Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Vet visits are down and health problems are up
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the number of canine vet visits dropped 21 percent since 2001 (and a whopping 30 percent for cats), while the number of emergency visits increased. Meanwhile, the Banfield Pet Hospital network has seen an increase in pet obesity, diabetes, arthritis, and thyroid and kidney disease. It seems that more and more people are waiting until their pets are very sick to bring them to the vet.
In response, a new campaign has been started by Partners for Healthy Pets, a collaboration between the AVMA, the American Animal Hospital Association, and more than 90 other veterinary organizations. to promote annual checkups for all pets. They want to let people know that preventative care saves lives and money by identifying problems before they require surgery or complicated treatment.
As an example, I was shocked to learn that only 55 percent of dogs are on heartworm medication, one of the easiest ways to prevent a fatal disease.
So why aren't people going to the vet? The 2008 economic downturn certainly didn't help, but the decline has been in motion for years. Some think that the research against annual vaccination or the proliferation of pet health information on the internet started the trend. Others believe that vets need to become better at marketing their skills, which is an interesting take.
Most of us at some point probably received a reminder postcard from our vet about vaccines, but an annual wellness exam nvolves much more than booster shots. Dr. Karen Felsted, a Dallas veterinary consultant, believes that vets need to describe the full value of what goes on in a check-up, such as how they observe gait and look for other behavioral clues that may indicate more serious problems. This is particularly important because animals like to hide illness as long as possible.
I always say that you are the best judge of your pet's health. After all, you're the one who sees your dog's behavior every day and knows if something isn't normal. But your pup's health should be a partnership between you and your veterinarian. If you're not bringing your pet to the veterinarian at least annually, find one that you respect and trust. Your dog will thank you for it!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Infantile features have power
Those big puppy dog eyes may be powerful in addition to just being cute. According to a recent study, they may actually affect human choice about which dogs to adopt. The researchers who conducted the study “Paedomorphic Facial Expressions Give Dogs a Selective Advantage” found that dogs whose facial expressions made them look more puppyish were adopted more quickly from shelters than dogs who did not show such facial expressions. (Paedomorphism is the retention of infantile or juvenile traits into adulthood.)
One of the most prominent paedomorphic features is large eyes relative to the size of the face. This trait can be enhanced by raising the eyebrows which makes the overall height and size of the eyes seem bigger. It was this action of eyebrow raising that was studied in the experiment.
A total of 27 dogs were a part of the study. To minimize variation in facial features, all of the dogs were of similar types: Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Mastiffs and mixed bull breeds. Dogs were filmed for 2 minutes and researchers recorded the number of eyebrow raises and tail wags that each dog performed as well as noting how much time the dog spent at the front of the kennel. Frequency of eyebrow raises was associated with shorter times until adoption. Specifically, dogs who raised their eyebrows 5 times during filming were adopted in an average of 50 days, those that performed 10 eyebrow raises were adopted in an average of 35 days, and dogs who did it 15 times had an average waiting time until adoption of only 28 days.
Interestingly, they found that amount of tail wagging and time at the front of the kennel were not strongly associated with time until being adopted even though such traits are typically considered favorable behavioral signs of friendliness. It would be interesting to know if the eyebrow raising behavior correlates with temperament and suitability as a pet or if it is a behavior that serves more strictly to encourage caregiving behavior in humans.
These results may shed light on the domestication of dogs. It has been proposed that the juvenile traits of dogs arose as a byproduct of selection against aggression. This line of reasoning claims that people chose to associate with the least aggressive canines, and that the evolution of puppyish features and behavior developed as an accidental consequence of those choices. Experiments support the idea that selecting against aggression does lead to the evolution of juvenile traits. However, this latest study suggests that the puppylike features themselves may have influenced which canines became closely associated with humans and that such features may have evolved earlier in the process of domestication than previously thought.
Do your buddy’s puppy dog eyes exert a powerful influence over you?
A treat from Budweiser
This is a very adorable ad from Budweiser that will air this Sunday during the Super Bowl. Only "downer" is that the pup isn't from a shelter! But this well-crafted ad is sure to tug at your heart strings. Those horses are just so majestic too. It will be hard for the other ads to compete with this one.
