If you look through any pet catalog, pet store, or on tv you will see plenty of ultrasonic/electronic devices that are designed to stop naughty or unwanted pet behaviors. Scat mats, clip on transmitters for your stairs, couch, front door area, or direct anti barking collars are a few devices. While the information reads well - low frequency sound or just vibrations to get attention, there are some pretty significant side effects to using these products. The manufactures of these devices rarely warn about the resulting problem behaviors because it is not required. While spraying citronella collars or vibration only collars are not as painful or aversive as shocking collars, the association that the pet makes when these products go off actually often creates problems. I want to help you understand why these devices often backfire, and why it is best not to use these products. If you are using some of these products this may help you understand some of the "side effects".
A punisher needs to deliver the punishment at a level that will stop the specific behavior right at the time they perform the behavior. So, a shock comes right at the bark. Now the whole scene when this shock happens is also associated with the shocking feeling. Since you cannot explain that the shock is to punish the bark only, the dog cannot rationalize that everything else is not apart of the pain and fear of the shock. The barking will stop because of the pain, but now the dog may be avoiding the front door, or acting anxious because the shock was happening in this setting. This dog may now growl at the front door, or no longer happily greeting people because the door means shocks. Great - the dog was happy to greet you as you came home through the door, but now won't come to you or worse yet urinates in front of the door due to anxiety.
Re directed aggression is common with anxiety. These electronic products often increase anxiety, so you may be presented with dogs that are fighting for no apparent reason. The client may not be using the ultrasonic/citronella or shocking collar now. It was the past use that created this problem. I had a case similar to this recently. A client purchased a citronella collar for the one dog that barked a lot in the fenced in yard. So the collar went on and barking decreased, but fighting relapsed between the 2 dogs that had diminished through the behavior modification plan. After a bit of questioning I found out the triggers were completely different for these 2 dogs. What was going on???? It turns out the other dog had the collar on and started growling to avoid barking which would have tripped the collar. So the companion dog would then growl back and bingo - a fight. As soon as I got this story I urged that the collar be removed and out of sight. The collar was causing confusing signals between the two dogs and increased anxiety resulting in fighting. Within 1 day of the collar off and out of sight, and these 2 were calm, and back to playing well.
Occasionally you may have dogs that become more generally anxious just from having these items laying around the home. Think of it this way - if every time you laughed too loud you were sprayed, you would not only stop laughing loud, you would likely be worried that something else may set off a startling spray. You learn that the laughing set off the collar but are not sure what else did, so you become anxious. Can you see how these products are creating more problems with anxiety and aggression? It may not be an obvious effect but the effect is there. At a pet store I noticed how many devices there are for "remote control"of behavior. Often when I see a pet with aggression I am finding that people have gone to using these devices in an effort to try to stop an unwanted behavior. These products are so common and present themselves as an easy fix. It would work for us, why not our pets?
I cannot fault these clients for reaching for these products. They promise results - and one will see the undesirable behavior stop quickly. These products are everywhere - Sams club, Walmart, Pet Smart - you name it. A hand held ultrasonic anti bark device is about $10 at Walgreens. Who would not want to try the quick fix? The name "Pet Sate" is also encouraging. The backfiring of the products is the dirty little secret that is not known well. This backfiring problem is what needs to be know and explained to the client. There are clients who will swear by these devices as the best thing to use, and maybe in this home with this pet there is not a problematic increase in aggression or anxiety. I am sure there is an increase in but it may not be a problem to the client yet.
If you are dealing with some problem behaviors, refer to some of our articles to help you with your specific problems. There are great books using positive training techniques that are best to use. Before you purchase an electronic product please discuss the problem with a certified trainer, technician or veterinarian trained in behavior. It will save a lot of trouble and cost in the long run.
Feisty Cat Out of a Cage
Feisty Cat Out of a Carrier
Dr. Foote on Current
Did you miss Dr. Foote's appearance on WCIA's "Current"? Watch it here.
Cold Weather brings Sore Ears
Ear infections and inflammation are somewhat common for dogs. Some breeds like the Labrador Retriever or Cocker Spaniel are notorious for ear problems. Usually the summer when it is warm and there are lots of allergy triggers, like grass, is when we see the most problems. Dogs can also have ear trouble when the weather gets cold.
It is not clear why, but when the air temperature drops below 20 degrees suddenly, especially with wind we will see dogs have red,irritated ears that can very painful. Sometimes they may shake their head, or rub the side of their head on the furniture and not have any obvious problems. These are signs of pain and inflammation. Often times there is a flare up of yeast growing in the ear that is aggravating the problem.
This is easily treated with proper ear medication. Fortunately now there is a long acting ear ointment that lasts 2 weeks in the ear canal so you do not need to clean the ear or struggle with your pet. This treatment is applied at the veterinary clinic after checking to see what kind of infection is present in the ear. After cleaning the ear canal, the ear pack is applied to the ear canal and left in place. Rechecking the ear in 2 weeks, then it is determined if a second treatment is needed. The dogs are much more comfortable with this treatment than daily cleaning and ointment. It is a lot easier on owners since they do not need to struggle with their pet or risk being bitten during treatment. I have seen this product finally clear up some dog's ears that were very resistant to treatment.
You could consider wrapping a scarf around your pet's ears on these cold days to minimize the harsh cold on their skin. It may look silly, but it may help. Keeping the ears clean with once a week cleaning is also good. For dogs that have had ear problems frequently, there can be food allergy, or other problems that need to be addressed to help your pet. There is help available for your dog with chronic ear problems - sometimes it takes looking a little deeper than just the ears.
Okaw Veterinary Clinic 140 W. Sale Tuscola, IL 61953 (217) 253-3221