Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The dogs’ behavior is fascinating
The kinship I feel with dog lovers allows me to share the following with no concern that any of you would fail to understand: Yesterday I was in need of an emotional pick-me-up, but I was short on time, so I wandered over to YouTube to look for a dog video that would quickly make smiling a sure thing.
The first video I came to was called “Dogs Welcoming Soldiers Home” and I watched it once just for pleasure, enjoying the reunions. I especially loved the Great Dane at about 1:20 because a Great Dane on its hind legs is always a striking image and because this was my childhood breed.
Then, I couldn’t help myself, and I watched the video again. This time, I observed the dogs carefully the way I do when I am working. Several aspects of the dogs’ behavior interested me.
The most obvious behavior was also the least surprising. These dogs were exuberant, leaping and spinning (presumably joyfully) when greeting their returning soldier guardians. They were out of control in the best possible way.
They were so revved up that energy was exploding out of them, and that included vocalizations. Many of these dogs were whimpering and whining and making other loud sounds, but not barking. It’s hard to say what all these vocalizations mean, but I feel comfortable saying that they were likely indicative of dogs feeling intense emotions. The sounds they made seemed very expressive to me, even though I can’t claim to know precisely what they were expressing. It is interesting to me that so many of the dogs made these sounds. Since this was a compilation video, it is possible that the loudest dogs were chosen because the person who compiled the clips found these sounds interesting, as do I.
The close physical contact that the dogs sought with the people was fascinating. The dogs generally seemed not to be able to get close enough to the people. Many of them seemed to be pressing their bodies against the people in a way that’s not typical. Primates, including humans, often seek out the ventral-ventral (bellies together) contact of hugs, but it’s not very common dog behavior. Even most dogs who jump are more likely to make contact with just their paws rather than with their bodies.
In other contexts, such as cuddling on the couch or floor, many dogs do seek close contact, but that is more often lying next to or on top of people, rather than behavior that looks more like a human hug. These dogs were not resisting hugs and being picked up the way many dogs often do, but seemed quite comfortable with those human actions. (A few even jumped into the soldier’s arms.) One exception is the Golden Retriever at about 4 minutes who tolerates but doesn’t love the prolonged hug from behind. Even this dog soon settles in and seems somewhat more comfortable with full contact with the person in a slightly different position.
The most surprising behaviors I noticed were the tail wags. It has been well documented that dogs experiencing positive emotions tend to wag their tail higher to the right, and the study found that to be particularly true of dogs greeting their guardians. I would have expected dogs to be so joyous when greeting a guardian after a long absence that their tail wags would be to the right. Yet, in this video, many of the dogs exhibited left-biased tail wags, which I found curious. Certainly, the dogs seemed happy to see the people. After all, their enthusiasm is what makes this video so wonderful in the first place.
I can only speculate about why left-biased tail wags were so prevalent in this video. Dogs cannot understand the concept of deployment, and since most of these service members were probably gone for about a year, it’s likely that the dogs were surprised to see them again. It is my belief that many dogs whose guardians are gone for extended periods of time have already grieved for these people as though they are gone forever, which could make their return wonderful, but also startling. Perhaps confusion or shock factored into the emotions of the dogs enough to counteract the joy of the reunion that I thought would lead to right-biased tail wags.
If you have had an extended separation because of military service or any other reason, what was your reunion with your dog like?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
More Olympic athletes are saving pups at the Games
Earlier this month I wrote about the last ditch effort to save stray pups in Sochi and the hope that Olympic visitors might consider adopting. Now U.S. athletes are coming together to take homeless dogs back to America.
It all started with slopestyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, who discovered a mom and her four pups living under a security tent at the Olympic media center. He was not allowed to bring the dogs into the Athletes' Village, but visited them every day. Gus said that the animals were a welcome distraction leading up to his competition.
Gus knew that these dogs would have nowhere to go once the security tent came down and could not bear leave them behind. So Gus postponed his return home and got the necessary paperwork to take the pups back with him. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the man backing the pre-Olympic rescue effort, is helping Gus get the puppies on a plane this week. Oleg is also planning to unveil a new shelter on Friday that can accommodate 250 dogs.
Now multiple athletes are following suit and adopting Sochi strays they've met on the Olympic grounds. Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis didn't medal at the Games, but is ecstatic to be taking home an adorable pup she named Sochi (judging from what other athletes are calling their pups, Lindsey's dog won't be the only Sochi coming back to the U.S.!).
Other adopters include U.S. hockey team members, Ryan Miller, David Backes, and Kevin Shattenkirk, skiier Brita Sigourney, and bobsled and skeleton press officer Amanda Bird. Amanda has said she'd like to adopt an older dog, since the puppies are more likely to find homes.
For David Backes and his wife Kelly, adopting a Sochi stray was second nature. They already do a lot of rescue work through their charity, Athletes for Animals.
I'm happy to see so many athletes taking back Sochi strays, but I'm equally happy with how much publicity this has created for adoption in general. I hope people watching the Games will be inspired by the Olympians and think about visiting the animal shelter to save a dog close to home.
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?
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