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The Singapore Dog Lifestyle Blog

Category: Behaviour (Page 3 of 12)

The nuances in dog’s submissive behaviour: Lying down

Two months ago, Donna met Snow the Japanese spitz at the dog run again. Donna had actually met Snow when she was a small puppy about a year ago, but I’m not sure if they remembered each other.

Snow the Japanese Spitz – Popping on the back a submissive or calming signal?

They seemed to get along, but in a strange way. Every time Donna approached Snow, Snow would flop on her back like this.

dog submissive behaviour

Every time.

I read that dogs lie down as a calming signal or as an appeasement gesture to more assertive dogs. I’m not sure if this meant the dog is generally under stress, but Snow didn’t seem unhappy judging from her loose mouth and overall relaxed demeanor. So I left them to it.

Except that after a while, I got bored and tired of looking at Snow popping on her back every single time (haha!) so I called Donna away to a different spot in the dog run so she could think about playing with some other dogs instead.

We almost never meet a submissive dog like Snow so I didn’t think much about it until over the weekend when we attended a doggie birthday party.  Meet Sam Forest Loo Lim, probably the most submissive dog at the party…

dog submissive behaviour

Sam the JRT – Lying on the side a submissive or an appeasement signal?

Compared to Snow, I thought sweet little Sammy looked perhaps slightly more tensed because his ears were somewhat pinned back and his tail a little bit tucked inwards.

dog submissive behaviour

He stayed frozen in that pose the whole time Kanon the Japanese Spitz examined him until Kanon moved off.

dog submissive behaviour

And then Donna came in with her usual “Play with me” demand…

dog submissive behaviour

… and little Sammy flopped back down again.

dog submissive behaviour
Donna’s playbow was not heeded. 

…dogs clearly demarcate play by employing signals, such as play bows (i.e., putting the front half of the body on the ground while keeping the rear half up in the air) and exaggerated, bouncy movements. Anthropologist Gregory Bateson called play signals meta-communication, meaning communication about communication. Humans employ meta-communication a lot. For example, when teasing a friend, we may smile or use a certain tone of voice to indicate that we’re just kidding. Similarly, dogs play bow to invite play and to convey playful intentions during play. Marc Bekoff, while at the University of Colorado, did a study1 showing that dogs are most likely to play bow just before or immediately after performing an especially assertive behavior, such as a bite accompanied by a head shake. This pattern suggests that playing dogs recognize moments when their behavior can be misinterpreted as serious aggression and compensate by reminding their partner, “I’m still playing.” – Is your dog’s rough play appropriate, TheBark.com via Hawk Brown Dog

dog submissive behaviour
No I don’t wanna play with you… I just want to lie here and freeze until you go away, crazy Donna. 

Or at least, that was what I thought Sam was saying.

But Sammy’s human shared with me that he wanted to play, but perhaps was just unsure because he was meeting Donna for the first time. That made sense too, if he were really fearful, perhaps Sammy would have scooted back to his human in a hurry.

But he remained… and Donna was still play-bowing him – – (Donna is probably in danger of becoming a bully i.e. a dog that keeps bugging another dog to play even if the other dog is showing resistance.)

dog submissive behaviour

And then this happened again…

dog submissive behaviour

Passive submission usually involves a dramatic reduction in activity with a goal of diverting attention, and is most often seen in a lower-ranking dog when threats are directed toward him by a higher-ranking member of the social group (dog or human). The dog’s ears may be pressed flat against the head, with his tail tucked between legs. The subordinate dog often freezes, averting eye contact, lowering his head and body, sometimes to the point of going “belly-up” on the ground. Passive submission may also be accompanied by submissive urination. – Understanding how dogs communicate with each other, whole-dog-journal.com

Sammy is a cheerleader?

They separated for the cake cutting and group photo taking. Afterwards, Donna and Kanon started to play. Now sometimes Kanon likes to mount other dogs, but Donna usually just spins around to shake him off.

This time, Donna was finding it a little difficult to spin him off because Sammy decided that he wanted to play too.

dog play style and humping behaviour
Does Sam want to play with Donna now or is this a Two vs One situation?? Kanon mounting Donna from behing and Sam jumping on Donna in front.

