Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Backfiring Behavior Busters



Behavior Gadgets that Backfire
Back to School Stress in Pets
Latest Updates on Bella and the Summer
Is your Cat Happy?



Behavior Gadgets that Backfire

If you look through any pet catalog, you will see plenty of ultrasonic/electronic devices that are designed to stop unwanted behaviors. All of these devices are positive (you have added something) punishers (decrease a behavior). Now some of these devices are harsh, painful and can be inhumane when used excessively. Examples are the electronic shock collars and ultrasonic devices. Others are not pain inducing, but are definitely a deterrent - something strongly unpleasant happening whenever the pet performs the behavior. Examples are the scat mats or citronella spray collars. Many behaviorists will advise against these devices because they cause other problem behaviors when used. The manufactures of these devices rarely warn about the resulting problem behaviors. I am not sure why - maybe there is not any requirement for warnings; maybe there have not been any formal studies that prove the increased aggression and anxiety due to the use of these devices. I just want to help you understand why these devices often backfire, and what to advise when this happens.

A punisher needs to deliver the punishment at a level that will stop the specific behavior right at the time they perform the behavior. So, a shock comes right at the bark. Now the whole scene when this shock happens is also associated with the shocking feeling. The barking will stop because the dog has learned that barks now cause pain, but the dog may be avoiding the front door, or acting anxious because the shock was happening in this setting. This dog may now growl at the front door, or no longer happily greeting people because the door means shocks. Great - the dog was happy to greet you as you came home through the door, but now won't come to you or worse yet, urinates in front of the door due to anxiety.

Redirected aggression is common with anxiety. These electronic products often increase anxiety, so you may be presented with dogs that are fighting for no apparent reason. The client may not be using the ultrasonic/citronella or shocking collar now. It was the past use that created this problem. I had a case similar to this recently. A client purchased a citronella collar for the one dog that barked a lot in the fenced in yard. So the collar went on and barking decreased but then fighting relapsed between the 2 dogs that had diminished through the behavior modification plan. After a bit of questioning I found out the triggers were completely different for these 2 dogs. What was going on???? It turns out the other dog had the collar on and started growling to avoid barking which would have tripped the collar. So the companion dog would then growl back and bingo - a fight. As soon as I got this story I urged that the collar be removed and out of sight. The collar was causing confusing signals between the two dogs and increased anxiety resulting in fighting. Within 1 day of the collar off and out of sight, these two were calm, and back to playing well. Drugs did not need to be altered, these dogs could coexist, life is better.

Fortunately this client had told me that she had purchased the collar so I had some clue as to what could be setting the dogs off. I doubt I would have thought to have asked if she had anything like this in use. Now I am asking upfront about current use of any kind of remote device. Citronella itself is not painful but for these dogs it was too much. Occasionally you may have dogs that become more generally anxious just from having these items laying around the home. Think of it this way - if every time you laughed too loud you were sprayed, you would not only stop laughing loud, you would likely be worried that something else may set off a startling spray. You learn that the laughing set off the collar but are not sure what else did, so you become anxious. Can you see how these products are creating more problems with anxiety and aggression? It may not be an obvious effect but the effect is there.

I cannot fault these clients for reaching for these products. They promise results - and one will see the undesirable behavior stop quickly. These products are every where - Sam's Club, Walmart, PetSmart - you name it. They don't cost a whole lot either - maybe $20 or so. A hand held ultrasonic anti bark device is about $10 at Walgreens. Who would not want to try the quick fix? The backfiring of the products is the dirty little secret that is not known well. This backfiring problem is what needs to be know and explained to the client. There be clients who will swear by these devices as the best thing to use, and maybe in this home with this pet there is not a problematic increase in aggression or anxiety. I am sure there is an increase in but it may not be a problem to the client yet.

Better understanding of how these remote products are really working and failing, will help people make wise choices about behavior products. Providing pet owners with appropriate alternatives that address problems early maybe the way that this plethora of electronic punishers will decrease. I hope so. Rewarding and positive reinforcement based training is the safest and most effective method for training. It is not spoiling and will not cause problem alternative behaviors that punishers do.

