News: Guest Posts
Really need you
I’ve always had a soft spot for old dogs. The gray muzzles and cloudy eyes get to me every time. One of my own dogs, Rocky, a rescued Pug/Chihuahua mix, is quite elderly at around 14 years of age. He recently had a couple of major seizures and became completely paralyzed from the neck down. A day of intensive care at the vet gave a poor prognosis. He did not seem to be in pain so I made the sad decision to bring him home for the family to say good-bye and then have the vet come to our home the next day.
Strangely, Rocky was coherent and did not seem upset about his predicament. I turned him every few hours and offered water which he lapped with help. The next morning I propped him up and offered a little breakfast which he managed to eat. I then took him out and held him up by his favorite bush where he peed before I settled him back on his cushy bed. I held off on calling the vet since he seemed comfortable. To my great joy, over the next several weeks he regained most of his function and returned to his previous frisky, happy self, even racing on the beach again.
Each day with Rocky is a blessing but I see many elderly dogs, in the course of my work as an animal control officer, who are not so lucky. They sit in shelters, unwanted and unloved. It’s heartbreaking to see these old souls peering through the chain link at the world or sleeping the day away alone.
Old dogs deserve to spend their last days snug in a cozy bed, getting their ears scratched and having walks and playtime with someone who loves them. I often foster shelter dogs who need some care before going to a forever home. Usually these are moms with litters, orphaned pups or dogs needing some behavior modification. I recently fostered two darling seniors who were left behind in a foreclosed home. Maggie the Beagle and McKenzie the Chihuahua sat forlornly at the shelter, day after day. They had a heated floor, cushy blankets and good food but they were depressed and overlooked on the adoption floor.
Maggie at maybe 10 years old, was overweight and grouchy with dogs other than McKenzie. Little McKenzie, who was probably closer to 15 years old, was tiny, underweight and very frail. She was also prone to nip if startled. The volunteers and staff adored them and I promoted them shamelessly to my friends and on Facebook but still no takers.
Finally I packed up the two old girls and took them home to foster. I have four dogs of my own so it was a challenge with Maggie’s dog issues and I worried about fragile McKenzie in my busy household. One wrong footstep from my Great Dane would probably kill her. Still, I made it work.
I fell in love with the two sweet old girls and the judicious use of X-pens and separate dog yards kept everyone safe and happy. Maggie’s issues improved as she settled in and tiny McKenzie especially stole my heart. Had it just been her, I would have kept her in a heartbeat. The two were incredibly bonded though and after all they had been through I couldn’t bear to split them up. They were actually pretty easy and after a month or so I found a delightful home for them with a sweet woman who had seen them on the web. I dripped sappy tears of joy as I watched them drive away.
A month or two later I ran into them at the beach. Maggie and her adopter had both lost a few pounds and looked fabulous, while little McKenzie had gained muscle and was stronger. All three looked incredibly happy which made my day.
It’s on my life’s list to adopt an old dog someday, after Rocky passes and my younger dogs settle down. I want to bring in some old, neglected dog and pamper them for whatever time they have left. Sure they aren’t going to be around as long but people are starting to understand how much easier they can be and the rewards of adopting them. For some people who can’t make a 10 or 15 year commitment, it’s a perfect fit to give a dog the life they deserve for a few months to a few years.
I would love to hear from readers who have fostered and adopted old dogs. Share with us the joys and difficulties of bringing a senior pet into your home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Research looks at the effects of pets on former drug abusers
Dog lovers know that our pets can cheer us up on a bad day, but new research shows that they may have a significant effect on our brain chemistry.
Lindsay Ellsworth, a doctoral candidate at the Washington State University, is using shelter dogs as part of a mood-boosting therapy program for teenagers recovering from drug and alcohol abuse at Excelsior Youth Center in Spokane, Wash.
To study the program's effects, Lindsay separates participants into two groups once a week for one hour. One group plays games, such as billiards or basketball and the second group interacts with shelter dogs.
