DIY Dog Crate Bumpers!

img_4961In a rather stunning spurt of crazy-dog-mom-ness (even for me!), I decided that Luna needed bumpers in her crate. So in the event that you too experience this urge, here’s how I made them!

Just FYI, Luna’s crate is 30″ x 48″ and she has a large Buddy Rest Comfort Deluxe Memory Foam bed. (Yes, we would have preferred a bed that completely filled the bottom of her crate but it was the closest size I could find for the quality I wanted.) The following supplies/instructions are for a Luna-sized kennel, so scale accordingly!

Supplies used:

  1. 2 yards of 27″ x 1″ thick Poly-fil foam (my art supply store sells this by the yard so I only bought what I needed)
  2. approx. 5 yards of 58″ wide fabric (I used brown upholstery fabric and a lightweight blue fabric from the clearance section at my art supply store)
  3. Ribbon or additional fabric for bumper ties.
  4. Sewing machine
  5. Fabric pins

Instructions:

img_4962

I cut the foam into (2) 13.5″ x 48″ (side bumpers) and (1) 13.5″ x 30″ (rear bumper) pieces, and the fabric into (4) 14.5″ x 49″ and (2) 14.5″ x 31″ pieces. To make the bumper ties, I cut enough fabric for (6) 10″ x 0.5″ ties. (I used the method described in this strap tutorial to make these, but you can just use ribbon!)

Map out where you want the bumper ties on the bumper pieces, approximately 0.25″ from the edge of the fabric; fold the bumper ties in half and sew the tie near the fold on to the right side the fabric (these will experience a lot of pull, so sew on securely).

Pinning right sides together, sew a 0.5″ seam nearly all around the edges of the side and rear bumpers, leaving about 6-8″ gap near one of the corners. Stuff the Poly-Fil foam pieces into the correct bumpers and manipulate the Poly-Fil until it sitting properly in the fabric. Hand sew up the gaps. Install them in your dog’s crate and watch your pup enjoy! img_4964

 

How do you build resilience in dogs?

According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy or even significant sources of stress. This process is obviously seen in humans, but what does it have to do with dogs?

The ASPCA and other animal welfare professionals are concerned about resilience in dogs because, for some dogs that end up at a shelter, a lack of resilience is a major obstacle to successfully rehoming the dog. Despite shelters’ best effort to mitigate the stress of being in a shelter, the stress of being in a shelter can lead to some dogs developing pretty depressing and challenging behavior, such shutting down, becoming frantic, or even defensive aggression.

Recently, ASPCA Professional hosted a webinar called “Building Resilience in Dogs” by Dr. Patricia McConnell, a professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. (If you’d like to see the whole webinar, follow that last link – you can register to receive the recording of the webinar!)

I amimg_4819 personally interested in resilience in dogs because my younger dog, Luna, is the least resilient dog in the world. OKAY – that may be a slight exaggeration! However: Luna’s recovery time from a single stimulating event (which includes things such as: playing with a toy, going on a walk, someone coming to the house, etc.) is hours if not days.  Since I have organized Luna’s routine to accommodate adequate recovery time, many of Luna less-than-desirable behaviors (including becoming frantic and inappropriate defensive aggression) all but disappear.

This can be tricky though, if we have to have a handy man over to the house and then Luna unexpectedly needs to go to the vet – or a hundred other eventualities that I’m sure you can imagine! Hence my interest in building resilience in dogs: if I can build up Luna’s resilience, maybe I won’t have to be quite as vigilant about guarding Luna’s recovery time.

A dog’s resilience seems to depend on her genetics, early life experiences, and current environment. By the time a dog enters shelter, there typically isn’t much that can be done about those first two factors. Fortunately, Dr. McConnell, the ASPCA, and other animal welfare professionals have identified five ways we can set up a dog’s current environment to help foster resilience.

Dr. McConnell talks extensively in the webinar about the following strategies in the context of a shelter environment (so really, check out the webinar recording!!). Here, I am going to illustrate these strategies with things that I have tried, am trying, or would like to try in my own home for my own un-resilient dog!

