Month: July 2018

Pica

Dogs sometimes eat things that are not food. Pica is defined as the persistent chewing and consumption of non-nutritional substances that provide no physical benefit to the animal. It can be a sign of distress or anxiety. There are many potential causes of this anxiety including changes in the social or physical environment or because of an internal oddness in how the animal perceives or interacts with the world.

Eating objects, such as rocks, can also be very dangerous for your dog, as these can be stuck in the stomach or intestine. Sharp objects, such as sticks, can cause damage to the delicate lining of the intestinal tract. It is therefore important that you know more about this behaviour to understand how to manage it appropriately.

Pica is the term used to describe the behaviour of eating things that have no nutritional value and provide no physical benefit to the animal, like plastic, rocks, or fabrics.

Eating of grass is very common in dogs and other animals (such as wolves or foxes) and is considered normal if non-harmful. It is thought that eating grass provides some physical benefit for dogs, for example to help eliminate worms.

Dogs have pica if they focus on, and seek out, non-nutritive substances for oral manipulation or consumption due to interactions between the dog’s genetic response and the social/physical environment out of context. This pica may then become an obsessive compulsive disorder.

It is possible for some medical problems to cause pica so it is important that all dogs with this behaviour are examined by a vet. Eating grass can be considered a relatively normal behaviour in dogs unless your dog is sick before or after doing it or the behaviour is very frequent or changes suddenly (i.e. your dog does it more often than usual). If you are concerned about any behaviour shown by your pet always consult your vet for advice. Dogs that lick surfaces may have some gastrointestinal upset and if this can be resolved the licking will stop.

If there is no medical condition causing the pica, it may be that your dog is using pica to to cope with situations where they feel uncomfortable, or when they feel very excited. When your dog does not know what to do, he or she may try to chew and eat things to relax. In this case you must help your dog to feel more comfortable with these situations. It is important to solve this problem as soon as possible, as the behaviour will become more established with time and repetition.

In some cases, pica is not caused by disease or stress. Dogs need to be mentally and physically stimulated, and exploring (especially with their mouth) is a normal behaviour for them, especially when young. If they do not find appropriate targets for this need, they may direct it onto less appropriate objects. Therefore it is important to exercise your pet enough, and provide it with a range of interesting toys and chews.

Toys that can be stuffed with food can be particularly useful, as they will keep your dog occupied for a long time redirecting the behaviour onto a more appropriate one. However, it is important that pets are supervised to prevent them from destroying the toy and swallowing pieces.

Your vet will discuss in detail potential causes of pica in your dog and may suggest referral to a behavioural specialist for further treatment.

It is always important to try to address the underlying cause of pica. In addition, you will want to stop the unwanted behaviour, and substitute it with something more appropriate. Pica can be prevented by making it physically impossible for your pet to eat inappropriate objects. You can hide all the items that your dog may try to eat or train your pet to be happy to wear a muzzle, and then muzzle them when at risk. You can also make the favoured substance less appealing, by mixing it with harmless but aversive chemicals.

If you catch your dog in the act of pica you need to interrupt him or her. Directly punishing your pet is very often unsuccessful, as in many cases dogs simply learn to perform the behaviour out of your sight, and sensitive or anxious dogs may be more stressed by repeated punishments.

Whatever is the cause of the behaviour, you should be aware that your attention (e.g. calling your pet or asking him/her to stop) is potentially a huge reward for your pet. If you see your pet showing unwanted behaviour of any kind they will often be distracted if you move away from them and engage in some interesting activity without obviously communicating with your pet (e.g. moving a food container, or playing with a ball). This way, you might be able to engage your dog’s attention and get them to choose to leave the inappropriate item to join you, without you drawing attention to the inappropriate action.

When your dog has left the object that was being eaten, you can leave your pet with some food scattered on the floor, or a chew or another food toy, and remove the inappropriate object while your pet is distracted. Food toys or chews are also appropriate objects that you can offer to your dog in these situations (before the dog starts eating something else) and at any time that your pet needs to chew, eat, and explore using its mouth. This can teach your pet a safe and appropriate alternative to pica.

In some cases, your veterinary surgeon may also suggest trying some medication to aid progress by reducing the signs displayed by your dog.

Finally, remember that the chances of resolving this problem are better with early intervention. The more time dogs spend eating inedible items, the more they learn to do it and so the more established becomes the behaviour.

If you are worried about any aspect of your dog’s behaviour seek help from your veterinary practice. If your vet is concerned they may wish to refer you to a specialist animal behaviourist.

Noise phobias

If your dog is afraid of sudden noises then life can be miserable for both of you. Summer thunderstorms can become a major trauma and unless you live in a remote part of the country there is almost no way of avoiding fireworks. There are some simple tips that can help to make the whole experience more bearable for both of you, but to find a solution to the problem you will need to seek some expert help.

Noise sensitivity is the exaggerated reaction to noises, generally loud and sudden noises such as thunder, fireworks, gunshots, etc. Sensitivity can be shown in the form of anxiety, fear or a phobic response.

Fear can be difficult to gauge in animals and is based on observation of body postures and behavioural persistence. A fearful dog will show an increased heart rate, often pant, and possibly urinate and defaecate inappropriately.

Fleeing or hiding are instinctive responses, and a fearful dog will try to make himself as small as possible, cringing close to the ground with the ears flat against the head and tail tucked under the body. Defensive aggressive behaviour may also be exhibited, but whether an animal fights or flees depends on its genetic make up and also the perceived threat as well as the options available from the environment.

Noise phobia means that the fear has become so extreme that the response is the same everytime there is even the slightest hint of a problem, as in a panic attack, and may even occur in absence of the feared sound.

Anxiety is the manifestation of fear signs in anticipation of the noise. Your dog may have learnt the events that predict the presence of the noise and react to these (e.g. changes in the barometric pressure in the case of an approaching thunderstorm). On the other hand, your dog may feel constantly anxious when there is not way to predict the feared sound (e.g. gunshots).

