Sunday, August 25, 2013

Stress in Dogs 201

The authors surveyed the owners of 224 dogs and their lifestyle.  The survey contained 40 questions, covering individual data, lifestyle, and stress symptoms.  Results were weighted to determine a point system of stress levels. The surveys were rated to determine average acceptable stress levels as well as stress levels that fell above and below.

Keep in mind that these are conclusions based on symptoms of stress and that individual results may vary.  The point is to take these factors (as well as the stress causes in part 2) into account when making decisions about our dog's life.  The more you know, the better you can make changes to allow your individual dog to live well and free of chronic stress.

Survey Results
  1. Working dogs and Nordic breeds had significantly higher than normal stress points.
  2. Neutered male dogs had higher stress points than intact male dogs – males had higher stress than females.  Spayed females were slightly higher than intact females.
  3. Dogs that slept/rested less than 17 hours a day had higher stress.
  4. Dogs left alone for more than 5 hours a day had higher stress levels.
  5. Dogs enjoy their walks, but more than 2 hour walks slightly increases stress levels and over three hours significantly increases stress levels.
  6. Dogs who have opportunities to run free and come into contact with other dogs have less stress than other dogs who run free with no contact.  Dogs who never run free, whether or not they have contact with other dogs, have a little more stress than dogs who run free and have contact with other dogs, but less than run-free-no-contact dogs.
  7. It should come as no surprise that dogs that "frequently" or "often" feel threatened showed 50% more stress than dogs that "never" or "seldom" feel threatened, regardless of whether there is an actual threat.  Feeling threatened is based on the dog's perception, not our human "reality".
  8. Surprisingly dogs who are not played with by the owner have significantly less stress than average stress and less than dogs who do play with their owner or with children.  These were mostly experienced dog owners, so it can be assumed the children were well guided/supervised.  Dogs who are played with are only a little bit more stressed than the average dog – though type and length of play periods would have a bearing.
  9. Dogs engaged in no dog sports up through two different dog sports are within the normal range.  Dogs engaged in three or more different dog sports are at higher risk of increased stress.  Owners who participate in multiple dog sports need to be sensitive to not overburdening the dog.
  10. Dogs that are frequently or often ill have 50% higher stress levels than normal.  Of the dogs reported for allergies, skin problems and digestive issues, those with frequent digestive issues or diarrhea had the highest stress levels of the group.
  11. Of the dogs with frequent or often digestive issues and higher than the group's average stress levels, the surveys were further analyzed for whether the dogs were exposed to stress causing factors. These common factors were found:
  • 78% sleep or rest less than 17 hours
  • 39% stay alone for more than 5 hours per day
  • 61% go for walks of 3 hours or more per day
  • 56% of the dogs felt frequently or often threatened
For the stress symptom list, those where owners reported the symptom was observed frequently or often – the breakdown from most reported to least reported is:
  • 39% reported Very Frequent Display of Calming Signals
  • 29% reported Frequent Barking or Whining
  • 22% reported Aggressive or Anxious Behaviors
  • 19% reported Lack of Concentration
  • 16% reported Hyperactivity
  • 16% reported Displacement Activity
  • 16% reported Very Frequent Urinating
  • 14% reported Restlessness
  • 11% reported Dog Appears "Distant"
  • 11% reported Panting
  • 8% reported Compulsive Behavior
  • 8% reported Excessive Self-Grooming
  • 6% reported Underweight
  • 5% reported Muscular Problems
  • 5% reported Destructiveness
Gimme here:  My person knows I need to play with my own kind.  She also knows that not all dogs are kind and she wants to be sure I am always safe.  So we found a special friend who can be counted on to play fair.  He and I have great fun running and playing together as often as our people can arrange it. 

Obviously there are some exceptions to a straight up application of these survey results.

As always Know Your Dog...

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stress in Dogs 102

Dogs have stress for a variety of reasons, just like we humans.  What is stressful for one dog, will be fine for another.  Its all highly individual, although there are some things that are going to be universally stressful.

