Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Technology facilitates communication
What if dogs could talk? Specifically, what if service dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs could talk? Associate Professor Melody Moore Jackson at Georgia Tech, and a team that includes Professor Thad Starner, Research Scientist Clint Zeagler, and Jackson’s Border Collie Sky, are developing technology that allows dogs to say anything we give them the capability of saying. They’ve called their project FIDO, which is short for “Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations.”
They developed a vest with sensors on it that dogs can activate to communicate. The vest can play a message or send a text to a smart phone. From a training perspective, it’s a basic system—dogs are trained to hit specific sensors in response to certain cues. So, if asked which toy a person is holding, the dog can hit a sensor that plays a message that says, “That is the Frisbee®” or “That is the ball.” That is a cool trick, but the real genius of this vest is the variety of messages dogs can send.
For example, a service dog for a hearing-impaired person might hit a sensor in response to an alarm that sends a text saying, “I heard the alarm,” and a different sensor in response to the doorbell so that the message reads, “I heard the doorbell.” Many hearing impaired dogs lead their person to the source of a sound, such as a crying baby. This vest adds to the benefits of a service dog because it would also allow a person to be notified of a sound that is not reachable, such as a tornado siren. Just like distinguishing between the ball and the Frisbee®, telling these sounds apart is a type of discrimination task, and is the basis for many of the ways that this vest can be used.
For example, detection dogs are usually trained to bark if they find what they are looking for, perhaps a drug or an explosive. Although dogs are often trained to search for multiple types of drugs or explosives, they are limited in their ability to communicate the details of their finds to their handlers. It can make a big difference to everyone’s safety if the dog can let a handler know that the bomb is a stable type or an unstable one that needs careful handling. This vest can allow a dog to share more specific information.
This group developed a vest that allows a dog who has found anyone trapped after a natural disaster to activate a sensor with a message for that person to hear. The message lets the trapped individual know that help is on the way. Work is underway to develop a vest that allows a dog to activate a sensor that sends GPS coordinates to a handler. This allows the handler to join the dog, who does not have to leave the person who has been found. That could be lifesaving for a child who is hiding or for a person who is unable to move for whatever reason.
Similar technology could benefit people with any number of health problems. Imagine that a person with epilepsy has a seizure and the service dog has been trained to activate a sensor in response to that situation. The activation of the sensor would result in a call to 911 and also send a message to a family member. The message would include GPS coordinates and say, “My person had a seizure and 911 has been contacted.”
The possibilities of this technology are limitless. A dog could be trained to hit a sensor in response to someone saying, “Get help.” When that sensor is hit, a recording plays so anyone nearby hears, “My owner needs your attention. Please follow me.” This technology is very exciting because it allows dogs to communicate specific helpful information to people. The beauty of the design is that it is relatively easy to teach dogs with a solid base of training to activate sensors in response to specific cues. These vests represent a wonderful blending of solid dog training with new technology to increase the ability of dogs and people to accomplish a variety of tasks together.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Its been a rough few months around here with a great deal of loss. I remember in January and February sitting with the dogs one evening after work and knowing that 4 of them were likely not going to be around much longer. Three of the four were past ten with a variety of age related issues. Tyra was the youngest at only about 6 but Great Danes have one of the shortest lifespans of any breed and she suffered from wobblers disease and other serious issues common in the breed. The first to go was our dear old German shepherd Dillon who we took in with another dog, Molly, when their home burned in the Valley fires. Dillon was old and frail when he came to us. He was in liver failure, heartworm positive and had advanced hip dysplasia. He had 5 good months with us before his issues took a toll and we had to say good bye. Exactly one week later, 13 year old blind pit bull Patty had declined to the point we couldn’t keep her comfortable and our hearts broke again. Patty came to us at age eleven as part of a felony cruelty case and we had 2 ½ wonderful years with her. Patty was perfection in dog form. She had a gentleness, presence and wisdom I had rarely seen even with 30 plus years of working with dogs. I was feeling incredibly fragile when Paul and I got home from the vet after letting Patty