Reflections on 20 Years as a Pet Care Professional – Changes in Pet Food and Nutrition – part 1

Don and Muppy - July 2015
Don and Muppy – July 2015

< A version of this article was published in the November 2015 issue of Down East Dog News>

My wife Paula and I have been part of the pet care services industry for over 20 years and in that time we have seen many changes. Last month I wrote about dog training. This month I will begin to address pet food and pet nutrition.

Paula and I became interested in pet nutrition long before we purchased Green Acres. Gus, our Cairn Terrier puppy, joined our family in the spring of 1991. Within a year, he was exhibiting serious health issues that his veterinarian attributed to his diet.

Gus had recurring urinary tract infections aggravated or caused by crystals that formed in his urine. One type of crystal even formed into a bladder stone that was removed surgically. Gus’ case was further complicated by the fact that he had more than one type of crystal in his urine. One was normally found in acidic urine, the other when the urine was base. The pH of his urine would swing

In Memory of Gus
In Memory of Gus

wildly throughout the day, from acid to base and back, which was very abnormal.

We were constantly in search of the “perfect” food for Gus. At one point, our veterinarian had us buying multiple brands of kibble and counting the numbers of each type of kibble we fed Gus on a daily basis, all in an attempt to stabilize his urinary pH. We eventually found, purchased and read a book; Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, that included several recipes for making homemade dog food. Shortly after that, Paula was making food for Gus every week. By the time we moved to Maine, about 14 months later, Gus still had UTI’s and crystals, and we were still searching for a brand of food that would cure him.

Changing Brands – When we became the owners of Green Acres Kennel Shop, we sold six brands of pet food. Our two biggest sellers were Hill’s Science Diet and IAMS/Eukanuba; however we also sold Nature’s Recipe, Bench and Field, and ANF. Eukanuba was considered to be one of the top brands, and the others were all better than what was available at the grocery store.

Green Acres’ no longer offers any of the brands of pet food we did twenty years ago. Pet foods and pet food companies change, like everything else, and not always for the better. We now offer seventeen brands of pets food from; Bravo, California Natural, Fromm, Eagle, Evanger’s, Evo, Holistic Select, Innova, Merrick, NutriSource, Natural Planet, Pro Pac, Pure Vita, Steve’s Real Food, Wellness, Weruva, and Wysong. Some of these brands were around twenty years ago and many were not. The brands we carry twenty years from now will depend on what happens with individual companies and brands. We are constantly evaluating the pet food marketplace and change products when we find something better.

Need for Knowledge – Based on our experiences with pet nutrition we knew that knowledge was important, so we scheduled training sessions with representatives from Hill’s and IAMS within the first few months of ownership. That is when we first learned that the training that companies provided to retailers such as ourselves was essentially the same program they offered to veterinarians. Paula had received the same training while working at the veterinary hospital. We have continued our education about pet nutrition through training providing by the food companies but also by reading books and attending seminars. One of the biggest myths about nutrition, whether human or pet, is that we know all there is to know. The fact is things are changing all the time, and it is our goal to be current so we can always provide clients with the latest information.

Premium, Super-Premium, and Ultra-Premium – Twenty years ago pet foods were pretty much divided into grocery store brands and premium brands. The big difference then and now, was that premium brands were made to a set formula whereas the ingredients in a non-premium brand changed with commodity prices. The premium brands typically used higher quality ingredients. Today we also have brands that label themselves as super-premium and ultra-premium. The problem with all of these labels is that they have no legal definition, so one has to be knowledgeable about pet food, ingredients, nutrition, and the people behind the company in order to judge whether or not the way a brand labels itself is deserved.

Protein Choices – Most pet food that was made twenty years ago used chicken as its base protein. Poorer quality foods used poultry which just means there was more in the mix than just chicken. The first novel protein source was lamb, which was introduced as an alternative food for pets that were allergic to chicken. Unfortunately, most companies promoted their lamb based formulas as the “best new thing” and pretty soon many of people were feeding lamb, and it lost its value as a novel protein source. That is why today we see things like duck, turkey, bison, venison, salmon, trout, whitefish, pork, beef, ostrich and kangaroo as protein sources for pet food.

Industry Consolidation – It is estimated that 70% of all of the pet food sold in the US comes from one of three companies; Nestle, Mars Candy or Smucker’s. Most people do not realize the huge number of pet food brands owned by these three food giants. I believe that bigger companies seldom produce better products. These conglomerates own so many brands that it is difficult for me to understand how any of those brands are differ from one another. Our preference at Green Acres is to offer foods that are made by small, family-owned companies that know their suppliers personally and that are committed to producing a quality product. Selecting pet food whether as a retailer or consumer involves trust and I find it easier to trust the smaller companies.

It has not just been the food companies that have been merging and buying each other. We have seen the same thing happen with the distributors that sell the food to retailers like Green Acres. When we first bought Green Acres three of the distributors, we purchased pet food from were Maine-based companies. Sadly today there are no pet food distributors in Maine.

