Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Survey helps determine when to make the most difficult of decisions
Deciding when to euthanize a sick pet is one of the hardest decisions that we have to make. When my cat of 18 years became seriously ill, my family was too emotional to make objective decisions. In hindsight, I think we waited too long to put him to sleep, but we wanted to make sure that we tried everything to extend his life.Now a new survey, developed by researchers at Michigan State University, may help us make clear decisions in these stressful situations. The pilot version of their questionnaire was created to help assess the quality of life of dogs undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. In their study, families completed a questionnaire at the time of diagnosis comparing the dog's current behavior with their typical behavior six months prior. Follow-up surveys were filled out three and six weeks later to document changes in behavior as the pups underwent chemotherapy. The veterinarians also filled out shorter questionnaires based on their observations. The separate surveys aimed to balance the more subjective, but complete view of the people who live with the dogs (since they see the day-to-day behavior changes) and the objective, scientific view of the veterinarians. The researchers found that family and veterinarian responses were fairly well-matched, showing that the questionnaire can be a helpful way to find common ground for treatment decisions. The answers were particularly aligned on three questions involving changes in the dogs' play behavior, clinical signs of disease, and perceived canine happiness. Agreement on those questions led researchers to use them as effective indicators of quality of life that could be used in animal cancer clinics. Now the team is planning a follow-up study with hundreds of dogs and their families so that the survey can be adapted to a wider range of illnesses. This tool could potentially help countless stressed families make educated decisions for their pets.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The biter's suffering continued
There was a lot of blood, which is typical for bites to the ears. The little white dog who was bitten was sitting calmly in her guardians lap while her injury was attended to. Despite having been surprised by a totally uncalled for bite as she entered the backyard to join the party, she was doing okay. She was clearly hurt, but this stable dog was accepting the loving comfort of her guardian and didn’t seem as upset as one might expect.
If only the dog who had bitten her had been in such good shape, psychologically speaking, but he was a mess. He had no physical injury, but he was traumatized. He is a fearful dog who had been overwhelmed by the party long before another dog—his biggest fear—had shown up. I had been watching him uneasily for a little while before the incident and had told my kids to stay away from him. I had no way of knowing that he would end up biting, but I could see that he was scared, which put me on red alert because I know that’s the cause of so much aggression.
I didn’t see the bite happen, but I heard a ruckus, and hoped that it was just noise and nothing worse. We were attending an event where we knew almost nobody and in the introductions, I had mentioned that I work with dogs and specialize in aggression. After the bite, the guardian of the dog who had bitten called me over with the plea, “I need you!” Luckily, the dogs had already been separated, which is the only thing that went as I would have advised all day.
The guardian of the dog who had bitten asked me, “What should I do?” and I told her that the kindest thing she could do for her dog was to get him out of this situation. We agreed that he was very afraid, which is why he had bitten, and she told me that he can’t tolerate other dogs at all, but that he had been letting people at the party pet him, which was big progress. The dog may not have behaved aggressively to people petting him, but he was tongue flicking, tucking his tail, trying to move away from them, and his pupils were dilated. He wasn’t just nervous—he was terrified.
The woman did not want to leave the party and said so. I urged her to go home and let her dog escape a situation in which he was clearly miserable, but she didn’t want to go, and stayed there with that poor scared dog for hours. I felt so bad for him and wished that I could have persuaded her to take him home.
I also wish that I could have been more proactive about preventing the bite in the first place. Long before the bite, I thought it would have been a good idea to take the dog home, but if I told people to take their dogs home every time I saw them in situations that seemed beyond what they could handle, I would say it so often I would make the boy who cried wolf seem uncommunicative. It’s not advice that most people want, and I don’t give it in settings when I am not working unless I am asked. And even in this serious case with a bite involved, I was asked and that advice was not followed. The few other times that something bad has happened and I’ve advised people to get the dog out of the situation, they did, so this guardian’s decision to stay was exceptional.
It’s no fun to leave a social event or even to leave your dog behind and attend on your own, but so often these actions are in the best interests of the dog. I feel so bad for both dogs, and I also feel bad that I wasn’t able to lessen the suffering.
