Ask the experts: More of your questions answered
Written by Napo HQ
1st Jun 2023
Thank you all for sending in your questions! 💙
Your behaviour questions
All our answers are reviewed by our wonderful in-house clinical animal behaviourist, but please do not take these answers as specific behavioural or veterinary advice. The behaviourist has no knowledge of any specific pet's requirements or background. All answers are intended to be used for general information only. Please consult a veterinary surgeon individually for any specific concerns or questions regarding your pet.
My dog is terrified of travelling in the car despite the input of a behaviourist who advised giving high value treats whilst not starting the engine or closing the car doors and moving up to short trips, all with no progress whatsoever.
"My dog is terrified of travelling in the car despite the input of a behaviourist who advised giving high value treats whilst not starting the engine or closing the car doors and moving up to short trips, all with no progress whatsoever.
Our vet has prescribed Diazepam and Gabapentin on two separate occasions, neither of which worked at all. Any further suggestions as to what we could do would be appreciated as we cannot go anywhere with him in the car and have to leave him with a boarder when we go on holiday as he is manic for up to an hour after getting out of the car, which means we cannot do anything. He is terrified of traffic in general and scoots away from any passing traffic."
Thanks for sending in your question. We understand the struggle when your pup becomes a bundle of nerves at the thought of car rides. Especially when you've tried some professional advice, but no luck so far.
First of all, kudos to you for seeking guidance from a behaviourist and following their recommendations. To help understand the situation a little better, was this a behaviourist, or a clinical animal behaviourist? A clinical animal behaviourist will only work with a pet following a vet referral.
- Is there an underlying health issue?As the anti-anxiety medication your vet prescribed hasn’t seemed to have worked, perhaps there is a pain-related problem making travel horrible for your dog. A vet should rule out health components, such as pain or ear problems. Ear problems especially influence travel, as it messes with your dog’s balance. 82% of behaviour cases have health components, such as pain, (Mills et al 2020) so it could be worth investigating what’s causing the problem.
- Boarding isn’t a bad option.As discussedin our podcastwith Veterinary behaviourist Dr Sophie White, leaving your dog behind when you’re on holiday can be the best thing for both of you. If you’re worried about how your dog is reacting to the car rides, it isn’t a very relaxing holiday for you or your pup. Although we understand boarding or hiring a housesitter is an added expense on top of the holiday, it may be the best option for your dog. At least until you can get to the bottom of their car phobia.
- Anti anxiety medicationMedication is often needed for dogs who have strong behavioural aversions, to aid in calming them down and helping them to learn good experiences, and forget any experiences they perceive as bad. If your vet feels that medication is necessary, but it doesn’t appear to be working, it may be worth asking your vet again. They may suggest other medications, as just like humans, it can take some trial and error to find the type and dose that’s best for your pet. They may also provide a referral to a veterinary behaviourist, (a behaviourist that’s also a vet). There aren’t that many in the country, but as they are both vets and behaviourists, they’re perfectly placed to help in situations like yours where a behaviour is so strong and deeply ingrained that medication is needed alongside behavioural advice.
- Build up positive associations.Your behaviourist was right to suggest gradually building up to your dog being in the car and rewarding calm behaviour. It may be you need to start even smaller, or take it even slower. So reward your dog for walking past a parked car calmly. Then for sniffing a car with the doors open. Then if he hops into the car to explore.
- Desensitisaion to traffic.Similar to how you’ve been working on rewarding your pup being in the car, it’s a good idea to desensitise him to traffic. There’s two different things you can do. (And no harm in trying both!)
- Introde traffic in a controlled environment.Introduce your pup to traffic gradually and in a controlled environment. Start by playing recordings of traffic sounds at a low volume while engaging your dog with play or treats. Over time, increase the volume and duration, allowing your pup to adjust to the sounds without feeling overwhelmed. If your dog does seem overwhelmed at any point, go back a few steps with quieter noises and shorter suration, and slowly build it back up.
- Introduce traffic in a controlled manner.You can also find somewhere to sit where you’re far from traffic, but can see it and hear it. If your dog sits and is calm, reward them. You can gradually get closer to the traffic, or increase the duration you sit by it. Just make sure you do this gradually so you don’t overwhelm them. If they do show any signs of anxiety, dial it back so you’re further away from the traffic the next time you try. The goal is to eventually be able to stand or walk on the pavement by the road without your dog scooting away.
