Good Dog: Behavior & Training
In recent years, I’ve had more clients than ever with service dogs, especially psychiatric service dogs. Most of these cases involve veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Almost every one of these clients has said, “This dog saved my life.” What they mean is that they were suicidal until receiving the dog. The fact that these dogs have collectively saved so many lives is one of those truths that makes me love my work.
Of course, there are lots of other ways that dogs can save lives besides preventing suicides. They have kept runaway and lost children warm through dangerously cold nights, they have stopped people from stepping onto train tracks, they have led disoriented people home, and they have taken down would-be attackers. They have gone for help or barked to get attention when a person has fallen or is trapped after a car accident, they have woken people up just in time to get out of a house on fire or with high levels of carbon monoxide, and alerted parents that a child has fallen in the pool.
I know of one man whose dog fought off a grizzly bear when they were camping together in Alaska for several months while he conducted field studies for his graduate work. Later, when he returned to the university to write his dissertation, he and his new girlfriend fought about the dog. Specifically, she did not want the dog on the bed because he tended to push her out of it on purpose.
His response? “This dog saved my life and has been with me longer than you have. Once you have literally saved me from death, you will have priority on the bed, but not until that happens.” That relationship did not last, but he soon found a woman who loved being with the dog at night and who the dog did NOT kick out of bed, and they are happily married.
Has a dog ever saved your life?
News: Guest Posts
It’s a family thing. A tradition. Handed down from generation to generation. And thousands of dogs are grateful.
In 2006, Rachael Hoyle Salyers stopped in at the Knox County Animal Shelter (in Mount Vernon, Ohio) and saw all the dogs and how desperate they were to get out. Rachael described the participation in the volunteer program back then as not good. “There was only one other volunteer besides my mom and me. My dad, Ed Hoyle, volunteered too. A couple of years ago he had to retire from shelter volunteer work due to a shoulder injury.”
Now keeping the family tradition alive is mom, Felicia, her daughter, Rachael, and granddaughter, Kaya, walking dogs at the shelter every week. The family has been volunteering an astonishing 8-plus years every week.
“I have always been a huge animal lover,” Rachael explained. “Dogs are my favorite animal because they listen and love unconditionally with all their soul. As a little girl growing up in Massachusetts, I was always bringing home strays.”
“I find it very rewarding, giving back to the community,” Rachael continued, “and especially not giving up on the forgotten and less fortunate. I enjoy seeing a dog get adopted and helping with the process. It is a heartfelt experience.”
Felicia remarked about “the happiness of getting a dog out for a walk, to play or pet, and talk to. It is something you just have to come see for yourself. It feels great and makes our shelter better because the dogs aren't isolated completely and can be socialized and loved, increasing their chances of being adopted.”
“Shelter dogs are the best dogs,” Kaya added.
The Knox County Animal Shelter is located at 285 Columbus Road in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Adoptable dogs are on the shelter’s Facebook page.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
I’m more like dogs than I care to admit
It’s usually with great pride that I take note of similarities between myself and dogs. If I greet someone with genuine enthusiasm or consider how well I am living in the moment or if I choose a delicious nap instead dealing with some of my paperwork, I pat myself on the back. We all know that everything we need to know we learned in Puppy Kindergarten, right?
Recently, though, I realized that I share a behavioral pattern with dogs that is not so special or admirable: I lick my plate. I’m not saying that I’m a member of the clean plate club or bragging that I eat my vegetables. No, there are occasions when I literally lick my plate. We expect this sort of behavior from dogs. Most of them are extremely enthusiastic about food, but not picky about it and not into savoring it. They are not discussing the oaky overtones or the interesting way that the duck flavor blends with the sweet potato. They are just making sure they haven’t missed a morsel.
Concern about missing a speck of food is important to me only once in a while. I don’t lick my plate every time I eat, but rather only after one particular meal, and I have a good reason for it. Still, I felt sheepish when members of my family joked that I must have become a plate licker because of my personal and professional relationship with dogs.
