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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Graduation Goes to the Dogs
19 pups become official bomb sniffers in New York City.
Service dogs have recently been honored in high school graduations and yearbooks, but last week a group of pups had their own graduation ceremony in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. The 19 bomb-sniffing German Shepherds went through an intense 12-week training program, making up the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's largest class to date.

Instead of a diploma, the each dog received an official badge with a collar and full color guard honors. Following graduation, the pups will patrol trains and station platforms by day and will live with their MTA and NYPD handlers at night.

Adding to the inspiring event, each of the dogs were named after New York fallen heroes whose families were in attendance. Their names are Augie, Chief, Daehan, Foxy, Geo, Holland, Joey, Mac, Patriot, Sentry, T.J., Vinny, Blue, Boomer, Dante, Falco, Nox, Sentinel and Tank.

Michael Stack said knowing that Chief, his dad's namesake, will be patrolling subways and fighting terrorism means a lot to his family. His father, FDNY Safety Battalion Chief Lawrence T. Stack, died while rescuing a man in the North Tower on September 11th.

The MTA's canine unit is one of the largest in the country and consists of 50 dogs that are trained to track the origin of thousands of unattended packages each year.

MTA Chief Michael Coan says the canine team is invaluable and also credits their success to the support of the handlers' families who take care of the pups when they're not on the job.

Having an official graduation ceremony is a great way to honor fallen heroes and the group of dogs waiting to carry on their legacy.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
They’re Not Just Furry Four-Legged People
There’s greatness in being a dog

“The only difference between them and us is they have four legs and we have two,” the woman said. She was expanding on her previous comment that she has a new baby and was picking up photographs of her new little girl. When some other people in line for their photos politely leaned in to look, she was very offended when one man said, “Oh, you have a new dog! I thought you had a new child.”

I’m confident that this woman was expressing how important her dogs are in her life and how much she loves them, but it’s possible that she chose her words in a way that was purposely misleading. The man who replied was genuinely surprised that her new addition was a dog and not a human, but I don’t think he was putting her down—just expressing his confusion. While I think it’s common to consider dogs as important and as loved as people, that’s not the same thing as considering them to BE people. Just because we love them doesn’t mean they are the same as we are. Their differences are part of what we love about that and I see no reason to deny that. Clearly, on a strictly factual level, there are many more differences than the number of legs we have.

It’s important to understand those differences if we are going to get along with each other and provide what our dogs need for a happy, healthy life. As responsible dog guardians, it’s essential to understand basic differences such as how they perceive our actions, what might frighten them, and how they like to play. We need to know that loud sounds and intense smells may upset them. It’s useful to know that, unlike people, most dogs prefer scratches on the behind to hugs, and that some foods that are good for us are dangerous to them. The list of the differences between people and dogs is extremely long.

I think that the viewpoint that dogs are just furry versions of people who happen to have four legs does them a great disservice. Dogs are their own unique and wonderful species. They deserve love and respect for who they are rather than for being like us in various ways. It seems to me that the attitude that dogs are people has a subtext that people are the best and that dogs are so great that they are honorary members of our species. I prefer to think of both of our species as amazing (since they are my two favorite species, after all!) without implying that one is better than the other.

It reminds me of a famous Star Trek quotes in which Captain Kirk says, “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s human,” and Spock answers, “I find that remark . . . insulting.”

Dogs are definitely family members, but they are not human ones. I think it’s respectful and loving to recognize that dogs are so deeply loved because of who they are as dogs. To be a dog is glorious, and I see no need to suggest that they are anything else.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Tucker’s Response to Twins
He likes the familiarity

When my sons and I entered Tucker’s home and met him for the first time, he responded in his usual way—with general hesitation and some barking. He’s in no way aggressive, but he doesn’t warm up to strangers quickly. He looked at us, backed away, and didn’t seem too pleased to see us. Over the next couple of hours, he accepted our presence, and was much more relaxed. Still, he was definitely not acting the same towards us as he does with the humans in his family.

Hours later when my husband Rich came over, Tucker acted completely differently with him than he had with the rest of us. His demeanor was significantly friendlier. He rushed up to greet him in a relaxed way, and he didn’t bark.  He also looked completely confused and alternated between rushing up to my husband and running away from him.

