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JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Modern Day Rat Catchers
NYC dogs search for rodents in their spare time

Walking around New York City, you see a wide range of dog breeds. While they all play the role of loyal companion, few get to partake in what they were originally bred to do. A group of urban terriers is changing that by taking advantage of the city's plentiful rodents to exercise their instincts.

Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS), organized by New Jersey breeder Richard Reynolds, has been hunting for rodents every week in downtown Manhattan for over a decade.

The group congregates in a rat infested alley about an hour after sunset. The dogs include two Border Terriers, a wire-haired Dachshund, a Jack Russell Terrier/Australian Cattle Dog mix, a Patterdale Terrier, and a Feist.

The dogs often work together as a team. One will bark when they locate a rat, another leaps at the rodent, and another lunges to catch the prey as it tries to get away.

The pups are trained to kill the rat (usually by shaking) and bring it back to someone on the human side of the team. It's not unusual for the them to kill 13 rats in a half hour.

I would be worried about the dogs getting sick from the wild animals, but Richard says that no member of the team has ever fallen ill, after all this is what they were bred to do.

There are references to rat catchers working with terriers and ferrets as far back as 1851, but most people today rely on traps and poison.  Modern rat catching has become more of a hobby.

This year the American Kennel Club started recognizing titles from the sport of barn hunt, where dogs sniff around a course and indicate where they smell a rat concealed in a container.

I love to see new dog sports that take advantage of our pups' natural talents.  RATS and barn hunt provide another way to bond with our dogs while having fun... and in the case of RATS, removing a few more rodents from the streets of New York.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sharing Microbes
Study looks at the microbial connection we have with our pets

New research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows that we are more connected to our dogs than we think!

The study published earlier this month looked at microbes and the ways they're transferred between family members, both human and canine. Previous research suggests that microbe sharing is linked to living together, but studies have only looked at humans. Professor Rob Knight, the lead on the University of Colorado study, wanted to include dogs in his research. "Since so many people consider their pets truly a part of the family, it seemed appropriate to include them in a study involving family structure."

Professor Knight and his team sampled 159 people and 36 dogs in 60 families from their tongue, forehead, palms/paws, and fecal sample with the ultimate goal of working towards disease prevention and better treatments.

Interestingly (and not surprising to animal lovers) the team detected a strong link between people and their pets. The microbial connection appeared to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and children. Also, people shared more skin bacteria with their spouse if they had a dog.

We have about 100 trillion microbes in and on our body, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For example, some scientists believe that children who grow up with a lack of exposure to bacteria and microorganisms may be more prone to getting sick. Many microbes have co-evolved with people to be beneficial.

Curious what microbes you and your dog are carrying? Professor Knight is also involved in the related American Gut project, a crowdfunded effort that allows people to learn more about their own microbes, as well as their dog's. The results from a kit will allow you to compare the microbes in your gut to thousands of other people.  Not only will you learn more about yourself and your family, the data will also be shared with scientists for research.

The microbes living in our body can be affected by diet and other lifestyle decisions, having a significant impact on overall health. Scientists hope to one day develop biomarkers that would predict gut health based on a spit sample, hand swab, or even by a plaque sample from your teeth.

I loved what Professor Knight said about including pets in any research related to family structure. Hopefully more scientists will take note!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Housebreaking Human Babies
Parents take a page from potty training dogs

Housebreaking is by far the most popular dog training question I get asked. Many consider it the most important skill for a puppy to learn since so many dogs are abandoned over problems in this area. While housebreaking requires patience and a lot of consistency, it's really quite simple to teach. And most dog lovers will say that walking their pup is much better than having to clean a litter box or deal with dirty diapers!

Now some parents are adopting a new potty training method called "elimination communication" or EC that will sound very familiar to dog people. EC teaches parents to respond to behavior that indicates when a baby has to go to the bathroom instead of relying on a diaper. When a parent sees that their infant has to go, they'll position them over an open-cloth diaper, toilet, sink, or even a secluded area outside.

