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Guidestar Update


(from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

Pet dogs are impressively adaptive. Coping with new environments and situations is a product of domestication, and most dogs do extremely well adapting to the pressures of domestic life. There are some dogs, however, that find it hard to adjust, and consequently live in a constant state of stress, making life difficult for them and for their owners. Negative behavior is often punished, even though punishment only serves to increase a dog’s insecurity and ability to succeed in a domestic situation.

Some dogs, like people, are more sensitive to the mental and physical manifestations of stress than others. What might cause sickness in one dog will have no affect on another even when both dogs are exposed to the same stressors. While mild stress can actually be healthy and provide beneficial physical and mental stimulation, research has shown that there is a definite link between high stress and illnesses such as heart disease and gastrointestinal disorders.

Whether or not these diseases are caused by stress is still up for debate, but they are definitely exacerbated by a stressful lifestyle, making understanding and management of these disorders crucial for a longer, healthier life.

How Does Stress Affect My Dog?
Understanding how stress affects our canine companions is made easier by the fact that dogs and humans have very similar physiological responses to stress.

During a stressful episode, both the human and canine body will go through adaptive changes.
In order to survive, energy must immediately be diverted to muscles in preparation for fight or flight. Glucose, fats and proteins pour out of fat cells, the liver and muscles and are diverted to other muscles that need the most energy.
Heart rate and blood pressure is elevated in order to distribute the energy as quickly as possible and breathing becomes more rapid.
Digestion is suppressed, growth and muscle repair is halted, immunity inhibited and senses are sharpened. This happens within a matter of seconds and allows the body to operate at its optimum level to ensure survival.
Good health, however, relies on the body’s ability to return to its ‘normal’ state after the stressful event has passed, but if stress is sustained or continually repeated, the body finds it difficult to achieve this.
Humans tend to have a harder time returning to ‘normal’ because of their ability to dwell on, anticipate or expect a future problem, but dogs that are sensitive to triggers that predict certain outcomes can also find it hard to ‘de-stress.’
Dogs that suffer with separation anxiety, for example, become adept at reading their person’s departure cues sometimes hours before their person leaves.
Dogs can also suffer sustained stress if they are frequently exposed to something or somebody they fear.
If the body continues to work at its optimum level and is unable to return to normal, it is only a matter of time before the immune system is impaired, giving way to adaptive illnesses such as digestive upset, kidney disease, diabetes and cancer.
Signs of Stress In Dogs

Stressed dogs are often highly reactive and unable to settle, jumping at the slightest sound or movement.
Visible signs of stress include dilated pupils, sweaty paws, shaking, vocalizing excessively, or salivating. These signals can occur by themselves or together.
Other manifestations of stress come in the form of self calming techniques such as yawning, sneezing, lip licking or intense displacement behavior such as sniffing, licking, excessive grooming, spinning or self mutilation.
The dog may urinate or defecate more frequently and often experiences digestive upset such as diarrhea.
Some dogs may display symptoms that look very like human depression, including the inability to sleep, low energy, lack of appetite and a limited desire for human or dog interaction.
Learned helplessness, where the dog shuts down and ceases to learn, (often misread as a dog becoming calm) is yet another symptom of stress and can occur if a dog is severely punished or suffers abuse.
Aggressive behavior such as growling, snapping or biting is another common symptom of stress that is often misunderstood and mistreated.
What Can You Do to Minimize Stress for Your Dog?

It may help you to make a list of everything your dog finds stressful, and then work through that list tackling each issue slowly and sensitively.
Desensitization, counter conditioning techniques and managing a dog’s exposure to stressors, along with humane teaching methods and confidence building exercises, can really help to minimize stress.
Minimizing potential stressors at home and watching how you manage your own stress is important, as dogs are very good at picking up on a person’s emotional state.
Controlled exercise is also a great way to alleviate stress for both dogs and people as exercise has been shown to improve cognitive function, encourage confidence, stabilize mood and reduce reactivity as well as improving the relationship between dog and owner.
Problem solving games and toys can help activate the thinking brain in stressful situations, which in turn deactivates the emotional brain and allows the dog to concentrate on something more positive than the negative emotion
Complementary Therapies
There are many complementary therapies that can be used along with behavioral modification.

Undetectable by humans, appeasing pheromone is a synthetically produced substance that mimics the pheromones of a lactating female and is said to produce a feeling of well-being and reassurance for dogs, thereby reducing anxiety. It is available in spray form, or is contained within a collar that is worn around a dog’s neck. It is also available as a plug-in that allows the substance to diffuse around the home.
Flower essences can also help lessen anxiety along with massage, t-touch or other complimentary therapies such as Reiki or acupuncture.
Dogs that suffer from anxiety will sometimes feel calmer while wearing a tightly wrapped coat, just as a baby immediately calms when it is swaddled.
It is best to try more natural remedies like these to relieve your dog’s stress unless the anxiety is so pronounced that he is unable to focus or learn anything.
In the case of an extremely anxious dog, turn to a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist to prescribe medication that will help your dog get to a place where he can calm enough for learning to occur.
Specially-designed bioacoustic music has a significant impact on relieving stress in dogs.

Talking thresholds

By: Bobbie Bhambree
(from Victoria Stilwell’s “Positively”)

Talking Thresholds

When working with clients, dog trainers often refer to “thresholds”. This is a common term in behavior modification work when addressing anxiety, fear, aggression, and stress levels. It is also relevant in learning situations, such as a dog park, a group class or an agility seminar.

What does it mean?

“Threshold” refers to the distance your dog can notice a trigger and be alert to it, but not upset by it—as in when the dog crosses over from one emotional state to another. Think of the threshold as your dog’s protective bubble. Any person or dog on the outside of that bubble is okay and the dog can behave in ways that indicate he is relatively stress-free. Any person or dog on the inside of that bubble is too close and therefore a concern for your dog. The distance from the trigger to the “protective bubble” could be 10 feet for some dogs and one hundred feet for others. The distance varies based on your dog’s past experiences.

Threshold can also include duration, meaning the amount of time your dog is exposed to the trigger. Perhaps seeing another dog ten feet away isn’t such a big deal. But standing and having a ten-minute conversation with your neighbor and their dog would put that same dog over threshold.

Going over threshold doesn’t necessarily look like a dog barking and lunging. It can also look like:

Over excitement (such as mouthing and jumping). This is a common manifestation of being over threshold for shelter dogs.
Being distracted to the point that you cannot get the dog to connect with you in the ways that have worked in the past. This is a common occurrence for dogs who do agility. Once in the trial ring, the dog might completely lose focus because they are overwhelmed by the environment.
Shutting down or freezing. You often see this at the vet clinic when dogs stay completely still while being restrained for a procedure.
Zoomies (the dog zooms around in a frenetic manner). This is often seen at agility trials where something the dog perceives as stressful occurs, triggering the dog to race around the ring.
Inability to take a treat (especially if that dog is a foodie!). Change the environment to allow the dog relief and he may be comfortable enough to take food again.

Trigger Stacking

Trigger stacking is exactly what it sounds like; stressor after stressor building until the learner’s emotional state collapses like a house of cards. Imagine this series of events: your alarm clock didn’t go off because the power died so you’re now late to work; you stub your toe on the way to the bathroom; you arrive to work fifteen minutes late to a meeting with a new client; after the meeting, your boss gets upset with you because you were late; at lunch, you spill your drink onto your white shirt; as you make the stain worse in the bathroom trying to clean it, you remember that you forgot to bring your jacket with you so you can’t cover up the stain and you now spend the rest of your lunchbreak rushing to a store to buy a new shirt; on the way home you get a flat tire. When you finally arrive home, your spouse mentions a bill that you had promised to pay, which you didn’t and you then explode into shouting. That is trigger stacking. We’ve all had those days where mild stressors build up to an emotional explosion. Sadly, this is life for so many dogs. A walk brings one stressor after another until the dog finally explodes into barking and lunging at the end of the leash.

