Category Archives: Gazette

Tips to Help You and Your Dog Have a Safe and Happy Fourth of July

According to HomeAgain, a pet microchipping company, more dogs get lost on the Fourth of July than any other day of the year.  Loud noises, especially fireworks, can cause fear and anxiety in our pets and with Independence Day on the horizon, no doubt many dog owners are not looking forward to the festivities that come along with the holiday.  This article discusses keeping your dog safe as well as several methods of anxiety prevention for the firework shows.  These methods of anxiety prevention are also applicable to thunderstorms. 

In order to keep them safe we have several tips.  In the event that your dog does get loose, make sure your dog is wearing an up to date and visible ID tag. If your dog is microchipped, ensure that there is some indication of this on his or her collar. To reduce the chance of your dog slipping his or her collar during a walk with fireworks, take your dog out earlier in the day.  Before you leave to attend the festivities, set out some distractions for your dog such as a Kong stuffed with frozen peanut butter, a bob-a-lot filled with treats, or a bone or chew toy to gnaw on.  If you have a dog that is afraid of fireworks, turn on some gentle music, shut the windows, and close the curtains to reduce the noise level.  Make sure your door is securely fastened before departing.  It is inadvisable to take noise fearful or unpredictable dogs out to firework shows. 

Unfortunately, many dogs who are afraid of fireworks also exhibit anxious or fearful behavior when thunderstorms roll around.  This can be devastating for owners as these behaviors can often be destructive as well as harmful to your dog.  No one wants to see their dog suffering.  There are several options which could help. 

There are several supplements that may appeal to owners.  The first of these is melatonin.  Owners suffering from insomnia may be familiar with melatonin—a hormone linked to the circadian rhythm.  Melatonin is a naturally occurring substance produced by the pineal gland.  Dr. Aronson, DVM recommends administering three mg for a 35-100 lb dog.  Dogs under 30 lbs should be given 1.5 mg and larger dogs may require six mg.  Melatonin is not a sedative; dogs using it will remain alert and awake.  Like all supplements for both dogs and people, the effectiveness for each individual dog is not guaranteed.  However, this is an excellent starting place and an easy remedy for the dogs it does work for.

Another supplement is NutriCalm. NutriCalm is a proprietary blend of natural ingredients formulated to calm and soothe anxious dogs.  Active ingredients include L-Tryptophan, Valerian Root Extract, Ashwaganda Extract, Catnip Extract, L-theanine, Calcium and Magnesium. The label recommends administering one tablet for every 25-50 lbs of body weight.  If hoping to begin the use of NutriCalm, a consultation with a veterinarian is recommended.  As with melatonin, NutriCalm is not a guarantee although again an easy fix for the dogs that it does work for. 

These supplements are best used as preventative measures rather than being administered during the event.  Giving the supplements at least 30 minutes prior to the stressful event or prior to leaving the dog alone will render them their most effective. 

Aside from supplements there is another option which may naturally help your dog relax.  The Thundershirt is a tight fitting body shirt designed to apply constant pressure to the dog’s torso.  This is intended to reduce anxiety and fearfulness as body enclosure and constant pressure has a calming effect on dogs. 

It is best for a fearful dog to have its owner stay home with them.  If this is possible, there are a few other options for the owner at home as well as things to avoid. 

The first thing to do is reduce the stimuli.  Close windows and doors as well as curtains to shut out sound and flashing lights.  Play gentle music and add white noise such as a fan to mask the sounds.  This music should also be played during relaxing times in order to prevent the formation of negative association with calming music. 

Your dog may wish to stay close to you during frightening events.  If it helps your dog to be near you, you can allow it to do so.  However, you must remember to stay calm, stressful behavior on the part of the owner will only feed the dog’s behavior.  Gentle massage may assist with calming your dog.  Do not punish a dog or forcefully remove it from its hiding place as this will merely frighten the dog further and create a more negative response.   

There are training solutions to consider as well.  Training a dog to find its bed and consider the dog bed an enjoyable and safe place may help reduce stress.  To begin, place your dog’s bed near you but away from the windows or doors to help reduce the stimulus.  Regularly have your dog settle in the bed, rewarding calm and settled behavior.  Have your dog go to his bed at different times of the day so that there isn’t one specific time associated with being calm. 