Parents will also start making a noise, often a "ssss" or grunt sound, when the baby is relieving themselves, eventually forming an association that allows the parent to use the sound as a cue.  

Some people were first attracted to EC because of a diaper rash problem, while others like becoming more attuned to their baby's behavior and needs. Instead of actively encouraging infants to ignore elimination, EC attempts to teach the correct behavior from the beginning (sound familiar dog people?!). One of the challenges, like in housebreaking dogs, is learning to accurately read the child’s behavior indicating that they have to go.

Recently at an EC gathering in New York City, Pardis Partow, shared a funny observation that when her son, Parker, has an accident on the way to the bathroom, her dog will shoot her a look as if to say, "This isn't fair. Why can he do that?"

Perhaps human and canine parents can learn some potty training lessons from each other!

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Wheelchair for a Tiny Pup
Bollman Tech students help a Chihuahua to run

Last July a Chihuahua named BeeBee was born without any shoulder blades, making it difficult to walk. This caused BeeBee to get picked on by other dogs at home, so Denise Steininger brought the puppy with her to work at a local nursing home. BeeBee may have been there for her own good, but the Chihuahua was soon bringing joy and inspiration to all the residents at the Life at Alpine Living Center in Thornton, Colorado.

One resident said, "if [BeeBee] can get through what she’s going through, I know I can."

BeeBee had a bubbly personality, but was still having trouble walking around the nursing home. A co-worker suggested that Denise speak with the Bollman Technical Education Center, where her son was an engineering student, about a possible solution. It turns out the instructors thought BeeBee’s dilemma would be a great project for their students.

Hunter Freed, Justin Erickson, and Kyle Cary immediately volunteered to take on the challenge as a community service project. The three students filmed BeeBee to study how she walked and then worked together to design a wheelchair for the tiny pup.

It only took a half hour for BeeBee to learn to move in their creation. With the wheelchair, BeeBee can now run around with remarkable speed.

Denise plans to get BeeBee certified as a therapy dog so she can officially “work” at the nursing home.

It’s amazing how much mobility BeeBee has with her wheelchair. All thanks to three students who now have an impressive project under their belt!  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Swept Away at the Beach
Experts say not to jump in after dogs in the ocean

Although none of us are big on swimming, my dogs and I love running around on the beach. There's something about the cool breeze and sand that makes it a great natural playground.  

Back in November, I read about a couple and their son who drowned trying to save their dog at Big Lagoon beach in Northern California. The dog was chasing a thrown stick and was sucked into the ocean by a massive wave. The boy instinctively went in after the pup, followed by his father and mother. Tragically all three of them didn't make it out, while the dog eventually emerged from the water.

It seemed like a tragic freak accident--one that terrifies me because my pups and I are not good swimmers--but it turns out that five people have died in attempted dog rescues since November in Northern California alone.

Because of this, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela Boehland has teamed up with the National Park Service and the East Bay SPCA on a campaign to keep people from going after their pets in the water.

To any dog lover it seems absolutely crazy not to attempt a rescue, but Dr. Lynn Miller, DVM says there are many reasons to stay on solid ground.  First, the average dog is a better swimmer than the average human.  Second, the canine body is better designed to float—their heads are above water, they have a low center of gravity, they have four legs for propulsion, their lungs have a higher capacity than human's, and their fur keeps them warm in cold water. Some breeds even have waterproof undercoats or webbed feet.

Additionally, animals are single-minded, focused on finding safety. While dogs will go with the flow of the water until they're rescued, humans often panic and exhaust themselves before help arrives. And finally, even if you do reach your pup, it can be difficult to carry them back safely in the water.  

Pamela's campaign recommends leaving ocean rescues to the professionals. And, as in the Big Lagoon case, many times the dogs are able to make it out of the water on their own.

If your dog does end up in the ocean, East Bay SPCA Director Allison Lindquist recommends following your pup along the shoreline while calling their name. This can help orient them to land while help is on the way. If you end up in the water, swim parallel to the waves and remain calm.

