISE her. This is where you would use a clicker if you wish to use that method, but a word of praise is fine, too. Then instantly whip out a treat and give it to her. Do not show the treats until you are ready to give one. This prevents the treat from becoming, in the dog’s mind, an actual part of the command–or a bribe. Each time you give a treat, align it between the dog’s eyes and yours. You want eye contact from her with that treat. Soon you will find her seeking your eye contact. Always praise her when she does that, and it’s fine to give her a “free” treat for doing it.

Okay, you’re not done. When you do this sequence, always do at least 3 to 5 in a row. Each time, you 1) say the name, 2) move, 3) praise, 4) whip out a treat and 5) give it. This doesn’t necessarily take up a bunch of space. You can move one direction the first time, back the other way the second time, etc., except when you have plenty of space and want to move forward, or “sideswipe” something you’re working on with your timid dog. Always do at least 3 to 5 repetitions in a row before you release the dog’s attention. This is what teaches her to SUSTAIN that attention on you until you release it. Practice this exercise everywhere, including at obedience class.

There are other methods of teaching focused attention to a dog, including work with a clicker. The important thing is to develop the exercise to the point that the dog can maintain the focus and tune out everything else. To very gradually increase the dog’s “closeness” to the object you’re working on, you can, over time, release the dog’s attention for one second, then two seconds, etc. Just as when you use distance to reduce the intensity of the feared thing to the dog, you must not advance any more rapidly in this process than the dog finds comfortable.

In Your Home
When a dog shows fear at home, don’t put pressure on the dog in a rush to get things done. To do so would risk pushing the dog into the fight-or-flight survival mode. Use your attention exercise and all other positive training you’ve done with the dog to move away from the dog and induce the dog to come with you. TAKE YOUR TIME. Accept the fact that taking care of any dog is going to take time out of your day, and this is the kind of care your timid dog needs. Time spent in positive training with a timid dog pays off mightily, both in giving you more and better tools for managing the dog, and for increasing the dog’s confidence.

If the dog is afraid of one family member, that person needs to patiently wait for the dog to make each approach. Never corner a dog. You would increase the dog’s fear, and also risk pushing the dog into a defensive bite. It helps if this is the person who feeds the dog and tosses toys if the dog likes to chase them. With plenty of patience, the dog will usually get better. If months go by and the dog is still afraid, rethink the way the person is handling the dog. Even one outburst of impatience or anger from that person can create a huge setback.

When a dog fears guests, follow the principle of reducing the intensity of the situation to the point that the dog is comfortable. This may mean, especially at first, that you settle the dog into another room to relax away from the guests. Be especially cautious about subjecting a fearful dog to boisterous children, overbearing people, or intoxicated people.

Training Class?
Some timid dogs may be ready for attendance in a training class that uses positive methods when they’ve lived with you just a few weeks. In particular, puppies need puppy class experience, if they are able to enjoy it and if their immune systems are up to it (consult your veterinarian for this assessment).

Some timid dogs may be too fearful for class until you’ve done a lot of foundation work first. A private trainer or behavior specialist can help you structure positive experiences to build the dog’s confidence, and also help you determine when the dog is ready for class.

The first class experiences may need to be low-key, keeping the dog on the perimeter of the training group and at a distance from anything the dog fears. If you’ve developed focused attention with the dog before starting class, this exercise will be extremely useful for helping the dog relax in the situation. Some dogs may need several visits–starting with very short periods of time–to the training facility before actually participating in a class. Some dogs may never be able to function well enough for class.

If the dog has any tendency to snap at dogs or people or to bark inappropriately, a head halter is an excellent safeguard that helps to eliminate this habit without introducing new problems. Have a behavior specialist help you fit the halter and introduce the dog to it. Use your focused attention exercise to keep the dog’s mind off the halter. Be sure to remove the head halter at all times except when you are actively working the dog. Don’t use a long line with a head halter, because you could put a dangerous amount of force against the neck.

For Life
Don’t expect a dog to get over being timid because it will more likely be a lifelong tendency. Many timid dogs will become loving, safe companions, when kept in situations appropriate to their needs. Be proactive with the dog’s care, thinking ahead so as to avoid excessive stress. Help the dog develop genuine confidence, and you’ll have the best chance of avoiding such potential complications as self-protective aggression.

Is your dog or puppy overly enthusiastic when people come to your door? Running to the door, barking, or jumping on visitors when they arrive can become a real problem, especially when your 5-pound puppy turns into an 85-pound dog. Here are some steps to help:

Step 1: Desensitization
First you must desensitize the dog to the ringing of the doorbell and knocking on the door. To do so, you must repeatedly ring the doorbell and knock on the door until the dog doesn’t respond to them anymore.

Step 2: Increase Intensity
The next step is to make the bell ringing and knocking more intense-try doing both ringing and knocking at the same time. Then try it with strangers instead of people already in the household.

Step 3: Show the Dog What To Do
Teach the dog what you would like them to do when the doorbell rings or someone is knocking on the door without any distractions (sit, lie down, or go in their crate).

Step 4: Put It All Together
Combine steps one through three.

Step 5: Reinforce
Reinforcement is key to the dog understanding that they have to do this every time that the doorbell rings or someone knocks. Practice this frequently until it is a normal part of your dog’s routine.

Storm Phobias in Dogs

By Dr. Bob Judd, DVM, and the Texas Farm Bureau

In spring and summer in Texas we have a lot of thunderstorms and many dogs are very sensitive to these storms. Whether it’s the rain, wind, or thunder, some dogs can display extreme anxiety and are miserable during these storms. Some dogs tremble and cry while others may actually be destructive of property or even injure themselves during a storm. Although it may not be possible to totally remove all fear from these dogs during storms, it is possible to decrease the amount of fear and the dog’s response. In the past, it has been common to tranquilize these dogs with a drug called acepromazine. This drug works well as a sedative, but animal behaviorists indicate that although the dogs are calmer, they still are anxious and upset as this drug does nothing to help their mental state.

A study was performed in dogs with a drug called Clomicalm that is an antidepressant used in people and dogs. This drug was given to storm phobic dogs twice daily for 90 days. Another drug called alprazolam was used as a supplement during severe storms only. Almost all dogs in the study were much less anxious during storms so this combination may be a better method of handling these dogs than simply tranquilizing them. These drugs are by prescription only and your vet will examine your dog to see if this is a good option. Another option is treatment with melatonin. Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance produced in the brain and can be given at the first sign of thunderstorms or can be given anytime thunderstorms are predicted. Melatonin can be purchased over the counter but you will need to contact your vet as far as dosage, safety, and possible side effects in your dog.