Sometimes our dogs communicate with us on levels that are surprising and revelatory. A case in point, having three dogs means that when I work from home, I’m kept busy doing door duty for them—they constantly ask to go out into the backyard, and a few minutes later, after they erupt into a chorus of “chase the squirrel,” I need get them back inside. There they’ll settle down for a few minutes, but then their asking to go out begins anew. Lola, our seven-year-old Pointer, takes her duties on squirrel-patrol very seriously. The two smaller dogs support her cause and cheer her on with a cacophony of barking, whining and high-pitched baying.
One day last week, I finally had it (as I’m sure the neighbors had as well) and decided that the dogs had to stay inside if I were to do any work. Charlie, our newest family member, is a gem of a Terrier boy and if he isn’t already glued to my side, he has spot-on recall, so he came in first. Kit, our Kentucky coy-girl, takes more coaxing but rattling a bag of treats did the trick. Lola is another story, she gets totally transfixed staring up at the taunting-bushy tails, who inspire her to run circles around the trees up on her back legs, like a crazed circus dog. This resulted in a sweaty and not-so merry chase as I tried to grab hold of her. But I finally got her, so in she went too.
I sat down to my computer, and within a few minutes, Lola walked up and looked at me motioning to the back door. I told her, no way am I going to let you out again, but she did this a few more times, even using her chin to gently tap on my hand. But I held firm, and ignored her pleas. A few minutes passed and I decided to go into the office after all, and take the dogs with me, so I called to them to get leashed-up.
But loyal Charlie was missing, and once again, Lola looked at me, and ran to the back door. I then heard a little whimper, and opened the door to find that Charlie had been locked out and was softly crying to come in. His cries were so muted, that I hadn’t heard him, although big sister Lola had. Now that the door was opened, I thought that Lola would bolt out, but instead she and Charlie did a merry little dance, greeting each other as if they had been parted for hours (and not the few minutes it was). I thought that was so touching, and so telling too. All along Lola was signaling not that she wanted out but that Charlie was stranded—but I didn’t have the good sense to figure this out.
It was an eye-opener to me, marking a “Lassie” moment for Lola. It was the first time—or the first time that I “got” it—that she was trying to cue me not for herself but for someone else. Could this be an altruistic act? What do you think, have your dogs done something similar?
The Art of Michael Ballou
If you are in the Brooklyn area, you still have a couple days to check out the work of Brooklyn-based multimedia artist, and great dog-lover, Michael Ballou at the Raw/Cooked exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. The show runs until July 7.
Ballou’s practice incorporates sculpture, performance, and collaboration, and he has altered three spaces in the museum with site-specific installations. Connecting them is his interest in the appearance, behavior, and inner lives of animals. Spilling out of a large-scale vitrine in the fourth-floor Decorative Arts galleries, Ballou’s Dog Years is a monumental construction of over sixty dog head sculptures, modeled on animals of his acquaintance.
New York Times art critic, Roberta Smith, commenting on a previous exhibit of the artist, observed that “Mr. Ballou has a light but distinctive touch and a wonderful feeling for life's little moments of absurdity and beauty, both found and conjured.”
We’ve been trying to find out if these amazing dog heads are for sale, if anyone knows, or has a way of contacting the artist, do let us know!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Deciding when to euthanize
Not everybody is at ease with the idea of euthanasia under any circumstances, and I understand that. Many people have moral conflicts with deciding to end the life of a pet, no matter what the reason. My perspective is that this is a highly individual decision but that I personally am comfortable with euthanizing my pets once their quality of life is so compromised or they are in such pain that keeping them alive feels like it’s more for my sake than for theirs. It’s my view that a peaceful death by euthanasia frees them from pain and misery, and is the final gift of love I am able to provide. I know many disagree, and I’m not suggesting that one way or another is right—I’m just describing my own personal take on this issue.
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t cried buckets and been inconsolable when I’ve euthanized a dog. It’s horrible beyond imagination, and I’ve never really recovered from it in any case. I always hope for any dog (or any person for that matter) to surrender peacefully to death while sleeping. When that doesn’t happen in time, facing the tough decision of when to euthanize is a challenge. Sometimes it’s obvious when it’s time because the dog has reached a point of literally being unable to move, being in constant and unmanageable pain, showing no joy at all or no recognition of anything or anyone.
In other cases, it’s not so clear, which is why a new tool that helps guardians and veterinarians decide when that moment has arrived may be useful. Researchers at Michigan State University developed a survey for probing into the specifics of a dog’s quality of life when undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. The idea is to develop an objective way to assess quality of life, which is such an important consideration when deciding whether to continue life-prolonging measures or to face the possibility that it is time to say good-bye.