Fear is a normal reaction in many situations. Frightened dogs may become aggressive (fight reaction), run away (flight), stay still (freeze), or display appeasement behaviours (attempts to calm down the threatening individual). Although a startle reaction to sudden loud noises is normal, a simple unease around loud noises can develop into a phobia because of personal experiences.

Sometimes fear results from a traumatic experience related to noise. Some noises, such as fireworks, are very loud and can be painful to the ear. It is therefore not surprising that they may naturally evoke a fear response in dogs.

In other cases it is the continuous, unpredictable repetition of sudden loud noises that favors the development of sensitivity. This is more common with thunderstorms than with other sounds: dogs do not have the time to get used to the sound and the response gets more and more intense with each crash in the storm.

Fearful responses can also result from any significant sound that the pet has not encountered during the sensitive period of development (approximately up to 12 to 14 weeks). This is one reason where it is good practice to expose the puppy to as many novel experiences as possible during the first 3-4 months of life. However, even dogs exposed to a wide variety of noises may become fearful later in life, particularly in the case of other concomitant behaviour problems or physical disease which may decrease their tolerance to any unpleasant event.

Some breeds of dogs are more ‘highly strung’ than others and these may become nervous more easily. There is also a family influence with some puppies learning fearful behaviour from their mother.

Unfortunately noise sensitivity can be a tricky problem to sort out and prevention definitely is the best option. Exposure to as many new and novel situations as possible during your pet’s early development is essential to reduce the risk of sensitivity developing. It is critical that these early experiences are positive so expose your dog to mild volumes of different sounds the first time and reward relaxed behaviour. In the case of road traffic noises you should let your dog see the traffic, in order to habituate the pet to all components of this element. Remember to keep the initial stimulation mild – possibly from a distance – and positive.

If however the problem is already established, it is possible to teach your dog not to be afraid. This may take a few months, but with your help most dogs can make a big improvement; therefore if your dog has a noise sensitivity, you should do something about it.

For the immediate period around likely exposure to fireworks, thunder or other scary noises, try to keep your dog in the house. Many dogs will try to escape from the noise by running away and the last thing you want is a panic-stricken dog out on the streets. Keep your dog in a room with the curtains and blinds shut or choose a windowless room.

You will need to prepare in advance for your dog to stay comfortably in this area. Particularly, this new area will need a “safe haven” for your dog. The safe haven is simply an area or a dog bed where your pet can feel safe and secure. You should appreciate that it is not a bolt hole where your pet hides until the fearful event is passed. It is rather a place where your dog spontaneously decides to go because it feels good, and so is something that positively helps your pet to successfully cope with his fears. For this reason, the safe haven should be a confined area, with on previous negative experiences (e.g. if your dog tends to hide in one corner of the room, you can choose the same room but set the safe haven in a different corner).

You will need to build up several positive experiences associated with the safe haven in advance of any risk period. You can choose a new bed and put it in a crate (but only if you are sure that your dog likes to rest in crates). You may want to cover the crate with a blanket or place it under a table (this depends on your dog’s preferences for small confined places). It is also useful to plug in an Adaptil™ diffuser in proximity of the safe haven or to spray a blanket with an Adaptil™ spray and put it on the bed; this will help your pet to feel safe and calm.

Once you have the safe haven set up, you can teach your dog to use it. Initially you may encourage your dog to go into the safe haven luring him with toys or some food treats. Your dog’s meals can also be given here. You can also hide toys and treats in the safe haven for your pet to find there (this will encourage the dog to visit the place when you are not around). You can also give chews or food toys, like a Kong©, for your dog to work on when it is there. Every time you see your pet in the safe haven he should be allowed to relax there with treats tossed over to him, but no direct contact. With time you may make these additional rewards less frequent, since the place itself has become an area for relaxation.

It is important that potentially unpleasant events are never associated with the safe haven; therefore, should you need, for example, to give medication it is important that you do it elsewhere. In the same way, if children or other animals bother your pet, you will need to teach them to respect this area or keep them at a distance using baby gates or door flaps. The idea is that this is a place where your dog can be in control. Placing the safe haven in the room least exposed to the sounds, will also help your pet.

You can provide plenty of background noise to try and mask the external sounds. Noisy music or the television usually provides relatively good cover, if your pet will tolerate it. Music with slow tempos and less complex arangements (such as instrumental solos) often have a calming effect on animals. A music CD specifically designed for calming purposes is also available (“Music to Calm your Canine Companion”, Through a Dog’s Ear).

For some dogs with a severe phobia the only solution in the short term is a short course of calming medication from your vet. These drugs should be given before your dog becomes upset for maximum efficacy, therefore you must give them before the feared event starts.

Give the medication even if you are not sure whether the noise will occur or not, as it is better for your pet to have taken the medication on a false alarm than for him to experience another traumatic event without medication. Always discuss medication issues with your vet and only use treatment under their guidance.

Never punish your pet for their behaviour when they are afraid. They will only learn to associate the punishment with the noise and become even more disturbed. Try not to make a big fuss of your pet when they appear nervous. Act normally and praise them if they do the same, or try to be jolly and playful and reward your dog once he joins you.

Try to ignore the noises outside. Do not soothe or comfort your dog when it shows fear as this may encourage the behaviour. Act as you would do normally. If it not possible for you to ignore your dog, you may try to distract your pet by playing a game. You should not call your pet or directly encourage any interaction, but rather play on your own or with a familiar friend and see if your dog wants to join in. If your pet has a friend who is not scared of noise, invite that dog over for the evening and play boisterous games with him. Use a jolly voice and get busy with any activity that is very likely to get your dog engaged, such as moving and manipulating dog food and treat containers, etc.

If you are intending to use earplugs in your dog be very careful. It is quite easy to damage your dog’s ear by pushing something into it. A rolled up piece of cotton wool can be fitted into the ear but always make sure that you remove it as soon as the noise has stopped. Anything left in the ear can set up a nasty infection.In order to avoid further stress for your pet, it is advisable that you teach your dog to gradually tolerate the earplug. “Mutt-muffs” are available from the internet.