Before and after the activity, participants identify 60 mood descriptors as part of a emotion scale called PANAS-X. Those who spent time with the dogs showed an increase in joviality, positive affect (a psychology term for the experience of feeling or emotion), attentiveness, and serenity. They also showed a decrease in overall sadness. This is important because many of the teens are also being treated for ADHD, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Even Lindsay was surprised at how calm the teens were around the dogs and at the overall decrease in outbursts and hyperactivity. She hypothesizes that the feel good chemical dopamine (the same chemical released when we clicker train our pups!) is released in the teens' brains as they anticipate the canine interaction and that social companionship with the pups may also stimulate opiod release, a chemical linked to calming and anti-depression.
Lindsay is hopeful that dogs could naturally help restore the normal function of these critical chemical messengers after the brain's chemistry has been altered through drug use.
Starting this summer, Lindsay will be expanding her research to look at how dogs can influence the teens' engagement in group therapy and cooperation in structured activities.
The prospect of a natural, low-cost behavior intervention is pretty exciting and even cooler that it gives shelter pups a job. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Lindsay's upcoming research!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Well-suited for fighting pollution
If ever there was a situation of a working dog doing what comes naturally, it’s Sable sniffing out sewage leaks. A dog whose job is to smell poop is about as natural a fit as a teenager whose job is to play video games.
Sable is a 7-year old rescue dog who is helping the people of Beckley, W. Va. by finding the source of sewage leaks that are polluting local waterways. She was hired through a state Department of Environmental Protection grant to the Piney Creel Watershed Association. Sable works for a group called Environmental Canine Services in Michigan.
The sewage system in the area where Sable has been sniffing out leaks is old and needs repairs in a lot of places. Because much of the system is buried, it is difficult for people to figure out where to put their efforts. When Sable catches a whiff of human waste, she barks to let her handlers know. By pointing out the areas of actual leaks, she is saving the community a lot of time and money so that they can focus on those areas that need immediate repair.
I’ve had several jobs that I truly loved and that really suited me, but I don’t think I’ll ever be quite as well matched to my work as Sable is to hers.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pesky bugs are now a year round problem
Ticks drive me crazy, especially since I spend so much time hiking in wooded areas. And these pesky creatures are persistent even outside of prime conditions. I try to avoid using chemical-laden tick preventatives year round, figuring the pups are safe in the winter, but this year one of my friends spotted a tick on her dog in January! Unfortunately this problem is only getting worse because tick populations have exploded in the past ten years--meaning more ticks and more affected areas (did you know that ticks can even be found in Antarctica?!). Scientists attribute this increase to mild winters, suburbanization (bringing people and wildlife in closer proximity), an increase in white-tailed deer, migratory birds that carry ticks to new areas, a movement towards preserving open space and trees, and the use of fewer insecticides. These factors have also made my habit of skipping winter tick preventatives a bit misguided. Dr. Michael Dryden, a veterinary parasitology professor at Kansas State University, says that it has to be at least ten degrees Fahrenheit for some time to kill a tick. If the temperature drops overnight then warms back up, that doesn't do the trick. Ticks can also survive under a blanket of snow, which actually provides shelter (go figure!). Additionally there are some species, like the Black-Legged Tick, found on the East Coast of the United States, that actually thrives in the winter months from October to February. In addition to being vigilant year round, a recent study out of Vienna's Institute of Parasitology discovered a significant different in the effectiveness of acaricide anti-tick treatments (a category that includes Frontline and K9 Advantix) in practice versus in the laboratory. They suspect this is due to people not applying the product consistently or according to the directions. Veterinarians often see new tick species and diseases before medical doctors, since dogs spend so much time outdoors, making our pups important to both human and canine health initiatives. After reading these studies, I'll certainly be checking for ticks and applying Frontline Plus no matter how cold it is outside!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Surprises among the old and young
The other day at a park, I saw what I thought was a Pomeranian puppy. At just over three pounds, she was pretty small and had that fluffy look of those who are new to the planet. Additionally, she was leaping around with more enthusiasm than knowledge of where her body parts were. I didn’t just THINK she was a puppy. I was sure of it. Yet I was wrong—it turns out she was four years old.