1. Sense of safety and security. In general, dogs take in a lot for stimuli than us humans and it can be overwhelming, especially for a dog that is already feeling low on resilience due to a stressful event. Think rock concert + strobing light show + an entire perfume department: you might want a break too! Additionally, for a dog suffering from a lack of resiliency, knowing that it’s safe to sleep, when the next meal is coming, where and when she can go to the bathroom, etc. can be sensibly comforting. How can you create a sense of safety and security? Two main ways: avoid sensory overload and create predictability.

  • Avoid sensory overload
    • Give the dog a seclude “quiet spot”, like a crate or a room that is out of the way of household traffic and let everyone in the home know that the dog is “off-limits” when she is in her quite spot. Encourage or enforce your dog’s use of the quiet spot both during down time at home and when things are a little hectic.
      • Maybe even cover the dog’s crate with a blanket (not for dogs who chew and/or eat cloth, obviously!).
    • Train your dog to wear a ThunderCap, which reduces visual stimuli.
  • Create predictability
    • Create (and stick to!) a routine. Meals, exercise, playtime, and down time should all occur at roughly the same time every day.
    • Teach your dog cues to indicate something is going to happen. For example, Luna gets worked up over treats (she is a lab) so I say her name before I give her a treat and I say my other dog’s name when I am about to give my other dog a treat. Luna does not have to guess who is getting the treat!
    • Other times cues can be useful: nail trims, taking a turn or stopping during a walk, baths, meal times, end of playing (“all done!”), hitting a bump while in the car, etc.
    • Classical music adds to the calming predictability of home (or just the dog’s quiet spot) by adding predictable sounds (and maybe even blocking out some unpredictable sounds!)

3. Social support. Dogs tend to like other dogs – they just speak the same language! So it can be helpful to provide the company of dogs on the way to a resilient recovery…but it might not. Dogs that have not grown up around other dogs or who have had bad experience with another dog in the past may prefer the company of humans. Regardless, dogs are social creatures who (generally) enjoy social interactions.

  • Spend time with your dog in a way she img_4863appreciates (i.e. snuggles with a dog who likes that, quiet time (or read aloud!) with a dog who is not so touchy-feely).
  • Arrange for one-on-one play with another friendly dog or visit a well-maintained dog park.
  • Arrange a walking club. For dogs that may not be comfortable with off-leash play, introducing a dog friend as a walking buddy (when both dogs are leashed and kept at a comfortable distance) may be helpful.

4. Sense of autonomy.  Autonomy means, for a dog, having a choice. And let’s face it, the dogs in our lives do not have many choices: we decide the what, where, and when of her eating, going to the bathroom, playing, sleeping, going on a walk, visiting the vet, and so on. Providing opportunities for a dog to choose what they want to do, when they want to do it.

  • Use the basic principles of no force. A no brainer if ever there was one – never, ever force your dog to do something she does not want to do.
  • Teach behaviors that the dog can initiate herself, such as ringing a bell to go outside or going to a quiet spot.
  • Teach the dog tricks. This gives the dog appropriate behavior options to offer to you and also, when you ask the dog to perform a trick, you’re setting up a situation where the dog really does have a choice to perform the trick or not (with no negative repercussions).

5. Healthy and Balanced Internal Physiology. Just like humans, it is hard for dogs to behave well when they are feeling bad. And beyond veterinary care and good food, dogs need mental and physical exercise to be at their best.

  • Time outdoors. Given her own experience and the results of many research studies in humans, Dr. McConnell feels that time outdoors can be profoundly therapeutic to dogs. While I do agree, this is something that Luna struggles with because A) squirrels, B) sticks, C) people walking down the sidewalk, D) noises…you get the picture.
  • Regular exercise. This is so critical for so many dogs. A tired dog is a happy dog, some say – although really, it should be, “a satiated dog is a happy dog”. Overworked and overwhelmed dogs are tired, yes, but happy? Nope.
  • Mental games, like teaching and performing tricks and using puzzle toys. Luna is so helped by mentally taxing work, especially scent work. Sometimes she is not able to go on our near-daily walks, but she is always able to play “sniffy boxes”. If you have an anxious dog, I highly recommend finding a trainer who does scent work.

