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Friday, April 25, 2014

Worried about Strangers (Blog Request)


 
Does your dog get worried around strangers?  Many dogs do.  But often, it’s not the strangers themselves that these dogs are worried about; it is the fact that we are going to ask them to interact with those strangers that worries them.  Why do we expect our dogs to act open and happy with everyone they meet?  Do we act that way with everyone we meet? 
Do you always stand very close to people you don’t know or do you try to keep some space between yourself and them?  Do you want strangers to come touch you and hug you?  Are there some people that you feel more comfortable with than others?  It is ok for those you feel more comfortable with to stand closer to you than someone you don’t feel that way about, right? 
And yet when our dogs try to move away from strangers do we shorten the leash to make them stay?  Do we baby talk them and try to bribe them with goodies to go say hi to the nice person?  And do our efforts help?  Not usually. 
Imagine if you felt uneasy about a person who approached you on the street.  You probably would try to make an arc around that person to allow more room while you averted your eyes and tried to hurry past.  Now, what if someone held you in place with a leash so that stranger could touch and hug you and stare into your face?  Would you like that?  Would it make you more likely to like and feel comfortable with that stranger?  Probably not. 
What if the person tried to bribe you closer with a piece of chocolate?  If you really liked chocolate, you might inch closer until you could grab the candy, and then you would try to back away quickly again.  Even if you were eating the candy, would you like the stranger any better?  Most likely not.  But you would be feeling more anxious because you had to go closer to that stranger than you would have liked.  But if your uneasiness about the stranger was more than your love of chocolate, you wouldn’t even approach. 
Many people try to have the stranger feed their dog a goodie, thinking the dog will begin to associate the stranger with a yummy treat.  While on the surface this might sound like a good idea, it usually is not.  While it does work with a few dogs, it can also lead to worsening anxiety or even a bite from your dog.  What happens is that your dog will go closer to get the great food (just like you sneaking in to grab the chocolate), but when the food runs out your dog will realize just how close he now is to the scary stranger.  This will cause him to be even more worried, as he may not realize how he got so close to the person, and he may not know what to do.  This is when he might snap or bite in an attempt to get the person to back away and give him more space, especially if you are holding him close on a short leash and he can’t get away.
Don’t force your dog to make friends.  You may make his anxiety around strangers even worse even though you were trying to make it better.  It’s ok to say no when people ask if they can pet your dog.  It’s even ok for your dog to walk away from a stranger or to go sit behind you. 
Let your dog walk away.  Keep the leash loose and allow him to have a choice about who he greets or doesn’t greet.  If you give your dog the choice, he will begin to feel more in control of the situation and his stress levels will lessen.  You might be surprised … often if you just hang out near people and ask everyone to ignore your dog, you will soon see him settle down enough to approach and sniff the other people on his own.  But it has to be his choice when he feels comfortable enough to do that.  If strangers are looking at him or trying to get his attention by reaching out a hand, etc, he will feel pressured and he will begin to worry again.
With time, your dog will become more comfortable around strangers because he will know that they won’t be trying to pet him or feed him.  If he wants to approach someone to sniff, let him.  Ask the other person to ignore him.  Praise gently as your dog is sniffing.
Sometimes sitting next to the person on a bench will help your dog feel safe enough to approach.  Often a dog will go under the bench and when the people are talking and otherwise engaged, he will sneak closer to sniff the person’s shoes. 
A dog being approached head-on will most likely try to take a detour away from a new person.  This is polite dog language and also a response to the stress of someone approaching him directly.  Allow him to move away to create more space so he will be comfortable and keep the leash loose if you can.  Following or walking next to a new person can help put your dog at ease much quicker than a person approaching him. 
One of my own dogs is worried about strangers.  The more I tried to work with him to help him, the more anxious he got.  I tried asking people to pet him or to feed him.  I tried doing targeting games to have him go say hi to people by touching their hands.  Even though with a certain cue (touch) he would do the behavior, his general behavior in public where there were new people got worse because he was never sure which new person I was going to make him interact with. 
Taking the pressure off and telling people they couldn’t pet my dog, allowed him to feel much more comfortable in the presence of new people and even with them handling him.  Of course this took some time.  I let it be his choice.  If he approaches a person, I praise him.  I don’t ask him to approach the person.  I don’t let others push into his space. 
When I see that he is curious about the other person and will approach and sniff on his own, I then tell the person how to invite him into their space.  If he goes to them, then he has made the choice to interact with them.  I give very specific instructions to the person on what to do next.  And when my dog moves away, I back away and call him to me, praising him for coming as I explain to the other person that he’s had enough now and thank them for taking the time to make friends with him. 
You need to stand up for your dog and protect him and his feelings.  He doesn’t have a choice when he is on a leash and he can’t move away.  Remember that it’s ok not to allow people to pet your dog.  Dogs have varying comfort levels around new people, just like we do.  Forcing him to interact will increase his anxiety and make him want to try to avoid new people even more the next time.  Instead, take it slow and allow him to tell you how he’s feeling about the situation.  Give him the freedom to decide who he wants to interact with and over time you may notice that he is making that choice more and more. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stress Part 3

