JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pete's Pet Posse launches as part of the school's America's Healthiest Campus initiative.
September 17 2014
Earlier this week Oklahoma State University announced the launch of the country's most comprehensive university-wide pet therapy program. This initiative, named after the school mascot, Pistol Pete, is part of their commitment to be America's Healthiest Campus. Pete's Pet Posse is currently made up of thirteen dogs who are clients of OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
The program was designed to help students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors overcome emotional and stressful situations. But the unique part of their mission is the goal of being proactive, not reactive. While many schools bring in therapy dogs during high stress times, like finals week (my Sheltie, Nemo, has been one of those pups at a local college), OSU recognizes that the benefits of animals are needed year round. Pete's Pet Posse is strategically deployed across the campus, with each department deciding how the therapy pets will be utilized.
During the program's pilot phase, Posse pups have been used in many capacities such as greeting students studying in the library and reassuring new employees in orientation. Dr. Lee Bird, Vice President of Student Affairs, has also requested dogs to join meetings to help students grappling with a particularly difficult challenge. The therapy dogs also provided comfort this spring after a student was killed by a drunk driver. The pups truly play a multifaceted role on campus!
And it's not an easy job to get. Each canine-human therapy team must apply to the program. Once accepted they go through extensive training in partnership with the veterinary school. A top priority is also to make sure that the Posse is healthy. Participants are given a stipend towards a microchip, vaccinations, and heartworm/flea/tick prevention, as well as regular wellness exams.
If Pete's Pet Posse continues to be successful, the goal is to extend the program system-wide across all OSU campuses. I hope that more colleges will follow OSU's proactive example!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bretagne is the last surviving search and rescue pup.
September 13 2014
As we pass another 9/11 anniversary, we will never forget the countless human and canine rescuers who dedicated weeks of their lives to finding survivors. Bretagne, the last surviving Ground Zero search and rescue dog, returned to Manhattan on Thursday for the for the first time since 2001. The then two year old Golden Retriever, and her handler Denise Corliss, traveled from Texas to New York for what was their first national assignment together.
Denise was inspired to enter the search and rescue field after volunteering as a "victim" during a training session. She still remembers the moment when a dog discovered her buried under rubble after a few hours. Even though it was only a test, the feeling of relief and joy left a lasting impression.
Soon Denise found herself with Bretagne and started training the puppy for search dog duties. Just a year later the duo made it onto the Texas Task Force 1, meaning they were good enough to be selected for national disaster duty.
Following 9/11, Bretagne and Denise worked 12 hour days at Ground Zero alongside about 300 other search and rescue dogs. When they weren't searching, the pups served as unofficial therapy dogs for the stressed human rescuers. Bretagne and her canine co-workers brought smiles and hope when it was needed most. And they didn't need to be trained for this part of the job.
Denise tells the story of when Bretagne rushed over to a depressed firefighter. Even when Denise called the otherwise obedient pup, Bretagne stayed by the firefighter's side, putting her head on his lap. It was exactly what was needed in the moment.
After 9/11, Denise and Bretagne went on to help in rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and Ivan. Six years ago, Bretagne retired from rescue work, but now travels to Texas elementary schools to help students with special needs. She is truly living a life of service!
It will come as no surprise that Bretagne is currently up for the American Humane Association's annual Hero Dog Award. And you can help her win by voting through the Hero Dog Award web site.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study looks at what canines find reinforcing.
September 8 2014
Whenever I talk to people who are facing a dog training challenge, I always ask questions about the reward they're offering for the desired behavior. Often roadblocks can be overcome by increasing the frequency of the reward (and by making the exercise easier). For instance, if you're trying to reduce leash pulling, you might help your dog earn more rewards by reducing the distraction level (by moving further away from enticing dogs) or breaking down behaviors and acknowledging small successes (such as a head turn in your direction).
In addition to the number of rewards you give, it's also important to understand what is most motivating to your pup. For my Sheltie, Nemo, food is his number one reward, followed by toys, but for my Border Collie, Scuttle, it's the opposite.
