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Claudia Kawczynska

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Dog-friendly Yard Work
Dog-Friendly Gardens and Yards

It’s springtime, the warm weather and longer days give us time to see how our gardens and yards can be made more dog-friendly. One way is to make sure they’re free of plants that might make them sick; another is to add a few small amenities they’ll enjoy more than digging up the flower bed. Here are some ideas from Maureen Gilmer, landscape designer, horticulturalist and dog lover. More can be found online at moplants.com, where you can also download The Dog-Scaped Yard: Creating a Backyard Retreat for You and Your Dog, the eBook from which these were adapted.

Fleabane Herbs
Through the ages, fleas have been the bane of existence for humans as well as dogs. Before pesticides, it was common to strew herbs over the floor of a home, pub or castle to control vermin. The oils in many garden herbs are historic flea repellants, which led to them being dubbed “fleabane.” To use them this way, simply cut the branches and strip the leaves to line the bottom of a dog house. Or, dry the herbs and leaves and stuff them inside the lining of the dog’s bed, which naturally discourages the pests through the winter months. Some of these herbs may also discourage ticks as well.
Fleawort (Erigeron canadense), annual
Fleabane/pennyroyal (Menta pulegium), perennial
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), perennial
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthum), shrubby perennial
Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis), shrub
Sweet Bay (Laurus nobilis), tree
Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus), tree

Warm Weather Flop Spot
Dogs don’t sweat, they cool off by panting. Many dogs labeled problem diggers are really just trying to keep cool. They instinctively dig nests in shady places to access cooler soil, and sprawl out in them during the heat of the day. In heavy soils especially, this makes a huge mess—the dirt stains paving, plasters the dog’s fur and litters the yard with clods.
My solution is to provide them with a pit of their own that’s more damp and cool than the flower beds. Give them sand to lie in and it won’t stain or make mud, and when dry, it easily falls away from their fur. Keep the area slightly moist and your dog will prefer that spot over all else. You can make a few of them, scattered around damp, shady, out-of-the-way spots in the yard. Be sure to wet down the area often in the heat of the summer.

Instructions
1. Dig out a shallow pit of a size to fit your dog comfortably.
2. Mix up a bag of concrete and line the pit with a thin layer.
3. Before the concrete dries, poke a few pencil-sized holes in the bottom for drainage.
4. Line the depression with at least six inches of clean white playground sand.*
5. Sprinkle with water to the point of dampness.

A Disguised Seasonal Dipping Pool
It’s easy to create a dog dipping pool that’s safe and easy to clean for the summer. The trick is to choose a sturdy, molded-plastic kiddy pool rather than an inflatable one, which is too easily punctured by sharp claws. Be sure the pool is shallow enough for your pet to get in and out of easily. (Beware: Small dogs may find the plastic sides hard to navigate when wet; choose a size that’s safe for your particular dog.)
The best way to disguise it in your garden is to set it into the ground just like a real swimming pool. Dig out the area under the pool so it sits with the rim an inch or two above the soil line. This will protect the rim and sidewalls from breakage as your dog enters and exits. She’s also less likely to chew on it, and it will stay put when empty, which is a time when big dogs tend to turn kiddy pools into play toys. The downside with this kind of pool is draining it, which can be done with a simple siphon (you can find one at home improvement stores). Or, when all else fails, bail it out with a bucket!

Al Fresco Nibbles
Rose hips. Lois the Rottweiler would sit on my deck and eat the ripe hips off my Rosa rugosa plants. The fruit of the rose softens and becomes very sweet in the fall, rich with vitamin C and many other beneficial nutrients. The vet concurred that they were equally as healthy for dogs as for people, and probably gave Lois some of the vitamins her body craved. Moreover, he said that the astringent quality of ripe rose hips would protect her from urinary tract infections. So feel free to plant roses for the dogs and let them forage in the fall!

