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News: Karen B. London
Dogs Have Difficulty “Unlearning”
New research on canine cognition

A recent study published in the journal Animal Cognition shows that dogs have a hard time “unlearning” certain tasks that they have been trained to do. In Minding the gap: spatial perseveration error in dogs, researchers Britta Osthaus, Donna Marlow and Pippa Ducat demonstrated that dogs who have learned a specific sort of detour behavior have trouble deviating from that behavior once the set up has changed.

  The researchers trained 50 dogs to go through a gap in a barrier in order to reach their guardians and receive a treat. Approximately 80 percent of the dogs learned this task in just a single trial. After 1 to 4 training trials, the dogs were confronted with a slightly different task. The gap in the barrier was no longer in the original position, but in a clearly visible alternative location along the barrier.   When tested with this new task, dogs consistently went to the original position of the gap rather than to the new opening that would allow them to reach their target. This error was made by 46 of the 50 dogs. The more times they had gone through the original gap, the more likely they were to make the error once the gap had been relocated.   This study shows that dogs have trouble “unlearning” at least certain sorts of spatial tasks and that they tend to persist with behavior that has led to success in the past, even when the task had changed. The researchers point out that this has implications related to both dog training and to future cognitive studies of dogs.

 

News: Editors
Mad Men’s Training Advice
The benefits of positive reinforcement, illustrated

For all you Mad Men fans—hope you caught “Tomorrowland,” the final episode of season 4 because I don’t want to give away the ending. But there was something in a pivotal scene that struck me as a perfect example of best practices for both child and dog raising.

  So there is Don with his two children and Megan, his lovely, young secretary/nanny, lunching somewhere near Disneyland. Sally and Bobby are arguing when Sally knocks over her milkshake. Don, with a furrowed brow looks ready to snap at the kids (like ex-wife Betty or even worse), but then as quick as you can say “positive reinforcement,” sweet Megan calmly reaches over with paper napkins to clean up the mess. She says something about it being “just a milkshake.” Don looks at her all dewy-eyed and smitten, getting it in a flash that there is an alternative approach to dealing with these messy kiddy matters.   A perfect lesson for trainers who promote “alpha assertive” and “hands-on” methods, it really is so much better for everyone—dogs, kids, parents, owners when you can accentuate the positive and forgo the negative—as Mad Men demonstrated in its “engaging” final scene.  

News: JoAnna Lou
Heartworm Superbug?
Should we be worried about resistance

Heartworm disease is a horrible and potentially deadly disease that is fortunately preventable with medication. However, in recent years, animals in the Gulf region have been testing positive for heartworm, despite being on a prevention medicine. This has many people worried about a potential resistant superbug.

In response to the growing cases, the American Heartworm Society and Companion Animal Parasite Council met earlier this year to "explore the potential relationships between resistance to heartworm products and veterinary and pet owner compliance, loss of product efficacy and heartworm testing and treatment protocols." 

For instance, 50 percent of people who buy heartworm preventative do not give the medication to their dogs as directed. The efficacy of heartworm preventative is greatly compromised if not given as intended.

The meeting concluded that more research is necessary, but that the investigation should not lead to dropping heartworm medicine, since year-round use is still the most effective way to prevent the deadly disease.

In human healthcare, there’s so much talk of antibiotic resistant supeprbugs that I avoid excessive medications and vaccines when possible, for both myself and my dogs. However, heartworm preventative is one medication I don’t skip with the pups. It’s such a serious disease and I hope that the possibility of a superbug is unfounded.

For more information on heartworm prevention, symptoms, and endemic areas, visit the American Heartworm Society website.

News: Guest Posts
Paper Master
Origami artist Eric Joisel dies at 53

Among the animals to inspire the French origami master, Eric Joisel, were dogs, such as the Greyhound pictured here. We were saddened to read of Joisel’s too-early death. Using only paper—no adhesive or scissors—Joisel modeled extremely detailed, animated figures of hedgehogs, seahorses, sprites, musicians and much more. You can almost imagine all those flat sheets of paper at his Argenteuil home sighing over the lost opportunity to come alive in his hands.

News: Karen B. London
Halloween Trick-Or-Treaters
Is this a good training opportunity?

It’s common for even the sweetest of dogs to be little devils when visitors come to the door. Some dogs are afraid of visitors, which can cause them to bark, lunge or even bite. Others are simply wild with excitement when people arrive, which often leads to leaping, jumping, barking, spinning and generally being out of control. Either way, it can mean that every time the doorbell rings, people cringe knowing that what’s about to happen may not be pretty.

