Our behavior team has developed behavior, training and informational resources to help you and your pet adjust to life after adoption. Click on a heading below to read more.
Behavior thrives on routine. Predictability in our surroundings and social interactions create a sense of comfort and safety for us and the animals we care for. COVID 19 has thrown a wrench into people’s daily routines. For our dogs in home quarantine has probably increased their happiness with more opportunities for snuggles, attention and extra walks. As we start heading back to our places of employment it is a good idea to have a plan in place for your dog who will suddenly be losing their constant companion. Here are guidelines and good habits for preparing to move towards post-pandemic normalcy.
Routine for meeting basic needs– When we find ourselves with extra time it is important to maintain a routine for our dog’s for basic care that we will be able to follow when we go back to work and/or school in the future. At my house these are some things we try to keep consistent, regardless of what is going on in our lives-
- 7-8am morning neighborhood walk and feeding,
- 3-4pm afternoon (when kids get home from school) play/potty time in the back yard
- 8-9pm evening feed and neighborhood walk
- Once a week adventure such as hiking, camping, swimming, or coming with us for errands around town.
Individualized Enrichment– With the extra time you have had to spend with your dog, be more observant of their individual likes and dislikes. With good observation we can make changes to our home environment and add items to give our dogs a more enriching place to live. Adding enrichment will should provide mental stimulation and comfort. Here are some enrichment ideas to add to your dogs life-
- Food enrichment toys- buy one or freeze food with water or make your own.
- Calming scents and find it games
- Add more short (5min.) training sessions to your daily routine.
- Apply calm pressure using a thunder shirt or give your dog a message.
- Move the dog bed to a new spot that you think your dog would like.
- Reduce what they can see to help curb frustration and barking such as closing blinds to windows, limiting doggy door access to the yard, putting a blanket over a crate.
- Regularly introduce novelty with new toys, visiting new places and new people or new dog friends.
- Play calming sounds. Dog’s like books on tape!
Practice Separation– Life’s reality is that we cannot possibly be physically with our dogs 24 hours a days 7 days a week their entire life. Practice physically separating yourself from your dog. You will want to create what I call a “Safe Zone” which is where your dog feels safe and all your house hold items are safe. Examples of a “Safe Zone” would be a gated off laundry room, a crate or kennel and some dogs who struggle with confinement do best loose in the house. Steps and tips for introducing a “Safe Zone” to your dog-
- Create a positive association when introducing your “Safe Zone” with lots of tasty treats or chews your dog likes.
- Once your dog is comfortably entering their “Safe Zone” and settling there, start leaving them there for short periods.
- If your dog remains settled in there “Safe Zone” while you are home, you then can start practicing leaving the house. Do this in incremental steps and dependent on how your dog responds will determine how quickly you can move to the next step. Example being grabbing your car keys and then sitting down on the couch and waiting for your dog to settle. Slowly add your habitual behaviors of leaving, such as- putting on your shoes, putting your jacket on, opening the front door. In all likelihood your dog will always alert to you leaving, the point of this exercise is that they practice the behavior of settling and self-soothing.
- Natural self-soothing behaviors for dogs are chewing and seeking behaviors. Always leave something your dog likes for them to chew and/or create a treat scavenger hunt for them in their “Safe Zone”.
If you maintain a routine to meet your dog’s basic needs, continually challenge your dog mentally through enrichment and training and establish a safe place for your dog to be while you are away your dog will be able to cope better as when we go back to our normal routines.
Ben Donoghue, Behaviorist
Exposure to winter’s dry, cold air and chilly rain, sleet and snow can cause chapped paws and itchy, flaking skin, but these aren’t the only discomforts pets can suffer. Winter walks can become downright dangerous if chemicals from ice-melting agents are licked off of bare paws. To help prevent cold weather dangers from affecting your pet’s health, please heed the following advice from our experts:
- Repeatedly coming out of the cold into the dry heat of your home can cause itchy, flaking skin. Keep your home humidified and towel dry your pet as soon as he comes inside, paying special attention to his feet and in-between the toes. Remove any snow balls from between his foot pads.
- Never shave your dog down to the skin in winter, as a longer coat will provide more warmth. If your dog is long-haired, simply trim him to minimize the clinging ice balls, salt crystals and de-icing chemicals that can dry his skin, and don’t neglect the hair between his toes. If your dog is short-haired, consider getting him a coat or sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly. For many dogs, this is regulation winter wear.
- Bring a towel on long walks to clean off stinging, irritated paws. After each walk, wash and dry your pet’s feet and stomach to remove ice, salt and chemicals—and check for cracks in paw pads or redness between the toes.
- Bathe your pets as little as possible during cold spells. Washing too often can remove essential oils and increase the chance of developing dry, flaky skin. If your pooch must be bathed, ask your vet to recommend a moisturizing shampoo and/or rinse.
- Massaging petroleum jelly or other paw protectants into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemical agents. Booties provide even more coverage and can also prevent sand and salt from getting lodged between bare toes and causing irritation. Use pet-friendly ice melts whenever possible.
- Antifreeze is a lethal poison for dogs and cats. Be sure to thoroughly clean up any spills from your vehicle, and consider using products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
- Pets burn extra energy by trying to stay warm in wintertime. Feeding your pet a little bit more during the cold weather months can provide much-needed calories, and making sure she has plenty of water to drink will help keep her well-hydrated and her skin less dry.
