The kind folks at Chewy.com sent us more treats to review! This time around, they gave us a package of Halo Liv-a-Littles Grain-Free 100% Beef Freeze-Dried treats. Since the Springers are allergic to beef, it was up to Strata and Spark to do the testing this time around. They were happy to oblige.
These treats were exactly what I was expecting: “standard operating procedure” freeze-dried dog treats. The size of the pieces vary from 1/4″ to 1″ and the larger pieces are easily broken by twisting them gently or slicing them with a knife. Most of these pieces were too large to be used as training treats and needed to be broken up into smaller pieces. They are slightly crumbly and ever-so-slightly greasy. Most store-bought dog treats are kind of oily; freeze-dried treats usually aren’t, but these did leave a bit of residue on my hands.
Both Strata and Spark enjoyed the treats. Strata will eat anything, but Spark is a little finicky when it comes to freeze-dried treats and will often spit out other brands, so I was pleasantly surprised that he would eat these.
My only “beef” with these treats (come on, I’m entitled to one bad pun per blog post, right?!) is the packaging. They come in a nice hard plastic container with a screw-on lid. The problem is the safety seal on the lid. It was very difficult to get the safety seal option and it took me, Dan, and a small pointy knife to get the hard plastic safety seal to come undone. Compared to most dog treat packaging, that was a hassle. The good news is that the lid is very secure and the container is reusable. I’ll definitely use it for holding other treats in the future.
These treats come in one container size, a 2.75oz jar, which is what we received from Chewy.com. The dogs and I thought these treats were good, but nothing special, and I probably will not purchase them in the future. There are a lot of freeze-dried treat options on the market, and I’m not inclined to fight with the safety seal on the jar again.
The product reviewed in this blog post was provided by Chewy.com.
Spark’s First Agility Trial: An Analysis November 15, 2013 No Comments
As I mentioned in my post about Strata’s MACH, I entered Spark in his first couple of trials in the fall. He made his début at my club’s trial, Colonial Shetland Sheepdog Club, just in Novice Jumpers with Weaves. He was a very good boy!
His run on Saturday was adorable. His start line was lovely and he did the first two jumps with gusto. Then the judge, Ken Fairchild, took a couple of steps towards him in preparation to judge the weave poles. Spark turned and stared at him. “Why is this guy in the ring? And who said he had permission to move?” In the process, he drifted past the plane of the next jump for a refusal, then back-jumped it for an off-course. Once he was back on track, he did nicely, hitting his weave pole entrance on the first try and keeping all of his bars up. It was a very cute run for a baby-dog!
On Sunday he had this whole concept of “goin’ to run agility now” firmly planted in his head. He wanted to drag me into the ring. He tugged on his leash (!) while we waited for the bars to be set. The dog running after him was barking, which bothered him a little (you can see him give that dog “the look” over his shoulder after I set him up on the start line) but once he started running, he was on fire! Here’s the video…
The ending was classic baby-dog – that’s his buddy Lynda in the ring crew seat.
This was my last agility trial of the year. (Not to be outdone by his little brother, Strata was a complete rock star all weekend, with a QQ on Saturday and a single Q on Sunday. The NQ was 250% my fault.) We’ve been trialing almost non-stop since late February, so it’s time for my dogs and my checkbook to take a well-deserved break!
Here’s my analysis of Spark’s two performances.
- Great start-lines
- Good enthusiasm while waiting his turn
- Came right back to me at the end of his runs
- Missed weave pole entry at speed
- Distracted by people in the ring
- Jumping form a little “creative” at times
I’ve taken those “needs improvement” skills and added them to my training to-do list in my training notebook, so we can work on them this winter. I’m really pleased with how he did at the trial. My goal was just to see how well our training would hold up in a trial atmosphere, with no concern for Qs or results. I knew it would give us great material for this long winter off to train, and it certainly did!
