Making vet visits stress-free

Some pets find vet visits very stressful even though the staff do their best to reduce stress in their patients. Owners can help make vet visits stress-free by starting training for them at home. Here are some tips I shared in an article I did for our local newspaper:

“Reportedly, one of the main reasons people do not regularly take their pets to see their veterinarian is that the animal is terrified of going, making visits difficult.   

Many pets are also extremely uncomfortable with being groomed or with having their nails clipped or with receiving vet prescribed treatment even at home and by their owner. This issue can lead to other problems. For example, the dog who goes without toenail maintenance can develop soreness and joint problems when the nails and toes twist or when the nails are pushed back into the nail bed as they contact the floor. 

When pets are stressed and frightened, it makes things difficult for veterinarian and the veterinary team to diagnose a health issue, and to treat a problem and it interferes with the animal’s own healing.  

Through reward training though, these pets can be much more comfortable with home and professional grooming and with receiving veterinary attention and treatment.  Reward training is the way progressive sanctuaries teach the animals (for example bears and large cats) to offer a foot for nail or hoof trimming or to offer easy access to a vein for a blood draw.    

The training involves small steps. Only when the animal is completely comfortable at one level and ready to progress will he be introduced to the next step. For example, a cat who is afraid at the vet hospital becomes stressed when his crate is brought out because he only goes in his crate when he is going to the vet.  He has made an association with the crate and objects to going into the crate. The first step this cat’s owner can do to help the cat is to train the cat to be comfortable in the crate at home. The owner could also further set this cat up for success by using a crate that has a removable lid and start by rewarding the cat for any interest in the crate.  

Before surgery, an owner can help their pet get used to an “Elizabethan” collar (which prevents the pet from licking the surgery site) making wearing one much easier after the surgery.

Reducing stress in pets before and during veterinary and grooming appointments and in shelters is part of the “Fear Free” initiative (  This initiative was founded by American veterinarian Marty Becker and provides certification for trainers and other professionals who work with animals.

For more information and if you have a pet who is stressed by visits to the vet and/or the groomer or by things like having their nails trimmed at home,  please visit and check out “Fear Free training” or visit”

Staying safe in the heat

I am reposting this article I did for The Local newspaper a couple of years ago as we experience the current heat wave:

We are experiencing a heat wave which is expected to last a few more days so extra care to make sure our dogs are safe is needed.
Dogs have few sweat glands and must pant to cool down, and they are susceptible to heatstroke.
Symptoms of heatstroke include skin that is hot to the touch, increased panting and salivation. This can progress to vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, collapse, and unconsciousness.
Heatstroke is an emergency, and the dog needs to be removed from the heat and receive immediate veterinary attention.
To avoid heatstroke, only exercise dogs when it is cool. Make sure the dog always has access to shade and drinking water and that he is not confined to an asphalt or concrete surface.
Exercise caution when hiking with your dog. Ensure you have lots of water for the dog and that the hike is not too strenuous for the fitness level of the dog.
Avoid using muzzles that inhibit the ability of the dog to pant. For dogs who need to wear a muzzle, a basket muzzle that allows them to drink, take treats, pant and bark is a good option.
Every year warnings go out about the dangers of leaving a dog in a hot vehicle and, sadly, dogs (and children) still die in vehicles. A car stopped in hot weather can quickly magnify outside temperatures making it a deathtrap.
In hot weather, pavement can get very hot. The pads of the dog’s feet can burn and blister on hot pavement. Additionally, dogs are close to the ground, and they can get much hotter than we do, so keep them away from pavement.
Use paddling pools so the dog can go in and cool down. Other products that help are cooling mats and cooling vests available at local pet stores. Monitor play to be sure the dog is not overdoing things. Avoid hiking with dogs in the heat.
Enjoy the warm weather and avoid the hazards to our dogs.

Supporting our dogs in a changing world.

Around the world we have all felt the impact of COVID 19 and the resulting restrictions and lockdowns. Several studies have revealed how the restrictions have also impacted dogs and their owners.

A British study showed that four times as many dogs had company all day during “lockdown” compared to the number of dogs who did pre-lockdown. In addition the number of dogs in the study who typically were left alone for two or more hours a day dropped from 48.5 percent before COVID restrictions were put in place to 5.4 percent during the restrictions. 

The dogs in the same study were walked on a leash and less often than before the restrictions resulting in the dogs having fewer interactions with other dogs.  Owners also reported that they played with and trained their dogs more often during the restrictions than prior to them.

