Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Deciding when to euthanize
Not everybody is at ease with the idea of euthanasia under any circumstances, and I understand that. Many people have moral conflicts with deciding to end the life of a pet, no matter what the reason. My perspective is that this is a highly individual decision but that I personally am comfortable with euthanizing my pets once their quality of life is so compromised or they are in such pain that keeping them alive feels like it’s more for my sake than for theirs. It’s my view that a peaceful death by euthanasia frees them from pain and misery, and is the final gift of love I am able to provide. I know many disagree, and I’m not suggesting that one way or another is right—I’m just describing my own personal take on this issue.
That doesn’t mean that I haven’t cried buckets and been inconsolable when I’ve euthanized a dog. It’s horrible beyond imagination, and I’ve never really recovered from it in any case. I always hope for any dog (or any person for that matter) to surrender peacefully to death while sleeping. When that doesn’t happen in time, facing the tough decision of when to euthanize is a challenge. Sometimes it’s obvious when it’s time because the dog has reached a point of literally being unable to move, being in constant and unmanageable pain, showing no joy at all or no recognition of anything or anyone.
In other cases, it’s not so clear, which is why a new tool that helps guardians and veterinarians decide when that moment has arrived may be useful. Researchers at Michigan State University developed a survey for probing into the specifics of a dog’s quality of life when undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. The idea is to develop an objective way to assess quality of life, which is such an important consideration when deciding whether to continue life-prolonging measures or to face the possibility that it is time to say good-bye.
Questions address a range of behavioral issues and observations before treatment, a retrospective on the dog’s behavior six months prior, and continued observations throughout their treatment at regular intervals. The questions address aspects of dog behavior including play, measures of happiness, and signs of disease. Both guardians and veterinarians have questions to answer based on their own observations. A small pilot study of 29 dogs found high levels of agreement from clinicians and guardians. Researchers plan to expand their original work to a study with hundreds of dogs and to other illnesses and medical issues as well.
Do you think an objective tool such as this might help you decide when to euthanize a dog, or do you feel comfortable with just “knowing” when that sad day has come?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tex. child finds out he has diabetes while socializing alert dogs
Lakenyen Carter has been socializing puppies for Drey's Alert Dogs, an organization that trains diabetes and autism service pups, since school let out in June. Last week he was volunteering as usual when one of the older dogs, Marshall, started pawing at Lakenyen. The Yellow Labrador was not begging for attention, but was giving Lakenyen an important message. Marshall is trained to paw at a person to let them know that their blood sugar is reaching a dangerous level. The pup in training was essentially telling Lakenyen that he had diabetes.
Lakenyen's parents never suspected that anything was wrong, but they immediately brought him to a doctor and the diabetes diagnosis was confirmed. Without Marshall, they might have not found out about Lakenyen's condition until he had an episode. Now they can be proactive in his treatment and care. The Carters are still waiting to find out what type of diabetes Lakenyen has (diabetic alert dogs work best with people with Type One diabetes), but perhaps Lakenyen will one day have an alert dog of his very own!Through his volunteering, I'm sure Lakenyen is already a dog lover. But after Marshall's "diagnosis," I'm sure that Lakenyen will always feel a special connection with the animal who made such a significant impact on his life.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The 4th of July from an Animal Control Officer’s Perspective
As the fourth of July approaches, I feel my dread rising. I always volunteer to work as the on-call animal control officer on the fourth, even though it’s our worst day of the year. Why would I volunteer? I guess it’s the hope that my training and skills will make a difference to some of the panicked animals that will be suffering in our county with the onset of fireworks.
Last year was my worst 4th ever. Within minutes of the first fireworks going off, my phone rang with an injured dog. I rushed to the scene to find a stunning German Shepherd lying injured on a busy road. He looked well cared for and I’m sure he was a beloved pet but he had no tags or microchip. I scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency vet and held his big beautiful head in my hands as the vet started treatment. His blood stained my uniform and his terrified eyes bruised my heart but minutes later my phone rang again and I left him to rush out and pick up the next victim. When I got back to the clinic with the second dog, I learned that the Shepherd had died.
I continued getting calls all night long, and each time, I would race out and pick up the injured dog and rush it to the ER. And each time, the dog I had picked up previously would have died of his injuries while I was gone. In one case, I arrived on a rural road to find a beautiful young woman in tears as a young red heeler bled his life away in her headlight beams. She had come across the critically injured dog on her way home and been kind enough to wait for me. I rushed the heeler to the vet where he also died.