Even though I know that teacup and tiny toy Pomeranians are full grown around the size of this dog, she still seemed like a puppy to me. It was not just her diminutive size that was misleading. Her coat and her behavior fooled me, too. She moved like a young dog and her fluffy coat was the result of having been shaved in the past. She was not the first dog whose age has been a surprise to me.
Several times, I’ve seen Golden Retrievers with full spectacles of white and thought they were probably at least six or seven only to find out they are actually just about to turn four or even barely three. Sometimes dogs who are naturally very calm seem older to me than they are, but some dogs, especially those who have been bred for high energy and high drive, seem young even when they are already a decade old.
I enjoy the variation in dogs, and that applies to their behavior, their temperaments, their athletic abilities, and even how they age. Some dogs behave as though they are puppies until the very end of their lives at which point they suddenly enter a brief geriatric phase. Other dogs lose the puppy sillies in adolescence and proceed to act like wise, respected elders for many years.
Most of the time, I really do correctly guess dogs’ ages within a reasonable margin of error. When I’m wrong, it interests me because it is usually a combination of appearance and behavior that throws me off.
If you’ve been wrong about a dog’s age, what was it about the dog that deceived you?
Web alternatives to kennels
If cage-free, off-leash accommodations were the last big trend to sweep the boarding business, than sleepovers with regular folk are the new sweet spot between home and kennel. Today, several websites connect dog owners seeking a more hands-on, affordable boarding experience for their pups with dog-loving hosts eager to open their homes to canine visitors but with varying degrees of pet care experience.
Launched in Phoenix in 2004, the same year as Facebook, SleepoverRover.com helped pioneer the current web-based wave of hosting dogs as guests in private homes. With experience in pet retail and grooming and a desire to find a low stress alternative to kennels, co-founder Maggie Brown set about recruiting retirees and stay-at-home parents to take care of dogs in their homes.
Unlike newer sites, Sleepover Rover representatives evaluate each host and inspect each home, in some cases, providing dog-proofing and behavior advice. Sleepover Rover actively facilitates each match, handles payment (splitting the fee with hosts), and follows up on each home stay. Sleepover hosts are located in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver, and in Southern California from San Diego to Santa Barbara.
In 2011, two sites—DogVacay.com and Rover.com—launched more open-market versions of the same concept. Like AirBnB, these sites allow dog owners and dog sitters to post profiles for free. Owners are responsible for selecting a sitter and making arrangements, although they pay through the site, as well as checking references, which include onsite and other social media reviews. The sites take a percentage, from 3 to 15 percent, of fees collected by the dog sitters.
Started by a husband-and-wife team, DogVacay was originally limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now has more than 10,000 qualified hosts (DogVacay interviews hosts and checks references) around the country, concentrated in urban areas also including New York, Miami, Dallas, DC, Chicago and Atlanta. The hosts make an average of $1,000/month.
A well-funded, Seattle-based startup, Rover.com started by putting down roots in the Pacific Northwest but is now actively expanding in 52 cities.
In a recent New York Times blog specifically about DogVacacy the important issue of insurance was examined. While traditional homeowner's policies provide coverage that protects you in the event that your own dog bites someone, typically if a “guest” dog does likewise, this wouldn't be covered. You would need to acquire specialty insurance coverage for pet businesses, similar to groomers, boarding kennels, etc.
The Times article, explains:
"DogVacay's Web site says it includes “complimentary” insurance for hosts and guests with every booking. The free version covers veterinary care for guest dogs and dogs owned by the host, up to $2,000; it doesn't, however, include liability coverage for the host.
Hosts can pay to upgrade to “premium” insurance that does include liability coverage of up to $4 million, said Aaron Hirschhorn. The coverage is offered through Kennel Pro, an affiliate of the insurer Mourer-Foster.
DogVacay's site links to Kennel Pro's site, which says its policies start at $350 a year, which sounds a bit steep for someone hosting a dog only occasionally. But Hirschhorn said DogVacay was able to offer expanded coverage for $48 a year to its hosts through a special arrangement with the carrier. (The more affordable premium isn't cited on the Web site.) The fee is deducted from the first booking, so hosts don't have to pay the premium upfront, he said. He estimated that half of DogVacay's hosts bought the upgraded coverage."