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Back to School Stress in Pets

Both dogs and cats really live by routines. They feel the most secure and happy when you wake up at the same time every day, feed them at the same times daily, give them their walks and play times also on a schedule. When the schedule changes, it can cause some stress in our pets. Our pets know when school is starting and may act up at this time of year. Back packs, folders, binders, kids getting up early and leaving on school buses are all big signals that school is back in session. 

Some dogs show signs of anxiety - pacing, carrying around an article of clothing, whining, or even house soiling are all signs of anxiety. It is a form of separation anxiety now that the dog is being separated from family members. Cats may meow more, avoid using the litter box, knock more things off of the shelves or have more spats with other house cats. You can't keep everyone home, so how do we help these pets?

First of all maintain all the feeding time, play time, exercise routines for your pets as school is starting up. Don't let the business of life cause you to skip walks, play times or vary the feeding time. Routines are the basis for all anxiety management for both dogs and cats. 

Secondly - tell your veterinarian about what you see. Sometimes there can be pain problems, or other health problems that is behind the anxiety signs as well. Maybe from all the summer activities you did not notice as much how hard it was for your dog to move around and now at the busy breakfast table your dog is whining because it hurts to keep getting out of the way of everyone as they are rushing out the door. For anxiety that is causing loose stools - there may be other intestinal problems too so talk to your veterinarian! 

Lastly - there are medications, supplements, special foods, pheromones and a host of other products to help both the dog and the cat that is affected by anxiety at this time of year. Thunder shirts, Adaptil collars, the new  calm diet are easy products to use. Consult with a veterinarian who has additional training in behavior to help determine the product that would help your pet the most. This is not a training problem, and the root cause of the anxiety must be determined then a plan for the behavior is formed. Trainers with additional certification in behavior, or other degreed animal behaviorists can also help in forming a behavior plan with the collaboration of your veterinarian.

I stress the involvement of the veterinarian because I have seen many cases where both the trainer or non DVM professional is working to help with the behavior but it is going slow. What was missing was the discovery and treatment of a physical problem that was making the underlying behavior worse. Once that was treated and considered with the behavior plan, the pet's behavior improved quickly. Chronic pain from arthritis, occult parasites and food allergy are just a few examples. As animal behavioral medicine advances, we are finding many physical causes that show up as just a behavior problem. Please keep your veterinarian in the loop when your pet acts up. It may be something easy to treat that you may not have been aware of.

So, I hope everyone has a good start to the new school year. Good luck to all our students, teachers, and school staff and summer will be here before we know it!



Latest Updates on Bella and the Summer

It has been a busy summer, so sorry for the delay in posting.

Bella has continued to progress will with her CALM diet. She is decreasing in her agitation and reactivity daily. A big step forward for Bella was when my good friend Sheila and her daughter Grace visited at the end of July. Normally I have kept Bella at the clinic for the 2-3 days that Sheila is here doing her field work since Bella does not have to know them; they visit once a year. This time I thought - let's see how it goes. I can always board her if she is not less agitated. Grace was also a fantastic child for working with Bella. Grace has gone to training classes as a volunteer to help dogs get used to kids. So Grace immediately understood the need for her to give Bella her food kibble quick after sits and to follow my instruction on where to walk. There were a few times Bella jumped up suddenly at Grace but she would settle down and take rewards right from Grace's hand. Grace even had Bella coming, downing, and sitting on command. I think Bella even allowed Grace to pet her too!

I did not give Bella any additional medication - just the CALM diet. I did keep the gentle leader on her with the drag line in the home. This was a good way to redirect Bella and put her in the areas that would give her more space with additional people in the house. My friend also felt more secure with a barky, jumpy dog  in a head halter to have more control over the mouth. The gentle leader head halter is not a muzzle and it does not mean Bella is failing to become a better dog. It is a humane way to have control and safety when there are triggers for reactivity and possible aggression. We use head halters all the time on horses and cattle - it is not any different for your dog. 

