Wednesday, June 29, 2022

It's That Time of Year...AGAIN!

It happens every year.  As we approach the end of June, I start receiving frantic phone calls and emails from clients whose dogs are terrified of loud noises, so they are wondering what to do on the 4th of July.  There are certainly no quick fixes for the problem of noise sensitivity, but there are some things you can do to ease your dog's anxiety and discomfort during fireworks. 

1.  Don't get angry or frustrated.  If your dog gets anxious, your frustration will just reinforce their anxiety.  Be kind, supportive, and proactive--get them out of the situation as quickly and confidently as possible.  They need to see that you aren't anxious or upset as well; you will get them to safety without panicking yourself.

2.  If you know your dog is noise sensitive, just assume that fireworks displays, even in the distance, will be too much for them.  Keep them indoors and use fans, TVs, stereos, white noise machines, etc. to help blot out the booming sounds.  Close drapes and windows as well.  Your dog will likely still be able to hear the fireworks, but they will be greatly muted by these actions easily taken by you.

3.  If your dog is really panicky, get them into a bathroom and close the door.  Bathrooms tend to be very well-insulated from sounds.  Turn on the bathroom fan and sit with your dog if you like. Bring a book and just hang out.

4.  Don't let your dog outside to go to the bathroom without wearing their collar, ID tags, and a leash.  If they panic and get away from you, you want that collar and tags on them so that you will be quickly contacted when they are found.  I've known more than one dog to panic and jump the fence in their yard without tags on the 4th of July.  It goes without saying that having pets chipped is a lifesaver too if your dog gets loose and is picked up and taken to a local shelter or veterinary hospital.

5.  While we only have a few days left until the 4th, you can also try some desensitization exercises with your dogs to prepare them, IF their anxiety is mild (desensitization exercises are unlikely to work on the profoundly anxious). This is particularly useful for new dog owners who have not gone through a holiday like the 4th of July with their pet previously and don't know if their animal will be sensitive to the lights/noises.  Bring up the sound of fireworks on your computer, phone, or on the TV.  Start at a very low volume and gradually increase the volume, helping your dog to see that this is no big deal. Use treats, toys, and fun distracting games to redirect them.  Keep in mind that real fireworks are about sound AND lights, so these exercises really only work on the sound component unless you are using your TV and your dog actually pays attention to it!

6.  You can certainly try a Thunder Shirt for your dog, although most people find that they have limited success with just using that alone.  Same for DAP, dog appeasing pheromone, plug-ins and collars. These tools may be helpful in conjunction with the strategies outlined previously.

7.   Phone your veterinarian to talk about an anti-anxiety medication just to get your dog through this holiday.  You will, however, want to stay away from any medication that makes your dog woozy as that will just increase their anxiety; you will want to work with your vet to pick a drug that actually makes them tired so that they are more likely to just sleep through the holiday.  Keep in mind that you will need to contact your veterinarian today as most take a few days to fill prescriptions.

8.  Probably the most important thing you can do is talk to your neighbors.  Let them know that you have an anxious dog and enlist their help.  If your immediate neighbors can resist the urge to set off fireworks, that will help your dog immensely.  Unfortunately, even in counties where fireworks are illegal, you'll still will have people using them.

9.  And finally, many people have had success giving their pets CBD based oils and treats to reduce anxiety and promote calmness.  If you'd like to learn more about this holistic alternative, visit

Ozzie and I will be spending the 4th of July with my daughter and Westley, while Desi will be spending it at home, relaxing with dad. None of our collies care about fireworks; even Westley who doesn't like garbage truck sounds is fine with fireworks!  Nonetheless, we will all be home enjoying the day off together. 

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and I hope everyone has a safe and happy 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

When Your Dog is Choosy

I've been working with this client for about a year and a half. She rescued a dog during the pandemic and he's been a work in progress.  He no longer lunges and barks at other dogs on walks and he isn't afraid of strangers; he can now go to restaurants with his owner and walk the local trails.  He doesn't, however, enjoy meeting new people, really only showing interest and affection to his owner.  This has her greatly concerned as she's not sure how she can safely leave him when she has to travel for work, or if she wants to vacation somewhere that doesn't allow dogs. She isn't the first client I've had who is the center of her dog's universe.  While at first this can feel so wonderful, knowing a dog appreciates you and is interested only in spending time with you, but that devotion does come with a price.  

