I’m usually a pretty upbeat person but it was one of those rare days when I was in a sad funk. A series of tragic calls had really taken it out of me. I was in a fog and struggling at work when I got a call of another sighting of a stray dog that had been roaming the area for days. Fellow animal control officers had tried sweet talk and cookies without luck and had even managed to net her a few days previously but so great was her panic that she ripped through the net and escaped again. I knew my chances of catching her were slim but a long walk in the fields where she had been seen sounded appealing.
A neighbor pointed the dog out to me; a tan blur huddled in the high grass. I spoke softly to her and offered treats but she got up and hurried away. I sat down and waited but she would have none of it. I then tried to head her off, aware of the rapidly rising temperature of what was going to be a very hot day, but she bolted away from me. The neighbor followed and we tried to corner the dog but she growled and changed direction each time we got near. I noticed that she seemed weak and stumbled several times. I wondered if she was sick or just dehydrated from being on the run. At one point she fell and I sat in the grass hoping to reassure her but she soon staggered to her feet and took off again. As I got closer I could see the engorged ticks covering her body. Hundreds of them. In her ears, on her face and everywhere on her skin.
Finally I was able to get close enough to loop a leash over the dog’s head as she tried to dodge past me. She immediately collapsed to the ground and I carried her, ticks and all, to my truck. I could feel the fear and tension in her muscles as her body pressed against me. I settled her on a blanket in the vehicle and stroked her sweet face and told her it would be ok. I gave her water, flipped on the A/C and then we headed back to the shelter. The shelter techs and I spoke softly to her and began removing the ticks one by one as she slowly started to relax. There was something so rewarding about giving comfort to this lost creature that I forgot my sadness. By the time the ticks were all gone and she had a good meal, the dog was wagging her tail and we were both feeling much better.
The dog’s owners claimed her soon afterwards and my heart was full with the knowledge that she was finally safe at home after being lost for more than a week. Sometimes the best way to feel better is to help someone else feel better.
The toxic ingredient is showing up in more household products.
It's widely known that xylitol, an ingredient in sugar-free gum, is toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver failure. This has led me to be really careful about leaving packs of gum in handbags I leave around the house. I also keep gum packs (and chocolate) in a secure plastic bin in my pantry, just to be sure no hungry dogs get into the dangerous treats.
But I recently discovered that many more household products contain xylitol. In addition to other edible goods, like cookies, cough drops, and medications, the ingredient has been popping up in toothpaste, cosmetics, and mouthwash. The Pet Poison Hotline even found a line of clothing with xylitol embedded in it!
Clearly it's important to check the ingredients of the products you have lying around the house and keep them away from your pets. Xylitol is typically listed in the “Other ingredients” or “Inactive ingredients” section, but it's also been seen in the “Supplement Facts” box, so make sure you read the package closely. Sometimes the ingredients won't be listed as xylitol, but may be included as “sugar alcohols,” which encompasses many different sugar alcohols, like xylitol.
If your pet has ingested a product with xylitol in it, immediately call a veterinarian. The ingredient is so toxic that symptoms can show up within 10 minutes of ingestion. This includes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, vomiting, and rapid breathing. Fortunately dogs can recover if treated promptly.
This just shows how important it is to know what's in the products in your home.
SparkFun Electronics' journey to a canine culture.
I think it's every dog lovers dream to bring their pup to work. But as much as it'd be fun to have Nemo or Scuttle at the office, I realize that welcoming dogs at work comes with a lot of challenges.
So it was interesting to read the evolution of SparkFun Electronic's dog policy, which they recently shared on their blog. Employees started bringing dogs to the Boulder, Colorado office about six years ago when the company was much smaller, with no official policy. As SparkFun grew, bringing dogs became a documented perk and they had up to 30 dogs coming in each day. Managing the four legged members of the office became difficult.
