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News: Editors
Mars Buys P&G Pet Food Brands
Puppy drinking out of a bowl

Some news on the pet food front: Mars is buying Procter & Gamble’s pet food brands that include Iams, Eukanuba and Natura. Interesting that the company, which owns candies like M&M’s, Snickers as well as pet food brands Pedigree, Royal Canin, Nutro, Greenies, in addition to the Banfield Pet Hospitals, just increased their holdings on the pet food market. Wondering why this happened? P&G only just recently purchased Natura, but perhaps the handling of a large-scale recall of that brand in 2013, was more costly to their bottom line than they had anticipated. We did find it difficult to get timely information from them on these series of recalls, which just seem to escalate from month to month. Perhaps too they were surprised about the scale of the backlash that the news of their purchase of Natura caused. It will be interesting to see how Mars will handle customer confidence in their new acquisitions, as well as their other brands too.

Here's the story from Pet Age, a pet industry magazine.

Mars has agreed to buy Procter & Gamble‘s Iams, Eukanuba and Natura brands in major markets for $2.9 billion in cash, the companies announced in a joint press release.

The strategic move for Mars Petcare will expand its already large portfolio of pet brands, and signals Proctor & Gamble’s move to reduce its pet segment.

“Exiting Pet Care is an important step in our strategy to focus P&G’s portfolio on the core businesses where we can create the most value for consumers and shareowners,” A.G. Lafley, P&G’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, said. “The transaction creates value for P&G shareowners, and we are confident that the business will thrive at Mars, a leading company in pet care.”

The geographic regions included in the acquisition, which account for approximately 80 percent of P&G Pet Care’s global sales, include North America, Latin America and other selected countries. The agreement includes an option for Mars to acquire the business in several additional countries. Markets not included in the transaction are primarily European Union countries.

P&G said it is developing alternate plans to sell its Pet Care business in these markets.

“This acquisition is a perfect fit with our Mars Petcare vision of making A Better World For Pets,”  Todd Lachman, Mars Petcare global president, said. “The deal reinforces our leadership in pet nutrition and veterinary science, attracts world class talent and grows our world leading portfolio.”

The companies expect to complete the transaction in the second-half of 2014, subject to regulatory approvals.

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Losing the Dog That Was Your First “Baby”
It’s one of life’s common stages

“It’s because we all got a dog before we had children,” one friend of mine said.

Another replied, “It’s so true. They were our first babies.”

Both women were referring to the recent epidemic in our little circle of friends of elderly dogs dying. Most of us first had a child upwards of 10 years ago, and many of our families have a dog in the 13 to 17-year old range. That naturally means that there have been many losses recently and that there a few dogs who are not likely to be around this time next year.

I’m used to thinking about the stages of life—engagements, weddings, babies—but I hadn’t noticed how in sync the dog stages are, too. Many people get a dog right after graduation or soon after getting married, and those people often face the tough loss of that dog around the same time as each other, too.

There’s another stage of dog loss that happens for the people who get a puppy when their kids are little. Those people tend to get a dog when their youngest kid is around 5 to 8 years old because they are old enough to help out and not grab at the puppy as small children often will. They often face the loss of that dog right around the time that their human children move out of the house.

It can help in a misery-loves-company sort of way to know that others understand your loss because they are suffering, too. Have you lost a dog “right on schedule” at one of these times?

News: Editors
Laughter is the Best Tonic
Study shows dog people laugh more

Do you enjoy a good laugh with your dog? If so, apparently you are not alone. So writes New York Times long-time health columnist Jane Brody on one of the many benefits her new dog Max contributes to her life. Brody’s recent article champions the many perks of “life with a dog”—companionship, exercise, meeting people and laughter. She cites a study of 95 people who were asked to keep “laughter” logs and record the frequency and source of their laughter. Results showed that dog owners laughed frequently more than cat owners and people who owned neither. The findings suggest a complex relationship between pet ownership and laughter. Dogs may serve as friends with whom to laugh or their behaviors may provide a greater source of laughter. Does this resonate with Bark readers? How does your dog make you laugh?

Last week, we marked that annual day of grins and laughter—April 1—with an in-box full of pranks. Jokey press releases, outlandish news reports and faux announcements tried to outduel each other for guffaws. Given the nature of our business, many were dog-themed.

