Minimizing Canine Anxiety: Steps to Take and Products to Try

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.

Ghosts, Ghouls and Drool: 7 Ways To Prepare your Dog for a Safe Halloween (+ Free Treat Recipe!)

Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Ireland Practicing Being A Ghost

Halloween is fast approaching! For many kids (and some adults too!), that means dressing up as their favorite superhero or Halloween character, lots of candy, and even a little spooking!  For our dogs, especially young puppies, or those that haven’t ever experienced this strange onslaught of the senses, Halloween can be as confusing and scary as a fireworks show!

Think about it: Costumes cover our faces and add weird appendages to our features, strange people come constantly to our front door and yell… loudly! Is it any wonder that many canines display strong anxiety to these things? We might also put our canines right in the thick of it, taking them for a walk or bringing them along as a companion for our little trick or treaters. Imagine what they must be thinking when they come across that scary witch or graveyard of skulls?!

I often talk about the concept of “setting up for success” and for occasions such as Halloween where costumes are meant to evoke strong and sometimes frightening emotions, this concept becomes very important. In the service dog world, we proof and prepare canines for many different scenarios and possibilities that they may encounter during their busy lives helping out their family. In controlled environments, we expose dogs to the lights and sounds of emergency vehicles, encourage volunteers to come dressed in their work clothes to bring along the smells of the community and we have very generous fireman and police officers take time to come to the facilities in full gear, to expose the developing puppies to funny helmets, gas masks, oxygen tanks, and utility belts covered in things that might look like toys. However, for the majority of “household” canines, their exposure and learning experiences are slightly different. Some have a very integrative life, are out in the community all the time (or as much as possible), meeting new people and new things. Others spend some, or all of their lives around a few houses, and the local park. For any dog, at either end of the exposure spectrum, going around the corner and coming face to face with a Yeti, or someone dressed up as our favorite martial arts turtle can be quite a shock, and can evoke emotion and behaviours that we have never witnessed or experienced EVER!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

You Thought I was Cute Before!!

So what can we do? Here is a list of things to keep in mind around the Halloween season and some ways to make All Hallows’ Eve as positive as possible:

For those of us with canine-enriched lives

  1. Have a good play with your dog at the local park or in your backyard well before you have to start handing out candy. Make sure their needs are met!
  2. Take them for a “business” run (pee and poop) before the trick-or-treaters are out and about. Usually it is still daylight at this point so you will also be less likely to be surprised by a costumed ghoul or ghost. Then take them out after when things have drastically calmed down and most, if not all, of the families have gone home.
  3. Usually someone stays at home to hand out candy. GREAT! Don’t leave your dog in the front room or by the front door unattended where they can be over stimulated by commotion outside and knocking/doorbell ringing. It also avoids any possible escape attempts.
  4. Set up a quiet and safe room for the canine. Put on the TV or turn the radio on with some nice easy listening, and pull the blinds over the window. For some, just running a fan in the room is enough white noise to block out stimulation happening at the front door. Make sure the room is safe for the dog, whatever their age. If they become stressed, they can act out on furniture, electrical cords, and doors. Set them up for success by minimizing dangerous items.
  5. If you are at the front door, take some time to check on them at a decent frequency. Reinforce their quiet behaviour with verbal praise and even the occasional delicious treat. (It is treat night for everyone else, after all! See below for a great recipe.) If they become anxious or unsure, spend some time to quiet them down and redirect these tense emotions towards a fun or happy thing. Get out their favorite toy or puzzle and have them work through it. Spend a little time running through their various commands so they redirect onto the task at hand, not what is going on outside.
  6. If your dog barks at the doorbell… Contact Canines By Design and we can help fix that, but for now, watch for people coming to the house or tape over the door bell with a sign to say “do not ring”.
  7. Make sure the candy and chocolate is out of reach from them. Also make sure that your children or guests know that the canine cannot have any “people” treats. Many kids like to spread out their candy on the floor to check out their “haul” after trick-or-treating. That’s fine… just maybe close the door to their bedroom first to avoid any canines snacking!