It’s easy to understand Tucker’s confusion. Tucker lives with Steve, who is my husband’s identical twin brother, but he had never met Rich. The dog didn’t greet him as enthusiastically as he greets Steve, but their remarkable similarity was enough for Tucker to consider my husband “familiar” and to react to him without fear.

When Steve came home a little while later, Tucker went bananas in a happy way, leaping onto Steve, and exuding light-hearted glee from toe to tail. It was clear to us that Tucker knew the first twin to arrive that day was not Steve, but he didn’t treat him like he treats everyone else he is meeting for the first time.

When both my husband and Steve were present, Tucker loved to sit by both of them, but he would look at Rich in confusion, allow some petting, and them scoot closer to Steve and relax totally to the full body massage he received. He would look up, sniff the imposter, and go back to Steve.

The most relaxed Tucker ever was with my husband was on the day he borrowed Steve’s clothes. He was even more relaxed with Rich that day than usual, behaving almost the same way as he did with Steve. However, he sometimes seemed very confused, sniffing him excessively and periodically racing away, only to approach again for further investigation. I’m guessing that the familiar odor of Steve’s clothes was making it a little harder for Tucker to tell the two of them apart, but a little easier for him to feel comfortable around Rich.

Does anyone else have a story of a fearful (or any) dog meeting the identical twin of someone he or she already knows well? What about brothers, sisters, or parents and children who strongly resemble one another?

News: Guest Posts
Pittsburgh Symphony Goes to the Dogs

Who drives four hours to see a concert? I do. When I first read about the Pittsburgh Symphony looking for a few good pooches to audition for an upcoming performance, I was there. The dogs were needed to round out Leopold Mozart’s (Wolfgang’s, or should I say Woofgang’s — father) “Hunting Horn Symphony,” which calls for barking to accompany the horn soloists. Even better: The world-class event was free, courtesy of the city’s annual spring outdoor arts festival at a great spot: Point State Park, where three rivers meet. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the stars prior to the performance: Sergeant Preston. His owner told me he was rescued off the streets of Houston, where she lived before moving to Pittsburgh. She works for the symphony, but insists there was no nepotism involved — his ability and strong stage presence blew everyone away at the audition. In case you were wondering like I was, he was named for a character in a '50s radio, and then TV show — "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon." His owner tells me that name meshed well with that of her other rescue dog, Nanook of the North. The performers took their places. And they didn't disappoint. The crowd gave it a resounding four paws.

 

News: Editors
Yearbook Classmates
A Dog and his Girl

Could be a first for a service dog—a photo of Taxi, Rachel Benke’s seizure alert dog, placed side-by-side with her photo in their middle school yearbook. 14-year-old Rachel and Taxi have been inseparable for the past four years. Taxi came into Rachel’s life when her mother, Teresa Benke had a chance meeting at a party with Cindy Buechner, who trains seizure alert dogs. It was Cindy who suggested that a dog like Taxi would be helpful to Rachel, who was born with an abnormality to the right side of her brain and had suffered epileptic seizures since birth. As a young child she would have as many as 200 seizures a day, and when she was six years old she under went corrective brain surgeries, but prior to that she had been completely non-verbal and could only eat baby food. While her seizures were greatly reduced after the surgeries, she still has them occasionally. So it was a great relief to her family that now she has Taxi, who accompanies her to class at San Antonio's Hector Garcia's Middle School, and has been taught to alert family and teachers when she is about to experience a seizure. That is something that he can predict up to an hour and half before it happens. He also orients himself so he can break her fall if that were to happen. An example of his ability to detect a seizure was how he averted a pool accident, Teresa Benke explains:

“Once, when Rachel was swimming in the family's pool, Taxi suddenly bolted up and began slapping at the water. Rachel's parents took her out of the water, and 10 minutes later she had a seizure. On another day, when Rachel was going to play on the trampoline in the backyard, Taxi put his paws on her shoulders to stop her because he felt a seizure coming. Sure enough, one occurred a few minutes later. And as always, he was right by her side.”

It meant the world to Rachel to have a photo of Taxi at her side in their yearbook—just as he is with her every day of her life.

 

For other stories on how service dogs have helped their people, see:

Seizure Alert Dog Walks at Graduation Parade

Autistic Boy and His Dog

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Scratched By Non-Aggressive Dog
His exuberance was excessive

“Can I meet your dog?” I said to my neighbor, as I say many times each week at the park, while running errands, on hikes and anywhere else I see a dog. This was a dog who I did not yet know, and I was eager to say hello. He came over to me with the same calmness he’d had on his walk, and looked up at me. I expected a calm, possibly even a tentative greeting.

