Spencer on the move!
Spencer is a two-year-old rescued Bulldog who had been paralyzed in his back legs since he has been a puppy. Linda Heinz found him on her back door step, but how he got there remains a mystery. She took him in and gave him a loving home. Her vet thought that Spencer’s injuries sadly pointed to abuse he had suffered as a young pup. He never had a chance to walk like other dogs. But Linda decided to take him to Tampa’s Westcoast Brace and Limb company and asked them to make a prosthetic to help Spencer to walk. Even thought they had never had a canine patient before, they were definitely up for the challenge and fashioned custom braces outfitted with green Crocks for rather adorable “feet” for him. As soon as Spencer was fitted with his new feet, off he went, running up and down the hallways at the clinic, he seemed to never get enough of this new walking sensation. See how Spencer got his “legs,” and how his pal, a blind pig named Porkchop, greeted him.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog flexibility strikes again
If you’re not amazed by the diversity of dog body type and the huge number of habitats in which they can live, then you’re in the minority. Scientists, dog lovers and scientists who are dog lovers consider the domestic dog a species of considerable interest for the great number of forms that have evolved over a relatively short time. Some of the variation is obvious because it involves shape, size and color, while some of the behavioral tendencies are subtle. Even less obvious are the physiological difference between different types of dogs, including the recent discovery of adaptations to high altitude by the Tibetan Mastiff.
This breed of dog is most closely related to the Chinese native dogs, but in recent history, has been selected to live high in the mountains of Tibet at elevations of nearly 15,000 feet. The biggest challenge to life at such heights is the low level of oxygen. Even individuals who are quite fit can become out of breath just from walking at a casual pace under the low oxygen (hypoxic) conditions at high altitude. So, how do Tibetan Mastiffs thrive in Tibet? They do it in much the same way that wild animals and humans do—with genetic changes that affect hemoglobin concentration, the formation of extra blood vessels and the use and production of energy.
In a new study called “Population variation revealed high altitude adaptation of Tibetan Mastiffs”, scientists found that this breed of dogs has at least a dozen areas in their genome that represent adaptations to the high life. One of the genes that helps them survive in their high-altitude/low oxygen environment is similar to a gene present in the Tibetan people, who are also adapted to the high life. The rest of them are different than those of the people as well as differing from animals such as the yak and the Tibetan antelope that are also adapted to this environment.
Though much selection on our companion dogs has changed their behavior and appearance, there are also examples of changes that are far harder to observe such as the Tibetan Mastiff ‘s adaptations to high altitude.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Non-surgical alternative sterilizes dogs in one shot
Sochi's pre-Olympic dog crisis brought the world's pet overpopulation problem to the forefront of people's minds. Neutering is not a cultural norm in Russia, exacerbating stray dog numbers to uncontrollable levels. Many countries have had success with Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programs in reducing stray pet numbers over time, but not all communities have the resources needed to implement TNR. Surgery is expensive and comes with the complications of any medical procedure. Neutering also faces a hurdle with Individuals who sometimes see it as unnatural or emasculating.
However, we could be entering a new era. On Monday, a vaccine started shipping that many animal welfare people are calling a game changer in lowering stray dog populations worldwide. Zeuterin is the first ever FDA-approved injectable sterilization compound. The vaccine sterilizes a male dog for life with one shot.
With Zeutrin five dogs can be sterilized for the cost and time it takes to surgically sterilize one dog. According to the manufacturer, Ark Sciences, the vaccine is five time safer than surgery. Zeutrin has a simple composition of sterile water, the trace element Zinc Gluconate, and the amino acid Arginine. All of these ingredients are required for the body, and no preservatives are needed.
At the moment Ark Sciences has regulatory approval in Panama, Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico, and the United States. They envision full adoption in the United States by the year 2020.
Besides the low cost and ease of this surgical alternative, there is another potential benefit to the vaccine. Dogs sterilized with Zeutrin retain about 50 percent of their testosterone levels. This is beneficial considering that recent studies have shown possible negative effects from eliminating sex hormones, particularly before full maturation.
