Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sharing pastimes with our pets requires weighing interest level and safety risks.
Recently a video of Riley the skydiving dog has been making the internet rounds. At first I couldn't believe what I was seeing. You can't ask a dog if he wants to free fall from over 13,000 feet in the air, not to mention put up with the loud noises, strong winds, and potential side effects (like ear popping and dizziness). After doing a little more research, Riley is not the only skydiving animal. There are other videos of high flying pups on You Tube and of course military dogs are often trained to jump from aircraft. In 2011, handler Mike Forsythe and his canine partner Cara set the world for the highest man/dog parachute deployment for jumping from an astonishing 30,100 feet (although Cara was wearing an oxygen mask and tactical body armor).
Military canines aside, I totally get why someone would want to skydive with their dog recreationally. Who wants to leave their pets at home while you're out having fun? I love my dogs and naturally want to include them in all of the the activities that I enjoy. From hiking mountains to attending baseball Dog Days, my favorite pastimes are even better with my pets by my side. But sometimes it's hard to tell if the dogs actually like certain activities. My Border Collie, Scuttle, isn't normally a big fan of water, but I wanted to take her kayaking with me. I spent weeks getting her used to anything that would simulate aspects of kayaking, such as balancing on an inflatable exercise ball. So far I've taken her three times, and while she loves hanging out with me, and watching everything going on on the water, it's hard to tell if she actually enjoys being on the kayak or not. I try to pay close attention to her body language, but only Scuttle would know for sure!
Besides evaluating whether our dogs like participating in certain activities, it's also important to weigh all of the safety risks. I don't know if Riley likes skydiving, but he can't decide that the risks of jumping from a plane is worth the enjoyment. This is where I really start to disagree with taking a dog on this type of activity, though I realize risk is fairly relative (I'm thinking Nathan, Riley's human counterpart who has completed over 400 jumps, would not consider skydiving as risky as I do!). We bear a responsibility to make this decision on behalf of our pets, so it's not one that I would take lightly.
How do you decide what activities to share with your dogs? Do you think we tend to over include them?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What about the dog?
I have long been a fan of the Budweiser commercials featuring horses, and I love the ads with dogs even more. Without embarrassment, I tell you that I have watched the one that shows a puppy and horse becoming the best of friends a dozen of times at least and gotten misty-eyed with every viewing.
Now, Budweiser has a new commercial emphasizing the importance of the relationship between a man and his dog. The message of the ad is “Don’t Drink and Drive.” It points out that if you don’t make it home alive, your friends will be left waiting forever, and those friends include your dog.
Naturally, I support the message not to drive while intoxicated and agree that it’s wise to spend the night at a friend’s house rather than drive home drunk. However, this ad seems to gloss over the issue of leaving a dog at home alone all evening and all night. It’s great when drinkers act responsibly by staying off the roads, but they need a plan for their dogs when they can’t drive home. There are so many options—have a friend or roommate take care of the dog or take a taxi home—but this commercial doesn’t present any, or even allude to the need for them. (To be fair, when the man comes home, he does say, “I’m sorry,” to his dog.)
Yes, I’m being awfully particular, and yes, the dog and the relationship are charming, as we’ve come to expect from these ads, but I can’t help but be bothered by the dog being such an afterthought. What do you think of the messages in this ad?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Most of us feel it, at least sometimes
“I feel so guilty.” I hear this from clients, friends, relatives and neighbors. There’s a general feeling that we are not ever doing quite enough to make our dogs’ lives happy, fun and fulfilling. Interestingly, I hear this more often from people who are doing right by their dogs than by people who, in my opinion, could really step it up. In my experience, the person who walks the dog once in a week and has no chew toys around for the dog is far less likely to feel bad than the person who walks their dog every morning and evening, and adds in daily training and play sessions.
Great dog guardians are all too aware that what they could do for their dog is endless. Walks could always be longer, play times could be more energetic, massages could be more frequent, training sessions could be more innovative. There could be more outings to new and exciting places, more regular introductions of new dogs toys and we could make more of an effort to vacuum when the dog is outside and won’t be bothered by it. Generally speaking, there are no limits on the ways that we could make our dogs lives even more magical.