Here are some things to think about when considering triggers:

Proximity – how close is the trigger? Dogs are often more comfortable the farther away that trigger is.
Frequency – how often does the trigger appear? For example, if the dog is stressed by moving cars, walking on a busy street could likely push the dog over threshold.
The intensity of the trigger. A dog that is thunder phobic will likely be more stressed when the thunder claps are louder.
If the dog is in pain, his threshold will likely be lower.
If a dog is hungry, thirsty, or tired, his threshold will be lower. If a person is hungry or lacking sleep, that person will be less patient and tolerant of potential stressors.
Accumulated stress. My own dog, Marvel, is a perfect example of this. Three years ago, we attended a three-day seminar. By the middle of day three, Marvel was barking at anyone that came near his crate and was snapping at anyone that tried to touch him. The accumulation of stress over the previous two and a half days had pushed him over threshold.
Manage your dog’s stress levels so that he remains under threshold.

Create distance between the dog and the trigger.
Play focus games to help bring the dog back to a thinking state. Example: I will often ask my dogs to perform tricks that have a heavy reinforcement history.
Get out of Dodge! Sometimes just leaving the situation is the thing to do.
The most effective behavior modification programs create an environment in which the dog is exposed to the trigger without over-reacting; this is called “sub-threshold”.

Remember, sometimes, your dog will go over threshold. It’s inevitable. You can’t control every circumstance. If you can keep your dog sub-threshold more often than he is over threshold, you are moving in the right direction!

Talking thresholds

Muzzles: a tool to keep everyone safe

(shared from Victoria Stilwells’ “Positively”)

Muzzles: A Tool to Keep Everyone Safe
By Sherry Woodard, Best Friends animal behavior consultant
SEE ALSO: Aggressive Dog: Resources for Getting Help, Dog Aggression, Find a Dog Trainer, Scared Dog: How to Approach a Fearful Dog, Muzzle Training: Dog Training Plan
A muzzle can be a helpful tool to keep everyone safe while you’re working to improve a dog’s social skills or trying to manage aggressive tendencies. In particular, a muzzle protects the dog who’s wearing it, since the fallout from a bite can include quarantine, legal action and euthanasia. I have used muzzles to safely help many dogs improve their social skills around people and other animals. With a muzzle on the dog, you can make even a scary situation a positive, successful learning experience.

Any dog can learn to wear a muzzle, and can potentially benefit from it. Every dog has a bite threshold, the point at which he or she is stressed enough to bite. For some dogs, this threshold is reached very easily; for others, it takes extraordinary circumstances. In all cases when reaching the bite threshold is possible, a dog wearing a muzzle is at much lower risk of hurting a human or another animal.

Reasons for dog muzzles

The number one reason that I recommend muzzle use is for dogs who are so fearful that they become aggressive easily. (For more on this subject, see “Dog Aggression.”) Other reasons for teaching a dog to become comfortable wearing a muzzle are:

To safely handle a terrified or injured dog (either a rescued animal or your own) in an emergency
To safely do a medical exam or groom a dog who is likely to bite
To prevent injury to other animals who are allowed to approach a dog who is likely to bite
Regarding the third reason: Many people are oblivious about aggression in dogs. They allow their dogs to run up to dogs on lead, not realizing that it’s not always a safe thing to do. Even dogs with poor greeting skills are sometimes allowed to run up and then snap at the dog on lead.

A muzzle is a wonderful tool to show that you are being responsible — doing everything you can to keep everyone safe. You can then try to educate the people who have their dogs off-lead about the dangers of allowing their dogs to approach dogs they don’t know.

Types of muzzles

There are several types of muzzles:

Plastic basket muzzle: This is the best all-around muzzle for protection, fit and training. It allows the dog to breathe and pant easily and drink water, so it can be worn for extended periods. And a dog wearing a basket muzzle can take treats for rewards during training.
Leather muzzle: These vary in design, so be sure you choose the basket style so your dog can pant, drink and receive treats.
Soft muzzle: This type is lighter than a basket muzzle and easy to put on, but doesn’t allow for as much ventilation for breathing, and there are some reports of dogs being able to bite through the soft sides. (Two types are Tuffie and Softie by ProGuard.)
Grooming (mesh or fabric) muzzle: The dog can’t pant, drink or eat treats with this muzzle on, so it should only be used for very short periods. It’s not safe to use for training.
Metal basket muzzle: I don’t recommend these because they can break at the welded spots, leaving sharp wire ends or edges that can injure the dog or you.
Emergency muzzle: In an emergency, it’s possible to create a muzzle out of gauze.
Getting a proper fit is critical. You want the dog to be comfortable wearing the muzzle, avoiding any chafing or irritation. Manufacturers of good muzzles provide a size chart and guide so that you can measure your dog to determine the fit. When a perfect fit isn’t possible, you can add padding (moleskin, foam bandage, etc.) to protect the dog’s fur and skin. A proper fit, using all the straps provided, will also minimize the risk that the dog will be able to get the muzzle off.

Keep in mind that a muzzle reduces the risk of a dog biting, but does not completely eliminate it because a muzzle can sometimes come off in a scuffle. So, even if your dog is wearing a muzzle, you should be vigilant and keep him away from situations in which he may be likely to bite.

The Muzzle Up Project ( is a great resource for people looking to outfit their dogs with muzzles. The website has comparisons of muzzle types, recommendations for fit and training, success stories and support. Once you’ve decided on the type and size of muzzle that’s best for your dog, you can buy it from an online retailer or you can try your local pet supply store.

Severity of dog bites

When it comes to dog bites, does the size of the dog matter? If a dog is willing to bite, a dog of any size can cause damage! Of course, a four-pound dog is not going to cause the same damage as a much bigger dog, but even a small dog can break the skin on a person.

I hear far too often that the bite was an accident caused by human error, but then I find out that it wasn’t a first bite. If we don’t help dogs who have these “accidents,” we are being careless with their lives. Bites from dogs of any size to people’s faces and bites to babies and small children are rarely excused. The consequences could be severe for a dog who bites a child or a person’s face. See the box below for a scale that’s useful to trainers, animal behavior consultants and vets in judging the severity of a dog bite.

This standard scale was developed by Ian Dunbar to judge the severity of dog bites based on damage inflicted.

Level one: Bark, lunge and no teeth on skin.
Level two: Teeth touched skin, no puncture.
Level three: One to four holes from a single bite; all holes less than half the length of a single canine tooth.
Level four: Single bite, deep puncture (up to 1 1/2 times the depth of a single canine tooth).
Level five: Multiple-bite attack or multiple attack incidents.
Level six: Missing large portions of flesh.
Anyone with sensitive skin — such as babies, young children and elderly people — will have more damage.

Wearing the muzzle

Before you start training a dog with a muzzle, you’ll need to get the dog comfortable with wearing the muzzle. This takes a bit of time and patience, but when done correctly, it can make the dog actually enjoy wearing the muzzle by getting him to associate it with fun and happy things. You want to make wearing the muzzle a game that the dog likes to play. For a step-by-step training plan, click here. To watch an excellent video showing the process, click here.

Training with the muzzle

Dogs who are anxious or fearful around humans or other animals need help to change the emotional associations they have with them. Any dog who is likely to bite during training should wear a muzzle, to keep him and everyone around him safe.

With the dog comfortably wearing the muzzle and focusing on you, teach and/or practice basic cues, giving praise and treats generously. (See “Teaching Your Dog Basic Cues.”) Do whatever else the dog enjoys — playing with toys, petting — so the dog continues to associate wearing the muzzle with positive things. Do this work in your home or someplace with no distractions.

When you’ve mastered basic cues, start taking the muzzled dog out walking on lead in a low-traffic area (few people or other animals, depending on what the dog reacts negatively to). Give lots of great treats through the muzzle and allow the dog to enjoy sniffing, marking, rolling — whatever makes it a great walk for the dog.

Keep the walks brief: Use this short distance daily in different locations. When the dog is able to focus on you without becoming overly excited or fearful, try moving closer to the source of the dog’s fear or anxiety (people, other animals). Each dog will vary as to how quickly he or she can progress. Some dogs can move 10 feet closer at a time; for others, two feet is a big challenge. Be careful to keep the distance between the dog and the people or animals wide enough that the dog doesn’t become overly excited or panicky.

