How to Prep Your Dog for Boarding

Boarding your dog can be a stressful time for both you and your pooch. If you take the time to prep ahead of time, however, there’s no reason the time your furry friend spends being boarded can’t be both fun and stress free.

To help make sure you’re prepared ahead of dropping your dog off, call ahead and find out any specific rules or regulations your kennel or vet has for dogs who are boarded. Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, says the following are a few of the steps you’ll most likely need to take to help put everything in place before the big drop off occurs.

For Her Physical Health

Medically, you’ll need to make sure your dog is up to date on her vaccines before you board her, says Dr. Chavez. “This includes the famous Bordetella bronchiseptica, aka Kennel Cough,” he said. “In fact, most boarding facilities will require proof of Bordetella vaccination within the last six months, and a current Rabies vaccine.”

Timing is everything when it comes to these vaccines, too. It’s easy for pet parents to lose track of vaccine dates, which could cause a last-minute, stressful rush to the vet. “While some boarding facilities will be satisfied with a last-minute vaccine, it’s important to note that your pet only mounts an effective immune response several days following the vaccination, so if you do it all at the last minute, they may  not truly be protected,” says Dr. Chavez.

Additionally, just because your pet has had all her vaccines doesn’t mean she’s totally in the clear for avoiding common boarding ailments (like Kennel Cough or fleas). “Just like the flu vaccine, no dog vaccine is 100% effective, so it’s worth doing what we can to maximize their efficacy,” says the vet.

Other things to keep in mind when it comes to your dog’s health include: flea prevention, de-worming and preventative care. “Many dogs are flea allergic,” says Dr. Chavez, “and the April, May, June season is the worst for it. I see owners come in and spend over $200 on treatments for flea allergies (antibiotics, etc.), when it could have been prevented. Don’t let the boarding facility become a source of fleas for your home unnecessarily.”

For His Mental Health

Physical health prep before boarding is important, sure, but don’t forget the psychological preparation, as well. “In short, don’t make it a big deal,” says Dr. Chavez. “Research has shown that domestic dogs are better than any other species on reading human cues and body language -- so if you’re anxious, he will be anxious, as well.”

Instead, try to stay calm and make things fun. Consider how you would talk to your kids excitedly about going to Grandma’s for the weekend, and use that same thought process to gear your dog up for getting excited about being boarded.

It doesn’t hurt to drop off food for your pup (in fact some kennels require this), along with a few of his favorite treats to help him feel more comfortable, too.

If you’ve properly prepped your pet, a couple days of being boarded can actually be a fun experience where she’ll get to meet and play with new people and puppy friends. And after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder … so just think of what your reunion will be like when you’re finally back together! 

Could a Veterinary Behaviorist Help Your Dog?

Trixie the greyhound lives surrounded by movie stars in her Southern California home, but for many years, she was hardly a talent agent’s dream. Fearful and aggressive toward strangers who came to visit, Trixie wouldn’t even go on walks without becoming skittish. Her owner tried just about everything and was at the end of his rope, until he found a dog savior.

Los Angeles-area veterinary behaviorist Karen Sueda, DVM, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB), came to the canine’s rescue. After spending time with Trixie’s owner, Dr. Sueda started a behavior modification program where she slowly introduced new people to the anxious greyhound and conditioned Trixie to respond with behaviors other than growling or snapping. She encouraged the dog to sit or offer a paw and rewarded her with a treat for doing so. Dr. Sueda also prescribed a psychiatric medication, similar to human medications such as Prozac, for the stressed-out pooch to help her get accustomed to busy streets and loud noises.

“It’s really hard to predict the triggers, and you can’t prevent the anxiety,” Dr. Sueda says. “So we talked to the owner about teaching him another behavior the dog could do besides becoming startled or running away, such as sitting.” She adds, “The medication helped speed up the process. Rather than months, it only took a few weeks.”

This type of “dog whispering” is becoming more common for dealing with canine behavioral woes -- and for good reason.

Increasingly, pet owners, veterinarians and the research community have come to believe that many canine behavioral problems, such as aggressive behavior or biting, destructive chewing and elimination troubles, have their roots in the emotional health of dogs. When that emotional health is unwell, your dog may need the help of a human psychiatrist equivalent. That’s where veterinary behaviorists step in.