Sue Chipperton and Deborah Dellosso were the trainers of the litter of eight Labrador puppies who appear in the ad. When training began, the puppies were just 9-weeks-old.
As they noted in People:
"The puppies reacted fabulously to the Clydesdales," says Chipperton. "I was amazed at how brave and outgoing they were around these huge horses. They wanted to engage with them and were very excited to be in their presence." (Who wouldn't be?)
And it was the animals' interactions that made the TV magic, says the dogs' trainer.
"It's special because the connection was natural, it wasn't forced … a sweet moment from a gentle horse and an adventurous puppy." says Chipperton.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Beware of thieves using this tactic
In a new twist to an old trick designed to separate honest people from their money, a well-known scam in disguise is being targeted at dog lovers. If someone is interested in buying a dog online, they may be vulnerable to this con.
They are offered a dog, often of a rare and expensive breed, at a too-good-to-be-true price, but during the course of transporting the dog to them, additional fees crop up. They may be asked to send $1600 for insurance to ship the puppy or $1000 for vaccinations and a new pet carrier. Requests for food or for emergency veterinary care are sometimes made. Fees as much as $4600 have been requested to spring the puppy out of quarantine. By the time many victims realize that something isn’t right and that the puppy will NEVER be delivered, it’s too late, and any money they have already sent is gone forever.
This pet scam is a type of 4-1-9 scam, the most famous of which is the Nigerian Scam. In that scenario, the criminal contacts potential victims and claims to have a large fortune that needs to be transferred out of Nigeria. They say that in exchange for helping them with the transfer, they will be given a percentage of the millions of dollars. A variety of reasons are given for being unable to do so without help from an overseas partner. Usually, they have to do with legal technicalities related to their position in the government. Once the victim expresses interest, they are told of various fees and expenses required to make the transfer happen. People are often willing to pay a little now for the promise of a large fortune later, which is how they fall prey to the crime. Fees for multiple failed transfers and legal fees only serve to part people from their money.
Beware of all related scams and don’t let adorable puppy pictures cloud your good judgment. As investigators of such crimes often say, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”
With over 1million views, many of you have probably seen this video, but it was new to me when a friend showed it to me.
We have a dog very much like the one here, and it is great to see the dog's patience and acceptance of the owl's attention. I do think that our Lola would also sit so still and welcome this feathery friendship.
News: Guest Posts
As my Twitter bio says, I’m interested in your dog’s urine. I’m not kidding around here. For a recent Animal Behavior class, I buddied up with a doggie daycare and followed dogs on their afternoon walks. Yes. I was that person walking around NYC with a hand held camera, trailing dogs and video taping them as they peed.
This wasn’t a hypothesis testing experiment, I was simply trying to gauge what parts of urination were easily measured in a naturalistic context. I checked out things like urination duration, urine placement, leg position, leg height, tail position and post-pee scratching. If another dog was present, I got to see whether there was any over-marking (peeing on another dog’s pee) or adjacent marking (peeing nearby). I was just measuring stuff as you often do when starting to investigate why animals do what they do.
I’m not the only researcher interested in your dog’s urine. Patricia Yang and colleagues at The Georgia Institute of Technology have a similar interest in measuring things that might seem odd to measure. They’ve submitted the abstract The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet to the Annual Fluid Dynamics Conference held by the American Physical Society in late November.
Using “high-speed videography” and “flow-rate measurement” they investigated independent urination styles, such as the dripping of small mammals and the “jetting” of large mammals. New Scientist interviewed Yang (and Discover has a piece out as well), and the coverage touches on urethra length, gravitational pull and the number of seconds it takes to empty bladders. I eagerly await how the published study links Newtonian physics to urine!
Truth be told, maybe I wanted to write this post so I could write “jetting” of large mammals, and show this video. Also, I want to go on vacation with these people*:
But as you’ve seen, urine does not begin and end with the jetting of large mammals. Dog urination is pretty awesome and a number of researchers are holding a figurative magnifying glass up to it (and you can too!). Some dogs let it all out at once — although, I’m pretty sure that’s not called “jetting”) — while others let a little out at a time. And then of course, there’s how they do it.
