JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Parkour
New sport encourages people and their pups to jump, run, and crawl.
In recent years we've had a surge in new dog sports, such as rally obedience and nosework. It's great to have so many different ways to spend quality time with your pup. Now there's another activity to try!

You may have seen videos online of people doing parkour, a sport typically practiced in urban areas that involves negotiating a complex environment as efficiently as possible. Originally developed as obstacle course training for the French military, parkour includes running, climbing, vaulting, jumping, and rolling.

When Ohio dog trainer Karin Coyne and veterinarian Abigail Curtis picked up parkour as a hobby in 2011, they realized their dogs would love doing this too! Soon they started training their pups to leap onto surfaces, run around obstacles, and crawl under spaces, and eventually began teaching classes. The duo had a diverse mix of students showing that anyone could participate from puppies to older pups. Many fearful dogs even gained confidence through canine parkour.

People from around the world started contacting Karin and Abigail asking about canine parkour, So they founded the International Dog Parkour Association to build the sport. The organization allows people and their pups to earn titles to commemorate new skills no matter where they live. It's up to individuals to teach the behaviors, practice, and then take a video of their dog confidently and safely navigating the obstacles. For example, at the novice level, dogs have to perform three different skills on a given obstacle.

What's cool about canine parkour is that it encourages people and their dogs to interact with the environment. You can practice and build skill almost anywhere!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hard Dog Chews
Vets are seeing an increase in fractured carnassial teeth.
My dogs love antler chews. When my Border Collie, Scuttle, was a puppy, it was the only way I could get her to chill while I got chores done around the house (besides using her crate). But recently a friend's pup fractured a tooth on an antler, prompting me to do a little research on these beloved treats. According to United Kingdom based DentalVets, veterinarians have been seeing an increase in fractured carnassial teeth from hard chews, some resulting in surgical extraction or root canal therapy. While fractured teeth aren't uncommon, damage to the carnassial teeth at the back of the mouth is.

This shift has caused some shops to stop stocking hard chews, like antlers and bull horns. Three years ago a group of concerned veterinarians and nurses wrote to the Veterinary Times to spread the word about the potential danger. This sparked a multi-year study on the effect of various types of chews on dog teeth, research that has recently concluded and will be submitted for publication soon.

While many dogs use these chews without problems, if you do give your pups these products, it's important to monitor your dogs' teeth and take them to the veterinarian for their annual checkups. Most pets with tooth fractures don't show any signs of pain, so we have to pay close attention to how our pups use these chews. The American Animal Hospital Association has a helpful article on canine tooth fractures.

According to oral veterinary surgeon, Rachel Perry, many people assume bones and antlers are beneficial because dogs in the wild eat these chews. But we shouldn't assume what animals do in the wild is necessarily safe. Rachel cites a study that looked at the skulls of Wild African Dogs. The scientists found that 41 percent had periodontal disease and 48 percent had broken teeth. So we may not want to follow exactly what these pups are doing!

Rachel recommends two simple tests to determine if a chew is too hard. If you can dig your fingernail in it and make an impression, it's safe. If you can whack your knee with it, and it doesn't hurt, it's okay.

If your dog has suffered dental injury from a chew, DentalVets advocates getting a vet report and reporting the damage to the pet store that you bought the product from. This will create greater awareness

Do your pups like antlers and other hard chews?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ballgames for Pups
The Diamondbacks up the ante with its Dog Days of Summer promotion.
As a New York Mets fan, I distinctly remember how excited I was when they announced their first ever Dog Day at Shea Stadium in 2005. It was a relatively new concept at the time, a night where you could bring your pup to watch the baseball game. Even better, part of the profits went to a local animal shelter. Soon it became a regular promotion at ballparks across the country. Last year, 22 of the 33 Major League Baseball teams had at least one game where they welcomed canine fans. The Pittsburgh Pirates were extremely pet friendly, hosting ten Pup Nights.

But this season the Arizona Diamondbacks are taking the concept to a new level. They just announced that they're teaming up with PetSmart to open all 13 of their Sunday home games to fans and their dogs. Dog Days of Summer will feature a specially created area near left center field with tiered seating to accommodate families and dogs of all kinds and an outdoor/indoor dog park for the pups to explore and run around. The outside portion will be themed with a baseball diamond and grassy outfield and the indoor portion will be air conditioned for relief on hot summer days. This customized area is the first of its kind at a ballpark. Special concessions will also be available, such as canine ice cream topped with kibble, and local shelters will be showcasing dogs for adoption.

Not all dogs will enjoy attending a baseball game with its loud noises, crowds, and stadium seating, but for those who do, it's a great way to spend a night sharing a favorite pastime with your pup.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Reading to Shelter Pups
Kids gain reading skills while timid dogs acclimatize to people.

When my Sheltie, Nemo, participated in our local library's reading program, you could see how the kids really opened up in front of the pups. The parents would tell me how these visits helped their children overcome shyness and even fear of dogs. The reading program made the library one of their favorite places!