Dr. Miller also says that it's essential for some breeds to wear life vests at the beach. These include breeds with breathing issues, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, breeds with short legs, such as Dachshunds and Corgis, and toy dogs, like Chihuahuas.

I still don't know what I would do if one of my dogs were swept into the ocean. It would be hard to fight the instinct to jump in.  However, these are good points to remember as the weather gets warmer and the beaches become more enticing!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Gym for People and Pups
Chicago club holds exercise classes for dog lovers

I've made many exercise pacts with friends over the years and all of them eventually succumbed to busy schedules and sheer laziness. But I have two exercise partners who are always up for a run or hike—my dogs Scuttle and Nemo.

After I was coming off of an injury that left me sidelined for months, Nemo was the one who started running with me again, a little at a time. It didn't matter if I had to run after work in the dark or on my day off in the pouring rain, Nemo would happily join me every time. We eventually went on to complete the Iams Doggy Dash at the New York City Triathlon. I couldn't ask for a better exercise partner!

20 years ago, Tricia Montgomery and her Basset Hound, Louie, were both diagnosed with obesity. It gave her the wake up call she needed to start exercising regularly with Louie. Tricia eventually lost 135 pounds and Louie lived a long, healthy life. The experience inspired Tricia to create the K9 Fit Club in Chicago last year.

The Club's classes feature workouts designed to be completed alongside your dog—walking squats with the pups on leash and situps with small dogs laying on people's stomachs.

While most come for the weight loss benefits, many have found other reasons to stay. K9 Fit Club member Cindy Rodkin lost 57 pounds, but she reports that her pup, Khaki, has become healthier and better behaved since starting class.

Erin Harvey, a member who has Down syndrome, gained newfound independence in and outside of the gym thanks to the bond she developed with her dog, Goldie, at K9 Fit Club.

Obesity is a serious problem for humans and canines The K9 Fit Club classes are a great way to get people to exercise with their pets while developing a lasting relationship apart from burning calories.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Socializing Puppies
Study looks at parvo risk for young dogs in socialization classes

When I get a new puppy, my main focus is on introducing them to as many dogs, people, and environments as I can. Puppies that are not socialized during the first three months of life are more likely to be fearful and possibly aggressive later in life.

Socialization is clearly important, but I always meet people who think they have to wait until their puppies receive their final vaccines at four months to take them outside of the house. While the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior recommends that healthy puppies can start classes as early as seven to eight weeks of age, not all veterinarians agree.

The University of California Davis decided to look at this issue, more specifically at the parvo risk puppies bear by attending socialization classes before their full vaccination schedule is complete.

Of the 1,000 puppies included in the study, none of the dogs that attended socialization classes were diagnosed with parvovirus infection. All of the fourteen puppies in the study that were diagnosed with parvo did not attend classes.

Not only does socialization influence behavior, but retention rates are higher in homes with dogs that participated in classes. However, people continue to get mixed messages on when it's safe to socialize their puppies.

UC Davis' study found that the majority of dogs, 86.6 percent, did not attend socialization classes. This underscores the importance of doing more research in this area and getting a uniform socialization recommendation for veterinarians to advise their clients.

What age did you start socializing your pup?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Rocky to the Rescue
Lab mix saves a girl from icy waters

Adam Shaw and his Labrador Retriever-Husky mix, Rocky, were walking by the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, Canada last weekend when they heard two screaming girls. The young sisters, Krymzen and Samara, were playing on a sled and ended up on thin ice. When they tried to get back on land, the ice broke and the girls ended up in the freezing cold water.

A father himself, Adam raced down to the shore with Rocky and pulled Krymzen out of the water, but the current quickly carried Samara downstream and out of reach. Samara was having difficulty moving her arms and legs because of the cold temperatures and started bobbing in and out of the water.

