“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”


We all know stress. It seems to be a pervasive emotional state in our world today. We are bombarded with stressful situations from sunup to sundown. Everything from witnessing  the terrible images that appear on the evening news, to the minute to minute stressors such as fights with your spouse or drivers who seem intent on making you late. What do these stressors have in common? How can we effectively deal with them in ways that don’t let the “stress virus” pass to the next living being we encounter?

What’s wrong with stress? Stress can be a positive thing can’t it? Yes, let’s say you want to improve your physical health. You have to push your muscles, including the heart muscle, if you want to be stronger.  Physical stress in moderate increments will help you get there.  But stress has a dark side. We’ve all known people who have stressed their hearts with the burdens of excess weight, smoking and high cholesterol diets right into a heart attack or individuals who suffer chronic emotional stress such as relentless anxiety.  We’ll call this form pathological stress.

Are you more susceptible to getting the “office cold” if you are tired and stressed?  Chronic stress weakens the immune system increasing your chances of infections.  You are more likely to be irritable to those you love and hold most dear if someone at work sabotaged your proposal. Unfortunately workplace stressors often follow us home spreading the negative emotional state to the rest of the family, including the family pet.  There is nothing positive about pathological stress.

So much for the human condition… I’m a veterinarian. I am addressing this topic because I want to help animal lovers understand how pathologic stress impacts their furry best friends as well. What are the symptoms of animal stress?  What is physically happening when your pet is experiencing stress?  What can be done to change your pet’s reaction to a stressful situation? What is our role as their guardians in alleviating it, preventing it and, when needed, treating it .

Look for my upcoming blogs on symptoms of animal stress and how owners and veterinarians can work together to help the animals under our care.


Photo credit:  fanelie rosier | iStock Photo

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The story of how Stanley became a dog again

The Pavlish family, six family members


Ginger: Viszla. Age: puppy.
Stanley: Wheaton terrier. Age: 7 years old.
Maggie: Westie. Age: 13 years old.

The situation: The Pavlish family added a new puppy, Ginger, to their home. Stanley, although he got along well with Maggie, did not accept the new addition to the family.

The history

Stanley was a dog with a police record. When he was one year old, he bit another dog. This incident had a tremendous impact on Stanley and his family. Family members no longer trusted Stanley around other dogs and were fearful of taking Stanley for walks. They also were fearful of Stanley’s reaction to the new puppy, Ginger. Although Stanley accepted the family’s 13-year-old Westie, Maggie, he wasn’t as accepting as the new puppy, Ginger.

Stanley was confined to the Pavlish home and their fenced back yard. The family members did not trust Stanley on walks and they kept Stanley and new puppy Ginger separated at home. “It was no way to live,” said the family.

“We were at our wits end,” said the family. “We contemplated putting Stanley down,” they added.

The change

What changed? The family met Amy Sandmann, one of the trainers at Animal Wellness Center who also works with Positively Dog Training and well known trainer and television personality Victoria Stilwell (star of Animal Planet’s television series “It’s Me or the Dog”). The family was attending a puppy socialization class with Ginger at Animal Wellness Center and talked to Amy about their heartbreaking situation. Amy set up a time to visit the Pavlish family to meet Stanley.

“It is so important to observe the dog in their own environment,” said Amy. “There is always a reason for why a dog is doing what the dog is doing,” she explains. “Being a trainer is a lot of detective work to figure out why the dog has the problem behaviors,” she said. “Everything in the dog’s environment contributes to their behavior,” she said.

Stanley was what Amy called “reactive” on the leash. Stanley would bark, lunge at other dogs, pull and the family could not control him. When a person or dog is uncomfortable, there is the natural “fight or flight” response. Stanley, feeling uncomfortable on a leash, can’t “flight” since he is on a leash, so his natural reaction is to “fight.” As dog owners, we also contribute to how our dogs act and react by our own actions. Amy said since the owners were so frightened to have Stanley around other dogs, they sent Stanley clear body language—from the death grip on the leash to being extremely tense—that going for a walk is not fun.

After working with Amy, the family members learned how to relax and so did Stanley. “Amy eased our apprehension and encouraged us to stay relaxed, so Stanley would be more comfortable,” said the family. “Amy helped guide us with techniques that would increase Stanley’s quality of life and help him be more stress-free outside of the confines of our home and yard,” the family added.

“Stanley was a dog that was ‘shut down’ both mentally and physically,” explains Amy. Because of Stanley’s behavior, a veterinarian prescribed an antidepressant medication for Stanley.

“Stanley was void of any personality. Stanley’s face told the story: he was a sad and depressed dog,” said Amy.  “Stanley’s case was a larger issue than just training so we had to look at all avenues of helping Stanley,” Amy said. The medications allowed Stanley to “unlock” his brain so he could start learning new behaviors. This along with some changes in the house, making Stanley’s environment less stressful, all worked together for Stanley’s benefit.

Stanley now goes for walks using a non-pull harness. “We do not recommend using shock, choke or prong collars,” said Amy. “The best results are from positive reinforcement where you reinforce the behavior you want repeated,” she said. This builds the bond between the owner and dog and gets the best training results.

“This family went the extra mile and saved Stanley’s life,” said Amy. Amy recalls when she received an email from the Palvich family with an update on Stanley. The owner told Amy that for the first time in eight years, Stanley did a ‘play bow’ trying to initiate play with the other dogs in the family. Stanley became an engaged member of the family again.

“Stanley was finally feeling like a dog again,” recalls Amy. “He became a dog again,” she said.

There is always a reason for what dogs do. It may be lack of socialization at an early age, or it may be a medical issue or that a dog is in severe pain and the owner doesn’t realize it. “Since dogs can’t talk, it is the job of the trainer to figure out why the dog is behaving a certain way and implement a plan to modify the behavior,” said Amy.