  The day of days for doorbell ringing is, of course, Halloween. Not only are there loads of visitors, but those visitors are dressed as, among other things, lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! There are costumes with flashing lights, giant mouths, battery-powered sound effects, and all sorts of weird colors, shapes, sizes and behavior. When dogs are not at their best with visitors anyway, trick-or-treaters are unduly challenging.   Everybody knows that for dogs who struggle to contain themselves when visitors come over, practice dealing with that very situation is a necessary part of improving it. So, I am often asked, “Should I use Halloween night as a training opportunity?” The short answer is “probably not.”   One reason for answering in the negative is that while practice is an essential part of training doors to be polite when visitors arrive, that practice must be in a situation at a level that the dog can handle. Large numbers of excited children will be beyond what most dogs can handle, which means that most dogs will just end up practicing their undesirable behavior rather than practicing the polite behavior we’d like them to exhibit.   Another reason that practicing greetings of visitors on Halloween may be ill-advised is that many dogs react badly because they are fearful of visitors. Trick-or-treaters are bound to be terrifying to dogs since people whose silhouettes are unusual seem to scare most dogs. Masks, capes, giant costumes, carrying bags and other elements of trick-or-treating fashion change people’s silhouettes are scarier to most dogs than the typical tool belts, hats, clipboards and backpacks that fearful dogs react to.   It is especially critical not to use Halloween night as a training session if there is any risk of the dog behaving aggressively to visitors. Most dogs who react badly towards visitors are merely impolite or excessively exuberant, and even that could inadvertently lead to trouble. Trick-or-treaters should not be exposed to the small minority who may actually intentionally try to hurt them.   There are a very few dogs who can benefit from training session on Halloween. Those are the dogs who have worked up to being polite when trick-or-treaters arrive by already showing great success when greeting every other type of visitor, including large groups of people, children, loud people and people dressed a bit oddly. If you’ve worked up to this Holy Grail of training with your dog, perhaps Halloween is an opportunity for you both. If you’re not sure if your dog is ready, the best course of action is to assume that he’s not.   For most people, the only way to make a dog be like Lassie on Halloween is to put him in a Rin Tin Tin costume. So unless your dog has worked up to being ready to handle these toughest types of visitors, don’t plan on training during the trick-or-treating hours. 
News: Guest Posts
Jack-o’-Lassie
DIY: Pupkin carving time

It’s pumpkin carving season, and for many us dog lovers that means immortalizing our four-pawed pals in flickering lanterns. A few days ago, we received this image of a pretty stupendous dog-o’-lantern from last fall. We asked the carver, Julie Life, how and why she created her canine tribute.

  Why: “My husband asked me to make it last year for a little carve contest in our town,” says Life, a high school science teacher living near Newport, Ore. “We won $50 and went out to dinner with the money.” Life is also an agility dog trainer (Agility 4 Life) and runs a poop scoop service called The Poop Thief.   How: Life made her own stencil from a pen and ink drawing, and used a pumpkin carve kit, available in any store. She says photographing the illuminated pumpkin was the hardest part.   Time: The carving took four hours from beginning to end.   Bonus tip: Storing the pumpkin in the fridge every night helped the pumpkin keep longer.   Inspiration: The pumpkin is carved in the likeness of Bob Hay and Julie Life’s English Mastiff, Brutus, who defied a diagnosis of lupus to live to 11 years old. He had a great life, despite his medical challenges, including medications that eventually caused him to become diabetic and blind. “He traveled everywhere with us,” Life says. “He also was well known in our little town and I think he was integral to causing the increase in Mastiffs that we now see in our local area.”  

Have you carved a dog-o’-lantern? Send a photo to webeditor@thebark.com or upload a photo on our Facebook page.

News: Karen B. London
Humane Leadership Degree
Duquesne University offers first online program

Educational opportunities are a reflection of what society considers important. Topics that have value are available for study. We see this phenomenon when schools must cut programs because of budgetary concerns, which is why it’s clear to anyone paying attention that music, art and physical education are, regrettably, at the bottom of our priorities as a society and are often the first to be cut.

  We also see what areas are of value when new programs and positions are developed. We saw it when Frank Ascione became the first professor of an endowed chair that was established to focus on the human-animal bond and animal-assisted therapies. And we’re seeing evidence of it in an exciting new program at Duquesne University. The Humane Leadership Bachelor’s Degree Program is the first online humane program in the country. Its courses are directed towards animal care and animal control professionals with a goal of teaching students in the program to become agents of change in their communities to improve the lives of animals. Enrollment is open for Spring 2011.   The courses in the program include: Animal Health and Behavior in a Shelter Environment First Strike: Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence Studies in Humane Education Compassion Fatigue Fundraising, Philanthropy and Resource Development Nonprofit Board of Directors Strategic Planning and Organizational Effectiveness Human Resource and Volunteer Management Marketing and Public Relations   As the value of humane treatment of animals continues to be recognized and even to grow in importance, more and more opportunities to learn about it will be developed. In recent years, programs to teach kids about animals and the compassion, respect, responsibility and kindness they are due have been developed for use in secondary educations in places such as San Francisco and New Jersey.

