Okaw Veterinary Clinic LLC

140 West Sale Street
Tuscola, IL 61953



Scared Scary Dogs



Do You Speak Dog?
Scared Scary Dogs - How to Help Them and Yourself
All about Heartworm Disease 



Do You Speak Dog?

Recently there was a post of a video from a local shelter showing a black Labrador "smiling" - holding his lips up almost like a snarl as he wagged his tail, came when called and accepted petting.  He was being passed over for adoption because the "smile" looked a lot like a snarl. And looking at only the "smile" one could not tell if he would be friendly or aggressive. It was the rest of the body that showed this was a friendly body language sign from this dog. Confusing -  yes - he likely learned to do this for attention. This is why it is so important to become very observant of the whole dog and understand what this dog is saying. So many people miss these cues and misinterpret what a dog is trying to say. I will cover some of the main points of reading your dog's body language, especially to avoid problems.

Every animal has it's own body language. Barks, growls and whines certainly tell us a lot, but the way a dog hold's it head, ears, and tail tells us much more than just vocalizing can. One must be very observant to the whole body of the dog and what that dog does as it is showing these behaviors.  Many people focus on just the face or eyes of the dog. This is where they are weak in learning the dog's language. Observing the whole body and interpreting the whole picture is key to communicating well with your dog.

Humans communicate by body language, but the concentration of that message is focused on the face. Not so between dogs. Dogs look at the whole body from the ears to the tail to read each other's message. They read our body language in the same way. If your dog was slow to sit on command, just try standing up straight like you did in training class. Your dog will likely sit right away. Bending over had them confused - you bend over when you put my leash on, to scold me, to put my food bowl down. Your dog is running through this list trying to figure out what you are trying to say. When you stand up straight and give a clear hand signal with a clear one word command then bingo! Your body language is clear and the dog follows the command. So pay attention to the head, ears, body and tail as you read what your dog is saying.

The basic signs of fear and aggression are common amongst dogs but it can be difficult to read depending on the breed, age and size of the dog. This is when trouble can happen. A shaggy coat, cropped tail and ears or small body  size makes it difficult to read the signs. Before you can really interpret body language you have to see the pet's body!!!!  

If you have a shaggy dog - get a close hair cut for the dog no matter the breed. They will not get cold - if you are worried get a doggie coat. With short hair you can see if the dog is staring or looking away. You can see if the hair is rising on the back. When they tense up their body you can see it with shorter hair. For dogs with docked tails, they have to express with their ear carriage. If both tail and ears are docked - good luck. These dogs are difficult to read but with practice you can see how the rest of their body looks, the eyes look and other signs. With older pets, it may be difficult to lower or raise the tail due to arthritis. If your old dog seems to suddenly burst out with aggression, or hiding - there may be pain going on. 

Some dogs have learned that showing their fear or distress did not help them out. By immediately biting, this dog learned that aggression worked best. If your dog suddenly snaps or attempts to bite for no apparent reason, get your pet to a certified veterinary behaviorist. Often pain is triggering these dogs but they learned that acting in pain did not help them get help. Aggressing removed what may cause more pain. Few dogs are jerks - just biting for the sake of biting. It has amazed me how many dogs became much easier to handle at veterinary exams when we gave pain relief medication.  If you have an explosive dog do not delay contacting a certified veterinary behaviorist for help.

Not all dogs "speak" the same body language. Take the time to watch your dog whenever you are out. When on a  walk, playing with other dogs and  people, or feeding. See how they ask you for pets and how they act when they are happy. Note how they act when they are first timid or anxious. Now you can understand what your dog is thinking. This is the language of your dog, the most important dialect of dog language for you to learn.



Scared Scary Dogs - How to Help Them and Yourself

Most dog bites, lunging and over barking is due to the dog being afraid not being dominant. Dogs tell us early that they are tense or afraid but we miss those signs. Knowing these signs will help you avoid getting hurt while you can then work out a plan to help your dog be less afraid.

Most of us know the signs of fear such as a tucked tail, ears back against the head or cowering. These are high anxiety or fear. It is very important to recognize the early, less fearful signs.  

Here are some as outlined in Dr. Sophia Yin's hand out "Body language of Fear in Dogs" www.drsophiayin.com

Licking lips - this happens when there is not any food nearby. Think of a nervous person with a dry mouth. That is what it looks like.

Panting - moderately fast when it is not hot. Similar to a person breathing shallow rapid breaths when nervous.