Dog Training Record Keeping with the Staples Arc Notebook September 25, 2013 3 Comments
I’m always excited to write product reviews for items that work for me and my dogs. Two months ago while shopping for office supplies at Staples, I stumbled across the Arc notebook system. As soon as I saw it in stores, I knew this would be the solution to my dog training record keeping conundrum. I have used it daily ever since, and I dare say it is perfect for me! In the hopes that it might be useful for other dog trainers, I’m outlining my notebook here.
First, a review of what I’ve tried in the past…
- Not keeping records at all. This is one of my biggest regrets of my dog training journey! I wish I had notes from the great workshops and lessons I took in my “early years.”
- Spiral-bound notebook. It was hard to find a size that was portable but still comfortable to write in. Little ones caused a wrist cramp when taking lots of notes at a seminar. The other downside was having to choose between either lined pages or grids, and for agility seminars I prefer access to both – grids for drawing courses, and lines for taking notes.
- iPad apps. I blogged before about Daily Notes. My problem was that the tagging functionality got worse and worse with every update. It was easy to check what I did the day or week before, but difficult to track progress on an individual skill (like the dogwalk). I have also used Noteshelf to take seminar notes, but it is difficult to draw courses on the iPad, so it’s no better than a paper notebook. (As an aside, I use Noteshelf for taking notes at consultations and lessons with clients and find it to be excellent for that purpose.)
Without further ado, here’s the Arc notebook I use for tracking my dogs’ training progress. It’s 6 3/4″ by 8 3/4″ and I got it for less than $20 at Staples.
Arc is a “discbound” notebook system. The binding consists of removable plastic discs. It comes standard with 0.5″ discs but I quickly upgraded to 1″ which is the perfect size for my needs. They also make a 1.5″ set of discs.
These discs allow you to add and remove pages in seconds. This means I only carry the paper I need and not hundreds of blank pages which I may or may not need in the future. I can also remove pages for “finished” behaviors. (Is any behavior truly “finished?”)
My notebook is divided into five sections. One for each dog (Spark, Strata, and Finch), one for notes on DVDs/books/seminars, and one for agility courses. I have further divided each dog’s section into Agility behaviors and Obedience behaviors. (For puppies I would also have a “Life Skills” section for things like sit, down, loose leash walking, recall, etc.) I made more dividers out of cardstock for those secondary sections (more on that below).
Because the paper is customizable, I have regular lined paper in the DVD/books section, graph paper in the courses section, and this AWESOME “project planner” paper in the dogs’ sections. Here’s a picture of the project planner paper in action for Spark’s 2×2 weave pole training.
I can draw quick diagrams or outline bullet-point criteria for a behavior on the left, record my sessions on the right, and reiterate key points on the bottom. Needless to say most behaviors need several sheets of paper, so I just clip ‘em all together with a paper clip.
Here’s the mind-blowing part: You are by no means limited to using the paper and dividers that Staples sells. You can buy a punch and add whatever you want to your notebook. (That said – the Arc accessories are extremely affordable and well-designed. I’m impressed with everything I have purchased so far!)
That’s how I made more dividers – I bought cardstock at a craft store, cut it in half, and punched it:
The possibilities are endless! Agility competitors can punch course maps & copies of score sheets to keep for future reference. (No picture – I haven’t felt the need to actually do that yet.) If you opt for a letter-sized (8.5″ x 11″) notebook you could punch handouts from seminar presenters. I just started punching my trial premiums to keep with my calendar in my letter-sized planner.
Staples sells a desk-sized punch for about $45, but I bought a travel-sized punch from Levenger through Amazon for $20. (The Levenger and Arc systems are completely interchangeable. Levenger is much pricier, but they have some drool-worthy notebooks!) The travel-sized punch is very portable and would be easy to keep in your car or training bag if you wanted to punch things at a trial.
