Archive for the ‘behavior myths’ Category

Luna at 5wks-fearful then?

Learning to live with a fearful dog ain’t easy. Not only because of the dog, but often because of other people’s ideas of how to “deal” with them. As you may know from reading previous posts, my 9-year-old dog Luna is considered fearful. She doesn’t like trying new things. She is uncomfortable being touched, unless she solicits it, and then only in specific parts of her body. She’s never licked me on the face, and rarely allows herself to lie next to me. If I change my position, she’s gone. She bows her head when people reach for her.  She has phobias that vary from day to day, or they’ll last for months. If she’s not around my other dog Frisbee in a strange place, she barks barks barks barks whines–or hides.

She’s Abused, Isn’t She?

Luna has had labels bestowed upon her. The one I hear most is: “Oh, she’s been abused, poor thing,” when they come near her, because she lowers her head in a nervous way, then looks away, licking her lips.

Luna next to her bro Dash

Well no, she wasn’t abused. She was born from a Border Collie mom who was left when she was a month or two pregnant at the doorstep of the Nebraska Border Collie Rescue founder Nickie Vaneck. Luna was the runt of the 5-pup litter, born with a broken tail, wouldn’t eat, even though her mother tried to feed her. Nickie nursed her to health, brought her everywhere with her, even took her to her son’s grade school classes. Luna played with her littermates. Then I adopted her. That’s when this tale began…

Flooding with Scary Things

But right away, I did all the wrong things–a trainer told me to “socialize” her and take her to a pet store the first full day she was home. I cluelessly followed the trainer’s instructions, put Luna in a shopping cart. Store customers crowded around the cart, reaching out to pet her. Puppies are cute, right? Luna bit a hand (luckily, just a puppy bite). I then put her on the floor. She scrambled under a set of shelving units, peeing all the way. Hey, how come she shivered and cowered whenever I tried to put her in the car again? My fault. Did she get more scared around me? You bet. I set her up. How could she trust me if I put her in scary situations? Snapping helps keep people away, so that’s what she did for awhile, until *I* changed.

Luna in one of her happy moments!

Why Can’t She Just Get Along?

Luna was definitely shy upon meeting me during her adoption, but I just thought… well, it doesn’t matter what I thought–but I wanted my new pup to be just like “regular” dogs, with confidence, flair, and fun. A dog that would “fit into” every situation. After all, I had, Frisbee, Mr. Dog-Aggressive  (and I found out, fearful in some ways), and I didn’t want another challenging situation… I wanted to mold Luna into the dog *I* wanted her to be. But I didn’t keep her safe the first day home, or many subsequent days, partly because of my ignorance and poor judgment in listening to trainers then told me “don’t coddle her if she’s afraid; it will make her think the frightened behavior will be rewarded.” Hmmm. Wow, she really wanted reassurance. Why wasn’t I supposed to give it to her? I put a lot of pressure on her to fit in.

And the phobias! Sometimes it’s the kitchen floor. Sometimes it’s coming in the dog door. You name it, she’s probably had it, and continues to find new things to worry about. She won’t be coaxed into doing something when she’s nervous. Would you?

Recognizing How To Free Fear

Over the years, I’ve learned much more positive and successful ways to help Luna–from recognizing triggers to helping her solve problems. She’s come a long way despite her tentative beginnings with me. I’m her biggest advocate now! I’ve actually become adept at training folks who have fearful animals, from my own experience working with rescue dogs and by learning from the best trainers around (not those I first approached!) in certification seminars and through soaking up all the books available.

Read this book!

Help Is Here!

However, my all-time favorite book on the topic is new from Debbie Jacobs, who wrote A Guide to Living With & Training A Fearful Dog. I was so thrilled to get it that I sat down and read it in one fell swoop! And guess what! Luna plopped down next to me and put her head in my lap as I was dog-earing pages! Was that a sign, or what?