Wheat and oat grass dog patch. Fresh wheat grass juice is a popular drink for humans. Wheat and oat grass are also good for dogs, in moderation. They will naturally graze on it when they need the nutrients it contains, rather than browsing through your flowers. If you have a dog in a small city yard, consider planting wheat grass in an outdoor patch. It grows great in low, wide troughs. Most pet suppliers sell the seeds in small quantities. For a sizeable dog patch, save money by purchasing your oat and wheat seed in quantity at a health food store. It’s free of chemicals and ideal for large plantings.
Bark Tip: Container gardening is a good way to try out herbs with dog-appeal. Easy-to-grow specimens include chamomile, lemon grass, lemon verbena, lemon balm, peppermint, spearmint, oregano, thyme and yarrow. Not only can you reposition the containers if needed, the pots restrain notorious spreaders—mints, for example—from taking over your yard.

Keep Your Yard Foxtail Free
Foxtails are a group of grassy weeds that have seeds attached to long serrated fibers. They are designed with barbs to penetrate an animal’s fur or skin and stick there until they finally drop off somewhere else. When grasses turn brown, foxtails become quite stiff and are easily inhaled by dogs. The tips are sharp enough to penetrate through the softer parts of the paw, mouth and other sensitive spots. Once inside the body, foxtails can travel through the bloodstream and cause serious injury. Keep your yard free of these weeds by pulling all grasses while they’re still green.
 

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Helping to Improve Pet Nutrition

Our good friend, vet nutritionist, Donna Raditic, DVM, and her colleagues over at CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) are devoted to do research into the best ways to provide nutritious, healthy meals to our pets. Their next round of study involves investigating the possible drawbacks to feeding dogs solely with high heat processed, commercial foods. All the various aspects that are involved in manufacturing pet food are important: such as, ingredients, recipes, sourcing, the manufacturing plant and equipment, even the lining of food bags and cans, but CANWI now is going to be looking at the actual chemical reactions that take place when food is processed at high temperatures (which is the case in most commercial diets).

As Dr. Donna told us, “It is known that heat treatment of foods can cause a reaction between the proteins and sugars called the Maillard reaction which results in the formation of what is termed dietary Advanced Glycation End- Products or AGEs.” She further explains that:

Other “Studies have shown that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with age-related diseases in humans, rats, and dogs including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, renal disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers.”

So they are undertaking an independent study, not funded by the pet food industry (that is usually where food studies are performed). Their study will compare the levels of AGEs in processed and fresh food pet diets and evaluate the influence of feeding differing intakes of dietary AGEs. Preliminary data suggests some pet foods may contain over 122 time the AGEs found in processed human foods! Now imagine this is at every meal, on every day for the life of our dogs. It is so easy and convenient, and true that most of our dogs eat processed pet diets for their entire life.

The study will involve a team of veterinary nutritionists, food scientists and one of the most prestigious Veterinary Colleges in the country. And as Joe Bartges, DVM of the University of Georgia notes, “The study will also serve as the foundation for more research to help us identify and improve pet nutrition. It is an exciting and novel approach to the role of nutrition in the health of dogs and cats.”

We too are excited that this kind of study is being investigated from outside the pet food industry and by a team of dedicated (dog-loving) researchers. To get their study underway, they are reaching out to animal lovers during the week of 5/21 to 5/28 for a fundraiser drive seeking contributions (no amount is too small), so they can undertake the next phase of this critical research.

You can do to www.companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org for more information and to donate, or check CANWI on Facebook too.

News: Editors
Caring too much for a dog?
[What We Are Reading]

There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:

 “… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”

And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”

And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.

Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.

And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”

She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:

“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"

Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.

What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?

 

News: Editors
Dogs May Reduce Allergies and Obesity in Babies

For the past couple of decades researchers have been looking at the role that pets, especially dogs, have to play in rates of allergies in children. Many have found that, what is being termed the hygiene hypothesis, is indeed correct, meaning that a little dirt early in life helps to stave allergic diseases, including obesity.

A new study by Anita Kozyrskyj a pediatric epidemiologist of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, found further evidence of this dog-human linkage and how this lessens the development of everything from obesity to asthma.

Starting in 2013 she wondered if she could pinpoint what and how this might be happening. Her team collected fecal samples from 4-month-old infants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) pilot study. Of the 24 respondent infants, 15 lived in house with at least a dog or cat.

What they found was that within the households with pets, the children had a higher diversity of microbes in their guts. Microbes, as we now know, can be a good thing for our gut microbiome and immune systems actually develop alongside our gut’s “germs.”  Meaning that if babies grow in a more “sterile” pet-free environment, they would be more unprepared to “fight” germs as they grow up.

