5 Important Tips for Socializing Your New Puppy

So you know you’re supposed to socialize your new puppy but you just don’t have time in your schedule for a puppy class. Don’t worry; by following a few simple rules, you can keep your puppy safe while making sure he has the experiences he needs to become a well-adjusted member of your family.

First, get your treat bag on! Purchase or make a treat pouch and get in the habit of wearing it everywhere. Every morning when you measure your puppy’s breakfast kibble, put most of it in a bowl or foraging toy and put a portion of it in your pouch to use during the day. When you take your puppy places or plan to expose him to things that may be scary, add some special treats to the bag such as tiny pieces of boiled chicken, string cheese, or soft, chewy, commercial dog treats.

Second, take your puppy with you everywhere that you safely can. Avoid allowing your puppy to walk in areas where dog of unknown health status may have traveled, so no pet stores or dog parks!

Do take your puppy through the drive-thru at the bank or fast food restaurant and allow him to see you talking to and interacting with people outside your car.

Do take your puppy to visit friends and family members, especially if they have well-behaved, well-vaccinated dogs, other species of animals, and family members of all ages and types.

Third, reinforce your puppy with a piece of kibble or other tasty treat every time he experiences something new and shows any interest at all. If the puppy acts concerned or startled when experiencing something new, don’t force him to explore further; just be patient and wait. You can toss treats closer to the object or person so that he is reinforced for being brave. It is important that it be the puppy’s choice to investigate!

When meeting unfamiliar people, stop and give your pup a treat. If he shows an interest in approaching the new person, allow the pup to approach (you can tell the puppy “Go say hello”) and allow the person to give your puppy another lower-value treat. This teaches the puppy to associate good things with meeting new people while also helping to teach some self-control.

Do praise your puppy, but never scold regardless of how your puppy is acting. Scolding is never helpful if puppy is afraid, and increases the chance of making the puppy afraid of you! If you feel a puppy’s behavior is inappropriate (your puppy is overly excited and ignoring you, or is fearful and distressed), remove him from the situation quickly but calmly and use a happy, upbeat tone of voice to try to distract him or draw his attention back to you.

Fourth, keep these same ideas in mind at home and think about giving your puppy the opportunity to experience new things in a very careful and considerate way.

For example, when it is time to vacuum, don’t just begin vacuuming around the puppy while he is confined to his crate and expect him to get used to it! First bring out the vacuum cleaner and, without turning it on, allow your puppy to explore at his own pace and eat treats that you slowly toss closer and closer to the vacuum cleaner. When you first turn it on, turn it on at the lowest setting with the puppy across the room, to keep from scaring him. Taking it slow and associating the big scary machine with yummy treats is the best way to teach your puppy there is nothing to fear. If you don’t have time to do this, place the puppy in a safe place out of hearing or visual range of the vacuum while you clean the house until you do have time to make this experience a positive one.

Expose the puppy to other household appliances, different flooring, gadgets, machinery, bicycles, umbrellas, and anything you can think of in this same careful way. The more positive experiences the puppy has during the first 4 months of life, with the greatest variety of people, places, and things, the greater the chances that the puppy will grow into a dog with fewer signs of fear and anxiety when confronted with novel situations.

Fifth, place an Adaptil Junior collar on your pup and replace it every thirty days for at least the first three months. Adaptil Junior, a collar made just for puppies, is impregnated with dog appeasing pheromone, a pheromone that mother dogs produce during the time that they are nursing their puppies.1

In one study, half the puppies attending puppy classes wore an Adaptil collar and the other half wore a placebo collar. At 1, 3 and 6 months later, the puppies who had worn Adaptil collars demonstrated signs of being better socialized than the puppies who wore placebo collars. They showed fewer signs of fear or anxiety when exposed to unfamiliar people, novel objects, and other situations that often result in fear in poorly socialized dogs.2 Wearing an Adaptil collar may help puppies develop into adult dogs who are better adapted to day to day life in a typical busy human household.

References

  1. Pageat P, Gaultier E. Current research in canine and feline pheromones. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2003: 33;187-211.
  2. Denenberg S, Landsberg GM. Effects of dog appeasing pheromone on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long term socialization. JAVMA 2008: 233;12.

