spaniel under a bed

Fear, Anxiety, Stress, and Phobias in Dogs

We all have encountered fear, anxiety, and stress in our lives. Our dogs are no different. Fear and anxiety and the stress they induce in our pets is often down-played and overlooked. Most of us fail to notice anxiousness in our own pets. Once we understand stress and can recognize the signs, we can work to identify the underlying cause, and take the appropriate steps to eliminating the stress in our dogs’ lives.

The terms fear, anxiety, stress, and phobias are often used interchangeably when referring to a dog’s behavior; however, they are very different. As responsible guardians for our dogs, we are obligated to understand these principles and the impact they have on our canine companions so we can do what is necessary to minimize stress in their lives.

 

  • Fear is an emotional response that occurs when an animal perceives something or someone as dangerous. Fear is a normal and beneficial behavior which helps us to adapt and survive.
  • Anxiety is the anticipation of future danger or a threat, whether it be real, imaginary, or unknown. Anxiety and fear both lead to stress and cause a similar physiologic stress response involving the release of neurotransmitters and stress hormones.
  • Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress is much more than just an emotional problem. It can cause many serious physical health issues and exacerbate other mental and physical problems.
  • Phobias are persistent fears of certain things or situations that are often extreme and out of proportion to the actual threat that they pose. Unfortunately, many dogs have phobias that are often not diagnosed or handled properly.

Most fears, phobias, and anxieties in dogs develop at the onset of social maturity, from 12 to 36 months of age. Often times owners who have a dog they adopted from a shelter, or don’t know the full history of, assume that fearful or anxious behaviors they have are because of past abuse and tend to ignore the problem. While in some instances this may be the case, there are also many dogs born with heritable predisposition to being fearful or anxious. Many dogs suffer from a pathologic fear or anxiety and perceive a threat even when none are present.

As dog owners, we need to do a better job of learning normal animal behavior and becoming aware of how are dogs are learning from positive and negative experiences. Ignoring these problems will not make them go away and only prolongs your dog’s suffering. When a dog cannot change its behavior in a way to help it better cope with fear and anxiety, or escape from the situation they perceive as dangerous, the prolonged negative effects cause the body to remain in a stressed state. This can have serious negative mental and health consequences.

Let’s talk a little bit more about fear, anxiety, stress, and phobias in dogs.

Fear

Fear is an emotional response that occurs when an animal PERCEIVES something or someone as dangerous and causes them to avoid situations and activities that may potentially be dangerous. It is very important to know that just because we may think a particular person, event, or object is nothing to be feared, that does not mean that your dog feels the same. A dog’s perception is their reality, and they will respond to what they perceive as a threat even if we do not see it as threatening. When a dog can’t get away from something they perceive as fearful, they may freeze up or become aggressive in a self-defense manner. This, in many cases, is a perfectly normal adaptive response. The context of the situation determines whether the fear response is normal, or abnormal and inappropriate. Most abnormal fear reactions are learned and can be unlearned with gradual exposure.

Anxiety

Anxiety is defined as the anticipation of future danger, whether it be real, imaginary, or unknown. Anxiety can result in similar physiologic responses similar to those associated with fear and has an effect on almost every body system. Some of the most common visible behaviors and signs are urinary or bowel eliminations/accidents, destructive behaviors, and excessive vocalization. Separation anxiety is the most common specific anxiety in companion dogs. When alone, the animal exhibits anxiety or excessive distress behaviors. Many dogs live in a constant state of anxiety, always wary of potential threats or always worrying that their owner will leave them at any minute. It is vital to your dog’s health to be aware of these issues and work towards improving them.

Stress

Stress is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. Stress affects dogs both emotionally and physiologically, just as it does in humans. Certain levels of stress are normal, beneficial, and even necessary for survival. The “good stress” allows us be alert, increase our sense of awareness, and use energy to help us learn new tasks and adapt. When a dog experiences fear or anxiety frequently, especially when they are unable to escape from the stressor, it is called distress. This “bad stress” can cause insomnia, euphoria, depression, mania, mood swings, irritability, suppression of the immune system, weight gain, and even psychotic behavior which further exacerbates the stress our dogs face. It is important to note that every animal is different in how they respond to stress and what their stress threshold level is. A large majority of behavior problems in dogs, especially conditions such as separation anxiety and aggression, are often the result of stress.

Phobia

Phobias are persistent fears of certain things or situations that are often extreme and out of proportion to the actual threat that they pose. Phobias are quite common in dogs and can be directed at anything. One of the more common phobias in dogs is a fear of loud noises such as fireworks and thunderstorms. Dogs will often become very anxious in anticipation to exposure to these things or situations. Every dog is different; some may have very mild anxiety responses and some may panic severely and can even injure themselves or others as they attempt to escape from the stimulus. They often lose sight of everything other than getting away from the stimulus. Phobias often start out mild and increase in severity every time they are exposed to the fearful stimulus again.

Physiological Effects of Stress

When an animal is fearful or anxious, the body responds by going in to its “fight-or-flight” mode by activating the Sympathetic Autonomic Nervous System (SANS) and stimulating the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA) to release stress hormones. When this “fight-or-flight” system is activated, neurotransmitters such as adrenaline and stress hormones such as cortisol are released. This essentially tells our body to shut down all functions that are not essential for fighting or flighting from the stressful stimulus. At the same time, they ramp up the body systems needed to protect ourselves from the threat. The overall response by the body is to increase the energy and oxygen directed towards muscles and movement, decreasing perception of pain, and increasing memory and sensory function.

