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!
Gaia is my foster dog through Dogs on Deployment, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides a central database for military members to find families and individuals who are willing to board their pets while they are deployed. No pet should ever be surrendered due to a military commitment.
Dogs on Deployment exists to help military members keep their pets by reducing the need for pet relinquishment from military members due to the hardships of deployments. Military personnel are often deployed with two-weeks (or less) notice. This allows them little time to get everything together, including finding accommodations for their pets. They may be forced to give up their pets to shelters or put them on sites such as Craigslist.
I’m hoping to get a shameless plug for DoD with this cute photo of Gaia!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
URIPALS expands the program to include canines
Last year I wrote about URIPALS, New York City's first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. At the time the program was part of a pilot and only included cats and smaller animals. Thanks to the initiative's success, URIPALS is now welcoming dogs into their largest shelter. To mark the expansion, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Nestlé Purina PetCare hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony today for the city's first ever dog park in a domestic violence shelter. The Purina Play Haven and Dog Park will provide a relaxing space for families and features a ramp, tunnel, bridge, and platform for the dogs to play on.
“Since launching URIPALS, we’ve seen how transformative it is for families in domestic violence situations to go through the healing process together with their pets,” said Nathaniel Fields, President of URI. “We are grateful to Purina for helping URI make this dog park a reality, and for their shared commitment to keeping people and pets together, especially in times of crisis.”
As many as 48 percent of women will delay leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. Programs like URIPALS are important for reducing barriers to safety for families with pets in domestic violence situations.
No one can demonstrate the impact of the new program better than the participants. One of the domestic violence survivors, who is currently staying in URI's shelter, couldn't be more thankful.
“When my children and I found out that we could bring our dog, Sparky, with us into shelter, we were overjoyed,” she said. “Sparky had always been there with us to comfort and even protect us from the abuse, and having him there with us as we work to put our lives back together makes our recovery process so much better."
I hope that other organizations in cities around the world will be inspired to create similar programs and build upon the success of URIPALS.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A lifetime of adventures worth telling
The broken jaw was suffered over a decade ago, courtesy of a kicking horse, and the broken leg was a result of an unplanned exit from the back of a pick-up truck a couple of years after that. Being attacked by a raccoon left him with a cut so bad his jawbone was showing through the cuts in his gums.
Gus is a 14-year old Heeler/Pit Bull cross and about as sweet a dog as I have ever met. He visited us this weekend when his guardian, David, was doing some electrical work in our kitchen, and his elderly comportment gives no signs of all the living this dog has done. Despite his rambunctious youth, Gus now moves slowly, reliably remains calm and is gentle with kids and adults alike. He’s changed a bit a from his barking, chasing, heel-nipping days, though his basic personality remains the same.
Born in Montanta on a 400-acre alfalfa ranch, Gus later lived in California in a triplex apartment after David was badly injured, then moved to Arizona where he once again had room to run around. That was when his guardian worked as the lookout at Lemmon Rock lookout on Mount Lemmon, and where Gus acquired the nickname “Smoke Detector”. Gus was so popular there that David’s boss joked with him, “We didn’t hire you because of you. It’s because of Gus. You don’t have to come back, but we’d sure like to see Gus again.”
Last summer, Gus lived in his fourth state when David worked as a firefighter in Washington. (Friends watched him when David was working.) Gus was used to living with lots of people since he spent his first year living in the bunkhouse of the ranger station in Montana, and he no doubt raised morale in the place just by being himself.
It’s good news that he is such a lovely dog given all that has happened to him and his beginnings. The mom was the family’s gentle Pit Bull, but his litter was the result of an unplanned breeding between that dog and the neighbor’s aggressive male Heeler. The eight puppies all went to firefighters and EMTs that worked with David, and I can only hope that the other seven had lives so filled with friendship and adventure.
The life of every dog is made up of stories, and I love it when people share them with me. I especially love hearing the tales of elderly dogs. Not only have they usually had a greater number of interesting escapades since they have been on the planet so long, but they have almost always had adventures that don’t seem to match with their gentle older selves. They make me think of old men sitting on a porch starting every other phrase with, ”Did I ever tell you about the time I. . .”