Last weekend a group of volunteer veterinarians held a “Zeuterathon” in Los Angeles. Approximately 75 male dogs of all ages were sterilized in the span of a few hours. The suggested donation was $20.
While reading about Zeutrin, I came across a sad statistic that really drove home the overpopulation problem: only one out of every ten dogs born will find a permanent home. I hope that Zeutrin will be a major step in reversing the numbers of the overpopulation problem.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A war dog is featured in the latest Taliban video
War dogs are pretty incredible animals. They don't choose to be on the front lines of battle, but they serve at their handler's side through a multitude of horrific events. Many working canines have died on the job, but there are other risks as well. Like their human counterparts, dogs also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Recently a British Belgian Malinois joined humans in another aspect of war by becoming the first canine to be used in a hostage video.
Last week the Taliban released a clip showing a canine prisoner chained to a group of heavily armed men. According to the Washington Post, the men thank Allah for the capture of an animal of "high significance to the Americans," which they say took place during a night raid by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon confirmed that a working dog did go missing in December, but that the pup belongs to a British special forces unit. Officials also said they had no previous record of a military dog being held captive.
The video is hard to watch and the poor dog looks extremely confused. No one has identified the handler or his whereabouts, but knowing what a tight bond working dogs develop with their handlers, I'm sure he's devastated. I hope that by some miracle this pup is returned to safety soon.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It’s not news, but it is science
I hardly think it will be a shock to anyone reading this, but according to a recent study in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, positive training techniques are better than negative methods. Specifically, they promote less stress in the dog, and are better for the dog-person relationship.
A soon-to-be published study called “Effects of 2 training methods on stress-related behaviors of the dog (Canis familiaris) and on the dog-owner relationship” supports the beliefs of many trainers, behaviorists and guardians that there are substantial advantages to training with positive reinforcement.
In this preliminary study, researchers compared the behavior of dogs being training with positive reinforcement (desired behavior results in the appearance of something positive such as a treat or toy) to those being trained with the use of negative reinforcement (desired behavior results in the disappearance of something negative such as pressure on the leash or body). The data were collected in advanced dog training classes at two different training centers and the behaviors of interest were sitting and walking nicely on a leash.
The dogs being trained with negative reinforcement performed more behaviors that indicate stress in dogs (such as licking their mouths and yawning) and more lowered body postures (the tail down and either the ears lowered or the legs bent in a crouching posture) than dogs being trained with positive reinforcement. The dogs trained with positive reinforcement gazed at their guardians more often than the dogs trained with negative reinforcement. This suggests a stronger connection in those pairs, although the authors acknowledge that those gazes could be a result of dog looking for the reinforcement.
The researchers conclude that positive training techniques are less stressful for dogs and likely better for their well being. This matches my experience with dogs and the people training them. How about you?
News: Guest Posts
We are impressed and amused by the lengths this pup goes to convince his unwitting new pal to share his bag of chips. We have no trouble seeing any one of Bark dogs going to similar extents to "share" a snack.
Pub Dogs was written and animated by Ant Blades of London's Bird Box Studios. Check out the Bird Box Studio YouTube channel for more of Blade's delightful shorts.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The trick is in the voice
“Are you such a good dog? Can my sweet girl wag her tail!” It’s lovely to see a dog respond to these questions with a great big tail wag. It’s even more charming if she can take it a step further by performing one of my all time favorite behaviors. Here’s a description of the next step.
The person continues by saying, “Now listen very carefully because instead of wagging your whole tail, I want you to wag just the white part.” When the dog wags just the white part at the tip of her tail, it’s a real crowd pleaser.
Of course, this particular format of the trick requires that the dog’s tail is white at the tip only, and that is only true of some dogs. For dogs whose tail has no white at the end, you need to change your phrasing, perhaps saying, “Wag just the tip” or “Now just give me a little wag” but the dog’s behavior is the same.