Thunderstorms

By Kathy Diamond Davis, The Canine Behavior Series

Fear of thunderstorms is common in dogs, and tends to get worse as they age. It is partly genetic. While some aspects of this problem remain a mystery, we know a lot that can make life easier for thunderstorm-phobic dogs and their families. Best of all, you may be able to help your dog avoid developing this fear in the first place.

Prevention and Precautions
Why do dogs fear thunderstorms? Too many dogs are left outdoors during storms, sometimes with no shelter at all. Anyone would be scared with good reason. Keep your dog inside during storms.

If you want to take your dog outdoors during a storm, do it safely. Some dogs do better when protected by raincoats and boots. Make the trip outside a fun adventure or calm occasion rather than a stressful experience. Special rewards for pottying outside in the rain are a good idea. Make storms occasion for special times with your dog to create positive associations. Games, treats and special activities are time well spent during storms.

Don’t be tense during storms. Be upbeat with the dog, not impatient or pitying with your touch or your voice. The dog will pick up on your emotions and body language, so make them confident.

Dogs feel “rewarded” for fearful behavior if you pet and praise when the dog is behaving fearfully. Rewarding a behavior increases the likelihood of that behavior occurring more often, even when the individual is not conscious of being rewarded for it. Give rewards when the dog is behaving confidently, calmly, or happily. Work with your dog to develop ways to elicit these behaviors so that you can do so during storms and then reward. This is powerful training that will help you and your dog in all aspects of life.

Be aware that this fear can be “contagious” from one dog to another. This makes it all the more important to handle both the fearful dog and a new dog carefully, so that you improve how the dogs feel about storms rather than letting the fear get worse, or even feeding it by how you manage the dogs.

Causes and Triggers
Dogs react to a variety of things associated with storms, and it helps to know what these are for your dog. You may never know them all, but at least a general understanding will help you understand the extent of this fear.

The loud noise is scary to some dogs, and the dog can hear it at a much greater distance than humans can. The dog has early audio warning of an approaching storm, and most storm-phobic dogs eventually start reacting long before the sounds are loud.

Electricity in the air may be a major factor in dog storm phobia. Is there something unpleasant about this to the dog’s sensations? Does it perhaps become even scarier to a dog who has been trained with an electronic collar, or frightened by a static shock in everyday life? We have a lot more questions about the effect of electricity on dogs than we have answers.

The smell of the air changes when a storm approaches, and of course the keen nose of a dog detects this early. The air pressure changes, too, and a dog’s ears are more sensitive to pressure changes than most people. In some cases, it might hurt.

The family may change routine when a storm is approaching. If the family is fearful, gets irritable with the dog, or treats the dog in some unpleasant manner during this time (puts the dog outside, for example), that could feed the dog’s fear.

Anything that has become associated in the dog’s experience with thunderstorms can become a trigger for the fear. So, anytime one of these triggers happens is an opportunity for you to help your dog overcome the fear.

For the More Severe Cases
Veterinarians, veterinary behavior specialists, and dog families deal with thunderstorm fears as this problem is so common. Different things seem to help different dogs. Beyond the above tactics, here are some things you may decide to try:

  1. A quiet, dark, sheltered refuge. Your dog may find the preferred spot independently, leaving you to simply make sure it stays consistently available to the dog. Chosen places dogs include basements, bathrooms (sometimes in the bathtub), closets, and crates that are kept in secluded parts of houses.
  2. If your dog becomes frantic and as a result might suffer injury or do damage during a storm, you may need to develop a good means of confining the dog. Sometimes a secluded crate works, if the dog has been conditioned to rest calmly in a crate.
  3. The DAP Diffuser is showing some promising results in calming fearful dogs, and doesn’t seem to have negative side effects, so consider setting one up in the area used by the dog.
  4. You and your veterinarian or veterinary behavior specialist may decide to medicate your dog with an anti-anxiety drug for the entire storm season or year-round (these medications generally do not work until the dog has been on them for weeks), or a sedative during storms. Due to the unpredictability of storms, it may not be possible to administer a sedative when it’s needed.
  5. For some reason, there are dogs who find it comforting to get under a “security blanket” to combat storm fears. Due to the risk of overheating a dog, don’t force this method. You might give it a try, though, monitoring the dog to see if it helps and to find a covering that provides the benefit without excessive heating. Don’t leave a dog alone with the covering if the dog is likely to chew and swallow pieces of it.
  6. A behavior specialist can help you work out a behavior modification program to work on this problem. Such a program might include a tape of storm sound effects and training for your dog that you can use when the fears start. Learning more about communicating with your dog and modifying dog behavior in positive ways is always time well spent.

Don’t take thunderstorm phobia lightly, even if the problem seems minor in your dog. Handled badly by humans, it will get worse, and dogs have been known to jump through glass windows during storms. Some dogs will throw up when it storms. Many dogs have fled fenced yards. This is a major problem that calls for intelligent handling at the first sign. Treat storms as a routine part of life, nothing to fear, and even perhaps occasion for some special times. Do these things before your dog ever shows signs of phobia, and perhaps you’ll never experience a serious case.

For Dogs Afraid of Thunderstorms

By Kathy Diamond Davies, From Canine Behavior Questions and Answers

Many dogs are afraid of thunderstorms, and dog owners are often looking for some suggestions on dealing with this problem.

  1. Be careful not to comfort your dog in a sympathetic voice when the dog acts afraid. This can make your dog feel even more that there really is something to fear. Instead of a sympathetic voice, use a happy, jolly, playful voice–a hearty voice. This may help give your dog confidence. If you can get your dog to play with you during a storm, that is ideal.
  2. Some dogs will need medication to cope with this. Your veterinarian can help there. Also, ask the veterinarian if it would be safe to try Rescue Remedy with your dog. That is not a veterinary medication, but some people report good results from it. Your vet will know if it’s okay to try with your dog.
  3. Be sure to provide your dog with a safe place to be during storms, and not outside. Many dogs have been lost when they ran from their fenced yards in terror during storms. Your dog may want to rest in a dog crate in a quiet room.
  4. Some people also report their dogs do better with some background noise from television or radio, though I’ve not noticed it made any difference with dogs of my own who were nervous about storms. People also sometimes help these dogs by making an audiotape of thunder noises, and playing it softly, then gradually louder and louder, until the dog gets used to it. That wouldn’t fool my dogs, either, but you might want to try it.

