Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s more than just a cute trick
Years ago I taught my dog Bugsy to “back up” with the intention of adding it to his trick repertoire. It means just what it sounds like—to move away by taking steps backwards. My dog already knew how to crawl, wave, high-five, spin, shake, rollover, bow, and sit pretty, but I was searching for something new to teach him. I remembered seeing horses do this on cue and finding it adorable. I decided it would be Bugsy’s next trick, but I never imagined how useful it would be.
It began as a trick, which are behaviors I ask dogs to do on cue just for fun, but I began to use it functionally in an ever-increasing number of contexts. Bugsy already had a solid “stay” and knew how to “wait” (pause and refrain from going forward until given permission) when asked. Still, there were many situations in which telling him to “back up” was more helpful.
Dogs can sometimes get in the way, and asking them to “back up” solves the problem. I’m thinking of situations such as when I’m trying to open the front door, the pantry or the fridge and there are many pounds of lovable canine filing the space I need.
Being able to tell a dog to back away from a trash can, the dishwasher, another dog’s food bowl, a toy, or anything found on a walk that looks gross or even dangerous is so useful. It’s true that the cue “leave it” will also work in those contexts. However, having a dogs create physical distance between themselves and the forbidden object sometimes helps them resist temptation. “Leave it” only tells most dogs that they may not grab something, but it gives them no help deciding what to do instead. The cue to “back up” instructs them with a specific incompatible behavior to perform. (A dog cannot simultaneously approach the dishes in the dishwasher and back away from them.)
There’s really no end to the situations in which asking your dog to “back up” is useful. I’ve used it when I need a dog to move away from a child or a person who does not love dogs, out of a crowded kitchen, out of my way as I carry a large pile of blankets that prevents me from seeing where I am stepping, away from a freshly painted fence, away from a swinging door, a swing or a car door, and away from an intersection with skateboarders flying by too close for comfort. I’ve asked dogs who were carrying large sticks to back away from people just for safety’s sake, and I’ve used this cue to tell a dog to increase the distance between himself and another dog if I see trouble brewing. It is endlessly practical, and I soon found myself using it way more often than wait or stay.
In addition to its great practicality, “back up” has the appeal of being relatively easy to teach. Start with your dog standing in front of you and attending to you. Move toward your dog calmly. When he takes a step backward, reinforce immediately with a click/treat or a treat. For some dogs, a couple of steps in their direction work best but for other dogs, a slight lean is most effective.
Continue to reinforce your dog for taking a step backward until he is doing it reliably. Then, continue moving toward your dog until he has taken more than one step backwards. Reinforce him for multiple steps. Once he understands that backing up is a way to earn treats, say the cue “back up” before moving toward him, and reinforce him for responding appropriately. With practice you can phase out the motion towards him so that he is backing up in response to the cue alone. You can use a visual cue such as extending your arm towards him instead of the verbal cue or in addition to it.
I use the verbal cue “back up” for this behavior, but other trainers use different ones. A few common cues for this same behavior are “back out”, “get back” and “beep beep.” Any of these cues will work equally well, so choose the one that you like best, keeping in mind that it’s best to avoid using a cue that sounds similar to any cues that your dog already knows for any other behaviors.
Some dogs will respond to your motion towards them by sitting down or by turning around. If your dog is a sitter during this training, try holding a treat a few inches over his head and moving it towards his back end slowly. This causes most dogs to step back rather than sit, and you can then reinforce the behavior. If your dog’s tendency is to turn, try to train him in a narrow hallway or between two large pieces of furniture so that there’s not enough room for him to turn around. Presented with such an obstacle, most dogs will try to back up as an alternative, providing you with an opportunity to reinforce the behavior you are looking for.
Does your dog have a cue that means to back up, and if so, when do you use it?
