News: Guest Posts
How many different situations does your dog understand?
Dogs respond to our behavior when we are preparing to leave the house. Reactions are different depending on where we are going. Each type of excursion is associated with a distinct set of (human) behaviors that occur prior to the departure. Dogs pay attention to these different behaviors because they carry a lot of information that matters to them.
The going-to-work behaviors that dogs observe their guardians perform mean that the person is leaving for much of the day. Those behaviors can include packing a lunch, blow drying hair, putting on dress shoes, carrying a specific bag or backpack and possibly being rushed and impatient. Dogs typically respond by sighing, going to lie down, and perhaps acting bored or disinterested. Their reaction reflects their understanding that they will not get to come along.
The actions that take place before a run may be putting on running shoes, grabbing a water bottle, stretching or eating something specific like toast or a banana. It’s easy for dogs who are running buddies to figure out that they get to come along and become excited in anticipation. Many will jump, spin, bark or do some other behavior associated with their enthusiasm or happiness. Some will bring the leash to their guardian, and others will stick very close, as if making sure that they are not accidentally left behind.
The behavior that is often most distressing to dogs involves the actions associated with travel. When many dogs see people filling suitcases, gathering items for a trip or anything else they connect to a long departure, their reactions reflect their displeasure. It’s as though they are thinking, “Uh-oh. I don’t like the looks of this at all.” Some dogs whine, some look sulky and others try to get in the way of our packing efforts.
Some departures are so brief that most dogs don’t make too much fuss over them. If you look outside, slip on your flip-flops and go outside suddenly, a dog who has seen this many times before likely connects those actions to your daily visit to the mailbox. Dogs may watch you from the window the whole time you are gone just to make sure they’ve read the signals correctly, but few experience much distress.
There are so many cues that tell dogs whether or not they are going when you leave, and give details about what’s to come. A bike helmet often means they stay behind (though in some families, it means just the opposite). Picking up the leash is a clear sign that they get to go with you. Shopping bags mean they are staying behind, as does a stuffed Kong being prepared. Grabbing poop bags is a good sign from the dog’s point of view, but grabbing your tablet is not. Dogs pay attention to what we do before we leave because information about their immediate future resides in our actions.
I’ve generalized about the reactions by dogs to various pre-departure behaviors. Obviously, a dog who is too new to the household to know the various patterns will not react predictably to your actions. Dogs who struggle when left alone, especially those with separation anxiety, are often too emotionally overwhelmed and panicky at any sign that you are leaving without them to cope with details distinguishing various situations. (Such dogs are often the most astute at figuring out whether they will be coming with you or being left behind, though.) Most dogs become quite attentive if they’re unsure about what is happening and can’t tell what your actions mean. If the cues that tell them what kind of departure is impending are mixed up or don’t match your usual pattern, most dogs focus closely on what you are doing to try to figure it out.
How many different situations involving your departures can your dog distinguish, and how nuanced are his reactions to each one?
News: Guest Posts
Like other holiday articles, dreidels are not part of daily life. These once-a-year items can cause a variety of responses in dogs, depending on the individual. For some dogs, they pose challenges, eliciting fear, arousal, caution or even panic. The dog in the following video is clearly not enjoying his dreidel experience at first, although he seems to become more comfortable with it as time goes on.
Other dogs always have a lot of fun with the dreidel, which means that their guardians can share this part of Chanukah with them. This dog apparently understands that it is a game.
The next dreidel-experiencing dog is particularly playful and probably enjoys any object that moves on the floor with or without his help.
There are plenty of dogs who fall in between these extremes. Like the dog below, they may find the dreidel riveting, but not really enjoy seeing it spin.
In my house, dogs don’t participate in the game of dreidel. I have never had a dog who was interested in doing anything but attacking them or running away from them. Just like fireworks on the Fourth of July, or trick-or-treaters at Halloween, a spinning dreidel is a part of my holiday celebrations from which I protect dogs.
If dreidels are part of your festivities, how does your dog react to them?
Dog's Life: Humane
A South Carolina firefighter adopts his canine counterpart.
The combination of hot guys and cute puppies has become a popular calendar fundraiser for animal welfare organizations across the country.
Last year South Carolina firefighter Rob Tackett was posing for the Charleston Animal Society's 2017 calendar. He was shirtless and holding a puppy named Kimber. The German Shepherd's family warned "Mr. March" that she didn't normally like men, but as soon as Kimber met Rob, she curled up in his arms.