Have you ever had an old dog whose life story was just begging to be told?
News: Guest Posts
How Does the Loss of a Dog Impact the Wellbeing of other Dogs in the Household?
I recently came upon the link for a pet loss survey through social media. My summer of 2013 had far too much pet loss. Curious, I went to the website, which is sponsored by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I met the study criteria: over 18 years of age; have lost a pet from my household due to death, temporary or permanent absence; and at the time of the loss, had at least one other pet that is still in my household today.
I took the survey, a process of about twenty minutes. Many questions were quickly answered by filling in the appropriate multiple-choice bubble; others could be answered with additional detail typed into a box.
I was impressed with the topics covered by the survey; having so recently lost two of my three dogs, I felt they were spot-on based on my experiences. Clearly the study delves into questions and concerns that many of us have about how our pets grieve but presently have no real answers for. We simply hope we’re doing the right thing for them.
I lost Maia, the oldest of my three dogs to old age last June (she was 14). Then quite unexpectedly I lost Meadow, age 12, to bone cancer just six weeks later. I found myself in troubling new territory with no guide. How do I help the surviving dogs through their grief? How is their grief impacted by my own? Was Finn, my youngest (age five) and now sole remaining dog going to be traumatized by losing two housemates in such quick succession? What could I do to make the losses easier for him, even while I was a wreck from grief?
There are websites addressing the issue of pet loss. Believe me, I visited several last summer. There are suggestions about helping us handle loss, helping children grieve, or responding to family, friends and co-workers who don’t understand why you’re a wreck and say, “It’s just a pet.” A few websites offer suggestions for helping other pets grieve, but there’s no research, no science behind the information. I didn’t want to make things worse for my dogs. I remember struggling mightily with whether to let the surviving dogs/dog see and smell the departed dog’s body. I searched for answers online, but couldn’t find anything concrete. I decided to let them come into the room after their housemate was gone. I only hope I made the right choice. It would be nice to have some research saying I did, or if not, what to do differently in the future.
Leticia Fanucchi, DVM and a Ph.D student, is working to bring us the science that will help us help our pets through the dying and grieving process when they lose household members (animal or human) to which they’re attached. As Dr. Fanucchi notes, there’s been some anecdotal data about the grieving process of other animals—elephants, apes, chimpanzees, marine mammals—but no systematic research regarding them or our companion animals. She aims to correct that, conducting controlled studies to help us and our vets better understand pet loss and grieving. Dr. Fanucchi describes this research as her career-long project.
Dr. Fanucchi currently has two surveys going—the pet loss survey I took, and a control survey for pet owners who aren’t experiencing loss. The data she collects will form the basis for the next stages of her research: measuring changes in behavior and diet when a pet loses another pet or a person in their household, and whether the grief of the owner impacts the grief of the pet. To gain early data during the next stage, Dr. Fanucchi will observe in the lab the brief separation (two minutes) of two pets sharing a household, to determine if the pair are attached or not. “If they are attached, then I can assume they will grieve.”
Eventually her research will involve finding pets actually going through the grieving process. The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine sees many animals that are old or have cancer or other life-threatening diseases. “Eventually, sadly, we lose animals,” said Dr. Fanucchi. “They will be the samples we study.” Dr. Fanucchi will seek owners willing to let her visit the pets and family in their home, observing and video-taping behaviors and measuring eating before and after loss to detect changes and influences.
Dr. Fanucchi anticipates analyzing the current pet survey data this summer and publishing the results by the end of this year, although the surveys will stay up all year. Thereafter, as she moves forward through research stages and collects additional data, she will try to publish annually so that new information is shared regularly. So far, some 700 people have responded to the pet loss survey, and another 500 to the pet behavior without loss survey.
You can help this important research by responding to whichever survey applies to your household:
Pet Loss Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petloss
Pet Owner (without loss) Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petbehavior
Participation is voluntary and anonymous. If questions make you uncomfortable, you can leave them blank. If the pet loss survey causes any distress, counseling services are available through the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline (website and phone numbers provided before you enter the survey).