Another study looked at the impact of the company of dogs on humans during lockdown.  Not surprisingly, researchers found that dogs (and other animals) were sources of emotional and physical support for people.  They also identified specific challenges for the owners such as accessing veterinary care, coping with the loss of a dog and, particular to essential workers, arranging care for their dogs.

A US report indicated one US childrens hospital had treated three times as many children for dog bites than usual since the COVID related restrictions were put in place. The report authors suggested that increased child-dog exposure (due to children being home rather than at school), the dog being affected by the general stress of their household, and inadequate adult supervision of children around dogs contributed to the large increase. 

As COVID 19 vaccinations become more readily available, many dogs will go through yet another change as owners spend more time away from home and their dog. This could lead to many dogs experiencing separation related issues. Other dogs may need to adjust to seeing more people or spending more time with children if their owners are providing childcare to assist parents returning to work.

Owners can help their dogs adjust to changes in a number of ways, some of which are: 

  • Learning a new activity together. If in person classes are not available, there are fun, online, reward- training courses owners can take.  A new activity can build self confidence in a dog and challenge the dog mentally.
  • Taking advantage of the online resources and learning dog body language in order to recognize signals that indicate the dog is feeling stressed and make changes before things escalate.
  • Providing enrichment activities and food dispensing items to keep the dog busy and engaged.
  • Arranging for the dog to have social time with dog friends if the dog enjoys the company of other dogs.
  • Practicing leaving the dog alone for short periods of time and gradually building up the time so the dog becomes comfortable.
  • Arranging for appropriate care for the dog in the owner’s absence.
Teaching your dog new tricks or a new activity can boost confidence and challenge them

If you are an owner who will be providing childcare for parents who are returning to work, plan to supervise closely, to teach the children appropriate behavior around dogs and to give the dog somewhere to go away from the attention of children when he needs it. Access online programs and learn how children should and should not interact with dogs. Involve children in the learning.

Hire a qualified, certified force-free trainer or behaviour consultant or enlist the help of a veterinary behaviorist if your dog has behavioral issues he needs help with like separation distress or anxiety. 

It looks like more changes are in the way for many and, as dog owners, we can make these changes as comfortable as possible for our dogs. 

Jane Bowers, BA, CPDT-KA, CABC


Christley, Robert M., et al. “Impact of the First COVID-19 Lockdown on Management of Pet Dogs in the UK.” Animals, vol. 11, no. 5, 2021, Accessed Feb 2021.

Dixon, Cinnamon A., and Rakesh D. Mistry. “Dog Bites in Children Surge during Coronavirus Disease-2019: A Case for Enhanced Prevention.” The Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 225, 2020, pp. 231-232, Accessed 02 2021.

Shoesmith, Emily, et al. “The Influence of Human–Animal Interactions on Mental and Physical Health during the First COVID-19 Lockdown Phase in the U.K.: A Qualitative Exploration.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, no. 976, 2021, Accessed 02 2021.

Make your own hoops for Hoopers training!

For lot of good information on “Hoopers” go to .

Supplies needed: 

Measuring tape

Hack or table saw (or ask your building supply store to cut pieces for you).  

1 X 34” to 36” piece of ¾” PVC

2 X 16-18” pieces of ¾” PVC

2 X 12” pieces of PVC

2 X ¾“ T-joint (or 1 X 4 way PVC joint but I could not find them in my building store so improvised with 2 X T joints).

1X ¾” elbow joint

1X 1” of ¾” PVC

2 X ¾” caps (optional)

1X hoola hoop (30” in diameter)

Assembling the hoop:

Take the 36” piece of PVC , place it horizontally and add the elbow piece to one end and a “t” joint to the other end . Add the 1” piece of PVC to the other end of the T joint so you can attach the 2nd T joint (or use a 4 way joint if you can find them).

Add the 2nd T joint to the base by attaching the lower part of the T to the other end of the 1” piece of PVC.

Add the 2 pieces of 12” PVC to the second T joint and add caps to ends of the 12” pieces of PVC .

Add one of the 18” pieces of PVC to each end of the 36 inch base so the 18″ pieces are upright to the 36” piece.

Cut the hoola hoop so each end can be inserted into the vertical PVC. Depending on the size of the hoola hoop (I use ones that are 33″ in diameter and cut enough off so they fit to bottom of the 16- 18″ upright PVC pieces and end up being 36″ high).

Insert into the upright PVC pieces.

The finished hoop looks like this:

Spring Safety!

Soon we will have warmer weather and many of us will be spending more time enjoying the outdoors with our dogs.   It is a good idea to be aware of potential hazards when we are enjoying the outdoors.

