Understanding Your Anxious Dog

Anxiety in dogs seems to be more and more common these days. That likely has something to do with the increased pace of our lives (meaning less exercise/interaction for your canine) and the increase in rules & confinement (often creating more mental frustration & a lack of social interaction). The world is also busier than ever meaning that dogs need to learn to acclimate to A LOT! Some dogs can do this easily, while others struggle greatly.

Luckily, there are some things you can do to help your anxious dog, and the first of those things is truly understanding them. Anxiety creates many behavior problems, so understanding where the behaviors are coming from and how to alleviate that anxiety will help your canine not only feel better but behave better too!

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Lucky Paws Board & Train dog Finnegan. Finn struggled with anxiety related behavior problems, but she is now in a much better place due to behavior modification, training, management and the help of behavioral medicine.

What is anxiety?

If you were to pull out a dictionary, it would read something like…

Anxiety: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune OR a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, often with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

This means that an anxious dog suffers from an uneasy mind. They are often excessively worried about what might happen and often have reactions to things that frighten them that are not proportionate to the stimuli (similar to a panic attack). Most anxious dogs have increased sensitivity to environmental stimuli, an exaggerated startle response, hyper-vigilance, and long recovery after arousing events.

The difference between a “normal” dog and an anxious dog:

When a “normal” dog is confronted by something it doesn’t understand (hasn’t seen before, considers it may be threatening), you may see a small amount of wariness in the body language (moving slowly, lowering head, moving away slowly), but after a few moments of evaluating the situation, curiosity typically kicks in and the dog begins using his senses to investigate (assuming the thing it didn’t understand was not actually something threatening).

When an anxious dog is confronted with the same situation, there is an exaggerated startle response. The dog may physically jump back or run away, bark at the trigger and generally exaggerate the level of threat. Many anxious dogs will either take much longer to get to the point of evaluating the situation, or skip it entirely and just run away to avoid the situation. Anxious dogs generally take quite some time to fully recover from a stressful event, sometimes taking several hours (and even occasionally days) after a stressful event.

Similarly, anxious dogs are often on edge. They are hyper-vigilant, constantly scanning their environment on the lookout for something scary. The world is a continuous stream of unknowns, so when outside of their safe zone (their crate, your home etc), they are constantly scanning the horizon for the next scary thing. This makes things like walks, and field trips to the park scary events. Some dogs may decide they no longer enjoy walks or trips to the park, but many are conflicted because they enjoy being at the park or they enjoy sniffing things on the walk, so they get excited to go on the walk, even though it tends to be a fairly stressful experience for them.

Anxious dogs tend to learn at a normal level in quiet environments but really struggle to learn and comply with commands they know in busier environments, or environments with a lot of stimuli.

To an anxious dog, the world is often at least a little overwhelming (sometimes incredibly overwhelming). To an anxious dog, a quiet yard can resemble a busy amusement park but instead of everything looking fun and exciting, it’s quite overwhelming and often scary. Remember that dogs have much better hearing and smelling abilities than people, so where we may see or hear nothing, they see and hear a lot!

Helping Your Anxious Dog

Once you understand your anxious
dog and how they see the world, helping them becomes easier. We can control how we expose them to the frightening stimuli so that they can learn not only to feel more at ease in their world, but also to trust our judgement which makes them feel safer.

Use Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning involves pairing the scary stimuli with something the dog loves (play, affection, high value food rewards etc). When you come across something that frightens your dog, begin praising your dog and even stop to feed him a few treats or play. We want him to think that great things happen when the scary thing happens. Over time, he will begin to like the scary thing because it brings great things! That means, it will no longer be a scary thing!

What to do when your dog has a strong reaction to a trigger (barking, running away etc.)

