JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
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.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Today Show sparks a heated debate on the AKC's kennel inspections
May 8 2013
The internet has been buzzing about the Today Show's segment on the American Kennel Club's negligent inspection of dog breeders. I've since seen the topic fiercely debated among my dog friends on Facebook and on mailing lists. My Sheltie, Nemo, is from an amazing AKC registered breeder and we participate in AKC sanctioned sports like rally obedience and agility. In many regards, the AKC is doing a lot of good for dogs. They raise millions of dollars each year for canine health research and educational programs, their affiliated clubs run many of the breed rescue organizations referenced by the Today Show, and they promote relationship building activities like dog sports and the Canine Good Citizen test.
But since people think they can rely on the AKC "stamp of approval" for picking a breeder, their inadequate kennel inspection program is particularly troublesome. The AKC only has nine inspectors for the entire country, so it's inevitable that some breeders will fall through the cracks. And there have been reports of breeders who passed the AKC inspection, but were found by local law enforcement to be raising animals in deplorable conditions.
Given that the AKC is in the business of profiting from puppy registrations, they're clearly not in the best position to objectively evaluate and regulate breeders, particularly large operations who are generating a lot of income for the AKC.
This conflict of interest is also evident in the fact that the AKC has a history of opposing legislation that could potentially regulate puppy mills. I agree that a small kennel can have inhumane conditions and a large kennel can be well maintained, but in general someone with less animals will be able to devote more attention and resources.
Besides the high cost of properly caring for dogs, it takes a lot of time to make sure puppies are well socialized. My breeder played sound tapes, took the puppies to experience different people and environments, and brought them along on trips to get them used to the car. This is hard work and would be almost impossible to do if you had multiple litters born at around the same time, which most large kennels do.
Dogs are members of our family, not a product you buy off of a shelf. You can't and shouldn't rely on a "stamp of approval." It's up to you to determine if a breeder is responsible. Even if the AKC significantly improved their inspection program, I would still extensively do my research on any breeder before getting a puppy from them.
What do you think about the AKC's inspection program?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Is dog food having a negative impact on the earth?
May 3 2013
Being "green" has become quite trendy in recent years and it seems like every industry is jumping on the bandwagon. For pets, I've seen biodegradable waste bags, organic toys, and beds made of recycled plastic bottles. But beyond the novelty products, some scientists believe that pet food is where we can make the biggest difference in terms of the impact we have on the earth.
When University of Illinois professor Kelly Swanson was approached by the Nutro company to look at sustainability in the pet food industry, he thought it would be a good opportunity to collaborate with their scientists on an interesting emerging topic (they define sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future).
"If you just change the diet a little," explains Kelly, "the financial and environmental costs associated with it are quite different."
For example, animal protein can be replaced by plant protein, which requires significantly less water and energy to produce. Producing soy based proteins, a common pet food ingredient, is estimated to be 6 to 20 times more efficient in terms of fossil fuel requirements than an animal protein.
On the positive side, pet food manufacturers already make use of secondary products from the human food chain, ingredients that would otherwise be wasted.
Pet food is a $55 billion industry, so adopting sustainable practices could have a significant global impact. The effects will only increase as pet ownership continues to become more popular in Eastern Europe, areas of Latin America, and the China-Pacific region.
This model could be used in response to those who believe we should not keep pets at all, like a controversial study published in 2009 that equated the environmental cost of keeping a mid-sized dog with driving an SUV 12,500 miles a year.
Eating less meat is one personal goal of mine for both health reasons and, as Kelly pointed out, because meat production is so taxing on the environment. However, there has been much information about the potential dangers of soy protein in canine diets, so I think there's still much research to do in this area. But Kelly's study is a good starting point in thinking about how we minimize environmental impact while making sure we have the healthiest diet for our dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NYC dogs search for rodents in their spare time
May 2 2013
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
Study looks at the microbial connection we have with our pets
April 24 2013
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
Parents take a page from potty training dogs
April 19 2013
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
Bollman Tech students help a Chihuahua to run
April 15 2013
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
Experts say not to jump in after dogs in the ocean
April 12 2013
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
Chicago club holds exercise classes for dog lovers
April 8 2013
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
Study looks at parvo risk for young dogs in socialization classes
April 4 2013
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?
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