Green, Yellow, Red: What Zone Is Your Canine In?

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Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Part 1 of this mini series talked about how stimuli in our environment affect our canines mental state, how some variables can increase the level of anxiety and stress in our canines depending on their individual backgrounds, and how we can to begin to understand and work with these nuances in each of our furry companions. Part 2 then went into talking about the limits that each of our canines have, and how even when we are setting them up for success, and creating positive situations that each one of these interactions and moments is cumulative. As we build them up through appropriate interactions and training experiences, our canines are using up their “comfort/stress” fuel, and when this tank is empty, much like when we become over worked or over stressed, our mental “thinking” faculties begin to work inefficiently, that we and our canines are less likely to work through situations appropriately and can be more likely to default back to behaviours that we might be trying to stop or avoid simply because they are too tired to deal with the situation.

Part 3 is all about putting this all into action. Knowing what we now know, what is the best way to begin to tackle these “problem” areas of behaviour? Lets begin with another human analogy and an extreme version of counter-conditioning.

Thinking Like A Human:

Many humans are afraid of heights. For some, its any height, for others, its more extreme heights like standing on the top of a house or building. Now how would we be able to help any of them work through their fear?

At one time, a method called Flooding was used where a subject was subjected to a extremely high level of exposure to their known “fear” to the point they become numb to it. For some cases under extremely controlled environments, the process can work. However if even one aspect isn’t controlled for, it can have the reverse effect and even amplify the already existing issue. In the case of the person that is afraid of even a little height, a flooding example would be strapping a parachute on their back and having them skydive out of a plane. Sounds potentially traumatic doesn’t it? Imagine if they jumped with a trained instructor and they had their main chute fail and need to use the backup. Even though they landed safe, what effect do you think that added experience to an already intensely uncomfortable one would have? It is easy to see how the fear/uncertainty/unwillingness to engage in the future could be amplified by such a process.

Now picture the same person, extremely fearful of any height differences, being gradually built up to changes in elevation. Not only that, each small, and successful attempt is rewarded with praise and feelings of success?  Can steps backward happen in this scenario as well?  You bet!  That’s life! But each step forward is solidified through learning and each step back is smaller and as controlled as possible.

This is the progressive methodology we use at Canines By Design to help our clients achieve long lasting results and an understanding to work through any problem areas, whether it is desensitizing and counter-conditioning for canine related behaviours such as excitement, fear or aggression, or helping canines become more comfortable with particular environments, and even performing particular behaviours.

Canine Context:

Think of your canine a static object where the environment and the stimuli in that environment move around them. As your canine stands there, particular stimuli come and go, get closer, and then move further away. This applies to all stimuli. Smells come and go, sounds come and go, and visual cues come and go (albeit at different rates). Some of these stimuli are completely neutral, and are so for many reasons. One of the main reasons being that through previous exposure and learning experiences these stimuli offer no “outcome”, with those stimuli simply existing in the environment, and offering no “reward” or “punishment” outcome. But other stimuli are not so neutral. Positive outcomes (from their perspective) will drive the canine to perform the behaviour again, and negative experiences plus those that offer no outcome, can decrease the presentation of some behaviours and can also drive the canine to avoid or “control” those situations or stimuli.

In addition, depending on the severity of the previous encounter(s), this stress response can be immediate (think of our height phobia example in humans). For others, the stress response is more gradual, and as we get closer (or in the height example, as we get higher off the ground) this response grows until we cannot deal any longer. As these stimuli move closer to our canine, they begin to move through the zones of comfort. Check out the basic diagram below:

Zones of Comfort

The Zones Of Comfort:

If you and your dog area the black circle in the middle, you can see three distinct areas.

  • GREEN (outer ring): The green zone represents whatever distance is required from a certain stimuli for your canine to give it no attention at all. This is the “neutral” ring. At this distance your canine will go about listening to you and performing behaviours as you would expect and as you see in “safe” environments such as at home where they pay no attention to familiar stimuli around them. Think of this as your safe distance. Here you know you know you have your canines full attention and therefore have control of the situation. However, to train and work through behaviours we need our canine to be aware of the training stimuli/environment. For a young canine, or one that has led a sheltered life, the green zone may not be initially achievable in a new environment or one that offers high sensory stimulation. Make sure you are aware of this as you develop your bond and are getting out in your community together.
  • YELLOW (middle ring): As that stimuli moves closer to the center position it begins to transition from the green zone into the yellow zone. This zone, the “heightened awareness” zone, represents the distance from your canine from which the stimuli begins to illicit a response in our canine. They begin to look at the stimuli, body posturing may change, vocalization, leash manners, (there are many cues to engagement 🙂 ), and their resulting attention on you or the trainer may begin to change. OK, Time To Educate!!! This is the time to pull out all your redirection and set up for success techniques because your canine is now beginning to mentally engage with the stimuli, but is doing so at a distance where they still feel comfortable enough to listen to your redirection, continue to mentally engage with you, and learn from the situation.

It is important to remember though that we are also now depleting their “comfort/stress” fuel tank. Initially these tanks will empty more quickly when they are new to training and exposure (e.g. puppies or recent rescues) but their ranges will increase. You will know their tank is close to or empty when their attention and redirection skills are much less effective at a once effective distance (NOTE: this is very individual to every dog, and requires practice and time in different environments to see the small changes and cues, and understand how the relate to your canines internal state).