Kozyrskyj noted, "The abundance of these two bacteria (Firmicutes microbes) were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," and added that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life.

Also interestingly, this study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.

Kozyrskyj’s study confirms and expands on the work that many other researchers have shown that some “dirt” can be beneficial and help to ward off disease. Including one, conducted at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland in 2012, that concentrated on infants during their first year, and investigated the effect of contact with dogs on the “frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections.” Information about the length of time a dog spent indoors was also gathered, and turned out to be one of the key indicators.

The results were eye-opening. Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them. The more dirt, the more “bacterial diversity.” This diversity is thought to have a protective influence by helping the child’s immune system to mature — that is, respond more effectively to infectious agents.

Then a 2013 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that living with dogs may prevent children from developing asthma. Mice fed a solution containing dust from homes with dogs developed a resistance to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a childhood airway infectious agent. RSV, which is common in infants, is linked to a higher risk of childhood asthma. According to Dr. Susan Lynch of the study team, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.

The idea that our microorganisms may to some extent be collectively beneficial is intriguing. People and dogs have been exchanging microbes for at least 30,000 years, since the first little cave girl kissed the first proto-dog puppy smack on the muzzle. That’s a long history of sharing. It’s possible that our microorganisms are at least symbiotic, and perhaps even played a role in the dramatic domestication of the dog. 

As was reported in Nature: Researchers suspect that our long association with canines means that human and dog microbiomes may have developed in tandem. The microbiome of a baby growing up without a dog (and of a puppy growing up without a human) is, in a sense, incomplete. “All of the people alive today probably had ancestors who lived in tribes that hunted with dogs,” says Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago in Illinois.”

Since 2013, Canadian researcher, Kozyrskyj has expanded her pilot study from 24 to 746 infants, around half of whom were living in households with pets. Her team then compared the babies' microbial communities.

The results were basically the same, microbial life flourished in the infants living with pets. And not only that but the “team was now able to show that babies from families with pets (70% of which were dogs) had higher levels of two types of Firmicutes microbes — Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been associated with a lower risk of allergic disease and leanness, respectively.

“Pet exposure can reduce allergic disease and obesity” later in life, added Hein Min Tun, a veterinarian and microbial epidemiologist and a member of Kozyrskyj’s research team.

And while it might be too soon to predict how this finding will play out in the future, they don’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity. Or, as we much rather see, “dog as the pill.”

News: Editors
How Dogs Interpret Facial Expressions and Audio Cues
Dogs Interpreting Expressions

Seems like our two species, human and canine, have gotten really good at reading each other’s faces. Which shouldn’t be a surprise— after all, we’ve spent a long time together, anywhere from 15,000 to more than 100,000 years, so we have a lot of practice in mastering this important social indicator.

Researchers have looked at how dogs distinguish between our positive and negative expressions, and a recent study also investigated how well we’re able to get a read from dog faces. In the current human-looking-at-dog investigation, participants (some dog people, some not) were asked to evaluate dogs’ emotional states based on their facial expressions. Options ranged from sadness, fear, disgust and anger/aggression to happiness and surprise; participants were also asked to rate the degree to which these emotions were expressed. Results showed that humans, even those who were the least empathic, were pretty good at this (the more empathic observers got the highest grades). We seem to be naturals at it. As Charles Darwin observed, our facial expressions are similar to those of dogs, so if we can understand human frowns and smiles, we can similarly deduce how our closest nonhuman companions are feeling.

In an earlier study,* researchers wanted to see how dogs perceived both human and canine emotional states. Photos were paired with auditory cues: dog faces/dog vocalizations, unfamiliar human faces/audio in Portuguese (to prevent dogs from recognizing specific words). In this test, dogs scored 67 percent, meaning that they looked longer at facial expressions that matched the audio cues. The researchers concluded that dogs can discriminate “between positive and negative emotions from both humans and dogs,” and therefore demonstrated that these adaptive benefits enabled them “to evaluate the social intentions motivation of others.” An intriguing first take on another example of interspecies communication and further evidence of our very long term relationship with dogs.