Debbie’s book dispels all the old myths (reassuring your dog is okay!), and outlines creative ways for owners to help their fearful dogs cope and begin to love life in an easy-to-read-and-understand style. She is careful to say that there is no cookie-cutter approach to rehabbing a fearful dogs; each one is different–requiring keen observation before determining a modification program. She covers the triggers and thresholds of fearful dogs, how to recognize them, and what to do about them. “You can’t force a dog not to be afraid of something.” That’s so true…

Listen to The Bark Out Loud Podcast!

Want more? Join us on Bark Out Loud Monday, March 7! Here’s the podcast of Debbie’s frank and honest discussion about fearful dog behavior, then she’ll be available for a chat in our Dog Den at 9pm EST! I’ll be there, hoping to gain more nuggets in helping Luna on her continued journey to a calmer life. Won’t you join me?

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In Wednesday’s Part I of our Separation Anxiety interview series, canine behavior specialist Nicole Wilde, author of  Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, described what separation anxiety really is, the causes, and how you can tell if your dog has it.

Yesterday’s Part II of the series described ways to manage your dog’s anxiety when you leave and how to build your dog’s confidence.

In today’s post, Nicole explores whether pharmalogical intervention is a good idea for dogs with separation anxiety, when it may be appropriate, and offers some alternative therapies that you may want to try before going down the pharma road.

 

Statistics

As an aside, I searched for statistics regarding drug intervention for dogs with separation anxiety. Several pharmaceutical industries that make the medications reported their own statistical findings, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the governing body that approves drugs for animals, found some of the clinical trials and advertising misleading. Although the companies in question have revised their numbers, the curative results of their original statements still perpetuate throughout the web and were even cited at a recent veterinary conference I attended (the companies that reported the claims did not return my calls for comment).

Thus, do your own research to see if pharmaceutical intervention is right for your pup’s separation anxiety. Let us know through the comments section after this post if you’ve tried any therapies, holistic or prescription, that works and what you are doing to help your pooch worry less and enjoy life more!

OK, on to Nicole’s interview!

 

When is pharmacological intervention appropriate?

Some behaviorists seem to prescribe drugs for just about every behavior problem, even when the issue could be solved with behavior modification alone. Others in the profession believe that drugs can be extremely dangerous to dogs, and would never suggest their use to a dog owner regardless

Luna contemplating her drug and holistic choices

of the behavior issue involved. In my opinion, the most helpful approach lies somewhere in between.

Drugs can be of great assistance in certain circumstances. When a dog’s issues are so extreme that he is injuring himself, or is in such emotional turmoil that behavior modification would be impossible without getting that “foot in the door” that medication can provide, drugs can be a kindness as well as a benefit. Using appropriate pharmacology can, in some cases, make the difference between the dog remaining in the home and being surrendered to the shelter—potentially a life or death decision. Medicating the dog allows for the stress levels of the owner to be lowered as well; this too can tip the scales in favor of the dog keeping his home.

Unfortunately, many owners turn to drugging their dogs as a replacement for dealing with the emotional distress that is causing the problematic symptoms. It’s all too tempting to simply toss pills at a problem! If the dog is calm, after all, the problem must be solved …Well, perhaps it is for the person. But using drugs as a quick fix is bound to have behavioral repercussions down the line, because it is only masking the underlying issues.

Another thing that must be considered with any drug is the potential side effects, especially with long-term use. Owners must be informed consumers so that they decide whether the potential risks are acceptable. Although I absolutely believe that drugs have their place, I prefer natural alternatives whenever possible. There are two nutraceuticals discussed in my book—alpha-casozepine and L-theanine—that have helped many of my clients’ dogs. The former is a peptide derived from a milk protein, and the latter is an amino acid. Both come in easy to administer formulations, and do not carry the worrisome side effects of manufactured drugs. Although they may not work in every case or be appropriate for every dog, in many cases these natural substances are very effective, and are certainly worth a try.

 

How about alternative therapies? Do they really work?