News: Guest Posts
Bark Readers input needed – animal shelter adoptors, shelter volunteers, shelter leaders & employees –www.surveymonkey.com/s/animalshelteringstudy
As 2013 comes to a close, my husband and I, along with our new dog, Cuddles, are enjoying a week at the beach. Tybee Island, Georgia, is our favorite get-away with plenty of pet-friendly shops, restaurants and dog walking lanes but our vacation this year is bittersweet. We always take our Chihuahua, LeStatt staying in a pet-friendly cottage on the beach but this year is different. We lost our little boy to heart disease several months ago and considered cancelling our plans because it was so difficult to go without him. Then a lost dog wandered into our yard and though we managed to find her owner, Joe and I came home with a Pomeranian named Cuddles. Our vacation experience has been so much more special because we are sharing it with our new dog. I’m sure many Bark readers feel the same way about their companion animals but sadly, many homeless dogs and cats aren’t as lucky. For healthy homeless cats and dogs in shelters across the U.S., the number one cause of death is euthanasia and to help address this problem, I have focused my graduate sociological research on companion animals held in shelters. My current research focuses on gender and leadership in animal sheltering and the impact it has on euthanasia rates. Here is the part where YOU can help me gather data nationwide. I'm looking for animal shelter directors, employees, volunteers and people who have adopted a shelter pet to complete an online survey. If you have a few minutes, read through the information below and click (or copy and paste) the link which will take you to a survey where you can help build this important database!
Leadership in Animal Sheltering Organizations
Be part of an important animal sheltering research study
If you answered YES to these questions, you may be eligible to participate in an online survey on animal sheltering research study. You may also consent to take part in an in-depth interview beyond the survey if you so decide.
The survey will take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete. No names or organizational names are requested unless you wish to be contacted for an individual telephone or internet interview. The purpose of this research study is to examine leadership in animal sheltering organizations and the impact on policies in the sheltering organizations.
This study is being conducted at University of Louisville, Department of Sociology, Louisville, KY 40299. Please call Jennifer Blevins Sinski at 1-502-852-8046 for further information or email email@example.com
Bark Magazine understands the importance of research and data and provided me with the wonderful opportunity to learn more in my capacity as an intern this semester. They work hard to bring their readers the most recent, important research on our canine family members (and our feline friends as well).
What a wonderfully busy and productive semester this has been! The highlight of my experience was attending Best Friends Shelter’s “No More Homeless Pets” conference held in Jacksonville, Florida in October. I'm happy to say that I'm not the only data nerd out there. Judging by the number of sessions held during the NMHP conference that focused on improving data collection for animal sheltering organizations, animal welfare groups understand that data can make or break efforts to “Save Them All.” Granting agencies want to see strong programs that are mission lead, well organized and able to prove effectiveness by data-driven measurement. Organizations like Maddie's Fund, PetSmart Charities and others are working to develop common measurements, assessment and quantitative analysis that can be used throughout the animal welfare community. Community wide collaborative efforts which marry public and non-profit private organizations require a shared data language that can allow all agencies involved to clearly measure effectiveness.
In my own home of Louisville, Kentucky, Louisville Metro Animal Services joined forces with the Kentucky Humane Society and Alley Cat Advocates to develop shared efforts to significantly reduce euthanasia rates of companion animals. This shared data language allowed the community partners to successfully write and fund a major grant awarded by the ASPCA. Now the agencies work together, sharing data and adjusting programming to help move Louisville towards the goal of 90% live release rate.
Learning data speak isn't easy and when saving them all takes most of our time, sometimes data collection isn’t the first thing on our to-do list. But conferences like Best Friends Society's No More Homeless Pets provide opportunities to demonstrate ways to become data guru's and who better to learn from than an organization that truly understands the importance of data speak.
My passion about animal sheltering data was ignited after a truly eye opening experience I had last summer. As part of my research, I submitted open records requests to each of the 120 counties in Kentucky asking for the data that they were mandated to keep by a 2004 law passed in Kentucky. While I found that some counties worked hard to maintain current, accurate records, others struggled to accomplish this. Not because they didn't care but because they hadn't learned the how-to's of data collection. Conferences like 2013 NMHP provide a wonderful opportunity to learn from others in the field; a chance to make connections with organizations that will help develop an industry wide set of "best practices" for data collection. While data isn't as cute and fuzzy as kittens or smell as sweet as puppy breath, it will help to save the lives of puppies and kittens daily.
