Minimizing Canine Anxiety: Steps to Take and Products to Try

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This room need's a "Safe Space" for this pup

This room need’s a “Safe Space” for this pup

In an ideal world, canines would be raised in positive, enriched environments that are free from fear and punishment, where their interactions within the community (both canine and human) are constructive and educational. Free from negativity, their potentials could all be met, allowing them to lead dynamic and integrated lives.

The world is… imperfect. As hard as we try, things happen. Sometimes on a grand scale, such as being involved in a car accident and developing a deep seeded fear of vehicles and travel, or being born into hostile situations where every food scrap is closely guarded for fear of not eating again. Things can happen on a smaller scale too. Sometimes, we have to shift our schedules because of a new job, or because we are moving to a new location. These changes disrupt what was once a familiar day, and can cause anxiety in ourselves and those around us. Same is true for our dogs.

Where the Two Roads Diverge

Where the Two Roads Diverge

Negative encounters, swings in schedules, new additions to the family, and changes within the home structure can all be a cause for anxiety in canines. At Canines By Design, we often talk about setting our canines up for success, proofing, and regular, dynamic socializing as being corner stones to creating a well balanced dog. If our canines can lead dynamic lives, enjoying new experiences, meeting new people, and going to new places, we are in a sense setting them up for success by creating an environment in which “change” and “new” becomes a regular part of life and their vocabulary, and not something to be fearful of.

But as I said, even in these situations, things can happen, fears can be created, and anxiety can be seen and felt. So what can be done?

... Well It Looks Comfy For Him Still!

… Well It Looks Comfy For Him Still!

Lets use the example of separation anxiety in canines. Separation anxiety is when the act of us leaving our canine causes a stress response in them, which can be acted out in a variety of behaviours such as soiling in the house, property destruction, self mutilation, pacing, excessive barking, etc. Regardless of how the behaviour arose, separation anxiety causes unrest in our dog’s lives and in turn causes the same unrest in our own lives. We will worry about what they are doing, maybe their behaviours have become destructive, and we will worry about what is being destroyed or if they have eaten something they shouldn’t have and if they should go into the veterinarian.

Sound familiar? We all want our canines to feel safe “in their own skin”. As caregivers and there are a few things we can do to help decrease the stress involved when canines have to spend some time on their own and suffer from separation anxiety:

  1. First and foremost, separation anxiety is treatable with patience and regular work to address the problem areas. Using customized desensitization programs (something we do here at Canines By Design), a program can be developed for your specific case that will take you and your canine through small incremental changes that help bolster understanding and comfort, rather than shock and fear.
  2. Create a safe space for your canine. This, along with environmental enrichment, is a specialty of Canines By Design. Whether it is in the office space at work, or your house (inside or out), or even in the car, it is important that we make sure that if they do have to spend time alone, we create an environment that they cannot get hurt, especially if their anxiety overwhelms their “common sense”. Items like power cords, plugins, chewable items like buckles, and even what is on the counter are all part of the considerations we take into account when setting up your “safe space”.
  3. Utilize your friends and family around you to help take the anxiety off of you and your canine. Puppy play-dates, good doggy day cares, and house sitters are all ways to keep your mind at ease, and make sure your pup is out having good experiences and leading dynamic lives. While this doesn’t address the separation anxiety directly, it gives you a way to avoid the behaviours that can be harmful to their health (mental and physical) while you work through your desensitization program.
  4. Make sure their needs are met before they spend some time alone. If they have just had a wonderful play with their best friend at the local park, and they are good and tired, they will be less likely to act out of boredom and stress, and be more likely to sleep and relax. Physical release such as exercise has a wonderful cascading effect on our physiology, releasing positive endorphins that make us, and our dogs feel good.
  5. Leave music or the T.V. on for them. Silent rooms cause our senses to become heightened and hyper vigilant. Same for our canines, and their senses such as hearing are already many fold stronger than our own. Utilizing the T.V. or radio (easy listening music) helps to dull them. You can even use a fan as the white noise will interrupt the noises they may hear outside their homes (whether it’s a house or apartment) and help them relax and worry less about what is going on. Need a portable solution? Load up your smart phone with your canine’s favorite tunes and play it off the speaker.
  6. Another sense to think about is smell. A great product line called Adaptil has focused on this, where they use products that mimic the pheromones released by a nursing mother. While pheromones don’t exactly have a “smell”, they act on a deep level, and the pheromones released by a nursing mother act to calm and ease anxious puppies. Their product lines are geared for canines of all ages, and from my experience have been very successful in helping ease many different types of anxiety including separation anxiety.
  7. Canines are social animals. They like to be around their piers, whether it is other dogs or humans. For some, separation anxiety stems from the lack of comfort that comes from being touched or snuggled in with their favorite person or playmate. Anxiety vests were created to help ease these cases. One brand, Thundershirts, are probably the original, and these snug fitting vests were created to give the wearer the feeling of being constantly hugged and touched.  Check out their sizing information for a size that works for your canine.
Ellie Having a Stress Free Moment

