Getting A (Stress-Free) Handle On Your Pets!

Courtesy of: Ashley

One of the wonderful things about working at Truro Veterinary Hospital is the encouragement and opportunity all staff members are given to continuously learn.  Recently six of us attended a two day seminar with amazing Animal Behaviourist, Dr. Sophia Yin.

Dr. Yin became a veterinarian in 1993.  Soon after, she realized that more and more pets were being brought in to be euthanized due to behaviour problems.  In 2001 she graduated with her Masters in Animal Science from UC Davis and focused her studies on Animal Behaviour.  Sophia learned that “Every pet needs a human who can lead.  Not like a boss, but like a partner in a dance – someone who gives clear signals,  rewards desirable behaviour as it occurs, removes rewards for inappropriate behaviour immediately, and sticks to the plan consistently until the new, good behaviour is a habit.”  Her knowledge of animal behaviour is widespread and watching her throughout the seminar was like watching Picasso paint…simply put…stunning!

Dr. Yin spoke to a wide range of audience members, including pet owners, day care and kennel workers, groomers, veterinarians and veterinary staff.  She spoke at length about the “Earn to Learn Program” where pets (dogs AND cats, among other species) should learn to say “please” by sitting for anything they want.  This can be for something like putting on a leash, waiting for you to throw their toy, or sitting for attention.  Having your pet sit for attention also reinforces no jumping, and if your puppy learns to do this at a young age, it will become a habit before they are big enough to knock someone over!

Puppies start learning at a very young age when they are still with their mother and littermates.  They are like sponges in the sense that they soak up everything – including the bad behaviours we, as pet owners, don’t want.   They learn by trial and error – if they do something that works they will continue doing it.  Starting to train your puppy as soon as you introduce them into your family will not only start them off on the right paw, but show them what is appropriate and what is not.  Introducing your puppy to a wide range of objects and noises will give them more confidence.  For more information, visit our blog on socialization!  As pet owners, we must realize that every interaction with our pet is a training session.  Dr. Yin has published a book called The Perfect Puppy in 7 Days which portrays her own experiences training puppies.  She gives a step-by-step guide to start you off.  Kaila, our trainer, has also learned many of Dr. Yin’s techniques and will be happy to help you put them into practice.

One of the main reasons I wanted to attend Dr. Yin’s seminar was to learn how to better handle your pets while they are here visiting us.  Dr. Yin discussed techniques outlined in her book Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behaviour Modifications of Dogs and Cats.  In this lecture, she gave us pointers to help your pet love their visit or stay at our hospital.  She focused on Desensitization & Counter-Conditioning (learning by association) or Operant Counter-Conditioning (learning by trial and error) of pets for things like blood draws, exams and x-rays.

Counter-conditioning is when we put the pet in a new emotional state by pairing food (a pleasant experience) with an experience the pet may be nervous about.  This method may not be effective for all pets, however, especially if they are already very stressed about the experience before we get the opportunity to offer them food.

Operant Counter-Conditioning is using positive reinforcement paired with negative punishment.  Positive reinforcement means to reinforce (reward) something the pet has done in order to increase the likelihood it will happen again.  For example, when your dog sits quietly in her crate, a treat can let her know that you appreciate that behaviour and want to see it again.  Negative punishment involves removing the reward the pet is hoping for in order to decrease the chance that the pet will perform that behaviour again.  For example, when your dog jumps up for attention, leaving the room and providing no attention will reduce the chance that he will jump up the next time he wants attention.

Dr. Yin demonstrated some towel restraint techniques to use on dogs and cats that can reduce their stress level and that are safer for them and us.  However, the steps to helping your pet enjoy a visit to the veterinary hospital really start before they even arrive.  I learned some new tips and techniques to counsel owners that they can work on at home, such as getting your cat or dog used to a carrier or a muzzle.  Another tip that can make your pet’s visit pleasant is to give them lots of rewards while they are here.  That doesn’t necessarily mean treats.  Each pet is different in stressful situations so what works at home might not work at the veterinary hospital.  If your dog simply enjoys lots of attention, we can reward her by everyone (staff and owners) telling the pet they are a “good boy/girl” and providing plenty of pats and rubs.  If your dog likes toys then playing with them in the exam room while you are waiting can ease their stress level.  Not feeding your pet before his/her appointment and bringing their meal with you so we can hand it out to them could make it a good experience for them, as they may think “if I’m good I might get more food”.  All these tips don’t take extra time at all; just using what “wait time” you have wisely.