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Positive Pit Bull PR
National Awareness Day united Bully lovers

This Saturday, October 23, marks the fourth annual National Pit Bull Awareness Day. The dedicated day was started as part of the larger National Pit Bull Awareness Campaign by Bless the Bullys, a Pit Bull rescue and education group.

Far too often the media portrays Pit Bulls as dangerous killers while neglecting to report on stories that show this breed in a positive light. This perception has led to a bad reputation with more and more cities considering breed specific legislation.

Bless the Bullys introduced the nationwide day to create positive press for these misunderstood dogs. This year the day also aims to make a stand against breed specific legislation.

National Pit Bull Awareness Day is a great way to dispel negative stereotypes and bring together breed clubs, rescue groups and individual bully lovers to unite in a common cause.

People all over the nation are organizing a variety of events to celebrate--rallies, walks, festivals, and educational workshops and demos. For a full list of events, visit the Bless the Bullys website.

 

 

 

News: Guest Posts
Dog watching in NYC
Do city dogs have it better?

Dogs have been man’s best friend for thousands of years, adapting to nearly any living condition man throws their way. Whether living in a cave or on a snowy mountaintop, dogs and humans have weathered many different conditions and lifestyles together. And this weekend I witnessed perhaps one of the most interesting (and overwhelming!) environments dogs share with us: New York City.

  My best friend Carrie moved to New York earlier this year, and pretty much since the day she moved we had been planning my visit. Carrie gets me, and she gets dogs. For the past few years, she has willingly shared her birthday party with my Schipperke Leo, so she knew when I came to visit I would want to do something dog-oriented. We hung out in dog-friendly neighborhoods, sipping on tea in cafes and catcalling every dog that walked by, “Oh look at that Terrier, he’s got a good attitude!” “Work your thang, Puggle!” “Rock them dreads, Puli!”   While New Yorkers are famous for their no-nonsense, fast-paced approach toward life, they surprised me in how willing they were to stop and chat about their dogs. They’d offer up stories, discuss potty habits (“Lola always has to potty right in front of Club Monaco, it’s her thing.”), even show off their pup’s impressive tricks. (An Afghan Hound I met in Chelsea knew his right from left; I know humans that don’t know that.) Even more surprising was how dog-friendly the entire city was: Bowls of water were placed outside of storefronts, parks readily had Mutt-Mitts available, and one bakery had a tray-full of treats available.   Each neighborhood seemed to have it’s own canine attitude: Central Park West dogs hang in packs and bark a lot. SoHo dogs are laid back, watching the world go by, while their people drink coffee at cafes. Brooklyn dogs look like they have somewhere to be, with no time to stop and chat (unless sniffing for food around a taco truck).   It seemed like dogs were everywhere. Considering most New Yorkers don’t own a car and dogs aren’t allowed on the subway or in taxis, I found myself wondering if these dogs lived most of their lives within a 20-block radius of their homes walking the same sidewalks everyday, encountering the same dogs and smells, or if there were ways for them to get out of the city. Maybe take the Staten Island Ferry?   I don’t know what I expected, considering my previous notions had been informed by Disney’s Oliver & Company. Somehow street dogs singing Billy Joel tunes just didn’t seem realistic. No matter what the living situation, from lofts to brownstones, it was amazing to see how well dogs adapted. While I can’t imagine Skipper or Leo living without weekend trips to the beach or hiking trails, maybe there are benefits to city life I have never considered. Do you know a city dog who could set me right?

 

News: Guest Posts
Animal Cruelty Registry
NYC suburb makes offenders’ identities public

In February, we wrote about California legislators’ efforts to create a statewide animal abuser registry, along the lines of sex offender databases. Although this effort stalled, probably over funding, Suffolk County, N.Y., has created an animal cruelty registry that will be the nation’s first.

  “The law was prompted by a number of animal abuse cases in recent months,” reports The Huffington Post, “including that of a Selden woman accused of forcing her children to watch her torture and kill kittens and dozens of dogs, then burying the pets in her backyard.”   The idea is that a registry will not only keep offenders in check but also provide for the future protection of animals and maybe people, since violence against animals is often a precursor to violence against humans.   I sympathize with the impulse to mark these often dangerous people with a scarlet letter but at the risk of drawing your ire—last time around, Bark readers’ general consensus about the registry was a hearty thumbs-up—I have to wonder where we draw the line in creating public, online databases. If we list all the people convicted of animal cruelty, then why not list those convicted of domestic abuse, or arson, or robbery? Why not create neighborhood maps that reveal where every felon lives? I also wonder if the registry might not have a negative impact, taking away offenders’ incentive to reform since they've been publicly flagged. Why not create an easy-to-use, searchable database with access limited to law enforcement, employers in animal-care related fields and shelters and rescues?   Honestly, I don’t know where I land on this, but I do think it’s important to move beyond fear and anger to consider the potential consequences of registries of this kind.

 

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