Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Is your dog bothered by foul water?
Dogs are famous for drinking out of the toilet. Though that does make me wrinkle my nose, it is far from the most disgusting water that I have seen dogs drink. I’m not talking about dogs who are lost in the desert taking in fluid from any source to stay alive. Even from my human perspective, that seems like an extremely rational choice.
I’m talking about healthy, well-cared for pets who think that a nearly dried up scum-covered pond that is more muck than water looks extremely appetizing. I’m thinking of dogs who pass up a freshly filled, clean water bowl to lick the muddy spots that melted off my snow boots and onto the kitchen floor. And I’m calling to mind those individuals who are drawn to the water that has run through the pot containing a houseplant and into the saucer below. Yes, I’m referring to the one that is coated with algae and has probably never been cleaned.
Amazingly, dogs tend to drink from the most unlikely sources without incident the vast majority of the time. Some weird water choices are usually harmless. If your dog licks the water off your legs after a shower, it’s unlikely to be a problem, especially if you rinsed well. However, their interest in fluids that we don’t want them to drink can be disastrous. There’s the obvious risk of exposure to serious water-borne diseases such as leptospirosis and giardia. Even more alarming is the risk to dogs who are attracted to antifreeze or windshield de-icing fluid because the ethylene glycol they contain can cause kidney failure and even death.
By comparison, the toilet seems like a reasonable place for the average canine to quench his thirst!
Does your dog have a favorite watering hole other than his bowl?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Even more surprising, it’s a Great Dane
We all know that rescue people are called in to save cats from trees. It’s not even that unusual for kids to need help getting back down to earth from time to time. However, when firefighters were called to help a Great Dane who was stuck in a tree, they thought it was a prank—until they arrived and saw Kora, all 120 pounds of her perched 20 feet high in a huge tree.
Her guardians don’t know how Kora managed to get up so high in that tree. They do know that she loves to wander and that she chases small animals, so their best guess is that some little critter enticed her to jump a five-foot fence and climb so high in the tree that she couldn’t get down.
To rescue her, the first plan was to encourage her to come down the way that she had come up, but Kora vetoed that idea. Plan B involved putting her in a harness and lowering her to the ground. That proved partially effective, until the harness broke as she neared the ground. The rescuers were prepared for that possibility, though, and when she fell, she landed safely in the net being held under her.
To many people, the most fascinating part of this story is that such a large, lanky dog was able to climb a tree and get herself in this mess in the first place. As interesting as that is to me, what really caught my attention is how unfazed Kora was by the whole incident. I can imagine her trying to figure out why everyone was making such a big to-do.
After she hopped out of the net, she walked away without seeming particularly stressed. Many dogs would be completely freaked out by the experience, but Kora appeared remarkably well adjusted and stable. Her behavior did not suggest she was traumatized or even upset by her ordeal.
With an attitude like that, I suspect that “Kora the Explorer” will continue to have interesting adventures!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Scientists discover that zinc can triple a dogs' sensitivity to odors.
Dogs have amazing noses that we rely on for sniffing out everything from explosives to cancer. A new study has shown that we might be able to enhance their sense of smell with tiny particles of zinc. Scientists at Auburn University in Alabama found that spraying nanoparticles of the metal can triple a dogs' sensitivity to odors.
The zinc effect by discovered by chance while researchers were investigating its ability to kill cancer cells. When they isolated the zinc nanoparticles and added them to tissue taken from the noses of rodents, the electrical activity tripled in the presence of an odor.
Setting out to exclusively study this phenomenon, the team put 14 dogs inside magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners. For some dogs, they gave them zinc nanoparticles along with an odor to smell. For the control dogs, they gave them the odor only. The smells included cloves, spearmint, and a fruit blend. The outcome confirmed the finding in the rodent experiment--the nanoparticles tripled activity in the dogs' brains (in areas related to smell) when they were given an odor.
According to lead scientist, Vitaly Vodyanoy, it appears that the nanoparticles increase the activity of sensory receptors. This enhancement lasts about ten seconds. After that short period of time, the next sniff of odor (without additional nanoparticles) produces a normal response.