Preparing for a Disaster with Pets in Mind

I grew up on a farm in Iowa, so preparing for spring severe weather and tornadoes was normal. We had dogs, barn cats, horses, and other livestock to keep safe, so we had to have a plan. Everyone in the family knew what to do even before the weather radio siren went off. Our animals and livestock weren’t just left to fend for themselves because we cared about their safety just as much as we cared about our own.

It is critical for people to become familiar with the types of disasters that could affect them and consider options for providing care for humans and pets. Every storm or natural disaster is unique, so advance planning for a variety of scenarios can make all the difference when it comes to safety and recovery.

It’s equally critical that you pay attention to your pets’ emotional wellbeing during this stressful time. A calm pet who can adapt to stressful and unfamiliar surroundings is far less likely to escape or become destructive during evacuation, in a temporary shelter, or in a hotel.

The Practical Basics

State Farm®  has great practical resources to help you and your family prepare for the worst case scenario. Here are a few of their recommendations:

  • You will increase your chances of being reunited with pets who get lost by having them identified.
  • Make sure your pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date contact information.
  • Microchip your pets. Always be sure to register the microchip with the manufacturer and keep your contact information up to date with the microchip company.
  • Purchase a pet carrier for each of your pets and write your pet’s name, your name, and contact information on each carrier.
  • Prepare handouts with identification information and a photo in case you are separated from your pets.

Pet Evacuation Kit, AKA ‘Bug-Out Bag’

Prepare a disaster kit for your pets so evacuation will go smoothly. When making the kit, think about your pet’s basic needs, prescriptions, and paperwork:

  • Documents, medications, and food should be stored in waterproof containers.
  • Leash, collar with ID, and harness
  • Appropriate-sized pet carriers with bedding and toys
  • Food in airtight waterproof containers or cans and water for at least two weeks for each pet
  • Food and water bowls and a manual can opener
  • Plastic bags for dog poop and a litter box and litter for cats
  • Cleaning supplies for accidents (paper towels, plastic bags, disinfectant)
  • Medications for at least two weeks, instructions, and treats used to give the medications

The documents you have on hand should include:

  • Photocopied veterinary records (rabies certificate, vaccinations, recent FIV test results for cats, prescriptions, etc.)
  • Registration information
  • Recent photos of your pet
  • Contact information for you and friends or relatives
  • Boarding instructions, such as feeding schedule, medications, and any known allergies and behavior problems
  • Microchip information

The Emotional Basics

Plan ahead to bring some familiar items for your pet when evacuating. The scent and feel of their regular bedding, food, and toys can be a big help in preventing distress.

Preparing your pet for potential disasters will also help provide that important sense of familiarity. Make sure to give your pet treats and toys in their crate or carrier long before disaster strikes.

Sheltering During an Evacuation

Don’t wait until it’s too late  to evacuate, and make sure your pet’s emergency kit (and yours!) are easily available. Make plans before disaster strikes for where you and your pets will go. Be aware that pets may not be allowed in local human shelters unless they are service animals.

You can contact your local emergency management office and ask if they offer accommodations for owners and their pets. You can also visit the Humane Society of the United States website to find links to websites that can help identify pet-friendly lodging in your area or along your evacuation route. Another option is to contact local veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, and animal shelters, as well as family or friends outside the evacuation area.

Whether in a shelter, a hotel, or the home of friends or family, do your best to provide a routine for meals and walks. Predictability is very helpful in easing dogs and cats through stressful situations.

If at all possible, try to work a little play and training time into that routine. It’s a great stress-buster for your pets and for you.

Remember that your pet will be experiencing fear, anxiety, and stress, so don’t push him or her into interactions with unfamiliar people and pets.

Remember, too, to manage your own emotional state. Dogs and cats can pick up on our emotions, so if you’re calm, chances are much greater they’ll be less prone to anxiety over the inexplicable disruption to their lives.

What to Do if You Are Separated from Your Pet

Make sure that your human family and any other pets are in a safe location before you begin your search. Immediately call the microchip company that registered your pet’s chip to make sure all the information about you and your pet is updated and current for anyone who finds your pet and scans his or her chip.

If you are in a shelter that houses pets, inform one of the pet caretakers of your missing pet and give them your pre-made missing pet handout. Once you have been cleared to leave the shelter and return home, contact animal control about your lost pet. Many online resources are available to search for a lost pet as well.

