Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs' leashes get stuck in the closing doors
Living in the New York City area, I ride in an elevator several times a day. It's something I barely think about. When my dogs are with me, I usually send them ahead so that I can make sure their bodies clear the door, but thinking about their leashes getting stuck never crossed my mind. Until I watched a video (actually footage from an elevator security camera) posted by Tamara Seibert, I wasn't aware just how powerful elevators can be when something thin is in the doors. It literally made me feel sick to my stomach.
Last month Tamara and her two dogs were headed back to their apartment in Toronto, Ontario when Vado's leash got stuck in the elevator door. Tamara didn't notice until the elevator started moving and Vado was violently dragged to the ceiling, left hanging by his collar. You can see Tamara frantically pressing buttons and trying to detach Vado. Fortunately she was able to stop the elevator and get the poor pup to safety. Seeing as my heart was pounding, I can only imagine what Tamara and Vado were going through.
Even more horrifying, I did a quick search for dogs dragged in the elevator and countless videos came up showing pups in similar situations. Meanwhile, Tamara has been spreading the word on Facebook so that people will be more vigilant, and not just with leashes. In her crusade, Tamara learned about a 7-year old girl whose dress got stuck in an elevator. Tragically the girl was not able to be saved like Vado.
It's easy to become lax when it involves something you do multiple times a day and perhaps that's why this video feels especially horrifying to me. Please spread the word so we can prevent this from happening again.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
CAAB Chat about friendship, jealousy, grief, and bullying
CAAB Chats are a new program featuring monthly discussions among CAABs (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) about topics that matter to people who love animals. This month’s CAAB Chat is about Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs, and will involve a conversation about friendship, grief, jealousy, status, bullying, gratitude, and more. Anyone can register to listen in to the live chat (which is this Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) free of charge, and replays are available for a fee.
I have listened to the previous CAAB Chats on Canine Communication and Response Prevention and really enjoyed them. This month I’m excited to be one of the CAABs doing the chatting, along with my friend and colleague Camille Ward, PhD. CAABs Suzanne Hetts, PhD and Dan Estep, PhD will be moderating the discussion, and we are all excited about the topic and discussing it with one another. We hope that everyone who signs up to be a part of it will feel like they are listening in as we candidly discuss topics that matter to us, just as we would at a conference or even over a cup of coffee (or other beverage of choice.)
There are so many questions about social roles and relationships in dogs, and this list is just a few of the ones we find particularly interesting and hope to hit on.
How do friendships develop among dogs?
Do dogs have preferences for their play partners? What contributes to those preferences?
How do relationships among dogs, and between dogs and people go wrong?
Why do we seem to have so many dogs who assume a “bullying” role with other dogs?
How are the relationships dogs form with each other similar to those they form with people? How are they different?
Can dogs feel gratitude?
What do dogs experience when another dog they’ve lived with dies? Do they feel grief?
Since the discussion is informal by design, there’s no telling exactly where it will lead, and that’s part of the fun. Additionally, those listening in are asked to submit questions they’d like to see addressed, and those will surely lead to interesting parts of the conversation.
CAABs all have a scientific and research background and many of us have worked with animals with serious behavior problems. We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, reading and talking about animal behavior (not to mention a lot of time with animals themselves!) We love chatting about our work, which is a labor of love for all of us, and this week’s CAAB Chat is just one more opportunity to do so. We hope you will join us!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Joins National Canine Research Council
Adam Miklósi just became the newest advisor to the National Canine Research Council. Their mission involves understanding and preserving the human-canine bond and they both conduct and fund research in support of this goal. Miklósi is an expert on the cognitive and social abilities of dogs that make their bond with humans possible and he has played a pivotal role in the way dogs are now viewed by scientists and lay people alike.
Although scientists as brilliant and prestigious as Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize, and even Charles Darwin, were fascinated by dogs and studied them extensively, many others found them unworthy of attention. The viewpoint for generations was that because dogs were domesticated, they were not scientifically interesting the way that wild animals are. Many people in the field of ethology, which is the study of animals in their natural habitat rather than in the laboratory, failed to recognize that the natural environment of dogs is with people. Attempts to study them were met with scorn, and almost no funding.
In the last decade, the tide has turned, and now excellent research on dogs is being done in many areas of the world. As founder and head of the Family Dog Project and head of the Ethology Department at Eötvös University in Budapest, Miklósi is a worldwide leader in the study of the domestic dog. The goal of his research is to investigate the ethological and evolutionary foundations of the human-dog relationship.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study looks at how to better train the canine nose
Back in December, I wrote about a lawsuit that questioned the abilities of drug and bomb sniffing dogs. With no concrete standards or training protocols, some studies were showing that the canine nose is not always reliable. Since then, I've been eager to see more research in this area. We know that the canine nose is extraordinary, but I think we just have to find the best way to train and utilize that talent.
