Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 29 - Blankets and Ears

Bella's ears don't always know what they want to do on any given day but I LOVE it when they do this:

Monday, February 27, 2012

Notes from Home - 1.29.2010

It's been a while since I've made an entry in the "Notes from Home" collection. These are the little emails I've received from Jan over the years as he works from home with Bella as his companion.

In light of the high winds advisory we had blasting through Massachusetts over the weekend, this seemed an appropriate time to bring this one out of the closet.

You've probably all seen this video that was making the rounds last year of a cat foolishly, er, bravely protecting his food, er, family from a trespassing bear.

This was Jan's (rather unique) perspective on it:

January 29, 2010

Jan: Ok, let's get this straight. This cat is attacking a bear. Our dog is afraid of the wind.

Perspective: it's all in how you see it.

* No animals were harmed in the making of this video. And, while personally I'd be screaming bl**dy murder if that were my cat, it's not like they deliberately put the cat in danger. The darn cat did that all by himself.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday's dog - Lekoda adopted!

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of introducing everyone to the lovely Lekoda available for adoption through North East All Retriever Rescue.

Today it's even more of a privilege to tell you that she has been adopted! Her new forever family brought her to her new forever home a few weeks ago and I'm happy to report, she is doing great in her new climes.

I think one of the best policies NEARR has in place is the requirement that adopting families provide periodic updates throughout the life of an adopted dog. This allows those of us who have fallen in love with the dogs in our care the ability to watch them thrive in their new homes. It's my favorite part of volunteering with this organization. You can read those stories on NEARR's Happy Tails page.

Congratulations, Lekoda! Have fun in your new life.

And thank you to everyone who shared her story helping her new family find their new beautiful family member. :)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Wherein Bella models her "thunder-wear"

We won't know for sure if we have actually won the war on thunderstorms until we test this combination thoroughly next season but we may have finally found a solution to help Bella cope, at least marginally well, with her unspeakable fear of thunderstorms. In previous posts, I've covered veterinary prescriptions, over the counter medications, scents and herbal remedies but did not mention some of the steps we were using at the same time. This chapter will fill in those gaps as well as review our experience of trying a few 'physical' measures to ease her fear.

Over the 3 and a half years we've had Bella, she has overcome many fears (in fact, I see a list post about that in our future. ;) We've worked with her on some things but also chosen our battles carefully. Bella doesn't have to be the most social dog on the block. Since she's afraid of people, no one expects her to become a therapy dog. But we do expect her to be able to go to the vets without attacking the vet OR the other dogs in the waiting room.

Thunderstorms are a battle we have to, if not win, at least survive. So, like all the battles we have tackled, we used a desensitization, positive reinforcement approach to hopefully change her feelings about the "scary thing". That's a bit tough to do with thunderstorms, however, because, as we discovered along this journey of ours, there's more than thunder involved in a thunderstorm. There's barometric pressure changes, static electricity build up, sights, smells and finally, sounds. Still, we were willing to give it the 'old college try'.

Additional routes

And, once again, it was our blessed trainer, Sheila, who provided us with a tool to help try and desensitize Bella to the sounds of the event: a CD of sounds used specifically for behavior modification in dogs. (Therapy CD For Dogs - Fireworks & Noises Desensitisation Training). Teaching us how to sit in another room with Bella playing with her and feeding her treats while the cd played quietly in another room, we worked with her over a period of time (admittedly not as often or consistently as we should), slowly turning up the volume being careful to always keep her below the 'threshold' or point at which she would react. This has worked well for sounds like fireworks, trucks and horns.

Another tool in our toolbox is exercise. If Bella is tired, she is much less likely to react badly to things that would ordinarily upset her. I have to admit, neither Jan nor I (nor the Energizer Bunny) has the energy level necessary to exercise Bella to the degree she would like but we have found on days when she's been worked good and hard, she is much more likely to be able to "roll with" unexpected events.