I was quite surprised that Sammy had no issues putting his paws on Donna because of his submissive gestures earlier. So I wonder if his actions belong to the active submission category…

Active submission may also be identified as attention-seeking behavior: nuzzling, licking (including licking ears and lips), jumping up, paw lifts and pawing motions, “smiling,” teeth clacking, crouching, pretzeling, and play-bows. The dog’s ears may be pulled back, and his tail may be wagging expressively, with wide, sweeping movements or circles. These behaviors can often be seen during greetings between dog and owner, or between friendly, compatible dogs. – whole-dog-journal.com

dog play style and humping behaviour

Sam’s human gave me more insight when she explained that Sam is the type of dog who likes to feel involved when other dogs are playing. Cheerleader style??

Cheerleaders.  Cheerleaders play on the outside of a group who is more physically involved.  They run around the outskirts of the group and bark, sometimes almost constantly.  Often times cheerleaders turn into the dreaded “fun police.”  These dogs can be great on one hand (they may break up play that is getting too rough by dispersing the playmates and allowing them to calm down) or problematic (they can cause fights because some dogs do not appreciate having their fun broken up). – Canine play styles -why they are important, teamunruly.com

dog play style and humping behaviour

In any case, they still appeared to be having fun so we continued to observe.

They broke up on their own.

dog play style and humping behaviour
dog play style and humping behaviour

And then resumed the two-versus-one game again.

dog play style and humping behaviour
dog play style and humping behaviour
dog play style and humping behaviour

And then they had another break on their own.

dog play style and humping behaviour

Some time later, they started playing again in the same way. By then, I had stopped taking photographs since they seem to be doing the same thing all over again.

But after a while, you could sort of feel they were a lot more excited this time than the previous bouts. There was play growling from Sammy, and I wasn’t sure if Donna was play growling as well. But as I watched I could see that the hair on her back was standing and her mouth was really tense and at times she mouthed him.

Now Sam is a small dog so by then I thought it was better to call Donna away, give them a timeout and stop the play on a high note rather than risk letting them carry on. I just wasn’t sure if it was wise for them to continue when Donna was so aroused since it’s the first time Donna was caught in a situation where she is closed in between two dogs. And also, I didn’t want Donna to accidentally hurt Sammy since he is so much smaller and lighter than her.

And since it’s the first time they met each other, I just rather be safe than sorry. If they ever meet again, I’ll be interested in seeing how they continue to interact.

Perhaps I can be considered as highly interventionist?? Hawk the Brown Dog shared with me an article that has an interesting take on dog interaction:

Sometimes it is obvious at the beginning of a bout that two dogs are playing, but once the dogs start growling or their arousal intensifies, observers may no longer be sure that the dogs are still playing.

After all, humans instinctively avoid a dog who is snarling or baring his teeth, and it is natural to think that our dogs should do the same. When people interrupt really rowdy play, they assume that they are “playing it safe,” that is, doing no harm.

But what if this assumption is mistaken? Our research shows that for many dogs, play fighting is the primary method used to negotiate new relationships and develop lasting friendships.

Although play is fun, it also offers serious opportunities to communicate with another dog. In this sense, play is a kind of language. Thus, when we regularly break up what we consider “inappropriate” play, are we doing our dogs a service, or confusing them by constantly butting into their private conversations? Most importantly, how can we tell the difference?

– Full article here Is your dog’s rough play appropriate, TheBark.com via Hawk Brown Dog

So while I’ll still continue to pull Donna aside for time outs with new dogs she is meeting when they get rowdy, I will probably let her handle these interactions on her own with dogs that we have met more consistently and are more familiar with across time.

Donna the Mongrel – Lying on her back an invitation to play?

I recently wrote about Donna sending a calming signal when she threw herself on her side to “surrender” when a 6-mth-old labrador puppy got too excited for her to deal with.

Ending this post with a video of Donna on her back for a different reason. The daycare told me she was showing more of a “look at me” posture, inviting the other dogs to play with her.

donna tries so hard from weliveinaflat on Vimeo.