Dr. Yin uses “7 general principles of handling difficult dogs”, all of which I believe we do well here, but there is always room for improvement.  She reinforced the importance of being part of and providing a comfortable and safe environment, possessing the skills to know how to support each pet, and knowing where to hold and the degree of restraint needed for each individual pet.  All pets are individual and the protocol used will vary from pet to pet.  Knowing what works and what doesn’t will help us to be successful in making your pet’s next visit more positive.

We were shown the correct way to greet a dog.  It is best to approach scared dogs while standing with your back to them and offering treats.  Once the pet is calm, sit side-on (don’t bend over them) and let them come to you.  Keep your movements slow.  She demonstrated that when doing all of these things incorrectly, it can make you look like some alien creature from outer-space with a knife in hand…scary!  Videos and photographs were a big part of her seminar, and it reinforced my knowledge on reading body language with cats and dogs.

At the seminar, we got to see firsthand the importance of timing rewards correctly so you capture the correct behaviour.  Some people who attended brought their “pets with issues” so Dr. Yin could demonstrate techniques.  We learned the difference between the incorrect deliverance time and the correct one.  She demonstrated how using the correct deliverance time is crucial when trying to keep the pet’s attention when you are working with them.  Keeping your pet focused on you will make training far easier with your pet.  She spoke again of “being a partner in a dance”, and indicated that your posture when training can mean one thing when you want another.  Being aware of where your hands and arms are, bending at the knees, and your movement speed are all factors that will increase your success when working with your pet.

Dr. Sophia Yin has a wonderful website with lots of information and resources.  She has multiple books (I bought two!) and DVDs with LOTS of tips.  If you have the opportunity to purchase any of her resources or better yet, see one of her seminars in person, I highly recommend you attend.  I left with more knowledge than my brain could store and I will be using her references frequently!   If you would like more information, please contact us at 893-2341!

Special thanks to Dr. Gwen Mowbray-Cashen for providing us with this opportunity to learn, to Betty at Stay N Play Canine Centre for organizing Dr. Yin’s seminar in Truro and last, but not least, to Dr. Sophia Yin for opening my eyes further to the world of Animal Behaviour!

Our staff with Dr. Yin


A Tired Dog Is A Happy Dog!

Courtesy of: Brea

Many dog owners are surprised with the amount of energy their dog seems to have.  When dogs have too much built-up energy, they can display it in a number of unhealthy ways such as chewing, barking, and destroying anything they can get their mouths on!  My motto is “A tired dog is a happy dog” and it’s true!  There are numerous ways to help channel your dog’s energy in a healthy way.

Walking, running, or even bicycling with your dog is a great way to help burn off some energy. These repetitive movements strengthen your dog’s muscles and help to get them in shape.  Oh, and by the way, it’s great exercise for you too!  For people with really high energy dogs (like Cooper, my German Shorthaired Pointer), you can purchase this amazing invention- a backpack for dogs!  This gives the dog a real “job” to do. Whether you pack his own things inside, or add some weights, it amplifies the walk so your dog has to work harder thus burning more energy.  Remember to start light and gradually build up the weight.  Also, make sure you have an equal weight in both sides of the backpack.  As a general rule, the weight should not exceed between 15-30% of your dog’s body weight.  If you aren’t sure, remember to consult with your veterinarian to determine how much your dog should carry.

Cooper's backpack

If you have a dog like mine who doesn’t think he even belongs on a leash, there are many “off leash” activities that can really help burn off that energy.  Make sure your dog has a reliable recall (comes when called) so it is safe for both you and your dog.  Our Trainer, Kaila, will be happy to help you in this area.  One of Cooper’s all-time favorite things to do is go to the dog park.  He absolutely LOVES other dogs, and could spend the entire day there if I would let him.  Taking your dog to the dog park is a fabulous way to socialize them with other dogs, and people as well.  People enjoy when I bring my dog  there because he is SO busy, he really tires out the other dogs!  I assure you, your dog will sleep on the drive home.

