We just got this wonderful note and video from Tamandra Michaels, a perfect representative for our slogan, Dog Is My Co-Pilot. She writes:
"I think I tried to share this video I had made of my puppy on your Facebook page, but not sure if was really seen. I just wanted to really share this, as I have your shirt on, and he is so fitting with “dog is my co-pilot.” You blogged about my last Shepherd, who pulled me in my wheelchair, and was a very special guy. I was so devastated to lose him. This current pup has really healed me, and is turning out to be just as special, a very amazing boy! He loves to pull me fast in the chair, but also developed this talent all on his own—and it has to be his idea ha ha. He pushes me with his nose, all over the place. It's just especially cool when I have your shirt on .… It fits my whole philosophy of training, too. Force free, truly a team mate, co-pilot :)"
You can read more about her and this amazing dog, Justice True, on http://journeywithjustice.com
From the Norwegian Association of the Blind
This is a very clever video from the Norwegian Association of the Blind about gaining access for their guide dogs. It's hard to believe that would be in an issue in a socially progressive Scandinavian country, but seems like it is one. So we hope this "Could Have Been Worse" video goes a long way in making it easier for them and their wonderful dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The NYPD will take over animal cruelty cases in NYC.
The ASPCA has spent the last 147 years advocating for animals, finding homes for pets, providing medical care, and enforcing anti-cruelty laws. In 1866, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh convinced state lawmakers to enact the nation's first anti-cruelty law. The organization then served as the primary law enforcement agency for animal abuse and neglect in New York City, a role that was the first of its kind in the nation. Decades later, the division was even featured on the Animal Planet reality television show, Animal Precinct.
However, all that has changed with the appointment of the new ASPCA president, Matthew Bershadker. Matthew, who previously led the organization's anti-cruelty department, has shifted law enforcement responsibilities to the New York Police Department, saying that they are better staffed to handle the workload.
The NYPD started working on a subset of animal abuse complaints in September as part of a pilot program. Then in December, the ASPCA laid off most of its 17 remaining law enforcement agents in preparation for a full transfer of responsibilities. The ASPCA will support the NYPD by aiding case prosecution, increasing veterinary forensics work, training officers and assistant district attorneys, and handling confiscated animals. A new ward at the ASPCA Animal Hospital has been created specifically for pets brought in by the NYPD.
Some have praised the change, saying that the ASPCA's small enforcement staff can't handle the volume of abuse reports. Over the past few years, the division has handled about 4,000 investigations annually, resulting in about one arrest per week. Reports made through a dedicated hotline soared from 2008 to 2011 when Animal Precinct was on the air.
However, others, including some of the dismissed agents, are concerned that animal abuse cases will be given a lower priority by officers dealing with a full case load of human crimes.
"If they think they can just give this to regular police officers and have them handle it, they're crazy," said David Favre, an expert on animal law at the Michigan State University. "It's hard work. It's different work. It's important work. And it's sad that the ASPCA isn't doing it anymore."
There's no question that the NYPD has the manpower to handle the job (34,000+ officers versus 17), but that is only if they have the right training and a mandate from the top to make the cases a priority. In 2011, the ASPCA found that while nearly all law enforcement officers (in a nationwide study) feel they should play a role in enforcing animal cruelty law, only 41 percent say they know the relevant laws in their area and just 30 percent say they know the penalties.
The NYPD does seem to be putting in the right steps to reverse those numbers. A dedicated staff of two, 25-year NYPD veteran George Kline, and former Bronx County assistant district attorney Elizabeth Brandler, will be providing support to the NYPD relating to anti-cruelty law enforcement. George will coordinate training for all eight NYPD patrol boroughs and district attorneys and Elizabeth will provide criminal law expertise to assist in case prosecution.
I hope that this shift in responsibilities is successful and creates a standard for how law enforcement is trained on anti-cruelty practices.