If at any point the dog does become excited or fearful, move farther away from the people or animals and raise the value of your treats. For example, if you normally reward with dog biscuits, give bits of cheese or cooked chicken instead. It’s a good idea to carry a variety of treats at all times, since it may help the dog to stay focused or return to focusing on you instead of reacting negatively to people or other animals being nearby. Also, by varying your treats, you can keep this daily activity interesting for the dog.

Next, build up the traffic by walking in places where more people or other animals are passing by. Recruit people that the dog is comfortable with and have them appear, approach and give treats. Even if the dog isn’t afraid of new people, this is a great way to reinforce that good things happen when he’s out and about wearing his muzzle.

The next step: Practice, practice and more practice! Every day, work at getting closer to the source of the dog’s fear or anxiety — but do it at the dog’s pace. If you try to progress too quickly, he will have a more difficult time focusing and changing his behavior and his emotions. Keep in mind that change will take time — and every dog is an individual. Genetics and life experience, or lack of experience, will be different for each dog.

For dogs who are likely to bite strangers: Strangers can become friends if you work slowly and carefully with the dog. Once the stranger can approach the dog safely, have the stranger start giving treats, then gradually move on to touching and petting the dog, holding the lead and walking with the dog. Don’t remove the muzzle until the dog is clearly looking forward to spending time with this person. If you see any fear in the dog, slow down! Keep the dog muzzled while practicing in many different locations, including your home. Over time, you can build the dog’s circle of friends for life.

For dogs who are likely to bite other animals: I have had lots of success with teaching these dogs to focus on me and walk past other dogs on lead, cats outside, and wildlife such as squirrels and rabbits. To be absolutely safe, always have a muzzle with you for emergencies.

To sum up: A muzzle is a valuable tool for keeping a dog and everyone around him safe, whenever there is any chance that he may bite. Any dog can benefit from being trained to wear a muzzle, but for dogs who are likely to bite, a muzzle is an essential tool for management and training. Remember to keep practicing and rewarding the dog daily. Your goal is a relaxed dog who is comfortable in the world and can enjoy a wide variety of experiences — doing more while staying safe.

Disclaimer: Best Friends Animal Society is not responsible for any injuries to anyone using the techniques described in this article. Any person using the techniques described here does so at his/her own risk.


Step by Step: Training Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle

Show your dog the muzzle from a foot away; reward him with food whenever he looks at it. Do this 2-5 times. Gradually move closer to the dog until the muzzle is within touching distance.

Wipe some wet food, peanut butter or soft cheese around the inside edge of the muzzle. As the dog approaches, let him lick the muzzle. When he will comfortably approach the muzzle and touch it, go to step 3.

Place high-value treats in the muzzle and allow the dog to eat the treats from the muzzle. (Putting duct tape on the inside bottom of the muzzle will keep most of the treats in, but allow rewarding on the go.) Let the dog place his nose in the muzzle and eat the treats by choice; do not force the muzzle on to the dog. Gently remove the muzzle before the dog has a chance to remove his nose. (Doing this will ensure that the dog does not develop the habit of taking the food and pulling away from the muzzle.) When the dog will keep his nose in the muzzle for 30 seconds, go to step 4.

Gradually require the dog to keep his nose in the muzzle for longer periods of time. Treats that the dog can easily access through the front of the muzzle (e.g., squeeze cheese, peanut butter and stick treats such as jerky) are helpful for this and the following steps. When the dog will wear the muzzle for 2-3 minutes, go to step 5.

While the dog is comfortably eating treats from the muzzle, begin to fumble with the straps and attempt to touch the straps together. When you can hold the straps together for 10 seconds, go to step 6.

Allow the dog to place his nose in the muzzle, then clip the muzzle on. Make sure the muzzle is snug enough that he can’t pull it off, but not too tight. Give him treats quickly and constantly for the entire time the muzzle is on. Keep the session short: 20 seconds to start. When you can easily place the muzzle on the dog, and clip it, go to step 7.

Put the muzzle on the dog and immediately begin to reward him with treats while he is wearing it. Then take the dog for a brief walk indoors while he’s wearing the muzzle. Keep giving treats frequently (every few steps). It’s helpful to have two people do this at first — one to keep the dog moving and one to reward. Do this a few times and then go to step 8.

Put the muzzle on the dog and immediately begin to reward him with treats while he is wearing it. Take the dog for a short walk — outside this time — while he’s wearing the muzzle and reward at regular intervals. Don’t remove the muzzle until the dog is back in his run. If he starts to paw at the muzzle, keep him moving and reward more often.

Put the muzzle on the dog whenever you take him for a walk. The dog should look forward to being muzzled at this point, because it predicts a walk. Continue to give the dog treats frequently during the walks.

If you plan to have your dog wear the muzzle for grooming or medical appointments, make several visits to the vet’s office or groomer before the actual appointments. During these “trial runs,” put the muzzle on your dog and give him lots of treats. During the actual appointments, do the same. Make sure the dog wears the muzzle for walks, or other enjoyable activities, more often than he wears it for potentially unpleasant reasons (e.g., a vet visit).

Disorders of the outer ear

Disorders of the Outer Ear in Dogs
By T. Mark Neer, DVM, DACVIM, Professor and Hospital Director, Center for Veterinary Health Sciences, Oklahoma State University ; Michele R. Rosenbaum, VMD, DACVD ; Patricia D. White, DVM, MS, DACVD

A variety of skin conditions affect the outside part of the ear, called the pinna. Most conditions cause tissue changes elsewhere as well. Rarely, a disease affects the outer ear alone or affects it first. As with all skin conditions, a diagnosis is best made when combined with the results of a thorough history, a complete physical and skin examination, and carefully selected diagnostic tests.

Insects and parasites commonly cause inflammation of the pinna—resulting in redness, swelling, itching or blistering—either through direct damage from the bite of the parasite or as a result of hypersensitivity. Tiny skin mites burrow under a dog’s skin, often on the edges of the ears. Because they are so hard to see and find, a veterinarian might take several skin scrapings before making a diagnosis.

Canine Juvenile Cellulitis
Canine juvenile cellulitis is an infection and inflammation of the tissues beneath the skin of young dogs. It is an uncommon disorder of puppies and is characterized by masses of small, round raised areas of inflamed skin filled with pus on the face and ears. The lymph nodes below the lower jaw are usually noticeably enlarged. It occurs in puppies 3 weeks to 4 months of age and rarely in older animals. Golden Retrievers, Gordon Setters, and Dachshunds appear to be at greater risk than other breeds. An inflamed, pus-filled, raised area of the skin of the ear canal is common, along with swollen, thickened pinnae. Early treatment is recommended to avoid scarring. Careful observation of the condition of your puppies will help you detect any masses or lumps on their faces or ears. Any lumps or masses, even small ones, are a good reason to take your puppy in for a checkup as soon as possible.

Ear Hematomas
Ear hematomas are fluid-filled swellings that develop on the inward curving surface of the outer ears in dogs. The cause for their development is unknown. Signs include head shaking or ear scratching due to itchiness. In dogs, the condition is seen with hereditary environmental allergies and food allergies in which the ear canals are the primary sites of allergic inflammation and itching. Treatment usually involves surgery to drain and flush the swellings. Frequently, the veterinarian will place a drain made out of a soft tube in the area to help prevent fluid from building up again.

Fly strike (irritation of the ears caused by biting flies) is a worldwide problem caused by the stable fly and typically affects dogs and horses. The fly bite causes small, hard, round bumps and raised, reddened areas with central bloody crusts that itch. Tissue changes are found on the tips or on the folded surface of the outer ears of dogs with flopped ears. Treatment includes fly repellents, controlling the fly population with environmental clean up (such as removing manure), and insecticides.

Frostbite may occur in dogs poorly adapted to cold climates and is more likely in wet or windy conditions. It typically affects body regions that are poorly insulated, including the tips of the ears. The skin may be pale or red, swollen, and painful. In severe cases, tissue death and shedding of the tips of the outer ears may follow. Treatment consists of rapid, gentle warming and supportive care. Amputation of affected regions may be required but should be delayed until the extent of living tissue is determined.

