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JoAnna Lou

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JoAnna Lou participates in agility, rally obedience and therapy work with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She supports her canine hobby with a career in professional training and development at a New York financial firm. JoAnna has a diverse background working with animals that includes researching birds at the Bronx Zoo and helping a friend run a rat rescue group (yes, rats!). Her writing has appeared in The Bark, DogSport, New York Tails and New York Resident.

Dying Woman's Last Wish
Patricia Cudd is looking for the perfect home for her dog

Patricia Cudd was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and was given just six months to live last August. While others in her shoes would be checking items off their bucket list, Patricia has only one wish—that her five year old Pit Bull mix, Sherlock, finds a loving home.

Patricia adopted Sherlock four years ago from the Longmont Humane Society in Colorado. Like many rescue pups, Sherlock was initially wary of Patricia, but they eventually became the best of friends.

Patricia says that Sherlock taught her how to have fun and, after her diagnosis, helped her get through chemotherapy treatments.

Now Patricia's cancer has progressed to stage 4 and she's determined to find the perfect home for Sherlock. Patricia admits that Sherlock can be territorial and protective, but is one of the most loving dogs you'll ever meet. So a family without other pets would be ideal. For the five years Patricia and Sherlock have lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, they struggled to find landlords who would allow Pit Bulls, so Patricia was worried that it would be hard to find an adoptive home for Sherlock.

Fortunately Patricia's appeal resulted in 400 emails and 150 calls, in just one day! Patricia is currently screening the messages to find the best home for Sherlock.

“It breaks my heart,” Patricia told The Coloradoran, “But if he could go to a good home, it would help me so much. It would give me peace.”

If you're interested in adopting Sherlock, call (970) 775-0797 or email rubyphoenix36@yahoo.com. Since it sounds like Sherlock has many good homes lined up, perhaps instead consider adopting another dog in need in Patricia's honor!

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.

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.”

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!

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?

Less is Sometimes More
Dogs make quick decisions similar to humans and other primates

People always say, 'less is more,' and according to a new study, that mantra is sometimes true for canines.

A study at the University of Kentucky looked at a group of dogs that willingly ate both cheese and baby carrots, but showed a preference for the cheese (like most pups I know!). When given a choice between one slice of cheese or the cheese together with a piece of carrot, nine out of ten dogs chose the cheese alone. Thus sometimes less is more.

Most people would expect a hungry dog to choose the option for a greater quantity of food, but apparently this is a unique trait that has only previously been shown in humans and monkeys--a qualitative versus quantitative decision. Researchers believe that the dogs averaged the quality of the cheese plus carrot, rather than sum up the quantity, something associated with quick decision making that humans and other primates do. For example people will typically place a greater value on a set of six baseball cards in perfect condition than the same set of perfect cards together with three more cards in fair condition. Similarly, in a study where monkeys were given the choice of one grape or one grape plus a cucumber slice, they overwhelmingly preferred the one grape.

Researchers believe this happens because it's faster and easier to judge the average quality than the overall quantity of alternatives. They figure that a dog developed this behavior because in the wild they would need to make rapid decisions about food in order to stay alive (although you could make this argument for almost any wild animal).

As in humans, motivation may also play a role. The team noted that one dog did choose the cheese and carrot combination. Interestingly, this outlier dog was a rescue and had a history of having to fend for himself. So it would make sense that he would go for the larger amount of food.

Kristina Pattison, one of the researchers, believes that the study shows the behavior can be found in all socially organized carnivores, like wolves. The team is hoping to further the research by studying the effect in less socially organized species, like rats, and non-mammalian species, such as birds.

This study is really interesting (and it's always cool to see the similarities we have with our pups), but I tried the experiment with my crew and they just seemed to go with whatever pile of food they happened to look at first. Obviously my trial was not scientific in the least, but I think they're so excited I'm putting food on the floor that they aren't really thinking about the contents.

What would your crew do?

Danger in the Elevator
Dogs' leashes get stuck in the closing doors

Living in the New York City area, I ride in an elevator several times a day. It's something I barely think about. When my dogs are with me, I usually send them ahead so that I can make sure their bodies clear the door, but thinking about their leashes getting stuck never crossed my mind. Until I watched a video (actually footage from an elevator security camera) posted by Tamara Seibert, I wasn't aware just how powerful elevators can be when something thin is in the doors. It literally made me feel sick to my stomach.

Last month Tamara and her two dogs were headed back to their apartment in Toronto, Ontario when Vado's leash got stuck in the elevator door. Tamara didn't notice until the elevator started moving and Vado was violently dragged to the ceiling, left hanging by his collar. You can see Tamara frantically pressing buttons and trying to detach Vado. Fortunately she was able to stop the elevator and get the poor pup to safety. Seeing as my heart was pounding, I can only imagine what Tamara and Vado were going through.

Even more horrifying, I did a quick search for dogs dragged in the elevator and countless videos came up showing pups in similar situations. Meanwhile, Tamara has been spreading the word on Facebook so that people will be more vigilant, and not just with leashes. In her crusade, Tamara learned about a 7-year old girl whose dress got stuck in an elevator. Tragically the girl was not able to be saved like Vado.