Remember: The better prepared you are for a disaster, the better the chances your human and animal family will come through it healthy and together.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

How to Know If Your Cat Is Happy

September is Happy Cat Month. It’s a special celebration created by—who else?—the CATalyst Council. The organization’s purpose is to help spread education and awareness about the health, welfare, and importance of our companion cats.

Is your cat happy? We talked to an expert, as well as several cat-loving humans, about how to know if cats are happy and what makes cats happy.

Body Language

In general, we know that cats are happy when they show a relaxed body posture—sprawled on their back, for instance. Their eyes are a normal shape and the pupils aren’t dilated. Ears are alert, not laid back or to the side.

“If they’re walking toward you, their tail is straight up like a flagpole,” says Debbie Horwitz, DVM, a veterinarian who specializes in pet behavior. “Those are generally happy kitties.”

What Cats Like

Every cat is different, so what makes him or her happy can vary. Some cats like to sit on your lap, while others snuggle next to you. Playful cats enjoy engaging in interactive games, such as batting at a fishing pole toy or chasing a ball that you toss down the hall. “I think they like us being around,” Dr. Horwitz says.

Cat lovers agree. Their cats all have different activities that they enjoy and different ways of expressing their happiness.

Moo, a three-year-old Exotic Shorthair adopted by Dee Dee Drake, is a fan of being talked to. “She loves conversation,” says Drake, executive director of Calaveras Humane Society in California.

Basil, a therapy cat and Bissell vacuum model in Oregon who owns Tina Parkhurst, loves breakfast and making visits to nursing homes and hospitals. Making people happy is what makes this orange-and-white tabby happy.

Feeding time is important to her cat Lucy, along with a lap to sit on and a sunny window seat, says Katherine Williams of Albuquerque. Williams’ other cat, Lilu, enjoys chasing a feather, having a perch where she can observe birds, and chilling in a box that is just the right size for her.

A box might seem boring to us, but to a cat it’s something new and different. “A lot of cats like novelty,” Dr. Horwitz says. “Being inside something different makes them happy. Climbing and exploring makes them happy.”

If you’re not sure what makes your cat happy, simply watch and learn. You might be surprised to find out what she loves.

Kitty Quality Time

To celebrate Happy Cat Month, the CATalyst Council suggests spending some quality time with your feline. Here are some suggestions:

Fill a food-dispensing toy with part of her daily food allotment and show her how to use it. Letting a cat “hunt” for some food is a good way to exercise his brain and body.

Teach him some tricks. Contrary to popular opinion, cats enjoy the challenge of learning. Sit, high five, come, and jumping through a hoop are all fun tricks to teach cats.

Establish at least one predictable playtime daily. Just a couple of minutes at the same time each day will have your cat looking forward to your special time together.

“Every cat is a little bit different,” Dr. Horwitz says. “I have two kittens who are litter mates, and it’s amusing to see how different they are in their approach to novelty, what they like, how much attention they want, how much petting they want. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules for making cats happy.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Choosing Pet-Friendly Flooring for Your Home

Pets can be hard on floors, and floors can be hard on pets. Fortunately, manufacturers of flooring have responded to create a whole range of pet- and family-friendly flooring options. If you’re building or replacing your floors, it’s time to shop for some great new products.

What should you look for in a pet-friendly floor?

Non-Slip

This is really important for dogs, especially older dogs. Older dogs can feel unsafe and insecure on slippery floors. If you choose non-slip floors, they’ll be safer for your human family members as well. Carpet is naturally non-slip but has other problems such as lack of cleanability. The following floors are more cleanable and can be purchased in non-slip options:

  • Luxury Vinyl Tile (LVT). This is a popular and rapidly evolving product. LVT is vinyl manufactured to look like other finishes. It is often manufactured to look like wood, and it can be very convincing! This product, unlike most laminate flooring, can be non-slip.
  • Tile may not be the first product you think of when searching for a non-slip surface, but many tiles work very well. Today’s manufacturing processes allow for tiles that are both non-slip and cleanable. Our favorite tiles are porcelain because they’re durable and much more affordable than they used to be. When choosing a tile floor, choose one with a matte finish, as floors can look slippery to pets and people, which can cause anxiety.
  • Softer floors such as non-slip sheet vinyl or rubber flooring can be great for pets. Rubber floors are ideal because they are soft to walk on, are naturally non-slip, and are sound reducing. Vinyl floors must be carefully selected as there are as many low-quality commodity products as there are high-quality products.

