How to Teach Your Dog Patience

 

Dogs typically don’t have a lot of patience, especially when it comes to something they really want – like food, or going outside, or their favorite toy.  Teaching your dog “impulse control” can be very useful in these situations.

The following link will take you to a video by trainer Mikkel Becker that will teach you the basics of training your dog to be patient.  Although she focuses on “waiting for the food bowl”, this technique can be applied to many other situations in which patience is a virtue.

Video: Learn How to Train Your Dog to Wait for the Food Bowl

I promise it’s not too difficult!  In fact, I often use similar techniques to encourage patience during my veterinary visits with dogs.  Many times, the owners don’t realize what I’m up to, and the dogs learn very quickly what I am asking of them.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you try this training skill with your dog!

Replacing FEAR with FUN: Meet Jill!

 

One thing that I am passionate about, and a big reason why Small Things exists, is to provide fear-free veterinary care for pets.  I specialize in helping dogs and cats feel comfortable with their medical care, reducing their level of stress, and increasing the fun.

I’d like you to meet Jill – a lively Jack Russel Terrier with strong opinions and a passion for playing ball.

 

FearFreeJill2015 (3)

Rewarding Jill with ball play.

 

The first time I met Jill and her brother Jack (another Jack Russel Terrier), Jack jumped all over me right away.  Jill came to say hello, tentatively.  I examined Jack without a problem, but Jill figured out what was going on and would not approach me.  She refused any attempt on my part to engage her, touch her, or play with her.

Jill was a classic case of “fearful dog”.

 

When I meet a dog like Jill, the best thing I can do for them is to provide some counter-conditioning.

Counter-conditioning is a process that aims to change a pet’s negative feelings about a particular stimulus or situation in order to avoid or reverse phobias.

Counter-conditioning replaces the fear response entirely.  It is not just about changing the way that the dog behaves.  It is about changing the way that the dog feels.

Successful counter conditioning will enable the dog to be happy and relaxed in the presence of the previously fearful stimulus.

(From Totally Dog Training)

Jill was scheduled for six sessions with me.  My ultimate goal was that at the end of the six sessions we would achieve the following:

  1. Jill would trust me and have confidence that I am not a threat.
  2. Jill would associate medical procedures, and me, with a positive experience.
  3. Jill would allow a complete physical examination, including vaccinations.
  4. At the end of any medical procedures, Jill would recover quickly from any anxiety, exhibiting playful and happy behaviors.
Look at that happy face!

Look at that happy face!

There are many ways to help a dog develop a positive association with potentially stressful experiences, and each individual dog has his or her own “favorite” reward.  Some (most) dogs respond well to food rewards, but Jill’s favorite was her ball.  Jill was very motivated to do anything for that ball, and she was extremely intelligent, learning quickly how to get me to throw it.

 

 

It took the entire first session with Jill just to get her to let me touch her gently on the shoulder. By the end of our sixth session together, Jill was laying next to me, allowing full body rubs, and I was able to perform a complete physical exam!  A week later, Jill allowed me to give her all her vaccinations and draw blood.  Although those were more stressful procedures, Jill recovered quickly afterward and continued to bring me her ball so I would play.

 

FearFreeJill2015 (2)

Jill wouldn’t come near me at the beginning. By the end of her sessions, she was my best friend!

 

Jill is an excellent example of what we can achieve when we prioritize emotional wellness in veterinary care.  With a little effort, a little time, and lots of positive reward, any dog can have a fear-free veterinary experience!

 

Is your dog or cat fearful and stressed at the veterinary clinic?  Contact me at Small Things Veterinary House Calls and give your pet a fear-free experience!

 

 

 

Things You Should Know: Trees or Bushes?

You may have heard me say this before:  Cats are typically either tree-dwellers or bush-dwellers.

 

Wondering why this is important?  How can you tell if your cat is a tree-dweller or bush-dweller?  And what are you supposed to do with that information once you figure it out?  What the heck are you talking about, Dr. D?

