Tag Archives: separation anxiety

Soothe That Not-so-Savage Beast

Playwright and Poet, William Congreve, coined the often mis-quoted phrase — “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast.” He wasn’t (as far as I know) really talking about animals, but meant it as a metaphor. However, taking the idea literally has merits!

A friend of mine swears she tamed her skittish and hard-to-handle Arabian gelding with classical music. Many animal shelters pipe in instrumental music to help keep the animals calm. Dog experts Nichole Wilde and Patricia McConnel mention playing music as a possible soothing influence on dogs with separation anxiety.

Because of Kita’s problem in that area, I invested in a couple of CDs claiming to calm the savage beast of Separation Anxiety. Most don’t do what they claim!  However, THROUGH A DOG’S EAR, isn’t bad!  It was developed through research on how the canine nervous system responds to sound. The CD records pianist Lisa Spector playing various slowish classical pieces like Bach’s PRELUDE, with tempo and dynamic variations that psychoacoustic expert Joshua Leads determined would amplify the already-calming effect.

I’ve had pretty good results with this recording. However, I have to say that I’ve had just about the same results with recordings of the slower, lower-key pieces of Bach and Mozart. The selection of orchestra or chamber music on those two CDs were designed as background music for humans, so I suppose it’s much the same idea.

Music is no “magic wand” though! To get a dog that’s hyped up — agitated, barking and/or jumping out of his skin with excess energy — a few tinkling tunes won’t do much. For a dog that’s in full stress mode with anxiety – panting, drooling, eyes dialated,and nervously pacing – the music can’t calm her down.  However, to keep an already calm dog’s tension from escalating or persuadin well-exercised dogs that it’s time to settle down — it really helps!

Kita is really helped if music is playing when I leave the house.  Of course, I’ve had to work hard to avoid all the triggers that make her anxiety levels spike, but the music is a good tool to keep things on an even keel. It even works to keep her other fears in check – like her fear of the ice-maker in the refrigerator!  It also helps the daycare and boarding dogs – a lot!

When there’re a lot of dogs running around the yard, they are tiring each other out, but they’re also revving each other up!  (It’s just so exciting for the average, “only” dog to have so many playmates that they don’t WANT to slow down!)  However, if I don’t find a way to persuade them to take a break or two, they may get so wired that they might not continue making good social decisions!

Before we get to that point, my usual practice is to bring everyone inside, ask everyone to SIT, and hand around milk-bones or another crunchy treat .Then,  I put one of the classical CDs on, and ignore the dogs.   In less than 5 minutes, they’re all curled up in their favorite spots in or out of crates in my office.

Now, you might say they dogs are tired and eating the treat is what settles them down long enough to realize a nap sounds good. Well, that is why I feed them the treat! But, the funny thing is if I forget to turn on the music — as happened today — the dogs lie down , but only for a few minutes before they pop up again! If I add the music to the mix, then we get more like a half hour before they’re ready to rumble! It’s not a hard-and-fast rule! Any number of things — the cat peeking in the room, ice falling off the roof, a truck rumbling by — can get them excited again in an instant. Still, it does really seem to extend that nap break.

So next time you need to calm things down, try a little classical music! Not just for the dogs, but to help yourself, too! I find the music I originally put on to make the dogs subside, causes all those worrisome thoughts in my own brain to settle down. Not only do I get the quiet to write by “soothing” the doggie “beasts” with Bach or Mozart, but I get a creative and focusing boost for myself!

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The “Only Dog” Syndrome, part III

In addition to being stinted in the learning-to-be-a dog department, pooches that are the only canine in a home have a few other disadvantages. Especially if their sole house-mates are one or two adults, only-dogs usually have low Frustration Tolerance and little Impulse Control. Just like children with no siblings, they are used to having ALL their parents’ time and attention. They don’t get any practice in SHARING or TAKING TURNS or learn to WAIT for what they want!

Low Frustration Tolerance and an Impulse Control deficit manifest in somewhat the same ways. Even good-natured dogs with these issues are demanding and needy. They can be pushy, nippy, mouthy, and bark a lot. Though not having true separation anxiety (which is a panic attack beyond the dog’s immediate control) they don’t do well being left alone, and often are destructive when they are. They frequently guard resources, especially “their” people! However, though they “look” the same, and have similar causes, low Frustration Tolerance and Impulse Control deficit are two different issues.

Impulse Control is the ability to REFRAIN from doing the first thing prompted by instinct, excitement, wants, or needs. A good example is Dexter’s dinner bowl. Upon seeing his food bowl being lowered to the ground, Dexter’s first instinctive response is to grab at the food as soon as it comes within reach. Controlling these impulses (whether in kids or dogs) is usually called “good manners.”

Frustration Tolerance is being able to handle not getting something immediately, whether it be food, space or attention. Using the same example, if Dexter’s food bowl is raised out of reach every time he lunges, he may become increasingly aggravated until he “acts out” — barking and/or jumping up to get at the food. If he is an extremely driven, dominant dog, Dexter may growl and snarl. In both children and dogs this reaction is usually called a “tantrum.”

Even if they don’t have to Share or Take Turns at home, most children are sent to school and have to practice those skills with the other kids there. Dogs can be sent to doggie daycare and have the same opportunity. Unfortunately if the lessons aren’t reinforced at home, the poor manners and tantrums will continue. This is especially true for dogs because the canine brain isn’t set up to generalize as well as the human brain is. Dogs can’t easily apply lessons learned in one place/situation, with one set of people/dogs to different circumstances and with others.

Because both these problems have similar causes, they can be addressed with the same strategies. Improving Impulse Control of necessity means that a dog learns to tolerate frustration! And the exercises to teach them are pretty simple. The difficulty comes in the application, dealing with the pre-learning tantrums, and being consistent!

Teach Dexter to WAIT; for food, treats, playing, attention, etc. Don’t ask too much of him at first, one second is a good place to start. So, is his food bowl. If Dexter can Wait until the food bowl is on the ground and he’s told it’s OK to eat, that is the first BIG step! I recommend asking a dog to obey a command before he gets ANY good thing. (Note — if you always ask Dexter to SIT, pretty soon he’ll sit without being asked. The point isn’t that he puts his bottom on the ground, but that he OBEYS you. So, when he sits without a cue, ask him to DOWN.)

In addition, Dexter shouldn’t be allowed to dictate when you play with him or pay attention to him. If it isn’t convenient, tell him, “No!” and make it stick by ignoring him. Ignore the tantrum that will usually result at first. If Dexter is a clever pooch and does something naughty to get your attention, give him a time-out in a different room. Don’t yell because if you do, you just major lost points in that round — he made you look and pay attention to him, didn’t he?

When it gets right down to it, Manners are always best learned at home. Obedience classes can help Dexter learn to listen to you and learn some commands that will help you to teach him manners. Hiring a professional to consult in your home with Behavior Issues will teach you specific strategies to deal with tantrums and naughty behavior. But as Puppy-parents, we must insist that Dexter use good manners on a daily basis to have those lessons stick!

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