Visit a large residential showroom and explain your needs for a pet-friendly non-slip floor, focusing on the above products, and have the salesperson select some that meet these criteria. When evaluating flooring, architects use a measure called “dynamic coefficient of friction” or DCOF. You will want a product that has a DCOF of at least 0.42 as this is the most up-to-date standard for a non-slip surface.

Cleanable

If you have pets, you have messes. All of the products mentioned above are easily cleanable. However, there are some other precautions you can take to make mess clean up easy.

  • If you use tile, seal the grout or select a high-performance grout.
  • Choose a wall base with a simple shape so it is easy to wipe clean.
  • Use products and methods for cleaning that are approved by the manufacturer of the flooring, so you get the best performance out of the flooring.

Comfortable

All of these hard surfaces make for a home that can be a bit stark. It is important to add some comfort elements for your feet and to create places for your pets to lounge. Ruggable is a manufacturer of family- and pet-friendly rugs that go right into the washing machine. They have large vinyl backings to keep messes contained, and they look nice as well. Carpet tiles also work well. They can be disassembled, cleaned, and put back in place, which makes cleanup a breeze.

With careful floor material selections, your home can be pet friendly and easy to take care of. Take time to look at a lot of floor products and select the ones that keep your furry family safe and comfortable. These products will make your whole family happier and more relaxed at home.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Do You Walk Your Cat? Protect Your Feline Friend from Outdoor Risks

Koshka Hellqvist wanted a nice time at Boston’s Binford Park with her two Abyssinian cats, Jake and Angel. Jake, a certified therapy cat, was experienced at walking on his leash. Angel was shyer, but still willing to explore. But several dogs were running around free, against Boston’s leash laws. Without warning, a Rottweiler mix appeared by the cats’ stroller. Instantly, Hellqvist grabbed the dog’s collar, and yelled for the owner. The owner hooked up the dog’s leash, but not before she and Hellqvist had a few words. Fortunately, no one was injured, but it was enough to rattle any responsible cat parent.

While taking a cat out on walks, either around the neighborhood or on hikes, can be a great form of enrichment, it’s not without dangers: off-leash dogs, loud noises that might cause a startled cat to bolt out of her harness, the possibility of injury. Is it possible to keep your cat safe when you are out together?

The truth is, accidents can happen anywhere, even inside your home. Whether you are just outside your front door or trekking through nature, it’s important to take precautions to keep your cat safe. If you are properly prepared, it lessens the risks significantly and makes your outings nearly worry-free.

Risk Aversion

Annie King, a Fear Free certified veterinarian who often goes on outings with her cat Emmylou, says a good harness that fits well is the number-one priority. A cat startled by an approaching dog or a loud noise such as a car backfiring can squirm out of an ill-fitting harness in the blink of an eye and be extremely difficult to catch. A snug-fitting harness is a necessity. Test how secure the harness is long before you ever leave the house.

Always take a safe space. Bringing a carrier on outings can be unwieldy, so many people who go out with their cats have backpacks that are made especially for pets. Connie Lipton, who frequently takes her cat Max on trails or to local parks, says she and her husband always take his backpack with us so he can go inside quickly or we can put him in quickly if there’s danger. Alpine, who belongs to Amida Kuah, understands that the backpack is his safe space. “If we meet a big dog or he gets scared he will jump back into the backpack himself,” she says.

Some people prefer a stroller for city or urban treks. That was the answer for Hellqvist while she lived in Boston, and Jacoby was even nicknamed “Stroller Cat” and gained a bit of local fame. Another idea for short walks and lighter weight cats is a pet sling, which is convenient for taking your cat shopping at pet-friendly stores. No matter what you choose, always keep your cat in her harness and leashed up.

Always be aware of your surroundings. “When hiking with Emmy, I am constantly scanning our environment, on the lookout for off-leash dogs or other dangers,” Dr. King says. When you are out with your cat, you are functioning as her bodyguard, and her safety should always come first.

You may also want to educate yourself on which plants you encounter are either toxic to or safe for cats, so you can keep away from dangerous ones. The ASPCA has a helpful resource here.

