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Arousal And Recovery

No, I’m not talking about sex! The arousal in dogs that matters to pet owners and trainers is the sort that leads to hyperactivity, barking, jumping, over reactivity, and even biting. It can also show up as fearful escape, shrinking back and shutting down. On a physiological level, our dogs react in exactly the same way we do to events that trigger the body’s fight or flight response - a sophisticated chemical reaction of hormones and neurotransmitters that can save our lives. At modest levels, arousal improves performance and enhances learning. But at higher levels or over prolonged periods learning is impeded, fine motor skills deteriorate, and that brain chemical cascade starts damaging cells. Which brings us to the recovery stage. It takes time for the body to process and “dump” those brain chemicals once the crisis has passed. Depending on the dog (or person) and the degree of arousal, it can take several hours to several days for the arousal chemicals to subside and the recovery chemicals to rise to create a healthy balance. Once arousal chemicals are elevated, it takes less and less stimulation (triggering events) to elicit another reaction and each episode further elevates arousal. The interesting thing about arousal is that it feels good and the body can become addicted to the high it gets from those arousal chemicals - know any thrill seeking humans? Same idea in dogs. For real recovery to happen we have to be able to turn off or avoid the things that trigger the arousal for long enough that the body can detox and find a healthy balance again. You know the importance of taking vacations and likely have a few relaxation routines for yourself. Perhaps you have learned to avoid checking your email before bed and screen your phone calls to avoid certain stress triggers. But how can you help your dog avoid his triggers and maintain a healthy balance of arousal and recovery? Like us, some dogs are addicted to the high they get from arousal. Others are extremely sensitive to their environment and get highly aroused by stuff that another dog would barely notice. They may bark at anything that moves, run the fence, or dive for cover at any sharp noise. These dogs are often rigid in their bodies, move too much or not enough, and may not sleep deeply through the night. It’s miserable and unhealthy for them to be on edge all the time.

Here are some ways you can help your stressed out pooch:

  • Reduce access to triggers - cover windows, close doors/windows, supervise yard time, take walks at quieter times of the day, change fencing/gates, use white noise to cover external sounds, etc.
  • Teach relaxation skills - “Relax on a mat” (Chill Out Fido by Nan Arthur) and Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol are a good place to start. Remember that dogs pick up on our energy too, so if you want your dog to relax you will need to relax as well. Breathe deeply, shake out your muscles, have a seat. Model relaxation for your dog.
  • Provide stress relieving activities - Chewing is one way dogs relieve stress so give them plenty of appropriate chew items. Rhythmic movement also helps so a brisk walk or trot for 15-20 minutes is a good idea, provided you can avoid triggers when doing so.
  • Engage their brains - Problem solving activities promote thoughtful concentration which helps tire them out in a non-arousing way. Examples include “find it”, food puzzle toys, hide and seek, and slowly working an obstacle course. Google “Sprinkles” for details on a new twist on a scent game. Your trainer can help you with a variety of games that teach your dog self-control.
  • Keep any training sessions short and non-aversive to avoid adding more stress.
  • Quality rest - Naps in a crate or quiet room may be necessary to help them achieve the deep REM sleep needed for recovery and cellular repair.
  • Quality nutrition - Food plays a critical role in how dogs feel as well as how they behave. Make sure you are feeding the highest quality, most natural food you can afford and avoid feeding anything (even treats and chews) with artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
  • Added support - TTouchⓇ, massage, a ThundershirtⓇ or Anxiety WrapⓇ, flower essences, Chinese herbs, acupuncture/pressure, homeopathy, essential oils, energy work, and the D.A.P. diffuser can all be useful aids in helping dogs relax. The nutritional supplements lactium and L-Theanine can help relax dogs with anxiety and sound sensitivity issues. Both are available in chewable form from your vet. In severe cases your vet may suggest anti-anxiety medication to be used in conjunction with your behavior modification plan.

