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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ivy League Study on How Dogs Think
Harvard recruits dogs for its Canine Cognition Lab.

What pet lover doesn’t attribute human-like abilities to their dogs? I try to avoid anthromorphizing, but when you live with someone-- human or canine--you can’t help but speculate on what drives their behavior and decision-making.

Scientists have spent decades studying exotic animals, such as dolphins and gorillas, while dogs have been largely neglected. I’m even guilty, having studied the effects of behavioral enrichment on parrots at the Bronx Zoo during my academic years. Most of what we know about dogs is anecdotal, but that is about to change with the foundation of the Canine Cognition Lab at Harvard University.

Founded by Marc Hauser, a psychology professor and longtime monkey cognition researcher, the lab will be exploring emotions, such as loyalty and guilt, as well as concepts like pointing and associating pictures with objects. All of the experiments are non-invasive and use positive reinforcement.

Findings will be posted on the web site as research and analysis is completed. In the meantime, the Canine Cognition Lab is still accepting applications for dogs in the Boston, Mass., area. 

While I live too far to participate in the study, there are emotions I’m convinced my pets display, such as jealousy. Does your dog exhibit any behavior that you hope will be studied at the lab?

For more information, check out the Boston Globe's video on the Canine Cognition Lab:

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
One Voice Can Make a Difference
Pet lover introduces antifreeze law to protect animals in Virginia.

Last month, Virginia Governor Tim Kane, signed a bill that requires antifreeze sold in the Commonwealth to contain a bittering agent. Seven other states, Arizona, California, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington, have passed similar laws to discourage ingestion of the sweet-tasting liquid. According to the Humane Society Legislative Fund, approximately 10,000 pets die each year from antifreeze. The main ingredient, ethylene glycol, also poses a toxicity risk to children and wildlife.

Adding the bittering agent is certainly a step in the right direction, but I find it hard to believe that changing the flavor will prevent animals from drinking a fatal dose, which can be as little as one teaspoon. To be on the safe side, I'll be switching to antifreeze made with propylene glycol, such as Sierra, a less toxic alternative. Regardless of which version you use, being careful when handling, storing and disposing of antifreeze can prevent many tragedies.

When reading about this story, I was particularly moved by the power that a single person’s actions can have on behalf of our furry friends. When pet lover and former letter carrier Yvonne Royster learned about the accidental poisoning of two dogs on her postal route, she contacted Virginia U.S. Representative Kirk Cox who introduced the bill in January.

Many times it might seem like one person can’t make a difference, particularly when it comes to the government. But Yvonne proved that one voice can make a difference for pets all over Virginia.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Kindness of Pet Lovers
Web site raises money for a shelter dog’s vet bills.

The faltering economy has forced many people to make sacrifices. But what about their furry family members? I’ve heard stories of people eating Ramen noodles in order to buy pet food and forgoing gym memberships in favor of doggy daycare. However, unexpected vet bills can be the tipping point. Injuries often lead to thousands of dollars in surgery, leaving many pet owners with little choice but to choose what has been called “economic euthanasia.”

Marley, a terrier mix puppy in Florida, found himself in a similar situation when he was attacked by another dog. His owner couldn’t afford to fix his wounds, fractures and dislocated jaw, opting to end his suffering by putting him to sleep.

Luckily Marley was rescued by Heidi’s Legacy, but even a grant and discounted vet rates couldn’t cover his expensive surgeries. The rescue group then turned to fundraising web site, Fundable, to collect donations for the balance. So far, thanks to many generous pet lovers, they’ve already reached 38 percent of their $550 goal.

While there are plenty of rescue dogs, like Marley, who have fundraising web pages, Fundable is filled with regular pet owners who have lost their job or put their vet bill on a credit card hoping to pay it off during better times. Fundable currently has 67 ongoing collections that come up under a search for “dog,” each with its own heartbreaking story.

Personally, I’ve found the canine community to be incredibly supportive. From giving job advice to an unemployed obedience club member to supporting a fellow agility competitor’s cancer fund, I’ve seen dog people step up to the plate for one another time and time again. So it doesn’t surprise me that Fundable has been successful in reaching out to pet lovers all over the internet to help those in need.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Survivor, Doggy Edition
A canine castaway survives on an island for four months.

In November, the unthinkable happened to the Griffith family during a family boat trip. Their Australian Cattle Dog, Sophie Tucker, fell overboard into the choppy waters off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The family was devastated but after an unsuccessful search, the Griffiths thought they’d never see their beloved dog again.

Last month, a family friend passed along news about a dog on Saint Bees Island that was found hunting native goats. The Griffiths were skeptical that this could be Sophie Tucker, but when they learned that Queensland Parks and Wildlife was bringing the dog back to the mainland, they decided to set up a meeting. 

The Griffiths had a glimmer of hope when they spotted a grey and black dog. Upon calling Sophie Tucker’s name, the dog started whimpering and pawing at the side of the crate. And when the door was opened, their long lost dog ran into their arms, four months after losing her at sea.   

The wildlife rangers believe that Sophie Tucker swam five nautical miles through shark-infested waters to Saint Bees Island where she survived on crabs and baby goats.

Have you ever wondered if your dog could survive in the wild? My dogs certainly chase squirrels but I’m not quite sure they’d know what to do even if they could catch up with the lightening fast critters. But it seems as though our dogs’ survival instincts may be stronger than we think!

 

Check out a video of Sophie back home with her family:

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Award Show Fit for A Dog
Winners announced for the 2009 Canis Film Festival.

