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Archive for October, 2015

My dog goes ballistic from loud noises. What can I do?

Copied from January 12, 2012

Not all dogs panic when they hear loud noises and there does not seem to be any particular breed predilection for this behavior. Two separate and distinct areas of the brain are responsible for sensing then responding to loud noises. Cells that sense loud noises respond by increasing their electrical activity sending strong signals to cells in the response area of the brain. Those cells respond by conveying the information; LOUD, SCARY, DO SOMETHING! When your pet detects a loud noise, remember their hearing is significantly more acute than that of humans she/he/it cannot tune out the sound like hearing a ceiling fan, the TV or other common background noises.

The response cells process the received increase in electrical activity and send out signals that require the dog to do something. What the dog does in response to the loud noise input varies with the animal and can range from shear panic and panic behavior to a yawn and going back to sleep. What is confusing is that many dogs seem to develop the panic response in mid-life, perhaps having experienced something painful or uncomfortable associated with a loud noise. Most puppies and young dogs do not exhibit much of a response to loud noises, but there are always exceptions.

The pressing question, if you have a dog that panics at loud sounds, is what can I do about it?

When you go away put your dog inside in a safe place you have created for him/her. Many dogs will choose a room or area where they are most comfortable and where they go when unsupervised. Make certain they have free access to this area when you are gone. Encourage them to use a room with few outside windows and use blackout curtains on any windows in the room. This will dampen the noise level. Turn on an appliance that creates background noise, an air purifier, a fan, a TV, a radio tuned to classical or soothing music. This is not the time for hard rock.

Make certain the dog has a comfortable bed, hardwood floors and hard walls transmit loud sounds. I hesitate to tell you this, but it is a sign of the times. You can purchase “Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP)”. I saw it in a pet store as a plug-in that claims to be a species-specific calming scent. Can you see my eyes rolling back into my head?

If you are with your dog during Fourth of July firecracker season or a thunderstorm, try to establish a connection between them hearing a loud sound and something nice. Try to calm him with praise, feed him a special treat. Scared dogs will not eat and a dog eating something especially desired will not be scared.

If none of this works, ask your veterinarian to recommend a professional trainer or animal behaviorist who specializes in behavior modification. As a very last resort, your vet can prescribe a tranquilizer, but these work best if given before the loud stimulus so in anticipation of fireworks. Your vet may or may not approve of this use of drugs. I am hesitant in all but very severe cases where the dog is liable to hurt itself or others.

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Dogs have been in close contact with humans for thousands of years. Estimates range from 9,000 to 30,000. Due to this long association dogs are thought to have the ability to not only understand but to communicate with humans. Many researchers in this field attribute these communication skills to the manifestation of unique traits that enables dogs to be acutely sensitive to cues supplied by their humans.

 

Recent research in canine cognition has shown considerable variability, depending upon the design of the experiment(s) and probably the agenda of the person(s) doing the research but it seems clear that at least some dogs can and do follow pointing and gaze cues, can fast map novel words and according to some studies have emotions. Since they cannot communicate with us with spoken language researchers have mostly had to closely observe behavior in a wide variety of experimental designs and infer how the canine brain functions by speculation.

 

Now we can use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain function. Gregory S. Berns, MD, PhD is a neuroscientist and director of the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University. He recently published a book entitled: HOW DOGS LOVE US: A neuroscientist and his adopted dog decode the canine brain. He describes in this book and in articles published in scientific journals how his group trained dogs to lie still in the MRI machine while fully awake and found that the reward-prediction error hypothesis of the dopamine system provided a concrete prediction of activity in the ventral caudate of the dogs studied, i.e. the dogs were able to respond to specific hand signals associated with either giving a food reward or withholding it. During the experiment the dogs were not given the reward, just the hand signals they had been conditioned to. The results demonstrated the specific areas of the brain that anticipated the pleasurable reward. These same brain locations have been associated with dopamine release in many studies conducted in awake humans and primates. There was significantly less dopamine sensitive response when the withholding reward signal was given. The interpretation of these results indicates the dogs brains responded THINKING they were going to receive the treat.

 

Dr. Berns and his research group believe they can extend these studies to characterizing many questions about our ability to communicate with dogs including their ability to respond to human facial expressions and how dogs process our spoken words. Perhaps we are on the verge of understanding how dogs respond to our emotional state and perhaps if and how they grieve for a lost loved one. Maybe we can even find out if they really do love us or just manipulate us so we will feed them.

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Official Apex Reviews Rating:

Animals Don’t Blush takes the reader on an enjoyable, eye-opening journey through the ups and downs of a first-year veterinarian in Montana. In accessible, often hilarious language, author David Gross shares a variety of different anecdotes highlighting his rather entertaining experiences as the primary caregiver for a wide cross section of four-legged patients. Throughout the pages of Animals Don’t Blush, Gross’ considerable expertise shines through, as well as the deep-rooted compassion he has for both animals and their owners. Informative without being pedantic, and amusing without being pandering, this page-turning tome is sure to please more than just the animal lovers amongst us.

A highly satisfying literary treat from a truly gifted storyteller.

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Charlize and I just returned from the Pacific Northwest Book Sellers Association annual meeting in Portland, OR. While there Charlize made a host of new human friends and I had the opportunity to meet and greet owners and employees of independent bookstores. It was great fund to talk about my books and to autograph and give books to them. I hope they will read the books and like them. If so they are likely to recommend them to their customers. Giving those books away makes sense to me.

When one of my books is purchased used at least three things happen:

1) Sellers of the new book, especially independent bookstores, lose out. I hate that and so do they.

2) The author and the publisher receive nothing and it competes with the a sale of the book new.

3) It actually costs the publisher and/or author out of pocket. They must pay a “set up fee” plus a monthly fee to warehouse new copies of the book with a distributor.

I’ve had people tell me that they really enjoyed one of my books. When I inquired I found they had purchased it used online or from a used bookstore. I was happy they liked my work but I had no idea one of my books had been sold in this manner and most certainly received no remuneration for the sale.

I hope that when folks are done reading one of my books they will give them as gifts. That will build an audience for my work. Every used book sold competes against a new copy for which I might be paid.

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