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The Weather Channel’s Therapy Dog
Butler will be easing people's pain
Butler -- Weather Channel's Dog

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.

Zoey and Jasper
A rescue dog and her little boy

Grace Chon, a LA photographer, who has shot a few covers for The Bark, became a mom about a year ago. She tells us that she started to take photos of her rescue girl Zoey with her son Jasper, modeling the same head gear. How adorable are they? Definitely hard to pick a favorite, but do you have one? I think the co-pilot duo might be my fave.http://www.zoeyandjasper.tumblr.com

 

Zoey and Jasper - Tumblr

Guess which one of us likes to work out? (Here’s a hint, it rhymes with Shmasper.) xoxo Zoey and Jasper

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Zoey and Jasper - Tumblr

Never go on adventures without your trusty sidekick. xoxo Zoey and Jasper

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Zoey and Jasper - Tumblr

Holla back! xoxo Zoey and Jasper

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Korean sauna is fun with your best friend! xoxo Zoey and Jasper

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All you need is a best friend and a silly hat. xoxo Zoey and Jasper

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Hey Polar Vortex people - stay warm. xoxo, Zoey and Jasper

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Jonny and Xena
An abused pup's remarkable friendship with a boy with autism.
Xena and Jonny - Who Rescued Who

April is both Autism Awareness and Prevention of Animal Cruelty month. This story of Jonny, the eight-year-boy with autism, and Xena, the horribly abused Pit Bull, present a powerful and heart-warming tale about survival and the indescribable bond we have with dogs. The pup was severely abused and starving to death when she came into the DeKalb (Georgia) Animal Services shelter, she was given only an one percent chance of survival. Jonny’s mom, Linda Hickey, had been following the pup’s story on Facebook and decided to take the chance that this pup would be the perfect match for her son. See how right she was!

Xena won the ASPCA’s Hero of the Dog Award in 2013, and is now in the running for the “emerging dog hero” award from the American Humane Association.

Linda Hickey poignantly tells their story in this video. Watch it to see why Xena deserves your vote.

For more, see this recent interview as well. 

And watch Jonny sing “You Got a Friend in Me” to his best pal, Xena.

Weekly Smiler 4-14-14
Smiling Dogs
Ella

Our featured smilers of the week. See more in our Smiling Dogs Gallery.
This week: Ella, Hutch, Layla, Rafa, and Rudy.

Kennel State of Mind
Study finds kenneled dogs show signs associated with mental illness
Dog in a Cage

I think all of us would agree that dogs shouldn't live in a cage all day, but the reality is that many pups, working canines in particular, do spend the night in a kennel. Although these canines have an active life, a new study found that these dogs showed signs of distress often associated with mental illness.

Researchers at University of Bristol's Anthrozoology Institute looked at the behavior of 30 police dogs living in a U.K. kennel. They were all male German Shepherds, specifically chosen to avoid other influencing factors, such as differences due to breed temperament, size, sex, etc. After their work shift, the dogs primarily lived in a facility that accommodated 40 dogs with a run and an enclosed resting area.

Analyzing video of the dogs, the researchers noticed the following repetitive behaviors:

  • Bouncing off the walls: Jumping at a wall and rebounding from it or jumping in one spot
  • Spinning: Turning in a tight circle, pivoting on the hind legs
  • Circles: Walking around the perimeter of the kennel
  • Paces: Walking back and forth along a boundary or imaginary line

93 percent of the dogs performed one or more of the repetitive behaviors. Scientists say that this kind of obsessive behavior is associated with numerous mental health problems. The root cause of these actions isn't known, but in humans it's thought that focused behaviors are an attempt to block out painful stimulation.

The researchers thought that the dogs may be reacting to isolation from humans. These kennel situations are very different from crating your pup while you're away at work. Dogs are naturally social, and because these police canines work so closely with people during the day, I can see how it would be jarring to be suddenly cut off at night.

You'd think that these repetitive behaviors would mean that the dogs had high stress levels, but not all of the pups showed exceptionally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Researchers hypothesize that these dogs may use the actions as a coping mechanism.

I wonder what these findings mean for other working dogs, like sheepdogs that might be kenneled outside at night, or even dogs boarded while their family is on vacation. The team hopes to do further studies to explore the negative effects of these behaviors and I hope they explore other kennel situations as well.