First you need to stop the reaction as quickly as possible to avoid a huge spike in stress hormones which makes it more difficult to come back down from the fear. Immediately moving the dog away from the trigger to a place where he can actually think and evaluate the situation is helpful. Once you find the location where the dog can function, try to regain the dog’s attention and use food, praise and play (counter conditioning) to get the dog in a better state of mind. Getting your dog into a better state of mind is important. We need to give your dog’s brain the ability to slow down enough to evaluate the situation instead of just immediately reacting to something he doesn’t understand.

Here are a few Dos & Don’ts for helping your anxious dog.

Refrain from harsh discipline: This doesn’t mean you never correct your dog, it only means that you control the level of the correction, especially in the presence of scary stimuli. Any time your dog is around something that makes him uncomfortable, you want to be positive. Fear and anxiety are emotions your dog doesn’t have much control over. Harsh punishment can actually increase anxiety and damage your relationship with your dog.

Change the way you console your dog: Instead of trying to soothe your dog’s anxiety by picking them up, petting them and saying “Your ok…” in a quiet manner, try to change his state of mind by making things fun. Condition him to feel happy in the presence of things that produce anxiety by pairing scary stimuli with fun. This of course needs to happen at a distance that is not too overwhelming for your dog.

Avoid the fearful stimulus when you aren’t able to work on counter conditioning: This doesn’t mean avoid it entirely. If you do, your dog will never learn to feel more comfortable when confronted by things he is fearful of. Only avoid when you are unable to work on counter conditioning. We don’t want to ingrain the fear any more than it already is.

Take the time to learn your dog’s body language: Being able to read your dog and recognize anxiety quickly is a very important part of the rehabilitation process.

Be a good leader your dog can trust: Take the time to counter condition your dog. Teach him that he can trust you to evaluate the situation and get him to a place where he can feel comfortable every time. When he learns to trust you, he will have more confidence to try
situations he may have otherwise not been comfortable with because he trusts you are there to help him through it.

Check your behavior and emotions: Dogs are very good at picking up on human emotions and can sense any stress or anxiety you may be feeling. Not surprisingly, many anxious dogs have anxious owners. Tackling your own stress and anxiety and being confident for your dog makes a world of difference. Anxious dogs are more likely to be able to feel comfortable in their world if they are confident that if anything does come up that is scary, you will handle it. You need to teach your dog they can trust you by immediately taking action when something frightens them, first getting them feeling safe, then following that by helping them adapt and learn about the thing that made them fearful. Soon they will begin to want to investigate things they don’t understand instead of feeling fear and anxiety.

Provide your dog with a routine life: Anxious dogs function best with a routine. They like to know as much as possible what is going to happen next.

Provide lots of physical and mental exercise: Physical and mental exercise boost serotonin levels naturally. Serotonin is a feel good chemical that is depleted when stressful events happen. The less serotonin there is in your dog’s system, the weaker his ability to cope with stress.

Teach your dog that paying attention to you is great: If you have your dog’s attention, they are more likely to be able to listen to commands in stressful environments. Keeping their attention is the key to success. This means that anxious dogs often rely on rewards in stimuli rich environments for much longer than your average dog.

Additional Helpful Tools:

Natural Calming Remedies: Pet stores sell many herbal supplements for anxiety. This is a great place to start before resorting to prescription medication (which can be a great option for some dogs). Be sure to consult your vet before choosing a remedy, especially if your dog is on any medication.

Comfort Zone Plug-In: This releases something that mimics a mother’s natural pheromones which helps to relax your dog. This can be great in conjunction with other calming remedies.

Pheromone Collar: Similar to the plug-in, this is a collar that helps relax your dog. This is great for dogs who are anxious outside of the house.

Thundershirt: Anxiety wraps use pressure to calm your dog.


Need Training Help?

Need some help with teaching your dog to cope better with their anxiety? We can help! Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email (heather@luckypawsmn.com) anytime!

www.LuckyPawsMN.com


 

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Successful Holiday Gatherings with Dogs

Are you hosting a get together this holiday season? Make it the best one
yet with Lucky Paws top tips for having a wildly successful holiday gathering with your dog behaving like a gentleman (or lady).

