Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog walks and burrs
Last week I veered off into some brush while walking dogs in order to maintain some distance from an untrustworthy dog coming the other way. Heading off the trail from time to time is an easy way to avoid trouble, and I don’t consider it a big deal—usually. This time, though, I managed to take the dogs straight through what must have been a burr convention. We were all covered with these annoying seeds. The soft fine hair behind their ears and along their legs picked up hundreds of them. I removed as many as I could over the hours following our little detour, using my hands as well as combs and brushes.
As I was sitting on the floor counting burrs (. . .89, 90, 91. . .173, 174, 175. . .), I remembered reading that it was a similar experience that led Swiss engineer and inventor George de Mestral to come up with the idea for Velcro®. Mestral came back from a walk with his dog, and they were both covered with burrs. He went to his microscope and observed the many tiny hooks that attached to fur or fabric fibers. Inspiration struck, and he decided to invent a hook-and-loop fastener. He called his new invention Velcro®, which he made up by combining the French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).
I did not feel inspired by my walk and the resulting grooming hassle. “Annoyed” is a far better description of my feelings during the arduous process of cleaning up the dogs. It takes so long to remove large quantities of burrs from dog fur, and there are many more satisfying ways to spend quality time with our canine friends. I felt inferior to this inventor who used the experience to come up with an idea for a product that is so beneficial to so many until I learned something more about the day he came up with his great idea.
By his own account, when Mestral returned from the walk, he ignored his dog and went right to his microscope to satisfy his own curiosity about how the burrs attached themselves to his pants. Sure, I may not have invented something useful as did this man over 60 years ago, but I did at least immediately groom the dogs.
That’s what I always do when we get them stuck to us, though Murphy’s Law usually means that it happens at the least convenient times. Years ago my dog ran through a section of burrs moments before taking him to stay with friends while I was traveling. Another time, it happened just prior to a photography session with my dog, which was unfortunate because he always looked better when his tail and ears were NOT stuck to his body with plant parts.
Has your dog ever become covered in burrs at the worst possible time?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sick nurse's pet is targeted as Spain tries to control the deadly virus.
The internet has been buzzing about Western Europe's first case of Ebola, diagnosed in a Spanish nurse on Monday. Teresa Romero, her husband, Javier, and two others were quickly ushered into quarantine. If that wasn't stressful enough for Teresa's family, the government announced yesterday that they plan to put down her dog, Excalibur, as a precaution.
Teresa and Javier objected to the decision, but the government obtained a court order that would allow them to carry out the euthanasia.
While dogs can be infected by Ebola, they do not develop symptoms or die from the disease. However, they can spread the virus to humans through licking and biting, as well as their urine and feces. When the virus is cleared from the dog, they are no longer contagious. So Excalibur could be quarantined like Javier and Teresa, but the Spanish government likely doesn't have the resources to do so (or the protocol on how to carry it out safely). I also think that this is a knee jerk reaction to mitigating the spread of Ebola, which has become a politically and emotionally charged problem.
Ebola has certainly highlighted gaps in disease control around the world. Reading about Excalibur also made me think that we could be helpless to save our pets if an outbreak happened close to home. What if I was sick in the hospital and the government ordered my dogs to be put down? It's frightening.
Animal lovers around the world are mobilizing to change the Spanish government's mind. One of the top hashtags on Twitter this morning is #SavemosaExcalibur. And a Change.org petition has been created with over 350,000 signatures so far. These social media campaigns may not sway the current decision, but I hope it inspires other governments to include pets in their emergency plans in an outbreak scenario.
I just saw a story on Huffpost about a trove of photographs that were recently found from John Kennedy's wedding to Jackie back in 1953. The photos were taken by a freelance photographer Arthur Burges, a backup shooter for the occasion. You can quickly see who our attention was drawn to in these photos and wonder who the lucky pup was and how he had such a prime spot on that memorable day.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
U.K. animal welfare organization creates a pet version of the prenup.