Another favorite pastime of Cooper’s is going to the field.  Whether it’s playing ball or running around foolishly, he has a blast.  There are also many off-leash trails that you can take them to really burn off some steam.  Just be on the lookout for any wildlife you may encounter.  A reliable recall is a huge asset when your best friend comes nose to nose with a skunk or porcupine!  We particularly like to go to places that have water near them so he can swim.  Swimming is another exercise that is great for your dog.  Swimming is great for your dog’s joints and helps to cool them off on hot summer days.

German Shorthaired Pointers are not only great companion animals, but they were bred to be very versatile hunting dogs.  My boyfriend does a lot of hunting during the season, so they are involved in a hunting club called NAVHDA (North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association).

Cooper's a hunting dog!

Many dogs were bred for a specific purpose, whether it’s hunting, herding, or racing. Giving your working dog a “job” by letting them channel their instincts toward what they were bred for is a great way to help relieve energy in a healthy way.  If you don’t provide them with healthy outlets, your dog can display these instincts in undesirable ways.  For example,  a border collie who is not stimulated enough and not given a job to do, could start nipping at your heels or herding small children.

Many people tend to only think of the ways to make your dog physically tired.  Just as importantly, you can actually make your dog mentally tired.  This can come in handy when your dog is recovering from a surgery and has to refrain from physical activity for an extended period of time.  If you’ve read my previous blog regarding Cooper’s experiences with the “cone of shame”, you’ll remember that this is how I made it through his neuter experience!  Stimulating a dog’s mind is very exhausting for them.  Training requires your dog to think a lot, whether it’s regular obedience, or just teaching a new trick.

Cooper's new trick!

There are also many types of toys that help to keep them busy.  One of my favorite is called a “Kong Wobbler”.

Kong Wobbler

I bring Cooper to work with me here at the clinic every morning.  He used to hate coming here until I started using this fabulous invention.  I screw off the bottom and place his breakfast inside. He has to move it around so his kibble can fall out of the small hole.  By the time he finishes his breakfast, he is tired again!  It takes about half an hour for my dog to get all of the kibble out.  Another toy that we use is a Rubber Kong with stuffed with cheese whiz or peanut butter.  We then put it in the  freezer and it makes a nice tasty cold treat for your dog.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, I still have to tell you about my all-time favorite activity to do with my dog… AGILITY!

Cooper loves agility too!

I absolutely love agility training.  It is a fabulous way to spend time with your dog.  Agility will help to fulfill your dog’s natural instincts.  These courses are designed to replicate types of natural scenarios and fulfill the instincts of your working dog.  Running a course that involves many different types of obstacles will challenge your dog both mentally and physically.  This will help to strengthen muscles, improve coordination, keep him fit, and increase endurance.  Agility training helps strengthen the bond between you and your dog.  Your dog is dependent on you on the course and could not do it without you.  Leading your dog through an agility course will help reinforce basic obedience commands, improve communication, and improve your dog’s behavior outside of the agility course. Agility will also help you get in shape, too!  You will learn very quickly if you have a fast dog, you need to be fast on the course.  Take it from me!

If you have any questions about keeping your dog tired and happy, feel free to contact me at or give us a call at 843-2341.  Also, Cooper and I spend lots of time at the dog park if you want your dog to get a good workout!

Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog!

A tired dog is a happy dog!


Myth Busting: TVH Style!

Courtesy of: Kaila

I would like to clear up a few myths about dog training in this blog, as I see these myths in practice far too often. Even though positive dog training techniques have become widespread, “negative” or discipline-based training using physical force has become more common.  This is likely due to the increasing popularity of television shows that feature it.

There are many punishing and/or confrontational techniques used to control dogs (NONE of which we encourage or recommend) including: sharp leash corrections meant to cause discomfort; hitting or kicking the dog; applying electric shock; applying physical force to pressure a dog into a submissive down position; or the “alpha roll,” which forces the dog on its back in an apparently submissive position.  There are a variety of other techniques involving shouting, threatening stares or growls, use of water sprays or water guns, or grabbing the dog by the scruff of the neck or the jowls and shaking it.  How do you think these “techniques” make your dog feel?  They cause fear, stress and even pain.

Shock collars cause pain

Fear inhibits the ability to listen and learn.