Because I consider understanding rewards so essential, I was excited to see that Dr. Erica Feuerbacher and her team at the University of Florida is doing research on this topic.
Their latest study looks at how dogs respond to different interactions with people, verbal and physical (petting). Their "test subjects" included a mix of shelter dogs and non-shelter pups, and the humans giving attention included strangers and owners. The team found that across all groups and situations, the dogs showed a preference for petting over verbal interactions by staying near the person longer during petting sessions. The pups showed significantly less proximity seeking behavior with the verbal interactions, similar to the control sessions with no interaction at all. They also found that the dogs never seemed to tired of being pet.
Erica and her team believe that petting is an important interaction between dogs and humans that may maintain inter-species social behavior. Vocal interaction, on the other hand, is something that needs to be conditioned. I definitely see this in my training. A "good boy" or "yes!," usually garners a response from my pups, but I believe it's because they know a treat usually follows the words (similar to the way you'd condition a click with a treat in clicker training).
Previous research from Erica's team showed that animals preferred food to being touched. I think most pups would agree with those findings!
What's your dog's number one reward?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Kidnapped pup is reunited with her original family.
September 5 2014
Imagine relocating to a new city and having your dog stolen right from your new yard. That's exactly what happened to LaShena Harris eight years ago, just weeks after moving to Memphis, Tenn. LaShena just went into her house for a few minutes. When she came back, a truck was flying down the street and her puppy, Cashmere (a.k.a. Fatcat), was gone. LaShena did everything she could to find her beloved English Bulldog, but eventually gave up hope.
All that changed last week when LeShena's mother in Chicago received a call from the West Memphis Animal Shelter. Fatcat was abandoned there and her phone number was listed on the microchip (LeShena never updated the information when she moved). LaShena first cried tears of joy after learning Fatcat had been found, but her happiness soon turned to horror after she found out how her pup had been treated. According to rescue workers, the English Bulldog had been abused and bred countless times. Fatcat would require a lot of medical care, estimated at $5,000.
Also, since Fatcat's disappearance, LaShena moved to Arizona and was nearly 1,4000 miles away. Fatcat wasn't in any condition to fly and LeShena couldn't drive across the country to get Fatcat. It looked like the sick pup may be euthanized until shelter director Kerry Sneed called back with a solution. A friend was moving to Scottsdale, Arizona and had agreed to transport Fatcat to her rightful family.
When LaShena was reunited with Fatcat, the pup immediately rolled over for a belly rub. Kerry believes that it's a miracle Fatcat survived the years of mistreatment and outlived the average Bulldog lifespan. Fatcat is a fighter who was just waiting to come home.
Faced with mounting vet bills, LaShena's coworker convinced her to open a GoFundMe account. She's already raised the $5,000 needed and plans to donate the remainder to the West Memphis Animal Shelter.
"I think the moral to this story is never lose hope or give up, timing is everything," LaShena told AZ Central. "Have your pet microchipped. And when the stars are aligned, anything is possible." I would also add, it's important to keep your microchip information current!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Combating the pet overpopulation problem with education.
September 3 2014
Nine years ago, filmmaker Tom McPhee was sent to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans to document animal rescue efforts. After discovering a world where people risked everything to save animals, Tom was inspired to create the World Animal Awareness Society to capture human-canine interactions on film.
Tom's mission led him to Detroit where he witnessed firsthand the dire overpopulation problem (according to Detroit Dog Rescue, over 90 percent of stray dogs in the city are euthanized) and the negative perception around stray animals. Tom was determined to get to the root cause of the issue and believed the key was teaching the kids of Detroit.
Tom worked with two teachers, Beth Molnar and Catherine Potoff, to develop an eight-week curriculum that combines lessons about dogs with subjects such as reading, math, and social studies. People in Detroit grow up learning to run from stray animals to avoid getting bit. The goal of the Good Pet Guardian lessons is to help kids become more aware of dogs and how they interact with them, while creating more empathy.