News: Guest Posts
Your knowledge of your dog is unparalleled: You, not I, know whether she sleeps in the same spot all night or instead has a migratory sleep pattern. You know her affinity for trash, or lack thereof. And telling me her breed, age or name won’t give me access to those intimate details. They are for you to know, and for me to, well, not know.
Recently, researchers at The Queen’s University of Belfast found that our knowledge of dogs extends beyond what we see. Deborah Wells and Peter Hepper of the Canine Behaviour Center in the School of Psychology “examined the ability of humans to identify individual dogs by smell.” (An alternate title could have been, “Turning the Tables: Dogs Aren’t the Only Ones Who Can Sniff”).
In the study, dog owners smelled two blankets — one that had been infused with the individual odor of their dog, and one that had the smell of an unfamiliar dog. In case you ever want to try this at home, to infuse a dog’s smell in a blanket, the researchers placed the blanket in the dog’s bed for three nights with nothing else in there. Dog owners were blindfolded and then smelled the two blankets. The blindfold prevented owners from noticing, for example, that the blanket was covered with their dog’s hair (if anyone out there has figured out a way not to be covered in dog hair, contact me at @dogspies).
So what happened in the sniff test? Owners rocked! Without the help of visual cues, 88.5% were able to accurately say which blanket smelled like their dog (23 out of 26 owners).
While we don’t ordinarily think of ourselves as a species who pays much attention to smell, when it comes to those we care about, our nose knows more than we think it knows. Back in the 1980s, researchers learned that mothers who’ve just given birth can identify a t-shirt impregnated with the smell of their newborn. As children age, both mothers and fathers can identify their child’s smell when given the “smell this t-shirt” test. Now we can add our dogs to this list. (If you live with a college-aged male, you might want to avoid the “smell this t-shirt” test.)
I wanted to say goodbye to 2013 with this study because it’s a reminder of how tuned in we can be to our dogs. We rightly allude to dogs as “man’s best friend” and many proclaim to be members of “nations of dog lovers.”
But at the same time, we often get dogs wrong. We think we have a solid understanding of who dogs are and what makes them tick, but animal behavior and cognition research continues to reveal there’s more of a disconnect than we may realize. We make human-based assumptions, rely on old theories and frequently don’t look at actual dog behavior.
Here at Dog Spies, we’ll ring in 2014 with How Well Do You Know Your Dog?: Part 2. I’m on a continual quest to see the dogs right in front of me on their terms, not mine. I hope you’ll join me!
Photo: Girl Smelling Marigolds via moodboard. Flickr Creative Commons.
Porter & Moore. 1981. Human kin recognition by olfactory cues. Physiology and Behaviour 27, 493- 495.
Porter et al. 1983. Maternal recognition of neonates through olfactory cues. Physiology and Behaviour 30, 151-154.
Wells & Hepper. 2000. The discrimination of dog odours by humans. Perception 29, 111-115.
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How are you keeping toasty during the historic freeze?
As the U.S. weathers a historic freeze, schools closed, people stayed home from work, and planes were grounded in much of the country. With the wind making it feel well below zero in many areas (-55 in International Falls, Minn.!), most people are opting to hole up at home. But us dog people know that no matter what Mother Nature brings, we still have to walk our pups.
It's weather like this that makes me thankful I trained a quick potty behavior! Because of this, I haven't bothered putting any extra layers on the dogs before they go outside to "do their business" (I don't even bother putting on a jacket myself). But if we were going to be outside longer than a few minutes, I'd definitely put their coats on... and maybe even booties!
With the freezing temperatures, outdoor play time is pretty much out of the question. Many of my friends planned long hikes on Sunday to exercise their dogs before the cold temperatures rolled in. When I winter hike with my pups, they wear their coats and I bring a fleece or down jacket for them to put on during breaks (so their muscles don't get cold). But the current temperatures and wind conditions are too cold for even the most bundled up dog. So I've resorted to indoor games that get the dogs' brains working, like box shaping and tugging, to burn off energy. Self control games, like crate games, are great for tiring out pups (and have endless other benefits as well).
