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News: Guest Posts
Saving Pennies for a Service Dog
A Vermont boy gets help in his quest for a diabetes pup.
When Aiden Heath was diagnosed with type one diabetes four years ago, the eight-year old learned that dogs could be trained to help monitor glucose levels. While the canine nose isn't going to replace a blood meter entirely, these amazing animals can sense problems 20 to 30 minutes before the electronic tool. But at $15,000, a service dog wasn't in the Heath's budget. So Aiden's mother, Jenni, encouraged him to start saving, one penny at a time.

And the Waitsfield, Vermont boy did just that, collecting coins that he stored in a little red wagon he called "Brinks." Aiden slowly accumulated $6,000 when news coverage of his effort went viral in April. Almost overnight, donations came in from across the country, helping Aiden raise more than $20,000. Finally Jenni and Aiden were able to put a deposit on a Chocolate Labrador named Angel from Nevada. Aiden waited patiently while the pup was trained, following her progress through videos and photos.

This week Aiden finally got to meet Angel, and is learning to work together with the help of a trainer.

Jenni says that Aiden is "over the moon" about finally having Angel at home and gaining some independence. And he won't be the only one to benefit. Angel will give Jenni peace of mind, especially at night, when it comes to testing Aiden's sugar levels.

"We have been so amazed by the outpouring of support," Jenni said. "Aiden is feeling the love. There are no words."

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Do Dogs Ignore Bad Advice?
A study investigating this question is problematic

Dogs are inclined to follow our lead in many ways, but they don’t go overboard if it does not serve their interests, say the authors of a new study. If people give dogs bad advice, they figure out that it is worth ignoring, according to a new study in the journal Developmental Science. Let’s look into how they arrived at this claim, which I don’t think is supported by the data.

The researchers were investigating whether dogs (and dingoes) would imitate the way people showed them how to get food out of a puzzle box even when there was an easier way to do it. Only one step was required to reach the food, and that was lifting the lid to a box. As part of the experiment, humans added an extra, unnecessary action to the process by pulling a lever that did nothing, and then lifting the lid of the box.

Both the dogs and the dingoes quickly learned to skip the step with the useless lever and just open the box to get to the treat inside. In other words, it looked like they ignored the useless instructions from the humans. This behavior differs from human children, who tend to perform all the steps they have been shown even when some of them are unnecessary. That behavior is called “overimitation” and the uncritical copying of the behavior they observe may allow kids to minimize the amount of trial-and-error learning they must do.

The dogs and the dingoes observed humans opening the box, and were then repeatedly given the opportunity to open the puzzle box. Over time, as they gained experience with it, they were less likely to use the lever. The experimenters consider this evidence that both species learned that pulling the lever was an unnecessary step for opening the box, even though they saw humans doing it. I agree that the data support the idea that they learned that the lever is irrelevant. I just don’t think that observing the humans pull the lever made any difference, and that’s because this study does not find any evidence that dogs imitated the humans at all.

In addition to the experiment in which subjects observed humans pulling the irrelevant lever, there were also a series of trials (with a different set of dogs and dingoes) in which they were presented with the puzzle box without any opportunity to observe a human opening it. In that experiment, the dogs and dingoes were solving the puzzle without having seen anyone else open it, so they were doing it completely on their own. The authors write that, “dogs were equally likely to use the irrelevant lever, regardless of whether they witnessed a demonstration (in Experiment 1) or not (in Experiment 2).

They point out that there was no evidence that dogs were more likely to copy the humans’ actions than the dingoes were, but what’s just as important is that there was no evidence that the dogs were copying humans at all. Therefore, I don’t think that their conclusions about dogs and overimitation hold water. They would first need to show that dogs copy any human behavior, which they do not do, in order to then test whether dogs copy irrelevant human behavior.

There was one interesting conclusion from this study, though it has nothing to do with imitation, social learning, or human influence on dogs’ actions. Evidence from this study, as well as previous research, indicate that dingoes solve problems more quickly and with greater success than dogs. In Experiment 3 in this research paper, a different puzzle box was used. Pulling the lever was an essential step in opening this particular puzzle box. In this experiment, both dogs and dingoes did pull the lever in order to access the treat inside. When compared to the rates of pulling the lever when it was pointless, dingoes showed a greater change in their behavior. That is, they were more likely than dogs to pull the lever only when it was relevant, unlike dogs, who pulled it quite often even when it was not an essential part of the box-opening task.