Questions address a range of behavioral issues and observations before treatment, a retrospective on the dog’s behavior six months prior, and continued observations throughout their treatment at regular intervals. The questions address aspects of dog behavior including play, measures of happiness, and signs of disease. Both guardians and veterinarians have questions to answer based on their own observations. A small pilot study of 29 dogs found high levels of agreement from clinicians and guardians. Researchers plan to expand their original work to a study with hundreds of dogs and to other illnesses and medical issues as well.
Do you think an objective tool such as this might help you decide when to euthanize a dog, or do you feel comfortable with just “knowing” when that sad day has come?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tex. child finds out he has diabetes while socializing alert dogs
Lakenyen Carter has been socializing puppies for Drey's Alert Dogs, an organization that trains diabetes and autism service pups, since school let out in June. Last week he was volunteering as usual when one of the older dogs, Marshall, started pawing at Lakenyen. The Yellow Labrador was not begging for attention, but was giving Lakenyen an important message. Marshall is trained to paw at a person to let them know that their blood sugar is reaching a dangerous level. The pup in training was essentially telling Lakenyen that he had diabetes.
Lakenyen's parents never suspected that anything was wrong, but they immediately brought him to a doctor and the diabetes diagnosis was confirmed. Without Marshall, they might have not found out about Lakenyen's condition until he had an episode. Now they can be proactive in his treatment and care. The Carters are still waiting to find out what type of diabetes Lakenyen has (diabetic alert dogs work best with people with Type One diabetes), but perhaps Lakenyen will one day have an alert dog of his very own!Through his volunteering, I'm sure Lakenyen is already a dog lover. But after Marshall's "diagnosis," I'm sure that Lakenyen will always feel a special connection with the animal who made such a significant impact on his life.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The 4th of July from an Animal Control Officer’s Perspective
As the fourth of July approaches, I feel my dread rising. I always volunteer to work as the on-call animal control officer on the fourth, even though it’s our worst day of the year. Why would I volunteer? I guess it’s the hope that my training and skills will make a difference to some of the panicked animals that will be suffering in our county with the onset of fireworks.
Last year was my worst 4th ever. Within minutes of the first fireworks going off, my phone rang with an injured dog. I rushed to the scene to find a stunning German Shepherd lying injured on a busy road. He looked well cared for and I’m sure he was a beloved pet but he had no tags or microchip. I scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency vet and held his big beautiful head in my hands as the vet started treatment. His blood stained my uniform and his terrified eyes bruised my heart but minutes later my phone rang again and I left him to rush out and pick up the next victim. When I got back to the clinic with the second dog, I learned that the Shepherd had died.
I continued getting calls all night long, and each time, I would race out and pick up the injured dog and rush it to the ER. And each time, the dog I had picked up previously would have died of his injuries while I was gone. In one case, I arrived on a rural road to find a beautiful young woman in tears as a young red heeler bled his life away in her headlight beams. She had come across the critically injured dog on her way home and been kind enough to wait for me. I rushed the heeler to the vet where he also died.
Only one dog that I picked up last Fourth of July survived and his foot pads were a bloody mess from his panicked run. One is enough to make me feel that I made a little bit of a difference, but I’m haunted by those dogs whose terror caused them to jump fences they wouldn’t normally jump, break through windows or rip through doors. I also had a case of a terrified dog a few years ago that escaped and then tried to climb into a van full of strangers. 4 or 5 people were bitten in the dogs panic to get away from the noise and the dog had to be quarantined.
It’s critical to plan ahead for a safe Fourth of July. Ideally, we would stay home, with our dogs inside with us. If that’s not possible, dogs should be safely crated inside, in an interior room, with a radio, air conditioner or other noise to help mute fireworks sounds. Some pets may need sedation so talk you your vet ahead of time if you think that might be the case. All dogs should have tags and microchips and please check and make sure your information is current.
I even know of one family that goes camping in a remote area every year on the fourth. They do it just so they will be far from the fireworks for the sake of their beloved dog.
Please share with us what measures you take to keep your dog safe on the fourth?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How well does your dog handle them?
If you love the Fourth of July, it may be one of the few times that you find yourself thinking about the differences between you and your dog instead of the similarities. (It will probably also happen if you ever decide compare your respective views on cow pies.) Having the day off to barbecue, watch a parade, and see the fireworks may be heavenly to most people, but not for most dogs.