Adam tried throwing Rocky's leash to her, but it didn't reach. As he got closer the ice gave way, sending Adam and Rocky into the water. Rocky was able to get back onto the ice and Adam used the leash to pull himself back up. Seeing that Rocky was more nimble in the water, Adam asked Rocky to go back. The brave pup immediately jumped in and swam right to Samara. Once the girl got both hands on Rocky's leash, Adam called the dog back, and all were pulled back to shore.

Doctors say that another two minutes in the cold water could have cost Samara her life. Thanks to Adam and Rocky, both sisters are now safe at home.

This week the local fire station honored the heroic duo, giving Adam a fireman's hat and Rocky a giant rawhide bone that the pup grabbed from Fire Chief Ken Block before they could take off the plastic wrapper.

All in a day's work!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Finding Maddox
CA woman embarks on a mission to find her lost dog

Fortunately I've never had a missing pet, but just the thought of not knowing where my dogs are makes me feel a little bit panicked.

Jackie Vestal's Minature Pincher, Maddox, has been missing since Christmas Eve and she's been on a desperate search for the 7-year old pup ever since.

The Los Angeles woman rarely left home without Maddox, but she had to leave him with a friend in Oklahoma City while spending time in Texas during the holidays. Maddox was only there for a day when he bolted from the house, perhaps looking for Jackie. That night Jackie and her husband made the three-hour drive back to Oklahoma City to begin the search.

Jackie did the usual driving around the neighborhood and posting hundreds of fliers around the neighborhood. She also issued a pet amber alert that sent pre-recorded messages to vet offices, neighbors, and shelters, and made hundred of fliers to post around the neighborhood. Calls came trickling in, but none of them were the right dog.

Jackie knew that she had to get creative if she wanted to find Maddox.  She alerted the media, rented billboard space, and appeared on three different local television stations and a local dog talk show.

In addition, she hired a pet detective who flew in from Nebraska with scent dogs to try to track Maddox's scent. They're also using a method called Attract and Capture, a process that takes time but won't scare Maddox off. Jackie set up 13 feeding stations and a couple of deer cameras. For the stations without cameras, there is sand to track footprints. As soon as they see Maddox on camera and know he keeps coming back to the same feeding station, they'll set up a trap.

It's been almost 100 days since Maddox went missing and Jackie has taken a leave of absence from her job in Los Angeles to focus on finding him in Oklahoma City.

In the process of looking for Maddox, Jackie has also helped a lot of other dogs. There have been a lot of false leads and in following them, she's found a lot of dogs that aren't Maddox. Jackie has helped get 13 dogs off the street and into foster homes or back at home with their families.

Not everyone has Jackie's means to take time off from work or buy a billboard, but I think all pet lovers can relate to wanting to do everything possible to locate a lost loved one. Have you had any unconventional methods work to bring a lost dog home?

If you'd like to help out in the search for Maddox, visit Jackie's Facebook page, Twitter feed, or web site.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Understanding the Human Mind
Study looks at whether dogs understand our point of view

My Sheltie, Nemo, is a master food thief. He seems to wait for the perfect moment to make his move. Given how successful Nemo is, I think he's learned to read me very well over the years. But can dogs really understand what's going through our head? Most pet lovers, including myself, would say yes.

Dr. Juliane Kaminski of the University of Portsmouth decided to explore this question. Her latest study begins to look at whether dogs have a flexible understanding of the human mind. And it turns out that canines are more capable of understanding our point of view than previously thought.

In Dr. Kaminski's study, people and their dogs were put in a room with food that they were not allowed to eat. Then the researchers varied the amount of light in the room and recorded whether or not the dogs stole the food. The scientists found that the dogs were four times more likely to steal food when the lights were turned off. This suggests that our pets consider what we can or cannot see, meaning that they might have an understanding of the human perspective.  

It's always been assumed that only primates have a truly flexible understanding of the mind and others' minds. Dr. Kaminski's findings are an important step to learning a dog's ability to understand how we think and behave. I can't wait to see more research in this area.  

 

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