Have you tried any of these strategies with an anxious or un-resilient dog? Do you have any suggestions for building resilience in dogs?

 

 

Dog pheromones: do they work?


Photo credit: Gatorgoon via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

To follow up from my post about the efficacy of cat pheromones, I wanted to delve into the scientific literature looking into the effects of pheromonotherapy (the therapeutic application of pheromones to treat behavior problems) on dogs.

What is pheromonotherapy?

Scientists have demonstrated that many animals utilize pheromones (chemical communication signals emitted by animals) for a purposes as varied as sexual receptivity to spatial orientation to appeasement of infant animals. The idea behind pheromonotherapy is pretty simple: use synthetic pheromones to communicate a useful message to a pet displaying a behavior problem. While no side effects or toxicity to synthetic pheromones are known, the application of pheromonotherapy is complicated by the fact that animals do not passively intake pheromones (as far as scientists and veterinarians understand) – rather, animals must actively suck in pheromones through a specialized organ in the nasal cavity called the vomeronasal organ (VNO). Unfortunately, there are typically environmental or behavior signals that induce an animal to engage the VNO and these signals may or may not be present when synthetic pheromones are applied. Synthetic pheromones are available from many pet retailers in the form of plug in diffusers, impregnated collars, sprays, and wipes.

What can pheromones do for dogs?

The only dog pheromone that I have found on the market is Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP), which is supposed to be a synthetic copycat of the pheromone mother dogs produce to enhance attachment and promote emotional stabilization in her puppies. The common application for this pheromone is, unsurprisingly, to mitigate a undesirable dog behavior resulting from stressors  such as loud noises, being left alone, meeting/living with another animal, going to a veterinary office, etc.

So…do pheromones work for dogs?

I separated studies that I found in my literature review of pheromonotherapy efficacy in dogs into two broad categories: those considering dogs in “social” situations (i.e. where many other animals are present: shelters, veterinary clinics, or training classes) and those looking at dogs in a more private home setting. My motivation for this division is the probable increase in the engagement of the VNO in social situations vs. when dogs are just sitting in their familiar environment.

Interestingly, the general consensus is: YES, pheromones are very effective in reducing anxiety and displacement behaviors (barking, panting, avoidance behaviors, destruction, excessive licking, etc.) while promoting relaxed and social behaviors (social greetings of strangers, laying down, normal appetite, etc.) in dogs. In social settings, results have been reported in as little as 4-7 days, while the treatment period for dogs in home settings is typically longer (4+ weeks). One study even found that DAP application had comparable results to an antidepressant medication, clomipramine, on reducing anxious behaviors.  That’s pretty impressive, considering that DAP has no side effects while clomipramine can have serious side effects including GI upset, elevation of liver enzymes, convulsions, and confusion.

Nearly every study that I read included the stern limitation that more research is needed to confirm these positive results. Furthermore, serious canine behavior problems are unlikely to be fully ameliorated by pheromonotherapy alone: behavior modification programs and psychopharmaceutical drugs should be applied as determined by a veterinarian and/or behaviorist.


Photo credit: Bekathwia via Remodel Blog / CC BY-SA

What does the manufacturer have to say about pheromone efficacy in dogs?

I contacted Ceva Animal Health, the company that produces a popular dog pheromone, Adaptil because their products/website purport to have data on file about the effectiveness of Adaptil. A veterinary technician in their customer service section got back to me with three pieces of literature: one was an actual study of pheromonotherapy and socialization in puppies [1], one was a well-referenced summary of pheromonotherapy studies [2], and the final piece was (probably?) a selection from a book that had no references and a single author [3]. Since I expected some data generated internally from Ceva or at least a Ceva-funded study, I was pretty disappointed in this response – all of this information is available publicly, so what’s with the “data on file” statement? I suspect that Ceva (and other animal product manufacturers) are not all that interested in selling an effective product – they just want to sell any product.