Remember, finding the right solution may take time and patience. Keep observing your pup's reactions, and don't hesitate to discuss any concerns or new ideas with your vet. They're always there to guide you and ensure your pet's well-being. You can also seek a second opinion through another clinical animal behaviourist. You’ll find accredited clinical animal behaviourists throughthe ABTC website
My dog is overreactive to animals on tv and will redirect his aggression, is there a simple way to stop this other than putting him in another room?
Thanks for sending in your question. Barking at the TV is actually becoming more common, as new and imporved TVs have a higher framerate. Dogs see life in much higher framerate than we humans, and old TVS with low framerates would have looked like a powerpoint to them. Now that TVs are faster, the images look more real to our pets, making them more likely to react!
While occasional barking at TV animals is generally harmless, if it becomes excessive or disruptive, you can try the following tips.
- Reduce risks.If your dog is redirecting their aggression, there is a risk they could injure someone. While you’re working on your dog’s behaviour, it’s also important to manage it to make sure no one gets hurt. For example, you may need to keep your dog muzzled while you work on the behaviour, to prevent the risk of injury.
- Gradual desensitisation.One effective method is to gradually expose your dog to animals on TV in a controlled manner. Start with brief and low-intensity exposure to animal-related content. Keep the volume at a moderate level and observe your pup's reaction. Reward calm behavior with treats, praise, and gentle petting. Over time, increase the exposure gradually, helping your pup to associate TV animals with positive experiences.
- Engage in interactive play.Before turning on the TV, engage your pup in a fun and stimulating play session. This can help tire them out and divert their focus from the onscreen animals. Then offer engaging toys or puzzles that keep their minds occupied during TV time.
- Use positive reinforcement training.Positive reinforcement training techniques can work wonders in modifying behavior. When your dog shows calm or non-reactive behavior while watching TV, reward them with treats and praise. This helps reinforce the desired behavior and teaches them that being calm around TV animals is a positive thing.
- Background noise.Sometimes, playing soft background noise, such as calming music or white noise, can help mask the sounds coming from the TV and reduce your pup's reactivity. This can create a more soothing environment and help them relax during TV time.
- Seek professional guidance.If the overreactive behaviour persists despite your efforts, it may be beneficial to consult with an accredited dog trainer or clinical animal behaviourist. They can assess your dog's specific situation, provide personalised strategies, and help address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the behavior. You can consult a behaviourist through FirstVet, or find accredited trainers and behaviourists throughthe ABTC website.
Remember, patience and consistency are key when modifying behaviour. Every dog is unique, so finding the right approach may take some trial and error. I hope this helped answer your question. If you have any more, feel free to ask away! 💙
Separation Anxiety My dog has bad separation anxiety. She's a yorkie/maltese cross, 2.5 yrs old, and she doesn't settle when we leave. I have tried the in/out the door training to no avail
"Separation Anxiety My dog has bad separation anxiety. She's a yorkie/maltese cross, 2.5 yrs old and she doesn't settle when we leave. I have tried the in/out the door training to no avail, is there something else I can try to make her more comfortable in the knowledge we are coming home."
Thanks for your question. I understand how tough it can be to see your pup experiencing separation anxiety. It's challenging when they can't settle down when you're away, despite your best efforts. And it can feel quite limiting, as your dog’s behaviour is getting in the way of you being out and about.
Firstly, do you know she doesn’t settle? If your neighbours have said she doesn’t, that’s helpful. Otherwise, it can be useful to buy a home camera, or leave an old phone recording, to see if she settles at all. You should stay just outside your home and watch the footage live, so if she doesn’t settle, you can get back in and help her.
Keep these recordings too, because they’re really useful if you chat to a clinical animal behaviourist about the problem.
Let's explore some additional strategies to help make your pup more comfortable and provide them with a sense of security.
- Change your dog’s expectation.As you’ve tried to do some training, you might need to go back further and work on resetting your dog’s expectations. Some dogs expect that they should always be able to have human interaction. This can lead to frustration when they can’t get this attention. To help, you can introduce a “no interaction” signal.