A tired dog is a good dog

I know it may feel like you couchdogdon’t have time to exercise your dog before your guests arrive, but you will be happy you took the time to do so when you see how much it improves your dogs behavior. In the days leading up to your event, be sure your dog is getting LOTS of exercise. Trips to daycare or the dog park, lots of fetch games or play with a tail teaser. The day of the big event, exercise your dog that morning, then give him mental activities to do throughout the day such as puzzle toys or search games. Additionally, right before or right as the guests are arriving, set up a big search game so your dog is rooting around the house for treats you’ve hidden (ideally in areas that won’t interfere with guests).

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Make the crate great!

When hosting a officegathering, sometimes keeping an eye on your dog is difficult to say the least. When your not watching he may be stealing grandmas ham! When you are busy, keep your dog happy in his crate.

Everyday between now and the big day, at least 3 times per day put something SUPER yummy in your dogs crate, but don’t put your dog in. What?! Yes, I said don’t put your dog in. Instead let him sniff and paw at the crate trying to get in for several minutes before finally letting him in and allowing him to have the yummy item. Close him in the crate to eat it, then let him out before he is done with the yummy item. At this point pick up the yummy item and do the same thing with it again later. If your dog guards the yummy item, let him finish it in his crate before letting him out.

When the big day rolls around, your dog won’t mind spending time in the crate with a stuffed bone or kong. To help your dog feel even more content in the crate, make sure the crate is in a familiar location where your dog is used to being crated, and ideally in a room far enough from the hustle and bustle to allow your dog to settle. Turning on a radio, tv or fan can help drown out some of the noise he hears.

When you have some time to be able to focus on your dog’s behavior with your guests, you can go ahead and bring him out. This is a great time to work on any behaviors you’ve been wanting to address with guests present. If needed, put a leash on your dog (especially puppies) to help them be more successful!

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Take some time to remind your dog of the great skills he already knows! Leave It, Greeting Skills (not jumping up), Out (of the kitchen or other room), boundary training at the front door, and no counter surfing rules are all important when food & guests are around.

At the Door Greetings

If you haven’t had much time to work on your dog greeting behavior at the door, a few simple tips can go a long way.

  • When greeting a guest at the door, have your dog leashed and have several high value treats in your hand (think cheese or hot dogs) to help keep your dogs attention, and reward him for good behavior.
  • You can also stand on your dogs leash, giving him just enough room to stand comfortably. This will prevent him from jumping on your guests.

Do you have a reactive, fearful or anxious dog?

Sometimes holiday gatherings can be a real drag for dogs who struggle with fear, anxiety, and aggression. In these cases, if you don’t have a quiet place in your home your dog can feel at ease (such as a crate or bedroom with a kong or bone), sometimes it is better to have your dog sitter watch your dog, or even crate your dog at a friend, family members or neighbors house where things are quiet and where your dog already feels at ease.

Alternatively, if you are in the process of modifying your dogs fear or reactivity toward people, this could be a good opportunity to do some behavior modification, but consult with your trainer before doing so to help make sure it is a successful training experience.

Need Training Help?

Need some help with some manners training, or maybe you aren’t sure how to handle your fearful, reactive or anxious dogs when you have guests. We can help! Give us a call (612-388-9656) or send us an email (heather@luckypawsmn.com) anytime!

http://www.luckypawsmn.com

 

Winter Grooming: Important Tips

Many people decide to let their dog’s fur grow long in the colder months, and opt to not give baths because it is cold outside. But, imagine if you stopped showering and getting haircuts for the four, sometimes five months of our Minnesota winter. You probably wouldn’t feel too great, and your dog probably won’t either!

