When you hear the words shelter and safety, what comes to mind? All kinds of things, I’m sure. Many of my readers’ dogs are primarily kept inside, so the idea of shelter and safety seems like a no-brainer. I really don’t want to write about obvious things that everyone is doing with their dogs. Instead, I want to give you a few things to think about or consider when it comes to shelter, safety and special needs dogs. They have some additional needs that are worth thinking about.
Here are some general safety and security rules we follow that will be appropriate for all dogs. There are many more I could add, but I’m trying to keep this simple!
- Keep all yard gates locked!!
- Train your dog not to go out any doors leading to outside unless he’s invited to go out.
- Restrain your dogs in the car….crate them or use a car harness to keep them safely inside the vehicle in case of an accident.
- Leash your dogs at all times outside of a fence unless your dog has mastered coming to you off the leash with distractions.
- Be sure your dogs have no access to garbage or dangerous items. Just because they haven’t bothered it up until now, doesn’t mean that they never will.
- Be sure that you don’t have toxic plants in the house or yard.
We all want our dogs to be safe and to feel secure in life. However, special needs dogs struggle with those a bit more than average dogs. As a result, owners with those types of dogs will want to go an extra mile to keep their dogs feeling safe and secure.
The first thing that I want to mention, is that a big part of keeping your dog feeling safe and secure, is to know what he is saying to you. You have to be able to understand his body language and facial expressions, because those will be huge indicators of his comfort levels. Without knowing how he feels, you’ll be doomed to put him in situations where he feels very uncomfortable. Doing that over and over will actually erode his trust in you, so it’s very important to listen when your dog speaks.
In Rugby’s case, putting a leash and /or Thundershirt on him increases his feeling of security….even though he really doesn’t like it much. Thundershirts have a snug fit so that it’s like a hug for your dog. I use Rugby’s Thundershirt fairly often, and for things you might not expect. When he’s having an extra reactive day, including lots of barking and running through the house, putting his Thundershirt on him will just shut most of that nonsense down. I use it anytime we leave home…for walks, car trips, vet visits, etc. It’s part of his standard wardrobe, like his harness and leash. And I use it anytime we have guests to our home…whether or not Rugby will be meeting them.
Which brings me to something I think is very important. I don’t always let Rugby meet people. I’m very selective, and I’m very specific about how I have folks greet him. Just because someone wants to meet Rugby, doesn’t mean that I allow it. Rugby takes a very long time to warm up to someone, so unless a guest will be in our home for a long visit (hours….not necessarily days), I simply leave him in his crate with something fun to do, and music on to help calm him.
I have noticed that when Rugby is in a situation that seems to be too much for him, he really enjoys being held. Normally, Rugby doesn’t jump up on me, so when he started to frantically crawl up my leg, I knew he was very scared. Often, just holding him for a bit will calm him enough that when I put him down, he’s able to follow commands and stay reasonably calm when he’s in a new scary situation like the vet for example. When I’m holding him, I’m not petting him or soothing him with “It’s okay” which can sound very similar to praise for frightened behavior. I simply hold him and don’t speak to him.
If he’s scared past the point of being able to follow simple commands, I know that he’s simply trying to save his skin and come out of the ordeal alive. There’s no sense trying to train him when he’s that stressed, because all learning has stopped and he’s into survival mode. However, if he’s only mildly stressed, giving him commands can give him something else to think about, and that can actually be helpful to calm him down. He can’t worry and focus on work all at the same time.
Your dog needs to know that you will be his advocate, and that means knowing what is best for your dog. Until you sort that out, you’ll have some trial and error, which is okay. That’s part of the learning curve. It can be helpful to make notes of your experiences until you can see a fairly predictable pattern of behavior from your dog. Dogs generally follow a pattern, and once you have identified things that you know will be scary….you can adjust what you’re doing to let your best friend know that he’s safe and secure with you nearby!