During the event, remain calm and happy and continuously feed tasty treats or counter condition with a fun game such as tossing a ball each time the noise occurs.  This will create a positive, happy association with the noise.  Remain cheerful.  The usage of a Thundershirt in combination may also help create a positive experience.  Desensitization training may be beneficial. 

Sound desensitization CDs are a good tool to use to systematically desensitize your dog to noises that evoke a fearful response. When beginning the use of these CDs it is recommended to engage your dog in a fun activity or give them a favorite toy or bone first, then begin the “music.” Start with the sound as low as possible yet loud enough that your dog responds to it. When your dog shows signs of discomfort you can begin the training process by counter conditioning with food treats if necessary or encouragement to continue the fun activity or chewing on their bone.  When the dog calms down, reward him and continue playing the sound cd for a bit longer, then decrease the volume. This is a successful training session and should be repeated soon after, using the same method. Remember where you had the volume set for the previous session and use that setting for the next few sessions. After these sessions you should notice a decrease in the amount of reaction that your dog shows at that volume level. The next step is to set up the same situation but now you should need to increase the volume to illicit a reaction from your dog. Gradually, over time, your dog will be able to withstand the CD being played at full volume and not display a fearful reaction. Systematic desensitization is a process that takes time and many, many repetitions. These repetitions should occur fairly frequently.

To prepare for the Fourth of July, it is wise to begin training in the beginning of June or earlier to allow enough time to properly complete the desensitization process without feeling rushed and potentially causing an adverse reaction. Again, this process should not be rushed.

Severe cases may require medications such as Xanax or Valium.  These require consultation with a veterinarian to find the correct dosage for a dog.  Try to avoid Acepromazine, a tranquilizer that will sedate your dog but will not reduce anxiety. 

Most dogs will respond positively to training. If you need help finding the best solution for your dog or if you would like help guiding your dog through the desensitization process, please call our office at 412.364.4122 to speak with our Behavior Consultant, Jeff Woods. Misty Pines carries the items that we recommend in this article, such as Bob-A-Lots, Kongs, Sound CDs, Thundershirts, Melatonin and Nutricalm. We can also Microchip your dog. Microchipping is by appointment and only takes 10 minutes. Let Misty Pines help you and your dog be safe and happy this Fourth of July.

The Dog’s Sense of Smell


Olfaction, the act or process of smelling, is a dog’s primary special sense. A dog’s sense of smell is said to be a thousand times more sensitive than that of humans. In fact, a dog has more than 220 million olfactory receptors in its nose, while humans have only 5 million. Because of the dog’s sense of smell, dogs are able to locate everything from forensic cadaver material to disaster survivors as demonstrated during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.


A dog’s nose consists of a pair of nostrils (nares) for inhaling air and odors and a nasal cavity. The olfactory receptor cells in a dog’s nose extend throughout the entire layer of specialized olfactory epithelium found on the ethmo-turbinate bones of the nasal cavity. The olfactory portion of the nasal mucous membrane contains a rich supply of olfactory nerves that ultimately connect with the highly developed olfactory lobe in the dog’s brain.

Dogs possess an additional olfactory chamber called the vomeronasal organ that also contains olfactory epithelium. The vomeronasal organ, known as Jacobson’s organ, consists of a pair of elongated, fluid-filled sacs that open into either the mouth or the nose. It is located above the roof of the mouth and behind the upper incisors.

Interestingly, the olfactory receptors in the nasal cavity are anatomically distinct from those in the vomeronasal organ. Each receptor neuron (nerve cell) in the olfactory epithelium of the nasal cavity has a dendrite that ends in a knob with several thin cilia covered by mucus. Receptor neurons in the vomeronasal organ typically lack cilia but have microvilli on the cell surface.


A dog’s nose is normally cool and moist. The moisture secreted by mucous glands in the nasal cavity captures and dissolves molecules in the air and brings them into contact with the specialized olfactory epithelium inside the nose.

