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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Puppies for Rent
College student makes dogs available to fill a void

I missed my pets so much when I was in college, especially when I was stressed out during exam time.  After graduation, I volunteered with Nemo and other therapy dogs to visit students at a local university during finals.  It always made me wish I had visiting pups to cheer me up during those stressful nights.

After seeing how many students at Bringham Young University were craving a pet fix, Jenna Miller started Puppies for Rent to fill the void.  She rescues puppies and rents them out until she finds a permanent home for them.  Jenna believes that the dogs are better off being rented out to pet lovers (and potential adopters) instead of being stuck in an animal shelter.

So far Jenna has adopted out 11 puppies that have been rental dogs.  Most of her clients are college students who can’t have a pet with their dorm lifestyle or families who don’t want to commit to the responsibility.

I certainly see the benefit of getting homeless pups out there and fulfilling people’s pet fix, but the idea of renting dogs is troublesome.  Jenna didn’t specify if renters are screened to make sure they’re responsible, but shelters take great care to make sure adopters, foster homes, and volunteers are ready to take on the responsibility of a dog, even if only for a few hours a week.  Renters should be subject to the same criteria.

Secondly dogs, especially developing puppies, crave consistency.  There can be a lot of confusion and conflicting rules if puppies are frequently rented to different people each day.

Finally, it feels like a contradiction that shelter pets, the poster children of getting people to realize that animals are a long-term commitment, are being rented for profit.

If people want to get their pet fix, there are lots of opportunities to socialize or foster dogs through your local rescue group.  When I was in college, I started an animal shelter volunteer club where we took dogs out to the park and taught them new tricks.  Not only did I get my puppy time, but I met many other animal lovers who were eager to play with homeless pets too.

What do you think about renting puppies?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Photos with Santa
Many dogs are uncomfortable with the holiday picture frenzy

I don't have children, but I consider my dogs to be my furry kids in everything from choosing the best daycare to researching safe toys. When the holidays come around, they each have a stocking hanging over the fireplace and Christmas themed collars. And for years, I took my canine crew to the pet store to get their photo taken with Santa. The holiday ritual has become so popular that I noticed my local mall's Santa's workshop now has a weekly pet night!

Santa photos are great additions to family holiday cards, but for many dogs, getting their picture taken is not fun. Getting plopped into a stranger's lap can be stressful, especially when they're wearing a funky costume. Then mix in attempting to get the animals to stay still, trying to get them to look at the camera, flashing a bright light in their eyes, and dealing with the distraction of the other pets waiting their turn.  

It's important to know what your dog is comfortable with before bringing them to a Santa photo shoot. Ask yourself if your pup is okay with:

  • New environments
  • Strange people and dogs
  • People in costumes or other strange outfits
  • Flashing lights
  • Being handled and restrained by a stranger
And remember to manage your expectations. Asking your dog to maintain a stay or to turn their attention to the camera can be difficult, particularly in a hectic environment. Observe your pup's body language and leave if they're not comfortable. If you think your dog may not enjoy a visit to Santa's workshop, consider a photo session at a private studio instead of visiting a busy pet store or mall. In my case, I started taking my own holiday pictures at home.   Remember that Santa photos are supposed to be fun for both of you!

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Teaching Dogs to Drive
New Zealand SPCA takes on the ultimate training challenge

Animal trainer, Mark Vette, set out to train the impossible, all in the name of creating positive buzz for the SPCA in South Auckland. Mark decided to showcase how intelligent shelter pets are by teaching dogs to drive a car.

The pups were chosen from a short list of candidates at the shelter. After seeing how each dog responded to targeting objects through clicker training, Mark chose Monty, a 10-month old Giant Schnauzer deemed uncontrollable, Ginny, a 1-year old Whippet Mix rescued from abuse, and Porter a 10-month old Beardie Mix found roaming the streets.

The three dogs then moved to a farm to begin intensive training. Mark and his team began teaching 10 individual behaviors, from pressing a starter button to shifting gears, that chain together to become driving a car. The vehicle used was custom made by engineers for animal drivers.

Within one week the superstar pups were putting their paws on targets shaped like parts of the car. The next week they learned to hop into the drivers seat and put their paws on the steering wheel. By week five the canine crew began to accelerate and brake on cue.

In just two months, the dogs were driving the modified car with enthusiasm (made possible with clicker training!).

It’s incredible to see all the steps leading up to training such a complex behavior. It also shows how amazing shelter pets are and that there’s no limit to what you can train a dog to do!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Nutcracker
Group raises money for therapy work through their holiday performance

If you love the popular holiday classic The Nutcracker, you have to check out the canine version being performed by 29 dogs in the Chicago-area. And these pups don’t just perform for fun, they're all volunteer therapy dogs that use the show to raise money for their work with the PAWSitive Therapy Troupe.