Only one dog that I picked up last Fourth of July survived and his foot pads were a bloody mess from his panicked run. One is enough to make me feel that I made a little bit of a difference, but I’m haunted by those dogs whose terror caused them to jump fences they wouldn’t normally jump, break through windows or rip through doors. I also had a case of a terrified dog a few years ago that escaped and then tried to climb into a van full of strangers. 4 or 5 people were bitten in the dogs panic to get away from the noise and the dog had to be quarantined.
It’s critical to plan ahead for a safe Fourth of July. Ideally, we would stay home, with our dogs inside with us. If that’s not possible, dogs should be safely crated inside, in an interior room, with a radio, air conditioner or other noise to help mute fireworks sounds. Some pets may need sedation so talk you your vet ahead of time if you think that might be the case. All dogs should have tags and microchips and please check and make sure your information is current.
I even know of one family that goes camping in a remote area every year on the fourth. They do it just so they will be far from the fireworks for the sake of their beloved dog.
Please share with us what measures you take to keep your dog safe on the fourth?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How well does your dog handle them?
If you love the Fourth of July, it may be one of the few times that you find yourself thinking about the differences between you and your dog instead of the similarities. (It will probably also happen if you ever decide compare your respective views on cow pies.) Having the day off to barbecue, watch a parade, and see the fireworks may be heavenly to most people, but not for most dogs.
Okay, perhaps they’ll enjoy the barbecue if enough of the yummy stuff makes it to the ground, but even then, they may find their insides upset later on. And the parade may appeal to the most social of dogs and those without any kind of personal space issues, but the crowds can be overwhelming and scary to dogs not accustomed to such large groups of people. For small dogs especially, there is a very real danger of being stepped on or otherwise squashed in such a setting.
Of course, the big misery for dogs on Independence Day is the fireworks. Dogs who fear loud sounds, especially those with a phobia of thunderstorms, suffer the most. But even dogs who go through much of the year with nothing more than a normal startle response to a dropped pot or a car backfiring can freak out when dealing with the prolonged nature of these annual celebratory explosions. That’s why I urge people to keep their dogs home and away from fireworks even if they are sure their dog can handle it. I’ve seen many stable dogs who had no reaction one year but fell apart the next. It’s not worth the risk!
It pains me personally that this is one of the most dreaded days for the canine set because it’s my birthday, and I’ve always considered myself lucky to celebrate with the whole country. I love the fireworks, and as a little girl, I believed my Dad’s jokes that they were just for me. I still enjoy his nickname for me—his little firecracker—even though I now understand that even though he sometimes meant it in a good way, sometimes he didn’t. I love to share my favorite activities with dogs, but unluckily for me, my birthday is the one day of the year that it is the most difficult.
Some celebrations on this holiday may be pleasant for quite a few dogs—a small gathering of people for a simple meal, walking around town together away from the biggest crowds, and certainly spending time with you if you have the day off. On the other hand, the fireworks and the parades bother the majority of dogs.
How do you handle the Fourth of July with your dog and what parts of it do you share?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dr. Ernie Ward shows how car temperatures can quickly rise to fatal levels
Now that we're in the thick of the summer, it's almost unbearable to be outside for an extended period of time--especially here in New York with the humidity! Yet people continue to think it's okay to leave pets in cars without adequate precautions. Just last week, animal control officers rescued a three-month old puppy from a car in a Riverside, Calif. shopping mall parking lot. The temperature outside was in the 90's and inside the car it was well over 100 degrees. Fortunately the puppy was saved in time, but his internal temperature was dangerously high. It's common for people to think that they're just going to run a quick errand or that cracking a window will be sufficient, but temperatures can quickly become fatal. I was surprised to learn that on a 60-70 degree day, temperatures inside the car can reach well into the 90's and beyond. North Carolina veterinarian, Dr. Ernie Ward, is on a mission to bring more awareness to this problem. Armed with a clock, a thermometer, and a video camera, Dr. Ward sat in his car for thirty minutes on a 95 degree day to feel what it would be like for a dog trapped in a hot car. You can see as the minutes pass that Dr. Ward is not only drenched in sweat (something dogs can not do as efficiently as we can), but is increasingly distressed as the temperature climbs to 117 degrees. Although there is a visible breeze outside, none of it comes into the car, despite the cracked windows. You can only imagine what the experience would be like for a dog who has no control over the situation. If Dr. Ward's video convinces even one person to leave their dog at home while running errands, his suffering will have been worth it!