These days it's common for couples to sign a prenuptial agreement before getting married. While it protects money and other material assets, it makes no plan for what happens to pets after a divorce. As a result many animals end up in shelters when their parents split up. U.K. animal welfare organization Blue Cross estimates that marital conflict and relationship breakdown results in four relinquished animals each week at their shelter. They've even had cases where one person will bring in an animal without their ex's knowledge.
If we can make a plan for our bank accounts and material possessions, our dogs certainly deserve the same courtesy. So Blue Cross partnered with divorce lawyers at Lloyd Platt and Company to create a "pup nup." This document outlines who will maintain primary custody, the financial responsibility split, and visitation rights in the event of a break up.
Not only does the "pup nup" make one aspect of divorce a little easier, it also encourages responsible pet ownership by helping couples make a long term plan for their animal's care. Even if couples don't end up signing the "pup nup," just inspiring more conversations about a long term plan is a step in the right direction.
The "pup nup" template is available as a free download for anyone adding a new pet to the family.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The airline's new Paws and Relax in-flight channel is designed to soothe passengers.
Flying can be incredibly stressful these days, between getting through security, navigating crowded terminals, and squeezing into tiny economy cabin seats. So British Airways decided to soothe passengers by harnessing the calming ability of animals.
Paws and Relax, an in-flight entertainment channel dedicated to cute pet videos, launched in long-haul flights just a few weeks ago. It can be found free of charge in the in-flight library's Entertainment section. British Airways' entertainment team got the idea for the channel after reading that watching animals could lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Richard D'Cruze, the in-flight entertainment manager, says that they were looking for a way to enhance the wellbeing of passengers, while creating something that appealed to all ages.
The initial launch lineup includes popular British animated cartoon, Simon's Cat--which features funny stories of a man and his cat, BBC's The Secret Life of Cats--a documentary which follows felines fitted with cameras and GPS collars, and Animal Planet's America's Cutest Dogs--which shows footage of playing pups.
This is such a fun idea and really should help relieve the stress of flying (at least when you finally get to your seat!). I only wish Paws and Relax had launched a month earlier when I flew home on British Airways.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seeing themselves in the mirror
Peanut bounded up the stairs fully of puppy pep and sporting an expression of extreme happiness. She had never been to our house and loves to explore new places. Her light-hearted mood would likely have continued if not for the mirrors all along our closet doors. When she saw her reflection, her entire affect changed. She stiffened and barked, then charged at the mirror.
I have no idea how this dog vs mirror scenario would have played out if Lucy (another of the dogs in Peanut’s household) hadn’t come in and barked at Peanut. The puppy became more interested in Lucy than in her reflection, and came with the older dog out of the room and back down the stairs. Because Peanut seemed distressed by seeing her own image in the mirror, we closed the door to that room to keep her out.
There has been a lot of research on how animals react to seeing themselves in the mirror because it can tell us a lot about their cognitive abilities. If they recognize that the reflection is their own image, it provides evidence that they have a sense of self-awareness. If they don’t appear to do so, the results can be hard to interpret. One of the ways that this idea is explored experimentally is to expose animals to mirrors until they are familiar with them. The next step is to put a mark of paint on the animals and then give them the opportunity to look in a mirror again. If they see the reflection and attempt to touch or remove the spot of paint on their own body, scientists conclude that they are self-aware.
Much work in this area has been done on primates with great apes, but not monkeys, typically showing signs of self-awareness. Dolphins, elephants, and magpies have also “passed” this test. Dogs have not generally done well at the mirror test, though some people, including Marc Bekoff, have argued that dogs are more olfactory than visual so a scent test is more appropriate for investigating whether they are self aware. Bekoff studied his male dog’s reactions to his own urine and to the urine of other dogs and found some evidence that his dog recognizes his own urine. This concept of “mineness”—belonging to me—suggests self-awareness, but it is certainly not conclusive. The research was published in the article “Observations of scent-marking and discriminating self from others by a domestic dog (Canis familiaris): tales of displaced yellow snow.” The method has come to be known as the “Yellow Snow Test.”