Okay, perhaps they’ll enjoy the barbecue if enough of the yummy stuff makes it to the ground, but even then, they may find their insides upset later on. And the parade may appeal to the most social of dogs and those without any kind of personal space issues, but the crowds can be overwhelming and scary to dogs not accustomed to such large groups of people. For small dogs especially, there is a very real danger of being stepped on or otherwise squashed in such a setting.
Of course, the big misery for dogs on Independence Day is the fireworks. Dogs who fear loud sounds, especially those with a phobia of thunderstorms, suffer the most. But even dogs who go through much of the year with nothing more than a normal startle response to a dropped pot or a car backfiring can freak out when dealing with the prolonged nature of these annual celebratory explosions. That’s why I urge people to keep their dogs home and away from fireworks even if they are sure their dog can handle it. I’ve seen many stable dogs who had no reaction one year but fell apart the next. It’s not worth the risk!
It pains me personally that this is one of the most dreaded days for the canine set because it’s my birthday, and I’ve always considered myself lucky to celebrate with the whole country. I love the fireworks, and as a little girl, I believed my Dad’s jokes that they were just for me. I still enjoy his nickname for me—his little firecracker—even though I now understand that even though he sometimes meant it in a good way, sometimes he didn’t. I love to share my favorite activities with dogs, but unluckily for me, my birthday is the one day of the year that it is the most difficult.
Some celebrations on this holiday may be pleasant for quite a few dogs—a small gathering of people for a simple meal, walking around town together away from the biggest crowds, and certainly spending time with you if you have the day off. On the other hand, the fireworks and the parades bother the majority of dogs.
How do you handle the Fourth of July with your dog and what parts of it do you share?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dr. Ernie Ward shows how car temperatures can quickly rise to fatal levels
Now that we're in the thick of the summer, it's almost unbearable to be outside for an extended period of time--especially here in New York with the humidity! Yet people continue to think it's okay to leave pets in cars without adequate precautions. Just last week, animal control officers rescued a three-month old puppy from a car in a Riverside, Calif. shopping mall parking lot. The temperature outside was in the 90's and inside the car it was well over 100 degrees. Fortunately the puppy was saved in time, but his internal temperature was dangerously high. It's common for people to think that they're just going to run a quick errand or that cracking a window will be sufficient, but temperatures can quickly become fatal. I was surprised to learn that on a 60-70 degree day, temperatures inside the car can reach well into the 90's and beyond. North Carolina veterinarian, Dr. Ernie Ward, is on a mission to bring more awareness to this problem. Armed with a clock, a thermometer, and a video camera, Dr. Ward sat in his car for thirty minutes on a 95 degree day to feel what it would be like for a dog trapped in a hot car. You can see as the minutes pass that Dr. Ward is not only drenched in sweat (something dogs can not do as efficiently as we can), but is increasingly distressed as the temperature climbs to 117 degrees. Although there is a visible breeze outside, none of it comes into the car, despite the cracked windows. You can only imagine what the experience would be like for a dog who has no control over the situation. If Dr. Ward's video convinces even one person to leave their dog at home while running errands, his suffering will have been worth it!
News: Guest Posts
How to make your dog happy
I have good news for all of us who don't look like Ryan Gosling or Gisele Bundchen: your dog doesn't care. Dogs are much more interested in our smells than our looks. Just watch a dog with his head out a car window-nose forging ahead. Wind brings innumerable scent molecules directly to the dog's face, which in the dog's world, makes for a pretty good day. * You might look like a one-eyed pig, but to your dog, it's your bouquet that makes you beautiful.
A Beautiful Sight to Sniff
Unlike us humans who preoccupy ourselves with visual landscapes, dogs smell their vistas. Maybe you've had the experience of walking a dog when all of a sudden the dog gets hooked on something. Even though that something is completely out of range and invisible to you, the dog's behavior indicates, “What I'm checking out is really interesting. We are not going anywhere, buster.”
To get inside your dog's world, you need to pick his brain-and his nose. Dogs have much more nose than us humans. Their extensive olfactory epithelium allows them to trap and assess odor molecules at concentrations of up to parts per trillion, while we are more in the range of parts per million. Yep. I said trillion. Their noses are about a million times more sensitive than our noses. Often, our brains can't register what they whiff.
