JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canines v. Chimps
Dogs understand pointing better than chimps

A few years ago I took my dogs to the Harvard Canine Cognition Lab to participate in some really interesting research. One of the studies looked at the dogs' understanding of gestures, such as pointing. I didn't think my pups were really making the association in the lab, but at home I do think that they seem to understand when I'm pointing at things. Maybe it's just a shared understanding we've developed after years of living together.

Despite my anecdotal findings, apparently dogs are pretty good at understanding gestures. Previous studies have shown this before, but recent research shows that dogs are even better in this area than chimps.

A team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany presented 20 chimps and 32 dogs with the same task, retrieving an object that a researcher pointed to. The team found that the dogs were much more successful than the chimps.

The researchers think that pointing may be a human form of communication, which is why the chimps couldn't understand the concept. However, they were puzzled by the fact that the dogs were able to pick up on the pointing.

I wonder if this has to do with the close relationship we have with our dogs. They've evolved around humans and previous studies have shown that they can understand our body language. It's a pretty cool concept!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
TV for Dogs
New station features content designed for canines

These days it seems that there are dogs in just about every commercial and television show. But now content is being created to appeal, not only to pet lovers, but to dogs themselves. Starting last week, pups in San Diego now have their very own television station. DOGTV is designed to keep dogs from being stressed and anxious when home alone.

DOGTV's content was developed using research on what relaxes and stimulates the dogs' senses. For instance, the color, contrast, brightness and frame rate is adjusted to create an ideal visual for the canine eye. The sound effects and music use specific frequencies for the canine ear.

DOGTV rotates between three- to six-minute segments that fall into three different categories: relaxation (designed to soothe dogs), stimulation (designed to encourage dogs to be playful) and exposure (designed to exercise the brain with day-to-day stimuli).

My dogs don't usually pay much attention to the television and, when I'm not home, I'm pretty sure they spend most of the day sleeping. But it's an intriguing concept. The relaxation segment is pretty soothing, but I think the stimulation segment would drive my anxious pup crazy. If a dog has separation anxiety, leaving the television on with stimulating programming might not be the best solution. But for a calm dog, I can see how DOGTV would provide a little break from the monotony of being alone.

Interested in checking out DOGTV? You can view clips of each of the three categories on its website.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Soothing Shelter Pups
Organization donates MP3 players for homeless pets

About a year ago I wrote about Through a Dog's Ear, a series of songs based on rhythms and musical patterns that proved most effective in calming dogs. The company's CDs play in more than 125 shelters around the world.

Research proves that music has a soothing effect on animals, so it seems like a necessity to have these songs playing in stressful environments. Shelter budgets are already stretched as far as they can go, but the Rescue Animal MP3 Project aims to get the music where its needed.

Pamela Fisher, a holistic veterinarian in Ohio, noticed that pets were relaxed by the songs playing in her office and area shelters. She founded the Rescue Animal MP3 Project to provide calming music on digital players to animal shelters and rescue groups across the country. The mission is funded by donations, including the copyrighted songs.

The music helps animals deal with the stress of living in a shelter, making them more appealing to adopters. And I bet the shelter staff benefits from the music too.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bite Prevention Ed Needed
Study finds kids need to learn how to prevent bites

When my therapy dog, Nemo, visits the library for the reading program, the kids always seem to go right for the tail. Nemo is very forgiving and patient, but I always use it as an opportunity to teach them the right way to approach and pet a dog.

A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that dog bite prevention knowledge is poor in children. The researchers surveyed 300 five- to 15-year-olds with dog bites and their parents at a pediatric emergency room. The child-parents pairs completed a survey and a test that evaluated their knowledge in dog bite prevention.

Forty-three percent of children failed the knowledge test, with older kids having a higher passing rate. More than 70 percent of the children never received formal dog bite prevention education, although 88 percent of parents wanted it for their kids.

Animal bites are the second most common reason for kids seeking medical care and the effects reach far beyond the initial injury. Over half of children who've been bitten have shown evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder one month after the injury.

