Category Archives: Neat Stuff

Calming Aids: Dog Appeasing Pheromone

We’ve written about the importance of recognizing your dog’s stress level and how to institute a cortisol vacation for chronically stressed dogs. However, lifelong avoidance is neither practical nor helpful. So, what are some things you can do to lower your dog’s overall stress level?

Today we’ll begin discussing some helpful calming aids that may make a difference in your dog’s ability to relax. Understand that these tools are simply that, tools, and will not fix any behavior problems in and of themselves. Training and behavior modification are still necessary, but may be more effective when paired with these remedies. Remember that every dog is different, and what helps one dog may not work for another.

One of the most innocuous calming remedies available is Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or Comfort Zone, a synthetic version of a pheromone released by mother dogs when puppies are nursing. Pheromones are chemicals that influence one’s emotional state, and are processed through the olfactory lobe. D.A.P. appears to help comfort and reassure some dogs.

One thing that I like about the company is the fact that their product has been studied in clinical trials. Many over-the-counter calming remedies have no scientific evidence as to their efficacy, and are in truth the canine equivalent of snake oil. D.A.P. has been found to reduce barking and increase resting behavior in shelter dogs, promote relaxed behaviors during vet exams, and reduce signs of thunderstorm phobia, among other things.  More research into the product is needed before we can say with complete certainty that it does what the company claims, but anecdotal evidence seems to support these claims.

Several forms are available, including a collar, spray, and diffuser. I recommend the diffuser for most of my clients. Many clients report little to no observable change when they begin using D.A.P., but then report that when the diffuser runs out they realize that it has indeed made a difference. There are no reported side effects to this remedy: it either helps, or it doesn’t, but it’s not going to hurt anything to try. The diffuser covers a 650-square-foot area and usually lasts about four weeks. I use one for my own dogs when introducing a new foster into my home, and believe it to be helpful.

As with any successful product, there are now several knock-off versions of D.A.P. available on the market. In general, clients have not reported success with these products, and at this time I recommend sticking with the name brand.

Have you tried Comfort Zone with your dog(s)? What did you think? Please share your experiences in the comments section below!

7 Things to Do With a Kong

We’ve talked before about how useful Kong toys can be to provide mental exercise, as well as some ideas on how to stuff them. Here are more ideas on how to get the most out of your dog’s Kong toys!

Photo by OakleyOriginals on flickr

  • Freeze it: Any wet or sticky food can be frozen into a Kong toy to provide a longer-lasting “Kongsicle.” Keep several prepared Kongs in the door of your freezer so you always have one ready at a moment’s notice for unexpected visitors or any other time when you might appreciate a puppy pacifier.
  • Microwave it: Mix some cheese in with some dry treats or kibble and microwave long enough to melt the cheese. Let the Kong cool before giving it to your pooch. This creates a very gooey treat that takes dogs a long time to extract.
  • Hang it from a tree: thread a rope through your dog’s Kong, and tie a knot in the rope on the small end of the Kong. Position the Kong toy with the large hole facing upwards, and fill it with your dog’s food. Throw the other end of the rope over a tree branch and hoist the Kong just high enough that your dog can easily reach it, but will need to jump up and bat at it to knock food out.
  • Scavenger hunt: stuff your dog’s meal into one or more Kongs and hide them throughout the house or yard.
  • Use it for grooming: A Kong filled with peanut butter or low fat cream cheese can give your dog something pleasant to focus on while you’re brushing him, trimming his nails, or attending to any other grooming tasks that he finds onerous.
  • Crate training: make your dog’s crate into a “magic Kong place” and you’ll create a dog who loves his crate for life!
  • Ice bucket Kongs: fill a bucket up with water or broth and one or more stuffed Kong toys, then freeze it overnight. In the morning, dump the giant ice cube into a kiddie pool or put the entire bucket in your dog’s crate. As the ice melts, your dog will discover the delicious Kong surprises inside.
These are just a few ideas of fun things to do with Kongs. Have another great idea? Please share it below!

Thunderstorm Phobia

Thunderstorm and other noise phobias are a common behavior problem I’m called on to address, and are very treatable. They’re also one of the problems that I find owners to be much less concerned about then they should be, despite the very real risk they pose to dogs. Here’s the take-home message: if your dog has a noise phobia, it is inhumane not to address it. Let’s talk about how to do so.

Noise phobias often develop later in a dog’s life, with the majority of the cases I see becoming critical between the ages of 4-8 years. Once a dog begins to display noise sensitivity, this issue tends to continue worsening until it’s addressed. Dogs become more and more sensitized to the noise, sometimes also becoming concerned about other triggers that they associate with that noise, such as grey skies, lightning, rain, or changes in barometric pressure.