Dogs with arousal issues can be a challenge to live with at times. But with proper management and stress reduction methods, most can lead much calmer, healthier and happier lives. Daily relaxation sessions are a practice that will benefit both you and your dog

Dogs Aging Gracefully

Solo 5-20-13
Solo 5-20-13

Aging has been on my mind lately.  My own, but especially that of dogs.  Several of my friends have lost their old, and not so old, dogs in the past few months.  As my own dog is almost 13 and dealing with several small health issues, I decided I needed help evaluating the care I was giving him.  He had a vet check-up, full blood work, and a visit to his DOM.  I also rented the Winding Down video by Dr. Karen Becker from BowWowFlix. This DVD was a treasure trove of useful information!  I was familiar with many aspects since I've been on a natural healthcare journey for years, but it was a good reminder of some things I had forgotten.  While specifically aimed at owners of geriatric animals, the wealth of information provided will help you make better choices while your pet is still young and help keep them healthy far into their senior years.  Here are a few highlights for you:

  • For optimum health dogs need a varied diet of fresh, whole foods.  While a species appropriate raw meat and bones diet is optimal for our dogs (and cats), even a prepared diet can be improved with the addition of raw foods.
  • They need regular access to clean air and pure water.  If there are smokers in your home, an air purifier will reduce your pet's exposure to second hand smoke.  Filtered or purified water is available in many forms for us and for our pets.
  • We need to reduce their exposure to toxins, chemicals, preservatives,  and other obstacles to good health.  Make informed choices about all vaccinations and the use of flea and heartworm products.
  • Our animals "break" at the weakest link.  So things that happen in their youth can give us an inkling of their weak spots - accident, injury, surgery, chronic infections, sensitive digestion, pulling on leash, jumping off furniture, chronic reactivity can all lead to weakening of the body in some way.  The more we recognize this, the sooner we can take steps to mitigate the damage with supplements, preventive care, and training.
  • Regular check-ups and a good relationship with your veterinarian are vital to your pet's health.
  • There are MANY complementary modalities that can also benefit your pet's health.  Acupuncture/acupressure, chiropractic, TTouch, massage, Healing Touch for Animals, flower essences, herbs, nutraceuticals, etc.
  • Most older animals can benefit from the addition of digestive enzymes, probiotics, anti-inflammatory supplements and acid reducers.  I chose the N-Zymes system for Solo.
  • Despite all that we may be able to do for our pets, we must also be respectful of their spirit and desires.  That may mean NOT adding another supplement, treatment, or surgery and accepting that they have a voice in deciding the length and quality of their life.
  • Dr. Becker suggests creating an "autumn file" for our animals - information that will help us when we reach the "fork in the road" with them.  If we pre-plan and make some decisions while they are well, it will save us feeling overwhelmed during a time of crisis.

You can get a copy of the Winding Down DVD for only $20. I went to order a copy for my library and found that they have a special offer available now - buy any book and get a free DVD.  So I ordered Dr. Becker's Real Food for Healthy Dogs & Cats and requested the Winding Down DVD.


He will be 13 on the 4th of July.  That's phenomenal for a Doberman!  The current average is, sadly, 8-10 and I lost 2 of my previous Dobes at about 8.  Solo is my first "old dog".  That has brought some added challenges but also many gifts.  He's incredibly sweet and funny now.  He sleeps more.  He has more lumps and bumps than you can count.  Some past issues with his liver and digestion continue to give him trouble at times - which leads to sleepless nights for both of us.  He has arthritis in his front feet and he is slowly losing muscle mass and strength.  Despite a life of raw foods, his teeth are wearing out.

The Winding Down DVD reminded me that much of this is "normal aging" and some of it is simply the by-product of his life.  He has always been an intense dog.  He over-reacts, worries, has trouble relaxing, and throws himself into his activities with abandon.  This kind of lifestyle takes its toll over time.  I've worked hard to moderate his intensity and have made great strides.  But that hasn't changed his basic nature.  So I accept him for who he is and we compromise on many things.

Puppies require a certain vigilance and lots of extra care and attention.  So it is at the other end of their life as well.  Fortunately for us, all that extra work is balanced with an emotional closeness and intensity that can't be duplicated.  If your pet is still in the spring or summer of their life, take some time to review your care plan.  Are you doing what you can to create a lifetime of health?  If, like mine, your pet is in their autumn stage, is there anything more you can do to provide them with, as Dr. Becker emphasizes, "comfort and relief"?  I'm doing my best.