Pet food and nutrition has seen many changes in the last twenty years. Next month I will discuss the proliferation in pet food formulas and SKUs, Pet Food Recalls, Misleading Advertising, Dietary Rotation, Raw Diets and more.


 

Other Posts You May Find Interesting

Nutrition – Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 1 – <Click Here>

Nutrition – Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 2 – <Click Here>

Nutrition – Which Brand of Pet Food is the Best? – Part 3 – <Click Here>

Nutrition – Why Rotating Diets Makes Sense – <Click Here>

Nutrition – Determining True Pet Food Costs – <Click Here>

Pet Nutrition – How Much Fat Is In Your Pet’s Food? <Click Here>

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

Seasonal Issues – Cold Weather and Holiday Tips for Pets

<A version of this article was published in The Maine Edge on November 18, 2015>

Updated 9NOV17

<To listen to a podcast from The Woof Meow Show on this topic, click here>

WINTER IS COMING-Dulcie-Winter 07-080-51 edited-square 800x800Like or not, winter is here, and we need to consider how this change in seasons affects our pets.

Dealing with the Cold, Snow and Ice

  • Once the temperature drops below 20 degrees, it’s time to bring your pet indoors. When they are out, make sure they are not exposed to the cold for extended periods of time. Be aware that the wind chill affects your pet just like it affects you.
  • Shorter haired dogs or dog’s acclimated to warmer climates may need a coat to stay comfortable when it gets cold outside.
  • When your dog is outdoors, make sure they have access to adequate shelter at all times. Dog houses should be positioned or designed such that the wind does not blow through the door into the house.
  • If your pet is outdoors, make sure they always have access to fresh water. If the temperature drops below freezing, you will need a heater for their water bowl. Snow is not an acceptable substitute!
  • When your pet is indoors, make sure they have a warm, dry spot that is away from drafts. Tile floors and uncarpeted areas may become cold and uncomfortable.
  • If you have a long-haired pet, make sure you keep them groomed and free of mats and tangles. While long hair will act as an insulator, it loses its insulating properties when it becomes matted.
  • If your pet has long hair on its feet or in between their pads, you may want to have your groomer cut that hair short, so it does not accumulate snow when your pet is outdoors.
  • If your pet is out in the cold a great deal, you may want to increase the amount you feed them, as they will be expending additional calories to stay warm.
  • If your pet gets wet in the rain or snow, dry them off with a towel when they come back inside.
  • If your pet has been walking on areas that have been treated with salt or any deicer, wipe their feet and pads with a damp cloth. You may want to consider using one of the pet safe products for melting ice.
  • Leaving your pet in a car can be just as problematic in the winter time as it is in the summer. If you leave the motor running, always leave a window partially open in case you have an exhaust leak.
  • Be careful if your pet has access to frozen ponds or streams. They can slip and[ File # csp15483120, License # 3214320 ] Licensed through http://www.canstockphoto.com in accordance with the End User License Agreement (http://www.canstockphoto.com/legal.php) (c) Can Stock Photo Inc. / stefan11fall in, or the ice can break and they can fall in.
  • Crusty snow and ice can have sharp edges that can cut the skin and pads of some of the thinner skinned breeds.

Other Seasonal Hazards

  • Antifreeze, which often collects on driveways and roadways, is highly poisonous. Although it smells and tastes good to your pet, it can be lethal.
  • Be very careful of supplemental heating sources, especially those with a flame. Fireplaces and portable heaters can severely burn your pet. Make sure all fireplaces have screens and keep portable heaters out of reach.
  • Make sure your wood is stacked securely so that your pet cannot cause it to fall over.
  • Be aware that cats often will crawl into an engine compartment of a vehicle to keep warm. Slap your hood before starting your car in the morning.
  • Like people, pets seem to be more susceptible to illnesses in the winter. Do take your pet to a veterinarian if you see any suspicious symptoms.
  • Don’t use over-the-counter medications on your dog without first consulting with your veterinarian.

Dealing with the Holidays

puppy chewing ornamentNovember and December are filled with wonderful opportunities for us to gather with family and friends. These gatherings can be a hectic, intimidating time for our pets. Dogs and cats do not always enjoy meeting new people or the frenetic activity that often comes with any holiday gathering.

  • While many of us enjoy the holidays, they can also be very stressful. Your pets can feel this stress as well, especially if they are not used to the frantic activity and houseful of guests that often accompany the holidays. Make sure your pet has a quiet, comfortable hideaway if they choose to abstain from holiday festivities. Sometimes boarding your pet can make the holiday more enjoyable for them, you and your guests.
  • Pets do not make good holiday gifts, especially if the person receiving the gift is not aware of it. If you want to get a pet related gift for someone get them a book on selecting a pet, or a leash or toy for the pet to come.
  • Many holiday plants such as holly, mistletoe and poinsettias are poisonous to pets. Make sure they are someplace where your pet cannot get to them.
  • Be cautious about where you leave holiday gifts, especially those with food inside. A misplaced box of chocolates can kill a dog.
  • Candy and other holiday treats sweetened with Xylitol can also be fatal when pets ingest them.
  • Keep lights and fragile ornaments off the lower branches of your holiday tree where your pet can get to them.
  • Make sure all electrical cords for holiday lights and decorations are located Kitten w-ornamentwhere your pet will not become entangled in them or attempt to chew on them.
  • Avoid using edible ornaments on your tree.
  • Tinsel can be very attractive to dogs and cats and can also be fatal if ingested.