  • RED (inner ring): This zone is when the stimuli in your environment has moved close enough that your canine is focusing on it and you are “wrestling” to keep their attention. When we work with clients we treat this zone as the no go zone, but its not for the reason you may think. When stimuli enter into this zone, we as teachers will have an extremely tough time getting our students attention, having them focus on us, and learning “today’s lesson”. For some dogs this space is very close to them. Much like our personal space, and their issues lie when stimuli enter this. For other dogs, such as the example of a dog with a high prey drive, seeing a rabbit halfway across the soccer field might be close enough to be in their red zone, triggering previously learned behaviours (e.g. chase) versus listening to our redirection. As humans, we have a similar zone, that when things get to intense we can mentally “shut down” down, and rely on more basic “fight or flight” instincts. Some professions, such as Military, Police, Fire, and Rescue, train their employees specifically to be able to think in these tough situations (expand the range of their stress/comfort tank) and when its too tough for that, they have been conditioned through their training to still be able to perform their tasks. For the everyday canine caregiver though, we want to be able to comfortably go through our daily lives and make sure our set our canines up to feel the same way about things, so its learning in the yellow, avoiding the red!

A big concept to remember is that these distances or zones are fluid, and can change depending on the day, the particular environment, current health state of the canine, and also their energy levels and what kind of day they are having.  Knowing how stimuli have what kind of effect, at what distance, and when those stimuli transition from yellow to red takes a keen eye, patience, practice, and time to do it productively and safely.

Starting to think this way about your canine is an amazingly powerful tool and will help you view the world through their eyes. You will be able to quickly deduce “problem” areas anJeterd help avoid unnecessary confrontation while building both your canine and yourself up to certain situations at a safe and comfortable pace while you are out in your community! So now you are asking where can we help? Practicing the timing and learning to understand the cues in our environment and how they affect our canines takes time. Our motor skills and timing is just as important in the equation for success as our canines timing and skill sets. Let Canines By Design show you the way!

The Canine “Comfort/Stress” Fuel Tank: What Is Your Canine’s Range?

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Let’s dive a little deeper into your canine’s “Zone of Comfort.” Last week, we introduced the idea that your canine’s level of comfort is constantly being adjusted when things like their environment change or as they approach new, exciting (and even familiar) stimuli. We also talked about how we as caregivers need to account for this adjustment as part of how we create a successful, positive, and educational experience for our dogs. This week, we are going to talk about exposure limits to stress, and how stress affects our canines and their behaviour.

Let’s start with a human analogy: For some of the human population, entering a really busy mall or crowded street can be frightening, even debilitating. Heart rate rises, palms get sweaty, we get a little on edge, and it can even get to the point that we take ourselves out of that situation. But for others, going to a busy Sunday farmer’s market sounds like a perfect morning!

Next, think about one of those “unnerving” things in your life. How long could you be in the same room or in a closed situation with that “thing”? For some, about two seconds is enough before they want out! For others, with controlled practice, desensitization, and positive reinforcement, we can extend that time. In a sense, we have a “comfort/stress” fuel tank, and the more uncomfortable something makes us, the faster we use the tank up! Once our fuel is used up, we do not have an ability to deal with the situation we are in (or with that particular item(s) in the environment). Often, stressed emotion starts to overpower our thoughts. Military, police and related groups specifically train their members to increase their ability to handle severe and stressful situations (increase the range of their tank) so that they are still able to use their cognitive processes and training when it really counts!

The same stress scenarios regularly affect our canines. For some, specific stimuli can create real feelings of unrest, and if severe enough, they can elicit behaviours in our canines that we may have never seen before. In fact, we may only see them in that exact scenario! As we work with, and bond with, our canines, we begin to understand their likes and dislikes, where they feel comfortable – and where they do not.

If we are working through certain behaviours and are developing a desensitization program to a particular stimuli or behaviour, or simply working on socialization and general environmental exposure, keeping in mind the idea that our canines can only handle some situations, stimuli, environments, and their combinations, for a certain period of time becomes hugely powerful.

What it means for us as caregivers is that, alongside the bonding and discovery process, we need to also recognize the small signs and changes that show us that our canine’s “comfort/stress” tank is being used up. Most importantly, we should be in tune to the moment when it is getting close to being emptied. When this happens, just like in the human world, our canines will be more prone to reacting to situations versus thinking them through.  In some cases, A tired dog might be a happy dog, but like tired/distracted humans, mistakes in judgement and reaction can be made by these tired minds.  What we do with the “zones of comfort” at Canines By Design is work within a canine’s comfort boundaries (dictated by their behaviour to a particular environment or specific stimuli) and slowly build up their ability to handle the scenario, understand that the scenario is safe, and build the trust up between canine and caregiver. We want them to feel comfortable walking in their own paws, and it is about giving the caregiver and the canine the tools to do so in a positive way!

Next week is part three of the “Zones of Comfort” feature in which I’ll discuss the three colours we use, how they are used, and how they can supercharge your canine’s education in a safe and positive way!

Zones Of Comfort: Finding Canine Comfort in Uncomfortable Situations

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An ever popular topic here at Canines By Design, this week we bring up “zones of comfort”, what it means, how it affects your canine and how you can use it to help your canine through stressful situations.

Are you asking yourself “what does that mean?”… or “isn’t that some prop from Get Smart!?”.  Well, we aren’t talking about a Hollywood TV prop, but, like the safe learning space that the (awesome) “cone of silence” was designed to create, building a comfort zone means working with the environment around us to create a positive and, most importantly, educational, experience. And unlike Maxwell Smart’s device, I’ve found a much simpler approach that actually works to achieve the desired outcome!