Zinc also seems to work with people too. Vitaly tried it himself and felt it enhanced his sense of smell. They're now starting to work with a fragrance company to conduct tests on humans.
But the dogs weren't just testing the nanoparticles for people. Another researcher on the study, Dr Gopikrishna Deshpande, said they hoped improving dogs' sense of smell would help working pups excel at their jobs. Gopikrishna explained that dogs can miss detection of explosives that are intentionally concealed to not give out odor.
As a next step, scientists will have to figure out how to make the effects last longer than ten seconds! However, the findings are a cool discovery that could potentially help sniffing dogs to be even better at their important work.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
These dogs don’t act quite like other dogs
When people accumulate animals in large enough numbers that the basic needs of those animals cannot be met, it’s called hoarding. Rescues of dogs from hoarding situations often make the news because the conditions are generally horrific—unimaginably unhealthy and unsanitary. There is usually significant malnutrition and disease, and death is common. Whenever possible, dogs rescued from such situations are nursed back to health and adopted into pet homes.
Their physical health can recover to varying degrees depending on the dog, but what about their behavioral health? There are many anecdotal reports of abnormal behavior in dogs who have been removed from hoarding situations, but the question of how hoarding affects dogs behaviorally has not been well documented. A recent study called “Behavioural characteristics of dogs removed from hoarding situations” addresses this issue by investigating how previously hoarded dogs who have been rehomed differed behaviorally and psychologically from a comparison group of rehomed pet dogs.
Dogs for the study were recruited with notices in newsletters of various rescue and shelter organizations seeking qualified dogs. To be included in the study, a dog had to have been removed from a hoarding situation. The authors of the study defined a hoarding situation as “a living environment where a person or persons accumulate animals in numbers that exceed the person’s abilities to provide for the basic needs of the animals, resulting in animal suffering”. The study included 408 dogs who had been rescued from hoarding situations.
The guardians of the hoarded dogs filled out the highly detailed Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), which was developed to measure various behavioral characteristics of dogs. The C-BARQ is a standard research tool used to compare the behavior of different groups of dogs.
The control group of 11,277 dogs came from the C-BARQ database and consisted of dogs of similar age and breed. All of the control dogs lived in homes with people who were not first time guardians. This was done to match the study group; fewer than 10 of the hoarded dogs were with first time guardians, a factor which has been shown to influence behavior.
Not surprisingly, many behavioral differences existed between the two groups. Dogs from hoarding situations were more fearful and more sensitive to touch than the control dogs. They showed more behavior associated with attachment, attention-seeking and separation anxiety. They exhibited a greater frequency of urination and defecation when left alone, destructive chewing, submissive urination and repetitive behaviors.
Dogs rescued from hoarding situations were less trainable and less aggressive. They were less likely than the control dogs to be overly excitable or energetic. They had a lower probability of being persistent barkers, of chasing small animals, or of exhibiting rivalry for resources with other dogs. They were not as likely to roll in foul-smelling material or to chase their own tails compared with dogs in the control group.
To sum up, there were substantial behavioral differences between dogs who had been rescued from hoarding situations and dogs with more typical life experiences. It’s easy to be dismayed when reading about the behavioral abnormalities of dogs who come from hoarding situations.
There’s good news, though, and I always like to look for the bright side. Many of these dogs can be placed in loving pet homes. Also, the more we learn about their atypical behavior, the better equipped we are to help them recover and the more motivated we are as a society to prevent such damaging situations in the first place.
Please share your experiences if you have adopted a dog who previously lived in a hoarding situation.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
11 year old Anna Getner forgoes vacations and concerts to create a play space for dogs.
Most Make-A-Wish foundation wish requests involve traveling to places like Disney World or Paris, or meeting celebrities. But Anna Getner, a sixth grader at Middlebrook School in Wilton, Conn. had a different dream in mind. If anyone deserved a fancy vacation, it was her. The 11-year old recently completed an 821-day long treatment regimen for leukemia.
