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News: Guest Posts
Bad Dog Behavior is Not Charming
Let’s celebrate dogs like Lassie instead of like Marley

There’s no doubt that a certain amount of impishness can be delightful, and it’s easy to be amused by it. For example, many people have understandably laughed at Marley’s escapades in the book or the movie he inspired. Yet, I think it is really important to keep in mind that what we are laughing at—destructiveness, pulling on the leash, eating jewelry, greeting people by putting paws on their shoulders and running away—is actually straight-up undesirable behavior.

It has become increasingly common in the dog world to excuse ill-mannered dogs who lack any kind of training skills by saying they are just like Marley. It’s as though that validates the behavior, making it not just acceptable, but enchanting. Often, guardians who use this excuse could improve the dog’s behavior with some effort and education, but they don’t bother. Instead, they seem to find any obnoxious (or even dangerous) behavior hysterical. It’s an unfortunate cultural development to value behavior stemming from bad manners and a lack of training. Regrettably, it is has become some kind of competition about whose dog is the worst and most incorrigible, to the point that many people aspire to having a dog who acts “like Marley”.

It’s not that I expect dogs to be perfect or that I expect guardians to act as professional trainers in all their free time or raise a model dog. I’ve seen plenty of dogs do things that I wish they wouldn’t and understand all too well how hard it is to teach dogs to be polite canine citizens. I also get that although many dogs are generally good and can learn to be reasonably calm and well-behaved with even a little training, it is much harder for some dogs. There are plenty of dogs who have impulse control issues, and whose natural behavior doesn’t lend itself to high praise. That doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy dogs who struggle to be their very best selves as well as dogs who are naturally easy keepers. Marley was the most rambunctious puppy in the litter and suffered an extreme fear of thunderstorms, so it’s unfair for anyone to claim that Marley’s issues could have been resolved with simple training. It’s also true that more training would have helped.

Although absurd situations based on dreadful behavior are bound to happen, we shouldn’t accept such incidents as the best and most fun part of life with dogs. The occasional story of generally nice dog having an “oops” moment can certainly provide a good laugh. It’s normal to tell tales that begin, “Well, there was this one time. . .” What’s not normal is having all the stories about a dog be about something horrible. Such stories should be the exception rather than the descriptions of a dog’s day-to-day actions.

Sure, if a dog runs into the clothesline one time and races through the neighborhood in a panic dragging towels across everyone’s gardens, that can become a good story. However, if there are a dozen stories from the last month or so about similar incidents, that’s a problem. If your neighbors all think, “Oh, no! What now?” when they see your dog—once again—off leash, out of control and being destructive, it should be more alarming than funny to all of us.. There is a high risk of harm to dogs who bolt out the front door, ingest inedible items or destroy household objects, among other “bad” behaviors.

I object to the glorification of impolite, out-of-control behavior, and celebrating the most devilish aspects of our canine friends. It can be tiresome to have people find it endlessly charming when dogs are not trained and have bad manners, especially when the humor aspect is used as an excuse not to teach their dog how to behave in an acceptable manner. The Bark Magazine co-founder and editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska receives many submissions about “dogs who are worse than Marley” and detailing situations the people invariably call hilarious. It’s common for people to describe the incidents as being scenarios much like those Marley got himself into, but point out that the dog in this story is “even worse” than Marley. Many of these pitches reveal guardians who are uninterested in training and have no knowledge of how to teach their dogs anything, including basic manners. The result is a lot of untrained and ill-mannered dogs doing things that aren’t funny at all. In part because of the success of Marley and Me—both the book and the movie—dreadful behavior has not just been excused, but celebrated.

I wish good canine manners were more interesting to people than bad canine manners, the occasional story of mischief by a generally well-behaved dog notwithstanding. I’d like to see more people brag about their dog’s stay, their new trick, how they greet visitors, or any other example of training and good social skills rather than about problem behavior. It may very well be the dog trainer in me, but I remain hopeful that there are a lot of us out there who are more charmed by good behavior and good manners than by bad behavior and bad manners.

Dog's Life: Humane
Delaware Governor Signs Dog Breed Bias Bill
The state makes a big step towards ending discrimination against breeds like Pit Bulls.
Last week Delaware Governor John Carney signed a bill that prohibits cities in the state from enacting breed specific legislation. The law, introduced by Representative Charles Potter and State Senator David Sokola, stipulates that state regulations protecting the public from dangerous dogs cannot define criminal liability based solely on breed specific criteria. Determining whether a dog is dangerous or not will be based on the individual's behavior, not by breed. This means that cities and other municipalities can't enact any breed-specific ordinances or regulations. Animal control teams and shelters also won't be allowed to discriminate against certain breeds for the purposes of facilitating adoption.

