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News: Editors
Reporting Pet Food Concerns

Susan Thixton of Truthaboutpetfood.com has a very interesting post today about the increase in complaints stemming from the popular Taste of the Wild dog food. She reports that many of the complaints can be found on ConsumerAffairs.com, and 27 complaints were posted in July alone. She also notes that many consumers also went to the parent company’s Facebook page to post their complaints on Diamond Pet Food. The company (that has been involved in a few recalls in the past) denied that the food had any negative affect on the animals. Wisely, Thixton explains that the best strategy for reporting concerns about a pet food that might be the cause of an illness, is the following:

1.  File a report with the FDA.

2.  File a report with your state’s Department of Agriculture. You can find info for your state's animal feed authorities here.

3.  Call/write the pet food manufacturer.

Make sure you save all the information from the pet food packaging, including the labels. Save the rest of the food (if there is any left) in an airtight container, store in the freezer. Thixton also cautions that filling out forms might be a little time consuming, but it is definitely worth the effort. This is the only way that the food can be investigated, so others won’t eat it.

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Molly

Dog's name and age: Molly, 4 years old.

Adoption Story:

Molly was dumped in a rural area next to a busy highway in Tulare, CA. After being rescued they found she had double ear infections and she needed DPLO surgery in order to repair her torn ACL. A very generous friend sponsored her surgery and Molly had a 12-week long recovery. Once her leg was mended, she was adopted by her foster mom's long time friends. They had met her a few times at the foster home during her recovery and fell in love. Her foster mom had also fallen in love with her but since they wanted to continue fostering dogs, it was wonderful that her best friends were able to adopt Molly.

Molly is just so sweet despite all she has experienced in life. She just wants love and she gives a whole of it too. She is a goofy girl!

News: Guest Posts
Is There a Puppy There?
A man’s baby talk heard through the fence

I was hanging my laundry near our backyard fence, which borders the sidewalk, when I heard the dog tags. Soon after, I could make out the shape of a Boxer through the small gaps between the slats. The dog was clearly aware of my presence, based on his level of excitement and his intense sniffing of the fence. The man walking him spoke with that baby voice so commonly used to address dogs, saying, “Do you hear a new friend? Is there a puppy in there?”

“No, just a person,” I replied, and I could feel the mortification across the fence. The man laughed sheepishly, said, “Hello,” and hurried on by with his dog. As he walked away, he spoke in what I think was a purposely deep voice, saying, “Let’s go, Bailey. We’ve got more walking to do.”

I felt terrible about making him feel awkward or foolish. What he doesn’t know is that rather than think less of him for using such sweet talk with his dog, it makes me respect him more. I find it charming when a man loves his dog, and there is nothing wrong with a little baby talk between a fella and his dog. Still, I can understand how he might have felt embarrassed. He got caught in what he thought was a private (no other humans around) moment until I spoke up. In retrospect, I should have kept silent. For one thing, I would have avoided making this kind man feel silly, and I also might have had the opportunity to observe more of his interaction with his dog.

Have you been caught in what you thought was a private moment between you and your dog?

News: Editors
Dog Temperament Testing Doesn’t Earn a Passing Grade

An article today in The New York Times takes aim at temperament testing in animal shelters hopefully this article will get the attention it deserves from the shelter community. The effectiveness of these kinds of tests, that can result in a dog being swiftly killed if she doesn’t score a passing grade, has long been under examination by humane advocates. Back in 2003, our article, Dog Is In the Details, by Barbara Robertson, looked at this very issue. And more recently Jessica Hekman, DVM, wrote an indepth piece about more recent studies that, “could be interpreted to mean that the two most widely used behavioral assessments in the United States are not doing even a passable job of predicting aggression, and that shelters are not doing much more than flipping a coin when they use an assessment to decide whether a dog will be put on the adoption floor or, potentially, euthanized.”

All these articles noted that testing an animal in a shelter setting is fraught with problems. Even the most modern of shelters can be a place for many dogs, as Dr. Sara Bennett, a vet behaviorist, detailed in the Times piece:

“Dogs thrive on routine and social interaction. The transition to a shelter can be traumatizing, with its cacophony of howls and barking, smells and isolating steel cages. A dog afflicted with kennel stress can swiftly deteriorate: spinning; pacing; jumping like a pogo stick; drooling; and showing a loss of appetite. It may charge barriers, appearing aggressive.”

