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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lose that stress TODAY! How? Pet a Dog!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References:

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

Redirection and Canine Attention: Putting It Together!

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Zoom waiting for whats next!  @caninesbydesignOne of my favorites, if not THE favorite training tool I love to use when working with, and educating canines and their caregivers, is the power of redirection. Redirection can be defined here as moving our canines attention from one object, thing, or stimuli in the environment to another another in a deliberate fashion to help them succeed at a particular task or in a particular situation.  This can help decrease tension felt in certain situations, help maintain order when multiple dogs are around, and offer a fantastically positive way to keep your canine engaged with you when working with them in stimulating environments or in new situations when distractions are everywhere.  But why use redirection?  Why not other techniques we may have seen on TV or read in a book?  I already gave you the hint, and it is the link between positive experiences and redirection, but lets look a little bit a where redirection fits into the realm of psychology and that might help explain it!

It’s common in modern training circles to hear about Operant Conditioning, including the four quadrants of operant conditioning and how they apply to modifying, changing and creating canine behaviours. I hope I haven’t lost you yet… if you stick with me as I break down the concept, I promise it will be the best move you ever make in your relationship with your dog.

Psychology (and Parenting) 101

Operant conditioning is a keystone concept in psychology. It is brain/psychologyone of the fundamental topics taught to university students attending classes ranging from introductory to clinical psychology, and is also being taught to new puppy parents at their first training session. Founded by Burrhus Frederic (B.F.) Skinner, his approach was to understand behaviour by looking at the causes of an action and their consequences. The basis to his findings was that behaviour that was rewarded after it was completed would be more likely to occur again. Behaviours that were not reinforced would become weakened and eventually removed (or extinguished) from one’s behavioural repertoire. In other words, a positive outcome leads to increase of rewarded behavior, and an outcome in which the desired result was not achieved, leads to decrease of behavior.

Skinner focused on reinforcement and punishment, which are the outcomes of behaviours that are likely to affect their occurrence later, and created four quadrants of these outcomes: Positive and Negative Reinforcement and Positive and Negative Punishment. To keep things relatively simple here, we will condense the four quadrants into two: (1) Reinforcement, which leads to an increase in a behaviour and (2) Punishment, which leads to a decrease in a behaviour in the future.

Reward and punishment are terms that we have experienced in our own upbringing. Did you receive a “favorite dessert” for cleaning your room? Your parents were practicing operant conditioning. Specifically, a type of reinforcement in which something positive is added (dessert) to increase the chances that a behaviour (cleaning your room) will happen next time.

dog treats reward

Turn a Negative Into a Positive

Quiz time: What part of Skinner’s theory seems out of place with what I’ve been writing about these past few weeks? Your answer should be along the lines of… “I thought we were to always keep things as positive as possible and nurture our bond with our canine?” and “wouldn’t that mean the punishment quadrant shouldn’t even be there?” Well, you would be correct!

We will all encounter situations where our furry friends are misbehaving, putting themselves in dangerous places, or doing something wrong. This is where I would like to introduce you to a very powerful word, and way of thinking: Redirection.

Redirect is defined as “to change the direction or focus of” (Dictionary.com, 2014). As a fundamental focus at Canines By Design, I propose that we replace the word “correction” with the word “redirect,” removing negative interactions with our dogs (such as scolding them or physically correcting them with a leash) when addressing their behaviours.

It’s Not as Hard as You Think…

You are going for a walk with your canine and working on heeling and keeping slack in your leash. One block up, your neighbour turns the corner and continues up the same route in front of you. Now all your dog wants to do is pull out in front to hurry up and go say hi to their friend. Old school (and outdated) technique would tell us to use physical touch to correct them, using a butt-tap or backward force on the leash. What you are doing here is correcting their behavior by adding something negative (collar correction) for pulling ahead. Instead of adding negativity to the situation, add redirection instead.

Redirection would be to use a command or behavioural response currently in the canine’s repertoire to change their leash pulling into a proper on-leash heel. For myself and Zoom, I could say “touch,” which is his cue to turn to me and touch my open palm with his nose, or “look at me,” which is his cue to make eye contact with me. In either case, the situation has been turned from a negative one where your canine isn’t listening or walking nicely with you, to a positive one for both. Zoom would stop pulling (which makes me happy) by performing a command (which makes him happy because he gets praise for doing something right).

The Future of Training

Using redirection instead of negative corrective techniques requires patience and practice. However, keeping it positive, calm, and working progressively through these situations without negative influences (caused by adding punishment) will only help to strengthen the bond between caregiver and canine, and promote a very healthy working relationship.

I would love to hear about your experiences using redirection and positive reinforcement in your training journey. If you would like more information on positive training methodology and how redirection can change how you interact with your canine, I would be happy to start that discussion with you.

#caninesbydesign http://www.caninesbydesign.ca

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References:

Dictionary.com (2014). “Redirect”. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/redirect. Accessed on: April 1, 2015.

Don’t Forget to check out the other Canines By Design blog posts such as T.A.P for a better relationship https://caninesbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/t-a-p-a-better-relationship/, and Proofing, https://caninesbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/proofing-what-is-proofing-and-what-to-proof/.  Canines By Design helping canine communities succeed!

Doggin It… I mean Bloggin It For a Year! Keep on Waggin!

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Today marks the one year anniversary of the Canines By Design blog, and actually, really, the one year anniversary of starting my adventure writing and sharing information with the world about my experiences with canines.