It's clear that there's a need and hopefully this study will encourage schools and youth groups to incorporate formal dog bite prevention education into their programs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sheepherding Bunny [Video]
Self-taught rabbit takes on the role of sheepdog

I love watching Border Collies herd sheep. They're so graceful and efficient. But a talented bunny in Sweden is giving sheepdogs a run for their money.

You may have seen the YouTube video of a tiny rabbit herding sheep on a farm in Sweden. Champis, the 5-year-old mix-breed bunny, has become an online celebrity in the last two weeks. More than two million people have watched the video clip in the short time it's been online.

Champis started showing herding instinct last spring. Now, he regularly herds sheep and chickens, adjusting his style as needed. Champis rounds up his subjects and can even stop them from escaping. Despite the bunny's tiny size, he commands respect from the sheep that are much bigger than him.

Nils-Erik and Greta Vigren believe that their bunny learned to herd after watching their sheepdogs work. They never gave Champis any training.

The Vigrens' neighbor, who also happens to be a sheepdog breeder, is in awe of Champis' talent and is the one who posted the video. He says that Champis does the job better than many dogs.

Champis is one amazing bunny! I have an even greater appreciation for his skill since I'm currently trying to teach my Border Collie, Remy, how to herd sheep. Remy has a lot of natural instinct, but he's not exactly stopping any sheep from escaping any time soon!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Value of Dogs in the Legal World
Texas court makes a controversial decision in the worth of a pet

In 2009, Kathryn and Jeremy Medlen’s dog, Avery, escaped from their backyard and landed at the local animal shelter. When Jeremy went to retrieve Avery, he didn’t have enough money for the claim fee. Jeremy was told that he could return for Avery in a couple of days and a “hold for owner” tag was placed on the cage.

In a horrible twist of events, a shelter employee placed Avery on a euthanasia list, despite the cage tag. When Jeremy returned to the shelter with the money, he found out that Avery had been put to sleep.

Devastated, Kathryn and Jeremy filed a lawsuit against the shelter employee to recover sentimental value, even though the law has a history of awarding only market value for an animal. The first court ruled in favor of the shelter employee, but a Texas appellate court overturned the decision.

“Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners,” acknowledged the appellate court. “We interpret timeworn supreme court law in light of subsequent court law to acknowledge that the special value of ‘man’s best friend’ should be protected.”

If sentimental value can be awarded for certain types of property, like family heirlooms, then pets should certainly receive that designation as a bare minimum. Of course I would love if animals were taken out of the property category, but at least this is a step in the right direction, and certainly a no brainer.

However, it turns out that many pet industry organizations are advocating against the appellate court’s decision, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (read more about its stance), the American Kennel Club, the Animal Health Institute, the American Pet Products Association and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.

These groups claim that liability from lawsuits of this nature would cause pet service fees to increase greatly and make veterinary care unaffordable for many people.

I understand that this ruling could open the floodgates for frivolous lawsuits that would put veterinarians and other pet service people at risk, but pets are not property in my book. We have to carefully shape the law so that it protects both humans and animals.

Legal experts believe that Avery’s case will end up in Texas Supreme Court. It’s unclear how they will rule, but their decision will certainly have huge implications for the laws that protect our pets.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Furry Alternative to the Super Bowl
The Puppy Bowl showcases pets for adoption

I’m not a big football fan, so instead of tracking touchdowns on Sunday, I’ll be tuning into Animal Planet to get my puppy fix. For nearly a decade, Animal Planet has been putting on an alternative to the Super Bowl for pet lovers.

Enlisting the help of Petfinder.com, the Puppy Bowl recruits young dogs from rescues and shelters all over the country to participate. The puppies must be between 8 and 16 weeks old, adoptable and adorable. This year’s competitors came from 32 shelters and rescue groups representing 20 states.

On Sunday, 58 puppies will be vying for the title of MVP (Most Valuable Puppy), determined by a poll on the Animal Planet website. The young pups will be joined by cheerleading pigs, a tweeting (as in Twitter) bird and performing cats, who are also up for adoption.