At first SparkFun wanted to keep the policy casual, letting each department set and enforce their own guidelines, but fights broke out between pups, dogs bit delivery people, and poop was left unscooped. People became resentful because problems escalated and no one was held accountable in a consistent manner.
The dog policy became a hot topic of debate at the monthly directors meetings, but SparkFun stayed remarkably committed to keeping their perk. They eventually came up with the “Dog Tribunal,” otherwise known as the idea that saved our dog privileges or the SparkFun equivalent of jury duty.
Employees are chosen at random to serve on the Dog Tribunal, which meets monthly to review dog complaints, issue warnings and punishments, and amend the Dog Policy on the company wiki as needed.
The Dog Tribunal isn't just about punishing offenders, but finding ways to make the canine culture work. For instance, they determined that the root of the poop problem was that people would forget bags needed to clean up. So poop bag dispensers were installed around the grounds, along with playful propaganda style signs. SparkFun also has a mass cleanup day every six months or so. These small changes solved an issue once thought impossible to crack.
Now the dog problems have largely dissipated and dogs are firmly ingrained in the SparkFun culture. Dogs even factored into how their new office building was designed. The pups were mentioned as a joke in engineering meetings, but it turned out to be critical that they be added to the calculations because dogs can generate more heat than humans. Perhaps not important when you have one or two dogs, but at SparkFun, the 45 pups make up about a third of the workforce.
SparkFun has found a way to make their dog culture work by making their policy open and fair. Now their Dog Policy is posted online so that other companies can learn from what they figured out about office pups. It's open source so anyone can adapt it for their own use. They've even made their quirky poop bag dispenser sign available for download.
You Tube videos chronicle awareness around pet food ingredients
When I got my first dog, I spent countless hours pouring over the ingredient of different pet foods. I finally settled on grain free kibble made from human grade ingredients, but even so I don't think I would eat a day's worth of dog food.
Enter Dorothy Hunter, animal lover and owner of Paws Natural Pet Emporium in Kennewick, Washington. Dorothy is so passionate about quality pet food that she just completed a vow to eat only dog, cat, and bird food from her store's shelves for one month. She embarked on this journey to create awareness around pet nutrition, chronicled in a series of You Tube videos.
“You would be surprised how tasty dog and cat food can be when it's made right,” says Dorothy. She believes that, in many cases, our pets are eating better than us.
Many people asked Dorothy about her digestion, but she says she felt great on the diet. Her selection couldn't be further from the “supermarket kibble” people picture when they think of pet food. Dorothy's menu consisted of oven baked blueberry treats, freeze dried vegetables, kibble with salmon flakes, and canned food with pieces of succulent chicken.
Dorothy's You Tube videos are a great way to get people thinking about their pets' food while reaching a new audience. There's nothing like eating dog treats and kibble to make you hyper aware of the ingredients inside!
This sweet pup, Doogie, who lists his personal interests on his facebook page as "Sassing anyone in a uniform." and "Being under the blankets." loves when his person Shane plays guitar! Watch the video below to see this adorable duo in action. We love how Doogie nuzzles up to enjoy the music!
Surfers get furry
We were first introduced to Jedi through our Smiling Dog submissions, and we think Jedi Seja may be the next worldwide furry celebrity. Born on a puppy mill farm and surrendered to a rescue, Jedi had a rough start. Luckily he was then adopted by his parents Katie and Patrick Seja, and they’ve turned his life upside-down. His surfing career started in 2011, and has taken him across the nation for many surf competitions. Jedi’s interests include surfing, being an advocate for animals, working with charities, and smiling while having fun.
It often happens naturally, but can be taught
Many dogs know the names of the humans sharing their home. It’s only natural that they notice that certain words go with certain people. Many dogs will react to the names of their guardians with great enthusiasm when they are not present, perhaps anticipating their return. In the natural course of things, we humans use each other’s names a lot, saying hello, getting each other’s attention, and calling out into the void to see if they are around. We also use it to announce someone’s arrival, as in, “Rich is home!”
