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News: Guest Posts
$500K Name Change!
An Australian couple paid $300 for their puppy and $500,000 to save his life.

If you have dogs, people always ask "What kind of dogs do you have?" I often take this question as an invitation to blabber uncontrollably about my variety pack. "Oh, I have two Dalmatians who compete in agility, a Catahoula - are you familiar with that breed? They’re bred for herding and hunting. I also have a Pit Bull mix - she's super sweet - and a true Heinz 57. She looks like a hyena. Seriously, one of my neighbors asked me if she was one. She competes in Frisbee. Yeah, so I have five dogs. They range in age from 3 to 13 ... ."

Unfortunately for my audience, I can go on and on, but I'm usually interrupted the moment I  mention my Pit Bull mix. Some people are surprised that I have one of those “vicious” dogs. If possible, I invite them to meet my belly-rub-lovin’ Shelby so they can cast off those horrible stereotypes.

It would never occur to me to lie about Shelby’s breed. Hiding what she is only adds to the ignorance. And yet, if I lived in Queensland, Australia, I would rethink being so open about her bully breed background. Gold Coast couple Kylie Chivers and John Mokomoko paid $300 for their American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT) puppy Tango. They soon learned that APBTs are deemed dangerous dogs in Queensland and subsequently banned. Their only choice was to move to a different state or allow him to be euthanized.  

Mokomoko’s job made it difficult for the entire family to move, so they opted to board Tango at a kennel out of state in New South Wales. They also initiated legal proceedings to change his breed from APBT to American Staffordshire Terrier (AST), which is not considered a dangerous dog in their region even though it can be argued that APBTs and ASTs are practically interchangeable. Take this quiz and see if you can find the Pit Bull. How did you do? (I thought I would ace it but was far from perfect!)

The couple have faithfully visited Tango for the past five years as they took their battle all the way to the Supreme Court. They spent $500,000 on this battle on behalf of Tango and other people determined to keep their dogs, regardless of what they’re called. You can read about the court’s findings here.  

Do you agree with the ruling? Why or why not?

News: Guest Posts
He Said, She Said, Dog Loses
There are two victims here

To read the original story, it seems pretty cut and dried. A jogger in Mercer County, Kentucky, passed by a dog on a tie out. The dog got loose and attacked her, requiring plastic surgery. Animal control takes the dog away to be quarantined then euthanized.

But if you read the comments, you'll find several different perspectives. For example, the mother-in-law of the dog's owner claims the dog has a sweet temperament (her name is Angel, after all), she is only occasionally tied out in the yard, the jogger was on private property, and lastly, the supposed "attack" was actually a few scratches to the woman's face. No bites. Nothing requiring plastic surgery.

The jogger's grandmother also comments, reiterating that her granddaughter does indeed require extensive surgery. The reporter of the story even jumps in, responding to criticism that he didn't get his facts straight. He says his source was the sheriff's department, based on its police reports and witness statements.

Some readers claim the newspaper is just trying to sell more papers by sensationalizing a “dog-bites-(wo)man” story. Others blame the jogger for being greedy and “sue happy.”

Regardless of the truth and any of the parties’ ulterior motives, Angel the dog dies through no fault of her own. How is that justice?
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Visual Versus Vocal Cues
Dogs watch us and we talk to them

There’s a little list in my mind of information that dog trainers know and that they wish everyone knew. At the top of that list is the fact that dogs primarily communicate with visual signals whereas humans most often express themselves vocally. This difference explains so much of the confusion between our otherwise largely compatible species.

 

Dogs often pick up on visual cues that we use, inadvertently or not, when training them. So, if during training, we use a hand gesture while saying "sit," most dogs will learn that the hand gesture means to put their bottom on the ground long before they figure out that the word "Sit" means to do the same thing.

 

Research has shown that dogs learn visual signals faster than vocal signals. Therefore, it is most likely that if your dog is sitting when presented with both cues, he already knows the visual cue on its own. To check for sure, you can experiment by giving just the visual cue and see if your dog sits.

 

We often think our dogs are responding to what we are saying, but often they are actually responding to what we are doing. Dogs are watching us and we are talking to them. Dogs can't figure out what their humans are trying to convey and we can't figure out why our dogs aren't listening.

 

Simply being aware of this difference between dogs and people helps avoid the problems that often result. For more information, check out this short article I wrote for my local paper about visual versus vocal cues.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Decoding Dog Growls
Each kind contains specific information

Dogs growl in different contexts—when guarding something of value, when threatened by a stranger and during play. These growls can sound remarkably similar to the novice human ear, but a new study in the journal Animal Behavior suuggests that the meanings of these growls are very different to dogs.