What Veterinary Behaviorists Do
Veterinary behaviorists are fully trained veterinarians who complete an additional specialized program in behavioral medicine. They then apply to be board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behavior (ACVB). There are only 47 such certified veterinary behaviorists in the United States today. Ask your general veterinarian for a referral if you think your dog might benefit from this treatment, or look on the ACVBs Web site for a list of certified behaviorists and where they practice. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Web site may also be a good source. In addition to veterinary behaviorists, this site lists veterinarians who have a special interest in behavior, as well as members with a Ph.D. in animal behavior or a related field.

Dr. Sueda says that veterinary behaviorists are the dog world’s equivalent to psychiatrists for humans. But since our dogs can’t talk, it’s usually the pet owners who meet first with the “shrink” and provide a history of the dog’s behaviors. Veterinary behaviorists use this information, medical records, what they know of the animal’s behavior in the wild and how the species communicates with other animals or humans to make a diagnosis.

Once the diagnosis is made, the behaviorist lays out the options for treatment. “Every home situation is different. Every dog is different,” says veterinary behaviorist John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB, who practices in Carol Stream, Ill. “What is done with one family isn’t necessarily done with another. You have to tailor your approach to situations and people. You have to get the whole family involved.”

Problems Behaviorists Treat
There are several common problems that cause dog owners to seek out a veterinary behaviorist. The referrals sometimes come from their dog's general veterinarian.

  • Aggression The most common issue veterinary behaviorists deal with is aggression in dogs, Dr. Ciribassi says. Some aggression in dogs is natural, such as territorial aggression in canines who are allowed the run of the house or the yard. But aggression that is fear- or anxiety-based is an individual temperament issue, usually caused by a flawed system of transmitting nerve impulses within the dog. “The messages don’t get from one to the other part of the brain,” Dr. Ciribassi says. In cases where fear and anxiety are the result of a chemical imbalance, medication may be part of the solution in addition to behavior modifications, he says.
  • Separation anxiety This tends to be the second most common issue veterinary behaviorists treat in dogs, Drs. Ciribassi and Sueda say. Separation anxiety is often a situation in which a dog becomes anxious or nervous in instances where they are separated from their primary attachment figure -- typically an owner. Separation anxiety often results in destructive behavior. Dogs will sometimes chew or scratch at furniture or doors, or may even destroy items left in the home. Dr. Ciribassi says behaviorists try to desensitize the dog to being left alone by decreasing how much the owner interacts with the dog in the house and teaching the owner to be low-key when they leave and return. Sometimes medication is needed.
  • Elimination disorders These include elimination of waste inside the house and territorial marking. Behaviorists have to get to the root of the problem. Sometimes it can be as simple as a bad habit that the dog has formed and needs to break. Other times, marking, in particular, can be caused by aggression between multiple dogs in a house.

FDA-approved Medications
Prescribing psychiatric meds for dogs is a last resort, Dr. Sueda says, and is only considered after other forms of behavior modification have failed. The behavior modification techniques often include desensitization of the dog to a certain trigger and then counter-conditioning the pet to react with different behavior. These methods are similar to teaching humans how to overcome their fears -- such as a fear of flying.

When medications are called for, veterinary behaviorists have three types of psychiatric medications approved for behavioral uses in dogs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. These three medications are as follows:

  • Fluoxetine, a generic form of Prozac, has been approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs.
  • Clomicalm, aka clomipramine hydrochloride, has also been approved to treat separation anxiety in dogs.
  • Selegiline (sold as Anipryl for veterinary usage) has been approved for treating cognitive dysfunction in dogs -- akin to Alzheimer’s disease in older dogs.

Dr. Sueda says that early intervention is the key to solving your dog’s behavior problems. “Behavior problems are just like any other habit. The more we’re allowed to practice bad behavior, the better we get at it,” she says. “For the dog’s well-being -- as well as the owner’s -- you need to catch it early.”

Show Dog Skills for Any Mutt

Whether Champion Blackjack Porpoises’ Ship Zin UDX III is under the bright lights at a dog show or visiting sick kids in the hospital, Dr. Gail Clark knows she can count on the Portuguese water dog to behave well.

