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Behavioural Therapy – Simple and Gentle, the Road to Success

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Jane Davidson RVN veterinary-nurses, Veterinary Surgeon

“For some people, getting mental health support for your pet can sound a bit dramatic. My experience is that there are simple steps to make your pet happier.”

 


We’ve had Hollie for nearly four years now. She’s almost 10. She spent the first six years of her life in one room with limited human contact. Leaving her with some interesting emotional needs.

Since she arrived we’ve worked on her emotional well-being. She’s the polar opposite of our last dog, who loved people, life, and other dogs. We’re learning all the time what works for her, usually, she would rather stay at home than come out with us. Although now she’s discovered that there might be crisps on a pub floor that might change, she’s very much a home girl.

The big issue we’ve had has been her noise phobia. A common problem in dogs, but Hollie is worried by the noise we can’t hear, or predict. When an episode happens it causes great distress to us all.

We’ve actually had these particular episodes under control for a while, but then a new problem arose. She started not wanting to come into certain houses. She would rather sit in the garden than come in and if given a choice wouldn’t even come into the garden. As she doesn’t like coming out with us all the time it’s been quite an issue. It appears to be related to a noise episode that again we don’t know about.

 

It was time to call in the professionals!

We had tried DAP, Pet Remedy, zylkene, but it wasn’t enough and I didn’t know what to do next.

I was really stressed about getting the right behaviourist. Hollie was so emotionally abused before we got her that I didn’t want anything to set her back. I spoke to several people on the phone and found a fab person, and so we started our journey. If you’re helping a client get behavioural help its good advice to get them to speak to a couple of behaviourists on the phone to see who they can work with. It’s an emotional journey for pet and owner so it needs to be someone you feel comfortable with.

 

 

So what happened?

It was all much simpler than I thought it would be. Gentle and easy to do. We had a long talk with the behaviourist to go through Hollie’s history and formulate a plan. It was all achievable and fun for Hollie.

The plan revolved around creating dens and safe space for Hollie to be able to retreat to when stressed. We were able to get more stuff to put in boxes and store more of it under the bed – a double bonus! Creating a den for Hollie and tidying up too.

As she sleeps in our bedroom, we were also advised to have the bedroom door open so she could leave the bedroom if she needed to – giving her space to get away from the noise she hears, something I hadn’t considered. This then gave her three options in her response to noise. She had her normal bed, the under bed den and now the option to move to another room. Giving her coping mechanisms instead of a full on panic.

We worked on a ‘sit – stay’ command as she had started to try and dart out of the front door. This was really successful and she enjoyed the treats on offer. We also started using more treat dispensers when we were out. I had been using toilet roll tubes with holes cut in them but she was getting quite good at those – and if she couldn’t get the treats out with her paws she was sucking the cardboard to make it collapse! We had to get her to work a bit harder. Cat treat balls and a Kong gyro were purchased and have both been well received.

Over the course of 6-8 weeks Hollie has become less stressed; playing more and doesn’t have such an issue coming into the house she once hated. She’s not totally convinced that whatever upset her won’t come back, but she’s willing to trust that it won’t be as bad this time. This is a huge step in the right direction.

For some people getting mental health support for your pet can sound a bit dramatic. My experience is that there are simple steps to make your pet happier. Things that I wouldn’t know as a vet nurse but nothing so difficult I couldn’t easily set it up in a few days and start helping Hollie feel better.

 

If you think you need help or support with your pet’s mental health, visit your local vet as soon as you can.

 

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