Pet Health, Training & Behavior

Tools to help calm your dog

The market is full of products to help calm your dog. Here are some tools I and other trainers and dog owners have used, that could be useful to you if you have a dog that is fearful, reactive, anxious or easily over-aroused.

Uma models her Thundershirt
Uma models her Thundershirt
  • Thundershirt. The Thundershirt has become one of the most well-known products out there. It works by essentially swaddling the dog, which can be comforting. The pressure it gives can give an anxious dog some comfort, and relief. Alternately, taking a T-shirt and wrapping it on a dog can be just as effective; put it on the dog with the front of the T-shirt on the dog’s back, front legs through the T-shirt arms, and tie it snuggly in the back. To introduce it, I recommend putting a Thundershirt or T-shirt wrap on your dog when you know he will be calm, and give some yummy treats. This will ensure it has a positive association before you try to use it in less serene moments.
  • Thundercap. Formerly known as the Calming Cap and developed by Trish King for a client whose dog became agitated in the car, this tool can help with dogs who are easily aroused or anxious in public, as it helps filter the visual stimulation that causes a dog to go over his behavioral threshold. It can be a great tool to help keep the dog calm and assist in modifying the behaviors. I highly recommend working with a trainer when using this tool, and it’s also very important to acclimate the dog properly to the equipment so it doesn’t make problems worse. If it is too aversive for the dog, it can actually make things worse, so please contact us for help in using this tool.
  • Classical or calming music, or white noise. Calm music can help ALL of us, including our animals! Living in Denver and using Comcast’s basic cable, I have Music Choice and love the light classical and soundscapes channels for my pets. I always put it on several minutes before leaving (and leave it on when I’m there and working too!), and it helps to calm them and drown out other noises from the outside world that may over-stimulate them or make them more anxious. Fans can also be good–producing white noise to drown out sounds your dog may find bothersome. There is also music you can download from Through A Dog’s; this is classical music that has been re-arranged to the rhythm of a resting heart beat, which can be very relaxing for your dog. Downloads are just $9.99, and they also have a version that you can play in the car if your dog has issues in the car, and music for cats too! They also have a portable player called the iCalmDog. I have this and use it with my dogs, as well as with clients, and absolutely love how much it can help!
  • Diet. It’s very important to give your dog the best diet possible; artificial colorings, preservatives and additives definitely play a role in behavioral health as much as physical health! Read labels and know what they mean! The Whole Dog Journal is a great publication for both nutrition/training information for your dog and each year they publish a “best foods” list with an accompanying article about how to read pet food labels and choose food for your dog’s needs. Dog Food is also a good site for information about dog foods. Fresh food is great, and I often recommend turkey or chicken to clients because tryptophan can be calming and help their dogs. B-vitamins that can help with stress are also good supplements for consideration and dark green vegetables have B-vitamins so even just adding some green beans is simple and effective!
  • Dog Appeasing Pheromone. Also known as DAP, there are several versions of this product, like ADAPTIL and Comfort Zone. Another brand that is easy to find is Sentry, though I DO NOT RECOMMEND the spray that emits a noise first! All DAP brands can come in a diffuser form that you can just plug into a wall, or you can also get spray bottles and calming collars of DAP. DAP is a synthetic version of the pheromones mother dogs release as they lactate, which can be very calming to dogs. It has also been clinically proven to reduce barking in shelter environment!
  • Zylkene. This product has been used for a while in the UK and is now gaining popularity here. The active ingredient is casein, a milk protein that produces a relaxing effect on the brain. You can order the product online; my vet, Pets on Broadway, also carries it.
  • Massage and TTouch. The power of touch can help ease your dog if he/she doesn’t find being touched uncomfortable. We highly recommend, and work with, Courtney Kirman of Tender Hands Animal Training. She is absolutely wonderful and will be able to guide you in how to use TTouch for your dog!
  • Acupuncture and Holistic Care. There are more and more veterinarians who are learning about traditional Chinese medicine, herbal remedies, chiropractic care and more. Take care to ensure whoever you choose is adequately qualified and do your research. The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association has some useful information as well as a referral list. In the Denver area, I can recommend Gentle Vet, Dr. Rhea Dodd. She does an awesome job providing my foster dog, Uma, with acupuncture and chiropractic care.

As with humans, each dog will respond differently to different types of products and combinations of products, and most of these are very safe. We do recommend working alongside your vet and trainer to determine the best options and ensure the best possible success! Trainers can add a behavior modification plan to help your dog learn relaxation protocols, alternate behaviors and counter-condition responses to build a path for a stress-free life together. Vets can help monitor the need for any traditional medications, and provide referrals to other health professionals. It’s extremely important to find qualified help and not place your dog at risk for any further injury.