We all have zones of comfort.  These imaginary force fields around us help dictate our level of ease in social situations, strange environments and when we test new experiences.  Depending on the individual, these zones will vary depending on previous exposure, comfort level, etc. and it is critical to take all factors into account.

Let’s use an example:  Since I work with dogs, sitting on the floor in the middle of 10 full grown canines playing together doesn’t evoke feelings of stress or fear. However, for someone who isn’t used to large dog fests, or only interacted with guard dogs, their perspective on the situation will be totally different.  For someone fearful of canines, such a situation could be so overwhelming that they might shut-down and glean nothing positive from the experience or not even be able to remove themselves from the environment because they are so overwhelmed.  Some dog trainers like to call this “the red zone.”  For the human analogy, we can say this person has started the “flight-or-fight” response.  This response, also known as the acute stress response, is when the sympathetic nervous system responds to the physical or the strong emotional state that has been presented to the body, coordinating various bodily functions (adrenal gland secretion, pupil dilation, increase heart rate, etc.) in order to create the optimum situation for that individual’s survival (1).

Now imagine the situation where we are beginning to expose a newly adopted canine to various environmental factors.  Maybe that dog had spent its first year locked in a backyard, without environmental enrichment.  Maybe that backyard didn’t even have grass or any trees. Now, when we take that pup out and begin to work through different training scenarios, the environment can become very overwhelming, very quickly.  For this particular example, the canine will enter the “red zone” fast – inhibiting their response to our training programs and damaging their overall personal growth.  Part of my graduate thesis examined this phenomenon, and many examples arose in which increased levels of stress (in particular example it was related to training methodology) directly resulted in a decrease in working ability of canines trained for service (2,3,4).

It is therefore very important as caregivers that we keep our canines’ “zone of comfort” in mind when we are out training and setting out educational experiences for success.  Here are some easy ways to keep this in mind while we are out and about:

One to avoid...

In the “Red” Zone

  1. Keep your dog’s history in mind!
  • If they have had previous negative experiences with something in the environment, their zone for this object/person/dog will be less secure.
  1. Slow and Steady!
  • Fear can be incredibly powerful and debilitating.  We cannot learn when we are in fear for our lives or someone’s well being.  The same goes for canines. Flooding canines emotionally is a very dangerous practice.  Working within what the canine is comfortable with, as slow as it may be, will allow you and your canine to gradually build confidence with that once-scary scenario, and also help you both build a stronger, trusting bond.
  1. Keep it Fun!
  • We always strive to make every situation and experience for canine and caregiver as positive and rewarding as possible.  Success gives everyone a good feeling, and those positive feelings go a long way to help overcome hurdles we encounter and give us further motivation to keep going.

Canines By Design is here for you!  Contact us today to see how our customized approach can help you and your canine work together and create success everyone can see!

1. TheFreeDictionary.com (Medical Dictionary) (2015).  Fight-or-Flight Reaction Definition.  Retrieved from: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fight-or-flight+reaction.  Accessed on: July 22. 2015.

2. Hilby, E.F., Rooney, N.J., & Bradshaw, J.W.S. (2004).  Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behavior and welfare.  Anim. Welfare, 13: 63-69.

3. Haverbeke, A., Laporte, B., Depiereux, E., Giffroy, J.M., & Diederich, C. (2008). Training methods of military dog handlers and their effects on the team’s performance.  Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 113: 110-122.

4. Haverbeke, A., Messaoudi, F., Depiereux, E., Stevens, M., Giffroy, J.M, & Diederich, C. (2010).  Efficiency of working dogs undergoing a new human familiarization and training program.  J. Vet. Behav., 5: 112-119.

Spear Grass Alert! It’s Getting Crispy Out There!

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Spear GrassSummer weather is here!  Sun, blue sky, warm days… so hopefully that means you and your dog are spending lots of time outside together. It also means taking precautions with the sun, hydration and the heat; all are topics that are getting lots of media play right now.

I also want to bring attention to a more… herbaceous… factor of playing around in the great outdoors that could be harmful for your pup: Spear grass. For those of you reading this in California, I’m talking about Foxtail grass. In fact, during my travels I have found that these grasses have become known by a few different names: porcupine grass, needle grass, silver spike grass, and all refer to wild grass with barbed seeds that often look similar to wheat.

It has been a hot and dry year out West so far and these are the conditions that spear grasses pose the biggest risk. It’s a problem that’s small in size but mighty in impact. The little seeds that are attached to these grasses, specifically the barbs that are found on the seedpods, can cause serious damage and even require surgery when they dry out during the summer season. These barbs work just like a porcupines barbs. Once the dermal layer, or skin has been penetrated, there is only one way for the seedpod to go, and that is deeper into the body.

This design is not uncommon in the plant world. Plants have developed multiple ingenious ways to have their seeds transported by animals and Mother Nature. Unfortunately, once a spear grass seedpod has entered the dermal layer, the body recognizes it as a foreign body and mounts an inflammatory response around it.