So, here’s what’s going on with me. I used to overeat every time we had pancakes. I would eat a few pancakes, and then realize I had some extra maple syrup. I lived in New England for years, I adore real maple syrup, and I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting even a drop of this precious commodity. So, I would take another pancake to avoid wasting the syrup, but sometimes there wouldn’t be enough syrup, and I’d add more. Basically, I ended up eating to excess in my attempt to match up syrup and pancake. Finally, I realized that I could solve the problem by licking the syrup after my initial serving of pancakes. Of course, it’s inelegant, but it is healthier because I don’t eat as much. My kids—who as young children loved to lick water out of bowls to pretend that they were dogs—are so repulsed by my plate-licking behavior that I always sneak into the kitchen to do it so nobody has to watch.
There are so many traits we could share with dogs that would make us better people—loyalty, enjoyment of life, fairness to all people, emotional perceptiveness—but licking the plate is far from the most commendable, and it is certainly not the classiest.
Do you share something with dogs that nobody considers one of their most admirable traits?
This past Saturday, July 23—“Clear the Shelters” brought together over 650 animal shelters, rescue organizations and media outlets to address the overcrowding issues that local animal facilities experience in the summer months because of spring litters. In events around the country, shelters waived adoption fees, offered training lessons and free dog and cat food to encourage as many adoptions as possible. The day’s results show 45,252 shelter pets were adopted. That number more than doubles the tally from 2015, the first year of the nationwide effort. Our local event in Berkeley, CA, reported 135 adoptions. Kudos to the organizers and all of the participants, and most of all—congratulations to everybody who welcomed a new animal into their home!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Experts weigh banning dogs in areas with threatened koalas.
We've written before about dogs that help conservation efforts for endangered species around the world. But in some south-east Queensland, Australia suburbs, dogs are hurting the at-risk koala population.
Following a mandate this month from Environment Minister Steven Miles, a group of koala experts—University of Queensland's Professor Jonathan Rhodes, Central Queensland's Dr. Alistair Melzer, and Dreamworld's Al Mucci--have been working on possible last-ditch solutions to stop koala extinction in Redlands, Pine Rivers, and other critical areas collectively known as the “Koala Coast.”
They found that past government policies to protect the koala's environment were not enough to manage the main threats--dogs (both domestic and wild), cars, disease and habitat loss.
One past study found that seventy percent of the 15,644 South East Queensland koalas that died between 1997 and 2011 were struck by cars, mauled by dogs, or killed by stress-related disease. As many as 80 percent of koalas have disappeared from the Koala Coast, causing some to fear that it's already too late.
According to the expert panel, koalas are found in small numbers, so the massive declines they've been seeing recently is likely to result in local extinctions for some populations within a small number of generations.
The group has come up with a number of potential solutions, one being a dog ban in these critical areas. I'm certainly not a koala expert, so I can't say if there might be a way to save koalas without eliminating dogs (also not all of the pups in question are pets, some are wild). But this issue does raise the importance of any of us with dogs to be aware of the effect our pets have on others and the world around us. I see this including everything from preventing our pets from jumping on strangers to not letting our pups run into bird nesting areas when playing on the beach. This is an important responsibility we have as our dogs' guardians.
News: Guest Posts
Have you ever thought about the athletic difference between dogs and cats? We already know that nutritional needs and personalities differ greatly between the two species, but what about their athletic prowess? We know they are both runners, but how long can they go? How fast? As it turns out, there are some interesting anatomic differences between the two, and it starts with a little-known tendon in the neck called the nuchal ligament.
The nuchal ligament attaches the head to the spine and is an adaptation designed to stabilize the head in animals that run fast and far. The nuchal ligament that dogs have is like the one that horses have. It supports the head without using muscles, thus saving energy and making the animal more efficient. Early canids like the extinct euycon canid show elongation of the leg bones, which also maximizes the efficiency of the dog’s stride.
We also know dogs relied upon a scent trail to hunt prey over long distances, while felines use hearing and eyesight to locate and hunt prey up close. Dogs must ‘follow their noses.’ As early dogs evolved longer legs, noses and necks, they needed the nuchal ligament to save energy while keeping their ‘nose to the ground’ posture, run and follow scent trails over miles and miles. And while dogs lost dexterity of their front limbs and evolved relatively weaker neck muscles needed to take down prey alone, they compensated by evolving group hunting techniques, according to Tedford Wang’s “Dogs: Their Fossil History and Evolutionary History.”
