Highlights from Our Symphony with Animals: The Psychology Between Human and Animal Bonds

Our Bond with Animals

In the 1970s, Biologist Edward Wilson coined the phrase biophilia to describe humans’ love of life. It is the inherent need to connect to other life, even insects and plants. Our relationship with animals is where our biophilia is especially evident.

Three-fourths of American households now include animals. This trend is growing across the world, too. We are no longer their owners. They are our companions, and we are their moms and dads. When we’re unable to bring animals into our homes, we seek them elsewhere. We join bird watching clubs, go on safaris, and visit wildlife sanctuaries. While zoos are problematic, they are so popular because humans feel the need to seek out other animals.

Humans have an innate capacity to empathize with animals. Animals seem to capture our hearts like no one else can. As a neurologist, I found myself asking where does that come from and how does that affect us all? In 1946, the WHO defined health as more than just the absence of disease, but as a state of complete, physical, mental, and social well-being. In medicine, how we govern ourselves, how we work, and how we play can impact our health.

How Animals Impact Our Well-Being

For five years, I traveled the country asking how animals impact our social well-being. Studies show being with animals for a short period of time can increase our physical and mental health in measurable ways. Petting your cat or dog for just fifteen minutes can decrease blood pressure, lower baseline heart rate, and even reduce cholesterol. Some studies suggest being with animals can increase our lifespan. Not only do animals affect us physically, they also boost the release of positive neurochemicals. Other studies show the same boost occurs in animals and shows there’s a mutual benefit.

Animals can provide a companionship that is unique and help us see the world through a different lens. They can help people who have experienced trauma to reengage with the world. Not only can animals teach us joy, they can also teach empathy.

First Animal Therapy Program in Prison

At Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ohio, there were rumors for decades about the brutal treatment of the inmates. It wasn’t until the 1970s, when three reporters conducted an undercover investigation, that the treatment came to light. This investigation led to a litany of reforms. One gained national attention. David Lee was a social worker at the institution in the seventies and eighties. He was an animal lover, so for 60 days he brought in aquariums and birds to the most suicidal and depressed wards and compared those with similar wards with no animals.

After 60 days, the results were irrefutable. Inmates were able to cut medication by half, had fewer violent outbreaks, and no suicide attempts. On the other wards, eight suicide attempts occurred and the same level of medication was needed. This was the first documented animal therapy program at a prison.

David expanded the program and brought in other animals like hamsters and cats. Many inmates would tell reporters they were learning kindness for the first time with their interactions with these animals. The program showed that animals could teach even those we consider unteachable empathy.

What Happens When We Break Our Bond with Animals?

Unfortunately, humans can also be incredibly cruel to animals. So how does that happen? How do humans suppress empathy? Many serial killers start off by hurting animals, but why? This hasn’t been studied extensively.

Violence toward animals is more strongly linked to everyday crimes. The NYPD has a squad that’s solely focused on crimes against animals. They know that humans who commit animal abuse are linked to violent crimes. That link is so strong that the FBI now tracks animal abuse the way it tracks murders.

Despite this positive change, the FBI and our police forces are failing to recognize a crucial issue. Most violence against animals is caused by our industries and our government. These places are hidden from our view because they affront our natural empathy for animals. As a society, what we have done is tell our industries and governments that we will look the other way.

Studies show that how we think about animals and the language we use to describe them can affect our relationships to them. We’ve given them labels that remove us from empathizing with these animals. We are becoming more aware of who these animals are so to further reduce them we turn them into parts, like nuggets, thighs, and strips. Our truths about animals is the creation of language we’ve used. To ease our conscious, we’ve labeled them.

The Importance of Regaining Empathy Toward Animals

Studies show us how to regain empathy toward animals, which also connects to empathy with humans. We’re more likely to have increased empathy to those who are more like us and those who are physically nearer to us. It’s easier for us to feel empathy for cats and dogs rather than mice or pigs because we’re more familiar with them. The more we familiarize ourselves with different types of animals and see how similar they are to us, the more we can increase empathy to them.

People can learn to reengage with empathy that may have been hidden. Empathy is the natural progression of our species, and it can and will grow. We can help people to see our well-being isn’t separate from the well-being of animals. We largely share the same struggles, and the solution is the same. Empathy for animals is the natural extension of empathy for other humans. What we gain when we recognize our kinship with animals is our health and happiness.

