Scaredy Pups: Getting Comfortable with Strangers Monday 14 May 2018 @ 09:18
We want your pets to live their best life, and that includes working through any of the fears that might be holding us back. Last month, we talked about how you might go about caring for a dog who is afraid of men. It’s commonly assumed that dogs who experience this fear feel this way because they’ve been abused or neglected by a man, but some dogs are just that way by nature.
Just like any fear, there’s no one reason that your dog might have it, but there are a good few ways you can work together to deal with it.
Some of the other common fears your dog may be struggling with may include…
This is the list we’re slowly working our way through, but it definitely doesn’t cover every fear your dog might have! If there’s another fear or phobia you’d like us to cover to spread information and awareness, please do get in touch. In the meantime, we’re going to look about how you can go about helping your dog to feel more comfortable around strangers.
Why is my dog afraid of strangers?
Dogs tend to be afraid of strangers for two main reasons. In some cases, it occurs because the dog hasn’t been properly socialised as a puppy. If a pup doesn’t have the opportunity to meet a wide range of different people in their formative years, it’s highly likely they’ll end up being afraid of people they aren’t familiar with.
In other cases, your dog’s fear will be all about genetics. Dogs who are timid and skittish often produce offspring who are equally shy. Dogs who are scared of all strangers rather than a specific type of stranger (such as men or children) may experience this because of genetic predisposition.
How can I tell when my dog is afraid?
One of the main struggle for dogs who are afraid of strangers is that humans - both strangers and dog owners - may fail to notice that a dog is feeling anxious. The dog will be giving off all sorts of body language, and nobody will be reading it. Learn to spot what your dog is trying to tell you, and you’ll know straight away when your dog announces “I am feeling afraid! Please back off!”
Perhaps Rover’s body will be tensing up, his eyes will be darting or he’ll be looking away while making his body as small as possible. Some dogs start sneaking around, furrowing their brows, flattening or perking up their ears or moving much more slowly than usual. Maybe Bowser has started licking her lips, panting for no obvious reason or yawning more than usual. In many cases, the dog’s tail will be held lower than usual, sometimes hidden between the legs. All of these are indicators that your dog is feeling frightened.
Make your dog feel safe!
If your dog is showing signs of fear and anxiety, you need to help them to calm down. To do this, you need to bring your dog somewhere they can feel safe, and it can be helpful to create a specific safe zone where your dog will always know it is completely safe. Think of it as a puppy panic room! This is a space that is exclusively for your dog, whether that’s a special chair, part of a room or just their crate.
Make a rule where nobody except for your dog is allowed to enter the special safety zone. This will allow your dog to see that the area is their special place where nobody is able to hurt or annoy them.
Let people know how to greet your dog!
If a stranger goes down on one knee by your dog when making their introduction, the meeting is far more likely to be successful.
Your dog will feel less threatened as the person is at their level. Often, your dog will be more comfortable with sniffing and accepting pats from a stranger if they aren’t towering over them like a monster (offering a treat can only help the interaction further). It’s also a good idea not to let a stranger make too much eye contact with a dog, as staring can be perceived as intimidating and downright rude.
If you don’t know a dog but want to offer a treat, the best way is to drop it on the ground so as not to appear forceful, having first made sure that the owner is alright with you giving their dog a treat.
What if the owner is the stranger in question?
If you adopt a dog who already has a fear of strangers, it can be pretty difficult to start building a bond between you. However, if you take it easy and allow your dog to move at their own pace, you’ll get there soon enough and the results will be so worth the wait. You’ll need to be very patient and comforting at first so the dog can start to understand that you are not a threat.
If your new dog gives you the opportunity to pet them, always do so very calmly. Make sure your voice around your new dog is always soothing, friendly and relaxed, and offer treats by gently throwing them rather than bringing your hand near the dog’s face.
Trying to care for a dog who is frightened of strangers can be very difficult, and it’ll take a lot of patience and care on the owner’s part. All the same, if you are considerate and make the decision to always keep your dog safe from surprise encounters with strangers (and especially make a point of avoiding things like markets, dinner parties and parades), the pair of you can get through this.
Scaredy Pups: Dealing with a Fear of Men Friday 11 May 2018 @ 00:00
Continuing with our series on helping with doggy phobias, our last post talked about dealing with your dog’s fear of children. This can be a very dangerous fear resulting in aggression on your dog’s part and injury or psychological trauma for the child in question.
Fortunately, though, there are ways of dealing with it.
Other fears you may come across when getting to know your dog might include the following…
We only have a few of these common fears left to cover, so let us know in the comments if there are any you’d like to hear about!
Before we can do any of that, though, we’re going to take a look at what you can do if your dog is afraid of men.
If your dog shakes, whines or snarls whenever a man is nearby, they may well have a fear of men. A common assumption is that dogs who are afraid of men feel that way because they’ve experienced trauma or abuse by a man. While there’s always a chance this is the case, it’s also sometimes the case that your dog will have a fear of men without any traumatic history.
It is just as likely (if not more likely) that your dog’s phobia has occurred as a result of physical and social factors.
Please note: This blog post will use some generalizations in discussing what “women” are like and what “men” are like. These descriptions may not all apply to you or the people you know because everyone is different, gender is a universe and our lives and personalities are our own.
So why is my dog afraid of men?
The simple answer is this: We don’t know. There is no one, clear-cut reason that your dog would be afraid of men, but there are a few potential causes. The most likely cause of this fear, as with many other fears, is that your dog wasn’t socialized with men as a puppy.
As with the differences between children and adults, there are certain differences that exist between many men and the women and children they may be more comfortable around. For example, many men are louder and take up more space than women, and the vast majority have deeper voices. To animals like dogs, the larger size and louder voice can single out the man as a threat, putting the animal into defense mode.
