I've adopted a one-year-old miniature schnauzer. When I take him to the vet, he panics by barking, not listening, and going into a rigid body posture. Any suggestions?
— Pat, Tolland, Connecticut
Your dog's reactions are normal but fear-based. There are things you and the vet's office can do to reduce his anxieties.
First, get your dog a pheromone collar, and spray some pheromones onto your clothing occasionally. Your dog will associate this with being happy and with you. Then, ask the office to spray pheromones in the exam room and on all the staff's clothing so your dog can associate those pheromones with his happy home.
Second, introduce over-the-counter calming products, like anxiety, CBD, or hemp chews. Put a few drops of Bach's flower rescue remedy into his water bowl. Try calming clothing, like a Thundershirt® or Anxiety Wrap®. (See the letter below on how to train them to wear it.) While these wraps were developed for noise-phobic dogs, they also help reduce anxiety and fear.
Finally, add more training to your dog's routine. Fearful dogs often feel like they need to protect their owners (they don't) while at the same time lacking confidence in how to handle the world around them.
Through training, you establish yourself as the pack leader, which communicates to your dog that he doesn't need to freak out in new situations and can stand down.
Sometimes, something as simple as positioning your dog behind you and not between you and the vet can signal to the dog that you have the situation under control. Training also builds your dog's confidence, making him a less fearful pup overall.
Start with one idea here or combine a few ideas, depending on what works for your dog. Your vet can prescribe medication for those visits if these suggestions don't work. But give these things a try first before you go that route.
You recently responded to a reader whose pet was reacting badly to storms. I suggest the reader use the Thundershirt® when no storms are imminent, preferably when an enjoyable event is happening so that her dog doesn't begin to associate the aid with a future noisy event.
Too often, if the aid is only used when a storm is imminent, the dog associates having that on with the stressful event and can begin reacting even when there is no storm. It may take some time for the dog to re-associate the Thundershirt® with being secure and free from harm, but it can also be done with the help of pheromones. The dog has to begin to associate their use with good events, not coming unpleasantness.
— Margaret, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
You're right. Dogs can associate any anxiety-reducing clothing, like a Thundershirt® or Anxiety Wrap®, with the actual noise event if they only wear it when that noise occurs. The wrap itself can then trigger the dog to panic long before the first crack of thunder.
When training, it's essential to let the dog wear these wraps sporadically; sometimes, when fun things happen, like going for a walk or playing a game, and sometimes right before the noise event. Because the noise from a storm or fireworks is traumatic for them, they can still be triggered to associate the wraps with the storm even if they wear them when happy things are happening as well.
By mixing it up, though, you can keep the dog guessing and perhaps reduce their susceptibility to being triggered by the clothing alone.
A letter writer from Holtsville, New York, recently wrote about his golden retriever diagnosed with a spinal stroke. He then said how healthy the dog had become after vet treatment, so healthy that his dog could jump into what the writer described as a “fairly high” bed.
He then said that his dog had recently tried jumping on the bed but fell backward on her hind legs. Did it occur to the owner to place steps by the bed to help his dog get on it?
— Jim A., Allentown, Pennsylvania
Thanks for your suggestion. Stairs or ramps are good aids for dogs with joint problems. Stairs are especially great for small dogs and cats, but some big dogs will shy away from store-bought ones because they don’t feel sturdy.
If one doesn’t have a sturdy set of stairs, they can always push a footstool up to the couch or a small, padded bench up to the bed that is about half the distance between the floor and the furniture to give them that boost.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)
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