On a more disturbing note, there are many reports on social media of dogs left outside to freeze to death in the blistering cold. I really hope this problem is not as widespread as Facebook and other outlets makes it seem. In most areas the weather is too extreme even for dogs acclimated to winter temperatures.
How are you and your pup staying warm?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It influences their orientation during elimination
A new study called Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field published in the Journal Frontiers in Zoology has demonstrated that dogs can sense and respond to magnetic fields. It is the first time that this has been shown in this species. Researchers found a measurable change in behavior based on the conditions of the magnetic field.
Specifically, they found that under certain conditions, dogs choose to pee and poop with their bodies aligned along the north-south axis and avoided orientation along the east-west axis. They studied 70 dogs from 37 different breeds over a two-year period, observing 1893 defecations and 5582 urinations. Observations were all made while the dogs were off leash and in open fields so that they were not influenced by walls, fences, fire hydrants or other objects.
The researchers collected data on dog directionality (and hopefully all the poop, too) and found that the way dogs face is not just a matter of chance. They ruled out such factors as time of day, angle of the sun and wind conditions. Their analysis found that the Earth’s magnetic field explained dogs’ orientation when doing their business. Interestingly, the pattern only emerged when the magnetic field was stable, which was only about 30 percent of the time. The Earth’s magnetic field can become unstable due to such factors as the variation in solar winds and the sun’s magnetic field. During such periods of instability, dogs did not show a preference for aligning themselves along the north-south axis and oriented randomly.
This research has been written about extensively in the media, possibly because any scientific research that involves potty talk is inherently amusing to journalists. Though the behavior that the researchers studied was elimination, to focus on that is to miss what’s really important about the study.
What I think is so fascinating is the revelation that dogs are able to sense the Earth’s magnetic field and that their behavior is influenced by it. It has been known for a long time that dog senses, particularly the sense of smell, mean that they are responsive to stimuli that we humans aren’t aware of, but the fact that dogs can act, in some manner, as though they have an internal compass is just as fascinating.
Previous studies have found that cattle, deer and foxes sometimes align their bodies with respect to the magnetic field. Sensitivity to the Earth’s magnetic field has previously been demonstrated in species that migrate such as birds and whales, and also in honey bees, whose navigational abilities are legendary.
Of course, people have long asserted that dogs can find their way exceptionally well, and I’ve even known people who said that it was like their dogs had internal compasses. Finding out that dogs can in fact sense the Earth’s magnetic field, just as compasses can, makes their navigational abilities perhaps more understandable, but no less extraordinary. It was in part dogs’ remarkable homing abilities that made the researchers suspect that dogs might be sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field in the first place.
Why dogs are choosing to orient themselves in this way is the big question, and hopefully future research will pursue it. I look forward to seeing research on that subject as well as experiments investigating other canine behaviors that may be influenced by the Earth’s magnetic field.
News: Guest Posts
It’s 3:00 a.m. and time for our daily ritual. I’m on the sofa scarfing down a bowl of Raisin Bran, with a purr monster in my lap, a spotted pillow beside me, and a brindle guard at my feet. Having soothed the mid-morning hunger pains, the baby stops kicking and settles down, content among the pack.
After years of training humans to train dogs, and raising a personal petting zoo of dogs and cats, I’m being schooled by a fetus.
The day I announced we were expecting a baby (via Facebook, of course), it became clear that my friends are in one of two camps: pet parents or human parents. All were shocked. My husband, Brian, and I have been married for 15 years, we’re both in our 40s, and we share our home with four dogs and two cats whom we collectively refer to as the Lane Petting Zoo.
How they chose to respond to the news was telling. Understandably, my dog friends misinterpreted the ultrasound photo I posted:
“Ooh, a puppy! What kind are you getting?”
“Who is the breeder?”
After all, I had spent years with them at agility competitions and at my training facility obsessing over canines. When I clarified that we were expecting a human baby and that Brian and I were the breeders, only one person had the guts to ask what surely many others were thinking:
“Did you mean to do that?”