Hair Loss
Several ear edge skin disorders characterized by hair loss occur in dogs. Periodic loss of hair on the outer ear in Miniature Poodles involves the loss of hair on the outward curving surfaces of the ear. The hair loss starts suddenly and progresses over several months, but hair may spontaneously regrow. There are no other signs. Treatment is unnecessary.

Hair loss on the outer ear has been reported in Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhounds, and Whippets and is thought to have a tendency to be hereditary. The age of onset is 1 year or more, when the hair coat begins to thin. Complete hair loss on the outer ear may occur by 8 to 9 years of age. Other commonly affected areas are the lower neck and chest and the back to the middle of the thighs. There are no other signs. No effective treatment has been reported, but certain drugs have been described as helpful.

Immune-mediated Diseases
Several immune-mediated diseases may affect the outer ear and the ear canal. Other areas of the body are typically affected and may include footpads, mucous membranes, skin and mucous membrane junctions, nails and nail beds, and the tip of the tail. Immune-mediated diseases are confirmed using biopsies of primary lesions.

Sarcoptic mange is an infectious skin disease caused by a parasitic mite that burrows into the top layers of the skin. It is common in dogs throughout the world. The condition begins with small, red, round bumps on the skin. These bumps progress to scaling, crusting, and raw, irritated open sores on the ear edges and other parts of the body as a result of scratching; however, in some cases only the red bumps and itching are seen. Itching is severe. Transmission of the mite is by direct contact with infected animals.

Diagnosis is based on signs, history of exposure, and discovery of mites on multiple skin scrapings. Treatment options include dips and injections. Your veterinarian will be able to prescribe the best therapy for your pet. Because mites can survive off the host for a variable amount of time, all bedding, brushes, and objects in your pet’s environment should be thoroughly cleaned.

Seborrhea and Dermatosis
Overly oily skin at the edge of the ear (seborrhea) or ear edge skin disease (dermatosis) is common in Dachshunds, although other breeds with ears that hang loose may be affected. The tips of the ears on both sides are usually affected, but the condition can progress to involve the whole ear edge. The cause is unknown. Signs include waxy gray to yellow scale sticking to the base of hair shafts. Plugs of hair can be easily pulled out, leaving behind skin with a shiny surface. In severe cases the ear edges are swollen and cracked. Treatments are available and can be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Ticks can cause irritation at the site of attachment and may be found on the pinna or in the ear canal. The ear tick, found in the southwestern United States, South and Central America, southern Africa, and India, is a soft-shelled tick whose younger, immature forms infest and live on the external ear canal of dogs and other animals. Signs of infestation include head shaking, head rubbing, or drooped ears. Both the animal and the environment should be treated. Your veterinarian can recommend the most appropriate treatment for your pet and your local area.

Training the hearing impaired dog

Training the Hearing Impaired Dog (from The Whole Dog Journal)

Training a dog who is deaf or hard of hearing is not difficult, it’s just a little different.

By Mardi Richmond

[Updated July 18, 2017]


– Consider adopting a deaf dog if you want a dog who does not bark at environmental noise.

– Teach your deaf dog a “look at me” or “watch me” signal first. This makes it easier to add hand signals to cue other behaviors later.

– Owners of elderly dogs should consider teaching their dogs hand signals; hearing loss is common in very old dogs.

Each year, as many as tens of thousands of dogs are born or become deaf. Unfortunately, given the number of hearing-impaired canines, there is a lot of misinformation promulgated about deaf dogs, even among dog lovers. Well-meaning but misinformed breeders and other “experts” commonly perpetuate myths about deaf dogs – that they are difficult to live with, hard to train, aggressive, and that they are only suitable dogs for a few “special” people. But the people who really know deaf dogs – those who live with and love them – tell a very different story.

“We got our first deaf dog when going to a pet fair ‘just to look’ at the cute dogs,” says Deb Sell, an animal chiropractor in Prunedale, California, and the proud guardian of four dogs. “We already had a 1½- year-old Aussie mix, Hawi (pronounced Ha-Vee; it’s Hawaiian), and really hadn’t planned on getting a second dog.”

But when Dr. Sell and her husband Stacey got to the pet fair that night, they saw one cute little white dog quietly watching everyone and became intrigued by her calm nature. They didn’t adopt Echo right away. Deb and Stacey went home that evening without her, but couldn’t stop thinking about her all week.

“We decided that if she was at the pet fair the following Friday night, we could consider adopting her. As fate would have it, she was there!” Echo soon came to live with the couple. Echo would begin for Dr. Sell what some might consider a “calling” into the world of living with and loving deaf dogs. The Sells now share their home and lives with three deaf dogs – Echo, Nefe, and Cooper – as well as their hearing dog, Hawi.

Suzan Mark and Gary Lomax of Santa Cruz also found their deaf dog, Cleo, somewhat through chance. They were visiting a local shelter, searching for a small dog, when they first met Cleo. Anything but a small dog (she is a Dalmatian), Cleo nonetheless caught their attention when in the midst of kennels full of barking, jumping dogs, she came to the kennel door and sat looking at them.

“It was as if she was saying, ‘OK, I’m ready to go home,’ ” says Mark. Not knowing Cleo was deaf, they went into an exercise yard to meet with her. It was then that one of the volunteers at the shelter mentioned that she might be hard of hearing. Gary experimented by clapping his hands over Cleo’s head. When he got no response to the sound, they realized that she was probably completely deaf.

Suzan and Gary also went away that day without Cleo. “We just weren’t sure about having a dog with a perceived handicap,” says Mark. They were also concerned that a Dalmatian might simply have too much energy for them.

The couple left the shelter with Cleo on their minds and in their hearts. Though they did look further for a small dog, they also did research to find out more about living with a deaf dog and living with a Dalmatian. They decided it just might be something they could do.

“We were still very nervous. We tried to think about all of the advantages – like she wouldn’t bark at the doorbell!” In the end, though, it was Cleo’s personality, not the fact that she could or could not hear, that won them over. “She is just a really sweet dog!” says Mark.

Why are Some Dogs Deaf?

Dogs are deaf for many of the same reasons that some people are deaf. Many deaf dogs are born that way – called congenital deafness – and there is often a genetic component. While the causes of genetically determined deafness in dogs are not completely understood, experts seem to agree that in many cases there is a relationship to a dog’s coat and eye coloring.

“I think that everyone agrees,” says Jack Edwards, Executive Director of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF), “that the genes for merle patterning that affect the color of individual hairs, the spotting patterns (especially the piebald series) that overlay whole sections of coat color and even eye color, all carry a portion of the code that determines whether a dog can hear or not.” But there may be other, less understood, genetic factors involved as well.

Edwards also notes other reasons – not related to color or pigment – that may cause a dog to be born deaf. A malnourished mother dog, birth difficulties, illness during pregnancy, plus the normal occurrence of birth defects can all be factors.

Dogs, just like people, can also lose their hearing later in life. Illness, infection, or injury to the ear can cause deafness. Older dogs may also experience a sudden or gradual loss of hearing. Dogs can be deaf in only one ear (unilateral), in both ears (bilateral), or experience only a partial deafness.

Many people with deaf dogs know their dogs are deaf without having any special medical evaluation. Some people do “sound tests” at home, much the way Gary Lomax did with Cleo at the shelter – whistling, clapping hands, or making other noises to see if the dog responds. These are not foolproof testing methods, as a dog may respond to the vibration of a sound or the movement of the air caused by making the sound, and appear to hear a certain sound when she does not. However, home tests can be helpful indicators and are a way for people to confirm what they may suspect.

For dog guardians who want to know absolutely the extent of hearing loss, there is a procedure called a “brainstem auditory evoked response” (BAER) test that measures hearing loss through measuring brain responses. Electrodes are placed under the skin on the dog’s head and hooked up to a computer that records the brain’s response to sounds. The test does not appear to cause the dog any pain, but some dogs do become agitated because of being restrained and because of wires dangling about their faces. BAER tests are performed at some university veterinary schools, hospitals, and specialty clinics.

“Special Needs” Dogs

Sell, Mark, and Lomax all agree that living with a deaf dog, for the most part, is really not so different than living with a hearing dog – they are, after all, just dogs! Some are friendly, some are shy, some are cautious, and some approach life with gusto. Each dog – hearing or deaf – has his or her own personality characteristics and needs. Deaf dogs do not have “special needs” per se. Sell emphasizes that living with her deaf dogs has “taught me that deafness is such a non-issue when it comes to dogs.”