- Make sure your companion animal has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts. A cozy dog or cat bed with a warm blanket or pillow is perfect.
- Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed. In addition, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.
Dr. Shinn, DVM
Do you have a plan for your animal? Emergencies come in many forms, and they may require anything from a brief absence from your home to permanent evacuation. Each type of disaster requires different measures to keep yourself and your pets safe, so the best thing you can do is to be prepared. Here are simple steps you can follow to make sure you’re ready:
Get a Rescue Alert Sticker
This easy-to-use sticker will let people know that pets are inside your home. Make sure it is visible to rescue workers, and that it includes the types and number of pets in your home. To get a free emergency pet alert sticker for your home visit Heart of the Valley to pick up a pet disaster preparedness kit!
Arrange a Safe Haven
Arrange a safe haven for your pets in the event of an evacuation. Do not leave your pets behind. Remember, if it isn’t safe for you, it isn’t safe for your pets. Identify hotels or motels outside of your immediate area that accepts pets; or ask friends and relatives if they would be willing to take in your pet.
Prepare Emergency Supplies and Traveling Kits
If you must evacuate your home in a crisis, plan for the worst-case scenario. To minimize evacuation time, take these simple steps:
Make sure all pets wear collars and tags with up-to-date identification information. Keep your pet’s microchip information up to date and always bring pets indoors at the first sign or warning of a storm or disaster. Pets can become disoriented and wander away from home in a crisis. Prepare now by packing 3-7 days of supplies in your kits. Supplies include:
- at least a 3-day supply of food and water
- an extra amount of regular medication with dosage instructions
- flashlight with extra batteries
- food and water bowls
- a can opener and spoon for canned food, if necessary
- cage or carrier for smaller animals
- extra collar, leash, or harness for larger animals
- pet treats and a toy
For a full list of supplies to include on your pet emergency checklist visit Heart of the Valley.
Spring is just around the corner and that means kitten season is too! Each year caring citizens show up at our door with adorable, newborn kittens concerned they have been abandoned by mom. And each year we take them in and do our best to care for them. But are those kittens really abandoned? Most often the answer is no — and their best chance of survival is to say with their mom.
So, what should you do if you find a litter of newborn kittens? First observe the kittens. Are they clean, quiet and sleeping? If so, mom has been caring for them. She just may be out looking for food or hiding from you. You can watch the kittens from a distance for 8 to 12 hours to make sure she comes back. You can put out food and water daily for mom so she doesn’t need to use her energy to search for food and can focus on taking care of the kittens.
Once the kittens are 4 weeks old, they can be separated from mom and brought inside for socialization. Did you know you would make a great foster home for the kittens until they are 8 weeks old? Give us a call and we’ll tell you how. We’ll also help you to get mom spayed so she’s not producing more kittens. Then you can return her to her outside home.
If the kittens are crying, look unhealthy or mom has not returned, something may have happened that is preventing her from being able to get back to care for them. Now, they need your help! Call us for advice. You could make a great foster home until the kittens are 4 weeks old and can start eating on their own and our staff can walk you through caring for them. If fostering isn’t an option for you, bring the kittens to Heart of the Valley.
Sharon Burnett, Operations Director
The arrival of spring means the opportunity to spend more time outside with our pets. It also means the inevitable arrival of fleas and ticks! These parasites live and feed on wild animals as well as dogs and cats. The good news is that it is easy to prevent these parasites from infesting our four legged friends. Here’s what you should know:
Fleas: In Montana, fleas are most commonly seen in the late spring through fall. Most dogs and cats are exposed to fleas from contact with rodents and other small wildlife, but can be acquired from other dogs and cats. We are lucky that our environment is fairly dry, so we don’t see flea infestations in homes and on pet bedding. In more humid environments pets can bring fleas indoors making it very difficult to eliminate fleas from the home environment.
Fleas generally cause dogs and cats to scratch because of the allergic reaction to the flea saliva as the flea bites the skin. Often you see either adult fleas crawling through the fur, or you see “flea dirt”, the black pepper-like flea feces on the dog’s skin.
Ticks: live and breed in grassy/wooded areas and feed off of wildlife, domestic cattle/sheep/goats, as well as dogs and cats. It is uncommon to see ticks on cats as they tend to be fastidious groomers. Dogs commonly acquire ticks as they run through wooded/grassy areas where the ticks attach to legs and fur. Ticks like to attach around the ears, groin, and arm pits because it’s warm and dark.
They generally don’t cause any itching or scratching, but if attached long enough can cause blood borne diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichia, and in some regions of the country Lyme Disease. Both fleas and ticks can be transmitted to humans and can cause disease in people.
Prevention: There are a variety of products on the market that prevent fleas and ticks in dogs and cats. These anti-parasitic products are often combined flea/tick preventives, and may also be combined with heartworm and internal parasite preventives. There are flea/tick collars, topically applied products, and oral anti-parasitic products on the market. The mechanism of action and the spectrum of activity differs product to product.
The product you chose to use for your pets depends on what animals you have (dogs, cats, or both), number of animals in the household, outdoor activity/exposure to wildlife, and what route of administration you might prefer. It is best to see your veterinarian to discuss flea, tick, and other parasite prevention and determine what product(s) is best for your animal.
Remember to protect your faithful companions as you get ready to enjoy spending time outside with them this spring!
Dr. Shinn, DVM