Month: September 2014

Fearful Fido? Tips to Turn It Around

Our newly adopted dog, Mia, came from a home where she spent 24 hours a day outside and was not socialized. She was very fearful of new people and for the first two days in our home, refused to come out of her crate. She has come a long way in a few short months but we are still learning about her and the things that make her nervous. On our outings to the dog beach and park we noticed Mia was very scared and reactive when people approached her holding things in their hands, particularly a Chuckit used for lobbing tennis balls. It took a few times for me to figure out the correlation and to confirm I grabbed a Chuckit at home to see her reaction. Mia hit the ground, tail between her legs and rolled over to show submission. Theory confirmed.

I set out to help Mia through this by slowly creating a positive association with something that was deemed “scary” (desensitizing and counterconditioning).

First, I picked up the stick and put it on the floor. When Mia sniffed it I rewarded her with a high value treat (chicken). Then I picked it up and held it in my hand, again, she received chicken. When she was no longer bothered by me holding the Chuckit I mimed throwing a ball with it. At first she cowered but after a few repetitions she wasn’t bothered. As she relaxed I got closer to her and swung it, always followed by a treat. Within 3 short sessions (3-5 minutes each) she was sitting calmly while swung the stick looking at me with a “yeah, and?” expression on her face.

The fact that she trusts me certainly helped her along, so I expect her to still react the next time a stranger approaches holding a stick-like object. But the training will continue in those situations, a stranger walks by holding a stick, Mia gets a high value treat. In a few months I believe the only association a Chuckit will hold for Mia is chicken falling from the sky.

The next time your dog is nervous around a certain object or situation try turning that fear into a positive experience. A little patience and some high value rewards go a long way!


Buckle Up – Canine Car Safety

You may or may not have heard my lecture on always securing your dog in the car. Yes, I know your dog wants to ride shotgun but it’s not safe! No, not even around the block! I was recently in a car accident with my hounds in the car (trust me they fared better than I did) and can now back that spiel up with some personal experience.

Whether with a seat belt harness, a crate or a special barrier that keeps your dog securely in the “hatch” of your car, it is vital that you restrain your pooch when joyriding. Not only could a sudden impact launch your dog causing him injury but dogs are understandably shaken up in these circumstances and most will try to escape the car by any means possible (think an open window). Securing your dog also ensures authorities will be able to help you if you are injured; your dog may become protective of you in a scary situation.

If you and your dog are in an accident here are some helpful tips my vet shared on what to watch for:

  • Obvious signs of injury such as limping, bleeding etc
  • Excessive panting. Panting can indicate pain but is also a sign of anxiety which is a normal reaction to a stressful situation. If your dog’s panting does not subside see your vet.
  • Bruising – especially on the belly which can indicate internal bleeding
  • Temperature –  feel the ears to ensure one is not excessively hot or cold
  • Inability to focus eyes – try having your dog follow a treat to test this
  • Pupil dilation. Again, this can indicate fear as well but should subside quickly in that case. Prolonged pupil dilation calls for a vet visit immediately.

After an accident your dog may be fearful about car rides. Remedy this with short trips around the block and provide your pup with a chew or Kong to work on while you are on the road. This will help rebuild positive associations with car rides.

Safe travels to you and your dog!