I have a rescue border collie mix who has been afraid of “life” 

since I adopted her six years ago. She was rescued before she was used as a bait dog. She’s come a long way over the years, but still shows distrust with me if I move too quickly. Her head goes down when she isn’t certain what I’m going to do. I’ve been given a gift of a seven day cruise and she will have to be boarded; which causes me a great deal of concern. Do I need to know anything ahead of time to tell the people who will be caring for her. I’m actually fearful of what will happen during that time-frame. She doesn’t mingle at all when I take her to the local doggie park. Will she need a bordetella dose before I take her there? Any information you can give me will be most greatly appreciated.

 I don’t know “who rescued who” in our relationship.



Thank you, so much!

~ Carole

Dr Jeff FeinmanDear Carol:

Anxieties such as you describe can indeed significantly decrease your dog’s quality of life and complicate yours. You’re right, boarding her in a strange place can be very stressful for her. If possible, start right away bringing her to the kennel and associating it with good things. You can use high value special treats, her favorite toys, physical contact, brushing, or whatever she enjoys to start making this a happy place for her.

It is very important for the people who run and work at the facility where she will be boarded understand that she is an anxious and a “special needs” dog. It will also be helpful for her to get to know one or more of the employees. If they feed her the special treats and give her plenty of love, even before she comes to board, she might even look forward to seeing them. In addition, her behavior at the dog park does not necessarily mean that she won’t enjoy the presence of other dogs when she is there. Evolutionarily, dogs are social animals who appreciate being with both other dogs and people.

Dog trainer, author and kennel owner Gail Fisher says: “It’s helpful to have the dog’s enclosure set up before the dog is put into it with a bed or blanket from home and any other objects that might be helpful (favorite toys etc.). Bring the dog’s own food, keeping his diet consistent rather than changing to whatever food the facility feeds.

Picking the right facility is, of course, critical – one that puts a premium on lowering the stress of all the dogs in their care so the atmosphere is as calm and stress-free as possible. That’s in addition to making sure the facility is clean, staff is well-trained, the philosophy of dealing with behavior is non-punitive, etc.

If the dog is good with other dogs, and the facility provides well-supervised daycare, it would be good to acclimate the dog to being there on a daily basis before leaving the dog overnight. For dogs that don’t do daycare (and even for some who do), we recommend having the dog stay for an overnight (or several) prior to a longer stay. The more the staff knows the dog and the dog knows the staff, the better it is for the dog. Doing a short stay allows the dog to learn that the owners will be back soon. We call it an “acclimation special.”

Manifestation of anxiety symptoms, like allergies, is a threshold phenomenon. If her anxiety triggers go above a certain level, she will start to react extremely and may even “shut down” to try and best maintain her composure. This is why a quiet, low key boarding facility may not evoke the same reaction to other dogs that she has at at the dog park. The noises, smells and general tumult of a dog park can already be stressful to an anxious dog. Dogs under stress often do not want to interact with others. It actually may be a good sign that she is able to tolerate the presence of other dogs while at the park. Some anxious dogs will tremble, try to hide, or even preemptively growl and lunge at other dogs when anxious.

Other great options include finding someone to come live in your home to be with her while you are away. This is how I personally care for my own anxious rescue dog when needed. She loves it (but then again, my pups a real homebody). You could also look for one of the wonderful home boarding businesses that exist all over the country. These are in someone else’s home. Not yours. Almost every month it seems that a new one is brought to my attention. Many of these cater to older, anxious and even medically ill dogs. A Google search for “home boarding” or “pet sitters” can start your search. However, since these are very personal situations a word of mouth recommendation is usually the best way to find a suitable pet sitter or nearby home boarder.

Of course no matter where you leave her when you are away, the bigger issue is reducing and managing her anxiety. The first step to doing so is identifying her anxiety triggers. These may evoke apparent symptoms like panting, trembling, clinginess or trying to escape. The early signs of her growing anxiety may be much more subtle. Dogs have many important ways to both exhibit and reduce their anxiety levels. It will be very useful for you to learn the subtle signs like lip licking, yawning, averting gaze, etc. I highly recommend the little booklet “Calming Signals” and other info from Turid Rugaas to learn more. Once you learn her anxiety triggers and can interpret her calming signals you’ll be able to best work with her. Behavior modification techniques such as avoidance and positive reinforcement while slowly re-introducing her anxiety-provoking triggers can be very useful.

Most anxious dogs will benefit tremendously by building their confidence. This can be done by promoting positive experiences in new situations, clicker training, agility, obedience and really just training in general. Unfortunately, no amount of training or behavior modification will work for some anxious dogs. There are many reasons for this. The easiest to rule out are medical issues such as hypothyroidism. These have been associated both with anxieties, aggressions, and other behavior problems. Same thing is true for diet. Especially when commercial and processed foods are fed. Read much more about fresh food feeding in Dr. Chapman’s fantastic reply this week.

If nothing else is helping improve her anxiety, some veterinarians may then give anxiolytic drugs like Prozac. Many herbal and more natural alternatives also exist. Clinical use has repeatedly confirmed the effectiveness of flower essences like Bach’s Rescue Remedy and aromatherapy. A few drops on her collar or a bandana of essential oils like lavender or sandalwood work well for some. More and more pet owners are seeking alternatives to drugs. New nutritional supplements to help ease anxiety are coming to market to help meet this demand. Almost every supplement company I know sells a calming product. Many of these contain l-theanine which is an extract from green tea. Nutricalm from Rx Vitamins contains a blend of nutrients including theanine, l-tryptophan and valerian root.

Other notable supplements which have confirming research studies documenting their efficacy include magnolia extract in Harmonease and the casein (a milk protein) extract in Zylkene. Other products contain “Dog Appeasing Pheromone”. This substance is secreted by nursing bitchs and has also been shown to help relieve stress and anxiety in non-nursing dogs. This is available both in collars and a plug in room diffuser. Perhaps the kennel can plug one of these in near her. Several of these natural products can be integrated into a program to help make her a happier dog.

Another common method of mild anxiety reduction is through compression. Many anxious dogs feel more secure when they are held. This is the idea behind products like the Thundershirt. Even just wearing a t-shirt helps some dogs. You can also learn how to use the gentle calming strokes developed by Linda Tellington Jones (“TTouch”). For some dogs, the calming music on the clinically proven “Through a Dog’s Ear” and “Canine Lullabies” can also work well.

In some dogs, none of these methods will help enough. Even addressing medical problems and upgrading the diet may still be insufficient. I’ve found that treating the energetic imbalance at the root of the problem will help many of these patients. Most behavioral issues can be treated successfully this way. The deepest way to do so is through constitutional veterinary homeopathy.

Homeopathy may be able to actually remove the problem and vastly improve her quality of life. Working with a veterinary homeopath can be very rewarding. If this method of treatment is not up your alley, I’d advise concurrent use of behavior modification along with one of the natural and holistic ways to decrease her anxiety threshold. These may give her a happier life, but don’t actually remove the underlying energetic imbalance. As with mood altering drugs, nutritional supplements, flower essences, essential oils, etc. are palliative and only work as long as they are continued. On the other hand, homeopathically-chosen medicines do not need to be continued to maintain improvement.

My personal experience with treating severe anxiety and behavior issues in general is that an integrative approach usually works best. Confidence building through clicker training + mild herbal relief + classical homeopathy= a less anxious dog.

Regarding the kennels vaccination “requirement”. It would be great if you could either find a facility that doesn’t require bordetella or sign a waiver to avoid any vaccinations prior to boarding.

Have a great Thanksgiving. Enjoy your cruise.

Dr. Jeff


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