But there are more and more studies, such as the one done co-authored by Dr. Gary Patronek, adjunct professor at the veterinary medicine school at Tufts, and Janis Bradley of the National Canine Research Council suggesting that shelters should instead devote limited resources to “to spent the time in maximizing opportunities to interact with dogs in normal and enjoyable ways that mirror what they are expected to do once adopted (e.g., walking, socializing with people, playgroups with other dogs, games, training).”

“The tests are artificial and contrived,” said Patronek, who roiled the shelter world last summer when he published an analysis concluding that the tests have no more positive predictive value for aggression than a coin toss.

“During the most stressful time of a dog’s life, you’re exposing it to deliberate attempts to provoke a reaction,” he said. “And then the dog does something it wouldn’t do in a family situation. So you euthanize it?”

Plus in many of the overcrowded shelters, the assessments are left up to staff members, who aren’t well trained, and who certainly aren’t behaviorists, to make the final say. “Interpreting dogs, with their diverse dialects and complex body language — wiggling butts, lip-licking, semaphoric ears and tails — often becomes subjective.” As Dr. Hekman noted, she had “observed a behavioral assessment in which a dog was repeatedly harassed with a fake hand because the shelter staff had a suspicion that he would bite. As the tester continued to provoke him long after this sub-test would normally have ended, the dog froze, then growled, then finally bit the hand, but not hard enough to damage it. Despite his restraint in the face of persistent harassment, he was labeled as aggressive by the shelter staff and was euthanized.” 

So when space is such a limiting factor, as it is in many shelters, those dogs that attack a fake hand, just make space available for another dog.

The Times pointed out that one of the tests that is most disputed is the one involving the food test. Research has shown that shelter dogs who guard their food bowls, do not necessarily do so at home. And even Emily Weiss, the A.S.P.C.A. researcher whose SAFER behavior assessment is one of the best-known has stepped away from food-bowl tests, saying that 2016 research showed that programs that omit them “do not experience an increase in bites in the shelter or in adoptive homes.” And is study of this study, showed a stunning revelation: of 96 dogs who had tested positive for food aggression in the shelter, only six displayed it in their new homes. This raised more interesting questions: Is it possible that dogs are showing food aggression in the shelter due to stress? Is food-aggression testing completely useless?

Tests that try to assess dog-on-dog aggression using a “fake” dog also have been shown to be less that ideal, a 2015 study showed that shelter dogs responded more aggressively to a fake dog than a real one.

Good news is that the A.S.P.C.A is reporting that annual adoption rates have risen nearly 20 percent since 2011. Euthanasia rates are down, although they still say 670,000 dogs are put to death each year. Some veterinary schools, like the University of California, Davis, Tufts University and Cornell University (that was the first one to offer such a program) are offering shelter-medicine specializations. And more and more shelters are employing more humane, and effective methods such as programs like Aimee Sadler’s Dogs Playing for Life that matches dogs for outside playgroups.

As Natalie DiGiacomo, shelter director of the HSUS has noted: “There is a reform movement underway to improve the quality of life for animals in shelters, and playgroups are pivotal to this effort. Play enriches dogs’ lives and reduces stress so their true personalities show.”

What is important is to get the word out to your local shelters about the unreliability of behavior testing, it is surprising how many still employ them, including the Sue Sternberg’s “assess-a-pet” and the food bowl test. And while the Times piece is valuable because of the large audience it will receive, it did feature a behaviorist who used the fake-hand and food bowl test, but at least accompanied by a more thoughtful examination about the overall behavior of the dog. That dog was saved, but many who fail that test, in most other situations, without the benefit of expert opinion, would not have been. This is a complex situation that no one approach can truly fix. But it is important to heed the findings from Patronek, "Nothing in the prevalence estimates we reviewed suggest that overall, dogs who come to spend time in a shelter (and are not screened out based on history or behavior at intake or shortly thereafter) are dramatically more or less inclined toward problematic warning or biting behavior than are pet dogs in general."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News: Guest Posts
If I Judged Canine Charm Contests
Winners would have one ear up and one ear down

There are as many ways to be adorable as there are dogs in the world, but for my money, the dogs with one ear up and one ear down are the crème de la crème of cuteness. There is something so charming—and disarming—about a dog who is asymmetrical in this way, especially if it is combined with a head cock to further the effect. The ears-askew look can make even the roughest, toughest, most intimidating-looking dog appear totally harmless, and for dogs who already appear to pose no threat, it makes them even more lovable.