I hope you are able to get your dog comfortable about storms. This fear can get worse as a dog ages, until the dog loses hearing. Some dogs will throw up from this fear, and some will break out of houses, crashing through windows or doors. So you do want to help your dog feel better about it.

Socializing Dogs to People

by  Kathy Diamond Davis, Canine Behavior Series

Ideally every puppy would receive a good foundation of experiences for the ability to cope with all kinds of people as an adult dog. Even if the genetics for temperament in your pup are not the best, or your pup has a bad experience when young, a good foundation of social experiences will give the best chance for a dog to have good social skills. If your puppy comes from two temperamentally-sound parents and is lucky enough to avoid any traumatic experiences with humans during formative months, you might never see problems from lack of good early socialization.

Bad experiences unfortunately happen without anyone being able to foresee or prevent them. What you can do, though, is give your dog plenty of positive experiences. That way when your dog has a bad experience with, for example, a man with a beard, several previous GOOD experiences with bearded men will have already taught your dog that a bearded man is not a bad guy!

Quality AND Quantity
Having lots of experiences with humans will not help your dog if those experiences are of poor quality. When “quantity” means a number of bad experiences, quantity is not a good thing. Your goal is to build in your dog a belief system that most encounters with humans will be safe. Your dog learns from experiences, and those experiences need to illustrate the message you wish to teach the dog.

A dog who has high-quality positive experiences with humans may still not be adequately socialized if there are not enough experiences. Let’s say you have your dog Joe out for a walk and a passing man frightens him. Perhaps the man crashes into Joe, drops something on him, or steps on his tail. Maybe it’s accidentally, maybe the man is under the influence of some substance, but either way, Joe has a bad experience.

If when this happens to Joe he has previously encountered 50 men on outings, 40 of whom ignored him and 10 who gave him treats, what is Joe’s opinion of men likely to be? “Gee, men are usually okay, but that guy was strange!” Give Joe several good experience and he’ll likely put it into the perspective of many good experiences and decide not to worry too much about men he meets.

If Joe has inherited a difficult temperament, he may require more good experiences and more time to offset his bad experience. The same is true if Joe has not had a large number of good experiences before this unfortunate one.

It’s even possible that Joe will never be able to handle exposure to men, or to whatever type of person he decides to worry about. All dogs are not equal when it comes to the socialization they need and how they will be able to handle the world, with or without good experiences. All you can do is your best.

Bear in mind, too, that some breeds were selectively bred to have temperaments you might find difficult in a companion dog. Be sure to research breeds ahead of adopting a dog to find one likely to fit your lifestyle.

To establish the good social experiences with humans that your dog needs, plan contacts with people. Dogs don’t tend to catch infections from humans, so there may be places you can take your puppy to meet humans before the veterinarian wants the pup around other dogs.

Keep outings short so the puppy won’t get tired, and when in doubt, carry the pup to avoid exposure to contaminated ground. Try to do a little every day. The time can increase as the puppy matures and has more stamina and a stronger immune system. Try to remain aware of the dog’s stress level at all times. Your goal is for every experience to end happily.

Don’t let the habit of jumping on people get started because changing this habit later can put your dog’s good attitude toward people at risk. It’s also much easier to prevent than to fix. Don’t let anyone pet the puppy or dog who is standing on hind legs.

You can gently hold the dog in four-on-the-floor position (a chest harness is addition to the collar gives you a secure handhold that doesn’t pull against the dog’s throat), wait until the dog quits trying to jump, or even stand on the leash so it doesn’t give the dog room to jump. Don’t try standing on the leash of a big dog, though, or you can get pulled over!

If you happen to have a not-uncommon combination of a shy dog who also jumps on people, you can teach the dog to do “paws up” to your forearm, and hold the dog there for people to pet. The dog is under your control, so it can be a reasonable compromise while you work on training skills and social skills with a nervous young dog.

Another way to handle the jumping-up dog is to teach the dog to sit for petting and a treat, and this is a lovely behavior. If you start the non-jumping greetings early enough in a dog’s life, it becomes such a habit that the dog is trustworthy even when highly excited and when around frail people. This is a goal well worth the effort, no matter what the dog’s age.

Being able to take some initiative in greeting people gives confidence to many dogs, which is one reason they jump up. Once you’ve taught your dog not to jump up, it’s helpful to teach the dog a cue phrase for greeting people, such as “Say hi.” You can add a signal to this, pointing to the person you mean.

When the dog makes the approach, the dog will tend to feel more comfortable. The same is true when a dog offers a paw to shake hands. Dogs love structure, knowing what is going to happen next, and shaking hands can satisfy this desire.

Variables
Dogs notice all sorts of differences in people. With good socialization, dogs learn to ignore the differences that are not important, such as beards, hats, skin color, and the like. If you react in such a way that your dog thinks there is reason to fear that type of person, though, you can inadvertently create fear, suspicion or defensiveness in your dog toward other people. That becomes inconvenient, and sometimes downright dangerous. So strive to treat people the same no matter what their differences when you are socializing your dog!

In socializing your dog, you want to create positive experiences with every variation on the human condition you possibly can. Here are some differences to use:

  1. Accustom your dog to people of as many different appearances as possible. This includes people who are tall, short, narrow, wide, bearded, short-haired, long-haired, and with skin all the colors of the rainbow. Whatever differences you and your dog come across, your goal is to teach the dog that these things are not important.
  2. Get your dog used to people who smell different ways. Being in my 20th year as a therapy dog handler, I’ve come to believe that dogs are not as put off by scents as people are. If you don’t like the way someone smells, you may notice it makes no difference to your dog. What you don’t want to do is react in such a way that your dog will be afraid of that scent.
  3. Let your dog get used to people moving in all sorts of ways. That means walking, running, limping, riding a bicycle, skating, skipping, and anything else you can think of or find. Keep in mind the dog’s comfort and safety so your dog will have good experiences with these movements, not bad ones.
  4. Accustom your dog to all sorts of sounds associated with people. That includes whispering, talking, laughing, coughing, singing, yelling, playing music electronically or with an instrument and all the other variations you can arrange.
  5. Give your dog the experience of people appearing suddenly. This is startling to some dogs, so start at a distance and be prepared to distract the dog with an eye contact exercise.
  6. Expose your dog to people wearing a wide variety of clothing.
  7. Get your dog used to people carrying all kinds of objects. A safe distance from a construction site is a convenient place to work on this.
  8. When you can actively work with your dog when someone comes to your home, this is a great opportunity to get your dog used to people in a potentially delicate situation. If you’re not able to actively control the dog, though, put the dog into an area away from being able to see the visitors. You don’t want any bad habits or beliefs to get started.