Once the immediate problem is over, think about getting some professional help for your pet. Your vet will be able to refer you to a specialist in animal behaviour who can help you with desensitisation therapy to re-train your dog not to be afraid. Although this can be a long process if you start soon you should have your dog fit to face the music by next year.

Desensitisation is the process of teaching your pet to be less sensitive to sudden loud noises. Counter-conditioning means swapping the fear response with a more positive feeling (e.g. associated with play or eating).

The basic principle of desensitisation is to let your dog experience quiet noises in a situation where he does not feel afraid. Your dog is then rewarded for being relaxed and once they are used to this process the level of noise is gradually increased, but only to a level where they always feel confident. If your dog is ever afraid of the noise then the level should be reduced until they feel safe again.

Having a sound sensitivity is no fun for your dog and can be very distressing for you. Many noise sensitivities get worse with time and they will not go away unless you do something about it. Feeling fearful can also put your pet at risk of developing other behaviour problems. Seek some help while it is fresh in your mind. In the first instance consult your veterinary surgeon who may refer you to an animal behaviourist for further advice.

House training your puppy

House training is the term we normally use for the process of training a puppy to go outside to urinate or defaecate (toilet) rather than toileting in the home. Once puppies have been house trained they should remain clean in the house throughout their life. If your dog has been house trained and then starts to mess in the house again you should consult your veterinary surgeon. A loss of toilet control can be caused by health problems and emotional disorders such as anxiety or fear.

Puppies will learn to toilet in a specific location by themselves but they need a little help to learn which location is convenient for us!

From about 3 weeks of age puppies try to walk away from the nest area to toilet. When they are about 5 weeks old they start to learn to prefer particular sites or surfaces, such as grass, for toileting. This preference is developed through association which becomes stronger as the puppy gets older and is firmly established by about 8 weeks.

If a puppy has not been exposed to grass in this time it may continue to prefer whatever surface has been available and it may need to be taught a different preference. This means that you have to provide a suitable location for your puppy to use as a toilet while preventing it from going to areas you don’t want it to use.

When a puppy toilets it experiences a sense of relief, which is a positive and rewarding experience. If this experience keeps occurring when the puppy is on a particular surface or in a particular location the puppy learns to associate the feeling with the site. As the puppy learns to control its need to toilet it will choose to wait until its preferred surface or location is available.

It is impossible to force a puppy not to toilet in a certain place – you must try to encourage it to go where you do want it to toilet. First you must anticipate when your puppy is likely to want to toilet (this is usually after waking and after meals), then make sure the puppy is in the location you want it to learn to use at that time. You should take your puppy to this location as soon as it shows signs that it needs to toilet. Through repetition your puppy will learn to associate the location you take it to with toileting.

When they are awake puppies need to toilet every 2 hours or so and usually they will show behavioural changes immediately beforehand. The signs to look out for are:

  • Restlessness
  • Sniffing the floor
  • Moving in circles
  • Moving towards a location where it has toileted before.

Luckily there are circumstances in which you can reliably anticipate that they need to go out. These are:

  • When they wake up
  • After or during periods of activity or excitement
  • Shortly after drinking
  • Within 20 minutes of eating.

Puppies can be taught that newspaper is an acceptable toileting surface. Once they are reliably using this surface in the house then you have to transfer the learning to a location and surface outside by moving the newspaper towards that location. Ultimately you will have to put newspaper outside when your puppy is there to encourage toileting on grass close to the paper. Once your puppy has learned to toilet on or near the paper you can gradually reduce the amount of paper needed. Eventually the learning will be transferred to the new surface and your puppy will be happy to toilet on grass outside.

If your puppy toilets in the house at any time the house training process will be delayed. You can reduce the risk of unwanted learning developing by putting your puppy in an indoor kennel, puppy play pen or similar when you are out. Your puppy may be reluctant to toilet in this confined area and you can put down a temporary surface here. Newspaper is the obvious choice for this as it cheap, absorbent and often used as a training aid for house training. It is better for your puppy to learn to toilet on this surface than on the floor.

Ideally you should not leave your puppy in the indoor kennel for longer than he can control his need to toilet. You should regard this facility as a way of managing the training and preventing unwanted or dangerous chewing when you can’t supervise. It is also important that your puppy has pleasant associations with this location. Your puppy should have a bed there and be quite happy to sleep in it.

At night you should go to bed as late as possible and get up as early as possible so that your puppy has the best chance of learning to wait until you take it out. Once a routine has been established you can gradually make the period of time your puppy is left overnight longer.

If you catch your puppy in the act of toileting in an inappropriate place, try to interrupt the behaviour by, e.g. clapping your hands. Then you should encourage the puppy to eliminate at the appropriate place by lifting him and taking him to it. If appropriate elimination occurs then give your puppy plenty of praise.

As puppies and dogs do not have a sense of right and wrong you should never punish a puppy for inappropriate toileting. Often owners are confused by what they interpret as signs of guilt in their puppy if it has toileted. In fact the puppy is not feeling guilty, it is anticipating the owner becoming threatening.

A major reason for avoiding any form of punishment in this circumstance is that it causes stress. Feelings of stress may reduce the puppy’s toilet control resulting in more toileting where you dont want it and house training will take longer.

Praising your puppy for toileting where you want it to can only be a good thing. However, it is important you get the timing right otherwise you will be rewarding whatever your puppy is doing at the time. Fortunately, the sense of relief associated with toileting is rewarding in its own right and if your puppy is toileting in an appropriate place that will encourage future toileting there.

What if my puppy has already messed in the house?

Firstly, blame yourself and promise that you will try and do better in your supervision, anticipation and timing!! Secondly, clean the area using an enzymatic cleaner made especially for the purpose. This will reduce the smell that may make it more likely that your puppy will go back to the same location if it is not removed. Avoid deodorising agents that reduce your ability to smell the odour rather than remove it as these contain ammonia. As ammonia is a component of urine its use may encourage your puppy to go to that location to toilet. Moving any faeces and newspaper with urine on to the location you want your puppy to use may help to establish the associations you want.

