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News: Guest Posts
Engineering Students Build a Custom Wheelchair
Aggie Innovation Space finds a way to enable a canine cancer survivor to run again.

Last year, when 17-year old Kita lost her right hind leg to bone cancer, he adjusted quickly to getting around on three legs. But relying on one less limb meant Kita got tired more easily and wasn’t able to complete the long walks he always enjoyed. Unfortunately, standard pet wheelchairs didn’t work for Kita.

His owner, Michelle Lebsock, was determined to find a solution. She found lots of ideas online about using 3-D printers to create custom dog wheelchairs, but had no experience in this area. So Michelle contacted the Aggie Innovation Space (AIS) lab at New Mexico State University for advice on how to embark on the do-it-yourself project.

When she first spoke to engineering students Natalie Perez, Abdiel Jimenez, and Arturo Dominguez, they were not only eager help Michelle, but wanted to take on the project as their own. It became a semester long project that far surpassed Michelle’s ideas of what was possible.

“The students worked all semester to create a functional and ergonomic device that was custom-built for Kita,” recalls Michelle. “Even though the idea of 3-D printing brought me to the lab, the final product used traditional materials, and the students worked tirelessly to make sure each piece was exactly right."

Throughout the fall, Natalie, Abdiel, and Arturo met with Kita and Michelle many times to determine the correct height, comfort, and restraint requirements of the device. They also wanted to make the wheelchair was easy to put together so it would be portable and user friendly.

One of the challenges was in adjusting the device while making sure it was still supportive and comfortable.

“As we adjusted the saddle mechanism in the device,” explained Arturo, “we had to be sure not to pinch or irritate the underbelly and other sensitive areas of the dog."

As you can imagine, it took many versions to get to the perfect wheelchair.

The team’s first design allowed Kita to move around freely, but the students wanted to further adjust the wheelchair to make it even more comfortable and functional. With each version they would study and evaluate Kita’s movement in the wheelchair to make changes.

During the final test, Kita was able to run for the first time since her surgery and move much more naturally. That made their months of hard work worth it.

"This project reminded us how engineers can enhance quality of life and made us realize that our duty as engineers is not just for people and the environment, but for our furry friends that make our lives happier,” said Natalie.

This project allowed the students to apply their engineering skills to a real life project that directly benefited a dog and her family. What an amazing win-win!

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Food Sharing in Dogs
Familiar dogs prompt generosity more than unknown dogs

Dogs will give food to other dogs. Okay, maybe your dogs don’t show this tendency at home enough for you to believe it, but in laboratory settings, it happens. (It happens in other species, too, especially in various primates and in rats.) A recent study of this behavior found that the details of the experimental situation influence whether dogs choose to give food to other dogs or not. 

“Task Differences and Prosociality; Investigating Pet Dogs’ Prosocial Preferences in a Token Choice Paradigm” investigated prosocial behavior—voluntary behavior that benefits others. In the study, dogs were trained to touch a token with their nose to deliver food to another dog who was in an enclosure, or touch another token that resulted in nothing happening. This is a different experimental design than has previously been used in which a dog could pull a shelf with food on it so that the food reached a dog in another enclosure, or pull an empty shelf.

In the experiment with the tokens, sometimes the dog in the enclosure was one that the “giving” dog lives with, sometimes it was an unfamiliar dog and sometimes the enclosure was empty. In some trials, there was a dog next to them when they were choosing whether to touch the token to give food away. Sometimes they were alone when making their choice.

The study found that 1) Dogs were more likely to give food to dogs who they live with than to dogs who are strangers. 2) Having another dog with them made them more generous, meaning that they were more likely to give food when they were with another dog rather than when they were alone.

To be fair, the dogs were not literally sharing the food out of their own bowl. They were choosing to act so that food would be given to another dog, but they didn’t lose out on any food by giving to the other dog. Still, it’s nice to know that dogs can share food, even if what we most appreciate about them is their ability to share love!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
City Bus Tour for Dogs
Pet insurance company creates a tour of canine history and parks around London.

Earlier this month pet insurance company More Th>n put on free canine bus tours of London to mark the launch of their new monthly box subscription called Doggyssenti>ls. You might remember them, earlier this year they hosted a an art exhibit for dogs.

They called it the world’s first city bus tour designed for dogs. Being a native New Yorker, I’ve never had any interest in touristy hop-on/hop-off bus tours, but this ride sounds like it would be right up my alley!

The bus ran tours three times a day, with 60 pups and their people participating on the first day.

