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JoAnna Lou

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

News: JoAnna Lou
Hip Replacements on the Rise
More dogs are getting surgery so they can run and jump again

Earlier this week I was reading the New York Times and was surprised to see a friend’s Pug, Lily, featured in an article about canine hip-replacement surgery. I’ve seen Lily run in agility many times and had no idea--clearly a testament to the success of hip-replacement surgery in dogs.

Hip-replacement surgery has been performed on large dogs for decades, but in 2005, micro-hip replacements were licensed, for dogs weighing below 30 pounds. Lily, who weighs 18 pounds, is one of only 200 dogs in the world who have had a micro-hip replacement.  

As you can imagine, many of the first dogs to get micro-hip replacements were service animals or competition dogs, like Zydeco the champion Frisbee dog and Jere the Finnish moose hunting champion. But as the average pet lover is spending more money on their animals, hip replacements are growing in popularity. 

The surgery costs about $5,000, not including post-operation physical therapy. Some people may think that hip-replacement is excessive for a dog, but for active pets, not being able to run and jump can be devastating to both physical and mental health. 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Healing Power of Dogs
More health care professionals are bringing their pets to work

Any dog lover knows the unique ability our pets have to cheer us up when we’re not feeling well. As a pet therapy team, Nemo and I have seen firsthand the power of pets to cheer people up at the hospital, often a very depressing place.

And it seems that health care professionals are catching on. The Wall Street Journal reports that a growing number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other therapists are bringing their dogs to work to calm patients.

Research shows that a few minutes spent petting a dog decreases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in both the human and the dog. It also increases prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones that control nurturing and security, as well as serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that boost mood. One study found that five minutes with a dog was as relaxing as a 20-minute break for hospital workers.

Even medical schools have acknowledged the importance of pet therapy. Many schools, like Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, offer a human-animal interaction class for medical and psychiatry students. As more studies are done on this topic, I hope that more health care professionals will be encouraged to listen to the research and bring their pets to work.

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Canine Behavior Database
C-BARQ provides data for valuable research

Recently, I attended a presentation of Parvene Farhoody’s research on the physical and behavioral effects of spaying and neutering, which is currently being prepared for publication. There were a lot of interesting findings that I can’t share until they’re published (I promise to do so when they are!), but I did learn about an important database.

Parvene’s research was based on analysis of data from C-BARQ, a database developed by researchers at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society of the University of Pennsylvania.  It’s the only behavioral assessment instrument of its kind to be extensively tested for reliability and validity on large samples of dogs. Currently, there are more than 14,000 dogs in the database.

The assessment consists of 101 questions that describe the different ways in which dogs typically respond to common events, situations, and stimuli in the environment. Even better, anyone can submit their dog’s assessment. The interface is easy to use and takes about 10-15 minutes to complete.

C-BARQ is fun because after you’re finished, you can see how your dog’s behavior compares to other dogs in the database. Though you can only take the results with a grain of salt, it’s interesting. I wasn’t surprised that Nemo scored gold stars (the symbol for scoring in the good to average range) for most behaviors and scored two red flags (the symbol for scoring less favorably than at least 90 percent of the sample) for begging. However, I was surprised that Nemo scored one red flag (the symbol for scoring less favorably than at least 75 percent of the sample) for trainability. Nemo has always been an easy dog to train!

Nonetheless, C-BARQ is an important resource. The data from C-BARQ contributes to many research studies that will help us better understand our dogs, so I encourage you to take the time to fill out as assessment for each of your pets.

News: JoAnna Lou
Herding Dogs in Modern Life
Today’s Border Collies herd rented sheep and compete at herding trials

In the past couple months, I’ve been doing a lot of research about Border Collie breeders in preparation for adding a new dog to our family.  I’m always in awe of a good herding dog‘s instinct.  While technology has replaced animals in many jobs (think horse drawn carriages), Border Collies remain the best way to manage livestock. 