Well, there you have it. I hope this post has piqued your interest in the Arc notebook line. They often go on sale for 30-40% off, so keep an eye on your Staples weekly ad. I also heard through the grapevine that they have a new line of quilted leather covers coming out this month! If you have questions about the system, post a comment and I’m happy to answer it for you!
Disclaimer: Staples has provided me no compensation whatsoever for this blog post. I’m just a happy customer! Maybe they’ll see this and send me free refill pages, though?
Finch Goes to the Agility Trial September 19, 2013 Comments Off
Finch has progressed by leaps and bounds. His reactivity toward people is almost non-existent at this point. Unless they have a strange object or do something very threatening, they won’t scare Finch. Recent “tests” in my neighborhood have included multiple kids riding one bicycle at the same time, joggers carrying umbrellas, and a sight-impaired man using a pole as an aid. Finchy says, “No big deal!”
Our goal is that Finch can one day compete at an agility trial with his brothers. He loves doing agility and is more of a “natural” than any dog I’ve worked with – it’s like he popped out of the womb knowing how to balance on narrow objects and use his legs independently. Jumping 16″ is a breeze. He learned the entire chute obstacle in 3 clicks. Ninja spaniel!
The next stage of Finch’s training is all about building his comfort level with unfamiliar dogs. Previously Finch has attended some of our Reactive Recovery classes which helped lay the foundation that other dogs = treats & toys from me. But with my busy trial schedule, I could no longer get to RR, so our opportunities to train around other dogs have been few and far between.
Because Finch has done so well with people we decided to try bringing him to some outdoor shows. In particular, the events at Westfield Fairgrounds are particularly “Finch friendly” as the show site is large, with plenty of open barns and small buildings to act as visual barriers. Basically, I can easily manipulate Finch’s level of exposure there.
So last weekend we packed all three of the boys in the car and headed off to Pioneer Valley Kennel Club’s agility trial.
I came ready with a full squeeze tube of peanut butter, two bags of Orijen duck treats (still his favorite!), and his beloved orange nubby ball. Equally important was all the gear we brought to keep the car cool, since we kept Finch crated in the car when I wasn’t training him. I’m going to cover warm weather car gear in a separate post.
When I wasn’t walking a course or running Strata, I was off training Finch. Here’s a summary of his experiences that weekend:
- In the “too much, too soon” category we encountered two Briards in an exercise pen that exploded in a fit of barking when Finch looked at them from a distance of about 20′. Finch responded in kind.
- The good news is that later on, when the dogs had fallen asleep, Finch got lots of opportunities to earn rewards for looking at them. By the end of the day on Sunday, both he and the Briards seemed quite comfortable with one another at this distance.
- Finch practiced matwork when the rings were busy and dogs weren’t visiting our section of the fairgrounds. Shame on me – I forgot his “special” mat that we use for relaxation – but it didn’t seem to matter; he generalized his “flop over and chill out” response to the dog bed I keep in the car crate.
- He got to watch dogs of different breeds pass by at a distance of 30-50′: Labs, German Shepherds, lots of shelties, a Bulldog, Standard Poodles, Goldens, and a few Border Collies.
- Finch thought the hotel was great fun! He enjoyed wrestling with his brothers and sleeping on the bed (a rare treat). Something woke me up in the middle of the night and I looked down to find Finch crammed between me and Dan, sound asleep on his back, his paws twitching as he dreamt. SO cute!
- On Sunday, he walked past a Flat-Coated Retriever at a distance of about 25′. He kept a nice loose leash and looked at the other dog softly, with no intensity or excitement.
- The cherry on top: as the show quieted down at the end of the day on Sunday, enough cars and tents left the ringside area that Finch could watch dogs running in the ring at a distance of 80′. He thought this was *very* interesting but did not go over threshold, even when noisy and fast dogs ran!
I’m so proud of all that Finch accomplished. This weekend was perfect for expanding his horizons and learning how to be calm and focused around other dogs. Dan and I are already checking our calendar to find out when we can bring him to another show!
