Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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
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
Is it better not to know your rescue pup's history?
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?
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
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!
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