By: Hannah Flint, BSc, MSc, PhD (Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare) 

        Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON


August 2, 2017

Dealing with a fearful dog can be an incredibly stressful experience. Living with my fearful and anxious dog Ripley for the past four years, I understand the challenges involved. Even after completing my PhD looking at fear and aggression in dogs, I still sometimes feel overwhelmed. Below are some tips for how to first recognize if your dog is fearful, and then some basic tips on how to overcome it.

Dogs have many ways of showing that they are fearful or stressed. Here a few of the more common and easily recognized signs

  • Posture: fearful dogs will often try to make themselves appear smaller. Dogs experiencing extreme fear bend their legs into a crouched or cowering posture, while dogs experiencing milder levels of fear may appear standing upright with only an arch to their back as seen in the picture below.

  • Ear position: dogs that experience fear or stress will often pull their ears back against their head.
  • Tail position: a fearful dog will have the tail lowered to hang straight down between the back legs, or if experiencing more extreme fear the tail may be tucked up towards the dog's belly. A wagging tail should not be used to judge a dog’s mood! Fearful dogs will often wag their tail even when it is tucked.
  • Trembling: while not always visible, you may feel a dog that is experiencing fear tremble when you touch them.
  • Panting: a dog that is panting when not over-heated or exercised is likely stressed.
  • Lip licking: dogs may lick their lips when afraid, especially when intimidated by a strange person or dog.
  • Avoidance: any attempts to hide, escape or avoid a situation should be taken as a sign of fear. Many dogs who appear to be stubborn by refusing to walk are actually afraid. Pay attention to your surroundings and try to look for patterns for when this is happening to see if you can identify what your dog is afraid of.
  • Food refusal: if your dog suddenly stops accepting treats (or any other rewarding activity such as petting or play) this is a common sign that your dog is overwhelmed by fear, or another emotion.
  • Displacement behaviours: these behaviours, such as sniffing, pacing and yawning, while normal in some contexts, can become abnormally frequent when your dog is afraid. If your dog suddenly starts obsessively sniffing the ground, or performing other abnormal behaviour, you should consider that there is something making your dog uncomfortable.
  • Vocalizing: whining is a sign of fear, and is the vocalization most commonly thought to relate to fear in dogs, but barking can also be an indicator of fear. Dogs, and most especially puppies, often bark at things that they are afraid of.

What to do:

One common myth is that you should not comfort a fearful dog, because you will reinforce their behaviour. This is not the case! Fear is an emotional response, and if addressed the behaviours associated with it will also disappear. Sometimes in situations where your dog is afraid and you cannot remove the thing that is causing their fear (e.g., during a thunderstorm) the best thing you can do is comfort your dog.

Below are five important steps for addressing fear in dogs:

1. Identify that your dog is fearful and what is causing the fear, pay attention to your dog’s behaviour and your surroundings! Keep track of when your dog acts afraid and what else is going on, and be specific. If your dog is afraid of other dogs is it just large dogs? Small dogs? Black dogs? A certain breed? The more information you know the better you will be able to anticipate your dog’s reaction.

2. Stay calm! While it is okay to comfort your dog, it should also be noted that fear can be contagious. Try not to get stressed out because your dog is upset. If you do, remember to take deep breathes, and speak in a slow calm voice so as not to feed into your dog’s fear.

3. Remove your dog from the situation, if possible, always prevent or minimize situations that cause your dog fear. Generally, repeated exposure to a situation does not teach your dog to be less afraid, but instead their reactions may get worse over time. If you can’t escape the situation, such as with dogs that are afraid of thunderstorms or fireworks, try to give them a safe space to escape to, or distract them with a fun game or food.

4. Desensitize and/or counter-condition. Desensitization refers to the process of gradually exposing your dog to a less intense version of the thing he fears, in such a way that his reaction is not triggered (e.g., playing the sound of fireworks quietly, then gradually increasing the volume over a series of days).

Counter-conditioning refers to the process of creating a positive reaction to something he once feared by associating the feared thing with something good (e.g., giving treats every time the dog sees a bicycle, so that eventually, instead of reacting, the dog gets excited to receive treats whenever he sees a bicycle).

