Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Behavior Gadgets that Backfire


Behavior Gadgets that Backfire
10 Things that can Kill your Pet

Separation Anxiety in Cats


Behavior Gadgets that Backfire

dog with prong collarIf you look through any pet catalog, pet store, or on tv you will see plenty of ultrasonic/electronic devices that are designed to stop naughty or unwanted pet behaviors. Scat mats, clip on transmitters for your stairs, couch, front door area, or direct anti barking collars are a few devices. While the information reads well - low frequency sound or just vibrations to get attention, there are some pretty significant side effects to using these products. The manufactures of these devices rarely warn about the resulting problem behaviors because it is not required. While spraying citronella collars or vibration only collars are not as painful or aversive as shocking collars, the association that the pet makes when these products go off actually often creates problems. I want to help you understand why these devices often backfire, and why it is best not to use these products. If you are using some of these products this may help you understand some of the "side effects."

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. Since you cannot explain that the shock is to punish the bark only, the dog cannot rationalize that everything else is not apart of the pain and fear of the shock. The barking will stop because of the pain, but now 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.    

Re directed 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 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, and these 2 were calm, and back to playing well.    

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. At a pet store I noticed how many devices there are for "remote control"of behavior. Often when I see a pet with aggression I am finding that people have gone to using these devices in an effort to try to stop an unwanted behavior. These products are so common and present themselves as an easy fix. It would work for us, why not our pets? 

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 everywhere - Sam's Club, Walmart, PetSmart - you name it. A hand held ultrasonic anti bark device is about $10 at Walgreens. Who would not want to try the quick fix? The name "Pet Sate" is also encouraging. 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 are 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.   

If you are dealing with some problem behaviors, refer to some of our articles to help you with your specific problems. There are great books using positive training techniques that are best to use. Before you purchase an electronic product please discuss the problem with a certified trainer, technician or veterinarian trained in behavior. It will save a lot of trouble and cost in the long run.

10 Things that can Kill your Pet

spilled pillsMarch 20 - 26th is Poison Prevention week. So we wanted to share some common items that can poison pets.

If your pet eats any of these, please call us at (217) 253-3221 or the Animal Poison Control hotline at (888) 426-4435. Bring any uneaten portion of food, plant, medication, etc to the clinic with you. Also bring any wrappers or bottles with you. 

  1. Prescription and non prescription medications and vitamins - Dogs chew on pill bottles because the bottle smells like their owner and makes noises. Dogs and cats will eat the pills because the pills often have a coating that taste good.
  2. People food - Grapes, raisins, onions, garlic, chocolate, macadamia nuts, fatty foods, figs, leeks, rhubarb, tomatoes and sugar free candy are poisonous to pets.
  3. Cleaning products - bleach, laundry detergent, fabric detergent, lysol and other cleaners are toxic to pets.
  4. Household chemicals - paint thinner, antifreeze, moth balls, lighter fluid, liquid potpourri, lead paint and other chemicals are poisonous.
  5. Plants - aloe, amaryllis, lilies, cycads, daffodils, ivy, ferns, palms, morning glory, philodendron, pothos, tulips and many other plants are poisonous. Visit this page to see if your plants are poisonous.
  6. Pesticides, Insecticides, Fertilizers - These chemicals are poisonous to pets. Dogs and cats will often eat dead mice or rats. If that mouse or rat that died from mouse poison, then the pet can also die from eating the poisoned animal. 
  7. Household items - batteries, twist ties, coins, jewelry, pantyhose, paper clips, packaging from meat and other foods, socks, yarn, string, thread and rubber bands can get stuck in the pet's intestines. Batteries and coins also release toxins into a pet's body.
  8. Garage items - gasoline, antifreeze, de-icing salt and oil are toxic to pets.
  9. Outside items - compost, cocoa bean shell mulch, algae and mushrooms can make pets sick.
  10. Holiday items - garland, glass items, Easter grass, fireworks, strands of lights, balloons and other items can cause pets to become sick.

Visit the ASPCA's Poison Control website for information about preventing poisonings and what to do when your pet eats something poisonous. 

Separation Anxiety in Cats

Mercy playing with paper bagsDogs are often the most common pet that has separation anxiety. Any animal can show anxiety when separated from those they are bonded with. Believe it or not, cats too are affected. How a cat show's it's anxiety will be different from dogs and is often not as destructive to the home. For the cat, it can be as upsetting. 

Cats are typically independent by nature, yet they do bond with their owners or other companion animals. When the bond is very close, as in a cat that was bottle raise, there may be more risk of separation anxiety. The cat has imprinted on the owner as if the owner was the "mother" and without a weaning period this cat may stay in the dependent kitten like state. Cats also feed off of our own emotions. If we are anxious about leaving our cat, the cat often becomes anxious too and then associates this behavior with the owner leaving. There may be other cats in the home that act up when the owner is gone, such as picking fights with the affected cat, which may also increase anxiety for this cat in the absence of the owner.  

Signs of separation anxiety in the cat are not as well documented as compared to dogs. Few owners recognize the signs of anxiety in a cat, so often the problem is missed until there is a bigger behavior problem such as house soiling. Signs of anxiety in the cat are often hiding, vocalizing (meowing loudly, repeatedly while pacing through the house) and agitation to noise. By definition these signs would start as the owner prepares to leave. Seeing the owner  get the car keys, pack a suitcase, or gather up a purse tells the cat that you are leaving. These actions are called triggers and the cat becomes anxious due to the association of these actions with leaving. A generally anxious cat may increase its anxiety level as you leave. This cat has both separation anxiety and general anxiety problems.

The treatment begins with combining positive things with the signs that you are leaving. Feeding a cat as you prepare to leave is the first place to start. Stop feeding your cat out of a bowl. Hide about a tablespoon of food in small dishes in different places in the house so your cat has to hunt for it. As your cat is eating you will be gathering up your things so now the cat associates feeding - good thing - with your leaving. A second thing to do is to get remote control play devices such h as the frolic cat toy. This is a battery operated laser light toy that can be programmed to come on at various times when you are gone. Again, play is fun- it happens when you are gone so less anxiety. Ranger our office cat tried out this product, and you can read about it on my blog.

For cats that are very affected - shredding the curtains, meowing so much the neighbors complain or house soiling only when you are gone do not wait to get a behavior consultation. There is help, but a specific plan using medication to help your cat calm down to learn is needed. Your cat is hurting and needs help and a trainer cannot screen for health conditions of cats that can make anxiety worse.

Treatment is not all about drugs either. CALM is an excellent food by Royal Canin that can help some cases. Supplements and even kitty thunder shirts can help too.

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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