I am certainly in the camp that believes in taking excellent care of our dogs. Regular veterinary care, high levels of training, lots of exercise, proper grooming, and time to both play and socialize are all important parts of the good life that we should all strive to give our dogs. It’s not enough to feed them and occasionally interact with them. They need mental and physical activity as well as specific care to maintain their long-term well-being. Yet, we do not have to be at their beck and call attending to their every whim to the exclusion of the rest of the concerns of our daily life. It’s hard to find that balance of what’s enough to do for them compared to all that we could do for them.
When they look at us with their sad eyes, or sigh wearily, it’s natural to feel a twinge of remorse for not immediately playing with them, even if we have something else very pressing to do? Do you ever feel guilty when you think about your dog?
News: Guest Posts
Spice was a victim of extreme neglect. He came to the ASPCA after being confined in a squalid basement without adequate access to food or water. At just 32 pounds, Spice was severely underweight. Veterinarians and staff at the ASPCA Animal Hospital nursed him back to health and helped him gain a life-saving 20 pounds.
Spice’s life today couldn’t be any further from that cold, dark basement. After his rescue, he was adopted by two brothers who shower him constantly with love and affection. He is a happy, friendly dog who already knows “Sit!” and loves to learn new tricks. Learn more about his amazing transformation.
You can help more animals like Spice by becoming an ASPCA Guardian. ASPCA Guardians are a group of dedicated friends of the organization whose regular, monthly donations make a difference for victims of animal abuse all year long.
Please consider supporting the ASPCA’s life-saving programs by becoming a Guardian today. For as little as 60¢ a day, you can help transform the lives of countless animals.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study looks at stress behavior associated with different training methods.
A study published earlier this month showed that shock collars can lead to an increase in stress behaviors in dogs. This may seem like stating the obvious, but these type of training devices continue to be popular despite the risks. The research by the University of Lincoln was commissioned by the U.K.'s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to provide scientific evidence on which to base their animal welfare policy (pretty cool!).
The study was made up of 63 dogs that were identified as having poor recall skills and related problems, such as attacking livestock, a main reason for the shock collar's use in the U.K. The canine subjects were divided into three groups: Group A used a shock collar under the direction of trainers nominated by the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA). Groups B and C trained without a shock collar. One group under the direction of the same ECMA trainers and the other with trainers from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a group committed to reinforcement based methods.
The trainers worked with each dog for two 15-minute sessions a day, for five days. The interactions were videotaped to analyze behavior, and saliva and urine samples were collected to measure cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress).
The researchers found that the dogs in the shock collar group showed significantly more stress behaviors, such as tense body language, yawning, and disengaging with the environment. Although a smaller preliminary study found higher cortisol levels associated with the shock collar, there wasn't a significant difference in cortisol levels in the larger research.
Furthermore, following the five days of training, 92 percent of owners reported improvements in their dog's behavior. There was no significant difference in reported efficacy across the three groups.
Some people say that there are certain behaviors, like a reliable recall, that can't be taught without a shock collar. And that is simply not true. I've seen people train rock solid recalls using only reinforcement based methods. It's nice to have this scientific research to back up that claim. I was also impressed that the U.K. government commissioned this research to inform their policy.
Of course training using reinforcement based methods doesn't come without dedication. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts in dog training! However, a key learning from this study is around the consistency in results across groups (as a side note, while results seemed consistent in the short term, I believe that punishment tools, like shock collars, can often develop unintended consequences in the long term). The short training sessions repeated every day was the primary diver for getting results. Even if you only train for five minutes a day, if you stick to it, you'll see progress in your training challenges.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Not fun for you or your dog
As my sister says, “’Move’ is a four-letter word.” She also says, “’Pack’ is a four-letter word,” which I consider equally accurate. Anyone in the middle of relocating is likely to agree with both sentiments, and not just because they are technically true. Moving, with all the hassles and associated packing, is usually a horrible experience with a bit of the dreadful and stressful thrown in just to make sure that you really hate it. It’s generally no better for dogs than it is for people, so when you do have to move, I suggest that you make it even harder on yourself by putting the time and effort into making it easier for your dog. It will be better for both of you in the long run.
Have the boxes and other gear like packing tape, newsprint, and bubble wrap in your house way ahead of packing and moving so your dog can get used to them. Associate them with play and treats so that your dog develops positive rather than negative feelings towards them. Also, keep them away from your dog when you are not there to supervise. Boxes can easily be damaged by dogs, and dogs can easily be damaged by bubble wrap, so don’t let them be together unattended.