Ship, as the 5-year-old dog is affectionately known, handles crowds, other dogs and unfamiliar situations with ease, says Dr. Clark, Ph.D., a dog behaviorist in Fort Collins, Colo., who offers training for both household dogs and classes for potential show dogs like Ship and their owners.

“He’s fabulous,” Dr. Clark says of her dog Ship. “I bred and raised him. Without a doubt, if he hadn’t had this training, he couldn’t go into schools and hospitals. He’s just a great dog overall. He’s a pleasure to take to shows.”

Ship behaves so well, no doubt, because he is showered with affection and attention, regularly exercises and eats a balanced, nutritious diet. But the secret to the way show dogs like Ship respond to both their handlers and situations with strangers lies in their training. Although you might not need your dog to trot enthusiastically beside you under the careful scrutiny of a panel of judges, you can put lessons from dog show experts to work with your furry pal.

Our dog show experts say you can apply their expertise in these areas:

Show dogs must keep their cool among hundreds of their own kind, not to mention unfamiliar people. The value of early socialization can’t be overestimated, says Dr. Clark.

However, make sure your dog or puppy is in a controlled situation, say both Dr. Clark and Pat Malan, a West Virginia-based breeder of giant schnauzers who also shows dogs and offers handling instruction. For instance, dog parks can be unpredictable places where your dog might be jumped and frightened by other dogs, say these experts. Be cautious even when it comes to free play during a puppy class, they caution.

A traditional obedience class is a good place to get your pal accustomed to other dogs and humans, says Dr. Clark. Your calm reassurance will go a long way toward helping your dog handle the unfamiliar, Malan adds. “The owner needs to be calm,” she explains. “Basically the message you’re going to send is, ‘All is well.’”

Stacking, aka Standing Still
We’re amazed to watch dogs “stacked” at shows so that judges can evaluate the animals’ appearance and behavior. The dogs are placed in position by their handlers and then hold the positions without moving. But does this have any value when it comes to your tail-wagging buddy? Certainly, say our experts.

After all, wouldn’t it be easier to manage your dog at the veterinarian’s office or during a grooming visit if you could get your pal to stand still? Simply placing a new collar around your dog’s neck is a snap if you know the secrets of the show dog.

You can practice by placing your dog on a bath mat on the counter at home, if your dog’s size makes it practical, says KT McKee, a British Columbia show dog breeder and trainer. That’s great practice for the veterinarian’s exam table. Place your hand under your dog’s head to get it to stay, and don’t pet your pooch. Offer a treat as your dog stays in place. Remember: Your goal isn’t to show off your dog’s perfect position, but to instead have it remain cooperatively still for a while.

Handling an Exam
It helps to think like a dog when you’re training a show dog or a household pal, say dog show trainers. Imagine how canines will perceive noises, other dogs and crowds. But it doesn’t hurt to think like a human, either. Imagine a stranger at a party coming up to you and touching you without your invitation, says Dr. Clark. That slight moment of fear and surprise multiplies for dogs that don’t understand why they’re being handled.

When her dog shied a bit once a judge wanted to exam the pup’s private parts, Dr. Clark told the judge he needed to offer her dog a kiss first. In other words, says Dr. Clark, make sure your dog is “properly introduced” to someone who wants to touch your pal. “Anytime a dog is touched without an invitation from the dog, it’s negative,” she explains.

Place your hand lightly in your dog’s collar. Let it become familiar with the person, then offer a food treat when someone touches or examines your dog. Your dog will learn to associate the touch with something positive.

It might be the most impressive scene at dog shows: Dog after dog runs smartly alongside the handlers. There are a couple of keys to accomplishing a modified version of this behavior with your dog, say the experts. First, Dr. Clark begins by teaching her dogs with her hand on a lead right near their heads. “My hand is probably an inch from the neck of the dog.”

Remember the phrase “short leash?” It’s applicable here. Practice with a short lead, walking your dog back and forth in a confined area. Reward your pet every time it follows you in an appropriate, well-behaved manner. Gradually move to larger areas and allow a bit more leash. If you teach your dog these gaiting techniques, you’ll have an easier time on crowded sidewalks or other places where there’s not much room to negotiate.