A very supportive family and amazing post-secondary academic experiences helped catalyze the dream of starting my own business that focuses on improving canine lives in our community. There is academic literature being published on a fairly regular basis now that surrounds canine welfare and behaviour and it is up to those of us that have decided to be a voice for canines to continue to learn and help spread this knowledge into our communities.

Canines By Design has created quite a little following of people over various social platforms in the last year, and I wanted to thank all of you for the support and interest in reading what I put up here.  I like to think our little community is drawn together by our like-mindedness towards canines, and our desire to learn as much as we can so that we can be there for them just like they always are for us.

Our positive and inclusionary approach with our canines will become the societal norm, replacing older beliefs with academic proof. Canine behaviour and welfare will stop being a “mystery”, and everyone will be able to share in the benefits of canine companionship!  Spread the word!  Change is a happenin’! 🙂

So THANKS for reading!  And THANKS for the support!  But Most of all, THANK YOU for loving your canine(s)!

Keep checking back each week as Canines By Design continues to explore all things Canine!  ~woof~

Came across this video of dogs underwater in slow motion! Enjoy!

Paws First: Considerations When Getting A Dog

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

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

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

Time:  

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

Puppies

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

Rescues

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

Remember…

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

Cost:

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

One Time Costs

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

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

Annual Expenses (12-15 years)

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

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

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

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

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

Lifestyle Impact:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Nose to Tail: Canines By Design Product Review: Ruffwear® Booties!

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Ruffwear GripTex Booties and Web Master Harness.  Photo from gearfordogs.com

Ruffwear GripTex Booties and Web Master Harness. Photo from gearfordogs.com

Wet, snowy, muddy paw prints… ah, the joys of oncoming winter! With much of Canada and the United States enduring cold, wet weather for up to 8 months at a time, we can’t exactly just press pause on our normal routines and wait for a better day. Kudos to all you weather warriors – rain or shine, sleet or snow – we get on our gear and get our canines out to play, walk and run. I do want to give a special shout out to our canine companions here: While we usually have appropriate footwear on for snow or rain, our canines head out on the bare paws their momma gave them!

Paws are amazing things; incredibly engineered and designed to work. I could write an entire article about their physiological design and how incredibly robust they are… but that wouldn’t get to what I’ve found to help you, and your canine, with those extra-extreme weather days. I would rather introduce you to a company and product line they offer that will not only help with cleanup each time you come back from a messy outing, but also help your canine paws guard against the extreme cold, irritation from being constantly wet and dirty and exposed to man-made items such as snow melt, cut pads or webbing, and even help those dogs prone to yeast infections.

Ruffwear®, Inc. is a company that, according to their website, is inspired to keep people and their canines enjoying their outdoor pursuits, whatever the climate, and since 2000, have been creating functional dog products. You might be interested in their high visibility jacket for your canine so you can be safe on dark wintery night runs. For those of you with extreme adventuring dogs, they do make a harness designed specifically to allow you to lift and lower your dogs safely while out mountain climbing. Ruffwear® thinks outside the box when they come up with new products and, I find, their final piece is always well engineered and does just what they say. Check out their website to view their expansive product line.

Ruffwear Snow Trex Boot.  Photo courtesy of www.ruffwear.com

Ruffwear Polar Trex Boot. Photo courtesy of ruffwear.com

With all that said, I want to focus on Ruffwear’s dog boot line. You might be thinking “a whole line”!? Yes, they make three different boots for three different purposes. They sell them as a set of four, or individually if you need to replace a lost or worn out one. For Northerners that find themselves in deep snow or on ice, their Polar Trex™ boots are a great option. With a secure buckling system and built in insulation, these boots are designed to stay on and provide traction and warmth for both short and longer outings on the ice and snow.

Does your dog have dewclaws up front and on the back? Their Bark’n Boot Liners™ can enhance the fit of the boot if your canine’s legs are thin, and also make putting on the boots a cinch since the dewclaws and other pads are already in the sock!

Polar Trex Boots and Omnijore Ruffwear Harness System.  Photo from blessthisstuff.com

Polar Trex Boots and Omnijore Ruffwear Harness System. Photo from blessthisstuff.com

For less snow but still cold climates, where our canines might be playing in muddy or frosty parks, running on wet rocks and shells at the beach and walking over ice melt (or other abrasive/caustic surfaces), their lighter duty Summit Trex™ Boots might be the right fit. They are great for everyday traction needs and for runs on the bike path.

GripTex Boots in Action!  Photo courtesy of ruffwear.com

GripTex Boots in Action! Photo courtesy of ruffwear.com

If you are like me and other West Coasters that are owned by their adventurous dogs, we tend to find ourselves on a mix of surfaces. Muddy trails, wood chips, beaches with sharp rocks and shells, and the occasional jaunt on concrete… the Grip Tex™ boots answer the call. With a robust Vibram® outsole, these boots will make sure that your canine is sure-footed and safe no matter what their day brings along.

Determining functionality and purpose is so important in a marketplace being blasted with new companies and concepts everyday. We want products to do what they are being sold to do: to work and to perform. Ruffwear boots meet these expectations and, in many ways, exceed them. Best of all, their boots can be washed and air-dried so they are clean and ready for the next adventure!

I wasn’t paid or incentivized by Ruffwear® to write this. I just believe that they are doing the right stuff when it comes to canine focused products. Check out their “find a retailer” to locate a dealer close to you. I can’t wait for Canines By Design to have a store in Victoria! When it happens, this is definitely a company you will see well represented on my shelves.

Please contact me at jeremyryder[@]caninesbydesign.ca if you have questions or comments about Ruffwear products or this blog post. Happy Trails!