Stress is unavoidable.  There are two types, eustress and distress.  Eustress is moderate or normal psychological stress interpreted as being positive for the individual.  It is not defined by the source of stress, but rather by the individual's perception of it.  Persistent stress that is not resolved through coping is distress.  The body responds in the same way to both distress or eustress, so both are equally taxing to the body and cumulative in effect. 

You will note some things on this list of causes that you might think are a good thing, especially from the dog's point of view, but that can actually become a significant source of stress for the dog.

Causes of Stress
  • Disorders Affecting the Dog's Functions – such as lack of mobility or cardiovascular or kidney problems.
  • Disorders Affecting the Dog's Senses – deafness, blindness, limited sense of touch, where the dog must constantly compensate for deficiencies.
  • Disorders Connected to Temporary or Chronic Pain – injuries, blood loss, infection, trauma, shock, arthritis, hip dysplasia, etc.
  • Hypersexuality – due to pent up sexual drive, especially when around bitches in season.
  • Female Dogs in Season – from warding off overbearing males.
  • Lack of Sleep – insufficient places to withdraw or when need for rest is not respected.  Dogs need 17 hours of rest daily.
  • State of Exhaustion – from lack of sleep, over-exertion during walks, dog sports or games.
  • Sudden Changes – such as moving or new addition to the family.
  • Grief – due to loss of their person, other animals they lived with or playmates.
  • Threat – real or imaginary, the body goes into a state of alarm.
  • Expectations Anxiety – when dog doesn't understand what is expected or cannot assess the situation.
  • Failure – dog is unsuccessful, fails at task, and is repeatedly frustrated.
  • Harsh Training Methods – can frighten and/or hurt the dog, from severe or uncomfortable training equipment, as can harshly spoken commands and stiff body postures.
  • Agility, Dog Dancing, Obedience Training – despite positive reputation, the pace and high performance pressure can stress the dog.
  • Schutzhund / Protection Work – physical strain and psychological pressure.
  • Service Dog Work – higher incidence of kidney, cardiovascular and digestive problems, common to individuals (all species) with chronic stress issues.
  • Puppy Play Groups – when inappropriately managed/supervised can cause short term stress as well as long term behavior concerns.
  • Play is Too Rough and Wild – either with other dogs or people, leads to raised arousal and in particular when the dog is not able/allowed to withdraw.
  • Violence, Anger, Irritation, and Aggression Around the Dog – arguments, stress and angry voices within his family and/or daily environment.
  • Children – unsupervised and engaging in inappropriate play, as well as wild, loud play and use of noisy toys.
  • Too Much Coming And Going at Home – a home with a constantly revolving door and ongoing selection of strangers and "friends".
  • Too Much Noise – interferes with dog's need for rest.
Gimme here:  I know many of my dog friends are afraid of loud noises, but I am not.  I'm not even afraid of a helicopter flying low a hundred feet over my head.  But that doesn't mean I'd want to listen to that racket all the time -- it would interfere with my beauty sleep.  I'm just saying...
  • Too Much Emotional Excitement – positive or negative, too many unknown situations, even when not dangerous, exploring new things and processing stimuli can be exhausting.
  • Hunting Games and Races – too much of games that simulate the prey sequence of detect prey, tracking/stalking, attack, and kill, results in release of adrenaline.  Stick and ball games result in repeated adrenaline release.
  • Un-doglike Behavior – unpredictable and unexpected behavior by others, possibly due to misunderstanding by human of dog behavior.  For instance belief the dog was "being dominant". 
  • Discomfort – hunger, thirst, cold, warmth, noise, lack of possibilities to relieve themselves.
  • Bad Weather – thunder and lightening, storms, heavy rain, hail and natural disasters.
  • Boarding Kennels – unusual surroundings, strange smells, separation of owner, and change to familiar routine.
  • Veterinary Visit – dog already feels bad, smells of fear from other animals, unpleasant past experiences, owner anxiety, staff intruding into dog's personal space, and possibly painful treatment.
  • Grooming Salon – different noises, staff intruding into dog's personal space, not enjoying grooming procedures, time spent on the table and left by owner.
  • Exhibitions / Fairs – generally chaotic environment, over-stimulation, and lengthy travel.
  • Car Journeys – many dogs find car travel stressful.
  • Reduced Possibility of Movement – time spent confined by kennel or on a chain, or only walking on leash.
  • Loneliness / Boredom – from being left alone too much.
  • Separation Anxiety – whether in strange environments or at home, many dogs find being left an anxious experience.  The test of being left with a stranger for mere minutes in the CGC test is a commonly failed exercise.
  • High Population Concentration – too many dogs in too small a space without enough opportunity to withdraw and where individual space is not respected.
  • Bad Canine Mix in One Household – dogs that are not compatible, even if just having to repeatedly get out of another dog's way.
  • Dog Suffocated By The Owner's Emotional Needs – from being treated as little humans and then ignored, a virtual hot/cold emotional shower.
  • Too Frequent or Too Little Physical Contact – little dogs get handled too much (lifted up, kissed and stroked), while others get almost no stroking or affirming touch.
  • Too Many or Almost No Rules in Daily Life – dogs that are constantly ordered around get stressed, as do dogs missing security or routine in their daily life.
  • Bad Dog-Human Suitability – poor pairings where the dog cannot fulfill human requirements and where dog's needs are not met.