go. Two dogs in one week was heartbreaking and overwhelming. We walked in the door and our sweet Tyra was down and in distress. She had been failing for months and in fact several times it had seemed as if she would be the first to go. Tyra had wobblers disease, common in Great Danes and we had been having to help her up for months. She had nerve damage, intermittent incontinence, weakness and other ongoing issues. I was usually able to help Tyra get up but at 120 pounds it wasn’t easy and that time I couldn’t get her up at all. After trying several times with no success I knelt beside her and took her big beautiful head in my hands. I knew it wasn’t fair but I couldn’t help it. I’ve never been one to prolong the inevitable for my own needs but I was crushed with sadness and I struggled to breathe as I looked into her sweet brown eyes. “Sweetheart, I can’t do this. Please give me more time. You have to hold on a little longer for me. Just a week,” I begged her. ”Please, I just need a week to pull myself together”. We held each others gaze for a moment and then with Paul’s help we were able to get her up and moving. Tyra actually rallied for several months and it was a daily struggle but she still had a lot of joy in that time. We monitored her quality of life on a daily and often hourly basis, constantly weighing her comfort and happiness against the inevitable. We kept in touch with her vet, tried acupuncture, pain meds, anti-inflammatorys and more. In the past week it finally came to the point that her bad days outweighed the good and we knew we had to let her go. The vet came to the house and she slipped away in her own bed surrounded by those who loved her. The pain is still sharp and raw and the tears are quick to spill but that is the price of love. The greater the love, the greater the pain. And dogs are so worth it. So incredibly, amazingly worth it. I could have easily spared myself the agony of loss by just not taking them in. But how much richer my life was by knowing them. How sweet was the time I spent with them. And not only did they bring such precious love and joy to my life but what would have happened to them had I not taken them? Certainly there are worse things than a humane end in the arms of caring shelter staff, but how much better to be embraced by someone who loves you deeply and fully. Every dog deserves to take that last breath in the arms of someone who loves them so much that the tears flow but the sobs are held back until the last heartbeat to spare them the worry of seeing your grief.
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is proposing a roughly 90 percent reduction in its off-leash space. And we have only until May 25 to comment on this draconian proposal.
The GGNRA oversees more than 80,000 acres of the Northern California coastline, and of this, dogs have only been allowed on approximately 1 percent. Their proposed new Dog Management Plan will reduce that smidgen by 90 percent, which is a significant hit.
Although a unit of the Dept. of the Interior’s National Park Service, GGNRA is in a decidedly different category than the more traditional parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. From its inception in 1972, it has been charged with balancing habitat protection with recreational activities that predated its creation: “To provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.” Foremost among those activities was (and is) off-leash dog-walking. One of the groundbreaking 1970s “parks for the people,” GGNRA serves a densely populated metropolitan area and is an invaluable resource for locals and visitors alike, providing access to outdoor recreation for millions of people each year.
For many of us, especially women and seniors, off-leash recreation with our dogs is our only form of exercise. We don’t kayak, bike, run or cross-train. What we do—from time immemorial, it seems—is simply walk with our unfettered dogs, enjoying the regenerative benefits of spending time outside. We also acknowledge that a balance needs to be met with respect to other park users and the natural resources that we all value.
But we believe that an acceptable balance was not adequately taken into consideration during GGNRA’s rule-making deliberations. Rather, opinions and desires expressed by special-interest groups such as the Sierra Club and Audubon Society and prominent donors held greater sway than those of local elected officials and the many thousands of off-leash advocates (and other park users) they represent. And because this is thought to be a precedent setting judgment, it can (and will) be used against off-leash activity is other areas throughout the country.
During two recent public meetings held by the GGNRA and chaired by park superintendent, Christine Lernertz, in response to questions about how they regard the opposition from the vast majority of residents, local elected officials and humane organizations, Lernertz brushed those questions off and referred to GGNRA's “national” status, meaning they are a park for the whole nation. (She did though reference their concern about tourists from other countries, and what would they feel about seeing dogs on beaches.) So if indeed the GGNRA is a national resource for all of us, they need to hear from all of us from both inside and outside the area.