Dogs, humans and horses have nuchal ligaments and are unique long distance runners. You know who doesn’t have a nuchal ligament?
Cats, as we know, don’t hunt in packs, nor do they run their prey to exhaustion. Cats are solitary hunters and rely on stealth, explosive power and flexibility. From a sitting crouch, a cat can jump up to nine times their height, and in a split-second they can make sudden changes in direction and twist their spines mid-fall to land on all fours, according to the Cornell Feline Health Center. It’s true: cats almost always do land on their feet. Why can they do this?
A cat’s spine is much more flexible than that of a dog. Their vertebral bones have increased elasticity in the disc between bones when compared to a dog, which is why cats don’t have the back problems that dogs tend to have. A cat’s vertebrae also is less tightly connected than a dog’s, making the spine far more flexible, and a cat’s pelvis and shoulders are more loosely attached to its backbone than dogs. A cat can stretch their body and run with a stride length of three times their body length. A cat’s flexible spine, powerful muscles and retractable/extendable claws that provide traction like runner’s spikes all contribute to top speeds of 30 miles per hour. There’s a reason the cheetah is the fastest animal in the world. However, a cat can only sustain this kind of anaerobic activity for very short periods of time, which makes a cat a fantastic sprinter but a terrible distance runner.
The next time you see your dog or cat running, watch how they are different: Whether your companion animals are sprinting to pounce on a cat toy, jogging 10 miles with you, or prefer the strenuous athletic activity of couch surfing, all adult dogs and cats can benefit from daily exercise, a healthy weight and a high-quality joint supplement.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Bringing Out Your Best
Sometimes I feel like I’m falling short as a wife, a mother, a collaborator, a friend, a sister, a daughter or in any other role in my life. I’m not beating myself up over this because every day I fight the good fight and try very hard to do my best. I don’t live with constant guilt because I put in a solid effort, but I know in my heart that many times I don’t quite succeed to the degree that I want.
The funny thing, though, is that I feel much better about how I come through for dogs. I don’t know why, but I’m generally more confident that I am doing better by the dogs in my life. Don’t get me wrong—sometimes I still have dog-related guilt and a desire to improve, but not as often as I do with people. On the one hand, it’s not as complicated to provide for dogs’ needs, but the real issue here is, I think, that dogs bring out the best in me.
Sometimes, I’ve been too tired to play with my kids and I’ve answered no to their request to go to the park, but I always manage to walk dogs. At the end of an exhausting day, I may leave dirty dishes in the sink, but if a dog needs to be brushed out, I find the energy to get that done.
I’m more likely to comply with the majority of the Boy Scout Law with dogs than with people. (For those who are not familiar with it, this law says that a Boy Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.) I’m not sure whether it is the vulnerability and complete reliance that dogs have on us that brings out the best in me, or if it’s just that dogs don’t tend to be as demanding as people, so it’s easier to measure up. (Yes, I realize that some dogs are unbelievably demanding, but my experience with such dogs is a small percentage of my interactions with the canine set.)
It can be really hard every day to face not quite being as good as I’d like to be, and I’m so grateful that dogs provide an area of my life that is less prone to causing such feelings of failure.
If dogs bring out the best in you, why do you think that is?
News: Guest Posts
Sponsored by Sleepypod
“I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine the loss I would have suered had I decided not to purchase the Clickit that day”
For a while I was contemplating purchasing the Clickit harness from Sleepypod. My dog and I go everywhere together and so she is in the car 40 minutes each day.
I thought, “I’m a safe driver, maybe I’ll hold off until my next paycheck to purchase the Clickit.” Well finally, one day when browsing Sleepypod.com (for the hundredth time), after measuring my dog four different times to be sure, I decided to do it. I purchased the small Clickit harness in orange! Little did I know, this would be the most important purchase of my entire life.