Learning About Glass Doors
Some dogs figure it out right away
Dog stands outside of glass sliding door

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?

 

Guide Dog Double Date
Inseparable pups help their people find true love
Two guide dogs at a wedding

There's no question that guide dogs are invaluable. These working pups help their people navigate the world and hold onto their independence. In 2012, two guide dogs in England went beyond the call of duty and helped their handlers find something incredible—true love.

Claire Johnson and Mark Gaffey met two years ago at a training class for guide dogs. Mark has been blind since birth and Claire lost her eyesight due to diabetes when she was 24. The two, both in their 50s, lived less than two miles away from each other in Stoke-on-Trent, England, but didn't know each other previously.

Their guide dogs, Venice and Rodd, both three-year old Yellow Labradors, were inseparable. Mark says they were always playing and nuzzling up together. Since the pups got along so well, Claire invited Mark out for coffee after classes ended. Soon coffees became regular lunches, and then dinner dates. 11 months after meeting in class, Mark proposed to Claire on Valentine's Day 2013 and they made it official two weeks ago. Venice and Rodd were of course in the wedding ceremony as ring bearers.

Mark never believed in fate, but can't deny that their relationship seemed meant to be. Claire on the other hand had no doubt that the pups brought them together. “Much like our two guide dogs, we really are best friends and soul mates.”

Mars Buys P&G Pet Food Brands
Puppy drinking out of a bowl

Some news on the pet food front: Mars is buying Procter & Gamble’s pet food brands that include Iams, Eukanuba and Natura. Interesting that the company, which owns candies like M&M’s, Snickers as well as pet food brands Pedigree, Royal Canin, Nutro, Greenies, in addition to the Banfield Pet Hospitals, just increased their holdings on the pet food market. Wondering why this happened? P&G only just recently purchased Natura, but perhaps the handling of a large-scale recall of that brand in 2013, was more costly to their bottom line than they had anticipated. We did find it difficult to get timely information from them on these series of recalls, which just seem to escalate from month to month. Perhaps too they were surprised about the scale of the backlash that the news of their purchase of Natura caused. It will be interesting to see how Mars will handle customer confidence in their new acquisitions, as well as their other brands too.

Here's the story from Pet Age, a pet industry magazine.

Mars has agreed to buy Procter & Gamble‘s Iams, Eukanuba and Natura brands in major markets for $2.9 billion in cash, the companies announced in a joint press release.

The strategic move for Mars Petcare will expand its already large portfolio of pet brands, and signals Proctor & Gamble’s move to reduce its pet segment.

“Exiting Pet Care is an important step in our strategy to focus P&G’s portfolio on the core businesses where we can create the most value for consumers and shareowners,” A.G. Lafley, P&G’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, said. “The transaction creates value for P&G shareowners, and we are confident that the business will thrive at Mars, a leading company in pet care.”

The geographic regions included in the acquisition, which account for approximately 80 percent of P&G Pet Care’s global sales, include North America, Latin America and other selected countries. The agreement includes an option for Mars to acquire the business in several additional countries. Markets not included in the transaction are primarily European Union countries.

P&G said it is developing alternate plans to sell its Pet Care business in these markets.

“This acquisition is a perfect fit with our Mars Petcare vision of making A Better World For Pets,”  Todd Lachman, Mars Petcare global president, said. “The deal reinforces our leadership in pet nutrition and veterinary science, attracts world class talent and grows our world leading portfolio.”

The companies expect to complete the transaction in the second-half of 2014, subject to regulatory approvals.

 

Losing the Dog That Was Your First “Baby”
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?

Laughter is the Best Tonic
Study shows dog people laugh more

Do you enjoy a good laugh with your dog? If so, apparently you are not alone. So writes New York Times long-time health columnist Jane Brody on one of the many benefits her new dog Max contributes to her life. Brody’s recent article champions the many perks of “life with a dog”—companionship, exercise, meeting people and laughter. She cites a study of 95 people who were asked to keep “laughter” logs and record the frequency and source of their laughter. Results showed that dog owners laughed frequently more than cat owners and people who owned neither. The findings suggest a complex relationship between pet ownership and laughter. Dogs may serve as friends with whom to laugh or their behaviors may provide a greater source of laughter. Does this resonate with Bark readers? How does your dog make you laugh?