 

 

______________________________________________________________________________
Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com.

©2015, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved <Click for Copyright and Use Policy>

URGENT RECALL: – Blue Buffalo Recalls Select Bags of Cat Treats

From the Food and Drug Administration website

Blue Buffalo Company, Ltd. is voluntarily recalling a limited production of Blue Kitty Yums Chicken Recipe Cat Treats that may contain low levels of propylene glycol, which is not permitted by the FDA for use in cat food.

KYum_AdultCat_CKN_2ozTreat_MT00782.3Cats reacting to high doses of propylene glycol may exhibit signs of depression and may have a loss of coordination, muscle twitching, and excessive urination and thirst. If your cat has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

The affected product was distributed nationwide in the US and Canada through pet specialty stores and e-commerce.

The product is packaged in a 2 oz., plastic stand up pouch. Only these specific code dates of this product are involved:

  • Blue Kitty Yums Tasty Chicken Recipe, UPC: 859610007820 – Best If Used By: April 24, 2016.
  • Blue Kitty Yums Tasty Chicken Recipe, UPC: 859610007820 – Best If Used By: July 24, 2016.

No other BLUE pet foods or treats are involved in this recall.Blue Buffalo Kitty Yums-2-10NOV15

The FDA tested product in response to a single consumer complaint and found propylene glycol in one bag of our cat treats in the impacted lot. To date we have had no other reports of incidents related to our cat treats. Out of an abundance of caution, we are voluntarily recalling all product manufactured in the same lot as the subject bag.

Consumers who have purchased the product being recalled may return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Blue Buffalo at: 888-667-1508 from 8 AM to 5 PM Eastern Time Monday through Friday and the weekend of November 7, 2015 or by email atBlueBuffalo5883@stericycle.com for more information.

About Blue Buffalo
Blue Buffalo, based in Wilton, CT, is a pet products company that makes natural foods and treats for pets.

http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ucm471748.htm

PODCAST – Lyme Disease with Drs. Zev and Ben Myerowitz from Myerowitz Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic – Part 1 and 2

Lyme disease can be scary for people or dogs. If you are frequently out and about with your dog, which is pretty typical for many of us in Maine, you should be worried about protecting yourself from ticks and other carriers of Lyme disease. In this two-part series on the Woof Meow Show, Kate and Don talk with Drs. Zev and Ben Myerowitz from Myerowitz Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic about Lyme disease and people.  In part 1 we will discuss what Lyme disease is, its many symptoms in humans, co-infections that are often part of Lyme disease and why Lyme disease may be the most serious infectious disease since the plague. In part 2 discuss how Lyme disease is diagnosed and how it is treated both traditionally and with Chinese herbs, homeopathy and glandular support.

If you spend time outdoors in any of our countries Lyme hot spots, and they grow every year, you will want to listen to these two shows.

Lyme Disease with Drs. Zev and Ben Myerowitz from Myerowitz Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic – part 1 <click to listen>

Lyme Disease with Drs. Zev and Ben Myerowitz from Myerowitz Chiropractic & Acupuncture Clinic – part 2 <click to listen>

Canine Behavior – Understanding, Identifying and Coping with Canine Stress

Like us, our dogs can and do experience stress. Just as stress can make us feel afraid or hyper or edgy or irritable, it can do the same to our dogs. It is a well-established fact that the “wrong kind” of stress or chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our behavior, health, and overall well-being. Whether “good stress” or “bad stress”, physiologically, the manifestation of stress in dogs is similar as to that in humans, with the same negative and positive effects. Stress has the potential to make one ill, suppress the immune system, cause behaviors that damage relationships with others, and increase arousal. This increase in arousal greatly increases the probability of aggressive behavior.

As a pet behavior consultant, I have observed that most behavior problems with pets, especially the more serious such as aggression and separation anxiety, are the result of stress. Therefore, as responsible guardians for our dogs, we have an obligation to understand stress and its impact so we can do what is necessary to minimize stress in the lives of our canine friends.

Definition of Stress

Stress is the response of an organism to a demand placed upon it to change or adapt.*”

*Canine Neuropsychology, third edition, by James O’Heare, Ph.D., DogPsych, 2005, page 3

“Good” Stress versus “Bad” Stress

Certain levels of stress are normal and even necessary for survival and the increase of gray matter in the brain. Good stress is called eustress. This “positive” stress allows an organism to utilize energy in a positive manner and assists in the development of new capabilities. This type of stress, in appropriate quantities, is essential to normal growth.