In December, the Humane Society of Missouri did their own twist on the library programs to help homeless pets. The Shelter Buddies Reading Program lets kids practice reading in a non-judgmental environment, while helping to acclimatize timid or anxious shelter dogs to people.

The program also has an educational aspect. The kids, ages six through 15, go through a training program that teaches them to understand the perspective of pets in a shelter environment and how to read canine body language. The children are then assigned to a dog who they read to and reinforce desired behavior, like giving a treat for coming to the front of the kennel. The kids can bring a book from home or choose one from the shelter's library.

The Humane Society came up with the idea for the program because they wanted to find a way to comfort anxious dogs, while incorporating the many animal loving kids who were looking to volunteer.

Besides making the pups more comfortable, the program has the potential to shorten shelter stays. According to JoEllyn Klepacki, the assistant director of education, dogs that come to the front of the kennel when people walk by are more likely to be adopted. The program has only been in place for two months, but JoEllyn says that the impact has been amazing. Dogs that used to cower in the back of the kennel come up to the front by the end of their reading sessions.

I hope more shelters around the world will implement this mutually beneficial program!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Royal Mealtime Rituals
Insight into the Queen's canine routine.
Queen Elizabeth's Corgis are arguably the most beloved members of British royalty. Recently Dr. Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist and behavioral therapist who has worked for years with the royal canines, talked about their cushy lives in an interview celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday.

It turns out the Queen has a very specific mealtime ritual for her four pups, Holly, Willow, Candy, and Vulcan. Each of the dogs are fed individually designed menus of steak, rabbit, or chicken, topped with homeopathic and herbal add-ins. The meals are served on silver or porcelain dishes and brought out by a butler. The dogs patiently sit in a semi-circle around the Queen and they're fed in order of seniority.

This feeding ritual made me think of my own pups' routine. I also feed my dogs in order of seniority, but will flip the order if someone barks (usually one of the impatient Shelties!). Whoever barks gets their food last. This only delays their meal by a minute or so, but those are the rules in our house! Good manners trumps seniority. 

While our pets may not eat off of silver platters, we may have more in common with the Queen and her dogs than we think. Dr. Mugford had some interesting insights into the Queen's love of animals. He says she has strong views about how dogs should be cared for and doesn't tolerate unkindness. When the Queen talks about her dogs you see a completely different side to her: she relaxes."

The human canine bond is strong, no matter if we're royalty or not!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs are Often Mislabeled as Pit Bulls
University of Florida study compares shelter breed assessments and DNA tests.
My local shelter is filled to the brim with homeless bully dogs, but because of the stigma around these breeds, these dogs are often overlooked. It's such a problem that some area rescue groups transport non-bully breeds from the South to make available for adoption.

A recent study at the University of Florida found that shelter pups are often mislabeled as Pit Bulls, which can adversely affect their chances of being adopted. According to Julie Levy, a professor at the school and the lead researcher on the study, animal shelter staff and veterinarians are frequently expected to guess the breed of dogs on appearance alone.

"In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog's life might depend on a potential adopter's momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If the shelter staff has labeled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters."

The researchers evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 staff members, including four veterinarians, across four area shelters. These staff members had at least three years of experience working in a shelter environment. The researchers took blood samples from the dogs, developed DNA profiles, and compared the findings against the staff's initial assessments.

There was a wide range of skill when it came to correctly associating a dog to a predominant breed. Dogs with Pit Bull heritage breed DNA (defined to include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier), were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on the staff member. They also found only a moderate level of agreement among staff members who evaluated the same dogs.

While there's a larger problem at play--changing the unfair perception of bully breeds--inaccurately labeling dogs as Pit Bulls can have significant implications like reduced adoption rates, higher insurance fees, and even exclusion from living in certain cities or buildings. Animal shelters have hundreds of pets come in every month, making it hard to spend more than a few minutes determining a pup's predominant breed. This is no easy feat for overwhelmed rescue organizations. However, this study shows how important the label can be in determining a dogs' fate.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs and Machine Learning Come Together in an App
Fetch! identifies your pups' breed makeup through new technology.
A few years ago, consumer canine DNA tests became popular among dog lovers curious about their pets' heritage. Through a cheek swab or blood sample, you could see what interesting mix of breeds your rescue pup was made up of. But for many, the novelty didn't warrant the price tag.

Now there's a free, though less scientific, alternative through an app called Fetch! The program was created by Microsoft Garage, a project lab that lets Microsoft employees work on projects not related to their regular job (it's been compared to Google's famous "20% time" initiative).

Using machine learning technology, Fetch! uses a photo database to classify the makeup of a dog. When you take a picture of your pup, it'll tell you the closest percentage of your dog's breed. If your dog is a mix, you can tap the percentage of see the top five potential breeds. My rescue dog, Scuttle, came up as 99% Border Collie, which I think is accurate, but I tried the app with my friends' pups and they came up mostly Basenji and Chihuahua, which I was doubtful about. However, I can see that the accuracy can very depending on the quality of the photo you use.