If you are out and come across a dog:

  1. Do not approach (even if you know the dog): Remember you are wearing a costume: Canines are very good at reading body language, facial expressions, and verbal language. We are running around having fun with raised/excited voices and covered faces (masks or makeup)… it doesn’t exactly give them a fair chance to assess the situation. If you have to go say hello, remove your mask and return your emotional level back to a relaxed and calm state before doing so. Even your own canine may second-guess that it is actually you when you are dressed up to scare!
  2. If you are going up to a house and you hear a dog barking from very near or right behind the door, turn around and head to the next house. While we want to give the benefit of the doubt to those caregivers, we cannot assume that the dog will be OK with us near their house and their people. They are already showing sign of arousal and they may make the wrong assumption and turn a fun night into a negative one.

MOST Importantly… Have FUN with your families this Halloween! While canines might not get the concept of dressing up and going door to door, they can still have fun and a delicious treat too! Try this easy recipe:

Simple Peanut Butter Pumpkin Canine Treats:


1 ½ cups Peanut Butter (Natural)

1 cup of 100% Pure Pumpkin Puree, canned. (Not Pumpkin Pie Filling)

1 ¾ cups Whole Wheat Flour


  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together peanut butter and pumpkin. Sift in the flour ¼ cup at a time just until the dough in no longer sticky.
  3. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment paper until it is about ¼” thick.
  4. Use your favorite puppy or Halloween-themed cookie cutter to cut the shapes. Place on prepared cookie sheets
  5. Bake @ 350 for 8-10 minutes (non-convection setting). Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container (2 week shelf life) or freeze for up to 3 months.
Ready To Hit The Town!!

Zoom and Ember Ready To Hit The Town!!

NOTE: I would like to thank Kathryn Koh for the photos she sent me to use in this blog post.  Kathryn is very involved with my school, Bergin University, back in Sonoma Valley, California.  She volunteers to take many of the beautiful pictures of all the Bergin dogs, she is an active puppy raiser, trainer, foster home, canine caregiver, and helps out the school anyway she can!!  Many Thanks from here in Victoria!

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


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:


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.


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.

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



Feeling Stressed? Pet a Dog!



Zoom- Happy Labrador Face

Happy Zoom, #caninesbydesign

Daily, 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 different 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.

Canines By Design wants to help you and your dog achieve the most out of your relationship. Whether it is attending one of our family-friendly education classes, utilizing our customized training and enrichment services, or finding out how integrating canines into your workplace can improve office culture and productivity, we are here help.


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.

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.

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.

One Health- Mills, D., Hall, S. (2014). Animal-assisted interventions: making better use of the human-animal bond. Veterinary Record. Retrieved from: Accessed May 20, 2014.

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.

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

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.




Don’t Sweat It: Dog Hydration and Thermoregulation


BerginU Masters Student’s Canine Beach Trip!

Continued change in the season brings with it renewed hope, and usually a blitz of people getting out, enjoying the public parks, and making up for the past few months of cool weather.

It is important that as we venture out, we remember that our furry friends will be noticing the heat as well, and it is important to take a few precautions to make sure everyone has great outing!


Just as we need to stay hydrated, it is equally as important for canines to as well. An easy way to see if your canine is getting dehydrated is to check their gums. Dull, sticky, pale or bright red gums can suggest dehydration, and wet, slippery gums is a good sign that your pup is still hydrated (NOTE: check before they take a big drink of water).

Pack enough water for both of you. This way neither of you has to risk ingesting the bacteria and pathogens that can be found in stagnant and even flowing water if you find yourselves in need of a beverage. If you aren’t fond of the idea of sharing a water bottle, bring one, or a couple, for each of you! Your furry little buddy can carry his or her own weight, so try using a properly sized canine carry pack. I always pack too much water as I want to make sure Zoom has plenty. I like to pack at least 2-3 liters with me for just him (78lb) if we are planning a beach day or a longer day in the sun.


Canines thermoregulate slightly differently than humans do. To put it simply, they aren’t as efficient at getting rid of excess heat and therefore can overheat! Humans have sweat glands distributed over their bodies. When our internal temperatures reach an unhealthy level, we sweat, bringing a process called evaporative cooling into play, helping to lower those temps back down.  Canines shed heat this way too, but through the surface of their tongue, the pads of their feet, and under heavy breathing, they can even use the surface area of their lungs to promote cooling. To compound the issue, our little buddies are also covered in fur. While fur works well as an insulator and will actually help keep the surface area of the skin cool in the summer and warm in the winter, dark colored fur works just like a black t-shirt and can promote heat absorption from the sun.  The same goes for particular breeds with duel density fur and really thick coats.  Once the body warms up from sun or exercise, the fur will actually impede the cooling process and keep them warmer than you would want them to be. This means as caregivers, we need to make sure that our canines don’t get too warm. Along with bringing water, make sure there is shade for your canine to avoid direct sunlight. Bring a beach umbrella in the car to provide semi-portable shade. This is also useful if you are trying to avoid your canine laying in long grass during tick season!  Also, bring a bandana (wrap it around your pups water bottle) with you that you can soak in water and tie around your dogs neck. Wrapping a cold, wet bandana around their neck helps cool the blood going to the brain through the carotid artery. This is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to help cool your dog off if there isn’t a nice lake or ocean nearby to take a cool dip in.