"The passage of HB 13 is a resounding victory for dogs and dog lovers, not only in Delaware but across the country, as the momentum against breed discriminatory legislation continues to build," said Best Friends Animal Society legislative attorney Lee Greenwood. "The simple truth is that breed discrimination doesn't work and the safest laws focus on the behavior of the dog and the dog owner."

Other states with similar legislation include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Arizona. These laws prevent local governments from creating breed-specific legislation, but doesn't mean that bully breeds are welcomed everywhere in these states.

For instance, as Sassafras Lowrey wrote last week, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which manages the nations oldest and largest public housing program, has had a breed specific ban for their low income apartments since 2009. New York State Assemblyman and Pit Bull adopter, Ken Zebrowski, is spearheading legislation that would make this illegal, preventing landlords in public housing from discriminating against specific breeds.

Nevertheless, Delaware's new law is a huge step in the right direction!

 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet and House Sitting Exchange
Web site allows members to trade pet and house sitting for free lodging.

Unfortunately I can't always take my pups with me on vacation. It's doubly difficult because I hate to leave them behind and I also miss having a dog to cuddle with when I get back home (or in this case, my hotel room). A web site has aimed to solve these issues while saving people money.

Rachel Martin and Andy Peck felt a lot of pet lovers avoided traveling because they didn't want to leave their pups in a kennel. So they founded TrustedHousesitters, a site where animal lovers can find pet and house sitters or places to pet and house sit at. Launched in 2010, the site now now has thousands of members in over 140 countries. Members pay $119 per year to be able to use the TrustedHousesitters. Rachel and Andy's favorite house sit has been watching Labradors Rufus and Gracie at a home in Breckenridge, Colorado. The trip wasn't all about the dogs as Rachel learned to snowboard while on that vacation.

To be as safe as possible, members rely on Trust Badges, earned by levels of checks and verifications, such as doing a criminal background check, and user reviews. Members can also request third party references. To pet sit at the more desirable homes, it's known that members must have a series of good ratings, which can be achieved by doing a few local pet sitting stints first. Amazing opportunities have included oceanfront lodging in Australia, a central London flat, and a private villa in the Spanish countryside. There are also long-term listings in case you want to relocate or test out a new city.

Members say TrustedHousesitters is a cheap way to travel and stay in nice houses, while ensuring your pets are cared for by fellow animal lovers in the comfort of their own home. It's also a great way to keep your pets on their normal schedule as much as possible.

TrustedHousesitters certainly isn't for everyone. While I really love the idea behind the web site, I can't imagine leaving my dogs in the hands of someone I don't know well. And not all pets will be comfortable with a stranger living in their home and caring for them. But with the right people and dogs, it's a great option.

What do you think about a pet and house sitting exchange?

 

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Cassie

Dog's name and age: Cassie, 3 years

Adoption Story:

Cassie, was waiting for a forever home at a rescue group in the Sacramento, CA area. Her soon-to-be people had made an appointment to meet another dog that day, but that dog had been adopted just before they arrived. Lucky for Cassie, they found her so friendly with other dogs and people with such a big heart it won them over!

Cassie's Interests:

Cassie loves meeting her friends at the Rescues United For Fun (RUFF) Meetup at either Pt. Isabel or Crissy Field, in California. It's this group that has given her the title of "social director" since she shares her love with all! Cassie willingly shares toys, food, and water since it's the interaction she enjoys the most.

She has a best friend and role model, Max, a golden retriever that she adores and plays tug of war with, and she admires her walking buddy, Duke, a labrador, and his human, Michelle. She also loves her neighbor, Mary. Cassie will run at breakneck speed 2 blocks to jump in the mail truck when she sees Jim, the mailman coming.

Cassie loves to go for rides in the car because there are always new people to meet when they stop. When she goes outside, she smells the flowers blooming on the back step before continuing on her way. Like most dogs, she loves digging in the sand and running on the beach. She likes meeting people on the street in San Francisco. And, nothing would make her happier than meeting you and your dog!

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Should we call these canine behaviors calming signals?

