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News: Guest Posts
Adopt A Senior Dog
Older, wiser, mellower—what could be better?

Yesterday, on my morning stroll with Lulu and Renzo, I met a couple walking an 11-year-old mutt they had just adopted from the Seattle Humane Society. I use the word mutt as high praise because this dog was shaggy and black with a graying, eternally charming muzzle. I’m a sucker for the type. But I knew she was the sort of dog a person with less imagination or compassion might pass by in a shelter. Just as I was thinking how lucky she was to be adopted at this stage in her life, I looked back at the woman on the other end of the leash. She was beaming. Seriously, thrilled with her new dog. And I realized, of course, there was lots of luck to go around.

  The meeting was auspicious: November is Adopt-A-Senior-Dog Month. Time to spread the word about what makes a senior dog a great addition to a home. Seniors settle in quickly, enjoy a more laid-back schedule, and have already passed through messy puppy stages to name just a few of the many reasons to adopt an older dog. What makes your senior puppy the bomb?

 

News: Guest Posts
Showing and Telling
Your stories give us something to bark about

One of my favorite parts of my job is reviewing submissions for contests, especially Show & Tell. Your stories and photos never fail to lift my spirits. From funny to ridiculous to sublme, readers remind me of the many surprises our dogs have in store for us. They challenge us to be the best people we can be and then they reward us by putting their best paws forward.

  Recently, we received a few images from Connie Page in Fairbanks, Alaska. In a short note, she described how her co-pilot, Cedar, stood by her as she fought her battle with ovarian cancer. Dogs as healing companions is an image I’ve seen surfacing frequently these days, from “Devotion” by David Weiskirch, an essay about how dogs helped his wife’s healing (Bark, Issue 60, Summer 2010) to Dana Jennings’ new book, What a Difference a Dog Makes, which grew out a New York Times blog post about the lessons he learned from his dog during treatment for prostate cancer.   There is something in the photo of Connie and Cedar that captures the spirit of this healing relationship. There is Connie, serene and beautiful in a breathtaking wilderness she knows is good for her and her dog. At her side, Cedar sits with her tongue loose from what has probably already been a wonderful adventure. She looks ready to spring and gambol as soon as the shutter clicks—and get back to the business of reminding her person what this living business is all about.   I’d love to hear more stories about the different ways dogs cajole, support and distract their people through illnesses. Comment below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter @The_Bark #healingcompanions.

 

 

News: Karen B. London
Pet Trivia Contest
How much do you know?

American Humane is sponsoring a pet trivia contest through this Friday, Nov. 5. There are six questions in the trivia quiz, and if you answer all of them correctly, you could win a prize package. There are 10 prize packages, and the winners will be chose randomly from all of the entries with six correct answers.

  So, if you know what Eddie on Frasier and the RCA icon have in common, what international incident involved Teddy Roosevelt’s dog, the breed of Paul McCartney’s dog Martha, or the name of the canine actor who played Toto, consider entering the contest. Though there are questions related to other types of animals, too, dog knowledge is part of what’s necessary for success.   Good luck!

 

News: Guest Posts
Canada’s First Pet Store Ban
Vancouver suburb just says no

Months after San Francisco officials tabled the hot-potato discussion of shutting down the sale of puppies in the City by the Bay, the city council in Richmond, British Columbia, unanimously passed its own ban on the sale of pets from local stores. The move by the Vancouver suburb makes it the first ban of its kind in Canada.

            And the impact could be significant. “Fifty-one percent of British Columbians annually buy their dogs from a breeder, many via pet stores, rather than adopting, compared to the North American average for a municipality of 25 percent,” reports the Vancouver Courier. “In Richmond, the average number of residents purchasing puppies from breeders annually is 57 percent.” Shutting down stores will not only slow the demand for pet store puppies, it will bring attention to the issue of puppy mills and overpopulation, which will have a more lasting impact.   In a related and interesting twist, recent legislation in Victoria, Australia, outlaws the sale of animals to anyone under the age of 18.