Stress in Dogs 101

Dogs suffer from stress just like humans do and chronic stress results in all the same medical issues for dogs as it does for people.  We each need to observe our dogs for signs of stress and then address the sources in their lives.  Of course, some stress is unavoidable, but keeping it to acceptable levels is essential for all species.  This first post in the series addresses the signs of stress, so we can watch our dogs and know what to watch for.  Each dog responds with their own combination of signs.

Gimme here: I have a very busy schedule and my person is always watching to make sure I don't have too much stress.  As the Cutest Puppy on the Planet, I want to be involved in everything.  Sometimes my person has to remind me that I've done more than my fair share.  She loves me and takes care of me, even sometimes saying "no". 

Signs of Stress
Its important to note that many of these signs show up when a dog isn’t stressed, so consider the signs in context, how often and how intense.  In particular noting changes in these respects is a strong indicator.

  • Nervousness – dog easily startled.
  • Restlessness – dog fidgets, difficulty relaxing, can’t calm down.
  • Overreaction – especially when in same conditions he’d be normally relaxed.
  • Calming Signals – dog shows calming signals. 
  • Freeze – lack of calming signals in appropriate situations.
  • Defecation and Urination – release of adrenaline activates sympathetic nervous system that signals rectum to empty and shifts in water balance may cause diarrhea and more frequent need to urinate.
  • Unsheathing Penis in Males –
  • Mounting – often occurs in mixed groups of dogs and may be mistaken for dominance.  May occur with humans.
  • Hypersexuality/Hyposexuality – excessive libido or complete loss of sexual drive.
  • Altered Sexual Cycle – changes in usual cycle of seasons for females, including cessation of seasons.
  • Exaggerated Self-Grooming – can lead to self-inflicted wounds called lick granulomas.  Open or swollen wounds cause the body to release endorphins (happy hormones).
  • Destroying Objects – especially when left alone is a serious stress signal.
  • Exaggerated Noise Making – continuous barking, whining and howling.
  • Disorders of the Digestive System – diarrhea and vomiting are among the most common.
  • Allergies – to food, mites, flea bites, pollen, grass, insecticides, etc. can be stress induced, since chronic stress suppresses the immune system.
  • Appetite Loss – including inability to eat treats may indicate either short or long term stress.
  • Over-Eating – gulping down anything and everything, edible or not (called "pica"). 
  • Unpleasant Body Odor and Bad Breath – stress raises the secretion of gastrointestinal acids that create bad breath and can affect body smell.
  • Whiskers – when they become stiff or tremble.
  • Raised Hackles – stiffening of the hairs on the back and neck occurs whenever a dog is aroused and often when stressed, feels insecure, is very happy, and other emotionally charged situations.
  • Tense Muscles – dogs need to move to relax their muscles, so movement is essential when a dog is stressed.
  • Dandruff – like that seen on a veterinary exam table.
  • Sudden Molting – like that seen on a veterinary exam table and also observed at shows/trials. 
  • Bad Coat Conditioning and Heavy Molting – over a long period of time can result in bald patches.
  • Unhealthy Appearance – along with symptoms listed above, their eyes can seem dull and sunken, posture sagging and crouching and tail hanging limp.
  • Skin Problems – such as eczema, itchiness and open wounds.
  • Eye Color Changes – unclear why this happens.  Also eyes can appear blood-shot due to high blood pressure.
  • Panting – unrelated to warm temperatures or exertion. 
  • Dripping Nose – from increased nasal fluid production.
  • Sweaty Paws – usually noticed because of damp paw prints on floors.
  • Trembling – when muscle contraction occurs during stress, the body tries to loosen the muscles by moving them.
  • Frantic Teeth Snapping – air snapping that is not directed toward the thing that concerns the dog.  Deliberate, off-target and usually audible.
  • Startled Eyes / Flickering Gaze – extreme strain can cause uncontrolled eye movements.
  • Staring Intensely at Things That Are Worrisome – inability to look away from what worries them.
  • Compulsive Behavior – behavior that is repeated over time with no obvious reason.
  • Biting or Snapping at Leash – can include tugging at the leash.  Can seem to be a game until you notice patterns regarding when it occurs.
  • Poor Concentration – slow and absent responses to cues or training.
  • Forgetfulness – seeming to forget things they normally know well.
  • Re-Directed Behavior / Displacement Activity – behavior that seems to be unrelated to what worries the dog.  Sometimes calming signals.
  • Staring Intensely at Unrelated Things – such as flies or beams of light.
  • Passivity – quiet, withdrawn, or learned helplessness.
  • Shaking – dogs “shake it off” when they realize that something isn’t threatening, so this usually follows stress.
Remember, many of these symptoms are normal in certain situations, while some are never normal.