Remedies
An eye contact or focused attention exercise is a good way to handle your dog around people the dog might find stressful. When in doubt, start with having the dog focus on you, and release the dog’s attention for brief moments at a time to see how the dog reacts to the person.

If the dog reacts badly to someone, increase your distance from the person and continue to work with the dog’s attention on you. In the early stages of focused attention it’s usually best to use treats to keep the dog’s eyes on yours. This has the added advantage of giving you a reading on the dog’s stress level. If the dog normally will eat a particular treat but will not eat it in that situation, that’s reason to think the situation may be too stressful.

Don’t let people corner your dog. A dog on a leash may feel cornered even with a lot of space around because the dog can’t get away. If someone is pushy about petting your dog and won’t listen to your instructions, walk on, keeping your dog’s focus on you. Yes, it’s a bit snobbish, but it’s good for the dog! It tells your dog that YOU will deal with the humans, and that you are a leader worthy of following.

Acting out aggression or fear tends to fix both the behavior habit and the feeling more strongly. If your dog reacts in this manner to a situation, you need to stop putting the dog in the situation. Change the situation to one the dog can handle, and work gradually up to the level your dog needs to be able to cope with.

For example, let’s say your dog is afraid of men encountered on walks. You need to take your dog out to eliminate, so you’ll need to work the dog around men. How can you approach this training?

First, if the dog is aggressive toward men, get the help of an expert in person to work on the problem. Aggression is not a do-it-yourself project. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a behavior specialist in your area. Aggression and shyness are two sides of the same coin, so be alert for a fearful dog to show signs of aggression. If that happens, don’t delay getting help.

In the case of a dog showing mild fear without aggression, it helps to “sideswipe” people—not by hitting them as you go by! But instead of walking up to someone and stopping and putting your dog in the position of having to deal with them, just walk by the person, keeping your dog’s eyes on your eyes. At first have the distance between your dog and the person fairly large—whatever it takes for the dog to feel relaxed, maybe 20 feet. The dog may also feel relaxed when your body is between the dog and the other person.

If the person is willing to help, you can walk by several times, getting closer. For the first session, that may be all you want to do. You might do just that for several sessions.

As the dog shows progress, you could make your passes closer, and slow down as you pass the person. Eventually you could stop near the person and keep your dog’s attention while perhaps talking to the person.

If the dog gets more comfortable, you might have the person just lightly scratch the dog with one hand reaching from the side behind one ear – not reaching over the head. You might also have the person give the dog a treat. Another possibility is to have the person drop a treat for the dog, if you’re willing to let your dog pick up food from the ground (that’s a training decision).

If your dog is not showing comfort with being petted by people, you could make the choice to just teach your dog to ignore everyone else when out with you. This might seem extreme, but when you think about it, it’s not so different from what some humans have to do in order to endure constant closeness to people living in neighborhoods and apartments.

In tight quarters, people give each other some “space” by simply not engaging every time they pass. Some dogs need more space than others, and if you can’t give the dog physical space at that moment, you can create emotional space. With practice and teaching your dog that you can be trusted to keep things safe, this kind of space can work for many dogs.

Children and Puppies
The combination of a preschool-age child and a puppy at a critical stage of socialization requires special handling. A typical result is a dog who is never good with kids because of things that happened during critical early weeks of the pup’s life.

If you have a young child and want to add a dog to the family, your best bet is a dog already positively socialized to young kids. If you have a young child and a puppy, be aware that a puppy may not show the effects of the child’s behavior until the pup is several months of age.

Be careful how any child is allowed to behave around any dog, and never leave a child under school age alone with any dog for even one second.

Good contact with dogs in the early years can have lifelong benefits for children, so it’s worth a lot of effort to provide this contact for your child and the children of your acquaintance. Just make sure there is enough skilled adult supervision on every encounter. The ideal is one skilled adult handling the dog while another handles the child.

Companionship
What a sociable dog can do for humans is beyond scientific measurement and beyond words. It is worth a great deal of effort to socialize your dog well with humans. It’s also a lot of fun.

Dogs are the ultimate ice-breakers between people. Handling a dog skillfully around other people is challenging and fascinating. You’ll be rewarded by having your dog provide even more benefits in your life, as well as in the lives of other people.

Canine Separation Anxiety

by Barbara S. Simpson, Ph.D, DVM, Diplomate ACVB, The Veterinary Behavior Clinic

Canine separation anxiety is a common behavioral disorder and is diagnosed in 20% to 40% of canine cases presented to specialty behavior clinics. Although the exact cause is unknown, separation anxiety is thought to be a product of the social nature of dogs and their attachment to specific individuals. Neurophysiologic and genetic factors may also be important. Signs of canine separation anxiety occur when an affected dog is left alone or is separated from its “significant person.” Anxiety is expressed by pacing, whining, salivating, and destructiveness. The dog’s behavior when alone may be in marked contrast to the way it acts in the presence of the owner, when it may never exhibit signs of anxiety. The owner may be unaware that the dog’s behavior is due to an anxiety disorder and may attribute it to the human emotion “spite”.

Signalment and History
The signalment for canine separation anxiety is variable. The dog may be of either sex, although males appear to be more commonly affected. The disorder may occur in any breed, but mixed-breeds are over represented in surveys. The typical age of presentation is 9 months to 2 years. Later separation anxiety may appear in older dogs as their sensory world diminishes and they become more and more dependent on their owners.

Among young dogs, one of two historical presentations is common. The first is a dog that has exhibited signs of canine separation anxiety from puppyhood, perhaps as an extension of the distress that all puppies express when isolated from their littermates and mother. The other is a dog adopted from a rescue group or animal shelter. In the latter case, it is possible either that the dog was abandoned because of separation-related problems or that the dog had lived with other dogs and had no prior experience with social isolation. Clinicians often have the impression that the adopted dog, after a life of deprivation, bonds quickly to its new owner and demonstrates extreme distress when separated from him or her.

There is no evidence that “spoiling” a dog by allowing it to sleep on the bed or furniture and allowing it to ride in the car on errands contributes to separation anxiety. There is evidence, however, that many owners of dogs with separation anxiety have a particularly close relationship with their pet.

Diagnosis
Diagnosis is made based on the behavioral history and the exclusion of differential diagnoses, which may be medical or behavioral. Behaviors characteristic of canine separation anxiety include destructiveness, elimination, hypersalivation, and vocalization. To make a definitive diagnosis, these behaviors must not occur in the house when the owner is home. That is, they must be restricted to times when the dog is left alone. Dogs may exhibit one or more of these signs.