This weekend Bella and I walked all around Meadowbrook Park in Urbana. She was far less reactive to unknown people - many that would look her right in the eye as they walked past. She would sit calmly and just be curious. There were a few dogs on leash where she was barking and lunged out at one who did the same to her. This is the first time between the horrible heat and available time I have had to take her to a busy park for counter conditioning. She even laid and rested on the outside of the dog park and greeted a dog through the fence well. So her progress continues.

I also made a few more videos that are posted on my YouTube channel and linked through my website. Barking like crazy 1 and 2. I show how to set up a tether, rewards that are handy and use a dragline. My dad, John Foote was a willing participant to show how to keep things safe and sane while someone is coming in the home with a walker.

I hope you have had a great summer, and please let me know how this information is helping you to know your pet.  I promise to have a post for our cat lovers next month featuring pain management in older cats for good behavior.

Take care!

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Is your Cat Happy?

It's Happy Cat Month. Is your cat a happy cat? I'm a happy kitty. I take life pretty easy. I have yummy food, lots of toys and people to scoop my litter box. Want to know how to keep your kitty happy? I have some suggestions that will help.

Kitties love to play. We just may not show it all the time. Try a variety of toys (mice to bat around, toys on fishing poles, toys that move on their own, etc). Get some toys that squeak too. I love the squeaky mouse toy I have. Don't just give us all the toys at once. We get bored. Give us a couple toys at a time. Let us play with them for a week, then put those toys up and give us some other toys to play with. That way we always have something new to play with. 

Feed your kitty a good food that is appropriate for your kitty's age. We need different food as we age. Kittens need kitten food until they are a year old. Adult kitties need adult food. Senior kitties, over 8, need senior food. Stick to a good name brand food. Some good foods are Iams, Felidae, Royal Canin, Hills and Purina. Some cheap foods contain fillers that we can't digest, so we have to poop them out, and you have to clean our boxes more often. 

Speaking of litterboxes. Yes, we like a clean box. Who wants to go into a dirty toilet? Not me! We want our box cleaned after each time we use it. But we realize you have other things going on in your life, so cleaning our litterbox at least once a day is best. Do you have more than one kitty? Then you need more than one box. How many do you need? I have a easy formula for that. Ready? How many cats do you have? Now add one. That is how many litterboxes you need to have. And don't set the boxes right next to each other. We just see those as one big box. Set them in various rooms in the house. Don't want litterboxes all over your house? Then hide the box in a piece of furniture. Check out some of the furniture that hides litterboxes at Petsmart. Are you a crafty human? You can make your own by cutting a hole in a piece of furniture. 

Kitties like something the girls call "environmental enrichment." Those are some big words, but they just mean we like lots of stuff around us to hang out on and to watch. We kitties like to watch the wild critters outside. Put a bird or squirrel feeder in your yard that your kitty can see. Make a nice comfy area for your cat to hang out and watch all the wildlife. Also have higher places your cat can hang out. We kitties like to be high and survey our kingdom. Have counters, shelves or cat trees for your kitty to lay and climb on. Check out some of the shelves and cat trees at The Refined Feline, Whisker Studio and The Vertical Cat.

We kitties like to go outside and enjoy the fresh air too. I enjoy going outside so much, I try to sneak out all the time. But the girls like me to go outside on my leash and harness. They say it is safer for me to go out with a human. Your kitty can go outside safely too. Teach your kitty to use a harness and leash and you and your kitty can have lots of fun exploring the outside. Read more about teaching your cat to walk on a leash here. Don't think your kitty will like wearing a harness? Well, how about fencing in your yard so your kitty can stay safe. Purrfect Fence is one company that sells cat proof fencing. Your cat can explore in the safety of your back yard.

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Okaw Veterinary Clinic
140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953
(217) 253-3221


Mon & Fri 8 am - 6 pm
Tues & Wed 8 am - 5 pm
Sat 8 am - noon
Closed Thurs & Sun

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