For example, take your biggest fear; is it heights, spiders, or snakes? No matter what it is, now imagine yourself in that experience, whether it is falling from the CN Tower, or being locked in a room full of spiders or snakes . . . how well do you think you could LEARN something new while you are surrounded by your fear?  Chances are you aren’t going to learn anything because you are so stressed that you likely would have issues with listening and following instructions given to you – even to do something simple like write your name on a piece of paper.

Why then would we expect our dogs to be able to learn when they are in a fearful state of mind – a state of mind that we have created with one of the above listed “techniques”?

Punishment is not successful at teaching behavioral changes.

Just imagine:

You have a boss that speaks another language and you don’t understand your job requirements. Every time you make a mistake, your boss slaps you.  Now add a little inconsistency:  sometimes you get slapped after a behavior and sometimes you don’t, so you never know which response to expect.  He also yells at you A LOT.  When he tries to teach you something new and starts yelling…do you work harder or do you just shut down in fear and brace for the inevitable beating?

In times of conflict, are you the type of person that becomes very quiet and basically melts into the floor, focusing on anything but the confrontation? Perhaps instead you get angry and defensive, even yelling back?  Like people, there are dogs that may fall into either category.  By using physical pain, and punishment animals become unwilling to try to learn for fear of failure, pain and oncoming punishment.  Some dogs shut down and go to their “happy place” while others may be pushed far enough that they lash back at you in defense.

Now let’s look at things from a positive reinforcement point of view.  This is type of training that we offer and promote at Truro Vet.  Not only are the dogs willing, but they are excited to show of all their behaviours when they are trying to learn something new.  They don’t have ANY FEAR of failure, because there is no discipline for a “wrong answer”.  Any undesired behaviours are just ignored.  It is much easier to train a dog that is willing and excited to learn than to train a dog that is afraid of making a mistake.

Back to your boss.  Now imagine a scenario where every time you worked a little bit harder at your job, you got a nice big bonus.  Perhaps every time you politely greeted a client you got rewarded with a candy.  You are likely to repeat these types of behaviours over and over – because you got positive results.  Who doesn’t like to have a bit of extra cash?  How about that candy reward for what you might think is a “simple” task – I LOVE candy (especially Skittles)!  You’ll likely also try to find out other ways that you can earn candy and bonuses, making you more motivated.  The same thing happens with our dogs; they are so highly motivated by the rewards we have to offer them that they work harder to get their next reward.

Happy training session!

If you have questions about various training techniques, be sure to contact us at 893-2341.  We would love to discuss ways that you can build your bond with your dog in a loving, positive manner.



NOT The Happiest Place On Earth!

Courtesy of: Cecelia

My cat, Tom, was one of a kind.  He was my sweetie.  Tom always showed his affectionate side for friends and family but he had another side too.  That side he saved for visits to the vet.  He hated coming to the vet hospital for his visits and I hated to take him.

Tom relaxing at home

I got Tom after working in a veterinary hospital for 2 years.  I knew then (and still know now) that regular visits to the vet for health care are important to identify small problems before they became big problems.  Tom’s regular vet care allowed him to live 18 wonderful years.

Tom was brought to Truro Vet when he was 4 months old to be ‘put to sleep’.  He was a small ball of black fur with a white bib and dazzling eyes.  It didn’t take long for him to win my heart and for the next 18 years he honoured me by being my cat.  The only time I didn’t feel that honour was when I got out the carrier to take him to work with me for a vet visit!

Maybe it was his traumatic experience as a young kitten, being dropped off for euthanasia, or maybe it was that his life with me was so sheltered that any experience that was different was scary to him.  Maybe it was the unusual and sometimes scary smells from other animals that I brought home on my clothing or maybe it was the famous feline ESP.  However he knew, he understood what the carrier meant and he would go into evasive action the minute he saw it.

I tried many things to lessen the trauma for him. Some helped and some did not.  Through the process of trial and error, I was able to lessen his anxiety.  It seemed as I did things to lessen his worry, my worry decreased too and that made a big difference for both of us.

Tips to make your feline friend’s vet visit go purrfectly:

For some cats, a trip to the vet office is just an excuse to get a great back scratch and face rub, but to cats like Tom, it is a trip to hell.