 

Tree or Bush?

Trees or bushes?  Why do we care?

 

Indoor cats have a unique problem among domesticated animals.  Their instinctive nature is not to be confined in a box, but to be free to climb, scratch, hunt, and hide.  When we bring a cat into our home, it’s easy to expect them to adapt to our human way of life.  Unfortunately, when we don’t provide our feline friends with acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors, they will often act out in negative ways.  This can include scratching your favorite chair, attacking other cats in the home, “going” outside the litter box, or getting sick.

If you have a multiple cat household, it is especially important to determine the preferences of each cat and provide them with the corresponding enrichment type.  This will not only provide your cats with mental and emotional comfort, but can help prevent many inter-cat conflicts.

Bottom line:  A cat with a healthy, mentally enriching environment will be a better and healthier companion.

 

Cat in condo

Tree-dweller or bush-dweller?

Okay.  So how can I tell if my cat is a tree-dweller or a bush-dweller?

 

First, read over the following lists while keeping your cats in mind.  Does your kitty seem to subscribe to more “tree” or “bush” behaviors?

Is your cat a tree-dweller or bush-dweller?

 

I’m learning so much!  What can I do for my cats now?

 

Now that you have an idea whether your cat prefers “trees” or “bushes”, here are some things you can do to easily provide your cat’s preferred environment.

A tree-dwelling cat

Observe – the brave tree-dwelling cat in his natural habitat…

For Tree-Dwellers

  • The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a tree-dweller’s space is VERTICAL.  Think cat trees with high perches, beds that hang on window sills, a book shelf or floating wall shelf that your cat can access, etc.  Find a place up high that your cat can get to, and put a comfy bed or blanket there.  Now your tree-dweller can freely survey his domain from on high.

 

A bush-dwelling cat

The elusive and secretive bush-dwelling cat…

For Bush-Dwellers

  • The number one thing to focus on here is HIDDEN.  Bush-dwellers like to hide low to the ground.  Think about adding boxes, hutches, covered cat beds or “condos”.  Even a cardboard box with a blanket inside can be the perfect “bush”.  Placement of the hidey hole is also key – make sure it’s out of the major flow of traffic and that your cat has an easy exit route so they don’t feel trapped.

 

I’d love to hear what type of kitty you have!  Tell me in the comments!

 

Got cat behavior questions?  Check out The Indoor Pet Initiative website for more great information!

Q&A: Does my dog need to wear sunscreen?

In Colorado, we live close to the sun.  We never leave the house without sun protection in the form of sunscreen, hat, or sleeves.  But what about our dogs?

 

Dog Hiking in the Summer

 

If your dog has light-colored or thin fur, then it’s a great idea to provide their skin with protection from the sun!  Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t use any old sunscreen lotion.

The sunscreen that you use for yourself MIGHT be okay for Fido, but only if you use one that doesn’t contain zinc oxide.  And most of them do.  Zinc oxide, the same ingredient that helps with diaper rash, is toxic to your dog.  If ingested, it will cause their red blood cells to explode, resulting in anemia.  Major summer buzz kill.

You also need to make sure that you are protecting your dog’s skin from both UVA and UVB rays (to prevent both sunburn and skin cancer), so look for a sunscreen that is labeled as “broad spectrum”.

Here’s an option that I recommend and is safe for your dog:

 

Bull Frog Sunscreen

(P.S.  Don’t put this sunscreen on your cat.  It contains salicylates, which are toxic to cats.)

There are some “pet-friendly” sunscreens you can purchase at pet stores, just read the labels first.

And if you really want your pet to be protected from the sun, there are places that you can get dog sunglasses, visors, and sun shirts!

Now get out there and have some [protected] summer fun!

Dr. D’s Tips For Hiking With Your Dog in Colorado

Oh, how I love the summer in Colorado!  Every year I can’t wait to strap on my hiking shoes, grab my pack, and hit one of the many amazing trails along the Front Range.  And more often than not, I took along my best hiking buddy – my dog.