Destructiveness
Destructiveness is a common presenting sign. Often the dog’s destructive behavior is focused around the door that the owner has exited but may include other sites of egress, including windows and other doors. The molding around doors or windows may be chewed and clawed, and the door itself may be extensively damaged. Digging may occur at the base of the doors to the point that the carpeting or other floor covering is damaged. Dogs left outdoors may direct their destructiveness toward the outside of doors and windows as they attempt to get inside the house, which is the route of the owner’s departure.

In other dogs, destructiveness focuses on specific objects in the house. Articles of clothing, including shoes worn by the owner, may be sought out, moved to a new location, and chewed. Some dogs chew furniture, newspapers, and magazines, and overturn trash cans. A dog left in a crate when the owner leaves may tear up bedding or newspapers in the crate, chew on its bars, or attempt to dig out of it. The owner may return home to find the dog has broken its teeth or nails in its attempt to escape.

Differential diagnoses include general destructiveness, thunderstorm phobia, and territorial behavior. General destructiveness is especially common in young dogs, which may be particularly destructive when unsupervised by the owner. In such dogs, destructiveness may occur only when the owner leaves and no longer monitors the dog; a thorough history, however, may reveal that the dog chews objects if not carefully observed.

Dogs fearful of noises such as thunderstorms may exhibit destructive behavior when frightened while the owner is gone. Territorial behavior may be manifest as chewing around doorways and windows in an attempt to contact visitors to the house, such as postal workers or delivery persons. These explanations for destructiveness must be ruled out through discussions with the owner before a diagnosis of separation anxiety can be made.

Elimination
Fecal or urinary elimination in the house is a common presenting sign of canine separation anxiety and is related to autonomic arousal. If this occurs when the dog is confined to a crate, the dog may have soiled itself. When both fecal and urinary elimination occur, separation anxiety is a likely explanation, since few medical disorders cause these concurrent signs.

Differential diagnoses for elimination when the owner is absent include house training failure, male urine marking, noise phobia, gastrointestinal or urinary tract disorders, and seizures. Dogs not fully house trained will eliminate when the owner is not present to supervise them, and male dogs often urine mark in the house; these incidents may mimic the signs of canine separation anxiety. The behavioral history should be investigated to verify that the dog never or rarely eliminates in the house unless the owner is absent.

The numerous medical causes of inadequate voluntary control of feces or urine should also be investigated. For fecal incontinence, these include internal parasites, enteritis, and malabsorption syndrome; for urinary incontinence, these include cystitis, cystic or urethral calculi, diabetes, or latrogenic causes of polyuria. Epileptic dogs may have seizures during the day while the owner is gone, with the only remaining sign being elimination in the house. It is critical to rule out medical causes of elimination in a dog that is well house trained.

Hypersalivation
Hypersalivation occurs in a small percent of dogs that exhibit separation anxiety. In these cases, the owner may return to find the dog’s face, chest, and forelimbs soaked with saliva. Dogs left in crates may be standing in a puddle of saliva at the end of the day. The owner often reports excessive water consumption when he or she returns, as the dog compensates for transient dehydration. When the hypersalivation occurs only in the owner’s absence, it may be considered pathognomonic for canine separation anxiety.

Vocalization
Dogs may vocalize when the owner leaves, indicating distress and frustration. The vocalizations noted include plaintive whining, howling, and barking. Neighbors may report such vocalizations to the owner. The pattern is often highly individualized: some dogs whine as the owner prepares to leave, and others howl during the entire time the owner is gone. An anticipatory greeting bark may occur when the owner returns and is not necessarily related to separation anxiety.

Although whining, barking, and howling occur in dogs in many contexts unrelated to separation anxiety, the owners of dogs with this disorder often report that as they leave their home, the dog produces a particular vocal sound that is distinguished from vocalizations at other times.

Other Signs
Dogs that exhibit separation anxiety often have highly affiliated relationships with their owners. The following traits are frequently observed:

  • The dog remains close to the owner, following him or her about the house
  • The dog becomes distressed as the owner moves further away, such as a trip to the mailbox or to take out the trash
  • The dog shows signs of restlessness or depression as the owner prepares to leave
  • The dog greets the owner excessively upon his or her return home
  • The dog may be anorexic when the owner is absent and may eat only in the presence of the owner

Summary
Separation anxiety is a manageable condition. Best success is obtained by a multifaceted treatment program that changes the environment of the dog while it is alone, changes the relationship between the owner and the dog, and provides anti anxiety therapy in the form of appropriate medication. The veterinary technician can play a critical role in the success of the treatment of separation anxiety by educating the owner and advising him or her on the steps in a therapy program.

Every year, there are approximately 5 million people bitten by dogs. The American Veterinary Medical Association has joined with the United States Postal Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics to help prevent dog bites. According to the CDC, each year as many as 800,000 people, more than half of them children, require medical attention for dog bites and more than a dozen people, most of them small children, die from dog bite injuries.

The good news is that most dog bites can be prevented. Whether you own a dog or have children, here are some dog bite prevention tips to help keep everyone safer. Dogs that spend a lot of time alone or chained up can become dangerous. A well socialized and supervised pet is less likely to bite. To help prevent dog bites, make your dog part of your family.

How to Avoid Dog Bites

Teaching Your Children Basic Dog Safety

  1. Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially one who’s tied or confined behind a fence or in a car.
  2. Never turn your back and run away from a dog. Don’t scream.
  3. Be Still Like a Tree: When approached by an unfamiliar dog, remain motionless with your hands at your sides.
  4. Be Still Like a Log: If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still with your hands over your ears.
  5. Never play with an unfamiliar dog unless supervised by an adult.
  6. Do not tease or chase an unfamiliar dog.
  7. Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
  8. Do not pet a dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
  9. If bitten, immediately report the bite to an adult.

Tips for Dog Owners

  1. Dogs with a history of aggression are not appropriate for households with children.
  2. If your child seems fearful or apprehensive about dogs you may want to wait to introduce a dog into the household until they are over the fear.
  3. Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it.
  4. Use caution when bringing a dog or puppy into the home of an infant or toddler. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
  5. Spay or neuter your dog; this frequently reduces aggressive tendencies.
  6. Properly socialize and train your dog. Teach the dog submissive behaviors such as rolling over to expose its abdomen, and taking food without growling.

If Your Dog Does Bite, Take Responsible Action

  1. Confine your dog immediately.
  2. Check on the victim and seek medical attention.
  3. Provide the victim with important information, such as the date of your dog’s last rabies vaccination.
  4. Cooperate with the animal control officer (ACO). Strictly follow any quarantine requirements.
  5. Seek professional help to prevent your dog from biting again. Consult your veterinarian, who may refer you to an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. Your community ACO or Humane Society may also offer helpful services.