We have to be careful not to assume that a failure to recognize a reflection in the mirror as oneself means a lack of a self-awareness. In addition to vision not being the proper sense to use in such a test, sometimes the problem is that the animal is too young. For example, humans generally pass this test, but babies under 18-months are confused by it.
Have you had the opportunity to observe your own dog’s response to looking in a mirror?
News: Guest Posts
My last blog post included a bit of ranting about puppy mills and the importance of purchasing puppies responsibly. While it’s unusual for me to rant two weeks in a row I simply can’t resist given what I just viewed in the September 8-15 edition ofTime magazine.
The Time cover states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids”? Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.
My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.
IF I WERE IN CHARGE
While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing will shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.
My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders believe that “designer hybrids” detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.
Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. He did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated,
I’ve done a lot of damage. I’ve created a lot of problems. Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in. For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a Poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a Poodle with a Rottweiler. How could anyone do that? Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen.
In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!
Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.
How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?
Nancy Kay, DVM
News: Guest Posts
In honor of national guide dog month, I'm reprinting excerpts of an interview I did several years ago with seven experienced blind people who've used guide dogs most of their lives. Here they compare problem solving strategies between 36 dogs representing six breeds. Compared to my usual posts, it's a lengthy conversation, but if you've lived with a Lab, Golden, German Shepherd, Aussie, Border Collie, Flat Coat, Poodle or hybrid of these breeds, you'll be fascinated by the comments.
“Because we can’t see, we don’t know the particulars of what we’re commanding our dogs to do. The dog has to stand up to us, to get it through to us that something is there that we don’t know about, then find a way to get us out of a dangerous situation. A dog that isn’t comfortable holding his ground isn’t suited to the job.”
Some blind handlers argue that there are marked differences in each breed’s approach to guide work, while others think that the traits that make good guides neutralize the larger behaviors that characterize each breed.
One blind handler who has worked with a German Shepherd for 10 years, a Lab for seven, two different Golden Retrievers for 15 years, and now has two years’ experience under his belt working with a Golden-Lab cross says that there are some physical characteristics that are different among breeds, such as the gait and how the dog feels through the harness. “Even so, the dog’s unique personality, combined with the person’s — how they work together and what they expect of each other — that’s where the differences are.”
“It’s a 50-50 relationship,” says a handler who’s worked with one Lab, two mixed-breed Labs and two Goldens, and now is partnered with a Lab-Poodle cross. “Neither one of us is in total control at any given time. Both of our lives depend on what the other one does. Neither of us may be able to make a safe street crossing alone, but together we do it gracefully."
“How my dogs dealt with obstacles isn’t, in my opinion, a function of breed-specific differences,” says a seasoned 25-year guide dog user who has partnered with an Airedale, a Border Collie mix, an Australian Shepherd and, briefly, a Siberian Husky. “My Airedale, as I recall him, was quick to generalize about the concept "obstacle” but wasn’t particularly good at scoping out his environment and making decisions in advance.” The Aussie and the Border Collie mix seemed to generalize quickly.
“The Border Collie mix had very high head carriage and was by far the very best dog I've worked when it came to overhead hazards,” he said. “The Aussie has been harder to teach naturally occurring overheads like tree limbs, but whether that's a breed thing or a result of their tendency to work with their heads a little low, I'm not sure.”
Another woman who has worked with two Shepherd guides and one Lab-Golden cross said, “In my opinion, you might say that the retrievers’ style provides more information about the specifics ofthe environment, but the Shepherds’ style makes for more efficient travel. My Shepherds, in comparison to my retriever, both typically looked farther ahead as they guided. They corrected for upcoming obstacles from a distance and our travel path was typically a smooth line. Sudden turns or stops happened only in response to an obstacle that unexpectedly crossed our intended path. My retriever cross clearly does not take the same approach. In general, this dog will stop and show me the obstacle, and he will almost always seek prompting from me on which way to go next.”