Finally, we come to a couple of physical options for dealing with thunder and anxiety that have been introduced in the last few years: wraps and capes. As many of my readers have pointed out, the Thundershirt has been a literal life-saver for many dogs suffering from noise phobia as well as generalized anxiety. Another product we discovered much later in the process is the Storm Defender cape.

My dog is afraid of the thing that's supposed to make her less afraid

First, for those not familiar, let me give you a brief explanation of the Thundershirt. Working on the "swaddling" principle, the idea is that consistently applied pressure envelops the dog making them feel safe and secure. A friend of mine called it "a permanent hug", which is very apt and could partially explain Bella's aversion to it if you consider not all dogs like to be hugged. It is made of a somewhat stretchy material that you wrap around the dog and has multiple panels that allow a snug fit over the dog's chest and body. The panels are secured with several pretty heavy-duty Velcro strips.

The Thundershirt
I know many, many dogs and owners have had great success with the shirt. One of the rescue groups I volunteer with, North East All Retriever Rescue, uses it extensively to great effect with the Labs we bring in. I encourage you to visit the company's web site, watch the videos and decide for yourself whether or not you think the product will work for your particular situation. Just take this input for what it is: one person's experience with a very specifically damaged dog.

When we first got the shirt, as per the instructions, we worked to introduce it to Bella slowly over a period of time before she ever wore it during a storm. We put it on her for a few minutes, fed her treats, took it off, stopped the treats. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. The idea is that your dog will come to associate the shirt with only good things.

What we found, however, was, regardless of the quality of treats we were giving her, Bella wasn't "relaxing" at all - she was shutting down.

There is a difference between a calm dog and a paralyzed dog.

There are a few things that might be going on here: Bella, once wild, may not like the "trapped" feeling of the shirt. We know she doesn't like the sound of the Velcro. And since the Velcro is so substantial (one would think that'd be a plus), it frightens her when we pull it off (she also doesn't like to 'pushed/pulled/yanked around'.)

Storm Defender Cape

The Storm Defender
Last fall we began seeing a behaviorist for some of Bella's other issues and were introduced to the Storm Defender cape. The cape works on a different premise. Instead of the swaddling effect, the cape is lined with a material designed to deflect static electricity building up in the dog's fur. The Velcro is only a single strip and not as 'sturdy' (it feels more like the velcro you would find on any dog coat). It fits more loosely and it's obvious Bella doesn't feel as constrained by it.

We approached her introduction to it much as we had the Thundershirt, however, she never had the 'paralyzed' reaction to it she had with the shirt and we only needed to feed her treats a few times before she seemed (almost) perfectly comfortable in it. We have used it a couple of times since its purchase but it has definitely made an improvement in her behavior. Although I should note, it works best if you can put it on when SHE senses something coming (not after you've heard that first spectacular blast of thunder.)

The proof is in the viewing

The video below shows Bella on a bright and sunny day - no storms around for several days. Each section of the video was taken on 2/21/2012 around 8 am or 3 years after having purchased the Thundershirt and 6 months after purchasing the storm defender cape.

Remember - this is after 3 YEARS of working to improve Bella's reaction to the shirt. She has come a long way.

The ultimate combination

It should be noted that we are also using a low-dose of Clonidine as prescribed by Bella's behaviorist during especially extreme events. (Jan calls them Bella's "Be Brave" pills.) Like all the other meds we've had any sucess with, it works best when given prior to the event but it is fast acting. They don't turn her into a zombie and the after effects seem to be much less drastic than some of the other drugs we've tried.

After all is said and done though, sometimes it's just easier and less stressful on everybody to hang out in the basement for a little while. We're lucky that Jan works from home and can generally deal with Bella when storms appoach during the day while I take the night shift. I'm not sure what we would have done were that not the case. We try not to go out on stormy nights but if it's absolutely necessary to do so, at least now we feel we have options that will help Bella cope in our absence.

