Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Benefits of lower protein and higher fat
It’s not news to anyone that the food that we feed our dogs matters. The right food may translate to better health, proper weight management, longer life, a shinier coat, and better performance in a range of sports and activities. New research suggests that the diet of working detection dogs can even have an impact on their ability to smell.
Joseph Wakshlag at Cornell and his colleagues at Auburn University found that dogs who were fed more fat and less protein than typical diets contain were better able to detect certain scents such as TNT, ammonia nitrate and smokeless powder. Over a year-and-a-half, they rotated dogs through three diets and compared their detection abilities when they were on each diet. The three diets were: 1) a high quality performance diet, 2) regular adult dog food and 3) regular adult dog food combined with corn oil. The ability to detect scents was highest when the dogs ate the diet of regular dog food combined with corn oil. That diet had less protein but the same amount of fat as the high performance diet. The high performance and regular diets had equal amounts of protein, but the high performance diet had more fat.
Digesting protein causes a rise in a dog’s body temperature, as does exertion in the form of physical activity. The panting that is essential for lowering body temperature reduces a dog’s ability to smell well. In order to do their detection work as effectively as possible, dogs must cool down so that they are not panting. A diet higher in fat and lower in protein seems to allow dogs to cool down faster and therefore smell better.
What constitutes a high performance diet may depend on the sort of performance that is desired. Dogs who work by running or pulling hard may need more protein to succeed at their job than dogs who need to be able to maximize the effectiveness of their olfactory abilities.
The American Heart Association issued a scientific statement yesterday that yes, owning a dog may protect us from heart disease. The statement was issued by an expert panel that was convened to look at alternative approaches to combat heart disease. They were prompted to look at the benefits of pet caring because of the growing number of medical studies linking pet ownership to better health.
Dr. Levine, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine said, “there are plausible psychological, sociological and physiological reasons to believe that pet ownership might actually have a causal role in decreasing cardiovascular risk.” Dog ownership, partially because it compels people to walk their dogs and thereby getting more exercise, proved more beneficial than owning a cat. Richard Krasuski, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, thought this statement as more of an indictment of societal attitudes toward exercise. “Very few people are meeting their exercise goals,” he said. “In an ideal society, where people are actually listening to physician recommendations, you wouldn’t need pets to drag people outside.” (Feeling that walking my dogs is one of the greatest daily pleasures in my life, I would not quite agree that many of us actually consider our dogs as “dragging” us outside.)
“Several studies showed that dogs decreased the body’s reaction to stress, with a decrease in heart rate, blood pressure and adrenaline-like hormone release when a pet is present as opposed to when a pet is not present,” Dr. Levine said. Pet owners also tended to report greater amounts of physical activity, and modestly lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Some research showed that people who had pets of any kind were also more likely to survive heart attacks. All in all a definite win-win for us and our dogs.
The research also strongly suggested that there was a sharp contrast between those who walked their dogs themselves and those who did not.
Dr. Levine concludes by saying that they were not recommending that people adopt pets for any reason other than to give them a good home.
“If someone adopts a pet, but still sits on the couch and smokes and eats whatever they want and doesn’t control their blood pressure,” he said, “that’s not a prudent strategy to decrease their cardiovascular risk.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Comparing behavior of pet store and breeder dogs
Good dog breeders go through great lengths to ensure that their puppies are well socialized, introducing them to a variety of people, environments, and experiences. On the other end of the spectrum, puppy mill dogs, the source of most pet store animals, are raised in disgusting conditions and barely get any human attention, let alone anything close to proper socialization. It's not hard to imagine how many of these poor pups go on to develop behavioral problems later in life.
While most of the information we have about these differences is largely anecdotal, a new study has shown significant behavior trends related to where dogs were born and raised. A veterinarian from Best Friends Animal Society and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at 413 dogs from pet stores and 5657 dogs from breeders to look at differences in behavioral characteristics. All were purebred and were obtained as puppies at approximately the same age.
Behavioral characteristics were measures using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), one of the most carefully validated questionnaires of its kind. It looks at a variety of canine behavior like trainability, excitability, sociability, fearfulness, and expressions of aggressiveness.
