Monthly Archives: July 2020

Guilt

We often read discussions of whether dogs experience guilt; we’ve published a few, too. But here is a twist I don’t think I’ve ever seen discussed: A dog owner’s guilt over something related to their dog ownership.

Many of us who are old enough to have owned dogs before the advent of positive-reinforcement-based dog training – yes, this was before cell phones and when candy bars cost just a quarter – probably feel some amount of guilt and/or shame about how they trained dogs in their youth. There is a term that describes us – “crossover trainers” – those of us who started training dogs with choke chains and collar “pops.” This was the norm for anyone who wanted a well-trained dog who would walk on a loose leash, once upon a time. (It’s hard to fathom how different and wonderful it must be for trainers and owners who are, say, 30 years old or younger, who came of age in the dog world when positive reinforcement was the norm.)

Things I feel guilty about

Me and Tavi in 1977

I think back to the dog I was allowed to keep for my very own, starting when I was about 13 years old, and who lived with me into my mid-twenties. He was a half-Kelpie, part-hound-mix, dog-aggressive and, it seemed to me then, hard-headed. Frustrated by his many attacks on other dogs and not knowing anyone who knew any better than me, I physically punished him for his many transgressions. I know now that all of that punishment only hardened his negative feelings about other dogs – and far from correcting the issue, it made his hatred of other dogs worse. This was a lifelong conflict between us, and I never found a better way to deal with the behavior. Forgive me, Tavi, I honestly didn’t know any better.

My heaviest burden of guilt has to do with the death of little Tito, a Chihuahua-mix who was sort of dumped on my husband and me by his niece some years back. I didn’t really want another dog at the time, and Tito didn’t really want new owners, either. It took us all a long time to get to know each other; he was a prickly little tough guy. He didn’t like to be picked up, he was a ferocious resource-guarder, and he generally just kept his own council. Over time, though, we got used to and accepted his tough-guy independence and we all actually grew quite fond of each other.

A couple years after we had finally accepted that Tito was a member of our family, he was mortally wounded by a dog I was fostering. It took me nearly a year to process and understand what happened and to write about it; as penance for the ignorance that led to Tito’s death, I still tell the story to anyone I know who is considering fostering an aggressive dog. It’s not that dogs who display aggression can’t be rehabilitated – they certainly can. But people need to know what they are getting into, and need to protect their own families (human and canine) from getting hurt in the process. I didn’t protect Tito, and he paid for my ignorance with his life. The dog who attacked him was euthanized following the event – and this death, too, is on my hands. I am not sure when or if I can, or should, forgive myself for these deaths.

Accidents can happen to the best of us

I know two different people who accidentally backed their cars over (and killed) their own dogs, each of whom was sleeping in the driveway. Two! Both of those people were understandably wracked with guilt about these horrible accidents.

I have another friend who will never forgive herself for letting her dog off-leash to chase some birds, who were covering a huge grassy playing field at a college. But the dog chased and chased and wouldn’t come back, and eventually chased them across a busy street and was hit by a car. Despite almost immediate emergency veterinary care, he died at a veterinarian’s office less than an hour later. My friend is almost pathologically careful about letting her current dog off-leash, which is good, but I’m sorry that she still suffers about her former mistake.

Dog ownership is a huge responsibility; their lives and health are fully in our hands. Guilt over the things we’ve done wrong, I guess, helps keep us alert to the possibility that we might make other mistakes, that we have to be more careful with these precious lives. And, as the saying goes, when we know better, we can do better. Sometimes I just wish learning some of these lessons wasn’t so hard.

What do you feel guilty about? Maybe others can learn from your mistakes.

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Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog

It’s no secret that exercising your dog can lead to a happier and healthier pup – not to mention a quieter house and a happier you. The complication is that exercising your dog takes time and sometimes we struggle to find time to exercise ourselves. However, without safe and effective exercise, your dog can gain weight, risk costly injury, and tear apart the house in response to pent up energy. Consider how you exercise your dog now: perhaps you play tug with your Chihuahua in the living room, jog or play fetch with your active retriever, or ask your senior mixed breed to sit in the kitchen — all of these activities can exercise your dog both physically and mentally. Let’s further explore how you can make the most of your time with your dog while safely and effectively gaining the benefits of exercise.