- No interaction signals.Find something really obvious your dog can see (and you can easily hide out of their view when it’s not needed.) Like taping paper on the door. That’s your signal. Start by gently stroking your dog, or sitting calmly with them. Then put your signal on display, and perform 30 seconds of no interaction with your dog. That means being in the room with them, but not speaking to them, not touching them, and not even looking at them. (Eye contact is attention!) After 30 seconds, remove the signal and reward. You can gradually build up the amount of time the signal is there and you don’t interact with your dog. And once it can be sustained for a few minutes, you can try going in another room while the signal is on display. Once you can leave your dog without interaction for an hour, you can start leaving them alone.
- Gradual desensitisation.It sounds like you’re trying this, but just to recap - consider practicing gradual desensitisation to help your dog become more accustomed to your departures. Start by leaving for short periods, even just a few minutes, and gradually increase the duration over time. Pair your departures with positive experiences like giving them a special treat or engaging them with a puzzle toy. This helps create positive associations with your absence.
- Create a safe space.Designate a cozy and secure area in your home where your pup can retreat to when you're away. Make it comfortable with their bed, favorite toys, and a piece of your clothing that carries your scent. This space can become their personal haven, giving them a sense of comfort and familiarity.
- Play soothing music.Studies have shown that classical music can help to relieve stress in dogs. So next time you practice counter conditioning, or leave your pup, leave some relaxing classical music on.
- Interactive toys and puzzles.Provide your pup with engaging toys and puzzles that keep them mentally stimulated while you're away. These can include treat-dispensing toys or puzzle feeders that require problem-solving. They can help distract your dog and provide mental stimulation, reducing anxiety and boredom.
- Calming aids.Consider using calming aids such as pheromone diffusers to create a soothing environment for your pup. Pheromone diffusers emit synthetic dog pheromones that are proven to help promote a sense of calmness.
- Seek professional help.If your pup's separation related behaviours persist and significantly affects their wellbeing, chat with an accredited clinical animal behaviourist. They can assess your dog's specific needs, provide tailored techniques, and guide you through a comprehensive training program to address the underlying causes of the separation related behaviours.
Remember, each dog is unique, so finding the right approach may take time and patience. For more information, here is a more detailedguide on understanding seperation anxiety
. Napo have alsohosted a podcast on the subject
with clinical animal behaviourist, Hanne Grice.
I hope this has helped and given you a few more ideas. You’re doing the right things with the door training, and it can be a long process so be patient and consistent. I hope your little pup starts to feel more settled soon! 💙
In the past two years I have had two children, when the children cry or shout, one of my dogs howls, this is very high pitched which then starts my other dog off too. How do I stop this?
Thanks for reaching out. I can completely understand that this must be stressful for you, your little ones, and the dogs. Let's explore some strategies to help your dogs stay calm and reduce the noise chaos in your home. You may have tried or done some of these before, but without chatting to you about the specific situation and your dogs, I’ll cover all the basics.
- Create a calm and safe space.Designate a quiet and comfortable area in your home where your dogs can retreat to when the kids are crying or shouting. This could be crates or a cozy corner with their bed, toys, and maybe even soothing background music. Encourage your dogs to use this space as their personal sanctuary, ensuring they have a calm environment to retreat to when needed.
- Positive association.Gradually associate the children's crying or shouting with positive experiences for your dogs. Start by playing recorded sounds of children crying or shouting at a very low volume, while simultaneously offering treats or engaging in a fun activity that your dogs enjoy. (DogsTrust offersrecordings here.) Gradually increase the volume over time, continuing to provide positive reinforcement. This process helps your dogs develop a positive association with the sounds and reduces their response of howling.
- Counter-conditioning.Train your dogs to associate the sound of children crying or shouting with calm behavior and relaxation. Whenever the children's noises start, encourage your dogs to engage in calm activities like lying down, long-lasting chews, or providing them with interactive toys that keep their minds occupied. Reward them for exhibiting calm behavior during these situations, reinforcing the desired response. You should also reward them if they retreat to their cosy corner.