A recent study by Wirant and McGuire (2004) found that female Jack Russell Terriers assumed a number of urination positions, including the squat-raise (most common), squat, arch-raise, combination and handstand. They found that females“used the squat-raise and arch-raise postures more when off their home area then when on their home area.” If dog urination has a social function, it might make sense to present your urine in different ways depending on where you are and who you are encountering, don’t you think?
Here’s what you can do: When you’re out walking your dog, pay attention to their urine. Do they assume a different position if you take them to an area where they’ve never been or go infrequently? Or do they pull out the same tricks no matter where they are?
Leave your urine reports below, and share early and often. My business is urine, and it can be yours too.
Photo: Flickr Nature’s Fire Hydrant via Mike Finkelstein Creative Commons
Pham et al. 2013. The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet. Bulletin of the American Physical Society. 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics.
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Legislation signed this week establishes penalties for harming guide dogs
Earlier this week, New Jersey signed Dusty's Law into effect, establishing criminal penalties for hurting, or even interfering with, a service dog. To date, it's one of the most comprehensive guide dog protection laws passed by a state.
Previously police had to refer these cases over to animal control agencies that didn't always have the resources to immediately investigate. Proponents of the bipartisan legislation see Dusty's Law as critical since a hurt or dead service dog puts their person in imminent danger.
The Law is named for Dusty, a German Shepherd puppy who was mauled by a dog in Woodcliff Lake, N.J. when he was out being trained for guide dog duties. Dusty was fortunate to survive the ordeal, but lost four teeth and suffered psychological trauma that kept him from continuing his work in The Seeing Eye program. His puppy raiser also sustained permanent injuries in the attack.
Because of their non-aggressive nature and loyalty to staying by their person, service dogs are particularly susceptible to an attack. According to a study by The Seeing Eye, 44 percent of guide dog users had experienced at least one attack by another animal and more than 80 percent said they'd had some kind of interference by another animal.
Under Dusty's Law, offenses are punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, depending on the severity. The law also requires restitution if a service dog is killed or injured, which can include the animal's value, veterinary bills, and lost income.
While this law won't make guide dogs any less vulnerable, it will hopefully provide the protection needed to lessen attacks. I hope more states will adopt similar laws!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Making this challenge more manageable
“I would walk my dogs more often if they acted like that!” the man said as Lucy, Baxter and I passed him on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. Both dogs were walking calmly, one on either side of me. They were relaxed, their leashes were loose, and it was a pleasant walk for all of us. While I was dogsitting for them, I was happy to take them out for two long walks a day and some round-the-block-to-pee outings.
It’s fun to take dogs out when they are well behaved, but the sad truth is that if it is miserable to take dogs out for a walk, those walks don’t happen as often as they should. That’s especially true if multiple dogs are involved. After all, it’s one thing to have a single dog pulling you around the neighborhood, but it’s far worse when it feels like a complete sled dog team is putting their muscle into hauling you around. It’s no fun and it’s not safe, especially in winter if you live where there is snow and ice.
The good news is that there are various ways to improve your experience when walking multiple dogs. I like to place the options in two different categories in my mind. Some are short-term solutions and others are for the long term.
One way to make your walks with more than one dog more enjoyable is to change the equipment you are using. Just adding head collars such as the Gentle Leader or the Snoot Loop can make a huge difference. These collars fit over the nose of your dog and act very much like halters on horses. When fit properly, it’s like having power steering for your dogs, and they have helped many people have control over their dogs in a gentle humane way. Another option is the Easy Walk Harness, which also puts physics on your side so that dogs are unable to pull as they can with basic flat collars. I don’t recommend prong collars or choke chains because they can injure and scare dogs.
Before taking all your dogs out on walks with any new equipment, I recommend taking each one alone at least once. These various collars and harnesses are not difficult to use, but it’s sensible to get the feel of walking each dog with something new before trying it en masse. Taking dogs out one at a time allows you to concentrate on how each individual is adjusting and reacting to the change. If you need to make an adjustment to make it fit better, it’s easier to handle that without the rest of the crew.