The results were not so good for pet store pups. Overall researchers found that dogs purchased from pet stores appeared to be less psychologically sound. On 12 out of 14 behavioral subscales, the pet store dogs showed significantly less desirable behaviors, and in no category did the pet store dogs have a better score.
The most striking findings were related to aggressive and fearful behavior. For example, intact pet store dogs were three times more likely to display aggressive behaviors towards people than intact dogs from breeders. In addition, pet store dogs were more likely to show aggressive behaviors towards other dogs, fearfulness, separation related problems, and touch sensitivity.
Pet store dogs were also more likely to exhibit other problem behaviors, such as running away, mounting, and going to the bathroom in the house.
The researchers hypothesize that these behavioral problems are due to the lack of socialization and human contact at puppy mills. It may seem obvious to anyone who is knowledgeable about canine development, but this study is important for creating greater awareness about socialization needs and the cruelty of puppy mills.
Park maintenance is normally not an issue that most pay attention to. We probably blindly trust that weed clearing is done with minimum impact to us and our dogs. Dogs especially, with their noses to the ground, can be more susceptible to the affects of harmful pesticides and weed killers like Roundup. Mark Derr wrote in a recent post on the perils of a dog park that aren’t visible to us. His park in Miami Beach is a place that seems to have gotten hooked on Roundup.
"By the turn of the millennium, reports were piling up associating exposure to Roundup with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, fertility problems, and Parkinson’s Disease, among others. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2002, well before we discovered Roundup liberally sprayed in the park but on the chance that these reports were pointing to something real, I raised a ruckus with the city and demanded that its use be discontinued. I argued that even if weren’t toxic to humans, it was to amphibians and birds and thus should not be used in a nature preserve, which technically our park is."
But years after the ruckus was raised, Derr found that Roundup was still being applied to city parks…
"The city changed its ways a little. Indeed, last fall, when I observed a man spraying a colorless liquid around trees and along asphalt pathways, I asked what it was, and he said, “Roundup.” It is common to mix color with Roundup so that people spraying can easily see where they have applied it. But in this instance, I can only assume the intent was to conceal, because Roundup is so addictive that the parks department, like its counterparts in other cities and its own citizens on their own property, cannot give it up. Its potency and the myth of its safety make it impossible for them to renounce."
Derr writes about recent studies about just how harmful this chemical is. The use of Roundup, and other harmful chemicals, is certainly is a question that should be asked of our park’s departments. Do you know what chemicals are used in your parks?
So sweet to see that Jon Stewart walking his three-legged dog, Champ is being written about by the online media, from Huffiington Post to E-Online . We certainly know just how great a dog lover Stewart is, after being invited to spend a whole day behind the scenes at the Daily Show’s office last year. We were so inspired by their approach to a dog friendly workplace—with free-range dogs integral to the unique office ambience—that we awarded them our first Best Place to Work award. Do check out the slideshow of Champ and Jon Stewart.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Today Show sparks a heated debate on the AKC's kennel inspections
The internet has been buzzing about the Today Show's segment on the American Kennel Club's negligent inspection of dog breeders. I've since seen the topic fiercely debated among my dog friends on Facebook and on mailing lists. My Sheltie, Nemo, is from an amazing AKC registered breeder and we participate in AKC sanctioned sports like rally obedience and agility. In many regards, the AKC is doing a lot of good for dogs. They raise millions of dollars each year for canine health research and educational programs, their affiliated clubs run many of the breed rescue organizations referenced by the Today Show, and they promote relationship building activities like dog sports and the Canine Good Citizen test.
But since people think they can rely on the AKC "stamp of approval" for picking a breeder, their inadequate kennel inspection program is particularly troublesome. The AKC only has nine inspectors for the entire country, so it's inevitable that some breeders will fall through the cracks. And there have been reports of breeders who passed the AKC inspection, but were found by local law enforcement to be raising animals in deplorable conditions.
Given that the AKC is in the business of profiting from puppy registrations, they're clearly not in the best position to objectively evaluate and regulate breeders, particularly large operations who are generating a lot of income for the AKC.