On top of that, dogs' noses come equipped with a vomeronasal organ (unfortunately, it's not a musical instrument). The vomeronasal organ has tons of receptor cells that take sniffing to the next level. It is thought to be important in detecting species-specific information such as pheromones. While our understanding of dog olfaction still has a long way to go, we do know that yes, your dog is getting quality information from that other dog's behind, face and urine.
If you're starting to look at your dog as one big nose, you're in good company. Many of the folks working with dogs or researching dog behavior and cognition remind dog owners that smelly (or smelling) experiences are integral to a dog's “good life.” In the spirit of picking your dog's nose, here are four ways to give your dog the gift of smell:
1. Take your dog on smell walks
In Inside of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz recommends accompanying dogs on smell walks. She explains:
“[Dog]-walks are often not done with the dog's sake in mind, but strangely playing out a very human definition of a walk. We want to make good time; to keep a brisk pace; to get to the post office and back.”
Dogs don't care about “making time.” While walking with the dog's nose in mind might alter total distance traveled, you and Bucky can bond over quality olfactory experiences. In a smell walk, Bucky might sniff as he likes, choose the direction of the walk or linger to get to the bottom of a particular smell. What else might you provide on a smell walk?
2. Consider smelling sports
Taking a cue from drug sniffing dogs, K9 Nose Work has recently become a formalized fun activity and a favorite of many companion dogs and owners alike.
You don't have to turn your dog into a narc to get into smelling sports. It's about “getting your dog excited about using his nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes.” (K9 Nose Work)
The game can then be expanded to include entire rooms, exterior areas and even vehicles. Of course, scent work can be conducted in less formalized ways. Don't be afraid to get creative with smelling sports. One man's narc is another man's truffle pig.
3. Make up your own smell(y) games
Have you ever put your dog's olfaction to the test? After being out of the country for a year, my friend and I wanted to see whether her dog would remember me. Our sneaky setup was unscientific and simple: Millie and her owner would walk down the street, and I would walk past them, coming up from behind and not interacting in any way, to see whether Millie paid me any mind. As I walked past, Millie turned toward what could have just been another stranger in NYC, and gave one of those glorious welcomes that says, in not so many words, “YOU ARE HERE! YOU ARE HERE! IT'S YOU!! YAYAYAYAYAY!!”
It's possible this is more of a game for my friend and me than Millie. Still, it's a reminder to us humans—who often need reminders—that the nose is a great way to connect with a dog.
4. Make your reunion smelly
Try making “smell” a priority when greeting dogs. While most people don't overtly sniff and greet, we need to keep in mind that Scruffy's schnozzle is her window to the world. You want to keep that window wide open, not close it.
It goes back to our different biologies. When we people walk into a party, most of us look around, see who's there and then make the next move (either toward a friend or toward the bar). For dogs, “looking around the room” is easier done with the help of olfactory investigation because visual cues could be misleading. Who hasn't been confused when meeting a friend with a new haircut/glasses/facial hair/gorilla suit?
With dogs and their wonderful snouts, they don't have to worry about mistaken identities. Sight can be confusing, but a smell check can set things straight! That's the way you'd do it too, if your nose were a million times more powerful than it is.
Take a look at a reunion between a dog and a member of U.S. military returning from deployment:
The owner then provides the dog a hand for sniffing, and after olfactory investigation, the dog shows a proper display of, “IT'S YOU!! IT'S YOU!! YAYAYAYA!”
Does this video surprise you? And just as important, do you give your dog opportunities for olfactory exploration during greetings?
There are things out there in the world that you might not notice and can't understand but that your dog is very in tune with and would like a closer look (oh please!). And these things have nothing to do with whether you are Ryan Gosling (but if you are Ryan Gosling, feel free to give me a call).
Photo: Dog smelling sunflowers by Dylan, used under Creative Commons license
References Horowitz. 2009. Inside of a Dog What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner Wells & Hepper. 2003. Directional tracking in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 84, 297-305.
* Wind can play a part in scent detection. A recent paper exploring directional tracking in dogs notes that the researchers laid trails at a “ninety degree angle to the direction of the oncoming wind to reduce the possibility of the dogs using airborne scent to determine directionality.” It's easier to attend to a scent if airborne scent molecules are flying directly into your face, like a car ride.
About the Author
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
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