But when Make-A-Wish Connecticut asked Anna what her one true wish would be, she told them that she wanted to make a puppy playroom at the local animal shelter. Anna had a very specific vision for an indoor/outdoor park for the rescue dogs to feel comfortable and to serve as a nice place to meet potential adopters.
Make-A-Wish worked with local business, volunteers, and other supporters, who were eager to help make the space a reality.
The room, named Anna's Dog Park, was unveiled in February with a party that included Anna, her friends and family, her classmates and teachers, and many other supporters. Norwalk mayor, Harry Rilling, was there to present Anna with a proclamation in her honor to celebrate her generosity and kind spirit.
While the space at PAWS is completely indoors, photo wallpaper and sky blue ceiling tiles make the room look like it's in the middle of a park. There's even a photo of Anna and her rescue pup, Franklin, built into the landscape.
Franklin, who Anna considers like a brother, was a huge factor in her wish choice. Anna wanted to help all animals at PAWS find their forever homes and make families happy the same way that Franklin has brought her joy.
Pam Keogh, the president of Make-A-Wish Connecticut says that Anna's wish was a first. The chapter has fulfilled 2,500 wishes in the last 30 years, but Pam doesn't know of any request quite like Anna's.
Local pet food company, Blue Buffalo, was so inspired by Anna's selfless decision, that they not only helped to fund the project, but they announced that they will donate food to PAWS for life.
Seeing the play room for the first time, Anna looked around and exclaimed, "Oh my god, it's amazing!." Mission accomplished. Happy rescue pups and finally some joy for a girl who has spent way too much time in a hospital.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Detection dog essential for research success
For three years, scientist Chris Bugbee of Conservation CATalyst has been studying a jaguar named El Jefe, first with support from the University of Arizona and now from the Center for Biological Diversity. El Jefe is about seven years old and the only wild jaguar known to be in the United States. Most members of this species live further south, in Mexico and in other Latin American countries, but El Jefe has spent at least three years in the Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona. Jaguars are notoriously elusive, rarely seen and can have territories that cover hundreds of square miles, so the study of El Jefe represents a major success story. He’s not, however, the only animal associated with this study who is a success story.
The other one is a female Belgian Malinois named Mayke, who is a working detection dog. She has been trained to bark when she finds jaguar scat, which she can distinguish from the scat of other large cats. (Mayke is also trained to bark when she finds the scat of ocelot, another species of wild cat.)
Mayke was born to do scent work, coming from a program in Germany that has successfully bred many dogs for this purpose. Like her close relatives from the same lines, she has a great nose, can handle heat and is both trainable and intelligent. Even with that background, her first assignment was not a good match. She was originally placed as an explosives detection dog, but she couldn’t handle working around big trucks or gunfire. Those stresses upset her to the point that she was unable to perform the work she was trained to do, but she excels in the wide open, remote spaces where El Jefe lives, and where both dog and jaguar have been videotaped.
Detection dogs can be trained to find a huge range of things from explosives to drugs to people to invasive snails, so why was Mayke trained to find jaguar scat? The answer to that requires an understanding of how scientists view the excrement of their study animals. As a friend of mine who studied patas monkeys in Africa once said, “Most people think of poop as just poop. I think of poop as information.” (FYI, I paraphrased in order to maintain our PG rating.)
Scat is a major resource for people studying wild mammals, but it’s hard for people to find, especially when the animal in question is a jaguar and can travel 30 miles a day. Luckily, dogs are not held back, as people are, by pathetic noses and tiny olfactory lobes. A trained dog can sniff out scat, and therefore allow humans to learn so much more about an animal than would be possible on our own.
Thanks to Mayke and her trainer, biologist Chris Bugbee, it has been possible to map out El Jefe’s home range, learn what he’s eating, figure out a number of places where he likes to bed down during the day, and study his DNA. Mayke found the first genetically verified jaguar scat in the US, which is a big deal because the jaguar has not always been in this part of its historical range. It’s because of Mayke’s work that scientists have been able to place camera traps in places that El Jefe is likely to visit. The jaguar has been photographed and videotaped over a hundred times in the last three years. The understanding of El Jefe’s location and behavior, made possible by Mayke’s unique contribution to the project, have shown that El Jefe is a resident male who lives in Arizona.
