JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Kabang is celebrated for saving the lives of two girls in the Philippines
June 12 2013
Last week one brave dog returned home to a hero's welcome in Zamboanga, a city in the southern Philippines, after a whirlwind year in America. About a year and a half ago, Kabang jumped in front of a motorcycle to save the lives of two young girls. Dina Bunggal, who lives with the mixed breed pup, and her cousin, Princess Diansing, were playing with the dog when a motorcycle headed their way showed no signs of stopping. Kabang threw herself in front of the moving vehicle, protecting the girls and loosing half of her face in the process. Local authorities advised Dina's father, Rudy, to euthanize Kabang, but he refused. However, the severe injuries were not treatable in the Philippines. After word got out about Kabang's story, a nurse from Buffalo, N.Y. spearheaded a fundraising campaign to bring the pup to the United States for treatment. Care for Kabang raised over $20,000 from 22 countries to cover the cost of surgeries, visas, and airfare. Veterinarian Anton Lim accompanied Kabang to California where she spent seven months in the the University of California Davis veterinary hospital. They were unable to reconstruct her snout and jaw, but the hospital was able to successfully care for her extensive wounds. Kabang's treatment was complicated by heartworm, which had to be treated before the wound on her face was closed, and a cancerous tumor, which is now in remission after six weeks of chemotherapy.
Kabang finally returned home to her family last week, riding in a motorcade through streets filled with local fans. The final destination was Municipal Hall, where Mayor Celso Lobregat bestowed the title "Pride of Zamboanga" on the pup.The medical side of Kabang's journey alone is pretty amazing. Her veterinarians say that she remained upbeat throughout all of the endless treatments. But the best part of Kabang's story is the loyalty--how a little mutt saved the lives of two girls and how the world came together to get Kabang the treatment she needed.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Research looks at the effects of pets on former drug abusers
June 7 2013
Dog lovers know that our pets can cheer us up on a bad day, but new research shows that they may have a significant effect on our brain chemistry.
Lindsay Ellsworth, a doctoral candidate at the Washington State University, is using shelter dogs as part of a mood-boosting therapy program for teenagers recovering from drug and alcohol abuse at Excelsior Youth Center in Spokane, Wash.
To study the program's effects, Lindsay separates participants into two groups once a week for one hour. One group plays games, such as billiards or basketball and the second group interacts with shelter dogs.
Before and after the activity, participants identify 60 mood descriptors as part of a emotion scale called PANAS-X. Those who spent time with the dogs showed an increase in joviality, positive affect (a psychology term for the experience of feeling or emotion), attentiveness, and serenity. They also showed a decrease in overall sadness. This is important because many of the teens are also being treated for ADHD, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Even Lindsay was surprised at how calm the teens were around the dogs and at the overall decrease in outbursts and hyperactivity. She hypothesizes that the feel good chemical dopamine (the same chemical released when we clicker train our pups!) is released in the teens' brains as they anticipate the canine interaction and that social companionship with the pups may also stimulate opiod release, a chemical linked to calming and anti-depression.
Lindsay is hopeful that dogs could naturally help restore the normal function of these critical chemical messengers after the brain's chemistry has been altered through drug use.
Starting this summer, Lindsay will be expanding her research to look at how dogs can influence the teens' engagement in group therapy and cooperation in structured activities.