Imagine the vet visit from a frightened kitty’s prospective.  First, there is the hateful carrier. That box of containment that makes many cats run from the sight.  Why? Some cats appear to believe that the carrier is going to eat them whole and they fight desperately to avoid the jaws (aka the door).  Next comes the car ride.  The trip in that smelly, noisy machine that rumbles and reminds them of the last time they were in the car…the last vet visit.  It is not surprising that by the time that your cat makes it to the office, adrenaline levels are soaring for both the cat and their human companions.

Our pets are very empathetic.  If you are stressed, so too is your kitty.  Even an Academy Award winning performance cannot fool your cat.  Our cats know us so well, they can see through the entire charade.  Some people even feel that their cats can eavesdrop on the phone call to book the appointment!  It’s true that many cats conveniently ‘go missing’ at their appointment time.

Thankfully with a little planning, there are several things that we can do to alleviate some of this stress.

  • Start by choosing a day when you are not rushed and can feel a sense of calm.
  • If possible, select a day when the weather is expected to be fine.  Ideally, good road conditions make less scary noises in the car.
  • When you call for an appointment, be open with us about any anxieties that you or kitty might have.  An appointment booked at the start of your vet’s shift or at the start of appointments after a supper break can mean little to no waiting time and less interaction with other animals. We can also pre-arrange to have you and your cat escorted to an exam room immediately on arrival rather then waiting in the reception area.
  • Have a cat carrier that can be easily dismantled so we can access your feline friend by removing the lid rather than dumping the cat out if she doesn’t want to come on her own.
  • Place an old towel in the carrier.  Sometimes stressed kitties going for a drive will lose control of their bladder and bowels. Absorbent bedding can make the clean up easier and preserve some of your cat’s dignity.
  • Spray the carrier and blanket in the carrier with Feliway.  Feliway is a product that is a pheromone (a scented hormone) that comes from cat’s facial glands. These glands produce a scent that has a calming effect on kitties. This can be used at home, in the carrier, car and vet office to ease stress.
  • About two weeks before the visit, leave the carrier out near the area where you would normally feed your cat.  Have the door open and place the food dish near the door. Gradually move the dish into the front of the carrier and then to the back of the carrier so that you kitty sees the carrier is a breakfast nook rather then big jaws.
  • The day or two before the visit, trim your cat’s nails.  This makes for a safer visit for everyone involved.
  • Skip the meal prior to the visit and just use a few treats to get your feline friend into the carrier. Travelling with an empty stomach helps with car sickness and might motivate tolerance of gentle handling in the office.  We have many treat types at the office but you might want to bring a few of her favorite treats.
  • When you and kitty arrive at the vet hospital ask to be put into an exam room as soon as possible.  Once in the room, open the carrier door and let your cat out to explore the room. Entice him with treats or toys. Catnip is not recommended. The effects of catnip can be unpredictable.
  • If you have more than one cat to bring, don’t put them in the same carrier.  Like people, at times of stress cats can redirect their frustrations and anxieties onto each other.  Having separate carriers or preferably separate visits, for your kitties is a wise step to lessen the stress.

If you have questions about making your cat’s trip to visit us as stress-free as possible, please give us a call at 893-2341.  Working together, we can all try to make your cat’s visit as easy and comfortable as possible.

Tom happy on his couch


A Social Puppy Is A Happy Puppy!

Courtesy of: Kaila

Did you know that socialization is one of the most important things you can do for your puppy?  It is also the first step in raising a well-behaved dog.  Proper socialization involves exposing puppies to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as possible during this time.  It should be done safely and without causing over­stimulation manifested as excessive fear, with­drawal or avoidance behavior.  The crucial time period for socialization with your puppy is the first three months of life.  Socializing your young puppy well means there is a better chance your puppy will be calm and accepting when he experiences these same stimuli again later in his life.

A dog that has not been socialized may become an epicenter in a storm of problems.  Some dogs may even become sick from stress, which can inhibit your ability to train them.  They can shed excessively and develop long-term health issues.  Stressed dogs can be aggressive, unpredictable, and unmanageable, all of which may lead to a dog that bites. Therefore it is very important that you make socialization a priority in your training. Turn each opportunity of meeting someone or something new into a positive experience that results in treats, toys and fun!

A Happy Play Date!