Noise phobic dogs may pace, pant, whine, tremble, attempt to escape, or hide. Many of these dogs choose to hide in bathrooms, often wedging themselves behind the toilet. Some dogs become much more clingy, wanting to be held. Regardless of the exact behaviors they exhibit, these dogs are suffering.

How we treat thunderstorm phobia will depend on many factors, including the severity of the dog’s anxiety, the ability of the owner to carry out behavior modification plans, whether or not we’re currently in thunderstorm season, and the dog’s living environment. The individualized plan I put together often includes multiple facets. Here are a few of the more common treatment options that can help:

Dog Appeasing Pheromone: Sold under the brand name Comfort Zone, this is a synthetic version of a comforting pheromone that mother dogs release while puppies are nursing. It is available in diffuser, spray, or collar forms, with the diffuser being the most helpful option for most of my clients. This pheromone can help to reduce mild anxiety in some dogs, although it doesn’t work for every case. Usually clients who report success with this don’t notice a huge difference initially, but report that when the diffuser runs out after about 4 weeks they realize that it had been helping.

Thundershirts or Anxiety Wraps: these special wraps work on pressure, fitting very snugly around the dog’s body. Some clients have also used snug t-shirts with similar success. While not the miracle cure that most people hope for, these can again be helpful for some dogs with mild anxiety. They work on the premise that deep pressure can help calm the nervous system – much the same way that swaddling an infant or using a hug vest for a child with autism can be helpful. Be aware that some dogs shut down when wearing these garments. While a dog who has shut down may appear calm, they are not in a positive mental state and the shirt is likely doing more harm than good. If your dog refuses to move or to eat treats while wearing the thundershirt, it is not the correct tool for him, regardless of how “calm” he may appear to be.

Through a Dog’s Ear Music: This special music is designed to have a physiological calming effect based on bioacoustical research. Before using it during thunderstorms, we play it for several weeks during times when the dog is calm and relaxed to further associate the music with pleasant feelings. Playing it during the beginning of a storm may help some dogs to become less panicked.

Changing the Association: regardless of which of the other therapies we use, this behavior modification is absolutely necessary. The basic premise is simple: thunder predicts good things for your dog. How we implement it is highly individual. Some dogs enjoy having their frisbee tossed after each rumble of thunder, while others learn that thunder makes pieces of chicken and cheese rain from above. (By the way, these exercises aren’t a bad idea to do even if your dog doesn’t currently exhibit noise issues, since they can also be preventative.)

Medication: a truly panicked dog cannot learn, so treatment of thunder phobia often involves the use of medication. There are many different anxiety medications available, and teaming up with a vet who is knowledgable about the different choices is critical for success. Please note that acepromazine, a medication that some vets still prescribe, is never an appropriate choice in cases of anxiety or aggression. An appropriate anxiety medication should not knock your dog out, but rather should simply cut through the anxiety so that he can begin making new associations.

Anxiety medication puts dogs who are too distressed to learn into a state where they can do so. Oftentimes medication in these cases is only temporary, and can be weaned off once the other treatments have done their job. Some clients are resistant to the idea of using anxiety medication. It’s important to remember that anxiety oftentimes has a physical cause, and treating your dog with anxiety medication is no different than treating a heart condition with beta blockers or diabetes with insulin.

Other Treatment Options: As I mentioned before, treatment of thunder phobia is highly individual. Some of my clients have benefitted from other treatments, such as TTouch massage, essential oils, mat or crate training, soothing praise from their owner, tug sessions, relaxation training, setting up a safe room, and the like.

The good news about thunderstorm phobias is how very treatable they are. Like any other training, the sooner the behavior issue is addressed, the faster the behavior modification goes. A dog who’s just starting to show some mild concern will be much more easily treated than a dog who panics and squeezes himself under the toilet while trembling violently, although the latter can absolutely be helped. Contact us to set up a private training consultation if your dog shows signs of thunder phobia.

Next week we’ll share a case study of a severely thunderstorm phobic dog. In the meantime, does your dog show any signs of anxiety during storms? What helps him the most? Did you do any preventative work with your puppy or newly adopted dog to prevent storm anxiety? Please share your stories in the comments below!

Stuffing Kongs Quickly

Kongs and other puzzle toys are great enrichment tools. They provide oh-so-necessary mental exercise and are a simple way to improve your dog’s life. Here’s how I make Kong-prep easy for myself so that my dogs always have fresh frozen Kongs ready at a moment’s notice.

