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Saturday, January 26, 2008

The "Calming Cap" Is Working!

A couple weeks ago, Margaret asked for advice on how to stop her border collie from hysterically barking in the car. Since some common solutions hadn't worked, I suggested she try the Gentle Leader "Calming Cap," a see-through mesh mask that fits comfortably over a dog's face. It's about cutting down on sensory input, and helping the dog remain calm by avoiding sensory overload. This can be a key issue with extra-perceptive dogs like border collies and some terriers.

Well, Margaret got the Calming Cap and shares this encouraging review:

"I have been using the Calming Cap for a week, whenever Pepper is in the car. It works very well to calm her down; she is not barking wildly, but still whines and cries. This is a great improvement and I hope Pepper will continue to grow more calm as I continue to work with and train her. Thank you so much for the excellent advice from our local dog whisperer!
From a much calmer, but not yet completely calm, pack leader, Margaret."

Here's an article about the Calming Cap and its developer:

Novato dog behaviorist Trish King can get even the most nervous dog to go for a car ride or visit the veterinarian.

The Gentle Leader Calming Cap she created helps quell angst or aggression for dogs in stressful situations. "The calming cap can be used to relax dogs during nail trims, medical procedures and social interactions," said King, director of behavior and training at the Marin Humane Society. "It's a great tool for anyone who needs to calm an anxious dog, including groomers, veterinarians and trainers."

The dog's vision is filtered through a gauze-like fabric that gives dogs enough sight to navigate surroundings but reduces visual stimuli that can cause anxiety, Humane Society spokeswoman Sheri Cardo said.

"I did not want the dogs to be blinded," King said. "They can see shades - light and dark - they just cannot see specifics."

King got the idea for the cap in 2002 when a client - whose Australian shepherd/chow mix enrolled in her "Difficult Dog Class" at the Humane Society - complained that the dog barked excessively while riding in the car.

"Together we came up with a scarf-type thing to put over the dog's eyes in the car and it worked well," King said. "The first time, the dog tried to get it off. The second time she just accepted it and the third time she went to sleep."

Though originally designed to calm dogs that got excitable traveling in cars, applications of the cap evolved. "People started to use it and said it worked for other things," King said.

In 2003 another client had problems with two great Pyrenees. "They would spin in the car," King said. "I suggested they try it and the dogs fell asleep."

San Anselmo resident Jean Mansen said her malamute, Kodiak, suffers from severe motion sickness. "He is terrified of being in a car and gets incredibly car sick, so much so he would start drooling when he walked by a car and started throwing up after being in a car for about two minutes," Mansen said.

At nearly 3 years old, Kodiak never outgrew the ailment. Mansen tried several remedies including medications, homeopathic methods and behavior modification techniques.
Everything changed about a year ago with the purchase of a cap.

"Trish did a private consultation for us at home because we could not take Kodiak anywhere," Mansen said. "She had never used it on a dog with motion sickness before but we got one and he was so much better. He still is nervous near cars and still drools a little bit but he never threw up and now he goes up to Lake Tahoe with us. It works and keeps working."

At first, two women in Turlock sewed the caps by hand. In 2005, Premier Pet Products based in Richmond, Va., which manufactures and distributes pet products, approached King to produce and market the cap.

"We are always excited to produce safe, humane products that help animals," said Sharon Bennett, Premier's chief executive officer. "In the professional market, we saw an opportunity to give veterinarians, groomers, trainers and animal shelter staff an effective tool to allow for easier handling and interactions. "Above all else, we viewed the calming cap as a device to create stronger bonds between dog and owner."

The cap attaches to a dog collar with Velcro straps.

The item has been offered through Premier for almost two years. "We knew it would be a valuable product for many pets," Bennett said. "We have heard from vets and techs that have used the petite-size cap on cats, rabbits and exotic zoo animals."

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