Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Watch out this summer for a common, but deadly plant.
Now that summer is here, and everyone is hanging out by the water, I wanted to share information about a common, but extremely lethal, plant called the water hemlock. It's scary because it's found all over North America and can kill so quickly.
I recently read about a three year old Border Collie who died within one hour of ingesting the toxic plant. The pup was playing at Horsetooth Reservoir in Colorado when she chewed on water hemlock. Shortly after she lost all motor function and succumbed on the way to the veterinarian.
Just a few leaves of the plant can kill a dog within hours, making it one of the most lethal plants on this continent. Some animals have even been poisoned from drinking water that has been contaminated with trampled water hemlock roots! The plant grows near bodies of water, like rivers and lakes, and also where water collects, like ditches.
Water hemlock is a a tall, branching plant that can grow three to six feet. It blooms white flowers in June and July with narrow, serrated leaves. Cow and water parsnip are often confused with water hemlock. All parts of the plant are poisonous, with the roots being the most toxic.
If water hemlock is consumed, symptoms begin within a matter of minutes and include drooling, muscle twitching, seizures, and dilated pupils. This quickly turns into respiratory paralysis and then death. If a non-lethal dose is consumed, there is a chance at recovery, but there may be temporary or permanent damage to the heart or skeletal muscle.
If you see your dog eating water hemlock, try to induce vomiting and get to a veterinarian immediately. However, since the toxin acts so quickly, prevention is really the key. Learn to identify water hemlock and don't let you dog dig and chew wild plants.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Natural detection task is very revealing
We all know that Beagles have better noses than Whippets, right? This almost seems too obvious to point out, especially to anyone who has ever had a dog of either breed. However, the authors of a recent study claim to be the first to scientifically document a difference in olfactory abilities across groups of dogs.
The researchers compared scenting ability across four groups of canines: dog breeds that have been selected for scenting abilities, dog breeds that have not been selected for scenting abilities, short-nosed dogs and hand-reared wolves. The task asked of these animals was simple—find the raw meat in a container that is hidden underneath one of five pots. There were multiple tests that varied in difficulty based on the number of holes in the container’s lid.
The results of the study were that dogs bred for scenting ability performed better than both short-nosed dogs and dogs who were not bred for their olfactory capabilities. The short-nosed dogs performed worse than any other group, suggesting that breeding for this head and face shape has adversely affected olfaction. In the most difficult of the tests, only wolves and the dogs bred for scenting abilities performed better than what would be expected if the animals were just guessing. Wolves improved their performance when they were re-tested, but the dogs in all three groups were no better the second time around.
Since dogs did not improve with repeated testing, this test may be a useful one-and-done way to assess a dog’s scenting capabilities. That is important because there is currently no standard method for testing the olfactory ability of dogs, but the method in this study could be used for quick assessments of dogs’ abilities. Most ways of testing dogs involve a match-to-sample design, which means that the dogs are taught a scent and they then have to find the same scent from among a group of scents. That requires extensive training, so it is impossible to determine to what degree those tests are assessing trainability and to what extent they measure scenting ability. Both trainability and olfactory ability are important for success as a working detection dog, but there’s great value in evaluating each trait independently.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
More states add protections to those aiming to rescue.
Now that summer is here, the dogs in hot cars problem is cropping up again. Just last week a Texas police officer was charged with cruelty to animals for leaving his Belgian Malinois to die in a hot vehicle. It's a story that is sadly becoming all too common. On the flip side, I've also seen a photo of a sign on a car window asking people not to break in to rescue their pup because the air conditioner and music was on. The good thing is, as awareness has grown, more people are looking out for distressed dogs, and more states are creating protections for these situations.
20 states have laws that permit rescuing pets from parked cars, but all but three limit the protection to specific types of people, such as law enforcement or animal control.
California is currently one of those states that authorizes peace officers, humane officers, and animal control officers to remove an animal in danger from a car. But a new proposed law will extend that protection to all people who rescue pets in this predicament.
The Right to Rescue Act has some stipulations before individuals can just break into anyone's windows without remorse. Rescuers will be required to check whether the car is locked first and have a "good faith belief" that the animal is in danger if they aren't removed immediately. Then they must contact police or animal control before entering the vehicle, and stay until the animal can be surrendered to law enforcement.
Temperatures don't even have to rise that high for cars to become dangerous. When outside temperatures are 70 degrees, the interior of a car can reach 89 degrees in 10 minutes and 99 degrees in 20 minutes.
