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JoAnna Lou

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

News: JoAnna Lou
Sniffing Out Endangered Species
Dogs trained to find elusive flowers and butterflies

Earlier this year I wrote about dogs trained to find animal droppings for environmental research. More and more canines are being used to help scientists study endangered species and habitat loss. The role of the dog in this type of research is incredible.

The preservation of two species in Oregon can thank a Belgian Sheepdog named Rogue and his highly sensitive nose. Rogue is trained to seek out a rare plant called the Kincaid's lupine. Not only is this plant endangered, but it happens to be the one place where the elusive Fender's blue butterfly lays its eggs.

The one-inch wide butterfly lays one egg at a time, on the back of a Kincaid's lupine leaf. Each egg is no larger than the head of a pin. On top of that, the Kincaid's lupine's peak flowering period is only two weeks long. So as you can imagine, they're near impossible to find.

When Greg Fitzpatrick, Corvallis Land Steward for the Nature Conservatory in Oregon, read about using dogs to track rare turtles, he knew the working canines could be the key to helping the Kincaid's lupine and the Fender's blue butterfly. Fitzpatrick approached Dave Vesely, the executive director of the Oregon Wildlife Institute, and Debbie Smith of the Working Dogs for Conservation Foundation with his idea.

They soon discovered that dogs were incredible at the job. While some humans can detect the odor of lupine when they are flowering, canines can find the plants with or without flowers, and can cover an impressive area of land in a little amount of time.

Vesely plans to submit details of their work to a journal of conservation biology to share the program's success.

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Dog Involved in Bin Laden Mission
A trained canine assisted the Navy Seals last Sunday

The U.S. Navy Seals and the elite Team Six have gotten a lot of attention lately for their heroic efforts in the Osama Bin Laden mission. However, I just found out that a special canine was also among the 79 commandos that day. The explosive-sniffing dog was strapped to one of the Navy Seals and descended from the helicopters with the rest of the team.

As it turns out, these trained pups, typically German Shepherds, are routinely used by the top-secret Navy Seal unit. The dogs wear ballistic body armor that protects against knives, shrapnel, and gunfire and carry infrared night cameras that provide troops with critical real-time information.

These pups are trained to jump from aircraft at an incredible 25,000 feet (wearing an air mask of course) and attack anyone carrying a weapon. These talented dogs can also crawl into tunnels and rooms unnoticed.

What an incredible bunch of working pups!

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Crumple Zones and Car Safety
Keeping dogs safe in the car can be problematic

Like many others, my dogs ride in the back of my SUV, secure in their crates. I've always been under the impression that my pups were safe in their plastic kennels, although after being rear ended, I wondered if the cargo area of my car wasn't the best place for the dogs. I've since moved one crate to the back seat, but unless I buy a bigger car, I don't have the option of moving all my dogs out of the cargo area.

 


Recently, I discovered that the cargo area may be even more dangerous that I previously thought. A safety feature called the crumple zone, introduced to cars in the 50s, is designed to absorb the impact in a crash and protect passengers. The crumple zones are often likened to crushing a soda can, sacrificing everything in its path.

The most popular crumple zone locations are in the front and the rear of the car. For anyone who puts their dogs in the back, this is absolutely terrifying.

Next time I buy a car, I will certainly ask the dealer where the crumple zones are in prospective models. In the meantime, I looked online to find out where the crumple zones are in my Honda CR-V, and they are indeed at the front and back of the car.

I know that the hard, plastic kennels are very strong, but in a serious accident they're unlikely to stand up to the crumple zone. It's possible I could put my dogs in seat belts in the back seat, but that industry isn't regulated and most seat belts do not undergo any crash testing. So it's still a dilemma for me.

How do you protect your dogs in the car?

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
The Restorative Effect of Sugar
Study looks at sugar, self-control and performance

We ask a lot of our dogs. We ask them to resist food on the counter, to stay inside when the front door is open and to be quiet when dogs are barking next door. With my new puppy, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-control, which is the foundation for everything from household manners to agility skills.

In humans, research has shown that there’s a relationship between the brain’s glucose supply and self-discipline. A recent study found that this is true for dogs too.

The experiment, published in this month’s Psychological Science, looked at the length of time a dog worked at an impossible task.

