Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
Escapees try to throw tracking dogs off scent
July 1 2015
Once those escaped killers, Richard Matt and David Sweat, were caught in northern New York, people were wondering why it took the authorities three weeks to track them down. Police dogs had soon after the escape caught their scent only three miles from the prison. Nonetheless there was chatter online that perhaps Matt and Sweat had used a trick of sprinkling pepper in their tracks to confuse the dogs. It was thought, that the fugitives might have been inspired by “Cool Hand Luke.” In this movie Paul Newman brings some “chili powder and pepper and curry and the like” with him when he made his escape. In the movie the ruse worked and threw Bloodhounds off and they ended up sneezing and rubbing their noses. But could this really happen? The New York Times consulted with Alexandra Horowitz, canine cognitive researcher, about the likelihood of this being effective and she thought it was “extremely” unlikely because, as she explained:
That when people move “they slough off dead skin cells, and the scent from those cells lingers both in the air and on the ground.” Dogs, even those who seem to have their noses close to the ground like Bloodhounds, can “air scent” too and as Horowitz explained “there is no way that people can erase the olfactory information that they are leaving.”
Nonetheless, it’s good to note the dogs did their job when they were the first in the team to alert that the convicts were making their way on foot. They also proved to be key members of the long manhunt by helping the authorities to narrow the field—with or without the pepper.
Experts give their views
June 26 2015
I listened in on a webinar today held by the good people of the Animal Behavior Associates—it was their June CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) Chat, the general topic was Pet Behavior Wellness. Similar to a veterinarian wellness exam, but with the main focus on a dog’s behavior. Participants were Suzanne Hetts, PhD, Dan Estep, PhD and guest “chatter” Nancy Williams, MA, RVT, ACAAB. Questions that they addressed included:
- What is behavioral wellness and why should we be interested in it?
- What does it mean to have a behaviorally healthy pet and how do you get one?
- How do behaviorally healthy pets act? What are the criteria for behavioral health?
- Is behavior wellness simply the absence of behavioral problems or something more?
- Does simply meeting an animal’s behavioral and physical needs put it in good behavioral health or is good behavioral health something more?
As professional behaviorists they all were frustrated that oftentimes clients came to them for behavioral consultation as the “last resort” instead of being proactive about their dog’s behavioral health. Being proactive about this can reap benefits similar to preventive medicine. They discussed the characteristics of behaviorally sound and healthy dogs, and referenced a test you can take, see how your dog’s behavioral health measures up.
Among the list of behavioral needs that should be provided to our dogs besides the basic ones of food, care and shelter, are providing a dog with the “ability to control some aspects of the environment, opportunities for mental stimulation, and for pleasant social contact.”
When the discussion turned to how to fulfill those particular needs, much to my surprise, they brought up the controversial topic of retractable leashes. None of these veteran trainers had started out as fans of those devices because so few people seem to employ them properly, but all three are now advocates for their wise and limited use, again, something that surprised me. But that turn in the discussion definitely sparked my interest to learn more. They talked about how all dogs aren’t good candidates for dog parks or doggie day care, but the retractable leash was offered as an alternative to giving a dog both the mental stimulation and some control over their environment. As we know, dogs prefer to walk ahead of us, something that is really impossible at the end of a standard six-foot leash and the resulting pulling on the shorter leash can make a pleasant outing into an uncomfortable walk for those on both ends of the leash. These experts spelled out the characteristics of beneficial leash walks which can be obtained by use of retractable leashes: they "allow for ample sniffing, physical exercise, ability to control their own experience, and lack of restraint and pulling against something." The three of them agreed that using retractable leashes does not mean that a dog will learn to pull harder on a standard leash, or that a dog will think she is in charge because she is able to walk ahead of you. Dogs basically like to forge ahead of us, playing “scout” perhaps, and those who can do so with the flexibility provided by a retractable leash, usually, according to these trainers, do not venture that far ahead or pull to get even further ahead.
But they cautioned that these leashes are also not appropriate in many cases and many dog people do not have the skill to use them properly. Retractables should not be used on city streets, in confined areas, or on dogs who can be aggressive to other dogs or people, by kids, with people with physical disabilities, when walking more than one dog or when walking a dog for training and not for exercise. For many of us a trainer will need to show you how best to use one.
I have never been a fan of these leashes, having had a horrible experience with a woman who did not know how to use one and almost hogtied me when her pup tried to play with my dog, her leash quickly wound around my knees and cut into the back of my legs, she didn’t have the sense to just drop the leash! But then again, that woman should never have used such a leash without proper direction. What Hetts, Estep and Williams had to say about this, made me question my ingrained negative perspective on retractables. But I know that this is really hot button issue, so am curious to hear your opinion.