Firework fear

Firework fear is a common problem in dogs. It is not surprising that animals are scared of fireworks since they are very loud (up to 150 decibels). Sounds this loud can be physically painful as well as inducing fear. The noise from fireworks also lacks a clear pattern, with the source of the noise not identifiable and sounds occurring in short repeated bursts. The unpredictable nature of the sounds can make even normal animals react fearfully. Animals may become more sensitive with repeated exposures to the noise. In some animals a true phobia exists and these animals cannot get worse with time since they are always fully reactive to the noise.

Problems with noises are grouped under the general term of noise sensitivities. A sensitivity is an extreme reaction that does not return to normal baseline levels or reduces more slowly than a standard response would, but which does not rise to the level of a phobia. Noise sensitivity generally occurs in response to loud and sudden noises such as thunder, fireworks, gunshots, etc. Animals exposed to such noises may show anxiety or fear responses.

Fear can be difficult to gauge in animals and is based on observation of body postures. A fearful animal will show an increase in heart rate, cower, and possibly urinate and defaecate in a stressful circumstance. On the other hand, pets may show withdrawal behaviour, being less active and hiding.

Fleeing, hiding and heightened reactivity are instinctive responses during which the animal may view approaches (including from their owner) as potential threats and so react aggressively when they would not otherwise do so. The likelihood of an animal perceiving something as a threat, and how it responds to that threat, depends on its genetic make-up and the stimulus from the environment. Your pet may learn which events predict the future onset of the noise that frightens and start to react to these events. This causes them to show fear responses earlier with repeated exposure. In phobic animals the fear response becomes extreme.

Fear is a normal reaction in many situations. Pets, when they are frightened, may become aggressive (fight reaction), run away (flight), stay still (freeze), or display appeasement or attention seeking behaviours (jumping up, licking, pawing at owner). Fear can become self-reinforcing and rather than helping your pet to learn that he or she can survive multiple exposures, they can actually become sensitised to the fearful stimulus.

Sometimes fear results from a traumatic experience related to exposure to the noise, in other cases there are less direct associations that become learned, for example being told off when they react. In some cases, the continuous, unpredictable repetition of sudden loud noises favours the development of the sensitivity.

Fearful responses can also result from any significant sounds that the pet has not encountered during its early development.

It is important to remember that all animals should be watched for untoward reactions to noise and any reactions that do not diminish on a second exposure should be evaluated. Early treatment of these is more likely to have a favourable outcome. Animals may be at particular risk of developing noise sensitivity if there are other stress-related behaviour problems or some form of physical disease, since their unease may decrease their level of tolerance to any unpleasant event.

Finally, be aware that your behaviour can influence your pet’s response as well. It is essential to stay calm at all times.

You should immediately adopt measures to avoid further worsening of the condition in conjunction with starting treatment.

Restriction of the problem

There are some methods to help your pet in the short term, to prevent worsening of the problem until treatment can be effected. These routines will need to be continued during the specific therapy, and some of them should become part of the normal routine with your pet (e.g. avoiding involuntary reinforcements).

Avoid fireworks

If your pet is afraid of fireworks, you should try to avoid exposure to this situation. Being exposed to the cause of our fears with no chance of escaping can be very traumatic and it is likely that the problem will get worse. For this reason try to keep your pet inside the house if you know that fireworks are likely to be let off at a certain time and try to work your timetable so that you can walk your dog before that.

Avoid involuntary reinforcement or punishment

Your behaviour can also influence your pet. If you try to comfort or soothe your pet, you may involuntarily encourage fearful behaviour. On the other hand, punishment may increase your pet’s fear. Ideally you should try to ignore your animal, once you have provided him with a secure place to stay. If however, it is too hard for you to ignore your pet when he is afraid, you can try to provide some distraction.

Try to be jolly and engage yourself in some activity that is very likely to interest your pet. For example you can try to play with a ball with someone else or another pet. Use a jolly voice and try to catch the interest of your pet without directly addressing him, you can then reward him after he has joined you and keep him engaged by playing games or doing some obedience exercises. The idea is that he chooses to join you without any direct encouragement from you, since this means he has changed his emotional response.

Mask the noise

During the firework sounds keep your pet in a room with the curtains and blinds shut or a windowless room. You can try to mask the external sounds by providing plenty of background noise at a fairly high volume (although you should be careful if your pet is uncomfortable with loud noise). Music with slow tempos and less complex arrangements (such as instrumental solos) can have a calming effect on animals. A music CD specifically designed for calming purposes is available (“Music to Calm your Canine CompanionTM”, Through a Dog’s Ear), although there are only reports of its successful use in kennel environments to date. There are also noise cancellation ear phones for dogs on the market although their benefit has not been widely assessed.

If you want to try earplugs for your pet, you must be very careful. It is quite easy to damage your dog’s ear by pushing something into it. A rolled up piece of cotton wool can be fitted into the ear, but always make sure that you remove it as soon as the noise has stopped. Anything left in the ear can set up a nasty infection. In order to avoid further stress for your pet, it is advisable that you teach your pet to gradually tolerate the earplug and you do not force them to wear them as this would increase their stress.

Provide a safe haven

The safe haven is simply an area, a rug, or a bed where your pet can feel safe and secure. You should appreciate that it is not a bolt hole where your pet tries to hide until the fearful event is passed. It is rather a place where your animal spontaneously decides to go because it feels good, and is something that helps your pet to successfully cope with his fears. For this reason, the safe haven should be a confined area, with no previous negative experiences (e.g. if your pet tends to hide in one corner of the room, you can choose the same room but set the safe haven in a different corner).

You will need to build up several positive experiences associated with the safe haven in advance of any risk period. You can choose a new bed and put it in a crate (but only if you are sure that your pet likes to rest in crates). You may want to cover the crate with a blanket or place it under a table (this depends on your pet’s preferences for small confined places). The safe haven should be located away from windows.