Because hiking with your dog is one of the greatest pleasures of living along the Front Range of Colorado (there are so many great dog-friendly trails!), I put together a list of tips for you so that you and your pooch can have the best experience.

(And so can all the other trail users…)

 

Backpacking with Dogs

 

1.  Make sure your dog is in good health.  Consider getting your dog an exam to make sure they are fit for some serious exercise.  If they are elderly, definitely have them examined by your veterinarian for any joint or limb pain before you start hiking with them.

2.  Don’t be a weekend warrior.  If you and your dog aren’t getting any exercise during the week, it’s not a good idea to jump into a 4-hour hike on Saturday.  You’ll both regret it.  Start building up your dog’s endurance with walks, runs, or fetch sessions during the week.  Increase the time and intensity gradually.  You should also gradually increase the intensity of your hikes over time.

3.  Strengthen your dog’s recall response.  Many trails in Boulder County allow your dog to be off leash if they wear a Voice and Sight tag.  If you participate in the program, make sure your dog has practiced and can recall immediately when you signal them.

4.  Bring plenty of water and snacks.  Not just for you.  Hiking burns a ton of calories, and it’s easy to get dehydrated quickly.  Make sure you have some good, energy-replenishing snacks for your pup.

(4a.  Do you know the signs of heat exhaustion?  I had a park ranger in Boulder tell me once that they see tons of dogs with heat stroke, and they wished more people knew how to spot the signs.  Learn all about it in this article!)

5.  Know your dog’s abilities.  Don’t take him on a hike that’s too strenuous for his level of endurance.  He’ll end up with an injury that will put him on bed rest.  If it’s a hot day, pick an easier hike (like one that ends at a pond), or just let them stay home.  Remember, a dog’s paws are more sensitive to hot sand and rocky trails, and they can easily end up with burns.  That would certainly put a damper on your summertime adventures.

 

Dog Hiking on Trail

 

6.  You and your pooch are ambassadors for ALL hikers with dogs.  Be the best at hiker/dog etiquette:

  • Pack it out!  You know what I mean.
  • Obey posted signs regarding leash laws.
  • Yield the trail to other hikers and trail users.  When someone is passing, leash up your dog and hold them next to your side.  Say a friendly hello to the people passing so that your dog knows they are not a threat.
  • Don’t assume that everyone you see is a dog lover.  Some folks might find your exuberant, friendly pooch rather intimidating.  Recall your dog, and keep them by your side.
  • If you see another dog approaching, leash your dog.  It is easier to control the situation if at least your dog is on a leash.  Be familiar with dog body language so that you can avoid an undesirable situation with another dog.  And don’t be afraid to ask the other dog’s owner to leash their dog if necessary.
  • Don’t let your dog chase or approach wildlife.  The trail is their home, after all.

7.  After the hike, inspect your dog.  Check all four paws for injury or soreness.  Check their coat and skin for any ticks, thorns, or burrs.  Make sure they are hydrated and not over-heated.  And if they are sore the next day, give them a rest and don’t let them push so hard the next time.

8.  Above all, have fun!  Take your time, stop and smell the smells, listen to the sounds of nature, and enjoy being in the great outdoors with your best friend!

 

GrayTorrey 2011 summit

 

Need to schedule a pre-hiking exam for your pooch?  Give Dr. D a call!

Q&A: Is it ever OK to leave my dog in the car?

In the last two weeks, the rain finally stopped falling and the sun started to shine again in Broomfield, Colorado.  It’s been gloriously warm and beautiful!  But also in the past two weeks, I have heard and seen several dogs locked in cars in parking lots.

 

 

You’re asking me if it’s ever okay to leave your dog in the car.  Here’s what I hear people say:

I’ll only be a few minutes!

It’s not that hot today – only 75 degrees!

I parked in the shade; he’ll be fine.

Oh, I always crack the windows so she can get some fresh air.

I’d like to address these statements with you right now.

