JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Facebook to the Rescue!
Social media helps a dog in a peculiar situation

Social media web sites are often blamed for isolating people and changing the way we interact. But time and time again I've seen networks, like Facebook, rally people together for a common cause.

Last week Beth Gresham, an animal rescue volunteer in Tennessee, spotted a dog with his head stuck in a plastic container on the side of the road. When she tried to approach him, the scared pup ran back into the woods.

Beth wasn't able to get to the small spotted dog, but she posted a cell phone picture to Facebook soliciting help in capturing the pup in need. When Jess McClain, another animal rescue volunteer, saw the photo online, she put together a search party and set out to find the dog.

The next day, the rescuers found the pup, who they've since named Miracle, and used container cutters to set him free. Many pets are abandoned in the woods, but they're not sure if the container was placed on the his head intentionally or it got on accidentally. Either way, Miracle was lucky to run into Beth and have many people dedicated to finding him.

During the search, the rescue party also found another stray dog and it looks like both pups will find new homes.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Do Dogs Act Guilty?
New research looks at conflict deffusing behavior in canines

74 percent of dog lovers believe that their pups act guilty when they've done something wrong.  There is plenty of evidence that dogs experience primary emotions, like happiness and fear, but it's hard to prove that they experience secondary emotions, like jealousy and guilt.

In 2009, Barnard College professor Alexandra Horowitz found that dogs were more likely to display behaviors we associate with guilt after being scolded. However, those who didn't misbehave appeared more guilty when scolded when compared to those who had actually done something wrong.

We know that over time canines evolved ways of communicating with humans, so is our dog's "guilty look" a learned response to diffuse conflict? Bark columnist and canine cognition researcher Julie Hecht and a team from Eotvos Lorand University set out to see if misbehaving canines would behave differently than dogs who had not done anything wrong and if people would be able to tell if their dog misbehaved based on their greeting behavior.

Like in the Barnard College study, the team found that dogs showed more guilt-associated behaviors when scolded. But then the findings got a little complicated.

Both groups of dogs were equally likely to act guilty whether they misbehaved or not, however dogs who actually did something wrong were more likely to show guilt-associated behaviors after subsequent greeting opportunities. So perhaps there is some element of guilt in our pups?

If there is, we're not very good at interpreting those signals. After accounting for people who knew their dogs had a history of stealing food, pet parents were not able to determine whether their pups misbehaved based on the greeting behavior.

Demystifying emotions like guilt and jealousy is difficult. But we're lucky to have many universities spearheading research in this area, so hopefully we'll know one day for sure.

Do you think that your dogs act guilty?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Filming Dogs in a New Light
Web series helps find homes for 'unadoptable' pets

You may have seen the video of a mischievous Corgi circulating on the internet recently. The curious dog creates a mess in the kitchen that leads to a small fire (don't worry, no one was hurt). The video is part of The Pet Collective, a You Tube channel consisting of seven original, short-form animal series. The Corgi clip is from Pet Sense, a show that stars an animal communicator helping families solve behavior problems.  

Beyond the comedic videos that You Tube is so famous for, The Pet Collective also has a series called The Unadoptables. Each week this show features a pet that's difficult for shelters to find a home for. These cases include animals with special needs and those considered too old or unattractive.

I love The Unadoptables because, not only do the videos help find homes for these animals, they also influence how people view pets that are considered less desirable. The next time someone visits an animal shelter, they may think twice about picking a cute, fluffy puppy over a dog with a scar on its face.

The videos are well filmed and edited, and are viewed by thousands of You Tube viewers, so these animals have a good chance of finding homes. Although the Pet Collective doesn't move out of preview mode until tomorrow, some of the "unadoptables" have already been adopted!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Danger of Water Intoxication
Swimming dogs are at risk of ingesting too much water

Last week a friend’s dog had a close call with water intoxication. Her crew was playing in a local river when one of her Border Collies emerged staggering and vomiting liquid.