Once you have the safe haven set up, you can teach your pet to use it. Initially you may encourage your pet to go into the safe haven by luring him with toys or some food treats. Your pet’s meals can also be given here. You can also hide toys and treats in the safe haven for your pet to find there (this will encourage him to visit the place when you are not around). You can also give chews or food toys for your pet to work on when it is there.

Every time you see your pet in the safe haven he should be allowed to relax there with treats tossed over to him if you like, but no direct contact. With time you may make these additional rewards less frequent, since the place itself has become an area for relaxation.

It is important that potentially unpleasant events are never associated with the safe haven; therefore, should you need, for example, to give medication it is important that you do it elsewhere. In the same way, if children or other animals bother your pet, you will need to teach them to respect this area or keep them at a distance using baby gates or doors flaps. The idea is that this is a place where your pet can be in control. Placing the safe haven in the room least exposed to the sounds will also help your pet to cope.

Pheromones

Pheromone therapy has proved useful for management of some behavioural problems as part of a behaviour modification programme in conjunction with counter-conditioning. Your vet may suggest that you consider this as part of the programme of control of your dog’s fears.

Diet and supplements

There are some veterinary diets and some specific nutraceuticals which may be used to help your pet feel generally more calm. The principle behind these products is that they contain chemicals which have a natural calming effect on pets. Although they are not medications, always use them under your vet’s guidance, especially if your pet needs specific diets or attention regarding food intake because of medical conditions.

There is no evidence that homeopathic remedies have a specific positive effect on firework related problems, and their use might delay the use of more effective interventions, so they should not be considered harmless. However, certain herbals have been found to induce calmer behaviour in dogs and can be use as a general help. But if you chose to give these products to your pet, it is important that you always use them under your vet’s direction. Indeed, these substances may have severe effects on your pet’s health if not appropriately utilised.

Medications

For some pets with a severe fear the only immediate solution is a short course of calming medication at the time the noise is likely to happen. These drugs should be given before your pet becomes upset for maximum efficacy, i.e. before the feared event starts. You should not be concerned about giving the medication when you are not sure whether the noise will occur or not, as it is better for your pet to have taken the medication on a false alarm than for him to experience another traumatic cycle of events without medication.

Always discuss medication issues with your vet and only use treatment under their guidance. If your pet has a particular problem your vet may wish to refer you to someone who specialises in treating behavioural problems for further advice.

Resolution of the problem

While the previous advice is very important to avoid worsening of the problem, they will not bring a resolution on their own as your pet will still be afraid whenever there are fireworks. Also, their fear may put your pet at risk of developing other behaviour problems and the stress can have a negative impact on their physical health. Therefore you will need to do something to make this fear go away.

Behaviour modification

Treatment for fireworks fear is mainly based on a type of behaviour modification called desensitisation and counter-conditioning. Desensitisation is the process of teaching your pet to be less sensitive to sudden loud noises. Counter-conditioning means to swap the fear response with a new feeling that is not compatible with the fear (e.g. play or the pleasure of eating food).

The basic principle is to let your animal experience the noises in a situation where he does not feel afraid, and at a volume that does not cause fear (this can be so low at the beginning, that you cannot hear anything yourself). He is then rewarded for being relaxed. Once your pet gets used to this process the level of noise is gradually increased, but only to a level where he still feels confident. If he is ever afraid of the noise the level is reduced until he feels safe again.

Ending each lesson in such a successful way and avoiding making your pet feel scared is a critical point – behaviour modification cannot occur if your pet is distressed and in most cases medication to calm the pet is required to facilitate the acquisition of new behaviours. Training sessions should always be short and regular to help get a positive outcome.

Pheromone therapy has proved useful for management of some behavioural problems as part of a behaviour modification programme in conjunction with counter-conditioning. Your vet may suggest that you consider this as part of the programme of control of your dog’s fears.

Medications

In some animals the fear of fireworks is so marked that pets may need medication to calm them so that they are able to learn during the behaviour treatment. These drugs are not intended to be used in the long term, they just help your pet to cope while you carry on the behaviour modification. Your vet will advise you on the best treatment for your pet and you should not give your pet any medication without consulting your vet.

Having a noise sensitivity is no fun for your pet and can be very distressing for you. Fears can get worse with time and they will not often go away unless you do something about it. In the first instance consult your vet who may refer you to a specialist for further advice.

 

Remember that there are strategies which help prevent the problem.

Selection of your pet

Selection is the first step involved in the prevention of behavioural problems. Some traits of temperament are inherited, but parents can also influence their offspring through their own behaviour. Noise phobias run in family lines and is more common in certain breeds. Always ask to see the parents when you get a new puppy and ask about the behaviour of previous puppies from these parents.

It is not advisable to breed from animals which have any behavioural problems, particularly noise phobic dogs as these parents may be more likely to produce puppies with behavioural issues. If you have any reason to think that your puppy or kitten is at particular risk of developing a noise phobia you should contact your vet immediately if they show any sign of noise sensitivity.

Stimulation during early life

As said, it is important that, during their early life, pets are exposed to the stimuli that they will encounter later in life. It is important that these first experiences are positive, so that it is less likely that future negative experiences leave a strong effect on your pet.

Nevertheless, given the other features of firework parties, you should not try to take your pet to a firework display as the noise can be too loud and the other experiences too traumatic for your pet.

Storm Capes are snuggly fitting coats that have a metallic lining intended to shield the dog from the static electricity that builds up before a thunderstorm. It is thought that dogs are able to detect this static build up and this is what allows dogs with fear of thunder to start responding before a storm starts. However, although these capes have been tried in the management of firework phonia they have shown to work no better than an ordinary anxiety wrap.

Anxiety wraps are made of a thin stretchable fabric and fit snuggly over the dog like a coat. The original theory was that they would apply pressure to acupressure points. Studies have shown these to have a beneficial effect over time. It is thought these give a soothing massage and by applying gentle, continuous pressure cause peripheral muscle relaxation.