Think about your collar selection too, says McKee. Harness-type collars and collars low on a dog’s neck can trigger a pulling instinct, she says. Use a collar at the base of the head.

And give your dog a sense of purpose, McKee says. She trains her dogs by having them carry weight-appropriate backpacks weighted with a few cans and her bottle of water. “I stop, take out my bottle of water and take a drink, then carry on, stop, take out my bottle,” she says. “The dog is providing a service.” If your dog is serving you on that walk, your pal is more likely to stay in tune with your commands.                                                         

The real trick to having your dog take its cues from show dog training comes down to you, however. “Most people don’t have the patience,” says Dr. Clark. “It takes patience, and it takes consistency.” With both, you and your dog will be strutting away proudly just as Ship the champion Portuguese water dog does when he’s in and out of the spotlight.

Is Your Dog Becoming You?

What type of dog would a woman with curly hair most likely own: a Rottweiler or a poodle?

Chances are you chose the poodle. That people often resemble their dogs has been fodder over the ages for cartoonists, contests, and even the new board game called “Do You Look Like Your Dog?” by Briarpatch. A few years ago, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, proved a scientific basis for this belief, finding that judges correctly matched photos of purebred dogs with owners two out of three times.

Study author Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychology professor, argues that dog owners seek breeds that resemble them. “Evolutionarily we’ve adapted to take care of little, nonverbal creatures that resemble us -- in most cases, our children,” he says. “In many ways, pets capitalize on that desire. Many people have bonded with pets the way others have bonded with children.”

Researchers are now building upon the look-alike theory to examine if it carries over to personalities and behaviors. British psychology professor Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire has had nearly 2,500 pet owners fill out questionnaires about their personalities and those of their pets. He says on his website that pets and their owners get more and more alike over time -- just like married couples who tend to dress and look more similar as the years go by.

Nature versus Nurture
The question is: Do people select pups that act similar to them or do dogs and owners grow more similar over time? Experts say that it’s likely a bit of both.

People choose dog breeds that are compatible to them on various levels, from appearance to activeness, says Lynn Hoover, MSW, CDBC, founder of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and author of The Family in Dog Behavior Consulting (2006 Dogwise). “If the owner loves hiking, he will likely choose a dog that can keep up and enjoy long walks. On another level, if the human is by nature distant, independent, tough, dignified, they may admire and draw from a breed known for fierce independence, or (one that is) regal and dignified.”

When a dog spends all its time with you, those human behaviors, schedules, and tastes can rub off. “Dogs do pick up on our moods, preferences, anxieties and fears,” Hoover says. “And, the rubbing off goes both ways. Dogs arrive with their own temperaments and breed tendencies, their own fears and anxieties, and they influence owners with their worries or lack thereof.”

There are potential benefits and detriments to this. A bold and sociable dog could be good for an owner that has apprehensions about meeting new people, Hoover says. When strangers approach, the dog can signal the owner that greeting strangers can be fun by wagging its tail. However, a perfectly calm dog in the home of an anxious owner can become a basket case -- not knowing how to act, becoming alarmed at visitors, and ignoring commands because of a lack of follow through.

Pit Your Personality against Your Pup’s
To figure out whether you and your pet are two peas in a pod, answer the following questions about whether these traits apply to you, your dog, or both of you. Add up your score to see your diagnosis below.

  1. Is happy eating the same breakfast every day:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  2. Gets stressed when the mailman arrives with lots of bills:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  3. Understands when family members have no time to play:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  4. Doesn’t see Prozac as a panacea for life’s problems:
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)
  5. Loves nothing better than to take a long walk on a sunny afternoon
    1. me (1)
    2. my dog (2)
    3. both of us (3)

What Your Answers Say
5-11 points: Dog/Owner Divide
How did you two wind up together? You and your pet are very different if you can honestly say that the traits and behaviors above are reflective more of you, rather than your dog, or vice versa. It may be that your pet personifies the characteristics of another person in your household -- a spouse, a parent, or even a child. Substitute “my spouse” (or mother or son) in place of “me” to see if your pup has paired off with someone else.

