Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog Make Friends Monday 26 March 2018 @ 08:38
Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been talking about how you might go about helping your dog deal with some of their fears. Our last post talked about one of the stranger fears you might encounter when you live with a dog: The Fear of Stairs. This issue can really get in the way of living a normal home life with your dog, but thankfully in most cases, it can be dealt with through some training. Other examples of common doggy fears include:
We hope to discuss all of these fears in time, but this week we’re going to focus on The Fear of Other Dogs.
It’s not unusual for a dog to feel nervous around other dogs every now and then. There are probably some humans out there that make you feel nervous yourself. This only becomes a real problem if it becomes an everyday occurrence for your dog, in which case you’ll need to become proactive in helping with your pup’s fear. Understanding the source of your dog’s fear will help you deal with it, and can be vital in allowing your dog to be happy and healthy.
Your dog’s fear of other dogs will affect both of you. It can turn a simple activity like walking the dog into a stressful event. Some owners find themselves timing their walks or altering their routes to avoid other walkers, but there will always be a sense of dread just in case someone else has had the same idea. These actions can also prevent your dog from having any opportunity to socialize, which can make their fear even worse.
Fear as a Result of Trauma
If your dog is easily spooked, a series of these negative and scary experiences can easily cause the development of a phobia. For example, this could happen to a small-breed dog or young pup if they encounter larger dogs who want to play in a manner that could be harmful to a dog of smaller stature. Over time, your dog could come to associate larger dogs with danger and may bark, snarl or behave aggressively towards any they come across.
It should be noted that while small dogs are used as an example above, it’s very much possible for similar things to happen to larger dogs. Similarly, while the other dogs in the example are just playing rough, trauma can also occur as a result of genuine, aggressive attacks from other dogs.
For some dogs, this fear might be because they’ve experienced something traumatic in their past which is having an impact on their behaviour. In some cases, it might occur because of insufficient socialization, making meeting unfamiliar dogs a new and terrifying experience. In certain situations, it might be simply that your dog is submissive by nature, and this display of fear is their way of accepting the other dog’s dominance.
Small Dogs: Know Your Safe Breeds
While there are loads of great ways to improve your dog’s ability to interact with other dogs safely, dogs of smaller breeds may always have a fear of some breeds. There’s nothing wrong with accepting that your dog has certain limitations, and understanding that their fear, at least to them, is fully justifiable. For example, a small or toy breed dog may begin to feel comfortable around other small and toy breeds, and even medium breeds, but large breeds may simply be too large.
Similarly, your dog may learn how to read signals and become comfortable interacting with dogs who are being openly friendly but may not develop the confidence to approach dogs who aren’t sending these signals. This is fine, and may just prevent further traumatic experiences.
How Do I Tell if My Dog is Experiencing Anxiety?
In almost every case, anxiety is rooted in fear. As with humans, anxiety in dogs can exist anywhere between mild fear and utter panic. Generally, this will result in your dog taking on either a defensive or offensive position.
Signs that your dog is panicking include:
- Excessive barking;
- Active effort to escape;
Ongoing anxiety can also lead to nervous symptoms such as biting and licking themselves or diarrhoea. Dogs who are only experiencing mild fear may show some of the following signs:
- Cowering or shrinking away;
- Vague attempts at escaping;
- Lower activity;
In all cases, your chances of success will be highest if you get to start young. If you have a new puppy, ensure that they’re fully vaccinated and then start socializing with as many dogs as you can (making sure this is in a controlled, secure environment). If you’re still in the planning stages of getting a puppy, be sure to talk to the shelter, store or breeder about how the pup has been socialized with littermates and other dogs.
If your dog is older and has missed this key socialization stage, you’re going to need to begin rehabilitation in gradual, gentle steps. Whatever you do, don’t force them to face their fear before they’re ready. This can be a traumatic experience and will only make your dog’s fear even worse. One of the strongest items in your toolbox is a technique known as desensitization. This involves introducing your dog to their trigger - in this case, other dogs - in a slow, systematic way. The idea is to allow them to learn over time that other dogs aren’t actually that scary.