Symptoms quickly worsened on the way to the vet, but after a few harrowing days, the dog was fortunate to make a full recovery.

Apparently the poor pup ingested too much water while repeatedly diving into the river, mouth open, trying to catch a ball. Drinking too much causes electrolyte levels to drop, thinning blood plasma and leading to swelling of the brain and other organs.

Before I learned about water intoxication, I thought that playing in the lake was safe if your dog was a strong swimmer. But now I know to be mindful of how my guys interact with the water and to force them to take ample breaks. Dogs can even drink too much water from playing with a lawn sprinkler.

Unfortunately water intoxication progresses quickly. Now that summer is officially here, it’s important to review the signs so you can get an affected dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Symptoms include lack of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

As the weather gets warmer, stay safe. Water intoxication can affect both people and our pups.     

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Humanity's Best Friend
We may owe our evolutionary success to the domestication of dogs

Scientists have long debated why Neanderthals lived successfully on earth for over 200,000 years and then died off after humans came along, about 40,000 years ago. Some blame it on climate change, while others think humans were more successful at getting food due to social cohesion and the ability to develop advanced tools.

However, a new theory claims that we may owe our evolutionary success to the domestication of dogs.

Anthropologist Pat Shipman speculates that the relationship between humans and canines began in hunting, where dogs would help people identify prey and haul carcasses back home on their backs (dogs of the Paleolithic era were typically the size of a modern-day German Shepherd or larger). This assistance gave humans an advantage in obtaining food and conserving energy.

Shipman believes that the relationship between humans and dogs only got stronger over time and may have even led to shared characteristics for communication. In humans, the whites in our eyes are highly visible, compared to other primates, allowing people to "talk" silently when hunting in groups. It turns out that canines, unlike other animals, have the ability to decipher our eye contact. In a study conducted at Central European University, dogs performed as well as human infants at following the gaze of a person when they held their head still.  

Because canines may play an important role in our success over Neanderthals, Shipman calls them "humanity's best friend." Dog lovers need no validation that our pets are critical in our lives, but now we may have more to thank them for than we previously thought!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Dog Bite Prevention Week
Organizations come together to teach safety around pets

A controversial home video of a baby taking away a toy from a Golden Retriever has been making the rounds on Facebook.  While the child had been raised from birth alongside the family pup, any dog can bite when they are caught off guard.

Nearly five million dog bites happen each year in the United States.  This month a diverse group of people and organizations are coming together for National Dog Bite Prevention Week, including ‘It’s Me or the Dog’ trainer Victoria Stillwell, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the United States Postal Service (USPS), pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and representatives of the insurance industry.

It’s interesting because they’re all on board for different reasons.

Victoria Stillwell is getting the word out that outdated dominance training methods, like rolling dogs onto their backs, can lead to fear and anxiety, which is a common cause of aggression.  

Pediatricians are in on the day because dog bites are highest among children between the ages of five and nine years old.   And these injuries aren’t coming from strange animals.  In victims younger than 18, the family dog inflicts 30 percent of the bites and a neighbor’s dog is responsible for another 50 percent.

Insurance companies are motivated to prevent canine altercations because they pay out millions of dollars each year on dog bite claims.  State Farm Insurance paid out more than $109 million dollars on nearly 4,000 claims last year.

I was surprised to see the USPS on the list, but apparently dogs attack 5,669 postal workers each year.  Unfortunately not everyone is responsible and keeps their pets contained inside the house or in a fenced yard.

So it’s important to take advantage of National Dog Bite Prevention Week to learn how to avoid injury, particularly for kids who are at the highest risk.