In the study, some of the dogs were put in a sit-stay for 10 minutes to “deplete their fuel reserves” and the rest of the dogs were put in a crate for 10 minutes. The dogs were then given a treat dispensing toy, known as a Tug-a-Jug, altered to make it impossible to get the food out.

The dogs who exerted self-control in the sit-stay gave up after less than a minute, as opposed to the crated pups who gave up after over two minutes. 

The scientists hypothesized that the self-control needed for the sit-stay depleted the dogs’ blood sugar supply, weakening their ability to exert “goal-directed effort.”

To test this theory, the scientists repeated the experiment with one difference. Half of the dogs performing the sit-stay got a sugar drink before going on to the Tug-a-Jug task. As a control, the other half got an artificially sweetened drink.

Amazingly, the sit-stay dogs that got the sugar drink performed just as long as the crated dogs. The pups who got the artificially sweetened drink showed no improvement.

Most of us will probably never give our dogs a performance-enhancing drink, but it’s interesting to know how taxing the behaviors are that we ask of our dogs. When I’m training, I usually alternate between practicing impulse control and playing games like tugging. Now I see why it’s so important to keep training sessions short and fun! 

News: JoAnna Lou
Preparing for an Emergency
Are your pets ready for the worst?

All of the recent natural disasters has me thinking about preparing for emergencies, including making a plan for the dogs. April also happens to be Pet First Aid Awareness Month, so it's the perfect time to put together a first aid kit and emergency supplies. Here are some tips I came across when I started thinking about my emergency plan.

Think Ahead

  • Put an "Animals Inside" sticker on your door (available free through the ASPCA)
  • Know which hotels along your evacuation route are pet friendly
  • Know which friends, relatives, boarding facilities, animal shelters and/or veterinarians can care for your animals in an emergency

Prepare Your Pets

  • Include pets in evacuation drills
  • Get pets used to going in their crates
  • Make sure all pets are wearing collars with identification and/or are implanted with a microchip

Gather Supplies

  • Create a pet first aid kit
  • Create a portable emergency kit with leashes, harnesses, food, drinking water, medication, and information on feeding schedules, behavior problems and medical records
  • Create "lost posters" with current photos of each of your pets (a free template is available on the Animal Rescue League website)

Check out the Red Cross' and the ASPCA's web pages for more resources on creating a pet first aid kit and preparing for an emergency.

Do you have an emergency plan for your pets?

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Proposed Ban on Dogs
An Iranian bill threatens to make pets illegal

Can you imagine a world without dogs? I can't, but dog lovers in Iran are faced with this very dilemma.

The Iranian government has long considered pet dogs to be an un-Islamic vice. In the past, it was not unheard of for police to confiscate dogs being walked down the street and for the government to lecture Iranians on diseases spread by canines. Eventually the crackdowns were relaxed and beloved pets were left alone.

Unfortunately, these days may soon be over if lawmakers in Tehran have their way. Recently, a bill was proposed that would make dog ownership a crime, citing canines as a public health hazard and ”a blind imitation of the vulgar culture of the West."

Under the legislation, dogs would be confiscated and offenders would face a $100–$500 fine. This is bad news for pets. There are several thousand dogs in Tehran alone and its uncertain what would happen to them under this law.

Iranian dog lovers are in a difficult predicament since these types of bans are rooted in political tension. Since Islam considers dogs “unclean,” in the past, they were rarely kept as pets. This changed in the last 15 years with the rise of an urban middle class that has taken on a lot of Western culture.

I can't even imagine what I would do in this situation. For most people, moving out of the country may not be an option. Unfortunately, in a country where Westernized hairstyles and cropped pants are banned, fighting the dog bill could be a losing battle.

What would you do in a world without dogs?

News: JoAnna Lou
Helping Thunder Phobic Dogs
Tips for comforting your pup during a storm

As the saying goes, April showers bring May flowers.  And in my neck of the woods, we’ve certainly been getting a lot of rain and, unfortunately, thunderstorms.

My first dog, Nemo, has never been afraid of thunder. Being a Sheltie, he’ll sometimes bark at the loud noises, but he isn’t fearful. His breeder played sound tapes when he was a puppy, which I think helped.

I’m also fortunate that my new puppy, Remy, doesn’t seem to be affected by thunder. To ensure that it stays that way, I’ve been feeding him chicken every time I hear a loud boom. That way he begins to associate thunder with good things.

But for many dogs, storms bring panic and fear. Sometimes this fear even extends to the precursors to thunder, like dark skies, lightning, or changes in barometric pressure. 