The tour featured commentary on London spots connected to the city’s canine history and opportunities to get off at popular parks. Participants were also given a map of dog-friendly restaurants and pubs.

While passing spots like 10 Downing Street, Kensington Palace, and the Houses of Parliament, the lucky dogs and their people learned about London’s lone dog cemetery, canine-related legislature, Europe’s largest collection of dog paintings, and famous pups like Queen Elizabeth’s Corgis and Winston Churchill’s Poodle, Rufus.

The dogs were probably more interested in the stops to walk and play at places like Hyde Park, Kensington Palace Gardens, and Green Park.

While More Th>n’s canine bus tours only lasted for four days, I hope other companies might be inspired to do something similar. This seems like a great way to explore a city from a canine perspective!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Rescuer or Stick Stealer?
Viral video keeps people wondering about a dog’s intent.

Rafael Franciulli and his two Labrador Retrievers take frequent hikes in the gorgeous Argentinian outdoors. One day Rafael was videoing the game of fetch he was playing with the dogs when he caught an interesting clip that has since gone viral.

In the video, his Black Labrador fetches a branch, but slips and gets caught in a fast moving current. Slipping down an incline, his friend, a Yellow Labrador, is seen coming over to the water and grabbing the other end of the stick. Maintaining an impressive grip he's able to pull the other dog to safety.

Once the black dog is back on the rocks, the yellow pup takes the branch and goes off camera.

The question on everyone’s minds is, did the yellow dog rescue the black dog? Or was he simply trying to steal the stick? (Also, on a side note, I’m not sure why Rafael doesn’t appear to help his dog, unless it looked more dangerous than it really was. Rafael said that they go to this area often and know the hike well.)

If the yellow dog was trying to help the black dog, he showed both strength and problem solving skills. It seems entirely possible this could be the case since there have been many other stories of dogs showing loyalty to their fellow canine friends. And studies have shown dogs can solve complex problems.

Take a look at the video. What do you think?

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Studying Human Relationship with Dogs Through “The Walk”
A different perspective than most canine research

A recent research paper “(Just) a walk with the dog? Animal geographies and negotiating walking spaces” is based on the premise that the walk is an interesting event for studying the human-canine bond. The general conclusions of the study were that the personalities of both human and dog influence the walk, and that the walk is a part of life which involved power negotiations between the dog and the human. It also reports that according those interviewed for the study, people want their dogs to enjoy getting to “be a dog” by running free on walks.

This research is so different than most other research on dogs and dog behavior, and at least part of the reason is that the background of the researchers is completely different. They are not ethologists, animal behaviorists or psychologists, which are the scientists that publish the majority of studies on canine behavior. The lead author of the paper, Thomas Fletcher, is a specialist in the sociology of sports and leisure with special interest in race, ethnicity, diversity, social identities and heritage. The second author on the paper, Louise Platt specializes in festival and event management with an interest in cultural identity and constraints of social norms.

The research and its conclusions seem pretty simple for anyone familiar with dogs and what we have learned about them and our relationship with them over the past few decades. What interests me about the study is that it reveals a perspective on dogs that will be unfamiliar to many in the dog world. The article indicates that the researchers hold an antiquated view of the relationship between dogs and humans, stating that “the walk reflects the historical social order of human domination and animal submission,” going on to point out that the walk “allows humans and dogs to negotiate their power within the relationship” and that “Rather than there being a one-way flow of power where the human is dominant, the dog walk is where humans and dogs negotiate power within their relationship.”

The study consisted of 10 interviews with dog guardians about their dog walking experiences. From these meager data, the researchers made their conclusions, most of which are already known. (For example, “The data reveal that humans walk their dogs in large part because they feel a deep-rooted emotional bond with them and hold a strong sense of obligation to ensure they stay fit and healthy. Perhaps more interestingly, humans also walk their dogs because they believe their dogs have fun and are able to be more ‘dog-like’ while out on a walk” and “The walk was seen as an invaluable opportunity for dogs ‘to be dogs’. There was widespread belief that dogs are happiest when out in the open, and it is here that they are able to best demonstrate their ‘dog-ness’.”)

My initial response to this study was negative because of the small sample size, the rather obvious conclusions and the out-of-date perspective on the relationship between our two species. But my second impulse was to value the fact that the researchers were investigating dog and human interactions from a field that has largely ignored animals and their role in human lives until all too recently. They clearly plan to do more research, based on their statement that “Moving forward, we would like to see research taking place that can capture the ‘beastly’ nature of animals, allowing them to act without human interference.” Becoming more familiar with previous research about dogs and understanding our strong evolutionary history will hopefully guide their future research, allowing them to make worthwhile contributions in the future.