It’s not uncommon for men and women to act differently with regard to puppies. In many cases, a woman will approach a puppy in a comforting, gentle way. Meanwhile, as being gentle and nurturing is considered a “female” response, many men will instead opt for a more assertive form of play. While this play would be acceptable coming from another dog, human men are generally much larger than dogs so their actions can read as threatening rather than playful.
Another potential cause is that dogs primarily see the world through their noses, and men can smell quite differently to women and children. The fragrances marketed to men and women are very different, and the hormones a dog will smell on each sex will vary, with most men producing testosterone and most women producing estrogen. In nature, the scent of estrogen would be familiar to puppies, as they are nursed by their mother while their father is rarely present.
Do keep in mind, however, that none of these theories have been proven, and we still don’t know the exact reason why some dogs are afraid of men. What we do know is that as their primary caregivers, it’s our responsibility to give them a good life and help them feel safe whenever possible.
Narrow it Down
Some fears are more complicated and specific than we might expect. Say, for example, your dog whines when your brother-in-law who is a police officer, or the local milkman, comes to visit. You’ll need to figure out if this means your dog is afraid of men, or if she’s specifically afraid of men in strict uniforms. Maybe your dog was once chased by an animal control officer in a uniform, and thinks that all men in uniform are about to do the same.
Are all of the men that scare your dog wearing hats? Are they wearing a specific cologne? Maybe your dog just isn’t used to seeing men in hats, or is confused by the smell of aftershave. There’s every chance that your dog finds these things frightening, and isn’t overly concerned about the wearer’s gender.
Overcoming a Dog’s Fear of Men
If your dog’s fear is severe, you may wish to find an animal behaviourist, trainer or obedience class that can help you. However, a dog whose fear is only mild is generally much easier to help here. The main things you can do to help your dog are similar to those used to cope with other fears.
- Don’t force your dog out of their comfort zone. If men frequently visit or even live in your house, don’t force your dog to spend time with them. This can often make the fear even worse, and can cause your dog to hurt you or the man in question.
- Do use treats to encourage progress. Make sure men who spend time around your dog have treats to offer your dog when it’s appropriate. For example, if the dog comes a little closer to them than they normally would, get them to throw a treat (gently). Your dog may not even accept these treats at first, but eventually they should learn to associate men with positive things.
- Do allow and encourage your dog to approach men of their own accord. Although it may be difficult, you need to get the men in your life to leave your dog alone and not approach the dog until they approach the men themselves. Attempting to befriend a fearful dog can often have the opposite effect.
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?
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.
Rehabilitating Your Previously Abused Dog: A Few More Tips Saturday 04 February 2017 @ 09:24
Last month, we talked about identifying whether or not your rescue pet was once abused, and how to go about beginning its rehabilitation. Today, we’re going to finish this series of posts by discussing a few more ideas for helping your dog in his journey to recovery.
Just like humans, dogs are generally very sociable animals. They have a natural tendency towards living in family groups and since their domestication, they have evolved with us to work alongside us and live as smaller, furrier members of our families. This is why, given the choice, most family dogs would spend almost every waking moment in the company of their owners. Every now and then, you’ll come across a dog who prefers the company of other dogs but very, very rarely will you come across a dog who prefers to be alone.
All the same, while these sociable animals prefer the company of others and should not be left alone for long periods of time, it should be possible for you to leave them own for a short period of time without them going off the rails. If this happens, your pet is showing signs of separation anxiety.
A simple solution for a dog displaying separation anxiety is to arrange for him to have plenty of entertainment and things to do while you are away. If the problem persists, though, you may have to look into some more solutions!
Fear of Strangers
It’s common for dogs to feel uncomfortable around strangers, especially if your dog has previously suffered some form of abuse. Often, this fear is made worse by both the stranger and the owner failing to read the dog’s body language. Your dog will try to signal to you and others that he is frightened by panting without being overly warm, furrowing his brow, lowering his gaze or tensing his body. He might try licking his lips, darting his eyes or yawning. His ears will suddenly move back or he will cower or move more slowly than usual. Then there’ll be the sign that everyone knows to look for: the tail between his legs. All of these are signs that your dog is scared or anxious, and should not be ignored if you care for his wellbeing.
If your dog is showing signs of being terrified of the people you encounter, it is your responsibility to protect him from their advances, no matter how well-meaning.
You can further improve your pup’s confidence by employing a policy of “reverse dominance”, giving him everything he needs or wants free of charge. Don’t make him work for the food, love, attention and care he needs to survive and grow. Your dog should always have access to these things at no cost.
If you feel your dog is ready to build his confidence through training, “clicker training” is a great method to use. As explained by Blue Cross:
“Clicker training is a positive training method based on rewarding an animal for good behaviour. Your pet learns to understand that the sound of the click means “that’s right” and that a food treat is coming.”
You can find more information on this training method with Blue Cross. This training is designed to help empower your pooch by allowing him to find ways of earning awards. Often, once a pet has figured out how the game works, they’ll begin to enjoy the game itself rather than simply its rewards. As well as empowering your pet and encouraging good behaviour, this training method is a great way of improving non-verbal communication with your dog (though you may add vocal signals later in training).
While it is important that you improve your dog’s confidence and happiness, it’s also vital that you do not do this at the expense of his basic biological needs. Dogs are naturally active animals and need a healthy diet and aerobic exercise - preferably around 20-30 minutes of running exercise - every single day.
Above all else, our aim is to make sure as many pets as possible get to be with their perfect families, and this includes reuniting wandering animals with their worried parents. Here are just a few of our recent success stories!
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