 

News: Guest Posts
Big Jungle, Little Dog
Why Maggie never goes outside alone

Maggie never goes outside alone. Never. She always has a human escort, someone to scan the dense bush surrounding the patch of grass we call a yard. Lurking within that bush could be almost any variety of tropical mammal; mammals that almost certainly consider a small white dog a tasty snack. It could be argued that choosing such a small dog in our line of work—field biology in Belize—was not a wise choice (see, A Change of Heart). Of course, when we adopted her, I didn’t intend for her to be under escort all of the time. But an incident her first week with us rapidly changed my mind.

  It was with a great deal of enthusiasm that I set out with our newly adopted dog to take a walk on the dirt road near our home. It was a foggy morning, early. In the pasture on one side of us, a swish, swish, swish arrested my attention. I was amazed to see a short deer approaching through the tall grass. Then it had slowed to a slink, tail tip switching and green eyes riveted upon us.    An adult puma!   I scooped up the little dog in my arms and faced the great cat. It was only 25 feet away from us and looked like it meant business. A commanding bark or two from Maggie would have been welcome, but she seemed not to notice the cat, or at least wasn’t commenting.   The cat approached us, one step at a time, tail tip flicking. I was so frightened my knees were knocking. Though pumas, or cougars as they are called in North America, have a reputation for attacking humans in some areas, I was all but certain this one wanted the dog. And for a split second, I entertained throwing the dog to the cat. I shudder at the memory. But only for a split second—even though Maggie had been with us only a week, we were bonded.   After what felt like eternity, the cat evidently decided I wasn’t surrendering the dog. Like water poured from a pitcher, it leaped gracefully, easily clearing the barbwire fence that separated us and bounded across the road only a few feet away. Then sat, sphinx-like, and regarded us, its coat tawny against the green jungle backdrop.   Clutching Maggie, I took this as my cue to escape, never turning my back on it, maintaining eye contact all the way home. That evening, just after dark, there was a puma in our driveway. Scoping out the dog? I’ll never know, but it was the first of several hair-raising puma encounters near our home. Once we came face-to-face with three nearly grown youngsters that followed us up the hill to the house. By then, I’d perfected walking backwards with Maggie in my arms maintaining eye contact.   Besides pumas, another predator to take an unhealthy interest in Maggie was the tayra, aka “bush dog” in Belize. This large member of the weasel family is an omnivore, known to take small deer. I’d thought Maggie would be safe walking the wide road at the edge of the farm with my husband, Bruce, and I as escorts until a tayra burst from the jungle and streaked toward our dog with frightening speed. Fortunately, Bruce snatched her up before the animal reached her. It gave up then and disappeared into the jungle.   And it’s not just the predators we need to beware of. I’ve discovered white tailed deer, the same species found in North America, take exception to a small white dog, even a polite, well-behaved one. To be fair, there were babies involved: two darling newborn fawns at the base of our hill. When I saw them, Maggie and I waited until they’d disappeared into the bush and then I counted to 30. Maggie has zero interest in deer. None whatsoever. Particularly when treats are involved, which is how we’d been killing time until the coast was clear. A quick look around and then I deemed it safe to proceed.   Or so I thought.   Mama deer burst from the bush not far from where the fawns had entered. Without knowing quite how it happened, she’d straddled Maggie and was attempting to stomp her. Horrified, I somehow grabbed Maggie from beneath the enraged mother’s flying hooves and headed back up our hill to the house. Bleating furiously, with foam flying from her muzzle, the Mama Deer from Hell charged us repeatedly until we were safely inside.   Other than deer, which Maggie now fears, she is remarkably blasé about most animals she encounters. She has very little interest in the raccoons, coatimundis (a long-nosed, long-tailed member of the raccoon family), kinkajous (another distant relative of the raccoon called “honey bear” in Belize), opossums and armadillos—all of which she has totally ignored in our yard beyond a cursory sniff in their direction.   She does display some interest in two species. Monkeys really get her cranked up. Likewise, they shake branches violently when they see her. For her part, Maggie stands on her hind legs, yipping and stretching up to reach them. Then they take to urinating in our direction and throwing feces with uncanny aim—our cue to exit.   But the giant Baird’s Tapir, Belize’s National Animal, is where Maggie’s protective instinct finally finds expression. Weighing up to 800 pounds, this harmless relative of the horse family has a pleasant horsey smell that is readily detectable, even to humans. Many times when we’ve been working at night, Maggie has alerted us to their presence with the utmost urgency and uncharacteristic agitated barking. “Stay back,” she seems to be saying to the tapir, “otherwise I’m coming after you!” Does she really imagine she can catch one, let alone drag it home?