The Nutcracker features Gracie the Sheltie as the Sugar plum Fairy, Bailey the Shih Tzu as the Nutcracker Prince, Sam the Golden Retriever as the Mouse King, and Lily the Pug as Clara. Amazingly 12-year old Gracie is deaf, but you would never know it from her beautiful solo dance. It takes about 1,000 hours to prepare for the big performance where the dogs are clicker trained to follow hand signals in synchronized precision.    

The PAWSitive Therapy Troupe first performed the canine Nutracker back in 2000 to cheer up sick kids living with their families at a Ronald McDonald House. It was so popular that they expanded production to fundraiser shows to raise money for their therapy work. The first year they sold 800 tickets in the first couple of hours and had lines down the street. This year their shows are sold out, but you can support the cause by buying a DVD of the show on their web site.

Actors, therapy dogs... is there anything that these pups don't do?!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lab Mix Included in Restraining Order
Panzer becomes the first dog to be protected under a new law in Mass.

This summer Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed a new law that allows pets to be included in domestic violence restraining orders and it's already been put to good use.  

Just before Thanksgiving, a Labrador mix named Panzer became the first animal in Massachusetts to win protection since the new legislation passed. A Marshfield, Mass. woman filed the restraining order against her boyfriend, who had a history of abusing both the woman and Panzer. The 6-year old pup is now staying in a foster home while the woman and her son are in a domestic violence shelter. Once they find a safe place to live, Panzer will be reunited with his family.

Less than half of the United States currently has similar legislation in place. With 85 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reporting pet abuse in their family, we have to get that number up to 50.  It's critical that we protect the ones we love--both two and four legged.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Taking Cues From Humans
Dogs look to us for guidance in times of uncertainty

My new rescue, Scuttle, is the bubbliest, most energetic puppy I've ever met--until something startles her. Then she freezes or runs into the corner and hides. I've never had a dog that was quite as fearful as she is, so I was often caught off guard when she reacted to something I wasn't expecting. I think I probably froze and then went into overcompensation mode, trying to feed her treats to reverse the negative experience. As you can imagine, it doesn't sound like such a pleasant experience!

After a training buddy helped me take a step back and realize I was acting way too serious, I changed my response to help Scuttle understand that these things weren't a big deal. I've since noticed she’s much better when it comes to handling uncertainty.

It seems that our behavior really does influence how our pups act--a trait canines may have developed by evolving alongside humans over time.

A team of psychologists at the University of Milan noticed that dogs often look to people when they're uncertain about something, a behavior that's called social referencing in young kids. Children often use an adult's emotional reaction to help understand a situation that they're unsure about and use that information to guide future behavior.  

The team of researchers set out to see if dogs exhibit social referencing only in situations of uncertainty, as it appears in children. The study used an oscillating fan with flapping streamers as the object in question since it would be something most dogs hadn't seen before.

The canine subjects were then brought in a room off leash with someone from their family. If the fan was not present, the dogs typically wandered around, rarely looking back at their person. If the fan was in the room, almost all of the pups took a few steps into the room and immediately looked back at their handler, and then back at the fan.

The next part of the experiment tested how the dogs would act based on their handler's response. The people were told to deliver a message in either a positive or negative tone, saying, “that’s really pretty” or “that’s really ugly.” Interestingly, when the handlers expressed displeasure, the dogs tended to freeze in space. In the case of the positive message, the pups didn't change their behavior much and started moving around the room after checking in with their person.

When taken a step further, the dogs usually mirrored their handler's behavior. So if the person either approached the fan or walked away from it, the dog would usually do the same.

This research has really interesting implications on the human-canine bond. Knowing that our pups look to us for guidance on how to interpret new situations puts puts a lot of responsibility on us as their guardians and teachers. It really influences the way I think about working with my crew! 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Teaching Chemistry
Two talented pups make learning science fun
Chemistry was one of my worst subjects in school, but maybe if my teachers were dogs, I would've paid attention in class!

Lauren Girard has been training her pets to do cool tricks ever since she got her Border Collie, Paige, five years ago. Her pups are so fun to watch that Lauren's sister shows her junior high school students videos of the dogs performing as a reward for good behavior. This inspired Lauren to combine her own science background with her love of trick training to make a You Tube video called Dogs Teaching Chemistry.

The first clip on chemical bonds was an instant hit, gaining over half a million views in less than a week and encouraging Lauren to create a second installment on the atom. Both videos feature Paige and her two year old mixed breed, Dexter, teaching an entertaining chemistry lesson in under two minutes. Lauren taught everything seen in the videos through clicker training. She believes that positive training is not only a way to teach your dog a cool trick, but also facilitates a trusting relationship that creates self-confidence.