Frowning or "worried" look - the brow is furrowed and the ears are pointing sideways

Moving slowly - walking slowly - slinking. They are looking out for what may be around.

Acting sleepy or yawning - seems odd but this happens as a displacement behavior.

Looking around a lot - hyper vigilant - like a person walking down a dark alley late at night.

Pacing - following you from room to room constantly - or won't settle down.

Turing away or moving away from the activity - they want to get away so they leave

Suddenly won't eat - you have to feel good to eat. A pain or anxiety trigger will drop appetite fast.

So, now that you know the early signs look out for them. When you see them stop whatever you are doing and think of what is happening at this moment. Did the grandchild come running in the room? If so little people, noise, or running may trigger this dog. Is thunder rolling in? If so the noise may be triggering the fear.

Make note of the events to identify the triggers. Observe everything - the place, time, people, other animals involved. One change can be the trigger. Now that you have an idea what sets your dog off you can begin to help change your pet's mind about it. Rewarding or good things that gets your pet calm or happy when the trigger happens is called counter conditioning. The key to counter conditioning is keeping your dog in a calm, not fearful state as you offer the rewards. 

The basics of counter conditioning:

First find what your dog really loves - a super yummy treat - a ball - your "happy" voice. What ever gets their tail wagging. Use this reward at times when your pet is behaving well so they know when they are good. 

Next have your dog around the trigger - say children - but far enough away or with a barrier to keep your dog calm, or very low in agitation. This is where people start off wrong. They put the dog right in the scene that is upsetting them and it is overwhelming. So, with the fear of children example - you need a baby gate or dog in crate that helps the dog feel protected from the kids. Then a positive like a food treat tossed as the kids walk by, run or make noise. As long as the dog eats the food reward as the kids are there - now the counter conditioning is working. If the dog is too nervous, you have to increase the distance or make the triggers less intense - only hearing kids. When the dog is relaxed and happy for each step - hearing kids - hearing and seeing kids - then hearing and seeing kids running all the while taking treats behind the gate then you can move on to trying the dog in the area with a leash on to keep things safe. 

Counter conditioning is a step by step process that you want to do maybe 5-10 minutes max at a time, hopefully daily. It is like breaking an old habit and learning a new one. It often takes weeks to have it repeated so often it becomes habit. This is the second stage where training fails. People find it takes too long, rush the steps and fail or think the one time the pet did well - all was learned. 

There are tools and medications that speed learning by decreasing fear. These products are good to use. They are not a failure of your dog or you if you need them. It is far better to use a Thunder shirt, or Reconcile medication than to struggle with fear problems and be stuck with dangerous behaviors. Your dog is not happy or cute growling, lunging, or barking out of control. It is best to help them learn to be more calm and social.



All About Heartworm Disease

What is Heartworm Disease? Heartworm Disease is caused by an infection of Heartworms in the heart and lungs. Both dogs and cats can have Heartworms.

How do I know if my pet has Heartworms? We, along with the American Heartworm Society, recommends a heartworm test every year for dogs. We take a small sample of you pet's blood and test it. The test only takes 10 minutes.

How did my pet get Heartworm Disease? Heartworms are spread from one pet to another by mosquitos. A mosquito will bite a pet with heartworms and suck up some of the baby heartworms (microfilaria) along with the pet's blood. The baby heartworms grow a little while they live in the mosquito. The baby heartworms then travel to the mosquito's mouth where they are injected into another pet. The baby heartworms travel around the pet's body until they grow into adults. The adults live in the heart and lungs.

Can my pet be treated? Dogs are given two injections of a medication to kill the heartworms. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for cats at this time.

Can I prevent my pet from getting Heartworms? Yes. Prevention is given monthly year round and can be a liquid applied on the back or a pill your pet eats. Revolution, Heartgard, Trifexis and Interceptor are a few examples of heartworm preventatives. Many of the heartworm preventatives also prevent other intestinal parasites.

Can I get Heartworms? People are rarely affected. People with weak immune systems can have heartworms in their body for a short time. Their immune system will eventually kill the worms.

Want to learn more? Read our article about Heartworms. 

Okaw Veterinary Clinic
140 W. Sale
Tuscola, IL 61953
(217) 253-3221


Mon & Fri 8 am - 6 pm
Tues & Wed 8 am - 5 pm
Sat 8 am - noon
Closed Thurs & Sun

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