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.

Dog Food: 4 Considerations When Choosing Treats and Dinner

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Happy Hour DogsThe dog food industry has come a long way since the days of generic “dog chow” – and it continues to change all the time. It seems like everyone has an opinion these days on their preferred all-protein, no-carb, low-carb, raw-based, home-prepped, homegrown diets and which brands are best and/or should be avoided at all costs. And, even amidst all these changes and new approaches to dog nutrition, we still see ads for “old-school” products like pigs ears, bully sticks, and products imitating foods like bacon (come on… the dogs know it isn’t bacon).

What we can infer from the fluctuations of the pet food industry is just that… it is changing. Like the field of canine behaviour, we are learning new things everyday. With behavioural training, while the traditional approach to the ways we interact and “command” dogs still exists, it has given way to a softer, positive and far more educational approach (for both the canine and caregiver). The food industry is the same – it is transitioning based on academic study and knowledge. What we know about canine health is developing rapidly, and this knowledge is setting higher health standards by producers and industry regulators, contributing to nutritional guidelines and teaching us what it means to feed our dogs a balanced diet.

As caregivers, it can be overwhelming. Who do we listen to? How do we know what is right? To help, here is general guideline that I follow when I enter a store and look through the various food and treat-related products on the shelves:

  1. Do your research before you go. A good starting point is dogfoodadvisor.com. This third-party website has reviewed most dog foods on the market and can offer feedback regarding theirstudying-large ingredients, the level of quality regarding production (e.g. use of chelated minerals versus none), the nutrient breakdown of the product and even highlight controversial ingredients* if they exist. READ LABELS. Just like your mom told you to do for your own food purchases, if you are reading the ingredient list and can’t, at least, pronounce the first five ingredients, put it back on the shelf and look for a more natural, less processed option.

*Controversial Ingredients: Those ingredients that exist in the product that have yet to be tested for their nutritional value, created as a by-product of another process (e.g. tomato pumice), or are not usually found in canine food products but do exist in other animals food (e.g. sun-cured alfalfa).

  1. Price = Quality: Unfortunately for our bank accounts, the pet food industry has a direct relation between price and quality. Much like buying certified organic, free-range or pesticide free products means a larger grocery bill for our family, the same 100% Qualityapplies to canines. A finished product cannot be magically better than the parts that make it up, so in many ways you get what you pay for. Be very careful when buying “deals” at discount stores, box stores and even pet-specific retail locations. Last week I discussed costs and lifestyle changes that occur when you bring a dog into your life. If you are working through this process, budget high for food and treats just to make sure you cover off any unforeseen changes that might occur in this area inflating the monthly costs (e.g. a change from kibble food to raw food because of severe allergy issues).
  1. Country of Origin Matters: Canada and the United States have similar, but different, food standards between our countries. One comparison that always makes me chuckle is that kid-approved Kinder Surprise Eggs are completely legal here in Canada – but are very much illegal in the United States (They are not something you ever want to bring over the border!). If these differences exist within the “human” food industry, you canworldmap expect them to also be present in the pet food industry. In fact, the pet food industry is even less regulated… by a substantial degree (although this is beginning to change). It is therefore important you take this into account. If products produced in North America are not subjected to strict standards before our pets ingest it (e.g. safe bacterial load levels after the drying process in bully sticks and pig ears), you can be certain that there is even more variation when you start to look at other countries with completely different cultures and belief systems (scary, isn’t it?). While a large corporation might save money by outsourcing production, the savings passed onto us might come with some qualitycontrolvery real dangers. In fact, Petco announced January 5th, 2015 that it will no longer carry ANY Chinese-imported food products in their stores across the United States because of the canine deaths and sicknesses associated with the consumption of these products. (These products are killing dogs everywhere). Petco even went as far as to say that they will only source products from countries with similar standards (like Canada, U.S., Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, and South America), even though it risks tens of millions of dollars from the changeover.

NOTE: It should be stated that even the best of the best dog foods created in North America are not immune to recalls and issues, but they are far more likely to be caught early through standard checks. Dogfoodadvisor.com also offers an e-mail service for any recalls that occur. Sign up with them through e-mail and if a recall occurs, you will receive an e-mail notification.

  1. Not All Canines Are the Same: As I stated above, not all canines are the same. Some canines have special dietary restrictions, allergies or have gone through surgeries and trauma that prevent them from partaking in particular food stuffs. What works for one, may not work for another. If you are, or think you are, one of those caregivers, then you will want to be very careful about the products you purchase and what ingredients they contain.   A new trend in the pet food industry is single food-bowl-281980_1920source protein kibbles, raw food and treats. This is a blessing for those of us that have canines with allergies as it allows us to begin to eliminate and determine what the source of the allergy is… Imagine trying to do that with a kibble that has beef, chicken and fish present in it! Start with small bags, a few cans, or a couple weeks of a raw food diet. Transitioning to new food takes time, so transition to new products slowly over two weeks, then try those products on their own for an additional 1-2 weeks to determine if it is working for your canine (through obvious and less obvious signs such as energy level, stool analysis, etc.).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Always, always, always consult your veterinarian or canine dietician when it comes to your canine’s nutrition. Nutrition’s influence on their underlying health is just as critical for canines as it is for our bodies so you need to make sure they are healthy and eating well. If you are unsure of how to achieve optimal nutrition for your dog, get a second, and even a third, opinion.