1. Gather all of the clean toys you’d like to stuff. You’ll need multiple puzzle toys for this. Ask your local pet business if you can receive a quantity discount for ordering a number of toys at once to support small business! If that’s not feasible in your area, there are also great deals available online. I prefer Kong toys, as they’ve historically been the most durable and easiest to clean/stuff (also pictured: Premier’s Linkables and Twist ‘n Treat toys).

2. Assemble your ingredients. I like to stuff both moist and dry food in my dogs’ Kongs. Place the moist ingredients in a ziploc baggie and cut the bottom corner off to make a homemade pastry bag in order to save on time. This time around I used a mixture of canned dog food, canned pumpkin, and baby food. Dry ingredients included kibble, a few dog treats that were left in the bottoms of packages, baby carrots which were old and a little bendy, and cheddar cheese that was one day past its expiration date and needed to be used up.

3. Place toys in a glass with the large hole facing up and begin filling them. The glass will hold the toy in place while you stuff it. Alternate wet and dry layers until the toy is full, finishing with a wet layer. Place the Kong toy in your freezer (small quantities can be placed in the freezer door, or larger quantities can be kept in a bin in the main compartment of the freezer).

4. Pull out a frozen Kong toy whenever you need one! Unexpected visitors, grooming time, and crate confinement are all times when my dogs may receive Kongs. Make sure to consider the amount of food your dog received from his Kong when you feed him so that he stays slim.

Do you have any tips to make Kong-stuffing go more quickly? Please share them here!

Kong Stuffing 101

Last week we introduced the Kong toy as a great tool to provide mental exercise. Food- and treat-stuffed Kongs are excellent enrichment! Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Photo by Nora Kuby

Photo by Nora Kuby

Dogs who are fed kibble can have the kibble stuffed into a Kong toy which is hung from a tree branch or other sturdy object (have the bigger hole in the Kong facing upward), so that the dog must leap into the air and knock at the Kong to release his meal.

Alternatively, kibble can be mixed with just a spoonful of canned food, yogurt, cottage cheese, or other healthy “wet” food and spooned into the Kong, then the entire Kong can be placed in the freezer. The dog must then work extra hard to remove her frozen meal when the Kong is delivered. Multiple Kong toys can be stuffed with the dog’s meal portions and hidden throughout the house, so that the dog must spend his day hunting down and “dissecting” his Kong-kills.

Dogs who like to destroy or chew things can have their energy harnessed into a positive outlet by sealing Kong toys inside paper bags or cardboard boxes, although you will have a shredded mess to clean up later on (and such dogs may be better served by crate training to prevent destruction). A machine that dispenses four Kongs randomly during a period of four or eight hours was available for sale for a short period of time, and may still be found for sale by a diligent buyer.

Crated dogs especially need the mental enrichment provided by a Kong toy during their confinement. My dogs run into their crates in the morning and wait impatiently for me to leave, because they know their Kong goodies will not be delivered until I’m ready to head out for the day. Frozen Kongs make my dogs extra eager for me to go and make the crates into a positive place to spend the day. Dogs who are not yet entirely comfortable with the idea of a crate can be encouraged to spend time in an open crate by tying a stuffed Kong toy at the back of the crate (make sure to supervise your dog while doing this, but do not try to lock him or her in: your goal is to create positive associations with the kennel, not trick your dog into getting trapped).

Dogs who are fed raw, home cooked, or canned diets can get even more enjoyment out of getting their food from a Kong. This is because these diets usually contain much more moisture, which makes them ideal for freezing.

Melted cheese can be another great addition to a kong toy. A Kong can be filled with a small amount of cheese along with some kibble or other dry tidbits, placed in a microwave-safe cup, and heated in the microwave until the cheese melts. Allow plenty of time to cool before giving it to your dog, or place directly in the freezer for an especially tough-to-remove treat.

Many dogs are reluctant to work at a Kong toy at first, especially if the toys are packed in such a way that food is difficult to remove. For these dogs, try layering the Kong toy to make it especially rewarding to work on. Simply alternate layers of wet food with layers of dry tidbits, then serve to the dog directly (without freezing). After just a small amount of licking to swallow the wet layer of food, the dog will reach a dry layer. This will make a bunch of treats suddenly fall out of the Kong. Jackpot! Usually this dry layer jackpot is enough to renew the dog’s interest in the Kong, and he will soon begin licking and slurping at the next layer. After just a few moments, another dry layer will appear, and so on.

