News: Guest Posts
Did the Scent of Feet Bring a Lost Dog Home?
Human scent trails as a recovery strategy

I recently finished writing a story for Bark’s summer issue about best practices for recovering lost dogs, based on the experiences and research of folks at the Missing Pet Partnership (MPP). Among their techniques for locating lost dogs are scent-detection dogs, i.e., using one dog to track down another. What I hadn’t heard of was relying on the lost dog’s nose to get himself home.

  Over the weekend, I read about the curious case of Annika Schlemm and her wirey Terrier, Charlie, who went missing during a walk not far from his home in West Sussex, England. He was on the lam for several days, and was frequently sighted in areas where Schlemm had recently been searching. So her mom suggested she go to the last place he’d been sighted and walk home, barefoot—leaving a scent path for Charlie to follow. It seems to have worked; the errant dog arrived home the following day. We won’t know for sure, Charlie isn’t talking, but it’s an interesting notion.   Relying on a dog’s keenest scent makes sense, except for one possible problem. During my lost dog research, I learned that panicked dogs can temporarily lose their sense of smell. “The olfactory portion of the brain will shut down when a dog is stressed,” MPP founder Kat Albrecht told me. “They’re not thinking of eating. They’re protecting themselves. They are full of adrenaline and need to be ready to bolt and run.” That may be why some dogs don’t always respond to food as bait or, unlike Charlie, have a hard time finding their way home.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mothering Kids and Dogs
There are so many similarities

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking back to when I first became a mom. It’s hard to remember much because massive sleep deprivation made me so tired that my brain failed at recording all but the occasional bit of information. Some of what I do remember is how awkward I felt with a baby compared to how comfortable I was with dogs, including puppies.

  This should not be surprising. I was a novice with a baby, but I had lots of experience as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist. I occasionally slipped into dog mode when dealing with my new baby. For example, if I wanted to get my son’s attention in order to take a photo of him looking at the camera, I fell back on my dog training habits and either clapped, smooched, or made a clicking sound in my cheek as I would with any dog. I have no recollection of ever saying, “pup, pup, pup,” for this purpose, but it’s possible I did so and have just repressed the memory.   This tendency to have my mind in the dog world did not go away as the fog of those early weeks with no sleep lifted. When my son was about 9 months old, someone asked me, “Is he walking yet?” and I answered, “No, but he’s often up on his back legs.” Most moms would have said, “He’s cruising,” to refer to children’s early pre-walking behavior of toddling along while hanging onto couches or other furniture. I quickly corrected myself and said something more appropriate to a description of human behavior, but the funny look I was given is burned into my brain forever.   Not only did I treat my kids in ways similar to how I would behave with dogs, I reacted to dogs as I did to my son. When he was only two months old, I returned to teaching dog training classes one evening a week. As a nursing mom, I already knew that any crying baby, not just my own, would result in my milk letting down. While teaching classes, I learned that certain dog vocalizations (a yelp from a dog whose paw had been stepped on for example, or the sound of a whining puppy) had the same effect, which was biologically fascinating as well as monumentally inconvenient. The sound of any creature in distress, whether human or dog, apparently spoke to my motherly desire to give.   Hopefully, my dog expertise is enhancing my parenting skills. I do apply many behavioral techniques from my years in clinical practice with dogs to the task. Only my sons, and in later years, probably their therapists, will be able to comment intelligently on whether or not this was wise.   Happy Mother’s Day to all. No matter what species your children are, here’s hoping you have a wonderful day!


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Can Be Gross
What they do is not necessarily appealing to us

As a member of a species that generally doesn’t swallow the afterbirth or eat feces, I feel qualified to discuss the fact that some dog behavior grosses humans out. I was thinking about this recently as I raced to my refrigerator for a piece of cheese to use to encourage a dog to drop the tissue that had fallen from my pocket as I reached for my lip balm. He was attempting to chew the tissue (used, of course) and while many a dog has eaten tissues with no ill effects, it’s not generally considered health food. Luckily, the cheese was more appealing, so I was able to convince him to drop the tissue so I could put it into the trash bin where it belonged.

  Dogs do other disgusting things besides the rather mild eating of used tissues. If people had any idea how often clients had confided in me that their dog had taken a discarded tampon from the garbage and ran through the house with it (invariably in front of company), you’d be amazed. This is common behavior in dogs, and the fact that we humans find it revolting does not make dogs any less likely to do it.   The same goes for rolling in the poop of other animals. Fox poop is a common cause of rolling, perhaps even more popular than horse poop. I’ve seen countless dogs roll in these substances, but I’ve yet to meet a person whose response was, “Right on. That’s always fun.”   What has your dog done that you consider revolting?  


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?


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?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.