Here are three secrets to safely and effectively exercising your dog through activities and games that you probably already play.

1. Discuss with your veterinarian

Before beginning any exercise (even training class!), it’s important to get a full health check with your local veterinarian. Let your vet know which activities you are thinking about pursuing, and ask which activities would be most appropriate for your dog’s age, musculoskeletal structure, and preferences. Remember, just like with children, jumping from high places or playing on hard surfaces can be detrimental to joints. Be sure to ask how long the activities should last, how intense they should be, and about any necessary equipment or weather precautions. Just because your dog wants to fetch constantly, doesn’t necessarily mean that this high impact, sustained exercise is healthy. Describe the activity and environment to your vet in detail, and be sure to get clearance before enjoying with your pup.

2. Explore variation

After speaking with your veterinarian about appropriate activities for your dog, plan to vary the types of activities each day. If your veterinarian approved some shorter distance jogs for your pup, perhaps the next day you could spread his food in the backyard as a scavenger hunt. Varying high intensity with low intensity workouts is just as stimulating for your pup, and the variation will keep him engaged. You can also vary exercises within the activity itself. For example, if you frequently throw a ball or disc for your dog until she lies down and pants, consider asking for tricks between different types of throws. By varying distances and body movements you can help your dog regulate her arousal and stay safe.

3. Remember warms up & cool down

Before beginning any activity, it’s important to set up your dog for success. Dogs have the same basic musculoskeletal components as people, and therefore they can sustain similar injuries from rigorous use or clumsy accidents. However, dogs are more athletic compared to humans (even your couch potato probably has a higher VO2max than you!), and they can exert a lot of energy at playtime. It’s important to warm up and cool down your dog’s muscles before use. Consider the type of exercise and what body parts are involved, and plan for a warm up. For example, if you’re about to open the back door for your dog to dash out with his powerful hind legs, take a couple walking laps around the living room first. Ask for a few repetitions of sit and put a treat in front of his nose to lure him in a few circles before opening the door. Much like a short jog, squats, and plyometrics before a sprint, these exercises can help protect your dog’s soft tissue before dashing off. The easiest part is that the same exercises can be performed in reverse for a quick cool down.

Using these three secrets, you can safely and effectively exercise your dog in the same amount of time and help you and your pup enjoy the benefits. Through warms ups/cool downs and varying your dog’s activities you can tire your pup out in no time at all. Talking to your veterinarian about the type, duration, and intensity of activity can also tailor the exercise to your dog and avoid costly injury. 

Many caretakers believe that their dog needs to sprint in order to get tired, when in reality sniffing, training, or a combination can be just as taxing. Check out the table below for more ideas! Challenge yourself this week to change one thing about your dog’s exercise routine, and see if you enjoy a calmer, healthier dog!

 

Activity

Variation

Warm up/cool down

Hide a treat/toy in the house

High/low places, obstacles, multiple rooms

Walk laps, sits, crawls

Sniffy walk

Hide treats, change route

Walk laps, sits

Tug

Side to side, stop/go, 2 tugs

Jog laps, play bow, weight shift

Fetch

Short/long distances, walking breaks, sit/down/spin/beg/back

Jog laps, downs, circles

Jog

Walk/run, canicross, sniff breaks

Sniff, walk laps, sits

 

 

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Treating Pancreatitis in Dogs

From slight pain to life-threatening illness: learn the causes and treatment of canine pancreatitis.
pancreatitis in dogs

Throughout the year, I see many dogs in the ER because of stomach problems. Birthday parties, summer barbeques and winter holiday dinners are prime times for dogs to not only score more food than usual, but often, food that doesn’t agree with them. This indulgence can set them up for the development of pancreatitis, a potentially life-threatening disease.

What Is Pancreatitis?

Let’s start with the pancreas. The pancreas sits just under the stomach and along the first part of the small intestine. The pancreas has two main jobs. The first is the secretion of digestive enzymes to help break down food in the small intestine, and the second is the secretion of insulin and glucagon to regulate the body’s blood glucose (sugar) levels. When a dog develops pancreatitis, the digestive enzymes are the problem.