For a canine, critical areas of contact are also the areas most prone to picking up these grass seeds. Feet, nose, mouth, ears and genitals are all areas that need to be monitored. The penetration of spear grass and subsequent inflammatory response can result in the manifestation of a variety of symptoms. Locally, one will notice small areas that become swollen, red and infected, causing extreme itching. This inflammatory response can result in your canine acting lame if their paws are affected, extreme head shaking, licking, yelping and rubbing to the point of rubbing themselves raw with itchy frustration. Some seedpods can bury deep enough that they cannot be found. Those found could form abscesses that, when removed, require a drain in order for proper healing to occur. Very often, removal of spear grasses or foxtails will require that the animal be sedated and, even after removal, complications from the seed’s initial presence can cause lasting problems (e.g. deafness from seed penetrating membrane in ear canal).

The solution to the problem is not to avoid the outdoors during the dry months of the summer when the grasses harden off and produce these seedpods, but rather regular inspection of your dog before and after outings. By performing a body check beforehand, we have a baseline for our post-outing inspection.

Here is what you should be looking at:

  1. Ears, eyes, the spaces between toes and mouth all need extra attention and are to be carefully inspected as these are the highest risk places for contact and can have the fastest and largest negative impact if seedpods are left there.
  2. It is also important to brush out your canines fur to make sure it hasn’t picked up any seedpods that could work their way down to the skin.
  3. When you brush your canine’s teeth, make sure you check their tongue, gums and jowls for any foreign bodies or signs of irritation.
  4. Carefully (and with help if needed) trim the fur between their pads to decrease the chance that grasses can be picked up.
  5. KNOW what grows around you. There are different types of spear grasses that look quite different. Some grow in different regions. Ask your veterinarian what you should be aware of in your area. Greenhouses and nurseries are also a great place to get plant information to help narrow your searches!
  6. Set Up For Success. If the field is 95% spear grass, spend the extra 10-15 minutes moving to the next best location.

The extra time spent on these few steps can help make sure you and your canine have a safe and enjoyable summer, and minimize the stress of unplanned veterinarian trips and seeing your loved one in pain. Don’t be afraid, be prepared!

Foxtail

The Black Lung, Pop… No Wait… Kennel Cough

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Doctor DogNot every one of us has been there. But for those of us that have experienced the cough, hack, mucous, and other unpleasantness associated with Kennel Cough, hearing that sneezey, hacky cough means we are in for a long week. Unfortunately, this highly contagious canine cold is hard to avoid 100% and if it does creep its way into our lives, it means preparing, changing plans, and making sure our canine is as comfortable as possible. Why am I talking about this? Well, remember how I said it is 100% impossible to avoid (unless you live in a bubble)? Our Labrador, Zoom, came down with the cold last week, and it sadly meant that Leah and I had to change our vacation plans to visit friends and family. Don’t worry, we were into the veterinarian last Friday, and he is much better today than he was the last 5 days. But I thought it important that I talk about the experience, how it came about, and how we can be prepared as canine caregivers to make sure they are being well taken care of.

  1. Vaccination Does Not Equal 100% Protection:

We have heard of vaccinations for Kennel Cough. So you maybe asking why does it still exist? With fear of simplifying it too much, think of Kennel Cough like human influenza (flu). We syringehave flu shots, and many op to receive them yearly, but many of us still get sick despite this “protection”! Well small variations between the flu vaccine and the flu bug we receive in our environment mean that this environmental bug can settle in and cause all fun stuff that comes along with the flu regardless of the vaccine. Same for Kennel Cough.

  1. Symptoms:

What symptoms or signs appear first also vary between dogs and the bug they were exposed to. For some, sneezing starts, for others it can be a dry hack (like clearing the throat), and for others it can be an increase in mucous load in their sinuses causing a “stuffed nose” sound. Pretty variable isn’t it? Could it be difficult potentially to tell the difference between Kennel Cough and Seasonal Allergies? You Bet! This is why keeping a canine health record is really important! Read all about canine health records here. If you think your canine MIGHT have a sneeze, a cough, above average mucous production, then DO NOT expose them to any other dogs until you have it diagnosed.

  1. Diagnosis:

Kennel Cough is VERY contagious. This means if you think there might be something up, it is time to make a vet appointment. Why? Because you don’t want to go about your daily routine for a few days or a week before realizing it is worse than you thought. Think how many people and dogs you come across every day? Let them know you think it might be kennel cough as many vet offices have policies to avoid contamination and can make sure you get in right away!

  1. Treatment:

For some dogs, such as those that are immune-compromised, older dogs and young dogs without their vaccinations, and dogs already sick with other ailments can all be prone to having a more serious reaction to the bug and might be less able to fight it off with their own immune system.antibiotics For others cases, its just like a cold in humans… time will heal. Again, it is critical to seek your veterinarians advice for the best course of action. It could just be the right environmental cues existed to allow the cough to settle in, which can cause fever, a more severe reaction, and longer recovery. For these dogs, antibiotics might be necessary to get everything under control again and ensure they are safe. Some signs that antibiotics maybe necessary: worsening of symptoms, fever, change in mucous colour (e.g. going from clear to milky/green).

  1. Making Their Lives (and yours) A little Easier:

Lets not kid anyone, you have a sick child on your hands. Best thing we as a parent can do is be prepared. Just like for us, maintaining fluids, continuing to eat, getting lots of comfortable rest, and sanitary practices are really important in speeding up recovery.

FLUIDS: If your canine is not drinking you can help encourage them by adding a little stock to their water to make it a little tastier. Zoom’s protein base is chicken, so we picked up a container of no salt added, organic chicken broth. Zoom had quite a dry hack from the Kennel Cough, so having a little water around to “wet his whistle” helped to keep irritation down and helped him sleep more through the night.

