Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs and humans follow similar path
If you think that your dog has changed in his tendency to pay attention to you over time, you are probably right. A new study is the first to describe the developmental changes in dogs’ attention over their entire life.
In the study “Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans”, scientists studied 145 Border Collies from the ages of 6 months to almost 14 years old. Dogs were placed in 7 groups, reflecting these developmental periods: late puppyhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, late adulthood, senior, and geriatric.
The researchers concluded that dogs (at least of this breed) show predictable changes in attentiveness, which they define as the ability to choose to process some environmental stimuli over others, as they age. Their major findings were:
Have you noticed changes in your dog’s attention habits over time?
with a dog as your muse
There was a piece in the New York Times recently that provides us with yet another reason why living with dogs is so good for us. Gretchen Reynolds, their Phys Ed columnist, reviewed a current study that show how wonderful walking is to our creative process—a form of exercise that all dog people can relate to (at least 2 to 3 times/day). The salubrious effects of exercise, in general, have been found in “multiple studies that have shown that animals and people usually perform better after exercise on tests of memory and executive function, which is essentially the ability to make decisions and organize thoughts.”
But how about our more creative thoughts? So while we all have experienced thought-bubbles popping up while showering, it also seems that a leisurely walk can also stir creative juices.
Dr. Marily Oppezzo a researcher at Stanford studied this recently. She found that the students who were tested after a walk generated about 60 percent more uses for an object, and the ideas were both “novel and appropriate.” She thinks that “It may be that walking improves mood” and that perhaps creativity blooms more easily within a buoyed-up mind. Or walking may divert energy that otherwise would be devoted, intentionally or not, to damping down wild, creative thought, she said. “I think it’s possible that walking may allow the brain to break through” some of its own, hyper-rational filters, she said. (Bring on those doggies!)
Has a walk with your dog inspired any special creative idea?
For Brody, who is 72 years old, her adoption of a puppy was something that she put a lot of thought into. Her first column (a must-read one) about young Max generated more reader comments than anything she had written before—and she has been writing this column since 1976!
Many of the comments came from older people who had adopted dogs, and one, from a retired judge, was especially poignant:
“At age 85, I begged my wife like a 7-year-old to let me have a dog,” he wrote. “We acquired a rescue dog we’ve since learned is a Lhasa Apso. If I leave him for a moment to take out the garbage, he greets me as though I had been at sea for years. None of my children ever demonstrated such love. Without him, I would just be some old guy walking the streets, but everybody stops me to pet him, ask his breed, and just be friendly.
“If I were in my 20s, I think I would be getting marriage proposals just because of him. Dog-owning has its burdens, as you’ve stated, but of all the decisions I have made in this life, next to marrying my wife, this was the very best.”
Brody also points out that having a puppy, especially as a senior, can also be challenging, especially during the housebreaking stage, and while the health and social benefits are easily touted, as she did so well in the first column, there can be the “burdens” as well. Wisely one of her readers chastised her for not suggesting that “older people opt for a dog who is already housebroken.”
I would like to suggest that a senior might a senior dog. I know that there are shelters that provide this kind of service, matching a senior with a senior, and offering discounted adoption fees too. Does your shelter have similar programs?
News: Guest Posts
On the whole, human breeders have not improved on nature.
On a flight last year, I sat next to a woman from India on her way to London from New York, where she had been visiting her first grandchild When she heard I wrote about dogs, she turned her attention to the one aspect of her daughter and son-in-law’s life she could not understand—their dog. On her walks around Central Park with the dog and her granddaughter, the dog drew the most attention and comment.
He was a black, blue-eyed French Bulldog for whom they had paid $3,000 to a veterinarian/breeder in New Jersey. They had already spent that much again on veterinary bills in less than a year.
Defenders of the purebred dog industry talk a lot about responsible breeders, and I once tended to follow their lead. But shortly after the Atlantic Monthly published my article, “The Politics of Dogs,” in March 1990 [It is hard to find on-line because of a class-action lawsuit regarding electronic rights, but it can be found.], I began to hear from people who had, like this couple, gone to a responsible breeder only to end up with a dog with problems. Many of the genetic conditions to which pedigreed dogs are prey do not follow strict lines of inheritance—they skip generations or move through aunts and uncles. They do sort by breed, but that is because those breeds have arisen from a small number of founders—in short, they are inbred, dangerously so, and this tight knit extended family shares most strongly genetic diseases and physical characteristics. Outer beauty conceals inner flaws.