So I was excited to learn about a team at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) that has been looking at the science behind how dogs locate explosives, such as Composition C-4 (a plastic explosive used by the U.S. military). Their first findings, the culmination of a four-year study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, found that dogs react best to working with the actual explosive. This sounds like a no brainer, but apparently it's common to use products that mimic the odor of C-4 for training purposes. Previous studies suggested that certain non-explosive chemicals emitted by C-4 caused dogs to alert, which is why many people were using the faux substances in place of real explosives.
In the first phase of the study. IUPUI researchers discovered that the non-explosive chemicals given off by C-4 mimics are also present in a variety of everyday plastic objects. Objects tested included PVC pipes, electrical tape, movie tickets, a plastic grocery bag, and plastic food wrapping. You can see how problematic that is and why dogs trained with mimics would be deemed unreliable.
The second phase tested 33 canines from the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, Amtrak, and other agencies that were trained on real explosives. The dogs were exposed to specific vapors found in C-4, one at a time. The pups failed to respond, demonstrating that if dogs are trained on the full scent, they will only detect real explosives (all of the scents combined) and not to singular scents that may be found in the environment.
"The canines are not easily fooled," says John Goodpaster, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology and director for the Forensic and Investigative Sciences Program in the School of Science at IUPUI. "You can't pick and choose components of explosive odors and expect the dog to respond," Goodpaster said. "Dogs are specific and it's the full scent that causes them to alert." Of course more research must be done, but this study shows that having more consistent training protocols has the potential to help make sniffing dogs more reliable. It also establishes some of the science needed for canine detection to be used as legally admissible evidence in court. I hope to see more studies in the coming years!
Gaia is my foster dog through Dogs on Deployment, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides a central database for military members to find families and individuals who are willing to board their pets while they are deployed. No pet should ever be surrendered due to a military commitment.
Dogs on Deployment exists to help military members keep their pets by reducing the need for pet relinquishment from military members due to the hardships of deployments. Military personnel are often deployed with two-weeks (or less) notice. This allows them little time to get everything together, including finding accommodations for their pets. They may be forced to give up their pets to shelters or put them on sites such as Craigslist.
I’m hoping to get a shameless plug for DoD with this cute photo of Gaia!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
URIPALS expands the program to include canines
Last year I wrote about URIPALS, New York City's first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. At the time the program was part of a pilot and only included cats and smaller animals. Thanks to the initiative's success, URIPALS is now welcoming dogs into their largest shelter. To mark the expansion, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Nestlé Purina PetCare hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony today for the city's first ever dog park in a domestic violence shelter. The Purina Play Haven and Dog Park will provide a relaxing space for families and features a ramp, tunnel, bridge, and platform for the dogs to play on.
“Since launching URIPALS, we’ve seen how transformative it is for families in domestic violence situations to go through the healing process together with their pets,” said Nathaniel Fields, President of URI. “We are grateful to Purina for helping URI make this dog park a reality, and for their shared commitment to keeping people and pets together, especially in times of crisis.”
As many as 48 percent of women will delay leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. Programs like URIPALS are important for reducing barriers to safety for families with pets in domestic violence situations.
No one can demonstrate the impact of the new program better than the participants. One of the domestic violence survivors, who is currently staying in URI's shelter, couldn't be more thankful.
“When my children and I found out that we could bring our dog, Sparky, with us into shelter, we were overjoyed,” she said. “Sparky had always been there with us to comfort and even protect us from the abuse, and having him there with us as we work to put our lives back together makes our recovery process so much better."
I hope that other organizations in cities around the world will be inspired to create similar programs and build upon the success of URIPALS.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A lifetime of adventures worth telling
The broken jaw was suffered over a decade ago, courtesy of a kicking horse, and the broken leg was a result of an unplanned exit from the back of a pick-up truck a couple of years after that. Being attacked by a raccoon left him with a cut so bad his jawbone was showing through the cuts in his gums.
Gus is a 14-year old Heeler/Pit Bull cross and about as sweet a dog as I have ever met. He visited us this weekend when his guardian, David, was doing some electrical work in our kitchen, and his elderly comportment gives no signs of all the living this dog has done. Despite his rambunctious youth, Gus now moves slowly, reliably remains calm and is gentle with kids and adults alike. He’s changed a bit a from his barking, chasing, heel-nipping days, though his basic personality remains the same.
Born in Montanta on a 400-acre alfalfa ranch, Gus later lived in California in a triplex apartment after David was badly injured, then moved to Arizona where he once again had room to run around. That was when his guardian worked as the lookout at Lemmon Rock lookout on Mount Lemmon, and where Gus acquired the nickname “Smoke Detector”. Gus was so popular there that David’s boss joked with him, “We didn’t hire you because of you. It’s because of Gus. You don’t have to come back, but we’d sure like to see Gus again.”
Last summer, Gus lived in his fourth state when David worked as a firefighter in Washington. (Friends watched him when David was working.) Gus was used to living with lots of people since he spent his first year living in the bunkhouse of the ranger station in Montana, and he no doubt raised morale in the place just by being himself.