Carve out a little time for your dog despite the mayhem in your life. If you can make a lot of time to take your dog out for walks, classes, or for playtime, so much the better, but even a little goes a long way. If you are swamped by all the packing and other torturous parts of moving and your schedule is disrupted, that’s understandable. Still, it’s important not to make the mistake of thinking that since you don’t have time for a 45-minute walk, no walk is possible. Even 10 minutes of getting out of the house to walk or 5 minutes of fetch in the yard is a way to be kind to your dog, and to yourself. Everybody needs breaks for a little fun! Hopefully, this rough patch will be brief, and after the move you can return to a routine that involves the usual amount of time devoted to your dog.
Keep your pet away from the actual packing as much as possible. Watching everything in the house be shuffled and packed is inherently unsettling for most dogs. The less they see this going on, the better. If your dog is comfortable in another room or in a crate out of sight, give him something to chew on or a stuffed Kong while you work. Sometimes being out for a walk with another family member may be an option that allows you to pack without stressing out your dog. If it’s possible, have your dog at a friend’s house so he’s away from the packing nightmare entirely. People often say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” and that’s a great time to ask, “Can you watch my dog tomorrow evening?” or “Are you able to walk my dog some morning?” Many people will be so relieved that they can be of service without having to lift a heavy sleeper sofa that you are likely to get the assistance you need with a smile.
If you and your dog are facing a packing and moving phase of life, you have my sympathy. Please know that my paws are crossed for you, hoping that it all goes as well as possible.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
As an animal control officer, I’ve seen a lot of tough stuff, but last summer’s callout to pick up a stray Pit Bull was about as bad as it gets. The old dog was so emaciated that I could count every rib and vertebra, and could have hung my hat on her hip bones.
She was also missing much of her hair, her skin was inflamed, her nails were long and the cruciate ligaments in both of her hind legs had clearly ruptured. In spite of her condition, this old girl was thrilled to be shown some attention. She held my gaze with big brown eyes that melted my heart. When I stroked her sweet face, her hairless tail whipped so hard that she nearly fell over. I wrapped my arms around her stinky, bony body and hugged her.
The shelter vet gave her a poor prognosis. Not only was she old, she was in extremely bad condition, and her blood work looked terrible. Still, the shelter did what it could for her, among other things, starting her on a gradual re-feeding program; her appetite was voracious. I visited her every day, and when her stray hold was up, I named her Patty and took her home to foster.
As Patty settled easily into life as a pampered house dog, I went to work on finding justice for her. I consulted a friend, an investigator for the DA’s office, and together, we put in many hours on the case. During the investigation and court proceedings, Patty lived in our home but could not be formally adopted until the case was resolved. In the meantime, she gained 20 pounds, her hair grew back and her skin improved tremendously. She was so strong, shiny and vigorous that it was hard to believe she had ever been anything else.
Finally, 10 months after I picked her up, we wrapped up Patty’s case with two arrests, a felony conviction with jail time and a court-ordered diversion program.
During her time with us, my entire family fell in love with this delightful old dog (we learned that she will be 12 this year). She cuddles with my geriatric cats and ancient Chihuahua mix, greets visitors like long-lost friends, and adores children. Without a doubt, Patty has blessed our lives at least as much as we have blessed hers. You can guess where this is going. Years ago, I made a sort of “bucket list,” things I wanted to do or to accomplish. One was to adopt an old, beat-up dog and pamper the heck out of him or her. Last week, I finalized Patty’s adoption as a formal member of our family. This may be the best thing I’ve checked off that list yet.
This experience reminded me of two important facts: justice for abused dogs is possible, and many elderly dogs—even elderly, broken-down dogs—have life and joy left in them; all they need is a chance. If you’re thinking about adopting a dog, find it in your heart to give one of these venerable creatures a home.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pete's Pet Posse launches as part of the school's America's Healthiest Campus initiative.
Earlier this week Oklahoma State University announced the launch of the country's most comprehensive university-wide pet therapy program. This initiative, named after the school mascot, Pistol Pete, is part of their commitment to be America's Healthiest Campus. Pete's Pet Posse is currently made up of thirteen dogs who are clients of OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
The program was designed to help students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors overcome emotional and stressful situations. But the unique part of their mission is the goal of being proactive, not reactive. While many schools bring in therapy dogs during high stress times, like finals week (my Sheltie, Nemo, has been one of those pups at a local college), OSU recognizes that the benefits of animals are needed year round. Pete's Pet Posse is strategically deployed across the campus, with each department deciding how the therapy pets will be utilized.