Training dogs to know people’s names on purpose is also possible. One of the easiest ways to teach a dog the names of everyone in the family is with a game called Family Circle. One person says, “Where’s Karen?” and then I call the dog to come. If he comes to me, he gets a treat or other reinforcement, but if he goes to someone else by mistake, he will be ignored. Then, it’s my turn to cue the dog about where to go, and I might say, “Where’s Rich?” at which point Rich will call him, and going to Rich is the right thing to do to get reinforced. This game works best with at least three people. With only two people, the dog may learn that the correct response is to go to the person who did NOT just say ‘Where’s . . .?” without necessarily learning names.
In the early stages of training a dog to play Family Circle, the dog should always be told the name of the person he must go find and hear that person call him to come. The person should also be within sight of the dog. Later on as the dog becomes competent at the task, the cue “Come” can be dropped, and later still, the game can be played when the person he must find is out of sight, so the dog must go search for that person.
I love this game because of its practical applications in the event of a lost person, or even one who has just gone out of sight or earshot briefly. Not only does it solidify their understanding of names with a game can be very useful, it also teaches dogs to find the person in response to the cue and gives them great practice with their recall. Among the other benefits are that the dog can get physical exercise without the people having to move, and it can help keep a dog occupied mentally when we are too busy to engage in more active play.
I’ve been thinking lately that dogs who live with only one person don’t have the same opportunities to learn guardian names. If there are no other people in your household, how often is your name spoken aloud in the presence of your dog? I wonder two things about dogs who live with one person: 1) Does the dog know the person’s name? 2) If not, does it matter?
If you live in a family in which you are the only human member, do you think your dog knows your name? What about those of you with multiple people in the family?
Maine dogs may lose park privileges due to high E. coli levels.
Picking up after our pups is common courtesy, yet barely a walk goes by that I don't see poop left behind on the side of the road. People may think that leaving a few droppings is not a big deal, but it all adds up and can potentially develop into a health risk. In Rockland, Maine, dog lovers are now facing the loss of a popular park due to unscooped poop.
City officials are considering the shutdown of Snow Marine Park and permanent dog ban because of elevated levels of E. coli bacteria. Recently standing water in the park has tested at a E. coli level of 16,000, nearly seven times the safe level of 400. Terry Pinto, the director of the local wastewater treatment plant, says he has never seen E. coli levels that high before.
Officials believe dog poop is to blame. Snow Marine Park is known locally as a dog park, although it is not officially one.
The city is now fielding recommendations on how to proceed. If E. coli levels don't go down, they will be forced to close the park for disinfection and may reopen no longer allowing dogs. Other options are to put up more signs reminding people to scoop poop and to put better enforcement in place.
Lets hope people get the message about picking up after their pups. We fight so hard for dog friendly places that it's always frustrating to lose privileges because of a few (or in this case, more than a few!) irresponsible people.
Mascot of the El Paso Chihuahuas
He sports a side-of-the-mouth snarl, nicks in his right ear, fiery eyes and a menacing spiked collar.
The face of the El Paso Chihuahuas, the newest team in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, “Chico” is the creation of Brandiose, a San Diego design firm owned by longtime friends Jason Klein and Casey White.
“He’s been in a few alleys in his time, and sometimes he’s even come out on the positive side of a fight,” explains Klein. He and White got their inspiration for Chico by asking themselves, “What would the Oakland Raiders look like if they were a minor league baseball team and their name was the Chihuahuas?”
The product of a “Name the Team” contest, Chihuahuas was chosen to reflect the scrappy spirit and fierce loyalty for which El Pasoans are known, as well as the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert. From these elements, Brandiose then created the team’s colors and a marketable family of logos to appeal to kids and families, including Chico swinging a bone bat, crossed (and gnawed on) dog bones below a chewed baseball, and Chico’s signature fierce face.