With time and patience, the combination of these two methods can alleviate most fears.

5. Ask for help! If the above steps are not working, or your dog shows extreme levels of fear, contact a certified dog behavior professional (e.g., DACVB, CAAB, IAABC, CCBC). Professionals can provide an extra set of eyes in evaluating your dog’s behavior, come up with targeted training plans, and discuss the possibility of treating with medications

For more references on fear in dogs see the following links:






5 suggestions for starting your puppy off on the right foot

  By: Justine Antunes, BSc
        3rd year Student Veterinarian, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

  March 23, 2017

Bringing a new puppy home is an incredibly exciting experience, whether it's your first puppy or your fifth. Two years ago, I made the decision to finally welcome a fluffy bundle of joy into my life, my Golden Retriever, Ellie, and I've never looked back. But with all the stress of house training, puppy proofing, and teaching basic commands, many owners are unaware of another aspect of puppy development that is equally important: socialization and habituation.

Socialization is the process in which pets develop relationships with animals of their own kind and with other kinds of animals. Habituation is when an animal is exposed to an object or an environment often to help familiarize them to the situation. Both socialization and habituation are incredibly important in allowing a puppy to develop into a well-rounded adult. The critical period for socialization and habituation falls between 3 and 14 weeks of age. Prevention is the best medicine, and with proper social development early in life, many undesirable adult behaviours can be avoided.

When planning on bringing a new puppy into your family (congratulations, by the way!), keep in mind these 5 suggestions for socialization and habituation:

  1. Avoid inappropriate interactions

    Make sure every exposure to something new is a positive one. Provide many treats, use positive phrases, and reward with play. Avoid introducing your puppy to potentially aggressive animals, or putting them in any situations that may be overwhelming.

  2. Safely introduce them to a variety of people and animals

    Puppies need to learn how to interact properly with other dogs, as well as other animals and humans. By introducing puppies to people of different genders, appearances, ages, etc., as well as dogs and cats of different breeds, they will learn how to interact appropriately with them. Attending puppy socialization classes or visiting friends and relatives with pets are great ways to get the ball rolling!

  3. Introduce them to a variety of objects and environments

    Different sights, sounds, and smells that are AND are not commonly encountered in the household are important to consider when habituating your young puppy. By providing good experiences with new environments, you can create a less fearful adult dog. Take leash walks through different neighbourhoods, introduce them to stairs if you live in a bungalow, anything that they could experience at some point in life!

  4. Get them used to the vet!

    Many pets are afraid of the vet and for good reason: they're taken to an unfamiliar environment with many smells, placed on unfamiliar tables, and touched in unfamiliar ways. Make routine visits to the vet early to get your puppy used to being on the scale and lifted onto tables. At home, frequently touch their feet to simulate nail trims, and look in their mouth and eyes like they were getting a physical exam, all while providing them with treats, of course!

  5. Continue exposure as the puppy grows

    Although most socialization and habituation of puppies should take place before 14 weeks of age, it is equally important to continue exposing your puppy to new people and environments as they grow and develop. This continued socialization is important in maintaining the positive social relationships that they formed when they were younger.

Being a student veterinarian provided me with many opportunities to introduce Ellie to new people, animals, and environments. She's had many physical exams practiced on her, met many dogs and cats thanks to being in a class full of pet parents, and met many new people (who can resist a puppy snuggle during exams?) throughout her young days. I'd like to think she's a well-rounded adult now; however, there's always socializing and habituating to be done post-puppyhood! Next up: getting her used to elevators.


Landsberg, G., Ackerman, L., and Hunthausen, W.L. (2012). Behavioural problems of the dog and cat. Oxford: Saunders.

Peterson, M.E., and Kutzler, M. (2011). Small animal pediatrics. St. Louis, MO: Saunders/Elsevier.