This month the curriculum will roll out to fourth- and fifth-graders at Dixon Educational Learning Academy in Detroit. The modules were made specifically for the city, exploring the history of human-canine interactions and how negative economic conditions can affect pets. The students will be assigned to observe and record dogs they see around their homes.
In addition to the community centered lessons, the students will also write an essay from the perspective of a stray and learn what to do if they come across one.
I just love this approach to the overpopulation problem. Not only does it spark a much needed mindset shift around animals in Detroit, but it creates a generation of advocates for homeless pets.
Tom plans to eventually bring the Good Pet Guardian lessons to other schools in Detroit and around the country. 4th and 5th grade teachers can request a copy of the lesson plans through their web site.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study shows the desire to protect social bonds between humans and canines.
August 29 2014
Do our dogs get jealous? My pups definitely react when I pay more attention to one over the other, but is it right to call it jealousy? While scientists have long wondered whether the emotion requires complex cognition, two researchers at UC San Diego believe that dogs may exhibit a more basic form of jealousy, which evolved to protect social bonds.
For the first experiment of jealous behaviors in canines, Psychology professor Christine Harris and student Caroline Prouvost adapted a test used with 6-month old human infants. The team worked with 36 dogs in their own homes, running through different scenarios with their owner's attention--having the person show affection to a plush dog (that barked, whined, and wagged its tail), engage with a plastic pumpkin pail, and read a book that played music.
The researchers took note of aggressive, disruptive, and attention-seeking behaviors. They found that the dogs were more likely to exhibit behaviors like snapping, pushing, and getting between their owner and the other dog when the interaction was with the plush pup as opposed to the plastic pail (as high as 78 percent to 42 percent). The dogs were even less likely to exhibit the behaviors with the book reading (22 percent).
Christine believes we can label these behaviors as jealousy and that the study suggests the dogs were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a rival to protect an important social relationship. Because the majority of research is on jealousy between human mates, this study is an interesting insight into the dynamic between siblings, friends, and even people and dogs.
Do you think that your pup exhibits jealousy?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Award show swag booth promoted homeless animals.
August 25 2014
Award shows are known for celebrity sightings and elaborate swag bags, made up of free products fishing for endorsements from the rich and famous.
This year, the Emmy Awards featured a gifting suite that also benefited homeless animals. Part of the proceeds from Secret Room Events' Red Carpet Style Lounge went to The Shelter Pet Project, a collaboration between Maddie's Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Ad Council to increase adoption rates.
The Red Carpet Style Lounge didn't just raise money for a good cause. It also featured pets for adoption, photographed celebrities proclaiming their love for shelter pets, and hosted a “yappy hour” with canine gifts.
The Shelter Pet Project's presence at the Emmys was a great way to use the celebrity gathering to get the word out about adopting an animal in need. I also hope that some of the dogs and cats found a new home in the process! Check out The Shelter Pet Project web site for more celebrity photos form the event.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Human and canine doctors team up increase successful surgeries.
August 23 2014
Between 20 and 50 percent of human cancer patients will experience a local recurrence due to malignant cells left behind after tumor removal surgery. Surgeons (for both animals and humans) typically rely on sight and touch, which can be difficult.
Now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have made progress on a technique that will increase successful tumor removals and decrease the likelihood of recurrence.
The collaboration between the veterinary and medical school explored using an injectable dye (indocyanine green or ICG) that accumulates in cancerous tissues more than normal tissues. This concentration occurs because the blood vessels of tumors have “leaky walls” from growing so rapidly. When a near-infrared light (NIR imaging) is shined, the tumor glows making removal easier.
The technique was first tested on mice, and then on eight dogs and five people at the University's hospitals. The surgeries were successful in making the process easier. In one of the human patients, NIR imaging revealed glowing areas that were thought to be healthy areas of the lung. The patient went on to receive chemotherapy and survived, thanks in large part to the new technique.