DDEAF’s Jack Edwards agrees that deaf dogs really don’t have “special needs.” He emphasizes, “Every dog needs food, water, shelter, and routine veterinary care. They need owners to love, exercise, and train them. They need protection from man-made dangers like household chemicals and street traffic and that nasty little boy down the street. Whether they are deaf from birth and unaware that something is missing or deaf from old age where the sounds of life slowly fade away, deaf dogs do not have any needs beyond those of every other companion animal.”

Edwards argues that “special needs” are those that take extra care or work. He cites examples of dogs with medical conditions that require specific diets or medications, dogs with allergies and skin problems that need special shampoo, or even dogs who have behavioral problems that require additional training or behavior modification as having “special needs.”

The exception may be a dog that experiences a sudden deafness later in life. “There are differences when working with dogs who became deaf at different times,” says Edwards. “Congenital and geriatric deafness are really not a lot different. One never heard anything and the other learned to compensate while the surrounding world grew quiet. The biggest challenge working with these dogs is getting the owners past the initial shock and ‘what do I do now’ stage.”

“In the case of sudden-onset deafness, whether from a trauma, a toxic reaction, or a surgery, it is a little more difficult,” Edwards says. “These dogs are used to getting information about their surroundings that is no longer available – and they have grown to depend on that input. They do have a special, albeit temporary, need. You may have to help them adjust the changes they are living through because of suddenly not being able to hear.”

But there are other considerations for a person considering adopting a dog who was born deaf. One in particular, Sell says, is that you have to be much more careful about letting your dog off leash in an unfenced area. In fact, many deaf dog guardians choose not to have their dog off leash at all unless the area is fenced.

Gary Lomax and Suzan Mark agree that the fear of losing Cleo, of her wandering off, is the one thing they consider significant and different about living with a deaf dog. A hearing dog, obviously, can also get lost or run away, but they believe Cleo’s lack of hearing would make it more difficult for them to locate her if she were to become lost. Because of their fear of losing her, they are careful to allow her off leash only in secured areas, such as a fenced dog park.

Deaf Dogs and Aggression

One of the predominant myths about deaf dogs is that they will become aggressive. To this day, some breed and rescue organizations recommend that all deaf dogs be killed as puppies, in part because of the belief that deaf dogs are aggressive.

Aggression is not caused by deafness. Aggression is linked to genetic predisposition and socialization. While there are no studies on the incidents of aggressive behaviors in deaf dogs as compared to hearing dogs, people who live with deaf dogs agree: a dog that has a sound temperament and is wellsocialized is much less likely to be aggressive, whether he can hear or not.

“I don’t believe there is any correlation between deafness and aggression. It’s a question of personalities and handling,” says Jack Edwards, Executive Director of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund (DDEAF). He has come to this conclusion through sharing his home with five deaf Dalmatians, as well as through his experience as a trainer, and his extensive contact with other deaf dog guardians.

Edwards notes that through a deaf dog email list (with more than 1,100 members) the subject of aggression comes up periodically in regard to specific dogs (as it does on most email dog lists that discuss behavioral and training issues), but it is not a regular topic.

In addition, Edwards has helped plan and has attended six Florida Deaf Dog Picnics. These events are held in public off-leash parks and are open to everyone. Edwards says that these events have been attended by all sorts of dogs, from Boston Terriers, Dachshunds, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Catahoulas, to the ever-present Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, Boxers, and Dalmatians. “I have yet to see any problems or scuffles started by a deaf dog at one of these events.”

This of course does not mean that deaf dogs do not have aggression issues – they are, after all, dogs. But the incidence of aggression in deaf dogs does not seem to be any higher than among the general dog population. And specific training and behavior modification used to deal with aggression issues works just as well with deaf dogs as with hearing dogs.

Dogs Don’t Speak English

Of course, people who decide to adopt a deaf dog will need to be willing to overcome any reluctance they may have to communicating nonverbally. Dogs, whose primary mode of communication appears to be body language, don’t seem to have a problem with nonverbal communication; they don’t depend on English or any other spoken language to begin with! But some people do fear that they will not be able to adjust to using hand and visual signals rather than words to communicate.

Mark and Lomax said they had expected communication to be a problem, but discovered that it really hasn’t been. Cleo, Mark notes, is very intuitive about body language and picks up on hand signals very quickly.

“A slight flick of the wrist tells her to sit,” she says, “and using your whole arm is like shouting at her.”

People who live and work with deaf dogs do develop a whole series of nonverbal communication signals – including facial expressions, body postures, hand signals, and even high-tech devices such as vibrating collars. Some of the communication signals are intentional. Others happen naturally, for example when the dog learns what it means when people open a certain kitchen cabinet or reach for the leash. Of course, many people continue to talk to their dogs, too. When people speak, we incorporate a whole slew of facial expressions that may actually prove beneficial in communicating in spite of the fact that the dog doesn’t hear the words.

Do you have to learn special hand signals, like American Sign Language (ASL), to communicate with a deaf dog? Not necessarily. For some people, adopting signals from ASL means that they do not have to invent their own. Others use a combination of ASL signals and common obedience hand signals. Still others use whatever hand signals come naturally. One advantage to using certain ASL or “obedience” style hand signals is that other people may also know them and be able to communicate with your dog. For example, if you take your dog to a training class, the instructor is more likely to already know traditional obedience hand signals.

Isn’t Training More Difficult?

Deaf dogs, like hearing dogs, do not train themselves. Just as with any dog, your job will be to devote time and energy to their training and socialization in order to help them become well-adjusted members of the community. The principles of training apply to a deaf dog in the same way they do to a hearing dog. The main difference in the way you train a deaf dog is just in the way you communicate.

“I expected it to be difficult and it wasn’t. ‘Deafies’ (at least the deaf Aussies I have) are so tuned in to your hand signals and body language, they seem to stay more focused on me when I am training them than a hearing dog,” says Sell. “We have been involved in agility training and use only hand signals to do so. Echo buzzes around the course like a pro!”

Just as when training a hearing dog, you must first teach a deaf dog to understand when you want her attention. This is akin to teaching a hearing dog to understand her name. You can choose a signal for her name or teach a signal for “look at me” or “watch me.” In addition, you can teach a physical cue, such as a tap on the shoulder, for attention. Some people choose to use lights or vibrating collars (not shock collars) to get their dog’s attention.

In addition, you will need to teach a deaf dog one or more reward marker signals, and signals that are the equivalent to verbal praise. If this seems like a lot, just remember that we must also teach our hearing dogs what these things mean. No dog automatically knows his name, nor does he know the word “good” is praise.

Special issues around training do come up in regards to calling your dog at a distance – especially if she is not looking at you. Using a laser light (shined in front of a dog who is looking away, not at his eyes!) or a vibrating collar are two good solutions to getting attention at a distance, and thus being able to signal your dog to come.

“At the dog park,” Suzan Mark notes, “it is a little harder to get Cleo’s attention to call her back to us than it is with other dogs. Of course that does depend on who you are comparing her to – lots of dogs at the dog park don’t respond when they are called!”

Getting a Deaf Dog’s Attention

My students with deaf dogs frequently relate that their biggest challenge is getting their dogs’ attention, whether at home or out in the world. I watched one student, early in her training, do some incredible acrobatics to try and keep herself positioned in her dog’s line of sight. She seemed very happy when she realized she could teach her dog to look at her, instead. Here are some tips for getting a deaf dog’s attention (these tips work well with dogs who hear, too.)

• Reward “offered” attention

One of the most important ways to teach dogs to pay attention to you is to reward all “offers” of attention. This will encourage your dog to check in with you regularly, whether you ask for attention or not. At first, just for giving attention, you can offer a reward. In other words, if you are out on a walk and your dog looks up at you, give him a treat!

Once your dog starts to realize that checking in with you regularly earns rewards, you can start asking for additional behaviors before rewarding him. For example, if your dog looks at you expecting a treat, ask for a “sit,” then reward. Do continue to occasionally reward simply “checking in” with treats, play, or petting.