I hope you’ve found this quick guide helpful! I welcome your feedback.
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Pet Health, Training & Behavior

Your guide to a well-rounded, healthy and happy dog!

We all know how important it is for us to maintain a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle. The same is true for our dogs! Here is a quick-and-dirty guide to what I believe are important key components of a well-balanced lifestyle for your dog to ensure his health and happiness.

  • Head Delightful Doggy, Jasper, enjoys hikes and romps in the snow as part of his exercise regimen
    Head Delightful Doggy, Jasper, enjoys hikes and romps in the snow as part of his exercise regimen

    Great Nutrition. Mom was right when she said, “Garbage in, garbage out!” Commercial dog food diets are laden with corn, fillers, meat by-products and all kinds of artificial colors and preservatives that can affect your dog’s health and behavior in a negative way. It’s always important to ensure you read the labels of dog foods and treats, and choose those that list an actual meat as its first ingredient. Each dog is different when it comes to dietary needs; I highly recommend the Whole Dog Journal’s information on how to read labels; here is the link for how to choose a dry food. Raw diets are becoming more popular and I feed my own dogs a mixture of some dry and wet, with a re-hydrated raw. I also stick to buying stuff at independent pet stores that are committed to selling top-quality products, and whose staff are more knowledgeable about their products, as opposed to big chains or grocery stores.

  • Regular Vet Care Checkups and Grooming. Annual exams are vital, as are appropriate vaccinations, dental care and responsible spay/neuter. It’s important to never diagnose or treat health conditions on your own, particularly if they persist for more than 24 hours. Proper grooming is also vital to good health; brushing teeth, clipping nails and having a clean, well-brushed coat will help your dog feel his best. Always have 24-hour emergency numbers ready for anything that may happen. Animal Help Now is a great app here in Colorado to help you find the nearest emergency help for your pup if you are away from home or aren’t sure where you can go.
  • Proper Early and Lifelong Socialization. It’s important for all dogs to be exposed to everything they can encounter in the real world from when they are very young so they can become used to it and not fear it. We should never FORCE dogs into these situations; they should always go at their own pace and have it be a positive experience so they do not have a negative or fearful experience. Check out this awesome Doggie poster about proper socialization.
  • Adequate Exercise. All dogs need exercise and not just physical exercise, but mental exercise! Remember the needs of the individual dog; more active breeds will need more exercise than couch potatoes, and some will find certain activities more fun than others. Your border collie may love to run agility courses, and herding breeds definitely have more to “burn off” than an English bulldog in comparison. Boredom is a big problem for these dogs if they don’t have appropriate outlets for being both physically and mentally stimulated. Remember to address your dog’s need for engagement with regard to both mental and physical exercise. Play is a fun way to also give your pet exercise, and exercise is also important to prevent obesity. The ASCPA has a great guide to exercising your dog here.
  • The Ability to Relax. Exercise is definitely important, but we often forget how important it is for our dogs to learn how to relax! Sometimes it can be difficult for dogs to find an “off” switch. Teaching him patience, boundaries and impulse control is very important. Sometimes dogs who are anxious, easily aroused, fearful or reactive can have a particularly hard time learning how to just be chill. I especially love Nan Arthur’s book, Chill Out Fido, and her instructions for teaching how to Relax or Settle on a Mat. Stress is not good for any living being so it’s very important to help your dog learn how to relax and make the right decisions when it comes to life’s stressors; teaching him how to sit and focus on you can be a very valuable skill in this regard as well.
  • Basic Manners Training. It’s important for our dogs know how to sit for pets, not bolt from doors or gateways, and to not jump up on grandmother and knock her over! Basic manners training can also help satisfy mental exercise needs, and provide a foundation for communicating with your dog. My Delightful Doggy Finishing School covers all these basics, and I also really enjoy Karen Pryor’s Clicker Training Starter Kits and Pat Miller’s book, The Power of Positive Dog Training, for how to do basic training with your pup.
  • A Loving Home Environment. A warm bed. Plenty of fresh water. Shelter from the cold and heat. Sadly, some dogs in today’s world are forced to fend for themselves on the streets and others may be living on chains or in pens outside. Dogs are an important part of our family and provide us with so much unconditional love. It’s important for us to have the same for them, and to remember they require patience, commitment and respect.