The ASPCA recommends the following strategies to help your dog through a storm.

  • Comforting your dog with petting, praise, or massage/TTouch
  • Playing calming music
  • Using a TV, radio, fan, or canine noise-reducing headphones, such as Mutt Muffs, to muffle storm noises
  • Distracting your dog with a stuffed Kong, scattered treats, or a game of tug or fetch
  • Putting a body wrap on your dog, such as the Thundershirt or Anxiety Wrap
  • Exercising your dog on days when storms are coming

As a long-term solution, the ASPCA recommends counterconditioning your dog to thunderstorms, which is what I’m doing with Remy as a preventative measure. As I mentioned, this involves associating the scary sound with treats and toys. Ideally you’ll want to start with a recording of thunder noises at a low volume and gradually increase the level before a real storm comes. 

Many of my friends have had good results by using the Thundershirt in combination with a counterconditioning program.

If your dog has a serious fear, you can also speak to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medicine or herbal remedies.

How does your dog react to thunder?

 

News: JoAnna Lou
A Doggy Cake Masterpiece
NYC bakery creates edible dog portraits

As BARK readers know, I throw my dogs a birthday party every year. It’s a great excuse to gather my friends and their pups for canine games and yummy treats.

 
Usually, I bake my own cakes (one for the humans and one for the pups), but in my years of party planning, I’ve seen lots of awe inspiring professional dog-themed cakes. However, this latest human version from NYC baking extraordinaire Patti Paige really takes the cake!

Patti Paige teamed up with local artist, Dena Paige-Fischer, to create custom dog portrait cakes unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Each features a detailed masterpiece painted with food coloring, based off of a photograph. I don’t see how anyone could possibly eat these cakes!

The dog portrait cakes start at $150 and a portion of the proceeds goes to Animal Haven, a local shelter.

 

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
NYC Clothing Store Sells Puppies Amid Protests
Unpomela illegally uses puppies to attract customers

Sometimes, I feel like we’re making a lot of progress against puppy mills and pet store dogs—PetCo and PetSmart have in-store adoption centers; puppy mill exposes have been featured on Oprah and Nightline; and celebrities, such as Katherine Heigl, regularly promote rescue pups.

However, last week I was discouraged after hearing that Unpomela, a New York clothing store is selling puppies from their display window. My guess is that their operation will be shut down soon, since they don’t have a license to sell animals (although they did post a ‘not for sale’ sign after a local shelter employee pointed out this fact). But it was shocking nonetheless that a clothing store would even think this was a good idea.

Sure puppies are probably quite effective at luring people into a store, but I wish Unpomela thought about teaming up with a local rescue group instead. Macy’s in San Francisco did this last holiday season, attracting hordes of shoppers and facilitating in the adoption of hundreds of animals. A win-win for all involved!

In Unpomela’s case, a negative public outcry is helping to ensure this doesn’t happens again anytime soon. Local shelter Animal Haven organized a protest last week and many people have already expressed their views on the customer ratings web site, Yelp.

How do you think we’re doing in the fight against puppy mills?

News: JoAnna Lou
Making Obedience Class Mandatory
NY sought to require graduation from obedience school

In a perfect world, everyone would have great relationships with their dogs--teaching basic manners, providing lots of exercise, and participating in an activity together like agility or therapy work.

Last week, a bill was proposed in New York that would require people to successfully complete a basic obedience class with their dogs or risk having their pet taken away. 

The goal of the bill is to “minimize vicious dog attacks, the destruction of property and unnecessary human or canine deaths; to better acquaint dog owners with their dogs; to teach dog owners proper obedience techniques, which will help owners to have better control of their dogs; and to minimize aggressive dog behavior and negligent dog owner behavior.”

At first glance, the bill seems like a great idea. I only wish more people would take a basic obedience class and spend dedicated time each week bonding and working with their dogs.  But I can see many potential problems with the legislation. 

For one, not everyone lives in an area like New York City where there are many training classes available. Cost or distance could make a class prohibitive for some people. 

Second, the bill would allow the state to establish requirements for dog obedience schools. What and who would define successful completion?

Last of all, I could see this bill making people resent dog training. All of us positive trainers know that the fastest way to get someone to hate something is to try to force them to do it!   

New York’s bill has since been defeated, but what do you think about making obedience class mandatory?

 

 

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