Some local jurisdictions might also have laws about the need to have a business license. In Houston, for example, you might need a kennel license and an inspection.
Even though a few of these services do initial “vetting” of the hosts for you, and urge you to meet the “host” before you finalize your arrangements, some comments on the Times piece express concerns about leaving a dog with someone you only met on the internet. Have you used any of these services? Would you be interested in using them, or even being a host?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The importance of planning for outdoor excursions with your pup
Over Memorial Day weekend, my Border Collie Scuttle and I headed up to New Hampshire's White Mountains to camp and hike. For me, there's nothing better than spending time outdoors with my dogs, especially if it's somewhere they can run off leash (after safety, this is the number two reason I train a good recall!). We've blogged about hiking with dogs before, but the White Mountains got me thinking about the importance of preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. I've never hiked in this region before, but the fickle weather and challenging terrain is legendary. I always do trail research before I head to a new area with my dogs, but I knew this trip would require extra preparation. I started with online research, reading about dogs who had hiked the trails near our campsite and getting route recommendations from people who had posted on trail condition web sites (New England Trail Conditions even has a notes section for dog related comments). I quickly learned that the White Mountains are particularly tough on paw pads because of sharp rocks above the treeline. I knew Scuttle had the stamina to complete a summit attempt, but I took a few precautions based on what I'd heard from other hikers. I brought extra first aid supplies (Musher's Secret to protect her paws, dog boots in case of a torn pad, and septic powder for torn nails), plenty of layers (a doggy rain coat and down jacket in case of bad weather), and also made a plan for getting Scuttle down the mountain in an emergency, something I've never thought about before. You might remember Missy, the German Shepherd abandoned with torn pads at the top of a Colorado mountain. Weather conditions can quickly change at high elevations and an injured dog can be difficult to get down. Park rangers are often not allowed or don't have the resources to rescue animals. Inspired by Missy, I brought a backpack large enough to carry Scuttle down the mountain if she were to get injured. We practiced the pack riding before the trip, much to Scuttle's chagrin (if I had more time, I would've properly introduced her to the bag more slowly with shaping and positive reinforcement). In the end, we had a fun weekend and Scuttle completed her first 4,000+ foot mountain (one of New Hampshire's 48 4,000 footers) without any hiccups. Believe it or not, there was even snow at the top of the mountain, proving once again that good preparation is key. When we're hiking, the look of joy on Scuttle's face is priceless, but we have to remember that it's our choice to bring our pups with us on the trail. Scuttle would follow me to Antarctica if she could, so I know it's my responsibility to do research, make educated decisions, and prepare for the worst!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Blind dog wins Palm Dog award
This year, a blind poodle has won the Palm Dog award for his performance as Liberace’s dog Baby Boy in the film “Behind the Candelabra.” He did not travel to France to accept his award, which consists of a leather collar that says “PALM DOG” in gold letters. Baby Boy is blind and has cataracts, and his ailing health played a part in the plot of the film. He beat out the Chihuahua who was nominated for playing Paris Hilton’s dog in the film “The Bling Ring.”
Since 2001 the unofficial Palm Dog award has been a part of the Cannes Film festival. It is presented to honor the best canine performance of the festival, and owes its name to a play on words relating to the Palm d’Or, which is the top award at Cannes. Previous winners include Uggie, the Jack Russell Terrier who played Uggie in “The Artist, and Lucy in the film “Wendy and Lucy.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Austrailian man searches for two months on foot for his lost pup
There are many stories about loyal dogs, but an elderly Australian man searching for his pup reminded me that what makes the human-canine bond so special is the love on both sides of the relationship. Back in March, Brian Railton's Kelpie-Border Collie mix, Benji, ran away from home after being spooked by a storm. Since then Brian, 70 years old and battling Parkinson's disease, walked over 180 miles looking for Benji. Brian hung posters, searched the neighborhood, and made a daily trek from his home to the local shelter to check for the lost pup. After more than two months had passed, Brian's family was just about to give up when they got the call that Benji had been found. The dog had been going to a nearby nursing home looking for food when he was spotted. When Brian and Benji were reunited, they celebrated with ice cream at McDonalds. Brian's journey may sound like a lot, particularly at age 70, but it turns out Benji has been keeping Brian in good health. The pair regularly walks up to eight miles a day to relieve Brian's shaking from Parkinson's Disease. Benji also waits at the bus stop for Brian when he runs errands. Brian and Benji have been together since the pup was eight weeks old and you can tell they've developed a deep bond. Here's to many more years together!