  By: Dr. Tiffany Durzi, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVPP 

       Ontario Veterinary College, Fitness and Rehabilitation Service
       University of Guelph, Guelph, ON


January 10, 2017

Exercising a dog is an important commitment to consider before you get a pet, yet exercising with your dog can also be an enjoyable activity with health benefits for both you and your pet!  There is no doubt that a lack of physical activity is a major public health problem recognized in humans.  Statistics show that a large proportion of dog owners do not walk their dog. In fact, it is estimated that only 60% of dog owners walk their dogs regularly.  Although, exercise guidelines for dogs are not well established.  As health professionals, we often support similar guidelines for dogs that the Centre for Disease Control has set out for humans - 30-60 minutes of exercise, 5 times weekly

Dog’s confined to a yard, but not walked regularly, are more likely to be obese.  Obesity has been shown to contribute to a lot of health problems in dogs including diabetes and arthritis. In addition, exercise can help improve the behaviour of many pets, by allowing the dog to wear off excess energy! The good news, is that dog ownership has been also shown to be positively associated with health-related factors among people, including increased physical activity, weight control and positive mental health.  Exercising with your dog can also increase the human-animal bond! 

So, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get exercising!

To start an exercise program for you and your dog, first consider the health status, age and breed of your dog. 

Generally, it is suggested to start a new exercise program with your dog slowly - walking 15 minutes, 5 times weekly is a great start.  Then try increasing your walks by 5 minutes per week, until you reach 30-60 minutes, 5 times weekly.  Next gradually increase the intensity of your walks in 10 minute intervals, making sure you allow for “sniffing time” in between. Many dogs enjoy a leisurely stroll, so they can stop and enjoy all the excellent smells in the neighbourhood!  It is also important to remember that to meet the physical activity needs of a Canadian adult you will need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to vigorous-intensity activity, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Although it is important to ensure you are not over exerting your dog and you are letting them stop to sniff the roses, working toward 10 minute intervals of walking at a brisk pace is important to your health. 

Other activities, such as joining a dog walking club can also be an enjoyable activity for you and your dog to share.  Also ask around to find out about new, fun (and safe) places to walk your dog.  When you get a new puppy, they also should be active, however the activity may be less structured and may revolve more around positive play. It can take time for puppies to get used to walking on a leash. Make sure you go slow and at their pace.  

Some very active people may be interested in jogging with their dog.  This can be a great activity to enjoy together, but please consider that it takes time to work your dog up to a 5 or 10km run.  Excessive running, especially in puppies, should be avoided until their growth plates close at 12-18 months of age (breed dependent).  Many dogs won’t tell you if they are tired, so it is important to set out your goals and stick to the program. If you have any questions about your dog’s exercise needs or exercise tolerance please be sure to consult your veterinarian to discuss specific exercise goals for your pet.

Exercise is fun!  Let your dog help you to achieve your own exercise requirements by getting out there and walking together!

For more information on dog walking and the health benefits for you and your dog, you are invited to review the pamphlet below developed by researchers at the University of Guelph.






Things to consider before getting a pet rabbit

  By: Dr. Debbie Hrynkiw, DVM
        Owner, Black Creek Animal Hospital, Acton, ON, Canada

  February 14, 2017

At my veterinary hospital, we regularly see pet rabbits and rabbits from Rabbit Rescue, a rescue organization serving southern Ontario. One of my favourite parts about seeing bunnies is helping people understand how to care for them so they can live happy and healthy lives. If you are thinking about adopting a pet rabbit, there are some things to consider first. Below, see some factors to help you decide whether a rabbit is the right pet for you.

Is a bunny a good fit for your family?

  • Bunnies require a lot of care. Their cages need to be cleaned daily, they need to be fed at least twice daily, and they require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • Many bunnies do not like to be picked up.
  • Bunnies have delicate bones compared to their muscle mass, making careful handling to avoid bone fractures important.
  • If not held securely, bunnies can violently kick and break their back.
  • A bunny is a longterm commitment with a life span of approximately 9-10 years. Some live up to 12 years.
  • Bunnies are most active in the morning and evening hours.