“Calming signals” is a term coined by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas to group a large number of behavior patterns that she says dogs use to avoid conflict, to prevent aggression, to calm other dogs down and to communicate information to other dogs and to people. Since the publication of Rugaas’ 2006 book On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, it has been a popular idea that actions such as lip-licking, sniffing the ground, yawning, scratching, looking away, play bowing, sitting down, lying down, softening the eyes, blinking and even sneezing (along with many others) are social signals that help calm down those around them.

Rugaas’ observations are compelling, and many dog trainers and behaviorists, including me, have learned a lot from her work. However, the term “calming signals” entered the lexicon without much analysis, which is problematic. Using a term that ascribes functionality to behavior patterns prior to scientifically testing whether or not that’s true creates challenges, and is a big no-no in ethology. One problem is that claiming that certain behaviors are “calming signals” creates a bias such that people tend to accept that this is, in fact, what they do. The idea that these signals are functioning in this way is an intriguing hypothesis. However, in the years since Rugaas shared her ideas with the dog community, there have yet to be adequate tests of their function, or substantial efforts to determine if the various behaviors have different functions. Rather, the idea that they were calming signals was broadly accepted without being subject to rigorous scientific study.

There is, however, a recent pilot study investigating the function of the behavior patterns that have all been placed into the category of calming signals. The purpose of the study “Analysis of the intraspecific visual communication in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris): A pilot study on the case of calming signals” was to assess if the behaviors that have been called calming signals are used to communicate, and if they de-escalate potentially aggressive situations between dogs. In the study, 24 dogs were observed interacting two at a time. Dogs interacted with familiar and unfamiliar dogs of both sexes.

Throughout the course of the study, 2130 calming signals were observed, with the most common being head turning, nose licking, freezing and turning away. Dogs were more likely to display calming signals when they were interacting with the other dog compared with when they were not interacting, which does suggest a communicative role. It does not prove it, though, as it is possible that these behaviors indicate stress and that they are performed during social interactions more often than they are performed outside of that context because such interactions are stressful. In fact, most of the signals that Rugaas has called “calming signals” are also considered indicators of stress.

More calming signals were displayed when dogs were interacting closely (within 1.5 body lengths of the dog displaying) than when interacting at a greater distance. Overall, more calming signals were exhibited during interactions with unfamiliar dogs than with familiar dogs, but licking the other dog’s mouth was more frequently observed when the other dog was familiar.

During the interactions in the study, there were 109 instances of aggressive behavior. A calming signal never came right before the aggressive behavior, but 67% of the time, at least one calming signal followed the aggressive behavior. In over 79% of the instances in which a calming signal followed the start of the aggression, there was a de-escalation in the aggressive behavior. These data are consistent with the idea that these behaviors function to calm other dogs down and lessen their aggression, but the work is too preliminary to conclude this for certain. More research is needed to explore other possibilities, such as the role of stress in these behaviors and their effects, and the potentially different functions of each of the dozens of behaviors that have been lumped under the term “calming signals”.

This is a pilot (or preliminary) study, and though the results are intriguing, they are in no way a definitive test of the function of “calming signals” in dogs, which the authors correctly point out in their paper. Though this research makes an attempt to test the often-accepted hypothesis that many behavior patterns function as calming signals that de-escalate aggression, its biggest flaw is that it lacks a very important control. De-escalation of aggression is quite common, and in this study, the authors report the frequency of de-escalation after a calming signal, but do not report on the rate of de-escalation in the absence of a calming signal. Part of the problem is that with so many possible calming signals, it is quite likely that one will be exhibited as a response to aggression. (Dogs are unlikely to have no reaction to such behavior.)

To evaluate the function of the behaviors, it is necessary to know the frequency with which the aggression de-escalates in the absence of any calming signals. We know that there was often de-escalation in the absence of calming signals because the authors report that in quite a few cases, the dog on the receiving end of the aggression walked or ran away, increasing the distance between the two dogs, which was often associated with a de-escalation in aggression. Fleeing is not considered a calming signal, and yet when the distance increased between the two dogs, there was also usually a de-escalation of the aggression. Future research should explore the differences in behavior in cases in which there was de-escalation and in which there was not.

News: Guest Posts
Working to End Dog Breed Ban in Public Housing
Ernie, the pit bull mix who inspired Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski to sponsor a bill to disallow breed-specific bans by landlords.

New legislation being introduced in New York could change the lives of dog loving low income New Yorkers dogs, and very likely the thousands of dogs in NYC area shelters and rescue organizations. New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, himself a rescued Pit Bull owner is spearheading legislation that would prevent landlords in public housing from discriminating against any specific breed of dog.