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.
close up of service dog harness

Service Animals and the Americans with Disabilities Act

 

Service animals can be not only a very important part of everyday life for people with disabilities, but they can also become a best friend and partner for these same people as well. When our best friend is also the dog who provides life-changing services for us, we want him to be able to come everywhere with us without extra fuss being made or attention being drawn. Have you ever had any questions about what is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act in regards to service animals? Well, here are a few of the highlights and a link to the ADA’s website for further reading!

The ADA requires State and local government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations (covered entities) that provide goods or services to the public to make “reasonable modifications” in their policies, practices, or procedures when necessary to accommodate people with disabilities. The service animal rules fall under this general principle. Accordingly, entities that have a “no pets” policy generally must modify the policy to allow service animals into their facilities.

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section

A Few Fun Facts:

    • The Americans with Disabilities Act states that a service animal is one who has been trained to perform tasks to assist someone who has a disability.
      • This means that the animal must actually perform an ACTION OR TASK to help their person.
      • Therapy and emotional support animals DO NOT fit this requirement because their simple presence is what comforts their person.
      • Some local and state governments may have laws that allow these companion or therapy animals to accompany their people around town.
      • This section of the ADA states that some service animals trained to help with anxiety attacks are allowed. Service animals who are trained to take a specific action to assist someone who is about to have an anxiety attack, and the action does help to lessen or eliminate the attack, are protected under the ADA as service animals.
    • When entering a store/building that is not dog-friendly, there are only two questions that staff may ask before admitting a person and their service animal: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” They also cannot ask for proof of disability or proof of service dog training!
    • Service animals are considered working animals, and not pets, by law.
    • Only dogs, and in some cases, miniature horses, are allowed to be service animals since 2011.

 

  • Any breed of dog can be a service animal. A service animal cannot be excluded from any establishment based solely on breed.
  • Service animals DO NOT have to be professionally trained according to the ADA. Each person has the right to train his own service animal.
  • No documentation or proof is required for any service animal by the ADA.
  • Service animals do not have to wear any specific badge or uniform to enter public spaces.
  • Service animals must follow all local laws pertaining to vaccinations as well as any local licensing and registration requirements.
  • Service animals ARE allowed near public food, such as salad bars, buffets, and communal food preparation areas such as shared dormitory kitchens.
  • A service animal must be allowed to accompany his person into any hotel room, not just those designated as pet-friendly.
    • If the service animal damages the hotel room, the guest can be charged.
    • However, no charge can be made for shedding!
  • Service animals are allowed in hospitals with their person even though there are other humans around and available to assist with needs.
    • Service animals are also allowed to ride in an ambulance with their person unless there is not enough room for the animal and for appropriate medical treatment to be provided at the same time.
  • Service animals must be under the control of their person AT ALL TIMES in order to be allowed to accompany their person into any establishment.
    • This means that they must be housebroken, non-aggressive, and not display repeated, unprovoked barking.
    • They must also either be on a leash at all times, or under verbal or sight commands that they follow at all times.
    • This also means that service animals cannot be left alone in hotel rooms when their person leaves.
  • If someone feels that their rights under the ADA have been violated, then they have the right to file a private Federal lawsuit against the discriminatory business or person.
  • Churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship are exempt from following ADA regulations.
    • There may be state or local laws in place that require these locations to allow service dogs, or they may be happy to allow them on their own.
    • Federal agencies and commercial airlines are also not required to follow ADA regulations.

If you have ever wondered about service animal regulations, now you know the highlights! To get the full break down, visit: www.ADA.gov

Do you have a service animal, or have you had experience with them? Share your story in the comment section below!

black and white photo of kitten being petted through kennel bars

4 Reasons We Should Volunteer at Our Local Animal Shelters

Are you looking for a volunteer opportunity? Are you thinking about adopting a new pet? Do you love getting attention and love from dogs and cats? There are many reasons we may want to volunteer at our local animal shelter, and all of them are great in my opinion.

Next week, April 10th to 16th 2016, is National Volunteer Week! I encourage everyone to take this week as an opportunity to start a volunteer relationship with your local shelter.

Here are a few of my favorite reasons we should volunteer at a shelter:

Volunteer Before Adopting

Thinking about adopting a dog? Volunteering at a shelter is a great way to introduce children to dogs and responsibility for the first time. Or if our family already has a dog or cat, volunteering at a shelter makes it much easier to find the perfect companion and introduce her to our current furry family member in a neutral location.

Kids and Dogs

If our child does not have any experience with dogs (whether or not we plan to adopt a dog), then it is important to make sure he knows the safety rules that he should always follow when encountering dogs. It is also important to teach any child to become aware of and learn to read the body language of dogs. Read more about safety when mixing kids and dogs here.