In my puppy search, I recently discovered the world of competitive herding trials. While many people who enter these trials live on working farms, many more do not.  In recent years, pets have become important family members and people are willing to do anything for their wellbeing. That includes providing mental stimulation and activities that they can enjoy with their dogs together. 

The intelligence and athleticism that has made the Border Collie a popular pet can lead to boredom and destructive behaviors if they’re not given a job. So it probably comes as no surprise that many people eventually get into herding with their Border Collies as a hobby.

Since most people don’t live on a farm, many herding enthusiasts end up renting sheep or buying a few of their own. At Fido’s Farm in Olympia, Wash., people can pay $15 per dog to practice herding with their flock of 200 sheep.  Herding revenue has been up 60% over the past five years. Many people come from urban cities, such as Seattle, to practice on the farm. Along with demand for sheep, herding competitions have gone up astronomically in the last 10 years and there are now hundreds of trials to choose from each year.

I’ve always thought that it would be fun to try a bit of herding with my Shetland Sheepdogs, though I’m sure the instinct will be much stronger in my new puppy! Have you tried herding with your dog?

News: JoAnna Lou
National Train Your Dog Month
APDT dedicates January to socialization and training

 

Last year the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) decided that it was long overdue to dedicate a month to promote socialization and training. So in 2011 January became National Train Your Dog Month. The first month of the year was chosen because so many dogs are adopted or purchased during the holidays.  APDT wants to encourage new pet parents to start off the New Year on the right paw. 

In celebration, many dog-related business are sponsoring special discounts on training classes and hosting free events.  My favorite is the K9 Nosework workshop at All Dogs Gym and Inn in New Hampshire. K9 Nosework is a great into to canine sports, because it doesn’t require any prior training to dive right in and experience the fun.  Any dog can search for a food pouch, the first step in the sport. 

I find that many people who are new to dogs often assume that training is for professionals and that their dog could “never do that.” But National Train Your Dog Month encourages people to discover how fun training can be and will lead to happier and healthier people-dog relationships.

National Train Your Dog Month is certainly not limited to those new to dogs. I’ve vowed to incorporate a little training throughout each day, so I put different exercises and skills on index cards (crate games, sit stay proofing, shaping a new trick, etc…) to make it really easy to remember to train anywhere.

What will you do for National Train Your Dog Month?

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Weight Loss Resolutions
Vet hospital encourages cats and dogs to lose weight in 2011

It’s that time of year when everyone is making their New Years resolutions, many related to losing weight. In recent years, obesity has been a problem among both humans and pets, which can lead to a myriad of health consequences, including a shorter life span.

To encourage pet weight loss resolutions, the Vinton Veterinary Hospital in Virginia is sponsoring a Biggest Loser competition for dogs and cats. The promotion runs from today through April.

The program is free and all participants must call and schedule a check-in. As a baseline, all pets will get on the scale, have a “before” photo taken, and get an individualized diet and exercise plan. All participating cats and dogs will return every two weeks to get weighed and chart progress. The pet that loses the most weight (by percentage) will win prizes including a year’s worth of Science Diet food, Frontline, and Heartguard.

If you don’t live near Vinton Veterinary Hospital, you can still evaluate your pet. Purina has a helpful chart on their web site to help determine if a dog is overweight. If you suspect your dog needs to lose a few pounds, consult your veterinarian for advice on how to get to a healthy weight.

Looking to shed pounds together? Check out my blog post from last year about running with your dog to start exercising.

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Adoptions Increase This Holiday Season
Shelters report higher adoption rates for December

Many shelters around the country are reporting higher adoption rates this holiday season. This is great news, although Christmas isn’t exactly the best time to bring home a new animal. I know many families want to surprise their kids with a puppy or kitten, but I can’t even imagine bringing home a new pet with all the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Nonetheless, I’m happy to see people adopt instead of visiting a pet store.

Some of these shelters have been running special “Home for the Holidays” promotions to encourage people to adopt. In California, the Sacramento SPCA, City of Sacramento Animal Care Services, Sacramento County Animal Care and Regulation and Happy Tails Pet Sanctuary teamed up to slash adoption fees in half with a goal of adopting out 1,000 pets by the end of the year. The Mayor's Alliance for NYC's Animals created greater awareness for homeless pets by sending had volunteers in Santa costumes walk around the streets of New York with dogs for adoption.   