Another typical difference between dogs, explains a blind handler is their approach to routes.“Personally I find that my retrievers enjoyed familiar routes. In comparison, my Shepherd gets bored with routine, so you have to get creative with routes and mix things up,” she says.
She adds that retrievers are looking to please the handler, as if asking, “Did I do what you wanted, am I making you happy?” whereas her shepherds have been motivated by doing the job and solving the problems. “With Shepherds, it’s not so much about what pleases me as it is about pleasing themselves,” she says.
A guide dog handler who has worked with three Labs, a Lab mix, a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd explained, “If I were to generalize,” she says, “I’d say my Labs often worked up to an obstacle before deciding what to do about it, while my shepherd would decide in advance what to do, perhaps starting the turn more gradually as we approached the barrier. My Golden would stop to show me before trying to work it out.”
Eight guide dogs and 34 years later, a handler contemplated her experiences with four Labs, two Goldens, one Shepherd, and one Flat-coat Retriever. “My Flat-coat solved problems by coming to a full stop. Sometimes he would just stand there and I could feel his head moving. People said that he looked like he was weighing all the possibilities. Then he would make his decision. And in nine years of partnership he never made a mistake.”
One woman got her first German Shepherd in 1996 after working with three Labs. She says she had to learn the body language that was unique to the Shepherd. “At first I thought when my Shepherd would insist on going a certain way and I wanted to go another that she was being stubborn or willful. I soon discovered that if I acknowledged her for what she was showing me, and then asked her to go the direction I wanted to go, she was totally fine with that. My second Shepherd is the same way.”
Regardless of genealogy, each dog takes a unique approach to problem solving. “I noticed that the Aussie I’m working with now had a very strong preference for traveling on one or another side of a street when we walked home from work,” explained his handler. “Eventually, I figured out the preference stemmed from whether it was or had recently been raining. One side of the street was commercial, the other had lots of trees with branches that hung low when wet.”
“My Goldens were much more attuned to my reactions to things. If I did hit a branch, I needed only to flinch and they both acted as if they had been corrected. I would describe my Labrador as being solid, but she had the attitude that things would move for her or she would move them. She was careful, generally, but also had no compunction about moving me through some tight gaps. It wasn’t always pretty, but she would get you where you needed to go safely and with enthusiasm.”
Person and dog work as a team, each contributing to a relationship built on trust that begins during class, then deepens and broadens over time. Says a guide dog user with 35 years of experience, “I think developing trust is incumbent on the person. That’s who sets the tone of the partnership so that the dog learns to be, in essence, not just a guide, but responsible for the person’s safety.”
A blind woman who has traveled with guides since 1968 said, “My assumption is that my dog is acting to keep us safe until he proves to be distracted or is putting his agenda ahead of mine. Sure, if that sudden plunge proves to be because my Lab dove for a French fry, the appropriate correction needs to be made. Extra work to minimize that behavior may be called for, but ‘follow your dog’ has to be the first response if we are going to learn to trust and read each other. My safety depends on my ability to read their reactions and go with it and figure out the ‘whys’ later.”
“Working a guide dog is like dancing,” she explains. “And being responsive to my partner’s moves is how it works best for me. I've had had two very large Labs both with a lot of initiative. They seldom asked for my input, made quick swift movements and expected I would be able to keep up and go with them. They were more likely to try to interpose their bodies between me and muscle me out of the way or into safety. My Golden, and my small Lab were likely to be cautious and refuse to leave the curb until they determined that a car they watched was not going to move toward us.”
One man described all his dogs as having been keen observers.“They’ve all had similar complex personalities,” he says. “They enjoyed their work and have been more than willing to guide and do things such as squeeze into small spaces and stay for hours, only because I have asked them to.”