Then, his face changed, and he launched up at me, leaving scratch marks on my chest and knocking me over so that I had to use my hand on the ground to catch myself from a complete fall. The change in his face that gave me enough time to expect a change in behavior but not enough time to react sufficiently to evade contact had no signs of aggression. He did not look scared, frustrated or angry. The look on his face was one of glee. He was excited to greet me, and is truly a friendly dog. He was lacking in manners and a bit out of control, but not the slightest bit aggressive.

Of course, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t hurt someone, and the first thing I did after my interaction with this dog had ended was to tell my kids that this dog was off limits. They are not allowed to pet or approach him, and if they see him coming towards them, they know they are supposed to cross the street or turn around and go the other way. My kids saw what happened when this dog bounded up at me, so they needed no convincing to give this dog ample space.

I believe it’s because the dog was friendly that the guardian was completely unconcerned with his behavior. She offered no apology and expressed no chagrin, remorse or embarrassment that her dog leapt at me and did so hard enough that I lost my balance. What she said was, “He’s such a lover.”

To be fair, as I backed away, she held on tight to his leash, which is why when he jumped up towards me again, he met resistance and came back down to the ground even closer to his guardian and further from me than when he started. Regrettably, he landed hard. He seemed totally unaffected by slamming into the ground, which reflects a combination of his focus on me and the powerful muscling of his body.

He may be friendly, if that’s what she meant by “a lover” but he could also injure someone. Since I work with dogs with a variety of serious issues, I’m accustomed to imperfect behavior, but it’s very rare for me to be knocked over. It was a little embarrassing, to be honest. I certainly hope he doesn’t ever jump on the frail elderly woman across the street, the pregnant neighbor around the corner, a child, or any other person. What is most concerning about this dog is that he does not present as out of control or prone to high aroused. He walks through the neighborhood every day on a loose leash very peacefully. Since he jumped on me, I have seen him do it to one other person, with similar results, but otherwise, he just plods along on his walks showing no signs of enthusiasm over dogs, squirrels or any of the things that excite the average dog.

As a behaviorist, the rapid switch of this dog from calm emotions and behavior to high arousal is very interesting. (As a neighbor and a mom, it’s not so enthralling.) Most dogs either have a less dramatic amount of change or take a little longer to go from one state to the other. Many dogs get excited when meeting people, but few dogs are wild around people while showing no signs of exuberance in response to any other stimuli.

Have you ever known a dog who seemed so calm that their truly explosive greeting behavior was unexpected?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Almost Missed Connection
Shelter nearly didn't reunite a family and their pup.
A Maryland shelter missed two opportunities to reunite a family with their pup, nearly resulting in the dog being euthanized. Last month, the Turner family was devastated when their dog, Shayla, escaped from their Owings Mills, Maryland backyard and search efforts and calls to local animal shelters were unsuccessful.
Determined to find Shayla, Helen Turner, made a last ditch effort and posted a picture of Shayla on Facebook. She asked friends to spread the word and just one day later, someone contacted Helen with a photo of a dog that looked like Shayla at the Baltimore County shelter--one of the facilities she called several times.

Helen immediately went to the shelter with the picture from Facebook, but was told the dog wasn't there. Fortunately Helen decided to check for herself, and found Shayla within minutes of entering the kennel area. When signing Shayla's release papers, Helen noticed that Shayla would've been euthanized in four days if they hadn't found her.

Shayla is microchipped and has a spay tattoo from another local shelter, so besides the near miss during Helen's visit, the family should have been contacted when the microchip was scanned.

According to the Baltimore County Health Department, which oversees the shelter, their process is to scan all dogs once in the field, and then again during the veterinary exam. But sometimes microchips are missed.

Thank goodness Helen found Shayla before this story could have taken a tragic turn. The reality is, city shelters are swamped and microchips fail. Shayla's story is an important reminder to be as persistent as possible if your pet is lost. Put up posters, call local veterinarians, and visit shelters in person to double check for yourself. So happy that Shayla is now back at home, safe and sound!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Going the Extra Mile
Reuniting a lost dog with her family

There are a huge variety of reasons why pets end up in animal shelters. People lose their homes, pass away, can no longer afford their pets or become too ill to care for them.  Many animals come in as strays and the owners are never found. Recently a stray dog came into our local shelter with a microchip listing her name as Sophie. The chip traced to a woman in southern California but the phone numbers were disconnected. The shelter then sent a letter to the address.