Fast forward about a month, I am driving through the same intersection I drive almost every single day with my dog. This intersection is very busy, and the speed limit is 45 mph, so I’m always very careful. As I’m driving along, going 45 mph, a car suddenly turns in front of me. I didn’t even have time to apply pressure on the breaks before we collided. My car spun wildly, and I ended up crossing three lanes, landing on the opposite side of the median. My car made some funny noises before it died, smoke pouring from the hood. Immediately when my car settles, I look back at my dog. Her doggy bed that she lays on was tossed from the seat. The leashes I keep in the back are strewn about the car. My dog is sitting on the seat, wide-eyed and confused, perfectly unharmed. She was just sitting there. I immediately start crying. I couldn’t believe it … she was actually okay!
My boyfriend came to the scene as the police arrived. He took our dog out of the car, and she hopped right down as if nothing had happened. When the EMT’s strapped me to a board, she came over and jumped up to see if I was okay, whining for me, tail wagging.
I suffered a fractured sternum, and had to be transferred to a special hospital overnight. The first thing I did when I came home from the hospital was bring my dog to my veterinarian. I had to be sure she was definitely okay. My vet checked her over and gave her a clean bill of health.
I seriously owe all of this to my Clickit harness. Without it, my entire world would have been turned upside down. I haven’t even allowed myself to imagine the loss I would have suffered had I decided not to purchase the Clickit that day.
News: Guest Posts
Last month Ohio passed a law making it legal for a good samaritan to break their way into a locked vehicle saving a heat-stroked animal. It joins a small list of states—Florida, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin—that grant this kind of legal immunity to do-gooders.
While 22 states have laws that specifically make it illegal to leave a dog trapped in a hot car, the actions that a passerby can legally take are less than intuitive. If a woman walking down the street spots a Basset Hound locked in a hot car, she should be able to do whatever necessary to save the pup and not worry about getting sued for breaking a piece of glass. But the “not getting sued” part is where things get tricky.
The nitty-gritty of the law differs from state to state—in some states only an animal control or police officer can break the window; in others, any concerned citizen can do it under pressing circumstances. In New Jersey and West Virginia though, no one, not even animal control, can legally free a dying dog. Even though it is illegal in those states to leave a dog in a hot car, according to the letter of the law anyone who saves the dog could get slapped with criminal charges. It’s time to revisit that one, dear lawmakers.
The idea here is not to go around smashing windows of course, unless it is absolutely necessary. Here is the Humane Society of the U.S. list of the very first steps you should take if you see an animal in distress in a parked car.
That last point brings us to the demystification section of this article. It is important to know the laws in your state. Below is a very simple overview of who can use reasonable force, aka break a window, when they encounter an animal locked inside a hot car. If you live in a state where everyday citizens are granted this action, be sure to click on the “guidelines” link to read about the required steps you must take in order to avoid legal trouble.
*The definition of “Animal” also varies from state to state. Are we talking dogs, cats, or lizards here? All information is current as of June 2016. If you’re in the position of needing to take action and have any questions, consult The Animal Legal Defense Fund
Nobody North Dakota
Law Enforcement or
Animal Control Officer, etc Kentucky
Nobody *The definition of “Animal” also varies from state to state. Are we talking dogs, cats, or lizards here? All information is current as of June 2016. If you’re in the position of needing to take action and have any questions, consult The Animal Legal Defense Fund
A gentle reminder to all of us pet lovers: be vigilant, but don’t be overzealous. We all want what’s best for the animals. Imagine you’re moving across the country with your cat and you leave her in the car with the AC on at a rest stop while you run in to buy her a bottle of water. You return to your car two minutes later to find your window smashed and your terrified kitty in the arms of a total stranger. It goes without saying: this isn’t why these laws exist and it isn’t what we’re going for.
We’re going for social responsibility on all fronts.
Thank you for caring for the animals of all shapes and sizes in our world. Have you had any personal experiences rescuing an animal?
I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments and am looking forward to the conversation!
News: Guest Posts
Study finds these elective surgeries influence perceptions of dog personality
Just when you think you know a thing or two about dogs, there I was in Italy a few weeks ago after the Canine Science Forum, looking at a dog on the street and exclaiming, “Who the heck is that!”
“A Doberman!” offered my good friend and Do You Believe in Dog? colleague, Mia Cobb.
