Therapy dogs attend marathon festivities
After the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, therapy dogs from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries were there within 24 hours. The group consists of 70 therapy dogs (all Golden Retrievers) from 10 states. Small groups of the dogs visit churches, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, offering the soothing, healing presence that only dogs can provide. Many survivors and first responders in Boston benefited from spending time with these highly trained and lovable dogs.
This year at the Boston Marathon and associated events, four dogs from this group will again be in attendance. Ruthie, Hannah, Luther and Rufus have traveled from Illinois to offer support and lots of opportunities for petting and loving. They are making appearances throughout the four days of events that conclude with the race on Monday, April 21, 2014. It’s the fourth visit of “Comfort Dogs” to the area since the events at last year’s race.
Every year, runners and fans of the sport watch the Boston Marathon. This year the audience is bigger because the whole world is watching. I’m so glad that these therapy dogs are a part of the celebration and that they have been part of the healing all year. They are contributing to making Boston strong.
Dogs benefit, sometimes in unexpected ways
“He doesn’t really play with toys,” his guardian said as he dropped the dog off for an afternoon visit with us. Their realtor didn’t want dogs at home during their open house, not even resting contentedly in their crates, and work schedules meant they needed a little help. We were taking one of their dogs and his brother was going to watch the other.
Though we were not expecting Moose to play with the toys, within an hour, that dog had played with every toy in our house and a couple of items that he thought were toys although we would not classify them as such. He flapped a Wubba around at his own face and did the same with a dishtowel, went joyfully berserk over a squeaky toy shaped like a bone, fetched tennis balls and flying squirrels that my kids threw, tossed around a fleece fox with a dead squeaker inside, and “dribbled” a dust pan around like it was a soccer ball. Moose was, no matter what his guardian said, really into toys.
When we told his guardian about Moose’s afternoon toy playing session, he was genuinely surprised. He told us, “That’s odd because at home, all he does is follow Zach, who loves to fetch.” He went on to explain that Moose never got the balls himself, but just followed their other dog who loved to retrieve. And when Zach was chewing on bones or toys, Moose just watched, no matter how many were lying around. If they specifically gave Moose a toy, Zach would come over to relieve him of it. Moose never objected so his guardian figured that Moose just didn’t have a strong interest in them.
Au contraire. Many dogs live in households in which the other dog prevents them from doing what comes naturally, but if you never observe the dogs on their own, it’s hard to know that they are missing out. In Moose’s case, he was not playing with toys or chewing on bones with Zach around, but based on his behavior at our house, he loves them. (It’s almost a sure bet that a dog who is being “mugged” by another dog who habitually takes the bones and toys would rather maintain possession of them if possible.) I believe that having regular time without Zach would improve Moose’s quality of life because he would be able to play with toys and chew on bones.
Other dogs may benefit in other ways from being away from other dogs from time to tome. Spending time as the only dog with the guardian may mean receiving undivided attention or more petting. For some young dogs, it may mean a more vigorous exercise session than the older dog in the household can tolerate. There are dogs who just want the peace and quiet that a one-dog situation bestows on them, and others who appreciate the chance to train or play without another dog interrupting the flow. A class that suits one dog, but not another, such as agility or a tracking class may provide the incentive to spend time with just one of your dogs.
With the rare exception of dogs who panic when they are not in the presence of their dog family members, the opportunity to spend quality time as the only dog with their guardians has great value. A little goes a long way, so even the occasional session can be a great treat for a dog and well worth working into even the busiest of schedules.
If you have more than one dog, do you spend time with each of them individually? If so, how do you think they benefit?
Butler will be easing people's pain
With weather extremes making headlines more than ever, it’s nice to know that The Weather Channel does more than just predict and report disasters. With their recent choice of a therapy dog to help those who are in the midst of crises, they are helping to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
After a nationwide search for just the right dog, Butler has become The Weather Channel’s official therapy dog. He was adopted from the Humane Society of Charlotte in North Carolina by Amy McCullough. McCullough is the National Directed of Animal-Assisted Therapy at the American Humane Association, as well as Butler’s handler and trainer.