Normally after a stressful incident, the “fight-or-flight” and stress systems will turn off and all the neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels should decrease to normal. It does not happen instantly and may take up to 24 hours to stabilize. However, with frequent and constant stress, the neurotransmitter and stress hormone levels may not have time to return to normal before another stimulus is encountered. This keeps these systems constantly active and keeps the levels of neurotransmitters and stress hormones elevated. This has a strong negative impact on the body and can lead to lethargy, high blood pressure, impact normal gastrointestinal tract function, weight gain, increased thirst and urination, cause hair loss, suppress the body’s immune system, and can lead to or worsen behavioral issues.

These emotional, stressful, and fearful situations systems activate the “primitive” part of the brain which is directed at survival and suppresses the “thinking” part of the brain. This is why people and dogs don’t make the best decisions and may respond inappropriately in an emotional, stressful, or fearful situation. Brains are built to remember these negative and stressful situations in order to help adapt and be prepared for them if they are encountered again in the future. It is very important to note that when dogs are stressed, memories that occur during this time are very strong and can have lasting impacts on their behavior. Therefore, it is very important to handle these situations properly and to not worsen the situation by punishing a dog for his response to a fearful or stressful situation.

Now, let’s move on to common causes of stress in dogs and how to identify them.

Common Stressors in Dogs

  • Excessive stimulation (too much play, doggie daycare, dog sports, etc.)- and the inability to escape or avoid stimulation
  • Insufficient stimulation/attention
  • Grief due to the loss of a companion (human or animal)
  • Arguments among family members and yelling
  • Too many dogs/animals in one space
  • Environmental changes (new home, schedule, people, animals, increased noise)
  • Punitive training (shock, choke and prong collars)-even yelling and telling “no” can cause fear, anxiety, and stress in some dogs
  • Combination training (rewards and punishment)
  • Inappropriate play partners
  • Insufficient social time/family time
  • Scary events and loud noises
  • Frustration
  • Uncertainty- Inability to predict the outcome of a situation
  • Excessive play that becomes borderline “obsessive/compulsive”
  • Not being taught to be okay with being left alone (separation anxiety)

Identifying Stress in Dogs

Dogs express themselves and communicate with body language, vocalizations and behavior. Most people recognize the obvious signs of stress in their pets such as avoidance behaviors, flattened ears, crouching, trembling, or panting. However, the more subtle signs are often overlooked. As pet owners, it is important to learn to read your dog’s body language for these signs to help them avoid experiencing unnecessary stress and, thus, a reduced quality of life. It is important to interpret your dog’s body language, vocalizations, and behavior as a whole.

Some key indicators of stress in dogs are listed below:

Eyes

  • Dilated pupils
  • Tightness around the eyes
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Staring
  • Wide eyed
  • Blinking, squinting
  • Whale eye- when the dog’s head is turned away from a stressor while keeping their eyes focused on it causing you to see the whites of their eyes
  • Furrowed eyebrows

Mouth

  • Yawning
  • Lip/nose licking
  • Lip curling
  • Panting
  • Excess salivation
  • “Smiling”/showing teeth
  • Teeth chattering
  • Cheek puffing
  • Wrinkled muzzle
  • Mouth closed tightly or pulled back
  • Mouth pursed forward
  • Mouthing

Ears

  • Pinned back/flattened
  • Upright and alert

Body

  • Tense
  • Freezing or walking slowly – little or no movement
  • Cowering- crouched low to the ground, tail hanging low with head down
  • Stretching
  • Excessive shedding
  • Urogenital licking/“check-out”- your dog may turn their head around and inspect and lick/groom their urogenital region
  • Urination/defecation
  • Low body posture, weight shifted back
  • Trembling/shaking
  • Sweaty paws
  • Tight brow
  • Shake off
  • Lifting one leg
  • Nails extended
  • Hair standing up
  • Turning away (C-shaped)

Vocalization

Dogs may indicate that they are stressed by vocalizing. Some of the more common stress related vocalizations are:

  • Barking: growling, howling, whining, screaming
  • Hissing: Low pitch = threatening / High pitch = fear/stress

Behavior

Signs of a dog that is stressed include:

  • Restlessness, inability to relax
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Excessive sleeping, often due to exhaustion
  • Jumpy/High-strung
  • Irritable
  • Destructive
  • Excessive self-grooming
  • Loss of appetite
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
  • Inability to focus, appearing distracted
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased urination and defecation
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Biting, nipping, snapping
  • Clinging to owner
  • Hiding
  • Pacing
  • Running off, Jumping and startling easy at slight changes—hyperalert state
  • Sniffing
  • Taking treats harder than usual, being pickier with treats, or not taking treats at all even if hungry
  • Trembling
  • Turning away (C-shape) or turning head
  • Will not settle down and rest, or will for a moment but back up and moving again

Steps to Reducing Stress in Dogs

There are many approaches to eliminating stress in dogs. In order to reduce our dogs’ stress we first need to understand it and identify the underlying cause in each situation so we can take the appropriate steps to correct this.

The first and simplest way of helping reduce stress in your dog is safety and avoidance of the situation or environment which stresses them out. This will not fix the underlying problem, but it will temporarily alleviate it and not further subject them to the stress. If the specific situations that dogs become stressed in is something they cannot avoid completely, such as separation anxiety or a hatred towards the local mailman, you may need to work with a qualified behavior consultant to help get your dog over this fear. While there are thousands of books, articles, and TV shows directed at correcting behavioral issues, you need to be very cautious with these. Most owners find themselves unsuccessful trying to resolve these problems on their own and often make them worse by trying to follow bad advice. In addition, dog training classes are rarely recommended for dogs with anxiety or aggression issues as it puts them in an environment where they will be constantly stressed and unable to learn and adapt. This is known as flooding and sensitizing. Research tells us that using aversive and punishment training methods can cause and worsen anxiety and fear in dogs. Every dog and every situation is different, and thus require different plans to try and correct these problems.