Lots of us talk to our dogs as we do to children, pitching our voices higher and speaking more slowly. Some only speak this way to puppies, others do it with adult dogs as well. But do tone and cadence make a difference to a dog? A group of researchers asked this question, and the results of their study showed that puppies do indeed respond better to the higher pitched, “Who’s my baby” approach by becoming more attentive and responsive. Adult dogs didn’t seem to have a preference. (I know, though, that my dogs just like to hear me talk to them, no matter how I do it.)

This brings up another recent study, in which researchers in the UK explored the effects a variety of sounds had on canine behavior in a shelter. As a control, they used regular kennel sounds, to which they compared the effects of classical, pop, psychoacoustically designed canine music and an audiobook. Not surprisingly, they found that pop music provoked the highest rate of barking. But it wasn’t classical or specially designed canine music that calmed dogs down the most. First place went to the audiobook—dogs spent more time resting and less time displaying vigilant behaviors, such as repetitive pacing. The researchers concluded that their findings show a strong potential for auditory enrichment that can improve the welfare of shelter dogs.

*Albuquerque, Natalia, et al. Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biology Letters 12:1. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0883

Dog's Life: Humane
In Conversation with Amy Sutherland
Q&A With Amy Sutherland about dog fostering

Bark has long admired Amy Sutherland’s commitment to animals, as well as her smart and engaging writing style. In her new book, Rescuing Penny Jane, both are on display as she tackles the issue of homeless—or, as she says, human-less—dogs, and gives readers an insider’s view of the many challenges shelters face and how they respond to them. Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska recently caught up with Sutherland for a quick one-on-one.

Bark: What advice would you give people who want to volunteer at a shelter or foster a dog?

Amy Sutherland: I have found volunteering and fostering each to be enormously rewarding, but I’ve also found that you need to have (or develop) a thick skin. As a foster, it can be wrenching to send a dog to another home, even though that was your goal. And as a volunteer, some of the dogs’ stories or conditions can be heartbreaking. If you volunteer in a shelter that euthanizes dogs for medical, behavioral or other reasons, you will also have to contend with that. The dogs—helping them—keep me going.

I’d also suggest exploring various shelters and rescues, private nonprofits and municipals in your area to find one that makes the most sense for you. Some might be more flexible about how often you need to volunteer, for example. Keep in mind that municipal shelters often are the most in need of volunteers.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Rescuing Penny Jane
One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes (Harper)

In Amy Sutherland’s thoroughly researched and engaging Rescuing Penny Jane: One Shelter Volunteer, Countless Dogs, and the Quest to Find Them All Homes (Harper), the author delves into what life is like for dogs and the people who care for them in shelters throughout the country. She does an excellent job covering the myriad issues connected with this topical and critical subject. From the chapters such as “Great Migration”— southern dogs transported to new homes up north, in lieu of local shelter dogs—to “Keeping Dogs Home,” which explores shelters’ strategies for dissuading owners from surrendering dogs, Sutherland seems to cover most of the salient issues.

Years of volunteering at shelters in Maine and with Boston’s Animal Rescue League gave her a front-row seat on the subject. Good journalist that she is, she broadened her information base by traveling around the U.S. and interviewing leading experts, animal behaviorists and dedicated activists in the shelter and rescue world, probing for their best ideas and strategies.

Sutherland introduces us to a few of the notable dogs she met along the way; their case studies provide invaluable insights into the importance, and the challenges, of finding new homes for dogs like them. She has also fostered a number of dogs, and adopted two, seriously under-socialized, Penny Jane and shelter-stressed Walter Joe. We learn how she and her husband worked to integrate these dogs, with their very individual personalities, into their lives.

It is to Sutherland’s great credit that she tends to this subject matter with the care and attention it merits, crafting a dour subject into an engrossing, and at times, entertaining read. Yes, a book about shelters and homeless dogs can be difficult, but it can also be life affirming and exhilarating.

If you’ve ever thought of volunteering at a shelter, fostering or adopting a shelter dog, this book may provide you with the impetus and inspiration to do it now. If you are already involved in the rescue or shelter community, you may encounter an alternative that could help in your work. Regardless, this is an invaluable book for all dog lovers. Shelters have changed a lot in the past 20 years, with many innovative approaches coming from that community. This book is Sutherland’s way of sharing what she learned, and it can help save precious lives.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Education of Will
A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog (Atria)
The Education of Will book review by Patricia McConnell

A memoir by Patricia McConnell, one of the world’s leading certified applied animal behaviorists and a pro in working with aggressive and fearful dogs, is the second of the two new arrivals. The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog (Atria) is quite unlike her previous work. While her astute, hawk-eye attention to canine behavioral matters is found in abundance, we also learn more about the author herself.

