A Safe Place

dog crateTraditionally, cats have been at the forefront when it comes to providing a space to hide. It has been well documented that by having a box or carrier to freely hang out in, their stress level can be reduced significantly. In turn, by lowering their stress level we reduce their risk of becoming ill. But it’s not just cats that can benefit from this. Dogs and exotic animals need a place where they ‘can get away from it all’ – at least in their own minds. Imagine yourself in a fish bowl with all kinds of noises and people bustling about. It can be overwhelming to say the least. Even pet owners are being marketed to provide dens that mimic side tables or nightstands, or that match the decor in their home.

Hide spaces don’t need to be expensive. Boxes that arrive with inventory can be stored and available for putting in with small dogs, cats, rabbits or guinea pigs. The nice thing about cardboard boxes is that they are thrown away after use and are conducive to infectious disease control. Toilet paper or paper towel rolls can be used with mice, hamsters or gerbils. Cardboard is also a valuable source of enrichment for small mammals because they love to chew it. Carriers or crates work well with dogs and cats, and can increase living area by providing vertical space. A blanket on top of a carrier can be a comfortable perch for cats and small dogs.

rabbitThe main things to remember are safety (not something that will collapse on the animal), sanitation (if not disposable it needs to be a material that is easily disinfected), size (something they can fit into and naturally stand or turn around in), and positioning (having the opening face people as they walk by doesn’t feel safe to the animal). Most often some great hiding tools can be found in storage around the shelter. But for those who want to make an investment there are commercially available cardboard hide boxes for cats as well.

Behavior training in shelters

Graduate from a behavior class today!

Graduate from a behavior class today!

There are many methods of animal training available today.  However, some methods prove to be safer and more humane than others. Positive reinforcement training is one method that has proved humane, effective, and also strengthens the bond between animal and owner.

Positive reinforcement training identifies a desirable behavior and reinforces that behavior with reward. Clicker training is one example of positive reinforcement training. In this method, the desirable behavior is immediately associated with the sound of a clicker that is then followed with a reward, typically a delicious treat. Once the animal associates the behavior with reward, a command is introduced that names the behavior. Eventually, the animal associates the cue with the behavior and the animal learns commands. Positive reinforcement training can also be used to get rid of undesired behavior by asking for another behavior when the undesired behavior arises. These “incompatible behaviors” can teach a begging dog to lie down on a specific mat when people are in the kitchen. Positive reinforcement is both an effective and kind method of training to consider when training an animal.

Punishment is not recommended when training animals. Often, punishment follows the negative behavior by some time and the animal may not associate the two events thereby rendering the punishment less effective than reward based training. Although punishment may decrease the expression of undesired behavior, it may also cause other undesirable behaviors to arise. If a dog growls in warning when it is guarding an object and is punished, you may not be teaching the dog to not guard the object as intended. Rather, the dog may learn that it gets punished when it growls. Now the situation has become more dangerous, as the animal may not growl in warning but rather aggressively react when its object is being taken.

Unfortunately, there are many types of trainers working with shelters and in the community, some less progressive than others. While some individuals may have been in the dog training field for many years, experience does not equate to expertise. Whenever possible, it is advisable to use a certified behaviorist who uses techniques which are in alignment with your mission and beliefs. Just because a person is the only individual willing to do the job doesn’t mean that they should be allowed to do so if it will negatively impact the animals and your mission.

When adopting out an animal, adopters should be counseled on any behavioral issues that an animal may have. Resources, including basic training tips and local behavioral services can then be recommended at that time. It is therefore highly recommended to know the resources in your area, both good and bad, so that you know exactly to whom and to what method of training you are referring. Other community members that have behavior questions can also be referred to these resources. 

If you are unfamiliar with how to choose a trainer, or what those letters behind a behaviorist’s name means, then check out this guide by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers.

So go on and teach your cat to high five, your dog to dance, and your husband to wash the dishes!

Resources

Karen Pryor Clicker Training

Clicker Training Your Pet (ASPCA)

ASPCA/Cornell/Maddie’s 2014 Recap: Foreign Bodies in Shelter Dogs

Picture1This article contains a brief synopsis of information presented at the 2014 ASPCA Cornell Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Conference. This presentation was given this past July by Tiva Hoshizaki, BVSc, the Janet L. Swanson resident in shelter medicine at Cornell University, to the shelter staff and volunteer track.