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What a Wagging Tail Really Means

“I can’t believe she bit me! She was wagging her tail!”
meaning behind wagging dog tail

Dear Bark: I was bitten by a friend’s dog, which shocked us all because the dog was wagging her tail. What’s up with a friendly dog who bites?

This is a great question, and one that I hear frequently in one form or another from clients. Just like you, many people have been bitten by a dog they thought was friendly because the dog was wagging her tail. This common misconception—that a tail wag is a sure sign of friendliness—creates risky situations in which people believe they are safe when they actually might not be.

The confusion arises because, while friendly dogs do tend to wag their tails, they are not the only ones doing the wagging. Lots of dogs wag their tails when their intentions are anything but friendly. Tail wags are far more complicated than you might think.

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Night Time Vocals

If you have ever raised a puppy you know what it’s like to have sleepless nights. It’s inevitable that to begin with, some puppies have a hard time adjusting to a new home and vocalize their discomfort and loneliness, particularly at night. While this is a very normal behavior in young pups, it is less common for adult and senior dogs to bark at night, especially if the behavior starts without any known trigger.

When a puppy is with his mom and siblings, his basic needs for food, warmth and comfort are met. He can choose when to eat, toilet and play, but everything changes when he goes to his new home. Regardless of how welcoming you are, the transition can sometimes cause anxiety and confusion and is one of the main reasons puppies vocalize at night. 

New puppy parents are often told to ignore their pup’s whining and only give attention when their puppy is quiet. While this technique can be successful in some cases, the potential for fallout is great. There is not much research on the effects of controlled crying in puppies, but there have been numerous studies in human infants.

Controlled crying involves leaving an infant to cry for increasingly longer periods of time before providing comfort. The period of time, rather than the infant’s distress level, is used to determine when to go to the infant or toddler. The aim of controlled crying is to teach babies to settle themselves to sleep and to stop them from crying or calling out during the night.

According to the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, Controlled Crying is a ‘signal of distress or discomfort from an infant or young child to let the caregiver know that they need help. From an evolutionary perspective, crying promotes proximity to the primary caregiver, in the interest of survival and the development of social bonds.’ While some research suggests that controlled crying works, other studies demonstrate that this process can actually raise cortisol levels in the infant’s brain and too much stress can be harmful.

Holding and soothing a baby helps give a sense of security and creates secure bonds. To deny an infant reassurance during these times can be distressing and may have a negative psychological impact. Because puppies are similar to young babies in terms of brain development, it stands to reason that holding and soothing the puppy when he cries will help him feel safe and secure. Studies have shown that giving a puppy these basic needs leads to greater independence, exploration and more confidence when left alone.

Social sleeping helps facilitate the development of strong bonds and many dog caretakers have their dogs sleep in bed with them. If you prefer not to share your bed with Fido, you can put his crate or bed next to yours so he feels comfortable and safe. Put a warm, cuddly toy in puppy’s bed so that he has something to snuggle up to just as he did when he was with his littermates. If your puppy continues to cry, he could be hungry, needs to toilet or has some medical issue that needs to be addressed.

As puppies grow, they tend to find their own sleeping places and are more used to change. If you don’t want your puppy to sleep in or next to your bed, transition him to his new sleeping quarters slowly and give him the choice of a few comfortable sleeping places.

If you have an adult dog or senior dog that is whining and barking at night, this could be because he is nervous, feels unwell, his awake and sleep cycle has been disrupted or he is responding to a noise in his environment. Senior dogs suffering with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or doggy dementia often have disturbed sleep cycles and become restless and vocal at night. If your dog is experiencing any unusual behaviors, take him to the vet before you seek help from a vet behaviorist or certified positive dog trainer. You can find great trainers by going to positively.com/trainers.

Do not ignore your dog’s vocalizations, however annoying they might be.  Barking, whining, growling, yelping and crying communicates a dog’s internal emotional state and while it may be irritating at times, if you find out why your dog is vocalizing you will have a better idea of how to modify the behavior.