She looked so relaxed wriggling around there but it’s funny how she was trying so hard but the Border Collie walked by twice and ignored her both times. It looked like nobody responded to poor Donna but the daycare assured me that the last dog at the end of the video responded to her invite. :P

So good. ;)

Romping with a young one

“You could walk a little slower, human… *pant pant*”

tired dog

This is the face of a 5-year-old dog. Outplayed and outlasted by a 6-month-old chocolate lab puppy (that was about her size but bulkier). A month ago.

At first they had fun, but puppy was unstoppable and kept going after her even though she probably had fulfilled her quota for fun wrestling with salivary dog. :P She played with him still, but for the first time, she got so excited she was play-growling. I have never heard her growl during playing with another dog before so that’s new to me. But she has play growled with me when she gets too excited before, so I wasn’t too surprised. That’s usually the signal for me to give her a timeout.

It occurred to us we should separate them when Donna started the play growling. Have to say though that considering the action was fast and furious, the other lady (even smaller and slimmer than me) and I were probably somewhat at a loss how to separate them.

Donna didn’t seem particularly unhappy though, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I missed some calming signals from her.  And should have given them a time out sooner.

Eventually, enough was enough so she flung herself on the ground in a submissive gesture and puppy was onto her. We quickly move to separate them, but she had already darted off. Puppy gave chase but was no match for Donna’s speed.

Eventually they stopped and we were able to corner and separate the puppy from Donna.

So there you have it. Exhausted Donna. Outplayed, Outwitted and Outlasted by a 6 month old puppy.

At least she outran him. :P

I think it was still a good play session considering both dogs had fun and there was no antagonism between them even when things got a little wild. Just wondering if I was over-worrying over the play growling or I could have done better. :) I guess perhaps I should err on the cautious side and start giving them time outs earlier before they get too rambunctious for us to separate?

Still working on Donna dog’s mounting behaviour

Eight months ago, I wrote about why my dog humps people/ other dogs. My conclusion was that she was not socialised to behave appropriately in a situation involving a lot of dogs. At the shelter, where there are a lot of dogs, it was normal for her to be over-excited and spinning in circles non-stop.

Subsequently, we’ve only been exposing her to places with less dogs, and hoping to slowly train calm behaviours from there. And then slowly expose her to situations with more dogs. But that’s easier said then done, because it’s really hard to control the number of dogs she is exposed to in a systematic or planned way. And sometimes, the human is not very consistent as well :P

So for a while we sent her to daycare, where she could socialise with other dogs in a supervised environment. The daycare said that Donna did not show any mounting behaviour for that period.

I’m wondering if the dog has learnt that mounting is not preferred but only in specific places like the daycare. That is, she has not generalised that mounting is not preferred in all circumstances.

I’m thinking this because this month, she has been showing mounting behaviour at the new places we went to. Although, I’m thinking there are different reasons for the behaviour as well.

Mounting Behaviour at T.A.Z. Cafe, Saturday

Take for instance at the newly opened T.A.Z. cafe. There were two active dogs there playing with each other. And Donna really wanted to play with them.

DOnna playbows the other dog

But they were totally engrossed with each other, and all Donna could do was follow them around and watch them play.

playing dogs

I suppose eventually, after getting tired of watching from the sidelines, she tried to mount the bigger dog in the pair to get his/her attention.

donna mounts the other dog

Only it got my attention instead, so I started to recall her… and recall her… and recall her every time she tried to mount the dog.

donna looks on as small dogs play

In this picture, Donna is by my side and can only watch the dogs play. I suppose it became more of a negative punishment (called away from other dogs = boring) than a positive reinforcement (called away from other dogs = get food reward for responding to the recall) because she didn’t really like the food for dog we bought for her at T.A.Z cafe … oops. But she got the idea and stopped trying to mount the dog. It helped that other dogs came in later who were happy to play with her.

I have to say, now that I’m looking at the pictures again, I do wonder if the dachshund was totally happy playing with the lighter dog or if the dachshund was trying to get away. I wasn’t paying as much attention to them as I was to Donna, unfortunately. But I do know that the owner examined the dachshund later on and was unhappy to find bite/scratch marks on the dog.