Ellie Having a Stress Free Moment

Anxiety related behaviours including separation anxiety are treatable. They require patience, positivity, and diligence to work through, but with the right tools and desensitization program, all canines can feel comfortable in their own skin and anxiety related behaviours CAN be drastically reduced if not completely cured. Not sure if your dog suffers from anxiety? Check out this blog on anxiety symptoms for more information.

Canine Intelligence: How Our Understanding Continues To Grow

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Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

Making Light Work of a Heavy Snack

I was going to write an article this week about canine intelligence, but I quickly ran into a conundrum… they are intelligent in so many ways, I’m going to have to write a book, not a blog post!!!

Canine intelligence and what it means, stands for, and how it is represented is a hot topic these days. For a long time, we didn’t look at canines as intelligent, but rather we thought they were gifted with their nose, and something that we can train and mold to complete tasks.  Those tasks may have been something we didn’t want to do ourselves, or that we found canines could actually do more efficiently. While there are some magnificent examples of highly trained human trackers, a bloodhound’s nose is hard to beat.

But the tables have turned. Societal shifts have opened our eyes to explore our world through a different lens. We are more empathetic towards animals, their needs, and have turned our perspectives from being “master’s of the universe” to welfare minded “caretakers” (…this may be a generalization as there are still far too many people who either ignore or refuse to believe this, but that is a topic for another blog). We have begun to explore the possibilities not by what they can do for us, but rather what we can simply learn from them by taking a step back and looking at the world through their eyes.

We have come to understand that not all animals, especially dogs, are created equal. There is an unexplored intelligence that we are just beginning to uncover and attempt to understand. While being humans, we are still confined to understanding intelligence by how we have defined it, we are still uncovering many aspects of canine life that we once thought was completely untrue, or impossible.

I thought an easy way to share some of the ways that canines are amazing us, and showing just how intelligent they are, would be to group these concepts into areas we as humans tend to think about intelligence, and share some amazing links to some stories to demonstrate these areas.

Nose Work

Nose Work

Scent (nose) Intelligence:

This has been linked with canines for a long, long time. Helping on hunts, detecting predators lurking just outside our camps, canine olfaction has always been considered one of their strong suites. Imagine telling someone 30 years ago that scientific research would be able to show that they are actually so intelligent in this way, that they could in fact act as more reliable early warning detection systems for particular cancers than some of our best “man-made” medical equipment. Don’t believe me? Check out these links:

http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/

http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/nbec.2014.13.issue-1/nbec-2014-0003/nbec-2014-0003.xml (sorry, you can only access the abstract without purchase).

Google Search: Canine Cancer Detection, or Google Scholar: Canine VOC detection and then pick “since 2014” for the newest articles.

Verbal Intelligence:

Immediately one thinks “dogs don’t speak words, so how can they have a verbal intelligence!?”. Well canines bark, and these barks do mean something. Canines also have a very important, and complex body language that they use to “silently” speak to one another. They can ALSO read our body language and what we are doing and interacting with! Furthermore, canines are great listeners (OK, most of the time :)), and have an incredible ability to understand human language… now imagine living in a world where this is going on all the time!! That is some serious thinking power!

Vocabulary:

Chaser the Border collie has the same understanding of vocabulary as a three-year-old child:

http://www.amazon.ca/Chaser-Unlocking-Genius-Knows-Thousand/dp/0544102576

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi8HFdPMsiM

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/

Body Language:

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/canine-body-language

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035437

Auditory:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/201211/how-dogs-bark-in-different-languages (a neat article in how dogs bark in different language courtesy of one of my Master’s Degree Professors, Stanley Coren)

What Did You Say!!?

What Did You Say!!?