Your comments are needed now and due before May 25:
What do I say in my comment?
· See talking points and sample comments here, or here or see the one below.
· Consider making the point, in your own words. If you are outside the Bay Area, tell them where you are located and how important the issue of off leash recreation is to you, especially in public land owned by the federal government. Your voice matters too.
How do I submit my comment?
General Sample Comment Letter
“I am writing to voice my opposition to the highly restrictive proposed rule for dog management at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). It was established by Congress as a national recreation are—not a national park. Banning dog walking recreation from nearly all of the GGNRA is a violation of public trust and the unit’s enabling legislation.
These significant restrictions to dog walking are being proposed without any evidence that dog walking is causing actual impacts to GGNRA’s natural resources or visitor experience.
I am especially opposed to the provision that would give GGNRA’s superintendent a blank check to ban dogs without any sort of public input process and before any impacts from dogs occur.
I strongly urge the National Park Service to rethink its proposed rule for dog walking at GGNRA. Please take into account the input and concerns of the thousands of people in this country that are opposing this plan.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study shows the importance of the human canine bond.
Dog lovers well know the importance of the human canine bond, but continued studies in this area are important for providing data that supports pet friendly privileges and legislation.
Researchers at the University of Missouri recently completed a study that showed evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health in senior adults by analyzing data from the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration's Health and Retirement. The research included data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits, and health outcomes.
They found that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health. The researchers also looked at how strong the bond was between people and their pups. Those with stronger bonds were more likely to walk their dogs, and spend more time doing so, than those with weaker bonds. Pet walking provided a means to socialize with other people as well.
Rebecca Johnson, a professor and director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at MU believes that “these results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”
Having known more than a couple people who have struggled to find or maintain housing because of their beloved pets, I know this struggle can be even more challenging for older adults who may have less options. I hope that this study will encourage more apartments and retirement communities to adopt pet friendly policies.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Skateboarding must be taught step-by-step
Nobody has entered my house this week without being told, “Hey, come take a look at this!” I have then showed them this video of Bamboo the skateboarding dog.
Most of the viewers asked, “How do you train your dog to ride a skateboard?” Doing it step-by-step is the key to success, as it is with all training tasks. Here are the steps I would suggest for teaching a dog to ride a skateboard.
1. Help your dog to be comfortable on the board. This step is critical and I recommend doing it slowly. Rushing it will slow down your eventual success. Start by reinforcing the dog for putting one paw and then two on the board while it is secured with a piece of wood or with your foot acting as a brake. If the board is adjustable, start with the board tightened so it can’t rock back and forth.
2. Get your dog used to being on the board while it is moving, starting with just a few inches and then a little bit more at a time. Only allow the board to move slowly. Ideally, you should take advantage of opportunities to reinforce the dog for having all four paws on the skateboard and for letting it move with one paw hopping along behind.
3. Reinforce your dog for pushing the board with one or both back paws. These pushes are a critical piece of having a dog propel the skateboard for any distance rather than just passively riding a board you have set in motion.
4. Gradually increase the speed and the distance that the dog covers before reinforcing him. Some dogs may not enjoy the increased speed or riding it for a longer period of time. Stay within your dog’s comfort zone.
5. Loosen the skateboard in stages so that it rocks back and forth (necessary for steering) and go through the entire process with the board at each one of these settings. You can then reinforce the dog for steering, which is accomplished by shifting his weight to one side or the other as he rides.
The dog in this video is very experienced and highly skilled, but few dogs will attain that level of success at skateboarding. Always keep in mind what your dog can comfortably do so that you don’t put him in a situation that is over his head. Stick to smooth surfaces, keep him away from roads and other dangers, and don’t send him down a hill of any kind, no matter how mild, until he is ready.
