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JoAnna Lou

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

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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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Transporting Dogs from Overpopulated States
Shelters fill empty kennels with Southern pups

For years, local shelters in the Northeast have been bringing homeless dogs up from the South for a shot at adoption. When I first found out about these rescue missions, it seemed like a waste of resources when there are so many homeless pets right here in New York.

But, as it turns out, many Northeastern shelters and rescue groups have a hard time keeping up with demand for certain dogs. So it has become common to transport dogs that will be adopted quickly, like small breeds. Overpopulation is a big problem in the South because spay/neuter rates are much lower there.

New Jersey-based PetResQ is one of those rescue groups that transport Southern dogs. After learning about animal control officers accused of shooting 22 dogs to death last year in North Carolina, they decided to organize a transport targeting dogs slated for euthanasia in that region.

Their plans came to fruition two weeks ago when 50 volunteer pilots successfully transported more than 100 dogs from South Carolina to PetResQ.

I know that many dogs are euthanized every day in New York, so it still feels wrong to bring more animals into the picture. However, in reality most homeless dogs in my area are Pit Bulls and most people want to adopt a Retriever or Beagle. If bringing dogs from the South fills that need, it seems like a win-win for both sides.

What do you think about the transport effort from the South?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Should Vets Promote ID Tags?
Vets and shelters have a positive influence on tag usage

My dogs have microchips and identification tags, but I often take their collars off when they're in the house. I had one of my dogs' collars get caught on a piece of furniture, so I do it as a safety precaution. However, this could be a problem if one of my dogs escaped from my house.

The Journal of the American Veterinary Association reports that fewer than half of lost dogs were wearing tags at the time they went missing. Microchips are great because they're permanent, but an identification tag lets people know instantly how to get your dog back home.

Eighty percent of pet lovers believe it's important that dogs and cats wear identification, but only 33 percent put tags on their pets all the time. Many of those pets don't wear ID tags at all. A study published this month found that veterinarians and animal shelters can have a positive influence on this number.

Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA, and her team tracked 109 people and their pets who had been fitted with collars and tags during a vet visit or at the animal shelter. Before the study, only 14 percent of the animals studied had been wearing an ID tag, but two months later, 84 percent were still wearing the tags.

Given the success of Dr. Weiss's study, do you think that veterinarians should be responsible for making sure pets have identification? My dogs have microchips and identification tags, but they also have a rabies tag from the veterinarian that lists when they got their vaccine and the veterinarian’s contact information.

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