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From calm to chaos and back

Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2019 at 1:29:29 PM EST by Cam Day

From Chaos to Calm – The Complexity of Mood Control in Pets

When it comes to mood control, dogs and cats are not experts.

One thing that is said to me commonly is that

“When meeting another dog, my dog barks and lunges aggressively and will not listen to a thing that I am saying. I pull him on the lead and say ‘BAHH. Bad Dog’- and he never responds".

The reason is that the dog has reached an over-aroused state where it cannot think in logical processes – and at that state of arousal ‘stupid English communication’ rarely works. Neither will Japanese, Russian or Cantonese!!

So the dogs goes from a state of calm, to a state of chaos. 

He or she will regain the state of calm at some stage because all behaviour has:-

  • a beginning
  • a middle-bit and
  • an end

Working with the  ‘calm to chaos to calm cycle’ is a vital part of behaviour modification and the goal of behaviour modification is to move the ‘end’ up to the ‘beginning’ thus eliminating the problematic middle bit.

Now considering your dog or cat, look at the graph below.

Calm to chaos and back

The pink dog or cat is likely the one you are worried about.

Let’s look at the time-line of the graph

On the time-line of the calm to chaos cycle a ‘stimulus’ occurs that heightens your dog’s arousal level. (That’s the oval circle on the graph.)

In cases that I see, the stimulus is often one that worries a dog. (In more correct terms the dog becomes anxious about the doomful event ahead).  

Common anxiety-inducing stimuli are

  • another dog approaching
  • a thunderstorm developing in the distance
  • an owner getting ready to leave for work and doing the ‘run to the line’.

In some cases the stimulus might be one that creates a happy state of arousal such as the opportunity on the way for a dog to chase a ball or play tug of war. Later, we will talk about this ‘happy state of arousal’ can be used therapeutically.

As the matter progresses, left unchecked, the dog’s anxiety increases to the point where it finally goes above the ‘blue line’ to a state of over-arousal. Then there is such a conflict of neurotransmitters that the dog has no ability to respond to ‘stupid English words’.

This over-aroused state is commonly referred to as the flight and fight response. When worried about an approaching anxiety-inducing challenge, some animals will flee (think of a gazelle being charged by a lion) and some dogs and (more so) cats will flee.

However, dogs are predators. Fleeing is not a common response for predators and dogs will therefore often proceed to the fight version instead where they raise their hackles, start to vocalise by barking or growling and then will lunge forwards. Sometimes as they get closer to the anxiety-inducing challenge they will change from fight to flight.

Freeze and fiddle are two other alternatives when pets are over-whelmed by anxiety. A ‘freeze’ is often seen by cats when they are overwhelmed and a fiddle is less common but often involves self-grooming including licking or scratching or whole body shaking (shaking off the anxiety) or playing with a toy.

Pets are both similar and different to humans when it comes to moods and mood control.


  1. Humans and pets become emotional at times of duress
  2. The emotions can reach a state of chaos where
    • humans yell, scream, cry and sometimes become violent
    • Animals bark, meow, whine, growl, hiss, spit and often become aggressive


  1. Humans can practice mood control and supress or reverse the cascade towards bad moods
    1. Even at a state of chaos the majority of people can inhibit their aggression and violence
    2. In many cases people can ‘plan’ the solution to their own incorrect moods and work forwards to a solution by planning the solution when they are calm
  2. Animals are terrible at mood control! They ‘wear their heart on their sleeve’. While they can practice mood control they are not good at it.
    1. At a state of chaos an animal can’t learn and can’t listen – the are in flight/fight mode
    2. They cannot plan the solution to their own inappropriate moods and cannot work towards a solution on their own
    3. They quickly worsen their own bad moods by ‘predicting the doom’ of an event and expecting a similar event will result in similar outcomes.

What to do about a pet that’s chaotic

There are many potential strategies but let’s pick out some important principles.

