Monthly Archives: August 2013

Seeing Stress Means Feeling Stress

More on why coercion in animal training just doesn’t make for a highly conductive learning experience.

Science and Dogs

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Humans don’t have to directly experience trauma to be deeply affected; seeing someone else go through a distressing event can often be equally stressful. The vicarious experience is often sufficiently stressful to produce negative long-term effects resulting in PTSD, depression and other mood disorders.  For humans, seeing stress is often the same as feeling stress.

To study the biological basis of vicariously acquired stress disorders in humans we need a good animal model but our models are based on physical stress. The first question then becomes, is there an analogous response to vicarious stress in animals. To answer the question researchers subjected a group of mice to the physical stress of social defeat while another group witnessed it.

One group of mice were put in the same cage with a larger (40g vs 28g) aggressive mouse (CD-1) and the smaller mouse was subjected to physical stress (PS) via social…

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Cheap DIY pet toy and enrichment ideas

When you think about it, life for most pets can be pretty boring. They kind of just hang out at home all day, not having much to do. So this is why toys are great to entertain them, the more the better! You can always provide an assortment, while putting away extras so you can keep up a rotation so that when the current toys are put away and the others come out, they’re novel and exciting in your pet’s eyes! The good news is that you can make many of your pet’s toys for cheap.

And sure, toys are fun but what if I told you that you could cheaply combine toys and food so your pet can play with his food?! Instead of food being served in a boring dish and getting gobbled down or picked at, your pet can forage for his food. He can learn to focus, practice impulse control, and use his noggin to figure out how to get at the food. I’m sure you’ve heard that a tired dog is a good dog. That’s not entirely true. A dog that’s tired, BOTH mentally and physically is a good dog. But this applies to any pet, dog or not!

While it may feel odd at first, not just handing over food in a dish and instead having your pet forage for their meals, you can rest assured that animals in the wild spend the vast majority of their time on their quest to obtain food. There’s no one there to serve dinner in a dish. If they want to eat, they have to work for it. And for some species more than others, it can take up to 90% of their waking day. This is a whole lot of enrichment. These animals aren’t bored if they’re focused on finding food. While many of our pets are domesticated, trust me, they’ll appreciate the opportunity to show their wild side and work for their meals.

In this blog, I’ll be posting instructions for cheap, DIY pet toys and enrichment ideas. Some toys involve food, others don’t. Please supervise your pet with any toy as there’s always going to be an individual who will find any way to get into trouble. I do not assume responsibility for your pet’s well being as a result of trying these ideas. I had to write it, although these ideas are meant to be safe!

Gourd Toothbrusher:

This toy is great for scrubbing your pet’s teeth, or if you have a parrot, it’s just lots of fun to shred and tear.

1. Take an untreated, UNCUT, natural loofah (also spelled loofah or luffa) gourd. You can grow your own or buy these from various places really cheap. If the gourd still has it’s shell on, let it dry a bit and then flake it off so you only have the spongy, mesh “skeleton” left. Then let it dry completely.

2. Look at an end of your gourd and you’ll see channels where the seeds are located. Using your finger, clear a passage to about your finger’s width to the channels. ONLY do this one one side. There should be three or four channels, depending on your gourd.

3. Stuff these channels with treats that really get your pet going. Using your finger, make sure they’re jammed down in the channels so they don’t just shake loose. You can also try making slits in the outside of the gourd with a sharp knife or scissor (be careful) and insert more treats.

4. Give it to your pet and enjoy. While your pet rips into the gourd to get the treats, the mesh scrubs their teeth and the gourd has a satisfying crunch. This is a fruit and your pet should be able to pass small bits of the mesh if consumed. If your pet thinks the gourd it’s self is for eating, not tearing apart, trade your pet for it so you can safely take it away. By trade, I mean offer something better or of equal value in trade so your pet doesn’t feel like he’s losing out.

Angel really mangled her gourd a bit later trying to get to pieces of low fat string cheese.


Can you think of more gourd-errific (sorry, I promise to stop using words like these) ideas? You can string a whole gourd on a rope for an awesome, teeth cleaning tug toy, cut the gourd into slices and string them on pet safe rope, you can flatten them and shape them, tear it up and scatter it over a bowl of food for your pet to dig through, you can dye them with food safe coloring (but be careful because of staining floors, clothes and furniture). The ideas are endless and the gourds are easy to grow in your garden: In full sun, insert seeds like a penny about 1/2″ deep in soil, water well until the first true set of leaves appear.

Pit Falls of Electric Dog Fences

Something for pet owners to keep in mind when considering the options for containment for dogs are the pit falls of electric fencing. These pit falls should be carefully considered and weighed against the pros and cons of other containment options, which include (either alone or used in combination, especially for escape prone dogs):

  • Positive reinforcement boundary training, which I highly recommend. Contact me for a consult if interested in training this. (Supervised use only, please.)
  • Tie out lines (I recommend that these are attached to a back attach harness to prevent any potential neck trauma). Also a good idea to use only when supervised.
  • Real fences (green chain link virtually disappears against the green background of your lawn).
  • Runs or exercise pens.
  • Keeping your dog leashed for outside access (hey, it’s what people who live in big cities do so it IS possible).

Dogs get out quite frequently from their electric fences, animal control picks up dogs still wearing their collars all the time. They can develop a punishment callous (the dog gets used to the current degree of punitive stimuli, the electric shock, and requires increasing strengths of the stimuli to maintain motivation for the behavior) to the shock and choose to go through the line at any time, for any reason. Or without punishment callous, they can just all of a sudden decide that what’s on the other side is more rewarding this time than the shock is punishing. Often times, they then won’t go back because of the shock awaiting them for crossing back over. Then obviously, there are the perils awaiting them off their property, cars, rat poison, wildlife, etc.

Even if the dog stays on their property and respects the line, it doesn’t protect them from outsiders coming into their yard.
Dogs are associative learners and can frequently develop dog or child or stranger aggression when they associate the shock from the fence with whatever they’re near or even just looking at. Dogs aren’t human and lack our human logic and reasoning skills.
Receiving electric shocks, even if just once, can create generalized anxiety in some dogs, or anxiety just when the dog is put outdoors and this can lead to nuisance barking or house soiling if they no longer feel safe relieving themselves outside. Many dogs feel vulnerable going to the bathroom.Sometimes, depending on the company hired or even how the dog’s owner does it, training can be traumatic, consisting of dragging the dog over the line repeatedly to shock them in order to teach them not to cross it.

After considering all the pit falls involved, you may just find that electric fencing isn’t such a worthwhile option after all.

I highly recommend that you read and also
Leah Robert’s compilation entitled Shock Collars/Invisible Fences, and just about anything else on her page in general.—alphadominance-theory-and-other-training-myths.html