  Scientists in Hungary recorded growls by dogs in different situations and analyzed the structure of the calls. The growls recorded during play were very different than the other two calls in that they were shorter and higher in pitch.   In an experiment that was also a part of their study, they allowed a dog to approach a high quality food item (a cooked meaty bone) when alone in a room. Then, they piped in the recorded sound of either a growl made when a dog was threatened by a stranger or a growl made by a dog guarding a bone. They tested 41 dogs in this way and found that dogs were significantly more likely to back away from the bone when they heard the bone-guarding growl than when they heard the threatened-by-a-stranger growl.   Dogs have a huge range of vocalizations and yet much remains to be learned about the differences in meanings and structure of their acoustic communication. This study is one step towards a fuller understanding of the vocal repertoire of dogs.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Telling Our Dogs We Want To Play
They CAN understand us

One of the coolest studies of behavior I have ever read is a 2001 study by Rooney, Bradshaw and Robinson (Do dogs respond to play signals given by humans? Animal Behaviour, 61:715-722.) The question they asked was simple: Can humans tell their dogs that they want to play? And the really cool part is that the answer was “Yes, people can signal playfulness to dogs.”

  One really interesting aspect of the study was that the effectiveness of signals at getting dogs to play had nothing to do with how often people used that particular signal. For example, patting the floor or whispering were both common ways that people tried to tell their dogs that they wanted to play, but dogs did not respond much to these signals. In contrast, running towards or away from the dog as well as tapping their own chest were two human signals that were highly effective at initiating play with dogs but neither was used frequently by participants in the study.   In the study, the least effective ways to initiate play with a dog included kissing the dog, picking up the dog, and barking at the dog, none of which ever resulted in play. Stamping their feet and pulling the dog’s tail (yikes!) only rarely got dogs to play.   The best ways for people to initiate play with dogs were doing a forward lunge (making a sudden quick movement toward the dog), the vertical bow (the person bends at the waist until the torso is horizontal), chasing the dog or running away from the dog, the play bow, and grabbing the dog’s paws.   The study didn’t involve toys, so it didn’t look at what I think is one of the best ways to tell our dogs we want to play, which is to pick up one of their toys. That seems to give most toy-motivated dogs the right message. Can you communicate to your dog that you want top play? If so, how do you tell your dog that the game is on?

 

News: Guest Posts
Gene Linked to Compulsive Disorder
Dogs and humans have a lot in common

Last spring, Julia Kamysz Lane blogged about a study that suggested a link between compulsive tail-chasing and high cholesterol in dogs. Now, Bark contributor Mark Derr reports for The New York Times on a study linking compulsive behavior in dogs—think: excessive licking, fence running, spinning, staring and more—to a gene for the first time. The discovery is important not simply for the estimated five to six million (!) dogs afflicted with obsessive behaviors but may prove beneficial to the 2.5 to 8 percent of the human population afflicted with related disorders. One more example of how our welfare is tied to dogs.

 

In particular, though, I’m glad that Derr stresses in his story the important role that environment plays in the development of compulsive behaviors, going so far as to say nurture outweighs genetic factors in some cases. Understanding the genetic piece may prove valuable in treating compulsive disorders in dogs (and people) someday, but it won’t be a substitute for our role in keeping our animals healthy and providing low-stress, low-anxiety environments.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
To Tug or Not to Tug?
Discovering the benefits of playing tug-o-war

A few weeks ago, I wrote about entertaining your canine crew with a variety of indoor activities, including a tugging game. One of our readers commented that they’d always heard playing tug-o-war can encourage biting, a common misconception about this game. 

I can see why tugging could be mistaken for encouraging aggressive behavior with all the pulling and growling, but the bad rap is unfortunate since this game has so many positive benefits when played properly. 

When I first got Nemo as a puppy, he naturally liked to tug, but it wasn't an activity that I fostered. It was through agility that I first saw the role of tugging as a training reward.  Since then, Nemo and I have discovered the many benefits of this interactive game while having lots of fun together.

Exercise
Tugging is great way for dogs to expend energy without needing a lot of space, like a fenced yard. It’s also perfect when you’re traveling since you can even play inside a hotel room, as long as your pup isn’t a loud tugger. And I can contest that it can be equally tiring for people as well! 

Training
Very popular in agility, tugging can be used a valuable reinforcer when teaching new behaviors or strengthening existing cues. Imagine how quickly your dog will come to you when he knows a fun game of tug is on the other end! Many dog sports enthusiasts like to use tugging as a reward, since food is not typically allowed in the competition ring, but anyone can enjoy the benefits of incorporating play into training.

Relationship-Building
Tugging is a great way to initiate your dog in play, strengthening the bond with your furry friend. Growling, when accompanied by soft, relaxed body language, is perfectly normal. Dogs often growl at each other during play, with no connection to dominance.