 

When it is 70 degrees outside, the inside temperature of a car can rise to 90-100 degrees in 10 minutes.  TEN MINUTES.  The temperature inside the car can rise up to 160 degrees on a really hot day.

 

It DOES NOT MATTER if you crack the windows.  Cracking the windows has little to no effect on the temperature inside the car.

 

It DOES NOT MATTER if you park in the shade.  The temperature inside the car will still rise rapidly.  It may not get to 160 degrees, but it will still reach over 100 degrees in no time flat.

 

It only takes a few minutes for your dog to start showing signs of heat stroke, and death can occur in less than 10 minutes under extreme conditions.

 

doginhotcar

 

It sounds obvious and I know you would never treat your dog this way, but every summer hundreds of dogs suffer and/or die from heat stroke in Colorado.  Don’t let your pet be one of them.

 

You might think I’m being extreme.  You may be one of those people who have left your dog in the car without any problems.  I am so glad that nothing bad happened to your dog.  But, just humor me for a minute.  Put yourself in your dog’s position, and then tell me how you feel in 10 minutes.  Or just watch this video:

 

 

 

Now, I know none of my wonderful clients would leave their dogs in the car, but so many of you wouldn’t hesitate to save a dog if you found one in a hot car!  So here’s a lovely info-graphic that explains what to do if you come across one.  Share with your friends!

 

IF YOU SEE A DOG IN A HOT CAR_

 

Let’s all treat our dogs the way we would like to be treated.

 

How To Move Without Making Your Cat Crazy

 

We’re in the process of purging, selling, and packing up our home to get ready for a local move.  And while the kitties certainly love the empty boxes all over the place, I know as moving day gets closer their stress level is going to increase significantly.

Cats do not appreciate change.  Especially change that involves removing them from a comfortable, well-marked territory to one that is completely new and smells funny.  But, as a veterinarian mommy to these two handsome felines, I know how to help them remain calm, and I’m going to share my tips with you!

(By the way, these tricks will work to reduce cat anxiety in many stressful situations besides moving; think new cat, new baby, new human, new furniture, etc…)

 

GooseBeanFocused

 

Prior to moving day:

Purchase a Feliway diffuser and place it in the room your cat uses most often, especially if they hide there.  Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone that only cats can smell, and it helps reduce anxiety.  You can begin using Feliway a couple weeks before moving day, and then continue its use in your new home (we’ll talk more about your cat’s “sanctuary room” later).

Play classical music while you’re packing!  Studies have recently shown that cats respond well to classical music and that it reduces anxiety!  As an added benefit, it will reduce your stress as well.  I like this product (for both dogs and cats)!

Get out the carrier(s) and do some positive reinforcement training.  If your cat does not like the carrier, this is really important.  Your cat should not see the carrier for the first time on moving day!  Bring it out several days in advance, put it on the floor in a quiet spot and put a comfy blanket in it.  Prop the door open and put some food or treats in there.  Do this every day leading up to moving day.

Make sure your cat is microchipped and that the info is updated.  Moving is the perfect opportunity for tragedy to strike in the form of an escaped kitty.  Take this simple precaution to make sure your cat can be identified.

Play with your cat regularly during the packing stage!  Be sure to have regular play sessions during the weeks leading up to the move.  This will help reduce any anxiety or loneliness your cat might experience while you are preoccupied with the move.

 

Goose in a box (4)

 

On moving day:

Lock ’em up!   Put your cats, their carriers, a litter box, some food and water, and a hiding place in one room with a closed door.  This room should either be emptied before the cats are placed inside, or emptied last.  Whatever you decide, make sure everyone knows the plan and to keep the door closed.  Place a sign on the door as a reminder if necessary.

Move the kitties last.  Once the movers have emptied your home, load up the kitties in their carriers and buckle them up in the car to take them to their new home.  You might consider spraying a little Feliway on the blanket that is in the carrier at least an hour before you are going to load them up.