Questions about the possibility of overimitation in dogs are extremely interesting, and I want very much to know more about this behavior, which I don’t think was adequately addressed by this study.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paying it Forward
It doesn't cost a lot to make a big difference in someone's life.

Living in New York, I see a lot of homeless people on the streets with their pets. These animals play an important role in the lives of these marginalized men and women, providing a nonjudgemental relationship in a lonely world. You can imagine how devastating it would be to lose that bond. But that's exactly what happened to a man in Huntsville, Texas, who was fortunate to meet a woman willing to go the extra mile to help.

Patrick had fallen on hard times, but was lucky to have his pup Franklin by his side. They didn't have a lot of anything, but Patrick would always make sure Franklin got food first when meals were in short supply. However things took a turn of the worse when Patrick was caught trespassing and landed in jail for two days. During that time, Franklin was brought to the local animal shelter. When Patrick was released, he found out it would cost $120 to get Franklin back.

In desperation, Patrick sat in a nearby Walmart parking lot with a cardboard sign that said "Dog in Pound Need Help." Fortunately Wilma Price was out running errands and spotted Patrick and his sign. It left an impression.

"I've seen every sign in the world except that one," said Wilma. "I've seen 'I need a beer,' "lost my job," 'need help," I could go on forever, but never this sign."

Wilma wasn't in the best financial situation herself, in fact she only had eight dollars to her name, but she was determined to do something.

First Wilma called the shelter to verify Patrick's story, which was true. The $120 included the impoundment fee, as well as a rabies shot, heartworm test, and flea prevention. Wilma didn't have the funds, but called a friend to sponsor the money. When Wilma went to the shelter with Patrick, he was incredibly thankful and overwhelmed by Wilma's generosity. Patrick and Franklin were overjoyed to be reunited. Patrick's eyes teared up and Franklin was wiggling with joy. Patrick tried to give Wilma the small amount of money he had collected before, but she refused.

"We’ve all been in a bad situation in our life," explains Wilma. "So always remember to pay it forward. You never know who that person might be that you help, but I know for a fact that Patrick loves his dog. I wouldn’t accept his money because maybe he can have some dinner tonight. His dog eats before he does. Wow, that sounds like me too."

Anyone who'd like to support Patrick should visit Mr. K's Pet Shelter's web site and address donations to “Patrick and Franklin.” Wilma is planning to further help Patrick by driving him to Dallas in hopes of finding more resources to help him rebuild his life.

News: Guest Posts
Getting Unsolicited Advice About Your Dog
When people try to be helpful but aren’t

Advice is wonderful (really it is!) but only when you want it and are ready for it. It’s certainly nothing close to wonderful when people are condescendingly presenting it to you like a gracious gift with the attitude that they are brilliant and you are ignorant. Dogs are well loved by so many people who are knowledgeable about them, which is a good thing. However, what is NOT a good thing is when that leads to unsolicited advice with the assumption that the receiver knows nothing about dogs.

Over the years, a great many people who don’t even know me have volunteered their opinion on what I should or shouldn’t do regarding the dog I am holding, walking, training or playing with. I’m not sure why it’s so common to feel confident that after observing a dog for 30 seconds, they have all the answers, but that’s often the case. I have been told I needed to be tougher with the dog and show him who’s boss more times than I can count. People have informed me that the breed of the dog I am with is dangerous or vicious. Some unsolicited advice has involved letting me know that the dog will never be properly trained if I use treats to teach him what to do.

Here are some other examples of unsolicited dog advice that has come my way:

  • He really needs x, y, or z supplement.
  • You should feed your dog a different type of food.
  • He really shouldn’t run so much with you. Ask your vet and you’ll see.
  • It’s time to put that old dog down—look at him!
  • He needs a new dog around—you should definitely get another one.
  • You should condition his coat with such-and-such product.
  • He’s too heavy—he needs to lose a few pounds./She’s too thin. You’re not feeding her enough.