The team takes its “canine culture” seriously.
The four-level pavilion in right field is the Big Dog House, and the open-air top level is the Wooftop. The game program is called “The Paw Print,” fans park in the Barking Lot and among the concession items are nachos served in a dog bowl. Among their social media hashtags is #FearTheEars, which has also become a hand signal.
The first of two “Bark in the Park” nights, during which accompanied dogs were welcome in two reserved sections of Southwest University Park, attracted more than 300 pooches of all sizes.
Brandiose’s brainchild now is known worldwide. Before the season’s first pitch, orders for Chihuahua merchandise came in from all 50 states and eight countries, and sales have remained strong.
Chico now has many amigos.
This means “heel” but I use it for kids
Whatever skills you have from your career or any other experiences in life may get used in surprising ways once you have kids. For me, as a dog trainer and behaviorist, there are many obvious parallels between the way I treat my dogs and the way I behave with my children. To use just one example, I like to keep both kids and dogs in physical contact and right near me when there is any danger from cars.
Parking lots and streets are the scariest places in the world with either dogs or kids. In the dog world, that’s what leashes and heeling are for. I’m a tyrant about it with my kids. The rule since they were old enough to toddle was that whenever we were in the street or in a parking lot was that they had to hold my hand or touch the car. (This compares to having your dog on a leash.) When they got a little older (around 3 or 4 years) they graduated to “Stick Close.” In this video, my three-year old is holding my hand as we cross the street but my four-year old is “Sticking Close,” which looks a lot like heeling.
In fact, the only reason I called it “Stick Close” instead of “Heel” is because I didn’t want the other moms or the neighbors giving me weird looks. After we shot this video for me to use in a talk called “Applying Dog Training To Our Relationships With People” at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) conference, my three-year old son wanted to practice “Stick Close” which I had just started to work on with him. As I do with dogs, when learning something new, I work with only one student at a time, so my husband held onto my older son while I took only my younger one with me across the street.
On the first attempt to stick close, he bounced across the street. I was going to stop and start over, and then I thought, “It’s just like a shaping the behavior of a dog.” Shaping behavior is common in dog training and it means working gradually towards successively closer approximations of the true behavior that you want. In this case, the first approximation is that he was not running off, but generally staying next to me and moving in the right direction.
Later I worked towards having him walking rather than bouncing and paying closer attention to me and where I was going. Once I got into that dog trainer mode of shaping behavior and thinking about what I would work on next, listen to how much more of my dog trainer voice I acquired as I praised him. I was a dog trainer before I became a mom, and sometimes that shows!
Have you taken skills and ideas from your experience with dogs and applied them to other situations?
Trained pups in New England uncover hidden child porn.
Is there any limit to what the canine nose can uncover? Police dogs in New England are now being trained to sniff out child pornography by finding the hard drives and other tech devices that could contain the hidden files. In recent years, child pornography trafficking has become a growing problem in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Authorities estimate that it's now a $20 billion industry.
The Connecticut State Police Training Academy is teaching dogs, using reinforcement based methods, how to find all sorts of digital devices that could contain child pornography. People hide devices with illegal data in the most unlikely places, like behind ceiling tiles or inside radios. Over 60 dogs have graduated from the 22-week program.
A Labrador Retriever named Thoreau was recently placed at a Rhode Island police department, making the Ocean State the second in the nation to have a digital device sniffing pup. Last month Thoreau assisted in his first search warrant, pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography in a box hidden deep inside a metal cabinet.
Thoreau practices every day to earn his dinner, tracking down hard and flash drives inside desks and cabinets. Frequent training is required to maintain fresh skills and to keep up with the ever-changing technology.
I can't wait to see what amazing task our dogs are trained to sniff out next!
A study with insights into welfare
If you think that having dogs who bounce off the walls is problematic for them and for you, you are not alone. “Wall bouncing” is one of the repetitive behaviors that have long been considered indicative of poor welfare and chronic stress in the animals performing them. Other repetitive behaviors that are commonly seen in dogs are pacing, circling and spinning, all of which are generally regarded as stereotypical behavior.
