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The dog blanket as an island of safety

The most important thing to do when your greyhound comes into your home for the first time is to prepare a safe and quiet place for him where he can relax and sleep.

A place of his very own, where he can withdraw from the world and from people, away from everything and everyone, a place where nothing and nobody can disturb him and where he feels safe and protected. To have a safe place is a fundamental need which all dogs have, and everyone must to be aware of this and respect it.

This place is usually the dog’s bed.

For dogs who live in an apartment this is usually a big cushion, or a padded dog bed (with edges or borders), or a canvas dog bed or small mattress, on which a blanket, rug or throw is placed.

In this article we will be using the words dog bed/ cushion/mattress etc in an interchangeable way.

We suggest that you always put a blanket or throw on top of the cushion, dog bed or mattress, because that blanket can then be used as the dog’s own ‘safety blanket’ when you’re out and about with him, for instance at the homes of friends, at a restaurant, in a hotel, on a boat, in a campervan or wherever.

To give your dog a clear reference point, where he can rest and withdraw from the world, helps him to integrate into the domestic environment and home circle (made up of his human family and maybe other pets too), and teaches him how to manage periods of rest and periods of activity in the right way, and equally importantly how to calmly accept being separated from us when we go out, and how to experience with serenity the times when he is alone.

It will only be possible for your dog to accept his bed and blanket as a safe place which he associates with being calm, if you let him have experiences in which he associates the bed or blanket with positive feelings of calm, tranquility, safety and fulfilment.

Dogs experience the world through learning processes called ‘anchors’, with which they associate a situation or an event or a stimulus with a positive emotional state.

So we need to teach our greyhound that his bed or blanket is a source of relaxation and protection, associating it exclusively with feelings of calm and relaxation.

How do we do that?

In 5 steps

1. Putting the cushion/blanket in the right place.

It shouldn’t be anywhere too isolated in the house, but neither should it be near entrances or passing places. It should be in a safe place, with an appropriate and stable temperature, always quiet at all times of day. Not just the place itself but also the material the cushion or blanket is made of can have an important role to play. Observe your dog’s tastes and choose a material which is not like the objects he normally plays with.

We invite you to read the our article about choosing the right place entitled Working on Developing Calm: https://www.petlevrieri.it/en/2013/11/01/working-on-developing-calm/

2. Do not disturb!

The cushion/blanket/safe place must be respected by everyone in the family, humans and pets, adults and children, in the same way that we require our own beds and resting times to be respected. This means that when the dog is on his cushion we should not disturb him or stimulate him – not even by cuddling or stroking him – and this should be strictly adhered to in the first stages of settling in. If you want to cuddle or stroke him or invite him to interact with you in any way, don’t go to his cushion but call him to you, invite him to get up and come to you.

3. Never use the dog bed/blanket/cushion as a place of punishment.

You should never punish the dog by telling him to ‘go to his basket’ or to his bed or on his blanket, to avoid him associating his safe place with something very unpleasant. Also you should not use his bed/cushion to carry out cleaning or medicating routines, nor should you use his blanket to dry him with.

4. Connect the blanket/cushion/dog bed with something positive for the dog

In order to help your dog choose his cushion as a reference point, in the early days praise and reward him when he goes there of his own accord and to rest there. In some cases it may even be necessary to reward him just for looking at it.

The next step is to reward him when he is calm and settled on his cushion. In order to do that, pay attention to the whole body language of your dog because it is essential to reward his positive emotional state and not his physical posture. For instance, a dog might be sitting or even lying down on his cushion but be in a visible state of anxiety or restlessness.

How do we reward a state of calm connected to the cushion?

Proceed as follows:

As soon as your dog is relaxed or is going the right way about it, pass close by him – taking care to approach him sideways (not head-on) and following a circular trajectory, in a slow and relaxed way – and drop, place near him or offer him a treat and then ignore him again. The idea is not to rouse the dog when giving him the treat. If he gets up and starts to follow you – which can happen in the early stages of this kind of work – just ignore him.

5. Try to increase the beneficial and calming effects of the cushion and blanket by using positive reinforcements.

Reward him every now and again for being calm on his cushion/blanket by giving him a treat as in point 4.

If, for example, you are used to playing with your dog after his nap, you could start doing this even before he gets up: by associating a whole series of happy moments and pleasurable actions (such as strokes and massages) with his cushion, this will become the best place for him to rest and relax.

The important thing is to keep the playing at an intermediate level of arousal (not too exciting) and for it to encourage pleasant emotions.

Only on this basis can the cushion/blanket become a transitional tool able to guide your dog towards a state of calm even in an unfamiliar environment. In fact this kind of associative work with the cushion/blanket will also help you as a first step when getting the dog used to being separated from you, which is an important objective both for adult dogs who may suffer from separation anxiety and for puppies, who need to gradually become more autonomous.

To do this, you need to work slowly in stages, first rewarding the dog for staying quietly on his cushion while you move away but remain in the same room, then going back to him while moving around the various rooms in the house.

Alongside this, you could also introduce some little ‘separations’ within the house itself, by going into a room – e.g. the bathroom – and closing the door.

Once you’ve consolidated this work on the cushion/blanket indoors and you are satisfied that your dog associates it with feelings of calm and relaxation, then it can be used as a kind of portable ‘island of safety’.