Cat Senses

Pay attention to your cat. “They have better senses than we do,” Dr. King says. “Emmylou often hears or senses possible dangers well before me. If she hunkers down or moves to hide in the bushes, I start looking for the reason. Sometimes it’s just other hikers, but often it’s a dog or other concern that needs to be monitored.”

Dogs will probably be your main concern. “Off-leash dogs have been our biggest safety challenge on trails in our area,” says Dr. King. “We carry a can of citronella spray to use as a deterrent in an emergency. It’s safe for the dog but should discourage them from harassing us. Luckily, I haven’t had to use it since I bought it!”

Many, but not all cats, are wary of strange dogs. Max is one of them. “When we are in the neighborhood park he may see a dog in the distance and just want to crouch down and watch what he’s going to do,” says Lipton. “We try to be patient with him and not make him get up to walk until the dog is out of sight and he’s ready.” Even cats who are friendly toward dogs (and vice versa) should never be allowed to interact with them out in the open. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Always carry a first aid kit. This isn’t so crucial on short treks, but the longer your outing is, the more important it is to be prepared. “We had a scare with a yellow jacket near about three miles deep into the woods,” says Dr. King, “so I always carry Benadryl with us when we hike!” In addition to a first aid kit, carry the phone numbers and addresses of the veterinarians nearest your location.

Keeping your cat safe while you are out with her takes some preparation and planning, but the enrichment and bonding potential makes it well worth the effort.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Keeping Pets With Seniors Who Love Them

New Mexico resident Theresa Kline is active and independent at age 81. But after her beloved Westie, Abby, passed away last year, she wondered if she should get another dog. Would having a dog tie her down? And what would happen to her pet if she became ill?

Still, Kline missed canine companionship and voiced her conundrum to her daughters, who promised to make arrangements if she could no longer care for the animal. So this March, she adopted Sage, a quiet 6-year-old Shih Tzu. She’s glad she adopted the sweet dog.

“What he loves best is walking,” she says. “By seven o’clock in the morning we’ve done a 20-minute walk.”

Social Connection

Pets like Sage can play an important role in the lives of seniors. In fact, research shows pets are important for healthy aging, according to Steven Feldman, director of the nonprofit Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI).

“One of the real benefits is social connectedness. We know that social isolation and loneliness are growing challenges for older individuals in society,” he says. “Pets help not just by directly providing companionship, but also by connecting us with other people. When pets facilitate the connection to other people, we make more friends and these friends form a stronger social support network, which is important as we age.”

Have a Plan

Unfortunately, problems arise when a senior must give up a pet to move into an assisted living facility that doesn’t allow animals, or if caring for a pet on a fixed income becomes a financial burden. These are common reasons why cats and dogs wind up in shelters.

Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D., and executive director of The Grey Muzzle Organization, a nonprofit that funds programs that help older dogs, said an increasing number of grantees are working to help seniors keep their pets by providing low-cost medical care and preventive services.

“It’s absolutely ideal for the pet and their person to remain together,” she says.

It’s also crucially important for all of us – no matter our age – to have a plan for caring for pets should we be unable to do so, she says. The Grey Muzzle Organization worked with attorney Debra Vey Voda-Hamilton to encourage pet lovers to develop a “MAAP”:

  • Make a plan outlining the care you would like to have your pets receive.
  • Address each of your pets and their unique needs.
  • Appoint at least three caregivers; only one can be a family member.
  • Publish your plans and keep them readily available.

“Planning ahead is the most effective strategy to ensure your beloved companion doesn’t end up in a shelter,” Dr. Lunghofer says. “In addition to appointing caregivers, you might also consider a pet trust from which the trustee disburses funds or property to the caregiver who will then use them to care for the pet in the manner you’ve laid out in the trust.”

If you or a senior you know are facing financial challenges in caring for a pet, look into local resources that can help. For instance, Knox PAWS in Knoxville, Tennessee, provides senior citizens with assistance getting to veterinary appointments and buying pet food. Lionel’s Legacy Senior Dog Rescue in San Diego, California, offers grants to people over 60 to help cover emergency medical care, annual exams, food, and supplies for pets.

Caregivers should also research pet-friendly assisted living facilities in case of future need. If that’s not an option, try to find a facility visited by therapy animals, as that can ease the transition and help seniors cope with having to rehome a pet.

In the meantime, Dr. Lunghofer encourages seniors (and younger folks, for that matter) to consider adopting a senior pet. Older animals are typically housetrained and require less exercise than puppies and kittens. Often, animal shelters and rescue organizations will waive or discount the adoption fee for people over 62. Plus, it’s a meaningful thing to do.