French Bulldogs, for example, are prone to von Willebrand’s Disease, a blood disorder, as well as spinal problems, a cleft palate, and heat stroke. Many airlines no longer carry brachycephalic breeds—those with pushed in faces—because they have a tendency to die in flight from breathing problems related to overexcitement.
In light of that, the woman asked, why do so many people spend so much money on these dogs? This conversation occurred months before the sale of a Tibetan mastiff puppy at a luxury pets’ mart in Hangzhou, China, to a Qingdao property developer for 12-million yuan (about $1.9 million), reportedly a record price for a dog. It is easy here to invoke the 19th and early 20th century economist, Thorstein Veblen and his theory of conspicuous consumption.
To Veblen, such dogs are objects of conspicuous consumption, animals with no intrinsic value that nonetheless are made valuable by the fact that someone goes to great lengths to obtain and maintain them despite or because of the expense involved in doing so. Put another way, possession of such a being marks you as a person with so much money that you can obtain and maintain an animal with no useful talent.
That would certainly be the case with the Tibetan mastiff, which according to some assays is merely a reconstruction of a once mighty landrace of large livestock protection dog, which it resembles the way a teddy bear resembles a grizzly cub.
Clearly spending that much on a dog must be considered conspicuous consumption of the most extreme sort. It is also a mordant commentary on the Chinese Revolution, for half a century ago, Mao Zedong sought to rid China of pet dogs he considered objects of bourgeois recidivism—that is, conspicuous consumption.
Currently the recidivists have won. In China and other countries with a growing urban middle class, people are buying more and more dogs, eschewing their local dogs for Western pure breeds. To them, the pedigree signifies quality.
When Veblen used the Pekinese as an example of an object of conspicuous consumption, purebred dogs were relatively new on the scene and well beyond the means of most people. A century later, the dogs are no longer rare, nor are their prices, even at $1,000, so outrageous, especially when buyers are convinced they are getting excellent bloodlines, superior quality, and specific behavioral characteristics.
Those beliefs fuel demands for purebred dogs produced by commercial breeders—let’s just call anyone engaged in the large scale “production” of puppies for profit, a commercial, or mass, breeder, and recognize that some are better than others, which is not an endorsement of any of them.
Demand for purebred dogs shot up following World War II when returning veterans, establishing their lives in burgeoning suburbs, sought them out as accompaniments to their new homes, cars, and families. The pedigree provided by the rapidly expanding American Kennel Club, the largest registry of dogs in the world, proved these acquisitions were not the old family mutt, but refined and sophisticated pets. Demand fueled the growth of mass breeders, pet stores, dog shows, regulations to fence and leash dogs, and unwanted dogs.
I estimate that by some point in the 1990s half of all dogs In America were purebred, and a great many of them were from mass breeders. That was a problem because they too frequently bred dogs without regard for their temperament or genetic soundness and failed to socialize them during the critical first three to four months. If dogs are not socialized to humans during that time, they might have difficulty ever becoming fully socialized and often have behavioral issues.
The problem with these breeders has been known for decades and several national animal advocacy groups have campaigned against them for years without much result. Although there are many political explanations for the failure to end the retail trade in dogs, these groups have not invested in the sort of intense, dedicated campaign required to shut it down.
Instead, we get things like the Humane Society of the United States forming a group, Breeder’ Advisory and Resource Council, to advise it on matters relating to responsible dog breeding.
Mass breeders are a significant part of the problem of purebred dogs, but not the only one. My colleague and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff, has argued for a full halt to breeding more dogs as long as millions of perfectly fine, adoptable animals await new homes in shelters or the homes of breed rescue group volunteers. With so many dogs in need, he says, the compassionate and humane thing for someone wanting a dog is to adopt one.
I believe he is right, and I would add that the breeding of dogs as it is now done should stop until ways can be found to minimize the risk of a dog being born with an inherited deformity or illness. That includes behavioral problems. These conditions disproportionately seem found in puppy mill dogs, but not exclusively. Some of these conditions, especially cytoskeletal ones like brachycephaly are so extreme that puppies must be delivered by caesarean section and subsequently have difficulty breathing normally and dissipating heat. The book on these inherited ailments is long and growing longer. Most are due to the heavy inbreeding and common use of favored sires in breed formation.