Stereotypical behaviors are those that are not just repetitive, but also pointless and occur because of deficits in animals’ housing situation that cause frustration. That is, when animals are performing stereotypies, they are exhibiting behavior that has no function, and doing it over and over because their living environment is inadequate to meet their needs. A recent study in the journal Physiology and Behavior called Repetitive behaviour in kennelled domestic dog: Stereotypical or not? explored whether all the repetitive behaviors observed in kennelled dogs are actually stereotypies. The reason this question matters is that if their repetitive behaviors are stereotypies, it suggests that animals’ welfare may be compromised, but if they are performing repetitive behaviors for other reasons, then that conclusion may be suspect.
The researchers studied 30 male German Shepherds who are fully trained Police Dogs in the UK and live in a kennel that can hold as many as 40 dogs. They studied their behavior as well as their cortisol profiles (which indicate stress) before and after veterinary exams. They found that all but two of the dogs performed repetitive behaviors, but that very few of them displayed stereotypies. Repetitive behaviors were most commonly induced by a dog and handler walking past the kennel and by witnessing food preparation, which supports the idea that repetitive behaviors are simply a response to situations of high arousal rather than to stress.
The dogs could be divided into four groups based on the pattern of their repetitive behavior and the eliciting stimuli. Twelve of the dogs only exhibited repetitive behavior in response to husbandry events (including veterinary care) or not at all and showed them in less than half of the observation period. Five additional dogs also only displayed repetitive behavior in those same contexts, but they showed it more than half of the time that they were observed. Eight dogs performed repetitive behaviors in response to husbandry and when a person walked by or stood outside their kennel. The last five dogs displayed repetitive behavior in the absence of these and other specific stimuli.
Though all the groups had similar baseline cortisol profiles, this last group had a cortisol profile following the exam that differed from the other groups. These dogs showed a decrease in cortisol immediately after the exam rather than the increase in cortisol seem in the other groups. This suggests one of two possibilities. One is that these dogs are under chronic stress and lack the physiological ability to respond typically to the additional stress of an exam. The other possibility is that these dogs are so attached to people, including their caregivers and the veterinarian, that being with them after a separation is such a positive experience that it balances out the stress of being removed from the kennel and examined.
The relationship between repetitive behaviors in dogs and their welfare status remains unclear, but this study suggests that there is not just one motivating factor behind the expression of repetitive behaviors. Many questions remain about repetitive behavior in dogs who are kenneled. Is it an indication of poor welfare? Could the repetitive behaviors be a result of reinforcement (food or attention) of these behaviors from people caring for the dogs? Why are the cortisol profiles different in dogs who exhibit repetitive behaviors without specific eliciting stimuli?
Sometimes toys aren’t fun
I woke up in the middle of the night with every intention of quietly having a drink of water. Unfortunately, I landed on a particularly loud squeaky toy and managed to disturb everyone’s sleep. A few days before that, I got out of bed and stepped on a dog toy that is not designed for the underside of delicate human feet. I woke everybody up that time, too, and not because the toy was noisy. No, it was me that made the racket as I uttered the sorts of phrases that make films lose their PG ratings.
Ahh, dog toys. I love them except when I don’t, and then I hate them. Obviously, it would be wise to clean them up at night, and we usually do. We are a work in progress, and improving all the time. We’re just not improving fast enough to stop me from causing trouble.
And it’s not just at night that dog toys can be a problem. I am perfectly capable of nearly spraining my ankle on a toy or sliding across the room on one during daylight hours. (I’m just gifted that way.) I don’t know why dogs don’t seem to have this problem. In my experience, when they pounce on toys or make noise with them, they meant to do so.
I’m seeking sympathy. Who else has had an accident with a dog toy?
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