Thank you for your help with my research!
Jennifer Sinski email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you searching for an antidote to excessive holiday cheer or one New Year’s toast too many— we bring you “hair of the dog” or a drink to combat the hangover. This “dog” takes many forms, most commonly a variation of a Bloody Mary but may also include concoctions of gin, whiskey, tequila or beer. But what is the origin of this curiously named tonic? It can be traced back to medieval times and an abbreviation of the longer phrase “the hair of the dog that bit you.” It is based on the ancient folk treatment for a rabid dog bite of putting a burnt hair of the dog on the wound.
John Heywood, in his 1546 compendium, A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, uses the phrase with a clear reference to drinking:
I pray thee let me and my fellow have
The remedy works with the belief that a small amount of whatever caused the ailment, is also the best cure. While hair of the dog is now dismissed as an effective treatment for rabies, the taking of additional alcohol to cure a hangover has some scientific basis. The symptoms of hangover are partly induced by a withdrawal from alcohol poisoning. A small measure of alcohol may be some temporary relief. Many experience drinkers swear by it, and one can make a case that it does work .. but only for a short time and then you're back to the hangover, only worse. Your body contains an enzyme, alcohol dehydrogenase. It breaks ethanol down into the other chemicals that are making you ill. Adding more alcohol (ethanol) makes your body stop and concentrate on the new alcohol coming in so you do get a brief reprieve, but as soon as that added alcohol gets processed, you're back where you started but with even more toxic chemicals floating around. Unless you intend to keep drinking forever, hair of the dog is a temporary remedy at best. Instead, may we suggest a nice cuddle with your dog for what ails you …?!
Dog's Life: Humane
As we welcome the New Year, I’m still recovering from the holiday season. Along with the usual craziness, animal control officers see more dog bites, more lost dogs, and more owners who pass away and leave pets behind. New Year’s fireworks cause panicked dogs to bolt and holiday celebrations result in more arrests and accidents with dogs needing to be picked up.
I was trying to think of some New Year’s resolutions relating to my own dogs but frankly, they already get lots of attention and exercise and have it pretty darn good. I’m sure they would like to go to the off- leash beach every day instead of every week or two but I have to go to work to buy kibbles so that’s not gonna happen.
Having worked in shelters for 25 plus years, I do have some New Years wishes. On my fantasy wish list is that every dog would have a wonderful home. On my more realistic wish list are some things that even good dog owners can do to improve their dog’s lives and safety. I have also included some things that people can do to help dogs in need in their communities.
If your dog is overweight, now’s a great time to help them reach a healthy weight. Even just being a little chubby reduces a dog’s life span and quality of life. Dogs are just as happy to have a tiny treat as a big one. Substitute healthy treats for fatty ones and cut back on their rations while increasing exercise and stimulation. Check with your vet first and then get those dogs out for a daily walk or better yet, two or more. You’ll improve your own health too. Try agility or join a dog-friendly hiking group. You’ll both feel better. Exercise is a great stress reducer and often improves behavior issues as well.
Even the most beloved of dogs often have behavior problems that could be improved on with good management and training. A well behaved dog is a joy to have around and can be included in more activities. Dogs that pull the leash or are reactive with other dogs are no fun to walk. Work with a trainer or read up on techniques to work on.
An ID tag is a lost dog’s first chance to get home. I will usually return a dog with no fees if they are wearing a tag. Check and see if your dog’s tags have current information and are in good condition. I find that they tend to wear through and drop off every few years. Even people whose dogs never run loose should keep tags on. Accidents happen, doors get left open, fences blow down and dogs get lost.
I would also love to see all dogs microchipped. I have seen some miraculous returns that never would have happened without microchips, including pets that were found years later and returned to owners all because of a microchip.
