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.
Socialise Your Shy Cat Monday 03 July 2017 @ 11:26
In our last post, we talked about some of the problems (and unexpected joys) of living with a shy cat. We explored the spectrum of shyness a cat might experience, with some only having a certain amount of anxiety while settling into new places, and others who constantly feel the need to hide, can’t build trust with their family and are generally just on edge. Today, we’re going to talk about how you might begin to socialise your shy cat and hopefully take away some of the anxiety she might be living with.
First of all, like many humans, cats tend to thrive the most when they have a daily routine they can count on, and this is no less true for shy felines. A simple way to put your furry friend at ease is to interact with her and feed her at roughly the same time every day. If you find that food is the way to your cat’s heart, this is a wonderful way of positive reinforcement. Use tasty snacks to encourage her to play with you, but make sure they’re healthy. Loading your feline friend up with unhealthy treats won’t help anyone, and will just give you and your pet a whole new problem to deal with. Always make sure you’re feeding your pet a diet appropriate to their species and full of nutrients and fresh foods.
It’s also a good idea to try and keep her living space at a similar level of cleanliness, and remember to clean her litter tray every day. Caring for your cat’s basic needs in a routine that lets her know she can rely on you will help her feel more comfortable and allow you to build up trust.
While it may not always be possible to avoid making a noise, it’s a good idea to try and keep things as quiet and calm around the house as you can. This applies to when you’re interacting with your cat: try to be encouraging, gentle and quiet, and never force contact when touching her. Don’t stare at her, as this can be interpreted as a threatening action to shy cats, and try to speak and move as softly and slowly as you possibly can. Similarly, never try to pet your cat by moving your hand directly towards her face. Instead, try petting her from one side around her ears, face and head.
When it comes to unavoidably noisy activities such as construction work, social gatherings and vacuuming, it can also be helpful to restrict your cat to a more quiet area of the house.
If she has a habit of running away whenever you walk close to her, try holding your back towards her as you pass her. This will create a dynamic where you are the vulnerable party, so your cat will feel less threatened. Never force your shy cat to do anything she isn’t ready and willing to do. Unless it’s entirely unavoidable (as in an emergency situation), never pull her out of a hiding place or hold her when she doesn’t want to be held. This will only encourage her to fear you and will destroy any trust you have built with her.
Cats are independent characters who are most comfortable when they feel as though they are in control of their actions and surroundings. While failing to acknowledge this can cause any feline to get irritable, it’s especially important in shy cats who can get incredibly anxious. Rather than chasing your her, encourage your cat to come to you. Rather than dragging her out of her hiding place, figure out a way of bonding with your cat while she’s in her favourite spot.
Above all else, be patient. Just like people, cats are individuals and will grow and change at different speeds. As a general rule, kittens can be successfully socialised far more quickly than older cats, as this is the age at which they would naturally learn most of their skills. All the same, it is entirely possible for you to improve your adult cat’s sociability if you give her time to learn.
Above all else, our aim is to make sure as many pets as possible get to be with families who will love them and give them all the care they need no matter what, and this includes reuniting wandering animals with their worried parents. Here are just a few of our recent success stories!
“Someone gave me a ring and provided some information through your list. Although it was not the cat but at the time her phone call gave me hope and sense of community help and a lot of comforts. Thank you very much. Your service is very fast and reach a lot of places. It helps me ease my worry a lot. It is much appreciated.”
Kev has been found and is now in solitary confinement, with all lock picks confiscated!
Thanks to the neighbour 4 houses down, who contacted me this afternoon after seeing one of the Pet Alert Flyers from the LPF site.
His favourite treats were his downfall (but enabled me to catch him.)
Cat door removed entirely.”
“After 11 gruelling days missing, our Hugo was returned to us at 7:30pm 4/6/17. A neighbour had him for a week and we think he had no intention of handing him over to authorities. It was through perserverence of posters supplied by LPF, and flyers we made ourselves for door knocking - that we got the call. Our community was well aware of Hugo missing, and through spreading the word we got a lead to target a certain street in our area and within hours of doing so Hugo was reunited! Thank you LPF for all of your ongoing support - your checklist, and emails to keep us going and not give up.”
“Service is great - he was found nearby the apartment.”
“It was reassuring to feel others a part of the search. Thanks to Bec for her sighting....which turned out not be Roxy. After 5 anxious days Rox came home overnight. She is so timid her disappearance was unusual and distressing. I will now be vigilant and regularly check with LPF to support others.”