- Lead by example.Your situation sounds really stressful, and I can imagine it is frustrating or anxiety-inducing. However, dogs are very emotionally intelligent animals and feed of our own emotions. So if you are becoming stressed when you hear your kids cry, and anticipate the howling, your dogs will pick up on it. It’s way easier to say than do, but try to stay calm and measured during these situations.
- Seek professional help.If the howling behaviour persists or intensifies despite your efforts, it’ll be worth chatting to an accredited dog trainer or behaviourist. They can assess your dogs' specific situation, provide personalised advice, and help address any underlying issues that may be contributing to the behavior. Their expertise and experience can offer valuable insights and techniques tailored to your dogs' needs. You can find an accredited behaviourist throughthe ABTC website.
Remember, consistency and patience are key when modifying any behaviour. Your love and understanding, coupled with positive reinforcement techniques, can go a long way in helping your dogs to stay calm and reduce howling. I hope these suggestions help bring more peace and quiet to your home.
My dog gets very exited when my partner and I go on a walk with him but if either one of us take him alone he is fine. What can we do to help him with this? He is 1 and a Cocker spaniel. He also pulls on the lead
It sounds like he really loves walkies, and spending time with you guys! It can be frustrating when your pup walks nicely sometimes, and not others, but it’s super common. Especially with adolescent dogs, like your 1 year old. Here’s a few tips to try and make family walks more fun for everyone.
- Individual walks.Start by taking your dog for walks separately, with each of you taking turns. This will help him get used to walking with only one person at a time and reduce the excitement that arises from both of you being together.
- Act the same.When you’re walking on your own with the dog, you might act differently. When walking with a partner, we will often talk to them. When you’re walking together with the dog, try acting exactly as you do when you’re alone with him, including giving the same amount of focus and time to him.
- Work out why he’s pulling.If you can figure out why your pup is pulling, you can find an appropriate reward for him and help avoid frustration. For instance, if he’s pulling from a lamp post, to grass, he might be pulling to sniff pee spots from other dogs. So if he’s pulling to sniff, use time to sniff as the reward for good walking.
- Lead training.Teach your dog to walk politely on a lead by using positive reinforcement techniques. When he starts pulling, stop walking and instantly call his name, if he turns to look at you say “yes” and feed him a treat. Then carry on walking. Repeat this a few times and then if he still pulls, just stop walking. At this point he should expect to hear his name called, if he turns say “YES!” and give him a high value treat (this may even be allowing him to go and sniff whatver he was pulling towards). Consistency and patience are key here.
- Harness or collar?If you aren’t already, use a Y-shaped harness to protect your pup’s neck. (No, it won’t reinforce him pulling, just protects his windpipe and glands if he’s likely to pull.) You should also use a fixed length, static lead for the most control and consistency. If you’re dog’s on a retractable lead, he won’t learn that he’s meant to stay a certain distance from you. If you do think he’ll walk nicely, perhaps on your individual walks, try clipping the lead to his collar. This should reinforce that lead on collar = walk nicely.
- Focus and engagement.Engage your dog's attention during walks by using treats, toys, or verbal cues. Encourage him to focus on you and reward him for checking in and walking calmly. This will redirect his excitement and help him understand that walking with you is a positive and rewarding experience.
- Distraction management.If your dog gets easily distracted during walks, work on his impulse control. Practice cues such as "sit" or "stay" whenever there are distractions around. Reward him for obeying these cues and gradually increase the difficulty level as he improves.
- Regular exercise and mental stimulation.Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day. A tired dog is generally calmer and more focused during walks. Incorporate interactive toys, obedience training, and playtime into his routine to keep him mentally and physically stimulated throughout the day, not just at walk time.
Remember, consistency and positive reinforcement are key when training your pup. Be patient with him, and over time, he’ll learn to walk calmly and enjoy his walks regardless of who’s with him. There are some more tips on training your pup to walk nicelyin this blog
, but I’ll also be talking about it in much more detail in the next chapter of video lessons in Good Dog Academy.
Your health & wellness questions
All our answers are reviewed by the wonderful vets at The Finchley Vet, but please do not take these answers as specific veterinary advice. The vets have no knowledge of any specific pet's requirements or background. All answers are intended to be used for general information only. Please consult a veterinary surgeon individually for any specific concerns or questions regarding your pet.