Buzz can attest that T-shirts often calm a dog with SA

One alternative tool I like is DAP, which is short for Dog Appeasing Pheromone. It chemically mimics the pheromones that are given off by a lactating female dog, which is comforting not only to puppies, but to adult dogs as well. It looks like a plug-in air freshener (but you won’t smell anything), and also a spray form. I know many trainers who use the spray in their training rooms before group classes, and they report that the dogs are much calmer. Used for dogs with separation issues, DAP can take the edge off, and make moderate anxiety less so. One caution, though: do not use DAP if you have birds around, as birds have very sensitive respiratory systems.

 

Another thing that can be helpful is calming music. Playing soothing, classical music can help, but there is also a product called “Through a Dog’s Ear” that has music that is psychoacoustically designed to calm dogs. I’ve seen it work well with many of my clients’ dogs. They relax, and many will actually go to sleep!

Whether it’s one of the two above-mentioned tools or one of the others discussed in the “Cool Tools” section of the book, it’s important to keep in mind that one thing will not work for every dog. But because these therapies and products won’t cause harm and may well help, they are certainly worth trying.

 

Can all dogs be treated for SA, or are there cases when SA is too severe? What do you recommend at that point?

It’s likely that the vast majority of dogs with separation issues can improve to a great extent, but there are some cases that can be an extreme challenge. The problem is not only that the dog’s emotional distress is so strong, but also that dealing with the issue and living with it 24/7 takes a huge emotional toll on the owner. It is unfortunate but understandable that people might not be willing to work with this type of issue long-term. I strongly suggest that owners work with a canine behavior specialist before they give up; it may be that something the professional comes up with is the one thing that makes all the difference. But in cases where the issue cannot be resolved and the owner can no longer deal with it, rehoming the dog with someone such as an elderly or infirm person who is at home the majority of the time can be a good option.

 

What is the one take-away that you hope people will take away from your book?

In addition to readers getting lots of helpful, specific tips and techniques to try, I hope they come away with the willingness to be patient and to remain compassionate. It can sometimes feel like a long road to rehabilitation—believe me, I know! But you will and your dog will both be much less stressed in the end—and your dog is worth it.

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Part I of this interview series: Nicole discusses the definitions, causes, how we can help the suffering dog, and clues about separation anxiety with adopting a dog.

Part II of this interview series: Nicole offers advice about how to help your dog feel safer and calmer through management techniques and protocols, discusses the crate controversy, and provides tips and suggestions for building your dog’s confidence.

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Nicole Wilde is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and internationally recognized author and lecturer. Her nine books include So You Want to be a Dog Trainer, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. In addition to working with dogs, Nicole has worked with wolves and wolfdogs for over fifteen years and is considered an expert in the field.

Nicole is on the Advisory Board of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, the educational branch for the International Institute for Applied Companion Animal Behavior, and an Advisory Board member for the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Nicole writes an Ask the Expert column for Modern Dog Magazine, and blogs for Dog Star Daily, Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Expert blog, and her own site, Wilde About Dogs. You can find Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Wilde, Author and on Twitter at @NicoleWilde.

In yesterday’s Part I of our Separation Anxiety interview series, canine behavior specialist Nicole Wilde, author of  Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, described what separation anxiety really is, the causes, and how you can tell if your dog has it.

Today’s discussion continues, as Nicole talks about innovative ways to manage your dog’s anxiety when you leave, including calming techniques, the crate controversy, and how to build your dog’s confidence. Try using these tips and tricks, and let us know of other techniques that helped you and your pooch become happier in the comments section of this post.

 

If you have a dog with SA, what are the first three things you would do to help make your dog calmer when you leave?

  1. Leave your dog with something super-enticing to chew on that will take a while to eat, such as a frozen, stuffed Kong.

    Kongs can help relieve anxiety (photo: Oakley Originals)

    [Here are some frozen Kong stuffing recipes from Doggie Stylish]

  2. Leave something with your scent on it; this can be very comforting to your dog.
  3. Practice the protocols outlined in my book. Where you start will depend on whether your dog is comfortable being separated from you physically and/or visually, or is fine with you actually leaving for very short periods. Whatever your starting point, you will proceed gradually in small increments so your dog feels comfortable.