Here’s a sampling of some of the April Fool’s jokes we received this year:

Google Apps for Business Dogs
The tech giant pokes fun of itself and its foray into social media

Moo’s new delivery system—Pug Post!
The online printing service employs canine couriers

The Milwaukee Brewers mascots square off
We love them for adopting Hank the stray, but the humor should have stayed in the locker room

Great British Chefs offer fine dining for dogs
Michelin starred chef opens a “doggie diner”

Plus, these favorites from the past deserve mention …

IKEA’s 2011 Hundstol Dog Highchair
Remember “some assembly may be required”

Warby Parker introduces Warby Barker in 2012
Glasses for dogs!

Barclaycard launches Barclay PayWag in 2013
The first contactless payment device for dogs

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Well-Trained Dogs Inspire
Jumpy is a joy to watch

This video of Jumpy responding to a series of cues given by his trainer, Omar von Muller, is one of my top picks for showing, in an entertaining way, what dogs are capable of doing if people invest a lot of time and effort into training them.

When I watch this video, I mainly just enjoy it, but I delight in knowing that Jumpy has a wonderful life full of freedom, mental exercise and lots of time with his guardian. This dog has a lot of training experience and lives with a professional trainer whose work involves training animals for appearances in the film industry.  (Von Muller is the trainer responsible for Uggie’s performance in The Artist and Water for Elephants.) I would never expect all dogs to be able to perform at this level, nor would I expect that most people would be interested in putting in the effort to achieve such a level of performance even if it were possible.

On the other hand, I would love it if, as a society, we acknowledged that reliable responsiveness to multiple cues is not an impossibility for most dogs. Sure, it takes some commitment to learn the training skills and to train the dog, but it’s not magic. It’s not an option for only one in a million dogs, either.

Videos like this always inspire me to teach new tricks, and I am eager to teach “Don’t you look at it,” which is a cue to look away from something. I have never taught that particular action, and I’m excited to give it a try.

Did this video inspire you to teach your dog something in particular?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bandannas for Pups
A color coded system alerts people on how to approach dogs
When Brigitte Blais' Bull Mastiff, Diesel, was recovering from surgery, he wasn't tolerating other dogs very well (understandably). But when they went on walks, other people would routinely let their pups run up to Diesel, leaving Brigitte to frantically pacify the situation. Brigitte wished there was a way to let others know that Diesel was not reliably dog friendly.

Brigitte then started D.E.W.S. (Dog Early Warning System) in her town of Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. She came up with a simple program where dogs wear bananas indicating how they should be approached or interacted with----red for dogs to be avoided, yellow for those who can't be approached by other dogs, but like people (with the caveat that strangers first ask for guidance on how to interact), and green for dogs that love everyone.

The concept of letting others know about your dog's tolerance is generally a good thing, but I think the three bandannas over complicates the issue. It also slightly contradicts the Yellow Dog Project (another initiative started in Alberta, Canada) that uses yellow bandannas to identify dogs that need space not only from other pups, but potentially from people.

I also think that D.E.W.S. should teach people to ask before approaching any dog, even a friendly one that may be wearing a green bandanna. It's a good habit to get in. And just because a dog is friendly, it doesn't mean you should automatically let your pup approach another. On multiple occasions I've had someone's dog rush up to mine (which can startle even a good natured pup), while they yelled, "don't worry, he's friendly!" And sometimes people say their dog is friendly when the pup's body language is saying otherwise.

At my dog training club, we use red bandannas for pups that need space. Having something to identify these dogs is important, but only if enough people know what the sign means. It would be great if there was just one universal bandanna that could carry a stronger message. Perhaps D.E.W.S., the Yellow Dog Project, and any other similar initiatives will collaborate!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs' Responses to Familiar Human Scents
Their brains reveal a positive response

You may not feel happy when you smell your husband’s underarm when he has not showered or used deodorant for 24 hours, but your dog probably does. So concluded scientists who conducted an fMRI study to investigate the response of dogs’ brains to both familiar and unfamiliar canine and human odors. Since the canine sense of smell is so well-developed, studies that investigate it are especially useful for learning more about dogs, including their behavior and emotions.

The 12 dogs in the study “Scent of the familiar: an fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors” (in press in the journal Behavioural Processes) have been trained to remain still during the entire procedure. Because the dogs don’t move during the process because of training rather than being medicated or restrained to achieve stillness, the way various areas of the brain respond to various stimuli can be studied. All of the dogs are family pets and were raised by people from puppyhood on.

In this experiment, researchers focused on the caudate, which is an area of the brain that is associated with positive feelings and rewards. The level of activity in this part of the brain in response to various odors informs us about the emotional reaction of dogs to various stimuli. The odors used were the dog’s own odor, a familiar dog, an unfamiliar dog, a familiar person and an unfamiliar person. The familiar person was never the guardian handling the dog at the experiment because the scent of that person was present throughout the experiment.