MACH Strata: The Journey September 16, 2013 2 Comments
It’s been a busy month for all of us here at Spring Forth and I apologize for taking such an extended absence from blogging! I’ll jump right in with some good news.
Strata finished his Master Agility Championship (MACH) on Sunday, August 25th at the Tri-State Shetland Sheepdog Club agility trial in Hamden, CT. We have no fancy portraits yet – this iPad photo of a proud sheltie with his ribbon must suffice!
Here are his runs from that exciting day…
(Isn’t his MACH victory lap a riot? He is just thrilled that the judge wanted to say hi to him. That’s Strata for you – temperament of a Labrador…)
Since finishing his MACH, Strata has also qualified for AKC Agility Nationals which will take place in Pennsylvania next year, and needs just one more Jumpers With Weaves Q to qualify for AKC World Team Tryouts.
I have spent a lot of time recently preparing my “baby dogs”, Finch and Spark, for their agility careers. We still don’t know if Finch will ever be able to compete, but I bravely (or stupidly, depending on how you look at it) mailed Spark’s entries for his first couple of agility trials – just in JWW and Time 2 Beat; he’s definitely not ready for Standard yet – not enough dogwalk training. I did this when Strata was young, too. Knowing I have a trial coming up (and therefore entry fees on the line) prompts me to train on a more regular basis. I have no problem scratching if the day comes and my dog isn’t ready. Just having that “deadline” looming gets me motivated.
Back to Strata, since this post should be all about him, right? As I said, I used the same “method” of early entry to motivate myself to “put up or shut up” with him, too. Strata had his Open JWW title before he started running in Standard. That is because teaching Strata the dogwalk was one of the hardest things I have ever taught any dog to do – I’m talking more challenging than some of my aggression and separation anxiety cases.
Strata is afraid of heights. When he was a puppy, he would always be very scared on the grooming table. This is not uncommon. Lots of pups make the association that table = grooming and act accordingly. This went beyond that. It took me weeks to get him to move on the grooming table, let alone eat anything. If you put him on the table he would freeze.
We worked through that issue and honestly, I didn’t think it would be much of a problem until we started elevating the dogwalk in training. Once we hit 2′, Strata would refuse the dogwalk: he would run up the first plank, turn around, and run back down it. We worked through that, and then he began running up the first plank, creeping slowly and carefully across the second plank, and rushing down the third plank into contact position.
This wasn’t a problem with the A-frame. Think about it – as soon as the dog realizes he’s up high on the A-frame, he gets to run back down it. Phew! No worries. The teeter didn’t seem to bother him, either, though to this day we do a lot of refresher work on being brave and going all the way to the end of the board so it tips faster.
Fortunately, I did a couple of private lessons with Amanda Shyne and she showed me some games to play to get Strata more comfortable on the dogwalk. (Some of them are outlined in her book about stopped contacts, for anyone experiencing the same problem.) Building his core strength also improved his confidence on the narrow plank. But man, was it a slow process. If you watch this video of Strata earning his Open Standard title, you’ll see him trot across the middle plank. I remember being particularly pleased because he looked happy on a foreign dogwalk for the first time in competition!
Once we got the dogwalk issue out-of-the-way, we spent our time perfecting our timing and my handling. Strata is my first truly competitive dog and we have learned so much together. He is a great dog to take to seminars – quiet in his crate, ready to work at a moment’s notice, and eager to give me 250% whether it’s the first repetition or the tenth. Our goal shifted to getting maximum speed out of him. He would always run for me, but with varying levels of intensity.
Last year an x-ray showed that Strata was born with an extra vertebrae in his lower back. Because of this, some of his discs are compressed and two vertebrae have fused together. We always knew the little dude had an achy back but didn’t know the cause. There is not a lot of research on this; anecdotally, a Borzoi breeder has noted that dogs with extra vertebrae gallop much slower than their “normal” counterparts. When I read that, suddenly things started to make a lot more sense. All along, Strata had been giving me 100% effort. Little did I know, his 100% effort is the equivalent of a “normal” dog’s 70% effort. Now that I have Spark to “compare” him to, it’s obvious how much slower Strata is – when they both chase after the same ball, Spark can easily beat Strata to it. This was true even when Spark was still an adolescent.
