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JoAnna Lou

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

News: JoAnna Lou
Long Lasting Effects of Puppy Mills
Study shows the emotional scars of dogs from large breeding operations

In recent years, countless talk shows, news documentaries and celebrities have called attention to the inhumane conditions in puppy mills. As if this environment isn’t bad enough, a new study shows that the effects of these facilities extends far beyond the dirty kennels and rampant illness.

The animal welfare organization, Best Friends Animal Society, teamed up with veterinarians, James Serpell and Deborah Duffy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine on a study that looked at the psychological effects of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations (aka, puppy mills). Their research found that puppy mill dogs struggled long after leaving the facility.

The Best Friends–UPenn study is the first to compare the psychological and behavioral characteristics of over 1,000 puppy mill dogs with pets acquired from other sources. The findings showed significantly elevated fear levels, compulsive behaviors, house soiling and a heightened sensitivity to being touched.

I think that the psychological effects are due to two main factors inherent in puppy mills, so legislation aimed at improving conditions wouldn’t make much of a difference in long-term behavior.

First, the puppies are not socialized. A good breeder takes the time to ensure their puppies are familiar with strange sounds, people and environments. Dogs born in a puppy mill only see a cage until they’re purchased.

Second, puppy mills breed dogs without regard to temperament, so many of these pets are already predisposed to fear or compulsive behaviors.

The study is certainly not surprising, but I hope that it will strengthen efforts to ban puppy mills instead of simply regulating conditions.

News: JoAnna Lou
Guide Dog Runs in Track Meets
A Golden Retriever gives high schooler the chance to run

Guide dogs have a special and important job. Not only do they help people with their day-to-day tasks, these working dogs give their people the gift of independence.

As a fellow runner, I was inspired by the story of Sami Stoner, the first high school athlete in Ohio to compete with a guide dog.

Sami began running on her school's cross-country team in eighth grade, but by the end of that year, she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, which left her legally blind.

In order for Sami to run on the junior varsity cross-country team, one of her friends, Hannah Ticoras, initially ran alongside her in races. But
after Hannah graduated, Sami was worried that she wouldn't be able to compete. All that changed when a special guide dog entered her life.

Now, Chloe the Golden Retriever has picked up where Hannah left off and Sami continues to run in competitions with Chloe by her side. The guide dog watches out for roots and finds the clearest path for Sami to run.

For Sami, running with Chloe isn't about winning. In fact, she isn't allowed to place at track meets. For her, it's about being able to do something she loves and showing that having a disability isn't the end of the world. And for that, Sami is thankful for her loyal guide dog, Chloe.

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Training for Halloween
Pre-holiday prep helps dogs get comfortable in their costumes

Every year in New York City, the Tompkins Square Dog Run holds a Halloween parade and costume contest. Hundreds of dogs enter and thousands of people come to watch. This year the winning costumes were fairly tame, but in the past outfits have been over the top.

As fellow blogger, Karen B. London wrote, most dogs don’t like costumes, especially complicated ones. But it can be tempting to dress up the pups, especially if you have a party to go to. I try to pick out simple costumes and take the few weeks beforehand to make sure my dogs are happy to wear them. It’s not a good idea to just plop the outfit on your pup a few minutes before your party!

This year I got my new puppy, Remy, a racehorse costume, complete with a little jockey that sits on his back. He’s never worn a costume before, so I wanted to make sure it was a positive experience by introducing it to him slowly. There were three behaviors I trained before I put the costume on fully.

Velcro = yummy treats
The racehorse costume has Velcro on the belly and neck band, so I wanted Remy to learn that the noise is a good thing. I started by opening the Velcro a little bit and immediately giving him some treats. I progressed to opening the Velcro all the way and then to opening the Velcro behind his head (simulating the way he’d hear the Velcro when I was taking the costume off of his body).