It’s good news that he is such a lovely dog given all that has happened to him and his beginnings. The mom was the family’s gentle Pit Bull, but his litter was the result of an unplanned breeding between that dog and the neighbor’s aggressive male Heeler. The eight puppies all went to firefighters and EMTs that worked with David, and I can only hope that the other seven had lives so filled with friendship and adventure.
The life of every dog is made up of stories, and I love it when people share them with me. I especially love hearing the tales of elderly dogs. Not only have they usually had a greater number of interesting escapades since they have been on the planet so long, but they have almost always had adventures that don’t seem to match with their gentle older selves. They make me think of old men sitting on a porch starting every other phrase with, ”Did I ever tell you about the time I. . .”
Have you ever had an old dog whose life story was just begging to be told?
News: Guest Posts
How Does the Loss of a Dog Impact the Wellbeing of other Dogs in the Household?
I recently came upon the link for a pet loss survey through social media. My summer of 2013 had far too much pet loss. Curious, I went to the website, which is sponsored by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I met the study criteria: over 18 years of age; have lost a pet from my household due to death, temporary or permanent absence; and at the time of the loss, had at least one other pet that is still in my household today.
I took the survey, a process of about twenty minutes. Many questions were quickly answered by filling in the appropriate multiple-choice bubble; others could be answered with additional detail typed into a box.
I was impressed with the topics covered by the survey; having so recently lost two of my three dogs, I felt they were spot-on based on my experiences. Clearly the study delves into questions and concerns that many of us have about how our pets grieve but presently have no real answers for. We simply hope we’re doing the right thing for them.
I lost Maia, the oldest of my three dogs to old age last June (she was 14). Then quite unexpectedly I lost Meadow, age 12, to bone cancer just six weeks later. I found myself in troubling new territory with no guide. How do I help the surviving dogs through their grief? How is their grief impacted by my own? Was Finn, my youngest (age five) and now sole remaining dog going to be traumatized by losing two housemates in such quick succession? What could I do to make the losses easier for him, even while I was a wreck from grief?
There are websites addressing the issue of pet loss. Believe me, I visited several last summer. There are suggestions about helping us handle loss, helping children grieve, or responding to family, friends and co-workers who don’t understand why you’re a wreck and say, “It’s just a pet.” A few websites offer suggestions for helping other pets grieve, but there’s no research, no science behind the information. I didn’t want to make things worse for my dogs. I remember struggling mightily with whether to let the surviving dogs/dog see and smell the departed dog’s body. I searched for answers online, but couldn’t find anything concrete. I decided to let them come into the room after their housemate was gone. I only hope I made the right choice. It would be nice to have some research saying I did, or if not, what to do differently in the future.
Leticia Fanucchi, DVM and a Ph.D student, is working to bring us the science that will help us help our pets through the dying and grieving process when they lose household members (animal or human) to which they’re attached. As Dr. Fanucchi notes, there’s been some anecdotal data about the grieving process of other animals—elephants, apes, chimpanzees, marine mammals—but no systematic research regarding them or our companion animals. She aims to correct that, conducting controlled studies to help us and our vets better understand pet loss and grieving. Dr. Fanucchi describes this research as her career-long project.
Dr. Fanucchi currently has two surveys going—the pet loss survey I took, and a control survey for pet owners who aren’t experiencing loss. The data she collects will form the basis for the next stages of her research: measuring changes in behavior and diet when a pet loses another pet or a person in their household, and whether the grief of the owner impacts the grief of the pet. To gain early data during the next stage, Dr. Fanucchi will observe in the lab the brief separation (two minutes) of two pets sharing a household, to determine if the pair are attached or not. “If they are attached, then I can assume they will grieve.”
Eventually her research will involve finding pets actually going through the grieving process. The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine sees many animals that are old or have cancer or other life-threatening diseases. “Eventually, sadly, we lose animals,” said Dr. Fanucchi. “They will be the samples we study.” Dr. Fanucchi will seek owners willing to let her visit the pets and family in their home, observing and video-taping behaviors and measuring eating before and after loss to detect changes and influences.
Dr. Fanucchi anticipates analyzing the current pet survey data this summer and publishing the results by the end of this year, although the surveys will stay up all year. Thereafter, as she moves forward through research stages and collects additional data, she will try to publish annually so that new information is shared regularly. So far, some 700 people have responded to the pet loss survey, and another 500 to the pet behavior without loss survey.
You can help this important research by responding to whichever survey applies to your household:
Pet Loss Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petloss
Pet Owner (without loss) Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petbehavior
Participation is voluntary and anonymous. If questions make you uncomfortable, you can leave them blank. If the pet loss survey causes any distress, counseling services are available through the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline (website and phone numbers provided before you enter the survey).
I urge you to take the small amount of time needed to complete one or the other survey. The more data collected, the better the results and subsequent research, leading to information that, sadly, we will all need at some point in our lives shared with animal companions.
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