I urge you to take the small amount of time needed to complete one or the other survey. The more data collected, the better the results and subsequent research, leading to information that, sadly, we will all need at some point in our lives shared with animal companions.
News: Guest Posts
Welcome, Zoo Baby!
He’s here! Our little zoo baby, Brandon Richard Lane, was born February 23, 2014. He let out a powerful wail as the doctor placed him on my chest, assuring us that he would fit right in with our vocal pack. At 6 pounds 5 ounces, he weighed less than our tiniest cat, Cricket, and he measured 20.5” long. He had a surprising amount of brown hair and beautiful, dark blue eyes.
After three days in the hospital, we missed our dogs and cats and couldn’t wait to bring Brandon home to the zoo. In order to prepare them for the new arrival, my mom, Grandma K., brought them a little shirt Brandon wore so everyone could sniff it.
She reported that only our oldest dog, Darby the 11.5-year-old Dalmatian, excitedly checked it out and whipped her tail into circles. I think she smelled her favorite person, my husband Brian, on the shirt. Everyone else demonstrated some curiosity but once they realized Grandma wasn’t offering food, they wandered back to their favorite sleeping spots.
When we came home that night, I entered the house first and spent a good 10 minutes greeting everybody. Jolie, my 10-year-old Dalmatian, bounced up and down with joy, while the younger dogs, Ginger Peach and Magnum, swirled around me, bringing offerings of slobbery Kongs and rubber balls. Darby the Queen, who usually waits for her loyal subjects to approach her, thrust herself into the chaos, slapping her tail against my shins while she growl-grumbled hello.
Brian then entered the house, carrying Brandon in the car seat. The zoo repeated its manic greeting ritual, either ignoring the baby in the room or just being unaware of his presence. Finally, their noses started working and they realized the humans had increased their ranks. Before they could uncover the blue polka-dot Dalmatian blanket protecting Brandon from cold, wet noses and pools of dog slobber, Brian placed the car seat on the kitchen table.
This, of course, delighted the cats, who were lying in wait for their opportunity to climb into that comfortable looking cat bed. Unfortunately, there was some weird creature in the way. Cricket tentatively smelled Brandon, and she was on the cusp of tolerating him when he startled and waved his arms around. That did not go over well. She hissed in his face and would’ve started trash talking had we not intervened. Thankfully, our gentle giant cat, Bruiser Bear, just sniffed Brandon a few times before sauntering away.
I had expected – and prepared for - a variety of behaviors from the dogs. Darby had never been comfortable around children. For everyone’s safety, we taught her to leave the area rather than feel she had to confront a child (many thanks to our nieces, who were willing guinea pigs in the training process). So it was no surprise that she excused herself from the room.
Jolie is a Therapy Dog who adapts well to new situations and is drawn to people, especially if they’re upset or lonely. She is wonderful with children, who love to pet her soft fur and count her spots. She remained at a respectful distance from Brandon until we invited her over. After inspecting him thoroughly and making sure he didn’t have any crumbs of food to offer, she turned her attention to me. Sensing my exhaustion, she gave me a little kiss on the ear (I can count on one hand the number of times Jolie has kissed anybody in 10 years). That was all the assurance I needed.
Magnum and Ginger Peach were the surprises. The former is a two-year-old Border Collie who adores people and grew up with our young nieces. Yet his high energy and sensitivity to pressure and space made me wonder if he’d feel overstimulated and lose his cool. On the contrary, Magnum loved the baby. He was curious without being obnoxious, and sweetly licked the tips of Brandon’s tiny fingers. When Brandon would cry or fuss, Magnum was right there, wanting to know what job he could do to help this poor little puppy feel better. I figured they would bond once Brandon was old enough to throw a ball, but there was an instant closeness between the two.
The dog I thought would be Brandon’s best pal from day one was actually very conflicted about him. Although she loves people, too, she is an anxious rescue girl who does not handle change easily. Her response to stress is to madly lick everything in sight, from the carpet to people’s clothing. She has strong prey drive and is not to be trusted unsupervised around small dogs. Every time Brandon cried, which sounded like a squeak, Peach went on alert, hoping to find a toy. Yet she knew it wasn’t one, leaving her confused.