News: Guest Posts
How to make your dog happy
I have good news for all of us who don't look like Ryan Gosling or Gisele Bundchen: your dog doesn't care. Dogs are much more interested in our smells than our looks. Just watch a dog with his head out a car window-nose forging ahead. Wind brings innumerable scent molecules directly to the dog's face, which in the dog's world, makes for a pretty good day. * You might look like a one-eyed pig, but to your dog, it's your bouquet that makes you beautiful.
A Beautiful Sight to Sniff
Unlike us humans who preoccupy ourselves with visual landscapes, dogs smell their vistas. Maybe you've had the experience of walking a dog when all of a sudden the dog gets hooked on something. Even though that something is completely out of range and invisible to you, the dog's behavior indicates, “What I'm checking out is really interesting. We are not going anywhere, buster.”
To get inside your dog's world, you need to pick his brain-and his nose. Dogs have much more nose than us humans. Their extensive olfactory epithelium allows them to trap and assess odor molecules at concentrations of up to parts per trillion, while we are more in the range of parts per million. Yep. I said trillion. Their noses are about a million times more sensitive than our noses. Often, our brains can't register what they whiff.
On top of that, dogs' noses come equipped with a vomeronasal organ (unfortunately, it's not a musical instrument). The vomeronasal organ has tons of receptor cells that take sniffing to the next level. It is thought to be important in detecting species-specific information such as pheromones. While our understanding of dog olfaction still has a long way to go, we do know that yes, your dog is getting quality information from that other dog's behind, face and urine.
If you're starting to look at your dog as one big nose, you're in good company. Many of the folks working with dogs or researching dog behavior and cognition remind dog owners that smelly (or smelling) experiences are integral to a dog's “good life.” In the spirit of picking your dog's nose, here are four ways to give your dog the gift of smell:
1. Take your dog on smell walks
In Inside of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz recommends accompanying dogs on smell walks. She explains:
“[Dog]-walks are often not done with the dog's sake in mind, but strangely playing out a very human definition of a walk. We want to make good time; to keep a brisk pace; to get to the post office and back.”
Dogs don't care about “making time.” While walking with the dog's nose in mind might alter total distance traveled, you and Bucky can bond over quality olfactory experiences. In a smell walk, Bucky might sniff as he likes, choose the direction of the walk or linger to get to the bottom of a particular smell. What else might you provide on a smell walk?
2. Consider smelling sports
Taking a cue from drug sniffing dogs, K9 Nose Work has recently become a formalized fun activity and a favorite of many companion dogs and owners alike.
You don't have to turn your dog into a narc to get into smelling sports. It's about “getting your dog excited about using his nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes.” (K9 Nose Work)
The game can then be expanded to include entire rooms, exterior areas and even vehicles. Of course, scent work can be conducted in less formalized ways. Don't be afraid to get creative with smelling sports. One man's narc is another man's truffle pig.
3. Make up your own smell(y) games
Have you ever put your dog's olfaction to the test? After being out of the country for a year, my friend and I wanted to see whether her dog would remember me. Our sneaky setup was unscientific and simple: Millie and her owner would walk down the street, and I would walk past them, coming up from behind and not interacting in any way, to see whether Millie paid me any mind. As I walked past, Millie turned toward what could have just been another stranger in NYC, and gave one of those glorious welcomes that says, in not so many words, “YOU ARE HERE! YOU ARE HERE! IT'S YOU!! YAYAYAYAYAY!!”
It's possible this is more of a game for my friend and me than Millie. Still, it's a reminder to us humans—who often need reminders—that the nose is a great way to connect with a dog.
4. Make your reunion smelly
Try making “smell” a priority when greeting dogs. While most people don't overtly sniff and greet, we need to keep in mind that Scruffy's schnozzle is her window to the world. You want to keep that window wide open, not close it.
It goes back to our different biologies. When we people walk into a party, most of us look around, see who's there and then make the next move (either toward a friend or toward the bar). For dogs, “looking around the room” is easier done with the help of olfactory investigation because visual cues could be misleading. Who hasn't been confused when meeting a friend with a new haircut/glasses/facial hair/gorilla suit?
With dogs and their wonderful snouts, they don't have to worry about mistaken identities. Sight can be confusing, but a smell check can set things straight! That's the way you'd do it too, if your nose were a million times more powerful than it is.
Take a look at a reunion between a dog and a member of U.S. military returning from deployment:
The owner then provides the dog a hand for sniffing, and after olfactory investigation, the dog shows a proper display of, “IT'S YOU!! IT'S YOU!! YAYAYAYA!”
