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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Are Some Dogs Pessimistic?
A new study addresses this question

In a recent study in the journal Current Biology, researchers assert that shelter dogs who show behavior indicative of separation distress tend to be pessimistic, compared with more optimistic dogs who are less likely to exhibit separation-related behavior. I’m going to explain briefly how the experiment was conducted and then discuss my concerns with the researchers’ conclusions.

  In their experiment, 24 shelter dogs were taught that a bowl in one location had food in it, while a bowl in another location was empty. Once the dogs were trained to this paradigm, they were tested to determine whether or not they had a “pessimistic” cognitive bias, or an “optimistic” one. In the test, bowls were placed in locations other than the ones that the dogs had been trained to understand. These ambiguous locations were in the same room as the tests with bowls that had either been empty or containing food during training. The time it took for the dogs to approach the bowls in these new locations was recorded.   Dogs who went quickly to bowls in ambiguous locations were regarded as having an optimism that the bowl would contain food, while dogs who were slow to approach the bowl were considered to be pessimistic about the likelihood that the bowl would contain food.   In another part of the study, these same dogs were observed to determine how much time they spent exhibited separation-related behavior patterns such as vocalizing, destructive chewing, and inappropriate elimination. The researchers found that “pessimistic” dogs showed more separation-related distress than the “optimistic” dogs, and thus concluded that the negative affective state of these pessimistic dogs is correlated with separation distress.   My concern about this study is that I’m not convinced that the time until a dog approaches a bowl in an unknown location indicates optimism versus pessimism. What if degree of curiosity or tendency to fear new things is more relevant, rather than a cognitive decision about the likelihood of food being present? It is even possible that the dogs who were slower to approach the bowls were not as good at generalizing from the learning task or that they spent time considering what to do rather than acting impulsively. Or, perhaps the dogs who were slow to approach the bowls don’t tend to investigate things that are not theirs? (For dogs in home settings, we call this being “well-trained” or “well-behaved.”)   The authors say that the results of the experiment were “unlikely to be explained by running speed/motivation, learning ability, or other dog characteristics” but except for running speed, they did not control for them. The researchers have provided evidence that dogs who are slower to approach a bowl in an ambiguous location are more likely to exhibit signs of separation distress, but I don’t think they have made a strong case that they can conclude more than that. They have not demonstrated a correlation between separation related distress and a pessimistic cognitive bias. There are too many other possible explanations that need to be sorted through and tested for such a claim to be convincing.
News: Guest Posts
Counter Surfer, Caught!
Man videos his unsuspecting Basenji

Ever wonder what your dog is up to when you’re away? I know I’m curious about how my dogs pass the time when I’m gone, especially when I return to find what looks like the aftermath of a fairly epic couch party, but I’ve never gone so far as to deploy the nanny-cam. Thanks to this bit of undercover cinematography, I’m thinking twice about respecting their canine privacy.

News: Guest Posts
Hurricane Leo
Destruction and devastation return with the rains

As the rainy season approaches and the air turns crisp, I become excited for fall. I can finally give up my pipedreams of developing a decent tan and start looking forward to wearing my favorite scarves, boots and coats. The one thing I don’t look forward to is the beginning of hurricane season. While my sympathies go to those living on the Gulf Coast or the Carolinas, I’m talking about a different type of hurricane. This one is named Hurricane Leo.