Keep in mind that night time barking might be just be advantageous to you because your dog is fulfilling an important job. Dogs are highly effective alarm systems. They have been protecting territory since domestication began, and continue to guard homes, crops, and livestock from intruders and predators, especially working dogs that have been bred for that specific purpose. Countless lives have been saved by dogs that have alerted to emergency situations, such as a fire or a person who has become ill. You can expect to see some protective or warning vocal behavior even in the calmest of dogs, including barking at strange noises during the night.

Exercise and mental enrichment can significantly reduce nighttime whining and barking, as well as giving your dog plenty of opportunities to toilet throughout the day. Never use punishment or intimidation to stop your dog from expressing himself as this will just serve to increase anxiety and make the behavior worse. The key to reducing night time vocalizations is to make sure all your dog’s wants and needs are being met, regardless of why the behavior is occurring. A dog that is tired and fulfilled from positive enrichment activities throughout the day is more likely to sleep through the night.

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Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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St. Bernard Rescued from England’s Highest Mountain

St Bernard rescued from mountain

In a twist on “who rescued whom,” the BBC reports on an unusual rescue from the Lake District National Park’s 3,209-foot Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. The beneficiary of this effort was a St. Bernard dog named Daisy who needed help after her back legs collapsed as she and her owners made their way down from the peak.

On July 24, following a call from the local Cumbria police, sixteen members of the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) went to the four-year-old dog’s aid. Recently rescued/adopted by her owners, Daisy had what they said was a hard start in life.

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Behavioral Probiotics

The gut’s primary job is complicated and critical – extracting nutrients from food and moving waste products out of the body – it’s a marvel of engineering. In recent decades, though, we’ve learned that the gut is even more complex and amazing than we previously knew: Researchers have discovered that the bacteria and fungi living in the gut can affect our behavior – or, more significantly to WDJ readers, our dogs’ behavior! 

GUT FEELINGS

The populations of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and microfauna that live on the canine (and human and rodent) body are known as the microbiome. You and your dog host multiple different environments with different populations of tiny beings living on you: on the skin, in the mouth, in the vagina if you’ve got one, and in the gut. 

The gut is a sort of tube running through you, and lining that tube is a dynamic ecosystem of various bacteria, helping digest your food, producing nutrients that you need, and, it turns out, affecting how you feel.

Evidence for a relationship between the gut and behavioral health is strong. Inflammatory bowel disease in humans is associated with anxiety and depression. Autism is associated with gut issues, as are many psychiatric illnesses. Antibiotics can kill off many of the bugs in our gut, and when they do, the risk of developing an anxiety disorder increases. Gut infections can also increase the risk of anxiety disorders. We know that the gut microbiome can affect the stress response, and that this relationship goes both ways – the stress response can also affect the bugs in our gut.

Normal, non-pathological personality traits also seem to change in concert with our gut bacteria. A 2020 study looked at 655 people who filled out online questionnaires and sent in fecal samples. They found decreased gut diversity in participants who reported having high stress levels and those who described themselves as “more conscientious.” Researchers also found increased gut diversity in people with larger social networks. They also identified specific bacterial species associated with people having particular personality traits.

These studies show correlations, that gut and behavioral health go hand in hand. But we still don’t know how this relationship works. Does anxiety cause gut dysfunction? Or does gut dysfunction cause anxiety? 

Studies in laboratory rodents show that fecal transplants (populating one mouse’s gut with the contents of another mouse’s gut) can change the recipient’s behavior to match that of the donor. 

In one study, researchers stressed mice until their behavior changed to demonstrate anxiety. Then they gave an unstressed population of mice fecal transplants from these anxious donor mice. The previously unstressed population began displaying anxiety behaviors, apparently due only to the transplant of bacteria from stressed mice. Fascinating!

GUT REACTION

Okay, okay! Let’s discuss what matters most to us dog owners: Can we alter the bacterial populations in our dogs’ guts to change their behavior? 

We already commonly alter bacterial populations in dogs to promote gut health, either by giving carefully curated commercial probiotic supplements or less carefully curated supplements in the form of foods like yogurt, kefir, or kraut. Could we give probiotics that have not just gut health benefits, but behavioral health benefits, too?

Multiple studies have addressed this question in humans and laboratory rodents. Because a single study is limited in what it can tell us – it’s affected by the exact methods the researchers use, as well as a healthy helping of chance – the best evidence we have is a meta-analysis, a study that summarizes the findings of many other, smaller studies.