Does this video surprise you? And just as important, do you give your dog opportunities for olfactory exploration during greetings?
There are things out there in the world that you might not notice and can't understand but that your dog is very in tune with and would like a closer look (oh please!). And these things have nothing to do with whether you are Ryan Gosling (but if you are Ryan Gosling, feel free to give me a call).
Photo: Dog smelling sunflowers by Dylan, used under Creative Commons license
References Horowitz. 2009. Inside of a Dog What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner Wells & Hepper. 2003. Directional tracking in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 84, 297-305.
* Wind can play a part in scent detection. A recent paper exploring directional tracking in dogs notes that the researchers laid trails at a “ninety degree angle to the direction of the oncoming wind to reduce the possibility of the dogs using airborne scent to determine directionality.” It's easier to attend to a scent if airborne scent molecules are flying directly into your face, like a car ride.
About the Author
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
People who come through for others
As a positive methods dog trainer, it’s natural for me to look for behavior that I like and reinforce it, and I don’t just do that for dogs. The species that I personally spend the most time with is people, and lately I’ve noticed similar commendable behavior in many of them. The commonality is a willingness to take care of other people’s dogs no matter how inconvenient or challenging that may be. I applaud and admire all those who watch other people’s dogs in times of need, especially the following two who have done so when it was far from easy.
A week ago, I saw a neighbor pushing a double jog stroller and walking three dogs. After rushing over to see her 11-day old baby for the first time and offer congratulations to the new 22-month old big sister, I realized that her daughter wasn’t the only new addition.
“Did you get a new dog?” I asked, secretly thinking that of all the bad times to get a new dog, the first week or so after having a baby has got to top the list.
“No,” she replied, “It’s my sister’s dog. My mom was supposed to watch her while she’s in Hawaii, but at the last minute, she couldn’t, so she asked me.”
When I expressed surprise at the timing of this dog sitting request and offered to walk any or all of her dogs at any time, she just smiled and said, “Oh, I don’t mind. She’d do the same thing for me.”
That may well be true, but I am still impressed that she so cheerfully took on the responsibility of a third dog when she clearly had her hands full with two children under the age of two and a pair of dogs of her own.
I have a distant cousin who also deserves praise for taking on the responsibility of dogs even though her health issues and age would make a refusal completely reasonable. She is well into her 80s with a range of health issues that cause her a lot of pain and also limit her mobility. Despite that, she regularly watches the dogs of her human children, all of whom require more care than her own dog does.
In the last few months, she has taken care of four different dogs at her children’s request. She has watched a rambunctious puppy, a 15-year old dog with arthritis and a serious neurological issue who needs to be lifted in and out of the car, and two untrained 4-year old dogs who constantly make those around them feel like they are in some sort of circus fun house.
She is very caring to attend to these dogs despite the strain on her physically, and presumably emotionally, especially since she is often asked to do so on short notice. In one case, her son dropped off the 15-year old dog while she was not home, left no explanation, and my cousin only knew how long she would have the dog because of how many cans of food were left. Obviously, their family dynamics and boundaries might make an easy target for criticism, but I prefer to focus on the kindness involved in this woman taking care of the dogs. It’s easy to see that they are very happy when they are with her and that there is much adoration all around.
I’m still grateful to my neighbor Stephanie and my fellow dog trainer Shannon who took care of our dog Bugsy when I was in the hospital giving birth to my first son. It was such a relief not to have to worry about him and or about having to call before the sun came up since we had been given permission to call them “at any time of day or night.”
Is there someone who has taken care of your dogs who deserves a special thank you for extra effort?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Beijing and Shanghai are confiscating pets amid confusing rules
China has an infamous one child policy, but I was surprised to learn that certain Chinese cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, have a one dog policy. And it's not just the number of pets you live with. Believe it or not, these cities have banned all dogs taller than 13.7 inches. That means I couldn't live with my pups in either of these areas! For years pet lovers in Beijing and Shanghai have gotten away with their larger breeds, but over the last month the government has been cracking down. The Beijing Municipal Public Safety Security Bureau says that the increase in human deaths attributed to rabies is responsible for the sudden enforcement. They also believe that big dogs are incompatible with city living (they've obviously never lived with a Jack Russell Terrier!). Over the past few weeks, the police have been carrying out frightening raids on homes, confiscating even legally registered pups. Animal rights advocates say that many of the seized pets are likely to end up in the hands of dog meat traders. Inconsistent rules have made the issue confusing and even more controversial. Despite the ban, the government had been licensing large breed dogs across the city and collecting the $160 registration fee for years. To protect their dogs, pet lovers are walking their pups in the wee hours of the morning or limiting potty breaks to hidden apartment balconies. Those who can afford it have been boarding their dogs outside the city limits, but not everyone can afford to do that and it's certainly not a long term solution. Most people are hoping that the campaign will blow over. China's rules may seem excessively random, but think about the breed bans against Pit Bulls that we have in the United States. The laws in Beijing and Shanghai come from the same problem--trying to solve a problem without treating the root cause. Eliminating large breeds doesn't eliminate vicious dogs. And limiting people to one dog doesn't solve the rabies problem. Responsible dog ownership--administering rabies vaccines, keeping dogs on leash, and encouraging people to train their pups--is where the real issue lies.