A behavior consultation with a certified behavior consultant will help you identify your dog’s stressors (triggers) and develop a personalized treatment plan. The behaviorist will almost always recommend a behavior modification protocol, specifically tailored to your dog’s situation. Additionally there may be recommended changes in diets, treatment with products such as pheromones, and medical managements through the use of certain drugs prescribed by your veterinarian. If your behavior consultant is not a veterinarian, it is strongly recommended to have your behavior consultant and veterinarian work together to help correct these issues. Some veterinarians have a special interest in behavior and are members of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. You can find nearby veterinarians that are AVSAB members by visiting their website: http://avsabonline.org. In addition, some veterinarians pursue years of advanced training to become a board-certified veterinary behavior specialists through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. To locate a veterinary behaviorist near you, please visit the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists website: http://www.dacvb.org/.

Treatment plans for fear, anxiety, and stress in dogs involve:

  • Avoiding known triggers and negative stimuli- PREVENTION IS KEY
  • Cue-Response-Reward-teaches predictability and structure to interactions with humans and reduces stress and anxiety by making sure anxious behaviors are not rewarded
  • Teaching new coping skills-hand targeting, eye contact on cue, and how to relax on a mat are techniques that can help to redirect and refocus. These also make hand and eye contact less scary.
  • Social and Environment Enrichment– food dispensing and puzzle toys-reduces stress and gives the dog more control over their environment. One-on-one human play and training time is important as well for social enrichment. Sometimes another animal (dogs, horses, cats, cows, etc.) can provide social enrichment.
  • Desensitization/counter-conditioning– the only way to change fear is by eliciting a new positive emotional response and gradually reintroducing triggers in a controlled environment. Counter condition is a way of training an animal to elicit a behavior or response that is counter to, or opposite of, the unwanted behavior or response to a particular stimulus. Desensitization is the process of slowly exposing your dog to a stimulus without causing the unwanted response. By introducing them to the stimulus or trigger very slowly, many dogs begin to realize it is not something to be feared and do not elicit the undesired behavior. These methods are not simply training the dog to accept the trigger or stimulus, as this type of training does not change the emotional response. These methods help the dog realize there is no need to be fearful of the stimulus so that they are no longer fearful of it. Remember fear is irrational and cannot be reinforced, therefore desensitizing/counter-conditioning will not make fear worse unless you go too fast at the gradual reintroduction of the trigger. For example, a dog that is fearful of the car and car rides can be gradually counter conditioned and desensitized to not be fearful of it. You can slowly bring the dog closer to the car each time and reward them for not acting in the undesirable manner. As they are successful, they can slowly be moved closer to the vehicle until they are getting into the car, and eventually riding in the car in a calm and quiet manner while still being rewarded for accomplishing their goal. It is important to watch for the signs of stress listed above and work to keep in a calm emotional state when working.
  • Medications– medications are not a cure for behavioral problems, they must be used with behavior modification but can be very helpful by decreasing overall anxiety and fear levels and increasing learning and behavioral modification potential
  • Tools– in addition, there are many tools on the market designed to help your canine companion with their behavior conditions. The ThunderShirt uses pressure in a manner similar to being hugged to help reduce anxiety and trigger relaxation. There are a variety of supplements and treats available that use natural ingredients to help support proper nervous system function and help keep your dog calm and relaxed. Other options include caps that can be used to reduce visual stimulations, and DAP sprays that emit drug-free, natural vapor signals to your dog that the area is friendly and safe by mimicking a dogs natural pheromones.

Summary

Stress makes us feel miserable; it makes our dogs feel the same way. The effects of fear and anxiety are serious and distressing for the animals that experience them. As dog owners, we owe it to our best friends to become better at recognizing signs of fear, anxiety, and stress and do more to decrease their fear when possible. In addition we must work to help prevent fear in new pets by understanding the principles behind it and avoiding actions and situations that predispose our dogs to stress. Dogs that show a pathologic level of fear or anxiety need to be recognized and treated to prevent them from a reduced quality of life and the long list of medical problems that occur secondary to prolonged stress. They do not deserve to suffer simply because we are not adept at recognizing their suffering and the signs of stress. It’s time to take action and work to improve the lives of our four-legged companions.

Do you want to learn more?

ThunderShirt Works for Annie’s Anxiety: A Product Review

10 Ways Your Dog is Telling You He’s Stressed

How Changes in Our Routine Affect Our Dogs

Tell us about your experiences with stressed or fearful pets in the comments section below. Ask your questions here or you can, email bark@hollywoodfeed.com. The experts at Hollywood Feed are always happy to help!

References:

  • Herron, Meghan E., Frances S. Shofer, and Ilana R. Reisner. “Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors.”Applied Animal Behaviour Science 1 (2009): 47-54.)
  • O’Heare, James.Canine Neuropsychology: A Primer on the Canine Nervous System, Stress, Emotion and Stress Reduction. Ottawa: DogPsych, 2005. Print.
  • Overall, Karen L.Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals. St. Louis: Mosby, 1997. Print.
  • Pfaffenberger CJ, Scott JP. The relationship between delayed socialization and trainability in guide dogs. J Genet Psychol 1959, 95: 145-155.
  • Radosta, Lisa, DVM, DACVB. “Canine Fear-Related Aggression Toward Humans.” Clinician’s Brief, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
  • Scholz, Martina, and Clarissa Von. Reinhardt.Stress in Dogs. Wenatchee, WA: Dogwise Pub., 2007. Print.
little girl plays with black puppy on the sofa

Do My Children Know How to Interact with Dogs and Cats?

