Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hiking and Biking and Dog Parks...Oh My! Off Leash Safety

By Kate Dickson
Customer Care Coordinator
Brookfield Animal Hospital

The moment the temperatures rise above freezing, your dog is thinking one thing; DOG PARK! Dog parks are a great way for your pup to burn off extra energy, lose those winter pounds they may have gained and of course, to socialize. Socializing and exercise are key to help your dog stay happy and balanced, but keeping him safe during these activities is just as important. Whether you’re taking your pup on a long hike, a jog around the block or a quick jaunt to the dog park, there are certain steps and precautions you can take to make sure everyone has a good time and comes home tired, happy and ready to relax.

                When it comes to exercise, your dog’s body needs time to adjust to vigorous movement, much like yours does. Although you can see the eager look in your dog’s eyes when you say, “Wanna go for a walk?,” it’s best to ease him into a walking/jogging routine. Start small and give him plenty of time to rest up between active periods. Stay vigilant and take notice if your pet exhibits any change in gait, limping or damage to their paw pads. Gradually increase the activity level and you’ll reach your goal before you know it.

                When taking your pet on a trip, near or far, don’t forget to pack supplies for him as you would yourself. Extra water, a bowl, some snacks and an extra leash are just a few suggestions. It’s also not commonly known, but dogs can also get sunburned! It’s a good idea to apply some dog-safe sunscreen to your pooch before heading out, and reapply if you’re spending more than a couple hours in the sun. Always make sure your dog is wearing proper identification as well as a current rabies tag at all times, in case you get separated during your outing.

Adventures are sure to strengthen your bond with your pup, but never underestimate the power of good recall! Recall is the ability for your dog to come right to you when you call him, either using his name or another command. If you intend on having your dog off-leash in public, a strong recall is invaluable.

                Dog parks are a great tool for socializing your dog at any age, but keep in mind that the only supervision present is other pet owners. It’s a great idea to read up on some basic dog language to ensure your dog is having fun and behaving appropriately.  Dogs communicate in many different ways, but eye contact and body posturing are the easiest mannerisms to pick out. A dog in play is often loose and wiggly. Adversely, a warning sign for other dogs is stiff posturing and direct eye contact. An easy way to stop any potential issues before they arise is to simply walk in-between the two dogs, focusing on your dog and taking his attention away from the other dog. Dogs can absolutely get tired out and cranky, so know when it’s time to pack it up and head home.

Always be an advocate for your dog. You are the sole person responsible for their health, safety, behavior and well-being. Reach out to your veterinarian if you have questions about their health. Keep them well exercised in both body and mind and get the most out of your summer! 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fear of Summer Storms & Fireworks: How Do I Help My Dog?

Fear of thunder, fireworks, and other loud noises is very common in dogs.  It can be very stressful to watch your pet shake, drool, pace, and crawl into your lap whenever there are storms or fireworks.   Worse yet are the sleepless nights spent comforting your pet during nighttime storms.  In their panic, some dogs will damage the house and even hurt themselves.  These dogs are truly suffering and can be a danger to the house and themselves if they try to “get away” from the noise.  Noise phobias usually start out with mild behavior.  Unfortunately, they almost always worsen over time, so it’s best to address the problem as soon as you notice symptoms.

The good news is there are steps you can take to help your pet.

            1.   Ensure your pet has access to his “safe” location when you know of an impending storm.   Identify if there is a spot in the house that your pet retreats to during storms.  Often dogs will seek out a closet, their crate, or go under beds when panicked.  Be aware, however, that for dogs trying to “get away” from the noise, confinement in a small space may increase their anxiety.  Some dogs have been known to pull out teeth trying to bite their way out of a crate.  Background “white noise,” ear covers (e.g. Mutt Muffs®) and sound muting cage covers (e.g. Thunderhut®) might also assist in reducing the intensity of the dog’s response while eye covers (e.g. Doggles®) and room darkening shades may reduce the visual stimuli associated with storms.

            2.  Behavior modification takes time, effort and repetition. It is important to first train the dog to relax in its own bed or comfort area (safe haven) to be sure you can calm him before dealing with any storm. Providing a safe and secure environment where the animal has a sense of control and predictability is important to success.  Behavior modification relies on several treatment strategies:  desensitization, counter-conditioning, and relaxation.

If dogs react to thunder, they can potentially be desensitized by playing CD recordings of thunder noises, initially at a low level and gradually increased overtime.  However, many dogs’ fear is stimulated by wind, barometric pressure changes, lightning and rain. In these cases, desensitizing against many of these stimuli is not possible.  Other dogs can be counter-conditioned to the storm by playing with or feeding the dog treats while the dog is subjected to the low levels of the stimulus.  Dogs should not be punished for fearful behavior as it will only distress them more.   Instead, dogs should be rewarded for remaining calm and relaxed.  It’s best to begin training during times of the year when storms or fireworks can be avoided, so that the pet’s reaction can be improved prior to the next thunderstorm season.

            3.  For mild responses to noise, pheromones and compression shirts may help calm your pet.  Pheromones are naturally secreted by dogs into their environment and help them feel calm.  Synthetic pheromones, such as Adaptil brand products, can mimic this calming response.  Compression shirts that your dog wears, such as the Thundershirt, also can have calming effects.

            4.  Most dogs with noise phobias, however, need anti-anxiety medications to prevent them from injuring themselves and to help keep their behavior from worsening.   The behavior modification techniques described above are much more successful when anti-anxiety  medications are used.  Some medications can be taken continuously throughout storm season while others are given only when a storm is forecast.  Medication, along with behavior modification, can reduce a dog’s distress and improve both the dog’s and the owner’s quality of life.

We encourage you to discuss your pet’s behavior concerns with your veterinarian when you first notice symptoms.  Treatment is much more successful when started early helping you and your pet have a happier life together.

--Silke Bogart, DVM