TL;DR

Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) is pretty well established as an effective treatment for stress-induced behavior problems in dogs. Pheromonotherapy has been demonstrated to reduce anxious behaviors and increase relaxed behaviors in dogs in especially short timeframes (4-7 days) in situations where other animals are present, which appears to hold up in more private home settings over longer periods (4+ weeks). Dogs with serious behavior problems should be evaluated by a veterinarian and/or dog behaviorist because pheromonotherapy is likely only one piece of the behavior modification and treatment program that the dog will need.

References

  1. Denenberg, Sagi, and Gary M. Landsberg. “Effects of dog-appeasing pheromones on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long-term socialization.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 233.12 (2008): 1874-1882.
  2. Landsberg, Gary. “Why Practitioners Should Feel Comfortable with Pheromones – The Evidence to Support Pheromone Use.” Presented at The North American Veterinary Conference. (2006)
  3. Mills, Daniel S. “Pheromones and Pheromonatherapy.” The Henston Small Animal Veterinary Vade Mecum. Part IV: 316-323
  4. Frank, Diane, Guy Beauchamp, and Clara Palestrini. “Systematic review of the use of pheromones for treatment of undesirable behavior in cats and dogs.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 236.12 (2010): 1308-1316.
  5. Tod, Elaine, Donna Brander, and Natalie Waran. “Efficacy of dog appeasing pheromone in reducing stress and fear related behaviour in shelter dogs.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 93.3 (2005): 295-308.
  6. Kim, Young-Mee, et al. “Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) for ameliorating separation-related behavioral signs in hospitalized dogs.” Canadian Veterinary Journal 51.4 (2010): 380.
  7. Gaultier, E., et al. “Comparison of the efficacy of a synthetic dog-appeasing pheromone with clomipramine for the treatment of separation-related disorders in dogs.” Veterinary Record-English Edition 156.17 (2005): 533-537.
  8. Mills, Daniel Simon, et al. “A triple blind placebo-controlled investigation into the assessment of the effect of Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) on anxiety related behaviour of problem dogs in the veterinary clinic.” Applied animal behaviour science 98.1 (2006): 114-126.
  9. Sheppard, G., and D. S. Mills. “Evaluation of dog-appeasing pheromone as a potential treatment for dogs fearful of fireworks.” Veterinary Record: Journal of the British Veterinary Association 152.14 (2003).

The Trouble with Shock Collars: A Real World Example


Photo credit: Schill via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

A family in my neighborhood welcomed a Great Dane puppy into their lives last fall. The once-gangly, now-100+-lb grey dog regularly greets me and my dog while we walk by his yard with booming barks. This situation has apparently become unacceptable for his owners: this week we have not been regaled with the hound’s vocalizations and he is sporting a shiny shock collar high on his neck.

The training method that shock collars, and all punitive training methods, rely on the operant conditioning strategy of positive punishment. The principal is simple: the dog does something the owner does not like and receives the shock – thereby decreasing the likelihood of the dog to repeat that undesired behavior in order to avoid the aversive consequence. For operant conditioning to be successful, two criteria must be met: timing and persuasiveness. These two criteria are precisely why punitive training methods like shock collars are fraught with trouble – and I’ll tell you why:

Shock collars are not smart.  When using operant conditioning, the trainer’s timing must be impeccable in order to link the correct behavior to the correct consequence, because animals do not possess the mental capacity to link consequences of behaviors that are more than a few seconds apart. Is my neighbor’s dog linking the shock with his barking behavior – or the appearance of another dog? Or a squirrel that just happened to be running down the street at the same time? Or the truck that just drove by?

All types of operant conditioning always involves a little trial and error on the animal’s part. Using aversive consequences for training causes stress in dogs and can likely contribute to the development anxiety disorders, aggression, and a host of other behavioral problems.

Shock collars are not safe. The other vital criteria for successful operant condition is that the consequence of the animal’s behavior must be compelling enough to actually change the animal’s behavior. This is why many dog trainers instruct owners to turn up their dog’s shock collar, despite contrary instructions from the manufacturer.

