JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Shelters team up with resorts to exercise dogs and find potential adopters.
September 27 2014
I love taking my dogs on vacation and feel like it's such a shame to leave them behind when heading on an active adventure. Recently I was researching snowboard trips for the upcoming season and stumbled upon a really cool way to get your animal fix while away from home--borrow a shelter pup!
In Utah, the Pound Puppy Hike program is a collaboration between the Red Mountain Resort and the Ivans Animal Shelter. While the main goal is to get the dogs out of their kennels for the day, there have been 30 adoptions since the program started 10 years ago. The inspiration came from resort guests, many avid dog lovers that wish their pups could join them on the beautiful mountain hikes.
The outings start at the shelter and go through breathtaking red rock cliffs and canyons. It's an easy jaunt compared to the challenging endurance hikes that most guests come to the Red Mountain Resort for, but the Pound Puppy Hike is often a trip highlight.
Southern Utah isn't the only tourist destination to take advantage of people craving a dog fix. Kauai Humane Society in Hawaii lets visitors take a canine buddy to landmarks such as Mahaulepu Beach and Waimea Canyon. They even provide poop bags, towels for the car, and an Adopt Me vest--fantastic advertising! And their Shelter Dog Field Trips have been extremely successful. Not only do the pups get to enjoy the island, approximately two visitors per week permanently adopt a pet.
Dogs Aspen in Colorado is yet another rescue organization that allows people to borrow a pup through their Rent-A-Pet program. These collaborations are just a great win-win for dog loving humans and shelter canines alike.
Would you borrow a pup on your vacation?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sharing pastimes with our pets requires weighing interest level and safety risks.
September 25 2014
Recently a video of Riley the skydiving dog has been making the internet rounds. At first I couldn't believe what I was seeing. You can't ask a dog if he wants to free fall from over 13,000 feet in the air, not to mention put up with the loud noises, strong winds, and potential side effects (like ear popping and dizziness). After doing a little more research, Riley is not the only skydiving animal. There are other videos of high flying pups on You Tube and of course military dogs are often trained to jump from aircraft. In 2011, handler Mike Forsythe and his canine partner Cara set the world for the highest man/dog parachute deployment for jumping from an astonishing 30,100 feet (although Cara was wearing an oxygen mask and tactical body armor).
Military canines aside, I totally get why someone would want to skydive with their dog recreationally. Who wants to leave their pets at home while you're out having fun? I love my dogs and naturally want to include them in all of the the activities that I enjoy. From hiking mountains to attending baseball Dog Days, my favorite pastimes are even better with my pets by my side. But sometimes it's hard to tell if the dogs actually like certain activities. My Border Collie, Scuttle, isn't normally a big fan of water, but I wanted to take her kayaking with me. I spent weeks getting her used to anything that would simulate aspects of kayaking, such as balancing on an inflatable exercise ball. So far I've taken her three times, and while she loves hanging out with me, and watching everything going on on the water, it's hard to tell if she actually enjoys being on the kayak or not. I try to pay close attention to her body language, but only Scuttle would know for sure!
Besides evaluating whether our dogs like participating in certain activities, it's also important to weigh all of the safety risks. I don't know if Riley likes skydiving, but he can't decide that the risks of jumping from a plane is worth the enjoyment. This is where I really start to disagree with taking a dog on this type of activity, though I realize risk is fairly relative (I'm thinking Nathan, Riley's human counterpart who has completed over 400 jumps, would not consider skydiving as risky as I do!). We bear a responsibility to make this decision on behalf of our pets, so it's not one that I would take lightly.
How do you decide what activities to share with your dogs? Do you think we tend to over include them?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study looks at stress behavior associated with different training methods.
September 20 2014
A study published earlier this month showed that shock collars can lead to an increase in stress behaviors in dogs. This may seem like stating the obvious, but these type of training devices continue to be popular despite the risks. The research by the University of Lincoln was commissioned by the U.K.'s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to provide scientific evidence on which to base their animal welfare policy (pretty cool!).
The study was made up of 63 dogs that were identified as having poor recall skills and related problems, such as attacking livestock, a main reason for the shock collar's use in the U.K. The canine subjects were divided into three groups: Group A used a shock collar under the direction of trainers nominated by the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA). Groups B and C trained without a shock collar. One group under the direction of the same ECMA trainers and the other with trainers from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a group committed to reinforcement based methods.
The trainers worked with each dog for two 15-minute sessions a day, for five days. The interactions were videotaped to analyze behavior, and saliva and urine samples were collected to measure cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress).
The researchers found that the dogs in the shock collar group showed significantly more stress behaviors, such as tense body language, yawning, and disengaging with the environment. Although a smaller preliminary study found higher cortisol levels associated with the shock collar, there wasn't a significant difference in cortisol levels in the larger research.
Furthermore, following the five days of training, 92 percent of owners reported improvements in their dog's behavior. There was no significant difference in reported efficacy across the three groups.
Some people say that there are certain behaviors, like a reliable recall, that can't be taught without a shock collar. And that is simply not true. I've seen people train rock solid recalls using only reinforcement based methods. It's nice to have this scientific research to back up that claim. I was also impressed that the U.K. government commissioned this research to inform their policy.
Of course training using reinforcement based methods doesn't come without dedication. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts in dog training! However, a key learning from this study is around the consistency in results across groups (as a side note, while results seemed consistent in the short term, I believe that punishment tools, like shock collars, can often develop unintended consequences in the long term). The short training sessions repeated every day was the primary diver for getting results. Even if you only train for five minutes a day, if you stick to it, you'll see progress in your training challenges.
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.
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