Tips for canine stress reduction

"This is a collection of techniques and products that have worked for me in reducing a dog’s stress levels and keeping them at low levels.  It is important when dealing with ongoing stress behaviors that a thorough veterinary exam be completed as soon as possible.  Many stress behaviors can be indicative of health concerns.  These suggestions are in no way meant to replace veterinary care.  Please take this list with you to your dog’s veterinary appointment and ask which techniques and products would be suitable to try with your dog if you have any questions or concerns.
If your dog is in a situation she finds stressful, the easiest way to reduce her stress is to remove her from the area to a place that is calmer and quieter.  If this is not possible, it may help for you to put an object or even your own body between your dog and what is causing her stress as a visual blocker (if your dog is able to see).  Perhaps you can move her to a different vantage point which will help her to feel safer.  For instance, moving her away from a busy doorway where others are coming and going will allow her to have more personal space.
If you have a crate with you that your dog recognizes as a safe place, use it.  Place it in a quiet out-of-the-way place for your dog to relax in.  Some dogs may find having the crate covered offers them a greater sense of security.   If you don’t have a crate with you, a few minutes in the safety of your car (a familiar environment to your dog) may help her to calm down.
Some dogs will appreciate a chew toy when they are stressed to help them self-soothe.   Stuffed Kong toys and safe bones are good for this.  Some dogs won’t eat or chew when they are stressed, but others chew more when they are stressed.  This will depend on your dog.
Gentle massage, TTouch®, Healing Touch for Animals®, and other body work can be helpful in teaching your dog to relax in stressful situations.  Healing Touch for Animals® has a wonderful program where you can learn techniques for relaxing and calming your dog and for helping her to deal with stress, as does TTouch®.
 
Work slowly to get your dog used to new situations that may cause stress.  Don’t just throw her into a new situation and hope for the best.  Your goal should always be to help your dog have an enjoyable experience.  Go slowly so if she is not enjoying herself, you can intervene and remove her from the situation or make it easier for her.
Do not force your dog to interact with people or situations that are causing her stress.  Let her approach as she becomes more comfortable.
There are supplements that can help with calming and relaxing your dog.  Rescue remedy can be very useful to have on hand for stressful situations.  Talk to your veterinarian about how best to use this supplement.  Essential oils and other supplements can also be helpful, but care should be taken with dosages, so check with someone who is qualified to advise you.
 
Keeping a loose leash is a huge stress reducer!  Dogs pulled around on tight leashes feel powerless and trapped and become fearful.  Your dog can’t relax if she feels that she cannot get away.  Allow her to move away from the stress if she wishes.  Teach loose leash walking.
 
Some dogs feel more comfortable when wearing a coat or T shirt.  Check out other similar techniques and products such as TTouch® body wraps, anxiety wraps, or Thundershirts.  These create steady pressure to your dog’s body and can be very calming.
 
Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise.  Walking exercise is great!  Allow your dog to sniff, using a long leash in an open area if you can.  Dogs need to sniff and explore to feel secure in their environment.  Walking gets your dog away from home and lets her experience new things and meet new people so she is better able to deal with the stresses of being in public.  If she never leaves home, she can’t be expected to know how to handle things outside of her home.
Change the dog’s food to a more appropriate diet.  Many popular dog foods have fillers and artificial ingredients that can affect your dog’s behavior and body physiology, including how she deals with stress.  A diet with better quality ingredients can help your dog feel better and be less stressed in general.
Let your dog have time to be a dog.  Be less controlling when the situation does not call for it.  Having the freedom to make some of her own decisions can boost her confidence and lower her stress levels.
 
Use calming music for your dog to listen to while you are away, or even while you are at home.  Healing Touch for Animals® has great CDs created for this purpose, as does Through a Dog’s Ear.  Classical music can also work in a pinch. Of course this is only useful if your dog can hear the music.  I have noticed that my b/d dog does appear to feel the vibrations of music through a radio on the floor.
Give your dog a safe place where she can choose to go get away from the world for a while.  This may be a crate left open for her to come and go as she pleases, or a bed in a quiet corner where she won’t be disturbed.
DAP sprays, collars, and plug-ins may be helpful in a variety of circumstances.  DAP stands for dog-appeasing pheromones.  DAP products were created to help soothe dogs in various situations."
 
Excerpt from Through A Dark Silence - click on book title to learn more about my book!
 
 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stress Part 2


Some signs of stress in dogs


"Your dog may become more active, moving faster, pacing, or just acting like she can’t sit still.  Or she may become very still and seem distant or shut down, seeming to ignore things going on around her.  She may even freeze in place and refuse to move at all.
She may back away or turn away from the situation.  This may be very obvious, or it may just be that she averts her eyes or turns her head away very slightly.  You may see her crouching down closer to the ground or cowering.  Even a slight lowering of her body toward the ground can signal uncertainty and stress.