The costume on my back is a good thing
Next, I wanted to make sure that Remy was comfortable with the costume on his back. So I started by lightly touching the outfit to his back and rewarding him with treats. I gradually worked up to resting it on his back.

I’ll even get into my Costume myself!
I really don’t like the idea of forcing dogs to wear costumes, so I usually train the dogs to “put on” part of the costume by themselves. In this case, I trained Remy to put his nose through the loop that would go around his neck. I started by holding the neck band and giving him a treat when he moved towards the costume to sniff. I gradually increased the criteria until Remy stuck his nose through the loop, and eventually his whole head.

With a little preparation, Remy was soon happy to get into his costume and was ready to go to our training club’s Halloween party.

Have you trained your dogs to wear a costume?

News: JoAnna Lou
Pet Ministries on the Rise
Churches are sponsoring groups for animal lovers

Dogs have become an important part of our culture and more and more places are starting to welcome and accommodate pets. It's becoming common to see hotels with dog beds, stores with water dishes out front and even car companies designing vehicles with pets in mind.

Religious groups are no exception. Churches have long held blessing of the animal events and some are even inviting pets to attend service. But some congregations are starting pet ministries in order to reach and connect with animal lovers on a new level.

Grace Church, a nondenominational Protestant congregation in the Saint Louis area, has a pet ministry that organizes pet-food drives, fundraisers for a local rescue group, pet therapy visits, a pet loss support group and a Bible study that discusses animal-related passages.

Other churches include animals for adoption in their weekly bulletins, host adoption events and run vaccine clinics.

As a testament to this growing trend, the Humane Society of the United States hired a liaison to religious communities in 2007. Now there are animal ministries in every state. Next month, the Humane Society will be launching a directory of affiliated ministries on their website.

We don't have a pet ministry at my church, but our animal events (blessing of the animals and a holiday “giving tree” that collects supplies for the local shelter) have inspired a lot of people in the congregation to share stories of beloved pets and connect with each other in a different way.

Animal lovers are an amazing community of people, so pet ministries seem like a great way to get like-minded people together for a good cause.

Does your church have a pet ministry?

News: JoAnna Lou
Regulations Proposed for Dog Walkers
San Francisco looks to create dog walking standards

Dog walkers are a necessity for pets in busy cities where people work long hours. I know many great walkers who are knowledgeable about canine behavior and limit the number of dogs they walk. But any dog lover in New York will tell you about the irresponsible ones who overtake the dog runs with too many pups.

A bill was announced last week at the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco that targets these dog walkers. The legislation, introduced by Scott Weiner, will require dog walkers to have a permit, receive animal control training, ensure that their vehicle is safe for transporting animals, ensure that the dogs they walk are licensed and limit the number of dogs walked at any given time. The bill was created with input of the SPCA and local dog walkers.

Dog walkers would be limited to seven dogs at any given time, which still seems like way too many. When I walk my dogs in Manhattan, not only do I have to watch each of them, I also have to keep track of any potential hazards, like spoiled food on the sidewalk or unfriendly dogs approaching. I can't imagine watching seven dogs, plus keeping an eye out for everything around us.

What do you think about regulations for dog walkers?

News: JoAnna Lou
The Ideal Training Schedule
Study finds training less often is beneficial for learning

There's nothing more fun than training a new puppy and watching them experience everything for the first time. Since bringing Remy home, I'm always thinking about how often to train and for how long.

I devote time every day for formal training. I do two to five sessions per day, usually for a few minutes at a time. I definitely find that shorter training sessions are more effective than longer ones. This is especially important for a puppy, but even for a adults, it's always good to keep them wanting more.

But is there a magic number?

A recent study looked at the effect of training frequency and duration on how fast a dog learns a new behavior and on retention.

The researchers found that dogs trained one to two times a week learned a new behavior faster than dogs trained daily. They also found that dogs learned faster if they had one training session instead of three in a row. The study didn't find any correlation between the training schedule and retention.