Visual Intelligence:

People used to think of dogs as completely colour blind, but this is not true. We learnt at Bergin University that canines are dichromatic, not trichromatic, so to say they are colour blind is a misnomer. Canines can see colours in the environment; they just see them slightly differently than we do. Stan Coren writes:

“Instead of seeing the rainbow as violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow, orange and red, dogs would see it as dark blue, light blue, gray, light yellow, darker yellow (sort of brown), and very dark gray. In other words, dogs see the colors of the world as basically yellow, blue and gray. They see the colors green, yellow and orange as yellowish, and they see violet and blue as blue. Blue-green is seen as a gray”. Reference: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/canine-corner/200810/can-dogs-see-colors).

One thing that Bergin University is demonstrating is that canines are capable of a form of reading. While not scientifically demonstrated how this occurs this video will get your grey cells working trying to figure out how they can look at a cue card and understand what it means without any auditory reinforcement by the trainer in the later stages of their training! AMAZING!! (I LOVE MY SCHOOL!)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egvz_dZ1qv4 (this is an older video… facility has changed (now for three years).

Physical Intelligence:

While I alluded to canine’s inability to open jars earlier (not having opposable thumbs will do that), they do have an amazing ability when it comes to their physicality and using it in intelligent ways. Anyone (like myself) who has worked within Service Dog organizations can certainly attest to this. The ways that they are able to help out it truly amazing!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k-WrDMxw_mY – Turning on a light switch (Sae can sure raise her voice up high!! What Excitement!! All students at Bergin work with canines training for full service certification).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NbFISCnTQgc -learning to pull a wheel chair at Bergin’s new facility.

http://vimeo.com/52965741 -Zoom Learning to recycle bottles (this was early on in my Master’s Program). We are required to teach our own dogs a higher-level job by shaping and linking smaller instructions together.

With all this said, I must also put in a disclaimer. These changes to our mindsets have gotten us excited, and the media excited, to seek out and find out more about canine intelligence. It is important that we continue forward with an open mind, but also be careful not to jump to any conclusions before we are able to match our gut feelings with rigorous studies that either approve or disprove particular theories and ideas. This isn’t to say that these intelligences we witness don’t exist, we just need to put our thinking caps on to determine how we can accurately measure and record. Our canines are truly amazing. They offer emotional and physical support, they can help us live longer, and they always seem to bring a smile to our faces. I am a firm believer that we are just beginning to truly understand our canines, so next time you are looking into your dogs eyes wondering what they are thinking, just know, they are looking right back at you, and might be wondering the same thing. -J

Nose to Tail: Be Prepared for a Canine Sleepover

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Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Zoom and Ireland Road Trippin!!

Are you hosting a canine sleepover party? Maybe you are helping out family or friends by taking care of their dog while they travel or head for a much-needed vacation? There are always a lot of considerations to think about when leave our canine in someone else’s care or do the same for them so I thought I would compile a few checklists of things to remember to help make preparations easier!

Short-Term Stay (e.g. one day):

  1. Enough food for the meals of the day.

NOTE: If your canine is on a special diet, prepare all the components before hand and write up some feeding instructions. Also bring their treats along if they have a sensitive stomach.

  1. Leash, Harness, and Collar (Make sure their ID and contact info is up to date!)
  2. Any medications needed for the day. Ensure instructions for proper timing/dosage.
  3. Let your “puppy-sitter” know about any specific behavioural things your canine may do throughout the day that is unique to them and also make sure you give your contact information (and a backup!) in case anything unforeseeable comes up.
  4. Before they leave on their adventure, take a moment to snap a photo close up of their face as also a full body shot in case anything happens and they bolt from your puppy sitter.

Long-Term (e.g. one week):

  1. Enough food for everyday that you are gone for. I like to leave a little extra (a couple extra meals worth) in case travel plans change.

NOTE: If your canine is on a special diet, prepare all the components before hand and write up some feeding instructions. Also bring their treats along if they have a sensitive stomach.

  1. Any medications needed for the day. Ensure instructions for proper timing/dosage.
  2. Leash, Harness, and Collar (Make sure their ID and contact info is up to date!!)… add an extra tag for the time you are away that has your puppy sitter’s information on it (name, address, e-mail, phone number) as this will speed up the pup being returned if he/she decides to go on a walk-about.
  3. Provide your sitter with a copy of your canine’s vet records (digital or paper) and give their veterinarians information (name, contact info, address, phone number) along with the details in case a medical emergency arises. If they cannot make it to your regular veterinarian, having the copy will give any veterinarian the background information they will need to answer any questions.