Check out the AVMA web site for dog bite prevention resources, including coloring sheets for children

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
How and Why to Cook Your Dog’s Food
An interview with Barbara Laino
Home Cooked Dog Food

Like many people who’ve turned to natural pet food, Barbara Laino initially experimented with a homemade diet out of frustration. Her first dog, Aurora, developed a type of irritable bowel syndrome that didn’t respond to traditional medicine. After Laino switched her from kibble, the Alaskan Malamute’s symptoms completely disappeared, and Laino was a convert. Now, 15 years later, she is a certified holistic health counselor and teaches classes on making nutritious food (for people and pets alike) at her organic farm in Warwick, N.Y. Laino shared her experiences with us between sessions of her popular workshop, “Making Homemade Dog and Cat Food.”

JoAnna Lou: Were you criticized when you started making your own dog food?

Barbara Laino: There’s a lot of pressure from veterinarians. They pretend that feeding a dog is a complex thing to do. When I first started making my own food, I felt cornered. I felt like I had to have all these numbers — milligrams of calcium, percentage of protein … Since then, I’ve realized that it’s really common sense. Feeding a dog is no more difficult than feeding a child.

JL: How do you ensure that you’re feeding a balanced diet?

BL: I’ve sent recipes to be tested for how well they meet AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] standards, but I don’t give it that much credence. Pet-food guidelines are the minimum of what a dog needs in order to stay alive. But I want my dog to thrive and be happy and healthy for a long time!

Think about the Great Dane and the Chihuahua. There’s such variation in dogs. These feeding guidelines don’t take size difference into consideration, not to mention place of origin. With northern breeds, for instance, I focus a lot on zinc because they’re coming from a thousand years of eating fish and seaweed. It all comes down to the individual.

JL: Across individuals, what do you consider to be the foundation of a good diet?

BL: Variety. I believe much of the recent food allergy problem has developed from feeding the same thing every day. Yet, this is probably one of the most controversial parts of the homemade diet. Somehow it has reached the point that people are scared they can’t balance their dog’s food properly.

JL: In addition to this fear, many people avoid homemade pet food because they are concerned about handling raw meat. Do you recommend cooked diets in these cases?

BL: Yes, I do. I think people get hooked on the raw concept, but it’s not all about raw. Whatever you feel comfortable with, whether it’s boiling chicken breasts or grinding raw chicken necks … any time you’re preparing food using fresh ingredients, it’s going to be a thousand times better than what you’re getting from kibble.

JL: The popularity of organic food has exploded in recent years, but it doesn’t fit everyone’s budget. How important is it to use organic ingredients? BL: Organic is a great thing, along with grass-fed meat, which is even better than organic. Most premium dog food is not certified organic and, considering how expensive [those foods] are, it’s actually cheaper to buy organic ingredients and make your own dog food. With chicken, it’s even more important to buy organic to avoid the genetically modified soy that makes up the bulk of non-organic chicken feed. However, if you can only afford to buy non-organic ingredients, it’s still much better to make your own food.

JL: Are there ways that people can incorporate aspects of a homemade diet without completely converting to it?

BL: Definitely. In my workshop, I have a list of foods that people can add to their dog’s meal. I tell them to stick it on the fridge as a reminder. You can take a scoop of good kibble and combine it with carrots, honey or a whole egg. Another one is canned salmon, which is super-easy and convenient. If you do nothing else, add a little canned salmon to your dog’s kibble every day. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do.

[Not all dogs tolerate all foods. Be sure to introduce new foods slowly and adjust based on what works for your dog. When in doubt, consult a holistic veterinarian.]

JL: You teach workshops on preparing healthy food for both humans and canines. Do you find a connection between the two?

BL: Dogs are pack animals; there’s a social process to food with wild dogs. When you’re sitting at the table and not sharing with your dog, there’s a disconnect. Our dogs want to be part of a pack and have the social connection of eating together. I just think it makes a lot of sense.

JL: Dog food has gone from table scraps to commercial kibble to feeding natural food and becoming more involved in the process. How have you experienced this in your work?