It is worth remembering here, that breeds are formed through consolidation from an existing population, when a few animals are used to create the Platonic ideal of the ‘breed,’ and through amalgamation, in which representatives from several similar landraces are crossed to create the perfect representative of all.
No matter which method was followed, the resulting dog was said to represent the breed in its pure essence and be more intelligent and talented than any of its naturally breeding predecessors. With few exceptions involving specialized behaviors that have been enhanced through selective breeding, that is untrue. Nonetheless, like mantras, the histories of these new breeds and accounts of their prowess were repeated so often, they became truth—to everyone but the rulers of the American Kennel Club. For decades they have publicly maintained that the AKC issued pedigree proving that for three or more generations the dog in question is an official Chesapeake Bay Retriever or whatever the case may be does not represent quality, does not guarantee that the dog is healthy or possessed of a good temperament. They did that because they wished to avoid possible consumer lawsuits involving dogs with serious defects and flaws.
Despite those disclaimers, the AKC has continued to a promote the virtues of purebred dogs, like the problematic French Bulldog, the eleventh most popular dog it registered in 2013, and the larger English bulldog. It was the fifth most popular breed registered in 2013, even though nearly 72 percent of the bulldogs evaluated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals had crippling hip dysplasia; none could whelp naturally.
The argument is sometimes made that breeds are important biological artifacts but, in fact, over the decades breeders have altered their appearance—and perhaps their behavior—and perhaps their behavior—substantially. Many breeders say that they are attempting to improve the breed they love, but the very notion that a breed needs improvement suggests that it has problems.
Few if any breeders can predict that all puppies in a litter will be free of congenital defect, but in many cases the odds are stacked against them from the start by a plethora of problems and conditions associated with their breed. Breeders and kennel clubs should focus on ridding the breeds they love and promote of those inheritable conditions, and the way to do that is to stop engaging in dangerous breeding practices and to avoid breeding dogs who have them in their bloodlines.
Dogs deserve no less.
This post first appeared on Mark Derr's blog, Dog's Best Friend on Psychology Today. Used with permission.
News: Guest Posts
Bringing Olive Home
Chauncy dog’s fox-red fur adds a touch of warmth to his owner’s New York apartment. In the winter he wears sweaters to keep him warm; African dogs aren’t used to New England winters. On the other side of the world, Boon is exploring the sights and smells of Mumbai, his pointed ears and basenji-inspired form blends in well with the local Indian breeds.
Chauncy and Boon have travelled a long way from their native Burundi. Adopted by diplomats, aid workers and journalists, dogs from developing countries are finding their way around the world at the side of their human companions.
Adopting an East African street dog is a labor of love. East African dogs are remarkably clever animals that do not train easily. Feeding a dog in a place that lacks a culture of animal care, means all meals are hand-cooked. Visiting vets from Uganda or Belgium come to town only occasionally to provide needed check ups, vaccinations and sterilization – though often these surgeries are performed in private homes.
In 2013, I found myself in South Sudan working as a development anthropologist. Juba, the capital city, can be a lonely place full of guarded compounds and ever-running generators. When I saw Olive, a little mess of fur in the street, I knew she needed me as much as I needed her. Despite less-than-ideal living conditions, I brought the pup home.
At eight weeks, Olive was showing signs of malnutrition and her ears were so full of ticks that it took 45 minutes to clean them out. Olive also had bot flies, some of which were so large they obstructed the movements of her joints.
Despite difficult beginnings, Olive grew into a lively and loving dog with lots of energy. She loved to watch over her shoulder as she left muddy paw prints on the tile floors and even learned how to open the front door by herself.
Olive was living a comfortable life in Juba until the security situation changed dramatically. South Sudan seemed to be returning to war and shells and mortar rounds were going off less than a kilometer from our home. Expatriates had to be evacuated—no pets allowed.
Trying to remote-manage the export of a pet from a war zone is no easy feat and it took four, excruciatingly painful months to get Olive out of Juba. South Sudanese friends rallied their support and kept her fed and cared for, but she was lonely and often sat waiting by the gate as though hoping we would come home.