My dog gets a rash on his tummy which I believe is an allergy to grass pollen is there a good way to treat it?
Thanks for your question! I hope your pup isn’t too itchy and you get to the bottom of the rash soon. Allergies can be tricky, but there are some steps you can take to help keep your pup comfortable.
- Consult your vet.It's essential to consult with your vet to confirm whether your dog's rash is indeed caused by an allergy to grass pollen. They can conduct tests or perform an examination to determine the exact cause of the rash. Once the allergy is confirmed, your vet can provide personalised recommendations and treatment options.
- Keep your dog clean.Regular bathing can help remove pollen from your dog's coat and reduce their exposure to allergens. Use a gentle, hypoallergenic shampoo recommended by your vet. Make sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of shampoo and pollen.
- Wipe paws and tummy.Sometimes you don’t need a full bath. After outdoor walks, gently wipe your dog's paws and tummy with a damp cloth to remove any potential allergens they may have picked up. This can help reduce the amount of pollen that comes into contact with their skin.
- Allergy-friendly diet.Chat to your vet the possibility of switching to an allergy-friendly diet for your dog. Some specialised dog foods contain ingredients that can help support skin health and reduce allergic reactions. Your vet can recommend the most suitable options based on your dog's specific needs.
- Medications and supplements.Your vet may prescribe medications to help manage your dog's allergic symptoms. These medications can help reduce itching and inflammation. Additionally, supplements like omega-3 fatty acids can promote skin health and soothe allergic reactions. Always follow your vet's advice regarding medication dosage and administration.
- Environmental modifications.If your dog’s rash is caused by grass pollen, you should minimise your dog's exposure to it. Limit their time outdoors during peak pollen times, such as early mornings or late afternoons in Spring. You could also explore the use of protective clothing, such as doggy t-shirts or bodysuits, to cover your dog's tummy and minimize direct contact with external allergens like pollen.
Remember, your vet is the best resource for advice and treatment options tailored to your dog's specific needs. They can help you develop a comprehensive plan to manage your pup's potential allergy and provide relief from their rash. Wishing your pup a rash-free and happy time outdoors! 🌿🐶
As our dogs get older, is it a good idea to give them a supplement for their joints, such as YuMove?
Thanks for getting in touch with your question! First off, big props to you for thinking ahead as your furry friend enters their golden years. I know our pets are like family, and we all want to help them to live as long and comfortably as possible. Joint supplements are one of the things that help humans and dogs alike.
Here’s the lowdown on how and why supplements can be a gamechanger for your older dog’s joints.
- Maintain mobility.If your senior dog still has a spring in their step and loves to frolic like a pup, joint supplements are a great choice. They may help maintain flexibility, ease discomfort, and keep your furry friend feeling sprightly.
- Prevent pain.As our four-legged pals age, joint issues can become a real bother. Supplements like YuMove could help to lubricate their joints and reduce inflammation.
- Keep your dog active.Supplements alone aren't a magic wand, but they can make movement easier and more comfortable. This is super important, because joints don’t receive blood and heal without movement. So keeping your pet active will also help to keep achey bones at bay!
How do joint supplements work?
The key ingredient that makes joint supplements work is Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Omega-3.Are amazing at reducing inflammation. There’s also evidence they help reduce discomfort and improve mobility for dogs, even if they already have arthritis.
There are also a few other ingredients that might help, but the scientific evidence is less clear. These are:
- Glucosamine & chondroitin.These may help to prevent cartilage breakdown. This would help because when cartilage breaks down, the joint becomes stiff and painful.
- Hyuloronic acid.As pets get older, their body makes less hyuloronic acid, which means the fluid around their joints decreases. Giving them some extra hyuloronic acid in supplements could help to keep their joints lubricated and moving freely.
However, I’d say not to give your dog a specific supplement, like YuMove, just because they’re getting older. Instead, I would say give them specific supplements aimed at helping particular concerns you have, like skin issues, or arthritis.
Your vet can chat to you about what you want to help your dog with and will be able to suggest supplements that are proven to help. You should chat to your vet before you give your dog any supplements anyway, to make sure it won’t interfere with any existing conditions or medications.