Though I was not impressed by the research or its conclusions, some of the quotes from the transcripts of the interviews are quite relatable, and will likely resonate with many dog lovers. I especially loved this comment: “One of the biggest joys for us is when one of us stands at one part of the field and the other; and he just runs. And we’ve managed to time him. He does 30 miles an hour.  And he looks like a cheetah, he looks like a wild animal.  And it just makes your heart, I mean, I feel a physical change in my body when I watch him run, which has never been created by anything else, really.”

News: Editors
Mary Tyler Moore: A Loss for Fans and Animals

Television fans (and working women in particular) are mourning the passing of actress Mary Tyler Moore. She is the rare individual who not only entertained but inspired generations with her characters’ independence, smarts and spunk. The actress will also be missed by her beloved animals—the menagerie of cats and dogs she shared her home with, and the legions of animals saved through Broadway Barks, the animal rescue event/organization she founded in New York with her friend Bernadette Peters. The star-studded event benefits New York City animal shelters and adoption agencies, while educating New Yorkers on the plight of the thousands of homeless dogs and cats in the metropolitan area. In July, Broadway Barks celebrated its 18th annual fundraiser, contributing to 27 organizations and adopting out over 200 animals. The event and organization will continue as a living testament to the love and spirit of Mary Tyler Moore, actress, producer, philanthropist and activist.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
How to Keep Pets Comfortable at Home
Comfy rooms for dogs

There’s a briskness in the air. That means it’s time to cozy up your home for the pets. Sure, the human household members are important, but we can’t deny our furry housemates those same creature comforts we enjoy. Here are some ideas for getting your pets’ hangouts and bedding ready for the cooler temperatures in ways that are attractive to humans.

Build them their own nook. Cutouts like this circular one make the pet part of the decor. While cats may split from the family fun, dogs usually prefer to lie right in the heart of it. Encourage Buddy to not be a tripping hazard, especially in the kitchen, where it can be a serious hazard. Instead, give him a safer hangout all his own from which he can monitor the action. Wherever you find the space for such a pet nook, fill it with plush materials that can be washed easily and often.

 

Photo by Busby Cabinets - Browse traditional laundry room ideas

 

Create a cave. Dogs generally crave a cave-like bed (when they aren't sprawled out in everyone's way). This undercounter crate provides that same atmosphere. A fitted cozy inside offers added warmth on frigid nights.

 

Photo by Brenda Olde - Browse eclectic living room photos

 

Instead of trying to hide the kennel, turn it into furniture. This dog's kennel acts as a table base that sits smack dab between his esteemed pack leaders' chairs.

 

Photo by Vanni Archive/Architectural Photography - Discover traditional living room design ideas

 

Give them matching furniture. Not into showing off the kennel? Create an elegant bed that resembles the rest of the room's decor. Find pet furniture or pillows that share similar properties with other facets of the room, such as color, finish, shape or texture. This dog bed blends in nicely with the living room, thanks to its library-like qualities.

 

Photo by Landing Design - Look for traditional living room design inspiration

 

This little Brussels Griffon gets to make himself at home on a loveseat under his portrait when he's not hanging out in his own room. With something like this, just make sure guests know not to sit in the no-human zone. If there is no delineation between pet and people furniture, lining furniture with stylish throws offers extra cush to cushions while keeping fur off them. Just make sure your throws (and any nearby pillows) are as washable as they are attractive.

 

Photo by A+B KASHA Designs - Search modern bedroom design ideas

 

Keeping Things Clean and Other Considerations Washability.

Washability is an important factor for any fabric that your pet sleeps on, especially during the rainy season, when muddy paws are a constant.

This guy's easy; he doesn't need his own bed. He'd much rather sleep in between his human companions. Good thing the comforter washes well.

Time apart at night. Just because your pets want to sleep next to you doesn't mean there's room for everybody. If you enjoy having your love bugs close to you at night, consider offering them a bench at the foot of the bed as their own. This way they can still see and hear you without sandbagging your feet.

Style. For larger breeds or multiple pets who enjoy one another's company at night, choose a bed that complements your own. There are no rules about what a pet's bed should look like. As long as the bed is comfortable for the animal, take liberties to make its design work with your room.