I suppose anyone else would’ve been offended. Not me. How could I, considering the company I kept? Many of our dog friends made it plain that they did not want children. If they did have kids, they were grown and gone, often accusing their dog-obsessed moms of playing furry favorites.
Human parents, on the other hand, enthusiastically welcomed me to their world.
“Your life is going to change completely!”
“You don’t know how much you can love someone until you hold that baby in your arms.”
Each time I told a human parent that I was expecting, I felt an instant connection, the way I feel toward people who embrace dogs as family members. When we learned we were having a boy, I felt drawn to mothers of sons, the way I’m drawn to fellow Dalmatian owners.
On my journey to becoming a mom, I spend less time at familiar places like PetsMart and agility trials and more time at Babies R Us and baby showers. I feel like a foreigner at times, stumbling my way through a new culture full of people who speak a language I don’t yet understand. Sleep sacks? Nasal aspirators? So a Pack ‘n’ Play is like an X-pen? Can I clicker train the baby?
My due date is February 23, 2014. I don’t want the birth of my son to mark the end of one era, saying goodbye to my dog friends and quality time with my zoo. I hope that our new addition will allow me to bridge these two worlds of pet and human parents, and create a new kind of family.
Welcome, my little Zoo Baby.
We want to send special congratulations to one of our biggest fans—Kaley Cuoco. The “Big Bang Theory” star tied the knot with tennis pro, Ryan Sweeting on New Year’s Eve. No word yet if Kaley’s three dogs were in attendance but it wouldn’t surprise us if they were. The other great love of her life are dogs. Cuoco is a longtime animal advocate who tirelessly promotes rescue and adoption. Her rescued Pitbulls Norman, Loretta and Shirley aid in her efforts to rehabilitate the breed’s bad rap. A few years back, Kaley appeared in Men’s Health and was asked to list “4 Things I Want to See You Reading at the Beach”—she replied (for number 3) The Bark: I’m a huge dog lover—I have three—and I love this magazine. It has everything you need to know. I’m also big on rescuing dogs, so if you have a rescued dog sitting beside you while you’re reading The Bark , oh, forget it—I'll marry you right there!
Perhaps, Mr. Sweeting is a Bark reader too?! Best wishes Kaley and Ryan!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Medical alert dog plays an important role during a girl's surgery
Kaelyn "KK" Krawczyk has had a severe form of mastocytosis since she was two months old. The rare disease can trigger an abnormal accumulation of mast cells on vital organs, which leads to allergic inflammation. For the 7-year old Apex, N.C. girl, these allergic reactions can quickly become fatal. And the worse part is that the triggers are hard to predict and can stem from simple, everyday things, such as temperature changes, exercise, or medication.
For most of her life, KK had to be monitored all night long since even hot blankets could cause a dangerous reaction. As a result, doctors warned the family that KK may not even be able to attend school.
18 months ago, a medical alert dog named JJ changed all that. The talented terrier can smell cell changes before a reaction becomes serious, warn her parents (by barking and tugging at their clothes), and fetch her medical kit. JJ played a special role recently, working in the operating room at Duke University Medical Center to alert doctors to KK's bad reactions to anesthesia in her exploratory kidney surgery (the first dog I've heard of that was allowed in the operating room!).
KK's mother, Michelle, says that JJ alerts hospital staff before their "fancy equipment" and has "made believers out of those who didn't believe."
JJ was trained in scent detection by Deb Cunningham, the program director at Eyes Ears Nose and Paws, a nonprofit service dog agency in Chapel Hill.
As if JJ's story isn't amazing enough, the little pup was rescued from an animal shelter. Deb has never trained a terrier before and doesn't usually work with shelter dogs, but had a chance encounter when she was working with Golden Retrievers at the local animal rescue.
Deb was training JJ to be a diabetic alert dog when the Krawczyk family contacted her about a pup for KK. Just one month into specialized training with KK, JJ responded during one of the girl's worst reactions.