It seems so natural for many families…parents, children, and pets all living together and having a great time! However, if we are unsure how to introduce our child to a new dog, or how to introduce our sweet cat to our new baby, then things may not always go smoothly. Dogs and cats may not know how to behave around our tiny human children, and our children may not know how to behave around our fur babies!

Even if we do not have pets of our own, our children will spend time with friends and family who have pets, or encounter them at the neighborhood park or on a walk in front of our home. Knowing when and how to approach and interact with animals is beneficial and necessary for all of our children.

Knowing how to interact with dogs and cats appropriately is also the first step in learning to love animals and fostering fulfilling friendships with pets for the rest of our lives. Children who learn to be friends with animals also learn compassion and how to nurture others, they learn responsibility, and relationships with animals positively affect their development.

April 26th is National Kids and Pets Day so let’s take the time to make sure our children know what to do and what not to do when meeting a new pet so that everyone can remain calm, happy and injury-free as well as learn to develop great friendships!

Supervision and Modeling Behaviors

Dog and cat populations in the United States have been steadily increasing for decades. Many families have multiple pets at home, like I do. This means our children WILL be interacting with dogs and cats at an early age.

To our children, most dogs and cats seem sweet, fluffy and cute. If a child has never been exposed to a strange animal before, they may think that any behavior on their part is appropriate. But adults and parents know that while most animals are friendly, there are aggressive and fearful dogs out there as well as cats who like to use their claws. There are also pet owners who do not train their dogs to follow commands or not jump on children, and then there are some pets who think that children are just plain strange and do not want anything to do with them.

If we have a family dog or cat then we can teach our child from a very young age how to interact with him, and we should! Teaching correct interactions should start at home with the family pets. Children should learn to treat all animals with respect, even if they know the dog or cat and they are comfortable around him.

If there is no family pet to practice with, then one of the first things we can do as a parent is set up supervised encounters with the dogs and cats of friends and family who we already know to be friendly. While we are on these encounters we can practice proper ways to interact with animals alongside our children.

To do this, we should always model the proper way to interact with dogs and behave around them as well. As we know, children will do as we do, not as we say, and they are always watching! If we display the correct way to read body language, approach and pet animals, then that is how our children will do these things as well.

It is also important to remember that small children, as well as many dogs and cats, may not know their limitations and should not be left alone with each other. They should always be supervised to prevent injury to both the child and the animal.

How to Meet New Cats

Children need to know how to interact with both dogs and cats, but the rules with cats are pretty easy. Cats who do not want to be petted will either run away, find a high perch out of the way, or let children know they are not interested by making an unwelcoming noise.

  • Children should know that when cats hiss or growl, they should ALWAYS be left alone.
  • When cats run away, then they should be left alone and NOT chased.
  • NEVER assume that cats who are not your own are declawed.
    • Cats without claws can still bite!
  • Cats that are willing to be petted will usually stay still when approached without making any unhappy noises. Children should pet them gently on their back or head, and SHOULD NOT pull on a cat’s tail, fur or ears, or pick up a cat who is not used to being handled, and not without the owner’s permission.

If we follow these rules, then children should have positive interactions with cats they don’t know!

Doggy Do’s and Don’ts

When we are preparing our children to meet a dog for the first time, here are a few things we should review:

  • NEVER approach and/or touch a dog you do not know.
  • ALWAYS ask the owner’s permission before petting their dog.
  • Once they receive permission, children should quietly wait for the dog to approach them to say hello.
  • Children can then stay still and allow the dog to sniff them, or slowly offer their balled up fist out toward the dog so he can sniff their hand.
  • Once the dog has sniffed the child, then the child can very gently pet the dog with soft strokes.
  • When spending time with any dog, make sure your child has calm, gentle, quiet interactions instead of frantic yelling and playing.
  • If a friendly dog does jump on your child playfully, they should not scream, cry or run, but instead ignore and turn their back on the dog, causing him to drop back to the ground. A dog will think screaming, crying or running mean the child wants to keep playing with them!
  • If you have a family dog, you should teach your child to participate in his care and routine from a young age.
  • No hitting, no poking, no pushing (especially on the hips), no hair, ear, limb or tail-pulling, no hugging or kissing, no sitting on or riding dogs.
  • Never walk directly toward a dog or make direct eye contact, instead approach him from the side.
  • NEVER try to pet or approach a dog who is eating or who has a treat or chew. Dogs who are otherwise very docile can be aggressive around their food or treats.
  • Never yell in a dog’s ear or face and never yell or stomp near a sleeping dog.
  • Do NOT stare directly back at a dog that is looking very intensely at you. Avert your gaze.
  • Do not follow or chase a dog who is walking or running away.
  • If a strange dog does seem like he may become aggressive by growling or baring his teeth, or runs toward your child in a scary way, teach them NOT to run away or scream, but instead to remain as calm and as quiet as possible and stand still with all limbs held in at their sides.

What If My Child Does Not Follow the Rules?

I know parenting styles differ and I don’t want to offer unsolicited advice. However, if our children do not follow the rules we have laid out, then I would suggest calmly separating them from the dog or cat immediately. Then give a clear, unemotional consequence for any misbehavior on the child’s part (or the dog’s) so they know that these are serious rules that must be followed.

We should also praise our children when they DO follow the rules! It is also important that our children understand that dogs and cats are living, breathing creatures that can feel pain and can become angry or sad. Teach them to be empathetic to an animal’s need for a break or a nap, and teach them to leave pets alone during these times.