  1. Avoid anxiety-inducing situations
    1. While this may sound like ‘wimping out’, avoiding the ‘dragons of discontent’ is really important.
    2. When a pet is traumatised by a situation, (e.g. being threatened by another dog) the next similar situation (the next challenge by a dog) is very likely to make his or her anxiety worse.  Avoiding the dragon at least stops the behaviour worsening and slowly allows the mood to ‘deflate’.]
  2. Work the time-line

Remember all behaviour has:-

  • a beginning
  • a middle-bit and
  • an end

So using a strategy that hastens the ‘end’ of the behaviour gets rid of the problematic ‘middle bit’ where the anxiety is self-reinforcing.

Better still, watch for the ‘beginning of the behaviour’ where the mood decay is commencing and derail that early so the ‘middle bit’ doesn’t even occur.

How do you know when your pet’s mood is decaying?  You need to know the ‘signs of anxiety’ which his too complex for this article but yawning, lip licking and an increase respiration rate are early signs.

But, for dogs on a walk, there’s an easier way.

During the walk, ask your dog to ‘SIT’ every 20 metres or so.

  • If your dog responds to SIT he or she is in ‘emotional control’ and you can proceed on your walk.
  • If your dog cannot SIT, his or her ability to respond to ‘stupid English words’ is evaporating and you need to calm your dog – increasing distance from the challenge is often one way of doing that.

Refer to the Sit-A-Lot routine for more detail but the simple summary is:-

Asking your dog to SIT regularly is by far the easiest and most exact means of determining how your dog is coping with his or her emotional load. 

Teaching your dog to SIT reliably is easy for most dogs and the process is well described in our favourite routine called the Circle of Commands.

Pulsing a calm state

Another strategy we find very useful is to ‘pulse’ a calm state after deliberately creating a state of chaos – but ‘joyful’ chaos not anxiety-induced chaos.

While that may sound confusing, an example will help.

We mentioned earlier that the expectation of a ball being thrown or to play tug of war can be used therapeutically.

Many dogs love ‘tug of war’ games and will vigorously take up the challenge when their owners offer a tug toy (for instance) to set up a contest.  By encouraging the ‘rat shake’ of the tug toy you are creating a state of joyful chaos. Turning that off by using the Leave routine (elsewhere on this website) and then getting the dog to do a laser lock SIT for 5 seconds pulses the dog from a state of chaos, to a state of calmness.

Generally the three-step process of:-

  1. ‘tug the toy’ 
  2. 'leave the toy’ 
  3. 'Sit and be calm for 5 seconds’ easy to teach a dog.

That three-step process is called a pulse.

That three-step pulse can usually be repeated many times in quick succession.

  • Let’s say you complete 10 repetitions of that pulse.
  • You do that twice daily.
  • And for seven days

The mathematics says you have pulsed a calm state from one of chaos 10 x 2 x 7 = 140 times in seven days.

That’s good – very good – and the graph below shows the process on a time line.



  1. When a pet is in chaos, it cannot respond to word-based requests
  2. Don’t yell, scream or hit – that creates more chaos
  3. Avoid the situation – run away from it!
  4. The solution comes from watching for the first stages of arousal (see graph above but remember the power of SIT) and resorting to a state of calmness from that.
  5. Reward a return to calmness using the Laser-Lock Sit (refer to the Leave routine for details)

Heat stress in pets

Posted: Sunday, November 16, 2014 at 7:29:16 AM EST by Cam Day

Ten Cool Tips for Hot Pets

Don't let your pet get hot under the collar this summer. The summer heat can kill but here are ten timely tips that will help your pet to keep its cool.

 1.       Heated arguments

One tragic mistake that pet owners make too commonly at this time of year is to leave their pets in a hot car. Dogs die in hot cars in a very short space of time and it shouldn't happen.

 Any car can be a fatal furnace for pet. The highest temperatures are reached in cars of dark colour and with large glass areas. Hatchback cars are the worst, with temperatures quickly exceeding 70 degrees centigrade. This is lethal for any living being, including children.

 Short nosed breeds of dogs, such as Bull Dogs, Pugs and the Pekingese, are very susceptible to heat stress.  Obese dogs and cats are at risk too as are those with poor circulation and dogs with any respiratory disease.