The Education of Will runs on parallel tracks. On one track is her Border Collie, Will, who presents McConnell with a whole host of behavioral and health-related challenges. It is difficult to comprehend just how misaligned this little guy was, even as a very young pup.

As she tells us, when she decided it was time for another Border Collie, McConnell did all the right things: she went to a reputable breeder; she knew both parent dogs; and, since she’d had other working Border Collies, she definitely understood the breed. Despite this, she still wound up with a dog whose unpredictable, furious outbursts “shook her to her core.” (This is in itself a valuable lesson for those who might be skeptical about adopting a shelter dog because of the possibility of behavioral problems; as Will demonstrated, opting for a well-bred puppy is no guarantee you’ll avoid them.)

The book’s other track follows the human end of the leash. While working with Will, McConnell realized that she needed to come to terms with her own fears, and the ways earlier traumas had informed her behavior—that in order to heal her fearful, reactive dog, she had to heal herself as well.

What has always set McConnell apart from others in her field is her ability to point out the fascinating parallels between canine behaviors and our own, including the cognitive and emotional lives of both species. In this book, she dives even deeper into such comparisons. For me, her insights into her troubled Border Collie’s behavior (as well as that of other dogs she’s treated) are the book’s most compelling aspect.

McConnell offers the case of Aladdin as an example of how a dog’s aggression can be set off by triggers. Aladdin’s sunny disposition would change in an instant once she put on sunglasses. As she noted, “To Aladdin, I had morphed instantly from a relaxed, benevolent acquaintance into a … potentially dangerous one. Aladdin was just going to get me first, before I could get him.” This was a relatively straightforward case; once she discovered the trigger, she could devise a treatment plan. Will’s issues, unfortunately, were not that simple.

This book speak eloquently on the benefits of opening your heart to dogs, and reclaiming lives in the process.

News: Editors
Leasing a Dog Is a Really Bad Idea
Leasing Golden Retriever Puppies Is a Bad Idea

We heard about an intriguing (and alarming) Bloomberg story over the weekend on NPR’s Marketplace Money program. When asked about predictions for what the guests are “long or short" on, reporter Gillian White said that she was “long” on the financial sector behind “dog leasing.” She was reporting on a piece from Bloomberg about dubious loan scheme operations, such as leasing a dog. In the Bloomberg piece, “I’m Renting a Dog?” Patrick Clark reports about Wags Lending LLC, a California-based firm, that provides leasing options for people who want to buy expensive pet store dogs.

In one of the examples he cites a couple in San Diego purchased a Golden Retriever pup for $2,400, agreeing to pay for the dog with 34 monthly payments of $165.06, bringing the true cost to be $5,800. As White noted that this kind of “leasing operation, taps into the growing trend of consumers who want things but who don’t necessary want to own things.” Added to that is the wish for instant gratification and the fact that most people don’t take the time to read the fine print on things especially when making emotional purchases, like “buying” a dog. Simple fact, many people just want what they want when they want it. And because these leasing companies aren’t subject to the same kind of regulations as loans or even credit cards are, they are able to charge really high interest rates, which range from about 36 percent to 170 percent on an annualized basis! And if you renege of the payment schedule, they are repossess the dog, that's right, they can take the rental dog back. Bristlecone Holding LLC, the company behind this Wags Lending scheme, leases things like furniture, wedding dresses and hearing aids, and the list is growing—but it all started with the dogs. The mission statement from the aptly named, Dusty Wunderlich the CEO behind these companies notes that he is “living in a Postmodern culture while maintaining my old American West roots and Christian values.” Heavens, we need Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s attention on this one fast. Amazing that they can get away with this. Wunderlich also adds that, “We like niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers.” Such as those who are staring into the eyes of a pet shop puppy, obviously.