NOTE: Agree beforehand what the protocol will be if a medical emergency arises (how costs will be covered, how the caregivers will be contacted, etc.). Having this planned will make an unplanned stressful time much more manageable.

  1. If you have the time, go out with your puppy sitter for a walk or two, and maybe even a play, so that they can get comfortable with your canine’s behaviours and have the opportunity to ask any questions.

NOTE: This is a great time to go through their command list so the sitter knows how to ask the canine to perform a particular instruction (include this list as a part of your write-up!)…. Imagine not knowing the instruction that the pup waits for to pee!

  1. Write up a “day in the life of _____” so that the puppy sitter knows what your dog gets for activity on a regular basis. By sticking as close to their regular activity levels and schedules, the canine will be less likely to “act out” or develop new, and not necessarily productive, behaviours. It will also inform the sitter of any special things they may need to do (e.g. ear cleaning solution/wipes after a swim day) that they don’t necessarily perform on their own canines.
  2. Provide your destination contact information for your puppy sitter so that they can call or contact you even if their cell phones aren’t working, or they are busy visiting a family event. It might not be the best time, but emergencies never happen when the timing is “good.”.
  3. Before they leave on their adventure, take a moment to snap a photo close up of their face as also a full body shot in case anything happens and they bolt from your puppy sitter.

If your pup is prone to anxiety, then a great extra to bring along is a familiar smelling blanket or towel (something they sleep with) so that they can have some familiar smells around them when you are away and can help decrease stress caused by the new environment. If you don’t have a towel or blanket, then sleep in a old t-shit for a couple of nights and pack that along and it will help both with short and long-term stays!

I have also attached a checklist in .PDF file that can be opened with any .PDF reader to help make your trip easier.  Click the link below, download, print it off, share it with friends!!  And don’t forget, enjoy your trip!!

Canines By Design Sleepover,Vacation Checklist

 

Fall Blues… Back To School and Back to Reality: Fostering Canine Adaptability, not Destruction

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Nick and Rusty Enjoying the Bergin University Master's Class

Rusty (L) and Nick (R) Enjoying the Bergin University Master’s Program

August has faded into September and thousands of students are heading back for another school year. While students might be dragging their feet, the arrival of fall is usually accompanied by a smile of relief from their parents! (OK, not for parents in B.C., but hopefully the strike will end soon) It means a return to normalcy and a schedule. Summertime activities keep everyone busy and entertained, including your canines: Everyone is home, people are happy and excited, and nice weather usually means frequent trips to a favorite beach, lake or park. When September hits, the kids sigh with procrastination, the parents sigh with relief… and, in many cases, our canines sigh with sadness because their home dynamic changes drastically.

At home, things can get quiet quickly without children playing and moms and dads temporarily home on holidays. Two months is enough time for this level of elevated activity and companionship to become a constant fixture in our canine’s life. With back-to-school and back to work, schedules are shuffled and new routines are made. Sometimes in all the chaos, our furry companions can get missed, and some assurances that they have become used to, and somewhat reliant on, might not happen.

I could spend this whole article talking about variables and how they can have a resultant effect on your canine, but my goal here is to help you ensure your canine has the skills to deal with changes in their routines and help make sure they are adaptable and not destructive.

Pro Tips:

  1. Start new routines slowly and gradually.
  • If you know there is going to be a schedule change for your canine, start preparing for that change by modifying your current schedule gradually over a few days.
  • Have family help out by explaining why this gradual change is important.
  1. Plan ahead to make sure your canine will still get all their necessary exercise, both mental and physical.
  • We have our social lives, work, friends and an integrated community. Your canine has you and a select few others that they rely on for everything. Don’t forget that! If it means waking up earlier to ensure they have had a decent walk and training session prior to a period of time on their own, then schedule it in!
  • Again, have family help out. If you have children, small 10-minute training sessions can become part of their regular schedules before or after school. These moments can become great family bonding time where everyone is together smiling and having fun… including your puppy.
  • If you think an 8 hour work day feels long for you, try being a dog waiting patiently at home. I am blessed that I work in the canine world, which means Zoom is almost always with me. When he isn’t, we try to think of our day in three-hour blocks. Modify your schedule, utilize a trustworthy neighbor or friend, or join a local community walking group. There are many ways to make sure your pup doesn’t have to spend countless hours and days alone waiting to relieve themselves or go socialize.
  1. Always, always set your canine up for success during alone time.
  • Leave music or the TV on to add some ambient noise to the environment so that the house isn’t silent all day as silence can heighten anxiety in canines.
  • Use the same routine when leaving every time. Tell your canine “you will be back” every time. Offer a Kong with a little peanut butter or frozen pumpkin in it to help ease the initial separation and keep them distracted when you go. Doing this consistently will also help your canine pair “positive feelings and excitement” when you leave versus feelings of negativity and fear.
  • Make sure that your canine is in an environment that is safe and enriched. By cleaning up garbage, removing chewable items (power cords), leaving the floors clean and making sure they have access to safe items (items you have had success leaving with them) such as their bed, you help make sure that if they do become anxious that they don’t take it out on something they shouldn’t.
  • As noted above, make sure both their physical and mental needs are taken care of BEFORE you go. A bored mind will wander and an anxious body will only compound this, creating a situation in which your dog may try or do something they have never done before (e.g. chew furniture).

Taking the mental and physical needs of our canines into consideration during periods of transition and change will only help to make your dog adaptable and flexible, decreasing your already-long list of worries and stress.

If you are unsure of what you can leave or do with your canine in your situation, I’m here to help. Contact Canines By Design and I would be glad to help set you and your canine up for success by creating safe space solutions in and around your home.

Nose to tail Product Review: Improving Intelligence In Your Pup, and Preventing Age-Related Cognitive Dysfunction in senior dogs

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Zoom enjoying the sun, sand, and his toy!

Zoom enjoying the sun, sand, and his toy!

If you’re like me, you are always on the lookout for new and creative ways to entertain and enrich the lives of our canines. You know who you are… if there’s a new toy at the pet store, you’re all over it! Luckily, a Swedish company has been thinking this way since 1990. If you haven’t heard of Nina Ottosson before, you’ll be excited to learn that their Dog Activity Toys have been designed and tested to challenge your dog both physically and mentally through educational play.

Just like “brain games” for you and me, the games are meant to motivate your canine to learn, whatever their age, increasing their problem solving skills and intelligence as the difficulty level increases. They have developed a variety of interactive products with different difficulty levels (in both plastic and wood options) depending on the needs and play style of your canine.

Owners of senior canines take special note: they promote their products for older dogs. Activities change as their bodies age, so it’s great to find new, accessible ways for them to play and have fun. Keeping seniors mentally engaged is important for preventing or helping with Age-Related Canine Cognitive Dysfunction, and introducing mental puzzles is a great way to do it (Cline, 2014).

These products work well enough in creating dynamic challenges for canines that even service groups have integrated them into their programs to help develop problem solving skills in their up and coming service canines!

Quality is carefully controlled, with usage of choice materials that meet strict rules geared minimize or eliminate the impact to both the environment and your dog’s health. All of their products are recyclable and non-toxic, which is evidence of the detail they put into their design.

My Tips:
1. Using some of their dinner kibbles as the treats you put into the puzzle is a great way to make sure you are keeping your canine at their proper weight while still giving them food rewards.
2. Set them up for success. Start with level 1 puzzles and work your way up.
3. Lots of reward and praise through the process and make it fun!
4. Always supervise your canine!
5. Don’t forget to wash your puzzles frequently to keep them sanitary. Plastic puzzles can be cleaned easily and work well if you are using wet, canned or raw food, and/or are being used by multiple dogs. Wood puzzles can be wiped with a slightly damp cloth and a little mild detergent (Dawn dish soap) then wiped dry.
6. Check out all of Nina Ottoson’s tips and tricks!!!

Canines By Design wants you to know what cool and interesting products are out there. Do you know of a product that everyone should have, or at the very least, know about? Contact me (link) and let me know so I can feature your product!

References:
Cline, Dr. Jill. (2014). Cognitive Changes in the senior dog patient. Retrieved from: http://www.veterinarmagazinet.se/content/images/list_5/7467_1702620309.pdf. Accessed on: Aug. 12, 2014.

Whats Next!!?!

Whats Next!!?!

3 Ways To Make a Bad Situation the Best It Can Be

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Ziggy and Zoom at the Beach!

As we and our dogs make our way through our daily lives, we hope that every experience is happy and pleasant for our canines! Unfortunately, factors in the environment, like bad encounters with other dogs, bolting away from panic or over-stimulation, can very quickly turn positive situations into negative ones.