While most dogs love their owners and are devoted to their families, they are also open to forming new relationships with other humans, whether that be a housesitter, dog walker, or a daycare provider. Some dogs are nervous around new people, but will accept them, to varying degrees, if those new people are also attached to a dog.  That is, there are some dogs who will only trust a human who can prove that they already have an established relationship with another dog.  Thus, some dogs do better at boarding and daycares where they can be in the company of other dogs who do enjoy the people around them; they accept those human caregivers simply because the other dogs around them do.  For dogs who don't really like other people outside of their owners, this situation can work when they need to be gone for long periods of time either for work or vacation.  But what about those dogs who don't like other dogs AND don't really like new people?

For dogs like my client's, it is important to try to find at least one person the dog will trust in your absence. This could be a neighbor, relative, or friend, but does need to be someone the dog could be left with (or better yet, who can stay in your home when you're gone), when you aren't there.  If you don't have anyone in your life that you can get to fill this role, you will have to spend some time interviewing housesitters until you find one that your dog will accept and trust.  This could take time, so you need to plan for that accordingly. 

My client has always worried that her dog's social network is so small, really only including herself, a couple of friends, and a few dogs that he can relax around and enjoy.  While I understand her concern, it isn't really a requirement that her dog like other people or other dogs.  While dogs are sociable creatures, and definitely group living, their group can be very small, even just them and their favored human.  A lot of dogs hate dog parks, don't enjoy daycare, and hide in their crates when their humans have visitors.  There is nothing wrong with those dogs!  If your dog is aggressive toward other dogs or people, yes, that is something that you need to address. But if it is just that your dog avoids interacting with other dogs or unfamiliar people, that's okay.  I've said it before, but it bears repeating; not all dogs are social butterflies.  

I know my client is also worried about leaving her dog home alone all day, since he hated daycare and dog walkers when she tried those options.  But here's the thing: He's happy at home.  He goes in and out of his crate in the kitchen, uses the dog door to go out to the yard to relieve himself and hang out in the sunshine or shade.  He doesn't have accidents in the house, and is perfectly happy just being in the gated kitchen area with yard access. He doesn't bark incessantly, whine, cry or behave destructively.  I was so sure of this that I had the client set up cameras to prove that he was indeed content in her absence with this arrangement.  She watched him from work three days in a row and she never saw him happier than that, with one exception being those times when they were home together.  He wasn't pining for her while she was away at work as she had feared that he would be. He also wasn't bored, choosing to work on his Kong, chew on his bone, nap in his crate, or explore the yard.  He was content keeping his own company until his owner returned.  No need to seek out other solutions for the days she works or feel guilty when she wants to dine out with friends without her dog, he'll be just fine. 

I've had many clients over the years ask if I thought they should get a second dog to keep their homebody dog company when the humans are gone.  This always cracks me up as the only reason to ever get a second dog (or third, or fourth, for that matter!) is the fact that the humans would like additional dog companions.  Most dogs are happiest living alone with the humans, having all of those desired and coveted resources to themselves, without any other canine competition. For many dogs, bliss is being the only dog in the house!

So, don't feel guilty about returning to work or wanting to go out without your dog.  Find the solution that works best for your dog when you need to be gone, whether that's for a few hours, or for days at a time.  And remember that you don't want to push your introverted dog to do traditional boarding or daycare if that will cause undue anxiety.  Finding a good housesitter may be a better idea, even if your dog ignores the housesitter the entire time you are gone.  You are the center of your dog's world and he doesn't necessarily need anyone but you.  As long as he lets that person you've brought in take care of his basic needs, you're fine and they're fine. Just because your previous dog loved daycare and the dog park and would take treats from anyone they met doesn't mean that all dogs are like that.  Dogs, like people, are individuals.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

These two love spending time together, but are also just fine alone.  While they love when Westley is here, they are fine when he leaves.  They love when family and friends look after them while we are gone. While I think Desi would be fine in a traditional boarding environment, Ozzie is less comfortable with that scenario, so having housesitters for them is key to keeping them both happy and stress-free.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Hot Fun in the Summertime!

Did you sing along with the title of this week's blog?  I just couldn't help myself. I'm getting a little light-headed and goofy during the warm weather!

Previously, I talked about why it's important to groom your dog to remove hair and dead skin cells which could inhibit their ability to "fluff up" and stay cool during the warm days of summer.  While cooling mats to rest on, along with cooling vests and collars to wear on hot days, can really help to keep your dog's core body temperature in the safe range, what else can you do for them to keep them cool and entertained when it isn't safe to walk them?

My collies love "pupsicles" and they are easy to make.  For a sweet version, pour liquid yogurt or kefir into popsicle molds, adding diced strawberries or blueberries for texture.  Place a piece of bullystick into the mixture in place of a popsicle stick.  For a savory version, use bone broth or low sodium chicken or beef broth, adding diced carrots or zucchini for texture.  And if you don't give your dogs bullysticks, try a piece of chicken jerky instead as a popsicle "stick."