Dogs use sniffing to maximize detection of odors. The sniff is actually a disruption of the normal breathing pattern. Sniffing is accomplished through a series of rapid, short inhalations and exhalations. A bony subethmoidal shelf, which is found below the ethmo-turbinate bones of the nasal cavity, forces inhaled air into the olfactory epithelium. Washing out of the region upon exhalation does not occur due to the nasal pocket created by the bony subethmoidal shelf. The nasal pocket permits the odor molecules that are unrecognizable in a single sniff to accumulate and interact with olfactory receptors. Odor molecules in the olfactory epithelium of the nasal cavity are absorbed into the mucous layer and diffuse to the cilia of receptor neurons. This interaction generates nerve impulses that are transmitted by the olfactory nerves to the dog’s brain, which has a well-developed olfactory lobe. This allows the dog to recognize a scent and follow a trail.

Olfactory receptor cells in the vomeronasal organ also send impulses to the region of the hypothalamus associated with sexual and social behaviors. This organ is believed to be important in the detection of pheromones (body scents). This theory could account for the dog’s ability to identify and recognize other animals and people.


Today, people use a dog’s sense of smell in many ways. Federal, state, and local government agencies employ specially trained dogs in search and rescue missions and in the detection of narcotics and contraband agriculture products. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has national dog-handler teams that respond to disasters worldwide. State and local law enforcement agencies in the United States (U.S.) have canine units trained to detect drugs and search for lost individuals, homicide victims, and forensic cadaver materials.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has more than 800 canine teams that work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to combat terrorist threats, stop the flow of illegal narcotics, and detect unreported currency, concealed humans, or smuggled agriculture products. Its Canine Enforcement Program (CEP) uses a variety of dogs including Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and many mixed breeds.

The CEP uses beagles to detect agriculture contraband. The passively trained Beagle Brigade dogs detect prohibited fruits, plants, and meats in baggage and vehicles of international travelers as they go through Federal Inspection Service areas. Beagle Brigade teams work at several major border-crossing stations in the United States as well as many international airports that are ports of entry into this country.

Medical tests have shown that specially trained dogs are capable of using the dog’s sense of smell to detect certain types of tumors in humans.

Not many family dogs will be used for bomb detection, competition or tracking work, but every family dog can learn to play Hide N Seek and find objects hidden around the house. These games can be used to help provide mental stimulation for your dog and provide a job to keep him active.

Scent Working is an activity that all dogs enjoy and all dogs can do. Get involved in Scent Work with your dog by registering for our Scent Work classes listed below. Beginners and all other skill levels are welcome.

Scent Work

Scent Work 101 – Saturday, October 3, 2020 @ 8:00 am

Scent Work 102 – September 15, 2018 @ 11:15 am

Scent Work 103 – September 22, 2018 @ 11:15 am

Scent Work 104 – September 29, 2018 @ 11:15 am

Progressive Scent Work – Saturday, March 14, 2020 @ 11:15 am

Courtesy of Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats: Maximizing Your Home to Better Meet Your Cat’s Needs – Part 2

Part 2: Litter Boxes, Vertical Spaces and Scratching.

by Ingrid Johnson, CCBC (Certified Cat Behavior Consultant)

Litter Boxes

cat in uncovered litter boxThe placement and maintenance of litter boxes is another enormous factor in achieving feline contentedness. Many people provide litter boxes that are hard to access or not clean enough then wonder why their cats are not compliant. Litter boxes should be BIG — one and a half times the length of your cat’s body is ideal. They should have lots of room so that your cat can move and turn around without stepping on a soiled area. Litter boxes should be uncovered. If you’re using storage bin—style boxes or insist on having hooded boxes, be sure they are clear so that your cats can anticipate if someone is coming. Remember that cats are both predator and prey, and using the litter box is one of their most vulnerable moments. They must feel safe or they will find another place to go.