Consider adopting or fostering a dog in need. It may be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. I am endlessly amazed at all of the wonderful dogs in shelters. Some are near perfection while others are diamonds in the rough that just need a little polishing to really shine. Volunteering for a shelter or rescue is another way to help. Sure it’s hard sometimes, but you can really make a difference for a unwanted dog. If you have grooming or training skills you can make a shelter dog more adoptable. Donating to a spay/neuter program is great bang for your buck as it saves lives by preventing overpopulation. Shelters and rescues can always use donations of blankets, food, money etc. Check with your local shelter to see what their greatest needs are and thank you for making a difference.
New Years Day will find me at our annual walk at a local off-leash beach. Lots of friends come with dogs of every size and shape and everyone has a blast. I hope you have lots of fun things planned as well and that 2014 is the best yet for you and your dogs.
What are you going to do to make life sweeter for your own dogs or dogs in need in the next year?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mexico to roll out pet food tax in January
Starting January 1st, Mexicans will face a 16 percent sales tax on pet food. Previously commercial animal diets were not taxed, along with fresh human foods. Now the Mexican government is desperate to raise money and has declared pet food a luxury item (food for horses and other livestock animals will be excluded from the tax). Protesters have been rallying outside of the Finance Ministry, but the tax is unlikely to be overturned.
Pet food sales average $2.2 billion a year in Mexico, meaning the government stands to profit tremendously from the new tax. Mexico is the world's 10th biggest pet food market, with the U.S. in the top spot, spending more than $20 million annually to feed our dogs and cats.
It's estimated that half of Mexico's pet families use commercial foods, while the rest make their own, typically a mixture of chicken, rice, and tortillas. The new tax will hit low income households the hardest and may cause more people to rely on table scraps for pet food, or even abandon their animals altogether. Some fear that the tax will also create a reluctance to adopt animals, putting an even greater strain on shelters who will already be feeling the financial effects of the food tax.
I understand that the government has to raise money somehow (proposals for taxes on real estate sales and private school tuition were not passed), but I wouldn't consider pet food a luxury item. I could see taxes on the purchase of a pet (versus adopting) or even professional grooming (a tax proposed years ago in Chicago), since they're not essential.
What's your take on the luxury pet food tax?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog-related plans for 2014
Years ago, my sister’s New Year’s resolution was to give up New Year’s resolutions, and she was one of the few people who stuck to her plan. (Success rates are generally less than 10%.) Her secret was resolving to do something that she wanted to do anyway. If your resolutions for 2014 are dog-related, make success more likely by choosing to focus on one or a few things that are of real interest to you.
Simple ideas for dog-related resolutions are plentiful. Here are 10 possibilities.
1. Leave that cell phone in your pocket on walks so that you are truly present and spending time with your dog. It’s the time you spend together that builds the relationship, and this is one of the easiest ways to enjoy each other’s company.
2. Try a new activity with your dog. Classes in agility, tracking, fly ball are common in many areas. Hiking, weight pulling, dock jumping, herding, lure coursing and canine freestyle are just a few of the other possibilities.
3. Provide better nutrition for your dog. This is a big task for most of us, but even a few simple steps can make a difference. Try a higher quality dog food, add fresh vegetables to your dog’s diet or vow to measure your dog’s food for every meal so there’s no risk of overfeeding.
4. Give back to the canine community. There are so many ways to help out such as walking an elderly neighbor’s dog, volunteering at a shelter or rescue, fostering a dog, or giving money to an organization that improves the lives of animals.
5. Teach your dog something new. Practical training skills such as walking nicely on a leash, waiting at the door or a solid stay all pay big dividends. Other possibilities are to teach your dog a new game so you can play together more. Fetch, tug, find it, hide and seek, and chase games are all options, though depending on your dog, not every game may be a good fit.
6. Make plans for your dog in the event that you die first. Financial planning so you can provide for your dog when you are no longer here as well as making arrangements for someone to be the guardian for your dog are two important steps.