Ice cubes are something that a lot of our dogs enjoy and are actually a great way to slowly rehydrate an overheated dog.  Contrary to popular belief, the risk of cracking a tooth on an ice cube is fairly low, so don't hesitate to make ice cubes fun for your dog!  Try using old-fashioned ice cube trays, adding strawberry pieces, blueberries, or bits of carrot to each cube before freezing.  This makes it more fun getting that ice cube broken as it results in an extra treat!  

Take those ice cubes a step further by floating them in about an inch of water in a child's plastic wading pool.  Your dog can stand in the pool (a great way to cool them off as you are cooling them fast through their feet!) and bob for ice cubes.  Be sure to supervise this activity as dogs, like children, can drown in a very small amount of water.  This is, however, a great way to cool a small, brachycephalic dog, in particular.

If your dog isn't a fan of the wading pool, simply place the ice cube into a Kong or even a bullystick holder.  This gives them something to hang onto while working on the ice cube, and creates another level of engagement with the cool treat.

Finally, add in some cool, low-calorie fun to those interactive puzzle toys by freezing blueberries and using them instead of (or in addition to) the kibble and small treats you are already using for those toys.  

Alright, time to go make those pupsicles for my collies.  As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie isn't a huge fan of the wading pool and getting his feet wet, 
but he does love pupsicles, and even plain ice, on a hot day!

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

When You Feel Overwhelmed

I started working with a new client this week.  She told me more than once that she was feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with the (often unsolicited) advice she'd received from family, friends, and neighbors, and overwhelmed with what she had read online (she described it as feeling like Alice falling head first into that rabbit hole!). When I was collecting the history on her dog, I was frankly a bit overwhelmed too.  She'd tried so many different things, sometimes in combination, other times by themselves, it was truly a wonder that she hadn't made things worse for herself and her anxious dog. When she completed the history, she burst into tears.  I felt awful for her and for her sweet dog, who just happened to be curled up next to me on the couch, all 90 pound of him.  

There has been a lot of research done on how best to educate and assist pet owners dealing with behavior problems.  The bottom line seems to be that pet owner compliance increases with the ease of the suggestions made, meaning if the changes are easy to implement, pet owners are more likely to try them.  It's also the case that pet owners will often seek and follow advice given to them from less reputable sources IF that advice is, once again, easy to follow and implement.  So what does this mean for someone like me?  It means that I do my level best to provide you with the quickest, most efficient path to the result you are looking for.  I always try to support my methodology and advice given with the science behind those methods, but I try not to bog people down in the science as that's often where pet owners' eyes glaze over.  I like to give people the option to hear more about why the methods work IF they want that, but for those who just want to cut to the chase and move their pet past the issue, I can do that as well. So, why am I telling you all of this and how does it relate to my new client with the anxious dog?

I'm sharing this with you because I want you to be successful and I want your pet to be happy, less anxious, and thrive in your  home.  What works for one pet owner may not work for another, and I always take that into consideration when working with clients.  I also take into consideration what you tell me you will be able to do. It does me no good to make suggestions to you that you feel you will be unable to do, for whatever reason.  The goal is a happy pet, not that you did it *my way* per se. Sometimes I have to devise treatment plans that are less than ideal from my point of view, but which are plans that pet owners can, and more importantly, will actually do.  You want to make forward progress with your pet, not endure more setbacks, and so do I.

With regard to my new client:  We needed to start all over from square one.  While some of what she had tried with her dog did have value, she had not implemented those strategies with any consistency, leading her to assume she wasn't getting any results.  Because she is someone who loves a schedule (and we already know our pets love schedules and predictability too), I helped her to work out a daily schedule she could follow, both to exercise her dog's body and his mind.  By implementing shorter walks, she would be able to avoid that common pitfall of "I don't have time to take him for a walk," and get him out on leash.  By adding in play with a flirt pole or some backyard agility and parkour with items she already had, we could get her dog some additional physical exercise when the owner felt she didn't have much time, or didn't want to walk herself.  While I was there, we ordered four, interactive food puzzle toys  to rotate daily instead of feeding her dog from a bowl.  An easy way for her to add in mental stimulation without much effort on her part. Finally, I taught her T-touch so that she could build her relationship with her dog, even while she's on long phone calls with overseas clients or stuck in Zoom meetings.  Using T-touch will be relaxing and stress-reducing for her as well as for her dog!  And that was it.  While I know that there are other things I could suggest that would help this dog, we needed to start with simple, straightforward, easy-to-implement suggestions so that this owner and her dog could experience some success.  Once they have that foundation, my hope is that she and I will meet again and we can take those next steps to really help her anxious dog enjoy life more. It's always better to start with just a few, easy changes rather than trying to overhaul it all.  Trying to do it all in one session, and make every suggestion, may result in a pet owner feeling overwhelmed and ultimately doing nothing.