It's interesting that training less often would help dogs learn faster. However, I think this has more to do with training the same behavior every day, as they did in the study, than training every day. Dogs are smart and will get bored if they have to do the same thing a million times. When I train, I try to mix it up and work on different behaviors each day. I also find that dogs need time to process new information, so it's good to take a break and revisit behaviors a few days later.

How often do you train your dog?

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Invisible Dogs Promote Adoption
Meetups across the nation bring attention to rescue

Two years ago, I wrote about Improv Everywhere's stunt that sent thousands of '70s-style invisible dog leashes to the streets of New York. Now these wire leashes are being used to bring attention to the many “unseen” dogs sitting in animal shelters around the country.

The movement is being spearheaded by Best Friends Animal Society and is calling for people to organize local Invisible Dog Meetups. The campaign will culminate in a National Animal Shelter Check In Day in November.

The Invisible Dog Meetups are a great way to spark conversations about rescue dogs while bringing together like minded people. Plus the invisible dogs are just plain fun!

Visit the Invisible Dog website for more information on organizing a Meetup in your area.

News: JoAnna Lou
Does Your Dog Need a Flu Shot?
The facts about canine influenza

As the weather gets cooler, it's just about flu shot time—for the humans anyway. I never get the canine influenza shot for my furry crew, but an outbreak at a local shelter had me rethinking my decision. Adoptions have been suspended at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in New Jersey while they battle a flu outbreak.

Generally the virus isn't serious, if caught early, but it can cause complications like pneumonia, which increases the risk. Since flu symptoms resemble other respiratory diseases, canine influenza is often mistaken for kennel cough.

The first canine influenza vaccine was approved two years ago and initial tests showed no side effects. Because it contains inactivated virus, the vaccine won't cause illness. It's important to note that the vaccine doesn't prevent the flu, but it significantly reduces the severity and duration.

The vaccine is intended for dogs at risk of exposure to the virus, such as those who participate in activities with other dogs or those who go to doggy daycare. The risk groups are the same for dogs who are recommended to receive the kennel cough vaccine.

My dogs are at a moderate risk since they regularly go to a training club and attend dog shows. However, I decided to pass on the vaccine for my crew since I don't board them or bring them to doggy day care. If you're considering the vaccine for your pups, consult your vet.

News: JoAnna Lou
First Commercial for Dogs
Purina releases an ad designed for pets

Sometimes my dogs look at the television, but I'm not sure if they're actually watching. I haven't seen any connection to a particular image or sound. I think they just notice the movement on the screen and have learned to ignore the noise.

I thought that might change when I heard that Purina released what they're calling the first-ever television commercial designed for both dogs and humans. The goal was to make an advertisement that caught dogs' attention, but didn't detract from the dialogue intended for humans.

The resulting commercial, for their Beneful dog food, features a squeak, a high-frequency tone (that humans can barely hear), and a ping noise. Purina also said that the commercial also features whispering, which they found was successful in gaining dogs' attention, although I didn't hear any whispering in the advertisement.

The commercial was released in Austria and can be viewed below. When I played the commercial, my dogs didn't seem impressed. I didn't even see an ear move towards my computer.

How did your crew react?

News: JoAnna Lou
The Future of the ID Tag
GPS lets you track your pet's location

Companies are always trying to improve on the good old identification tag. I've seen USB memory stick tags, Quick Response (QR) codes tags, and now GPS units that attach to collars.

GPS technology for collars typically sends a text or email notificaiton when your pet leaves home and gives you the ability to track your dog on a map using a computer or cell phone.

Having a GPS unit on your dog's collar seems a bit excessive and it could give people a false sense of security. A GPS unit isn't going to stop your pet from running in front of a car or eating something toxic. However, if one of my pets ever got lost, being able to track their exact location would be invaluable.

GPS units for dogs are surprisingly small, but they're still a bit bulky to have on my dog all of the time. For now I think I'll stick to the good old metal identification tag and microchip.

Would you get a GPS unit for your dog?

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