When stress is negative or becomes excessive, it is called distress. Stress of this manner can damage an organism, resulting in illness and behavioral problems such as anxiety and aggression. This may become a vicious cycle, with stress contributing to even more stress until an organism collapses in exhaustion or self-destructs.

The susceptibility to distress varies with each individual organism. How an individual responds to distress is often affected by a combination of inherited genes and events within the organism’s environment.

It is important to understand that eustress and distress occur over a continuum. Eustress can range from contentment to extreme excitement and distress can range from worry to extreme fear or minor irritability to severe aggression.

Eustress and Distress

What Does Stress Feel Like?

Stress affects us both physiologically and emotionally, and the two are always interconnected. Whether experiencing eustress or distress, the physiology and the effects on the body are essentially the same. Therefore, the biggest difference between the two types of stress is a matter of our perception of how we feel.

Good Stress (eustress) Always Acute Bad Stress (distress) Acute or Chronic
Heightened Sense of Awareness Increased Reactivity/Jumpy
Alert Hyper-Vigilant
Euphoria Irritability
Learning a new task (confident) Inability to learn (doubtful)

We have all experienced both eustress and distress at some point in our lives, but fortunately not all of us have experienced extreme distress. Some medications can cause the same physiological effect as distress so if you have ever been on prednisone, or known someone who has, you may have a better idea of how severe distress feels.

Prednisone is a man-made corticosteroid that is used to suppress the immune system. It is often used to treat autoimmune disease, asthma, lupus, colitis, Bell’s palsy, rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. Prednisone mimics cortisol, a major stress hormone, so the side-effects of prednisone can be similar to those of an organism in extreme distress. These side effects include; insomnia, euphoria, depression, mania, mood swings, irritability and even psychotic behavior. (As an asthmatic I have been on prednisone numerous times and know how it makes me feel. While it eventually makes me physically healthier, the side effects are not pleasant for me, or those around me. I have also observed animals on prednisone, and sometimes they can react negatively and experience significant behavioral changes, which do not always resolve long after the drug is no longer being used.)

Physiological Effects of Stress

When something stressful happens; we are frightened or startled or experience physical or emotional pain, our body falls under the control of the Sympathetic Autonomic Nervous System (SANS). The SANS is part of the body responsible for controlling the flight or fight response. Our body goes on auto-pilot to protect us from the perceived threat.

The SANS is closely associated with the limbic system, which is the section of the brain that deals with the expression and experience of emotions, storage of memories and expression of aggression. It is the most primitive part of the brain and is very involved with instinctual survival mechanisms. It is separate from the cerebral cortex, which is thought to be the “thinking” part of the brain and the site of conscious thought and intelligence. Note that the brain is hard-wired to ALWAYS remember negative emotional responses to help ensure our future safety.

When the limbic system (emotional auto-pilot) is activated, the cerebral cortex is suppressed. This is why one does not typically behave rationally when in a highly charged emotional state. This can also help us to understand why expecting our dogs to respond to a well-trained cue when they are in distress is usually a futile effort. Likewise, the parts of the brain responsible for learning something new are shut-down at this time. Conversely, when the cerebral cortex is highly active, the limbic system is suppressed.

The release of various neurotransmitters and stress hormones triggers a plethora of reactions within our body that shuts down all of our bodily systems not necessary for defense. Levels of adrenaline, a neurotransmitter, become elevated which in turn increase pulse rate, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and the dilation of bronchial tubes and pupils, preparing the body for the surge of energy necessary for a flight or fight response. Cortisol production increases which turns off the immune system and other non-essential systems. The above is a gross oversimplification. For a more in-depth understanding, please refer to the books listed in the resources section of this article.

After the stressful situation has passed, the body’s stress response is supposed to turn-off and levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones should return to normal levels. However, these changes do not “turn-off” instantly but can, in fact, take 24 to 72 hours to return to their normal (non-stress) levels. As a result, if an organism is exposed to frequent stress events (daily or multiple times per day) those levels may never return to normal, leaving the individual in a constant/chronic state of stress. Think of the dog that aggressively reacts to the mail carrier Monday through Saturday of every week. That dogs stress levels may never get a chance to return to normal. The same can happen with the dog that demands to play fetch each and every day. Sometimes when an individual is subjected to chronic stress, the mechanisms that are supposed to turn off stress no longer work and levels continue to build and can reach four times normal levels. Normal now becomes a much higher level.

 

Causes of Stress in Dogs

Brambell’s Five Freedoms

A significant cause of stress for an animal occurs when its most basic needs are not being met. One of the first and most comprehensive efforts to define an animal’s most basic welfare needs started in Great Britain in 1965 with the establishment of the Brambell Commission. This commission, created by Parliament, was charged with reviewing the treatment of farm animals and developing a minimum standard for meeting their needs. They created what is known as “The Five Freedoms,” which is an excellent starting point for evaluating the welfare of any animal, including companion dogs. The five freedoms are:

  1. Ensure your pet is free from hunger, thirst and malnutrition.

This sounds relatively simple — provide your dog with food and water and the need is met. However, I encourage you to give this more thought. Is the food you feed your dog wholesome and a type that would be in their natural diet? Are they allowed to consume this food in a manner that is natural for their species? We also must consider that too much food is equally bad, as evidenced by the significant number of obese dogs we see today.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from discomfort.