Dogs of all fur types still need a certain amount of grooming all winter. Wet fur SSPX5395from playing in the snow causes a greater risk of mats and walks in the dirty snow along streets and sometimes mud when the snow melts, will build up dirt in your dog’s coat. Regular brushing year-round helps to remove dead hair and skin, distribute natural oils that keep your dog’s coat healthy, and also acts as an opportunity to check over your dog for bumps, cuts, mats, fleas, and anything else that may cause a concern about your dog’s health. Regular baths year-round are also recommended to keep your dog’s coat in tip top shape, you just need to be sure your dog is completely dry before going outside. Simply let your dog out to potty right before a bath to avoid any conflicts of a wet dog that needs to pee. If your dog is otherwise clean, but is getting a little smelly, a good option to avoid a wet dog is to use a dry shampoo.

Dogs that normally get their hair cut every 6 weeks or so during the warm months like poodles and many breeds of terriers should still be properly groomed in the winter. You may choose to keep your dog’s coat longer to keep him warmer, but regular grooming is even more necessary with a long coat, so even if you skip the cut, you should still bring your dog in for a bath, brush and blow dry, or you may end up with a badly matted and uncomfortable dog come spring, and you may need to fully shave your adorably fluffy dog!

In addition to taking care of your dog’s coat, pay attention to their feet. To keep your dog’s pads from cracking in the cold weather, dry them off every time they come inside, and moisturize them regularly with a paw protection wax. Dog’s nails also need to be trimmed more often due to being inside more and not having as many opportunities to wear down their nails. Clipping the long hairs between your dog’s toes can help prevent matting, and also prevents ice balls from forming. Taking the extra time to groom your dog during the busy holiday season may feel like a burden. To make it feel less time-consuming, schedule a 5 minute grooming session at each meal, rather than taking a half-hour or hour each week. Avoiding cracked paws and matted coats—or worse, a shaved dog in the middle of winter—is worth the effort.

Written By: Jessi Weaver

Holiday Safety & Training Tips

Food and family are the best things about the upcoming holidays. Since our dogs are members of our family too, many will likely be included in these festivities, but the truth is an ill or ill-mannered dog can quickly turn a wonderful holiday into a stressful situation. If you don’t want your dog jumping all over your guests, or getting sick from consuming things they shouldn’t eat around the holidays, read on!

Good Eats!IMAG1938

It can be tempting to want to treat the furry, tail-wagging members of your family to some of your delicious concoctions. Before giving them goodies, it’s important that you know about some very toxic foods that could cause immense pain, neurological issues, and even death if enough of these foods are consumed by your dog.

Many people know that chocolate, raisins and alcohol are dangerous for dogs. But don’t forget about the onions and garlic that you may use to season your meal. Other potentially dangerous spices and foods include, sage, nutmeg, cinnamon, macadamia nuts and walnuts. Over consumption of sugar from cakes, puddings, pies, and even cranberry sauce can cause pancreatitis. Even the turkey skin can be dangerous due to the high fat content (which can also cause pancreatitis). Also, cooked bones are much more likely to splinter than uncooked bones, and can not only cause stomach upset, but can also get stuck in your dog’s throat or digestive tract which can be very dangerous.

While all this may make us sound like party-poopers, there are some healthy snacks that you can give your dog as a special Thanksgiving treat. Raw or cooked carrots and green beans are healthy and low calorie treats.  Also, fresh or canned pumpkin is proven to help dog’s digestion. You can even treat your dog to a small amount turkey if it is skin-less and not heavily seasoned. Keep in mind that some dogs’ digestive systems are more sensitive than others, so even healthy treats can sometimes cause stomach upset.

Holiday Training Tips

Food isn’t the only thing to think about if you are hosting or attending a big family get together over the holidays with your dog. Common behavior problems that might put a damper on your dinner are jumping on or mouthing guests, counter surfing, and begging at the table.