The idea behind Wags Lending came about in 2013, and as the Bloomberg article notes, when Wunderlich “recruited a former hedge fund salesman named Kyle Ferguson as co-founder and launched Wags Lending, thinking dog leases would mark just the first step in a vertically integrated pet-financing company that would eventually include food deliveries, chew-toy subscriptions, and veterinary loans. Then their point-of-sale lease financing became a hit, and they decided to double down on it.” So beware if you happen to stumble upon any of their other “too good to be true” plans! We are seeing more and more of these “point-of-sale” options in the pet sector, especially at vet offices.

So the lesson behind this is a simple one, first of all, do NOT ever ever buy dogs at pet stores, there are many reasons, besides shady lending schemes to not buy a pet shop dog, including that most of those dogs are supplied to pet stores come from puppy mills and buying such dogs only supports those horrible businesses. But even more importantly, there are many wonderful dogs at shelters or with rescue groups and every dog that is purchased at a pet store means another dog just might be euthanized to make room for another dog. That constant intake flow has to stop. Again, read the small print and know what you are getting yourself into before signing up for any of these leasing products. See the Bloomberg piece for the whole story.

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A With Alexandra Horowitz, Author of Being a Dog
Alexandra Horowitz along with dogs Finnegan and Upton.

Any time Alexandra Horowitz releases a new book is cause for celebration here at Bark. We’ve been fans since her 2009 hit, Inside of a Dog, and have continued to follow her work as she uncovers new insights into our co-pilots’ internal lives and external behaviors.

In addition to teaching psychology, canine cognition and creative non-fiction at Barnard College, Columbia University, she also leads the college’s Dog Cognition Lab.

Her new book, Being a Dog, delves deeply into the primacy of dogs’ sense of smell, and we talk with her about what she found.

Bark: Has anyone studied why some dogs are better at smelling than others —is it genetic or is it drive?

Alexandra Horowitz: Everything I’ve seen points to drive being the major indicator of whether a dog will be good as a detection dog: drive to find the odor, to keep working when frustrated, to get to the reward (like a game with a tug toy) at the episode’s end.

This is not to say that breed is irrelevant: some breeds are naturally more driven to pursue an odor relentlessly, or are driven to do whatever it takes to get a game of toss with a tennis ball. And some dogs—like Bloodhounds and Beagles—have more olfactory cells in their noses and more equipment around their faces (long ears, drooly jowls) to help bring odors up the nose. They may smell odors at lower levels.

Curiously, though, the notion that certain breeds are inevitably better at detection work than others hasn’t been borne out. It’s tradition more than science.

B: I was once told by a woman who handles tracking Coon Hounds that dogs can show a preference for how they scent; talking about the same breed, she said some sniff the ground, while others prefer sniffing the air. Have you observed individual differences in the same breed in your research?

AH: Absolutely. Different dogs have different sniffing tactics; “on the air” or “on the ground” are the two ways dogs try to pursue a scent. Often, though, these are distinguished by task, not by dog—that is, if a dog is tracking a distant (old) scent, on the ground makes more sense; the odor is probably no longer in the air. But a dog trying to locate someone/something who has recently passed by will be air-scenting.

B: Can adult dogs can identify their littermates or their mother by smell?

AH: In theory, this would be trivially easy for dogs. All dogs have their own “signature scents” (as do we, to dogs), so there would be no trouble distinguishing dogs of one’s litter from other dogs. Now, the question of whether an adult dog who has been separated for years from her littermates/family can recognize them is a different question: it’s more about memory than about perceptual ability. Memory is fallible in humans, and it is fallible in dogs. We forget. So it’s quite possible that, even having known one’s family by scent, it would be later forgotten. (But there is also good reason to believe that a trace would remain—that distant memory one cannot quite place.)

B: While you note in your new book that puppies at the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania aren’t formally trained until a certain age, they do receive some kind of training, right?

AH: Yes, they are being “trained” to some degree: I think Dr. Otto and the Penn Working Dog Center trainers would agree when I say they are being trained to be good general-purpose working dogs. As I describe in my book, I saw dogs being put through their paces in lots of different (what were to them) games: find the missing person, find the hidden scent. They are being exposed to unusual sounds and environments and getting acclimated to them. They are learning the skills of detecting something, working with someone, and loving it. And they do.

B: Do working dogs get nose fatigue— do they reach a point at which they can no longer reliably follow a scent? If so, what do the pros do to work around that?