 

 

 

Your book mentions some great SA management tips and plans. What are your favorites?

Because you can’t leave your dog alone during the behavior modification period other than when you’re working on the protocol, you’ve got to get creative with management. You can take your dog with you to do errands, and some dogs are actually fine when left in the car because they know their person always returns quickly. You could have a friend or pet sitter stay with your dog, or arrange for play dates.

If you’ve got somewhere you have to be for a few hours and are truly stuck, you can always take your dog to the groomer—obviously this is not to be used too often, but you’ll know your dog is somewhere safe and is with people. It’s a bit too detailed to go into here, but in the book I also outline sneaky ways you can make your dog think you’re still in the house when you’re not!

 

 

 

 

 

Crating for SA seems to be controversial in many dog circles, but your book recommends it in some cases. What are the determining factors?

Luna prefers her crate when she’s home alone

It’s absolutely true that some dogs with separation anxiety should not be crated. This includes dogs with issues at the more severe end of the spectrum, the ones who are likely to injure themselves trying to break out of the crate, or self-mutilate. But if a dog has a mild case of SA, is accustomed to a crate, and already regards it as a safe place, it can be a good option for an Alone Zone. One benefit of crating is that it can help certain dogs who would otherwise continually pace, allowing emotional arousal to increase.

With any “controversial” subject, rather than have a knee-jerk reaction to it or, on the other hand, accept the traditional wisdom about it as truth, it is important to subjectively consider whether it will work for a particular dog. Head halters, for example, are a tool that some trainers love, while others abhor them. But the truth is that they can be wonderful tools for some dogs, while being totally inappropriate for others. Crating can be a perfectly good management solution for a dog with separation anxiety, depending on the individual dog. The important thing is crating not be overused to the point where it causes distress.

 

 

 

Many people get frustrated when their dog doesn’t “snap out of” the SA behavior quickly, and can’t fathom that SA can be ongoing. What would you recommend for these people when they can’t or won’t implement a rehabilitation plan?

Believe me, I understand the frustration! For those who can’t or are not willing to work a separation anxiety protocol, there are some “quick fixes” that can be tried. I’ve mentioned some of these in an answer below. In extreme cases of separation anxiety where medication is warranted it can be helpful, but it’s important to understand that, even then, behavior modification will be necessary. In some cases of Isolation Distress, getting another dog will solve the problem instantly—but unless you are sure, don’t get a second dog specifically for that purpose. You might just end up with two dogs with separation issues!

 

What are a few fun ways to build your dog’s confidence?

Training, especially clicker training, teaches dogs to think for themselves. Rather than simply performing behaviors by rote, the dog learns to figure out what makes you click (and therefore treat), and will begin to offer behaviors. It’s a great confidence booster! Puzzle toys that challenge your dog’s mind are quite useful in this regard as well. I particularly like the Nina Ottoson toys, as they offer varying degrees of difficulty.


Sierra playing with Tornado, a Nina Ottenson toy

 

 

What about dog sports?

Treibball builds confidence

Dog sports are also excellent for building canine confidence. Agility and K9 Nosework come to mind, but even something like urban mushing (where your dog pulls you on a scooter) can boost confidence.

And, of course, we now have the new sport of Treibball, where dogs “herd” giant balls into goals, like a game of soccer!

The important thing is to figure out which confidence-building activities work for your particular dog.

 

 

 

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Part I of this interview series: Nicole discusses the definitions, causes, how we can help the suffering dog, and clues about separation anxiety with adopting a dog.

 

Part III of this interview series: Nicole explores whether pharmacological intervention is a good idea, what therapies may be appropriate, and alternatives that might work instead.

—–

Nicole Wilde is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and internationally recognized author and lecturer. Her nine books include So You Want to be a Dog Trainer, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. In addition to working with dogs, Nicole has worked with wolves and wolfdogs for over fifteen years and is considered an expert in the field.