Advanced Technique: Reading Body Language of Dogs

As our children get a little older, we can make sure that they are learning to read the body language of the dogs they encounter. We won’t be able to supervise their encounters with animals for long as they start growing up, so instead we can make sure that we have taught them how to be safe around new animals by reading body language. Talk with children about constantly observing the body language of dogs around them and what certain postures and behaviors mean. This way they can begin to become versed in reading the body language of dogs themselves and their knowledge can grow over time.

Positive Body Language Basics:

  • Relaxed face while looking at you
  • Averting gaze from you
  • Closed mouth or slightly open mouth (known as smiling)
  • Relaxed, normal ears
  • Natural tail position or wagging accompanied by other positive body language
  • Overall relaxed body language

Negative Body Language Basics:

  • Wide eyes
  • Intense staring directly at you
  • Lips pulled back to expose teeth
  • Excessive, exaggerated yawning
  • Growling, aggressive barking
  • Ears pinned back on head
  • Tucked tail
  • Stiff tail with rigid wagging accompanied by other negative body language
  • Pacing
  • Raised hair down the back/shoulder blades
  • Hunched body/making himself look small (may bite out of fear)
  • Stiff, tense body

Supervision, Supervision, Supervision!

Remember that supervision, especially around younger children who have not learned to read a dog’s body language yet, is key! We should never leave young children alone with a dog or cat, even if the animal’s owner says that they will be fine and his dog is not aggressive. People tend to play down any negative behaviors in their own pet (or child!). Remember that young puppies and will jump, scratch and nip as they are learning appropriate behaviors, so we even need to provide supervision around them.

We should review these do’s and don’ts with our children regularly. If we have a family pet at home, the same level of supervision should be in place while our child is young even though we think nothing could go wrong because our dog is the sweetest! Why take chances with safety? Children, dogs and cats all misbehave and forget how they are supposed to act sometimes.

This is not an all-encompassing list, but it’s a good start to begin to teaching children how to interact with family pets and unknown dogs. Let me know if you have any stories about kid and dog interactions below in the comment section!

young boy in car booster seat reaches for yellow lab next to him

Teaching Children How to Interact with Dogs is a Must-Have Life Lesson

Whether or not you have a family dog in your home, it is VERY important to teach your children how to interact with dogs. There is no way to predict at what point your child will encounter a strange dog, and you may not be around to supervise so you must teach them proper interactions from a very young age!

According to Wikipedia,

“The dog population experienced relative stability from 1987 to 1996, before seeing a yearly increase of 3-4% since that time.[48] In 2000, there were 68 million dogs in the country, and by 2010 that estimate had grown to 75 million, with about 40% of American households owning a dog.[49][50] In 2012, there were 83.3 million dogs and about 47% of households had a dog.[51] 70% of the owners had a dog, 20% of the owners had two dogs, and 10% of the owners had three or more dogs.[51]

The number of households with dogs is steadily increasing, and multiple dog ownership is increasing as well. Dogs are everywhere and all children need to be prepared for these interactions.

To children, most dogs seem sweet, fluffy and cute, and since children may have never been exposed to a strange dog before, they may think that any behavior on their part is appropriate. But adults and parents know that while most dogs are friendly, there are aggressive and fearful dogs out there. There are pet owners who do not train their dogs on child-appropriate behavior, and there are some dogs who think that children are just plain strange and do not want anything to do with them!

Children and dogs can have great friendships, so don’t be scared to introduce them. They will encounter dogs eventually anyway so prepare them! With the proper tools and teaching, kids can learn what to do and what not to do to greatly reduce their chances of being bitten and have a positive doggy interaction every time.

Supervision and Parental Modeling

If you have a family dog then you can teach your child from a very young age how to interact with him, and you should! Teaching correct interactions should start at home with the family dogs. Children should learn to treat all dogs with respect, even if they know the dog and they are comfortable around him.

If there is no family dog, then one of the first things to do as a parent is to make sure that you set up supervised encounters with dogs you already know to be friendly. While you are on these encounters you and your child can practice proper ways to interact with dogs. Make sure that you always model the proper way to interact with dogs and behave around them as well. Children do as you do, not as you say, and they are always watching! Do not get a new family dog without first teaching your child what that will mean and how they must treat him!

First Interactions

When you are preparing your child to meet his first dog, here are a few things to teach him:

  • NEVER approach and/or touch a dog you do not know.
  • ALWAYS ask the owner’s permission before petting their dog.
  • Once they receive permission, children should quietly wait for the dog to approach them to say hello.
  • Children can then stay still and allow the dog to sniff them, or slowly offer their balled up fist out toward the dog so he can sniff their hand.
  • Once the dog has sniffed the child, then the child can very gently pet the dog with soft strokes.
  • When spending time with any dog, make sure your child has calm, gentle, quiet interactions instead of frantic yelling and playing.
  • If a friendly dog does jump on your child playfully, they should not scream, cry or run, but instead ignore and turn their back on the dog, causing him to drop back to the ground. A dog will think screaming, crying or running mean the child wants to keep playing with them!
  • If you have a family dog, you should teach your child to participate in his care and routine from a young age.