According to Randy Serraglio, a conservation advocate with the Center For Biological Diversity who has studied jaguars for years, this is important because people and organizations who are reluctant to use any resources to protect him tend to refer to him as a “solitary wandering male”. That implies that he is just a vagrant temporarily lost and visiting the US. This is a nonsensical classification because males of this species are always solitary except briefly during mating. Females are also solitary except during mating and during the short period they have young with them.
Jaguars are native to Arizona. Both males and females were living and breeding in the area until people shot and poisoned them out, beginning in the early 1900s. The interest in El Jefe is helping to protect 764,000 acres of critical habitat in southern Arizona, and making it more likely that recovery efforts can re-establish a jaguar population in the area. The area is at risk of great damage to wildlife, water and the attractive landscape because of a proposed copper mine. There are many reasons to reject this environmentally damaging project, and El Jefe’s large territory is one of them.
With such a rare species, it’s important to keep as many potential breeding animals in the population as possible to maintain the genetic diversity. Previously, a male named Macho B who spent time in Arizona and was photographed there, returned to Mexico to breed, and it is likely that El Jefe is also a part of that same population.
Arizonans are quite attached to him already. That is especially true of the kids who named him. Children at Valencia Middle School in the Tucson area, whose mascot is the jaguar, picked his name. El Jefe (Spanish for “The Boss”) was the overwhelming choice in the vote among the five names that were finalists.
Perhaps the most important part of Mayke’s contribution to the study of El Jefe is that she enables scientists to learn about this jaguar in a non-invasive way. They are able to get an amazing amount of valuable data without bothering the cat. This matters for any species, but it’s especially critical when working with rare animals. Sadly, there are cases of jaguars being injured or killed because of attempts to radio collar the animal (to monitor the animal’s position) and a bad reaction to the tranquilizer. Mayke can locate signs of the animal’s presence and allow scientists to collect data without any such invasive techniques, which eliminates the risk associated with other methods of study.
When I asked Bugbee if there was anything else he wanted to share with me about Mayke, he answered, “Just that she’s a success story—even if you ignore that she’s found the first genetically verified jaguar scat in the US—because she found her confidence and came into her own.” They’ve been working together for three years and have a close relationship. Bugbee knows her well and understands her behavior. He knows the different ways that she reacts to various wild animals. If she finds scat from a puma, she pees on it. If she detects fresh deer scent from the glands in their feet, she points—holding one paw up and leaning in the direction of the deer. She also has her own unique responses to bobcats and bears.
Bugbee talks about her with great affection and respect, sounding like both the professional trainer he is and a loving dog guardian like any other, saying, “I wish I knew all of the things she picks up on. It would be incredible,” and “She’s a good dog. I like her.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Italian supermarket finds a way to make their stores even more pet friendly.
Many pet lovers dread having to leave their pups at home while they run errands. Not all dogs would enjoy coming along for the ride, but it would be nice to have the option for well behaved pets. This dilemma even inspired one woman to create Dog Parker last year, a collection of subscription based kennels placed in front of select Brooklyn, New York storefronts, intended to be used by people running into the grocery store or eating at a restaurant.
Ideally more places would be pet friendly, but health laws and irresponsible owners have made this a challenge. So when I learned that a grocery store in Liano, Italy not only welcomes dogs, but recently added pet friendly shopping carts, I was envious! Just being able to bring your dog into a supermarket is already extremely pet friendly, but the specially designed shopping carts really roll out the welcome mat. For anyone who has carted their dog around a store in a regular shopping cart, you know what a big deal that is! I usually put a towel or crate mat at the bottom of the cart to make it more comfortable for dog feet, but these carts have that feature incorporated into their design.
Unes store owner, Gianfranco Galantini, was inspired to create the pet friendly shopping carts after seeing how many dogs were left tied up outside of his stores. So he fitted some of his shopping carts with a special partitioned section in the front that has a solid bottom. Dogs can sit or stand up while looking out of the front. The carts are also cleaned after each use.