FOOD: For some, the irritated throat, feeling sick and even being on antibiotics can affect their desire to eat. Have a few alternatives around before you need to go get them and you can’t because your dog is coughing up mucous. If they normally eat dry kibbles, dry pulverizing them in a food processor and adding water to make it a little less dry and easier to eat. Don’t have a food processor? Just wet the kibbles and let it sit for 20-25min to soak up the water. Add water as needed and mash with a fork. You can also have a few cans of the “wet version” of their food, or even pick up some low residue food from the vet while you are there. Discuss what is best with your vet!

SANITATION: As I have mentioned, Kennel Cough is very contagious. Keeping floors clean and sanitized, washing blankets and bedding regularly, and ensuring that their toys are cleaned will help stop the bug from spreading. Avoid public places such as dog parks or places where you will meet with another dog. Don’t forget we act as vectors, so washing your own hands, and clothes is really important. washing handsCancel play dates, don’t go stay in hotels, and make sure you let anyone that may have come in contact know what is up so they don’t go and spread it around unknowingly. My veterinarian said that the exact time that canines are no longer contagious isn’t known so she said to be safe wait for 3-4 days after they stop showing symptoms before reintroducing them into public spaces.

COMFORT: No one likes to be sick. We all feel rotten and just want to be in bed. Well dogs will do better if they get good rest as well so make sure they are comfortable.sick zoom Give them items they can lay on that are easily washed, make sure they are not in room that is too hot or cold, and even the humidity can have an effect (e.g. air conditioners dry the air making them more likely to cough and hack at night). Don’t leave them exposed to the elements in any way, and as much as they might want to go out and play, keep them quiet!!  Zoom dealt a lot with mucous in his sinuses and I found elevating his head with a blanket underneath it made it a lot easier for him to sleep and breath.

If you are ever in doubt, always contact your veterinarian. The price of a checkup is well worth knowing what is going on. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience and there isn’t anything more frustrating and scary when it comes to sickness than not understanding the root cause!!

Beat The Heat: Avoid Unnecessary Stress and Danger With Your Canine

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Dog in CarUnfortunately every year the news catches wind of children and dogs who have fallen victim to heat-related stress due to being locked in a vehicle exposed to sun and heat.

Ever see a dog in a locked car in parking lot?  Did they look warm?  Panting and staring at you as you walk by?  Well the issue of leaving canines and children in vehicles while their caregivers run to do that “quick” errand is not a new one.  In fact, it seems every year we are reminded of why this can be such a dangerous thing.

Studies looking into what happens inside a locked vehicle are well documented these days.  Concerned by continuing cases of human and animal deaths related to being in this very scenario, researchers have been pushed to analyze the situation experimentally from a variety of angles.  Temperatures inside and out, in different spots in the car (foot well versus chair versus dash), the color of the car, the color of the interior of the car, whether or not the windows are sealed, cracked, or open to varying amounts, and also the impact of humidity and direct sunlight have been assessed in relation to the question “how warm does the inside of a car actually get”?

Some of the studies:

http://gizmodo.com/how-hot-does-it-get-inside-a-parked-car-spoiler-so-f-654302290

McLaren, C., Null, j., Quinn, J. (2005).  Heat stress from enclosed vehicles:  Moderate ambient temperature cause significant temperature rise in enclosed vehicles.  Pediatrics: 116: 109-112.  Retrieved from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/116/1/e109.full.pdf+html.  Accessed on: May. 20th, 2014.

Journal of the Louisiana State Medical Society: http://www.injuryprevention.org/states/la/hotcars/hotcars.htm

http://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyamohn/2013/07/31/dont-leave-your-child-alone-in-a-car/

What is the take-away message from these and other studies? That regardless of the above variables (or excuses)… it is “really” warm out, or only “moderately” warm,  whether you park your white car, with cloth interior in the direct sun, or your dark-coloured car with its black interior in the shade with the windows down, vehicles act much like an oven, quickly trapping heat inside, causing temperatures to rise very quickly into a dangerous zone.  Compound this scenario with the inability of both young children and canines to thermoregulate like an adult human does (who would still also find themselves in a very dangerous situation), and what you think is “only a 5 minute errand” could turn into a life altering decision.

The best thing to do is plan ahead.  We tell our clients “set yourself up for success“.  Make sure you plan out your day to avoid having to leave your canine unattended in a vehicle to just avoid “it” and the dangers all together.  Ensure you understand your municipalities laws and bylaws surrounding leaving animals unattended as different locations have developed varying levels of enforcement and punishment schedules to attack the issue and prevent it from occurring.  Don’t take any chances by thinking that because you have parked in the shade, the inside of the vehicle won’t superheat.  For those of us up in the Great White North, vehicles can also act like refrigerators on cold, wintery days, where hypothermia can be a factor.  Either way, taking a risk to save a few minutes isn’t worth becoming one of the statistics.  There is always a way to keep things positive for both you and your canine, so keep things safe, and keep them cool.  #caninesbydesign

Don’t Believe Me?  Watch this video done by a veterinarian.

My… what big teeth you have!! National Dog Bite Prevention Week

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girl and puppy     This week (May 17-23rd, 2015) is National Dog Bite Prevention Week; a week created to educate people on canine behaviour, how to interact with them, and as awful as it sounds… how to teach people not to get bit.