"It was an instant connection," remembers Rob. "She felt safe with me."
Kimber was a special dog. Found malnourished and suffering from two different skin conditions, the poor pup was brought to the Charleston Animal Society where she recovered and was adopted by Marine veteran Steve Hall. Steve suffers from post traumatic stress disorder having served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately he found that his symptoms were alleviated with the help of his dog, Scout. But when Scout passed away, he adopted Kimber and she became his new source of support.
Steve and his family became good friends with Rob following the photo shoot. When Steve became sick and required several surgeries, Rob took care of Kimber during the hospital stay. Unfortunately Steve's health didn't improve, so he asked Rob to adopt Kimber. Steve was heartbroken, but it was in Kimber's best interest.
Rob knew what a hard decision it was, but didn't hesitate.
“I love that dog,” said Rob. “Kimber is an incredibly special dog, I’ve never been around a dog like her. Just being around her makes everything easier.”
Inspired by Steve, Rob has been training Kimber to be a therapy dog and hopes he can one day bring her to visit veterans to share the joy she brings to everyone around her.
“She’s skittish around other people at first,” explains Rob. “But when she gets comfortable she is the most loving dog in the world.”
Who knew there was such a heartwarming story behind the Charleston Animal Society's March calendar spread. All proceeds from the calendar go to their medical fund, which saves thousands of abused and abandoned animals each year. To purchase a copy, visit their web site.
News: Guest Posts
Has it happened to you?
A couple of times a decade, a fall of a truly spectacular nature occurs in my life because of dog-related forces. This morning, for example, an unlikely combination of bad luck and bad timing led to this score: Laws of Physics—1, Karen—0. I was walking Saylor, a sweet, cuddly adolescent dog with more power than you’d think based on her medium size and willowy build. Her strength is most obvious when she sees another dog, but usually I can distract her with treats and (reasonably) calmly walk by another dog without revealing her reactivity to anyone. That’s not how life unfolded today.
We had received more than a foot of snow this weekend. It’s still deep in places but has turned slick in others. (You can probably see where this is going.) On a sidewalk that had not been shoveled, I spotted a sled that resembled a boogie board. Detecting a potential issue, I actually said out loud to Saylor, “Don’t step on that sled. You’ll go flying,” without expecting her to understand. It was just my way of getting her attention so we could veer around it. Saylor noticed the dog before I did, and moved in his direction before I could make an adjustment or give her treats. The dog leapt up on the fence in front of the house so that his head and forelegs were over the fence. He remained there, threatening to make it all the way over, and barked aggressively.
Saylor had charged in his direction with such speed and power that my next step was right on the sled. It traveled in the way that children everywhere want sleds to move—fast and with no friction—resulting in an immediate slam to the ground with my entire backside hitting at the same time. I still had a firm hold on the leash, but that just meant that in addition to my undignified position in a pile of snow, my arm was thrashing about as she lunged at the dog attempting to climb the fence.
“I’m okay!” I said immediately to my husband, who was walking Marley—a dog much older and more calm than Saylor. I assumed (correctly) that my husband would be concerned that such a fall might have caused serious damage. I feel a bit stiff, but I’m grateful to have avoided the usual worries—broken wrist, concussion, bruised tailbone. My pride was far more damaged than my body. I got up laughing, headed away from the debacle of the sled, snow and barking dog on the fence, and worked on calming Saylor down.
I would love to have the incident on video because I’m sure it was hilarious, if not the sort of footage I would use to promote my dog skills. It’s all just part of life with dogs! If you’ve taken a similar spill, please share your story. (And I hope you were also unhurt.)
News: Guest Posts
A Sacramento woman facilitates over 700 adoptions in one month.
Kim Pacini-Hauch had been a long supporter of Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, Calif. In the past, Kim donated money and spearheaded a drive to buy the animals beds. But in November, when she met with the shelter's director, Gina Knepp, found that their current predicament was dire. Front Street had around 300 cats and dogs at the shelter, and nearly 700 in foster care.
“I truly was shocked,” said Kim. “Think of putting almost 1,000 animals in one spot, looking at 2,000 eyeballs, and tell me how you would feel if you saw that all in one location. That’s what was going through my mind."
Kim decided she wanted to give the animals the greatest holiday present of all--forever homes.
Kim told Gina that she would cover the cost of all Front Street adoptions through the end of the year, typically $65 per cat and $85 per dog, although the shelter offers a discounted rate of $20 during the holidays. This fee includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping.