Destructiveness and chewing

Having a young puppy in the house brings much pleasure but puppies also bring with them many undesirable behaviours. Early training is important to ensure that your puppy grows up understanding the rules in your house and fits in with your lifestyle. All dogs chew at some point in their life and this is only recognised as problem behaviour when chewing affects objects you would rather weren’t chewed!

Dogs, especially puppies, are extremely playful and curious. While play with people and other dogs is an important part of socialisation and social development, exploration and object play are important ways for dogs to learn about their environment.

It is normal for puppies to investigate their environment by sniffing, tasting and perhaps chewing on objects in the home. Dogs that chew may also be scavenging for food (as in garbage raiding), playing (as in the dog that chews a book or couch), teething (dogs 3 to 6 months of age that chew on household objects), or satisfying a natural urge to chew and gnaw (which may serve to help keep teeth and gums healthy).

Chewing and destructive behaviour may also be a response to anxiety. Dogs that are confined in areas where they are insecure may dig and chew in an attempt to escape. Dogs that are in a state of conflict, arousal or anxiety, such as separation anxiety, may turn to chewing and other forms of destructiveness as an outlet. (See our “Separation anxiety” factsheet for this specific problem.)

In order to control a chewing problem it is necessary to understand why the dog is chewing. If the dog is a puppy or young adult dog that is chewing at a variety of objects in the household, it is likely that play and investigation (and perhaps teething) is the motive. This behavior may decrease in time, provided the chewing is directed to proper outlets.

It is essential not to inadvertently reward chewing behaviour. Some dogs chew because their owner gives them attention or treats when they chew household objects. Inattention or disruption devices may be useful for these dogs. Dogs that are garbage raiding or food stealing need to be treated by supervision, prevention and booby traps, since the behaviour itself is self-rewarding.

Dogs that are destructive to escape confinement must learn to become comfortable and secure with the cage or room where they are to be confined. Alternatively a new confinement area may have to be chosen. Dogs that are destructive as an outlet for anxiety, will need to have the cause of the anxiety diagnosed, and the problem appropriately treated. (See our “Separation anxiety” factsheet.)

Before considering how inappropriate chewing might be discouraged, the real key is to provide some appropriate outlets for your dog’s chewing “needs”. Begin with a few toys with a variety of tastes, odours, and textures to determine what appeals most to your pet.

Although plastic, nylon or rubber toys may be the most durable, products that can be torn apart such as rawhide or pigs ears may be more like the natural prey and wood products that attract most dogs. Coating toys with liver or cheese spread or peanut butter may also increase their desirability.

Numerous other play toys are also available that provide a means for stuffing food or treats inside, so that the dog has to “work” to get its reward. Hollow chew toys, can be filled with food e.g. a piece of cheese or liver and then filled tight with biscuits. To ensure that your puppy is encouraged and rewarded for chewing on its toys, and discouraged from chewing on all other objects, it must be supervised at all times. Whenever supervision is not possible, you must prevent access to any object or area that might be chewed.

The needs of most working dogs are usually satisfied with daily work sessions (retrieving, herding, sledding, etc.). Non-working house-pets will require alternative forms of activity to meet their requirements for work and play.

Games such as tug-of-war, retrieving, catching a ball or Frisbee, jogging, or even long walks are often an acceptable alternative to work, allowing the dog an opportunity to expend unused energy, and provide regular attention periods.

Obedience training, agility classes and simply teaching your dog a few tricks are not only pleasant interactive activities for you and your dog, but they also provide some stimulation and “work” to the dog’s daily schedule.

Access to all areas that the dog might chew must be prevented unless the owner is present to supervise, or the area is effectively booby-trapped. Your dog can only be punished for chewing if it is caught in the act. Even then, punishment must be humane, immediate and effective.

A shake can, verbal reprimand, or alarm (audible or ultrasonic) can deter the pet in your presence, but the behaviour will to continue in your absence. Remote punishment (where the owner is out of sight while administering punishment) may teach the dog that the behaviour itself is inappropriate. A head halter and long remote leash pulled each time the dog chews, a water rifle, or one of the audible or ultrasonic alarms, may be effective. Arriving home and punishing a pet for an act that is already completed will only serve to increase the pet’s anxiety.

The only way that chewing might be deterred when your dog cannot be supervised, is to booby-trap the areas where the dog might chew. To be successful the punishment must be unpleasant enough to immediately deter the pet. Taste or odour aversion is often the simplest and most practical type of booby trap. A small amount of cayenne pepper mixed with water, oil of citronella or commercial anti-chew sprays may also be successful as deterrents. Alternatively, the spray could be placed on any object that the dog might chew and a fishing line can be attached from the object to a stack of empty cans on a nearby table or counter. At the instant chewing begins the stack will come crashing down.

Most dogs are then conditioned after a few events to avoid the particular taste or odour for fear of another “can attack”. If an indoor kennel or crate has been used from the very beginning destruction by chewing should not arise.

In most cases behavioural problems can be easily resolved if they are recognised and treated early. Once the behaviour is established bad habits are much harder to break. Your own veterinary surgeon will be able to offer useful advice on dealing with behavioural issues but for more challenging cases they may wish to refer you to see a specialist in animal behaviour.

Boredom

Dogs, just like people, can get bored if they do not get enough mental stimulation. In the modern world pet dogs are often left alone at home for longer periods of time and in some animals this can cause significant problems.

A lack of mental stimulation can result in boredom but it is often related to a sense of frustration. For example, if your dog does not expect there to be any activity at a certain time of day it may take the opportunity to relax. Conversely if it expects to go out and this doesn’t happen your dog may become frustrated and start to display other behaviours which may be interpreted as signs of boredom. Similarly if your dog doesn’t get enough physical exercise it may become over active in inappropriate situations. Of course, physical exercise and mental stimulation are often linked and if you provide one you may also be providing the other.

There are lots of things you can do to reduce the chance of your dog becoming bored. If you interact with a dog more often you may increase its interest in its day to day routine. Training in its various forms at home and during walks, including teaching your dogs tricks, will provide mental stimulation. Dog training classes can be beneficial and many dogs get a lot of mental stimulation from doing activities, such as agility. Whatever you do, the important things are that it is fun and your dog enjoys it.