In preparation for the warmer months, familiarize yourself with your state's laws and with the signs of heat stroke in dogs. It could come in handy when you come across a hot pup! For more information on individual state laws, check out Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center's web site.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Sikh man uses his turban to save him
Breaking a religious taboo may upset many people, but occasionally, it results in near universal respect and praise. That’s true in the case of Sarwan Singh, a 28-year old Sikh man in Punjab, India. His heroic action and willingness to briefly violate an important rule of his religion allowed him to save a life. He removed his turban in public in order to use it as a rope to save a drowning dog from a canal.
Singh, who himself cannot swim, was driving when he saw a group of people pointing at the canal. He stopped his car and quickly took in the situation. A dog was in danger of drowning, but nobody was helping. He says that when he started to remove his turban, people around him were shocked, thinking he was showing great disrespect to his faith. Wearing a turban is an important article of faith in the Sikh religion and the doctrine states that it can only be removed at home or while bathing. He says, “But what was most important at that point was to save the animal’s life.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Singh says that the dog was very frightened, and did not want to come towards him. They moved about 200 meters along the canal before Singh was able to capture the dog with one part of his turban and use the other piece as a rope to keep himself from falling into the canal along with the dog. I cannot understand the language they are speaking, but I can certainly notice the change in tone of the speakers. Before the rescue, everyone is frantic, but afterwards, the great relief and joy is obvious in all the voices.
I appreciate the value placed on religion and the rules that come with each faith. Still, I feel comfortable saying that it’s a beautiful thing to put kindness, humanity and saving a life over guidelines of any sort—even sacred religious ones.
News: Guest Posts
An international group of scientists proposes dual domestication from wolves.
Among the many hotly debated topics related to the appearance of dogs in the lives of humans is how often and where it first occurred. In their landmark 1997 paper on dog origins, Robert K. Wayne, Carles Vilá, and their colleagues made the case for multiple origins, but many other students of dog evolution, including Peter Savolainen, a co-author on that paper, have repeatedly and strongly argued for a single place of origin.
In this week’s Science magazine (June 3, 2016) [the article is available here, gratis], Laurent Frantz of Oxford University’s ancient dog program, writing for more than a score of his colleagues from institutions around the world, presents the case for dual domestication of Paleolithic wolves in Western Eurasia and Eastern Asia. According to this hypothesis, a now extinct ancestral wolf split into at least two genetically distinct populations on opposite sides of the Eurasian continent where they encountered and joined forces with humans to become dogs.
Frantz and his coauthors pin much of their argument on analysis and comparison of the fully sequenced genome of a 4,800- year old dog unearthed at Newgrange, Ireland, to other ancient and modern dogs and modern wolves. They found it retained “a degree of ancestry” different from modern dogs or modern wolves. Using that and other evidence the researchers argue that the most comprehensive model for the appearance of the dog involves at least two domestication events 15,000 or more years ago. Frantz writes: “The eastern dog population then dispersed westward alongside humans at some point between 6,400 and 14,000 years ago, into Western Europe (10,11, 20), where they partially replaced an indigenous Paleolithic dog population. Our hypothesis reconciles previous studies that have suggested that domestic dogs originated either in East Asia (9, 19) or in Europe (7).”
I asked Greger Larson, co-director of the Oxford project and corresponding author on the paper, just what were the boundaries of “Western Eurasia,” comprised apparently of Europe and the Middle East, and “Eastern Asia?” He answered in an email that the boundaries were left deliberately vague because where wolves became dogs remains unknown, like the date itself.
In Science, Frantz writes: [W]e calculated the divergence time between two modern Russian wolves used in the study and the modern dogs to be 60,000 to 20,000 years ago.” The first number puts the dog in the time when Neanderthal was still the big kid on the European block, raising the possibility that Neanderthal had protodogs or that early modern humans came to Europe with dogs or soon allied with wolves. Either of the first two prospects must have set off alarms in some circles for Frantz cautions that those dates should not be taken as “a time frame for domestication” because the wolves they used may not have been “closely related to the population(s) that gave rise to dogs.”
Fundamentally, this paper is at once a bold attempt to come up with a workable hypothesis to explain the appearance of the dog in human affairs and a tentative step into troubled waters. Left unanswered are virtually all outstanding questions regarding the who, what, when, where, and why of the transformation of wolves to dogs. Geographically all it does is exclude Central Asia. Whether it does so wrongly may depend on how you define Central Asia geographically.