Jack Edwards from DDEAF suggests a game of “hide and seek” for teaching a dog to offer attention. “It starts out as ‘find me and get a reward.’ Then it turns into ‘whenever you see me, you get a signal to do something rewarding.’ Sometimes it’s a signal to go back to playing and sometimes it’s a ‘how fast can you get here’ recall. These games sure teach the dog to pay a lot of attention!”

• Hand signal for his name

Just as you teach a dog to respond to “Max” or “Spot,” you can teach a deaf dog to respond to a signal that means, “I’m talking to you now.” A simple finger point or a wave will each work and are easy to teach, but any signal will do.

To teach that the finger point or wave means “Max,” start by simply pointing or waving at the dog, then offering a reward such as a great treat. Throughout your daily life, use his “name signal” much as you would a verbal name. If you are about to feed your dog, point or wave in her direction, then walk to the kitchen and prepare his dinner. Before walks, point or wave to your dog, then get out the leash.

Soon the dog will respond to the hand signal just as a hearing dog would respond to the sound of his name spoken verbally.

• “Look” or “watch me” hand signal

Many dogs, hearing and deaf, need to be taught that they must pay attention at times. A “watch me” signal is a great way to teach them that they need to focus on you.

Take a treat between your thumb and middle finger. Briefly swipe the treat under your dog’s nose, then bring your hand up to your face and point your index finger to your eyes. As your dog’s eyes follow the treat to your eyes, give your “thumbs up” or other reward marker and give the dog the treat.

As your dog learns the game, begin to do the hand motion without having a treat in your hand. Do continue to give your dog the “thumbs up” and a treat for looking at your face.

Keep playing the game, increasing the length of time your dog “watches” you, before giving the thumbs up and the treat. One to three minutes of sustained eye contact is a good goal for a solid “watch me.”

Once your dog knows the signal from sitting in front of you in the living room, teach it with your dog in different positions. For example, ask him to watch you as he walks beside you as if walking on a leash. Then begin to practice in a variety of environments.

• Tap on the shoulder

In order to avoid the acrobatic antics of trying to make your dog see a hand signal, you can teach a physical cue that means “look” or “watch me” too. I like a tap on the shoulder or rear end as the signal for “Hey, look at me now.”

Start by tapping your dog on the shoulder when he is already looking at you, and offering a treat. Then move to tapping on the shoulder and treating when he is off to your side. Gradually move so that you are behind your dog. Tap him on the shoulder, and when he turns his head, give him a treat.

Once he knows that tapping means looking your way for a treat, you can add the other steps for “watch me.”

Clicker Training for Deaf Dogs?

Of course! Clicker training is simply a style of training that uses a “reward marker” to tell the dog when he “got it right!” With hearing dogs, people most commonly use a “clicker” or a word such as “Yes” as the reward marker. With a deaf dog, you can use the flick of a penlight or a hand signal such as a “thumbs up” for your reward marker.

To teach your dog that the flash of a penlight or a “thumbs up” signal means the dog just got it right, simply pair the signal with a treat. For example, first do a “thumbs up,” and then give your dog a great treat. Repeat 20 to 30 times in a row.

Now you can use your “thumbs up” the same as you would a clicker. For example, to shape a “sit,” wait for your dog to offer a sit or lure him into position just as you would a hearing dog. When he sits, give a “thumbs up” followed by a treat. As with a hearing dog, remember to get the behavior first, then put it on cue. When teaching the dog to sit, make sure your dog will, first, offer the sit reliably. Then give your hand signal for “sit” just before your dog sits. When he sits, immediately give him a “thumbs up” and a treat. He will quickly learn that your hand signal cue means sit, and the thumbs up means he did something right.

In addition to teaching a reward marker, consider teaching a signal such as a hand clap motion that means “good dog” or “keep going.” This can help bridge the communication gap when a dog is trying, but hasn’t quite hit the target for a “thumbs up.” A “reward marker” is a visual signal that alerts the dog that she has done the right thing and can expect a reward.

From here, it’s all up to you. You can teach a deaf dog as many behaviors and tricks as a dog who hears.

Using Technology with Deaf Dogs

High tech devices are not necessary when training a deaf dog; many people do without them just fine. But they do offer another alternative for getting a dog’s attention.

Consider a vibrating collar. (Not a shock collar. Be careful if you get a collar that doubles as both; you could accidentally shock your dog when you mean to vibrate.) The Deaf Dog Education Action Fund has a list of vibration collar manufacturers on its Web site ( By itself, a vibrating collar will not teach a dog anything, but if you pair the vibration with great rewards like chicken or tuna, your dog will learn to look at you when he feels the vibration. This signal can work to get your dog’s attention when he is across the park from you.

You can use a laser light in a similar fashion to get a dog’s attention. Flash the light in front of the dog on the ground or another surface, and then give the dog a treat. (Be sure not to flash the light directly at the dog, as it could damage his eyes.) A laser light can be used in the daytime as well as at night and some lights can focus a spot up to 100 yards away.

Other Attention-Getters

Stomping your foot or banging a door can get your dog’s attention because they create a vibration that the dog may feel. Flicking the light switch or flashing a flashlight will attract their attention visually. Waving your arms in a wide circle over your head and out at your side can get a dog’s attention through his peripheral vision. Each of these will work even better if they are paired with a great reward.

“All Done” Signal

When you spend a whole lot of time teaching a dog to pay attention to you, you can end up with a dog who will never leave you alone. This can be trying for both the dog and the person!

By teaching your dog an “all done” or a release signal, you have a way to tell your dog when he is off duty and no longer needs to give you his undivided attention. This one is easy; simply pair a signal such as a flat hand or a “go away” motion with absolutely no attention from you! Your dog will soon learn that when you signal “all done,” the game is over.

Startling Myths About Dog Deafness

When I began working with my first student with a deaf dog, I did research trying to discover special issues that come up with deaf dogs. One of the “myths” surrounding deaf dogs that I saw repeatedly was that if you startle a deaf dog, they will bite.

“I think you can just take ‘deaf’ out of that sentence,” says Mark. In other words, if you startle any dog, he might bite. Hearing dogs can be startled too, and any dog who is frightened might react defensively. Deaf dogs aren’t necessarily startled more easily, just differently. And not all dogs react to being startled with aggression. Take Cleo, for example. “You can startle her and she reacts. But she thinks good things are going to happen!” Mark says.

The combination of Cleo’s good nature, possibly coupled with startle conditioning exercises shortly after they brought her home, has made startling a non-issue in their life. In fact recently, while playing at a local dog park, two young children ran up behind Cleo and grabbed her in a big hug. Cleo was obviously startled, but seemed to simply enjoy the experience. She greeted the girls, then happily received their pets and hugs.

Jack Edwards agrees. “It is my opinion that all dogs startle to unexpected stimuli – hearing dogs even more so because of the additional surprises. The phrase to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ was not written about deaf dogs but has been passed through generations of people who know better than to startle a dog.”

Edwards does also emphasize, however, that dogs who have suddenly become deaf may be more likely to suffer all the negative side effects of being startled. “These are the dogs where you really do need to take the time to help desensitize them.”

Like hearing dogs, not every deaf dog will be as easygoing as Cleo about being surprised or startled. For example, Deb Sell’s Border Collie mix, Nefe, did have trouble with people suddenly “appearing” in the doorway at her office. (This issue may be more related to her being a Border Collie, than to her having trouble hearing – one of my herding dogs has had a similar problem when she accompanies me to work.) Through counter-conditioning, Nefe has learned that people appearing in a doorway is not such a scary thing after all.

Socializing any dog to lots of people, places, sites, and touches will help him learn not to be as startled by any one factor. In addition, people living with deaf or hearing dogs can consciously condition their dogs so that they actually enjoy being startled. By pairing the dog’s favorite treat with a “startle,” she can learn, like Cleo did, that being startled means good things happen.

Speaking Louder Than Words

I must admit that I wanted to write this article to help dispel myths about deaf dogs, and to help put a wedge into the shameful practice of killing deaf dogs simply because they cannot hear. But I had a second motivation: to share with other caring dog people that living with a dog that has a physical difference isn’t about being altruistic or noble. Rather, it’s about being open to sharing your life with an animal who comes your way – the one who is meant to be your companion whether she can hear or not.