Behavior Tips For Cats

Cats are not as social as dogs and are not as accustomed to traveling away from their safe home environment. The travel and transport to the veterinary office can therefore be stressful for them. We often hear from owners that the second the cat carrier comes out, their cat vanishes from sight! We want to change all that and help make it a happier vet visit for you and your cat.

A Different Kind of Cat Care for happier vet visits
Cats are America’s number one companion animal, with 10 million more cats in the United States than dogs. Yet cats are far less likely to come to the vet. There are several reasons behind this, but one of the biggest is that the trip to the vet is stressful.

Veazie Vet has tried to look at every angle of the experience, from the time the carrier comes out to the time they return to their housemates, to see how we can make the vet trip as stress-free as possible.

Upon arrival, the receptionist team will offer you a seat in a tranquil, sunny seating location to help reduce stress or may escort you directly into a room.  We have one exam room that is set aside just for cats.  Even though the clinic air still may small like dogs there have not been any dogs in this one room for several years now.  Minimizing smell as a trigger for a nervous cat that is never around dogs can make a significant difference in their visit with us!

Out cat rooms have lights that can be dimmed and Feliway plug-ins (calming pheromones), to help create a soothing atmosphere. We try to use soft voices throughout the entire visit with all feline patients. Whenever possible, we strive to conduct exams where the cat is comfortable, whether that be in the bottom of the carrier, on the scale or in the sink. Any tests and diagnostics are also done in the room to minimize stress. Payments can be processed in the exam room, so there is no need to go back into the busy lobby.

Many cat people have seen their cat go running and hiding as soon as they notice the carrier coming out of the closet. We finally get a hold of the cat and try to put them in the carrier.  Their legs are sprawling, nails are clawing and fur is flying. This whole process is a very difficult and stressful situation for both owner and cat.

Every day people are spending $30 to $300 or more on cat furniture or condos. Why not take the carrier that you have in a closet or your basement and make that into a cozy home for your kitty? If the carrier is left out at all times, it likely will become a wonderful little den for her to sleep in and won’t be a stressful container she is forced into once a year. If your cat is already afraid of the carrier, then you will need to desensitize her to it. This may be a slow process, but will be well worth your effort.

The first step would be to make the carrier as comfy and cozy as possible to attract your kitty. Find a blanket or small pillow that your cat already loves to nap on, and place that in the base of the carrier. The blankets can be sprayed with Feliway to help the transition as well. Make sure to place the carrier in a spot where the kitty already spends a lot of time. Sometimes taking the cover off the carrier and just having the blanket filled base is a good place to start.

Once your cat has shown some interest in the carrier, start offering some treats as she approaches the carrier. Then place some treats inside the carrier, to get her to walk into it. You can even offer meals inside, so she starts to associate good things with the carrier. If your kitty isn’t very food motivated, you can try using a favorite toy to lure her in. Remember to praise her every time she goes in with some quietly said ‘good girl’s and some pats or scratches behind the ears.

Once she becomes comfortable with the cover off, try putting the cover back in place. Many cats love hiding under blankets or in dark places, so you can put another soft or fuzzy blanket on top of the carrier to cover all but the front entrance.Now she has the option of retreating into the quiet carrier or perching on top to survey her territory.

If you have multiple cats and multiple carriers, ideally they would all be out and part of your cats’ everyday lives. The more comfortable they are with the carrier at home, the more they will tolerate their trips to the vets.

When it is time to bring your cat to the vet it shouldn’t be nearly as difficult to get her into the carrier. Use the blanket that is already on the carrier, covering the entrance as well, to carry her to the car and from the car to the vet office.

Many cats do not travel well, and by limiting her ability to see out, we limit the stimulation. Imagine what it may be like for your cat in the seat, only able to see a small portion out the window with trees, vehicles and buildings flying past. That in itself could be very stressful to your furry friend.

With the blanket covering the carrier, it creates the comfy den that they are used to at home. Then once you do arrive at the vet clinic, the staff can use the blanket to cover the exam table. This way, kitty doesn’t have to step on a cold, hard surface, but one that is soft and smells like home. When the exam is over return the kitty into the carrier and put the cover back on (covering the entire carrier).

At Veazie Veterinary Clinic, we aim to make the veterinary visit as stress-free for your cat as possible. Like humans, each cat is an individual and has his or her own unique personality. The Feline Anxiety Level Scoring System is designed to help staff better understand your cat and his or her unique needs.

Depending on your cat’s anxiety level, most physical examinations and minor procedures can be accomplished without requiring any sedation. Our goal is to make every vet visit as stress-free as possible. If your cat has an increased level of anxiety here, we may suggest sedation in order to best examine your cat.

What is the Feline Anxiety Level Scoring System?
This scoring system measures your cat’s anxiety in the veterinary exam room. Knowing your cat’s anxiety level can help staff determine how to best handle your cat during his or her examination. For example, if your cat is extremely apprehensive at the veterinary office, we can adjust accordingly to your cat’s needs. Conversely, if your cat is laid-back and carefree, we can infer that no involved handling is needed. Cat-friendly handling decreases stress, ensures that your visit runs smoothly and enables a thorough veterinary examination.

Level 1: The nature of a level one cat is very low to no anxiety. This best describes a cat that is calm, relaxed and at ease in the veterinary clinic, during physical examinations, and during minor procedures. Click here to see a level 1 cat video.

How Might Your Cat Act if He/She is a Level One?

  • Immediately comes out of carrier
  • Tail and ears are upright
  • Rubbing on exam tables and cabinets
  • Potentially purring
  • Exploring

Level 2: A level two describes a cat that may have slight anxiety while at the veterinary clinic and during his or her physical examination. They display some comfort while being alert to their surroundings. Click here to see a level 2 cat video.

How Might Your Cat Act if He/She is a Level Two?

  • Laying on his/her sternum with paws tucked
  • Ears are upright
  • Likely will be immobile, like a statue, hoping no one notices them!
  • Probably not purring

Level 3: A cat who has level three anxiety is apprehensive. They will often find a hiding spot and are not pleased about being away from their home environment. They are anxious during the physical evaluation and may require some sedation for a thorough examination and minor procedures. Click here to see a level 3 cat video.

How Might Your Cat Act if He/She is a Level Three?