The rule is simple. At this time of year, your pet should not travel with you if you are going to stop anywhere other than at your final destination. Many say "But I'm only going into the shop for a litre of milk - I'll be just a minute". The 'just a minute' extends very quickly if the shop is busy or if you happen to meet a talkative friend. Your pet may be dead - and it only takes 'just a minute'.

 2.     Jogging Dogs

I cringe when I see people cycling or jogging with their dogs in summer. The owner knows when he or she is getting too hot but the dog is so faithful it will ignore the messages from its body that say 'stop'.

How many times have you seen dogs with their tongues dangling in a futile attempt to cool themselves while they struggle to keep pace with their owners? Dogs like this often collapse from circulatory failure.

 If you are exercising your dog in this weather, please do so in the early morning or after dark.

 3.     A Cool Kennel

It is essential that your pets have adequate shade at this time of year but you should be aware that it's the afternoon sun as it slides to the west that's the killer.

 Ensure that a shady spot is provided on the eastern side of your house.  Perhaps your house itself provides a cool spot on the eastern side or, with a high-set house, the area underneath the house is often the coolest.   Shade cloth placed in a sensible, strategic position will help. Perhaps you can provide access to your garage or laundry via a dog door to give your pet shade.

 4.         Toasting Tiles and Concrete

Does your pet wear shoes?  I doubt it and therein lies a problem. Tiled, concreted and bitumen-covered areas around your home become frying-egg hot in summer. Prove it to yourself by placing your open palm on concrete and tiled areas around your outside entertainment areas. If your pet is forced to walk along such areas regularly or if its bed or kennel is placed onto pavement-covered areas, the radiant heat will make the area very uncomfortable for your pet. 

 Placing artificial grass over the pavement often helps to keep the tiles cool and your pets smiling.

 5.            Water Good Idea

Your pets need plenty of fresh, cool water at this time of year and their water bowls should be cleaned and refilled daily.  Provide more that one water bowl in case your pet knocks one over and, for your dog, provide water in buckets, not in bowls. Dogs often like to 'bury their heads' in buckets and to bite the water in play. This is a good way of them cooling themselves down and should be encouraged.

Sipper drinkers that attach directly to a tap are also available from pet shops. When you dog nuzzles the drinker, fresh water is released. Be sure your dog has alternative water sources until you are certain it know how to use these devices.

 6          Pooling Resources

Those clam shell sandpits that are available cheaply from children?s stores are ideal for pets.  Fill one side with water and your pet may like to drink the water, wade in it, stand in it or lie in it. Place sand in the other half and wet the sand. The combination will provide a cool, beach-like distraction for your heated hound. No hot dogs at this beach resort please!

Place a sprinkler in the bottom of the water pool and connect that to a cheap electronic hose timer. These are readily available. That way your pet can have an occasional fountain in its cool pool.

Alternatively, with the hose connected to a timer set to permitted sprinkler hours, tie the other end of your hose to a tree. The hose will come to life during the day and give your pets a watery wonder world.  Cool!

7.         The Hair of the Dog

It's easy for us to shed unwanted clothes in summer but not so easy for long-haired dogs and cats to shed their coats.  

Having your pet clipped now is a good idea and there are many grooming parlours around town that will do the job for you. 

Most pets are shedding their coats at this time of year and daily grooming to remove unwanted hair will make your pet more comfortable. Buy a suitable brush from your pet shop and the job will be more hair-raising! 

8.         Wet Pets and Fan Fare

If your dog has trouble coping with the heat or if you need to leave it on a hot day, it?s a good idea to hose your dog before you leave. The water will evaporate and cool the pooch and make it much more comfortable.  Provide a fan for your dog or cat and, if it is wet, the evaporation will be even more effective. 

9.       Icy Solutions

To help your pet keep its cool while you are at work, provide it with some icy delights. 

Freeze a cup or two of water and place the ice blocks in your dog's water bowl in the morning.  Maybe a frozen bone or a Kong toy will be useful. 