Asking your dog to search for things when at home and during walks will give it mental stimulation whilst searching and a sense of satisfaction when it finds what you have asked it to look for. You could ask your dog to look for a family member who has hidden, or for toys you have sneakily dropped. If your dog does not have any interest in toys then you can hide food treats which may provide more reward when these are found. Whatever your dog has been asked to look for, reward it when it finds it so that he will be keen to search for it again.

There are toys specifically designed to provide mental stimulation, such as mental puzzles and balls or cubes your dog has to manipulate to get food out of. A search on the internet for dog activity toys will provide lots of options. Some breed types are likely to be more interested in certain types of toy but you will get to know what your own dog likes and dislikes.

If you continually provide the same things to do your dog may get bored with these. There are a number of things you can try to provide variety. Firstly, interest can be maintained by changing what your dog does or has access to. Rotating its toys may help to maintain your dog’s interest in them, as will changing the types of game you play.

In the same way changing the types of training and the training exercises and introducing new ones will help to provide variety. Your dog’s long term interest is also likely to be maintained if you always stop the game or other activity while it still wants to do more, in other words before it becomes bored.

Another way to provide variety is to provide play or other activities in different locations and situations. Exercising your dog in different locations and varying the routes you use will also add to the richness of its environment and provide some extra stimulation.

Most of the time dogs have an expectation of what will happen next. Sometimes it can help to provide specific clues for your dog. One way of doing this is to put out an object, which is normally kept hidden away, when you are going to do something with your dog. When the play period is over you should put the item away. Through repetition your dog should learn not to expect play at other times and the chances of it becoming frustrated should be reduced.

There are many reasons why a dog may seem to be over or under active. These include physiological issues and emotional disorders. If you are concerned that your dog is not behaving normally you should consult your veterinary surgeon who can assess what underlying causes there may be and what help may be needed.

What your dog chews when it is left on its own is a clue as to whether it is a sign of boredom. If your dog chews movable objects, including items that are not strongly impregnated with the scent of family members, it is possible that it has done it for entertainment. This will be more likely if they are the same things your dog would like to chew when you are at home. If your dog has damaged doors, windows, furniture or only items impregnated with the scent of family members it is likely that the cause is an emotional disorder.

If you think your dog is chewing because it is looking for something to do you can provide activity toys or things to chew when you leave. If your dog does not touch these until you are home again but continues to chew other things it is another indication that there may be an emotional disorder. If you think your dog is suffering emotional disturbance you should seek advice from your veterinary surgeon who can first ensure there are no medical issues contributing a reduced capacity to cope when left alone.

Basic training for dogs

A dog owner is responsible for their pet in public places, so if your dog misbehaves you could be in trouble. A poorly trained dog can also be a danger to itself. Imagine the consequences if your dog ignores you and runs across a busy road. In order to have the perfect pet you will need to start training when your dog is very young. The rewards of this are clear – there is perhaps no greater pleasure than owning a well-behaved dog.

When your puppy is very young you will probably want to attend puppy socialisation classes. These classes are often run by veterinary practices and if you ask your vet they should be able to put you in touch with a local group. The main aim of socialisation classes is for your puppy to meet many other dogs and people; however most classes will offer some very basic training as well.

Basic obedience training is important for the well-being of your puppy. Training is about your dog learning to respect you as leader of the pack. If basically trained, a dog should respond to simple commands such as sit and stay and down and come back when called. It is a huge advantage if your dog learns to walk properly on a lead.

You can start simple training with your puppy as soon as you get it home, it is never too early. The sooner you start the easier it will be. The key to successful training is consistency. Initially training sessions should be very short. Puppies cannot concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time – integrate training into your daily routine and make them fun.

If training is done properly it will be as much a rewarding experience for your dog as for you. Most dogs are desperately keen to please their owners and there are few other opportunities for your dog to have your undivided attention.

Good training is all about reward. Dogs do not know the difference between good and bad. It’s humans that divide a dog’s behaviour into desirable and undesirable. Nearly all behaviour problems are perfectly normal canine activities that occur at the wrong time or place. Reward your dog, with food or praise, for behaviour that you would like repeated and they will be likely to remember. Many people make the mistake of ignoring their dog when quiet and paying them attention only when trying to stop them doing something.

It is important to be consistent in your training. A puppy needs to know what behaviour is allowed and what is unacceptable. It is unfair and confusing if you change the rules every day! Remember, your puppy cannot be expected to know the difference between chewing an old slipper (good behaviour) and your best shoes (bad).

Obedience classes are not really about teaching your puppy, they are about training you to handle your dog. The most important skill for successful dog training is reading your dog’s body language.

There are a number of more advanced options once your dog has social skills, such as:

  • agility
  • fly-ball
  • specialist training for gun dogs

Lifelong learning can be fun for both you and your dog.

Your vet will probably be able to recommend a local dog training group. Alternatively ask friends, neighbours or owners of well-behaved dogs that you meet out on a walk for recommendations. Always go along to a class for yourself and watch a whole lesson before signing up. Classes are all about teaching you how to train your dog – you will have to practice when you get home in order to have a well-behaved dog.

There are books and videos that can offer advice on training, however if you have not had a dog before you will learn more quickly and have more fun if you attend a class and mix with other people.

Charities we are supporting in 2018

Each year The Wheelhouse Veterinary Centre chooses to support several different charities. Some of which we support year after year after year!

We support them in several different ways by; raising money at events such as the Companion Dog show at Chalfont St Giles Show/collecting donations of food & bedding/holding Cake sales etc.

During 2018 we are supporting the following Charites & would love it if you wanted to help us:

Companion Dog Show – 1st September 2018 at Chalfont Giles Village Show

The CSG show theme this year was Carnival and we certainly had some Carnival fun whilst running the Companion Dog Show and Wheelhouse stall at the show.

During this wonderful village annual event, at our stall and from the Dog Show so many people helped us to raise lots of money for 3 animal charities that we are supporting this year:

Lots of people entered many of the classes, had a go on the fun temptation alley, entered into our tombola to win some prizes and had fun in our charity photo booth!