Nicole is on the Advisory Board of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, the educational branch for the International Institute for Applied Companion Animal Behavior, and an Advisory Board member for the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Nicole writes an Ask the Expert column for Modern Dog Magazine, and blogs for Dog Star Daily, Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Expert blog, and her own site, Wilde About Dogs. You can find Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Wilde, Author and on Twitter at @NicoleWilde.

In the past few years, the term “separation anxiety” has been bandied about in training and veterinary circles, yet there are no hard and fast statistics about it–not only is it hard to diagnose, but training approaches to defining and solving this issue are often controversial and confusing.

If you have an anxious dog and have ruled out medical issues with your vet, how can you tell if he actually has separation anxiety or if he’s just destructive in general? What are the myths surrounding this problem? What are appropriate methods to alleviate it? Should you ever use medications? What are your options?

To get the real scoop, I recently talked with internationally known trainer and canine behavior specialist Nicole Wilde. Her book, Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety, offers an innovative protocol to help you build your dog’s confidence and change his behavior from worried to more nonchalant when you leave.

Nicole’s unique “outside the box” approaches are based on tried and true scientific methods and on her own experiences that she used with her own dog Sierra, and with her clients’ dogs. (Nicole’s credentials appear at the end of this post.)

In this first of a three-part interview, Nicole discusses the definitions, causes, how we can help the suffering dog, and clues about separation anxiety when adopting a dog.

 

 

What is separation anxiety (SA) and what isn’t SA? Some of us don’t know the difference and have misconceptions about SA if the symptoms are similar.

Separation anxiety is the emotional distress experienced by a dog when separated from a particular person or persons. This differs from “isolation

Have you come home to this?

distress,” which is when a dog simply does not like to be left alone. It is important to differentiate between separation anxiety, isolation distress, and a dog who is simply destructive or not completely potty trained.

 

What are the causes of SA? Can SA be a learned behavior?

There can be many causes for separation issues. Sometimes a family adopts a dog when one person is between jobs, or over a long holiday when they’re all at home. When the schedule changes and the dog is suddenly left alone more, he can’t cope.

Another common cause is when a dog has been rehomed. Often the dog feels at sea, as though he might be abandoned again. These dogs can take a while to settle in.

Experiencing a traumatic incident can also lead to a dog not wanting to be left alone. There is an amazing story in my book about a dog who, with his owner, walked in on a robbery in progress. Before the incident he had never had behavioral problems but immediately after, he developed quite a case of separation anxiety.

As far as separation anxiety being a learned behavior, it’s possible that if one dog in the family has it, it could cause the other dog to become more anxious than usual, although I’m not sure the second dog would then have a true separation issue.

 

Are some dog owners actually creating SA by encouraging certain behaviors? I know some people like “velcro” dogs. What are some of our own behaviors we should avoid to prevent fostering SA?

Being with your dog constantly and then leaving him alone can encourage a separation problem. But it’s a common myth that practices such as allowing a dog to sleep in your bed or “coddling” him will actually cause a separation issue—although doing those things won’t help if he’s already got one.

It’s true that many dogs with separation anxiety will follow people around—the “Velcro” dogs you mentioned—but not all do. Sierra, the dog I adopted from the shelter (who was the inspiration for my book), preferred to lie outdoors on the ramp in back of the house as long as she knew I was inside. But if I left, she fell apart. It’s important to note that not every separation anxiety issue is a textbook type case.

 

If you are planning to adopt a dog, is there a way to know if he has SA before bringing him home?

Great question! And I wish there were a great answer. Before we adopted Sierra, we found out she’d been in the shelter four times; that doesn’t bode well for a dog feeling secure when left alone. But although many dogs in shelters and rescues can have separation issues, they certainly don’t all have them, and I would hate to dissuade anyone from adopting.

If you are adopting a dog, the adjective “escape artist” might be a clue that the dog also has a separation issue, and is escaping in order to go after the owners; but that’s not always the case, and digging deeper is warranted.