This conflict of interest is also evident in the fact that the AKC has a history of opposing legislation that could potentially regulate puppy mills. I agree that a small kennel can have inhumane conditions and a large kennel can be well maintained, but in general someone with less animals will be able to devote more attention and resources.
Besides the high cost of properly caring for dogs, it takes a lot of time to make sure puppies are well socialized. My breeder played sound tapes, took the puppies to experience different people and environments, and brought them along on trips to get them used to the car. This is hard work and would be almost impossible to do if you had multiple litters born at around the same time, which most large kennels do.
Dogs are members of our family, not a product you buy off of a shelf. You can't and shouldn't rely on a "stamp of approval." It's up to you to determine if a breeder is responsible. Even if the AKC significantly improved their inspection program, I would still extensively do my research on any breeder before getting a puppy from them.
What do you think about the AKC's inspection program?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
They enter our lives in many ways
It’s hard to argue against the idea that the best way to acquire a dog involves 1) planning ahead, 2) preparation that allows you to be completely ready to welcome that dog into your home and into your lives and 3) spending the time to choose a dog whose personality, size, activity levels and grooming demands are a good match for you and your family. Yet, some of the best love stories between people and dogs come out of situations that are generally advised against, including by me.
I recently met someone whose dog was just perfect for her, but she happened to have gotten that dog in what I consider a high risk situation: Her daughter had bought the dog for her as a wedding present. She married and was then presented with a seven-week old Border Collie/Lab puppy. This woman and her husband love him and eight years later, they consider him their once-in-a-lifetime dog. Despite this exceptional case, I stand by my belief that giving a dog as a gift under any circumstance is risky.
Another couple I know got their dog not long before the wife gave birth to their twins. The husband brought the dog home unexpectedly when he found it as a stray. Unable to find a guardian, they adopted him. He is a great dog who is gentle and calm with both their children (now 10 years old) so it obviously worked out well. Yet, the sudden adoption of a dog around the same time as the birth of twins sets off alarm bells for me.
I still recommend giving thoughtful consideration to the process of getting a dog and carefully choosing which dog to adopt because of the greater likelihood that the story will have a happy ending. All too often, the sorts of scenarios I mentioned above don’t work out too well. On the other hand, there’s no denying that sometimes people take a big gamble and it pays off.
How have your dogs come into your life—with careful consideration and planning, or spontaneously and unexpectedly?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What you can do to help
I had a recent interaction with a small injured dog that touched me deeply. The entire episode lasted maybe 5 minutes, but I keep thinking back to it. I was putting an injured rabbit in our shelter vet clinic when I spotted a forlorn looking little dog lying on a thick blanket. His entire rear leg was shaved and a long row of sutures ran the length of it. His cage card said fractured hip, and listed a number of medications to help pain and infection. One of the shelter technicians told me that he had come to the shelter as a stray after being hit by a car and had surgery to repair the injury. I opened his cage and spoke to him. The big brown eyes were soft as I stroked his head and rubbed his ears. He was hesitant to move much but wiggled a little closer when I stopped stroking for a moment to look closer at his injury.
A bowl of untouched canned food sat near the dog and I offered it to him. He sniffed politely and turned away. “Come on Buddy, you’ll feel better if you eat something” I coaxed, scooping a little onto my fingers. This time he took a few bites before licking my hand and lying back down. I stroked him a few more times before heading out to finish my paperwork. When I glanced back he was watching me intently.
I haven’t been able to get the little guy out of my mind and a phone call to the clinic confirmed that the dog is doing well. He will go to a foster home to be pampered until he heals up and is ready for adoption.
In thinking of what to write for Be Kind to Animal Week, May 5-11, it occurs to me that anyone reading The Bark magazine is likely already doing just that with their own beloved dogs. Still, many animal lovers want to do more and just don’t know the best way about it. Bark readers may be pampering their own dogs while lamenting the difficult lives other dogs are living, isolated on chains or other unfortunate situations.
Adoption is the best way to give an unwanted dog the life he deserves but if you are unable to add another pet there are still plenty of things you can do to make a difference. Fostering a dog until he/she is ready for adoption can be so rewarding. The little guy I spoke about above will need weeks of cage rest while he recovers. Some feeding, cleaning and meds several times a day, along with some cuddles, are all he needs. It’s something that could even be done before and after work.
