Home
behavior
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: Guest Posts
Video: Fight or Play?
Learn to read canine body language

This might sound strange, but I've been studying dog play recently. A lot. My normally playful mixed breed, Ginger Peach, stresses easily in new environments.

She often refuses to tug on her toy, play with her Frisbee, or otherwise engage with me. She gets a glazed look in her eyes and pants heavily, completely overwhelmed by so many dogs, people, noise and no doubt smells.   This does not bode well for her long-term agility career if I don't figure out how to help her be as relaxed as she is in training or agility class.   I've been videotaping how she plays with my other dogs and reading as many books on dog play as I can. My friends and students enjoy watching some of the film snippets and good-naturedly listen to my latest canine body language observations.

What I find particularly intriguing is how some people can’t tell the difference between dog playing and dog fighting. When I showed the clip above to a friend, she thought my Dalmatian, Jolie, and mix, Ginger Peach, were fighting. The growling, teeth flashing and body pinning scared her. We talked about the difference between playing and fighting, and how to read canine body language. We also talked about play styles and why Jolie and GP are such a good match.

  What’s your dog’s play style? How do you tell the difference between playing and fighting?

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Myth of the Quick Fix for Behavior Problems
Contrary to popular belief, changing behavior takes time

In January, I welcomed a new puppy into my home, a 7-week-old Border Collie named Remy. With any new dog, there is always a growing list of things to train—learning not to chase the cat, greeting people politely, walking nicely on a leash, settling in a crate, just to name a few.

Most times, the solution is simple, reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior, but changing any behavior takes time, patience and dedication. For instance, Remy used to bark at other dogs making noise in the neighborhood. I wanted to stop this behavior for obvious reasons, but also because he had to learn to settle at agility competitions when there will be other dogs barking. 

So I started counter-conditioning Remy so he would learn to associate barking with getting yummy treats for being quiet. First, I played a CD of dogs barking, starting at a low volume and working up to a high volume. Every time a dog barked, I fed Remy some yummy treats. When this was going well, I progressed to working in harder “environments”—staying quiet walking around the neighborhood where there is a barking dog a few houses down, at our training club where there are several dogs barking in crates, and eventually at a competition, where dogs are barking and running around.

Our animal shelters are filled with pets abandoned because people don’t realize the time and dedication required to train good manners. 

Recently, I was annoyed to discover a new training tool that promises to stop your dog’s unwanted behavior in 7 minutes or less. I know it’s a marketing ploy, but products like the shakeTrainer are frustrating because it promotes the fallacy that any behavior issue can be solved instantly. In addition, this blanket solution ignores any possible underlying reasons, such as fear or a health issue. 

As any responsible dog lover knows, there is rarely a quick fix for anything. If we could only get the word out, maybe there would be less abandoned pets in the world.

Do you have a training story to share?

News: Karen B. London
Has Your Dog Damaged Your Computer?
Dogs and fragile technology don’t always mix

Last week I met a friend and colleague for a work session over coffee, but before we got down to business, he told me about the latest escapade involving his roommate’s dog. The dog, a miniature pinscher who is energetic and reactive by any measure, was resting cozily in my friend’s lap as he worked on his laptop. Both were enjoying being together in this way as they often do. The next few seconds were less relaxing and much more exciting.

  The sequence of events was 1) Visitor knocks at door, 2) Dog leaps straight up like a champagne cork and commences ear-piercing barking, 3) Dog collides with computer and computer power cord with tremendous force, 4) Computer crashes onto the floor in the open position, 5) Computer screen shatters, 6) Dog continues thrashing about the apartment at speeds approaching Mach 2.   As my friend put it, “You just don’t budget for things like that.” And that is so true. By definition, we never plan on these sorts of unexpected accidents. Yet most of us who have lived with a dog for any length of time have had to replace or repair some form of expensive technology because it got in the way of our dog’s exuberance.   What damage has your dog done to your computer or other costly equipment?