I love that the Puppy Bowl showcases the adorable pets available from rescue groups and shelters. In previous years, all of the participating pets found forever homes. Even better, visitors to Petfinder.com increased by 15 percent following the popular event, surely resulting in many more adoptions.

Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl VIII airs Sunday, February 5, 3-5 p.m. EST. Will you be watching?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Memorial Service for Survivor War Dog
Lucky honored after five tours of duty and three battles with cancer

The nation lost an amazing war dog last September. Lucky served in five tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. Even more incredible is the fact that the Belgian Malinois returned to work after successfully beating cancer not once, but twice. In 2010, Lucky received a Hometown Heroes award from the American Red Cross.

During Lucky’s fifth tour last summer, his handler discovered a new tumor on his rear left leg. The tumor grew quickly and, at age ten, Lucky finally succumbed to his third fight with cancer on September 30.

Earlier this month, the soldiers of the 92nd Security Forces Squadron gathered for a memorial service at Fairchild Air Force Base to honor Lucky.

According to squadron commander, Major Garon Shelton, Lucky had a reputation for being the hardest hitting dog at his station. He had a keen nose and kept cool under fire. Lucky was quick to identify explosives and take enemies down, saving countless service personnel over the years. He also provided protection for presidential visits.

Shelton noted that cancer was the “final and only battle he would lose.”

Hearing the members of the squadron talk about Lucky, you can tell that the soldiers have a special bond with their canine colleagues. Lucky was an inspirational dog with so much heart and courage. The other dogs based out of Fairchild will have some big shoes to fill!

Watch Lucky at work in a Spokesman-Review video from 2010:

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Walks Raise Money for Cancer Research
The 2 Million Dogs Foundation supports comparative oncology efforts

It seems everyone I talk to has a friend, relative or pet affected by cancer. The disease has touched way too many loved ones, both human and canine. As it turns out, when it comes to cancer, we may have more in common with dogs than we think. For instance mammary tumors are the most common tumors in intact female dogs and breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. As more similarities are found, collaboration is becoming more common between veterinarians and doctors through comparative oncology.

Now there’s an organization dedicated to increasing awareness and funding for this growing field. Luke Robinson created the 2 Million Dogs Foundation while walking cross-country in honor of his Great Pyrenees who he lost to cancer in 2008. The organization aims to better understand the links between human and companion animal cancer, encourage more collaboration between institutions, develop new approaches to research, and fund translational cancer studies benefiting both pets and people.

Earlier this month the 2 Million Dogs Foundation presented a $50,000 check to Princeton University to help fund their Molecular Study of Canine Mammary Tumor Development and Progression research. The money came from a series of Puppy Up! Walks held all over the country last year.

Comparative oncology is a fascinating field and it’s great to see an organization that is dedicated to supporting research benefiting both humans and canines affected by this horrible disease.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Inspires Shelter to Become Pet Friendly
A Kansas City women’s shelter will welcome pets this year

This year, the Rose Brooks Center women’s shelter in Kansas City will become the first in the area to welcome pets, thanks to a heroic Great Dane named J Matthew.

Last year, a woman arrived with J Matthew at Rose Brooks Center after her boyfriend tried to kill her with a hammer. The Great Dane protected the woman by lying over her body and taking most of the blows until the man finally threw them both out of a second story window.

J Matthew suffered multiple broken bones in the attack, but saved the woman’s life in the process.

At the time, like most other shelters, the Rose Brooks Center had a no pets policy. They initially turned J Matthew away, but the woman was adamant that she be allowed to keep him safe too. Inspired by their story, the shelter made an exception and later decided to change their policy and welcome all pets. 

Rose Brooks is now working on a $140,000 renovation that will create a pet-friendly wing with kennels, a play area and access to walking trails that will be ready later this year.

Women all over Kansas City have J Matthew to thank for this new resource. The brave Great Dane saved not only his favorite person, but will help countless others who turn to Rose Brooks with their pets. Twenty to 40 percent of battered women stay in abusive relationships to protect their pets. But women in the Kansas City area will no longer have to choose between their pets and leaving a bad situation.

Hopefully other shelters will be moved by J Matthew’s story as well.