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News: Guest Posts
Pittsburgh Symphony Goes to the Dogs

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

 

News: Editors
Yearbook Classmates
A Dog and his Girl

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

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

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

 

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

Seizure Alert Dog Walks at Graduation Parade

Autistic Boy and His Dog

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine High School Graduate
Service pups walks in a Michigan high school's graduation

At Freedom Christian High School in Hudsonville, Michigan, 35 students walked for graduation this year, joined by one very special service dog.

High school senior Desi has cerebral palsy and was home schooled until she got Walton, four years ago. The Golden Retriever's main job is to help Desi walk and steady her if he senses she's about to fall. Desi doesn't know how she functioned before Walton, but he now gives her the independence that other kids take for granted.

Desi gives Walton all the credit for helping her get through high school and wanted to honor him with his own cap and gown. During the graduation ceremony, both of their names were called and Walton even carried Desi's diploma in his mouth.

“I think it was a great thing for everybody else to see that he really is part of me and my accomplishments are essentially his,” says Desi. After all, he did attend all of the required classes!

Desi hasn't decided on post-graduation plans, but would love to work at an animal shelter or rescue organization. I wish this wonderful team much luck in whatever Desi decides to pursue next!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What Kind Of Dog Were You?
This quiz sees me differently than I see myself

While wasting time on Facebook yesterday—I’m not proud, but it’s been known to happen—I came across a link to a quiz that an unusually high number of my friends had shared, which piqued my interest. The question this quiz asks is, “What kind of dog were you in a past life?”

I’ve taken a lot of quizzes over the years about what type of dog would best suit me as a pet, but I have yet to look into this mechanism for finding out about my inner self. In a way, that’s surprising, as I have previously described my own children by considering the dog breeds that share their traits. (My oldest is a Greyhound and my youngest is a Vizsla/Irish Setter Mix.) I often try to understand other people by thinking of characteristics that they have in common with various dog breeds, but I had yet to do this with myself.

Therefore, I was eager to see what insights were in store for me. I took the quiz twice because I didn’t feel confident about my answers to all of the questions. It is my opinion that the quiz was not spot on for me in declaring that I was either a Dachshund or an English Bulldog in a past life. On the other hand, what would be the point of such an exercise if it simply churned out an answer I was expecting, such as a Bearded Collie or perhaps some kind of retriever?

What sort of dog do you identify with, and does this quiz view you the same way?

News: Guest Posts
Mean Seed Season
The danger of foxtails grows
Foxtails

The season of ripgut and painful vet bills is here. Foxtails, a longtime scourge in the West, can now be a problem in every state. And climate change may add a twist. Studies find that weeds grow faster under elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide; will migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicides. A botanist who researched their effects on dogs also warns about a deadly disease.

Sporting dog owners may know it best since field dogs routinely charge into thick brush, where they easily inhale or swallow foxtails, and spend hours in grassy hotspots. But dogs playing in the park or yard, hiking, at a roadside stop; any dog, wherever foxtails live, can develop grass awn migration disease.

It begins with a jagged seed. Of the many kinds of foxtails, both native and non-native, only some have harmful barbs. Among them: foxtail barley, found nationwide except in the South Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, according to the U.S. Forest Service; cheatgrass; giant foxtail, and ripgut brome, named for its effects on livestock. The spring through fall season often starts in May, when the green, bushy awns turn brown and seeds disperse. Their spikes help them burrow into soil or be spread by animals. They can also dig down in fur and puncture skin. The foxtail, which carries bacteria, may then keep tunneling into tissue, carving the dangerous path of infection that marks grass awn disease.

The disease is very difficult to diagnose, says University of Wyoming botanist William K. Lauenroth, who studied its occurrence in ten Midwestern states, where field dog owners believe there’s been a sharp rise in cases. One reason it’s hard to pinpoint is that the infection occurs behind the migrating seed.

Many infections show up as an acute illness, according to the findings of Wisconsin resident Cathy Lewis, whose website meanseeds.com provides case histories and information about foxtails and grass awn disease. In 2013, her Springer Spaniel “XL” developed a mysterious respiratory ailment that required draining fluid from his lungs. It began during an outing in January; not the time of year when foxtails come to mind. But the website of Atascadero Pet Hospital in California says they’ve seen pets with “a recurrent abscess that is ongoing for 2 years and once the foxtail is removed the abscess goes away.”

In fact, no plant material was found to confirm XL’s condition. But Lewis has had several other dogs with grass awn infections and recognized the signs, however vague. Today XL is “doing fine,” Lewis says. “He’s back to running field trials, and placing.” That may be due to how quickly she acted on his symptoms: labored breathing, high temperature and lethargy.

Vets say the dog’s body can’t break down the plant material. Sometimes, a foxtail lodges and causes a localized infection. But when it migrates, its barbs keep it moving on a one-way journey to almost anywhere, even the brain. Organs can be pierced, fungal infection can arise, and bacteria pack an extra punch deep inside the body. Head shaking or muscle movement propels it onward. Breathing can draw it further into nasal passages. Inhaled foxtails can travel from the nasal cavity to the lungs; a common site in working field dogs.

But what about the urban hound or beach bum pup? One study of grass awn migration found the most common site in all dogs was the external ear canal. Others were feet, eyes, nose, lumbar area, and thoracic cavity. Warning signs, if any, include extreme sneezing, head-shaking; coughing; excessive licking of a skin puncture, and a high temperature.

According to Dr. Jeffrey Horn’s veterinary blog, “foxtails are very hard to find due to their small size and because they’re covered with infection and scar tissue, and are completely invisible on X-Rays.”

Sporting dog owners hope to make it easier to diagnose and treat grass awn. Lauenroth, who trains retrievers, pursued the matter with a grant from the AKC and sporting dog groups. They suspect barbed grasses, especially Canada wild rye, planted in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program have caused more cases. The grasses occur on lands where field dogs train and trial. The program pays farmers to let idle cropland provide ecological services, such as erosion control and wildlife habitat. The farmers plant approved native grasses and comply with mowing restrictions.

Lauenroth found that plenty of Canada wild rye has been planted in the Midwest, and its sharp awn makes it dangerous for dogs. Canada wild rye is also common along the east coast, he says. But the study dried up due to a dearth of definitive diagnoses to draw on. For vets, finding a foxtail seed in a dog is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Lauenroth says he was unable to extract numbers of cases over the past 20 years from the records of veterinary hospitals.  

What he found were many “foreign body” cases without resolution. Many of those may have been grass awn disease. A study in 1983 found that grass awn migration in dogs and cats accounted for 61 percent of all foreign body-related cases. Most involved dogs.

To make foxtails more visible, vets often suggest giving dogs a close shave called a foxtail haircut. Others swear by headgear that is truly a pup tent: foxtail hoodies, designed to keep mean seeds out of eyes, ears and mouths.

Lauenroth’s advice is to thoroughly brush and comb after outings. The seeds don’t instantly disappear into the body. Also, get to know the few dangerous grass plants in your area.

In foxtail zones like California, it can also mean getting to know other dog owners: many outings at park and beach end with a festive foxtail-pulling party.

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