During the program's pilot phase, Posse pups have been used in many capacities such as greeting students studying in the library and reassuring new employees in orientation. Dr. Lee Bird, Vice President of Student Affairs, has also requested dogs to join meetings to help students grappling with a particularly difficult challenge. The therapy dogs also provided comfort this spring after a student was killed by a drunk driver. The pups truly play a multifaceted role on campus!
And it's not an easy job to get. Each canine-human therapy team must apply to the program. Once accepted they go through extensive training in partnership with the veterinary school. A top priority is also to make sure that the Posse is healthy. Participants are given a stipend towards a microchip, vaccinations, and heartworm/flea/tick prevention, as well as regular wellness exams.
If Pete's Pet Posse continues to be successful, the goal is to extend the program system-wide across all OSU campuses. I hope that more colleges will follow OSU's proactive example!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The effects can last a decade
For years after the release of 101 Dalmatians, I saw representatives of this breed a lot in group classes and in private consultations for serious behavioral problems. Then, after the popularity of Eddie in the TV show Frasier, I saw more Jack Russell Terriers than before, even though that dog was a mix. When the movie Mozart came out, there was a bit of an upswing in the number of Saint Bernards I saw. I never thought I could see MORE Labrador Retrievers, but when Marley and Me was all the rage, there were even more than ever. I’m always conscious of what types of dogs are becoming stars, because it’s been my impression that it will affect my work.
Now, a new study in PLOS ONE titled “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice” has confirmed what anyone working with dogs professionally has long suspected: Canine movie stars influence the dog breeds that people choose. The reason that can be a problem is that it means that people are choosing dog breeds based on fads and fashion rather than on compatibility of the breed with lifestyle or the health of the dogs.
To study the degree of media influence on the choices people make about the type of dog to welcome into their family, researchers collected data from the American Kennel Club (AKC) about registered dogs of each breed. They analyzed the changes in popularity of dogs that were featured as main characters in movies from 1927 through 2004. In order to make sure that specific dogs were not in movies BECAUSE the breed was popular, they looked at trends in the relevant breeds both before and after the release of the movies
Movies in the early period of the study had a greater impact on breed choices by the public than movies in later years. The researchers suggest that this might be because of competition from other movies. Early on (before 1940), movies featuring dogs came out less than once a year, but later on (by 2005), it was not unusual for seven dog movies to be released in a single year.
In many cases, an increase in registrations of a particular breed that was seen in a popular movie was strongest 10 years after the movie was released. This may mean that preferences for a certain breed seen in a movie may be long-lasting and influence decisions about what dog to acquire many years after seeing a movie.
Did you ever fall in love with a dog in the movies and acquire one of the same breed later on?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bretagne is the last surviving search and rescue pup.
As we pass another 9/11 anniversary, we will never forget the countless human and canine rescuers who dedicated weeks of their lives to finding survivors. Bretagne, the last surviving Ground Zero search and rescue dog, returned to Manhattan on Thursday for the for the first time since 2001. The then two year old Golden Retriever, and her handler Denise Corliss, traveled from Texas to New York for what was their first national assignment together.
Denise was inspired to enter the search and rescue field after volunteering as a "victim" during a training session. She still remembers the moment when a dog discovered her buried under rubble after a few hours. Even though it was only a test, the feeling of relief and joy left a lasting impression.
Soon Denise found herself with Bretagne and started training the puppy for search dog duties. Just a year later the duo made it onto the Texas Task Force 1, meaning they were good enough to be selected for national disaster duty.
Following 9/11, Bretagne and Denise worked 12 hour days at Ground Zero alongside about 300 other search and rescue dogs. When they weren't searching, the pups served as unofficial therapy dogs for the stressed human rescuers. Bretagne and her canine co-workers brought smiles and hope when it was needed most. And they didn't need to be trained for this part of the job.
Denise tells the story of when Bretagne rushed over to a depressed firefighter. Even when Denise called the otherwise obedient pup, Bretagne stayed by the firefighter's side, putting her head on his lap. It was exactly what was needed in the moment.
After 9/11, Denise and Bretagne went on to help in rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and Ivan. Six years ago, Bretagne retired from rescue work, but now travels to Texas elementary schools to help students with special needs. She is truly living a life of service!
It will come as no surprise that Bretagne is currently up for the American Humane Association's annual Hero Dog Award. And you can help her win by voting through the Hero Dog Award web site.
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