So please do supervise your dog when he/she is playing with strange dogs. :)

 

Mounting Behaviour at Marina Barrage, Sunday

The next day at Marina Barrage, Donna had a great time playing with her new Japanese spitz friend.

donna dog plays with japanese spitz dog

Her friend tried to mount her, but she didn’t try to mount back.

But later on when a male border collie arrived, she got very interested and mounted him within minutes of checking him out. That got the border collie worried.

donna dog checks out border collie

I’m not sure how Donna decides to mount one dog but not the other. I can only guess that perhaps as the morning went by, she got progressively more excited with all the activity going around. I can’t say for sure though, because I was distracted with the activity around as well.

Donna has some experience with border collies at the daycare, and from what I hear, they don’t really play with her. The last border collie we met was on a walk at night. The border collie was barking madly and dragged his owner all the way to meet Donna. That took us by surprise and gave me a bad fright as Donna was screaming… but it turns out from excitement rather than from fear.

I think more exposure and observation is necessary before I can draw any informed guesses as to her motivations.

But needless to say, Donna spent the rest of the birthday party doing time out away from the other dogs.

The border collie’s owner remarked that if the other dog is ok with it, the humping shouldn’t be an issue. And I agree with that.

Gary Landsberg, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist in Ontario, Canada, says mounting is common play behavior in puppies, and is even normal in the play of older dogs if it’s not taken to extremes. “You’ll often see one dog mount another, then a few minutes later they’ll switch off and the other dog will mount the first dog,” Landsberg says. “It’s a common play gesture.”

It’s done by males and females, even by dogs that have been neutered or spayed, he says. “It’s a play behavior that dogs do because no one has told them it’s not acceptable,” Landsberg said. “It can become enjoyable or a normal part of the dog’s day, so it keeps doing it. It’s the same as jumping up or barking at the door.” – pets.webmd.com

But in Donna’s case, time out is necessary for the following reasons: –

  • She was over excited and restless and didn’t try to stop mounting the border collie despite being recalled. Unlike at T.A.Z. cafe, this was an environment with more dogs. I do not want her to stay in that over-excited state.
  • The border collie was worried and I shouldn’t let Donna give him more stress.
  • In situations involving new dogs and owners we are meeting, even if the dog is OK, I do not know if the owner is OK with it.
  • While humping may not be an issue if the dogs are good friends, I’m not sure if it sends Donna a confused message. Why is she allowed to mount some dogs but not others?

So as a rule, Donna is recalled when she starts to show mounting behaviour. And if she shows it repeatedly despite being recalled. She gets to do time right next to the human. :P

It’s a bummer for the human to sit out the action at the party, but I believe in being consistent with the dog. (Note: Mr P informs me that I didn’t really sit out for that long. Haha. )

Anyway, I’m thinking I should probably find something to attach her lead to some body part so I can walk around with her with me unencumbered for next time. That is, once she has calmed down sufficiently using the matwork, rather than just spend the time sitting on the mat the whole time.

I am bendy

dog sniffing butt
dog licking butt

I am comfy in my crate and I smell good. Get over it, human.

Because dogs do that.

This cat has got OCD!

1 Day 1 World Project: Donna at 6:00pm – 7:00pm (last week)

dog and cat sitting on park stools

So we were taking an evening walk in the park, when I saw this cat sitting on the stool.

And I thought- wouldn’t it be cool if I have Donna sit on the other stool for a photo that says: “Hey, Donna is a cat!”

So I led Donna to the empty stool and have her hop on it and do a sit-stay.

By pure luck, that cat just stayed there. She didn’t run away.

Rather, she appeared to be analysing if this was a threatening situation.

As she stared at me, I quickly snapped just two shots. And what luck, I got both of them looking straight ahead in one!

And then I noticed this little paper tray sitting on the table. So I moved to remove it, and that’s when the cat snapped out of its assessing mode.

She hopped off and on to the other stool next to Donna and started to do the strangest thing.

dog and cat sitting on park stools - side view
Why are you leaving me here alone with her, human?