So what if my neighbor’s dog is connecting the significant shocks to the appearance of me and/or my dog? Well, if human +/- dog = pain, it will behoove the dog to prevent humans and/or dogs from getting near to him – so he will become aggressive towards walkers and their dogs.

Shock collars are not necessary. While I’m having to re-route my walking path due to my safety concerns about my neighbor’s dog (which is actually quite the ordeal for my OCD-anxiety dog), I must admit that I am frustrated by my neighbor’s numerous decisions leading up to this point:

  1. They purchased a dog too large to be adequately contained in their yard
  2. They leave him outside unattended
  3. They are upset that a dog bred specifically for its guarding skills barks at strangers
  4. They chose to install a shock collar on him rather than safely train him to tolerate walkers

Any one of these decisions could have been made differently and our whole neighborhood would be safer! Of course, the welfare of the dog is also a significant concern on mine so I would prefer that my neighbors would train their dog not to bark in a manner that will not cause pain and anxiety.

Repurchase: Busy Buddy Jack & Bristle Bone

The Busy Buddy Bristle Bone was one of the first toys I purchased for my first dog, Allie. When we decided to add another canine to our crew, I took full advantage of the opportunity to buy another similar toy by the same company, the Busy Buddy Jack. Well, that was about 3-4 years ago and it was time for a repurchase! As you can see, although these toys are completely ruined, they were well loved. My motivation for repurchasing was primarily the rubber rings – the nubs were rapidly declining and I can only assume my dogs were ingesting them (and again, this is after 3-4 years of good chewing so I’m not thinking this is a defect).

These toys are predominantly a hard plastic (nylon) chew toy that unscrew apart to allow two rubber rings and an edible ring to be inserted and cost $5-20 (online), depending on the size (XS-L). Four edible rawhide rings come with the toy and refill packs – which come in a variety of flavored rawhide or cornstarch – containing 16 rings are $4-8 (online).

DIY Busy Buddy Toy Refills

I’m not crazy about giving my dogs a lot of rawhide or cornstarch so I generally make my own refills with sweet potatoes. Using the fattest sweet potatoes that I can find, I cut them into 1/4-1/2in slices and use a heavy duty apple corer to punch holes in the middle of the slices. Then I dehydrate the slices for about 8 hours and voila! Yummy, chewy, healthy Busy Buddy refills! (No dehydrator? You can accomplish the same thing in a low heat oven for a few hours!)

Private: Suds & Cheese: Tips for a minimally painful & non-human-soaking dog bath!

Wisconsin recently treated me to a few days of shockingly warm weather – on the weekend, no less! I try not to bathe my dogs in the winter as much as possible but it can get a little stinky so I took full advantage of the freakish warmth! Below are my tried and true tips for a maximally peaceful, minimally self-bathing dog bath!

Tip 1: Gather your supplies. My pup cleansing supplies are 2 full sized towels, 2 hand towels, a high-quality conditioning shampoo, and cheese. Yes, CHEESE is vital. Few dogs like baths and the ample application of cheese before, during, as after baths can really make everything much more enjoyable for everyone.


Tip 2: Consider your dog’s preferences. 
One of my dog’s prefers warm-to-hot bath water, especially when it is not warm outside. Neither of my pups want to stay in the tub very long. So I trial-and-error water temperature for my pups (lucky for me, Allie will give me a *snappy comeback if the temp isn’t right). And I make sure bath time goes as fast as possible by having purchased a shower head with a long hose and getting together all my supplies before asking the pup to get in the tub. (Also, I have used the cheese tip so much that my dogs both climb in the tub willingly – so no wrestling my 85lb!)

Okay, I know the point of giving your dog a bath is to make her smell nice but puppy noses are approximately 1,000-10,000 times more sensitive than our pathetic human schnozes. And if your dog could pick a smell that was 1,000 times stronger to her than it is to you, do you think it would be tropical mango? Probably not!