 

—–

Part II of this interview series: Nicole offers advice about how to help your dog feel safer and calmer through management techniques and protocols, discusses the crate controversy, and provides tips and suggestions for building your dog’s confidence.

Part III of this interview series: Nicole talks about innovative ways to manage your dog’s anxiety when you leave, including calming techniques, the crate controversy, and how to build your dog’s confidence.

 

—–

Nicole Wilde is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and internationally recognized author and lecturer. Her nine books include So You Want to be a Dog Trainer, Help for Your Fearful Dog, and Don’t Leave Me! Step-by-Step Help for Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety. In addition to working with dogs, Nicole has worked with wolves and wolfdogs for over fifteen years and is considered an expert in the field.

Nicole is on the Advisory Board of the Companion Animal Sciences Institute, the educational branch for the International Institute for Applied Companion Animal Behavior, and an Advisory Board member for the Association of Animal Behavior Professionals. Nicole writes an Ask the Expert column for Modern Dog Magazine, and blogs for Dog Star Daily, Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Expert blog, and her own site, Wilde About Dogs. You can find Nicole on Facebook at Nicole Wilde, Author and on Twitter at @NicoleWilde.

As one of the moderators of Bark Out Loud Weekly, I’m excited to announce this, from one of our hosts, Kim Clune of Be the Change for Animals:

Bark Out Loud Weekly and Be the Change for Animals support the “Double BAD RAP Donation Challenge” from The Honest Kitchen

Who is Bad Rap? BAD RAP (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls), co-founded by Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer, has been instrumental in the evaluation, rescue and  rehabilitation of the dogs in the Michael Vick case, providing vision and hope for these dogs as well as many other dogs from high-profile federal dog fighting arrests. They also rescue pit bulls, teach award-winning classes in the San Francisco Bay Area and support rescues nationwide.

“Double BAD RAP Donation Challenge” from The Honest Kitchen

BAD RAP is March 2010’s charity of choice at The Honest Kitchen, makers of dehydrated, human-grade whole foods for dogs and cats. THK donates a percentage of online store profits monthly to various causes. BAD RAP’s donation will double if THK reaches 40,000 Facebook fans this month.

Head on over and like The Honest Kitchen’s Facebook Page to support BAD RAP!

Chat Live with BAD RAP on Bark Out Loud Weekly, March 14, 9:00 PM EST!

Learn more about the work Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer do in the Bark Out Loud Weekly BAD RAP podcast “After Vick: What Have We Learned?” . This breaking interview has just been released along with promotion of the “Double BAD RAP Donation Challenge” from The Honest Kitchen. Listen up and chat live with Donna Reynolds and Tim Racer on Monday at 9:15 PM EST. Get there early! Space is limited to the first 100 people.

BAD RAP, Featured Cause at Be the Change for Animals on March 14th

Be the Change for Animals (BtC4animals.com) will feature the “Double BAD RAP Donation Challenge” from The Honest Kitchen on Monday, March 14th. Through social media, Be the Change for Animals asks a dedicated and growing community of online animal advocates to spend just a few moments and never a cent to improve the lives of animals in need. On this date, Be the Change for Animals will also kick off a $1000 dollar Facebook ad campaign, drawing additional attention to this terrific cause.

Special announcement: Bark Out Loud Weekly and Be the Change for Animals have officially joined forces. As sister sites, each will cross promote the other with a strong focus on improving the lives of animals.

You Can Help!

Like The Honest Kitchen’s Facebook Page.
Share this link (http://www.barkoutloudweekly.com/news/support-bad-rap).
Cover the story on your website or blog.
Participate in Bark Out Loud Weekly’s BAD RAP podcast and chat.
Visit Be the Change for Animals on Monday to spread the word.

Participating Blogs and Websites

The following  have committed to covering events surrounding “Double BAD RAP Donation Challenge” on Monday, March 14th:


Additionally, I’ll be posting about what someone in Colorado is doing to help the plight of pit bulls in the country. Stay tuned! And see you on Monday, March 14, for the chat!

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