I will end today’s blog with a shameless product plug. With Zoom being a black lab who seems to run on the warmer side, living in California while going to school posed some challenges to keep him cool. While he loves his “kiddie pool cool-downs” in the backyard, we can’t bring the pool with us, so I tried to find an alternative. A forward thinking company called Ruffwear has come out with a cool product called the Swamp CoolerCooling Vest, which promotes evaporative cooling.  By soaking the product in water before use, you create a very large surface for evaporative cooling to work through that canines weren’t able to utilize before.  It comes in multiple sizes and helps you to ensure your canine is keeping cool on those hot summer runs and play sessions by being light in colour to help reflect those warm sun rays.   And if it starts to dry out, soak it again and off you go!

Being prepared is part of Setting Up For Success, and keeping things positive! Now slather on that sunscreen and go have some fun in the sun!! #caninesbydesign


Road trip! Travel happy and healthy with your dog



Since Canines By Design is traveling internationally this week, I thought I would take the opportunity to address some important points to consider when traveling with your canine and what you should prepare for.

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 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!

Check back next week to hear about our great CBD adventure abroad!

The Nervous Itch: How do I know it is Anxiety?



There is more and more talk in our world about the “dark side” of psychology.  By this, I am referring to psychological terms that are being thrown around to define a person’s state-of-mind, whether it be in a condensed time scale, such as the term “anxious”, or in a longer time scale, such as chronic depression. Diagnosis of these conditions in humans takes time, ensuring that particular criteria are met to prevent misdiagnosis.  However, misdiagnosis does occur, especially when unrelated diseases and conditions display similar symptoms.  The same is true in the world of canines.

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as: An emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes, like increased blood pressure (American Psychological Association, 2014).  The term anxiety is actually a blanket term for a large subset of mental behaviors and disorders, and, in humans, can range from social-related phobias, to obsessive-compulsive disorders, to separation anxiety (Mayo Clinic, 2014).

As in humans, canines will experience occasional anxiety as a part of normal life, but it is when these detrimental behaviours (e.g. irrational fear, excessive worry, destructive behaviours) begin to repeat and impact the quality of life of both canine and caregiver, that an intervention maybe needed. If you are feeling that your dog’s behavior seems abnormal or detrimental, it is best to respond proactively and contact your behaviour consultant or vet. However, it is important to analyze the frequency of these specific behaviours against your dog’s normal behavioral repertoire. You and a professional need to work together to determine as many of the contributing factors involved with the behaviour before he/she should be deemed as having an “anxiety issue.”

For example, I hear of behaviours such as destroying furniture, having inappropriate bowel movements, and excessive barking being linked with separation anxiety.  However, furniture chewing (a destructive behaviour) could also be related to a build-up of unspent energy. Excessive barking can be as simple as a lack of training, and abnormal bowel activity a health-related issue (e.g. infection).

It is therefore important that canine caregivers seek the assistance of a behavioral specialist to help determine what factors (e.g. lifestyle choices, frequency of the behavior, time of day, etc.) are contributing to (what is being thought of as) an anxiety-related issue and to ensure proper diagnosis.  In many cases a few changes to a dog’s lifestyle are all that may be needed for them to return back to their “normal” canine selves.  If in doubt, call your Behavioural Consultant, they are there to help!  And remember, always set your canine up for success!! Be mindful of your dog’s daily schedule, habits and preferences, remove temptations for negative behaviours, and ensure a happy home!

American Psychological Association (APA) (2013). Anxiety Definition.  Retrieved from:  Accessed on Feb. 10, 2014.

Mayo Clinic (2014).  Diseases and Conditions: Anxiety.  Retrieved from:  Accessed on Feb. 10, 2014.