Dogs are a common and much-loved pet, and as a result, they’re pretty much everywhere. This means there’s a very high chance you and your dog will bump into a strange dog without having time to prepare first. Try to ready yourself by training your dog to respond to a “let’s go” command or something similar, so you can both remove yourselves from the situation with minimal anxiety.
For many dogs, picking them up will only stress them out further, so it’s best for your dog to be able to follow you on foot. One way is to start with your dog on a leash somewhere you won’t bump into strange dogs, such as your own house. Begin walking, but suddenly change direction and encourage them to follow you using a happy voice and/or gestures.
Each time your dog follows you successfully, reward them enthusiastically with toys, food or whatever else they love the most. Once this is going smoothly at home, you can start doing it when you’re out and about.
Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog Get Up The Stairs Monday 12 March 2018 @ 08:26
Last month, we helped to reunite border collie Maiden with her family. Maiden had a fear of thunder, so we decided to give you all some tips on helping your pup’s fear of thunder to celebrate the reunion. Astraphobia, the fear of thunder, is one of the most common fears experienced by dogs, along with fear of other loud noises such as fireworks. Other examples of common doggy fears include:
We’ll discuss all of these fears in the future, but first we’re going to explore one of the strangest and most inconvenient of the common dog fears: The Fear of Stairs.
Many of us have encountered a dog who is afraid of staircases and other steps, or at least seen videos of them online. Watching your pup cry, give up, tuck their tail between their legs or tremble hopelessly at the sight of stairs can be understandably stressful or upsetting for any caring owner.
A common way of dealing with this fear is to force the dog up and down the steps in an attempt to show them there’s nothing to be afraid of. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t always help an animal to overcome the fear. To truly help your dog’s fear, you really need an understanding of the underlying causes.
There are any number of different reasons that this fear has developed. In some cases, the dog might have experienced something in the past that has caused them to associate stairs with things that are scary, hurtful or otherwise unpleasant. Maybe the dog was once scolded for ascending, descending or going near a set of steps, or was pushed down them.
Perhaps the dog fell down steps as a puppy and was frightened by the experience, or has simply never come across stairs before.
Maybe the dog was abused by previous owners, and was led up steps to the place where the abuse occurred. Older dogs may develop a fear of stairs if they’re used to living in single-storey homes and are suddenly moved into a house with more than one floor. If your dog never had to climb stairs in their formative years and received no training, it’s likely you’ll see a certain amount of fear at first.
In these cases, it’s very possible that even the most well-behaved and gentle dog will bite or nip their owner in a bid to communicate their fear. Rather than forcing your dog to live through their biggest fear with no effect, it’s often a better idea to help them through use of counter-conditioning and positive reinforcement (positive motivators like treats and praise).
However, before you attempt to train them out of this fear, you should consult with your vet first to make sure this step-phobia isn’t the result of an injury or other physical condition.
Overcoming the Fear
The good news is that it’s generally fairly simple to help your dog recover from their fear of the stairs. These are just a few tips to help you on your way:
- Make Way! Before trying to get your dog up the stairs, make sure the steps are clear and safe. Remove anything that your dog could knock over or stumble on. Getting spooked right at the start of training will only make matters worse!
- Counter-Condition! As the Animal Humane Society explain, “Counter conditioning means training an animal to display a behaviour that is different than his current reaction to a stimulus.” In other words, you want to replace your dog’s reaction of fear with one of excitement or joy. You may begin by standing near the staircase and encouraging your dog to approach. Tools that may come in handy here include a high value treat or a cherished toy.
- When your dog comes to you by the stairs, shower them with praise and reward them appropriately. Try to remove their negative association to the stairs by replacing it with the feeling that they are the best dog on the planet.