Does that seem crazy to you? I’ve heard it said that all it takes is common sense to avoid being bitten, but what really is common sense? We all have different backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks and these shape how we go about our daily lives and consider “Normal” or “Not”. And beyond all this… accidents do happen. Here are a few facts from the American Veterinary Medical Association that they post in regards to NDBPW:

1. 4.7 million people in this country are bitten by dogs every year.

2. Children are by far the most common victims.

3. 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year.

4. Children are far more likely to be severely injured; approximately 400,000 receive medical attention every year.

5. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.

6. Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

The Montreal SPCA has even created a website, www.dogsandkids.ca to help facilitate the education process and to help understand some of the very very basics that is canine behaviour and areas to focus initial teachings with your children.

For trainers, caregivers, puppy and adult raisers, foster homes, shelter systems, private, and public facilities, these reported numbers are alarming! How can this be? Well we aren’t hear to place blame, point the finger, or create an example out ofbaby and dog anyone. The fact is, is that these statistics are partly a result of how we as a majority “HAD” educated ourselves and interacted with canines, assumptions we had potentially made about their physiology and psychology, and it isn’t because of how many of us currently “ARE” working with canines.

For me as an advocate for canine-related education, caregiver training and the creation of a bond based over mutual respect and understanding, doing what we do, and educating as many as we can is the most important part of our jobs! Unfortunately, accidents happen. But education is power, and spreading what we now know about canine behaviour and physiology through formal education (Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Dog behaviour, Veterinarian), and the service dogs industry, will only help our society and local communities embrace, understand, and further integrate canines successfully, while decreasing ugly bite statistics that in a large part can be avoided with a little foresight and education! And anyone can do it! Just getting out, putting your best foot forward, and setting theory into motion shows everyone around you that it is possible, and that there is this new way to listen and interact with dogs!

So for all of you, EVERYONE, that gets out, puts a smile on, helps educate those around them by socializing, educating and working with their canine and people around them (even the very basic and small things), THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart. You are all leaders, teaching by example, educating the “young” to the “not so young”!!! Keep it up!!

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Paws to the Pavement: Getting Ready to Hit the Road

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Road Trip Love!

Road Trip Love!

It is getting to that time of year again!  This week we revisit a post from last year on how you can make sure you and your canine are prepared for your next trip!!

Ah, the open road… Grab some refreshments and good tunes, then sit back and enjoy the ride, right? For many dogs, simply getting to go for a car drive is exciting and rewarding in itself. Auto-enthusiast canines are generally ready for adventure and handle it well. For some, however, car travel can mean upset stomachs, stress responses like drooling or barking, and even complete (uncharacteristic) meltdowns resulting in unhappy caregivers and destruction of hotel rooms. The worst part is, we can’t simply tell them everything will be alright, that “we’ll be there soon,” as we might do for another human traveller or young child. The best way to deal with these stressful responses is preparation. By using some of Canines By Designs concepts, such as setting up for success, these behaviors can be minimized and even stopped from occurring.

And, it’s good to learn how to best travel with your dog as it’s getting easier and more acceptable for your dog to join you on your family vacation. Hotel chains across North America are catching on that we don’t want to leave our pups behind! Alternate options are not always desirable or feasible: We don’t necessarily want to have to pay for a kennel service (after a lengthy and tedious research and screening process) or have to always find a stay-in sitter. In fact, planning a vacation and trip can be a great way to bond with your canine, to get out and explore, practice and proof, proof, proof! Together you can enjoy a relaxing vacation, but it’s important to consider a few aspects essential to making things smooth. So, how can you set your canine up for road-worthy success?

1. Plan your route and accommodations:

This first step includes some of the bigger “how” and “where” decisions for the trip. Let’s say you are driving over several days to your destination, and need to stop overnight before you reach your final stop. Too, if you aren’t staying with family or friends at your destination, it is important to plan out where you will overnight. This will impact how long you travel each day, and where you stay. When driving a distance, I generally add 1.5 to 2 hours of travel time to each day of the journey to accommodate bathroom breaks and play stops.

For your overnight location, many online booking services are a great place to start as they offer filters in which you can select “dog-friendly” locations. From my experience it is always good to double check directly with the hotels via phone or email to make sure you are aware of any upfront charges or deposits, of any restrictions and to confirm that they are aware your booking is for yourself and your canine. Sometimes, aspects of the reservation can be missed or lost in translation while using these services so I have found a quick call puts the mind at ease. If you forget though, I have yet (knock on wood) to be turned away for a mistake that occurred during the booking process.

2. Supplies:

Once you know length and travel time of your trip, you can plan for the amount of space you will need for your dog’s supplies. When I did my first trip with Zoom, I realized why you see parents with young children hauling so many bags with them… If you plan ahead, the supplies add up, but your success rate for the unforeseeable also goes up. Basic stuff to think about is enough food and water for each day of the trip. If you are traveling across an international border, use original bags for the food, as they do have regulations around pet food crossing the border and official packaging will help explain what it is (NOTE: they may still confiscate it as that is the regulation so don’t bring a big full bag. If you know you will be staying for a period of time, bring enough for each travel day and purchase more at your destination). Bring enough clean water with you to cover off stops and quenching their thirst. If your dog gets an upset stomach easily, bring familiar bottled water from home. Also include any necessary medication in their original containers that is needed for the duration (at minimum) of the trip.