Cat proof the new house by checking to make sure all the windows are closed, the screens don’t have holes to escape through, and that your cats can’t get stuck anywhere.

Set up a sanctuary room in the new house.  Plug in your Feliway diffuser in the room you have chosen.  Place the litter box, food and water, and hiding places in this room.  If necessary, have the movers put your furniture in this room first, so that the cats will feel more at home.  Let your cats out of the carriers inside this room, and close the door.  This is their safe zone, until you are finished moving for the day.

When you are done moving and all is quiet, open the door to the cats’ sanctuary, and allow them to explore on their own time and terms.  You can also use Feliway in the rest of the house to help your cats adjust more quickly.  Play some classical music.  Maintain the same routines as much as possible, and give them plenty of love and attention as they are getting used to their new home.

 

For super anxious cats:

If your cat is prone to severe anxiety, consider arranging to board them for moving day and the day after.  They may be less stressed this way, and there is less chance of them escaping or hiding out of fear.  Sedatives might also be an option that you can discuss with your veterinarian.

 

Does your kitty totally freak out at the vet, too?  Then call Dr. D – she makes house calls!

Q&A: Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Every cat owner knows this to be true:  Cats and empty boxes go together like peanut butter and chocolate.  Like wine and cheese.  Like french fries and ice cream… oh, is that just me?

 

My cat Goose will literally find his way into a new empty box faster than you can say "Goose-in-a-box"!

My cat Goose will literally find his way into a new empty box faster than you can say “Goose-in-a-box”!

 

But why?  It’s a question that researchers were only recently able to answer.  Getting an answer took so long because, well frankly, cats are terrible at filling out surveys.

There are three prevailing theories that have emerged:

 

Goose in a box (2)

1.  The Predatory Instinct

Cats are predatory by nature, and they prefer to hunt from places of hiding.  This could explain why your cat pounces unexpectedly onto your feet when you walk by an empty box.

2.  Warmth

Anyone who has observed a cat knows that they really like to be warm.  Their normal body temperature ranges around 100-102 degrees F, but the typical home temperature sits around 72 degrees F.  A box (or other small space) may provide insulation and warmth for our dear kitties.

 

Really?  The trash can?

Really? The trash can?

 

3.  Self-soothing and stress reduction

And finally, in a study among shelter cats, it was discovered that chilling in a box greatly reduced stressful behaviors and potentially harmful hormone levels.  Having empty boxes around helped the cats adjust more quickly to a new environment.  Cats apparently derive comfort and security from small enclosed spaces.

 

I swear, I have a thousand more pictures like this.

I swear, I have a thousand more pictures like this.

 

So how does this new knowledge benefit you and your cats?  Here are a couple ideas I have that will help you put this information to good use:

  • Provide plenty of empty boxes and/or hiding places if you are bringing home a new cat, or changing your cat’s environment.  This could help with stress reduction and a faster adjustment to their new space (or new house-mates).
  • Use that empty Amazon box as environmental enrichment.  Cats get bored in the same-old-same-old.  A new hiding place will stimulate and encourage their mental and physical health.
  • In the winter (or any time of year, really), try putting a comfy hidey hole right where the sun beam hits your floor.  Not only will they bask in the glow of warmth but they’ll be secure and hidden, completely able to relax during their mid-morning nap.

 

Do you have any theories to add?  I’d love to hear ’em!

Make the Small Things Website an “App” on your Smartphone!

Did you know that you can add the Small Things website as an “app” on your smartphone?? 

 

iPhone Screen Shot

 

Creating an icon for a website that you need easy and quick access to is super smart.  Here’s how to do it:

If you have an iPhone

  1. Open your Safari browser app, and find the Small Things website.
  2. At the bottom of your iPhone screen, there is a toolbar with a few icons.  Right in the middle is an icon that looks like a box with an arrow coming out the top.  Click on it.
  3. A menu will pop up with an option to “Add to Home Screen”.  It looks like a box with a plus sign in the center.  Click on it.
  4. You will be given an option to rename the icon if you wish.  You can name it whatever you want… Dr. D, House Call Vet, Treat Lady…  whatever floats your boat.
  5.  Click “Add” at the top right.
  6. Ta-Da!!  Now you have a new icon on your home screen!