A thirty year guide dog veteran summed it up. "I've owned plenty of dogs as pets, but my relationship with the half dozen guide dogs I've worked with was different: All of my guide dogs seemed to own me rather than the other way around.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Having fun through the nose
“Tucker is serious about sniffing,” my husband said about 10 minutes after we met him, and I agreed. Tucker is an 8-month old puppy who is mostly German Shepherd, but has something else in him, too. We were watching him for a few days while his guardian attended a wedding on the east coast, and we had never met him before.
My first priority when new dogs come to our house is to make them happy here, and that involves several stages. The first step is making sure that their initial introduction at the house is a positive experience. We make sure that water is available, that they get to explore the back yard to find toys, and that every member of the family generously provides treats. If the dog is not overwhelmed and is used to leash walks, we head out for a short one as soon as the initial meet-and-greet is over.
The second step is all about finding out what makes the dog happy so we can provide it. That means figuring out what the dog does for fun and how we can help him have a good time while he is here with us. For many dogs, the fun and happiness is all about treats, and lots of exercise outside. For others, it’s a tennis ball or nothing. Most love the opportunity to chew on bones and other dog-safe items intended for this purpose. A few simply want lots of loving—petting, massage and the opportunity to be up on the bed at nap time and at night.
Tucker is all about sniffing, so the first thing I decided to do was teach him to play “Find your treat.” This is a game in which you hide treats and then instruct your dog to find them. To begin, put some treats on the floor or furniture near you without your dog seeing you do it. Say the cue “Find your treat” and tap or point to the treats. Repeat this many times until the dog starts to search for the treats as soon as you say the cue. Then, you can drop the tap or point from the process.
Once the dog is doing well at this, you can spread the treats out further, progressing to a 5-foot spread, then a 10-foot spread, and even over a broader range and in harder-to-find spots. As your dog continues to succeed at this game, you can advance to putting treats all over a whole room and then to putting treats all over several rooms before giving the cue. At first, most dogs find the treats visually, but then progress to using their nose for the task, especially if you begin to hide them.
In addition to playing “Find your treat” with Tucker, we also went on walks to new places as often as possible so that he could sniff to his heart’s content. We allowed him to choose the pace on walks so that he could take time to smell the fire hydrants. Tucker would be a great candidate for nose work, but even with no formal work, it was easy enough to satisfy his need to sniff by taking him to places full of great smells and playing search games in the house.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Shelters team up with resorts to exercise dogs and find potential adopters.
I love taking my dogs on vacation and feel like it's such a shame to leave them behind when heading on an active adventure. Recently I was researching snowboard trips for the upcoming season and stumbled upon a really cool way to get your animal fix while away from home--borrow a shelter pup!
In Utah, the Pound Puppy Hike program is a collaboration between the Red Mountain Resort and the Ivans Animal Shelter. While the main goal is to get the dogs out of their kennels for the day, there have been 30 adoptions since the program started 10 years ago. The inspiration came from resort guests, many avid dog lovers that wish their pups could join them on the beautiful mountain hikes.
The outings start at the shelter and go through breathtaking red rock cliffs and canyons. It's an easy jaunt compared to the challenging endurance hikes that most guests come to the Red Mountain Resort for, but the Pound Puppy Hike is often a trip highlight.
Southern Utah isn't the only tourist destination to take advantage of people craving a dog fix. Kauai Humane Society in Hawaii lets visitors take a canine buddy to landmarks such as Mahaulepu Beach and Waimea Canyon. They even provide poop bags, towels for the car, and an Adopt Me vest--fantastic advertising! And their Shelter Dog Field Trips have been extremely successful. Not only do the pups get to enjoy the island, approximately two visitors per week permanently adopt a pet.
Dogs Aspen in Colorado is yet another rescue organization that allows people to borrow a pup through their Rent-A-Pet program. These collaborations are just a great win-win for dog loving humans and shelter canines alike.
Would you borrow a pup on your vacation?
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