“Opening your heart and home to a senior dog is a deeply rewarding experience. Older dogs who have lost their families are especially grateful for a second chance to love and be loved again,” she says. “And people who have adopted senior dogs tell us they would do it again in a heartbeat. Senior humans, in particular, talk about how important their senior dogs are to them. Many say their dogs give them a reason to get up in the morning and are their best friends.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Fostering Tiny Felines is Fun and Rewarding

Want to save a cat’s life with only a short-term commitment? Consider fostering a litter of kittens. In summer, shelters are overrun with kittens, often with multiple litters coming in daily. In many shelters, young kittens need feeding and care ‘round the clock, care that understaffed shelters are unable to give. Without volunteers and foster homes to care for them, kittens may be euthanized.

Fortunately, many shelters and rescue groups are banding together to make sure the little lives are saved. That’s where volunteers come in.

Foster families allow shelters to place kittens in homes where they can get special care or simply make room for other animals in the shelter. It’s also a great way to prepare kittens for family life, from the presence of dogs and kids to the sound of a vacuum cleaner. Fosters commit to caring for kittens, bottle-feeding them, stimulating them to urinate and defecate, and keeping them warm and cuddled. Depending on the kittens’ age, fostering can last for two weeks or two months, until they are old enough to be spayed or neutered and adopted.

All you need is a room that’s safe for kittens and easy to keep clean. A guest bath is usually a good choice (keep the toilet lid down!). The shelter or rescue organization provides formula, bottles, pee pads and other essentials. Useful items to have on hand include a postal or kitchen scale to be sure that kittens are gaining weight and a heating pad topped with towels to help them stay warm.

Shelter staff provide care and bottle-feeding lessons before sending you home with a litter. For instance, kittens should have all four paws on the ground and their head level to make sure formula doesn’t go down the wrong way. They’re available to help if you have questions or problems.

The best part? Spending time and playing with kittens to help them learn to love people.

If you’re interested, contact your local shelter or cat rescue group and ask if they have a bottle-baby program. The emotional rewards will fill your heart to overflowing.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Taking Your Dog? Check With Him First

It sounds like a fun idea to take your dog to the monthly art gallery walk downtown, the outdoor patio of a dog-welcoming restaurant, or for a ride in a kayak. These activities may seem safe and fun for you, but to your dog, they can be downright scary.

How can you tell if your dog is up for an adventure or prefers to be a homebody? For answers, we turned to a trio of dog experts who have logged thousands of miles and attended hundreds of activities with a dog or more.

They include Carol Bryant, president of the Dog Writers Association of America and a professional pet blogger/writer who travels all over North America with Dexter, her Cocker Spaniel; Maureen Patin, certified professional dog trainer and founder of What A Great Dog training centers in Richardson and Frisco, Texas; and Cara Armour, former Pet Sitter of the Year for Pet Sitters International who competes in top levels of agility all over the United States with her Boxers, Debbie, Walter, and Phoenix.

We caught up with Armour during her recent 15-hour drive back to her home in Bolton, Massachusetts, after she and her dogs competed in Indianapolis. Her dogs dozed happily inside their individual crates fitted on racks bolted into the floor of her Toyota Sienna to and from the competition. Each dog’s crate included comfortable bedding, favorite toys, and water in non-spill containers.

Go Slow and Plan Ahead

“Don’t set up your dog for failure by trying too much too fast,” Armour says. “Before you decide to take your dog on a road trip, first start by having him in your parked car in the driveway. Open and close the door, click and treat for welcomed behaviors and signs of calmness. Then take a short drive in the neighborhood, checking your dog’s emotional state, and gradually increase the distance over time.”

Bryant’s dog, Dexter, has joined her on adventures since he was a puppy. Bryant conditioned Dexter to road trips early on, starting with helping Dexter view visits to the veterinary clinic as welcoming places.

“We would drive Dexter when he was a pup to the veterinary clinic just for social visits and we did the same with the groomer so Dexter got to view these places as happy places,” says Bryant. “We started small and built up the duration of our trips. We always tell him what a good boy he is and rely on distractions. I carry a favorite squeaky ball of his that acts sort of like his ‘security blanket.’ He sees it and lights up and everything is okay.”

