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.

Be Prepared: Canine “Bug-Out” Bags

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Zoom's Bug Out Bag!

              Zoom’s Bug Out Bag!

Earlier this week, Napa County and surrounding areas in northern California had a very shocking and terrible experience. An earthquake, which peaked at a 6.0 magnitude, shook houses, wrecked property and was reported to cause injuries to a number of people – all in the middle of the night. My heart goes out the families and businesses of Napa and Sonoma counties who were affected. It was a wonderful home and community to be welcomed into for our three years there, and I know the good people of NorCal are, if anything, survivors!

Waking up to a strong act of Nature such as an earthquake doesn’t offer any time to pack or prepare to leave for safety. The surprise factor is unfortunately part and parcel of most natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, tornadoes and hurricanes are very real possibilities in our lives and, while we do not often have much warning, there are a few things we can do to prepare now for the potential of worse to come.

The Napa earthquake hit close to home for me as, just months ago, we would have been living in one of the affected areas. It got me thinking about my emergency preparedness for my family, including my canine. Many people talk about “bug-out” bags, or bags purposely packed with supplies and important documents that are ready to grab and go when emergencies hit. We often put cash, medication, clothes, water and snacks in a bag so we have the basic items to help get us through power outages, closure of stores and banks and a lack of fresh water. Many will think this might be overkill, but for those that have been in disaster situations, a “bug-out” bag can be a lifesaver.

There is no reason that we can’t apply this same preparedness for our canines. Creating a basic “bug out” bag for our pets can and will decrease stress in already stressful situations. The last thing anyone needs during an emergency is to be running around trying to find your canine’s food or medication. Since Canines By Design’s focus is dogs, the below list is specific for them. However, there is no reason that these concepts cannot be applied to other species we have in our households. Here is what I’m putting in Zoom’s bug-out bag:

  1. Food: Whether it is kibble or cans, bring enough food for at least three days. (And a way to open the cans!)
  2. Medication: Any specific medication needed for your dogs. Zoom doesn’t have much, but I’ll be including Zoom’s tick and flea medication. Again, have multiple days’ worth in case you cannot return home for a refill.
  3. Water: Try to bring enough bottled water to prevent dehydration during the first 12 hours of an emergency. Infrastructure may not be working, or county water sources maybe tainted.
  4. Collapsible food and water bowls.
  5. An extra leash and harness in case you can’t get to the part of the house where you normally keep these items.
  6. Medical records: Have a printed or electronic copy of your canine’s medical record in case they are injured or you have to go to a different veterinarian than normal. Having their background information can greatly accelerate how vets can help you out in the event of an emergency.
  7. Have a basic first aid to help treat any injuries that could have been sustained during a natural disaster.
  8. Blanket: This can help keep your dog warm and can also help you treat shock or hypothermia if needed.

Note: Try to make sure your bag is in a good place you can grab easily and also make sure it isn’t too heavy. You don’t want to struggle with the weight of the bag. If your pet is going for a sleepover or a longer stay because you are out of town, drop them off with the bag and let the sitter know what it is for and why you have made it.

It doesn’t take long to create or keep a bug-out bag maintained (fresh food, water, and medication), so I would encourage you to set aside half an hour this week to plan one out. And if disaster strikes, you and your furry friend will be very happy you took a few minutes to plan ahead.

If you would like to share ideas of what’s in your bug-out bag, or you want to send pictures of the final result to our community, tweet them to @CaninesByDesign. And of course, I’m always here to answer any questions about your bug-out bag and what you can do to make sure you and your canine are prepared in the case of any emergency.

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!!?!

Nose to Tail Product Review: GoughNuts Toys

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GoughNuts.com Stick

GoughNuts.com Stick

At Canines By Design, we are always looking into new and exciting ways for you and your dog to interact and have fun. Both Zoom and I love checking out new products, games, puzzles, and gear that is geared for positive and safe experiences (and sometimes it’s hard to tell which of us geeking out more!).

I know I don’t have to look too far to find those of you who have a canine with some serious chewing power. I bet they are the kind of dog that has made those “indestructible” claims seem like a bit of a stretch. I also know that this… enthusiasm can make finding appropriate toys difficult, expensive and, frankly, distressing when yet another product fails miserably.

GoughNuts, LLC has created a line of safe dog products, made in the USA, that have specifically catered to the needs of champion chewers. Alongside Mechanical and Polymer Engineers, Goughnuts has developed products made of high quality materials with wear indicators to let caregivers know when the toy’s integrity has been compromised. They also come with a multi-Axis Groove System to help prevent potential choking/air blockage, bite-strength statistics and a return/replace policy for both Canada and the U.S.