You can purchase a recorded copy of the CAAB webinar for a small fee if this topic interests you (the retractable leash part is towards the end of the hour and a half long webinar) and sign up for free their monthly chats, they are always interesting and informative.
Learning a dog's heritage has its benefits
June 26 2015
When we adopted our dog Charlie from the Sacramento Independent Rescuers, his foster mom, Shana Laursen, who specializes in Greyhound rescue with Greyhound Friends for Life, told us that he probably had some Whippet in him, thinking that not only his brindle coloring but the “set” of his back legs indicated that he might have a sprinter in him. She also added that was one of the reasons she picked him to foster. Lucky for us she did because by the time we saw his posting on Petfinder I had been getting discouraged after scouring for weeks online pet adoption services nationwide and local shelters to find a scruffy male terrier to be the “bro” to our three female dogs.
At that time we didn’t really know what breeds contributed to making Charlie the perfect match that he turned out to be. Some type of terrier definitely in the ascendency, his very first night in his new home found him scooting under the covers to sleep at my side, a position he has proudly claimed since. As for the Whippet? Sometimes he manages to keep up with our speedy Pointer, Lola, so perhaps Shana might be right. It was time to figure that out, so we decided to “test” Charles’ DNA using the really easy-to-use, Mars Wisdom Panel DNA test.
Unlike other genetic tests that rely on blood samples, for this one you only need to collect saliva samples from inside your dog’s mouth, using the two swabs that come with the kit. Next you dry the swabs out for a few minutes placing them in a convenient “holder” that comes with the kit. Next you register the sample online, filling out a few basic profile questions about the sex/age/weight of the dog. Plus they pose some really interesting optional questions like the reasons why you are doing the test—perhaps you want to understand your dog’s behavior better, or confirm the breed make up of a prospective adoptee, predict the adult size of a pup, or testing for health reasons? Many breeds are prone to a variety of genetic diseases, so it is beneficial to know what breeds your mixed breed dog might be, for possible preventive or diagnostic reasons. Importantly, this newest version of the Wisdom Panel 3.0 also includes a screening for the genetic mutation for MDR1 or Multi-Drug Resistance 1 that can be a really important consideration, and which can affect many herding breeds. As it is explained on their website:
“The MDR1 gene is responsible for production of a protein called P-glycoprotein. The P-glycoprotein molecule is a drug transport pump that plays an important role in limiting drug absorption and distribution (particularly to the brain) and enhancing the excretion/elimination of many drugs used in dogs. Dogs with the MDR1 mutation may have severe adverse reactions to some common drugs. Although the mutation is most closely associated with some purebreds, it can also be found in mixed-breed dogs. Therefore it is important for owners of mix-breeds to test their dogs and to share the results with their veterinarian in order to provide their pet with the best possible care. The discovery of the MDR1 mutation in dogs was made by Washington State University.”
While it is unlikely that terrier-mix Charlie has any herding breeds in him, he might have a Whippet ancestor—the long-haired variety having a 65% frequency of this mutation—so it is good for us to find this out now.
Browsing around their interesting site I also found this very informative video that explains the genetics behind a dog’s physical characteristics. I actually learned a lot from watching it, including the reason that many dogs have white markings on the their feet and paws—or on areas farther away from the dog’s back (where the dominate color starts off). Watch the video for the explanation of why this is:
So stay tuned, we’ll be getting Charlie’s results really soon. But until we do, what kind of terrier do you see in him?
June 23 2015
There’s been much talk about the age-bending popularity of Young Adult books, and with Strays, a novel by Jennifer Caloyeras, one can readily understand why. This is the story of Iris, a bright but troubled 16-year-old who has trouble coping after the death of her mom. She immerses herself in science and TV nature shows, but she doesn’t know how to fix her problems: an inability to become attached or ask for help. She holds it all in, resulting in temper “management” issues. A childish threat written in a diary and discovered by a teacher leads to a judge ordering Iris to work in a canine rehab program. She is paired with Roman, a three-legged Pit Bull rescued from a fighting ring; this program is his last hope of finding a new home. Iris steadily works through her fear of dogs, and moves beyond her grief. She also has an epiphany about empathy and the necessity of understanding others—her father, friends and, yes, dogs—through their own histories. This is a scintillating book about a journey of self-discovery that should inspire readers of all ages.
June 22 2015
Every day, books about a dog saving a life or teaching a lesson land on our desk. Rarely, however, are points made more poignantly and convincingly than in this new memoir, George the Dog, John the Artist: A Rescue Story.
This inspiring story by former petty thief and once-homeless John Dolan—who today is an internationally respected artist—is really about George, the stray Staffordshire Terrier who started him on his remarkable journey of self-discovery and redemption.