It is a good idea to have a checkup before you go. If you are traveling internationally, you will need a health certificate and a rabies vaccination certificate to cross the border, so a routine checkup will be mandatory. Note: These certificates are only good for a period of time and then expire. Also ensure their heartworm and flea/tick prevention is up to date. Many veterinarians can give you a copy of your canine’s health records. Converting a paper copy to an electronic version means you can save it and carry it on a USB stick in your luggage, or as a PDF on your smart phone or tablet at all times without taking up space.  Also, make sure their ID tags, phone numbers, and addresses are up to date prior.

3. Plan for the unforeseeable:

If you know your pup is prone to stomach upset (or if you are unsure or on a first-time trip), come prepared with the items and methods you use to make your dog feel better. The last thing you want to have to do is call every local pet store to see if they have low residue food, or run to the grocery store at 11pm because you need white rice. You’ll also be grateful for cleanup supplies, like paper towels and garbage bags, if the situation arises.

Always bring a first aid kit for your canine. A basic understanding of first aid and wound care will go a long way to making you feel prepared.

Stress and stress responses can be hard to predict unless you have already had a diagnosis, and even then, the cues and triggers than set them off can be hard to plan for. . Sometimes all it takes is a little familiarity to alleviate the situation… minimize stress by bringing a few favourite toys and comfort items. I like to bring a blanket or two for the car seat, puzzles for Zoom to play with at the hotel rooms, and of course his favorite toys to play with on breaks.

Also, try not to leave your canine in a hotel room alone. The space is foreign and a closed door will not offer any comfort. If you are making trips to the car to unload, you can practice high level heeling, and also get them to help! Plan dinner around including them. Maybe that means a picnic meal at the local park or beach, or “staying in” at the hotel. I’ve seen a dog-friendly hotel that allowed canine diners to accompany their families at special tables in the lobby!

Beyond what I’ve discussed here, if you truly feel that your canine needs a little additional help for traveling, some fantastic naturopathic options (e.g. Adaptil) have become available on the market to address travel-related and new environment stressors. These over-the-counter alternatives replace the more “traditional” method of using sedatives or tranquilizers to achieve “good” behaviour. Check out Canines By Design’s Links page for more information on some of these products which I’ve tried and tested myself.

So, there you have it. You’ll need to pack a few more things than just a playlist and some trail mix to ensure a great road trip with your four legged family members. But, you’ll also get to explore more great places together and enhance that great view out your rear-view mirror with a big smiling furry face looking back at you!

Ziggy and Zoom at the Beach!

The Quick Fix: Should You and Your Canine Be Skeptical?

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canine jump!Being together, training together, playing together, smiling together. Canine Companionship…. It’s the life!! But occasionally, funny little things happen and certain behaviours can arise that become disruptive (in a “nails on a chalkboard” sort of way) during our special time with our canines.

Sometimes this behaviour starts off cute, but then veers toward the dangerous or destructive, and we might find ourselves in a state of confusion, anger panic, sadness, or helplessness… Our human nature takes over, and we rush to our nearest source of information (WebMD, anyone?) and attempt to label, define, and understand what is going on. It’s perfectly logical that we would want to know why our dog is doing said behaviour, especially if we aren’t confident in the appropriateness or safety of it all.

And, in a way, this attention to the situation is good! Canines are not mindless automatons without feelings or personalities. They are dynamic – and their resulting behaviours are not automatic responses to environmental cues. But what isn’t helpful when you are concerned is all the BAD information that is out there. There are pages and pages of misleading, wrong, and downright dangerous advice out there!

Have you ever watched one of those “As Seen on TV” adverts and said “Ya right….” Or “if only it actually did that or worked…” – maybe we would all have 6-pack abs and amazing golf swings. The reality is, the majority of these products don’t work, or they only work as a small portion of a larger plan.

Canines and their behaviours are dynamic, and the causes for their actions are as equally dynamic, with environmental and internal factors contributing to the “whole” behaviour. And yet there are umpteen people and products out there offering the quick fix. “Try this and your dog’s barking will be solved first try,” or “this collar will get your dog walking right.” The reality is, good behaviours take time to mold and fine-tune and bad behaviours take time to correct – because your canine needs time to learn what is right! Quick fixes attempt to treat the “visible” behaviours and in doing so can cause other inappropriate behaviours to arise, can harm the welfare of the animal, and can actually have no effect at all (except on your wallet).

So be aware of those “quick fix” promises! (But don’t feel hopeless!) This is the part of the change we are seeing in the Pet Industry, specifically the canine world. I, like my student cohort from Bergin University, are some of the first academic minds to have their post secondary and graduate education focus entirely on canines, understanding their history, development, physiology and psychology. We are being trained to treat the underlying emotions and behaviours that result in the “visible” behaviour and it is from this new wave of academic focus that we will move away from the “quick fix” concept to creating useable and successful programs that work, while putting the needs of the canine at the forefront.

Lose that stress TODAY! How? Pet a Dog!

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IMG_2222Daily, one can read headlines about “Big Pharma’s” advancements on a groundbreaking drug (and subsequent increase in market share) on one page, and the recently discovered harmful side effects of a trusted treatment on another. This is the development of the medical field at its best and worst, delivered in digestible coffee break morsels.

To be newsworthy is powerful, and yet, so is acknowledging the importance of enduring positive influences on our minds and bodies that we, all too often, take for granted. Shouldn’t it be front-page news that we have a time-proven, stress-busting treatment that is all natural, readily accessible and low cost at our fingertips? (A warning though – addiction is likely.) This revolutionary treatment is: Pet a dog!