Again this freedom seems relatively straight forward — make sure your pet always has adequate shelter from temperature and weather extremes. However, there is much more to comfort than hot versus cold and dry versus damp.

Your dog also needs a quiet, comfortable resting place where they can be undisturbed and where they will feel safe. You need to make sure that their environment is free from things that may cause them harm.

Your dog’s breed also affects what they need to be comfortable. If they have long hair, they may be unable to properly groom themselves. If that is the case, you must groom them on a regular basis, so that their hair does not become tangled and matted, causing them discomfort.

Obesity puts a strain on the joints and may cause pain and discomfort, so it is important not to allow our dogs to become obese.

Lastly, dogs, like humans, are social animals and may depend on interactions with others, particularly of their own species, to be comfortable. However, if they do not feel safe around another dog, being compelled to live with another dog may cause discomfort. Knowing and responding properly to your dog’s social needs is critical

  1. Ensure your pet is free from pain, injury and disease.

One of the easiest ways to meet this freedom is to make sure your dog gets an initial series of vaccinations to ensure that they are protected against diseases, followed up by annual and as-needed visits to your veterinarian. At home, a weekly body check can alert you to any changes in your pet’s physical condition.

Being free from pain is very similar to being free from discomfort so the dog’s grooming needs must also be considered. Remember, dogs are designed by nature not to show pain and thus weakness, so often they will attempt to hide their pain. Obesity and matted coats may cause pain.

  1. Ensure your pet is free to express normal behaviors.

If you are going to allow your pet to express normal behaviors you first need to know and understand what constitutes both “normal” canine behavior and “abnormal” canine behavior. This is not easy because there is so much incorrect information about canine behavior circulating as myth and being perpetuated in out-dated books and inaccurate websites.

What we know about canine behavior today has changed greatly since the 1970’s. Many of the old “truths” are in fact not true. Statements such as; “…you need to be dominant or “alpha” over your dog, dogs are like wolves and should be treated as such, dogs are pack animals, and dogs should be trained with choke collars, shock collars, and alpha-wolf rollovers and other types of intimidation” are NOT true and in fact cause far more problems than they resolve. In fact, all of those methods and techniques are a perfect recipe for causing fear, stress, and aggression. That is one reason the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) specifically recommends that the dominance construct or any tools and methods which cause discomfort, pain or intimidation should NEVER be used.*

*2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines

The freedom to express normal behaviors is the one that is most often overlooked, as many dog guardians are either unaware of the huge repertoire of normal dog behaviors or because they do not approve of some of these normal behaviors such as “butt sniffing.” It is imperative you take the time to learn what constitutes normal behavior. The best way to do this is to enroll you and your dog in a dog training class taught by an individual who has been certified by either the Pet Professionals Guild (PPG) or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT. They should also comply with the PPG philosophy of training that is Pain Free, Force Free and Fear Free.

Minimally, to express normal behaviors your dog needs adequate space in which to run and an enriched environment to stimulate their minds and bodies. The ability to sniff and explore the world is key to a dog’s life.

Toys enrich your pet’s environment by giving them something to play with; however your dog also needs appropriate interaction with living things as well. That can come from us as well as other dogs.

Playing with your dog is good for establishing and maintaining a lifelong bond. It is also a great outlet for mental and physical activity and can be just plain fun! However, it is essential to understand that play, especially very active play, is stressful in itself and increases your dog’s arousal level. Play should be frequently interrupted and as soon as the dog has calmly settled that behavior can be rewarded with more play. If the dog does not or cannot settle, then play stops. Overly rough play between a person and a dog, especially play where the dog exhibits mouthing and nipping behavior, is inappropriate and for the safety of others, as well as yourself, should ALWAYS be discouraged. The best way to discourage such play is to immediately stop playing when it occurs. You should also learn to recognize the signs that tell you that your dog’s level is arousal is increasing so that you can stop play before the mouthing occurs.

While our dogs hopefully enjoy our companionship most also need adequate opportunities to interrelate with others of their own kind in a positive situation. That does not mean you need to have more than one dog, but it does mean your dog may need to have some suitable doggie friends in the neighborhood or at doggie daycare. However, these friends must be of a similar temperament, age, size and play-style and the interactions must be enjoyable for all. Lastly, not all dogs enjoy the company of other dogs, just as many people do not enjoy others. In this case, it is important to understand that you cannot make a dog like another dog or a person.