It is impossible to plan for everything that could happen. If we tried, I think we might all be walking around in plastic bubbles. However, there are a few preventative measures we can take to help our furry companions, and ourselves, best handle (what could be) a traumatic situation:

  1. KNOW YOUR CANINE:

Knowing your canine means working with them to understand their personalities, their fears and their ambitions (or drives). Armed with this knowledge, we can go through routines and avoid moving too far out of our dog’s “zone of comfort” where a reactive behaviour might trump them using their brainpower.

It also empowers us. The deeper our knowledge of the details, the finer tuned our training can become. Not only can we work through new environments and experiences while feeling at ease that we are not causing undue stress and anxiety, but we can utilize their zone of comfort to help them work through past experiences that have left them anxious or unsure.

If your relationship is new, your canine is recovering from medical issues that can influence behaviour, or you are working through behavioural baggage, please also read the Yellow Dog Project post I wrote a couple months ago and visit their website for more details.

  1. BE ENVIRONMENTALLY AWARE:

Knowing your environment starts with knowing what is going on in your personal space. Ever see someone enter a crosswalk right into traffic because they are texting? They are so absorbed in the task at hand that they don’t even realize they are stepping out in front of a moving car! Some of us are gifted with this ability to know what is going on. It is innate to be aware of our surroundings and it is second nature to use our senses, sight and sound, to know what is going on around us. For others, this type of vigilance requires practice. We get lost in our own thoughts, or in the phone call that just came in, and we become blind to what is occurring around us. Practice will increase this ability. Your range of awareness will grow and so give you more time to create a good situation.

  • Look ahead. If you are walking down a trail, try to look as far ahead as possible to see what is coming up. You can avoid sticky situations with other dogs before they even begin by moving to the side. This includes looking up and down – staying clear of those poisonous plants means one less expensive and stressful trip to the vet.
  • Use your hearing. Many of us live in busy cities and towns and this increases the ambient noise we put up with, and actually habituates and dulls our sense of hearing. Yet, we are really good at picking up noises that “just don’t belong” (e.g. a dog suddenly barking with intention). When that happens, trust your instincts. Take your time, and set up for success.
  1. BRING TREATS WITH YOU:

I never leave home with Zoom without bringing my treat bag that I use for teaching and learning new tricks! Treats, especially items that are high reward for your canine (for Zoom, this might be cheese or chicken), give you a lot of power to make a potentially terrible situation a little better. How many of us didn’t like visiting the dentist when we were kids? Once the dentist brought out the sucker jar when they finished, those little ones would leave with a big smile (or at the very least, stop the waterworks and vocal cord workout!).

The same can happen for a dog. Just like us, they will carry “baggage” from experiences in their lives. These experiences shape them and create the dynamic personalities we can see when we compare brothers and sisters from within a litter. If the worst happens when a situation occurs, one of the simplest things we can do after we have removed them from danger is give a quick task request for a behaviour they can do in their sleep (e.g. sit) to get their focus back to you, and then reward them like you have never done before! Yummy treats, happy faces, a favorite toy, lots of petting, and even some distracted goofing around can immediately help your canine off the “red zone” cliff and get them back on track to “happy land”!

It is important for us as caregivers, and our canines, that we can go about our daily lives without undue stress and fear. Past encounters can be traumatizing to both, but avoiding the outdoors or other people and dogs doesn’t do either you or your canine any good. By knowing our dogs and understanding our environment, we can plan ahead to make every situation as positive as we can. Each positive encounter gives our furry friends and us motivation to continue to grow and the mental strength to work through new and exciting situations… with treats, of course!

Want help understanding your canine? If you might be feeling discouraged because you just can’t seem to keep your canine off the “red zone” cliff, contact me anytime to talk about how we can get you and your dog get back on track and back into your community!

Jeeter and Zoom

Jeter and Zoom

 

 

Zone Of Comfort: Make the Most Out of A Stressful Situation

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dockjumping

At Canines By Design we talk a lot about T.A.P. for success, setting-up-for-success, redirection, and proofing.  But one aspect that we have yet to discuss on the blog is working within the “zone of comfort.”

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:

shield-learning

  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) (2014).  Fight-or-Flight Reaction Definition.  Retrieved from: http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fight-or-flight+reaction.  Accessed on: July 1. 2014.

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.