This whole venture is made by possible by the fact that small dogs are legally allowed to enter stores in Italy, as long as they're kept under control. So far everyone has been responsible, only bringing in well behaved pups and keeping everything clean, so there haven't been any problems. Unes' new carts have been so popular that the grocery chain is now considering adding them to their other locations.
Do you wish you could take your pups shopping?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Experience with relevant objects has no effect
Anyone whose dog loves to get into the garbage for a trash party or is better than Houdini at escaping from a crate knows that dogs are problem solvers. In fact, their ability to solve problems is an active area of research, and the results are not always intuitively obvious. (That’s the way that scientists express what other people might say as, “Whoa! That’s not what I expected!”)
In the study, “Inhibitory Control, but Not Prolonged Object-Related Experience Appears to Affect Physical Problem-Solving Performance of Pet Dogs”, researchers studied how two factors relate to how well dogs solve problems presented as physical tasks. Specifically, they wanted to know whether the ability to inhibit themselves was correlated with increased problem solving ability and whether experience with objects relevant to the problems made a difference. These two variables were chosen for investigation because there is evidence that they are both important in problem solving ability across a range of species, including humans.
In order to address these questions, they recruited 63 Border Collie puppies in pet homes and studied them over a period of three years. Each dog was randomly assigned to one of three groups that differed in their experiences with physical tasks.
The first group (enrichment group) received toys that gave them the opportunity to learn about the physical effects of gravity, attachment, and support and also a set of toys that required attending to a size differential between objects to access a treat. The second group (manipulative group) received toys that gave them the same opportunity as the first group to manipulate toys, to push and pull on handles and other parts of the toys, but which did not teach them about the effects of such actions or the importance of relative size. The third group (control group) had only the typical toys used by guardians for stimulation, such as ropes, balls and various rubber toys. The dogs in the experimental and manipulative groups (but not in the control group) took part in a string-pulling study that provided an additional educational experience about the physical effects of their actions.
All dogs, no matter which experience group they were in, were taught three inhibitory tasks. One was being required to wait for permission before taking a treat on the floor in front of them. (This task is often called “Leave It” though some people using this cue never allow the dog to take the treat he was told to leave.)
The second involved the opportunity to obtain a treat from underneath each of two transparent cups turned upside down. The catch was that there were three cups and the dog would only be permitted to knock over two of them. He had to avoid knocking over the empty cup, as the final cup was made unavailable after the dog had knocked over two cups. This is very hard for dogs, especially if the empty cup is in the middle between the cups with treats.
The third task involved the dog being caught by his leash on something like a tree or a lamp post. The guardian would call the dog, but the dog had to first move away from the person in order to untangle himself.
To assess dogs’ level of inhibitory control, they were tested on each of the tasks after a month of practice and scored on a scale of 0 to 2, which 2 representing the highest level of inhibition. This study did not distinguish between learned and inherent levels of inhibition, but simply looked a dog’s ability when tested to control himself in the various tasks.
To sum up, dogs were given one of three levels of experience with objects and their levels of inhibitory control were assessed. They were then tested with four problem-solving tasks. The problems were all designed to be difficult in order to detect potential improvement based on experience. (If the tasks were too easy, researchers would be unlikely to detect any role of experience in dogs’ ability to solve the problem.)
One main result of the study is that there was no difference found in the problem-solving abilities between the three groups of dogs. That is, success at solving the problems was not related to whether a dog was in the enriched, manipulation or control group. Another result of the study was that dogs’ inhibition scores were related to their performance in two of the problem-solving tasks, but not the other two. Of the two tasks in which performance was related to inhibition, one task was positively associated with success (high inhibition predicted success at solving the problem) and the other was negatively associated with success (a low level of inhibition predicted success at performing the task correctly).
The dogs in this study did not exhibit the ability to transfer knowledge about physical rules learned in one situation to another, similar situation. The researchers conclude that dogs do not generalize from one problem-solving task to another. They hypothesize that dogs approach each problem as a novel task unrelated to others that they have already solved.