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Chihuahuas v. Great Danes
Different breeds share structure and movement characteristics

In agility there's a lot of talk about the effect of stride length and size on movement, but a new study has found that there may be less variation in basic structure than previously thought. Martin Fischer and his team at Jena University in Germany set out to determine gait differences between dog breeds and the impact joints have on movement. The research used high-speed 3-D cameras to film over 300 dogs walking on treadmills and continuous x-ray images to capture joint movement.

The study found that the fundamental movement of a Chihuahua and a Great Dane are profoundly similar. There is greater variation between individuals within breeds than between breeds. Selective breeding can change size and leg length, but Fischer’s study showed that we can’t influence basic structure and proportions.

Additionally, the researchers found clear evidence of a greater functionality between the shoulder bone and the upper leg. Unlike humans, the study found that dogs do not achieve their main motion through the movement of joints. Instead the majority of movement comes from the shoulder bone.

Fischer and his team expect that their research will change veterinary textbooks and also influence several other research studies. Another group at Jena University is looking at how amputated dogs compensate for a loss of a limb, which is part of a Europe-wide project to developing robots that are better able to overcome obstacles in unfamiliar environments.

Advancing veterinary care is not just about discovering new treatments or developing new technologies. I think it’s great that research on structure and movement is receiving funding, and not just because I’m involved in agility. Furthering our understanding of fundamental structure will help improve care and quality of life for all injured dogs.

 

News: JoAnna Lou
SAR Teams Come From All Backgrounds
NY based team is honored with the ACE award for their work

Earlier this month I saw the local Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence recipients honored at the American Kennel Club and Cat Fanciers Association’s Meet the Breeds event in New York. In the past, many search and rescue dogs have been honored with the ACE award, but this year I was inspired by one team in particular--Cassius and Peter Taft.

Cassius was a Milwaukee shelter dog destined for euthanasia. Fortunately someone recognized the German Shepherd’s potential and brought the special pup to train at Seattle’s Northwest K9 Academy to become a search and rescue dog.

Peter Taft came from the other side of the country--New York City. Taft is a fashion photographer and self-described “art geek.” Although he eventually became a trained paramedic, Taft never thought he was capable of search and rescue work until he met a friend’s SAR dog. Taft’s decision to become involved was solidified after 9/11. Taft then discovered Cassius at the Northwest K9 Academy and an unlikely team was born.

Since finishing their training, Cassius and Taft have traveled to Haiti after the earthquake, Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami, and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, searching the rubble for survivors.

Search and rescue work may seem like something limited to professionals, but Cassius and Taft’s story shows that any dog and any person, no matter what background, can become involved in an important mission to help others.

 

News: Guest Posts
Critterati Contest Winners Are In

The winners are in for the second annual Critterati photo contest, The New Yorker’s nod to Halloween for animal-loving bookworms. Our very own Cameron Woo was among the judges (with Susan Orlean and Andrea Horowitz) who selected the five winners, including dogs as Mark Twain, Evelyn Waugh and schoolgirl in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie; a horse as the nurse from Romeo and Juliet, and a cat as Richard the Lionheart. Visit The Book Bench for photos of these winners—who each received a copy of Cameron’s Photobooth Dogs—and the deserving honorable mentions.

  There’s still time to enter your costumed pup in Bark’s Halloween contest—literary allusions not required.

 

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.  

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