- Start at the Beginning! Don’t try to force your dog to run before they’ve learned to walk. If the stairs in your house are very steep, make things simpler by taking Rover somewhere with low, wide steps. Get your dog to practice climbing here with all of the encouragement, treats and rewards they need. If possible, someone should stay behind them on the stairs to provide extra support. Each time they reach the top or bottom of the steps, give them an extra special reward.
- Ups and Downs! Keep in mind that going up and down the stairs can be two completely different experiences for dogs, and require different skill sets. Once your dog has mastered going up the stairs, be prepared to start the entire process again from the top!
- Choose Your Timing Wisely. Dogs are more receptive to training when they are happy and alert. If your dog is overly tired, needs to eat or is eagerly waiting for a walk, it’s best to save your training for later. It’s also a good idea to keep Rover’s interest by splitting training sessions into numerous shorter (around 10 minutes) sessions rather than one long lesson.
- It can be a good idea to plan your training sessions for directly before playtime or a walk outside. This will mean your dog is happier about training as they’ll know that something fun will happen afterwards.
If you believe your dog’s fear of stairs may be as a result of abuse in the past, there may be some other things you can do to help them. Start by reading some of our other posts on the subject!
- Rehabilitating Your Previously Abused Dog
- Rehabilitating Your Previously Abused Dog: A Few More Tips
- How can I tell if my rescue dog was abused?
- What is the RSPCA?
Scaredy Pups: Helping Your Dog with their Fear of Thunder Monday 26 February 2018 @ 09:39
Everyone's a little bit scared of something. Some of us are scared of spiders, others of clowns, so it makes sense that our canine companions should have similar issues! Thunder! Vacuum cleaners! Other dogs! All of these can be absolutely terrifying to some dogs.
This month, we helped to reunite Maiden the black and white border collie with her family. According to Maiden’s family, she “[h]as a limp. Friendly but very scared of thunder.” This isn’t uncommon. In fact, astraphobia (fear of thunder) is one of the most common fears for a dog to experience. Other members of the list of common dog fears include…
We’ll cover some of these other fears in time but for now, how can you help your dog’s fear of thunder?
Show your dog that you appreciate their calm behaviour.
Make sure your dog gets plenty of attention and approval when they’re behaving in a calm, happy way. For this to work, it can be a good idea to train your dog to settle down on command. You can do this by keeping a separate leash that’s only used when inside the house and getting your dog to lie down at your feet with the leash on as you praise and reward their behaviour. Don’t wait for the stormy season to begin this training!
If your dog only gets cuddles and attention when they’re clambering all over you and whimpering in fear, this will encourage them to continue their panicky behaviour. It can be a better idea to offer distractions in the form of toys and games. Give them all of the support they need when they’re in distress, yes, but don’t make it seem like a surefire way to get treats and pets!
Practice calm behaviour while there’s no storm to get worked up over, so your dog gets a sense of the new routine. Once the storm arrives, putting the leash on will signal to your dog that it’s time to be calm. This will also give them something else to focus on, distracting them from the thunder. Your goal is to give them something more interesting and positive to think about.
Predict the Future!
Compared to the other fears and phobias your dog might be dealing with, thunder is a whole lot easier to predict:
- Weather forecasts often over-predict thunderstorms, which makes it easier to prepare than if they were to under-predict.
- In most cases, thunderstorms will occur in the afternoons, or to a lesser extent in the evenings and nighttime.
Once you can predict a storm, you’re able to take action before the storm takes place. All you really need to do is pay attention to the weather forecast. The main sources of fear that come with thunderstorms are the loud noises, unusual darkness, specific smell and cold/rain if your dog is made to stand outside in the storm. The best thing you can do is take your dog inside and keep them somewhere safe (even better if it’s sound-proofed).
Get plenty of exercise in before the storm starts.