I hope these tips and resources can be of help to you in providing the best for your pup. I would love to help you with any additional training or care needs you have for your dog! You can submit an inquiry today to get started.

Thank you!
Owner, Delightful Doggies

Pet Health, Training & Behavior

Tips for a stress-free vet visit

Going to a veterinarian with your dog can be a pretty traumatizing experience. These tips can help make it less stressful for both you and your dog.

Jasper gets a treat from Dr. Griffin at Pets on Broadway
Jasper gets a treat from Dr. Griffin at Pets on Broadway
  • Prepare your dog in advance. Practice handling your dog in ways he’ll be handled at the vet: look at his teeth/mouth, handle his paws, lean over him, pick him up, hold him, etc. Use treats to associate the handling with a positive feeling. Remember to incorporate sounds and smells as much as possible too: rubbing alcohol, disinfectants, bleach, bright lights, recordings of other dogs/animals making noises, machine beeps, etc. Using tools like brushes/combs, clippers and even wrapping him with gauze is also a great way to prepare him for things he may encounter at the vet. Always make your “playing doctor” sessions highly rewarding and keep it under his stress level.
  • Take your dog in just to visit. This will help him get more familiar with the vet office and will give you some time to also pair it with more positive experiences to create a good association: treat him for being calm there and take him afterward for a good walk, or a ride to a nice hike, or something else he really enjoys. Give treats to the staff to give to him, too, while there.
  • Make sure your vet is patient and has gentle handling skills. If your vet is too rushed or has a fast-paced way of going about things and you have a very timid dog, it might be best to find a vet that is better at moving more slowly and gently, if your vet can’t slow down. Always let your vet know what works best for handling your dog and work with her to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable.
  • Remember to keep a loose leash. It is important for everyone’s safety that you ensure your dog is close to you and not in another patient’s space. At the same time, remember that too much tension on a leash can make your dog feel stressed or fearful, so it’s important to keep it loose and relaxed. Tension on a leash can mean more tension for your dog.
  • While waiting, give your dog something constructive to do. Basic obedience such as sits and downs are great, but my favorite tool is to hand target. Teach your dog this skill in advance: have treats ready to give with your right hand and present your left palm (or even the back of your hand if your dog is very sensitive or timid). Once your dog touches your palm with his nose, say yes or good dog (or click if you use a clicker for training) and give him a treat. You can start moving your left palm more and more once he gains better skills, and add the cue “touch” right before you know he’ll target your palm to introduce the verbal cue. You can also bring items that may help him be calmer, like favorite toys or a blanket, or a stuffed Kong or similar toy that will take time and focus for him to enjoy instead of being stressed in the office.
  • Acclimate your dog to a muzzle and crate. Especially if your dog is extremely fearful and possibly reactive, it may be best to acclimate him to a basket muzzle to wear to the vet. This will keep everyone safe and make you feel less nervous, if he is apt to snap or bite out of fear. You can also treat through a basket muzzle, and he can still pant and drink water if needed. Introduce the muzzle at home for brief periods: first just show it to him and reward him for any curiosity he shows, like smelling or looking at it. Start putting a treat in the end of the muzzle so he puts his face into it of his own accord to get the treat. By building on this gradually, he can get used to the muzzle at his own pace and not be stressed by wearing it. You should also seek help from a qualified professional to address fear/reactivity and possible aggressive behaviors. Likewise, crate training is important: even if your dog isn’t crated at home, chances are he could be at a vet, so get a crate that is large enough for him to turn around in and introduce it with lots of yummy treats and stuffed Kongs. Praise him for being calm in the crate and never use it as punishment, or force him in or out of it. The crate should always be a safe space, and associated with good things!
  • Be calm and reward calm behavior. As your dog is being examined, praise him and treat him every so often as he is calm and able to tolerate handling. If he gets too nervous, consoling him in a soft voice is fine. Remember to be calm yourself, and take deep breaths. Distract him as you need so he can be examined calmly: have him look at you and have treats for the techs and doctors to use to make it a positive experience.
  • Consider using other calming/relaxing tools. There are many options from which to choose: pheromones, calming collars, Thundershirts, calming caps, Composure treats, Rescue Remedy and other products may be of use to your dog. Experiment with them: every dog is different and different combinations may work better than others. These tools are easy to use and are becoming more widely available in pet stores.

Need help? Contact us for more information and to set up your training sessions today! Right now we’re offering $25 off Delightful Doggy Finishing School through 1/31/14 in honor of National Train Your Dog Month. We’ll be offering other discounts throughout the month so check back for more!

Happy Training!
Owner, Delightful Doggies