Thursday, July 11, 2019

Col. Potter Training Tip: Finding a Dog's Reset Button

If a small child is in a scary situation, and she starts crying and trembling, I will do my best to comfort her. I don’t believe that comforting a frightened child, and assuring her that she is protected, will turn her into a “crybaby.” Ditto for my dogs who may be frightened.

My 5-year-old male collie, Nemo, usually goes through life full of bravado — until he gets to the vet’s office. Then he whines and trembles, scared silly. He’ll take treats, but it doesn’t comfort him. I’ll talk to him in a “happy voice,” or in a deep, calm voice, and it makes no difference. This last time, I decided to try something new. Once we got in the examining room, I laid down with him and held him. He was soothed, and the examination went off without a hitch. (Fortunately, I have a vet who doesn’t mind if I curl up on the floor.)

"Hey mom, you've got my back, right?"

Dogs, like people, react differently to fireworks, thunder, or vet visits. So I checked in with friends to see how they tried to calm their anxious furkids.

Robin explains that “my dogs aren’t particularly bothered by storms. But when they react, I quickly intervene and get happy-type excited about it. ‘Oh wow. Yeah. It’s so loud but it is fine. We are good. Isn’t that interesting.’ I do this in a happy voice as if we are playing a game. Seems to take their mind off the storm. I treat this the way I used to treat my son when he would bump himself and I knew it really didn’t hurt and I didn’t want him to cry.”

If “happy talk” doesn’t work for your dog, the internet and Facebook groups are full of great suggestions. But last week, after reading a lot of those suggestions, I realized that helping our dogs doesn’t end with the end of the frightening situation. Many dogs also need help with their “reset button.”

For instance, Ellen explains that, after being traumatized by fireworks “it really takes my dog a couple of hours before he is back to normal. I really don’t know what else we can do for him. I’d love to hear any ideas. It is interesting that he avoids me and stays by my husband. Our dog loves me, but he loves Joe more. If I’m alone with him, he stays close to me, but does not want to be touched until he starts to calm down.”

If something like this happens with you and your dog, it’s time to think out of the box.

Sarah reports that she takes her dog on a trip to Starbucks (for a pup cup), and then they go for a hike. She lets her dog get as dirty as she likes — “and then I give her a good bath when we get home. Maybe it sounds weird but sometimes I even just give her a bath when she’s still in a funk after a storm or fireworks. Seems to hit the reset button. She hates the bath part but loves the drying and toweling off part.”

Nan describes what she used to do for her dog, Lucy. “Once Lucy was able to reset enough to care about food, I’d hide treats around for her to find, making it pretty easy. Her version of a thunder shirt was one of my worn T-shirts snugged up tight with a knot in the back and I’d leave that on for a while. Also, I just made myself more accessible if I could, for example sitting or lying on the floor — which the dogs always found fun.”

Gary explains what works for his dog. “His favorite thing to do is a car ride to Waffle House. He gets a waffle treat and some bacon. I’m hoping that will calm him down.”

Marianne reminds me of advice I read from Jennifer Arnold (Love is All You Need), who wrote “Dogs love the sight, sound, and smell of us, but it is our touch they crave.” Marianne uses body massages with her dog, Ginger. “She doesn't seem bothered by thunder, but this helped when she was exposed to new and different things once I brought her home.”

On the other hand, some owners find that their dogs return to normal without any special attention. Barbara found that “returning to a normal schedule as soon as possible worked best. Us doing our normal chores calmly. Once the storm ended I would literally starting doing dishes and laundry. For him practicing his training, playing fetch, etc.”

I realize that some owners refuse to react to their dog’s fear, beyond administering diazepam (vet prescribed) prior to the fireworks, thinking that only encourages their agitation. “I don’t want to make them psychotic,” Sharon tells me.

While I will never believe that easing a dog’s stress will make them agitated or psychotic, I do believe that owners who know how to communicate with their dogs — listening to them, as well as talking to them — will have a better chance of finding their reset buttons after scary situations.

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