Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New study confirms long held belief
According to a new study “Preliminary investigation of employee's dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions,” having your dog at work lowers stress levels. This may not seem like news to most of us, but this is actually the first study to quantify the effects of bringing a dog to work on stress levels.
The study took place at Replacements, Ltd. over the course of a week, and involved having 20 to 30 dogs at work each day. Throughout the study, people had dogs with them on some days, but not on others.
Researchers found no difference in stress levels at the beginning of the day between people who had their dogs with them, people who left their dogs at home, and people who do not have a dog at all. Later on in the day, however, the stress levels for those people whose dogs were with them went down, while the stress levels of the dogless went up. People’s stress went up on the days that they left their dogs at home, but did decreased on the days their dogs accompanied them to work.
If you are able to bring your dog to work, do these findings mirror your experience?
Inhaling Vitamin N
Dogs have been our boon companions for at least 32,000 years—pretty close to forever. They were our first nonhuman pals (domesticated cats came along 23,000 years, and horses 28,000 years, after dogs), hunting partners and all-around nature guides. Joining forces with such a remarkably capable species gave us a leg up on our rivals, sped up the pace of our evolution and today, provides us with a vital connection to the natural world.
As it turns out, we sorely need such a connection. In 2010, the average American spent 28 percent of his or her waking hours involved in some form of electronics-related activity: 26 hours per week online or watching TV, and another 5.8 hours on mobile devices! These digital-age habits contribute to a new malady: nature-deficit disorder.
What is nature-deficit disorder? Richard Louv coined the term and described its characteristics in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he proposed that modern childhood ailments and health problems, including attention and behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and even obesity, can be attributed to the lack of nature in children’s lives. In his newest book, The Nature Principle, he extends this analysis to adults, and prescribes a number of remedies (in addition to spending less time with our digital tools). One is to increase our dose of Vitamin N — “N” for nature, or the mind/body/nature connection.
From Bark’s point of view, the best way to get a daily dose of Vitamin N is to walk with our dogs in natural settings, where there are trees aplenty. Parks and forests are not only wonderfully calming places, they also have a restorative effect on our immune function. Scientists have discovered that phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants to protect themselves from bacteria, fungi and insects, contribute to stress reduction in others. These same researchers suggest that time spent in plant-filled environments lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and concentration of cortisol (which is released in response to stress), among other things. Add that information to studies that have found similarly beneficial effects from the company of dogs, and dogs’ joyful inspiration to be more regular in our nature-walking habits, and we have an easy way to obtain a true V-N high.
Even better, getting out and exploring the natural world gives our co-pilots a chance to exercise their ancestral senses — a reminder of the time when we first started out on our amazing shared journey.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fungus-derived pesticide promises to safely ward off ticks
Ticks drive me crazy. I love hiking with my dogs, but I hate the ticks that come with our fun outings. Fortunately, I don't have a problem in my backyard, but I have many friends who are forced to use chemicals to keep the pesky bugs away from their pets and kids.
So I was excited to learn that scientists in Connecticut have been developing a pesticide that uses a strain of fungus deadly to ticks. Best of all, this natural treatment promises to be safe for pets and beneficial critters, like bees and earthworms.
Synthetic pesticides, which have an 85 to 100 percent success rate, are still more effective than the fungus-based pesticide, which is about 74 percent effective. However, it's great to have an organic option that works well. The product will be commercially available in 2014 under the name Tick-Ex.
Apparently tick research is severely underfunded, so it's great to see safer prevention options developed and brought to market. I really hope that one day we'll have an effective organic alternative to topical tick prevention treatments.
What strategies to you use to keep the ticks from taking over your backyard?
Culture: Stories & Lit
A Canine Cure for the Winter Blues
In my dogless years, I suffered from depression during the winter months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) they call it, but for me, it was more ISMICGOOB (I’m So Miserable I Can’t Get Out of Bed). I won’t go into details about my emotional state or describe the dire thoughts and feelings that whirlpooled around my sun-deprived mind. Let’s just say that during the winter of 2003, I was a mess. My beloved dog Wallace had died, I had divorced my husband and all I loved most about life — including the sun — had receded. Winter nights in the Northeast can be 14to 16 hours long. But it seemed like 24
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
More than fun and games
You have an all-day work event, your dog walker comes down with something and your back-up help is out of town. Then you see the ad for a local dog-daycare facility: “We can help! We offer 12 hours of fun and socialization for your dog.” The message is accompanied by cute photos of pooches at play. Should you be sold?
Across the U.S., dog-daycare businesses — franchises and single-owner operations alike — are flourishing. They offer your dog what you sometimes cannot: playmates, companionship and supervision when other commitments take you away from home. Most keep hours similar to those of daycare centers for children: drop your dog off before work, pick her up afterward.