When Kim and Gina were taking photos to promote the "Home for the Pawlidays" campaign, someone took a quick 38-second video for the Front Street Facebook page. The clip went viral, with more than two million people watching in 24 hours. The next day the shelter looked like Black Friday at an electronics store. A line extended around the block waiting to get in, with some people even camping out.
Front Street normally does 10-20 adoptions a day, but on the first day of the Home for the Pawlidays campaign, 60 pets were adopted. As of mid-December, the shelter finalized more than 700 adoptions, all paid for by Kim. The promotion was so successful, Front Street took animals from six other Northern California shelters that needed help finding adopters.
Kim's holiday generosity also inspired similar acts. Across the country in Florida, a local resident pledged $2,000 to Tampa Bay's Pet Resource Center to cover 100 adoptions. The anonymous donor mentioned being influenced by Kim's story. Even cooler, some of the patrons paid it forward by covering the adoption fee for another pet. By the time the "Secret Santa's" donation ran out, 126 pets had been adopted.
Shelters often offer adoption deals during the holidays, but it's the generosity of animal lovers that turns this into a social collaboration that encourages others to get involved.
“When someone steps up like the Sacramento donor," said Humane Society of the United States Shelter Outreach Director Kim Alboum, "it does spark the generosity of other donors, especially around the holidays. There are people who never thought of adopting who are now considering it. So this donor has done even more than they realize.”
Reducing or waiving adoption fees can be controversial. As any pet lovers knows, the initial cost of a pet pales in comparison to the long term financial commitment. But I think that these promotions are about more than just the money. These social movements inspire others to get involved, encouraging those who were thinking of buying a dog to consider adoption. As long as shelters are still diligent in the vetting process, I think these campaigns have great potential.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
New York City pilots a program to bring dogs into schools.
Growing up with a pet helps kids develop compassion, while providing a unique friendship and source of stress relief. This is especially important in today's world where kids have to increasingly navigate uncertainty and anxiety. Unfortunately not every family is able to welcome a pet, but the New York City school district wanted to make sure every child could benefit from the therapeutic benefits of dogs.
Last week New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña joined students, teachers and service dogs at Education Department headquarters to kick off the city’s Comfort Dog pilot program. Through this initiative, participating schools will get at least one dog assigned to a specific teacher or staff member. They'll incorporate the pups into regular lessons and breaks throughout the school day.
“This is something that brings new opportunities to students,” explained Carmen. "When they’re having a bad day, just to pat a dog can make them feel better. This isn’t a fancy idea, the research shows it to be true.”
All of the dogs came from local animal shelters and they're finding homes quickly. Queens Public School 209 teacher Melissa Cerasuolo adopted Jesse, a terrier that had already been visiting her school.
“The kids are falling in love with her,” said Melissa, whose class also includes special needs students. "If kids have behavioral issues, just having the dog around will help them stay calm and control their emotions.”
School can be an incredibly stressful environment and I can see the potential of this program to complement lessons on empathy, anti-bullying, and other important issues. I hope that the comfort dogs are successful. If the city sees an improvement in the test schools' environment, they plan to expand the program.
News: Guest Posts
Did he obey or copy the people around him?
Pilota, a Brazilian mutt, did not abandon his peeps during a drug raid. This photo of him lying down with members of his gang when the police ordered everyone to do so shows how he responded to the situation. Pilota (Portuguese for pilot) initially barked when police officers showed up at his home in southern Brazil, but when officers ordered everybody to lie down, he ran over and joined the people already on the ground.
Many have speculated that he was either following police orders or that he was just copying what everybody else around him was doing. Either way, becoming quiet and lying down on his back in apparent surrender along with everybody else was a wise move. Pilota’s actions may have saved his life because Brazilian police often shoot dogs immediately during a raid.
In the picture, Pilota appears to be giving appeasement signals, which are the signals social animals use to communicate that they are not going to challenge other individuals. His belly is exposed, his ears are back, his tail may be tucked and he has turned his gaze to the side. All of his visual signals suggest that he is actively communicating his intention of full surrender. This dog is doing everything he can to let the police officers know that he will not charge at them or fight them.
Though there were some arrests made after police found guns, ammunition, marijuana and cocaine in the raid, Pilota was among those who went free.
News: Guest Posts
Endocrine-disrupting chemical raises red flags
A study by researchers at the University of Missouri finds that eating canned dog food may increase a pet’s exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA).