Foreign bodies can gastrointestinal obstructions, which can be life-threatning in dogs and cats. Any item has the potential to be a foreign body. Most commonly we will see dogs eating toys, balls, fabric, rocks or plastics. Foreign bodies cause vomiting, inappetence, lethargy and even diarrhea. Many dogs in shelters develop vomiting and or diarrhea, mostly due to stress, viruses or dietary indiscretion. Dogs which have persistent or severe signs should be seen by a veterinarian for work up including x-rays and or ultrasound.

Surgery to remove a foreign body can be expensive, over $1500 in many cases! If your shelter can afford to take out a foreign body, then be sure to ask the following questions before you commit:

  1. How bad is it? The sicker the dog is, the longer the foreign body has been there, and the type of foreign body will all impact the prognosis. In uncomplicated cases 95% of dogs survive and do fine. In dogs with severe illness, such as septic peritonitis only survive about 50% of the time.
  2. How adoptable is this dog after surgery? Some dogs are already beginning to deteriorate in the shelter. Are there concurrent medical or behavioral issues which may make this dog unadoptable in the future?
  3. Will your shelter be able to manage this dog in the future? Dogs who get foreign bodies are more likely to get them again in the future. That means this dog needs supervised time with toys, special toys, special bedding, and a special adopter to take them home. Will you be able to monitor and prevent a future surgery?

Picture12There are a variety of factors that inhibit ingestion of a foreign body such as the item itself, the dog, and the environment. The item itself is not always a dangerous object, although can pose life threatening consequences if not addressed in a timely fashion. Some dogs are classic offenders like the inquisitive puppy who just loves to eat rocks while out for a stroll, or the larger breed who unknowingly gnaws off and swallows a piece of your child’s Tonka truck. These dogs can make even low-risk toys into a foreign body. Conversely, some dogs go their whole lives playing with high-risk items and never require surgery. Most importantly, is the setting and environment of the shelter. Dogs are in high stress situations, with often minimal exercise and enrichment. While a certain dog may do well with toys at home in a supervised setting, a dog in a shelter setting may relieve its anxiety by shredding and eating its blanket! When making decisions about risk, remember to consider all three factors: DOG, TOY and ENVIRONMENT!

A brief word about toys and their relative risks. The highest risk toys are those which are cheap plastics and fabrics. They are easy to destroy and often have appealing squeakers which are the perfect size to become lodged. Avoid the bargain bin at pet stores, as these cheap toys aren’t worth the time and effort. Moderate risk items include rawhides, dental chews, balls, rope toys and tough fabric toys. The slightly edible toys are great fun, but can be swallowed if they are the wrong size for the dog, or if they are broken into smaller pieces. While edible bones and chews are good for dogs in a home, use them with care in the shelter! The lowest risk toys include the hard plastics and rubbers, or super tough fabrics. These toys include treat dispensing cubes, Kongs, “dental” toys, and other items designed for “tough” chewers.

Once again a reminder: Any item can become a foreign body. Any dog or cat can develop a foreign body. There are no hard and fast rules–you must judge based on that individual animal’s risk with that item and its environment!

Picture13The prevention of foreign bodies require communication between staff, daily monitoring of animals and their items (remove broken items!), awareness, and teamwork. Here are some other suggestions which you could implement in your shelter:

  • Do daily rounds!
  • Make foreign body prevention part of volunteer orientation and staff CE
  • Ensure there is a question on your owner surrender form about foreign bodies, and a complete medical and behavior history
  • Provide adoption counseling for potential adopters with a history of FB ingestion
  • Use a shoe rack with labeled slots for each toy, so that at the end of each day, all toys are put away and accounted for
  • Include appropriate toys and treats on the animal’s cage card
  • Use homemade shelter enrichment items which are completely digestible such as kibble, broth ice blocks, or treats in paper bags or egg cartons. Avoid making fabric or plastic bottle toys!

Do you have any other ideas of how you can prevent foreign bodies in shelter dogs? Please post below with your ideas!