 

If you have an Android

  1. Open your browser app, and find the Small Things website.
  2. Tap on the menu in the upper corner that looks like 3 little dots or dashes.
  3. Select “Add to Home Screen”
  4. Ta-Da!!  Now you have a new icon on your home screen!

 

You’re welcome!

How to Win With Pets, If You’re A Veterinarian (Part 1)

 

Veterinarians become veterinarians because we love pets.  And we want to snuggle and squish them all day long.  The rude awakening occurs when we start practicing, and realize that our patients want nothing to do with us!  We poke them, prod them, stick weird things in their face and ears… why would they want to be near us?

Well, have I got the blog post for you!  In this 2-part series, I am going to share my tried-and-true strategies for fear-free veterinary exams!

Here are the first 5 guaranteed* ways to get your patients to love you again.

 

 

Giraffe Treats

1.  Peanut butter and hot dogs (tuna or liver paste, if you’re a cat)

There’s nothing better, or more distracting, to a dog than peanut butter and hot dogs.  Really, high-value treats of any kind will usually work.  And when I say high-value, I mean HIGH-VALUE.  It’s got to be something that they aren’t normally getting at home.  Something that makes them sit up and say “WHOA, whatcha got there? Can I has it?  Can I?”

Forget the cardboard biscuits that have been sitting in that jar on the counter for the past 6 months.  Not.  Gonna.  Work.

2. Don’t look or smell like a Veterinarian.

Okay, I know you’re at work and you need clothes that clean easily and look professional.  But, consider that your patients know that white coat a mile away.  And the stethoscope.  And maybe even your shoes, if they’ve met you before.  Sometimes, trying a new “uniform” with existing patients will help them reset their behavior.

Scents are important too!  We know dogs and cats are highly sensitive to odors, so forget the perfume, scented lotion, and Lysol spray (or whatever you spray yourself with after getting squirted with anal glands…).  Try Feliway instead; and/or put some really stinky treats in your pockets.  Bacon works.

 

 

ClaireParker2014

3. Play

 

Here’s your new M.O. when you enter an exam room:

  • Say hello.
  • Get down low (sit on the floor, if it’s safe from bouncy Labradors).
  • Play with pet, offer high-value treats.
  • Occasionally examine a body part.
  • Offer more treats.
  • Play again.

Playing with your patients can really take their minds off the weirdness of being in the vet clinic.  You can even have your clients bring their pet’s favorite toys with them, or just have some fun toys stashed in the exam room.  This goes for both dogs and cats!

If play doesn’t work, try #4…

 

4. Find the petting “sweet spot”

 

Ask the clients where their pet LOVES to be scratched or stroked.  Don’t just absentmindedly pat them on the head and hope they like it.  Every pet has a spot that makes them go “aaaahhhhhhhh, yeeeaahhhhhh…”.  Find it, then use it.

 

DrDandBandit

5. Talk quietly

 

Not all pets like the high-pitched baby talk.  In fact, if they’re not a Labrador, they probably don’t.  And it certainly won’t calm them down.  This is especially true for cats.  Talk quietly and don’t make direct eye contact with kitty patients.  With dogs, you can be happy, but keep that tone and volume at a normal level!  Unless you want a super bouncy, excited, or nervous dog to examine…

 

Take these 5 tips with you to your next exam room, and try them out!  I can personally vouch for each one of these tips; Now my patients LOVE me, even after I’ve poked them with needles.  You, too, can have the love of your patients again!

 

Win Pet's Love

 

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series!

 

*results are not really guaranteed… but I know you and your patients will be much better off if you try these tips.

 

Are you a pet owner who would love to give your pet a fear-free veterinary experience?  If you’re in the Broomfield area, Call Dr. D to set up an appointment!