The No-No’s

Here are some things you should teach your child to NEVER do around dogs:

  • No hitting, no poking, no pushing (especially on the hips), no hair, ear, limb or tail-pulling, no hugging or kissing, no sitting on or riding dogs.
  • Never walk directly toward a dog or make direct eye contact, instead approach him from the side.
  • NEVER try to pet or approach a dog who is eating or who has a treat or chew. Dogs who are otherwise very docile can be aggressive around their food or treats.
  • Never yell in a dog’s ear or face and never yell or stomp near a sleeping dog.
  • Do NOT stare directly back at a dog that is looking very intensely at you. Avert your gaze.
  • Do not follow or chase a dog who is walking or running away.
  • If a strange dog does seem like he may become aggressive by growling or baring his teeth, or runs toward your child in a scary way, teach them NOT to run away or scream, but instead to remain as calm and as quiet as possible and stand still with all limbs held in at their sides.

What if My Child Doesn’t Follow the Rules?

If your child does not follow the rules you have laid out, then calmly separate your child from the dog immediately and give clear, unemotional consequences for any misbehavior on the child’s part (or the dog’s) so they know that these are serious rules. Praise your child when he is following the rules! Children must be taught that dogs are living, breathing creatures that can feel pain and can become angry or sad. Teach them to be empathetic to a dog’s need for a break or a nap, and teach them to leave dogs alone during these times.

Learn to Read Body Language

Teach your children to constantly observe the body language of dogs around them and talk to them about what certain postures and behaviors mean regularly. This way they can begin to become versed in reading the body language of dogs themselves and their knowledge can grow over time.

Positive Body Language

  • Relaxed face while looking at you
  • Averting his gaze from you
  • Closed mouth or slightly open mouth (known as smiling)
  • Relaxed, normal ears
  • Natural tail position or wagging accompanied by other positive body language
  • Overall relaxed body language

Negative Body Language

  • Wide eyes
  • Intense staring directly at you
  • Lips pulled back to expose teeth
  • Excessive, exaggerated yawning
  • Growling, aggressive barking
  • Ears pinned back on head
  • Tucked tail
  • Stiff tail with rigid wagging accompanied by other negative body language
  • Pacing
  • Raised hair down the back/shoulder blades
  • Hunched body/making himself look small (may bite out of fear)
  • Stiff, tense body

 

I’ll Say Supervision Again!

Remember that supervision, especially around younger children who have not learned to read a dog’s body language yet, is key! Never leave your young child alone with a dog, even if the dog’s owner says that they will be fine and his dog is not aggressive. People tend to play down any negative behaviors in their own pet (or child!). Remember that young puppies will jump, scratch and nip as they are learning appropriate behaviors, so you even need to provide supervision around them.

Go over these things regularly with your child. If you have a family dog at home, these same rules apply while your child is young even though you know your dog and think nothing could go wrong, why take chances? Children and dogs both misbehave and forget how they are supposed to act sometimes.

This is not an all-encompassing list, but a good start to begin to teach your child how to interact with family dogs and unknown dogs. Let me know if you have any stories about kid and dog interactions below in the comment section!

happy pit bull smiling at camera

The Myth about Pit Bulls, Debunked

We’ve all heard the stories, myths, and fear some people spread about pit bulls simply because of their breed and their use in dog fighting by some abusive and greedy people. I believe that a dog should not be judged based only on his breed, just like a person should not be judged based on the color of his skin! These myths are dangerous, and are passed down through families, generations and friendships.

To help share the truth about pit bulls, Jodi Preis of Bless the Bullys, a pit bull rescue and education group based out of Middle Tennessee, started National Pit Bull Awareness Day, which falls on October 24th this year.

National Pit Bull Awareness Day is an opportunity for communities to become educated about pit bulls and change common misconceptions that they may have about this very loving breed of dog. It is a time to talk about responsible dog ownership and it is also meant to help restore the image of the American Pit Bull Terrier. Here are some ways YOU can participate in this important mission:

1. Educate Yourself

If you have some negative feelings about pit bulls based on what you have always heard, then do some research and find out the facts! Dachshunds, Chihuahuas and Jack Russell Terriers are actually the most likely breeds to bite and show aggression! They are usually forgiven and not reprimanded because of their size. See more here.

2. Get to Know a Pit Bull

If you have never had experience with a pit bull, then all you know is what you hear about dog fighting in the news, or what is portrayed in the movies. Meet a friend’s pit bull and get to know her. Go to your local shelter to meet a pit bull, or volunteer to help walk the dogs there. I guarantee that you will find pit bulls who are happy to see you, and very loving (if very exuberant and full of energy!) I have pit bulls in my home frequently as a dog-sitter, and they get along with people and other dogs without incident.

3. Speak Up

When you hear someone perpetuating a myth about pit bulls, speak up! If no one ever tells them that their belief is wrong, then how will that person learn what is really true? Confronting and challenging family members, friends or even strangers can be difficult, but take a gentle approach and let that person know about your own experiences with pit bulls.

4. Train Your Dog

I feel compelled to say that I don’t think Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, or Jack Russells are any worse than another breed, either! No dog should be judged solely on breed alone. I think that we as pet owners frequently don’t follow-through on training smaller dogs, and do more training with our larger dogs. I often see small dogs who are not fully housebroken, because the mess they make is so small, that owners just choose to clean it up. This does not fly with large dogs and their large messes! I think that we as owners also forgive snapping and growling in small dogs more frequently instead of training our dogs to stop those behaviors. A large dog who growls and snaps is a lot scarier, so we work on that behavior more often with them. Training is really the secret when it comes to preventing aggression in any breed of dog. Properly trained pit bulls are no more aggressive than Golden Retrievers!