  Hurricane Leo is the seasonal nickname bestowed upon my three-year-old Schipperke, once the rainy season starts. A spell of shorter, wetter days often means less time to play outside and a frustrated Leo ends up creating entertainment for himself: Rifling through the laundry, licking every strange surface in the house (the toilet? Come on, Lee...), staring out the window and commenting on (barking at) every single thing that moves outside.   This year, hurricane season came early and unexpectedly. I had hired a painting contractor weeks before to come and re-paint the entire interior of my house, and had everything planned out perfectly for weeks. The house would take two days to paint, and during that time I could keep the dogs company outside, sipping lemonade in a hammock while watching them play. It was a perfect plan: Until our heat wave was interrupted with scattered showers and lightning. Not cool.   The dogs and I were forced out of the house, now that every room was covered in fresh paint and plastic-wrapped furniture. The two-day paint job turned into four days, and Tropical Depression Leo slowly began gaining momentum. Leo grew increasingly frustrated with being removed from his normal surroundings and forced to stay indoors all day with me and Skipper at a friend’s apartment. While Leo had no shortage of toys and chewables to keep him occupied, the combination of bad weather and new surroundings created, you guessed it, a Perfect Storm.   As if he could think of no better way to express his feelings and frustrations, Leo jumped up onto my friend’s bed, stood over one of the pillows and peed. For about a minute. Even though he had been given multiple opportunities to potty outside, I truly believe he was saving it up to perform a memorable form of protest, like the sit-ins at U.C. Berkeley in the 1960s or Ghandi’s hunger-strike. Maybe he just was agitated and did something strange, as dogs are known to do when under stress. Needless to say, our welcome was worn out, and (after sopping up as much dog urine as possible and offering to launder my friend’s pillows and duvet) we headed back to my house and took our chances with the painters.             Within minutes of being home, Hurricane Leo escaped my grasp and bolted into the house, running laps through every room and touching nearly every wet surface along the way. I screamed. The painters screamed. Hurricane Leo seemed triumphant with several white streaks along his back and sides. Instead of yelling at him, I rinsed him off, put him in the car, and we drove to an inner East Bay dog park, where there were no storm clouds in sight. While my hurricane season hasn’t hit in full-force yet, I’m wondering what I can do to better prepare Leo (and myself) for the fall and winter. Indoor agility? Daycare? Enrolling Leo in yet another training course? Whatever it takes to keep the hurricane away.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Be Prepared
Plan ahead for emergencies

After attending a canine emergency seminar last year, I put together a first aid kit that included Elizabethan collars, bandages, eye wash, antibacterial ointment and contact information for the emergency vet. I was feeling pretty prepared, though, of course, I hoped that I’d never have to use any of it.

Unfortunately, earlier this week, my dog, Nemo, crashed into our coffee table, injuring his eye. With the first aid kit on hand, I quickly slipped on his Elizabethan collar and drove to the emergency vet. I was horrified when it dawned on me that Nemo had never worn an Elizabethan collar before. So his first experience with the collar involved a frantic car ride, getting prodded at the vet and a thunderstorm that erupted en route to the hospital. I couldn’t even feed him treats just in case they needed to do surgery the next day.

Fortunately Nemo only seemed slightly annoyed, but this situation could have easily been prevented had I taken the time to get him used to the collar beforehand.

The next day at the ophthalmologist’s office, I saw someone struggling to get their dog to stay still on the scale. It was a simple behavior that would have been a piece of cake if they had trained a nose touch or stand.

It got me thinking that there are many behaviors we can teach our pups to help in these situations, such as swallowing pills, wearing a muzzle and opening their mouth for a check-up. Kathy Sdao’s Husbandry Training for Dog Owners article is a good place to start for ideas on teaching some of these helpful behaviors.

Hopefully you’ll never find yourself in a serious emergency, but a little prep will help make them less stressful for both you and your dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just For Fun
Tricks for kicks

A lot of training is simply teaching our dogs to be polite members of both human and canine society. Walking nicely on a leash, proper greetings, coming when called, doing sits, downs and stays on cue and letting children eat ice cream cones without helping are all useful skills that make any dog more pleasant to be around.

  Yet, it’s the fun things we teach our dogs that give many of us the most joy. Even simple tricks such as beg, crawl and rollover provide loads of fun both when we spend the time with our dogs to train them and when we get to show off their tricks to other people.   Some tricks are timeless, taught to each generation of dogs. Other tricks cycle in and out of favor, with certain tricks being popular right now. Among the “in” tricks to train dogs lately are the following:   “Aaachoo!” The dog retrieves a tissue when you sneeze.   “Leg up” To lift a leg as though urinating, but without really doing so.   “Stop, drop, roll and crawl to safety.” To stop, lie down, rollover and then crawl as a demonstration of the fire safety behavior   “Tidy up!” To put each toy into the toy box.   Does your dog have a favorite trick? Is it your favorite as well?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Best Family Dogs
Which breed? It’s a common question

I am frequently asked which breeds of dogs make the best family dogs. It’s a fair question because different breeds represent different genetic stocks of dogs, and it’s well known that genetics can have a strong influence on behavior. In a recent article, What Are The 5 Best Dogs For Your Family?, Sarah McCurdy tackles this subject.