Volunteering to walk dogs, groom or just cuddle a frightened dog is another way to make life a little sweeter for a homeless dog. Donations of money, blankets, toys etc can go a long way, as can educating friends and neighbors on the needs of dogs and the benefits of spay and neuter. “Like” your local shelter page and share a pet in need on FB.
Yes, it can be hard to see an unloved animal, but the rewards of helping them are so worth it. Find a way to make a difference today.
Last week Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn Heights was renamed Adam Yauch Park in honor of the late co-founder/member of the pioneering hip-hop group the Beastie Boys. Yauch, who went by the name M.C.A. and died last year of cancer at the age of 47, grew up in the neighborhood and learned how to ride his bike in the park. The park includes a dog run in addition to children’s play areas and a community garden. The New York City Parks & Recreation’s website offers these tips on visiting the park:
When you visit [Yauch's] namesake park, be sure to take in the wide variety of trees, including silver lindens, London planes, pin oaks, and Norway maples. The playground also includes full and half basketball courts, a community garden, a greenhouse, a small fitness area, an open play space, drinking fountains, and a dog run.
We expect to see Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz (aka Ad Rock) and his dog Bobby chillin’ at his bandmate’s namesake.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Its association with lifespan and cause of death
In a new study called Reproductive Capability is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs, researchers report on the links of reproductive status (intact or spayed/neutered) with both lifespan and cause of death. Previous studies have suggested that sterilization increases the risk of certain cancers. However, if spaying and neutering actually does increase life span, then any cancers that are more common in older dogs may only appear to be more common in sterilized dogs because sterilized dogs live longer.
The overall conclusions of this new study are that there is a link between lifespan, cause of death and reproductive status. Sterilization was associated with longer lifespan. The mean age of death for intact dogs was 7.9 years and for sterilized dogs was 9.4 years. Sterilization increased life expectancy 13.8% in male and 26.3% in females.
In this study, researchers found differences in the cause of death between the reproductively capable group and the sterilized group. Compared to reproductively capable ones, dogs who were spayed and neutered were more likely to die of cancer and immune-related diseases, but less likely to die from infectious diseases, trauma, vascular disease and degenerative diseases. These differences in causes of death were consistent when the data were compared between dogs of the same age.
Data are from 40,139 dogs in a veterinary teaching hospital who died from 1984 to 2004. Juvenile dogs, dogs with a congenital issue that caused death, and dogs whose reproductive status, cause of death, or age were unknown were eliminated from the over 80,000 dogs originally considered for inclusion in the study. Reproductive capability was defined in this study as intact versus spayed or neutered, and does not mean the sterilized dogs had not reproduced. It’s unknown if they had reproduced prior to being sterilized. There were no data on how many times intact dogs had reproduced, only that they were still reproductively capable.
Though the results of this study are intriguing, it is important to recognize the limitations in the data and therefore in the conclusions. Though the groups—intact or sterile—are assumed to differ in no other way, that may not be the case. It is possible that the members in the sterilized group have received more regular or better medical care throughout their lives, for example. The sterilized dogs may come from different sources such as rescue groups or shelters rather than from pet stores or breeders. In other words, differences in life span or cause of death may not relate to reproductive status, but to one of these other factors. This study shows links of reproductive status with lifespan and cause of death, but we cannot assume that reproductive status is the cause of these differences. They may be correlated for some unknown reason.
Some other concerns I have about the data are that the dogs had all been referred to a veterinary teaching hospital for medical reasons, which means that the dogs in the study may be largely dogs with serious health issues rather than typical dogs. This means that conclusions based on this study may not be applicable to dogs in general.
I’m glad that studies are expanding on the question of lifespan and reproduction by looking at causes of death instead of just reproductive capability. I think this study is a great start at exploring questions that are of interest to all of us who love dogs, but I do think we need to exercise caution in order to make sure that we are distinguishing between studies that show correlations between various factors and those that demonstrate a causal relationship between those factors.
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