By Jill Eason
Just a little reminder for people living in areas where people will be celebrating Lunar New Year with fire crackers and fireworks tonight and over the next few days. Many animals find this very scary. Keep your pets inside and take measures to minimize the impact. Here are a few suggestions:
Close curtains and leave the lights on.
Play music or tv to create background noise (don’t play Natural Born Killers or anything with explosions or screaming – the idea is to promote calmness and a feeling of safety).
If your pet has a ‘safe den’, ensure it has access to that area, and block it from external light as much as possible. If your dog is crate trained, laying a blanket or towel over the crate will darken the crate and help to muffle the sound. Draping a blanket over a desk or table might work as an impromptu den – put the dog’s bed and some toys and treats/chewies in there to encourage it to go in.
Try to act unconcerned by what’s going on – the more you can show them it’s no big deal, the better.
Burn lavender or chamomile oil in a diffuser.
Add some Rescue Remedy to their water bowl, or put a drop or two on a treat. You can buy R.R. specifically for pets, made without alcohol.
Thundershirt is a special jacket that exerts gentle constant pressure and can be effective for reducing anxiety.
Short notice for tonight, but for future reference, many dogs respond well to Dog Appeasing Pheromones which are available as a collar, spray, or diffuser. You will probably have to buy these online, and there seems to be a restriction on the spray in HK.
Take your dog for a good long walk/play session before it all starts, a tired dog will be less anxious.
Kung Hei Fat Choy, and best wishes for the Year of the Horse!
By Jill Eason
I just have to share this! I feel like a proud mother whose kid just said its first word! My dog Sam got his feet wet in the sea this morning, and didn’t freak out!!!
He even lay at the tide line and allowed a few little waves to lap at him before moving!
Owners of Labradors and Golden retrievers will read that and wonder what the big deal is, people who know Sam will be cheering him on.
He’s a special boy, lacking good early socialization, he was a nervous wreck when I met him with a view to being a temporary foster for him. (Note: emphasis on Temporary and Foster!) He was returned to Hong Kong Dog Rescue by his owner who realized he was no longer able to properly take good care of him. They clearly loved each other and I know it was a tough decision, but the right one in this instance. A nervous, under-socialized, one-year-old German Shepherd mix not getting enough exercise or stimulation has potential to go horribly wrong in some way.
Anyway, back to the sea… Sam has always been nervous of waves and has maintained a distance, probably about two metres to begin with, and over time diminishing to about a metre. This is a fairly calm sea I’m talking about, gentle waves – rough sea and any crashing waves, and he’s further back and possibly jumping back in surprise at a big one. High tide often means I can’t sit in my favourite waterfront cafe spot as Sam is unsettled and trying to escape the scary waves. He spent his early months at HKDR’s place on Lamma, so whether he was frightened by waves in some way during that time, or if it’s just down to his general nervousness, I have no idea, and it doesn’t really matter. I still have the same dog either way.
Some people teach their dogs to swim by just picking them up and taking them in. That can work for some, but with a nervous dog it’s not necessarily the best option, They have to do stuff in their own time. I tried the carrying in method years ago with Cookie, my last dog. She got out, threw me a dirty look and took herself to the back of the beach, she stayed well clear of me if I was near the tide line for weeks. I took that as a big “NO!” and she lived out her days as a non-swimmer, just dipping her belly in to cool off sometimes. With this knowledge, I’ve never even considered doing this with Sam. I really don’t care if he learns to swim or not, it’s up to him. It pains me to see people forcing their dog to swim when the dog is clearly hating the experience.
We have recently been visiting a small pond where he has learned that water is not too scary when it stays still. At first he would dip a toe in and bark at the ripples, then run around like a mad thing and come back and do it again. There’s something very endearing about such a big, tough-looking dog being so delightfully wussy. Over time he has waded out for sticks until he’s just within his depth, and has learned that he can cool off by lying in the shallows.
Today is the first time he seems to have transferred what he’s learned in still water to the sea, and it was a pleasure to see. He’s only really gone ankle-deep so far, but any step towards overcoming a fear is cause for celebration.
Well done Sam, you’re a Big Brave Boy!
By Jill Eason
Living with a fearful dog comes with its challenges, but is also hugely rewarding as the dog starts to learn to trust and overcome its fears. I’ve had Sam for a year now, and he has made some huge improvements in overcoming his fearful behaviour.