It's easy to become lax when it involves something you do multiple times a day and perhaps that's why this video feels especially horrifying to me. Please spread the word so we can prevent this from happening again.

The Science Behind Bomb Sniffing Dogs
Study looks at how to better train the canine nose

Back in December, I wrote about a lawsuit that questioned the abilities of drug and bomb sniffing dogs. With no concrete standards or training protocols, some studies were showing that the canine nose is not always reliable. Since then, I've been eager to see more research in this area. We know that the canine nose is extraordinary, but I think we just have to find the best way to train and utilize that talent.

So I was excited to learn about a team at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) that has been looking at the science behind how dogs locate explosives, such as Composition C-4 (a plastic explosive used by the U.S. military). Their first findings, the culmination of a four-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, found that dogs react best to working with the actual explosive. This sounds like a no brainer, but apparently it's common to use products that mimic the odor of C-4 for training purposes. Previous studies suggested that certain non-explosive chemicals emitted by C-4 caused dogs to alert, which is why many people were using the faux substances in place of real explosives.

In the first phase of the study. IUPUI researchers discovered that the non-explosive chemicals given off by C-4 mimics are also present in a variety of everyday plastic objects. Objects tested included PVC pipes, electrical tape, movie tickets, a plastic grocery bag, and plastic food wrapping. You can see how problematic that is and why dogs trained with mimics would be deemed unreliable.

The second phase tested 33 canines from the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Amtrak, and other agencies that were trained on real explosives. The dogs were exposed to specific vapors found in C-4, one at a time. The pups failed to respond, demonstrating that if dogs are trained on the full scent, they will only detect real explosives (all of the scents combined) and not to singular scents that may be found in the environment.

"The canines are not easily fooled," says John Goodpaster, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and director for the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program in the School of Science at IUPUI. "You can't pick and choose components of explosive odors and expect the dog to respond," Goodpaster said. "Dogs are specific and it's the full scent that causes them to alert." Of course more research must be done, but this study shows that having more consistent training protocols has the potential to help make sniffing dogs more reliable. It also establishes some of the science needed for canine detection to be used as legally admissible evidence in court. I hope to see more studies in the coming years!

First Dog Park in NYC Domestic Violence Shelter
URIPALS expands the program to include canines

Last year I wrote about URIPALS, New York City's first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. At the time the program was part of a pilot and only included cats and smaller animals. Thanks to the initiative's success, URIPALS is now welcoming dogs into their largest shelter. To mark the expansion, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Nestlé Purina PetCare hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony today for the city's first ever dog park in a domestic violence shelter. The Purina Play Haven and Dog Park will provide a relaxing space for families and features a ramp, tunnel, bridge, and platform for the dogs to play on.

“Since launching URIPALS, we’ve seen how transformative it is for families in domestic violence situations to go through the healing process together with their pets,” said Nathaniel Fields, President of URI. “We are grateful to Purina for helping URI make this dog park a reality, and for their shared commitment to keeping people and pets together, especially in times of crisis.”

As many as 48 percent of women will delay leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. Programs like URIPALS are important for reducing barriers to safety for families with pets in domestic violence situations.

No one can demonstrate the impact of the new program better than the participants. One of the domestic violence survivors, who is currently staying in URI's shelter, couldn't be more thankful.

“When my children and I found out that we could bring our dog, Sparky, with us into shelter, we were overjoyed,” she said. “Sparky had always been there with us to comfort and even protect us from the abuse, and having him there with us as we work to put our lives back together makes our recovery process so much better."

I hope that other organizations in cities around the world will be inspired to create similar programs and build upon the success of URIPALS.

Game of Thrones, Twilight Creates a Homeless Husky Problem
Wolves in popular culture increase the number of homeless pups
A direwolf from the television show, Game of Thrones.

Over the years various television shows and movies have been blamed for the overpopulation problem connected with iconic breeds like Chihuahuas and Dalmatians. It's unfortunate that people see these dogs in popular culture and feel the need to get a pet without doing any research.

The success of the HBO show, Game of Thrones, and fantasy films like Twilight, has spelt bad news for wolf-like dog breeds (fortunately for dragons, the fire breathing creatures are harder to acquire).

Game of Thrones features animals called direwolves that are played by Northern Inuit dogs on the show. Twilight has characters that shape shift into werewolves. As a result, fans have been buying breeds such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, without planning for the level of energy these dogs have.

According to U.K. animal charity Blue Cross, this has led to a whopping 420 percent increase in Husky type breeds being abandoned since 2008, the year the first Twilight movie was released. Game of Thrones debuted three years later in 2011.

When I first watched the discovery of the direwolf puppies on Game of Thrones, of course I let out an “aww” and said that I wanted my very own direwolf. But a plush toy will have to suffice. It's situations like these that expose the root of our pet overpopulation problem—irresponsible ownership. People need to realize that pets require a great deal of time, money, and devotion. And not every dog is appropriate for every family and lifestyle. Animals are not disposable!

Pondering the Past
Danger in the Elevator
First Dog Park in NYC Domestic Violence Shelter
Happy Ending for 'School Dog'
Less is Sometimes More
The Science Behind Bomb Sniffing Dogs
Game of Thrones, Twilight Creates a Homeless Husky Problem
Susie's Senior Dogs Promotes Older Pups