Dogs that are stressed may refuse to eat or drink.  Sometimes dogs that travel, or are boarded, will not eat or drink normally due to the stress of being someplace new.  In a new situation, you may find your dog won’t eat treats that she normally would eat.  This is due to being stressed.  That being said, some dogs drink more when they are stressed, and some dogs will eat even when they are stressed, but they will start to chomp harder for the treats.

While some yawning is just a symptom of a sleepy dog, a big exaggerated yawn is a symptom of stress.  Your dog may yawn at times other than nap times and will usually yawn frequently if she is stressed. 

Panting heavily when she has not been exercising hard is a sign of stress.  Her mouth may be dry, or it may be excessively wet with drool.  Diarrhea and urine marking may be signs of stress. 

If your dog is licking her lips with very quick and small movements, she is probably stressed.  This one is easy to miss because the movement is so quick it’s hard to see.  Trembling can be a sign of stress, but it can also be a sign that the dog is cold or in pain.  Whining and barking excessively is a sign of stress.

Chewing and mouthing behavior may increase when your dog is stressed.  She may chew more when left alone if she is stressed.  She may put her mouth on skin, clothing, her leash, etc., when she is stressed.  Mouthing is normal in puppies, but you will notice if the puppy gets stressed the mouthing will escalate.

Any time your dog is trying to hide behind you or a barrier, she is stressed and wants to leave the situation.  Shaking off her whole body as if she just had a bath is a sign of stress.  You may see this after a stressful event, or you may see it repeatedly if the stressful situation continues.  If you see wet paw prints on a surface when your dog has not just walked through something wet, she is stressed.  Dogs sweat through their paw pads, so this is more obvious when they are stressed. 

A dog that doesn’t respond to known cues may be stressed.  When a dog is stressed, she can’t learn easily or think clearly, so she may not respond to even simple requests. When your dog is stressed, there are chemical changes going on in her body that prevent her from thinking clearly.  This often leads to dogs reacting quickly and instinctively, which is not usually how we expect our dogs to act.  If too many elements of stress are present at the same time and the dog feels like she cannot cope, she may act to defend herself, maybe even by biting.

Stress can begin to build in your dog’s day to day activities.  Stress tends to build on itself and accumulate over time.  If your dog’s stress level is already high, it won’t take much to tip the scale and create a bad situation.  Your dog may be able to handle a young child coming up to pet her on a normal day.  But what if you are remodeling your house and your dog has to deal with strangers coming and going all day long for weeks on end, plus the noise (or vibrations) and commotion of power tools, people yelling to each other, a stressed out owner, etc?  If you add a child trying to pet your dog into that mix, your dog may feel so overwhelmed by everything else going on that she snaps at the child, or worse. 

So it’s important to try to keep your dog’s stress levels low in her daily life so she is better able to handle the unusual things that come her way.  Be aware of when things are getting over the top.  When will your dog’s scale finally tip?  Don’t let it get to that point.  Give your dog a time-out when needed.  Protect her from getting overwhelmed.  Use some stress-reducing techniques in your dog’s daily life.  And remember that your dog will react to your stress levels as well.  Taking good care of yourself and keeping your own stress levels under control are good wellness care, but will also help you be that much closer to keeping your dog’s stress levels under control. 

Stress is not something to be scared of.  It is normal and healthy for the body to react differently to certain things changing in the environment.  It is what keeps us safe and allows us to avoid unpleasant and potentially dangerous situations.  By keeping everyday stress levels low, you will allow your dog’s body to be able to handle slightly stressful situations easily and return to a state of calm afterwards.  By learning about your dog’s stress signs, you will be able to help her to reduce her stress reactions while in the moment."
 
Excerpt from Through A Dark Silence - click on title to learn more about my book!
 
 
 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Stress Part 1

April is Stress Awareness Month.  To celebrate, I am including for you, an excerpt from my newest book, Through A Dark Silence: Loving and Living with Your Blind and Deaf Dog
 
"Dogs experience stress, just like we do.  Not all stress is unpleasant, of course, but for the discussion in this book, let’s assume that we are discussing unpleasant stress for your dog.  Stress is a physiological reaction to something in the environment.  It causes very real changes in your dog’s body chemistry.
Stress is a fact of life we must all learn to deal with in appropriate ways.  It is not the circumstances in life that are stressful by themselves, but it is our (and our dog’s) perception of those circumstances that causes stress.  Every person and every dog do not react in the same manner to the same situation.  So, what might seem stressful to one, may not to another. 
What situations might create a stress reaction for your dog?  Being in a new environment or situation, being confused about what is expected of her or of how to react, anything that scares her, being in crowded places with very little personal space, having new people or animals enter her home, changes in known routines, being left alone, etc.  These are only a few.
As you get to know your dog better, you will begin to know what types of situations are stressful for her.  The important thing is to learn to recognize signs of stress in your dog so you will know when to step in and help her.
Dogs as a species show some of the same signs of stress, but individual dogs also show stress in their own ways.  It’s important to learn about these stress signals in dogs, but also to observe your own dog for behaviors that are different from her regular behavior.  These might be signals that she is getting stressed as well."
 
Excerpt from Through A Dark Silence - click on title to learn more about my book!