  1. Ensure your pet is free from fear and distress.

I truly believe that no psychologically healthy human would ever intentionally cause their dog fear or distress. However, lack of knowledge, or incorrect perceptions and beliefs about canine behavior, certainly causes a great deal of fear and distress in our canine companions. As a behavior consultant, I see a great number of dogs for “aggression” that is almost always based in stress related fear.

Far too many people are still not aware of how critical a well thought out socialization plan is for a puppy when they are between 8 and 16 weeks of age. During this time, most puppies are very accepting of new environments, people, and situations — as long as they are setup to ensure it is a positive experience. Socialization does not end after the critical socialization period; rather it should continue throughout a pet’s life. A dog can be socialized after 16 weeks of age, but I recommend that you work with a certified dog behavior consultant to help you develop a remedial socialization program that will be beneficial and not cause more harm.

A lack of adequate physical and mental stimulation can also cause a dog to become anxious and fearful. A dog needs a moderate amount of both physical and mental exercise on a daily basis. A pet that does not get adequate exercise may become bored and frustrated, and start exhibiting behaviors that you will find undesirable. On the other hand, too much stimulation and exercise can also be detrimental, causing a state of chronic stress. Daily visits to the dog park or a doggie daycare are often counter-productive and unhealthy. Activities need to be well balanced with ample opportunities for rest. A dog normally sleeps 17 hours per day.

When we add a dog to our family we are bringing them into a very foreign environment and culture with very different rules. On top of that we are expecting them to understand a foreign language while we often make no effort to learn their language. We need to educate our dog to live in our world and educate ourselves about the dog world if we are to keep them free from fear and distress.

We also need to actively protect our dog by avoiding stressful situations until they have had adequate socialization and training. You are their guardian and as such must take responsibility for managing their interactions with the environment and other living things.

 

What Does An Animal Do When They Are Afraid?

Animals, humans included, have four typical responses when they are afraid; Flee, Fight, Freeze, and Fidget About.


What Do Animals Do When AfraidFlee
is self-explanatory and is all about the normal fight or flight response. It is important to understand that when a dog is on a leash they know that they cannot run away from what is scaring them. That is one reason a dog may be more reactive when they are on a leash; they are desperately trying to scare what they are afraid of away. This is NOT an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash; in fact a known reactive dog should ALWAYS be on a regular six-foot leash or inside a secure fenced area when they are outside of your home. It is essential to keep a reactive dog out of situations where they react like this because every time such a reaction it occurs it becomes more likely to occur again.

To Fight or become aggressive is also part of the normal fight or flight response.  To allow your dog to react in this manner is a liability risk for you and a safety risk for yourself and others. Dogs can do in an incredible amount of very serious damage in a very short amount of time. As your dog’s guardian, it is your responsibility to prevent this type of behavior. As explained with fleeing, a dog on leash comprehends that the leash will restrain them from fighting effectively. It also can make the situation worse if two dogs are fighting and they are both on leashes that become entangled. Separating dogs in this scenario becomes even more difficult and risky. This is NOT an excuse to have a reactive dog off-leash; in fact a known reactive dog should ALWAYS be on a regular six-foot leash or inside a secure fenced area when they are outside of your home. It is essential to keep an aggressive dog out of situations and environments where they could attack another person or animal because there is ALWAYS a risk of serious injury or death. Every time such a reaction it occurs it becomes more likely to occur again. Dogs that have attacked other dogs should NEVER be taken to a dog park.

To Fidget About is essential the dog exhibiting a normal behavior in an abnormal context. It may be as simple as looking away, sniffing, or playing with a toy. It is the dog’s way of ignoring what they perceive as being threatening with the hope that the threat will ignore them and go away.

Freezing is becoming totally rigid and immobile. It is essentially the absence of any behavior that the dog feels could be provocative. This often occurs when the dog’s emotional state has moved from being afraid to being terrified. Freezing is often misunderstood by dog guardians who because they see that their dog is non-reactive they assume the dog is “fine.” While the dog is not barking, lunging or running away in this situation, it is not doing so because it is terrified. This is a tremendous emotional response that will not be forgotten easily.

The key thing you need to remember with any of the four F’s (Flee, Fight, Fidget About, or Freeze) is that you want to minimize putting your dogs in these situations once you know this behavior is a likely possibility. The brain is designed to remember scary things after the very first event. Subsequent exposures will just make reduce the probability of ever being able to move beyond this fear.

Common Causes of Stress in Dogs

  • Any change in environment (schedule, people, animals, increased noise)
  • Arguments among family members
  • Combination training (rewards and punishment)
  • Excessive play that becomes borderline “obsessive/”
  • Excessive stimulation (too much play, doggie daycare, dog sports, )
  • Frustration
  • Grief due to the loss of a companion (human or animal)
  • Humans ignorant of needs and ways of communicating
  • Inappropriate play partners, human or animal
  • Insufficient stimulation
  • Not being taught how to be alone
  • Punitive training (shock, choke and prong collars)
  • Scary events
  • Too many dogs per available space
  • Unreasonable expectations (expected to like all people and all other animals in all situations, expected to be 100% on all the time)
  • Insufficient social time/family time
  • Uncertainty

 

Identifying Stress in Canines

Dogs express themselves and communicate with body language, vocalizations, and behavior. By getting familiar with our dogs’ bodies, we can tell when they start to feel stressed. It is imperative to look at the entire body and not just isolated parts to get the best understanding of what your dog is feeling.

