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Good Dog: Behavior & Training
For the Love of a Dog
My book club adored it
A pile of the book at the meeting of our book club

This month, my book club read Patricia McConnell’s For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, and it received thumbs up from the whole group. Only about half the members of our group have dogs themselves, but we all have emotions and that’s what the book is about. I first read the book years ago, and I was thrilled to find that I enjoyed it again and that it has stood the test of time.

The book is full of entertaining stories, science, practical advice and a lot of humor. It was a pleasure to read about so many different emotions and their manifestations on both the faces and in the brains of dogs and of people. I also had fun reading about specific dogs I met while working for Trisha, especially her own dogs, who I knew very well and still miss.

Over the eight years since the book was published, it has become increasingly accepted that animals other than humans, including dogs, have a rich emotional life. Fewer people than before reject the idea that dogs have a broad range of emotions. Because of that happy change, the logical arguments in the book about similar expressions of emotion in dogs and humans as well as similar brain structure and activity serve to affirm what readers already know rather than to convince them of what was once considered controversial.

If you’ve read, For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, what do you think of it?

News: Editors
Teachable Moments in the Dog Park

The other day I, and my three leashed dogs, had a tense encounter with two women and their two unleashed dogs. We had just finished our morning outing and were leaving our wonderful off leash area in the Berkeley marina—this 100+ acre park has breathtaking vistas of the bay’s bridges, plus half its space is set aside for humans and off leash dogs to exercise and enjoy nature together—but the rule in the other half of the park is that dogs must be on leash. The walk to and from the OLA might take all of 3 to 5 minutes. That should be a simple rule to follow, and one that we, who helped establish this dog park, agreed that we would help others to comply with.

But few people oblige, especially in the mornings, figuring that there really is no one there to see them side-stepping the rule. I know how that feels since walking three, anxious-to-romp, dogs on leash can be challenging. But I understand the importance of leashing them, so I do. I am also aware that the “I-can-get-away-with-it” attitude has threatened the legitimacy of the off leash area. So lately, I have been reminding people, politely, about this rule. Most people understand and gladly leash their dogs.

But the recent encounter went beyond not following that rule—I recognized the women because they run with their dogs in the OLA, but pay scant attention to what their two dogs are doing. I have seen these dogs charge up to, bark and "air" snap at each dog they encounter. Their behavior is not playful or social but instead demonstrates borderline aggressive behavior. But luckily, they always run off following their owners.

So there we were walking on a “leashed” path, exiting the park, when I saw them walking towards us about 50 feet away. Their dogs spotted us and quickly came charging up to us. Barking, snarling, threatening. The women didn’t even move, I had already stopped walking, had all my dogs in a sit, and asked the women to call their dogs. They did nothing, not call them, not run to them, they just froze. By that time their dogs were in full attack mode, hackles up, fully baring their teeth (the photo shows how they were reacting, and yes both dogs were wearing prong collars), which, in turn, inspired my dogs to react. Even mellow Lola got into the act. Yet, the women didn’t do anything. I had to call out to them again to get their dogs, which finally they did (but still not leashing them).

 As one of them was trying to round up the two dogs, I calmly explained to the other woman the basics of the on/off leash rules, also pointing out that they should do more when their dogs show this heightened level of agitation/aggression.

I really don’t know what it takes for some to understand that this is simply not acceptable dog behavior. Some don’t understand dog behavior and foolishly think that dogs will simply “work it out.” This is one of those golden rules of responsible “dog-person” behavior, when another person asked you to control your dog, the best thing to do is to just do it, and take your dog away from the interaction. There should be no argument, no “but my dog is friendly” comment, which, in this instance, certainly wasn’t the case.

Why do you think that some people react this way? How best should this “teachable moment” be handled?

News: Guest Posts
Does the AKC Deserve the Bad Press?

Once again, the AKC is getting bad press.  This time our leading authority on dogs stands accused of supporting, encouraging, or at least turning a blind eye to the illegal mass-production of sickly, traumatized animals for sale as pets in homes across the country.  The only thing I find more annoying than the recent Today show interview is the AKC’s official response.

A carefully worded press release says Today “disregarded the important facts that should have been told.”  But which “facts” are being “disregarded”?