These days, there seems to be a film festival and award show for just about everything. So it’s about time we dog lovers got a piece of the pie.

Last weekend the winners of the 2009 Canis Film Festival were announced at ClickerExpo in Providence, R.I. Although there were no swag bags or paparazzi, the films starred talented and furry actors showcasing dog training at its best.

The Grand Prize went to Chaos, a Border Collie whose owner taught him to blow bubbles in his water bowl. Not only is this trick just plain cute, it’s refreshing to see training that has no set agenda. Often times I get caught up in training only “useful” behaviors, such as heeling or waiting at the door. But this video inspired me to remember the fun of dog training, particularly with shaping. 

The runner-up was a film on using positive methods to get a dog to use a treadmill and the second Runner-up, my personal favorite, was a touching story on the life changing effects of clicker training from the point of view of an adopted shelter dog.

Conceived by Karen Pryor Clicker Training, the Canis Film Festival showcases the art of animal training. The entries, all less than seven minutes, are judged for clarity of instruction, innovation, entertainment value, positive methods, usefulness and production quality. 

Feeling inspired to feature your dog in a winning film? Details will be posted shortly on the festival’s web site for 2010 submissions. Fire up your camcorders!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Watch Out for Fido!
New study shows that pets can pose a risk of injury from accidental falls.

The benefits of pets are undeniable and, as a dog lover, any possible negatives (beyond vet bills and walks in the rain) seem inconceivable. However, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control found that, each year in the United States, nearly 90,000 people are injured in a fall involving their pet. Of those accidents, 88 percent were related to dogs or items such as toys.

The most frequent falls were among young children and adults age 35 to 54, but the highest injury rates occurred among people 75 and older.  This group is particularly at risk given how serious fractures can be at this age.

Dr. Judy Stevens, an epidemiologist with the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, advises that “pet owners should be aware that there are certain situations that are more likely to lead to falls, such as when they’re walking their dog or if they’re chasing their pets.”

While these accidents only account for 1 percent of all fall-related injuries, the CDC believes that the number could be much lower by doing obedience training, to minimize leash pulling and jumping, and picking up toys left around the house.

As an owner of two exuberant Shelties, I’ve trained them to be sensitive to my movement for agility--including not crossing in front of or behind my path. This seems to have come in handy around the house since, being Shelties, they want to be as close to me as possible. But, I do have to admit, I’ve tripped over many toys and even a baby gate. Fortunately, I haven’t had any serious injuries, but after reading this study, I’m thinking about teaching my dogs to put their toys away in a box. 

Have you ever taken a tumble over a dog, a toy or even a bone?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs as Deal Breakers
Woman turns down an arranged marriage after finding out the man didn't like dogs.

Dog lovers know what unconditional love looks like, so it makes sense that we'd be a little pickier when it comes to choosing our human partner. One woman's story has been going viral lately for her dedication to her pup.

Karishma Walia lives in Guragon, India and was recently in talks to marry a guy from a wealthy family in New Delhi. “My mom thought he was an excellent match because he’s good-looking and well-off," says Karishma. She was a little concerned when he talked about family being a priority over a career, since Karishma enjoys her job as an analyst, but things were otherwise going well. But then came the deal breaker. When her potential groom-to-be told her that a dog would put a crimp in their love life, Karishma immediately told him it was a a non-negotiable.

He wondered if liking dogs would be a temporary phase in her life and urged her to think about the big picture. But Karishma simply explained, "Having a dog is definitely not a temporary phase. I can’t abandon my dog for anyone." Karishma was under a lot of family pressure, but knew it was the right decision. And she isn't alone in having to weed out potential partners who aren't crazy about dogs.

In 2011, a UK Craigslist survey found that dogs were the most likely pet to hurt your dating prospects. Yes, our pups represent a significant commitment, but I think dog lovers would agree... if our pets do turn away some dating prospects, we more than welcome the help identifying people we're not compatible with!

Have you ever dated someone who was not a dog person?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Accommodating Service Dogs
The challenge of balancing service dogs, fears, and allergies.

Last week a California mall's Santa made the news when he refused to visit with an autistic girl because he was afraid of her Pit Bull service dog. It sounds like the situation was mishandled, since allegedly the Santa wouldn't meet with the girl even after her family offered to take the pup outside, but this situation also brings up a larger challenge.

In an ideal world we would be able to bring our well behaved pups anywhere we wanted--hotels, stores, and on airplanes. But there are two main limitations. The first is responsible pet ownership. Unfortunately it takes only one misbehaved dog to loose pet friendly rights for everyone. This is about teaching good manners in public (being quiet and under control) and about knowing a pup's limitations (for instance, if you know your dog doesn't like running kids, you should stay clear of parks or visit early in the morning when it's less crowded). Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

The second limitation is one that is related to the Santa case, and that's balancing pet friendliness with people that have an allergy or fear of dogs. This is a challenge with no easy solution. Of course with the mall situation, we're not just talking about being pet friendly, but about accommodating someone who needs their service dog. If the mall couldn't hire a Santa who isn't afraid of dogs (or allergic), they should develop a protocol for how to handle these cases, like having someone take the dog to a different area while the visit happens.

And this isn't just limited to Santa visits. All businesses should have a plan in place, not only for welcoming service dogs, but how to accommodate them if an employee or customer is afraid or allergic to animals. I hope that this case sparks other businesses to think about creating protocols in order to avoid turning someone away because of their service dog.

What are your ideas for balancing pet friendliness and accommodating service dogs with fears and allergies?

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