The prospect of a natural, low-cost behavior intervention is pretty exciting and even cooler that it gives shelter pups a job. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Lindsay's upcoming research!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pesky bugs are now a year round problem
June 5 2013
Ticks drive me crazy, especially since I spend so much time hiking in wooded areas. And these pesky creatures are persistent even outside of prime conditions. I try to avoid using chemical-laden tick preventatives year round, figuring the pups are safe in the winter, but this year one of my friends spotted a tick on her dog in January! Unfortunately this problem is only getting worse because tick populations have exploded in the past ten years--meaning more ticks and more affected areas (did you know that ticks can even be found in Antarctica?!). Scientists attribute this increase to mild winters, suburbanization (bringing people and wildlife in closer proximity), an increase in white-tailed deer, migratory birds that carry ticks to new areas, a movement towards preserving open space and trees, and the use of fewer insecticides. These factors have also made my habit of skipping winter tick preventatives a bit misguided. Dr. Michael Dryden, a veterinary parasitology professor at Kansas State University, says that it has to be at least ten degrees Fahrenheit for some time to kill a tick. If the temperature drops overnight then warms back up, that doesn't do the trick. Ticks can also survive under a blanket of snow, which actually provides shelter (go figure!). Additionally there are some species, like the Black-Legged Tick, found on the East Coast of the United States, that actually thrives in the winter months from October to February. In addition to being vigilant year round, a recent study out of Vienna's Institute of Parasitology discovered a significant different in the effectiveness of acaricide anti-tick treatments (a category that includes Frontline and K9 Advantix) in practice versus in the laboratory. They suspect this is due to people not applying the product consistently or according to the directions. Veterinarians often see new tick species and diseases before medical doctors, since dogs spend so much time outdoors, making our pups important to both human and canine health initiatives. After reading these studies, I'll certainly be checking for ticks and applying Frontline Plus no matter how cold it is outside!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The importance of planning for outdoor excursions with your pup
May 31 2013
Over Memorial Day weekend, my Border Collie Scuttle and I headed up to New Hampshire's White Mountains to camp and hike. For me, there's nothing better than spending time outdoors with my dogs, especially if it's somewhere they can run off leash (after safety, this is the number two reason I train a good recall!). We've blogged about hiking with dogs before, but the White Mountains got me thinking about the importance of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I've never hiked in this region before, but the fickle weather and challenging terrain is legendary. I always do trail research before I head to a new area with my dogs, but I knew this trip would require extra preparation. I started with online research, reading about dogs who had hiked the trails near our campsite and getting route recommendations from people who had posted on trail condition web sites (New England Trail Conditions even has a notes section for dog related comments). I quickly learned that the White Mountains are particularly tough on paw pads because of sharp rocks above the treeline. I knew Scuttle had the stamina to complete a summit attempt, but I took a few precautions based on what I'd heard from other hikers. I brought extra first aid supplies (Musher's Secret to protect her paws, dog boots in case of a torn pad, and septic powder for torn nails), plenty of layers (a doggy rain coat and down jacket in case of bad weather), and also made a plan for getting Scuttle down the mountain in an emergency, something I've never thought about before. You might remember Missy, the German Shepherd abandoned with torn pads at the top of a Colorado mountain. Weather conditions can quickly change at high elevations and an injured dog can be difficult to get down. Park rangers are often not allowed or don't have the resources to rescue animals. Inspired by Missy, I brought a backpack large enough to carry Scuttle down the mountain if she were to get injured. We practiced the pack riding before the trip, much to Scuttle's chagrin (if I had more time, I would've properly introduced her to the bag more slowly with shaping and positive reinforcement). In the end, we had a fun weekend and Scuttle completed her first 4,000+ foot mountain (one of New Hampshire's 48 4,000 footers) without any hiccups. Believe it or not, there was even snow at the top of the mountain, proving once again that good preparation is key. When we're hiking, the look of joy on Scuttle's face is priceless, but we have to remember that it's our choice to bring our pups with us on the trail. Scuttle would follow me to Antarctica if she could, so I know it's my responsibility to do research, make educated decisions, and prepare for the worst!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Austrailian man searches for two months on foot for his lost pup
May 29 2013
There are many stories about loyal dogs, but an elderly Australian man searching for his pup reminded me that what makes the human-canine bond so special is the love on both sides of the relationship. Back in March, Brian Railton's Kelpie-Border Collie mix, Benji, ran away from home after being spooked by a storm. Since then Brian, 70 years old and battling Parkinson's disease, walked over 180 miles looking for Benji. Brian hung posters, searched the neighborhood, and made a daily trek from his home to the local shelter to check for the lost pup. After more than two months had passed, Brian's family was just about to give up when they got the call that Benji had been found. The dog had been going to a nearby nursing home looking for food when he was spotted. When Brian and Benji were reunited, they celebrated with ice cream at McDonalds. Brian's journey may sound like a lot, particularly at age 70, but it turns out Benji has been keeping Brian in good health. The pair regularly walks up to eight miles a day to relieve Brian's shaking from Parkinson's Disease. Benji also waits at the bus stop for Brian when he runs errands. Brian and Benji have been together since the pup was eight weeks old and you can tell they've developed a deep bond. Here's to many more years together!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The seven to one ratio is a thing of the past
May 23 2013
For the longest time, it was thought that seven human years was roughly equivalent to one dog year. The ratio becomes problematic when you think about pups that live to 18 years of age or older, since no human is known to have lived beyond 122.