Do dog daycares provide a necessary service for both dogs and owners? Are all daycares created equal? Is dog daycare an option you should consider? The answer is a resounding “It depends.”
Marc Bekoff, PhD, a University of Colorado ethologist who has studied dogs and their wild relatives for more than four decades, gives the concept of dog daycare a thumbs-up: “I love the idea. I think they provide a great function. At the same time, daycare should not replace people spending a good deal of time with their dogs.” E’Lise Christensen, DVM, and board-certified veterinary behaviorist in New York City, agrees “For healthy, active, social dogs, daycare can be a great outlet for getting exercise and social enrichment.”
In fact, this belief is exactly what originally spurred the development of the dog daycare industry. “In the early 1990s, training professionals found there was a need for dogs to get out of the house, socialize and engage in mental stimulation and physical exercise,” explains Melinda Miller, hospital director at Smith Ridge Veterinary Center in South Salem, N.Y.
Social play and mental stimulation are the main reasons many people choose to enroll their dogs in daycare. Mat Zucker of New York City has been taking his co-pilot Ezra to Paws in Chelsea three times a week for the last nine years. “When Ezra was a puppy, it was a great place for him to burn off energy, be social and run around. We were worried he would be bored home alone.”
Zucker makes a good point. The complex process of domestication did not shape dogs for solitary living (raise your hand if one is napping at your feet as you read this). On the other hand, dogs did not evolve to engage in all-day play sessions either.
The Social Scene
In the daycare setting, dyadic play (play between two dogs) is probably the most prevalent type. A recent study* investigating social play in adult, group-housed dogs at a boarding kennel found that of 343 social-play bouts, all but one were dyadic in nature. “This is not surprising,” notes Alexandra Horowitz, PhD, and term assistant professor of psychology at Barnard College, who has studied dog play behavior extensively.** “Dyadic play is an easier dynamic for most dogs than triadic or larger-group play. In a bigger group of players, it would be hard to have play signals in all those different directions, and a dog could certainly miss something. Because of the complexity of play, this high-paced, rambunctious activity needs a lot of coordination.”
The idea of giving dogs space to play might seem straightforward enough, but there’s more to it than simply providing square feet. Numerous factors can influence the presence, or absence, of happy frolicking. While a dog’s physical size warrants consideration when forming daycare playgroups, play style is paramount. Becky Trisko, PhD, behaviorist and owner of Unleashed in Evanston, Ill., knows this well. “A good daycare surveys play styles and groups dogs accordingly. At the same time, [it] also allows flexibility between groups throughout the day to manage personalities and excitement levels.”
When it comes to play, turning up the dial is not always better. As Miller explains, “Hyper dogs allowed to get into a frenzy and maintain that level of excitement all day can be worse in the home than they were before they went to daycare. Staff members who help dogs learn about relaxed play and recognize when dogs need time out or a change of pace and rest are helping both dog and owner.” Trisko agrees. “Owners often assume that an exhausted dog is a happy dog. But an exhausted dog could also be an irritated dog.”
In a well-run daycare, these issues are addressed by handlers who ensure that dogs engage in the congenial play their owners envision. While no formal research has been done to validate these numbers, the consensus is that an ideal handler-to-dog ratio is 1:10, or 1:15 at the outside (Christensen recommends a ratio of 1:5). If groups grow in size, so too should the level of human attention. But even with multiple human hands on deck, large dog groups can be challenging to manage. Kate Senisi, a former daycare employee, knows this firsthand. “Daycares that create multiple, smaller groups within a space, as opposed to one large group, allow for more direct supervision of the dogs. But that also means that the daycare has to provide additional staff to cover the new groups,” she says.
Done right, supervision gives dogs the variety they need within a complex environment. Though many daycares tend to highlight “all-day play,” a quick review of online daycare videos reveals dogs engaged in any number of activities. Some dogs play, some watch; others investigate something on the floor, jump on a handler, sit in a handler’s lap or lie on the floor. In other words, individual dogs have a range of interests that shift moment by moment, and good supervision can facilitate this variety.
According to Horowitz, it’s important that dogs have options and control. “Not to say that the dog is dictating the day, but that the dog has options to be social, to be with a person or by themselves. That would be the highest-quality day: a lot of things to do and being able to make choices about when and with whom to do it.”
Handlers perform a critical role in promoting fun and safety. Much like playground monitors, they pick up on individual behavioral cues — for example, noticing when a dog becomes anxious or has simply been playing for three hours straight and could use a change of pace. Fun can quickly disappear when a dog finds himself in an environment that conf licts with his own emotional state.