Jumping and mouthing are attention seeking behaviors. This means that the best way to train your dog to not jump and mouth is to completely remove any possibility of attention by walking away and completely ignoring your dog.  Your dog behavior may get worse before it gets better (this is called an extinction burst), but dogs only do what works, and so over time, your dog will figure out that jumping and barking no longer work as a means of getting attention. Once your dog has learned to not jump on you, invite guests over to help with a training session so your dog can learn that the no-jumping rule applies to everyone, not just you. If your guests are unwilling or unable to ignore your dog’s attention seeking behaviors, it is important that you immediately remove your dog from the greeting to reinforce that jumping and mouthing never gets them attention. It also helps to reward calm behavior by giving treats and attention anytime you see your dog greeting with four paws on the floor, politely asking for attention by sitting and waiting in front of you, or laying down in the presence of guests.

Keeping food out on the counter or table can often prove to be too tempting for your otherwise polite pooch. To prevent counter surfing and begging, you can teach your dog to stay out of your kitchen and dining area, or even a “Place” or “Go Lay Down” command. It is equally as important to avoid feeding your dog from the counter or table, and instead feed any goodies in their dog bowl. If you catch your dog counter surfing or begging, immediately remove them from the area and encourage them to instead go to their “Place” or “Go Lay Down.”

Just imagine your dog showing your family what a polite and calm dog they can be. You CAN enjoy the holidays with your dog if you take the time to teach them the important skills needed to be that polite pooch!

Happy Holidays from all of us at Lucky Paws! 

Written By: Jessi Weaver

Dogs & Kids

Today I am going to share with you some amazing free resources for learning about dogs and kids from some experts on the subject. Whether you are getting ready to prepare your dog for a new baby on the way or looking to create a more harmonious relationship between your dog and child, these resources will be a tremendous help.

DOG SAFETY – What To Teach Your Kids

The webinar below is all about what to teach your kids about dog safety. A few simple lessons now can save a lot of heartache later. Even if you have the most tolerant dog who puts up with anything from your child, it is important that your child know that he can not behave that way with just any dog (and probably shouldn’t with yours either). I’ve also included a link to a video made specifically for your kids!

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Building Dog-Child Bonds

This next webinar is all about building dog-child bonds. Not only is the dog mans best friend, but childs best friend too when the interactions are appropriate. This webinar will help you teach your kids how to create a great relationship with your dog.

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Setting Dog & Baby Up For Success

Of course, it is also important to prepare your dog for a new baby too! Up until now, they have been your baby. Many changes take place when a baby comes home, but you can help ease the transition.

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Life of a Lucky Paws Board & Train Dog

At Lucky Paws, we do Board & Train a little differently. It’s important to us that your dog is content and happy while staying with us, because a happy dog is much easier to train! Board & Train dogs here get to be a part of pretty much everything we do while here. When not training, they hang out with us while we watch tv, go for walks out in the woods with our pack, and sometimes even help with morning chicken duties. They essentially become part of our family while they are here.

Day in the life of Board & Train Dog

  • Good Morning! Wake up, go outside to potty and play for a short time.
  • Breakfast! Time to eat, then rest for 30 min or so.
  • Play! Get some of the crazies out before training time.
  • Time to learn! Dogs get individual training sessions, usually 30 min – 1 hour at a time.
  • Nap Time! Learning takes a lot of mental energy, and the pups are ready for a snooze.
  • Play! After a nap, another play session or walk in the woods.
  • Training time again! Splitting training into several sessions throughout the day keeps training fun.
  • Time to relax! The dogs hang with the pack and settle in for the evening.
  • Bedtime! The dogs snuggle in for a good nights sleep in a home environment.

Dog Park Do’s and Don’ts

Dog parks can be a fabulous place for you to exercise your dog and for your dog to socialize, but they can also be a scary place for a fearful dog, or an unsafe place if there are owners who bring dogs who really should not be there. One negative experience with a dog can forever scar your dog and create both fear and aggression (the best defense is a good offense). Dog’s may also learn bullying play styles that can lead to other problems.

I have put together a bit of information for you so that you and your dog can have plenty of pleasant dog park experiences and avoid any potentially negative experiences.

Do: Learn how to read dog body language and learn what is appropriate vs. inappropriate play. Learning to read your dogs social signals is very important for so many reasons, but really is invaluable when it comes to interactions with other dogs at the dog park. The more educated you are, the better you can keep your dog safe. See additional videos & other resources at the end of this post.