  Her top picks for best family dogs are the Newfoundland, Pug, Keeshond, Golden Retriever, and Labrador Retriever. I have no objections to her picks and have seen all of these breeds on many similar lists. It is true that all of these breeds have many qualities to recommend them and that many members of these breeds are great with children, easy to train, and generally a joy to have around.   Still, I think that as useful as these sorts of lists can be, I caution people not to choose a dog simply because members of that breed are supposed to make good family dogs. There is a lot more that goes into choosing the right dog for your family than picking a breed that’s a “good family dog.” It’s important to consider what you are looking for in a dog and also to evaluate an individual dog based on more than just its breed.   Dogs from the same breed vary a lot in their behavior. For example, some friends of my parents had a sweet, Jack Russell Terrier who was calm, cuddly, and very biddable. This is not typical of the breed by any stretch of the imagination, yet many people that met this dog subsequently wanted to get a Jack Russell. I was always worried about these elderly people in my parents’ social circle acquiring a dog that was not right for them as a result.   It might surprise many people to know that I saw more Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers when I was working with aggressive dogs full time than any other breeds. Do they tend to be aggressive? Not necessarily—it’s just that they are such common breeds that I was bound to see a lot of them because every breed has dogs with behavior problems, including aggression. The point is not to assume that a dog will be social and kind, good with kids, playful, or any other trait, based simply on their breed.   A dog must match your lifestyle, so even if, for example, the Newfoundland appeals to you, it’s not the right dog for you if you are not interested in regular grooming, or if the thought of dog hair on your carpet is a deal breaker. Similarly, an American Eskimo may not be a good bet if you live in an apartment building where barking is not tolerated, even if the breed suits you in every other way.   And when choosing a puppy, my best advice is to meet the parents if possible and only get a pup from a litter if you like the behavior of the parents. The parents’ behavior is one of the best predictors of a puppy’s behavior because so much of behavior has a genetic basis. If the dad is locked behind a fence because “he’s not good with strangers” then I wouldn’t bet on the puppies being good with strangers. And no matter what breed you are considering, I recommend avoiding the puppy that is off on its own (indicating a high likelihood that the puppy is overly shy and not very social) or the puppy that goes crazy, leaping and slamming into walls to get to you (indicating that impulse control may be a challenge for that individual.)   One of the advantages of adopting an adult rather than a puppy is that the dog is already developed and you have a better idea of what you are getting. If you adopt your dog from a shelter or a rescue (both of which are wonderful ways to acquire a fantastic dog and that I support wholeheartedly!), an adult dog is less likely to surprise you by developing into an individual very different than what you anticipated. Of course, millions of people have adopted puppies from shelters or rescues without knowing the parents, only to end up with the greatest dog they’ve ever known. And the same phenomenon applies to people with crosses of more than one breed. In fact, many people swear that the best dogs are so mixed in terms of breed composition that their parentage is truly “anybody’s guess.”   Part of acquiring a new dog is a commitment to accepting life’s little surprises. Even with the best research and planning, you may not get exactly what you bargained for so and there’s no way to guarantee that your expectations will be met. That’s why another key part of ending up with the right dog is an understanding that “right” can cover a broad range of possibilities.   Exceptions are very common to all the generalizations I’ve mentioned, but when getting a puppy, I believe in maximizing your chances of happiness by using any information available to you based on breed, family history, or observations of the puppy, by choosing the right puppy and by socializing that puppy well. The breed can be an important part of choosing a compatible puppy, but choosing a particular breed that you think is right for you is no guarantee of what that puppy will be like now or as an adult.  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dreaming of Dogs
What are your nighttime canine visions?

If there was a group called Dog Dreamers Anonymous, you would surely find me at their meetings, standing up to say, “Hi, my name is Karen, and I dream about dogs.” In fact, I dream about them every week, sometimes multiple times. Last week for example, I had three dreams about dogs.