Soon a woman named Dee Dee called the shelter in response to the letter. She explained that she had previously been so seriously ill that she had been unable to care for Sophie. Dee Dee had been forced to find another home for her and had lost touch with the new owner. She had no idea how Sophie ended up 400 miles away and unclaimed in our shelter. She explained that she had now recovered from her illness and would love to have Sophie back but had no way to get to Northern California to pick her up.  One of our dedicated shelter volunteers, Joanna, heard about the dilemma and offered to drive Sophie all the way home to Southern California, an 8 hour drive.

There was an air of celebration around the shelter when word of the trip was announced. Staff came out to watch when Joanna and Sophie headed out. Updates and photos came in from Joanna every few hours and when Sophie was finally returned to her original family there was a joyous reunion. Sophie immediately recognized her people and has settled back in very well.

Coincidentally, at the same time as Sophie was heading south, another dog in an overcrowded shelter in Southern California was looking for a ride north to a rescue. The parties coordinated and Joanna picked up that dog, a German Shepherd, and brought him back to a foster home waiting here. The Shepherd now has an adoption pending.  It took the efforts of multiple dedicated and hardworking people to save two dogs in need, but the biggest thank you goes to Joanna, for spending her week-end making a difference.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just One Day
Campaign aims to save shelter animals on June 11
Dog trainers always talk about breaking down new behaviors into small steps. After all, you wouldn't expect a dog to stop barking at strangers overnight. This goes for humans too! So that's why I love Just One Day's approach to reducing euthanasia in America.

The Just One Day campaign is trying to change the United States into a "no kill" nation, starting with today, June 11. They are asking animal shelters across the country to take a pledge not to kill any savable animals for one day. Instead workers will focus on posting photos of available animals online, reaching out to rescue groups, and hosting adoption events. The No Kill Advocacy Center, Animal Ark, and Animal Wise Radio are teaming up to offer support and marking tools. Just One Day estimates that 10,000 pets could be saved today.

I found out about Just One Day because the Animal Care and Control of New York City is participating. Even one day will make a big difference for a shelter that euthanized almost 5,000 pets in 2013--a number that was already 30 percent lower than in previous years.

Outright eliminating euthanasia is sadly unrealistic in today's world, but this campaign is a great way to encourage shelters to think creatively about how to increase adoptions and to promote overall awareness of the overpopulation problem, even if it's only for one day.

Check out the web site to see if your local shelter is participating today.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Helped Humans Hunt Mammoths
New evidence from archaeological sites

Archaeological sites with hundreds of dead mammoths posed a puzzle to scientists: How could humans kill so many of these massive animals with the weapons available at the time? The answer is that one of the “weapons” used was not made of stone like the other tools of the time, but was made of flesh and blood. It was the domestic dog.

According to new research by Pat Shipman at Penn State University, humans may have been cooperating with some of the earliest domesticated dogs, which improved their mammoth hunting success considerably. The dogs could have contributed in a number of ways. They may have helped people find prey more quickly and more often. It’s possible that they held prey by charging and growling until the humans moved in to make the kill. After the mammoths died, dogs’ role in the hunt may have continued in the form of guarding the meat from scavengers or helping to carry it home.

Shipman developed several testable hypotheses about these new ideas. Based on analyses of what types of bones were present at the site (both dogs and wolves) as well as the cause of death of the mammoths, the idea that dogs were important in mammoth hunts about 45,000 to 15,000 years ago was supported. It is interesting that it was only during this time period that such large groups of hunted mammoths have been found, as humans (and their ancestors and extinct close relatives) began hunting mammoths over a million years ago.

A further piece of evidence that dogs were involved in mammoth hunting is the finding of a dog skull with a large bone, likely from a mammoth, that had been put in its mouth not long after it died. (That skull is shown in the photograph.) The find suggests that there were special rituals to acknowledge the dog’s role in mammoth hunting.

Knowing that modern dogs can suffer catastrophic injuries when hunting bears and wolves, I wonder how often dogs were wounded or killed in mammoth hunts.

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