7. Give your dog more exercise. This can be daunting so plan to make one small improvement to start. Perhaps add 10 minutes to a weekend walk or set up a play date with a dog buddy a couple of times a month. When it comes to increasing activity, every little bit helps, so taking one step in the right direction is a wonderful goal at this, or any, time of year.
8. Take better care of your dog’s teeth. Consult with your veterinarian about a dental cleaning or about brushing at home. Dental care helps improve overall health and can make your dog’s breath more pleasant, too.
9. Make plans in case of a medical emergency. Whether it is putting aside a little in savings each month or investigating pet insurance, the peace of mind that you’ve got it covered in the event of an emergency is worth a lot.
10. Go new places with your pet. Novelty is great fun for most dogs, so try to go a few new places this year. Perhaps a new pet store or a new hiking trail will provide your dog with an experience that is really enjoyable.
Love them or hate them, New Year’s resolutions are common this time of year. Do your plans for 2014 include any dog-oriented New Year’s resolutions?
New Orleans lost one of her favorite sons, artists George Rodrigue, on December 14, of cancer. He was 69. Rodrigue, the son of a bricklayer, drew upon his Cajun heritage for his work, most notably for his Blue Dog paintings, which were inspired by his deceased pet named Tiffany. The Spaniel-Terrier mix, painted with a white nose, yellow eyes and a cobalt blue body, first appeared in 1984. Rodrigue’s Blue Dog image became a New Orleans icon, appearing in advertising campaigns for Absolute Vodka and Neiman Marcus, posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, coffee table books and the collections of celebrity collectors. The paintings were beloved for their pop sensibility and folk art style mixed with regional folklore—the Blue Dog is a gentle, friendly version of the loup-garou, the werewolf or ghost dog that hides in sugarcane fields and haunts mischievous children.
In addition to his creative accomplishments, Rodrigue is being lauded for his numerous charitable acts. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the subsequent flooding laid waste to much of south Louisiana, the Blue Dog appeared with an American flag, both partly submerged, to raise money for storm relief. The Blue Dog Relief drive raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid rebuilding, including $100,000 to help the New Orleans Museum of Art reopen. In 2009, he founded the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, which advocates the importance of the visual arts in education.
When asked to explain the popularity of his Blue Dog paintings, the artist offered this appraisal—“The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog. He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.” The paintings, he said in the interview, “are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you, and you’re looking at him, looking for some answers … The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”
Survivors include his wife, Wendy Rodrigue, and two sons, Jacques Rodrigue of New Orleans and André Rodrigue of Lafayette.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping vulnerable people feed their dogs
Low income means tough choices. Should I buy medications or heat my home? Do I pay my rent or buy shoes? Who gets to eat—me or my pets?
It’s this last question that inspired volunteers with Meals on Wheels to add pet food to deliveries for seniors and disabled individuals who are at risk of hunger. People who were taking food to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities noticed that many of them were doing without the food they desperately need in order to make sure their pets had something to eat.
As dog lovers, this is no surprise to most of us. Many of us have a “my dog eats before I do” mentality in the event of economic stress, but not all of us have had to act on it. Once volunteers became aware of this new threat to adequate nutrition for the people they serve, they became enthusiastic partners with a program called AniMeals on Wheels.
This program allows volunteers to deliver pet food along with the meals they bring to human clients. It relies on donations and volunteers for all pet food and deliveries and involves collaborations with a number of pet programs in multiple states. Despite the popularity of the program and the huge amount of food donated, the need is even bigger. They are never in a position where they don’t need more donations of pet food.
AniMeals on Wheels is one of many programs nationwide that seek to address the problem of hunger in both people and dogs. It’s important to understand that until there is enough food for their pets, the problem of hunger in low-income seniors and the disabled will not be solvable.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Georgia woman offers to spay all of the Macon's female dogs
Earlier this month, dog lover and pet foster parent Kerry Hatcher Fickling was inspired by what seemed like a particularly overwhelming week of strays and abandoned litters in Macon, Georgia. Kerry regularly donates time and money to local rescue groups, but this time she wanted to do something that would really get to the root cause of the city's overpopulation problem. So she posted a "Christmas gift for Macon" on Facebook, offering to pay for any female dog to be spayed. Kerry is even willing to pick up the dogs in the morning, bring them to the vet, and return the pups in the evening after their surgery.