 

News: Karen B. London
What Snow Does To Dogs
Is yours more energetic and less attentive?

As strong as the kinship is that we share with dogs, this year’s nutty winter storms have hit members of both species differently in many cases. Most of the human inhabitants of the US are already completely sick of the snow. They are tired of shoveling, and clearing off their cars, and being stuck on the roads. Many dogs seem to fell differently. Snow is fun for most dogs, and, along with cooler winter temperatures, it really changes them. One of the most obvious changes is that dogs are more energetic, especially when they are outdoors.

That extra energy can be a good thing. The extra exercise is great for dogs who join you on any skiing or snowshoeing adventures. And you probably have company while shoveling snow. People shovel the snow and dogs try to catch it as it flies by to the piles. And I love it when a dog is happily tired in the evenings after a day of outdoor snow adventures.   However, if your dog is super peppy because of the snow and crisp air, it can be exhausting if the snow does not make you similarly inclined to be more playful and full of joy. It’s not ideal when dogs are invigorated by the weather but their people consider winter storms an inspiration to sip hot cocoa while reading a good book in front of the fire.   Energetic dogs are more likely to misbehave with destructive chewing, barking, whining, chasing the cat, and any of a number of undesirable actions that result from being full of energy with no outlet for it. When they do go outside, they may be less responsive because they are so distracted.   The way that snow changes many dogs is a big deal this winter since so much of the country is experiencing extreme and even record-setting amounts of snow. The more you are able to follow your dog’s lead and enjoy the snow, the less tedious and stressful your wait for spring will be.   How has the snow affected your dog?
News: Guest Posts
The Jazz Puppy
Have you seen the singing, piano-playing Schnoodle?

There are a lot of singing dogs on YouTube. But Tucker is the first I’ve seen who sings and plays. Not just sings and plays, but performs. There is a Glenn Gould feeling about it that really blows my mind. According to the “KennedyFamily99,” he wasn’t trained to play; it’s not a trick. And he practices a few times a day, that’s better than most folks taking lessons.

News: Guest Posts
Patricia Simonet, 1959-2010
Jan. 22 memorial for researcher who discovered dog laughter

We were saddened to learn Patricia Simonet, who “discovered” dog laughter, died in December—at only 51, three after years of being diagnosed with breast cancer. She will be missed not only for the contributions she made in our understanding of dogs’ play vocalizations and smiling but also because of her advocacy for homeless dogs in the Spokane, Wash., community.

  Simonet, who wrote about dog laughter for Bark magazine in September 2007, not only translated the “meaning” of various grunts and breathy pants, she revealed the value of laughter in calming dogs, which could be deployed to ameliorate stress in shelter environments. In Spokane, Simonet worked as an animal behaviorist at SCRAPS, the county animal shelter, where she helped promote pet adoptions by matching the animal’s “personality” with that of their prospective owners. She also volunteered at the Spokane Humane Society. In 2010, the Spokane County Board of Supervisors named Spokane County’s only off-leash dog park, the Patricia Simonet Laughing Dog Park in her honor.   ► Patricia Simonet will be remembered and celebrated on Saturday, January 22 at 1 p.m. in the Spokane Buddhist Temple at 927 S. Perry St., Spokane.

 

News: Karen B. London
Dog Saves Frozen Feline
Cat’s best friend?

I am very interested in the interactions between different species. In fact, as a scientist, it is those interactions that I love to study and understand. For my first research project in graduate school, I investigated the nesting association of two species of tropical social wasps in order to understand why their nests are often found within a few centimeters of each other. No matter what the story is, if it involves more than one species, I’m interested.