If you have decided a pet bunny is right for you and your family, please read further to find more information on:

  1. Where to adopt from
  2. Housing pet rabbits
  3. Litter training pet rabbits
  4. Nutritional needs
  5. Grooming needs
  6. Veterinary care for pet rabbits

1. Where to adopt from?

  • There are many bunnies looking for homes. Sadly, many bunnies are dumped outside when they are no longer wanted. Domesticated rabbits do not survive well in the wild. 
  • It's important to be proactive when searching for a pet rabbit. The questions to ask the sources you're considering for a pet rabbit will be similar to those you would ask when getting a dog or cat. Please check out these dog and cat pages on questions to ask animal sources (e.g., breeder, animal shelters and rescues, pet stores, etc.). Asking these questions will help you make an informed decision about the animal source you're considering and give you a better understanding of the type of care they provide their animals.

2. Housing

  • A pet rabbit's house should be large enough for a litter box, an area for eating, and an area for sleep/play. The height of the cage should allow the bunny to comfortably stand up.
  • The cage bottom should be a solid surface as wires can cause sore and infected feet.
  • Large cages can be quite expensive but if you are crafty, great bunny condos can be inexpensively built using storage cubes.
  • Bunnies require a lot of exercise to promote gastrointestinal and urinary tract health.
    • Bunnies enjoy free time out of their cage but the house must be bunny proofed. Bunnies love to chew and dig. The most common household hazards to pet rabbits are poisonous plants and electrical wires.
    • An exercise pen can be a safe alternative to a bunny being free in the house.
  • Regular cleaning of the cage and litter box is very important; so the door of the cage needs to be large enough to easily remove the litter pan for cleaning.
  • Poor housing hygiene can cause issues with a bunny's respiratory tract and feet.

3. Litter training

  • Bunnies are usually easily litter trained.
  • They tend to urinate/defecate in the same location. If the litter pan is placed in this location with their hay close by, they will often jump in the litter to eat and then start using their litter box.
  • The litter material must be safe if ingested. Recycled newspaper pellets or a soft recycled paper material are good options. You can get both of these from pet stores.
  • If a bunny is not spayed or neutered, litter training can be difficult.

4. Nutrition

  • Diet is one of the most important factors in a pet rabbit's health.
  • The main portion of a bunny's diet should be hay. They need hay to keep their teeth and intestinal tract healthy.
  • Only a small portion of the diet should be pellets. Muesli-type pellets should be avoided.
    • The rule of thumb is 1/4 cup of pellets for a 5 lb bunny. If a bunny fills up on pellets, they tend to eat less hay, which is so important for their overall health. Make sure your rabbit is eating plenty of hay!
  • A bunny should eat a variety of greens daily. About 2 cups should be fed.
  • Only feed a very small amount of sugary treats 2-3 times weekly. Remember the size of the bunny in comparison to the treat size.
    • A pet rabbit eating one full carrot is like us eating a party-size pizza! Yes, carrots are considered a sugary treat.

5. Grooming

  • Bunnies shed their fur at certain times of the year. This is called moulting. Brushing can help with the shedding.
  • Some long-haired bunnies, like Angoras, need intensive brushing to keep their fur mat-free.
  • Regular nail trims are needed. Every bunny is different; how often they need their nails trimmed depends on the surface they run on. Most pet rabbits require trims every 3-6 weeks.
  • Long nails can cause discomfort and have the risk of becoming caught on objects.

6. Veterinary care

  • All bunnies should be spayed or neutered.
    • Cancer of the reproductive tract is common
    • Spaying/neutering usually makes bunnies more calm, less aggressive, and will help with litter training.
  • Bunnies require regular check ups by a veterinarian to detect health issues early.
  • Bunnies will often hide their illnesses because they are prey animals. Once you see signs of illness, they need to be seen by a veterinarian right away.

Good websites to visit for bunny information or if you are looking to adopt a bunny include:

House Rabbit Society
Rabbit Rescue


Quensenberry, K.E., and Carpenter, J.W. (2012). Ferrets, Rabbits, and Rodents Clinical Medicine and Surgery, 157-192.