The AKC wants to be seen as a poor, misunderstood victim of animal rights extremists like the Humane Society, award-winning scientists, and investigative journalists who forget to mention the AKC’s stellar achievements in “canine health research”—for health problems they themselves created by backing dogs into a genetic corner and endorsing items churned out like sausage links to set standards—approved and regulated by them—on shape, size, and color rather than health, temperament, or function. 

The AKC suggests they’ve been minding their own business all these years like babes in the woods, that clients pay those registration fees to them “voluntarily,” and that they contribute to “kennel club inspections” (by a skeleton crew of just nine inspectors for the whole country).  They also say there are, technically-speaking, no such entities as “AKC Registered Operations” or “AKC Registered Breeders”—because it’s a free country and nobody’s forcing anyone to seek the AKC’s imprimatur for those vast numbers of sickly, traumatized animals to be sold as pets? 

The AKC implies it has a purely passive role, almost as an innocent bystander, in the current pedigree health crisis and puppy mill scandal.  Meanwhile, they say they’ve taken a proactive role in “educational programs for responsible dog owners” who buy pitiful creatures wrapped in papers that seem more meaningless by the day.

“Facts” are easily missed or dismissed when someone’s playing word games, as in:  “The belief that mixed breed or mongrel dogs are more vigorous, healthy, or well-adjusted than properly bred purebred dogs is a myth.”   Of course there’s no guarantee that every or any one single dog will turn out healthy and balanced, but it’s a fact of nature that, on average and with vast numbers of AKC-registered puppy mill dogs tipping the equation, a tenth-generation mutt has better chances in life than a “purebred” or even a first-generation cross.  Ask any evolutionary biologist.  The fact is, and the AKC should know this because they write the grants that fund the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, the annual list of “Top Ten” breeds—which the AKC just happens to announce each year on the eve of Westminster and which they actively promote—is top-heavy with hip dysplasia and other musculoskeletal defects (and a long list of other health problems) in percentages far higher than the average dog and many breeds.

Minding their own business?  The real “education” would be an exposé on the AKC’s training of legislative liaisons to get out there and play with words some more in courts across the country.  Campaigns are under way to limit the legal definition of “puppy mill,” to protect the rights of breeders to keep inbreeding for as many defects as the show-ring judges demand, and to stack their products in cages for as long a shelf life as the law will allow.  Compared to the AKC’s history of working against the interests of dogs and the people who love them, “DNA testing” begins to look like puppy store window dressing.

And yet however shocking or unbelievable any or all of this might seem, there’s really nothing new about puppy mills or passing off inferior products as superior.  This is the way dogs have been bred, packaged, and sold since the early twentieth century when the AKC incorporated, assumed control over breed standards, and targeted an emerging consumer market. The AKC, and the entire dog fancy, was built on puppy mills and unsound breeding practices.  If anything has changed, it’s society’s feelings on what, exactly, “humane” treatment of animals means, and how far we have a right to go in expecting pets to please us. The AKC, show-ring judges, breeders, and associates are just doing business as usual, only they’re not used to being challenged and are acting like dogs backed into a corner.  But what’s on trial here isn’t so much an archaic institution, its misplaced priorities, or its shady friends. The real bad guy is a bankrupt tradition of valuing companion animals for pedigree and for standardized shape, size, and color—and the belief that’s it’s alright to produce them in large numbers to meet these whimsical demands.

Not only is it not alright, the results have been disastrous.  Time for the AKC to join the 21st century or go down with the rest of them. 

 

Editor's Note: See our other post on this issue too.

 

Michael Brandow is the author of New York’s Poop Scoop Law: Dogs, the Dirt, and Due Process (Purdue University Press, 2008).  His upcoming book, Dog Snobs: The Myth of the Purebred Dog, will be published by Beacon Press in 2014.  He has written on society, the arts, and canine culture for The New York Times, New York Post, ARTnews, Stagebill, Town & Country, Barron’s, The New Criterion, and Animal Fair.

 

 

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Effects of Diet on Olfaction
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.

News: Editors
Dogs Lower the Risk of Heart Disease

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
Behavioral Problems in Pet Store Pups
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.

News: Editors
Invisible Perils in Parks

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?

News: Editors
Jon Stewart Walking the Dog

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
Should the AKC be Regulating Breeders?
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
New Dogs
They enter our lives in many ways
Best buddies

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?

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