She started to rub against the park table non-stop!

cat rubbing face against table
Rub… rub… rub…

I was surprised by how the cat kept rubbing the table the whole time we were there. In fact, after a while I became concerned because I remember this article floating around about head pressing being a sign of a neurological disorder!

cat rubbing face against table
Pause… Looked at me…wary cat
Looked at Donnacat rubbing head against table
Rub… rub… rub…

It was only when I came home and Googled that I found possible reasons to her behaviour. At first I thought that this cat might have been trying to be assert her territorial rights to the table to us!

 Cats rub their heads (bunting) against prominent objects to leave scent markings as a part of scent communication. – cats.about.com

dog and cat on park stools
This is my table… this is my table… this is my table…. this is my table… this is my table…

But then I found that perhaps the rubbing is the cat’s way of coping with the stress of having the dog and human in its space.

Cats are equipped with glands, located on the forehead, lips, front paws, and on their flanks and rears, that secrete pheromones. Pheromones secreted by glands on the face seem to have a calming effect on cats. When cats rub their faces on various objects they leave their scent, which is reassuring to the cat and non-offensive to humans. – petplace.com

I obviously am clueless about cat behaviour, what do you think?

For 24 weeks, weliveinaflat will post photos taken for a specific hour in that week.
We will cover 24 hours in 24 weeks. (I’ve no idea how we will do the sleeping hours, lol!)
More about the 1 Day 1 World Project here.

These dogs own the streets at Pingxi

sleeping dog at pingxi
I will sleep wherever I want.

Perhaps because Pingxi appears to be an easy-going small town/village kind of place, the dogs seem to have a free run of the area. At least some of them appear to be pets with collars on their necks.

This dog was sleeping undisturbed by the many humans who walked by to take pictures on the rope bridge.

sleeping dog at pingxi
Maybe he’s the bridge toll keeper asleep on duty?
The bridge leads to the residential, sleepier side of Pingxi. 

You’d think with his kind of lackadaisical attitude to life, Pingxi must be real quiet and idyllic like so.

pingxi
Pingxi is special for its unique architecture and design, as its market area, Pingxi Old Street (平溪老街), is built into a hill with a train track going overhead right through the middle with shops around selling local food and gifts. – Guide to Taipei

Years ago, we came to Pingxi and it was quiet. Nothing much was opened and there weren’t any tourists. Could be because it was winter. We mailed a few wooden postcards home, took a few pictures and left.

Today, a different sight greeted us. The sky lantern trade was alive and booming, despite it being the wrong season.

Every year around Chinese New Year (usually in Jan/Feb) the Sky Lantern Festival (平溪天燈節) draws massive crowds of people together in Pingxi to release their Chinese Lanterns together in a sign of celebration of the new year.

writing tiandeng at pingxi
Frames with the paper lanterns pegged to them lined the tracks as tourists write their wishes with black ink. It’s a fun activity for the family or friends traveling in a group. The sky lantern shops lined both sides of the track. 

photo taking with tiandeng
Different colours of the lantern denote different types of wishes. These ladies want to be married soon.

tiandeng ready to lift off
The whole process is very systematic. The shop workers will take your picture with each side of the lantern before they instruct you to raise the lantern for a final picture before releasing.

tiandeng lifts off at pingxi
And lift off!

up and up and away tiandeng

With our sky lantern floating merrily off by it’s lonesome, we decided to walk about this old town.

balcony garden at pingxi
balcony garden at pingxi
hanging flowers
hanging flowers
This is what the hanging flower looks like from below. :P

 Hah! Dog spotted!

black female dog at pingxi
What you looking at? Quit following me. 

black female dog at pingxi
These human pupparazzos…. arf!

two dogs identifiable by their tails at pingxi
Two more I can discern by their tails. Hmmm….

handsum brown dog at pingxi
And this handsome chap. Guess what he is on the look out for?

begging dogs at pingxi
Hey stranger, you need to pay if you want to eat in our territory!

begging dogs at pingxi
I tried but I don’t think the tall beast is gonna listen to you, bro. 

begging dogs at pingxi
My persistence will win in the end!!