  • Hiding in the back of the carrier
  • Crouching, cowering and leaning away from the doctor or staff
  • Ears are back and/or down
  • May be growling, hissing or swatting if approached too hastily
  • Tail is tucked

Level 4: A level four cat comprises all of the behaviors of a level three cat. However, a level four cat will act more offensively due to anxiety. They may feel threatened and will commonly attack. A cat with level four anxiety will likely require sedation for a thorough physical examination and for minor procedures. Click here to see a level 4 cat video.

How Might Your Cat Act if He/She is a Level Four?

  • Ears are back and/or down
  • Tail is tucked
  • Growling, hissing, swatting, charging, batting and biting
  • Hiding in carrier
  • Crouching, cowering and leaning away from the doctor or staff

An indoor environment can be just as engaging as an outdoor one, you just have to think like a cat.

Environmental Enrichment Enhances Quality of Life for Your Indoor Cat

From the American Association of Feline Practitioners
Supported by an Educational Grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition

Providing an enriched environment can increase activity, decrease mental stagnation, and prevent many behavior problems. Cats need mental stimulation. An enriched environment will give cats the opportunities to create their own positive experiences.

Vertical space is highly desirable for cats and increases the overall space available to the cat. Provide cat trees, preferably with hiding spots, cat perches, and shelves.

Scratching is normal cat behavior. Provide acceptable scratching materials (e.g., scratching posts). To train your cat to use the post, reward with treats and praise. Also put catnip, treats, and toys on or near the post. Scratching posts should be sturdy, and make of materials cats prefer (usually wood, sisal rope, or rough fabric). Locate the scratching post next to a window, sleeping area, or another favorite area. Many cats prefer vertical scratching posts; some prefer horizontal ones.

Interactive toys and hunting games allow cats to stalk and catch; play several times a day with solitary indoor cats.

Keep the home environment predictable, but without rigidity or boredom. Make small changes that provide novelty. Studies indicate that cats play best and most often with toys which also use human interaction. Rotated or new toys hold cat’s curiosity and interest for longer periods of time.

Cats in the wild eat 10-20 small meals per day. By making all food available in the bowl, foraging time for indoor cat has been reduced to a few minutes per day, as compared with the hours needed for natural foraging. This contributes to the obesity problems in cats, which can lead to various disorders, as well as early death.

To Make Feeding More Natural for the Indoor Cat

  • Food puzzles, interactive food toys, and/or food balls
  • Make homemade food puzzles from a cardboard box or a plastic beverage bottle with holes cut into it.
  • Hide food in different places around the house, and in or around new objects so that cats can “hunt” for their food.
  • Boxes, bags, and carriers that are left out provide nice hiding places for cats.
  • Outdoor enclosures for cats protect them from injury while still allowing outdoor exposure.

Social Companionship
Cats are social animals. They need companionship and mental stimulation. Social companionship can be in the form of gentle petting and stroking, feeding, grooming, and play. If cat owners are away for a large part of the day, it may be helpful for their cat to have another cat to interact with.

Do not let your kitten or cat bite your hands or feet. If your kitten is doing this, substitute a toy to bite on instead. In a multiple cat household, set up several stations, with litterboxes, food, and water, throughout the home. With critical resources available at more than one site, a cat can choose which path to take, and which cat to greet or avoid.

Preventing Startle
To enhance the cat’s coping skills, make regular small changes in the environment to provide novelty.

For anticipated changes in the family, such as adding a new pet or baby, prepare the environment and introduce the cat gradually to these changes. For example, when moving, first introduce the cat to a small, comfortable space in the new place, which has been previously stocked with favorite items such as toys or the owner’s clothing. When the cat has adjusted to this environment, gradually increase the new space available to the cat.

Cats Can Be Trained and Enjoy the Associated Attention

  • Reward cats with treats or positive attention to encourage desired behavior.
  • Redirect undesired behavior.
  • Do not punish; don’t swat, slap, or yell at the cat.
  • Train under calm, fun conditions using positive reinforcement (e.g., treats, toys, massage, praise).
  • Cats can learn to “sit,” “come,” and do a variety of other tricks. Start with things your cat already likes to do.
  • You can also train your cat to allow teeth brushing, nail trimming, and grooming.

For more information on indoor enrichment, visit the The Indoor Pet Initiative or the Catfriendly.com websites.

Cats are three dimensional creatures; that is, they need to get off of the ground and survey their environment. This means your cat will likely want to access all the levels of your home, including counter tops and table tops. Not all owners want their cats on counter tops. Kittens can get into food, soaps and plants. Adult cats may like to steal food.

The most difficult part of training is consistency-catching them every time (even when you are not home!). Solutions for training must therefore activate without you being present. Here are some tips and ideas on how to train your kitten to stay off counters or lessen the attraction between adult cats & counters:

  • A deterring spray collar. Most of these are activated by a sensor when the cat enters a room. This product works to keep your cat out of the kitchen.
  • Place a preferred surface on or next to the unacceptable surface. Once your cat is using the preferred surface, slowly move it away to a more suitable location.
  • Catnip, strategically placed, will attract most cats to that area.
  • A vinyl carpet runner can be placed on the counter when you can’t supervise. Place it upside down so the points are facing upward.
  • Place two sided tape or tinfoil on the unacceptable surface.
  • ScatMat is a static electricity generator that gives a small zap when touched.

Cats are meticulously clean and sensitive to texture and change; they can be surprisingly picky about their litter boxes. This can make them picky when it comes to their bathroom habits. Set yourself up for success by following these tips. Ideally there should be one more litter box than cats in the environment.

Cats eliminate as a fundamental need and to mark territory. To make sure your cat does not “claim” your home by eliminating in undesirable locations, provide an attractive litter box.

Keeping it Clean
Cats are extremely clean animals and will avoid using a dirty litter box. To make sure there are no accidents scoop the litter box twice daily and wash it once weekly with a MILD detergent like Ivory dish soap. Do not use strong or odorous cleaners. Some are toxic to cats and the strong odor may force your cat to find a different area to eliminate.

Size and Type
Cats generally like large, uncovered boxes. This allows them to escape if they get startled. As a general rule the box should be 1 1/2 times the length of your cat (excluding the tail). Boxes with high sides or rims around the top may be appropriate for cats that tend to scatter litter over the side while digging. Low sided boxes are appropriate for small kittens and older cats that have trouble getting in and out of the litter box.

Substrate Preference
Research has shown that cats like fine-grain unscented litters. Many cats are put off by the odor of scented litter or litters containing scented deodorants. This is also a good reason not to place room deodorizers or air fresheners near the litter box. Scoopable or clumping litters have finer grains and are easier to keep clean.