So, why do so many dogs have one ear up and one ear down? In some cases, it is a young dog whose ears are part of the way through the process of growing into an erect posture. They have not done it evenly so one ear is further along than the other. The cartilage in the ears is soft, but usually grows strong enough to support the ear as the puppy develops. Some dogs permanently remain in the one-ear-up, one-ear-down phase of life.

Many dogs only have one ear up and one ear down temporarily. It may just happen briefly when the dog has moved the ears in different ways. There are dogs who only have one ear up and one ear down when they are in certain emotional states. Other, naturally flop-eared dogs, show this look only when they are actively pricking their ears because they are especially alert, but only one ear fully extends. Some dogs only do it when they are tired, especially at the end of the day.

Many people worry about dogs whose ears are not a matched set, and it is certainly reasonable to discuss it with your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues. That’s especially true if both of your dog’s ears are typically erect and one suddenly changes positions. Sometimes, a hematoma or an infection can add weight to the ear and cause it to flop, for example. People who are showing their dogs in conformation consider it a problem because many breed standards require a dog to have erect ears. For the rest of us, there are no requirements about what dogs look like, and many consider this particular look a bonus in the cuteness department

Do you have a dog whose good looks are made even more endearing by asymmetrical ears?

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Trumper

Dog's name and age: Trumper Flash Avogadro, 6 years old

Adoption Story:

My previous dog had terminal end-stage cancer that came on very quickly. Before he passed, I began volunteering at the local animal shelter because I knew I had to have dogs in my life to stay sane following his upcoming passing. After a few months of volunteering, I helped my sweet friend of twelve years peacefully enter the next realm. It was the worst experience ever—I knew I did the right thing, but oh, how I missed him!

One day while volunteering several months later I met Trumper at the shelter. Even I surprised myself but something just felt right, we had an immediate bond. He joined our family and has been unabashedly a mama's boy ever since.

Trumper's Name:

Trumper was his shelter name! He is such a spastic dork and would "trump" about that I just had to keep it. Flash just for "cool points", and Avogadro to fulfill my inner geek. Trumper's sister, Madame Curie, who was adopted last November also shows off his family's geekiness.

News: Guest Posts
Dogs Chasing Laser Pointers
Oh, how I hate this habit!
dogs playing with laser pointers

Check out YouTube and you can find an alarming number of videos of dogs chasing the light from a laser pointer, often while people laugh in the background. The reason I use the word “alarming” is that laser pointer chasing can lead to serious behavioral issues. Watching people laugh at a situation that is often distressing to dogs is distressing to me.

Though it’s common for people to be amused by the behavior of a frantic dog pouncing on a moving dot of light, it’s not funny for dogs. Their experience in that situation is often seriously unpleasant and very tense. The movement of the light stimulates dogs to chase, but there is nothing to catch, and that is why the game is bad for dogs. The constant chasing without ever being successful at catching the moving object can frustrate dogs beyond anything they should have to tolerate.

Working dogs who are trained to find things like explosive or drugs become upset if they never have a “find”. These dogs need regular successes, but their work may not provide them. That’s why it is standard practice to set up simulated missions in which working dogs are guaranteed to discover what they have been taught to find. Successful searches keep their skills sharp and prevent psychological problems.

A lot of dogs become obsessive about the light from laser pointers, and there are many cases of dogs who were diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after (and perhaps partly as a result of) this activity. Dogs become preoccupied with the light, then transfer that interest to similar stimuli, sometimes developing a behavior problem in which they chase lights and shadows. It may look fun and entertaining to people, but it’s usually anything but fun for dogs.

No matter how much dogs respond to them, I recommend against the use of laser pointers. It’s just too likely that the game will negatively affect the dog. If someone is unable to follow this advice, there is a way to minimize the risk of a dog developing behavioral problems and of experiencing psychological damage. The laser light can be used as a decoy that allows the dog to find treats or a new toy. Though the dog does not ever succeed at catching the light, there is the success of discovering other items. Using the light in this way lowers the risk of trouble slightly, but it does not eliminate the danger. I only recommend this as a last resort for clients who are unwilling to stop engaging their dog with the laser light.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Teach Your Dog to Feel at Home Anywhere
Have Blanket, Will Travel
Stella, a service dog in training, on her blanket during her first visit to the mall

Security blankets have great value—just ask Linus Van Pelt of Peanuts cartoon fame. His blanket gave him enough confidence to handle whatever life threw at him, especially out in the great big, wide world.