Just as in people, some dogs are athletic, fearless and adventurous enough that skateboarding comes fairly naturally to them. Other dogs may never reach true proficiency at it, but might enjoy doing it very slowly for brief periods. There are also dogs who are clearly not suited to this activity, and if that’s the case for your dog, there’s no need to even consider attempting to teach him to ride.
Do you have any interest in teaching your dog to ride a skateboard?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
These pups support their people on and off the 'field.'
Earlier this month, the second Invictus Games began in Orlando, Florida, an international event where wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans compete in various sports. The Games were created two years ago by Britain's Prince Harry and was named after the Latin word for “Unconquered, Undefeated.”
Many of the athletes can be seen at the Games with service dogs by their side, during practice, competitions, and medal ceremonies. They are as much a part of the event as their human counterparts.
Retired Special Operations Command Sergeant Leonard Anderson says that he might not be alive today if it weren't for his service pup, Azza, a sentiment echoed by many of the athletes with service dogs. “Everything I do, everything I've ever competed in, everything ever since the injury has mostly been with her,” he says. Azza and Leonard were together when they were stuck by an IED almost four years ago in Afghanistan. They're both retired now, but have stayed together to support each other.
Other competitors are accompanied by dogs who came into their lives after their injury. Air Force Sergeant August O'Neill shattered his femur and right tibia after he sustained gunshot wounds to both legs more than three years ago. 20 surgeries later, August decided to amputate his left leg. His service dog, Kai, provides bracing support when he's fatigued.
During the Games' opening ceremony, August propelled down from a Black Hawk helicopter to where Kai was waiting. Kai also stays courtside as August competes in volleyball, just in case he needs help. “Kai is my best friend,” August says. “He's been with me through the toughest times, and the best of times.”
Although the dogs aren't directly involved in the sports, the athletes see their wins as victories for the pups too.
“When I win a medal or two, it's her earning it too,” says Leonard. During this year's games, he won the gold medal for the 100-meter freestyle and was joined on the podium by Azza.
It's inspiring to see these teams work together to not only survive, but to excel on a global stage.
Mark Vette, an animal behaviorist from New Zealand, who made a splash a few years back by training dogs to drive cars, has taken his skills to a new height and has now successfully trained dogs to not just co-pilot, but to actually pilot planes. As with his driving “dare” he has taken on this newest challenge to promote the talents and adoptability of shelter dogs, certainly a noble cause. You have to watch this video to see how successful, he and his team of trainers, were. From what this well-edited clip shows, the dogs too seem to like getting behind the throttle and definitely soared to new heights.
The dogs went through a four-month training period, and as the final episode of Dogs Might Fly, that aired in UK on Sky-1 television, you can see just how well they performed and maneuvered the plane to even make perfect figure eights up in the air.
The three dogs were first trained on flight simulators and harnesses kept them sitting upright so they could “paw” unto the plane controls. Vette said that he was very careful that the three would-be pilot dogs were happy with what they were doing and that their welfare was his highest priority. The dogs were trained to respond to color lights. As Vette commented that, “Most importantly, this exercise has proven that shelter dogs are not secondhand goods.” He added that “They are smart and deserve a chance at life.”
He himself adopted one of the pilot dogs as the show ended (the one shown here at the controls), and I can’t imagine that the other two weren't also snatched up. Diane D., a reader drew this to our attention today, and thankful that she did.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Modern fun for a boy and his dog
I’m not old enough to remember when the only toy a boy and his dog had was a stick, but I’m sure old enough to be impressed by a remote control car that carries both of them around! In this video of a toddler and a dog in a car, it appears as though the dog is fully in control of the vehicle. At first viewing, I found that a bit unsettling, even with a trustworthy dog. I realized later that the mom (offscreen) controls the acceleration and braking as well as the right turns. The dog is turning the car to the left, though, with some remarkable paw control.