News: Guest Posts
June 28 to 30—streaming live
SPARCS is a unique venture organized by Prescott Breeden and Patti Howard of The Pawsitive Packleader, Seattle Dog Training. From June 28-30, 2013, anyone in the world can see some of the leading canine science researchers in action—either in a conference hall in Redmond, WA, or streaming live to your living room.
SPARCS is short for the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science, which aptly summarizes the goals of the conference: (1) to promote research and education in canine science, and (2) to provide a platform for leading minds in canine science to present, discuss and debate modern behavior science.
Canine Science? Explain
If the phrase “Canine Science” gives you pause, I assure you it does not imply that dogs are meeting in the park to discuss the current issues of the day, such as:
- Owner Responses to Half Eaten Sandwiches: A Review
- Why Does the Cat Run Around at Night?: A Roundtable Discussion
- Where Are They Taking Our Poo?
Canine Science, generally speaking, is research devoted to the biology, ecology, behavior and cognition of dogs, wolves and related canids. It is a catch-all phrase that highlights the surge of research into canine minds and experiences. My article in The Bark, Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind, describes this field in more detail. SPARCS brings together the following leading researchers to discuss their inquiry into the dog for a general audience:
Marc Bekoff is a long-time researcher and writer of more than 500 scientific and popular essays. In a book store? Check out one of his twenty-two books, including Minding Animals and the children’s book Animals at Play: Rules of the Game. He regularly updates a Psychology Today Blog, Animal Emotions: Do animals think and feel?
- Bekoff on dogs and their urine: Observations of scent-marking and discriminating self from others by a domestic dog (Canis familiaris): tales of displaced yellow snow.
- Bekoff on play: Social play and play-soliciting by infant canids.
Ray Coppinger has published over fifty papers on dog research. His favorite publication, however, is the book Fishing Dogs, a humorous and iconoclastic look at dogs, fishermen and professors. His book, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, is a classic text in the field.
- Coppinger on different behavioral sequences between dogs: Degree of behavioral neoteny differentiates canid polymorphs.
- Coppinger on improving assistance dog training programs: Observations on assistance dog training and use.
Michael W. Fox wears many hats. He is a veterinarian with a Ph.D. in medicine, and he also holds a degree in animal behavior (ethology). His career encompasses extensive research into dog behavior and development as well as holistic and integrative veterinary medicine. He encourages veterinary institutions to incorporate animal behavior and welfare science into their curricula.
- I covered Fox’s 1963 paper, Developmental Abnormalities of the Canine Skull in the Dog Spies post, Where Should Dogs Put Their Tongues?
- Fox on dog development during the first month of life: The postnatal development of neocortical neurons in the dog.
Alexandra Horowitz’s current research at the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College investigates animal communication and attention, dog olfaction, inter-species play behavior, theory of mind and anthropomorphisms.* She writes regularly for The New York Times, and her best-selling book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, is essential.
- Horowitz on attention during dog-dog play: Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play.
- Horowitz on the “guilty look” in dogs: Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour.
Kathryn Lord received her PhD in organismic and evolutionary biology, which of course means she studies wolf pups. Her research focuses on the evolution and development of dog and wolf behavior.
- Lord on sensory development of wolves and dogs: A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris).
- Lord on the meaning of dog barks: Barking and mobbing.