It is possible to train a dog to wag her tail in response to the cue “Wag your tail” and to wag only the tip of the tail when she hears, “Just the white part.” However, some dogs will perform the behavior you want without really being trained to do so. The secret is in the enthusiasm of the person’s voice. When you say something along the lines of “Are you such a good dog? Can my sweet girl wag her tail!”, you need to say it in the overly exuberant manner that we all have when praising or greeting our dogs. It’s that enthusiasm that is going to make your dog wag her tail whether she’s been trained to do it on cue or not.
Then, to elicit the small, just-the-tip tail wag, you completely change your tone of voice, becoming very serious and talking more slowly, quietly and slightly deeper. So, when you say, “Now listen very carefully because instead of wagging your whole tail, I want you to wag just the white part”, the key is not what you say, but how you say it. Many dogs will respond to the change in your energy level by dialing back their tail wag to a less lively one, and for dogs with a white-tipped tail, that makes it look like they are cleverly responding to your instructions to wag only the white part.
Some dogs reliably do this the first time and every time, but in other cases, it takes some trial and error to figure out exactly what tone of voice and level of enthusiasm prompt the dog to exhibit the right amount of tail wagging for each part of this trick.
How does your dog’s tail respond when you vary your tone of voice and level of enthusiasm? Do you have a wag-the-white-part (or a wag-just-the-tip) dog?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
With a Stray Pup
I sat down in the grass, leaned against a post in the sunshine and took a deep breath. It was easy to relax here. Other than the occasionally distant cry of a bird, it was utterly quiet on the remote ranch. A slight breeze tickled my skin and I felt peace descend over me. The reason for my being there lay quietly watching me from 10 feet away. He was a fuzzy-faced mutt of uncertain lineage and completely adorable. I had been called to pick up a stray on the ranch and was told that no one would be home but that the dog had been hanging around the barn for a few days. He seemed friendly but no one had been able to get a hold of him. Sure enough, the dog ran up wiggling his whole body and thrilled to see me but afraid to be touched. I offered cookies and he took them and then darted away.
I had to change my initial demeanor from one of capture to one of friendship. Dogs are often so good at reading our body language that sometimes they pick up on the subtlest of cues that we aren't even aware of. After I allowed myself to totally relax, I could see him start to relax too. He lay down near me and we both gazed over the surrounding hillsides. He glanced at me occasionally, and studied my face briefly before turning away. I watched him out of the corner of my eye. If I reached toward him he scooted away. Every few minutes he would get up and approach for a cookie before retreating again. He sniffed my outstretched legs and boots, studying them thoroughly for clues to my suitability as a friend. Each time he would check me out for a few moments and take a cookie before his fear overcame him and he would retreat again and lie staring into the distance. It was as if he wanted to contemplate the situation for a while before deciding what to do.
Each time he returned he came a little closer. I rewarded every overture of friendship with treats and finally he let me tickle his chin while he ate his cookie. Over the next 20 minutes or so we progressed to stroking behind his ears and scratching his neck as he tilted his head back and blissfully closed his eyes. A couple of times I moved too fast and he shot away from me. Don't be a rookie, I reminded myself. I was starting to feel the pressure of spending so much time on one call but I knew that a few minutes of patience would be more likely to be rewarded with success.
Finally the time came when I was able to stroke his whole body as he cuddled as close as he could get. When he climbed into my lap and leaned his head into my neck and closed his eyes and sighed I knew we were friends. After another moment or two of the love fest, I slowly, carefully eased a slip lead over his head. He panicked and fought the leash until I scooped him up and soothed his fears while stroking his sweet whiskery face. “It's ok hon, you're gonna be ok.” I crooned. A glance at his teeth showed him to be a baby of about 5 months or so. It always frustrates me to find dogs like him who are unsocialized and have obviously never even had a leash on. The good thing was that at this age he would likely come around quickly. He certainly had delightful temperament.