NOTE: I'm getting more "third party content" messages from YouTube about the video so I hope you're able to see and hear it. Don't worry if you can't hear it. While you'll be missing some awesome music, you're not missing me missing me wax philosophical about the signs of fear in a scared-y dog. If anyone can't see the video though, let me know in the comments and I'll upload a version to Blogger. Oh, and sorry for the shaky hands - not much I can do about that.

Music: "Walk the River" by Guillemots Buy the disc at Amazon. (I don't get anything if you do, I just like the band. :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Saturday's dog: Who wants a Cookie?

Look at that face! So eager to please.

Meet Cookie

Cookie is a sweet, 6-year-old Beagle boy who for some reason keeps getting overlooked at the shelter. Available through Buddy Dog Humane Society in Sudbury, MA, he would make a wonderful addition to an active home.

Cookie loves to go for walks, loves running and playing fetch and, as you can see, absolutely LOVES his belly rubs. Mostly, he just wants a home of his own where he can stay close to his family - he's a real love bug and so cute, too.

Maybe it's because he's had a few too many cookies while at the shelter that he gets overlooked but Cookie is still a vigorous and active boy. He just needs someone to play with him to help him shed those few extra pounds. Wouldn't seeing this boy smile when he gets to run and play be reward enough to get the whole family off the couch and running about? :)

If you want to help spread the word about this lovable guy, I've made it easy for you: just click this --> or this --> . And thanks.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 27 - The faces of rescue

Today's pictures all courtesy of Patricia Nadan, a volunteer with Paws to the Rescue animal rescue transport team. South Carolina to Maine, this journey occurs every week rescuing dogs (and cats) from high kill shelters to safe havens.

These are the faces of animal rescue:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

T-storms Take 3: Seeking Sustainable Solutions

Our first full summer with Bella brought with it the realization that Bella has a (not entirely irrational) fear of thunderstorms. Initial attempts to address that fear in consultation with our vets were not a total bust but also didn't present a viable, long-term solution for us. At least we would be able to use the Daizepam (valium) while we continued to seek out more sustainable solutions. Solutions that didn't include turning our dog into a poster child for the zombie apocalypse.

For those who are worrying, thank you. We do believe we have found a solution that works for Bella (that I'm sure will be quite thoroughly tested next season). In the meantime, I wanted to write this series explaining the various options available and our experience with them in hopes that some folks going through the same thing might find it helpful. Perhaps a little bit, maybe?

This installment is going to focus on the non-prescription medications and natural remedies we tried. Next week I will finally get to the topic you've all been waiting for: the Thundershirt and the Storm Defender Cape as well as a few miscellaneous notes on desensitization, exercise, diet and music.

So our search for a gentler, kinder means of helping Bella cope returned the following results:

  • Melatonin

    Melatonin is a hormone intimately connected to the regulation of sleeping/waking cycles in both humans and animals. I have to admit, this worked very well actually, the first time we used it and is something we will use going forward during less intense storms.
    Pros: Works very fast, made Bella drowsy and calm without turning her into the walking dead.

    Cons: Can't be used long-term, can have mild side effects like diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Because Melatonin signals the brain that it's time to sleep, it's not really effective during the day. And the wrong dosage can actually increase anxiety and restlessness. Can cause dependency.

  • Benadryl

    Primarily an anti-histamine, Benadryl can also act as a potent sedative. Another tool in our war chest, we continue to keep it on hand for use during somewhat more severe storms when the Melatonin wouldn't be quite enough. (Also handy for run-ins with bees!) It is important to note that only the pure form containing Diphenhydramine as the single active ingredient (sans any additional decongestant or cold/sinus ingredients) should be used.
    Pros: Fast acting, helped her sleep without the horrible "morning after" side effects.

    Cons: We didn't experience too many cons but this is a drug and as such, there are always potential risks. It can interact badly with other medications so talk to your vet before giving it to your dog if they are on ANY medication.