I’m curious about these conclusions because of my own experiences observing dogs. I don’t have data on canine problem solving, so my surprise about this study’s results only reflects my anecdotal observations. It seems that dogs who understand how to get food from one style of Kong or toy have an easier time figuring out similar puzzles. It also seems that once a dog has solved the mystery of one “secure” trash can, others are quick to be defeated by that same dog. Perhaps experience only matters with highly similar tasks, or when the task is presented in the same location. Another possibility is that if the motivation to solve the problem is high enough, a dog will perform at a higher level. Kongs and trash cans may provide more motivation than a puzzle in a lab setting. All of these variables would be interesting to explore in future studies. Such work is incredibly intensive and time-consuming, and I applaud these researchers for investigating canine problem solving abilities in a long-term, controlled experiment.
Do the conclusions of this study match your expectations?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Gumby runs away from multiple homes until he finds a permanent spot at the shelter.
Last month, a seven year old hound mix named Gumby escaped yet again from his seventh adoptive home. It was the eleventh time he ended up back at the Charleston Animal Society (CAS) in the last year and a half.
When Gumby came to CAS in September 2014, his first adoption lasted only three days, the first of many short lived homes. The charming pup had no trouble finding new families, despite being warned of his Houdini-like skills, but Gumby always found a way to escape. Everyone loved Gumby, but all of the adopters ultimately returned him fearing he'd be injured on one of his adventures.
After his seventh home reported Gumby escaping three times in less than a month, once busting out of the man's screen door, the shelter decided to stop placing Gumby up for adoption. They also realized that he rarely ever tried to leave while at the shelter. Gumby adored their staff, and seemed to have a special skill--the natural ability to read the emotions of other dogs. Gumby was able to comfort incoming pets, adjusting his behavior in a way that settled fearful and reactive pups.
Donya Satriale, Behavior Team Leader for CAS, likes to say that Gumby kept returning to the shelter because "he knows he has work to do." Now Gumby helps Donya give behavioral demonstrations and acclimate new dogs.
Thanks to the shelter's extreme patience with Gumby, they eventually discovered his incredible gift for helping other dogs. CAS isn't exactly a traditional home, but it's the perfect one for Gumby.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
While scouting pups in need, a Canadian rescue organization ends up buying a shelter in Israel.
A few years ago Danielle Eden and her husband Rob Scheinberg were in their home country of Israel when they encountered four street dogs they decided to rescue and bring back to their current home in Canada. Inspired by the pups in need, they decided to create Dog Tales Rescue and Sanctuary in King City, Ontario, a custom made haven for animals waiting to be adopted. The 50-acre sanctuary features dogs in luxurious rooms decorated with chandeliers, paintings, and custom beds that look like antique furniture. The goal is to create a special space for people to interact with their next potential family member.
In honor of the original rescues, Danielle and Rob regularly go back to Israel and work with local shelter staff to identify dogs to bring back to Canada. Typically these are the pups that have been waiting the longest, because of their age or a disability. In January Danielle and Rob visited a shelter that took overcrowded to a new level. There were 250 dogs crammed in a space for 70. Dogs were fighting over bread and there were rats everywhere. For once it was not obvious which pups were in the most need, because they all were.
Danielle and Rob couldn't bring all of the dogs back with them to Canada, but couldn't bear to turn their backs on any of the pups. So they made the decision to purchase the shelter and take responsibility for all of the dogs there. Danielle and Rob were lucky to have the local ties to be able to make this happen.
It's been a busy last four months as they relocated 90 of the dogs to other, more adequate, rescues in Israel, brought 25 to Canada, and assembled a team to clean up the shelter and socialize the remaining pups. Half of the dogs brought to their shelter in Canada have been adopted.
Some have criticized Danielle and Rob for spending resources rescuing dogs in Israel, when they could be helping more animals in Canada (they do rescue locally as well). While that's a valid point, Danielle and Rob clearly have a connection to the country and have made a difference in many dogs' lives there.
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