Many dogs across the nation in various shelters were considered. Butler, a 35-pound, 18-month old Shepherd mix. was chosen because he has the traits of a perfect therapy dog. He is affectionate, social, friendly, attentive, easy to train and well-mannered. He likes to sit in laps and is comfortable in crowds.
Once Butler has completed his training, he and McCullough will visit schools, hospitals, shelters and other locations to help ease the pain of people who have survived disasters.
Some dogs figure it out right away
It’s scary for dogs and guardians alike when a dog makes contact with a sliding glass door, and it can certainly be injurious. Most dogs who live in or visit a house with such a door eventually run or walk into it, but some never seem to learn to watch out for it. I’ve known dogs who would run into the glass door every time they are trying to pass through if it were not for some assistance from people.
We can help dogs avoid this danger by putting decals on the glass, blocking the door with a chair or leaving the screen door next to the glass one partly open. Still, it would be easier if dogs learned to take proper precautions on their own like Tucker, who is staying with us this weekend, managed to do.
Tucker is a sweet dog who is fearful of many things. He hesitates or backs away with his body lowered and his ears back if he encounters people or dogs he doesn’t know, new places, brooms, trash cans, sudden noises, and a great many other things that are encountered regularly in modern suburban life.
Given that Tucker is hesitant about so many ordinary, harmless things, it’s no surprise that a door that he bumped into really affected him. Luckily, he was not moving quickly at all when his nose hit the glass, so he was not physically injured. Still, he was obviously distressed enough by the incident for it to influence his behavior ever since.
We now have a chair in front of the door which we only move when we are about to open the door, so Tucker is not at risk of another accidental collision. However, he does not seem to know this. Each time we move the chair and open the door, he approaches ever so slowly until his face is past the “danger zone” at which point he trots through and into the yard. He behaves the same way when coming back inside.
He learned to check that the path was clear after one episode, but that’s unusual. Most dogs don’t seem to figure it out after one collision or even after many of them. It’s likely that the reason Tucker learned this lesson so fast is that he is fearful and is trying to avoid the feeling of being afraid. His response is good in the sense that he is less likely to run into our glass door again, but the ease with which he learns to be cautious of trouble extends beyond that situation.
For example, he was running through our living room to take a treat from me after I called him, and he skidded a bit on our wood floor. Since then, he has walked around that particular spot on the floor. Similarly, he heard a loud noise (I have children!) while he was walking down the stairs, and we had to re-train him to go up and down the stairs using a lot of treats, praise and patience. When my purse fell off the counter, he became afraid of it, and backed away when I picked it up later in the morning. So, while most dogs don’t learn to watch out for the glass door after bumping it to it just once, they also don’t learn to be afraid of locations or items that are innocuous but happen to be associated with a single instance of being startled.
Do you have a dog who has learned to avoid a glass door? How about a dog who easily learns to exercise caution even when it is not necessarily warranted?
It’s one of life’s common stages
“It’s because we all got a dog before we had children,” one friend of mine said.
Another replied, “It’s so true. They were our first babies.”
Both women were referring to the recent epidemic in our little circle of friends of elderly dogs dying. Most of us first had a child upwards of 10 years ago, and many of our families have a dog in the 13 to 17-year old range. That naturally means that there have been many losses recently and that there a few dogs who are not likely to be around this time next year.
I’m used to thinking about the stages of life—engagements, weddings, babies—but I hadn’t noticed how in sync the dog stages are, too. Many people get a dog right after graduation or soon after getting married, and those people often face the tough loss of that dog around the same time as each other, too.
There’s another stage of dog loss that happens for the people who get a puppy when their kids are little. Those people tend to get a dog when their youngest kid is around 5 to 8 years old because they are old enough to help out and not grab at the puppy as small children often will. They often face the loss of that dog right around the time that their human children move out of the house.