Location and Number
Cats like quiet and private places to use their box. Don’t place the box near noisy appliances like the washer and dryer. The box should also be easily accessible not hidden in a difficult area for them to access. Ideally there should be one more box than cats in the environment (i.e.; if 3 cats, 4 boxes…) Each cat needs a place to eliminate and mark their territory. In multilevel homes there should be boxes on each level, especially if there are older arthritic cats present that may have difficulty using stairs.

Scratching is a normal cat behavior. It is a common misconception that cats scratch to sharpen their claws. This is true but they are also stretching muscles, shedding old cuticle and communicating with others. Cats scratch to rough up the bark of a tree (or the furniture) to let other cats or people know where they are and what territory is theirs. Scratching on areas their human counterparts find inappropriate can be a reason why a cat is surrendered to a humane shelter. Here are some tips about nails, scratching & trimming.

Help Your Kitten to Develop Good Scratching Habits:

  • Place scratching posts in 2-3 areas most used by the cat (near their favorite sleeping space & playing areas).
  • Experiment with different textures. There are a number of different surfaces commercially available including sisal rope, cardboard and carpet.
  • Some cats prefer vertical surfaces while others prefer horizontal surfaces.
  • Engage your kitten in play at the scratching areas and reward them when they use the proper surface.
  • Since 50% of cats react positively to catnip, try sprinkling it on and around the scratching area. Remember kittens less than 8 weeks do not respond positively to catnip and some can actually have an aversion to it.
  • If they begin to scratch on an undesired surface, place the preferable substrate next to this area. Once they have begun using the acceptable surface you can begin gradually moving the scratching surface to the desired location.

For Older Cats With Established Scratching Habits:

  • Make the undesired scratching area unavailable. Cover it with thick plastic, tinfoil or two sided tape so it feels different and less appealing.
  • Place the scratching post near/next to the damaged area. Ideally pick a fabric/substrate that closely matches the surface you are trying to get them away from.
  • You may have to leave the post in the area the cat likes to scratch for a while. With time, you should be able to move it very slowly (a few inches a week) to a desired location.
  • Reinforce a positive experience with the post. Scent the post with catnip or praise with food when they scratch using the post.

Nail trimming can also help minimize damage. You may have to desensitize your cat to this. It’s OK if initially you just play with or massage their feet. Gradually, one claw at a time, work your way to the point where you can trim all nails at one sitting.

A product called Soft Paws (rubber claw sleeves) can also be applied to minimize the damage caused by scratching.

Often families decide to add a new cat to their household. Since cats are very much creatures of habit and only loosely social, the introduction of a new cat can be stressful to both new and existing kitties. Here are some tips on introducing a new cat and keeping a multi cat household happy and peaceful.

Introducing a New Cat into a Household with Existing Cats

From the American Association of Feline Practitioners
Supported by an Educational Grant from Hill’s Pet Nutrition

When introducing a new cat, initially isolate it in a separate room with its own food, water, litterbox, and toys. This allows each cat to gradually adjust to the scent and sounds of the other cat. Once a veterinarian has deemed cats healthy, limited interaction may occur under the door.

Continue the gradual introduction by exchanging bedding between cats, and rubbing a cloth around one cat’s mouth and leaving that cloth in the other cat’s space, or rubbing a cloth alternately on each cat. As cats start to exhibit curiosity about each other, reward friendly behavior with treats and praise.

At this point, short, supervised, direct interactions can begin. For the initial exposure, have one cat in a carrier and allow the other cat to approach. Feeding both cats at the same time can reduce stress as well. Following this, allow cats to walk around and sniff each other. Continue to reward friendly behavior. Gradually increase the supervised time together.

Do not leave the cats together unsupervised until several supervised interactions without aggression have occurred. The process of introducing a new cat may take several weeks. Older cats may need a quiet space away from kittens for an extended period of time. Friendly, well-socialized cats may adapt to each other rapidly.

Pheromone products (like Feliway) may ease the introduction, but should be used in conjunction with gradual introduction.

There are many potential stressors in a cat’s environment that can lead to anxiety. Being aware of these potential stressors and making a concerted effort to give them due consideration will go a long way to making your cat home as harmonious as possible.

What Qualifies as a Stressor?

A stressor is anything that causes your cat anxiety. Usually it is linked to some sort of change in the environment. This may cause your cat to be uncomfortable, nervous or fearful resulting in changes in behavior. Cats have been known to over-groom, hide, become aggressive or change elimination behavior.

Common cat stressors include:

  • Transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor situation
  • Moving to a new home
  • Separation from human and feline family members (and sometimes canine!)
  • Visitors
  • Strange places
  • Introduction of new pets or family members (including a new baby)
  • A trip to the veterinary office (unless they know they are seeing Dr. McCaw!)
  • Travel
  • Visualization of strange cats/animals through a window
  • An outdoor cat urinating/marking doorways and windows
  • Loud or strange noises (like renovations/construction/music…)
  • Strong fragrances like colognes/perfumes/plugins
  • Change in work schedule or home routine
  • Poor litter box hygiene or even just a change in litter type
  • Grizzly bear in the Living Room (just checking to see if you are awake)

How Can I Reduce Their Anxiety?

Avoiding stressors to begin with would be the ideal approach. This, however, is impractical (at the least!). But, attempting to maintain a sense of order and routine in their environment will be beneficial to your cat’s psyche.

If you are a traveler and plan on taking your cat with you either routinely or just from time to time it would be wise to acclimate your cat to travel when it is a kitten. Refer to the section above for information on “Learn to Love the Carrier”. Be patient, especially with mature cats, as this process can take time.

What Are Pheromones?

Good question! Pheromones are signal-carrying hormones that are released as a form of communication between individuals within a species. We can’t smell cat pheromones but they can. The Feline Facial Pheromone is released when a cat rubs its face on an object. This pheromone is a “feel good” hormone. It lets other cats know that all is good in the environment!

Feliway brand is a synthetic version of this pheromone sold at many pet stores and online. There is a plugin form that constantly emits pheromone into the environment and a spray that can be used. The spray is most commonly used on a pad placed in your cat’s carrier before travel. This pheromone product is not a “cure-all” but can be of benefit in stressful situations.

Some stressors are unpredictable and unavoidable and some cats are less social and more “skittish” than others. It is important to make sure your environment is cat friendly. The more your cat is allowed to “be a cat” the more comfortable it will be in its environment. The Ohio State University has set up a very informative website for just this purpose. We encourage all cat owners to visit their page: Indoor Pet Initiative.

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