After a herculean effort, Olive made the journey to Nairobi where she is being papered and prepped to fly to Europe to join me. As Chauncy and Boon can attest, there is a special bond between adventure dogs and their humans. It can be difficult to understand why a poorly-paid aid worker or graduate student would go to such lengths to bring their canine companion home, particularly when their lives are built around helping people, not pets. The reality is that Olive, Boon and Chauncey remind us of how connected we are on this planet and the many ways in which protecting the most vulnerable enriches the soul. Raising an East African dog means enlisting the help of everyone around you to ensure quality of life. It introduces the care of animals to those who may otherwise never have experienced the friendship only dogs can give.
When Olive arrives in Paris she will tell a story. She will be a reminder that proves the value of even one little pup—and the impact unconditional love can have on the well being of people, even in the midst of incredible hardship.
In addition to raising funds to bring Olive home, Melyn is raising additional money for the Kenyan SPCA, working to improve the lives of animals across East Africa. Visit http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/bring-adventure-pup-home to read more about her story and what you can do to help.
News: Guest Posts
Unfortunately, this is true. I’ll explain.
Dogs are trained to sniff out a lot of things, and some of those “things” are human remains. Human remains, except those in a cemetery, are usually not out in the open; someone doesn’t want them found or there has been an accident. But bring your own Scooby Doo to the case, and you might have a fighting chance.
But how do dogs get into detection mode? Training can take many different forms, but customarily, trainers present dogs with a target odor (the smell of interest) and control odors (that are not of interest). They are trained to alert to the target odor and ignore the controls. Sometimes trainers use a scent detection board, like the one below that the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center uses when training dogs to alert to ovarian cancer.
To train dogs to identify and ultimately find a particular scent, trainers need samples. For different types of cancer, these samples might come from the blood, urine or tissue of a person with the target cancer. But what do you use if you are training a dog in human remains detection (thankfully given the innocuous-sounding acronym HRD)? If you are a HRD handler, how do you train and practice with your dog? Where do you get your, um, samples? Is this Dexter’s side gig?
One solution is to use nonhuman remains, as long as they are a suitable proxy for humans. A recent study by Cablk et al. (2012) compared the chemical compositions of decomposing tissue from a pig, cow, chicken and human. The researchers were investigating the volatile organic compounds (VOCs)—the “smell particles”—released by animals and humans.
The important question in the HRD field is: which VOCs are produced when a human body decomposes? Are they similar to or different from VOCs of decomposing animal tissue? Identifying the specific compounds—and their ratios—could help when training dogs, or in creating synthetic training samples. You know, so you don’t need a fridge full of—well, you get the picture.
When comparing decomposing animal and human tissue, the results were clear:“Although there were compounds common to both animal and human remains, the VOC signatures of each of the animal remains differed from those of humans.” Thank goodness. You are not a pig. Nor are you a cow. But yes, you are kind of a chicken: “The VOC signatures from chicken and human samples were most similar, sharing the most compounds of the animals studied.”
By contrast, VOCs in pig remains were not so similar to VOCs found in human remains. “In addition to sharing only seven of 30 human-specific compounds, an additional nine unique VOCs were recorded from pig samples, which were not present in human samples.”
HRD trainers sometimes use pig remains to train dogs, but given their VOC differences, are pig remains the best best? Is it better to train on human, synthetic human or even chicken remains?*
We don’t usually confuse humans with chickens, but this similarity we just can’t shake. It seems Marty McFly was wrong. Maybe we are chickens.
Cablk et al. 2012. Characterization of the volatile organic compounds present in the headspace of decomposing animal remains, and compared with human remains. Forensic Science International, 220, 118–125.
Hoffman et al. 2009. Characterization of the volatile organic compounds present in the headspace of decomposing human remains. Forensic Science International, 186, 6–13.
This article first appeared on Dog Spies, Scientific American. Reprinted with permission
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lucky Chihuahua is saved after being abandoned on the highway
A highway during rush hour is the last place any of us wants to be. But on Friday, that's exactly where a tiny Chihuahua found herself abandoned--on a I-680 freeway divider outside of San Francisco during commuting time. Fortunately, California Highway Patrol officer, Alex Edmon, spotted the terrified pup and coaxed her to safety using a protein bar. Freeway, as Alex named her, was still shaking when she got to the animal shelter, but has since come out of her shell.
The Highway Patrol shared a photo of her rescue and tweeted, "This little dog needed some help off I-680 freeway today. We're glad she's safe. We're big on saving lives."