I’m glad to hear that adoptions are up at shelters, but hope next year families will think twice about adopting during the holiday season. Waiting sets a good example for the kids and they get to help pick out the new addition!

 

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Proposed Ban in NYC for Chained Dogs
Bill to limit tethering to three hours

In New York, it’s common to see dogs tied to parking meters and trees while their family runs errands in nearby stores. I’m always afraid the pups will get stolen or get too hot or cold, depending on the weather. But even worse are the pets that get left behind at home, chained to fences for hours on end. This is more common in the outer Boroughs of the city, like the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Earlier this month, New York City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., introduced a bill that would ban people from tethering dogs outdoors for longer than three hours. New York is behind the times as other major cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco, have stricter regulations that ban chaining dogs completely.

Besides being subject to extreme weather conditions, tethering unattended dogs is a risky decision for many reasons. Chained pups are vulnerable to being attacked by other animals, injured by the tether, or even stolen. Tethering for long periods of time can also encourage behavioral problems to develop, like aggression.

If the bill is passed, unfortunately the New York City Health Department isn’t optimistic that the city will be able to enforce the law. Inspectors would have to witness the three-hour violation in order to issue a summons, which is logistically challenging. Even so, I hope that passing the bill will cause people to think twice about leaving their dogs tied outside.

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Toxic Holiday Plants
Watch out for dangerous mistletoe this December

For years I’ve avoided Poinsettia plants around the holidays because I’d always heard that they were highly toxic for animals. But according to Veterinary Medicine magazine, the toxicity of Poinsettias has been greatly exaggerated. 

Research estimates that the average animal would have to ingest 500 to 600 Poinsettia leaves to surpass toxic levels. The most common symptom is irritation to the mouth and stomach, which sometimes causes vomiting. 

I didn’t know until recently that two other common holiday plants are also considered toxic, one very highly. Holly is similar to Poinsettias and can cause vomiting and diarrhea. However, Mistletoe is the real holiday danger. Ingesting the plant can cause gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, dyspnea, bradycardia, erratic behavior, vomiting, diarrhea, and low blood pressure.

After learning of mistletoe’s toxicity, I will not be hanging any in the house. But I have started buying some Poinsettia plants. To be safe, I keep them high and out of reach of the pets. I also make sure that I periodically sweep up any fallen leaves. It’s always better to err on the side of caution to ensure everyone has a safe holiday season!

If you're wondering about the danger of any greenery around your house, visit the ASPCA web site to check their comprehensive list of toxic plants.

 

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Seasons Greetings from the Dogs
Sending cards from the pets is increasing in popularity

This past weekend, I finally got my Christmas cards out and, as always, they were complete with my dogs’ signatures and the annual holiday photo of the pups. Seasons greetings aren’t the only cards “sent” by my dogs. I routinely mail birthday cards and get well soon cards to friends’ pets from my furry crew. 

 

Years ago, when I first started writing cards from my pets, I rarely received any in return. But recently, the trend seems to be catching on. 

Dog Speak Cards, a company that specializes in pet cards, has seen their sales double in each of the five years they’ve been in business. Many stores started carrying their cards after finding that customers were adapting human cards for their pets. 

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, more mainstream greeting card companies jumping on the bandwagon and make cards both for and from pets.

Cards range from American Greetings’ birthday card that says, "You're the one who fills my empty bowl, who always has time to throw my ball and who scratches behind my ears" to Hallmark’s holiday card that says, “Merry Yip-mas.”

Dog Speak even has cards written in the “voice” of a dog (think "happee birfdaaa") and get well cards for dogs to send one another.

Sending holiday cards from pets has gotten so popular that etiquette specialists have begun fielding inquiries from pet lovers seeking advice on how to include their animals in their seasonal greetings.

Do you send cards from your dogs?

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