Currently, the New York City Housing Authority or NYCHA which manages the nations oldest and largest public housing program providing low income apartments to over 400,000 New Yorkers has had a breed specific ban in place since 2009. When that ban took effect 115 dogs, mostly Pit Bulls were surrendered to Animal Control, 49 of whom were euthanized. NYCHA housing as explained by the Mayor’s Alliance For NYC Animals “restricts specific breeds, including Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans, either pure- or mixed-breed.” The breed ban actually impacts over twenty breeds (including some fairly rare ones) and dogs mixed of any of those breeds

Breeds and Breed Mixes Currently banned from NYCHA Housing: Akita Inu, Alangu Mastiff, Alano Español, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Argentine Dogo, Bedington Terrier, Boston Terrier, Bull and Terrier Bull Terrier, Bully Kutta, Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux, Dogo Sardesco, English Mastiff, Fila Brasileiro, Gull Dong, GullTerr, Irish Staffordshire Bull, Korea Jindo Dog, Lottatore Brindisino, Neapolitan Mastiff, Perro de Presa Canario (Canary dog), Perro de Presa Mallorquin (Cade Bou), Shar Pei, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tosa Inu

Assemblyman Zebrowski’s proposal will be discussed by the New York State Assembly’s Housing Committee in the coming weeks, and then will go before the full Assembly followed by the Senate. In an interview with ABC news Assemblyman Zebrowski said: “You can have no dogs, you can have a restriction on the number of dogs, you can have some sort of subjective criteria to evaluate the dog, make sure they are not dangerous…. You just can't banish all of one type of breed.”

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tips and Etiquette for Vacationing with Dogs
Stay safe and courteous when sharing your next trip with your pup.

Earlier this week I wrote about planning a trip with your pets. This article will cover tips and etiquette for vacationing with your dogs.

Car Rides

  • Remember to take enough breaks to let your dogs stretch their legs and potty.
  • Have snacks and water handy so your pups don’t get hungry or dehydrated. 
  • Be careful when leaving your dogs in the car when it’s warm out. Cars can heat up to a dangerous level even if it’s only 60 degrees outside.
  • Create a Rescue Tube to attach to crates with important information that would be invaluable in a car accident.

Hotel

  • When you arrive, check the floor carefully for medication. Dangerous pills are often dropped under the bed or behind nightstands.
  • If your dog will spend time on the bed, use a blanket to guard against fur.
  • Don’t leave your pets in the room unattended.  This is against most hotels’ pet policies.
  • Be mindful of people and dogs you encounter in the hallways and elevator. As hard as it is to believe, not everyone wants to say hi to our pets!
  • Pick up after your dog. People who don’t scoop poop are a major reason why many hotels start banning pets.

Parks

  • Abide by park leash laws, as tempting as it is to let your dogs run around outside.
  • Don’t leave bagged poop on the side of the trail. Even biodegradable bags take a long time to degrade. It’s preferable to carry out the bag until you see a trash can or burry the poop (without the bag) off the trail.
  • Follow trail etiquette, such as yielding to passing hikers and keeping your pup close and under control.

Miscellaneous 

  • Before you leave on your trip, make sure microchips and identification tags are updated with your current cell phone number since that will be your main point of contact.
  • Carry a photo of your dogs so that you have it handy in case one of them gets lost.
  • Look up the closest emergency hospital to the hotels you’ll be staying at along the way. This way you’re not scrambling to find a veterinarian if something happens.

Hope you and your pups enjoy a summer full of exciting adventures!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Doormats
Enhancing the neighborhood one house at a time

I love my neighborhood because it is unpretentious, the wide streets have sidewalks and it’s full of dog lovers. Besides the large number of dogs out on walks, the most obvious sign of that is the popularity of dog-themed welcome mats. My favorite is the one that says, “We’re so excited to see you we don’t know whether to pee on the floor or tear up the couch,” though the classic “Wipe Your Paws” is a close second.

My next door neighbors recently purchased the fashionable, “Ask not for whom the dog barks, it barks for thee.” Around the corner I just saw a doormat that reads, “Please remove your shoes. The dog needs something to chew on.” I got a chuckle when I visited a neighbor who was just putting out a new mat that reflects the state of things in her house: “Our dog flunked out of obedience school. He’s back, living here at home.” I laughed a little harder when she told me that she almost bought the one that said, “Ring the doorbell and let me sing you the song of my people. –The Dog”.