Besides being entertaining, this video has some nice qualities to it. I like how calm the dog is throughout the video and the sweet, gentle way that the boy pets his dog at about 20 seconds. I couldn’t help but smile at the way the dog looks around like he is watching the road. Responsible drivers of any species deserve a pat on the back, or in this case, a belly rub! I also like the way the mom responds instantly when the boy wants to stop. The moment he requests it, the car comes to a halt. She’s wise to avoid a situation in which either the dog or the child is unhappy.
Not every dog has the ability to be comfortable or calm enough to keep this activity safe and fun. Would your dog be able to handle it?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service dogs' faithfulness can also make them vulnerable.
Service dogs spend their days dedicated to their people, so intensely focused on their every need. This faithfulness also makes them especially vulnerable.
A study recently published in the journal Veterinary Record found that the number of reported dog attacks on guide dogs in the United Kingdom has risen significantly in the past few years. A total of 629 attacks were reported between 2010 and 2015, an increase from an average of three per month in 2010 to eleven attacks per month in 2015.
The study was a collaboration between researchers from the Guide Dogs charity and the University of Nottingham. They aren't sure if the numbers reflect higher levels of reporting or an actual trend, but nonetheless they want to better understand the problem.
55 percent of the victim dogs were officially working in their harnesses when attacked, but the incidents weren't always unprovoked.
More than a quarter of the attacks were attributed to a lack of control, even though both owners were present in 77 percent of the incidents. This led researchers to believe that many of the attacks could've been prevented if the aggressor dog was put on leash when the owner saw the guide dog in their working harness. While the causes and circumstances of the attacks varied, this seems like a simple solution.
As you can imagine these attacks have a significant effect on the guide dogs and those who rely on them for mobility and independence. Over 40 percent of the attacked pups experienced a negative impact on working ability. And 70 percent of the dog handlers reported an affect on their emotional well being.
In 2014, attacks on guide dogs became an aggravated offense in the U.K., punishable with sentences of up to three years for the attacking dog's owner. Between this new law and awareness, the Guide Dogs and the University of Nottingham hope the numbers will begin to swing in the opposite direction.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs react to magic
Magician Jose Ahonen made treats disappear right in front of dogs’ noses. When I watched videos of his work, I saw dogs who understood that a treat had been there and that it MUST still be nearby. Their reactions made it clear that they knew the treat had gone missing.
One common response was for the dogs to look down at the ground as though the treat had fallen. A fallen treat is probably a familiar experience for most dogs, so they were using a search strategy that had worked in the past. Many of the dogs began to sniff and investigate the immediate area. Another frequent reaction was to look at Jose or in the direction of the camera, where perhaps the guardian and a camera operator were. Many dogs look to people for information or for help when they are confused. I see this in training or when a toy has rolled somewhere inaccessible, so it was not surprising that dogs who were puzzled about the location of the treat did this. A number of dogs pawed at Jose’s hands, which is such a common response to a closed fist around a treat that I’ve used it many times as part of training a dog to “Shake” or “High-5”.
The most interesting aspect of the video is that dogs in it appear to show object permanence, which is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed. Object permanence is considered a major milestone in human development. Many children have been tested—an experimenter hides a toy while the child is watching and then observes whether the child can find it. Most children show object permanence by the age of one year. A lot of dogs have shown object permanence in scientific studies, but it is not universal in the species.
The magic tricks with dogs in these videos were for entertainment and are not controlled experiments. The smell of treats was still present, so that could have tipped the dogs off that the treats still existed. Their actions are certainly not conclusive evidence that dogs are cognitively capable of object permanence, but they are still suggestive of it.
I wish I could see a longer clip of each dog because I’m curious how much time they spent searching and whether they showed increasing frustration. It was a relief to realize that each dog was given a treat before and after the disappearing trick, which I would imagine lessened any distress about the missing treat. For some of the dogs, the most distressing part may have been the laughter of the people observing. I think dogs can tell when they are being laughed at, and it bothers me. Still, it's really hard not to laugh when you watch this (I know I did!), so I can hardly blame people for that.
How do you think your dog would react to a magician making a treat disappear?
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