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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trainers, Vets, Behaviorists—Together
American Humane creates new committee

The Animal Behavior and Training Advisory Committee has been set up for many purposes, one of which is to foster collaboration and cooperation. The members of the committee include trainers, veterinarians and behaviorists that are all well respected experts in their particular areas.

  The committee will offer guidance in areas as diverse as pet dog training summits, content of American Humane’s Animal Behavior Resources Institute Online, their Human-Animal Interactions program and their principles and position statements.   I love the idea of putting together a diverse group of individuals who are all concerned with training and behavior and their considerable impact on animals and people. Good things tend to happen when expertise and teamwork come together.      

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Danger Up High
The wind blows a NYC dog off his own balcony

Back in March, Karen B. London wrote about her surprise finding a dog on a nearby roof. While I’ve never seen a dog on a house roof, I’ve seen plenty of dogs atop apartment roof decks and terraces. Given the size of New York buildings, it makes me a little nervous.

Anytime I’ve had my pups on a roof deck, I clutch their leashes with a tight grip, just in case. I’m always worried about dogs accidentally jumping over the wall or slipping through the fence bars. But it never occurred to me that Mother Nature could be a factor.

Earlier this month, Sarann Lindenauer discovered just how dangerous her terrace could be, no matter how high the barrier. On a blustery day, her terrier, Alfie, was blown off their 11th floor terrace. Luckily, the wind also blew Alfie towards the roof of a townhouse, five stories below and 30 feet east of their terrace.

The wind might be a freak accident, and you can’t quite plan for every possible danger, but there are some steps you can take to be sure your deck is as safe as possible.  Check out The Partnership for Animal Welfare’s Deck and Balcony Tips. And perhaps check the weather before letting your pup outside.

News: Guest Posts
Move Over Argos
Strays set the new standard for loyalty in Greece

Yellowish street dogs were an odd constant as all hell broke loose in Athens, Greece, in recent days. They trotted, charged, stood at attention, even lounged amid throngs of police in riot gear and anti-government protesters wearing gas masks, balaclavas and bandanas over their faces. They seemed undaunted by the rocks, tear gas and firebombs that filled the air. According to an AP report, the tradition of dogs at protests goes back a ways, and at least one stray, known as Kanellos, was a constant companion to rioters for more than a decade until he died in July 2008. Adopted by many as a symbol of the struggle, Kanellos and his fellow strays are celebrated on three Facebook pages—with 5,000 friends and counting. It’s no surprise to me protesters would be drawn to the dogs, but I do wonder why the dogs hang tough in such a dangerous environment.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Evaluating Canine Play
Are your dogs playing appropriately?

One of the most common questions asked of dog behaviorists is how to determine whether a group of dogs who are rolling around or chasing each other are playing appropriately. Without knowledge of dog behavior, it can be hard for many people to tell when play is getting out of hand until it’s too late and it’s obvious because somebody got hurt or traumatized. I recently wrote a column for my local paper called Play Should Be Fun, Not Tense that explains some of the basic ways to evaluate what is going on before it ever gets to that point. There is always a bit of subjectivity to assessing play in any species, including our own, because fun itself is subjective. However, there are some basic guidelines worth considering whenever you have to decide whether to let the dogs carry on, or whether they need to be separated to prevent real trouble from developing.

  In appropriate play, the number one rule is that everyone is a willing participant. If one dog is suffering based on what’s going on, it’s not appropriate, and that’s true even if what the other dogs are doing would be fine with most dogs. If everyone isn’t having a good time, it’s not okay to let it continue. Play should always be fun.   Generally, dogs who are playing are holding back a bit at least some of the time. They are bouncy and carefree in their motions, and there are frequent pauses in the action. Most play involves running, leaping, chasing, brief pounces and batting at one another. Dogs’ mouths are usually open and any vocalizations tend to be fairly consistent in pitch rather than suddenly deepening or turning into shrieks.   In play that could lead to trouble, dogs seem to be more serious and lack that light-hearted quality so essential in play. Dogs who tongue flick, drool excessively, cower, whine, pant when it’s not hot enough to warrant it, tremble, attempt to escape or to hide, whimper or shiver are showing signs of tension or anxiety that could indicate trouble. When dogs are uncomfortable, they are more likely to act in a way that is aggressive or that could prompt another dog to behave aggressively. One of the biggest warning signs in play is of one or more dogs suddenly go stiff. Going stiff with tension throughout the body often occurs before dogs bite or fight, so it’s a bad sign. Pausing in play with a relaxed body is a good sign and is very different than going stiff or still, which is a bad sign.   It can be very hard to evaluate play, but if you stop the play and all the dogs want to head back to it, that’s a promising sign that the play is okay. I always recommend interrupting the play if you are in any doubt. You can always let them continue in a minute, but if you let things go and a dog gets hurt, frightened or overwhelmed, you can’t take that back.  

 

News: Guest Posts
Super Buddy
German Shepherd saves the day--and a house

Buddy is a hero! Check out the amazing German Shepherd, who led a trooper to a burning building in Alaska--complete with footage shot from inside the cruiser. I love how the officer, who says he has spent a lot of time around dogs, tells a news anchor that he trusted Buddy was leading him (and not just running away)--and that's for sure how it looks. On Friday, Buddy was awarded a special honorary dog bowl.

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?

 

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