We’ve come a long way since the only dog-related expression one saw outside of someone’s door was “Beware of Dog”.  Today, you are far more likely to see a welcome mat that says, “We like big mutts and we cannot lie” or “It’s all fun and games until someone ends up in a cone.” It’s quite common to welcome people into a house with a mat that says, “Welcome Diversity” and features a graphic with dogs of different shapes and sizes. Another option I’ve seen multiple times is the one that lets people know the inhabitants value “Peace, Love & Muddy Paws”.

Does your welcome mat pay homage to the canine members of your family?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Planning a Pet Friendly Vacation
Tips for devising a summer road trip with your pup.

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer vacations, so it’s time to plan a road trip with the entire family—and that includes our pups!

Planning Destinations and Activities
As a starting point, I usually ask around for new vacation ideas. Facebook, dog training clubs, veterinarians, and groomers are good places for recommendations. In addition you can search online and visit Go Pet Friendly’s Destination Guides, which is a great source for sparking brainstorming. 

My favorite trips involve the outdoors, especially when I can bring my dogs. Pet Friendly Travel has a helpful list of pup friendly recreation areas, beaches, and National Parks across the United States.

Prepping for Car Travel
Road trips involve a decent amount of time in the car, so it’s important to consider how your dog will ride. A crate or specially designed seat belt (that is well fitted) will help keep pets safe in the event of an accident, while also preventing distractions for the driver.

The crate or seat belt should be set up in the backseat, away from airbags which can be fatal. The cargo area of hatchbacks and SVUs isn’t ideal because of crumple zones, but I often put a crate there because I don’t have space elsewhere with multiple people in the car.

Also, be sure to get your dog used to their restraint ahead of time by easing them into longer rides. You don’t want a multi-hour road trip to be their first time in a crate or seat belt!

Accommodations
I haven’t had difficulty finding pet friendly accommodations as hotels realize the growing market for vacationing with dogs.

Web sites like Orbitz and Booking.com have the ability to filter hotel search results by pet friendly accommodations. There are also specialty web sites like Go Pet Friendly and Bring Fido, which only list dog friendly lodging, including campgrounds.

Online reviews are invaluable for narrowing down choices. Bring Fido has some reviews, but I also check TripAdvisor since there are millions of users and you can search reviews by keywords such as “dog” or “pet.”

Planning the Route
When planning a road trip with my dogs, I’ll look at the route and do an online search for pet friendly spots in the major cities we’ll pass through. I also like Go Pet Friendly's Road Trip Planner which lets you map your route and view pet friendly hotels, restaurants, parks, and stores along the way. PetFriendlyRestaurants.com is another source for places to eat.

Many restaurants with outdoor seating with allow pets, but not all. Also policies can change, so be sure to call ahead to confirm.

Happy planning and enjoy your next trip!

News: Guest Posts
Dogs and Surprises on Newscasts
People on live TV forced to roll with it

Dogs occasionally end up on the air during live newscasts and the people on screen have to make the best of it. In this Russian broadcast, it does not appear as though the anchorwoman is too thrilled. She sounds alarmed but tries to make the best of it, even petting the dog. However, she looks startled when he jumps up on the news desk and messes with her notes. According to the description of the video, she says, “This is why I like cats.”

The weatherman in the next video acts more like a dog lover, responding in a generally relaxed and dog savvy way to sharing the screen with a canine. This man easily throws the toy with both his left hand and his right, and knows that the fake throw is a good move when the dog fails to see the actual toss. He adjusts well to simultaneously playing fetch with the dog who joined him and continuing with the weather forecast, even making a joke about men not usually being able to multi-task.

In this last video, the weatherman purposely had the dog on air with him, but he definitely should have heeded the common advice to avoid screen time with children or dogs. The risk of them stealing the scene is ever-present! In this case, the dog was a visitor from a local humane society, and a high energy, mouthy adolescent more skilled at play than basic manners. In the first 30 seconds of the clip, the dog chewed through his leash, leapt up on the man four times, and engaged in a vigorous game of tug with what was left of the leash. This poor man was completely distracted, and looked a bit foolish as the dog got the better of him. To be fair, he didn’t let it get him down. He was laughing—apparently enjoying the dog and his antics.

There’s a certain spirit of adventure when it comes to live TV, and these dogs are proof that you never know what is going to happen!

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