When a thunderstorm weather warning is released, it can be a good idea to take your dog out for a few extra walks in advance. Things will be a whole lot worse if the storm means your dog doesn’t get an opportunity to exercise properly, and the extra bit of exertion before the storm hits can tire your dog out both physically and mentally, which is good in this scenario.
As with humans, exercise could also boost your dog’s serotonin levels, which will allow them to feel calmer in the long run.
Create calmer noises.
If the thunderstorm begins and you’re unable to calm your dog down, it can be helpful to mask the noise as much as possible. Less “threatening” noises such as those produced by the radio or TV can dilute the sound of thunder. Another idea is to close all the windows and crank up a white noise machine or air conditioner. Don’t turn the volume up too high, though, as a large part of your dog’s fear probably comes from a fear of loud noises. There are a few white noise apps you can find on your smartphone which can come in handy here.
Consider investing in a compression vest
Products such as the ThunderShirt are designed to help anxious animals deal with the things that stress them out, such as thunder and other loud noises. The idea is that these garments will calm your pet by applying pressure in specific areas, causing calming endorphins to be produced. Think of it as being sort of like an artificial hug you can strap onto your dog.
Research appearing in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour (King, C., Buffington, L., Smith, T.J., Grandin, T., The effect of a pressure wrap (ThunderShirt®) on heart rate and behavior in canines diagnosed with anxiety disorder, Journal of Veterinary Behavior (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2014.06.007.) concluded that:
Results from this study showed dogs who wore the ThunderShirt® to manufacturer’s specifications had lowered heart rate, decreased visual orientation towards the door (looking for their owner), as well as trending toward reduced yawning and tongue-flicking stress behaviors.
Stop the Static!
This is an idea that may be a little surprising: some studies have suggested that rather than the sound of thunder, it’s actually the sensation of static electricity in your dog’s fur that will make them miserable during a storm. If you manage to block out the noise and your dog is still in panic mode, this may be the problem. Is Rover suddenly cowering in the bathtub or the basement?
Some pet owners have suggested that what your dog is really doing is searching for somewhere grounded where these electric shocks won’t bother them anymore. It seems the best place for your dog to hide in this case is the bathtub, where they can comfortably hide until the storm is over.
For more information about how pets experience storms, try checking out some of our other articles!
- Why is my pet behaving oddly after storms?
- How do I keep my pet safe during an evacuation?
- How do I make sure my pets are safe during storms?
Adopt, Don’t Shop! Monday 29 January 2018 @ 00:00
At Lost Pet Finders, we believe that every pet deserves to find the home where they feel secure and happy, and this holds true whether that pet has simply lost its owners temporarily or is in need of a whole new family. This is why, when possible, we really recommend checking out your local pounds and shelters before heading to a pet store. For those based in Australia and New Zealand, here are some of the best sanctuaries to check out:
- 9 Lives Cat Rescue (WA)
- Alaskan Malamute Rehoming Aid (active in ACT, NSW and SA)
- Alice Springs Animal Shelter (NT)
- Best Friend Fur Ever Rescue (active in ACT, NSW, QLD, TAS and VIC)
- Best Friends Pet Rescue Assn Inc (active in ACT and NSW)
- Bowen Collinsville Pet Rescue Inc (active throughout Australia)
- Happy Paws Haven (active throughout Australia)
… and of course we can’t forget our friends at Hunter Animal Rescue!
- Animal Rescue Network New Zealand Charitable Trust
- Dogwatch Sanctuary Trust
- The Humane Society of NZ
- Pet Rescue (Paw Justice Charity)
- SPCA New Zealand
Now that you know where to look, here’s a quick rundown of some of the main reasons you should consider adopting your new best friend, rather than buying them.
1. What practices do you want your money to support?
If you opt for a local breeder or pet store, your money will most likely end up going straight to something like a puppy mill, an unethical business where baby animals are stored in unhygienic, cramped and clumsy setups without sufficient access to healthcare and socialization. It doesn’t matter that you plan on giving your new pet all the love in the world: Once you’ve contributed to this practice through your purchase, you won’t be able to undo that damage.