“I try to go in with an open heart and open mind so I can detect the reasons why a dog is acting a particular way,” she said. “Stanley’s story ended well because the family gave 100 percent,” said Amy. In addition, sometimes it takes the effort of many people—the owners, trainer, veterinarian—to resolve the issue.

“Amy’s love of dogs and passion to help owners understand their dogs is very apparent,” said the family. “Our family is truly grateful for all her care and support as we navigated new territory,” they added.

Today, Stanley, Maggie and Ginger have happy days playing together,” said the family. “Everyone’s quality of life is better as all of the six family members are educated in how to interpret and redirect all of our dogs’ behaviors to be positive.”

And for Stanley—he smiles now. He became a dog again.


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“Our ultimate goal is to help animals live the long, happy and healthy lives they deserve with their loving owners.” Part of the mission statement of Animal Wellness Center in Maple Grove, MN.  Continue reading


You just adopted your brand new puppy and you are in love already. Your parenting instincts are in high gear, you want to do everything you can to protect her and keep her healthy and happy for the rest of her life. A physical exam, vaccinations, parasite protection, lots of toys and finding the right food come to the top of your list. This is a great start, but to achieve all your dreams for this precious pet, we haven’t included the most important insurance of all: Socialization.

Do you know the number one reason puppies lose their homes and subsequently lose their lives? It is behavior problems, not infectious diseases, accidents or parasites. Unacceptable behaviors are the leading reason dogs under three years of age are relinquished to shelters where a high percentage will be destroyed. Experts in veterinary behavior around the world have studied the causes for behavior problems in young dogs, and they agree that the majority of the problem behaviors can be traced back to lack of appropriate socialization during the puppy’s sensitive period.

The Sensitive Period.  The sensitive period for your puppy is the first 3 months of life. During this time your puppy is the most open to accepting and embracing other animals, new people, new experiences, objects, sounds and handling.  Repeated, positive exposures will provide your puppy with the skills she needs to understand and interact successfully with her world. This is a brief, yet precious, period of time for your puppy. Socialization classes are an ideal opportunity to make the most of these few weeks.

On the other hand, improper or incomplete socialization can increase her risk of behavioral issues in the future including fear, avoidance, and aggression.  Frightening or painful experiences can produce life-long phobias at this age. After 16 weeks of age the puppy’s mind closes to novel experiences. Their brains are programmed to be very wary of unfamiliar individuals and experiences and the sensitive period closes.

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has issued a formal Position Statement on Puppy Socialization. Pointing out the critical role early social learning plays in a puppy’s success, the statement reads in part, “ For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.

Of course vaccinations are critically important to your puppy’s health, but the notion that our puppies shouldn’t be exposed to each other or the world outside their home until the vaccination series is complete is outdated and indeed dangerous to your puppy’s psychological development. Most puppies can start participating in socialization classes at 7-8 weeks of age after receiving a minimum of one set of vaccinations.

Socialization and Habituation. Socialization can be described as the process whereby an animal learns how to recognize and interact with the species with which it cohabits. In the wild this is likely to be limited to the animal’s own species, but for the domestic dog it includes other species such as man and cats. By learning how to interact with these the socialized dog develops communication skills which enable it to recognize, amongst other things, whether or not it is being threatened and how to recognize and respond to the intentions of others.

The socialization process starts at birth. Gentle handling and cuddling a newborn helps them learn to accept the manipulation of their bodies and to associate human touch with a pleasant experience. During the next 12 weeks they should be exposed to people of all ages, sizes and shapes. They need to see people in hats, with facial hair, wearing different clothing, and using a cane. These experiences will help them identify and be comfortable with all the different visual manifestations of humans.

Well socialized puppies have ample opportunities to play with other dogs. Their world needs to include interactive toys, novel objects, car rides, and visits to other homes. Encourage them to explore each environment and build self confidence.  All of these experiences are healthy and necessary for the next phase of learning:  Habituation.

Habituation. Habituation can be described as the process whereby an animal becomes accustomed to non-threatening environmental stimuli and learns to ignore them.  As she explores her world your puppy is being bombarded with information. She needs to learn who is a friend, does it hurt, can I eat it, is it fun, is it no big deal and can be ignored. We have all met dogs that seemed to over react to very common, non-threatening situations. They may have reacted fearfully, become over-protective, aggressive or hyperactive.  All of these behaviors result when a dog is improperly or incompletely socialized. These animals never had the chance to habituate fully to their world.

Socialization classes provide an ideal format for raising confident, well adjusted dogs.  Classes must be conducted by persons who are qualified trainers and held in a clean and safe environment. Puppies should be encouraged to explore and engage at their own pace. Teachers and puppy owners must use only positive reinforcement with praise and an abundance of treats. Most of all, you and your puppy should be having FUN!

The Animal Wellness Center is very proud to offer high quality, safe, fun and affordable socialization classes. Puppies between 7 and 16 weeks of age, having received at least one set of vaccinations and a de-worming treatment are eligible. Ideally, enroll your puppy when she is 7-8 weeks of age and then continue to attend weekly until she is ready to move into Puppy Kindergarten. This approach will maximize her learning experience during her all-important sensitive period.

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Amy Sandmann (a Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer) is working with the Animal Wellness Center to offer reward based obedience classes.  Her goal is simple, give owners and their dogs the tools to live together in better harmony, this is achieved through Positive Reinforcement methods.  Reward based training is a powerful tool and will allow your dog to learn new behaviors quicker than you ever thought possible.  Listen to Amy’s radio interview with Victoria Stilwell about her volunteer work with her therapy dog Howie and the organization Pet Partners.

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