Don’t: Try to bring your dog to the dog park to work on socialization issues. Work with a trainer or behaviorist in a controlled environment with well known dogs in order to address any fearful, reactive or aggressive behavior.

Do: Determine whether or not your dog is a good fit for a dog park. Not every dog is a good fit for a dog park, and that’s ok. Fearful or shy dogs may not be a good fit for a dog park during peak hours when there are a lot of dogs there. Young puppies are also not a good fit for dog parks. Not only should your puppy be fully vaccinated before going to a dog park, but they should also be confident enough to stick up for themselves (typically 5-6 mo. or older). If you puppy rolls over and squeals easily during interactions with other dogs, they may not be ready for the dog park.

Don’t: Listen to other attendees in the park who may not understand their or your dog’s needs or understand canine play and body language. Instead, educate yourself from dog professionals and be sure to stand up for your dogs emotional and physical well being. He shouldn’t have to put up with a rude dog just because “He’s just playing.”

Do: Teach your dog to come when called reliably. It is vital that you can call your dog out of play that may be inappropriate. Also, if a fight breaks out, you want to be able to call your dog away so they don’t become involved.

Don’t: Believe that dogs can “work it out” if you just let them do so. If your dog is growling, snarling or air snapping at another dog and that other dog is not listening, protect your pooch and get them out of there before they feel the need to take things further. Young puppies often do not listen to reprimands well. If the other dog respects the warning, that is great, but don’t allow it to go any further.

Do: Check out the entrance before entering to make sure there aren’t dogs congregating there. It can be very stressful for a single dog to come into a pack of dogs right as they enter. Some dogs may also become territorial of the park which can cause fights at the gate.

Don’t: Congregate with other dog owners and chat. Many fights happen when there are large groups of dogs and humans just standing around due to the fact that they don’t have enough personal space and owners are often not paying enough attention to their dogs.

Do: Keep moving. Even if you go to a small park (bigger is better), continue walking the perimeter and encourage your dog to follow you. You may stop for short play sessions with other dogs, but your best bet is to keep moving to avoid altercations.

Do: Remove your dog if it is bullying others or if it appears afraid.

Don’t: Force your pup to play with a dog he doesn’t naturally want to play with. Size is less important than play style, but it’s not safe to bring a very small dog (under 10lbs) into a park with unknown large dogs. Here is a good example of dogs of different sizes playing appropriately.

Do: Leave special toys at home to avoid resource guarding. Even if your dog doesn’t guard the toy, another dog might guard your dogs toy from him/her.

Don’t: Let all the dogs in the park know that you have treats. If you are working on training, only feed treats when no other dogs are near you, bring non smelly treats and keep them in a high pocket. Also, keep your distance from large groups of dogs.

Do: Encourage your dog to walk away from a dog who may be growling, snarling or snapping at him. These are communication signals that your dog should learn to prevent by not bothering dogs who give more subtle cues such as freezing & staring.

Don’t: Assume that a dog is aggressive when he is only trying to communicate it’s discomfort. Growling, snarling and snapping are a dogs way of saying “Please go away!.” That dog has a right to have space and not have to put up with puppy antics or rowdy play.

Overall, the most important aspect is to educate yourself so that you know what to look for when you are trying to spot problems in play. This is the best way to keep your dog safe! For more information, refer to the posts below and check out some of the Youtube videos below.

Additional Resources:

  • Language of Dogs (DVD) – Sarah Kalnajs
  • Body Language of Canine Play (DVD) – Terry Ryan
  • Dog Play (Book) – Patricia McConnell
  • Canine Body Language (Book) – Brenda Aloff

These books and DVD’s can be found on either Amazon.com or Dogwise.com

Some good examples of good dog play:

 

Need help reforming your dogs dog park behavior? Click here to tell us about how we can help you.

www.luckypawsmn.com