Arizona group steps up to help
I got to “meet” this adorable, adoptable dog, Pippy, a Pit mix, this morning when I opened my “smiling dog” email messages. I also got to learn about a remarkable rescue group in Phoenix, AZ called M.A.I.N., Medical Animals in Need. More about them later, but as for the two-year-old, Pippy, he came into their foster program when they found him at the county shelter (where he came in as a stray) suffering from a very sad condition known as “happy tail,” something that I had never heard of. As they note in his description:
"The concrete walls of his kennel have caused his tail to split open and his tail cannot be treated properly as long as he remains at the shelter. Contrary to the term, Happy Tail is actually very dangerous. Dogs end up with this ailment by wagging their tails so much that the concrete walls of the kennels split open the tips of their tails—causing infection in some cases and a bloody mess in most. Some dogs come into MCACC with Happy Tail, and others develop it after a short while. The danger, of course, is that it can make the dog go from being very adoptable to very unadoptable—through no fault of its own. They wag their tails and try to be as friendly as possible, and this is what they get for all of their hard work."
As with most of the dogs who M.A.I.N. rescues, his condition was treated by the kind vets at the Bethany Animal Hospital in Phoenix. Dr. Katie Andre and Dr. Melissa Miller work with M.A.I.N. to ensure that all the animals are treated and well-cared for. Then fosters step up to complete the final step of a dog’s rehabilitation, and help to find forever homes for the dogs. What really impressed me when I looked around their site is how much information is provided for each dog, including notes from foster homes and trainers so you get to really know each dog. And then they have wonderful videos (of before and after) like the one below, which makes a adoption all that more possible.
M.A.I.N.'s mission is statement: M.A.I.N. Team is an Arizona based 501(c)3 all volunteer group focused on identifying, transporting, aiding and promoting animals from Arizona shelters who need immediate and sometimes costly medical attention the shelters are unable to provide.
Good news about their dogs, they seem to be open to out-of-area adoptions, if you are interested in any of them, do let them know! Or if you are in the Phoenix area you might want to step up and volunteer to help or become a foster for this program.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Brad O'Keefe finds the dog that saved his life in Afghanistan
Last week, ex-Marine Brad O'Keefe was reunited with Earl, the Black Labrador that saved his life in Afghanistan. Brad and Earl had worked together for two years, detecting IED bombs, but hadn't seen each other since they were both injured in 2010. The pair was crossing a bridge with a U.S. army unit when Earl detected an explosive device. A resurgent ended up detonating the device before they could completely escape, but the warning ultimately saved Brad's life and the lives of the 13 other men. Earl ran the five miles back to base and waited next to Brad's gear. Brad never returned, requiring seven surgeries to recover. He was later awarded the Purple Heart, but Brad always wondered what happened to Earl. In May, Brad's sister, Rachel, decided to make it her mission to track down the courageous pup through a Facebook page called Bring MMD Earl Home. Within days Rachel found out that Earl had been transferred to the Rhode Island State Police after the military downsized its K-9 corps. Earl had been training with his new handler, State Trooper Damien Maddox, and even worked the Boston marathon bombing. The decision to relinquish Earl was left up to Trooper Maddox who agreed without hesitation. However I'm sure it was not easy for him. In the video clip of Trooper Maddox and Earl working together, and the subsequent reunion with Brad, you can see that they developed a strong bond even in their short time together. Brad is currently working as a machinist in Rochester, N.Y., coping with his injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no doubt that Earl will provide the type of healing only a dog can give—especially one who truly understands the trauma that happened that day in Afghanistan. Now that both Brad and Earl are retired from the Marines, they can play fetch, take walks, and really enjoy the time they have together.
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