A 2018 meta-analysis by Reis et al. looked at a number of studies on the effects of probiotics on behavior in both humans (14 studies) and laboratory rodents (22 studies), and this summary study provides us with our best evidence about whether probiotics really can change behavior.

This meta-analysis pooled the results of all the laboratory animal studies and analyzed them together to see what the overall results were. Overall, probiotics did seem to work to change behavior in mice, but not rats, and then only in mice who were in some way unhealthy or stressed. (Some studies did show effects in rats or unstressed mice, but the overall results suggested that those studies showed effects only by chance.) As for humans, probiotics did not seem to have an effect in us either. 

The researchers had some insights into why studies in rats and humans might have shown no effect (or at least no consistent one), while studies in mice did:

* There may be a baseline of anxiety below which probiotics aren’t going to do much for you – you’re already behaviorally healthy. Surprisingly, none of the human studies included subjects who were actually suffering from anxiety!

* Measuring changes in the feelings of humans is difficult, requiring self-report tests, which are notoriously unreliable. Possibly, the humans taking probiotics did start to feel better but weren’t aware of it. In fact, studies suggest that when you’re coming out of depression or ongoing anxiety, you may start to have measurable improvements before you are consciously aware of them. Measuring changes in behavior in laboratory rodents is more objective, however, and therefore may have been more sensitive.

* Probiotics take time to work. Studies may not run long enough to see real changes; increased time equates to increased expense. Only half of the studies included in this meta-analysis lasted for at least eight weeks. Benefits in humans may have been seen in longer-duration studies.

* Dose may matter. The doses of probiotics given to mice, rats, and humans weren’t all that different, but when the massive differences in size of those species are taken into account, they differed wildly. Since the smallest animals showed the clearest effects, it may be that increasing dose makes probiotics more effective in larger animals.

* The researchers suggested that it’s possible that we need to give humans doses dozens or hundreds of times higher than what we are currently dosing! This suggests that doses in dogs may be low as well.

Decreasing Anxiety: Successful Probiotic Species

Ries et al., 2018, described the efficacy of specific bacterial species in their meta-analysis. Only Lactobacillus rhamnosus showed an effect (in mice) in a pooled analysis. It was sometimes effective in humans (but not in a pooled analysis). Other species that worked in some studies, but not in a pooled analysis, included:

L. helveticus

B. adolescentis

B. longum (strains R0175 and NCC3001)

L. rhamnosus combined with B. longum

Note: One bacterial species, L. casei, actually appeared to increase anxiety. 

 

MARKET THAT HUNCH!

In January 2019, the first probiotic marketed for behavioral change in dogs, Calming Care, was released by Purina. It contains B. longum, strain BL999. (It also has liver in it, and my dogs report that it tastes very good; they lick it right up.) Calming Care is the only behavioral probiotic that has been tested in dogs, though many probiotics for gut (not behavioral) health are on the market.

Calming Care was tested by Purina, but the study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal. Summaries are available, but the detailed methods are not, meaning the specific methods used to test the probiotic aren’t public. This means the study’s results, in classic researcher-ese, are “difficult to interpret” – in other words, something could be confounding the results.

Here’s what we do know: The study involved 24 anxious Labrador Retrievers. For six weeks, dogs were given either B. longum BL999 (i.e., Calming Care) or a placebo; they were then tested for anxiety-like behaviors, heart rate, heart rate variability, and salivary cortisol. (The specifics of the behavior tests are not available.) The dogs were taken off the supplement for three weeks, after which the two groups were switched, and each group received the other treatment (probiotics or placebo) for another six weeks. Both groups were tested a second time. The results were impressive:

* 22/24 treated dogs showed significant reduction in barking, jumping, spinning, and pacing compared to their behavior on placebo.

* 20/24 treated dogs had smaller increases in salivary cortisol (a hormone that is elevated in response to stress) when they exercised and when they were exposed to anxiety inducing stimuli compared to their behavior on placebo.

* 20/24 treated dogs had increased heart rate variability (which is a sign of decreased stress) compared to the behavior on placebo.