Dolan narrates their story, which is quite unlike others in this genre. In a very down-to-earth, vérité voice, he recalls his early east London life and how years of neglect and poverty led to more than 30 prison incarcerations (some of which were intentional, a way to get inside during the cold winter months).
As a child, Dolan had a knack for drawing, a talent that he resurrected once he became responsible for George’s welfare and keeping himself outside of prison for the dog’s sake. They were living near Shoreditch High Street in London, a district that had become hip and arty. At first, Dolan and George got along by hanging out on the street and begging; the well-trained, friendly dog was a big draw. But as Dolan describes it, “I was always thinking about how I was going to get off the street and make an honest living for myself and George. Seeing all the art around Shoreditch, I began to wonder whether I could make a few quid out of drawing something myself.”
He started with meticulous renderings of local buildings, some of which he did thousands of times until he got them right. His self-confidence steadily grew, and the man with the pad and pencil and his dog became neighborhood fixtures. His first commission came from a woman who asked him to draw George.
As he readily admits, “George was the reason I could call myself an artist.” That drawing was the first piece that he felt he ever fully completed. The woman was thrilled with it, and after that, he started drawing George regularly. His art sold, opening up a whole new life for the two of them. In September 2013, he had his first solo show, “George the Dog, John the Artist,” which was a sell-out. This entertaining, inspiring story is unique in the annals of dog-saves-man tales and definitely merits your attention.
Vet student asks for help
June 18 2015
We received a query from Lauren Hunnisett, a final year veterinarian student in the UK (at the Royal Veterinary College) to see if our readers could help her with a research project. As part of her course work she has to create and complete a research project in an area of her interest. For her, she decided to collect data on where the general public is buying or adopting their dogs and the general health conditions experienced by those dogs. As she explained it to us:
“I am interested in looking at where owners purchase and adopt their puppies and dogs as I feel these days people are able to acquire dogs from pretty much anywhere, with such convenience and not much thought or effort. I believe it is a good idea to look at this area as there is not currently a lot of research available. I am also collecting data on general health status of owner's puppies and dogs within their first year of ownership to look to see if there is any correlations, and to determine what diseases are affecting our young canine community.”
If you are interested in taking her survey and helping with this important research, you can find the questionnaire here. www.surveymonkey.com/s/rvcdoghealth
June 17 2015
Now that summer is here with its long, warm days, we hope to inspire you to catch up on your reading. Here’s a list of a few of our favorites, both new and classic.
What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren
Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
Do As I Do by Claudia Fugazza (DogWise)
Animal Wise by Virginia Morell
Zoobiquity by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD and Kathryn Bowers
The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from how dogs learn by Melissa Pierson
George the Dog, John the Artist: A Rescue Story by John Dolan
The Possibility Dogs by Susannah Charleson
Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park by Matthew Gilbert
A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler
Scents and Sensibility by Spencer Quinn.
The Mountaintop School for Dogs by Ellen Cooney
Timbuktu by Paul Auster
Breath to Breath by Carrie Maloney
Food for Thought
Canine Nutrigenomics by W. Jean Dodds and Diana R. Laverdure
The Secret Life of Dog Catchers by Shirley Zindler
June 16 2015
Male dogs, like their human counterparts, can get prostate cancer. Fourteen percent of men will develop this type of cancer, but 99% will survive because of advances in available treatment options. Now clinical trials, performed by Dr. Bill Culp, VMD, DACVS, at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, are investigating similar treatments for dogs. One recent recipient of the innovative procedure is Kopper, a 14-year-old Belgian Malinois from Tennessee. Kopper, who worked to protect his community for the majority of his life, is a retired K-9 officer who was diagnosed with prostate issues by the University of Tennessee’s (UT) veterinary hospital. Veterinarians there were familiar with Dr. Culp’s clinical trial and referred Kopper’s family, Matt and Heather Thompson of Maryville, Tennessee, to UC Davis.
Matt, a corporal with the Blount County (TN) Sheriff's Department K-9 unit, along with Heather, traveled the 2,500 miles to California to see Dr. Culp. The treatment that was administered to Kopper is similar to a procedure in human medicine that has taken hold in the past few years for treatment of non-cancerous prostate enlargement. Known as prostatic transarterial embolization, the treatment is emerging as a minimally invasive alternative to other prostate cancer therapies.
Dr. Culp, along with a colleague who performs similar procedures on humans, Dr. Craig Glaiberman, MD, successfully performed Kopper’s procedure. Luckily, Kopper and his family returned home within a few days. To date, Kopper’s prostate has decreased in size, and he has been doing well. The hope for Kopper and all dogs undergoing this minimally invasive treatment, is that a decrease in tumor size will improve the quality and length of life for dogs with prostate cancer.
