JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Biking with Dogs
Get some exercise with your pup in tow

As gas prices continue to rise, many more people are discovering the joys of riding a bike. It's a green form of transportation and great exercise. So it's only natural that people would want to include their dogs on rides.

This Sunday, New York City's Direct Action Environmental Organization Time's Up! is hosting their fourth annual Doggie Pedal Parade in Manhattan's Washington Square Park. The ride will highlight bicycles adapted to transport pets. There will be music, refreshments, and dogs for adoption.

On Thursday, they'll holding a free Pup Your Ride Workshop and Bike Decorating where Time's Up! volunteer mechanics will be on-hand to assist participants in attaching baskets and carriers.

I always feel guilty when I go for a bike ride and leave my dogs at home. Now that it's getting warmer, I'm planning on training Nemo to come along with me on short rides.

The ASPCA recommends that you train your dog not to pull when you're on the bike and to use a Springer, a coil spring designed to absorb and reduce the force of sudden tugs. Be sure to keep a close eye on your dog since it's easy for them to get over-exerted since they're running and you're on wheels.

Do you bike with your pups?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Summer School Gone to the Dogs
Learn new skills in the coming months

Next month, my puppy, Remy, and I are headed up to Susan Garrett's Say Yes! Dog Training for two camps, Advances in Dog Training and Critical Elements for Sport and Life (formerly know as Puppy Camp). I can't wait to spend four full days dedicated to honing my dog training skills and working with Remy.

This summer, use some of your vacation days to learn more about dog-related topics, sharpen your training skills, meet fellow pet lovers, and spend quality time with your furry crew. There are many upcoming opportunities to develop existing skills and learn new ones.

Activities For You and Your Pup

Dog Scouts Camp in St. Helen, Mich. - June 20-25 and July 11-16
Earn Dog Scout badges while introducing your pup to agility, dock diving, hiking, clicker training, freestyle and boating, just to name a few of the activities. There's even a class to teach your dog how to paint! Proceeds from the camp support the Dog Scouts of America's educational and charitable endeavors.

Splash for Joy in Trumbull, Conn. - July 1-3
If your dog loves water, they'll love this weekend dedicated to watersports. Your pups' confidence and focus will increase as they learn various skills and games. Plus you'll both get a great workout!

Canine Country Camp at Glen Highland Farm in Morris, N.Y. - July 16-21
Enjoy 175 acres of trails, meadows and swimming, while partaking in a multitude of activities including agility, tracking, water sports, herding, flyball and treibball. When the dogs are napping, you can attend lectures on animal communication, Tellington touch and canine massage. Proceeds from the camp benefit the work of Glen Highland Farm and Sweet Border Collie Rescue.

K9 Nose Work Training Camp in Poyntelle, Penn. - September 2-6
Learn more about this new sport at a 3.5 day sleepover camp taught by the K9 Nose Work founders. Dogs of all levels are welcome and will be introduced to box work, odor, and exterior and vehicle searches.

Activities For You

Taking Action for Animals Conference in Wash, D.C. - July 15-18
Discuss ideas and solutions to creating a better world for animals at this annual conference. Topics include protecting puppy mill dogs, building advocacy campaigns, addressing legal issues and developing grassroots campaigns. The conference also includes a Student Summit on Sunday for teens and young adults.

Chicken Camp in Sequim, Wash. - various dates
Sharpen your clicker skills by training a chicken at one of these camps, the brainchild of legendary animal trainers, Bob and Marian Bailey. The chicken's fast speed and low tolerance for bad training will challenge you to improve your coordination and timing.

Are you planning on attending any dog-related camps or workshops this summer? If you're stuck at home, Julia Kamysz Lane will be blogging about online canine courses in the coming weeks.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
K9 Massage Growing in Popularity
More and more pups benefit from massage therapy

Last year my Sheltie, Nemo, and I were running an agility course and he uncharacteristically ran around the last few jumps. He wasn't limping or showing any pain, but I knew he wasn't himself. So I brought him over to the massage therapist who had a stand set up alongside the other show vendors.

I had never gotten a massage for Nemo before, so I was skeptical if it was really going to do anything. But I quickly saw him relax and the the therapist showed me how to feel for the inflammation she found in his back thigh muscle, which is probably what was causing his reluctance to jump.

It was amazing to feel so connected to Nemo and his well being. I've been wanting to take a pet massage class every since and it seems that I'm not alone.

The New York Times writes that pet massage workshops have grown in popularity in recent years. The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork's membership has more than doubled in the last four years. Instructors all over the country are reporting that they can barely keep up with demand for classes.

Although there are no studies that prove the benefits, it's thought that pet massage therapy can aid in increased circulation, improved digestion, strengthened immunity, stress relief, muscle relaxation, and relief from conditions such as arthritis.

The verdict varies among veterinarians. Some recommend massage to aid in recovery, while others are concerned that done incorrectly, massages could aggregate a medical condition or prevent people from bringing their pets to the veterinarian.

I know many people who have seen the benefits firsthand, but proven or not, I see nothing to loose in spending quality time with your pup.

Has your dog gotten a massage before?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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!



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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! 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?