What makes it bold and radical even is the suggestion that early humans and wolves could have gotten together wherever and whenever they met on the trail of the big game they were following. There are many reasons for that including similar social and familial cultures, but humans and wolves could have joined forces to have become more successful hunters. We learn from Wolves on the Hunt: The Behavior of Wolves Hunting Prey by L. David Mech, Douglas W. Smith, and Daniel R. MacNulty (Chicago, 2016) that while wolves appear excellent at finding and trailing game, they are not very good at making the kill, succeeding perhaps half the time. It is dangerous work at which humans with their weapons excel.
Imagine the scene: Human hunters locate wolves on the hunt by watching ravens who are known to follow them. Human hunters move in for the kill and take as many animals as they can. If smart, they might share immediately with the wolves. If not, the wolves might consume what the humans do not carry off or follow them back to their encampment to take what they can.
The rest is a tale of accommodation through socialization—the ability to bond with another being—and all that entails.
This article originally appeared in Psychology Today's Dog's Best Friend, used with permission.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Do you have a runner, a sniffer or a greeter?
Being overjoyed about going for a walk is almost universal among the canine set. If you reach for that leash, lace up your shoes or do anything that suggests even the remote possibility that you are going for a walk, your dog is probably thrilled.
However, dogs are making use of the sacred walk time for different purposes. Though many dogs like everything about a walk, there are at least three categories of dogs, based on what they most love about their outings.
Some dogs are runners. What they want out of the walk is exercise, so they want to be moving, preferably as fast as possible. These are the dogs who need their daily (or twice daily or all day) activity. They often pull on the leash at first, but once they get into a rhythm, burned off some energy and released some endorphins, they settle down a bit. They still want to run or trot, but they are more flexible about whatever pace you choose.
It’s rare to find a dog who has no interest in sniffing on their walks, but for many of them, it is their top priority from start to finish. They have their nose to the ground much of the walk, suddenly getting incredibly interested in stretches of grass that look to us, the olfactory challenged humans, exactly like every other stretch of grass. These dogs seek mental stimulation on walks, and their minds are stimulated by the smells that are here! And there! And everywhere!
Even the most social of dogs are often distracted by their own desire to be active or to sniff all over the place. However, there are some dogs whose main purpose on walks is to meet-and-greet. These are the social butterfly, table-hopper types who simply want to say hello to other dogs, to people or even to the occasional cat. These greeters love to connect with others, and may even be slightly disappointed if there are few others out and about during walks. Related to the social dogs are the dogs whose purpose is marking their territory and patrolling the area. These dogs, like other social dogs, are highly interested in who is (and has been)out and about.
Many dogs are a combination of these traits. The love to run, sniff and say hello, but as a guardian, you probably know your dog well enough to understand which activity is most important.
Do you have a runner, a sniffer, a greeter or a dog with an entirely different priority?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A visiting medical student helps diagnose a rare tick related disease.
Last month Joelle Meteney noticed her Sheltie, Ollie, was lethargic following a trip to the Umpqua River in Oregon. Their veterinarian ran a range of tests, but couldn't figure out what was wrong.
Joelle was puzzled because on one hand Ollie didn't seem sick. The ten year old pup still had a sparkle in his eye and was responsive. However, he couldn't really move. A week later, it got to the point where Ollie was almost completely paralyzed and unable to eat or go to the bathroom.
When veterinarians told the Meteneys that there was no sign of recovery, they decided to have Ollie euthanized at DoveLewis emergency animal hospital. That's when things took an interesting twist.
Visiting medical student, Neena Golden, was assigned to assist Dr. Adam Stone on the procedure. While comforting Ollie, Neena felt a strange lump behind Ollie's ear, which turned out to be a tick. Ollie wore a tick collar on his vacation, but this bug managed to attach itself anyway, and was hidden by Ollie's fur. The tick was very bloated and had been attached for some time.
Dr. Stone then diagnosed Ollie with tick paralysis, a very rare condition that he had learned about in vet school, but had never seen in practice. The saliva secreted by the tick slowly got into Ollie's system, affecting his neurological system and causing paralysis. Fortunately this scary malady is completely curable.
The hospital staff removed the tick and just ten hours later, Ollie was already walking again. It was a miracle, especially because of the last minute diagnosis.
I'm so glad this story had a happy ending. It highlights just how dangerous these little bugs can be and how important it is to protect your dogs from ticks. Check out our previous blog post for more information on these pesky creatures!
Dog's Life: Travel
The newly created Tails on Trails club encourages people and their pups to get outside.
