Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

In Part I of “Why do dogs bite?” we learned that animal behaviorists treat aggression in dogs as a fear response. With that understanding, the owner and behaviorist can begin to approach the situation in such a way that allows the fearful pet to feel more confident and protected, and thus less apt to bite.

Why do dogs bite? Part II

Empathize with your dog. What are you afraid of? Is it snakes, spiders, bees? Imagine running into your greatest source of fear every time the front door opened, or you went to the doctor or a park.

What can you do, to help your pet?

*If someone comes to the door, bring your pet into another room before answering the knock. Do this early, if you are expecting a visitor.

*Bring your dog to the veterinarian’s office for “happy visits” in which your dog receives treats, is allowed to check things out a bit, and can decide whether to approach staff on her own.

*Do not force a fearful dog to socialize with other dogs. If your pet is clearly afraid and would rather not be there, do him a favor and take him home. Do not force him into an enclosed dog park. Imagine someone picking you up and dropping you into a pit of snakes. Would that force you to learn to socialize with snakes or make you more afraid than before?

Socializing and sensitizing a pet are two separate things; it is important to know the difference. Socializing a pet involves positive experiences only, when the pet is comfortable and ready to explore and meet others. Sensitizing a pet involves the negative experience of deliberately exposing a pet to the thing it is afraid of, which leads to more fear, anxiety, and lack of trust between the pet and its owner. Your dog is counting on you to protect her.

Now imagine if the source of fear lived in the house with you, and you were expected to just “get along with it.” Get along with a swarm of bees? That probably wouldn’t happen. And your fear response would be triggered every time the swarm approached. If the bees are hovering over your bed at naptime, will you ignore them and sleep? Probably not. If the bees are buzzing around your dishes, can you eat? No.

That is what fear looks like to a dog. If the fear object is around every corner, there is little opportunity for your pet to relax and let its guard down. This is never more true than when the fear object is another dog that lives in the house.

Because relationships between pets can be complex, behaviorists will make home visits to study the situation, noting the interactions among the pets and people in the house. Since every case is unique unto itself, it is necessary to work with a behaviorist or training professional to untangle relationships and restore order to the household. In some cases, no amount of remediation is possible, and some pets are then re-homed.

Est. 1973

Part 3 will appear on Thursday, December 17, 2015.

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I recently attended a lecture by animal behaviorist and veterinarian, Dr. Marsha Reich. I took notes to share with you, because what Dr. Reich had to say is something that all dog owners need to hear.

(Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Dogs and Fear)

Why dog dogs bite?

Dogs commonly bite due to fear, rather than dominance. Behaviorists today are challenging popularly-held notions about dominance aggression and alpha-male status in dogs. The behaviorists see dogs as belonging to a family, rather than a pack. Using this approach, biting is addressed as a fear response. Rooting out the source of the pet’s fear or anxiety is crucial to eliminating the potential for biting incidents, including among pets in a household and in outdoor settings (such as dog parks.)

Fear response in dogs is a reflex-like involuntary response, which manifests in one of four ways: fight, flight, freeze, fidget. For this series, I will focus on the Fight response.

Fear, anxiety, and excitement are closely related, and dogs can switch from one to another in a second.
Think of the dog that excitedly greets another dog or a person, then switches suddenly to barking, snapping, and snarling, with fur raised.

Fear response in dogs is often triggered by “cornering.” A dog feels cornered when its movements are restricted in some way – such as being held in arms or tethered to a leash, or when another animal or a person approaches.

Dogs can feels cornered by obstacles in the household. If a person or animal approaches a dog while the dog’s flight path is blocked by a chair, ottoman, or other piece of furniture, the dog may feel cornered and bite to protect itself.

Interestingly, the fear response is engaged if the fear object approaches the dog, but not if the dog approaches the object. However, just because a dog sniffs your hand or gets close to you, that does not mean he wants to be petted.

Est. 1973

Part 2 will appear on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

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This is the final installment of the National Pet Wellness Month series, and I’ve rounded out the Pet Wellness Plan to 10 items.

Here are the Top Ten Ways to Keep Your Pet Healthy:

  1. Twice a year examinations
  2. Protective vaccinations
  3. Pet health insurance
  4. Microchipping
  5. Spay/neuter
  6. Internal parasite control
  7. External parasite control
  8. Dental care
  9. Proper diet
  10. Exercise

We already know that obesity is a big problem among pets. In fact, 54% of pets in America are overweight. In an otherwise healthy pet, the two greatest contributors to obesity are poor diet and a lack of exercise. The good news is, these are two areas you can control

A few words about diet: 
*Feed your pet more than once a day. Three small meals a day are ideal.
*Give your pet more of your attention, not more food.
*Choose a respected brand, like Hill’s Science Diet. Hill’s has an active website, e-mail newsletter, and a Facebook page, all of which can be used to communicate with pet owners.
*Choose an age-based diet. Your pet will transition from puppy (or kitten) food to adult food to senior food over its lifetime. Each diet is formulated for the nutritional needs of the particular lifestage.
*Your vet can direct you to an adult pet diet based on other health concerns, such as activity level, weight regulation, skin or digestive conditions, and more.
*Beware the risks of raw food diets, which may contain harmful pathogens such as Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and more. Humans can also be sickened through handling raw foods or by exposure to an infected pet. Read more on the American Veterinary Medical Association’s policy regarding raw food diets. The American College of Veterinary Nutritionists has published their opinion on raw food diets under their FAQs page.
*Keep abreast of pet food/pet treat recalls. It seems like they’re everywhere these days. Type “pet food recalls 2012” into a search engine and look for results from the FDA.

A few words about exercise:
*Aside from staving off numerous health problems, exercise can relieve anxiety due to boredom. Dogs and cats that are bored may act out by destroying objects in their environment or through self-harm, like excessive licking and chewing.
*Pets bond with their owners through exercise and playtime. Even solitary cats like to exercise their predatory skills once in a while!
*Look for the pet exercise app from Petmobi (coming soon – sign up for more info).
*Check out pet exercises from Hill’s Pet Nutrition.


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     Hi all!  The rain we’ve been praying for finally arrived last night, with plenty of Hollywood special effects like realistic-sounding thunder and bolts of lightning.  Of course, we all know that thunder is merely the sound of angels bowling and lightning is nothing more than God taking our picture with a flash camera.  Apparently, He likes photographing us while we’re sopping wet.   

     Jokes aside, storms are serious business for people whose dogs panic during thunder and lightning.  A client once told us his dog crashed through a plate glass window in a frenzy during an electrical storm.  What can you do if your pet has a storm phobia?

Sedate him

     In extreme cases, a dog may need to be given a sedative as the storm is approaching, so the pet is less likely to cause harm to itself.  Sedatives are dispensed by the veterinarian after an examination to determine if the pet is healthy enough for medication.

Calm him naturally

     HomeoPet Anxiety TFLN (Thunderstorms, Fireworks, Loud Noise) is a natural anti-anxiety product which does not cause sedation.  HomeoPet touts its product as safe and easy to use.  It is a liquid which can be administered in the food or directly into the mouth.

Swaddle him

     Perhaps the most intriguing idea I’ve found is the Storm Defender Cape.  The cape (indoor use only) reduces the pet’s sensitivity to the static charge which builds up in the air during electrical storms and heat lightning.  I would love to hear from anyone whose pet has worn this cape.  How well did it work?  If you’d like to be the first to try, visit

More Tips

     Dr. Patty Khuly has more advice for calming storm-phobic dogs (cuddle, crate, compete.)  She recommends the Storm Defender Cape, as well.  Go here to read more.

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