Being educated, using these three guidelines, and staying up-to-date with pet food industry changes is the best way to make sure your canine is fed right and feeling great!

Paws First: Considerations When Getting A Dog

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sleeping puppy “Let’s get a puppy!” When we start to think about welcoming a dog into our lives, we all-too-often get swept away in the romance of the idea. We hear about all the mental and physical benefits of being a canine caregiver. The good news is they are true! Us “dog people” know that being with our four-legged friends is nothing short of awesome! But, let’s come back down to Earth for a minute. There are some real logistics and important considerations to take into account before you take the leap into puppy parenthood.

I’ve been asked numerous times about “what it’s like getting a dog.” By request, the following is an essentials guide to adopting a canine into your family. The basic considerations form three categories: Time, Cost (initial and annual) and Lifestyle Impact. The purpose here is not to overwhelm you, but instead offer some variables to consider that can be overlooked (and make for “fun” surprises later!).  All to often the large picture of getting a dog and what that means is overlooked, leading to these fantastic companions being left to fend for themselves or integrated into a adoption system hoping they are taken home before it is to late.

Note: Each category could include much more detail than what is listed here. If you’d like more information on any particular topic or want to add something that I’ve missed, please leave a comment below.

Time:  

Dogs are social creatures. They love to be with their calendar:clockfamily “pack” and need to get out and socialize with their human and canine communities. Time investment depends on many, many factors. Regardless of breed, size or age, all dogs need daily appropriate (safe, healthy and fun) activity. This includes both mental and physical stimulation. Going for walks, meeting a friends at the off-leash park, dropping and picking up from doggy daycare, trips to the beach, going out to do their business, and regular training sessions all take time during your day. Depending on your living situation (e.g. within the city or in a condo/apartment) getting to locations with green space, off-leash zoning, etc. can increase the time allotment required for each activity. Scheduling plans and arrangements beforehand can make sure you and your family has your canine’s needs covered before you get stuck with no time and no fun.

Puppies

Bringing a puppy into the home is a grand adventure. Just like any adventure, it that takes some planning and forethought to accomplish. We all have jobs and schedules we need to keep – but puppies do too. They need to go out and do their business on a frequent, set schedule as they learn the household rules. They also have a high requirement for socialization. It is extremely important that puppies are taken out into their communities to meet lots of new people and dogs regularly and that they are involved in educational programs such as puppy, basic and advanced training. If you work full time at a facility or office that does not have a pet policy in place, you should inquire as to the reasons/rules and see if they are open for change. In the meantime, taking some vacation time and/or having a network of people that can help fill in those moments is vital and could mean the difference between coming back to a happy puppy and a mess on the carpet or a trip to the vet (or both).

Rescues

Rescues, whether they are adults, puppies or seniors, need special time consideration as they adjust to their new lives in their forever home. Rescuing is an extremely rewarding experience but we need recognize that these canines have been through recent trauma. Regardless of their past lives and the dog rescuebehaviours they have learned from those experiences, simply going through a rescue situation and adjusting to a new life (with a new home, new smells and new parents) is a lot to go through. It is reasonable to assume that the behaviour you see within the first few days may change as they become more comfortable with their new surroundings. For some, that means they will settle down; for others, they can become more adventurous as they explore their new boundaries. You need time to begin to understand their behaviours, likes and dislikes. Make sure you account for this, especially over the first three to four weeks and then make a plan to ensure they keep learning good behaviours and unlearn some of their past, less productive, behaviours.

Remember…

You can’t expect perfect behaviour (there is no such thing), so you should be ready to reward the best behaviour and redirect the less-than-perfect habits. Developing a balance between structured events and “fun time” within their routine early on can help them understand what is expected of them in their new home and out in the world – a framework that will certainly pay off for you both tenfold down the road. Unsure of how your canine will react in a particular scenario? Check out our post on the Yellow Dog Project to find out how you can be more prepared!

Cost:

You want to comfortably budget your new family member into your life. What can you expect to pay up front and what do dollar-551932_1280annual costs look like? Below is a breakdown of the costs to begin care for a canine, with information sourced from the BC SPCA. Some one-time costs may vary depending on the organization, region and the size of dog you are interested in (e.g. crates can range up towards $200 depending on size and quality and bedding can be quite expensive depending on the materials used [e.g. memory foam]).