She also exposed Dexter to what she calls ‘practice rounds” before making a major road trip. These include going to a local park to play fetch, visiting a friend’s house, or going for ice cream – all trips under one hour.

“Make the arrival to these places seem to your dog like the best thing since the invention of poop bags by celebrating and telling your dog what an awesome pooch he or she is,” Bryant says.

Know What Your Dog Is Telling You

Patin oversees a staff of two dozen certified dog trainers at her What a Great Dog centers where the focus is on using positive, reward-based training methods. She enjoys traveling with her own dogs, Roo, Jax, and Zeke.

“If you see signs of stress or fear in your dog, the kindest choice you can make is to get him out of the environment that is frightening him,” says Patin. “Physical clues like a lowered head or tail, continually visually scanning the environment, and a reluctance to move freely are extreme examples of fear. Other more subtle clues include stress panting, sweating paw pads, excessive shedding, or a furrowed brow.”

Patin emphasizes the importance of considering your dog before dashing off to a dog-welcoming place or event.

“Many dogs enjoy being on the go with their people, but not all dogs enjoy all activities,” she says. “It is important to respect your dog’s emotions. You know your dog will be safe with you at a festival, but your dog doesn’t know that. The strange noises, vehicles, strange dogs, and strange people can be completely overwhelming and really frightening to your dog. Fear is one of the worst emotions for a human or animal to experience. Think about the last time you were truly afraid. It is a dreadful feeling.”

One way to gauge your dog’s emotional state is if and how he accepts a treat in those places.

“If your dog, who normally loves treats, shows little interest in them on an outing, that’s a clear indicator that he is under stress and likely experiencing an uncomfortable level of fear,” says Patin. “You’ll know your dog is happy to be somewhere if you see a loose body and curiosity about the surroundings. You should be able to easily get his attention when you call his name and have him happily take a treat with a soft mouth.”

Parting advice: know how your dog will act in various settings and situations and have an exit plan. Even though Armour travels all over the country with her Boxers, she quickly learned the trio are not ideal candidates to walk to a dog-friendly outdoor café.

“My dogs behave well at agility events and open fields, but I’ve learned that I cannot walk all three downtown because they will bark and lunge,” says Armour. “Each one is wonderful being solo walked downtown, but the pack mentality kicks in when all three are together, so we avoid doing this. I love the connection I have with my dogs and always want to do what is necessary to ensure the adventure is safe and welcoming for them.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

5 Tips for a Fear Free Vaccine Appointment

If your pet (or you) get stressed out when heading to the vet for vaccines, these five tips can help make the trip free of fear, anxiety, and stress for both of you.

1. Be an Example

Your pet is more likely to be calm if you are. If you’re stressed out before the vaccination appointment, your pet will feel your anxiety. High-pitched praise and rushed demeanor can quickly transfer stress to your pet, so try to keep a soft, calm voice and give yourself plenty of time to get to the office.

2. Transport With Care

Condition your pet to car trips with short drives around the neighborhood. Provide positive reinforcement by rewarding good behavior with treats. Your pet’s carrier should be sitting flat, preferably on the seat behind the passenger seat and covered with a towel to reduce stimuli. A non-slip surface in the carrier is crucial. Be sure large dogs are safely harnessed in the car as well. Stick to quiet, calming music, which some pets find soothing.

3. Take Advantage of Treats

Using treats to calm your furry friend may be more effective if he or she isn’t visiting on a full stomach, so if medically appropriate give a very light meal the day of the visit and don’t feed much several hours before the appointment. Fear Free Certified® veterinarians may use treats like peanut butter to soothe your dog during examinations or vaccine administrations.

4. Utilize Synthetic Pheromones

Calming pheromones can be applied to the towel or liner of your pet’s carrier with a simple spray. Synthetic versions of natural chemicals may help soothe stressed pets; separate varieties are available for cats and dogs. Fear Free Certified veterinarians often continue the use of pheromones in their office and on their clothing.

5. Partner With Your Veterinarian

Communicating all questions and concerns to your veterinarian is the best way to ensure your pet receives quality care and has a comfortable experience every time.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Help Your Puppy Grow Up to Be a Happy Dog

Looking at that cute little puppy face, you can’t imagine loving him more than you do right now and you certainly can’t imagine loving him less! But raising a puppy can be hard work. The “new” wears off fast after several nights of waking at 3 A.M. to let the puppy out, or cleaning up soiled rugs or worse, losing a pair of good shoes to those damaging puppy teeth.