I generally respond with a cheerful, “That’s certainly something to think about.” It usually gets the person to leave me alone and it is completely non-committal. Best of all, it leaves me free to think that the advice was unwelcome, unhelpful and wrong without having been dishonest. I know other trainers and behaviorists who refuse to respond to a person giving unsolicited advice or actually say, “Shut up!” but neither of those suit my style.

What unsolicited advice about your dog could you just as well have done without and how did you respond?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Montreal Suspends Pit Bull Ban
The Canadian city puts their breed specific legislation on hold amid a lawsuit.
Last week Montreal's City Council passed a ban on Pit Bulls that was quickly met with public outcry... and a lawsuit. The Montreal SPCA is arguing that the law is so vaguely worded that it puts any large-headed dog at risk. As a result the ban only lasted a few hours before Justice Louis Gouin of Quebec Superior Court temporarily suspended it while reviewing the Montreal SPCA's lawsuit against the city. Yesterday it was decided that the law should be put on hold for the duration of the legal challenge. The opposition is supported by the Quebec Order of Veterinarians, United States-based Pit Bull advocates, and even celebrities like Pamela Anderson and Cyndi Lauper.

The law bans new Pit Bulls and requires existing Pit Bulls to be licensed by the end of the year. Additionally, the dogs would have to be neutered, microchipped, and vaccinated by March 31, 2017, muzzled in public, and their owners would have to undergo a criminal background check.

The push for this law came after a fatal mauling that happened in a Montreal suburb during the summer. As it turns out, the dog responsible for the killing may not have even been a Pit Bull. Montreal police are still waiting on a DNA test to confirm the breed.

The outcome of the lawsuit could shape the treatment of bully breeds beyond Montreal since Quebec is currently considering a province-wide ban. Unfortunately breed specific bans aren't new to Canada. The city of Winnipeg implemented a similar restriction in 1990 and the whole province of Ontario in 2005.

But breed specific legislation is deeply problematic. It's a band-aid that tries to prevent dog attacks by making a sweeping generalization about a single breed. The statistics seem to back up the misplaced blame. According to Liz White of the Animal Alliance of Canada, dog bites in Toronto increased 24 percent between 2014 and 2015, despite the decade long ban there.

I hope that the Montreal SPCA is successful in defeating the law and helps the city put better practices in place, like education and training resources. Responsible dog owners can prevent dog bites and attacks, not breed specific legislation. 

 

Wellness: Health Care
The Fine Print in Pet Insurance Policies
Does yours exclude normal dog behavior?

Pet insurance, like most forms of insurance, definitely qualifies as a “Buyer Beware” purchase. Jamie Richardson found that out the hard way when her seven-year old dog Muddy tore a ligament in his leg and her insurance company Petsecure refused to cover his veterinary care. One reason for denying the claim was that Muddy was running when he hurt himself. Specifically, he was happily running through the woods, which can also be described as “being a dog”.

Unfortunately for Richardson, “being a dog” is essentially excluded in her accident policy. The fine print states that any injury sustained while the dog is “jumping, running, slipping, tripping or playing” is not covered. Additionally, any accident that the guardian does not witness is not covered. In Muddy’s case, even if he had torn his ligament in full view of Richardson while he was, say, eating his dinner, none of the $4,200 in veterinary costs would have been reimbursed by the insurance company due to a “pre-existing condition” clause that relates to arthritis or degenerative joint issues.

Though X-rays at the time of surgery showed no signs of arthritis, the fact that the presence of bone spurs had been noted in Muddy’s medical records allows the insurance company to deny the claim. That’s true even though the surgeon said that the accident was not caused by arthritis and the veterinarian pointed out that those bones spurs are normal for seven-year old dogs, and minor to boot. Two vets saying no pre-existing conditions are present does not prevent the insurance company from denying the claim based on the “pre-existing condition” clause.

Richardson has cancelled her policy, since it did her no good at all. She borrowed money to pay her bills, and is now saving a little each month just in case Muddy has another accident or an illness that requires expensive veterinary care. She continues to let him be a dog, though, and he still runs through the woods near her home in Yukon.

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Self-Entertaining Dogs
Dogs who play fetch solo

The world is filled with dogs who love playing fetch more than life itself, but most of them only get to play when a person is also on board. Sadly, there aren’t many people who want to play fetch every waking minute, as some dogs would prefer. For a few clever dogs, that doesn’t matter because they have figured out how to play fetch all by themselves.