It can help in a misery-loves-company sort of way to know that others understand your loss because they are suffering, too. Have you lost a dog “right on schedule” at one of these times?
Jumpy is a joy to watch
This video of Jumpy responding to a series of cues given by his trainer, Omar von Muller, is one of my top picks for showing, in an entertaining way, what dogs are capable of doing if people invest a lot of time and effort into training them.
When I watch this video, I mainly just enjoy it, but I delight in knowing that Jumpy has a wonderful life full of freedom, mental exercise and lots of time with his guardian. This dog has a lot of training experience and lives with a professional trainer whose work involves training animals for appearances in the film industry. (Von Muller is the trainer responsible for Uggie’s performance in The Artist and Water for Elephants.) I would never expect all dogs to be able to perform at this level, nor would I expect that most people would be interested in putting in the effort to achieve such a level of performance even if it were possible.
On the other hand, I would love it if, as a society, we acknowledged that reliable responsiveness to multiple cues is not an impossibility for most dogs. Sure, it takes some commitment to learn the training skills and to train the dog, but it’s not magic. It’s not an option for only one in a million dogs, either.
Videos like this always inspire me to teach new tricks, and I am eager to teach “Don’t you look at it,” which is a cue to look away from something. I have never taught that particular action, and I’m excited to give it a try.
Did this video inspire you to teach your dog something in particular?
Their brains reveal a positive response
You may not feel happy when you smell your husband’s underarm when he has not showered or used deodorant for 24 hours, but your dog probably does. So concluded scientists who conducted an fMRI study to investigate the response of dogs’ brains to both familiar and unfamiliar canine and human odors. Since the canine sense of smell is so well-developed, studies that investigate it are especially useful for learning more about dogs, including their behavior and emotions.
The 12 dogs in the study “Scent of the familiar: an fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors” (in press in the journal Behavioural Processes) have been trained to remain still during the entire procedure. Because the dogs don’t move during the process because of training rather than being medicated or restrained to achieve stillness, the way various areas of the brain respond to various stimuli can be studied. All of the dogs are family pets and were raised by people from puppyhood on.
In this experiment, researchers focused on the caudate, which is an area of the brain that is associated with positive feelings and rewards. The level of activity in this part of the brain in response to various odors informs us about the emotional reaction of dogs to various stimuli. The odors used were the dog’s own odor, a familiar dog, an unfamiliar dog, a familiar person and an unfamiliar person. The familiar person was never the guardian handling the dog at the experiment because the scent of that person was present throughout the experiment.
The scientists found that dogs had the strongest, most positive reactions to the smell of a familiar person. Because most of the handlers with the dog during the experiment were female guardians, the familiar person was usually the male guardian or their child, although it was sometimes a close friend. The familiar dog was also a member of the household. The scents from dogs came from the perineal-genital area.
The dogs responded to all of the scents, but activation of the caudate portion of the brain in response to the familiar human scent showed that dogs distinguished it from all the other scents and that they had a particularly positive association with that smell. Dogs had a more positive response to familiar humans than to either unfamiliar humans or to members of their own species, whether familiar or unfamiliar.
Interestingly, the four dogs in this study who are service dogs had the strongest responses to human scents, which may be due to genetics, their intense exposure to humans during training or even simply a fluke related to small sample size. It is possible that dogs whose caudate is highly responsive to human scent may be best suited for service work. Because not all dogs selected to be service dogs end up successfully completing the time-consuming and expensive training, choosing those dogs who are most likely to succeed could save time and money as well as lessen the extensive waiting times for people in need of such dogs.
CAAB Chat about friendship, jealousy, grief, and bullying
CAAB Chats are a new program featuring monthly discussions among CAABs (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) about topics that matter to people who love animals. This month’s CAAB Chat is about Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs, and will involve a conversation about friendship, grief, jealousy, status, bullying, gratitude, and more. Anyone can register to listen in to the live chat (which is this Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) free of charge, and replays are available for a fee.