While the study was short-term, the results were “very revealing,” says investigator Dr. Cheryl Rosenfeld, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. Fourteen healthy pets were switched from their usual diet of kibble to canned food. Could a two-week menu change raise the dogs’ BPA levels?
It did, three-fold, and that could really be an issue for dogs that eat the same diet every day.
Over 300 studies have linked BPA to health problems from reproductive disorders to cancer, and now research is shedding light on how people and animals are exposed to the plastic-hardening chemical. While the FDA has reviewed the studies, they still consider BPA “safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”
By measuring BPA’s escape from packaging, scientists are narrowing the focus. One study settled the debate over whether BPA—banned in baby bottles but used in many other items—seeps from metal can linings and taints human foods. (It does).
And in August, a long-term study in the UK found a sharp decline in canine fertility associated with exposure to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The researchers considered food packaging a possible source, finding the chemicals in a range of dry and wet foods.
Some plastic dog toys have also been found to leach the chemical. A study at Texas Tech by environmental toxicologists Phil Smith and Kimberly Wooten found that BPA and phthalates leached from plastic bumpers into dishes filled with artificial dog saliva.
Wooten, who wasn’t involved in the present study, says that while it isn’t clear if dog health is being harmed long-term, “it’s still important information to have since there’s so little data on canine exposure to these types of chemicals.” She knows of no other studies that have looked at the effects of a specific BPA source on the concentrations in the blood.
“I’d say a 3-fold increase suggests that for dogs that eat canned food, their diet is the most important contributor to their total BPA levels.”
The current study highlights another concern; with the pet food industry being held by about five companies, it seems commercial foods aren’t as diverse as packaging suggests. Of the two (unnamed) brands in the study, one was declared “BPA-free” by the manufacturer.
So, skip the can and spare your dog? It turned out, the dogs already had a small amount of BPA circulating in their blood, shown by initial baseline samples. The researchers then analyzed both the cans and the food for BPA. They also checked for any disturbances in gut bacteria and metabolic changes.
Although one of the diets was presumed to be BPA-free, feeding either brand for two weeks resulted in a three-fold increase of BPA levels in the animals. At the same time, the dogs showed gut microbiome and metabolic changes, with potential health consequences. Increased BPA may also reduce one bacterium known to metabolize BPA and related environmental chemicals, according to the study.
Bagged kibble might also contain BPA, since the dogs had some BPA in their blood before the study, possibly from their dry diets.
“This is the point that it is not clear,” Rosenfeld says. “It could be that the food already contains BPA. However, we saw minimal levels when the dogs were on kibble.” In some cases, very low amounts can lead to equally if not greater harmful effects as high doses, she says. The greatest concerns may be at the low and high doses.
“The doses we found in the dogs after being on canned food though were comparable to what has been linked to health problems in humans and rodents,” a list that includes diabetes and obesity, among others.
If the dogs continued to eat the canned food, would BPA keep building up in their bodies?
“We did not see what would happen if we took the dogs off the canned food or kept them on it longer,” Rosenfeld says. “These are definite follow-up studies.” Ideally, based on the results of this one, she says they would pursue long term studies to test BPA concentrations after long term feeding of canned food, examining the dogs for metabolic disorders—such as obesity and diabetes—and neurological ones, using MRI and behavioral testing.
In a previous rodent study, they did find that the longer mice were on a diet containing BPA, even though it was being metabolized, it would start accumulating in their system so that greater amounts would persist over time, she says.
In humans and primates, BPA is excreted through urine. “It is not clear how it is cleared in dogs.”
While BPA affects the reproductive system, Rosenfeld says they did not find any gender differences in this initial study—“but we would need to test more dogs to confirm.”
The main concern about the gut microbiome changes is that they have been linked with various diseases, including neurological, metabolic, immunological, gastrointestinal, and possibly even cancer, she says. “Thus, by affecting the gut microbiome, BPA could induce such secondary effects.”
Unfortunately, a supposedly safe substitute for BPA, BPS, didn’t fulfill its goal. Rosenfeld says that in rodents and fish, BPS has already been shown to lead to similar health concerns as BPA. Their study didn’t test BPS in the cans. “It is not clear if some dog foods are using this substitute,” she says.
“By feeding fresh food, dry food, and minimizing canned food, it will reduce exposure to BPA and BPS.”
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
A search and rescue pup to be finds her calling in a different place.