Sell notes, “People shy away from adopting a dog that is ‘defective.’ Those people are really missing out on sharing their life with a very special animal. I truly believe animals come into our lives for a reason. I think mine are here to teach me that a ‘handicap’ is something that you need to look beyond, to see the real inner person (dog). If we had not adopted these three deafies, we would have missed out on one of life’s great gifts . . . an amazing and strong bond between people and their dogs.”

Suzan Mark and Gary Lomax began their journey with Cleo with some apprehension. They were understandably nervous about adopting a deaf dog. But now, after having shared their life with her, when asked if they would do it again, Suzan and Gary say, “For sure! She picked us.”

When asked if she would do it again, Sell just laughs. “Well, I think the fact that we have already adopted three pretty much answers this question!”

Mardi Richmond is a writer, editor and dog trainer who lives in Santa Cruz, California. She is grateful to Jack Edwards of the Deaf Dog Education Action Fund, Dr. Deb Sell, and Suzan Mark and Gary Lomax for sharing their experiences for this article.

Dog to dog aggression

(from Victoria Stilell’s “Positively”)

Dog-to-dog aggression is a common occurrence and one that causes extreme stress for dogs and owners. Multi-dog households frequently experience some kind of ‘sibling’ rivalry with short squabbles and disagreements, but these are usually mild and happen infrequently enough to maintain a comfort level that allows for everyone to live safely and peacefully.

If violence between dogs occurs regularly and one or more of the dogs are being hurt, then separation and constant environmental management is one of the most effective ways to deal with the problem. In severe cases, rehoming should be considered. Some dogs do not do well in multi-dog households and are happiest being the only dog in a home. This takes stress off all family members and allows for more harmonious living.

Why are some dogs dog-aggressive?
Dog to dog aggression occurs because a dog is either unsocialized and uncomfortable around other dogs, or has had a traumatic experience which causes her to be afraid of another dog’s presence. Some dogs might be more protective of things they deem valuable for their safety, comfort and survival such as food, locations, toys and other objects, people and territory. This leads to active aggressive display in order to make whatever threatens that safety go away.

Should I punish a dog aggressive dog?
Avoid punishing, bullying or intimidating a dog that is showing aggression.

If a dog on a leash aggresses towards another dog walking by and receives hard punishment in the form of jerking, hitting, kicking or restraining, the dog not only learns to fear the person punishing them but also sees the other dog’s presence as a trigger for that punishment, which will make the dog even more insecure and likely to aggress again the next time another dog walks by.

If the dog aggressive dog is taught that good things happen to her when she sees another dog and is taught a different active behavior from aggressing, she then begins to build up positive feelings to any approaching dog and feels less need to aggress.

How can I reintroduce a dog to other dogs safely?
Once a dog feels more comfortable walking past other dogs, then gentle introductions can be made. This is best done with a very calm dog that is good at giving signals that pacify and demonstrate low threat.

Face-to-face greetings are not recommended immediately, but simply experiencing positive things in the other dog’s presence such as walking or other activities at a comfortable distance can help build a positive association.

Parallel walking, following the calm dog and sniffing the behind before a facial greeting can have real benefits, but this is better done under the supervision of a qualified positive trainer to guide initial interactions.

Can I take my dog aggressive dog to the dog park?
Dog parks are not recommended for dog aggressive dogs or dogs that play too roughly, as smaller spaces with no place to run, can be overwhelming and cause a bad reaction. Just as some people are overwhelmed being in a crowd, so too are dogs and solitary walks or walking with a small group contributes to a much happier dog and safer interactions.

Setting Realistic Expectations
We have high expectations for our dogs and in an ideal world would like them to be comfortable around every dog they meet, but these are expectations that we ourselves find hard to follow. We do not want to greet everyone we meet in the street or have strangers come into our space uninvited, and neither do our dogs.

Keep an eye on body language and allow your dog to pick and choose which dogs he or she wants to socialize with. Some dogs are happier with their own company or the company of one or two other dogs so keeping that dog on a relaxed leash in a public place is key to giving her confidence and keeping her and other dogs around her safe.

Dog – dog aggression

Pain treatment for dogs

Pain Treatment for Dogs Now Commonplace in Veterinary Medicine

Happily for our dogs, pain awareness and control are modern priorities for veterinarians.

By Denise Flaim

When Laurie McCauley was in college in the late 1980s, she worked for a veterinarian who was nearing retirement. Recalling his veterinary-school days earlier in that century, he told her of a fellow student whose senior-year project was to periodically take a dog, break multiple bones, and then fix them. As incredibly inhumane as that sounds to modern dog lovers, “this was accepted at the time,” says Dr. McCauley, now a board-certified rehabilitation veterinarian and medical director at TOPS Veterinary Rehabilitation in Grayslake, Illinois. “They believed that animals did not feel pain.”

We’ve come a long way, baby. In the last few decades, veterinary medicine has come to embrace the idea of pain management for dogs and other companion animals. “Some of this is due to better recognizing behaviors that indicate an animal is in pain,” says Beth Boynton, DVM, FNAP, a professor of wellness at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California. “They tend to ‘hide’ signs, so the subtle cues are often lost. And we have much more effective and safer medications to use to help them than in the past.”

As recently as the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Boynton continues, many veterinarians recommended no pain control for animals after surgery, believing it would keep them “quiet” so they wouldn’t move around and would heal faster. “We know from studies since then that that is not the case in any animal or human,” she says. In fact, administering pain medication before a dog even awakes from anesthesia is now standard procedure, as discomfort is more difficult to control once the nerves that signal pain have been activated. “Pain control helps healing, and that control should be started early. In fact, it is part of the standard of practice for all veterinarians, and ‘relief of animal suffering’ is in our Veterinarian’s Oath.”

Indeed, this newly minted attention to pain relief in dogs is as much a response to good science as it is about compassion. “There is research that shows that 60 percent of pain receptors in the body are ‘sleeping,’ and if they get ‘woken up’ by pain lasting 12 to 24 hours, then any later pain incident in the life of the patient is exacerbated,” Dr. McCauley says.

All this has led to an unprecedented focus on avoiding pain in dogs, even before it begins. Administering pain relief for “routine” procedures such as spaying is now standard practice. Dogs who need to stay quiet while recuperating are given light sedatives along with their pain medications, as opposed to letting their discomfort keep them immobile. “Modern veterinary thinking is that all pain should be relieved – period,” Dr. McCauley says.

Types of Pain in Dogs

Pain is a response to cell damage or injury in the body. There are two types: Acute pain is often defined as pain that results from inflammation and healing after injury, and it can last for as long as the anticipated healing time, up to three months. Chronic pain is pain that continues on after that expected time frame.

Pain can also be classified by how it is generated. Nociceptive pain stimulates specific pain receptors, which may sense temperature, vibration, or chemicals released by damaged cells. Inflammatory pain derives more gradually from an activated immune system that responds to infection or injury. Pathological pain, which results from excessive tissue damage, produces extended discomfort and abnormal sensitivity. And maladaptive pain persists after healing has completed, caused by changes in the nervous system.

Earlier this year, in collaboration with the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the American Animal Hospital Association released updated guidelines for pain management in dogs and cats. The paper stresses that veterinarians need to anticipate their patients’ pain-management needs, and reassess continually until the pain is resolved.

The acronym “PLATTER” has been devised for pain management: PLan ahead with a patient-specific plan; Anticipate what the pain-management needs might be; TreaT, factoring in the type, severity, and duration of pain that is expected; Evaluate how effective and appropriate the treatment is, using a client questionnaire or a pain-scoring system, and Return to the patient to see whether pain management needs to be discontinued or modified further.

How Dogs Show Signs of Pain

It’s long been observed that dogs seem to try to hide any indication that they are in pain; biologists speculate this is based in some sort of survival instinct. If your dog has a potentially painful condition, you need to watch for little “tells” that indicate she may be experiencing discomfort.

Several veterinary institutions have developed scales that can be used to quantify the level of pain that a dog is feeling. The International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management ( offers a list of symptoms of pain, compiled by Dr. Michael C. Petty. They include:

Reluctance to walk on slippery surfaces or use stairs.