Here at Truro Vet we offer a FREE Socialization Class every Thursday night at 6pm.  We call it a Puppy “Party”.  These classes are drop-in supervised one hour play sessions designed to help young puppies learn valuable play skills.  Equally important, puppy owners learn the basics of dog body language.  This should be considered a good addition to enrollment in a well-run puppy class, not a substitute for classes.

Puppies must be under 16 weeks of age the first time they attend and must have had at least one set of core vaccinations one week prior to attendance (including Distemper, Parvovirus and Bordetella).  Puppies are exposed to a number of novel things to accustom them to a new environment and owners learn when and how they need to intervene in play.

You don’t have to be enrolled in other classes or be a client of Truro Vet in order to attend our Puppy Parties.  We want this important first step toward a well socialized dog to be available to everyone.  We also offer Puppy Classes which will continue to give your puppy great socializing opportunities. Here are a few other tips to help you out on your own:

  • Give a treat to each person that your puppy will meet and ask them to give it to your puppy.
  • Expose your puppy to lots of strange sights, sounds and situations.  This will help them get comfortable and familiar with them.
  • When you bring your puppy to class we can supply you with a socialization check list that has a variety of ideas.

If at any time during socialization the puppy becomes frightened (tries to run away, tucks his tail underneath flat against his belly, or attempts to snap at you) consider the following:

  • Do not coddle a frightened puppy. Unknowingly you are praising his uncertainty; he will feel as though there is something to be unsure about. This will worsen the situation.
  • Jolly him up with a silly voice, a treat or game.
  • If a situation is overwhelming to the puppy, back away until the puppy is relaxed again.
  • Start from this point and build up the pup’s confidence.
  • Gradually get closer to the stimulus that is causing the puppy discomfort.
  • Your ultimate goal is for your puppy to be confident and comfortable around stimuli that was previously scary to him.

Over time you and your puppy will become experts at meeting new people, seeing new sights and hearing strange sounds.  For more information or to sign up for classes, please contact us at 893-2341.

A BIG New Stimulus!


It’s Not A Muzzle, It’s A Gentle Leader

 Courtesy of:  Kaila

A question we hear quite often is: “Why is that dog wearing a muzzle?”  Sometimes when we show people the Gentle Leader their first response is: “My dog doesn’t need a muzzle he doesn’t bite.” There are some very common misconceptions about Gentle Leaders and their purpose.  My task today is to help educate you on the differences between a Gentle Leader and a muzzle and why a Gentle Leader might be one of the best investments you make for you and your dog!

Why is the Gentle Leader so great? It offers a painless and highly effective way to stop your dog from pulling, lunging and jumping. Walking your dog can finally be enjoyable! It is a very successful training aid as it is effective (controls pulling), humane (non-choking), easily fitted, and user friendly.

What makes Gentle Leaders different from muzzles? Gentle Leaders still allow dogs to open their mouths to eat, drink, pant, bark, fetch, breathe normally and even bite. Muzzles are most commonly used with dogs who are aggressive (towards people or other animals) to prevent them from biting. Some muzzles are designed so that your dog can still open his/her mouth, pant and breathe normally but if fitted properly will prevent a dog from biting and injuring someone or something.  These muzzles are still very different from Gentle Leaders.

How do Gentle Leaders work? A Gentle Leader puts light pressure on your dog’s muzzle and at the back of the neck so when your dog tries to pull you down the road after that squirrel it will instead turn his head – much like a halter on a horse. The Gentle Leader also works with the dog’s instincts. Dogs tend to pull against pressure. If your dog is wearing a regular collar or leash, or even a choke style-training collar (which we certainly do not recommend) he will pull forward as you pull back, leading him to gag and choke.

How will my dog react to the Gentle Leader? An obedient dog won’t mind the Gentle Leader and will continue to be obedient. A dog who is used to manipulating the owner and being in control will resist. The more the dog experiences this new type of control, the more he may resist. The best way to make any new training aid or tool a positive experience for your dog is using lots of rewards (food rewards if food motivated, praise, a game of fetch or tug).

Hopefully now you can see the difference between a Gentle Leader and a muzzle. If you have a dog that loves to pull please give us at Truro Vet a call (893-2341) and we can set up a FREE appointment to fit your dog with a new Gentle Leader.