You can take it with you when you go to the restaurant (translator’s note: dogs are allowed in restaurants in Italy) or when visiting the homes of friends. It will become a positive ‘marker’ (i.e. an anchoring object associated with something positive) which will induce a state of calm and make it clear to the dog that he will be stopping in that place for a while.

This will significantly increase the dog’s ability to feel at home in different environments, as he will be able to find his comfort zone even outside the home.

Indeed many dogs, when they are outside the home, never lie down quietly and relax but are constantly trying to interact with their owner or the people around them, who they try to engage with by barking or whining to attract attention.

This state of restlessnesss can be contained if the dog can find his blanket/cushion there for him even in an unfamiliar environment, so he can settle down while waiting for whatever activity his owner will engage him in next.

By Stefania Traini Translated by Isobel Deeley

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Presidente e socio fondatore di Pet levrieri dalla data di fondazione. Svolge questo ruolo in maniera totalmente gratuita. Nella vita svolge la professione di psicologa e psicoterapeuta. Per crescita personale si è formata e diplomata come educatrice cinofila presso la scuola SIUA. Ha svolto il corso professionalizzante per la gestione della ricerca e del soccorso di animali smarriti, organizzato da Pet Detective. Ha iniziato a scoprire quello che accade ai greyhound nel racing in seguito all’adozione della sua prima grey, Silky, nel 2008. Da qui il suo impegno civile antiracing e anticaccia in difesa dei greyhound, dei galgo e dei lurcher. Sposata con Massimo Greco, altro socio fondatore di Pet levrieri, condivide con lui questo impegno.
Insieme condividono la loro vita con sette cani, tutti adottati: Cabana, galgo spagnolo, Zen, grey salvato dal cinodromo di Macao, King, grey salvato dal mercato della carne in Cina, Babe, grey irlandese, Barney, grey irlandese, Lucy, grey irlandese, e Adhara, una meticcia. Nel cuore sempre presenti i tre grey Silky, Blackie e Rob, che sono stati straordinari amici e ambasciatori della causa.

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Macia, vicepresidente e socio fondatore di Pet Levrieri, ha lavorato presso case editrici e oggi collabora in qualità di correttrice di bozze e per la revisione di testi. Nel 2011 ha adottato il suo primo levriero, entrando in contatto con la triste realtà che si cela dietro galgo, grey e lurcher e da qui è nato il suo impegno che condivide con suo marito Francesco, anche lui volontario all’interno dell’associazione. Ricopre il ruolo di Coordinatore del gruppo Adozioni e a ogni arrivo la trovate dietro un tavolo a far firmare moduli agli adottanti.
Vive a Milano con il marito in compagnia di un galgo spagnolo, Rodrigo, e due grey irlandesi, Rosden e Suzie, l’ultima adottata un anno fa.

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Vice Presidente e socio fondatore di Pet levrieri, laureata in scienze politiche internazionali, gestisce un’impresa di consulenze turistiche. In Pet Levrieri si occupa in particolare delle relazioni con la Spagna e dei profili dei galgo e si reca più volte all’anno nei rifugi spagnoli per conoscere i cani e stilarne i profili. Fa parte del team che amministra sito e pagine Fb dell’associazione.
Ha adottato la galga Debra nel 2011. Venire a contatto con la realtà dei levrieri rescue l’ha spinta ad approfondire il discorso e a impegnarsi attivamente a favore dei grey, galgo e lurcher sfruttati e maltrattati in tutto il mondo. Oltre a Debra vive con due cani meticci, salvati da situazioni di abbandono.
Svolge i suoi incarichi in Pet levrieri in maniera totalmente gratuita.

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Membro del consiglio direttivo e socio fondatore di Per levrieri, dove si occupa dell’organizzazione logistica degli eventi e del merchandising. Nella vita è titolare di un laboratorio odontotecnico dal 1990. Da sempre appassionato di cani, il suo primo cane è stato un setter irlandese. Sposato con Marianna Capurso, anche lei socia fondatrice di Pet levrieri, condivide con lei l’impegno antirancing e anticaccia in difesa dei levrieri. Accanto al presidente di Pet levrieri, ha partecipato alla prima conferenza mondiale sui greyhound in Florida nel 2016. Ha partecipato a molti corsi organizzati da Think Dog e Siua. Perle è stata la sua prima greyhound. Nella sua vita ora ci sono Peig e Inta, due lurcher, e Karim, greyhound salvato dal cinodromo di Macao, e Ricky, un pinscher, che è la mascotte di tutto il gruppo. Svolge i suoi incarichi in Pet levrieri in maniera totalmente gratuita.

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Membro del consiglio direttivo di Pet levrieri. Nella vita è una pasticciera. Dal 2014 a seguito dell’adozione di Rosie, una greyhound irlandese ha conosciuto la realtà dello sfruttamento dei levrieri. Da qui l’impegno in associazione. Coordina il gruppo facebook di Pet levrieri, gestisce il canale istituzionale Twitter, ed è membro del gruppo adozioni. Condivide la vita con il compagno Stefano, socio e volontario di Pet levrieri, James greyhound salvato in Irlanda e Jasmine greyhound sopravvissuta al cinodromo di Macao, nel cuore portano Rosie e Mags greyhound salvate in Irlanda. Svolge i suoi incarichi in Pet levrieri in maniera totalmente gratuita.

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