  The first dream was about a dog trying to block the waves from ruining a little kid’s sandcastle. The dog ran in between the sand castle and a big wave and blocked most of it so that it did not destroy the castle. The child who had built this particular castle had been bullied and teased by some other competitors in a sandcastle building contest, but ending up winning an award from the judges, thanks in part to the dog’s quick move. In my dream, I was very excited about what the dog’s actions might mean about dog’s cognitive and social abilities since he acted to prevent a future problem and chose to help the child most in need.   In the second dream, I was running slow motion through a field of daisies with many dogs, most of whom belonged to clients. For years, I’ve said that people probably picture the daily life of anyone who works with dogs to be mostly running through a field of wildflowers with piles of puppies, and probably in slow motion. The reality, though still wonderful, isn’t quite so idyllic.   I was running a race in the third dream. A dog joined me after a couple of miles and ran with me the rest of the way, which kept me going over the last few miles when I was feeling bad and wanted to stop. As I crossed the finish line, I turned to give this dog some water, but he was gone. I looked all around, but couldn’t find him. Later, I learned that every struggling runner who finishied the race reported having this dog as company, but that he always disappeared at the finish line.   Do you dream of dogs? What canine thoughts dance in your head as you sleep?
News: Guest Posts
Pit Bulls Save Chihuahua From Coyote
The lucky little dog has good neighbors

The town of Littleton, Co., is on edge this summer due to coyote attacks on a young boy and pet dogs. Early Saturday morning, Buster the Chihuahua mix was grabbed by a coyote while he and his owner were outside their home. The neighbor's Pit Bulls chased after the coyote who then dropped Buster. The little dog crawled under a bush and the Pit Bulls guarded him until the coyote was gone and Buster's owner could rescue him. Buster will undergo surgery today for various injuries sustained during the attack. Hopefully, he will make a full and quick recovery. What struck me most about this incident was how the owner did not view the coyotes as "bad," nor did she see the Pit Bulls as completely "good." What are your thoughts on this unique dog-saves-dog story?

News: Guest Posts
Shelter Dog Plays Trick on Staff
Locks are no match for Red the Greyhound

The staff at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in England had a mystery on their hands: Who let the dogs out? Enjoy!

News: Guest Posts
Blanket Lust
An (seemingly) unstoppable obsession

I am obsessed with blankets. Turns out, so is Leo. My blanket obsession began with a passion for textile design, which developed into a habit of buying any blanket, comforter or quilt that caught my eye. Leo’s blanket habit is related to mine: Whenever I bring home a gorgeous coverlet, he has to chew a gigantic hole right in the middle—as soon as he is left alone with it for more than 20 seconds.

  Sometimes I think fate must have ironically brought Leo and I together, or that maybe Leo is saving me from the fate of being crushed under an avalanche of blankets when I open the linen closet. With Leo’s blanket-munching, I recognized there were two issues that needed to be addressed. First, Leo could not be left alone with blankets until he learned chewing on them is inappropriate. Secondly, he needed a positive outlet for his chewing, such as a chew toy.   Keeping Leo away from blankets worked for like a week. His tenacity for finding unattended blankets was borderline inspiring. I’d leave the bedroom door open for a minute while I went to grab clothes from the dryer: Gigantic hole in the blanket. I’d take a catnap on the sofa: Down feathers everywhere when I awoke.   Since keeping him away from blankets wasn’t going to happen, I tried taste deterrents, like bitter spray misted onto the blankets. Apparently, the only one affected by this was me. Many a nap was rudely ended by a bitter taste. After falling asleep in a blanket cocoon on the sofa (exhausted from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Cake Boss), my open mouth would inevitably make contact with the surface of the blanket. It was heinously gross. Meanwhile, Leo would power through the nasty flavor. For my sake, I gave up on the bitter spray.   My plan to redirect Leo’s affection from blankets to toys has been even less successful. Even after taking Leo to training specifically to pique his interest in toys, he drifts after more than 20 seconds unless it is something he can eat (like a bully chew or a Kong toy). I see a future with a morbidly obese dog curled happily on elegant, intact quilts.   The reality is Leo and I both have issues that need to be dealt with (though I’d like to think that I can curb my blanket-purchasing habit as soon as I can curb Leo’s blanket-eating habit). What next? Do I give Leo one blanket and designate it as his? Do I continue my two years of attempting to interest him in toys? Do I concede that maybe I won’t have nice blankets ever? Any suggestions?

 

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