2. Are you interested in being a superhero?
If you adopt an animal rather than buying one from a store, you’re saving a life. In and around 3.7 million animals are euthanized annually in animal pounds and rescues because nobody has adopted them in time. The best way to save one of these lives? Give a shelter animal a home before it can be euthanized. As far as your new rescue pet will be concerned, you’ll always be a superhero.
3. You’ll get an amazing animal.
Rescue pets aren’t “broken”. Animal sanctuaries are generally filled to the brim with healthy, playful pets just waiting for their new playmate to come and find them. Most of the pets in a pound are there because of human issues like divorce or job redundancies, not because of any failing on the animal’s part. In fact, many are even better pets than the animals you’ll find in a store as they’ll already be housetrained!
4. It’s a whole lot cheaper.
Penny-pinching may not be the most “romantic” reason to choose adoption over shopping, but who’s going to turn down a little financial bonus when they’re already saving an animal’s life? Buying a new dog, for example, can cost anywhere between $500 and $1,000 (USD), with prices varying depending on breed. Meanwhile, opting for a rescue pet brings that price right down to between $20 and $200 (depending on the rescue you go to).
5. #RescuePet #AdoptDontShop #Cute
This is more a tiny bonus than an actual reason to adopt, but it’s still something fun to think about: Bragging rights. The only thing better than a cute selfie is a cute selfie with a dog. And the only thing better than a cute picture with a dog is a cute picture with a rescue dog. Posting the perfect picture to your Instagram account isn’t a valid reason to adopt an animal, no, but it’s definitely something you can look forward to doing once you’ve made sure you’re in a position to give a rescue pet its perfect forever home.
6. Experienced animals are no less worthy of love.
Often, it’s the older pets you adopt who are the most loving animals because they know you’ve saved them from a bad situation. They also tend to be a little easier to deal with and a lot chiller than they would have been when they were younger. When it comes to finding the perfect pet, age is just a number. Just because the rescue animals you meet in your local pound aren’t kittens and puppies anymore, it doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to give you all the love in the world. If you give a rescue animal the happy home they’ve been looking forward to, they can finally begin to live their life.
7. Taking home an adopted pet can be easier.
If you bring a rescue pet home instead of a brand-new puppy, your household will thank you. As many of the pets in sanctuaries and shelters have had previous owners, there’s a high chance your new rescue animal will already be housetrained, allowing you to skip the potty-training phase. It also means introductions will be simpler, as they’ll already be used to meeting new people on a regular basis.
8. You won’t just be saving one animal.
If you adopt your new pet from a pound or shelter, you’ll be allowing that organisation to rescue another animal who they man not necessarily have been able to house before. When you adopt a pet rather than buying, you’ll be saving not only your pet, but also one you’ve never even met.
As amazing as rescues and sanctuaries are, they aren’t magical and their buildings do have to follow the laws of physics. They cannot take in an unlimited number of animals. As much as the charities behind pet rescues hate to turn away an animal in need, sometimes they have no choice if there’s nowhere to keep them. This means that once a shelter reaches capacity, the pets in their care either need to be adopted or euthanized before any more animals can be taken in.
Keeping On Top of Your Dog’s Dental Health Monday 15 January 2018 @ 10:25
Last month, we met Ciarra and Keisha, two gorgeous kitties looking for adoption through Hunter Animal Rescue. The pair are still waiting to find their forever home, but if you think you can provide one you can check out their page on Hunter Animal Rescue’s website. When we first met them, Ciarra had just returned from a visit to the vet and had just received a polish, one tooth extraction and a descale. For this reason, we thought it would be a good idea in our last post to talk about some of the best ways to look after your cat’s dental hygiene.