His early months were spent at HKDR, so he didn’t get socialized to many people, everyday sounds, or strange things.
A year ago he was so nervous around strangers and novel stimuli that I had to take him out at times when I knew things would be quiet. At first the sound of a plastic chair being moved across the floor would send him running for cover, and any stranger approaching was too much to handle. He still startles at sudden loud noises sometimes, but his recovery time is much improved.
My favourite cafe was a great place to take him (during ‘off-peak’ times) so he could get used to the world going on around him. First order of business was to instruct my friends how to behave around him. It is natural for humans to want to approach a fearful animal, leaning towards it with a hand outstretched, while looking right at it. To a fearful dog, these are considered very threatening behaviours. Over time, he has come to learn that people often pet him in a non-scary way, and sometimes there are treats.
One thing in the front of my mind was to avoid a situation where he may feel his only option was to bite in order to make the scary thing (stranger) go away. Corner a fearful dog and you really don’t leave it much choice if it feels the need to defend itself. Once the neural pathway has been formed and the dog learns this works to make the scary person go away, it will likely repeat this behaviour and a habit is born. I’m sure I upset a few people by telling them to leave my dog alone, but I’d rather offend someone than have my dog bite them.
Some trainers advocate that the dog should ‘just learn to deal with it’, and use a method called ‘flooding’ – essentially forcing it to face its fears at their most extreme. This can seem to work, but the potential for ’emotional fallout’ is huge. Imagine you are scared of spiders, and I decide to help you get over it by shutting you in a cupboard with 500 spiders until you stop screaming. Would your phobia be cured? Did you stop screaming because you had lost your fear, or did you just curl up in a ball and shut down? Or would you just learn to stay away from me in future?
The better approach is to take things slowly and let the dog get used to things at a less scary level, gradually building on success.
Sam still has a way to go and will probably never be the bravest of dogs, but he’s dealing with the world better and his general anxiety level is lower. He still spooks at some strange things, the other evening it was a bag of rubbish that had been left in the middle of the road. He would not approach until my friend and her dog went and stood next to it, once he saw that monsters did not attack them, he consented to pass (at a safe distance, just in case).
By Jill Eason
My last dog Cookie had lymphoma, and after the conventional vet told me there was nothing they could do for her (I chose not to put her through chemo as it did not offer any chance of cure, and for me, not enough hope of substantial remission). I found a wonderful holistic vet, and gave her about 5 months of quality life beyond what the conventional vet had given her. Just because there’s no ‘proof’ doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Proof will only come with research, and ‘Big Pharma’ will not fund research into something they can not patent and profit from.
By Jill Eason
Heads-up dog lovers! SPARCS (the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science) is holding its first conference, with some of the biggest names in canine science and behaviour speaking on a variety of topics. The conference will be held in Seattle, but wait for the best part… the entire weekend’s discussions will be available to view for FREE on the internet. I’m not sure yet if we HK people will have to stay up all night to watch in ‘real time’ or if we can get our beauty sleep and check in at our leisure, but I for one am not going to miss it, no matter how much coffee is needed.
By Jill Eason
I’m being a total ‘Dog Geek Zombie’ this weekend. I’m watching the FREE LIVE STREAM from the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science first annual conference in Seattle. If you’re a dog person, or just interested, it’s a great opportunity to catch some very interesting talks by some of the biggest names in canine research on various topics relating to our best friends. Lastnight Ray Coppinger, Adam Miklosi, Marc Bekoff, Michael W Fox, and Clive Wynne discussed dogs’ origin in the wild, compassionate conservation, and nutrition and wellness – all fascinating. Two more nights (HK time) to go with topics revolving around Social behaviour and emotions (tonight), and cognitive behaviour and development (Sunday). You have to register but it’s free (live stream only – that’s midnight til 9am here in HK – thus the Zombie part) and you can watch as much or as little as you like – you don’t have to geek out like me . Check their FB page or website for the schedule and registration. If last night was anything to go by you’re in for a treat.
Now I need to get some sleep…
By Jill Eason
Too many people choose their dog based on looks, or cuteness as a pup. In this day and age, all the information on breed characteristics is only a couple of clicks away. There’s a reason there are so many different breeds, we designed them for different jobs, and none were designed to be left alone all day and do nothing.