I have listened to the previous CAAB Chats on Canine Communication and Response Prevention and really enjoyed them. This month I’m excited to be one of the CAABs doing the chatting, along with my friend and colleague Camille Ward, PhD. CAABs Suzanne Hetts, PhD and Dan Estep, PhD will be moderating the discussion, and we are all excited about the topic and discussing it with one another. We hope that everyone who signs up to be a part of it will feel like they are listening in as we candidly discuss topics that matter to us, just as we would at a conference or even over a cup of coffee (or other beverage of choice.)
There are so many questions about social roles and relationships in dogs, and this list is just a few of the ones we find particularly interesting and hope to hit on.
How do friendships develop among dogs?
Do dogs have preferences for their play partners? What contributes to those preferences?
How do relationships among dogs, and between dogs and people go wrong?
Why do we seem to have so many dogs who assume a “bullying” role with other dogs?
How are the relationships dogs form with each other similar to those they form with people? How are they different?
Can dogs feel gratitude?
What do dogs experience when another dog they’ve lived with dies? Do they feel grief?
Since the discussion is informal by design, there’s no telling exactly where it will lead, and that’s part of the fun. Additionally, those listening in are asked to submit questions they’d like to see addressed, and those will surely lead to interesting parts of the conversation.
CAABs all have a scientific and research background and many of us have worked with animals with serious behavior problems. We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, reading and talking about animal behavior (not to mention a lot of time with animals themselves!) We love chatting about our work, which is a labor of love for all of us, and this week’s CAAB Chat is just one more opportunity to do so. We hope you will join us!
Buddy the Chocolate Lab is safe
This weekend’s devastating mudslide northeast of Seattle, Wash. has claimed the lives of at least 8 people, and left over 100 people unaccounted for. Many are feared dead. Treacherous mud has made rescue work dangerous at times and impossible at others. People around the world following the story celebrated the report that a 6-month old baby was found alive.
A later development greeted with celebration was the rescue of Buddy the Chocolate Lab, seen in this video at about 1:20. To dog lovers everywhere this is welcome news in a story that is mostly bad news. Buddy’s rescue has brought joy to family members waiting to hear the fate of their sister, who is his guardian. Hopefully his presence will help them as they face what will likely be a time of grieving. It seems improbable, unfortunately, that Buddy’s guardian was as lucky as he was. She remains missing and rescuers are not optimistic about finding more survivors.
The man who pulled Buddy from the mud caused a rare moment of laughter when he called out, “He needs a bath pretty bad.” Besides a bath, the dog will need to recover from the harrowing experience, which left him shaken up and suffering mild injuries. And yet, there’s no denying he was extremely blessed to have survived the ordeal, which many people, as well as other dogs, did not.
Joins National Canine Research Council
Adam Miklósi just became the newest advisor to the National Canine Research Council. Their mission involves understanding and preserving the human-canine bond and they both conduct and fund research in support of this goal. Miklósi is an expert on the cognitive and social abilities of dogs that make their bond with humans possible and he has played a pivotal role in the way dogs are now viewed by scientists and lay people alike.
Although scientists as brilliant and prestigious as Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize, and even Charles Darwin, were fascinated by dogs and studied them extensively, many others found them unworthy of attention. The viewpoint for generations was that because dogs were domesticated, they were not scientifically interesting the way that wild animals are. Many people in the field of ethology, which is the study of animals in their natural habitat rather than in the laboratory, failed to recognize that the natural environment of dogs is with people. Attempts to study them were met with scorn, and almost no funding.
In the last decade, the tide has turned, and now excellent research on dogs is being done in many areas of the world. As founder and head of the Family Dog Project and head of the Ethology Department at Eötvös University in Budapest, Miklósi is a worldwide leader in the study of the domestic dog. The goal of his research is to investigate the ethological and evolutionary foundations of the human-dog relationship.
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