Remember that you cannot make generalized statements about the aggressiveness of a certain breed of dog- personality really all boils down to the dog’s environment and training. So, start spreading the truth about pit bulls to your friends and family, and come out to support Pints for Pits at High Cotton Brewing Co. today from 4-8, sponsored in part by Hollywood Feed!

white poodle sits under work desk in office with ball

4 Questions to Ask Yourself before Bringing Your Dog to Work

Our dogs are going to work with us every morning here in America. Employees at thousands of companies have found relaxation and creativity in their offices flourish with the arrival of our furry friends next to us at our desks. There are scientifically proven health benefits to spending time with our pets, and they are definitely a source of stress-relief daily. These health benefits extend from the home to the office, and can have a positive impact on work output as well as job satisfaction! Read more about the amazing health benefits of owning a pet here.

Now, I know that all pet parents out there would love to bring their dog to work with them, but it really does take advanced preparation on our part. Besides good basic training, there are some specific skills every working dog should have to get the job done smoothly. In honor of Take Your Dog to Work Week this week, here are some questions you should be asking yourself to help prepare your pooch for the daily grind.

#1- Is My Dog Well-Behaved? Dogs that are aggressive toward people or other dogs should not come to work.

This is a question that we all need to really be honest with ourselves about. Will my dog sit and stay? Will he remain calm for hours at a time? Does he bark at new people or mark when there are new scents around? Does he come when called?

Now, I don’t mean to say that your dog must be perfect all the time – I know that’s unreasonable. Dogs will be excited to see their office friends in the morning and get some attention. They will bark occasionally, they will run, and they may have an accident.

But after the morning’s initial excitement, can your dog calm down and chill out? An occasional bark is one thing, but does your dog bark all day? An occasional accident happens in a new place, but does your dog pee on the floor at home, too, or is he really housebroken? (If you need to freshen up your housebreaking skills, read more here.)

Make sure that you know all of the rules for office dogs at your workplace and that your dog will be able to abide by them.

You will need to practice and refresh your dog’s recall training. You cannot allow your dog to get out of control at work and not come back to you when called. When you say, “Fido, come.” Fido should come back over to you, perhaps looking a little ashamed about his behavior, immediately.

You will probably find that exercising your dog every morning before work will do wonders for his ability to remain calm and concentrate on your commands.

Dogs that are aggressive toward people or other dogs should not come to work.

#2- Am I Really Ready for this Responsibility?

Forget if your dog is ready to come to work. Are you ready to bring your dog to work? Keep in mind that you will need to decide in advance if your daily work schedule can accommodate regular walks which will include picking up poop and possibly having a change of shoes at the office for said walks.

Leash training will be a must unless your office has a gated pet area, you will have to take your dog outside multiple times every day on a leash. You will not want to be pulled around outside your office windows by a barking dog choking himself on a leash three times a day, right?

You will also have to be prepared to provide constant supervision to your dog. Are you in an office with a door that can contain your dog, or are you in a cubicle? Will you be able to keep your dog from wandering the building, and from eating out of people’s trash cans and off their lunch plates?

Are you prepared to clean up any messes your dog makes? “Leave it” and “No” are good commands to teach for work.

#3- Will There Be A Space for My Dog?

Give your dog his own place at work and make him use it! Your dog should have an office just like you, probably a crate or bed/mat right next to your desk. You stay in your office and work all day, and so should your dog (with regular potty breaks).

You must teach your dog how to sit and stay before bringing him to work, and a mat or crate work great for this purpose. Here are some blogs that will help you place train: http://hollywoodfeed.staging.wpengine.com/a-place-for-everyone-place-training-your-dog/, and crate train: http://hollywoodfeed.staging.wpengine.com/crate-training-guide-guide-getting-dog-acquainted-new-crate/ your dog for work.

Make sure your dog’s work space is quiet and comfortable and that he always has access to water.

If there is no room for your dog at your work area, and there is no doggy daycare room at your office, you probably shouldn’t bring your dog to work.

#4- Will My Co-Workers Still Like Me?

Make sure to be a considerate coworker when bringing your dog to work with you! Just because you think the snoring noise your precious puppy makes when sleeping is adorable, does not mean that your coworkers feel the same way. Especially when it goes on for 6 hours out of the day.

Bring everything your dog will need to work with you! Stain/odor remover, dog bed, crate, bowls, food/treats/toys, leash, id tags, poop bags, etc. will all be necessary and you should be able to store these items neatly.

Consider coworker allergies and sensitive noses. Make sure your dog is clean and healthy.

Make sure that your dog is used to being around other people and dogs before bringing him to work! Practice with friends and family first, and at an off-leash dog park, and make sure your dog does not display any aggressive behaviors.

No toys, treats or food should be left on the ground at the office around other dogs until you know how they get along, and then only under supervision. No noisy toys at work!

 

Now that you have made sure your dog is ready for the workplace, make sure that you are consistent with your dog as he learns the new rules at work, and you should be off to a great co-working experience! #TakeYourDogToWorkWeek

Dog Socialization Guide – Eliminate Anti-Social Behavior

When you get a new dog, whether it be a puppy, an adult, or a senior, one of the first things you will need to do is gauge his social skills. Dog socialization is right behind housebreaking for me as one of the most important things you and your dog can master to make both of your lives easier down the road.

I have had the experience of socializing two dogs as adults (about 4-6 years old at the time) and one as a few month old puppy, and let me tell you-it is easier to start young with introductions to lots of people, dogs, cats, smells, noises and places-but it can be done with adult and senior dogs, too! You can teach an old dog new tricks in most cases- we people don’t give our canine companions enough credit. More patience and practice will be required, but it can be done and you and your dog will be better off for it.

Properly socializing your new dog right away will save you a lot of stress and heartache down the road in many circumstances: going with friends to dog parks, having people over for dinner, having children, moving in with a roommate/boyfriend and their pets, or when adding a new dog to your existing pack.