Last week, we marked that annual day of grins and laughter—April 1—with an in-box full of pranks. Jokey press releases, outlandish news reports and faux announcements tried to outduel each other for guffaws. Given the nature of our business, many were dog-themed.

Here’s a sampling of some of the April Fool’s jokes we received this year:

Google Apps for Business Dogs
The tech giant pokes fun of itself and its foray into social media

Moo’s new delivery system—Pug Post!
The online printing service employs canine couriers

The Milwaukee Brewers mascots square off
We love them for adopting Hank the stray, but the humor should have stayed in the locker room

Great British Chefs offer fine dining for dogs
Michelin starred chef opens a “doggie diner”

Plus, these favorites from the past deserve mention …

IKEA’s 2011 Hundstol Dog Highchair
Remember “some assembly may be required”

Warby Parker introduces Warby Barker in 2012
Glasses for dogs!

Barclaycard launches Barclay PayWag in 2013
The first contactless payment device for dogs

Weekly Smiler 4-7-14
Smiling Dogs
Bailey

Our featured smilers of the week. See more in our Smiling Dogs Gallery.
This week: Bailey, Bentley, Odin, Sadie, and Seitheach.

Well-Trained Dogs Inspire
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?

Bandannas for Pups
A color coded system alerts people on how to approach dogs

When Brigitte Blais' Bull Mastiff, Diesel, was recovering from surgery, he wasn't tolerating other dogs very well (understandably). But when they went on walks, other people would routinely let their pups run up to Diesel, leaving Brigitte to frantically pacify the situation. Brigitte wished there was a way to let others know that Diesel was not reliably dog friendly.

Brigitte then started D.E.W.S. (Dog Early Warning System) in her town of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. She came up with a simple program where dogs wear bananas indicating how they should be approached or interacted with----red for dogs to be avoided, yellow for those who can't be approached by other dogs, but like people (with the caveat that strangers first ask for guidance on how to interact), and green for dogs that love everyone.

The concept of letting others know about your dog's tolerance is generally a good thing, but I think the three bandannas over complicates the issue. It also slightly contradicts the Yellow Dog Project (another initiative started in Alberta, Canada) that uses yellow bandannas to identify dogs that need space not only from other pups, but potentially from people.

I also think that D.E.W.S. should teach people to ask before approaching any dog, even a friendly one that may be wearing a green bandanna. It's a good habit to get in. And just because a dog is friendly, it doesn't mean you should automatically let your pup approach another. On multiple occasions I've had someone's dog rush up to mine (which can startle even a good natured pup), while they yelled, "don't worry, he's friendly!" And sometimes people say their dog is friendly when the pup's body language is saying otherwise.

At my dog training club, we use red bandannas for pups that need space. Having something to identify these dogs is important, but only if enough people know what the sign means. It would be great if there was just one universal bandanna that could carry a stronger message. Perhaps D.E.W.S., the Yellow Dog Project, and any other similar initiatives will collaborate!

Dogs' Responses to Familiar Human Scents
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.

Pondering the Past
Is it better not to know your rescue pup's history?
Who could say no to this pup?!

If you could learn more about your dog's past, would you? Even if it was bad? Recently a friend had the opportunity to find out more about her rescue pup's former life, but was unsure if she really wanted the information. The adoption had taken place years ago and she was afraid the truth wouldn't be pretty. Some friends said it would be useful to know any available information, while others advised her to live in the moment and not to focus on the past.

Since adopting my Border Collie, Scuttle, a year and a half ago, I always wonder what her life was like before she joined my family. Who could give up such a happy, adorable puppy?! My sister thinks I might not want to know, that maybe Scuttle was abused or neglected. This pup loves people more than anything in the world (well maybe second to chasing the cat!) and doesn't act like she was ever hit, but Scuttle did come with some deeply ingrained fear issues. If something startled her, Scuttle would shut down for the whole day. We've since worked to overcome those challenges and she's almost like a different dog today. Looking back, I'm not sure that knowing more about her past would've necessarily helped in our journey.

I have my theories about why Scuttle was given up--certainly her high energy level and potty training difficulties are strong contenders--but learning her history would probably only serve to satisfy my curiosity. Today, the only important fact is that I'm lucky to have her with me now!

Have you ever wanted to know more about your rescue pup's past?

Karen B. London

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