 

Photo by COOK ARCHITECTURAL Design Studio - Browse traditional kitchen ideas

 

Color. It's believed that animals can't see color like we humans can. But that doesn't mean their bedding can't offer color in abundance to please our tastes. Pet pillows and upholstered cushions can be opportunities to add shots of seasonal color or pull from the existing room palette.

 

Photo by Scheer & Co. Interior Design - More home design ideas

 

Outdoor shelter. Not all pets are allowed — or wish — to sleep indoors. It's especially important to make sure they're sheltered from the elements. This customized wine barrel is a stylish covered bed that doubles as a planter box.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Who’s the Real Winner?
Dog makes the most of opportunity

Coming when called and ignoring anything interesting along the way is a challenge for dogs. Two dogs in this video succeed, running right to their guardians even though there are so many exciting distractions. The third dog? Well, he has a glorious time even if he doesn’t do what his guardian wanted.

It’s fair to say that he needs more training to fully master the task. Dogs who succeed with this much temptation have likely had extensive training in similar situations, although the occasional dog is so gifted at recalls that this task is not as challenging as for the rest of the dogs on the planet. For the sweet dog in this video who is clearly not one of those “gifted at recalls” dogs, the incident in the video is a huge training setback. Potentially, it was an opportunity to learn that ignoring all the goodies and going directly to his guardian is the way to “win” because he gets to play or receive something of great value. Instead, he learned that there is a lot of great stuff to be had along the route and that being a “stop and smell the roses” kind of guy is a great strategy for getting the most out of life.

I find it endearing that nobody becomes upset with the dog. His guardian simply goes closer to him with a toy to influence his behavior so that he does (eventually) come to her. Everyone remains cheerful despite the dog’s epic failure, and nobody is more delighted than the dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Heartwarming Story of a Deaf Shelter Pup and His Soulmate
A girl and her pup share a disability and, more importantly, a special bond.
In case you're in need of an uplifting video, check out the story of Julia and Walter who are now celebrating their first amazing year together. Walter, a mixed breed puppy born with hearing loss, was at a California shelter when a girl came in with with her mother to look for a furry addition to the family. The girl, Julia, was also born deaf, just like Walter.

“When I first held Julia, since she couldn’t really hear my voice she would smell my neck,” her mother Chrissy says. “When I first held Walter, he did almost the same exact thing. I remember just looking at him and I knew he was meant to be ours.”

Julia and Walter have since developed an incredible relationship and understanding of each other. Each day Walter waits for Julia to finish her homework, and then they go out and play. Julia has even taught Walter words in sign language, such as sit, food, and water.

Chrissy says that Julia has learned a whole other kind of love. “I never let her feel any different because of her hearing loss and it’s amazing how she is doing the same with Walter."

Watching the video, you can see the sheer joy that Julia and Walter bring each other. It's such a heart warming example of the human canine bond. The Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA in California put this clip together to capture Julia and Walter's special relationship and hope that it will inspire others to look for their soul mate at their local animal shelter.

“Hopefully our story will encourage others to adopt and love their pets a little more," explains Chrissy. "These two are my loves and they have taught me that love defines all.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Random Act of Heroism
A man runs into a burning house to save a stranger's dog.

Early Saturday morning, Michael Petenaude was driving back from a friend’s house in Dracut, Mass. when he spotted a house on fire. It didn't look like help was on the way, so Michael called 911 and got out of the car to assess the situation. As he approached the home, Michael saw an elderly woman running down the driveway with a dog in her arms. Her other pup was still inside.

Without a second thought, Michael immediately ran in the house, pulling his sweatshirt over his face to get through the thick back smoke. Michael was afraid, it was hard to breathe and there were bright orange flames were everywhere, but he persisted.

As if the situation wasn't challenging enough, the frightened Yorkie kept darting away when Michael came near. Finally he followed the dog into another room, closer to the flames, and grabbed the pup so they could both escape to safety.

Although Michael put his life on the line for a stranger's dog, he would do it again in a heartbeat. 

“When you put it that way, it sounds a little crazy," admits Michael. "But if you see a 76-year-old lady with just her two dogs, it's like her kids almost. If my dogs were in here, I'd want somebody to grab them."

The 20-year old is thinking of becoming a firefighter one day and has already proven he has the bravery needed for the job. There's no doubt that Michael is a hero in the eyes of one grateful woman and her two pups.

Elaine Buote had lived in that house for over 60 years, since she was 10, but she's just glad that her dogs are safe, thanks to Michael. What an inspiring act of selflessness!

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