Walking one dog is easier than walking two, three, four or more, and another short-term option is walking the dogs one at a time. While this is less efficient and results in either more time walking for the humans or less time walking for each dog, it is still preferable to nobody getting a walk. There are people who adopt this strategy permanently, but for most people, it’s just a way to give dogs exercise while working up to walking dogs together once again.
Working towards group walks means training! It may not be intuitive, but if dogs are to be expected to walk nicely on leashes, they have to be taught to do so. Just like any other skill, it takes practice for your dogs to learn and perfect. It is best to work on training each dog in individual sessions before working with them all simultaneously.
The first step in training a dog to walk nicely beside you is to encourage him to be by your side and reinforce him when he’s in the right spot. In an open area with no other dogs present such as a fenced-in yard, let your dog know that you have tasty treats (or a ball or squeaky toy if your dog prefers toys over treats) and then help him earn them every time he walks beside you. Click your tongue, smooch, slap your leg, or wave a treat next to you, and let him have the goodies for taking a stride or two next to you. If he gets ahead of you, turn around and treat him for catching up. Make sure to give him the treats when he is next to you rather than in front of you since you are teaching him it’s fun to walk next to you, NOT that’s it’s fun to be out in front. The goal is to be interesting to your dog so that he wants to be next to you. Changing your speed and direction will make you more interesting to most dogs, so make sure you speed up, slow down and make a lot of turns.
Once the first step is going well, the next step is to teach your dog that it’s fun to pay attention to you and that wonderful things will happen if he decides on his own to join you and walk next to you. In a safe open area, walk in big circles. Resist the urge to help your dog attend to you. The idea is to teach him that he will be glad if he decides to walk next to you, and he can’t learn that lesson as effectively if you encourage him in any way. The goal is for him to learn that choosing you over everything else in the environment will result in good things for him. It’s important to use high quality treats and reinforce your dog for making good decisions about his behavior and attention.
The third step is to add a leash and go on a walk to work on this behavior. Shower him with treats every time he is in the right position. If he is behind you, encourage him to catch up and reinforce him for doing so. If he gets ahead of you, turn around so that he has the opportunity to catch up to you and receive treats. This is a good time to add in the cue “heel” so that eventually you can cue him to perform this behavior. Say “heel” every time you move forward when he is by your side. Heeling is not easy for dogs, so make sure to give a lot of treats in these early stages of training. Giving too few treats is one of the most common mistakes of novice trainers. Remember to be generous like experienced trainers are! Later, you can reduce the frequency of treats. Intersperse short sessions of heeling on the walk, relying on your equipment in the interim periods to prevent your dog from pulling. Most dogs require lots of practice before perfecting this skill, and many short sessions are more effective than a single longer one.
The last step is to put your dogs together and walk as a group. If you have many dogs, you may need to start with pairs of dogs, then triples and then work up to the whole canine family walking together. Some people find that walking all of their dogs on one side works best, but others have an easier time with one dog on one side and one or more dogs on the other. Only you can decide what is best for you and your dogs, but it’s a good idea to observe your dogs to help figure out the best option. Sometimes a dog is uncomfortable walking beside a particular dog and it makes sense to honor that and adjust positions accordingly.
I enjoyed all my walks with Lucy and Baxter, and that’s what I wish for anyone, whether they have more than one dog or not. The combination of equipment that helps eliminate pulling and training dogs to heel should make walking your dogs a recreational activity instead of it feeling like a grueling endurance event.
News: Guest Posts
At her intake at a shelter in April 2012, Bean was a pup with a familiar profile: a Pit Bull whose family could no longer care for her. But it wasn’t long before someone at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California did notice something unusual about her.
It was her lack of “boing,” says staff member Finnegan Dowling. “No Pit Bull puppy should be that mellow.”
Bean also had a stiff walk. When she was excited, she hopped like a bunny. They took her for x-rays, but even sedation didn’t relax her joints enough to get pictures, Dowling says, and the vet referred her to UC Davis for an MRI scan.
There, Dr. Karen Vernau, chief of the Neurology and Neurosurgery Service at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, discovered that her hip joints were improperly formed. Bean’s determined spirit wasn’t lost on Vernau, but her chances of adoption seemed slim.