They're now investigating how Freeway got in her position since she couldn't have gotten there by herself. California Highway Patrol Public Information Officer John Fransen says unfortunately it's not uncommon for unwanted animals to be discarded on highway dividers.
As tales of Freeway's rescue made the internet rounds, Contra Costa Animal Services has already received several offers to adopt the Chihuahua. Even better, interest in adopting other animals at the same shelter has also spiked as a result of people sharing Freeway's photo. A win-win for all involved!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
We all have stories to prove it
The chain of events that led to the dog peeing on me in the middle of the night began with my children’s homework. It was an interesting and worthwhile assignment, which offers me some consolation. I hate to be peed on for no good reason!
The kids were tasked with investigating leaks in our house and making some calculations about how much water was being wasted. They had to check the water meter, make sure no water would be used during the next few hours, and then check the meter again to see if any water was being lost. We thought that it would be easiest to do this overnight when nobody would accidently wash their hands (an unlikely occurrence that only Murphy’s Law could make happen during the crucial period or anytime) or use water in any other way.
Just before bedtime after everybody had filled a water bottle, brushed their teeth and gone to the bathroom, we deactivated the icemaker in our freezer and the kids checked the meter. All we needed to do was go to bed and wait until morning for them to take a second reading of the meter.
Tragically, I awoke at midnight really needing to use the bathroom. Though I could of course have just gone but not flushed, I lacked confidence in myself. I don’t know why, but it is ridiculously hard for me to do this, and the risk that I would go, then flush automatically was too high in my mind.
“I’m up anyway, so I might as well take the dog out to relieve himself, and I can go out there,” was my thought.
Marley and I went outside and he wandered over to his favorite potty spot, and I picked a place for myself by some bushes. Still occupied with my own mission, I failed to notice the dog come around behind me until it was too late. I only became aware of his presence when he had already lifted his leg and I felt the warm stream of dog urine hit me in the lower back.
Unable to shower because of the water leak investigation assignment, I dried my back with paper towels and then used about a pint of hand sanitizer on the area before going back to bed. Though I was a little disgusted, it’s really not that big a deal considering the amount of vomit, pee and poop all of us who spend time with dogs have probably cleaned up over the years.
Besides, I found it interesting that Marley seemed to be over marking my urine with his own. Many dogs pee over other dogs’ pee, and even over the urine of men, but some dogs ignore urine from women and from kids. Unfortunately for me, Marley is not one of them.
Pet-friendly shelters can be lifesavers for victims
We caught an interesting story on the National Public Radio's Latino USA on Sunday … the report discussed the connection between domestic violence and pets. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NVADV) finds evidence that many women at risk of spousal abuse refuse to leave out of fear for their pets — studies show that between 18 and 48 percent of pet-owning women at domestic violence shelters had delayed their escape from their abusers because of their pets. Providing shelter and services to victims of domestic violence that include accommodations for their pets can be key in these life or death decisions. The numbers are still small, but some shelters like New York City's Urban Resource Institute are beginning to open their doors to pets—first cats, and now dogs. Listen to how the bond between survivors and their pets is an important part of the healing process.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A N.J. shelter unknowingly matches a family with their long lost dog.
Everyone loves a good reunion, but the story of how a New Jersey family was reunited with their Pit Bull mix, Reckless, is just begging for a Hallmark movie!
Back in October 2012, Reckless bolted from home during Hurricane Sandy, leaving the James family devastated. They searched for Reckless but assumed the worst when they saw the pup's collar stuck on a fence. Adding to the tragedy, the storm also displaced the family from their home. They're still living in a hotel while waiting for repairs.
Finally last month the James family was ready to adopt a new dog and went to the Monmouth County SPCA in New Jersey to celebrate their daughter, Ally's, birthday. They met with the adoption counselor and explained the kind of dog they wanted. Based on their answers, the first canine candidate was brought into the room, who... turned out to be Reckless himself! As soon as the pup saw them, he started jumping three feet into the air and tears of joy streamed down the family's faces.
They did check the SPCA during the months following the hurricane, but Reckless didn't come in until six months ago. The shelter thinks that someone took in the scared pup after the storm, but Reckless eventually escaped and was picked up by the SPCA.
Now Reckless is back with his family and helping to make their hotel room feel a lot more like home. What an amazing story and a birthday that Ally James is sure to never forget!
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