Putting litter boxes behind cat doors or in dead-end areas is a recipe for disaster. All one cat has to do is guard the door and whack the other cat in the head as they come to use the box. It will not be long before the cat being smacked finds a new place to go to the bathroom. Cats want to eliminate in places where their human’s scent is strong, but we always want to hide boxes in places we never go; these two preferences do not mix. Having unobtrusive boxes that are meticulously maintained is, by far, the preferred option. Cats do not want litter box rooms or cat rooms. They would prefer that the boxes be interspersed throughout the home. Bedrooms, bathrooms, home offices, and screen porches are all great places for litter boxes and are a lot more pleasant and less scary than basements, laundry rooms, and closets.

Also, from your cat’s perspective, having multiple boxes all lined up in a row is the same as having only one big box. Offer one more litter box location than you have cats so that all boxes cannot possibly be guarded or in use at any given time. Be sure to scoop daily — no exceptions! Dump and scrub the boxes every few weeks and replace them entirely every two years.

Vertical Space and Scratching

Vertical space and outlets for normal scratching behavior are very important aspects of feline environmental enrichment. Cats are the most three-dimensionally oriented of all of the species we share our homes with. It is absurd to think one can have a cat and NOT facilitate its innate need to climb. Cats take great comfort in being up high. Height allows them to survey a lot of area from a single vantage point and provides a sense of safety and security.

There is not usually one dominant cat in the feline world; it changes based on who owns a given space. The dominant cat changes from room to room, floor to floor, and piece of furniture to piece of furniture. Offering vertical space not only increases the usable square footage of your home, it allows cats to communicate hierarchy of a given space without confrontation. It gives the cats a chance to get up and away from other cats and find a solo resting spot. If you have multiple cats, dogs, or toddlers, vertical spaces can provide great spots for food bowls. I recommend placing cat condos near windows or sliding glass doors to facilitate bird and squirrel watching.

Climbing is also great exercise. Just as foraging toys are as close to letting a mouse loose in the house as we will get, indoor climbing opportunities are as close to providing trees as we can get. Cats need to scratch and scent mark too, and vertical spaces provide outlets for those innate behaviors as well. If you don’t give cats appropriate outlets to satisfy their need for heights, they will fulfill that need in less desirable places such as the top of the kitchen cabinets or refrigerator, the top of your closet on your clean clothes, or on a piece of furniture you would rather they not climb.

While we are on the subject of vertical space, let’s talk about scratching behavior. Cats scratch for four main reasons: to scent mark, to groom their nails, to stretch, and to blow off stress and frustration. Set your cats up for success. Cats do not feel the need to scratch mark in an empty guest bedroom where no one ever goes or in the basement where you spend zero time. Get an attractive post you can be proud of and put it in a prominent, high-traffic area.

Scratching posts should be tall — a minimum of 32 inches —so your cats can achieve a full-body stretch. They should also be sturdy and stable. Cats do not want their scratching posts to move, so don’t waste your money on the kind that hang from the doorknob. The posts should never topple over while your cats are using them. The majority of cats prefer to scratch sisal, but any abrasive texture can work. Do not offer fuzzy, tufted carpet on your post as it teaches your cat to scratch that texture, which could lead to them scratching your carpets or rugs. Most people do not have sisal rugs in their homes, so cats do not make the same connection. Fuzzy, tufted carpet also does not do the job that cats need it to do: remove the sheath of their nails. They need a more abrasive surface to scratch.

Next month we will continue with Part 3, which will cover environmental enrichment for indoor cats relating to fun and play.


  1. Young RJ. Environmental enrichment for captive animals. Oxford: Blackwell Science; 2003:1-2.
  2. Neville PF. An ethical viewpoint: the role of veterinarians and behaviorists in ensuring good husbandry for cats. Paper presented at: American Association of Feline Practitioners; 2002; Tempe, Arizona.
  3. Overall KL. Manual of clinical behavioral medicine for dogs and cats. St Louis: Elsevier;201 3:106-9.
  4. Beaver RVG. Feline behavior A guide for veterinarians. 2nd ed. St. Louis: Saunders Co; 2003:54, 221.


Upcoming Specialty Classes

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Sat 31

Therapy Dog and Service Dog Training

Saturday, October 31, 2020 @ 8:00 am - 8:45 am