Ready for Responsibility?

Has your child been begging for a dog, but you’re not sure if he will really hold up his end of the bargain when it comes to training, walking, feeding and bathing? Tell him to volunteer at a shelter, learn how to do these things, and stick to a schedule. This will definitely help you see how dedicated to having a new pet he really is!

The Perfect Pick

While we’re volunteering, we get the chance to interact with a variety of dogs and cats of different ages and breeds. This will allow us to be able to pick out the perfect new addition to our family when we’re ready to adopt! Find out more about why shelter pets make the best pets here.

Make a Difference

It’s great to know we’re really making a difference when we commit time and energy to volunteering. At a shelter, we are part of helping unite dogs and cats with forever families. Just as importantly when we volunteer at a shelter, we help to train and socialize dogs and cats and keep them happy, healthy and clean while they are staying with us. Seeing animals that we’ve walked, fed or played with find a home is very rewarding. Also rewarding is knowing that we’ve helped socialize and leash train a dog so that he was ready for the perfect family to come along and adopt him.

Feel Good

Where else can we go volunteer our time and also get to play with and cuddle sweet dogs and cats? If we’ve had a bad day, then we can always count on one of our shelter pets to make us feel better. There is also the satisfaction of knowing that these animals need our love and attention in return, so we’re both able to help each other.

Volunteer Hours

I know many young children and teenagers need to meet volunteer hour requirements for school and church programs. Why not choose to volunteer at a shelter? Volunteering at a shelter is also a great way for kids to develop compassion and the drive to help those less fortunate than themselves, as well as be sensitive to the needs of other creatures besides themselves.

These are a few of my favorite reasons we should all volunteer at our local animal shelter, but what are some of yours? Let us know in the comment section.

little girl whispers to puppy

4 Reasons We Should Talk to Our Dogs!

I talk to my dogs and cats all of the time, and it seems quite normal to me. Most of the pet parents I know do the same thing, but we have all heard people say, “Your dog can’t understand what you are saying!” and, “Why do you use full sentences like that?” I speak in full sentences to my pets, because I basically treat them as humans. I slip up and call them people sometimes when I tell stories about them. I focus on their health and nutrition sometimes more than I focus on my own. They are completely dependent on me, our relationship, and my love and attention. And I am completely dependent on them. Here are a few reasons that talking to your dog is beneficial!

#1-Basic Communication

 

Even if you don’t speak in full sentences to your fur baby, basic training and commands should be used with your dog and verbal praise is absolutely necessary! We should all spend time with our dogs training them, and teaching them basic verbal commands. Then we should use these commands to communicate daily tasks and activities to them! This simply makes our lives easier because our dogs do what we want when we want them to – or stop doing whatever we don’t want them to do. And for our dogs, their life is easier because they only want to please – and when they know what you want of them, then they can comply!

#2-Unintentional Understanding

Pet parents who talk to their dogs frequently understand that our pets pick up on words and phrases when they are often repeated, even if we have not intentionally trained them to do so! At my house, I only have to ask my husband if he’s ready for bed and my eldest dog, Skeeter, will stand up and walk to the bedroom like he’s been waiting to hear those words for hours! (He gets to sleep in the bedroom with us at night.) I’ve asked my dogs, “Want to go for a car ride?” enough times that they immediately head to the garage door. Plus, the inflection we use when we say certain phrases doesn’t hurt. I know that you pet parents who talk to your dogs frequently have similar stories!

#3-Strengthened Bond

 

Our pets like to hear us talk! Even when they don’t understand what we are saying, they are excited that we are saying something to them and making eye contact. Our pets look up to us and love us unconditionally, so they enjoy hearing about anything we have on our mind. I think this is true for both dogs and cats, even though cats don’t really show us the same attention and affection. When I talk, my dogs all stare at me, and I think they are hoping for a command they understand but are happy to hear my voice either way. My dogs know that they are never ignored or left out of a conversation, and my Annie talks right back to me!

#4-It Just Feels Good

 

Besides just strengthening our bond with our pets and communicating with them, it just feels good to us to talk to our fur babies. It makes us feel closer to them. Talking to dogs is also great for families because children can learn that they can talk to their pet without any risk of judgment or talking back. Talking to our pets is also good for people who live alone – or who spend all day alone, like me – because it helps us keep our conversational skills and cognitive abilities going even with no one around. And when our dogs look up at us expectantly and excitedly when we talk to them, it just makes us happy to have such a captive audience!

What are some reasons that you talk to your pet? And what phrases or words have your dogs learned without actual training?