The bottom line?  You don't have to just live with behavior problems.  You also don't have to feel overwhelmed when you do try to make changes. It's my job to provide you with the best options for your pet that will work for you as well. I will always want you to do everything I suggest, but I am also realistic enough to know that that will not always be the case. Better to come up with a plan together that works for everyone, right?  

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Getting help shouldn't be painful for you or for your pet.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Hot Dogs

No, not the kind you eat, the kind you walk on the end of a leash! Whenever we walk our collies in the summer months, we always get asked why we don't shave our collies to keep them cool.  Many will ask why we cut Westley's hair, but not Ozzie and  This is when we stop in the shade and explain the difference between a Smooth Collie and a Rough Collie.  Most people are fascinated to learn that not only can both varieties be born in the same litter, but both have a double coat!  Collies aren't the only double- coated dogs though; Huskies, Shepherds, Golden Retrievers, and Newfoundlands are all double-coated as well, just to name a few.  Double coated dogs have an undercoat with finer, fluffier hairs that are close to the skin and a tougher, outer coat of guard hairs that help protect the double-coated dog from insects and the elements.  That's right, having both of those layers of coat protect the double-coated dog from harm.  There's a reason you don't shave a double-coated dog and that is the fact that not only will doing so not help them stay cool, but doing so will actually make it *harder for them to cool off.*

I don't believe in shaving any dog for the summer unless the dog is a haired breed whose coat needs to be cut as it continuously grows.  Even still, keeping a slightly denser cut on a haired dog will help them to stay cool when it's warm outdoors and vice versa, as well as protect them a bit more from insects and sunburn.  Double-coated dogs should only be shaved if your veterinarian has advised you that it is medically warranted.  If you do shave your double-coated dog you will need to be even more vigilant about keeping them cool as they won't be able to puff up their outer coat to trap cooler air close to the skin.  They will also be more exposed to the sun, risking overheating, sunburn, and even skin cancer. If your veterinarian has had you shave your dog for medical reasons, you can use cooling vests and canine sunblock to protect them when they are outdoors and fans, cooling mats, and the A/C to keep them cool when indoors. 

Keeping your dogs well-groomed is one of the best ways to keep their coats doing the job they are designed to do.  Regular brushing, pulling out loose hairs and dead skin cells, which is imperative to helping any dog keep cooler. Regular grooming is particularly important for senior dogs.  They will find it more difficult to thermoregulate than younger dogs and will need those regular grooming sessions to insure that their coats are free of mats and loose hair which will inhibit their natural ability to shake their bodies and floof up their coats to allow for unobstructed air flow. 

Now, if you follow Desi and Ozzie on social media, then you already know that we are battling foxtails and burs here in California.  Foxtails are a grass-like weed with barbs.  While even green barbs can get caught in fur, the dried barbs are the worst, literally going up noses, into ears, and between toes of unsuspecting pets.  These barbed nightmares can migrate once they are under the skin, causing drainage tracts and even heart and lung damage if they migrate their way there. While we do our best to avoid foxtails on our walks and hikes, avoiding the burs in our yard is a bit harder.  Conserving water in California means letting our lawn die back which results in weeds with seed pods that dry out and become small burs entangled in fur and stuck to the bottom of bare human feet :(  Because of this, I do use scissors to clip the fur between the pads of my dogs' feet and scissors and a razor to clip the fur on their legs to minimize how many burs they catch when they lay on the grass.  I also spray them with Mane n' Tail Detangler, originally designed for horses, to make it easier to get the burs they do pick up out of their coats before they create mats.  The nice thing about Mane n' Tail is that for a few days after application, the burs literally just fall off the dogs when they shake their bodies!

Stay safe and cool out there. Make sure you and your pets have water available on your walks and hikes and don't forget the sunscreen. Walking at off peak times will help you and your dogs stay cooler, as will fans and even wading pools filled with water for soaking feet and quick body cooling. 

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Ozzie and Desi resting on the dying lawn! You can see in this photo
 that I've clipped the fur on Desi's feet and legs.

The fur has been clipped on both collies' feet and legs 
to make these burs easier to find and comb out!