12-15 points: Separated at Birth You and your dog are a virtual set of cross-species twins. You have similar traits if you saw a lot of yourself and your pet in the questions above. It may be that you selected a certain dog breed that best matched your personality -- or your looks. Or it could be that Rover has just adapted to your schedule, your likes and dislikes and your temperament as the pup got to know and love you.

Don’t worry if you and your dog are different but still get along. “Dogs are simple,” Hoover says. “They are what they are and they react as they will and that’s the way they stay. Whatever they take on from owners, it happens fast, within their first few interactions with humans, and it quickly becomes habitual.”

Photo: Corbis Images

Putting Your Pup Through Kinderpuppy

The dozen or so young dogs in Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz' class are about to spend the next hour lavished with praise, treats and attention. For the puppies, all irresistibly cute to owners flush with new love, these regular hour-long classes over the next six weeks will seem like fun and games. Owners will play off-leash with their puppy pals, while dogs learn basic cues from their owners and interact with strangers. But this puppy class, which Sylvia-Stasiewicz laughingly calls "puppy preschool,"' might be critical for the future happiness of both dogs and owners.

Training your dog at an early age leads to happier relationships. In many cases, it decreases the chances that your dog may have to be removed from your home because of behavioral issues. "It's kind of preparing your dog for life," says Sylvia-Stasiewicz, owner of northern Virginia-based Merit Puppy Training. "We want to prevent possible problems, such as food or resource guarding, jumping, puppy mouthing or nipping. We want to take the puppies as a clean slate at a young age."

Early Training Benefits
Instruction and interaction during the first six to eight months of doggie development ensures that a puppy absorbs information from its social and physical environment like a sponge, says Jennie Jamtgaard, an animal behavior instructor at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Ideally, a puppy class is going to get them started on the road to socialization," says Jamtgaard. A good puppy training class, like classes for young children, is tailored to suit its participants with positive reinforcement, short segments and social time.

"Training by positive reinforcement means you're using something the dog wants to get a win-win situation," says dog trainer Angelica Steinker, owner of Courteous Canine in Lutz, Fla. "Things should be taught in a way that maximizes fun and minimizes stress.'' Puppy classes shouldn't involve shouting, leash corrections and the like, say the trainers.

Because your puppy undoubtedly has a short attention span, it's important to keep activities and learning exercises brief in puppy class. While the temptation might be to practice a lesson over and over, it doesn't work well for young dogs, says Jamtgaard.

While practicing a lesson over and over may not benefit younger pups, playing with its peers will. The typical puppy class will provide time for your puppy to interact with the other dogs off-leash. Your puppy should also get the chance to interact with other people. Many puppy classes allow children to attend when accompanied by adults. That's an opportunity for your puppy to learn to interact with children appropriately.

For more information about puppy education and links to classes held worldwide, visit the puppyclass website. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate a school before you enroll your dog. Also, the American Kennel Club can connect owners to training clubs throughout the U.S. that provide education for canines of all ages. A full list of training clubs can be found at the akc website.

For Do-It-Yourselfers. . .
A puppy class provides a controlled opportunity for socialization that you really can't replicate elsewhere, but there are also things you can try with your dog at home: 

  • Offer real-life rewards Teach your puppy to work for anything and everything he's going to get, Sylvia-Stasiewicz says. And just how do you teach your impossibly wiggly ball of energy how to sit? Simple. Raise a piece of food, out of sight in your closed hand, above its nose. Then watch the laws of dog physics at work. The head goes up and the bottom goes down.
  • Hand feed Take the time to hand feed your puppy rather than placing a bowl in front of its nose, and you establish control that will help with future training.
  • Make trades Teach your puppy to fetch by trading nutritious treats for the items fetched. It makes it less likely your puppy will disappear under the bed with one of your favorite slippers.
  • Play smart Make education fun for your puppy. Hide and seek teaches your puppy a lot (while using up a great deal of its energy), particularly if you train them to seek you out.

Remember that learning opportunities for your dog begin immediately from the beginning. "They're always in class,'' says Sylvia-Stasiewicz. "You've got to start the day the dog comes home. "Your puppy is only going to be a puppy a short while. The socializing window is going to close before you know it."

Photo: Corbis Images