Upon meeting Brandon, she demonstrated a behavior that shocked me. She narrowed her eyes, lowered her head, and slunk around the car seat, like a feral dog. She was afraid and unsure. Of course, we moved Brandon up to the table again to remove the pressure from Peach and keep him safe. In typical shepherd mode, she placed herself between Brandon and me. That’s when I realized that she wasn’t necessarily being more protective of the baby when I was pregnant. She had wanted to protect me in what she must’ve perceived as a more fragile state.
We were too tired that night to worry about Ginger Peach’s behavior with the baby. But it was something we would have to address over the next few days. I hoped that with my training background, we would find a way to help her gain confidence around the newest member of the zoo.
Read Zoo Baby: Part 2
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
“First Kiss” parodies were inevitable
What will happen when strangers kiss on film? We still don’t know because this past week’s viral video that claimed it was “magic” turned out to be a clever advertisement for a clothing company. Since the “First Kiss” video had over 10 million views in a matter of days and is now approaching 50 million, it’s no surprise that parodies of it have begin to surface. Obviously, one that involved dogs was bound to make the rounds, and here is an example.
Just like the original that inspired it, “First Sniff” is in black-and-white, it shows some diversity of characters though all are attractive, it is set to moving music, has close-ups of faces and shows positive emotional interactions between the pairs.
There are so many parodies, and another of my favorites is First Lick: A Film by Jimmy Fallon, which includes both dogs and cats.
I think that the puppy who gets distracted by his own tail is the breakout star of the film, although the facial expressions of the Basset Hound are priceless.
Do you have a favorite part of any of the parodies of the First Kiss video?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Wolves in popular culture increase the number of homeless pups
Over the years various television shows and movies have been blamed for the overpopulation problem connected with iconic breeds like Chihuahuas and Dalmatians. It's unfortunate that people see these dogs in popular culture and feel the need to get a pet without doing any research.
The success of the HBO show, Game of Thrones, and fantasy films like Twilight, has spelt bad news for wolf-like dog breeds (fortunately for dragons, the fire breathing creatures are harder to acquire).
Game of Thrones features animals called direwolves that are played by Northern Inuit dogs on the show. Twilight has characters that shape shift into werewolves. As a result, fans have been buying breeds such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, without planning for the level of energy these dogs have.
According to U.K. animal charity Blue Cross, this has led to a whopping 420 percent increase in Husky type breeds being abandoned since 2008, the year the first Twilight movie was released. Game of Thrones debuted three years later in 2011.
When I first watched the discovery of the direwolf puppies on Game of Thrones, of course I let out an “aww” and said that I wanted my very own direwolf. But a plush toy will have to suffice. It's situations like these that expose the root of our pet overpopulation problem—irresponsible ownership. People need to realize that pets require a great deal of time, money, and devotion. And not every dog is appropriate for every family and lifestyle. Animals are not disposable!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lab mix walks children to and from school, finds vet care and home
Seven years ago, a puppy showed up in Eagle Pass, Texas and started accompanying children as they walked to and from Benavidez Heights Elementary school. She even hung around at recess to play with the kids. At first the school tried to chase the dog away, but soon they gave up and named her Debbie. The faculty and students began leaving food and water for Debbie, and even got her basic vaccinations. It always remained a mystery where Debbie went during holidays and summer break, but she was always there for every school day.
However Debbie's daily walks came to an end in late January when she was hit by a car, just outside of the school. Fortunately teacher Dr. Ronald Zawacki-Maldonado was quick to rescue Debbie and get her medical attention.
Debbie was treated for several broken bones, a dislocated spine, skin injuries, and the loss of one of her toes. While Debbie was recovering, she received lots of get well cards and valentines from students, some who are now in junior high school and high school!
Although she'll need physical therapy, Debbie finally left South Texas Veterinary Specialists after over a month of treatment. The good news is that Debbie will be going home with Dr. Ronald, her new adoptive dad. And Debbie has inspired Dr. Ronald to start his own animal rescue!
Debbie will no longer be walking the kids to school, but I'm sure she'll get to visit as the unofficial mascot!
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