  Besides just loving dogs, I’m fascinated by the fact that we are two species with a shared and very close relationship, which is nothing short of a biological wonder. We talk about dogs as our best friends, yet, we have other friends, too. Similarly, dogs may consider members of species besides humans to be social partners, especially if they have been exposed to those species early in life.   It’s my interest in interactions between different species that led me to be so fascinated by a recent story from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. During a blizzard earlier this year, a dog saved the life of a cat that had nearly frozen to death. The cat had apparently been living under the house of the man and dog who saved it. The dog brought the cat to his guardian, who brought it to the local human society because it was in bad shape and actually had a towel frozen to it with ice. The cat was severely hypothermic and its heart rate was very low. The staff at a local animal hospital worked saved the cat with treatment in lukewarm water to remove the towel and warm IV fluids.   The dog needed to interact with both the cat and humans to save the frozen feline, who was named Frosty by the staff at the Kootenai Humane Society. The dog needed to rescue Frosty from his hiding spot and then safely deliver it to the human in order for him to get proper care.   Do you know of situations in which a dog has truly acted as a cat’s best friend?
News: JoAnna Lou
Dog Bites on the Rise
Hospitalization for dog bites doubled in 15 years

 

According to a new government study, the number of Americans hospitalized for dog bites almost doubled between 1993 and 2008. The researchers at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the department responsible for the survey, are at a loss to explain the increase. The popularity of pets in recent years doesn’t account for the spike, as their numbers have only increased slightly. 

At first I thought that the higher number may have to do with the change in how society views pets. Today, more dogs live inside the home and have more daily contact with people (increasing the chance of a bite). However, the study found that residents of rural areas made four times as many emergency room visits due to dog bites than people living in non-rural areas, presumably where dogs are more likely to be living outside. Maybe better socialization or urban basic obedience classes can explain this aspect of the statistics?

I do hope that more research is done to follow up on this study. It’s important to find out what factors are influencing the dramatic increase in dog bites.

Whatever the cause may be, this study highlights the importance of learning how to prevent dog bites. Children under five (and adults 65 and older) were most likely to be hospitalized after a bite, do it’s important to teach our kids how to interact with and behave around dogs.

Why do you think that dog bites are on the rise?

 

News: Karen B. London
An Emu Who Acts Like A Dog
Who does she think she is?

An Emu named Emma sometimes acts like her best friend, a dog named Charlie. She fetches, plays with Charlie’s toys, sits when asked to do so, and chases things, just like Charlie does. Her human family says that she thinks she's a dog, and that nobody ever told her she wasn’t. (Emus are Australia’s largest native bird, reaching heights of well over 6 feet.)

  It makes a great story to say that Emma thinks she’s a dog, but it’s hard to justify. The fact that she is exhibiting some typically canine behaviors is fascinating, and surely fun to observe, but there are many reasons why she may act in ways that are similar to dogs other than an identity crisis. Animals are capable of learning a lot from those around them.   Imprinting is a specific type of learning. It is very rapid learning that occurs in a specific phase of life, such as when birds become attached to moving objects soon after hatching and follow them around. This sort of filial imprinting typically applies to ducks and geese, though it can happen in a wide variety of animals. It ensures that the animals follow their parents around, which is critical for survival. It is very likely that Emma the emu has imprinted on Charlie since the family got her when she was so young, and that has given her ample opportunity to observe his behavior.   Observational learning is the learning that occurs by watching others perform behavior that is novel to the observer. Role models are common in many species, and Emma may be exhibiting observational learning with Charlie as her role model for behaviors such as chasing, fetching, playing with toys, etc.   The fact that Emma is performing behaviors that may be more typically seen in dogs than in emus is evidence of the fact that the environment strongly influences behavior. So Emma’s potential behavioral repertoire is quite large, but the environment that she is in (a dog is present) results in a particular set of behaviors out of all those that are possible. Emma’s behavior suggests that emus have the capability to learn those dog-like behaviors, but that in their usual social environment, they don’t develop.   So, I’m not convinced that Emma “thinks she’s a dog.” I think that she is an emu whose behavior is perhaps a bit unusual for members of her species, but clearly can develop in the right situation. I also think this is one of the coolest stories I’ve read in a long time, and I wish that I could see Emma myself. She sounds like a very hip bird!

Pages