Make sure your dog is fit enough for the length and difficulty of the hike you choose to do.

Be familiar with the area you are camping or hiking in. Know where there may be steep drop offs/cliffs or where there is fast-moving water or roadways you may suddenly come upon.

Make sure that your dog is either leashed or trained to such a degree that he or she will always respond to your cues, so they do not harass wildlife or farm animals.

Many species of wildlife are more likely to feel threatened when they have offspring to raise and protect.

Protective raccoons can be dangerous to dogs. Coyotes are a bigger risk to small dogs than larger ones, but coyotes have been known to lure a larger dog into bush where other coyotes ambush the dog. A cornered black bear can easily kill a dog.

On hikes keep your dog close to avoid them disturbing wildlife who are more likely to feel threatened when they have offspring to raise and protect.

Farm animals are also more vigilant when they are raising their young and some can easily injure or kill a dog they feel poses a threat.

Carry fresh water with you for you and your dog. Diseases like leptospirosis are transferred through drinking from infected water sources like ponds. Prolonged exposure to water containing the virus increases the risk of transmission through swallowing, contact with mucous membranes or through an open sore. Dogs that walk-in areas frequented by wildlife are at increased risk of this disease.

Giardia is a parasite picked up from drinking from water sources where giardia may live (for example, untreated water from lakes, streams, or wells) or by swallowing water while swimming in lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, and streams

Check your dog for ticks after being in an area where there may be ticks and talk to your vet about tick and flea prevention. Lyme disease isspread through the bite of infected ticks especially in the spring and fall when ticks are seeking hosts so check your dog (and yourself) for ticks.

Take a first aid course for pets so that, if your dog has an accident despite your preparation to avoid hazards, you can assist your dog immediately and then get him or her to the vet.  Pet first aid kits are available and fit easily in backpacks.

Make sure your dog is wearing identification, so if he goes missing, you are reunited as quickly as possible.  Affordable tracking devices that work with cell phones are now easily available.

Enjoy the outdoors with your dog but be safe out there!

Easy home-made dog treats!

When I want to make some quick training treats, I use 2 eggs , a cup of flour  (or enough to make the dough fairly firm) and canned fish ( one 14 oz can of salmon or tuna or 2 tins of sardines).

I also use parchment paper to line the baking pan and to make clean up easy. 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees and you have treats your dog will love!!  Cut them while still warm into the size you want!

The release cue!

Training Tip!

The “break” or “release” cue is a word we teach the dog to indicate that the exercise we have asked them to do is now over. It means that we (dog and handler) are finished working for right now and that the dog is on his or her own time.
Examples of good “break” words are: all-done, break, release,. The break cue  indicates to the dog that he has finished an exercise like a sit or a search).
The release word is not a cue for playtime. The release word just means that the exercise we have asked the dog to do is over but it isn’t necessarily playtime. 

The tug-toy game

Playing tug with dogs is a great way to reward a dog, to teach bite inhibition, to teach a dog to release an item on cue, to tire a dog out and to teach control of arousal levels.

To teach tug-toy, decide what the cue will be for tug-toy. Have ready a toy the dog enjoys playing with-this can be a tug toy, a rope or a Kong™ on a rope.

Pick a time when the dog appears to want to play. He or she may have invited their person or another dog to play.  Take the dog to a low distraction area and ask the dog to sit.  Then bring out the toy, shaking it close to the ground or dragging the toy away from the dog to encourage the dog’s interest. The dog will generally pounce on and grab the toy. After a few minutes of play (and while the dog still wants to play) the person stops the play by letting the toy go limp and withdrawing it. Initially, I reward the dog for letting go with a treat.

When the person has practiced stopping and starting tug-toy with the dog and the dog appears to enjoy the game, the person can add the cue for tug-toy.

Give the cue (for example: “tug”) and then bring out the toy and engage in play with the dog, give the cue for break, immediately stop playing by letting the toy go limp and rewarding the dog for releasing the toy, then, give the cue to play again and engage in play with the dog and so on…

I have rules for the tug-toy game which are, (1) if the dog’s teeth contact the person’s skin, the game stops immediately (let toy go limp, remove)-at no time should the play game involve the dog using his or her teeth on the person so it is important to be consistent and calm about this (2) anytime the toy is near the person’s face, the game stops – as long as the person is consistent, this teaches the dog to stop playing when the toy is near the face. If the dog tries to grab the toy out of my hand, I put the toy away for a few minutes.