What Is Socialization?

So, what does it mean for your dog to be socialized? It means to teach your dog to be a participant in society, and to interact in a calm, friendly way with humans, other dogs, and in new situations. A well-socialized dog will be much less likely to react with fear or aggression when experiencing new things or meeting new people and dogs. They are able to read the body language and warning signs of humans and other dogs. It also means for an easier, more relaxed, less stressed dog (and human) for the rest of your lives together!

Here are some tips for socializing your puppy from the ASPCA: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/socializing-your-puppy

Tips for Socializing Puppies

Puppies are easier to socialize than older dogs simply because at a young age they are open and ready to learn as much as possible, like human babies. Once they are a little older and have more knowledge about the way the world works, dogs and humans instinctively become more suspicious of new people and things as a way to protect themselves from unknown danger.

My Fitzgerald was socialized from the time he was adopted at about 6 months old. He had early socialization at the Collierville Animal Shelter, and then he immediately started going to work every day with my husband at Hollywood Feed’s corporate office. He met lots of people and dogs daily, and now he is friends with everyone.

Puppies can be thrown into a mob of other puppies, and they should all be able to play and socialize just fine with very few problems. Some puppies will be a little more timid, and some will be overly rambunctious, but there should not be any big issues. You cannot use this same technique with adult dogs, or with a mix of puppies and adult dogs who do not know each other.

Puppies can also be introduced to new people right away and there should be very few problems. Some puppies can be intimidated by big crowds of people or lots of noise. If your puppy seems to be on the cautious side, back away from big crowds or go into a quiet room. Give treats and positive praise using a calm voice to show your puppy that crowds are fun places!

Take your dog on daily walks to get out of the house, smell new smells, and have encounters with new dogs and people. (By the way, leash training your dog is one of those things you can do that will make your life SO MUCH easier in the future.) You can use this time to practice your corrections for unwanted behaviors and give praise and treats for positive behaviors as well. You will probably also get the chance to introduce your dog to cats.

Also take your puppy to new places with you every week or so to have new experiences outside of his comfort zone. You can take him on car trips to drive-thrus or dog-friendly businesses. Take him to your kids’ soccer game and the dog park. Have a party at your house so that your puppy can meet and be handled by all of your friends!

I like to handle new puppies as much as possible. This is really easy at first because you will want to cuddle and hold your new puppy all the time! While you are doing this, play with his feet and mouth so that he becomes used to being touched in these places. This will make nail trims, brushing teeth, and giving medications easier in the future.

Tips for Socializing Adult Dogs

Adult dogs are a little harder to socialize than puppies, but don’t stress out! It’s not as hard as you think, though there may be some tense moments. Your ability to stay cool and calm will be the most important factor in how well your dog will do at any new encounter.

My two older dogs, Skeeter and Annie, did not get properly socialized until they were about 4-6 years old. They stayed home together all day while I was at work and then never went anywhere with me in the evenings or on weekends. They spent their time in my house and my backyard. They did pretty well with new people, but there was always a lot of barking and jumping involved when somebody came to my house. When I met my now-husband, we had to introduce my dogs to his cat so we could all spend time together. My dogs had never met a cat before and wanted to chase and eat Fender. A few very tense days of observation and correction, followed by a couple of slightly tense weeks of more observation and correction-and LOTS of exposure to each other-and now 5 years later, Fender cuddles up right next to Annie and sleeps soundly there.

Physically handling an adult dog to get him used to touch is still something that should be done, but with more caution than with puppies. If you have just adopted an adult dog, you should take your time learning your new friend’s personality and sensitivities before jumping right into squeezing on paws and toenails!

There should also be more caution involved when an adult dog is brought into a situation with new dogs or humans. Try one new dog and one new human at first and gauge your dog’s reactions before bringing more dogs or humans into the situation. Learn more about reading your dog’s body language here.

Adult dogs who need more socialization should be taken out of their comfort zone (your house) regularly and exposed to new things. They can be taken to the same places as puppies-on car rides and neighborhood walks, to dog parks, businesses, etc. but I would recommend recruiting another adult with dog knowledge to go with you, especially at first, until you are comfortable with your dog’s reactions to new things without an extra set of hands available.

If you want to introduce your dog to a specific new dog, choose a neutral place for the first introduction. Go to a dog park where neither dog will feel like his home is being invaded. Exercise the dogs separately beforehand. Let them observe and sniff each other on a loose leash, and then take them for a walk together, side by side.

Separate dogs in conflict quickly and calmly-work to stop the aggressor first. Be very careful about putting your hands in a dog fight-I have been bitten this way before! A quick, firm touch to the dog’s side or a loud controlled noise may distract him enough to break his focus so you can grab him safely. If you don’t think that you can pull the aggressor away safely, then use your feet or water to break up the fight. Then forget the fight ever happened immediately just like the dogs will. Your anxiety will drive the next fight to happen-so relax.

After you have done some socialization outside of the home, then you can try inviting other dogs and humans into your yard to meet your dog, and then into your home. Your dog will feel protective of his home territory and may display some aggression or at least some warning signs of aggression at first. Stay calm and make corrections firmly.

The most important thing you can remember to do is to stay calm and assertive with your dog, no matter what behaviors he displays. Your dog will feed off of your energy and your reactions. Most dog owners do not realize what a big effect they have on their dog’s behavior. Dogs who are aggressive around their owners are often perfectly well behaved if the owner is not around.

Remember to make all introductions and interactions a positive experience for your dog with treats and praise! A well-socialized dog is a well-liked and well-behaved dog in almost every situation. Take the time to work on this skill with your dog today!