It just goes to show you that you never know what hidden obstacles others have to overcome to succeed. And I am so glad that I never took out my frustration on him for “not being fast enough.” I firmly believe that our dogs are always giving us 100% effort; if we perceive they are giving us less, it’s a training problem or a physical problem – both of which certainly are not the dog’s fault. Part of our journey together has involved learning a lot about conditioning and strength-training exercises to keep Strata in tip-top shape to compensate for this problem.
I think that the diagnosis was actually a big turning point for us. Now I knew the answer did not lie in “make him run faster,” it was “run the most efficient line.” Ground speed is not ever going to be Strata’s strong suit. He has to run the tightest line possible – no extra strides! I changed my handling strategy accordingly.
This year has been a big one for us, not just because of the MACH but also because we attended AKC Nationals and World Team Tryouts together. What incredible experiences! And there is no dog on the planet I’d rather be traveling with. He travels by plane like he’s a globetrotter, makes a great snuggler in the hotel, and runs consistently wherever we go.
Can you tell that I am madly in love with this dog? Not a day goes by that I don’t count my blessings, thankful that I have Strata in my life. This MACH is just the beginning for the two of us. I can tell that there is much more to come.
Dog Treat Review: Natural Balance L.I.T. Limited Ingredient Treats Jerky Bark July 8, 2013 1 Comment
Chewy.com graciously sent me another package of treats to review! This time, the dogs and I got to try Natural Balance Limited Ingredient Treats (L.I.T.) Jerky Bark, in the fish and sweet potato formula. (Phew, that’s a mouthful!)
I was told these treats had a “granola bar” texture, which made me a little unsure about their suitability for dog training. When I think “granola bar”, I think “crumbs everywhere” or perhaps “hard as a rock”. I’m pleased to report that these treats are neither of those things! (They also look nothing like the treats in the promotional picture to the right…)
When I opened the bag, I was pleased that they do not have much of a fishy odor. Sure, they smell a bit like fish if you stick your face in the bag, but that’s nothing compared to other fish treats that stink up the entire neighborhood as soon as you open the package.
Each treat in the package is about 1 oz and resembles a Snickers bar in size and shape – a fat rectangle. I can easily break up the treats with both my hands and a knife (see below photo for results). It does make a few crumbs, but I’m impressed at how easy it was to get small pieces. This treat would make great bait for the conformation show ring. It reminds me of Natural Balance’s dog food rolls, but slightly less moist and with a healthier, shorter ingredient list.
After breaking up a couple of bars, I used these treats in training sessions with Spark, Strata, and Finch. All three dogs thoroughly enjoyed them and stayed interested in them for the entire session. Finch can be a little finicky, especially with new treats, but he had no trouble working for these.
Chewy.com provided a 6 oz resealable bag which contains six, 1 oz jerky bark pieces. A larger 12 oz bag is also available. I plan to purchase these treats in the future, since all three dogs enjoyed them. Fish is one of the few protein sources they can all eat, so it’s nice to have one go-to training treat that works for everybody! Dog tested, trainer approved!
The product reviewed in this blog post was provided by Chewy.com.
Upcoming Agility Trial: Colonial Shetland Sheepdog Club/Middlesex County Kennel Club July 1, 2013 Comments Off
Looking for a fun way to beat the heat this weekend? Colonial Shetland Sheepdog Club and Middlesex County Kennel Club are hosting an AKC Agility Trial this weekend, July 6th and 7th, at Wide World of Indoor Sports in North Smithfield, RI. There will be two rings of agility in air-conditioned comfort. This venue offers great second-floor seating so you can get a great view of the action!