Here’s the good news: If you can let the power of the cute balance out the hassles, those early months will fly by. It can help to think of the hard work that first year as an investment that will pay off over the next 10-15 years of life with your best friend.

Regardless of the specific joys and challenges you face with your puppy, you will never go wrong if you keep a few basic rules in mind.

First, praise the puppy every chance you get! For example, every time you see your puppy chewing on his own toy or a bone, tell him he is a good dog. Every time your puppy walks up to you and sits down, tell him he is a good dog. Every time he eliminates in the grass, tell him he is a good dog. Make a pro-puppy fashion statement and wear a treat pouch whenever you’re together, giving him a tiny little tidbit of a treat at the same time you praise him. This really reinforces to the puppy that he has done something you like.

Just as important, you want to avoid punishing y our puppy in any way for things that he does wrong. This means not yelling at him or even saying “No!”. Remember, puppies have no concept of right or wrong.  They only do what feels good for them.  They will repeat the behaviors that get rewarded. Punishing them can be confusing, frightening, and anxiety-provoking, all of which are emotional states that interfere with your puppy’s important task of learning.

Even worse, punishment can severely damage your bond with your puppy. Imagine if you were a foreigner in a strange land and you were yelled at every time you tried to greet someone by shaking their hand. You’d be very puzzled at first, and eventually you might be scared of these strange and unfriendly people who didn’t want to shake your hand. In fact, they would respond to your attempt to greet them by shoving their face into yours, which confused and scared you even more. You might conclude these people were hostile or at least incomprehensibly odd!

But what if they simply belonged to a culture in which people greeted each other by rubbing noses or bumping foreheads? You not only didn’t speak their language, you had completely different cultural expectations and habits. Imagine if someone had, instead of ignoring you or slapping your hand away or acting as if you were behaving strangely, tried gently to demonstrate how they say “hello” in this unfamiliar place!

That’s the situation with your puppy. He has expectations formed by his experiences up until the day you met him, and they may well be at odds with the ins and outs of living in his new family. It’s up to you to set up to succeed by placing him in situations where he can perform the right behaviors, then to praise him often and avoid punishment.

A second important rule to remember is to never force your puppy into a situation where he’s demonstrating fear. This is more likely to make a fear worse not better.  If your puppy is already showing fear of things that he sees or experience on a regular basis, you should reach out to your veterinarian and see if working with a positive, qualified trainer or seeing a veterinary behaviorist is a good idea.

Also consider placing an Adaptil collar on him during this socialization period. Adaptil Junior, a collar made just for puppies, is impregnated with dog appeasing pheromone, a pheromone that mother dogs produce during the time that they are nursing their puppies. It has been shown to have a calming effect and decrease some of the signs associated with fear and anxiety.1,2,3

You may also want to consider a puppy socialization class. A puppy socialization class can help teach your puppy how to cope with the novelty that he may experience as a part of his daily life. Adaptil Junior has also been shown to help puppies attending a socialization class develop with less of the fear and anxiety associated with poorly socialized puppies.4,5,6

For a lifetime of joy with your puppy, put in the time and effort now!

References

  1. Gaultier E, Bonnafous L, Bougrat L, et al. Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation-related disorders in dogs. Vet Rec 2005;156: 533-538.
  2. Mills DS, Ramos D, Esteller MG, et al. A triple blind placebo controlled investigation into the assessment of the effect of Dof Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) on anxiety related behaviour of problem dogs in the veterinary clinic. AABS 2006;98:114-126.
  3. Pageat P, Gaultier E. Current research in canine and feline pheromones. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract 2003: 33;187-211.
  4. Gaultier E, Bonnafous L, Vienet-Lague, et al. Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromones in reducing stress associated with social isolation in newly adopted puppies. Vet Rec 2008;163:73-80.
  5. Gaultier E, Bonnafous L, Vienet-Lague, et al. Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromones in reducing behavours associated with fear of unfamiliar people and new surroundings in newly adopted puppies. Vet Rec 2009;164:708-714.
  6. Denenberg S, Landsberg GM. Effects of dog appeasing pheromone on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long term socialization. JAVMA 2008: 233;12.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.