So far she's paid for almost 50 spay procedures and has been fielding hundreds of calls from other interested people.
Kerry is hoping to eventually reach a goal of 2,000 spayed dogs. Even at the discounted rate of $55 offered by the Gordon Animal Clinic, 2,000 dogs will run her a $110,000 tab. Kerry credits her real estate business and healthy savings with being able to fund this initiative.
In order to achieve her goal, Kerry is planning to start canvasing neighborhoods to reach people who don't have computer access and don't know about her spay offer. Kerry also realizes that part of her mission is now education. Making a difference can be as simple as letting people know that dogs don't need to have a litter or two to have enriched lives, a common misconception around Macon.
Perhaps this will inspire others to think about starting similar programs in other cities. Most people wouldn't be able to afford 2,000 spay procedures, but multiple people sponsoring one $55 operation each could be a possibility. It could be the start of a great holiday tradition!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Her own qualities helped her survive
A few days ago, Crosby the Golden Retriever was rescued from the Charles River by officers in the Wellesley Police Department. Crosby had fallen through the ice and was unable to return to shore. The ice was too thick for her to break through and swim for safety. It was too thin to support her weight and allow her to walk to shore, even if she had been able to climb onto the ice from the water.
Officers in cold-water survival suits swam out to her and hauled her 50 yards back to shore. Without their help, she is unlikely to have survived. She was swimming back and forth in the freezing water when rescuers arrived and without help, she would have been at great risk of drowning due to hypothermia, exhaustion, or a combination of the two.
When I watch the video of her rescue, I see many factors that helped Crosby to survive. The rapid response, skills, and equipment of the police department obviously played a critical role. The technology that allowed the guardian’s location to be pinpointed from her 911 call was also important.
As a canine behaviorist, what I notice most is how the dog’s own qualities played an important part in her survival. Specifically, I observed that this dog was fit, emotionally stable, and social, all of which contributed to the success of a challenging rescue.
Fitness. Swimming in freezing water is exhausting. We don’t know how long Crosby was in the river. It wasn’t long enough for her to freeze, but it was long enough for her guardian to call for help, for police officers to arrive, to prepare for the rescue and to reach her 50 yards from shore. Some dogs would not have had the physical abilities required to stay above the surface that long, so Crosby’s fitness was a huge asset in this emergency situation.
Emotional stability. Nobody could watch the video and claim that Crosby looked happy at any point, but she did not seem panicked either. She was calm in the water before she was rescued, while the officers pulled her to shore and afterwards as she was dried off and entered the vehicle. It’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t frightened, but she held it together. If she had freaked out, it would have been entirely understandable, but it would have made her rescue less likely. A dog (or a person) who is too emotionally distressed is less able to cope with immediate dangers. Because she was able to stay calm, she helped herself stay afloat until she was rescued.
Social. By social, I’m not referring to dogs who are wag-the-back-end-off-during-greetings friendly. I just mean dogs who are comfortable around strangers. Dogs who are not social enough in this way may shy away from rescuers. Tragically, this is a real issue for dogs in water catastrophes and in fires and also for those who flee after car accidents. Crosby was clearly at ease with the strangers helping her in the water, and the one on land drying her off so she could begin to warm up. Even a dog who is frightened of people may be scared enough in an emergency situation to allow them to help. However, a dog like Crosby who is social will almost surely be able to accept the help of people working to rescue her.
I’m not taking anything away from the skills of the police officers who rescued Crosby. They performed an exemplary rescue of a dog who was in real danger. It’s just that I can’t help but observe that Crosby made the rescue just a little bit easier than it might have been with a dog who was not so fit, emotionally stable or social.
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