The bond Lauren has with her dogs can be seen in their enthusiasm both in the chemistry videos and in the many other activities that they do. When Paige and Dexter aren't "teaching," they're participating in everything from agility to freestyle. The talented duo is even involved in print and television work. Is there anything that these two pups don't do?

Stay tuned to Lauren's You Tube channel, snuggliepuppy, for more videos from these superstars!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When Breed Bans Complicate
Dog loving baseball player is traded to an area with breed specific legislation

Breed specific legislation is unfair to the dogs who are automatically categorized as dangerous, but it's also unfair to the families who share their home with these banned breeds. Bully lovers have to worry about where to live and even where to vacation. The rich and famous are no exception.

Last year, when MLB pitcher Mark Buehrle signed with the Florida Marlins, he chose to move to Broward County with his wife, two kids, and four dogs since Miami-Dade County, home of the Marlins' stadium, doesn't welcome their American Staffordshire Terrier, Slater. Moving to an area without breed specific legislation lengthened Mark's commute but it was a small price to pay to keep his family intact.  

However, now the Buehrle family has a new housing challenge. Last week Mark was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, where the entire province of Ontario has had breed specific legislation in place since 2005. Mark's only options are to live hours from the stadium.

The breed ban puts Mark in a really difficult situation, but he's made a positive difference for animals in each of the cities he's played in. In Florida, the Buehrles led a petition to end breed specific legislation in Miami-Dade County andin Chicago, Mark started the "Sox for Strays" charity when he was playing for the White Sox.The pitcher has also been outspoken in criticizing NFL quarterback Michael Vick on the subject of dog fighting.

Hopefully Mark's dilemma will bring attention to how discriminatory these laws are and maybe he can even inspire Ontario to reconsider their breed ban!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Influencing Pit Bull Perceptions
Study finds that photos can influence how personality is perceived

It’s no secret that Pit Bulls are cast in a negative light, causing them to be passed over time and time again at the animal shelter.  Now with the popularity of online adoption web sites, like Petfinder, a good picture can make all the difference in whether a dog gets adopted or not.  I’ve seen great ways of boosting a pet’s chances, from using professional photographers (many who generously donate their time to shelters) to having dogs wear cute holiday-themed bandannas.  But no matter how Pit Bulls are presented, people often click to the next dog as soon as they see the bully breed appear on the screen.

A recent study set out to see how shelters might increase Pit Bull adoptions by being strategic in photographing the dogs.  Lisa Gunter's experiment specifically looked at how different people pictured alongside a Pit Bull would affect perceptions of the dog’s temperament in six categories—approachability, aggressiveness, intelligence, friendliness, trainability, and finally, adoptability.

In pictures where a Pit Bull was featured with a person, no matter who it was, they scored higher in perceived intelligence as opposed to photos where the Pit Bull was pictured alone.  When a Pit Bull was featured next to an elderly woman or a young boy, the scores increased for friendliness and adoptability, while the numbers for aggressiveness decreased.  On the other end of the spectrum, picturing a Pit Bull next to a rough looking man caused scores for friendliness to decrease.

The findings from Lisa's study could easily be applied to shelter dogs to increase adoptability.  For those of you in the rescue field, what strategies have you tried to put Pit Bulls in a more favorable light?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Blind Dog Paints for Charity
A Dachshund looses her eyesight but continues to create artwork

When Seattle artist, DeeDee Murray, taught her dog Hallie to paint, she had no idea that the activity would become so important to the both of them. Ten years after adopting Hallie, the tiny pup unexpectedly went blind in a matter of days. DeeDee then found out that Hallie had Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS), an autoimmune disease that attacks the retina.

Hallie was depressed for several weeks, as she adjusted to her new condition, but eventually her spirit returned and the resilient pup even started to paint again. DeeDee says that Hallie picked up a brush out of the paint cup just like she used to, perhaps using muscle memory. Sometimes Hallie reaches her paw out, as if she's "looking" for her canvas, but usually DeeDee has to tap the paper so that Hallie knows where to place the brush.

Hallie loves painting so much that DeeDee has to stop her before she overdoes it. But the prolific canine's work is going to good use. DeeDee sells Hallie's paintings on a web site and donates the proceeds to Purple Heart Dog Rescue.

Hallie is truly an inspiration and continues to show that loss of vision will not stop her. Recently DeeDee and Hallie took up the sport of K9 Nose Work and the determined pup passed her first Odor Recognition Test, finding the "hide" in a minute flat!

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