Dog people know that, just as there is great variation between breeds, there is a wide spectrum of typical life expectancy. Body size is generally correlated with life span in mammals (so, for example, a larger mammal, like an elephant, will have a longer life expectancy than a smaller mammal, such as a mouse). But what's interesting is that the opposite holds true for dogs--even though small dogs reach maturity faster than big dogs.
Basically this means small dogs age more quickly than big dogs in the first couple of years, but slower once they hit adulthood. So at two human years, a small dog is older than a big dog, but younger at five years.
According to Kate Creevy, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Georgia, there aren't any other species that have the same degree of size diversity within a single species as dogs do. This could be the key to the ageing phenomenon. Kate believes that if we genetically engineered a cow weighing 20 pounds at adulthood and another weighing 2,000 pounds, the same thing could happen.
But why does size matter? One of Kate's colleagues, Daniel Promislow, a professor of genetics, believes that the aging phenomenon is linked to cancer. Large dogs have a 50% chance of dying of cancer while small dogs only have a 10% chance.
No one seems to know where the seven dog years to one human year equation came about. It first appeared in math text books in the 1960's asking children to calculate a dog's age using the 7:1 ratio.
If you did factor the varying rates of ageing and differing life expediencies, a more accurate estimate across all breeds would be six dog years to one human year. So the seven years wasn't far off.
However, scientists have come up with a more accurate way to calculate your dog's age, which takes size and breed into consideration:
Years Per Human Year - For the First Two Years:
Years Per Human Year - For Three + Years
Small: Dachshund (Miniature) 4.32, Border Terrier 4.47, Lhasa Apso 4.49, Shih Tzu 4.78, Whippet Medium 5.30, Chihuahua 4.87, West Highland White Terrier 4.96, Beagle 5.20, Miniature Schnauzer 5.46, Spaniel (Cocker) 5.55, Cavalier King Charles 5.77, Pug 5.95, French Bulldog 7.65
Medium: Spaniel 5.46, Retriever (Labrador) 5.74, Golden Retriever 5.74, Staffordshire Bull Terrier 5.33, Bulldog 13.42
Large: German Shepherd 7.84, Boxer 8.90
You can see how the ratio varies significantly after the first two years. According to this model, a Bulldog will age an average of 13 years per human year whereas a Miniature Dachshund only ages about four years.
Unfortunately they only calculated the 3+ year ratio for a handful of dog breeds, but this means that my 1-year old Border Collie, Scuttle, is about 10.5 in human years!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Official web site created to reunite pets with their families
May 21 2013
Coming out of yesterday's tornadoes in Oklahoma, there are both tragic animal stories, like the estimated 75 to 100 horses killed at Orr Family Farm, and there are also tales of hope, like the dog rescued from rubble and reunited with her "mom" during a television interview.
It seems like natural disasters are becoming all too common lately. The good thing is that people are becoming more organized and better prepared to face these emergency situations.
During past emergencies, it was common to see several web sites and Facebook pages pop up to reunite lost pets with their families. While they all had good intentions, information became scattered. This time, the Oklahoma Media Group teamed up with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division, The Bella Foundation SPCA, and the Central Oklahoma Humane Society to create an official centralized database of lost and found pets for the cities of Oklahoma City and Moore.
People looking for their pets can post a notice in the Lost Pets section, while those who have found an animal (whether you're an individual or work for a veterinary hospital or shelter) can post in the Found Pets section. Anyone can look through both listings on the web site to make matches. Volunteers will also be assisting to connect people with their pets.
The organizations behind the web site are also offering foster care for people who are unable to care for the pets at the moment.
Help us spread the word about this site so more people can be reunited with their pets.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New legislation honors shelter pets and requires cops to learn canine behavior
May 16 2013
Earlier this week Governor John Hickenlooper signed two bills that show how much Colorado cares about their animals. One piece of legislation made shelter dogs and cats Colorado's official state pet and the other requires police officers to undergo dog behavior training. The governor's adopted pup, Sky, was in attendance for the occasion (I'd love it if Sky weren't wearing what appears to be a prong collar, but that's a whole other topic of discussion).