German Shepherd mix Saki's story was already an incredible one. She was found wandering the streets of Sacramento, California, but ended up being chosen as a potential search and rescue dog. Saki was waiting to begin a six-month training program with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation when she discovered a different calling.
One day Saki escaped from her foster family's home and went to visit their neighbors. Across the street lived Danny, a five-year old boy diagnosed with developmental delays. Danny was behind in his motor skills and could only speak in fragmented sentences. The Morgan family had adopted Danny despite the extra challenges and showered him and his siblings with everything they wanted--except a pet. The parents weren't dog people and didn't think the kids were ready for the responsibility.
So when Saki showed up at their door, Danny's mother, Dixie, didn't know what to expect. But it turned out to be a day she'd never forget. The kids were scared at first, but Danny went up to Saki and hugged the pup. Danny's sister recalls Saki had an immediate effect on her brother. "He turned into a different person," she says. Danny took Saki's head in his hands, looked her in the eye, and talked to her.
Saki's foster family began bringing Saki over for regular visits, and she would always seek Danny out. Soon the boy began making huge leaps in his development. About a week after Saki first came over, Dixie remembers Danny was standing in the kitchen and said, with a stutter, "I am Saki's dad." Dixie was floored. It was the first of many advances in his language and motor skills. Soon Danny began talking in full sentences. Previously he couldn't throw a ball straight, but he quickly learned how to play fetch with Saki. Even potty training, which they had been struggling with, came along too.
"When one has confidence a lot of things come together," says Dixie. "As teachers we know that learning takes place most easily and most effectively when there's a high level of emotional involvement. I believe that Danny was very involved with Saki, which contributed to the development of his motor skills and speech. Now his stages of development are most closer to a normal five year old."
Dixie knew that Saki had to stay, but the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was reluctant to let the dog go. After all, volunteers often test 40-50 pups before choosing one for their program. However, once representatives from the organization came to visit, they knew Saki's place was with Danny.
It's amazing the effect our dogs can have on us, in ways that we can't explain.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It’s the quickest way to present a “well-trained” dog
If your dog knows a trick, people are more likely to consider him well-trained than if he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that it is far easier and faster to teach a dog to crawl, rollover or high-5 than it is to teach a dog to stay, come or heel. Performing the trick is often more impressive to people. There’s an erroneous assumption that dogs naturally do the standard dog obedience behaviors, but tricks seem like out-of-reach behavior that is above and beyond what typical dogs can do. It’s not true at all, but the perception of that truth is why there is great value in training your dog to do a trick.
I’ve had a few clients over the years who have needed for various reasons to convince someone that a dog is very well trained with short notice. One needed to introduce his dog to a landlord before being allowed to rent an apartment. A second was visiting her boyfriend’s parents and wanted to make a good impression. A third situation involved a family who were scheduled for a home visit as part of their adoption process and had concerns that their dog’s behavior might detract from their appeal. In each case, along with a crash course in the basics, I advised them to teach their dog a trick that they could show off. The potential renter taught his dog to beg, the girlfriend taught her dog to wave, and the couple seeking to adopt trained their dog to bow. All of them reported what I had suspected, which is that the trick did more to convince people that the dog was well-trained than the less flashy “normal” behavior.
Asking your dog to perform tricks always offers an opportunity to show him in the best light, but it’s especially useful if you don’t have enough time to make his training basics rock solid. One key time-saving strategy is to choose the trick that is most natural for your dog so he can learn it quickly. Many behaviors that are already in your dog’s normal repertoire can be turned into tricks. If your dog stretches a lot, consider “bow” as a possible trick. If he bats at things with his paw, he may be good at “high-5”. If your dog backs away from things, teach him to “back up”. Many dogs are naturals at “roll over”, “get your toy” or “spin”. If your dog already does a certain behavior, it is often possible to teach him to do it on cue in just a few quick sessions, and that is what turns it into a trick.
Teaching tricks gives you an edge when you have to get some training done in a hurry because you can choose to teach your dog whatever is easiest for him, and skip anything that poses a challenge. That’s not possible with basic obedience skills because you can hardly skip heel or stay because it doesn’t suit your dog’s natural behavior. Whether your dog naturally likes to come when called, people expect your dog to do it. Tricks are often unexpected and suggest that your dog will do whatever you ask of him. In other words, they offer evidence that your dog is well-trained.
Has your dog had the opportunity to look good by performing a trick?
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