So far the limiting factor has been that ICG also absorbs into inflamed tissue, which can complicate its use. To avoid this problem, the researchers are working to identify an alternative targeted contrast agent specific to a tumor cell marker.
Glowing tumors are very impressive, but it's even cooler to see animal and human medicine come together to develop mutually beneficial advancements!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Design company helps a tiny handicapped pup.
August 20 2014
There seems to be no limit to what 3-D printers can create, with people making everything from costume props to guns. I've even heard that printing human organs may be next! In the meantime one Chihuahua puppy is benefiting from this new technology as he learns to navigate the world with two legs.
Back in July, TurboRoo (Turbo for short) was brought to The Downtown Veterinarian in Indianapolis after being born with a genetic defect that left him without front legs. His former family assumed that the pup would have to be euthanized, but the mobility issue aside, Turbo was perfectly healthy. Ashley Looper, a vet tech at the clinic, ended up adopting Turbo and the staff rallied together to make a makeshift dog cart using a Fisher-Price toy helicopter, a toy welding kit, and a ferret harness. The contraption allows Turbo to use his back legs to push the front wheels in order to move around.
The team's invention was successful, but it's hard to keep up with a puppy's growth spurts. Turbo can be fitted for a professional cart once he is full grown, but Team Turbo needed a solution until then.
As pictures of the tiny pup in his cart made the internet rounds, people from all over the world contacted the veterinarian clinic with their support. One of those Turbo fans included Mark Deadrick, owner of San Diego-based design company 3dyn, who contacted Ashley about making a cart via 3-D printer.
Ashley barely had time to say yes before Mark sent over two miniature dog carts created by estimating Turbo's measurements from photos. Both 3-D printed designs worked, but the sizing wasn't exactly right. Ashley has since sent a mold of Turbo's body so they can get to work on the perfect fit. Turbo's impact has also inspired Ashley to start a charity raising money to buy carts for dogs in need.
I'm certainly eager to see the future of 3-D printing and what it has in store for helping both canines and humans!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Disc dog/agility hybrid makes for a more accessible activity.
August 15 2014
Anyone who participates in a dog sport, like agility or rally obedience, knows that there are numerous benefits. Not only do you get fun exercise, but you develop a deep bond with your pup. However, it can be hard to "get into" activities like agility. As much as I've tried to get my non-"dog competition" friends into the sport, it's difficult because the time, cost, and skill required.
Five disc doggers in Florida set out to minimize the barrier to entry by making their favorite sport more accessible. Kat and Jack Fahle, Andrea and Jason Rigler, and Babz Mahony created UpDog because they found that disc dog was largely limited to extremely athletic pups and handlers that were good at throwing discs long distances (if you've seen me throw a ball, you'd know why I don't participate!).
Their goal was to design a sport that was more beginner friendly. UpDog, which incorporates elements of both agility and disc dog, features games that allow for short tosses, a wider range of disc types, and playing with multiple discs. This helps open the games up to more diverse participation. For example, for dogs that will only return a disc if you have another one in your hand, UpDog has games that allow multiple discs to be in play. If you can't throw more than six feet away (like me!), there are games where you only have to throw discs shorter distances. UpDog also allows the rolling of discs to let people without throwing skills work on distance tricks.
Unlike in disc dog, winning is not necessary to advance. In UpDog, you work towards your own personal best by earning points to move up in level (similar to agility). Each level brings new skills to learn and master. However, the UpDog team emphasizes that extensive training in agility or disc dog is not required. If your pup can catch a disc (even one rolled on the ground) and can do simple agility jumps and tunnels, you can have a great time at an UpDog event.
UpDog classes have only been offered since the spring, but events are already filling up all around the country. Look for competitions, which are open to spectators, in Illinois, New Hampshire, and even Canada. I hope that this activity gets more people to discover the wonderful world of dog sports!
For more information on this budding sport, visit the UpDog web site.
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