Friday, July 26, 2013

Helping a withdrawn dog acclimate to your home

Sometimes I get requests about helping a dog acclimate to her new home. This is particularly important for dogs that have come from large-scale breeding facilities, but it can also be used for any dogs that tend to withdraw from human contact, cower, crawl under furniture, avert their eyes, engage in lip licking when in the presence of humans, etc.  

First things first: Make sure you take your time. Don't expect the dog to start liking you immediately, even if you do share high-value treats. 

Second, approach your training sessions with a quiet sense of humor. Sometimes working with a dog that doesn't want to be around you can be frustrating. If allow yourself to relax and smile while you're training, chances are good that you won't send the withdrawn dog conflicting messages.  

I also recommend:

1. Giving her time to acclimate without too much interference from you,
2. Keeping your household quiet--with as few outside visitors as possible at the outset,
    (I recommend a 2-week shutdown when bringing new dogs into the home.)
3. Allowing her a place to retreat to for a couple of days, a small, quiet room with a crate in it,
4. Bringing her into your living space gradually, and
    (Typically, I use an x-pen/puppy pen with her "safe" items in it and place it in a room with activity so she can observe me without having to interact.)
5. Praising her calmly and quietly when she does interact, possibly using treats.
There's more, of course, but this is a start.

To increase her confidence around the members of your household, you might want to have them randomly drop small treats and kibble when she's in their vicinity. That is, of course, if she's willing to take treats.

If not, take a deep breath, roll your shoulders, and give yourself and your dog a break. You can always try again later. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Fireworks, Storms, & Dogs

For those of you in Minnesota who witnessed the ferocious storms of the past two weeks, it goes without saying that storms and dogs don't mix. As the long holiday weekend with the accompanying fireworks approaches, the stress on your dogs is likely to continue.

Over the years, I have observed many dogs exhibiting signs of stress from both storms and fireworks and have developed some strategies for lessening my dogs' tension. While I can't promise a perfect solution that works for all dogs, I have found the following help many:

1. To the best of your ability, remove your dog from the source of stress. Personally, I don't take dogs to see fireworks. Years ago, after watching water birds panicking as fireworks exploded overhead, it occurred to me that many dogs have similar reactions. I realized that I didn't want to subject my dogs to the types of stress they're likely to experience at fireworks displays. If your family attends them, perhaps your dogs will be more comfortable at home.

If you are at home and your dog is still nervous, place him in an interior room, one with no windows and the most sound proofing possible. Often bathrooms work well.

2. Give your dog something small, like a properly-sized crate, to retreat into. If you don't have a crate, create a makeshift structure by placing a blanket over a coffee table or similar piece of furniture that your dog can fit under comfortably. You may also want to put some of your dog's favorite things inside. Do not,however, force your dog into the confined area.

3. Use calming wraps. There is a plethora of calming products on the market today. I like and carry the Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt. To see if such approaches might work for your dog, search "Tellington TTouch wrap" for instructions on how to make your own body wrap in seconds from a simple ace bandage.

Both Anxiety Wrap and Thundershirt have designed additional products to reduce stress. See, for example, the Quiet Dog Face Wrap and the Calming Cap.

4. Calm your dog through his olfactory sense. Essential oils are a great option, here. I like and carry frankincense and lavender, as well as doTerra's balance and serenity blends and apply them to the pads of my dogs' feet or along their ears.

In addition to essential oils, you can use D.A.P.s, or simulated pheromones that mimic lactating mothers. If you wish to use a diffuser, it will take a couple of weeks to reach full strength in your house. For the short term, try using a spray, instead. I've had good luck with Comfort Zone products.

5. Play soothing music for your dog. It may seem unbelievable, but music can calm dogs. I've begun Canine Lullabies at Giffy dog. If you'd like to sample it for yourself, visit their website for a free song and to see video of dogs calming as they listen to it.

6. Exhibit calming signals. I talk about these a lot in my training, but they can be particularly useful during periods of stress. When a dog is getting stressed, she will often lick her lips, lift her front paw, yawn, lower her head, etc. to demonstrate that she's getting nervous. If you mimic the calming signals back to her, she will probably begin to relax quickly. 
The most important thing you can do, though? Be calm yourself. Understand that your dog's anxiety is real and being near you calms her down.

Let's hope we don't have any more storms, and I wish you a happy, healthy, peaceful 4th.