Deb says that JJ has surpassed her expectations for what an alert dog can do. Not only has she likely saved KK's life many times, she even "diagnosed" a family friend who didn't know she had diabetes.
JJ has given KK the chance to enjoy a more normal childhood and has given her parents a little peace of mind. What an incredible pup!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s more than just a cute trick
Years ago I taught my dog Bugsy to “back up” with the intention of adding it to his trick repertoire. It means just what it sounds like—to move away by taking steps backwards. My dog already knew how to crawl, wave, high-five, spin, shake, rollover, bow, and sit pretty, but I was searching for something new to teach him. I remembered seeing horses do this on cue and finding it adorable. I decided it would be Bugsy’s next trick, but I never imagined how useful it would be.
It began as a trick, which are behaviors I ask dogs to do on cue just for fun, but I began to use it functionally in an ever-increasing number of contexts. Bugsy already had a solid “stay” and knew how to “wait” (pause and refrain from going forward until given permission) when asked. Still, there were many situations in which telling him to “back up” was more helpful.
Dogs can sometimes get in the way, and asking them to “back up” solves the problem. I’m thinking of situations such as when I’m trying to open the front door, the pantry or the fridge and there are many pounds of lovable canine filing the space I need.
Being able to tell a dog to back away from a trash can, the dishwasher, another dog’s food bowl, a toy, or anything found on a walk that looks gross or even dangerous is so useful. It’s true that the cue “leave it” will also work in those contexts. However, having a dogs create physical distance between themselves and the forbidden object sometimes helps them resist temptation. “Leave it” only tells most dogs that they may not grab something, but it gives them no help deciding what to do instead. The cue to “back up” instructs them with a specific incompatible behavior to perform. (A dog cannot simultaneously approach the dishes in the dishwasher and back away from them.)
There’s really no end to the situations in which asking your dog to “back up” is useful. I’ve used it when I need a dog to move away from a child or a person who does not love dogs, out of a crowded kitchen, out of my way as I carry a large pile of blankets that prevents me from seeing where I am stepping, away from a freshly painted fence, away from a swinging door, a swing or a car door, and away from an intersection with skateboarders flying by too close for comfort. I’ve asked dogs who were carrying large sticks to back away from people just for safety’s sake, and I’ve used this cue to tell a dog to increase the distance between himself and another dog if I see trouble brewing. It is endlessly practical, and I soon found myself using it way more often than wait or stay.
In addition to its great practicality, “back up” has the appeal of being relatively easy to teach. Start with your dog standing in front of you and attending to you. Move toward your dog calmly. When he takes a step backward, reinforce immediately with a click/treat or a treat. For some dogs, a couple of steps in their direction work best but for other dogs, a slight lean is most effective.
Continue to reinforce your dog for taking a step backward until he is doing it reliably. Then, continue moving toward your dog until he has taken more than one step backwards. Reinforce him for multiple steps. Once he understands that backing up is a way to earn treats, say the cue “back up” before moving toward him, and reinforce him for responding appropriately. With practice you can phase out the motion towards him so that he is backing up in response to the cue alone. You can use a visual cue such as extending your arm towards him instead of the verbal cue or in addition to it.
I use the verbal cue “back up” for this behavior, but other trainers use different ones. A few common cues for this same behavior are “back out”, “get back” and “beep beep.” Any of these cues will work equally well, so choose the one that you like best, keeping in mind that it’s best to avoid using a cue that sounds similar to any cues that your dog already knows for any other behaviors.
Some dogs will respond to your motion towards them by sitting down or by turning around. If your dog is a sitter during this training, try holding a treat a few inches over his head and moving it towards his back end slowly. This causes most dogs to step back rather than sit, and you can then reinforce the behavior. If your dog’s tendency is to turn, try to train him in a narrow hallway or between two large pieces of furniture so that there’s not enough room for him to turn around. Presented with such an obstacle, most dogs will try to back up as an alternative, providing you with an opportunity to reinforce the behavior you are looking for.
Does your dog have a cue that means to back up, and if so, when do you use it?
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