Tip 3: Strategize. So you may have read my first tip and thought, Why on earth does she need so many towels?  The answer is strategy:

Exhibit A: Two towels for stability/grip.
  • Possibly the best dog bathing tip I have ever found was from Dr. Marty Becker’s book, “Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual”. He calls it the three towel tip but I have modified it slightly. I put the two hand towels in the bottom of the tub pre-pup. Slipping in the tub can be a real source of bath hatred for dogs, and the wet towels underneath the dog can provide much-appreciated stability.I used two hand towels because I’ve noticed that putting a regular towel in the tub –
    as Dr. Becker suggests – can

    Exhibit B: The after bath splash zone minimizer

    get bunched up and pushed out of the way easily. As soon as I’m done rinsing the pup, I put the first large towel over the dog (see Exhibit B) to decrease my likelihood of ending up in the splash zone of the after-bath shake. I use the second large towel to actually dry the dog.

  • Reconsider washing your dog’s head. The thing is, your dog’s head isn’t really that smelly. Or at least, if your dog doesn’t have an ear infection or bad teeth, your dog’s head shouldn’t be smelly. Most dogs dislike water pouring over their heads and it can even increase the risk of an ear infection with water gets trapped in their ear canals. So skip the head washing! I used grooming wipes on my pup’s heads if I feel so inclined but honestly, even that is generally unnecessary!

 

Renting with Pets: Tips from (at this point I should be) a Pro

IMG_2564My family of wife + husband + two dogs + two cats are about to embark on our third move in just over two years (quite a long story, with the happy ending of my husband’s PhD program and my well-paying, career-strategic job miraculously being in the same city). Since we are a such a mobile fur family, renting has been an unfortunate necessity for us! Below are some things that I’ve learn so far about renting with pets in tow.

Renting with Pets

  1. Take GREAT care of your pet. The best piece of evidence that you can provide a potential landlord that you and your pets will be great renters is a great rental and veterinary history. Give your dog enough exercise and mental stimulation so she doesn’t tear up the vinyl flooring. Get your cat to the vet regularly to head off any medical problems that may cause inappropriate elimination. Make sure everybody has enough positive human interaction, toys and activities to be healthy and happy.
  2. Find a nice person that owns a rental property. This little gem came from a dear friend. If you have more than one pet, or large dogs, or a dog that may be difficult for a property owner to insure, or an exotic pet, it’s probably best for you to skip right past ads from large property management firms or gigantic apartment complexes. Chances are, the property owner is not going to take the time to consider your individual circumstances and why you are a good renter. Instead, focus on property owners that have one or two units and provide more information that required to prove you are a great renter. Yes, this does take some trial and error if you are going primarily from Craigslist or Zillow! Ask friends or relatives for suggestions and keep at it!
  3. Make a pet resume for all your pets. A short, one-page document with your pets’ photos, veterinary history, training achievements and other charming details (age, altered status, likes/dislikes) about your furry family members can highlight just that: your pets are part of the family. Landlord don’t want to rent to pet owners that let their cats wee all over the carpet because the litter boxes are never clean or whose dog chewed all the baseboards because he never got enough exercise. If you can make the case that your pets get everything they need to be healthy and happy (because they are treated like family), a prospective landlord may be more willing to give you a shot.
  4. Take training class and get certificates. So, this may be easier for dogs: sadly, the intellectual abilities of cats are not typically advanced through organized classes. But if you have a pooch, take a few training classes and provide a certificate of completion with your rental application. This is just another piece of evidence to provide your future landlord that you are a responsible pet owner!
  5. Keep calm and keeping searching. It’s going to take some time to find a rental property that will take in your family if you have a lot of pets or unusual pets. You may encounter some unpleasantry (my choice favorites: “Can you get rid of the dogs for a year?” – where exactly would I put them?, “I would need to charge extra for the cat smell.” – my cats don’t smell, because I don’t live in filth, thanks, “Are they aggressive breeds?” – and then after I tried to explain aggressive breeds don’t exist, they hung up on me). It can be frustrating to Persevere and find the rental of your dreams! Or at least, a rental!

My next post will focus on the strategies and tips that I’ve used to making moving rentals bearable for my pets and me!