Brings to mind the behaviour of those unruly deer at Nara Park. The tall beast walked here and there and couldn’t shake them off. He only escaped when he finished his food and dump the leftovers and packaging into the trash.

All these happening, while our lantern hangs in the sky.

dusk at pingxi

How to Get There?:

By Train: From Taipei Main Station, take a northbound train (except Keelung-bound trains) towards Ruifang Station. Transfer to the Pingxi Line (平溪線) and purchase a One Day Ticket for the Pingxi Line, NT$52. The line is pretty scenic and you can get off any the stops to explore. Details. Train map.

More about
Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival in 2014
– What not to wear to release a sky lantern
– Other attractions along the Pingxi line

 

A fun photoshoot for Donna

A behind-the-scenes look at Donna’s behaviour during our photoshoot with food

You may have realised that most of my photos are candid shots from our day-to-day lives. It helps to capture those moments and diary our life with Donna, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with such shots.

And I actually don’t like to spend time staging for pictures. I’m just plain lazy.

But it was one of those days, when I had a little bit of energy to do something different for once. So I decided to try to stage a picture of Donna launching up the table with her front paws, grinning at some treats.

The treats were plain boiled protein, nothing fancy. The fancy part involved having Donna stand on her two feet with her fore paws on the table supporting her vertical pose. And hopefully, I would be able to capture her grinning at the yummy treats.

The result was more outtakes than anything remotely useful.


Trial shots. Lots blurry shots because of bad indoor lighting. Decided the background over here is ugly. 

Of course, Donna was tempted by the fresh cooked food. But it’s easy enough to distract her from the styled food by rewarding her with the rest of the cooked food that was not being photographed.

She does know the “Leave it” command, but it was just funny looking at her struggling that I just let her mess up the display after a while :P

So the whole time, she was like a jack rabbit, hopping up and down the table with her front paws. She can’t hold the position very long, so she kept dropping and popping up again.

All that action made it very exciting for her so even though she usually doesn’t like the camera, she actually had quite a bit of fun with this shoot.


Moved treats to the other side of the table next to the wall so I get a clean background.
Made sure there is space for Donna to hop around between the table and the wall. 

And you know what, all that jumping is quite a workout for her!


Donna preferred the bigger space on the ugly side though. So she kept hopping up, dropping down, running to the other side and hopping up again. Almost like a those games where a head pops out of the hole and you’re supposed to hammer it back down again. :P 

She was a very happy dog that day because she had a lot of extra fresh cooked protein in her system during and after the shoot. And all for having a great time because hopping around rather than sleeping made it an exciting afternoon for her. ;)

The shot of the day: 
And also the only shot that was close to what I wanted. Have to say the image quality is poor because of poor lighting indoors, which meant I had to over-process. Not a good thing, but I’ll live.  ;)

Does your dog leave human things alone?


A flower stuck over the doorway to my dog’s room. Kind of remains me of the top down photos people are forced to take of rooms that are too small for even a wide angle lens :P

Over the Chinese New Year period at the beginning of this year, I playfully stick this faux flower in Donna’s crate to give the ugly black thing some festive cheer.

And since Donna seemed to not care that it’s there, I left it there long after Chinese New Year had passed.

But will a dog always leave human things alone?

A month back I found the flower missing a leaf, hunted for it and found it half chewed on the floor covered with drool. No prizes who has been at it.

So now the crate is back to its original spartan self sans flower.


I have no need for sissy flowers!

Just because the dog left a human thing alone for now, does not mean she will leave it alone forever!

So the other day, after not getting my attention because I was busy hanging out the laundry to dry. Donna decided she needed to entertain herself in a corner of the room where she usually does not go to.

You know when the dog is quiet and sniffing around human furniture, alert bells go off…

So I strolled by and see my dog with a tea bag in her mouth. – – That lemongrass and ginger teabag was left on the bookshelf to keep lizards away. Not an afternoon snack for you, my dear.