Becoming selective about what types of furniture to jump on and off of.

Attempting to stand with the front legs first.

Multiple “false starts” and circling when attempting to lie down.

Reduced running and jumping.

Abnormal wear on nails.

Unwillingness to initiate play or other interactions.

Aggression toward other animals.

Dislike of being petted or touched.

Change in sleep patterns.


Decreased appetite.

Housebreaking lapses.

Types of Pain Medications for Dogs

The drug group most commonly used by veterinarians are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs (pronounced as “en-saids”). “They are great if there is active inflammation, but not as good if the pain is chronic in nature and the inflammation has ceased,” Dr. McCauley notes.

Examples of commonly used veterinary NSAIDs are carprofen (brand name, Rimadyl), etodolac (Lodine), meloxicam (Metacam), deracoxib (Deramaxx), and firocoxib (Equioxx and Previcox).

Aspirin is an over-the-counter NSAID, but should not be administered without a vet’s oversight because it has more harmful side effects and is less effective than approved medications. (And while we are on the subject of human pain relievers, owners should never administer acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in pain relievers such as Tylenol. While some vets do use acetaminophen in dogs, it needs to be very carefully monitored.)

NSAIDs are generally safe, but can cause liver or kidney damage in some dogs. “Pets need to have blood tests prior to going on medications and be monitored appropriately while on them,” Dr. Boynton says. “Some pets develop serious liver or kidney disease while taking drugs and that needs to be detected as early as possible to minimize harm.”

Watch for adverse signs, such as behavior changes, reduced appetite, skin redness, vomiting, or loose or tarry stools, and contact your veterinarian immediately.

There are three other commonly prescribed pain medications in dogs:

Tramadol is a weaker opiate that does not require the extensive paperwork of more heavily regulated opiates such as morphine or codeine. (And in dogs as opposed to people, the drug is not metabolized into an opioid.) Unlike NSAIDs, Tramadol does not reduce pain and inflammation at the injury site, but rather changes brain chemistry to inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, two chemicals associated with mood and responsiveness to pain. Used to control moderate to severe pain, Tramadol is sometimes prescribed for older dogs with chronic pain from arthritis or cancer. Side effects can include upset stomach, decreased heart rate, coughing, and constipation. In some states, Tramadol is now a controlled substance, requiring veterinarians to have a license from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and carefully log how it is dispensed.

Gabapentin is often used to control seizures in dogs and cats, because it stabilizes excessive electrical activity in the brain. But it also works well to help control nerve-related pain, and chronic pain from cancer and arthritis. Some dogs may experience vomiting, drowsiness, loss of balance or diarrhea.

Amantadine was initially used as an antiviral medication, but today is mainly used for pain relief. It works by inhibiting the nervous system’s NMDA receptor, which creates the sensation of chronic pain. Amantadine can be quite expensive, Dr. McCauley notes, but “is excellent for ‘big pain’ like an amputation.” Potential side effects include gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, flatulence and diarrhea, as well as agitation, which often dissipates after the first few days.

While all these medications can be used individually, they can also be used together so that their pain-relieving qualities outweigh the sum of their parts. And because less of each drug is used, this can mean little to no side effects. But, Dr. Boynton stresses, “this takes careful calculation, because some drug combinations are harmful or fatal.”

Opiates: Not for the Masses

Veterinarians can prescribe opiates such as morphine for their canine patients. There isn’t a concern about addiction, because dogs can’t manipulate veterinarians into prescribing more of a particular narcotic because they just want to get high. Their human counterparts, however, aren’t always as transparent.

“The problem the veterinarian has to watch out for is if the client gets the medications for the dog and then uses them for themselves,” Dr. McCauley explains. “For this reason, the DEA has done a great job of creating guidelines to prevent veterinarians from overprescribing scheduled drugs.”

“Sometimes opioids are the best choice or part of a combination approach, and many of these drugs are a concern for human toxicity or abuse,” Dr. Boynton adds. “Pharmacy tracking is being better developed to monitor for abuse.”

Because of all the paperwork and close governmental scrutiny, many veterinarians do not prescribe opiates. (And some worry that having them on hand in the practice may also encourage break-ins.) But such strong narcotics may have a place in your dog’s care – if, for example, you are performing at-home hospice for a dog who is dying from a painful cancer. In such cases, have a candid conversation with your veterinarian to discuss concerns on both sides of the exam table.

If your veterinarian writes a prescription for an opioid for your dog so you can have it filled at a human pharmacy, be sure not to allow substitutions, Dr. McCauley warns. “For instance, Hydrocodone commonly comes with acetaminophen, which can be toxic for dogs depending on the dose.”

Integrative Approach

Such a “multi-modal” approach isn’t just for pain-relieving drugs. In its 2015 guidelines, the AAHA discusses the importance of an integrated approach to managing pain – one that does not rely solely on drugs.

Dr. McCauley ticks off a long list of complementary modalities that can help relieve a dog’s pain and speed healing:

Rehabilitation is a combination of pain management and making the animal stronger, using exercise to strengthen the affected area to prevent further injury or degeneration.

Laser therapy has hit the veterinary field by storm, she notes. “Research shows that it not only significantly decreases the inflammatory mediators, but also affects the nerve cells to decrease pain and inflammation.”

Acupuncture has been around for millennia, though its introduction into American veterinary practices didn’t start until the 1970s. “More and more vets are accepting this as mainstream and using it for all types of medicine, not just pain relief,” Dr. McCauley says. While not all acupuncture-certified veterinarians are well versed in Chinese herbal medicine, many are, and they can prescribe herbs that can help with pain relief. (As always, veterinarians need to be careful about dosage, as well as how drugs and herbs may interact.)

Dr. McCauley is a proponent of tPEMF units such as the Assisi Loop ( A non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical healing device for animals, the loop uses low-level energy pulses to reduce pain and inflammation, and speed healing. “We use it for acute or ‘acute on chronic’ problems,” Dr. McCauley explains. (An example of the latter is when an arthritic dog compensates until he plays hard or goes for a long walk, and then is sore.) “A beautiful thing about this is that we can sell them to our clients, and they can do the treatments as needed and do it at home.”

Dr. McCauley notes that massage therapy, manual therapy (which uses joint manipulation and mobilization as well as muscle manipulation), and chiropractic therapy can all relieve pain as well as muscle and joint problems for diminishing or eliminating pain and allowing improved movement.

While there are many options for augmenting your dog’s pain management, don’t forget the basics: “First, the diagnosis should be accurately made,” Dr. Boynton reminds. “If there is a broken bone, for example, that needs to be fixed before the animal will get real relief. Many times what is assumed to be arthritis may be something treatable, or it could be a serious cancer or infection. Signs can be very confusing in pets.”

Don’t Be Part of the Problem

The AAHA/AAFP guidelines stress that pain management requires a “team oriented approach” that includes the owner as a vital link. Because pain diagnosis depends so heavily on the dog’s behavior, noting changes in how your dog acts, plays, moves, and interacts in his normal routine is crucial.

Dr. McCauley notes that the more emotionally invested an owner is in her dog, the more likely she will appreciate the importance of pain management. “The people who have a four-legged furry child who sleeps, if not in bed with them, then at least in the bedroom, are the population that care a lot about pain meds and quality of life,” she says.

Dr. Boynton adds that far too many owners are unaware of the importance of pain medication for their dogs because they don’t appreciate just how stoic many dogs can be.

“There is still quite a lot of resistance. People often don’t understand that an animal who isn’t whimpering may be in horrible pain,” she says. “Animal survival in the wild often meant that they had to hide pain and keep going with the group, so signs of pain are often very subtle. People also may think that medications are expensive or dangerous.”

Bottom line: It’s not humane to let your dog suffer, and the science shows it’s not healthy, either. Most dogs can be given some type of pain control: Work with your vet to determine the safest and most effective drugs or combinations of drugs to keep your dog comfortable while she’s on the mend.

Denise Flaim of Revodana Ridgebacks in Long Island, NY, shares her home with three Ridgebacks, 11-year-old triplets, and a very patient husband.

(Whole Dog Journal, Dec 2015)