A blanket can help your dog handle adventures away from home, too. If your dog learns that a certain blanket is his, and often lies on it no matter where it is placed around the house, he will likely be more comfortable away from home if the blanket goes, too. It provides many of the advantages of bringing his crate with you wherever you go, but it is more portable. Blankets are lighter, easier to carry and can be taken lots of places that a crate can’t go.

If your dog is used to a particular blanket, it is so much easier to help him feel comfortable in a new place. You can bring it with you to friends’ houses, when you travel, to the park, to the vet, or anywhere else your dog goes. Just place it on the floor where you want your dog to lie down, and it will let your dog know that he has a spot to call his own. That helps your dog relax, and also indicates to him where you want him to go.

Blankets are commonly used in this way with service dogs. Service dogs are regularly asked to lie down and stay in a particular spot, both at home and when out and about. Blankets provide an easy way to show a service dog where you want him to lie down, whether it’s at a restaurant, in an airplane, in a meeting at work, at a conference, on a bus or at any social gathering.

Blanket Training Tips

The first step in training a dog to happily lie down and stay on a blanket no matter where you put it is to teach the dog to associate good things with the blanket. Put the blanket on the floor at home, put treats on it and encourage your dog to go get the treats. (Most dogs will need no encouragement.) Move the blanket around to new places in your house and repeat. Once your dog happily goes to the blanket, start asking him to sit and then to lie down on it, frequently moving it to new places in your home and giving lots of treats when he does what you want him to do.

The next step is to ask your dog to do some stays on the blanket, and reinforce that behavior with treats. Again, make sure to move the blanket around to various places so that your dog is learning to stay on the blanket rather than on one particular spot on the floor.

Once your dog is comfortable doing stays on the blanket at home and has learned that his blanket is the place to be, work on teaching him to do the same behavior when he is elsewhere. In a new place, start by tossing treats on the blanket, then ask for sits and downs, and finally stays. Some dogs transfer their knowledge of staying on the blanket easily to new places. Other dogs may seem to be starting over in the learning process when you are away from home.

Always help your dog to succeed by not asking him to do more than he is capable of doing. It may seem odd that your dog sees the blanket at home and immediately heads over to it, but becomes utterly confused about what you want him to do with the blanket at someone else’s house. Some dogs are nervous in a new environment, which affects their performance, and other dogs simply don’t understand that the task is the same even though it’s in a new place. It’s common for dogs to progress through the steps of the process faster in each new place than they did at home when they were first learning about the blanket, no matter how confused they seem the first time you take the blanket on the road.

Once a dogs has been to multiple places and happily goes to lie down and stay on his blanket, it’s typical to be able to put that blanket anywhere and have him feel comfortable. Most dogs who are used to lying down on a particular blanket will immediately feel quite relaxed on it no matter where you are and where on the floor you place it. That’s really the great value of a security blanket for dogs—being able to help your dog feel at home anywhere.

News: Guest Posts
22 Plants You Didn't Know Could Poison Your Dog

The plants and flowers we keep in our homes and gardens are lovely to look at. But dozens of common house and garden plants are actually deadly to dogs.

A study found that one in 12 pets has eaten poisonous plants, with smaller dogs and puppies being particularly at risk due to their size.

It’s no secret that foxgloves are poisonous, but did you know that daffodils can cause vomiting, diarrhea and even heart problems if consumed by your dog?

Use this infographic to correctly identify which plants are poisonous to your dog so you know which ones to keep your dog away from when out on a walk or in the garden. If you have family or friends this could help, please feel free to email them or pass it on by using the share buttons.

 

 

News: Editors
Reunion of Littermates
After a 10-year separation, canine siblings meet

We wondered what a 10-year reunion would look like for dogs, littermates who had been separated as pups. We adopted Lola when she was about 10-months old. She and her brother were found wandering the country roads of Yuba county in northern California. The woman, Julie Duarte, who rescued the pair specializes in rescuing Pointer-type dogs, and she got them from the local sheriff who had told her that they had been spotted for some time, out alone, fending, somehow, by themselves. Seeing Lola’s photo on Petfinder made us think she was a scruffy mutt, we found out later that she was actually a German Wirehaired Pointer. She came to live with us in Berkeley and became the lead Bark office dog. Her brother, Jack, was adopted a few weeks later by a couple living in Utah. We stayed in touch via Julie, sharing the occasional photo and update. We had hoped to make plans to rendezvous when they came out west during their travels but never managed to do so until this year.