Took it out of her mouth, half bitten, but still with the paper tag stapled to the string intact. That’s the thing I worry about most when she hunts down the teabags… the metal staples accidentally swallowed and piercing her on the inside.

I retrieved the tea bag with one hand so it’s not like she really wants to eat it. I guess she was just bored and once she had my attention, she was happy to let it go.

Sometimes, the dog doesn’t need attention and goes to her room to chill out by herself.


Now I know I wanted the crate to be the safe place for Donna. A place she feels that she can retreat to when she needs some “me time” on her own.

But when I find her with her one ear sticking up like this, I just couldn’t resist poking my camera in her face and intruding in her safe place. :P



Leave the dog alone, human! I’m sleepy… zZzZzZzZz…

Wouldn’t it be nice if both of us get bored at the same time rather than at different times?? :P

This post is as much about the dog’s behaviour as it is about the human’s! :P

Donna finds shelter from Thunder Phobia

The situation with Thunder Phobia thus far

We adopted Donna in January last year so the battle with thunder phobia has been raging for one year five months.

Thunder Phobia
The fear of thunder that descends the dog into terror that looks like this:Dog with thunder phobiaEars pinned back, whale eyes, tense mouth, pacing, climbing on furniture and humans, yawning, drooling, violent trembling, peeing and pooping.

Solutions we have tried

We’ve tried some products that are said could help with Donna’s thunder phobia – the Thundershirt, DAP collar and crate training.

I’ve just gotten a copy of the CD Through A Dog’s Ear and waiting for an opportunity to see how that works.

//Edit: Here’s the review of the CD and accompanying book.

The thing working best for us appeared to be counter-conditioning with food so I concentrated on that, using the Thundershirt, her Collar and Crate-training as additional aids.

Thundershirt, collar, lead

Counter-conditioning with food

So what happened was, everytime it rained and thundered, I would put a little dish of food in her crate hoping that would create positive associations to the thunder. She was very comfortable with her crate but only when it wasn’t raining. So for her to be willing to go into the crate to take the food was a good step in getting her to be even more comfortable with the crate. But once she took the food, she came out of it immediately.

Counter conditioning
To “condition” means to teach, and to “counter” means to change. So counterconditioning just means to re-teach the pet to have a pleasant feeling and reaction toward something that he once feared or disliked. We do this by associating the feared thing with something good so that it predicts good things for the animal. As soon as the dog or cat sees the thing, we give him a delicious treat to create a pleasant emotional reaction. Over many repetitions, the animal learns that whenever that thing appears, good things happen! Eventually, the process produces a neutral or positive emotional reaction to the sight of the previously feared or disliked person, animal, event, place or object. – ASPCA

So it became a long, tedious process of scooping out the food, putting it into the crate, taking the dish out again when she’s done and doing that over and over again as long as the thunderstorm lasted. And that could be the whole afternoon or the whole night. So you can see how it would take a toil on the human

The only reason why I persisted was because I could really see a difference. She started anticipating this routine when it rained. And she would bounce to her crate in excitement. Sure she noted the thunder with a frown even while she was lapping at her food, but at least she was no longer trembling violently or drooling or pacing around… for the earlier parts of the storm. She was lying on the floor in the front the kitchen watching me scoop out the food before running to the crate.

waiting outside while I am busy with her food in the kitchenDonna with her ThunderShirt which helps to lessen her pacing agitatedly about the flat when it rains.

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The downside to counter conditioning with food was that eventually she would reach the point of diminishing returns and I had to scoop larger portions to get her interest. And finally that would stop working as well. And if it were still thundering then the thunder phobia would make itself evident.

The good news – the more sessions we went through, the more I could lengthen the intervals between each treat, which means she could progressively stay calmer for a longer time. And at one point, she was calm by herself with low rumbles of thunder from the distance without my intervention.

That is, until we hit the dry season. Good news for me because it meant I could take a break and sleep well and be more productive in the daytime. But that also meant that whatever progress we made backslide-ed when the rainy season came again. Boo.

Finding a safe place to hide from the thunderstorm helps the dog to calm

For the longest time, we have limited her area of activity to the living room and hoped that with all the actions we have taken, she will slowly find it comfortable in her crate in the living room even with the storm.