The scientists found that dogs had the strongest, most positive reactions to the smell of a familiar person. Because most of the handlers with the dog during the experiment were female guardians, the familiar person was usually the male guardian or their child, although it was sometimes a close friend. The familiar dog was also a member of the household. The scents from dogs came from the perineal-genital area.

The dogs responded to all of the scents, but activation of the caudate portion of the brain in response to the familiar human scent showed that dogs distinguished it from all the other scents and that they had a particularly positive association with that smell. Dogs had a more positive response to familiar humans than to either unfamiliar humans or to members of their own species, whether familiar or unfamiliar.

Interestingly, the four dogs in this study who are service dogs had the strongest responses to human scents, which may be due to genetics, their intense exposure to humans during training or even simply a fluke related to small sample size. It is possible that dogs whose caudate is highly responsive to human scent may be best suited for service work. Because not all dogs selected to be service dogs end up successfully completing the time-consuming and expensive training, choosing those dogs who are most likely to succeed could save time and money as well as lessen the extensive waiting times for people in need of such dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pondering the Past
Is it better not to know your rescue pup's history?
Who could say no to this pup?!

If you could learn more about your dog's past, would you? Even if it was bad? Recently a friend had the opportunity to find out more about her rescue pup's former life, but was unsure if she really wanted the information. The adoption had taken place years ago and she was afraid the truth wouldn't be pretty. Some friends said it would be useful to know any available information, while others advised her to live in the moment and not to focus on the past.

Since adopting my Border Collie, Scuttle, a year and a half ago, I always wonder what her life was like before she joined my family. Who could give up such a happy, adorable puppy?! My sister thinks I might not want to know, that maybe Scuttle was abused or neglected. This pup loves people more than anything in the world (well maybe second to chasing the cat!) and doesn't act like she was ever hit, but Scuttle did come with some deeply ingrained fear issues. If something startled her, Scuttle would shut down for the whole day. We've since worked to overcome those challenges and she's almost like a different dog today. Looking back, I'm not sure that knowing more about her past would've necessarily helped in our journey.

I have my theories about why Scuttle was given up--certainly her high energy level and potty training difficulties are strong contenders--but learning her history would probably only serve to satisfy my curiosity. Today, the only important fact is that I'm lucky to have her with me now!

Have you ever wanted to know more about your rescue pup's past?

News: Editors
Rally for a Shelter Dog

Two-year old Fletch has lived at Mount Vernon, Ohio’s Knox County shelter for seven months but a week ago he was facing execution. He had accidentally nipped a girl on the hand while the two were playing together—his first offense ever. But Fletch is a well-loved dog by shelter workers and the public so when dog warden, Jordan Barnard, issued the final sentence on him, animal lovers and friends of Fletch went into action. Thousands signed online petitions, and more than a 100 gathered in downtown Mount Vernon to wave signs and get supportive honks from passing cars.

Cody Jackson, 41, of Mount Vernon, had been hoping to adopt Fletch, so he filed an injunction to block the dog’s euthanization. Fletch’s case went to court, with his advocates packing the municipal courtroom. All were relieved when Judge Spurgeon seemed unmoved by the warden’s case and ordered the dog released to Phil Samuell, a shelter volunteer who offered to foster the dog. Samuell takes marvelous photos of shelter dogs to entice adoptions (and often sends them to us for our viewing pleasure), and tells us that the warden has appealed this stay of execution, so a further hearing is now set for 4/1/14. Let’s hope that Fletch’s case is resolved and he gets a permanent reprieve and to go to his forever home with Jackson.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lessons from Hernando
Hydrocephalic pup

The little fuzzy faced mama dog began to pant and dig at her bedding. Pippa had come to me as an abandoned stray only a day or so previously in an advanced state of pregnancy. It was obvious that delivery was imminent. I dialed a friend who offered to keep me company during labor and she arrived a few minutes later. It was around 9 pm and I poured us a glass of wine and we chatted quietly as we waited.

In a very short period of time, Pippa turned and began to lick her vulva. We could see a dark bulge presenting and Pippa strained and licked until the baby was free. She cleaned the baby vigorously and it squirmed and squeaked. The labor progressed well throughout the night with a puppy being born every 15-30 minutes. At one point there was a long period with no puppies and I began to worry but eventual, with a tremendous push, another little boy was born. He had kind of a big head and I grinned and said “no wonder she had a hard time.” By 4:30 in the morning, 9 puppies had been born and all were nursing and doing well so I headed off to bed.