When using “wet” or moist food in the Kong toy, there are lots of options, so be creative. For dogs who are not used to rich foods, use common sense in introducing new foods and start with small amounts to be sure your dog tolerates it. Some ideas to try include canned food (both dog and cat food), meat flavoured baby food, rice, potatoes, cream cheese (use low fat varieties for most dogs), cheese whiz, peanut butter, Braunschweiger (this is very rich so a little goes a long way), leftover cooked veggies (gooey veggies such as cooked spinach or squash are especially great), tuna, raw ground meat such as hamburger or ground pork, cooked ground meat, canned fish such as salmon or Jack Mackeral, gravy, beef or chicken broth, oatmeal, yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Dry tidbits are even easier to experiment with. Try various types of dog or cat kibble and treats, small pieces of pepperoni or lunch meat, strings of string cheese, cheerios or other breakfast cereal, bread crumbs, croutons, beef sticks, or healthy leftovers from your meals.

For dogs who have become really talented at “destuffing” a Kong toy, use a dry dog biscuit that is slightly bigger around than the large opening of your dog’s Kong toy. Bend the toy by squeezing it so that the hole lengthens in one direction, allowing you to slip the biscuit into the Kong. Once you stop squeezing the sides of the toy, the biscuit will be “stuck” inside the Kong and will not fall out easily. At this point the only way for your dog to get the biscuit loose will be to either break the biscuit into smaller pieces (which can be done by biting down hard on the Kong or by throwing the toy about the room), or by licking at the treat until it becomes soggy and crumbles apart. Be prepared to help your dog remove the tightly lodged biscuit using a pair of pliers if it proves too difficult and is driving your dog nuts!

Do you have a favorite Kong stuffing trick or recipe? Share it in the comments below!

A Case for Kongs

If every dog in the world could be given one toy, I think the Kong would be the way to go. A Kong toy is shaped somewhat like a rounded rubber pyramid with a hollow center. Kongs have three chewing “levels” – red for beginners, black for tough chewers, and blue Kongs, which are the toughest level and are available only through veterinarians because they are radio opaque (which means they will show up on an x-ray if the dog swallows them). There are also special, softer Kongs made for puppies or senior dogs. These Kong toys have a marbled appearance, with white mixed into the pink, blue, or purple color.

Kong toys are extremely durable, which means they can go from the microwave to the freezer to the dishwasher and back again without breaking down. They stand up well to almost every dog, provided you choose the right size and hardness level for your dog’s tenacity of chewing. Kong toys bounce erratically when thrown and provide a great chew toy.

The thing that puts a Kong toy head and tails above the competition, though, is their hollow center. Kong toys can be stuffed with an amazing variety of food items. This is a great source for mental exercise! For dogs who are left home alone all day, consider throwing out your dog’s food bowl and feeding solely from Kong toys.

There are certainly other brands of toys that resemble Kongs available, but the Kong is the “original” toy and is the one that seems to work best for most dogs. There is one Kong knock-off on the market which may be of interest to some people though, and that is the “Squirrel Dude” toy manufactured by Premier/PetSafe. This tough purple toy (yes, it resembles a squirrel) improves on the Kong design by adding four small rubber prongs which line the inside of the toy’s hole. These prongs make it much harder to get food back out of a Squirrel Dude toy once you’ve stuffed it in. A Squirrel Dude toy is not for a beginner to puzzle stuffing, but can provide a nice challenge to dogs for whom a Kong toy no longer gives any challenge. The Squirrel Dude toys can be further customized by lopping off one or more of the rubber prongs with a sharp pair of scissors, so that you can adjust the toy’s level of difficulty.

To clean your dog’s Kongs out, use the cleaning brushes that can be used for baby bottles, or just scrub around inside the opening with your fingers. Kongs are dishwasher safe, but be warned that tightly lodged food can easily sneak through an entire dishwashing cycle. Make sure your dog’s Kongs are cleaned regularly to prevent food from spoiling.

Next week we’ll discuss Kong stuffing options, as well as other games to play with these toys.

Do you use Kong toys for your dog? Please share your favorite Kong stuffing recipes, games, or other tips and tricks in the comments below!

Tuna Brownies

This is one of our favorite treat recipes. Use these treats for dogs, cats, or ferrets.

Ingredients:

  • 4 6-oz cans tuna
  • 1 c water drained from tuna
  • 12 T scrambled egg
  • 1 c cornmeal
  • 2 c whole wheat flour

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Run the tuna and egg through a food processor (or chop into very fine pieces) and combine with the water. Add cornmeal and flour and blend to form a dough. Knead into a ball and roll out to about 1/4″ thick on a cookie sheet. Set empty bowl on floor to be licked out. Bake for 20 minutes, allow to cool, then cut into bite-sized pieces with a pizza cutter. Refrigerate, freeze, or feed immediately.