Dogs playing fetch are endearing, and especially when they are doing it all on their own. Whether they are taking advantage of the stairs, a grassy hill, the power of a river or a contraption built by people to facilitate their solo endeavor, these dogs can have fun playing with a tennis ball even without a person.

Do you have a dog who plays fetch alone? If so, did you teach your dog to do that or was it something he figured out on his own?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Importance of 'Drop It'
A Colorado woman is inadvertently slashed by her knife wielding dog.
"Drop it" is one of the basic behaviors I think every dog should know. Along with a reliable recall, relinquishing an object on cue is important for safety. While it's useful for getting your favorite pair of shoes back from your dog's mouth, it's also critical if your pup has picked up something dangerous or toxic. The "drop it" cue would've been really helpful for Celinda Haynes who learned the hard way that bribery doesn't always work.

Last month Celinda's Labrador Retriever, Mia managed to steal a sharp paring knife from the kitchen counter. Celinda tried to entice Mia with a treat to drop the knife, but ended up getting sliced by the blade.

"When Mia went over to eat the treat, she ran the knife across my arm and cut a big old gash about four inches long," Celinda explained.

But when Celinda went to Platte Valley Medical Center in Colorado to have the wound treated, the staff didn't believe her story. Deputy Zach Johnson was sent to investigate the case as possible domestic violence, but concluded that it really was the family dog, Mia.

"I've been in law enforcement a long time," Zach said. "You just can't make this stuff up."

Mia is a very energetic puppy, and at the young age of one, Celinda will have plenty of time to teach her some new tricks. If you're looking to train a "drop it" cue, check out this page from Victoria Stillwell. 

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Changing Burial Laws
New York becomes the latest state to allow people and pets to be buried alongside each other.
To dog lovers, our pups are our family. So it's no surprise that a growing number of people want to be close to their pets after they pass away. Most states don't make it easy, but New York just joined the growing trend to accommodate pet lovers by revisiting burial laws.

Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law allowing New Yorkers to be buried with the cremated remains of their pet. Cemeteries can still opt out since some would be prohibited to do so for religious reasons.

"This legislation will roll back unnecessary regulation and give cemeteries the option to honor the last wishes of pet lovers across New York," said the Governor.

Before this new law, New Yorkers could have their ashes buried with their pups in a pet cemetery. But even that was threatened in 2011 when the state's Division of Cemeteries banned the practice. However they reversed the decision months later after a public outcry and potential lawsuit. At Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, there are over 500 people's ashes buried alongside their pets, clearly demonstrating the need for a change in the law.

Now that pets have been becoming an established part of the family, more states are changing their laws. In 2014, Virginia passed legislation that permits pets and people to be buried side by side, as long as they're not in the same grave or coffin. And last year, Massachusetts introduced a bill that would allow the state's cemeteries to designate land for people and pets to be buried alongside each other. Other states with existing pet-human burial laws include Pennsylvania and Florida.

Admittedly I haven't given much thought to my own burial plans, but I do think the trend in these laws is a good thing. Burials are important to many people for cultural, spiritual, or religious reasons. It only makes sense that in a country where we're so close to our pets, we are allowed to be buried together.

 

 

News: Guest Posts
Describing Your Dog
Can you do it with a simple phrase?

Sometimes, people tell me who their dogs are with such concise and clever accuracy that their explanations stay with me forever. Describing complex individuals of any species takes insight and skill, but to capture the essence of someone with just one phrase is particularly challenging. Most of the time, the phrases people use are positive, but a few may seem derogatory. Let me assure that even the ones that aren’t obviously complimentary were expressed with such love that I know the guardians meant them in the nicest possible way. Perhaps you’ve had or met a dog who matches one my favorite explanations of who a dog truly is.
 

  • The little general
  • Mindlessly happy
  • A wise old man
  • If chasing tennis balls were a job, she’d be a workaholic
  • Wheeeee!
  • His trust is absolute
  • She was a bitch but I loved her
  • She has never met a stranger
  • This dog is an acquired taste
  •  “Oh boy oh boy oh boy, what are we going to do today?”
  • All heart, no brain

How would you describe the essence of your dog’s personality in a single phrase?

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