“Really?” I said in disbelief. Because it was true. I’d never seen a dog that looked like that. Every Doberman I’ve seen has looked like this:
Dog with docked tail and cropped ears. Credit: Figure 2. Mills et al (2016)
Not like this:
Same dog, but natural. Credit: Figure 2. Mills et al (2016)
The bottom image, of course, is the Doberman in her natural form. A dog born from two Dobermans will grow up to look like the bottom image. But the Dobermans I’ve seen have had two post-birth surgeries; their tails are shortened or docked, and the floppy part of each ear is cut, followed by the ears being taped to a hard surface forcing them to stand upright in a way they normally would not.
These cosmetic surgeries (also referred to by veterinarians as elective surgeries) are built into breed standards — see an example from theAmerican Kennel Club. Which is to say that a Doberman puppy born from two Doberman parents does not meet his or her own breed standard.
In some countries, dog surgical procedures for cosmetic purposes are restricted or banned, but in others, the practices are rampant. For example, cosmetic tail-docking is banned throughout Australia and in numerous parts of Europe, which is why I saw my first natural Doberman in Italy. In North America, things look a bit different. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) oppose these procedures, with the AVMA stating that these procedures "are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient," and "these procedures cause pain and distress, and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection." Even so, restrictions are rare. As of 2014, only two states, Maryland and Pennsylvania, have any restrictions on tail-docking, focusing on the dog’s age at the time of surgery and the use of anesthesia. Only nine states regulate ear cropping.
In addition to welfare concerns associated with docking and cropping, the surgeries could affect dog social communication. Numerous studies find that tails are (gasp) useful and meaningful in dog-dog communication (more formally known as intraspecific communication, or communication between members of the same species). Even Charles Darwin recognized that tail up has a different meaning than tail down, and dogs attend to long tails better than short ones. The side of the body that a tail wags can even be informative to another dog: a dog seen wagging more to his right-side would be perceived more positively than a dog wagging more to his left. A stump is less informative.
The communicative function of dog tails has received oodles of attention (see additional readings at the end of the post), and I’m going to focus on a new issue raised last month by Marina von Keyserlingk and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Their open access article in PLoS One finds that these appearance-altering procedures are not meaningless; they affect how dogs are perceived, independent of the dog's actual behavior or personality.
Study participants, United States residents participating via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), saw images of four dog breeds that commonly have their tails docked and ears cropped: the Doberman Pincher, Miniature Schnauzer, Boxer, and Brussels Griffon. The first three are in the top 20 of registered breeds, and the Brussels Griffon, while not as popular, was selected to include a small breed in the study.
Participants saw two different images of the same dog breed, one in the natural state (long tail and unaltered ears) and one modified (docked tail and cropped ears). They were told that the dogs were siblings and asked to explain why the ears and tails looked different.
Fifty-eight percent of participants correctly identified that “some dog breeds have part of their ears and tails surgically removed after they are born.” Dog owners were more likely to answer correctly than non-owners.
On the other hand, 40% did not know that these dogs are not born with their ears cropped and tails docked. Instead, these participants thought these traits resulted from genetic variation, agreeing with the statement, “individual dogs of the same breed vary in appearance, meaning some will have tails and ears of different shapes and sizes.” Sorry y’all. Not so for the dogs in this study! The tails and ears on the ‘modified’ dog are all us.
But what’s the effect? Another experiment in the study found that these cosmetic surgeries are not meaningless to dogs or people; in fact, these procedures affect how participants perceived dog personality traits. Generally speaking, surgically altered dogs were seen as more aggressive toward people and dogs than natural dogs, and natural dogs were seen as more playful and attractive than their altered counterparts.
But when looking at the four breeds individually, something odd popped out about attractiveness. For the Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, and Miniature Schnauzer, neither the natural or surgically altered dog was considered more attractive. Take the tail off, leave it on, crop those ears, whatever. For those breeds, people were indifferent — one appearance was not viewed as more attractive than the other. Only for the Brussels Griffon was the natural dog considered more attractive than its surgically altered counterpart.
If not all people know that the cropped/docked look is surgically created and don't find these dogs less attractive than their natural counterparts, what incentive is there to reduce these cosmetic surgeries in the companion dog population? Since 2008, the American Veterinary Medical Association has encouraged “the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.” Who is going to stand with them?
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
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