Adam Miklósi leads the Family Dog Project at the Department of Ethology at Eötvös
Loránd University in Budapest, where I had the pleasure of conducting my Masters research (covered on SciAm by Jason Goldman of The Thoughtful Animal). In the last 15 years, the Family Dog Project research group has published over 100 scientific papers and organized the inaugural Canine Science Forum in 2008. His book, Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition is required reading in canine ethology.
- Miklósi on the building blocks of meaningful social interactions: On the utilization of social animals as a model for social robotics.
- Miklósi on other species’ use of human communicative gestures: A comparative analysis of animals’ understanding of the human pointing gesture.
Monique Udell has worked with a variety of species such as wild cats, megachiropteran bats, coyotes, foxes, mice, non-human primates and a range of companion animals including dogs, cats, and ferrets. She has a special interest in how the cognition and behavior of domestic dogs and wolves can be altered by lifetime experience.
- Udell on dog sensitivity to human behaviors: What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions.
Before Clive Wynne found a way to combine a childhood fascination with dogs with his day job as a psychology professor, he studied the behavior of animals ranging from pigeons to dunnarts (a mouse-sized marsupial) at universities in Britain, Germany, the USA, and Australia. Now head of the Canine Cognition and Behavior Laboratory, he is full of tales of everything from the tame foxes of Siberia to the dogs of the Moscow subway.
- Wynne on anthropomorphism: What are animals? Why anthropomorphism is still not a scientific approach to behavior.
- Wynne on the relationship between companion dogs and children: The other side of the bond: Domestic dogs’ human-like behaviors.
So, What’s This Conference About?
The SPARCS conference investigates dogs from three angles: “Origins in the Wild,” “Social Behavior and Emotions” and finally “Cognition and Development.”
Origins in the wild
“It is widely accepted that dogs are descended from wolves, but that is about the only uncontroversial fact about the origins of dogs…. I have come to a new proposal for the origin of dogs.” Clive Wynne
“In my presentation I shall talk about the emotional lives of nonhuman animals (animals) – beastly passions – and how they very much care about how we treat them.” Marc Bekoff
“The modern wolf and the modern dog diverged into their present forms, sometime, somewhere, and somehow. We should discuss those when, where, and how questions.” Ray Coppinger
Social Behavior and Emotions
“I shall also talk about why play has evolved – what it is “good for” and why it is very important that we come to terms with the details of what animals do when they play.” Marc Bekoff
“So the basic question is: What makes a dog skillful for living in the anthropogenic [human] environment, and whether we can claim that there is a parallel between some of the behavioral skills of dogs and those of humans?” Ádám Miklósi
“Dogs are socially and emotionally promiscuous and, given the right conditions, can form attachments to members of many other species.” Clive Wynne
Cognition and Development
“How the dog’s brain and behavior develop is integral to our understanding of critical and sensitive periods in helping facilitate a strong social bond and in enhance learning/trainability, emotional stability and stress & disease resistance.” Michael W. Fox
“[W]e must be careful not to forget the true diversity of the domestic dog population, or assume that the sum is more representative than its parts. Indeed, it is at the fringes of the species where we often discover examples of amazing cognitive feats, or hidden canine capacities unveiled by unique environmental or experiential contexts.” Monique Udell
“First, I aim to highlight and examine the attributions we unthinkingly make to dogs. Second, I use findings about the biology and cognition of dogs to create a better picture of the dog’s experience: the umwelt, or point of view.” Alexandra Horowitz
What About My Living Room?
Because SPARCS aims to make continuing education accessible, the conference will be broadcast live and free of charge: “As long as you have a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone, everyone will be able to watch our broadcast from anywhere in the world.”**
SPARCS plans to be a yearly conference, so keep it on your radar!
Ticket, Live Stream and Schedule
on Social Media
SPARCS on Facebook
SPARCS on Twitter
All photos courtesy of SPARCS
** SPARCS adds, “Donations are absolutely optional however graciously appreciated. If you watched our event online and enjoyed it, consider donating to SPARCS.”
Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind at The Bark
Talking dogs: Welcome to the 3rd Canine Science Forum at Dog Spies
Inside the 3rd Canine Science Forum at Dog Spies
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She wriites a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.
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