Also, make some Frozen Sloup by placing some Vegemite broth or similar into a plastic lunch box or margarine container. Throw in some chunks of fresh meat, some liver treats or a sensible bone and freeze  the whole lot.

When you go to work, remove the frozen delight from its container and place it into an empty food bowl. It will provide your pet with a stimulating and nutritious boredom blaster during the day that will also keep your hot dog cool.  Icy!

10.             Small Concerns

Let's not forget the needs of cage pets such as birds, chickens and guinea pigs. Be sure their enclosures are in shade and adequate water is provided. For cage birds at a window or on a veranda, be certain that they are not trapped in the afternoon sun as it arcs over your house.  

Livestock also need adequate shade. So many horses and other hobby-farm pets are forced to bake in the sun all day. A shade cloth shelter is cheap to construct and will provide essential comfort. 

Heat stress is a major concern over summer but a little common sense is all that is required to help your pets keep their cool. Please be careful.

Separation anxiety, noise fears and soiling - a question answered

Posted: Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 4:57:14 PM EST by Cam Day

A question answered about separation anxiety, noise fears and soiling

My dog suffers anxiety problems from loud noises (thunder, cars back firing etc) to separation anxiety. If I go away for a few hours, he sits at the fence and cries/howls and looks really cranky when I return.

My partner said not to molly coddle him as it will make the problem worse so I try to talk to him to settle him down.

He will often breath really heavy and his heart beats quickly. I really don’t want to revert to drugs to settle him down but I have now become anxious thinking about him.

I love him so much but he is getting older and set in his ways and I want to make his last few years the best. What should I do?

Mary - Carina Brisbane

HI Mary,

Separation anxiety and noise fears are two of the most common anxiety disorders from which dogs can suffer. The problem is that each on its own can be severe and together they are bad bed mates, each feeding off the other in a dog-debilitating frenzy. Wether to ‘molly coddle’ or not is an interesting point. What you dog needs is to be calm and happy and if that means giving him attention then that’s not a crime.

So, the goal is to make your dog calm and content in your absence. This can sometimes be created by lifestyle enrichment techniques. We use something we call the No Bored Dogs Routine for that. You should also teach your dog to be calm and content when you are away by practicing getting him away from you for short periods when you ARE home and use the No Bored Dogs Routine to create that separation.

If your dog is inside when you are absent from him then look at how Pheromones can help by creating a Den-like environment for your dog that calms him in your absence.

For the noise fears, remember that dogs hear, see, smell and even feel (the rain and wind) of storms and this can terrify many dogs. So a sound proof Den is ideal for the fears that occur when you are absent. Many use a laundry for that or a walk-in wardrobe can sometimes work. If he panics with noises when you are home then try derailing the cascade of fear with game play routines. Some dogs really become calm when massage is combined with a calming voice.

And lastly – many anxious or panicking dogs can benefit from the wise and thoughtful use of medications but you will need to see your vet for that or contact us for more information.


Dr Cam

Arthritic diseases in pets

Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2014 at 11:10:02 AM EST by Cam Day

Cold Weather = Arthritic Pain in Pets


With the start of the cooler months, comes the start of the most painful season for some of our older pets. The painful appendages of older pets can certainly cause bad behaviour - pain is a common cause of aggression - so knowing how to minimise arthritic pain is important.

Pets with arthritis often creak and hobble around the house, struggle up and down stairs and work especially hard to get to their feet in the chilly mornings.

Don't assume that this is a normal 'old age thing' and that nothing can be done. The truth is that old pets with arthritis can have a new lease on life if treated properly and there is no reason to allow your dog or cat to suffer the pain of 'old bones'.

What Causes Arthritis?

Arthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints in an animal's body. One in five dogs is affected by arthritis. In dogs more than six years of age, 65% dogfearful200jpghave arthritis.

Sometimes the cause is some form of trauma to the joints such as that which occurs with sprains and fractures. For instance, when a dog suffers from a ruptured cruciate ligament in its knee joint, arthritis in the damaged joint is quite common.