BL: Nowadays, people want the experience of making their own food, including meals for their pets. In my workshops, people are coming in who are less concerned with the nutrition specifics and just want to make their dog a really nice meal. I got into this because my dog was sick, so it’s cool to see people with healthy dogs who just want to do this differently now. And they’re finding that it’s enjoyable, ethical and feels good.

Click for some of Barbara Laino's homemade recipes.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Custody Battles
NY man spends $60,000 trying to get his Puggle back

We consider our dogs full members of the family, so it probably comes as no surprise that canine custody battles are becoming more common.  Lawyers are reporting as much as a 15 percent increase in these cases.  Figuring out who gets to keep the pets is stressful for both humans and canines and can get expensive quickly.

In New York, Craig Dershowitz is fighting to be reunited with his Puggle, Knux.  He had been sharing custody with his ex-girlfriend, regularly traveling ten hours round trip to drop off and pick up the pup, when his ex took off to California with the dog.  

Craig has already spent upwards of $60,000 in legal fees and is headed to court again.  He received two orders in the state of New York giving him custody, but he must argue his case in front of a California judge since his ex now resides in Los Angeles.

The battle to get Knux back has been financially difficult and Craig is appealing to fellow pet lovers to help his cause.  Many talented friends have donated artwork and other creative gifts in exchange for donations.

I can’t imagine if my pets were taken away from me, but I know I would do everything in my power to get them back.  Hopefully Craig and Knux will be reunited soon. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Influencing Hip Dysplasia
Study finds exercise helps prevent the debilitating disease

Responsible breeders have done a lot to combat hip dysplasia by researching lines and x-raying their dogs.

As a pet parent, I try to do all that I can to keep my pups healthy. To protect their bones and joints, I keep my crew at a healthy weight and avoid agility jump training until their growth plates close.

Now new research points to additional factors that could affect the development of hip dysplasia and change the way breeders raise their puppies.

According to scientists at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, puppies that exercised daily in a park had a reduced risk of developing hip dysplasia. Daily use of a staircase increased the risk.

They found that the period from birth to three months is particularly critical and that puppies born in the spring or summer and at breeders who lived on a farm had a lower risk, perhaps because they had more room to romp.

While previous studies found that rapid growth and high body weight increase the likelihood of developing hip dysplasia, this study found the opposite to be true.

Based on the study, the scientists recommend that puppies have regular off leash access to varied terrain, particularly if they may be predisposed to hip dysplasia.

This debilitating disease affects the lives of many dogs, so it’s good to have additional ways to be proactive in prevention. And the study also gives us yet another excuse to get our dogs outside to play!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Understanding Our Dogs' Thoughts
Study uses MRIs to figure out what’s going on inside the canine brain

I spend so much time with my dogs that I feel like I know exactly what’s going on inside their heads. But of course I don’t. When I walk in the door, how do I know that Nemo is genuinely happy to see me or is just excited to smell all the interesting scents I brought home on my clothes?

Researchers at Emory University are setting out to understand what our dogs are thinking. Using an MRI to capture brain images, they’re looking at what parts of the brain activate in response to certain activities, like when we talk to our dogs. Scientists believe that this is the cornerstone to knowing what a dog is thinking.

Neuroeconomics professor Gregory Berns came up with the idea for the study after learning about canines in the military. He figured that if dogs can be trained to jump out of helicopters, teaching them to stay still in an MRI machine would be doable.

It took eight months for researchers to train two dogs to climb into the machine, put their head in the head coil, and stay still, all while wearing noise-reducing earmuffs. The first study looked at the dogs' brain response to hand signals that indicated whether or not they would receive a hot dog.  

The researchers are now looking at more complicated studies on how dogs process human language and if they recognize people by sight or smell. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results of their work on canine empathy. The plan is to show dogs a photo of a person being poked with a pin and seeing if it triggers a pain response in the dog’s brain.

We know that our pups have a profound effect on our emptions and health. Knowing more about what our dogs are thinking can help us understand the effect that we have on them.