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PET PAGE: Change is tough on family's pets
Welcome to Buckley Veterinary Hospital’s monthly column. Beginning with this month’s issue, we hope to provide readers with insight on community pet health and shed light on issues you and your pet may be dealing with. It is our aim to provide another outlet for our doctors and staff to help educate the community on their four-legged family members. Please send questions, comments, or suggestions for future columns to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be showcased in future columns.
This month Dr. Susan Libra will touch on the importance and perseverance of the human-animal bond and keeping your pets acclimated to changes around your home throughout the year.
Hawkeye, owned by Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson, who was killed in the Aug. 6 Chinook helicopter crash, is captured in this picture doing what any dog would do – staying close to his pack or family group. Hawkeye’s canine instinct of loyalty is shared by all dogs, including those whose social group or pack is your family and mine.
Change can be very stressful for dogs. During this fall season many of us experience change through new activities, different schedules and family members leaving for short or long periods of time to school or college. When family or pack members leave and leave them behind it’s common to see unwanted changes in behavior, such as destructive actions, barking nonstop, pacing, excessive jumping, or even biting. These frustrating changes often stem from separation anxiety, boredom, unused energy and the lack of a personal safe spot or “den” that they can go into to await our return.
There are specific things we can do to help our pets smoothly and successfully make the transition to a new routine, ideally beginning several weeks before the change.
A good place to start is providing a smaller space or den where they can feel safe and relaxed. For indoor dogs, train them to a crate, bathroom or laundry room. With time they may seek it out on their own even when everyone is at home. For outdoor dogs a covered kennel close to the house sets up a similar atmosphere.
Keeping a few appropriate toys available to play with can occupy them when they aren’t sleeping. Rotate toys once or twice a week for variety. Consider puzzle toys that will allow treats or kibble to be placed inside requiring some energy to get the food out.
Dogs are very good at observing cues from us telling them we are about to leave, which can be triggers for anxiety. Dissolve the triggers by mixing up your getting ready to leave routine. Change the order of what you do and when you do it. In addition, perform any of those cues at random other times of day, night and on weekends. Gather belongings as if you were leaving, including when you normally leave, exit the house and then enter right back into the house. Also exit different doors, don’t exit at all, and vary the length of time you are out of the house.
Another approach is to help them start adjusting by ignoring them five to 10 minutes both before you leave and when you come home. Make no eye contact during this time and not until they have calmed down when you return. Rewarding only calm and controlled behavior with your attention is the goal – never undesirable behavior like excessive excitement or barking.
Finally, remember that dogs use voice tone to communicate praise and correction. Phrases comforting to us in higher voice tones, like “It’s OK” when we leave or come home, reinforces to them that their behavior has your approval. It’s best to not say anything while ignoring them for the five or 10 minutes, then talk in normal voice tones. Again, always reward only calm, controlled behavior with eye contact, our attention and higher voice tones.
Regarding our feline house mates, recent research from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine documents that routine change can trigger behavior typical of ill cats – appetite decrease, vomiting and not using the litter box among others. Findings suggest that consistency with time of feeding, location of litter boxes and regular playtime can be helpful in preventing these unwanted activities. Additionally, make sure they have a comfy, warm, secluded place to curl up; rotate toys; offer and rotate perches of different heights; provide tunnels/structures of various shapes and sizes; get them used to first short then longer periods of time alone; and mix up your departure cues which they are so very good at noticing.
Using these few thoughts and resources like Bark Busters (www.BarkBusters.com) and local trainers (Lori McKenna at
www.custompets.com) you can go a long way toward helping your dog and cat move through fall routine changes, like
Hawkeye pictured above, calmly and relaxed.
Please consult your veterinarian at your dog’s, or cat’s, exam if you have reservations about their behavior or training.
Education and prevention is key. Join us next month to discuss weight management and read how to determine the body
condition of your pet and a proper diet.