We named the puppy with the big head, Hernando. As the days passed, all of the puppies thrived but I began to notice that Hernando’s head was getting bigger by the day. By 3 weeks of age his head was cartoonishly huge and I realized with a sinking heart that he was probably hydrocephalic. I have done a lot of fostering and had a hydrocephalic puppy in a previous litter. That baby stopped developing at 3 weeks of age and was very delayed in every way. She had passed away peacefully at 9 weeks old. Unlike the previous puppy, so far Hernando seemed fine in every other way.

I knew from my previous experience that there wasn’t a lot that can be done for hydrocephalic dogs and most don’t survive puppyhood although there are exceptions. I had been posting daily updates about the puppies on Facebook and listed my concerns about Hernando. People began to comment about how they were crying, sobbing and devastated by his condition. I would look over at Hernando, playing joyfully with his siblings, nursing or sleeping safe and warm cuddled up to Pippa. He certainly wasn’t sad or suffering. In fact, he was one of the more advanced pups in the litter and his little tail wagged all the time. He was usually first to eat, first to greet visitors and first to dive in and nurse.

People were requesting updates, and yet it was making them unhappy. In my posts I started reminding people that Hernando’s future was uncertain, but dogs live in the moment and Hernando was as happy as they come. There are so many lessons to be learned from dogs. Hernando could die tomorrow, but being miserable about it today won’t change the outcome. And what if he is one of the rare ones that survives and thrives? We will have wasted all that time being sad over something that never happened. Others asked why I didn’t have him put down. The answer is that there is no need at this point. He is fully functional and in no pain. I will never let him suffer, but his life matters, however long or short.

I did take Hernando to a neurology specialist, just to see if there were any other options. The vet asked if Hernando could walk. I set him down on the floor and much to our amusement, he bounced sassily across the room and began to chew the doctor’s shoes. After putting him through a thorough exam, the vet agreed with the diagnosis but said that since he wasn’t showing any deficits there wasn’t anything to be done at that point. In rare cases a shunt can be placed to direct fluid away from the head and back into the body. The cost is around $8000 and the procedure often only lasts for a year so it was not recommended. Medications can be helpful in some cases but aren’t usually prescribed unless the dog is having problems.

Hernando will be leaving for his wonderful new home soon. The vet said that if he makes it to a year, he might live a full life. He will be a pampered and adored companion however long he lives. He is a daily reminder to live in the moment and find our joy every day.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Less is Sometimes More
Dogs make quick decisions similar to humans and other primates

People always say, 'less is more,' and according to a new study, that mantra is sometimes true for canines.

A study at the University of Kentucky looked at a group of dogs that willingly ate both cheese and baby carrots, but showed a preference for the cheese (like most pups I know!). When given a choice between one slice of cheese or the cheese together with a piece of carrot, nine out of ten dogs chose the cheese alone. Thus sometimes less is more.

Most people would expect a hungry dog to choose the option for a greater quantity of food, but apparently this is a unique trait that has only previously been shown in humans and monkeys--a qualitative versus quantitative decision. Researchers believe that the dogs averaged the quality of the cheese plus carrot, rather than sum up the quantity, something associated with quick decision making that humans and other primates do. For example people will typically place a greater value on a set of six baseball cards in perfect condition than the same set of perfect cards together with three more cards in fair condition. Similarly, in a study where monkeys were given the choice of one grape or one grape plus a cucumber slice, they overwhelmingly preferred the one grape.

Researchers believe this happens because it's faster and easier to judge the average quality than the overall quantity of alternatives. They figure that a dog developed this behavior because in the wild they would need to make rapid decisions about food in order to stay alive (although you could make this argument for almost any wild animal).

As in humans, motivation may also play a role. The team noted that one dog did choose the cheese and carrot combination. Interestingly, this outlier dog was a rescue and had a history of having to fend for himself. So it would make sense that he would go for the larger amount of food.

Kristina Pattison, one of the researchers, believes that the study shows the behavior can be found in all socially organized carnivores, like wolves. The team is hoping to further the research by studying the effect in less socially organized species, like rats, and non-mammalian species, such as birds.

This study is really interesting (and it's always cool to see the similarities we have with our pups), but I tried the experiment with my crew and they just seemed to go with whatever pile of food they happened to look at first. Obviously my trial was not scientific in the least, but I think they're so excited I'm putting food on the floor that they aren't really thinking about the contents.

What would your crew do?

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