There were plenty of Rosettes awarded for 1st to 4th place and trophies for the winner of each class.

~We are delighted to announce that with so many peoples help, we raised a grand total of £909.34~

 

 

Barking

Dogs bark to communicate their emotions. Different barks can mean different things and variations in bark sounds are also caused by individual characteristics. A Great Dane’s bark sounds somewhat different to that of a Chihuahua even when they mean the same thing. All dogs bark at some time but if your dog is a persistent barker you should seek professional assistance before it becomes a nuisance to other people.

Barking is one of a number of sounds used by dogs to communicate with people and each other. Barking allows dogs to communicate over a large distance, even when they are out of sight. Dogs bark for a variety of reasons and variations in tone, how quickly the sound is repeated and the intensity give us a clue why the dog is barking and how it is feeling.

Reasons for barking include:

  • Attention seeking
  • Greeting
  • To invite play and during play
  • Defence
  • Threat
  • Distress
  • Contact seeking, for example when left alone
  • Frustration
  • When excited and as a group activity

Often dogs that bark when alone are just dogs that bark a lot even when someone is with them. However, there are a few specific reasons for barking when alone. Some common examples include:

  • Separation anxiety: this occurs when a dog is overly dependent upon one or more of the individuals it lives with as a way of staying in a positive emotional state. If such a dog is left on its own or is separated from them when they are at home the dog may bark to regain contact or to call them back.
  • Defensive reaction to sights or sounds outside or inside the home: this typically occurs because the dog is worried or frightened of what it barks at. It is common for a dog to bark at unfamiliar people or dogs passing its home. In most cases the object of bark attention normally goes away, rewarding the barking behaviour. Now this dog is more likely to bark next time the situation occurs, and with more confidence. The dog learns to be confident that barking is a way of making whatever is frightening them go away. This kind of behaviour often develops to barking at other animal when the dog is on the lead because they are unable to move away from whatever is worrying them instead.
  • Attention seeking: this can be directed towards someone the dog lives with when they are at home, towards people or dogs the dog sees or hears when it is on its own or just as a way of exploring whether it will get a response.
  • Social behaviour: such as calling to other dogs in the district.
  • Barking in play or aggression:  e.g. two or more dogs living together.
  • Predatory/chase behaviour: towards things that move fast, particularly if the dog is frustrated in its pursuit by a fence, window or door.
  • Frustration: if the dog is left by its owner when it expected to be able to go with them.
  • Old age: changes in normal patterns of behaviour or anxiety associated with old age.

Barking is only the symptom of the underlying motivation and the way to prevent or stop it is to alter the need to bark. For example, if your dog barks at unfamiliar dogs or people because it is frightened of them you must teach the dog that there is nothing to be frightened of; or if your dog barks to regain contact with you you can teach it to be more comfortable being left alone.

If the reason why your dog is barking is not obvious to you it is important to seek the help of a behaviour specialist, such as a member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors. They will be able to help you understand the motivation. A behaviour specialist will also be able to help you create a treatment plan to reduce the need to bark and introduce some training techniques to help you manage the behaviour.

There are a number of reasons why a dog may bark, so the first step must always be to understand why your dog is barking. If the barking occurs because your dog is anxious or fearful, bad experiences (like those created by these devices) are likely to increase fear and stress. Additionally, some methods, such as electric shock collars, are not good for the dog’s welfare, whatever the motivation, and some governments are or are considering banning or licensing their use.

Firstly, try to avoid putting your dog in the situations in which it is likely to bark. For example, if it barks at people when they pass your garden it makes sense to keep your dog indoors if there are times when the area outside your property is likely to be busy (when people are likely to be going to and from school and work). If your dog is already indoors at these times but still barks it may be helpful to cover the window or prevent it from standing on furniture so that it can’t see out.

Training your dog to do something else at times when it would normally bark may help in some cases. For example, if you give your dog a signal to do a different behaviour, such as to look at you or change direction if you are walking, it can help. If you are at home sending your dog to its bed or to go into the house from the garden could be used. When your dog does whatever you asked you should reward it. Each time it is rewarded for not barking but doing something else instead the more likely it is that it will repeat that behaviour next time the same situation arises.

It is easy to train some dogs to hold a toy in their mouth and carry it past what it would normally bark at. Once they have passed the cause of their barking they are asked to give the toy back to the handler. Through repetition the dog learns that it gets the chance to carry the toy that it likes in this situation and starts to look for the toy to be given to it when it sees the situation coming.

Many owners inadvertently reward their barking dogs by giving them attention when they bark and in some cases this becomes the reason why they bark. To help avoid this it is important only to give your dog attention and reward it on those occasions when it would normally have barked but chooses not to. For example, if it does not bark when someone passes your home or does not bark to get your attention when you use the telephone or talk to a visitor.

If your dog barks for attention you can teach it that this behaviour will be ignored. It is important to be aware that the barking will get worse before it stops. You must not give in otherwise you will accidently reward the extra effort and train your dog to bark more instead of less. It is important to give your dog another way of getting attention. At home you can do this by having some identical toys that you leave lying on the floor but never allow the dog to play with. However, every time your dog picks up one of these toys and holds it in its mouth you give it attention. Gradually your dog will learn that barking gets no attention but holding the toy does.

Another approach involves a clue that tells the dog not to expect attention but that something nice will happen. You can achieve this by putting an object that is normally hidden to a position where your dog can see it or introducing a sound before you start a period of ignoring it. After you have put out the signal give your dog something nice to chew on or an activity toy to get food rewards from. Before you give your dog attention again take down the special object and put it and any unfinished chews or activity toys away.

When you know you are going to be in such a situation you can give your dog something else to do. Try giving your dog a large chew or an activity toy that it has to work at. If your dog is very aroused or anxious in this situation, however, it may not want to eat. If you are away from home try to distract your dog by playing a game with a toy or initiating search games for toys or small food rewards.