But of course, your cat isn’t the only pet whose teeth you need to keep in tip-top condition. Between the regular vet checkups, fitness and quality food, we put a lot of effort into making sure our canine companions are healthy. But it can be so, so easy to overlook their dental hygiene. Conditions like periodontal disease can easily occur when the deep bone structures of your dog’s jaw are separated from the teeth by calculus, allowing abscesses and pockets to form.
Experts have suggested that around 85% of dogs over the age of 4 will be living with a type of periodontal disease, which can easily lead to infection and tooth loss. If your dog has damaged gums or toothache, they’ll be living with difficulty and pain that you may not even have noticed. A dog’s teeth are often forgotten about, but they’re a major part of their overall health.
As with oral hygiene issues in cats, bacteria from your dog’s mouth, if left untreated, can reach the bloodstream and cause real issues in their kidneys, liver or heart. Fortunately, all of these issues can be avoided with the help of regular tooth-brushing and visits to your doggie dentist.
Doggie Dental Diseases
When your dog has good gums and teeth, they’ll get to enjoy every last morsel of food they can get their paws on, but with unhealthy teeth, this will quickly come to an end and your pup will no longer be enjoying their food. This can be very bad news. So what should you be looking out for as a concerned puppy parent?
- Plaque develops when the bacteria constantly forming in your dog’s mouth get the chance to mix with food and saliva. This appears as a colourless, sticky film on the outside of the teeth, especially the upper molars and pre-molars. If plaque is allowed to build up, it can harden and turn into calculus. Plaque and calculus can be helped to a certain extent by dry dog foods, but you will also need to provide some dental care to keep everything healthy.
- Calculus forms when plaque is allowed to stay on your dog’s teeth for around 3-5 days and combines with the minerals in their saliva. This is also known as tartar and can be very irritating to a dog’s gums, leading to reddened, swollen gums as a result of gingivitis. Gingivitis can also cause bad breath, which can be rather noticeable.
- Periodontal disease is more likely to become an issue the longer calculus is allowed to build up under your dog’s gum line. This is where your dog can begin to struggle with bloody gums, lose teeth, struggle with food and suffer damage to their internal organs. Bacterial growth is allowed to progress unnoticed, eventually causing irreversible damage. And every last part of this process could be avoided with a good cleaning!
Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth
Brushing your dog’s teeth will be a little difficult when you do it for the first time, but if you’re gentle and allow your dog time to get comfortable with what’s happening it can be a lot simpler than you may expect. Here’s a quick Step-by-Step to help you become the best doggy hygienist out there!
- Be gentle. Give your dog time to get used to having hands and brushes in their mouth.
- Let your dog do a taste-test. Help them get used to the taste of dog-friendly toothpaste by licking it off your finger or brush.
- Introduce the toothbrush. Allow your dog to get used to the idea of the toothbrush and see that it’s nothing to be afraid of, but help them understand that this is not a toy.
- Start small. Just brush a couple of your dog’s teeth at first so they can get used to the sensation.
- Move from Outside to Inside. Brushing the outer sides of your dog’s teeth is less invasive, so it’s generally a better idea to start here and move to the inner sides.
- Introduce a routine. If you turn brushing your dog’s teeth into a routine, it’ll be easier for them to get used to it and for you to remember to do it regularly. Daily brushing will provide the best results, but even three times a week will make all the difference.
There are also a number of high-quality treats and chews that can contribute to better dental hygiene for your dog. These chews will keep your dog entertained, involve less work for you and will still provide a good clean (though you will still need to brush their teeth occasionally).
Four Tips to Make Brush-Time Easier
- Your dog can sense if you’re stressed or tense and will mimic these emotions, so try to keep calm!
- Don’t go straight for the goal - your dog will need time to adjust to this new experience!
- The earlier you start (anytime after the age of 8 weeks), the better your dog will be at having their teeth brushed.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself: You aren’t going to be able to brush your dog’s teeth for a long time straight away. This is something that will get easier over time.