For more information read:
Stress in Dogs: Learn how dogs show stress and what you can do to help,  by Martina Scholz and Clarissa von Reinhardt.
On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, by Turid Rugaas.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Clean Clicker Techniques

In the beginning it was not as important to focus on specific technique or what is known as "clean training". All you needed to know was get behavior-click-reward. As your goals become more advanced, you will want to clean up your technique.  Follow these rules and you will be a better trainer in no time:

Basic Clicker Training Rules

  • Zenith popularized the saying "Quality goes in before the name goes on". In dog training this means we get the behavior exactly the way we want it before we attach a cue to it. So know your goal for the behavior before you start training.
  • Remember, the click always means a treat is coming – even if you clicked mistakenly. It is important to protect that association, so your dog can rely on the training promise. You can always clarify what you wanted with later clicks.
  • If your dog is distracted by a new environment or challenging conditions, "prime the pump" by doing 10-20 rapid fire click-n-treats. It does not matter what your dog is doing – this is about getting his/her brain in the game. This is the only time you can have treats in your hands as you click.
Clean Techniques
  • Keep food in your treat bag or a container while you are training. Food in your hands may be "handy", but it also encourages your dog to watch your hands.
  • Keep the treat bag out of sight when you are training (turn it around to the side or your back), so it is not an obvious cue to the dog. You should also wear the treat bag at times when you are not training so the dog is not overly aroused by its presence. 
  • Keep your hands in a neutral position until AFTER you click. Reaching for a treat as you are about to click will cause your dog to focus on your hands. If you click when your dog is focused on your hands, you are saying that is what you want and it may interfere with the behavior you are actually trying to teach. 
Gimme here: I usually don't like having my person do anything without me, but in this case I know its been helpful.  Its important for my person to have good skills in our training games, so I can win easily and consistently.  After all, that's what its all about.
  • Practice clicker training techniques without your dog:
    • Click & Deliver – Starting with your hands in neutral position, you will click, reach and get a treat from your bag, place the treat in a cup, then return your hand to neutral. Time this and see how many times you can do the sequence in sixty seconds. It can be challenging to do this rapidly and it takes practice. Have someone observe you for technique or videotape yourself so you aren’t unintentionally reaching for the treat too soon. Fifteen repetitions in sixty seconds is a decent score; twenty repetitions is excellent.
    • Clicker Timing – Have someone bounce a ball or toss a ball in the air for you. Your goal is to click when the ball reaches its highest point. You can also watch TV and click every time a tennis ball or basketball bounces. You can even click every time the newscaster says a common word like "and".