Products with these types of considerations make canine safety a top priority, and GoughNuts makes sure customers know it when visiting their website. They go into detail about how to properly size their products based on your canine’s size and also give detailed information about when it is time to remove the toy to ensure your pet stays safe. They make a range of GoughNut Sticks and Rings with different bite strengths and sizes for both small/medium and large dogs, and have also recently released a tug toy and a ball design that follows their strict “Safety-First” policy.

Nothing is indestructible – this is always part of our environmental enrichment discussions with clients. Playtimes with toys should be monitored, especially with strong chewers. Developing safe and enriching spaces means working with the specific personalities, needs, and behaviours of each individual dog as well as all the variables (such as durability and budget) introduced in each case to strike a balance between an entertaining space and a safe one. No one wants to lay on a tile floor in a bare room with nothing to do! The GoughNuts company is helping this process for us all, by ensuring that the products they develop, produce, and promote already encompass major components of canine safety.

Always research your canine-related products. While those that offer bargain prices and multi-packs may seem enticing to those of us who have canines who don’t seem to know their own strength, the level of ingredient control and quality in these products can be quite varied. While I can offer many examples of dog-related surgeries due to the ingestion of toys and other materials in the environment, I thought I would post one that we will all be dealing with right now as it is BBQ season and we are all on the hunt for what we think is a deal: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2014/07/07/woman-hospitalized-by-cheap-bbq-brush.

 

 

 

 

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.

Keeping a Canine Health Record

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            Canine allergies are a very real problem, a fact that was made very apparent in a recent webinar I attended. Forty percent of dogs are hypersensitive to fleabites, many suffer from seasonal allergies, and up to 10% of the population suffer from food allergies. Just like an allergic response in our human bodies, the release of histamines creates a reaction in our dogs. For us, it often causes itchy, watery eyes and a sniffly nose; for canines, the number one allergic response is itching. To complicate matters further, of those dogs with seasonal allergies, 80% will also show hypersensitivity to fleabites, and those with food allergies can also display gastrointestinal issues such as cramping, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting.

These stats only begin to cover the complexities of allergies in canines, so caregivers and veterinarians are left in a quandary… without more testing and detective work to determine root causes (and so attempt to eliminate those negative reactors from the canine’s life), treating the symptoms as they arise may seem like the only option.

So question: What if there was an easy step that we, as caregivers, could take that would allow us to track their health, follow changes in their daily lives, and even act as an early warning system and help us determine patterning? There’s a surprisingly simple answer: Keep a canine health record!

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            Taking notes about your dog’s life may sound laborious and, frankly, overkill. Before you discount the idea, you might be surprised to discover just how much habitual information you already keep track of on a daily basis. Most caregivers can, off the top of the head, tell you in great detail about the day their dog just had: the number of times they went for a walk, their quality of playtime at dog park, their, ahem, regularity of bowel movements (yes, you know it’s true!). Even being able to “interpret” particular behaviours as being part of the norm, or being unique and even strange for that day, engaged canine caregivers are more aware of their dog’s daily life than they might initially think.

Your canine health record doesn’t need to be fancy – it could a simple as a ruled notebook, or a blank 12-month calendar. Not every detail needs to be recorded. As I just mentioned, we have an amazing ability to recall normal day-to-day activities. What is important is to record the changes and variations to these activities. No difference is too small either, so these changes could be things like:

  • Being woken up in the middle of the night because your pup is itching frantically.
  • Finding a hotspot during your daily dermal inspection.
  • Coming home from work to a little present in the form of their undigested breakfast sitting on the floor.
  • Noticing your dog’s paws are red and inflamed after playing at the local park.

As you build up a record, you will be able to see trends in behaviours and health. Using the red, inflamed paws as a health-related example, if you noted this occurring more frequently during a particular month, or time of year, then you can begin to get a greater understanding of the potential impacts. Behavioural anomalies can be recorded in the same way. Canines are not one dimensional, and lead very dynamic lives. Maybe you find that there is one particular dog in the neighborhood that doesn’t get along with your canine. Recording these events will allow you to reveal a pattern, if any, and can contribute to identifying the root cause versus just “treating the symptoms” through avoidance or physical aids.

A large part of the educational experience offered at Canines By Design is learning the nuances of the dog world and canine language, and applying that understanding to you and your dog’s particular situation.  By arming yourself with a detailed record of events, you can take an active, informed role in your dog’s core mental and physical wellness. Think of it like an insurance policy: the information you have gathered can act as an early warning system for potential swings and major changes in health and mood, and will help you and your canine set up for success.