  • Herbal/natural remedies including: Dr Foster and Smith's Ultra-calm (tabs and treats), Vita-Treat Pet Calm, Wagatha's Organic Dog Biscuits "Bedtime Biscuit", Bach flower essences (Rescue Remedy)

    These various "natural" remedies are made of ingredients such as valerian root, passion flower, chamomile, black cohosh, ginger, etc...

    The Ultra-Calm was rather effective and can be given daily - a definite plus but is "not for continuous use. Give for 7 -14 days at a time." Comes in a supposedly "yummy" dog treat formula but Bella wouldn't touch them. We got the pills down by sheer force of will (and peanut butter).

    None of the other products had much of an effect one way or the other so I have to give some cred to Dr F&S's claim that their unique inclusion of "milk protein hydrolysate" might have made a difference in the tablet's efficacy.

  • Dog Appeasing Pheromones (D.A.P.): Collar, spray and diffuser

    D.A.P. is said to mimic the pheromones produced by a mother dog to calm and reassure her puppies. Perhaps Bella was separated from her mom too young for this to produce the intended affect but we found it, in all its forms, less than effective. At least it didn't provoke any negative effects so that's a plus.

So, did we miss anything (other than the Thundershirt ;)? Have you tried these or other products like them? Did any of it help or are you still hiding with your scared-y pup, too? Let me know in the comments and in the meantime, we'll meet you in the basement.

And just in case it's necessary, here's the disclaimer: I am not a vet. PLEASE talk to your vet before giving any medications or other drugs to your dog. Also, please note, I have a dog and have not spoken to a vet or researched the use of any of these products for other animals.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saturday's Dog - Coco, the chocolate Lab

Click through to view her profile over on the NEARR website.

Check out today's beautiful entry for Saturday's Dog, Coco. Isn't she lovely?

Somehow this beautiful 5-year-old girl found herself abandoned at the shelter because she wasn't "good with the small children who lived with" her. Coco is currently in foster care and is available for adoption through North East All Retriever Rescue where they have found she's not bad with "dog-savvy", older children.

Coco has some degenerative joint disease that likely causes her some pain but weight loss seems to be helping with that. She's a cuddle bug and, like most Labs, prefers to be with her people. She's not recommended for homes with cats or little dogs.

So, as always, here's where you come in: just click on either of these buttons and you, too, can bring attention to this lovely dog who just needs a home and family that will love her loads.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 26 - Midget

One of the kitties who fills the kitty-sized hole in my heart, my sister's Midget. Feel free to dote. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A little Puppy Bowl fascination (video)

I'm still working on the next installment of Thunderstorms for Scared-y Dogs but in the meantime, I thought I'd share a few moments of cute from Puppy Bowl Sunday. :)

Yup, Bella was fascinated with the puppies but she was also 'stressed' about having 'uninvited guests' in her TV.

Any other pups out there enjoy the games this weekend?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Saturday's dog: Princess the Lab/Doxie mix

So today's little cutie comes to us from Forever Dachshund Rescue. I got to meet her last week when she hitched a ride with me on her way from a high-kill shelter in North Carolina to a foster home in Rhode Island by way of northern Massachusetts. (Say what huh? Ah well, okay, it happens...)

Allow me to introduce you to Princess, a Doxie/Lab mix who really looks like a Lab on 4 inch legs. She was a sweet and perfect passenger snuggling in immediately to the crate as if she understood it was bringing her to a new life.

Princess is 5 years old, very active, good with kids and dogs (and maybe cats...) She's a real cuddle bug but likes to be left alone in her crate or while under the influence of a particularly good toy.

You can view her whole profile on the rescue's web site. And you can help her find her forever home faster by sending her story out to your Facebook friends and Twitter tweeps.

Sorry about the quality of the pictures. My leg of the transport comes at the end of a very long day for these dogs and I don't want to stress them out too much with a full on photo session.