In other cases, the joints develop in an abnormal way and arthritis results.

Hip dysplasia is a common developmental abnormality where arthritis often results. Normally a dog's hip joint is a smooth 'ball and socket' joint but in hip dysplasia, the ball and socket more closely resemble a square peg in a round hole. As the dog walks, the 'square peg' grinds  away mercilessly at the joint and arthritis develops.

At the front end of pets, shoulder joint abnormalities are also common.

Inflammatory conditions and infections in the joints will also cause arthritis.

Once a joint is injured, a cascade of damaging enzymes is released from the injured tissues.

These enzymes cause further damage to the joint structure. The damaging enzymes spread deep into cracks that appear in the joint cartilage, severely damaging the underlying bone. The irritation causes the bone to react aggressively and bony outgrowths and spikes grow into and around the joint, crippling the pet and causing continual pain.

How Can I Tell if My Pet Has Arthritis?

Arthritis makes movement painful. For this reason, an affected dog or cat will be reluctant to exercise and is less likely to jump, play or chase balls. Your pet is likely to have difficulty climbing stairs and many owners note the dog hesitates before it jumps into the back of the station wagon or utility, whereas previously this was no problem.

Sometimes, these early signs are missed or ignored.

That's a big mistake because early treatment will really slow down the progression of the disease and will give pets a much better quality of life.

Once a joint is injured, a cascade of damaging enzymes is released from the injured tissues. These enzymes cause further damage to the joint structure.

Dogs which have difficulty in rising after resting usually have arthritis. However, after they have struggled to get up, they tend to move more freely after they 'warm up'. Dogs with arthritis  will often lag behind during walks and they may limp.

They have a stiff, stilted gait and show an exaggerated swinging of their hips as they walk. Some will yelp with pain when touched. Many dogs will start to soil the house because it is too difficult to go outside and some will become aggressive if they are disturbed or when owners or children try to move them.

Arthritis is common in old cats as well but it is very often missed. Affected cats have problems grooming themselves and look untidy. They walk with little, quick, stilted back leg movements and often have difficulty using their litter tray accurately as they cannot squat when toileting.

Certainly an animal with arthritis 'loses its spark' and has a reduced quality of life.

How Will My Vet Treat the Arthritis?

Your veterinarian is likely to use medication to reduce the pain and to give your dog back some quality of life and will advise on weight management and the use of compounds called nutraceuticals.


Recent research has provided vets with a wide range of safe anti-arthritic medications.

Approximately 80% of dogs improve with medical treatment, and the new range of medications can slow and, in some cases, reverse the arthritic changes.

Your vet is also likely to advise the use of compounds often called nutraceuticals. A nutraceutical is any substance that is a food or part of a food that provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease.

Chondroitin and glucosamine are two nutraceuticals that are useful in arthritis as they assist in rebuilding the cartilage of the joint surface.

There is also a variety of prepared pet foods that contain these same nutraceuticals and are therefore very useful in keeping your dog pain free and mobile. The best ones are prescription diets and as such, are only available from your veterinarian. These specialised diets can improve mobility in 21 days.

To reduce the stress and strain on your pet's joints, be sure to keep your dog in trim condition.

Obesity contributes significantly to the pain arthritic pets experience, so reducing your pet's weight by feeding it a low calorie, weight-reducing diet is important. Your veterinarian will be able to help with that.

Careful exercise is also important but don't overdo it because you will place strain on the damaged joints. One of the complications of arthritis is that the muscles in the affected legs wither away because the pet is too sore to exercise.

Gentle exercise will prevent that. Try to involve your dog in 'low impact' exercise such as swimming. If this is not possible, then gentle walking is good. Avoid running and jumping.

In cold weather arthritis is always worse. Make sure your dog has comfortable bedding and a warm place to sleep. Consider a dog coat to keep it comfortable and if it is an outside dog, ensure it has a warm kennel with a raised floor.

Remember - early treatment for arthritis is the key to pain-free years as your pet ages.