Colorado is the twelfth state to designate a state pet (their state animal is the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep), but the only one that did not give the honor to a purebred dog. The idea was proposed by students as a part of a project to teach them about the legislative process (very cool!). If you can believe it, the bill did not pass without controversy. Lobbyists for purebred dogs and pet stores opposed the state pet, and one person even testified that the bill discriminated against birds and reptiles.
The canine behavior training for police was created in response to high-profile cases of cops shooting dogs and is thought to be the first of it's kind across the country. Despite being introduced in what has been a combative legislative term, all 100 lawmakers in the Colorado Legislature supported the bill. One of the sponsors, Republican Sen. David Balmer, said, "This is a bipartisan day for dogs."
I think Colorado just went up in the rankings for most dog friendly state!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Russian pups adapt to the changing times
May 15 2013
Dogs are amazing at adapting alongside humans. It's thought that canines were domesticated after they learned to scavenge for food and became useful companions to people. Today dogs adjust to almost anything we throw their way. I see big pups happily living in tiny Manhattan apartments and herding breeds channeling their energy into activities with no sheep in sight, like agility and obedience.
Dogs in Moscow have impressively adapted to the city's changing culture. During commuting time it's not uncommon to see both two and four legged commuters on the trains--the humans headed to work and the canines in search of food. There are about 30,000 stray dogs wandering the streets of Moscow, many who started taking the train after the Soviet collapse in the 1990s. Scientists believe that this behavior started as people moved industry complexes, which homeless dogs used as shelters, out of the city and into the suburbs. The dogs moved but learned to ride the subway since the city has the best food scavenging opportunities.
Dogs used to be banned on Moscow's trains, but they quickly captured the hearts of riders. Now many commuters give up their seat for tired dogs and even build simple shelters to help the pups manage the cold winters.
The dogs have gotten pretty good at reading people and don't always have to scavenge or even beg for food. Dr. Andrei Poiarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute says that the pups know exactly what they're doing. Sometimes they'll creep up behind someone and bark, scaring a person into dropping their food. Othertimes they'll play to someone's soft side and rest their head on a child's knee.
Andrei says that the dogs often work together to get off at the correct stop, memorizing how long the train ride is. Sometimes, just like humans, they fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop! The dogs also seem to ride the subway for fun, darting on the train at the last second and dodging the closing doors. These pups are really making the most of the trains in Moscow!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Comparing behavior of pet store and breeder dogs
May 9 2013
Good dog breeders go through great lengths to ensure that their puppies are well socialized, introducing them to a variety of people, environments, and experiences. On the other end of the spectrum, puppy mill dogs, the source of most pet store animals, are raised in disgusting conditions and barely get any human attention, let alone anything close to proper socialization. It's not hard to imagine how many of these poor pups go on to develop behavioral problems later in life.
While most of the information we have about these differences is largely anecdotal, a new study has shown significant behavior trends related to where dogs were born and raised. A veterinarian from Best Friends Animal Society and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at 413 dogs from pet stores and 5657 dogs from breeders to look at differences in behavioral characteristics. All were purebred and were obtained as puppies at approximately the same age.
Behavioral characteristics were measures using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), one of the most carefully validated questionnaires of its kind. It looks at a variety of canine behavior like trainability, excitability, sociability, fearfulness, and expressions of aggressiveness.
The results were not so good for pet store pups. Overall researchers found that dogs purchased from pet stores appeared to be less psychologically sound. On 12 out of 14 behavioral subscales, the pet store dogs showed significantly less desirable behaviors, and in no category did the pet store dogs have a better score.
The most striking findings were related to aggressive and fearful behavior. For example, intact pet store dogs were three times more likely to display aggressive behaviors towards people than intact dogs from breeders. In addition, pet store dogs were more likely to show aggressive behaviors towards other dogs, fearfulness, separation related problems, and touch sensitivity.
Pet store dogs were also more likely to exhibit other problem behaviors, such as running away, mounting, and going to the bathroom in the house.
The researchers hypothesize that these behavioral problems are due to the lack of socialization and human contact at puppy mills. It may seem obvious to anyone who is knowledgeable about canine development, but this study is important for creating greater awareness about socialization needs and the cruelty of puppy mills.
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