AH: The phenomenon of the nose no longer noticing an odor—adaptation —happens to us within minutes. Walk into a coffee shop, take in its familiar odors and a few minutes later, you might smell … almost nothing. The receptor cells in the nose that noticed the odor simply stopped responding after continued exposure.

The cells in the dog’s nose work similarly, but any dog employed as a detection dog is doing something different. Because they continue to sniff different areas of the odor “scene,” their noses won’t turn off to the smell. Tracking dogs are also known to simply lift their noses from the ground once in a while and sniff the air, as though to clear their noses.

On the other hand, working dogs certainly get fatigued from too much stimulation and too much exertion. Handlers know their dogs and will read their dogs’ responses to know when they need a break.

B: In the book K9 Scent Training by Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak (leading specialists in identification, tracking and detection-dogs), I read that female dogs are better at smelling than males. Did this also come up in your research? Any idea if the same can be said for our species?

AH: Gerritsen and Haak are great resources on detection-dog training and skills. I suspect their assessment comes directly from their own and other trainers’ experience with dogs. I don’t doubt it, though I don’t believe that the question has been formally tested. Interestingly, women are often said to be “better smellers” than men, and research does bear this out (on average, of course).

B: I’m quite curious about the canine visual sense vis-à-vis their olfactory sense, especially for dogs of the sporting breed. When our Wirehaired Pointer is out in the field, she seems to rely primarily on her sense of smell; sometimes a rabbit’s been sitting just a few feet from her, but she doesn’t see it, or even seem to smell it. Is it “I can’t smell it so I don’t see it”?

AH: As with us, dogs’ senses work together. Only for dogs, olfaction takes priority. From that point of view, you can imagine how vision might aid smelling: if a dog detects an odor on the breeze, she can then look up and try to locate, with her eyes, the source of that odor (and then head toward it for closer sniffing!). When I watched the dogs at the Penn Working Dog Center do a “person search” for people hidden in large PVC barrels in a large field, the dogs used vision to guide them while smelling: first, they followed their eyes to head toward the barrels, then followed their noses to identify which one held a person.

A dog who is sniffing in the grass to a hidden ball (or rabbit) that is perfectly “visible” to someone else nearby is simply using olfaction first. By sniffing in the whole area around the hidden object, she creates an on-the-fl y map of where the object is; the closer she gets, the stronger the odor is. Sometimes, dogs rely on that much longer than we would expect before bringing fuller attention to what they see to aid their search.

B: I’m trying to train one of my dogs, Charlie, to find the poop of his housemate Kit while we’re out in the park; he’s actually pretty good at it. I started doing this after I noticed that he likes to pee on her fresh poop, and only on hers. How would you recommend I boost his proficiency level? And why the peeing on it?

AH: “Find poop!” Great game. And lots of dogs would be pretty good at it. Since Charlie started doing this behavior on his own, clearly little shaping was needed. The only task is pairing it with a request (like “find poop”) and making him aware that what he’s doing—which to him is “following that interesting smell”—is something that’s also valuable to you, so he’ll do it whenever you ask. If he’s not doing it reliably, then he doesn’t see its value to you. Better rewards! More reliable rewards! (But you and every good behavior reader know that.) And, taking a cue from working-dog handlers, you could pair an “alert” behavior—sitting, barking and so forth—so that he tells you when he’s found it.

What I learned from Sam Wasser, who trains dogs to find wildlife scat, is that what’s often difficult in training in the field (and you’re always “in the field”!) is to know yourself if the dog has alerted on the right scat. Once they are confident of their dogs’ alert, and don’t accept partial alerts, handlers can reward only for the correct scat.

As for his peeing on the poo, that’s a question I don’t think science has directly tackled. But we know that marking isn’t territorial in dogs; it seems to be information-leaving. It could be that a nice pile of stinky poo is a good place to leave your own mark.

B: Besides enrolling our dogs in nosework classes, what do you recommend that we do to tap into their world of smell and enrich their lives?

AH: Let them smell. If you live with a dog, start thinking about what the world is like from an olfactory point of view. Let them smell you (you are your scent, to your dog), let them smell each other (that’s how they find out who it is), and let them smell the world. Take walks for smelling (not just for peeing, or for exercise). The pleasure that comes from watching a dog snuffling down a path, nose to the ground and nose in the air, guided by nothing more than the filaments of odors that come his way, is to me unmatched.

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