Behavioral Buyer Aware

Untangling the differences between various behavioral supplements marketed for dogs can be challenging. Basic categories include:

Behavioral probiotic: At present, Calming Care is the only behavioral probiotic marketed for dogs.

Gut probiotics: Many probiotics are marketed solely for canine gut health. They may have behavioral benefits; they just haven’t been tested for that. Some examples are Fortiflora, Proviable, and Vetri Mega Probiotic.

Nutraceuticals: Some food-based supplements (such as Solliquin and Composure) are marketed for behavioral health. These are not probiotics; they work through different mechanisms.

Complex supplements: Some supplements contain both probiotics and nutraceuticals and are marketed for behavioral health. One example, Calm K9, is marketed for behavioral health due to the nutraceuticals it contains. It also contains some probiotics, but not the strains that have been shown to have behavioral effects. Therefore, it is best considered a nutraceutical combined with a gut health probiotic.

REAL WORLD USE

These numbers are very good – surprisingly good in light of the results seen in the meta-analysis discussed earlier. Two vets who prescribe Calming Care for their canine patients reported to me that it seemed to help about half the dogs they tried it on. However, they warned that while it’s worth trying, its effect is not as powerful as a prescription medication in a dog with significant anxiety.

There’s a gap between Purina’s research results and the experience of the two clinicians I know – a gap that could be explained in a few ways. The difference could be accounted for by the objective testing performed by Purina’s researchers, as compared to the owner reports used by the veterinarians. It’s possible that all the Labradors in the Purina study had a biologically similar form of anxiety that responds well to probiotics, but that is seen in only half of the anxious dogs in the real world. Possibly there was a problem with Purina’s study that made its results look better than they really were. The real question is, will Calming Care help your dog?

Probiotics are very safe and unlikely to have negative effects, so it’s worth trying to find out. Purina recommends a trial of at least six weeks before deciding whether the supplement works, but it’s worth running your trial for at least eight weeks.

Some owners want to try behavioral probiotics but don’t want to use Calming Care; some dogs are allergic to liver (one of its ingredients). There are many probiotics marketed for reducing human anxiety; I recommend working with your vet to select one of them. Your best bet will be to pick one containing B. longum (tested in dogs) and/or L. rhamnosus (tested in mice and humans), and not containing L. casei (may increase anxiety).

NO GUTS NO GLORY

Behavioral probiotics can provide a helpful adjunct to behavioral medication, as they did for my anxious dog, whose behavior noticeably improved on Calming Care. Or they can provide a mild effect in dogs who are not on medication. Remember, again, that dogs with serious anxiety issues deserve a visit to a veterinarian who specializes in behavior to discuss medication, as probiotics alone won’t be powerful enough to give them relief.

Our understanding of how the gut microbiome influences behavior is in its infancy. Perhaps in future years we’ll be able to assess a dog’s gut microbiome, predict how it’s influencing their behavior, and tailor a specific probiotic cocktail to push them in the right direction. For now, we’re mostly wandering in the dark. 

However, probiotics are very safe to use and can be something to try when you’re looking for a supplement to help blunt your dog’s anxiety. 

Jessica Hekman, DVM, Ph.D., is a researcher at the Karlsson Lab at the Eli and Edythe L. Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, studying the genetics of canine behavior. She also teaches online webinars and courses about canine genetics. 

Study References and Resources

Johnson, Katerina V-A. “Gut microbiome composition and diversity are related to human personality traits.” Human Microbiome Journal 15 (2020): 100069. sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452231719300181

Li, Nannan, et al. “Fecal microbiota transplantation from chronic unpredictable mild stress mice donors affects anxiety-like and depression-like behavior in recipient mice via the gut microbiota-inflammation-brain axis.” Stress 22.5 (2019): 592-602. tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10253890.2019.1617267

Reis, Daniel J., Ilardi, Stephen S., and Punt, Stephanie EW. “The anxiolytic effect of probiotics: A systematic review and meta-analysis of the clinical and preclinical literature.” PloS one 13.6 (2018): e0199041. journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0199041

Trudelle-Schwarz McGowan, R. “Tapping into those ‘Gut Feelings’: Impact of BL999 (Bifidobacterium longum) on anxiety in dogs.” ACVB Symposium 2018. purinaproplanvets.com/media/521317/086602_vet1900-0918_cc_abstract.pdf

Looking for a veterinarian to help you with behavioral medication for your dog? Check out the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (dacvb.org/search/) or the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (avsab.org/animal-behavior-consultant-directory-search/). Both include practitioners who will do online consults if there is no one in your area.