Now that summer is quickly approaching, I've seen more dogs enjoying the outdoors.
Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is hoping to encourage more people to hit the trails with their pups by creating Tails on Trails. The dog-walking club, which launches this weekend, features a seven-trail hiking challenge. To participate, a membership card can be purchased for $15 through one of the seven participating parks' visitor centers, or online. As people complete the hikes, they can get the card punched by park rangers to track their progress. Once all seven hikes are finished, the card can bed redeemed for a t-shirt and dog bandanna.
Georgia State Parks also offer dog friendly cottages for those who want to make it an overnight trip.
The seven trails on the Tails On Trails challenge are:
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What non-essential dog items do you love?
As I get older I value my comfort just a little more. I appreciate cup holders, soft cozy blankets, and chairs whose designers were inspired by the human body rather than thoughts of fitting 100 chairs in a storage closet. When it comes to dogs, little luxuries mean more to me, too. Just today I walked dogs with leashes that have soft padding in the handle, and I realized that these are the leashes for me. It’s a little thing, that extra padding, but I just love the feel of it my hand. Even with dogs who have lovely leash manners (but especially if they are still working on them) that extra cushion protects my hands from any harshness, and I love it!
I felt the same way years ago when I first discovered the Chuck It. Okay, a little dog slobber never hurt anybody, but a quart of it on a tennis ball is not what I’m looking for in hand moisturizer, either. I’m also a big fan of the folding dog water bowl. To be able to hike with dogs and easily help them hydrate without having a big, clunky water bowl digging into my back through a backpack adds much joy to the outing.
While I am a huge fan of the stuffed Kong, sometimes it feels like a lot of work to stuff one. (I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth.) When such an every day task seems hard, I’m grateful for Kong’s Marathon toys. They can keep a dog occupied for a long time but just take a moment for me to lock the compatible treat into the fitted slot.
Microfiber towels that absorb water and mud from a dog’s underbelly and paws are indispensable to me now. Sure, any basic towel works, but they don’t necessarily work as well as the microfiber ones. Even easier to use (and therefore better) are the microfiber mitts that dry dogs without slipping, which means that your hands don’t get wet and muddy.
There are so many items that I appreciate just because they make life a tiny bit easier and more convenient. Non-stick mats that go under food and water bowl keep bowls from sliding all over the floor are a huge plus—no scratches in the floor, easy clean-up of spills, and no racket from clanking bowls. Travel food bags that only take up as much room as the food you have left are a huge improvement over bulky plastic containers. Poop bag holders that attach to a belt loop or the leash free up my hands and pockets, and therefore belong on my list of non-essential dog items that make me happy.
What little luxuries in dog gear make your life just a little better?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Researchers explore the possibilities of canine-computer interactions.
Anyone who has trained a dog knows the importance of speed and consistency when it comes to rewarding desired behaviors. But we're humans, and we're not perfect. Can a computer make up for our shortcomings?
North Carolina State University researchers have developed a customized suite of technologies that allows a computer to train a dog by responding to their body language.
The team designed a custom harness with built-in sensors that monitor the dog's posture and sends the information wirelessly to a computer. Then an algorithm recognizes a predetermined data pattern (for instance, the dog going from a standing to sitting position) and reinforces correct behavior by releasing dog treats from a nearby dispenser
According to computer science professor David Roberts, the computer is accurate, but it didn't come easily.
One of the challenges the researchers had to work through was the trade off between delivering reinforcement quickly and giving the algorithm enough time to ensure the behavior had been done correctly with 100 percent certainty. If the reinforcement was given immediately, there was a high rate of rewarding the wrong behavior—a dilemma us dog trainers know all too well!
To address this, the researchers worked with 16 volunteers and their dogs to optimize the algorithm, finding the best possible combination of speed and accuracy. The outcome was highly accurate, rewarding the appropriate behavior 96 percent of the time. While expert dog trainers can achieve a near 100 percent accuracy, the computer has a significant edge in time of response. Even an expert human trainer has a lot of variation in this area. The algorithm is incredibly consistent.
The researchers see endless possibilities in the area of animal-computer interaction. The next step in their work is to see how they can combine this technology with human directed training, to make us more efficient, and also apply the algorithm to training service dogs. One day they also want to explore allowing dogs to “use” computers. Imagine if a diabetic alert dog could use a trained behavior to call for help!
A computer will never replace the special bond that develops between person and dog, but it could be a very interesting tool that could help us more effectively train our pups.
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