5 ways to help keep your senior dog happy

  By: Dr. Faith Banks, DVM
        Owner, Midtown Mobile Veterinary Services
        In-home veterinary hospice and euthanasia service

November 17, 2016

Rarely when one decides to share their heart and home with a new four-legged friend do they think about what is to come down the road. When a furry, bear-like Newfoundland puppy enters a home at 8 weeks, weighing 15 lbs, it's hard to think about what life will be like with that same dog at 12 years old, weighing 165 lbs, accompanied by the challenges that come with an aging body.

At what age is a pet considered "senior"? As with most things, this will vary, depending on the individual, the species, and the breed of the pet. "Middle age" is usually considered to be around 7 to 8 years old for most dogs and cats (though NOT large breed dogs - they reach "middle age" a few years earlier). When a pet reaches "middle age", generally it's recommended that the pet is seen more often by the veterinarian, every 6 months or so, and it is recommended that the pet undergoes more extensive exams and testing. These routine exams and tests are important to establishing what is "normal" for your pet in terms of his or her body condition, blood test results, heart rate, etc. This preventive care will help to prevent disease and/or detect the early stages of disease.

As their body ages, the psychological and physical needs of pets change. As a pet owner, what can you do to help ensure your senior dog ages gracefully? Here are 5 ways to help keep your senior dog happy for his or her remaining years:

  1. Being with their people

    Dogs want to be with their people. They don't want to live out their remaining days, months, or years limited to the main floor while everyone else is upstairs watching TV and relaxing. Many older dogs are not able to walk up and down stairs by themselves so they become restricted to one area of the home. Owners can make appropriate changes in the home to allow dogs to continue to have access to them. Carrying dogs up and down stairs and using a harness to help support their body weight allows dogs increased access. Baby gates are useful to keep the pet to one floor and to prevent accidents. For example, if you bring your dog upstairs when you go up to bed, put the baby gate at the top of the stairs to prevent him/her from going down in the night.

  2. Being able to do their activities of daily living

    Dogs should be able to get up and get a drink of water from their water bowl, go to their food bowl, go outside to go to the bathroom, and continue with their regular routine. Walks may be shorter in length but it is still important for dogs to get out, keep their bodies moving, and brains stimulated while exploring their environment. Activities of daily living (ADL) help ensure a dog feels like a dog, and not just a piece of furniture.

  3. Being able to do their favourite things

    This is one of the most important topics I discuss with pet owners... "What does Fido LOVE to do?", "What makes him happy?" The answers to these questions tend to be unique to each individual pet! Some answers I've received are: going on a boat, lying on a bench in the bay window, eating, chasing balls, lying on pizza boxes, making snow angels, greeting people at the door, and the list goes on. You want your dog to have joy in their life. Eating, drinking, pooping, and sleeping are likely not enough. Providing opportunities for your pet to continue doing what they love will help keep your pet psychologically and/or physically healthy.

  4. Minimizing stress and anxiety

    Sadly, stress and anxiety may play increasingly larger roles in the lives of our geriatric pets. It often worsens in the early evening and peaks at night with panting, pacing, and restlessness. This is very worrisome for pet owners, not to mention the stress it has on them while trying to sleep. Medications are often required in order to minimize the anxiety and allow everyone in the house to get some shuteye.

  5. Feeling good

    Owners of geriatric pets are always concerned about whether or not their pets are in pain and/or are suffering. Pain may be caused by osteoarthritis, cancer, or organ disease/failure. My veterinary mobile practice is focused on geriatric and end-of-life patients. My motto is PPP: Presume, Pain, Present. Why must a pet prove they are in pain? I give them the benefit of the doubt and will often try pain medication to see if it has an effect. If a dog has not jumped on the bed in several weeks or months and is now jumping up again, we can assume pain was a factor that is now being managed. There are many ways to help manage pain including medications, modifying the pet's home environment, chiropractics, myofacial trigger point therapy, acupuncture, etc.

Geriatric pets can be tricky; discussing their issues and observing them in their home environment plays a large role in coming up with a plan to care for them as they continue to age. Animal hospice fills this role when curing turns to caring.

If you have concerns or want guidance in caring for your loved pet companion, please speak with your veterinarian to help guide you in caring for your senior dog.