The five month old pup was suffering from muscular dystrophy, a progressive and currently incurable disease that would affect many parts of her body.
According to notes in Bean’s file at the Humane Society, she was scheduled for a procedure at Davis on May 25. By the 29th, she was diagnosed with myopathy, a neurological condition. But somewhere in between those dates, Dowling says, Dr. Vernau’s relationship with her patient “went from obligation to affection.”
Vernau and her family decided to adopt Bean. As the vet told a reporter, “We didn’t intend to go down this path with her, but she just sucked us in.”
This happy ending was only the beginning of Bean’s harrowing medical story.
Gradually, things got worse. Surgery to correct her hips was followed by relief—then new problems. A massive hernia called for another surgery. Her swallowing improved, but the muscles in her esophagus were failing and there were bouts of vomiting so intense she would sometimes choke and pass out. Bean grew thinner as she struggled with aspiration (food getting into her respiratory tract when eating), which caused pneumonia.
Her vets sought help from colleagues in human medicine, a multidisciplinary approach the university encourages through its “One Health Initiative.” They included Dr. Stan Marks, a gastrointestinal specialist, and Dr. Peter Belafsky, an expert in human swallowing and airway disorders, and others.
With help from the biomedical engineering department, Bean had been fitted with a feeding tube that allowed her to eat several times per day. It worked beautifully, according to Dr. Marks.
But it didn’t stop the vomiting.
Since the vomiting put her life at risk, Belafsky concluded that they would have to stop it by removing her larynx.
Belafsky, who performed the second documented human larynx transplant, knew how profoundly such problems affect a person’s quality of life. And it was clearly true for Bean.
Her surgery, which lasted more than three hours, was the first ever canine laryngectomy. The procedure is typically used to treat human cancer. According to Belafsky, the separation of her breathing and swallowing tubes will prevent food from getting into her lungs when she eats or vomits.
The lessons learned in Bean’s treatment will impact human care, and vice versa, Belafsky said in a press conference after the surgery. Belafsky hopes she will inspire human patients who have also lost their voice and now breathe through a hole in their neck. She may just get a guest membership in the “Lost Cords Club” for people who have had a laryngectomy.
After all, Bean is only two years old, but has slept out more than 100 rounds of anesthesia and undergone eight surgeries and countless other procedures. Her “can’t do list” is long. Can’t bark, breathe or swallow normally. Forget gobbling down a treat, and she can’t swim without drowning due to the tracheostomy tube.
But the list of things she once endured, the choking and pneumonia, has been tossed.
Now when she accompanies Vernau to the hospital, she serves as ambassador and teacher, allowing students to experience canine tube feeding.
At home, Bean is learning new ways to enjoy life, which still holds plenty of the good old stuff – balls to chew, cushy beds, and a loving family that includes two other dogs.
Watch this video about Bean's surgery and recovery.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Randy Pierce says goodbye to an amazing canine partner
Quinn, the seeing eye dog who helped Randy Pierce hike all of New Hampshire's 48 4,000+ foot mountains, including the 6,288 foot Mt. Washington three times, passed away yesterday at the age of nine. In 2012, at the time of their achievement, only 46 people could make the same claim.
I was, and still am, in awe of this team. Having hiked one of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers with my dog, I know it is no easy feat with perfect vision! Seeing how Scuttle navigates rocky terrain, I can see it would take a lot of restraint and very strong muscles on Quinn's part to hike the mountain while helping Randy.
Randy and Quinn's journey is even more amazing because by 2003, Randy's neurological disorder left him completely blind and in a wheelchair. But with the Labrador's help, Randy spent the next two years working to get out of his wheelchair.
After working hard to gain mobility, Randy and Quinn began taking their activities to the next level, hiking and even running together. After completing the New Hampshire 4,000 footers, Randy and Quinn went on to run the Boston Athletic Association 5k last year.
Inspired by their progress and thankful for his robust support group, Randy founded 2020 Vision Quest to share his story and raise money for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (the organization that trained Quinn) and The New Hampshire Association for the Blind. In 2015, Randy is planning to run in the Boston Marathon, sadly without Quinn.
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