It just wasn’t happening.

And when something isn’t working, it would be stupidity to continue so I thought I’ll change the venue and let her be in the study with me when it storms.

I did the same thing that I did in the living room. Treated her every time it thunderstorms. It took a bit of work at the beginning but comparatively quicker. Perhaps the work in the previous season helped get us into the mode of think about food and not about the storm so Donna was maintaining calm a lot easier.

Thunder phobic dog is unhappy but no longer panicking, even without thundershirt.
She doesn’t look it but this is better than if she were pacing around, drooling and freaking out in general. You can see she is unhappy  still. Her jaws are tensed and clamped shut, her ears are pinned back and her brows are sort of frowning.  But she is at least no longer panicky, even without thundershirt.

Never would I imagine the difference being in the study could make. The key difference that really showed that location made a huge impact in her behaviour was that once upon a time, she was happy to see her collar and lead when it stormed and now, she looks worried when she sees it!

She would go to the study by herself and look out again to see if you are going in there with her. I can only conclude that previously the collar and lead made her happier because she thought it meant we would go out and escape from the experience of the storm from inside the flat.

But now she has somehow got the connection that the storm was even scarier outside so she doesn’t want to leave the flat. She has started to anticipate the rain two hours in advance and paces about. Even when it hasn’t started raining yet and I thought to take her out for a short walk before it rains, she got worried and was reluctant to come and get her collar put on.

The living room with its floor-to-ceiling glass balcony doors does little to muffle the buffeting  wind, thunder and the lightning flashes. So I have to smack myself in the head because it made so much sense now. That once she familiarises herself with the small study she would be more comfortable in it. She feels safer in it.

The study has become her Thunder Shelter.

From her height, it’s almost den-like. All she sees are cupboard doors, books on shelves and some junk we pile on the floor. No windows. Having the door opened makes her nervous when the thunder is particularly bad and she would pace to the door to peer outside. Closing the door helps her calm down even more.

Cheese on nose takes mind off thunder

laughing cow cheese

I didn’t like the smell of canned food in the study, so I switched the treat to slivers of cheese that I cut from a cube and deliver on a finger tip. She liked the cheese. But bringing your arm up and down to feed her little bits of cheese the whole afternoon is again tedious.

I remembered the Peanut Butter series of photographs that I saw on Instagram. Basically these are photographs taken of dogs trying to lick peanut butter off the top of their noses. I smeared the cheese on her nose.

Best thing I’ve ever done.

She didn’t like having cheese smeared on her nose, but it definitely took her mind off the thunder as she focused on trying to lick the cheese off her nose. She took quite a bit of time to clean her nose completely before I need to deliver her next treat to her mouth to make her happier. :P So no, she doesn’t get irritated by cheese on the nose all the time.

The dog decided that it was more efficient to scrape the cheese off with her paw and then lick the cheese off her paw.
She decided that it was more efficient to scrape the cheese off with her paw and then lick the cheese off her paw.

Nowadays, if it’s low rumbling from a distance she can stay on the floor or her bed under the table in the study without pacing or treats as long as there is a human with her. OK, I lie, it is still up and down when it comes to her and her moods so  cheese treats are a necessity still.

And definitely when it thunders badly, cheese treats MUST be delivered in more amounts in order to distract her before she goes over threshold. (No wonder she’s gaining weight)  Needless to say, we are spending more time in the study with the rainy days we are seeing this couple of weeks.

Still a long journey ahead

However, all bets are off if she is home alone when it starts to storm. The other day I ran home in the rain to find her on the dining room chair panicky and slobbering away. Saliver was all over the room. She jumped off when I entered and the lightweight chair slid away from her. It is dangerous for her to prance around like that especially in a fright. She was a mess.

Getting her to not react to thunderstorms when home alone without humans is a longer journey. But at least Donna has found a shelter in the storm to hide in relative peace but only when the humans are home.

I think the rain has stopped!
Goes out and looks left, right... and returns back into the room.
Goes out, licks butt, looks left, right… and returns back into the room.
safer to stay in the study

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