If you’ve never attended an agility trial before, here are a few pointers. You can expect to see dogs running from 8AM to about 4PM both days. Please leave your dog at home. There are snacks and drinks available for sale at the show site; no outside food or drink is allowed. (There’s an incredible pizza place across the parking lot, too!)
Dan and I will be at the trial on both days. If you decide to come watch, stop by our vending booth with the orange tablecloth and say hello!
How Can I Prevent My Puppy From Becoming Fearful of Thunderstorms? June 29, 2013 Comments Off
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Ain’t that the truth! Owners who have lived with or known a dog that was terrified of fireworks or thunderstorms often as if there is any way to help make sure their new puppy doesn’t suffer the same fate. If you have a new puppy or a recently adopted adult dog, here are some quick tips to follow this season.
- Try hard to be home for your dog’s first thunderstorm/fireworks display. If it’s at all possible, don’t leave your new addition home in a crate to “ride out the storm” alone. You want to be with your pup to try to distract them from the noise.
- Know when fireworks are coming, not only in your own town, but in surrounding towns as well. Don’t be taken by surprise. (Check your local newspaper, or do a quick Google search. Locally, The Patriot Ledger generally publishes a list of all towns’ 4th of July celebrations, which is quite handy.)
- Pair scary sounds with tasty treats or fun games. When a storm rolls in or the fireworks display begins, fill a food-stuffable toy like a Kong with cream cheese or peanut butter, or bring out a tug toy for a fun (indoor) game to keep your puppy’s focus off the storm. Cheer on your puppy for bravely listening to the sounds without reacting. (No thunderstorms on the forecast? Use Legacy Canine’s Puppy Habituation CD. The tracks contain thunderstorms, fireworks, gunshots, and more.)
- Create background noise. Turn on the TV or radio so the loud booms won’t be so obvious.
- DON’T bring your dog to see the fireworks. Our dogs’ sense of hearing is many times better than our own. What is loud to us is downright painful for them to listen to. Fireworks displays are not safe places to bring a dog – beyond the noise, they are hot, crowded, and full of unsupervised children.
Happy Birthday, Spark! June 27, 2013 Comments Off
Time flies! Spark turns one year old today. He has accomplished so much in such a short period. I meant to update more often with his show results, but between waiting for pictures and everything else I’ve got going on, it fell by the wayside. Here’s the cliffnotes version.
In my last post about Spark, I described his first show where he won Best of Breed over two finished Champions for two points. We took a couple of months off as I prepared Strata for AKC Nationals, and came out swinging in April. He was Winners Dog at two shows (Trap Falls Kennel Club & South County Kennel Club), earning a single point each time. This brings his total up to 4 AKC points. At his most recent show, he was awarded Best Runner-Up in Puppy Sweepstakes Granite State Shetland Sheepdog Club’s specialty.
We also squeezed in some UKC shows as well. In March at Silver City K9 Club, Spark finished his UKC Championship in one weekend of shows, winning two Best of Breeds with competition and a Group First under judge William Chrzanowski! Not bad for an eight month old puppy. A month later, I brought him out again for one day at Apple Valley Rat Terrier Club’s show. There were no other shelties entered, but he took a Group Third and Group Fourth against stiff competition in the Herding Group.
Despite all of this conformation showing, my focus is still on training Spark to compete in agility. He loves the work. His nickname around here is “Ricky Bobby” à la Talledega Nights – he wants to go fast! He tugs like a maniac, does short sequences with tunnels and a table, practices his start line stay at every agility trial we attend with Strata, and has just learned to “set up” between my legs which will be part of his trial routine. Now that he is a year old, he’ll start learning to jump and weave in the coming weeks.
Spark will celebrate his birthday by making an appearance at the Wampanoag Kennel Club show in Wrentham, followed by a trip to the show vendor to pick out any squeaky toy he wants! Since Dan will be busy walking dogs that day, Spark and I will spend the entire day together at the show, so we’ll have lots of opportunities to play and practice together.