When I learned that Jack’s family would be traveling to southern Oregon in June for a mountain biking holiday, I was determined to meet up with them and told Lola she was going to a family reunion. We didn’t know what to expect when Lola and Jack saw each other again after a decade apart. Would they recognize each other? Would they jump for joy the way BFF dogs do at the dog park? Research suggests that dogs have the power of memory, and stories of canine recognition after years of separation are common.

To reach our destination, the small town of Oakridge, Oregon, we drove north 7.5 hours, split up with an overnight stay in Klamath Falls. We wanted to be fresh for our meeting. We had considered meeting up at Crater Lake, but were reminded that National Parks do not allow dogs off-leash—not a good option. So we decided to connect at the small off-road campsite that Jack’s family had been staying … secluded, no traffic, next to one of the many streams that feed into the Willamette River. Familiar territory for Jack. When the moment arrived, we let the two dogs out of the cars, off leash and stood back. Sniff, sniff … a few turns … but no hoopla. No outward signs of recognition, jumping for joy or howls. Lola didn’t express anything out of the regular interaction with any dog, which is one or two sniffs, and ready to move on. I’m not an expert and there may have been clues that escaped me. Erin and Ryan (Jack’s people) think that Jack showed more than the usual interest, something they interpreted as recognition. In fairness to Lola, she’s a little shy and reserved in nature under normal circumstances, and on this trip was exposed to new and changing surroundings, her normal routine completely disrupted. A show of celebration may have been too much to hope for.

None of us expressed any disappointment with the subdued greeting, and Erin and Ryan’s second dog Skye was let out to join the party. Skye is a very sociable senior GWP–Lab mix, Jack’s partner in the field. All the dogs were revved up and we immediately started on an hour-long hike down the narrow trail surrounded by forest. The dogs took their place in the procession—Jack in front, doing what GWPs do … scouting ahead and turning back regularly to check on the group. Lola followed closely behind Jack, the two moving in tandem. We started to recognize something that resembled teamwork, one dog moving further ahead, then returning to check in with the humans, then the other dog taking the lead position, then returning for a visual check. When we stopped at the stream, Lola and Jack “coursed” around (i.e. hunted) in a small meadow of grasses, rummaging through old logs, smelling holes, leaping into the air (as GWPs do) towards furtive movement in the foliage. That is typically Lola’s favorite activity and one that she usually is loathe to share with any other dog—we believe, she thinks that other dogs are “intruding” on her intense concentration.

But with Jack, her reaction was much more inviting to her bro, she seemed to relish having a partner with a similar skillset. Erin, Ryan and I all agreed this was very typical behavior for both dogs but now they were working in tandem. Skye did not join their expeditions, instead hung out with us. We saw this as a clear sign of a bond that was either familial or common to their breed. And since these two dogs had been pups “on the run” early on in life, and learned that pairing together was best for them, it was great to see them pick up that closeness again as seniors. Either way, real or imagined, this provided us the satisfaction we were seeking—littermates do maintain a connection over time and space.

After our walk, we all sat campside and shared stories of the dogs, comparing their similarities and differences—at 70 lbs. Jack was much larger than Lola, who is a petite 42 lbs. (and small for their breed). Jack has a lot more fur and his coat is really curly, Lola is fearful of loud noises, Jack is not and he is definitely more rambunctious … more of a … boy while Lola tends to be demur! They shared many of the same gestures, and we relished the kind of behavioral traits and anecdotes that only “family” would care about.

We talked of plans for our next gathering, perhaps in Utah or out west next summer. It was thrilling to share time with Jack and his family, to renew the bond between littermates and to find kinship with his people. We’re fortunate to have that connection that Julie, their rescuer made possible. We even recounted all the hoops that she, as a very picky matchmaker, made us both go through in order to adopt our dogs. Glad that we both passed the test. I am curious to know about other canine family reunions, and how dogs express their familial bonds.   

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