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Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog

It’s no secret that exercising your dog can lead to a happier and healthier pup – not to mention a quieter house and a happier you. The complication is that exercising your dog takes time and sometimes we struggle to find time to exercise ourselves. However, without safe and effective exercise, your dog can gain weight, risk costly injury, and tear apart the house in response to pent up energy. Consider how you exercise your dog now: perhaps you play tug with your Chihuahua in the living room, jog or play fetch with your active retriever, or ask your senior mixed breed to sit in the kitchen — all of these activities can exercise your dog both physically and mentally. Let’s further explore how you can make the most of your time with your dog while safely and effectively gaining the benefits of exercise.

Here are three secrets to safely and effectively exercising your dog through activities and games that you probably already play.

1. Discuss with your veterinarian

Before beginning any exercise (even training class!), it’s important to get a full health check with your local veterinarian. Let your vet know which activities you are thinking about pursuing, and ask which activities would be most appropriate for your dog’s age, musculoskeletal structure, and preferences. Remember, just like with children, jumping from high places or playing on hard surfaces can be detrimental to joints. Be sure to ask how long the activities should last, how intense they should be, and about any necessary equipment or weather precautions. Just because your dog wants to fetch constantly, doesn’t necessarily mean that this high impact, sustained exercise is healthy. Describe the activity and environment to your vet in detail, and be sure to get clearance before enjoying with your pup.

2. Explore variation

After speaking with your veterinarian about appropriate activities for your dog, plan to vary the types of activities each day. If your veterinarian approved some shorter distance jogs for your pup, perhaps the next day you could spread his food in the backyard as a scavenger hunt. Varying high intensity with low intensity workouts is just as stimulating for your pup, and the variation will keep him engaged. You can also vary exercises within the activity itself. For example, if you frequently throw a ball or disc for your dog until she lies down and pants, consider asking for tricks between different types of throws. By varying distances and body movements you can help your dog regulate her arousal and stay safe.

3. Remember warms up & cool down

Before beginning any activity, it’s important to set up your dog for success. Dogs have the same basic musculoskeletal components as people, and therefore they can sustain similar injuries from rigorous use or clumsy accidents. However, dogs are more athletic compared to humans (even your couch potato probably has a higher VO2max than you!), and they can exert a lot of energy at playtime. It’s important to warm up and cool down your dog’s muscles before use. Consider the type of exercise and what body parts are involved, and plan for a warm up. For example, if you’re about to open the back door for your dog to dash out with his powerful hind legs, take a couple walking laps around the living room first. Ask for a few repetitions of sit and put a treat in front of his nose to lure him in a few circles before opening the door. Much like a short jog, squats, and plyometrics before a sprint, these exercises can help protect your dog’s soft tissue before dashing off. The easiest part is that the same exercises can be performed in reverse for a quick cool down.

Using these three secrets, you can safely and effectively exercise your dog in the same amount of time and help you and your pup enjoy the benefits. Through warms ups/cool downs and varying your dog’s activities you can tire your pup out in no time at all. Talking to your veterinarian about the type, duration, and intensity of activity can also tailor the exercise to your dog and avoid costly injury. 

Many caretakers believe that their dog needs to sprint in order to get tired, when in reality sniffing, training, or a combination can be just as taxing. Check out the table below for more ideas! Challenge yourself this week to change one thing about your dog’s exercise routine, and see if you enjoy a calmer, healthier dog!

 

Activity

Variation

Warm up/cool down

Hide a treat/toy in the house

High/low places, obstacles, multiple rooms

Walk laps, sits, crawls

Sniffy walk

Hide treats, change route

Walk laps, sits

Tug

Side to side, stop/go, 2 tugs

Jog laps, play bow, weight shift

Fetch

Short/long distances, walking breaks, sit/down/spin/beg/back

Jog laps, downs, circles

Jog

Walk/run, canicross, sniff breaks

Sniff, walk laps, sits

 

 

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