Help! My Dog is Afraid of Fireworks or Thunderstorms June 24, 2013 Comments Off
Summer is upon us, and the 4th of July is less than two weeks away. Most dogs adore what summer brings: romping in the backyard after work, going for a swim, barbecue leftovers, vacation time with you – but for a select few, the fun is tempered by the scary sounds of fireworks and thunder coming from above. If you loathe what these noises, read on for some tips to keep your dog comfortable with fireworks and thunderstorms.
Try Some Products
If you already know your dog has noise-phobia, here are a variety of products you can experiment with. The great thing about these is that you can use most of them at the same time. Don’t think of this as a science experiment, where you want to change one variable at a time. Try as many techniques as you can to get your dog comfortable as soon as possible.
- Aromatherapy: There are a variety of aromatherapy products on the market. Look for one that has lavender and chamomile, such as Aromadog Chill Out spray.
- Thundershirt: This is an anti-anxiety body wrap that I have used on many dogs, including my own, for a variety of anxiety-related problems. It is satisfaction guaranteed, so if it doesn’t work for your dog, you can return it for a full refund.
- Dog Appeasing Pheromone: This product is now sold as Adaptil. It’s available as a spray, which you can apply directly to your dog’s bed, and as a plug-in which you can put near your dog’s crate. I recommend the plug-in for dogs with noise phobia. The pheromones are odorless and colorless, so you can use them just about anywhere. In my experience, they are particularly effective with puppies.
- Homeopathic Remedies: There are others out there, but Bach Pet Rescue Remedy is a classic. It can be put in the dog’s water or administered directly to the mouth before or during a storm.
Before the next thunderstorm or fireworks display, you can do some desensitization and counter-conditioning exercises with your dog. The best way to do this is with recorded thunder and firework sounds. The best resource I have found for these sounds are Legacy Canine’s Sounds Good CDs of Thunderstorms and Fireworks. (If you haven’t used your CD player since 2004, there are also digital downloads of these tracks, too.) I have several of the Sounds Good CDs in my collection and they are a wonderful resource.
There are directions to follow on the CDs, but in a nutshell, you play the sounds at a low volume that does not elicit a reaction from your dog, while engaging your dog in an activity that she enjoys such as playing with a toy or eating a meal. Over time, you increase the volume of the sounds as long as your dog continues to stay relaxed.
During the Event
After implementing management techniques and proactively working to change your dog’s association with these scary sounds, the next step is to prepare for the actual thunderstorm or fireworks display. If your dog is mildly fearful or just nervous, try distracting her with a favorite toy or special snack, like melted cheese in a Kong.
If she is too nervous to do this, follow her lead. Stay near her regardless of what she is doing. Some dogs want to pace around, so situate yourself near her path and speak soothingly to her as she walks by. If she wants to hide, hanker down beside her hiding spot with a good book and read aloud to her. From time to time, offer a treat or petting. (Watch your dog’s body language to judge if she’s enjoying your touch or not.)
If this training technique sounds totally counter-intuitive to you, check out this great blog post by Patricia McConnell which explains why you can’t reinforce fear.
A Word About Medication
Do not fear pharmaceutical intervention. True thunderstorm anxiety is just that, anxiety, a brain chemistry issue. Your dog is experiencing intense emotions and you have no control whatsoever over the trigger. If your dog is uncomfortable during these events, you owe it to her to ask your veterinarian for help. There are many prescription drugs that can help with your dog’s anxiety, and only your veterinarian can help you decide if your dog is a candidate for medication and, if so, which medication is appropriate. Many owners delay getting help for their dog, only to experience regret when they see how relaxed and happy their dog is when medicated. Do what’s right for you dog and leave all options – pharmaceutical and otherwise – on the table.
Later this week, I’ll share some techniques for making sure your new puppy or recently adopted dog doesn’t become afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks. Stay tuned!