Ember-headturn-nose lickCalming signals, as described by Norwegian ethologist and dog behaviorist Turid Rugaas, are very subtle changes in the body of a dog that suggest building stress and are used to diffuse conflict before it happens. A calming signal is a polite request to another dog to change their behavior and, therefore, prevent any dispute from occurring. Dogs use calming signals to communicate with us as well.

Two of the calming signals people see most frequently are “licking of the nose” and “yawning.” The dog in the picture is demonstrating both “averting of the eyes” and a “nose lick,” probably because the camera is staring at her. Other signs that can be calming signals are; turn away, softening of the eyes (squinting), freezing, play bow, sitting down, lying down, sniffing, scratching and splitting up.

For more information on calming signals read the article Introduction to Canine Communication http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/05/dog-training-introduction-to-canine-communication/.

Some key indications of stress, by body part, are noted below.

Eyes

  • Avoiding Eye Contact
  • Blinking or squinting
  • Dilated pupils
  • Furrowed Brows
  • Hardened Eyes (direct stare with pupils dilated)
  • Staring
  • Tightness around eyes
  • Whale eye/ Half-moon eye

Mouth

  • Barking
  • Biting
  • Cheek puffing
  • Excessive salivation or drooling
  • Growling
  • Lip Curling
  • Lip/Nose licking
  • Mouth closed tightly or lips pulled back
  • Mouthing
  • Nipping
  • Panting
  • Showing teeth
  • Smiling
  • Snapping
  • Teeth chattering
  • Wrinkled muzzle
  • Whimpering
  • Yawning

Ears

  • Flattened or lowered
  • Pinned back
  • Upright and alert

Body

  • Cowering
  • Defecation
  • Dribbling or submissive urination
  • Excessive shedding
  • Freezing – little or no movement
  • High body posture, rigid forward stance
  • Groveling posture
  • Low body posture, weight shifted back
  • Penis crowning
  • Piloerection (Hackles)
  • Shake off
  • Stretching
  • Sweaty paws
  • Tail up and flagging
  • Tail Tucked
  • Tense all over
  • Tight brow
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Urogenital “check-out.”

Vocalizations

Dogs may also indicate they are stressed through vocalizations. Some of the more common stress related vocalizations are:

  • Barking – low pitch = threatening, high pitch = fear/stress
  • Growling
  • Howling
  • Screaming
  • Whining
  • Whimpering

 

Behavior

When stressed a dogs behavior will often change. Common behaviors that are often stress induced are:

  • Clinging to or hiding behind guardian
  • Cowering
  • Destructive behaviors, chewing, ripping, shredding, clawing
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Excessive sleeping, often due to exhaustion
  • Freezing or walking slowly
  • Hiding
  • Hyperactivity
  • Hyper-vigilant
  • Inability to focus
  • Inappropriate urination and defecation
  • Increased urination and defecation
  • Irritable
  • Jumping up on guardian
  • Jumpy/Easy to startle
  • Loss of appetite
  • Obsessive/Compulsive behaviors – (e.g. shadow chasing)
  • Pacing
  • Poor sleeping habits, less than 17 hours sleep per day
  • Refusing food or treats
  • Restless, inability to relax
  • Running off
  • Sniffing, out of context
  • Unable to settle
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

 

The Stress Escalation Ladder

Stress and the dog’s arousal happen on a continuum. Some of the signs of stress start appearing at very low levels of arousal. As the arousal level continues to rise it may result in growling, showing of teeth, lunging and biting at the most extreme levels. It is important to remember that arousal levels increase with positive stress (eustress) just as they increase with negative stress (distress). A dog that is ramped up and highly aroused in play is also more likely to bite and lose their bite inhibition. The chart below, created by Rugaas, illustrates the signs seen at various levels of arousal. It should always be our goal to keep the dog out of the yellow and red zones.

Stress Escalation Ladder-Rugaas

Reducing Stress in Dogs

In order to reduce our dogs’ stress we first need to understand it. Once we have identified the cause, there are many approaches to eliminating the stress.

The easiest way to deal with a dog under stress is usually management — removing the dog from the situation/context where the stress occurs. While this does not solve the problem, it is a temporary fix that will make the dog feel better. If this is a context/situation the dog will need to be exposed to in the future, it is advisable to work with a qualified behavior consultant to help get the dog over this fear. Few dog guardians are successful resolving this type of issue by reading books or watching programs on TV. In our experience, they usually make the problem worse.

A qualified, professional behavior consultant will ALWAYS first recommend that you discuss your dog’s behavioral issues with your veterinarian. Pain and other medical conditions can cause behavioral problems, and they need to be addressed first.