If you take a non-dog photo, it will say "No dogs found" and offer a guess as to what it is. I tried a photo of my cat and it successfully identified her as a cat. If you use a photo of a person, it will go into Fetch! Fun mode and put cartoon ears on your head and playfully suggest a breed.

Fetch! uses a technology called deep neural networks to identify subtle of differences in images. According to Mitch Goldberg, a development director at Microsoft Research, this is what makes the app successful. You don't train the algorithm on a particular dog breed. In the training process, you give it a number of images and the computer determines what's unique in each of the photos.

Fetch! should improve over time as users leave feedback on the accuracy of the results. Currently the program is available as an iOS app and through a web site.

Whether it's accurate or not, it's certainly a fun program to try with your pups!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Unusual Animal Cruelty Charge
A Virginia man faced jail time for failing to bring his dog to the vet.
Deciding when to say goodbye to a beloved pet is never an easy one. When Travis Evans drove to the Stafford Animal Shelter last July to euthanize his family's Labrador Retriever, Buxton, he never imagined that he would be charged with animal cruelty. However, eleven days after Buxton was euthanized, Travis, still grieving, faced a class one misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The story began in December 2014 when the Evans family noticed a mass on Buxton's front paw. They brought him to a veterinarian who surgically removed the growth, however the procedure revealed that the seven year old pup had terminal cancer. Buxton did pretty well after the surgery until last July when the he had a seizure in the family's kitchen. Travis immediately called their vet office, which was closed, and then local emergency hospital. But by that time Buxton seemed to rebound and was walking around their backyard. Since he seemed to be doing okay, and they already knew about the terminal illness, the family decided not to take Buxton to the emergency vet appointment. But a few days later Buxton collapsed on the floor. Travis then made the decision to euthanize Buxton through the animal shelter.

The animal cruelty case focused on the four day gap between Buxton's first seizure and when Travis brought him in for euthanasia. The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office contends that the family ignored veterinarian recommendations and allowed Buxton to suffer. There's a lot of information missing from this case, so I can see why the charges were later dropped, citing the family wasn't intentionally cruel.

While I understand that the Evans' may have been short on money and felt they already knew Buxton had cancer, but if it were me, I would've brought my dog to the veterinarian immediately following the first seizure. That decision is certainly at the crux of the misdemeanor charge, however it seems like a bit of a slippery slope. The other side of this case is also interesting because the decision of when to euthanize a pet is often a bit subjective. Thinking about one of my past cats, I often think that I let him suffer too long because I didn't want to say goodbye.  

I'm glad that Stafford officials seemto be monitoring potential cruelty so closely, but I can see how these charges could be applied inconstantly. I also fear that this case could discourage people from calling the veterinarian, thinking that it could put them on the radar for a possible charge.

How do you think the Evans' family case should have been handled?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cop Investigates and Leaves with a New Puppy
A Florida police officer adopts a dog after responding to a call at a local shelter.
There have been many altercations between dogs and police officers in the news lately, but not all of them are negative. Last month Officer Marcus Montgomery, of the Fort Walton Beach Police Department in Florida, responded to a routine call at the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and ended up leaving with a new furry family member!

While conducting his investigation, Officer Montgomery spotted a puppy who had been abandoned the night before. He jokingly said, "don't bring him in here or else I will take him home right now." But before he knew it, he was holding the pup who proceeded to lick his nose. Officer Montgomery couldn't say no to the convincing puppy that he later named Kylo.

Kylo was left in a box behind the shelter overnight, during freezing cold weather. Now the lucky pup joins the Montgomery family's Pit Bull Terrier, Vader. Kylo also continues the tradition of Star Wars themed names.

Officer Montgomery hopes that Kylo's story will inspire others to visit their local animal shelters to give these abandoned dogs a new lease on life.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Escapes Kennel to Comfort Stray Puppies
The maternal instinct is strong in humans and canines.
Last month Karen London wrote about the importance of maternal care on puppies' development. Young dogs whose mothers interacted with with them a lot were more socially and physically engaged than those with less involved moms. Maternal instinct is clearly important for canines, and that extends to "adopted" puppies.

A stray dog in Canada had such strong maternal instincts that she broke out of her kennel to comfort a litter of puppies.

It all started at Barkers Pet Motel and Grooming in Alberta Canada which fosters many dogs while they wait to be adopted. Maggie, a dog whose own litter had already been adopted, heard another litter of abandoned puppies whimpering in the middle of their first night in the facility.

When motel owner Sandy Aldred checked the surveillance camera, she saw that Maggie had somehow broke out of her kennel and was laying in front of the puppies' enclosure.  So Sandy went to the kennel and let Maggie into the puppies' enclosure. The next morning, Maggie was still cuddled up with the puppies. Sandy's son, Alex, believes that Maggie needed the frightened puppies as much as they needed her.

The little ones are around ten weeks old and are still looking for homes through Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS).

According to AARCS worker Deanna Thompson, it's not the first time they've seen this instinct at play. They've even seen male dogs console crying puppies to make sure they feel safe.

Just another way we humans share similar qualities to canines.