Dr. Culp continues this clinical trial. Recruitment of more dogs with naturally occurring prostate cancer is needed to help evaluate the effectiveness of prostatic transarterial embolization as an accepted standard-of-care procedure. To learn more about the trial, please see www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/clinicaltrials.
The Majority Project needs your photos
June 15 2015
Talk about a great idea that can help combat negative stereotyping of Pit Bulls—presenting a photo collection of the people who love their Pitties, dogs who are just like every other dog after all. “The Majority Project” is taking action against Breed Specific Legislation by asking Pit Bull people to join in with snapshots of yourselves with your dog and a simple sign “signifying” that you are not the exception but are proudly part of the “majority” of Pit lovers. Watch this PSA video featuring actor Jon Bernthal with his young son, Billy and their dogs, Boss and Venice for more information. The PSA also features: Eric, a cancer biologist and his dog, Red, of Cambridge, Mass.; Nonny, a great grandmother and Ginger, of Washington D.C.; Father Humble, a priest and Aura, of Flowery Branch, Ga.; Rebecca, a teacher and Carmela, of Tucson, Ariz.; and many others. Add a photo of yourself and your Pittie—see how on The Majority Project.
This project is being spearheaded by the Animal Farm Foundation, a non-profit that advocates against breed specific legislation and whose director of operations, Caitlin Quinn, adds, “Discriminating against dog owners because of what their dog looks like will never make for a safer community. Holding reckless owners accountable will.”
The Majority Project PSA from Animal Farm Foundation on Vimeo.
Step aside dominance, hello to loving and caring
June 9 2015
The much over-used construct of “alpha” got a good roll over recently on the opinion pages of The New York Times. Carl Safina, the founder of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University, writes in his insightful op-ed, “Tapping Your Inner Wolf,” about how the alpha notion is rather misguided and demonstrates a misunderstanding of what it really means to be a leader. Instead of the aggressive, snarling, chest beating male alpha posture that many see as being “top” wolf—or dog for that matter—he points out that true alpha wolves don’t need to be aggressive at all, and actually have a quiet self-confidence that is “not domineering and nor aggressive to those on his team.” Making them, in fact, an exemplary role model for our species.
Debunking of what it means to be “alpha” and how this plays out with our relationship to dogs, has often been the subject of Bark articles. Sadly there are still some trainers (especially ones with large TV followings), who still don’t get it and claim that dogs are trying to “dominate” us and it is up to us to show them who’s “alpha.” How often have you heard something along the lines of, “my dog is trying to dominate me by pulling on her leash,” or “he’s trying to be alpha by blowing me off when I call to him,” sadly the list of misapplied notions of dominance and what it means to be alpha, goes on.
As to why people still cling to this false alpha meme, even though leading experts have demonstrated that positive reinforcement is far more effective and humane, is anyone’s guess. A few years back Patricia McConnell, PhD offers a “simple” suggestion in her Bark column “Down with Dominance.”
“Perhaps another reason we are so susceptible to the fallacy of “getting dominance” over our dogs is that it makes dog training seem simple. One-step shopping — just get your dog to accept you as “alpha,” and voilà! Your dog will stop jumping up on visitors and will quietly walk through the neighborhood at your side, ignoring all the interesting stuff, like squirrels and information left by other dogs as they passed by. No training required, either for your dog or, as importantly, for you.” She goes on to note that, “although there are questions and quibbles about some of the finer points, experts almost universally agree that the concept of “getting dominance” over our dogs is, at best, not useful, and more often is harmful to our relationships with our best friends.”
And Bark’s behavior columnist, Karen London, PhD thinks that it might feed into our desire for control, which sadly can have far reaching consequences, as she observes, “far worse, it can lead, at best, to a dog who performs because he is intimidated, and at worst, to a dog who is abused. The fact is, dogs will respect us only if we are consistent, clear and fair. They will love and trust us only if we are loving and patient and are able to communicate to them in ways that they understand.” This is very much the same well-oiled family/pack dynamic that Safina describes about wolves.
So it’s great when someone with respected science chops like Safina takes on alphaness and it gets even better that he also points out that biologists are now suggesting that the wolf family/pack structure work with having shared leadership, with the females doing “most of the decision making.” This can includes “where to travel, when to rest and when to hunt.” As wolf researcher, Rick McIntyre, told him, “It’s the alpha female who really runs the show.” Which leads Safina to conclude that human males can definitely learn something from real wolves, and that includes a “respect for females and sharing responsibility” in their families. Proving once again, that we have a whole lot to learn from the ancestors of the species that we share our lives with.
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