The pup wasn't claimed and he passed his temperament and health evaluations with flying colors. He was vaccinated, wormed and neutered in the shelter clinic and it was no surprise that he was adopted quickly.
I would love to hear reader's experiences with coaxing scared dogs or taking in a stray in need. How long did it take them to feel safe and what made the difference?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mixed and purebred pups run together in the Master Agility Championship
As judging gets underway this morning for the storied Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the more athletic pups already had their night to shine this past weekend. On Saturday, Westminster hosted their first annual Masters Agility Championship. It also marked the first time mixed breeds could participate in a Westminster event since 1884 (apparently non-purebreds were included in the early days). The American Kennel Club has only allowed mixed breed dogs to participate in their companion sports events (agility, rally obedience, etc.) since 2010.
To show their dedication to all dogs, regardless of bloodline, Westminster designated spots in the in the final Championship round to the highest scoring All American (mixed breed) in each height group (calculated by their performance in two qualifying rounds). A special award was also given to the top All American across height groups in the finals.
While the top three dogs in each height group automatically advanced to the finals, the remaining spots were given to the highest scoring breeds not represented in the top three. You can imagine if they didn't have this rule in place, the 20" height group for the finals would be nearly all Border Collies.
Although I was a little disappointed that not all of the most competitive dogs were represented in the finals, it did meet the goal of bringing more awareness to this rapidly growing sport. The Masters Agility Championship had the most media attention I've ever seen for an agility competition. Breed diversity in the final round highlighted the fact that any dog can participate in this sport.
The finals showcased many amazing runs, as dogs gracefully negotiated difficult obstacle combinations at top speed, but I was most moved by watching the special bond between the handlers and their dogs, as well as the support and friendship between competitors. Also, I've never watched so many of my friends on television before and it was nerve wracking to watch them!
In the end, Kelso, a 7-year old Border Collie handled by Delaney Ratner of Cape Elizabeth, Me. won the overall Masters Agility Champion award and Roo!, a 6.5 year old Husky mix handled by Stacey Campbell of San Francisco, Calif. won the Best All-American award.
If you missed the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster, the National Geographic channel will be rebroadcasting the finals on Wednesday, February 12th at 9 p.m. ET. The results can be viewed on the Westminster Kennel Club web site.
News: Guest Posts
There are claw marks on every door in the house. The deep grooves etched in the living room windowsills were there when we moved in seven years ago. My husband said he imagined the dog of the previous homeowners eagerly welcoming them home by tap-dancing on the glass. Rather than caulk over the marks or replace the window frames, we let them be, expecting our own pack to add their signatures.
When we pull up in the driveway, we listen for the distinctive, joyous barks. They’re home, they’re home! Jolie the Dalmatian, usually so dainty and gentle, pops up in the window to perform her welcome home song and dance, as if it were a stage and she had just downed Red Bull in her dressing room. Ginger Peach the Dutch Shepherd joins the show, paws braced against the windowsill as she emphatically tosses her head back with each staccato note.
We never see Darby the Queen, our eldest Dalmatian, but there is no mistaking her growly trills. They start low and grumbly, deep in her chest, then scale a full octave as the notes flow from her throat and escape her clenched embouchure, cheeks puffing out like little bagpipes.
The poor Border Collie, Magnum, and cats Cricket and Bruiser Bear, take cover, unsure of their place in the chorus. Or perhaps they’re overcome by stage fright. Housebound, they reluctantly serve as captive audience to this musical spectacular.
I wonder how our little Zoo Baby will respond when his dad comes home from work and the show begins. Will he be like my friend’s two-year-old grandson, who happily barks at the window alongside his canine co-stars when she arrives? He goes so far as to giddily lick her face, perfectly mimicking the enthusiastic greetings of the pack.
Or will the explosion of energy overwhelm him? Will he seek comfort from me, clambering into my lap with his hands over his ears? Or will he bound off stage to his room, finding solace with the quivering cats and Border Collie?
Perhaps he will do as his mama does and smile at the happy chaos.
Read Zoo Baby: Part 1
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