Self-Control
Contrary to the belief that tug-o-war can encourage dangerous behavior, tugging can actually help dogs learn self-control and give them an outlet to use their teeth appropriately. I use the following three rules when engaging my pups in the game of tug. Your dog’s personality will dictate how strict you have to be in enforcing these guidelines.

  • You control access to the toy and always initiate the game. Keep tug toys away until you want to play.
  • Start the game when your dog is sitting politely. Alternatively you can ask for another behavior or trick.
  • You decide when the game ends. Teaching your dog to drop the toy with lack of motion on your part or with a verbal cue, like the word “out” or “drop” is essential.

I like to practice pausing and re-starting several times throughout the game to teach the dogs impulse control. It’s also a great way to strengthen a “stay” cue with distracting toys.

If your pup isn’t a natural tugger, check out Susan Garrett’s tips for creating a motivating toy.

Do you tug with your dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
ASPCA Humane Awards
Submit your human, canine, and feline nominations.

Each year, the ASPCA celebrates the important human-animal bond by honoring ten inspiring animals and people who have demonstrated compassion and bravery.

The awards are given to dogs and cats that have demonstrated extraordinary behavior and to people who’ve made a significant impact in the lives of animals in the past year.

Do you know any two or four legged friends who fit the bill? The ASPCA is now taking nominations in the categories of Dog of the Year, Cat of the Year, Kid of the Year, Public Service Award (firefighters, law enforcement officers, etc…), and Other, for the 2010 ASPCA Humane Awards.

Submissions will be accepted until June 30th and the winners will be invited to the Humane Award Luncheon in New York City.

Last year’s winners:

  • Dog of the Year: Archie, an assistance dog and the first canine graduate of the Army Wounded Warriors Program.
  • Cat of the Year: Nora, a piano playing feline and viral You Tube sensation.
  • Kid of the Year: Monica Plumb, 11-year old behind PetMask.com, a web site that raises donations for animal oxygen masks
  • Firefighter of the Year: Chief Mark Duff and members of the Hingham Fire Department, who rescued a Labrador Retriever who fell through thin ice.
  • Law Enforcement Officers of the Year: Tim Rickey and Kyle Held of the Humane Society of Missouri and Terry Mills and Sergeant Jeffrey Heath of the Missouri Highway Patrol for their participation in the largest federal crackdown on dog fighting in U.S. history.
  • ASPCA Henry Bergh Award: Alayne Marker and Steve Smith, founders of Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Ovando, Montana.
  • ASPCA Lifetime Achievement Award: Richard O’Barry, founder of the Dolphin Project, who led a lifelong crusade to free dolphins and educate the world about the plight of dolphins in captivity.

Nominations for this year’s awards can be submitted online through the ASPCA’s web site.

 

News: Guest Posts
Canine ESP
Dog senses recent earthquake on video

I’ve been through one earthquake with my dog and I don’t remember her sensing it before it happened, but then again I wasn’t watching to see if she sensed anything and I didn’t have a handy camera monitoring our every move. But apparently this unidentified news station in Arcata caught a canine’s ESP on tape. 


Dog Senses Arcata Earthquake at News Station - Watch more Funny Videos

National Geographic weighs in with theories about animals' abilities to anticipate earthquakes. What will the skeptics say?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hungarian Super Pups
A training method that focuses on the whole dog.

You may have already seen the viral You Tube video of a group of dogs decorating a Christmas tree, or the recently posted sequel of the same pack setting up a beach scene. 

These incredible videos have been leaving many animal lovers wondering who trained these dogs, particularly if you don’t speak Hungarian.

The group behind these well-trained pups is dog club, Népszigeti Kutyaiskola. The trainers and their dogs are promoting the club’s training technique, the Mirror Method, which is actually more like a philosophy. 

The Mirror Method takes a holistic approach, reaching beyond traditional training. Teaching the tricks in the videos is just a small part of their three-part system.

The Mirror Method consists of relationship, training, and lifestyle.

Relationship.  Dogs reflect their human’s personality and actions. In order to change your dog’s behavior, you must first change your own. If you want your dog to be calm, you must be calm. Learning to read your dog’s body language will help you achieve a good relationship. The group also mentions developing a hierarchy and creating respect, but stresses that you don’t need force to maintain rules and boundaries.

Training. The group teaches the behaviors seen in the video with clicker training and back chaining, which develops motivated dogs that are happy to learn.

Lifestyle. Dogs have a need for more than just food and a walk around the block. This instinctual need must be fulfilled in order to create the conditions for learning and good behavior. The group mentions taking breed into consideration. For example, a Labrador might thrive with hikes in the forest and a Bloodhound might benefit from participating in tracking work.

It may seem like you need to be a superstar trainer to balance this system and recreate the behaviors seen in the videos, but all of these trainers started as beginners at their dog club, many of them performing with their first dog. Their achievements are a testament to how anyone can find success by remembering to develop a good relationship and to maintain an active lifestyle, along with training.

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