A behavior consultant will consider a number of methods to help your dog deal with their stress. They will almost always recommend a behavior modification protocol, which is a specialized program for your dog’s situation. A dog training class is seldom recommended for a dog with stress-based issues such as anxiety and aggression, as it often puts a dog in an environment where they will be stressed. Any organism must be free from fear if they are going to be able to learn.

Teaching your dog to sit, down, stay, etc. will not change the way your dog feels. In fact, asking your dog to sit in the presence of something that causes them to react may make them more fearful. For example, let’s say that you are afraid of bees and wasps. Now imagine sitting in a room full of bees and wasps and imagine trying to learn. You will not be learning but will be focusing on keeping yourself safe from getting stung.

A behavior modification program is all about changing your dog’s emotions and the way they feel about what is making them fearful or angry. Additionally, a behavior consultant may also recommend changes in diets, and treatment with complementary therapies; Bach Flower Remedies, Herbs, Homeopathy, T-Touch, if they are so qualified. They may also suggest that you ask your veterinarian to refer you to a veterinary behaviorist so that the veterinary behaviorist can determine if drug therapy is necessary. A behavior consultant should always be working with your veterinarian.

Stress can make us feel miserable, and it does the same for our dogs. If you have a dog living in stress — take steps to help them as soon as possible!

Recommended Resources

Articles on Don’s Blog

Understanding Behavior; Why It Mattershttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/category/dogs/canine-behavior/

What Should I Do When My Dog Growls?http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/category/dogs/canine-behavior/problem-behavior/aggression/

Your Pet’s Behavioral Health Is As Important As Their Physical Well-Being: The New AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelineshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/08/01/pet-health-and-wellness-your-pets-behavioral-health-is-as-important-as-their-physical-well-being/

Dog Behavior – Dominance: Reality or Mythhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/20/dog-behavior-dominance-reality-or-myth/

Puppy Socialization and Habituation – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/27/dog-behavior-puppy-socialization-and-habituation/

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on Pet-Friendly, Force-Free Pet Care –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/boarding/what-is-pet-friendly

Green Acres Kennel Shop Position Statement on the Use of Dominance and Punishment for the Training and Behavior Modification of Dogs – http://www.greenacreskennel.com/training/position-on-the-use-of-dominance-and-punishment-for-the-training-and-behavior-modification-of-dogs

The Unintended Consequences of Shock Collars http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2013/08/05/dogs-the-unintended-consequences-of-shock-collar/

Introduction to Canine Communicationhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/05/dog-training-introduction-to-canine-communication/

Can You Trust What You Read on the Internet? –  http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/09/03/can-you-trust-what-you-read-on-the-internet/

Animal Welfare – Assessing Pets’ Welfare Using Brambell’s Five Freedoms http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2014/10/01/animal-welfare-assessing-pets-welfare-using-brambells-five-freedoms/

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – Green Acres Kennel Shop’s “Pet Friendly” Philosophy – Part 1http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/04/02/yes-a-trend-towards-kinder-and-gentler-professional-pet-care-green-acres-kennel-shops-pet-friendly-philosophy-part-1/

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – The PPG – Part 2http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/05/02/selecting-a-pet-care-provider-yes-a-trend-towards-kinder-and-gentler-professional-pet-care-the-ppg-part-2/

Selecting A Pet Care Provider – Yes! A Trend Towards Kinder and Gentler Professional Pet Care – A Veterinary Perspective – Part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/30/selecting-a-pet-care-provider-yes-a-trend-towards-kinder-and-gentler-professional-pet-care-a-veterinary-perspective-part-3/

Dogs-Dog Training: A Holistic Approach to Dog Training (Parts 1 & 2)http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/02/01/dogs-dog-training-a-holistic-approach-to-dog-training-parts-1-2/

Trends in Training – The Evolution of a Pet Care Professionalhttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2008/04/19/professional-development-trends-in-training-the-evolution-of-a-pet-care-professional/

An Overview of the Bach Flower Remedieshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/06/22/bach-flower-remedies-an-overview-of-the-bach-flower-remedies/

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 1 http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/12/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-1/

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 2http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/19/podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-2/

PODCAST – Dog Training Questions for Don and Kate with special guest host Dr. Mark Hanks – part 3http://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/07/27/blog-post-27jul15-podcast-dog-training-questions-for-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks-part-3/

PODCAST – Pet Behavior Counseling and Don and Kate – with special guest host Dr. Mark Hankshttp://www.greenacreskennel.com/blog/2015/01/10/podcast-pet-behavior-counseling-and-don-and-kate-with-special-guest-host-dr-mark-hanks/

 

Books

Stress in Dogs, Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt, Dogwise Publishing, 2007

Canine Neuropsychology, 3rd edition, James O’Heare, Ph.D., DogPsych, 2005

The dog’s brain — a simple guide, Val Strong, Alpha Publishing, 1999

 

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