You are unlikely to receive this prescription written in your doctor’s illegible scrawl, with the advice to proceed to the nearest Lab, Poodle or Labradoodle. However, the effects are undeniable. The question is: How do we reconcile the laboratory and the dog park?

The bond between human and animal has been one that has fascinated us and, in many ways, eluded our efforts to dissect and understand its complexities. We can inherently feel this connection, and yet it is incredibly difficult to replicate, reproduce, and report in a laboratory setting. Laboratory scientists are confined to structure their studies in such a way so that a direct relationship between action and response can be drawn. Controls are put in place to keep external factors at bay in order to produce “pure” results and “good data.” My undergraduate background in Animal Biology was built in this safe and sterile environment: laboratory-based physiological research on a cellular level, where every step, exposure time, and protocol was developed to ensure controlled experiments in hopes of understanding very specific processes.

Studying behaviour like emotional response poses very differentIMG_1837 challenges that must be assessed before, during and after the research is performed. For example, when research subjects are asked to describe the statement “I feel happy”, researchers receive a wide array of adjectives and metaphors that explain this topic. But how can emotion be measured? Using the control-based approach that scientific research is founded in, scientists now understand that there are markers in each of us that unite and relate our responses to “happy” situations. More importantly, there are markers that those of us in or from the laboratory-based research community can measure, quantify, publish, reproduce in another study, publish, and maybe even verify!

One of the approaches to how dogs make us feel has taken this very path. Using variables in our lifestyle (e.g. daily exercise amount) and physiological markers such as heart rate, as well as measuring a variety of cellular responses (e.g. cortisol levels) attained from study participants, all lead to the fact that the emotional impact of this human canine bond can, in a sense, be measured.

So where does petting a dog come into play? And how can this simple act help you feel better? Among many studies looking into the variables at play, researchers of two separate studies found that participants being monitored for physiological response to stressful situations actually had lower stress responses (measured through cortisol levels) when dogs were present than those participants that underwent the same test without dogs being present. In both cases, the presence of a canine during testing decreased the extent of the participant’s response to stress (Miller et al., 2009; Pohleber & Matchock, 2013). Researchers are now applying these positive results to the classroom and the office by studying various aspects in which the presence of canines, and the calming, pleasant effect they have, can be applied purposefully for therapeutic and educational options for children, and even in such a way to increase productivity in office and workplace settings (O’Haire, 2013; One Health, 2014; Fitzgerald and Kimberly, 2012).

It is also important to remember that the dog-human relationship is a two-way street. The benefits of a strong bond to combat stress and the unfamiliar are just as important for your canine. Just as petting a dog can lower stress in our own bodies, the same is being found true for canines. In one study, participating canines that were being touched by their caregivers during the presence of a stranger had marked decreases in their overall mean heart rate when compared to dogs faced with the same situation while separated from their owner (Gacsi et al., 2013). Another study looking at the benefits of brief petting and play sessions with a dog (30 minutes) from a shelter dog’s perspective found that this human interaction was effective in decreasing fear related behaviour (e.g. panting and vocalization,) and also had physiological benefits (a decrease in plasma cortisol level concentrations from the interaction) (Shiverdecker, et al., 2013). It is therefore possible for those of us who are not fulltime canine caregivers to still benefit from this therapy through volunteer and foster programs with local shelter and adoption services. It may also be possible for some of these canines to also benefit mentally and physically by participating in programs that offer therapeutic benefits back to humans through office and school education programs.

My research into the healthful benefits of interaction between our dogs and us does not pretend that canine ownership offers a medical cure-all for disease and health-related issues. Nor would I advocate for people to believe they should have a dog in their lives for the sole purpose of healing their mind and body. Rather this article, and the goal of Canines By Design, is to transform the field of dog owner education by integrating current scientific research with our everyday interest in the canine-human bond. Understanding these intricacies and being holistically educated on the topic of canines can have beneficial impacts socially, physiologically, and emotionally for both human and canines.

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References:

  1. Miller, S.C., Kennedy, C., DeVoe, D., Hickey, M., Nelson, T., Kogan, L. (2009). An examination of changes in oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog. Anthrozoos: A multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals. 22: 31-42.
  2. Polheber, J.P., Matchock, R.L. (2013). The presence of a dog attenuates cortisol and heart rate in the Trier Social Stress Test compared to human friends. J. Behav. Med.: DOI 10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1.
  3. O’Haire, M.E. (2013). Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic literature review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 43: 1606-1622.
  4. One Health- Mills, D., Hall, S. (2014). Animal-assisted interventions: making better use of the human-animal bond. Veterinary Record. Retrieved from: http://171.67.117.160/content/174/11/269.full.pdf+html. Accessed May 20, 2014.
  5. Fitzgerald, C., Kimberly, D.M. (2012). Evolution in the office: How evolutionary psychology can increase employee heath, happiness, and productivity. Evolutionary Psychology 10: 770-781.
  6. Gacsi, M., Maros, K., Sernkvist, S., Farafo, T., Miklosi, A. (2013). Human analogue Safe Haven Effect of the owner: Behavioural and heart rate response to stressful social stimuli in dogs.   PLOS One. 3: DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0058475
  7. Shiverdecker, M.D., Schiml, P.A., Hennessy, M.B. (2013). Human interaction moderated plasma cortisol and behavioral responses of dogs to shelter housing. Physiology & Behavior. 109: 76-79.