But please don't forget that pain is a common cause of aggression. Take no risks. Don't punish your aggressive dog - find out the underlying reason and treat that.

More information

Cheers and keep warm!

Dr Cam

Stopping dog separation anxiety in 10 steps

Posted: Monday, June 9, 2014 at 11:19:44 AM EST by Cam Day

A10-Point Plan to cure your dog's separation anxiety

Stopping a dog's separation anxiety is not difficult when the solution is crafted around your lifestyle and the lifestyle of your pet.

What is a Separation Anxiety?Separation Anxiety cures

A separation anxiety is a subset of the group of behaviours called anxieties where your dog  exhibits signs of distress when separated from you.

While there are many signs which are well-described in this member’s sheet called Home Alone and Anxious a quick summary is:-

  1. Your dog will show an emotion related to sadness, moroseness or anxiety when you are preparing to leave

  2. It will show anxious behaviours while you are gone such as distressed vocalisation, escaping, house soiling and other behaviours.

  3. And it will be over-attentive when you arrive home.

Assessing your dog’s separation anxietyBook a pet behaviour consultation here

There are several ways you can assess your dog’s separation anxiety.

  1. Complete this assessment form and use the DIY email we then sent you.
  2. Book a consultation with Dr Cam but remember that members get at least a 10% reduction in fees and free telephone support, and many other benefits.
  3. Listen to the first few Podcasts from one of Dr Cam’s seminars on Separation anxiety. (Here's the first one Home Alone Behaviours - Introduction  )

Here's Your 10-Point Plan to Solve Your Dog's Separation Anxiety

The solutions you employ depend on the way in which the anxiety presents and the severity of the anxiety.

  1. It’s really important you ensure your dog is medically fit because medical disorders can certainly contribute to separation anxiety behaviours. Refer to this sheet – Medical Causes of Behavioural Problems. Your veterinarian will help you to determine if a medical issue is contributing to your dog's problem or we can help with that when you book a consultation.

  2. The sheet Home Alone and Anxious is the main page you need to read. It stitches the solutions together very well and is the keystone sheet you can use to get the problem solved. That sheet is really detailed so be sure to work through it all.

  3. You can also listen to the whole collection of Dr Cam’s Separation Anxiety Podcasts (2 hours of audio) via this link  and you can download them to your iThing or MP3 player. Membership is needed to access them.

  4. Perhaps your dog’s anxiety is mostly manifest by barking and howling in which case this Barking Dog Pet Pick contains a wealth ofKONG Wobbler information and an additional two hours of podcasts which are well worth the small cost of membership.

  5. If your dog is destructive in your absence then you may be interested in our No Bored Dogs Pet Pick. For us, boredom relief is one of the key concepts that allows the development of techniques called Trial Separations and Staged Leavings (which are also mentioned in Home Alone and Anxious).

  6. You may also benefit from reading solutions to hole digging behaviour here and boredom-relief toys such as the Kong Wobbler can really help to create an easy separation from your dog.

  7. Some dogs develop separation anxiety when you move to a new house.

  8. Alternatively you may feel the solutions your dog needs relate to the means by which you can keep him or her happy and content so Happy Pets – It’s as Simple as ABC is what you need to read.

  9. A comfortable wolf-like Den can be important for some dogs and very comforting too, so refer to this sheet on the Denning Principle. (It’s a member’s file).

  10. Calming Dogs with Separation Anxiety can be Life-Saving

If you are looking for means by which you can calm your dog then look at the homeopathic product called Anxiety.

pheromones20reducedThe Dog Appeasing Pheromone can be very effective for calming your dog and there are three versions available including a power-point diffuser, a pheromone collar and a pheromone spray.

For really serious anxieties, especially those where your dog is panicking or injuring itself and your property when you are away, medications can be vital and life-saving. Curing Panicking Pets is what you need to read in that case.

Re-assessing your progress

No matter what solutions you implement, mark a point in your diary three weeks from now when you will review your dog’s progress. You should be able to make significant progress in three weeks. If that’s not the case, contact us for assistance by completing this assessment form or by ringing us on 07 32550022

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