One Time Costs

Adoption fee
(Approximate estimation only, please check with your local Branch for current adoption prices)
 $145.00-$395.00
Spaying (female) and tattoo
(Approximate estimation only, please check with your local Veterinarian for actual prices. BC SPCA adoption fee includes spay/neuter & tattoo)
 $156.00-$265.00
Food and water dishes  $15.00
Collar and leash  $25.00
Brush and comb  $15.00
Toys – balls, frisbees, etc.  $25.00
Crate  $65.00
Total  $290.00-$540.00*

*Please note that is not the adoption cost at a BC SPCA shelter, rather the estimated expenses related to being an animal guardian.

Annual Expenses (12-15 years)

The annual expenses here were again retrieved from the BC SPCA website. I would treat these numbers as guide to the very basic costs that each category could represent. Cost of food and treats will depend on size, breed, activity and type of food being fed (large bags of food can range up to $85-90/bag versus the given $45.00/bag, and raw diets can be more). Veterinary care can cost more, especially while you are getting “comfortable” with your canine, their tendencies and behaviours. One extra trip a year that includes a test and/or medication will potentially double the value given and it goes up from there. It is also more likely that puppies and senior canines will need more frequent care as puppies get their initial checkups and seniors receive their continual preventative care such as blood panels and teeth cleaning.

You can also save money by learning basic groomingdollar-42338_1280 techniques and performing them on your own. Brushing your canine’s teeth regularly can save huge costs later in life when periodontal disease can be disastrous. Knowing how to properly trim your canine’s nails in a low stress and positive way can save in time and money in the long run. Want to learn a fast, low stress technique? Contact me to set up a grooming training session!

Food  12 bags dog food (18kg) @ $45.00  $540.00
Biscuit treats  2 boxes per month @ $5.00  $120.00
Veterinary care  Yearly Visit – exam and vaccinations  $200.00+
Nail clipping  6 trips to the vet  @ $15.00  $90.00
License fee  $30.00
Grooming  Spring bath and brush out  $40.00
Vacation  2 weeks dog care  @ $25/day  $350.00
Total  $1,370.00*

*Please note that is not the adoption cost at a BC SPCA shelter, rather the estimated expenses related to being an animal guardian.

Reference: http://www.spca.bc.ca/pet-care/adoption/5-steps-to-adoption/cost-of-care.html#.VLVnOyeqQio

Lifestyle Impact:

The introduction of a canine family member into our life is a truly amazing experience, but it does bring significant and very road tripreal changes to our routines. Without over-personifying the relationship, the easiest way to describe the change is like being responsible for a younger sibling or having a child in our care. While we still have flexibility in our time, we are now stewards for the mental and physical needs of a dependent living creature. Dogs cannot feed themselves, take themselves for a walk or go to the vet without our help. Each activity and checklist item above is a reason to consider how your daily schedule will change when you address their needs.

A good way to picture your day as a canine caregiver is to write on a weekly calendar what your normal “me” day would be. Now add in 2-3 daily feeding times, training time, play time, and snuggle time with your new family member and then take a look at your new schedule. Is it feasible? Is it something that you can realistically do?  That you still want to do? Some day-to-day activities and events can/will change, but a dog’s basic needs (mental and physical) will not.

Some of us are lucky to work in a pet friendly office, work from home or use our house as a base of operations, and/or have a spouse or a committed friend who does. Having someone to help can be a big relief, especially when emergencies and last minute things come up (and they will). Determine if this new lifestyle is fair to both of you. Are you willing to give up a date night to take care of a sick puppy, or change your old routine so that they can get out a few times during the day? Alternatively, do you have a budget for doggy daycare or a dog walker? , and making sure that both the caregiver and canine are able to find a happy one.

Other situations to take into account are events like traveling, which usually means your spouse/partner will be withSleepypod1 you. We don’t want our vacation to turn into our canine’s nightmare, so we need to plan out house sitters, determine how long to be away and make sure all their needs will continue to be met. If your canine is coming with you on your trip, you might find you can no longer stay at your forever favorite hotel in location “X” because they don’t have a pet policy in place to allow four-legged guests. While finding pet friendly hotels is becoming easier, they aren’t everywhere. Beyond hotels, there are many other considerations to take into account when canines travel with us. Canines By Design tackled this subject so if you would like more information, check out our post on traveling with your dogs.

Offering a loving home to canine previously exempt from the opportunity, or watching a puppy grow up and develop their own personalities as a beloved family member is in itself a rewarding experience, regardless of our personal gains as a “dog person”. We know that becoming active canine caregivers is a remarkable experience that brings us many mental and physical benefits, but is important that we take a step back to first assess the topics above to ensure that we continue to feel this way throughout our canines’ lives. While 12 to 15 years is only a snapshot in our own lifelines, it is the entirety of our dogs’ lives. Considering their daily quality of life will help make sure we are prepared to be there for the entirety of the good and the bad that life throws at us.

He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.     — Author Unknown