The often-overlooked aspect of dog daycare is, of course, learning. “An important factor to consider,” says Laura Monaco Torelli, director of training at Animal Behavior Training Concepts in Chicago, “is that dogs are always learning, even in the daycare environment.” Since most daycares do not explicitly advertise training, owners might not readily notice this aspect. But watch any dog, and you’ll find that various behaviors and emotional states are being reinforced, or not reinforced, over the course of the day by humans, other dogs or even the environment. Just as a toddler might return from preschool with his first painting of a flower and a bit of an attitude, so too might a dog return from daycare played out, but a bit jumpier and mouthier than when he went in.
Some daycares highlight their facilities’ bells and whistles: climate control, dog cams, unique flooring or even a particular type of background music. Unfortunately, many daycare websites are silent on the less flashy ethological and organizational considerations that are most relevant to those concerned about their dogs’ welfare. For example, daycares rarely describe daily play and rest schedules, handling techniques, procedures for introducing new dogs to the group, criteria that determine how dogs are grouped, handler-to-dog ratios, access to outdoor space and staff first-aid training.
There are many ways to handle the daily influx of bouncing dogs, and at their best, daycares do this by viewing every dog as an individual. Some daycares rely on message boards to keep track of the different canine personalities gracing their establishments. Descriptors might read: “Don’t let anyone jump on Tiger’s back. Keep Sam from being overstimulated. Keep Janet from eating rocks or poop.” But how do daycares uncover these nuances?
A behavior assessment is the first step toward getting to know each dog’s unique ethological needs. Even if a dog has been comfortable in comparable settings, there’s no foolproof way to predict how he or she will feel in a novel environment. Each daycare provides a unique stew of sights, smells, sounds, movements and management styles, and any dog could be less than thrilled with the surroundings. Even dogs described by their owners as “social butterflies” or “happy players” do not necessarily thrive in every setting. (I am reminded of a therapy-dog certification class I once observed. The behavior of two of the dogs screamed out, “Umm, may I please be excused from this experience?” Their owners were surprised by their reactions.)
Assessments can also identify dogs who are not likely to be thrilled about daycare from the get-go. For some, discomfort with other dogs could spark aggression; others might be unable to de-stress in a group setting. With this information, daycares can evaluate whether they have the staff knowhow and facility design to admit such dogs. Dog owners not only expect their dogs to be having positive experiences at daycare, they also expect them to be exposed to suitable playmates. “I like that Huey had a behavior test, because that means the other dogs also had a test,” says Beth Windler, a Minnesota dog owner and once-aweek daycare patron. For Windler, this was particularly relevant after Huey, a happy-go-lucky Basset Hound, was injured at a dog park.
The behavior assessment is just the beginning of the story. John Squires, owner and manager of Wag Club in Brooklyn, N.Y., stresses that the daycare facility has an ongoing role in habituating each dog to its setting and rewarding good behavior. He has found that, unfortunately, not all daycares prioritize such methods. Some accept dogs who are completely unsuited for a daycare environment without taking steps to help them acclimate, which could lead to a dog spending most of his time in a kennel rather than interacting with others.
It’s easy to get caught up in procedures and forget about the people. Just as a love of children does not necessarily make someone a competent firstgrade teacher, a love of dogs doesn’t automatically equip a person to manage the behaviors and personalities of a group of them. “Is a daycare just looking for warm bodies who like dogs and can stay there for eight hours a day?” asks Miller. Christensen adds, “Is the staff trained [in] the basics of dog behavior as based on science, not popular wisdom?” Staffers’ ability to recognize stress and discomfort is just as important as their understanding of the complex set of movements that make up play. Play and aggressive displays share many elements, and even to a watchful, astute eye, meanings can change quickly. According to Monaco Torelli, “Observation of canine communication is a critical variable of proactive management in daycares.”
So, is doggie daycare a necessary part of life for every dog? The answer lies largely with the individual dog. Some daycares are better than others at maximizing fun and safety and decreasing fear and stress. At the same time, dog daycare is not the only game in town. Your dog might prefer a long walk, a training class, a trip to the dog park, an open window where he can take in the passing sights and sounds, or a small playgroup. Consider what’s important to and appropriate for your dog. Also consider how you might be able to build time for these extras into your schedule.
When thinking about our dogs’ quality of life, most of us inevitably ask the question, “What should my dog be doing all day while I’m gone?” If you think the answer for your dog involves daycare, then the next question is, “Which one?” A little due diligence on your part will result in a solution that’s right for your pup.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study finds kids need to learn how to prevent bites
When my therapy dog, Nemo, visits the library for the reading program, the kids always seem to go right for the tail. Nemo is very forgiving and patient, but I always use it as an opportunity to teach them the right way to approach and pet a dog.
A new study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that dog bite prevention knowledge is poor in children. The researchers surveyed 300 five- to 15-year-olds with dog bites and their parents at a pediatric emergency room. The child-parents pairs completed a survey and a test that evaluated their knowledge in dog bite prevention.
Forty-three percent of children failed the knowledge test, with older kids having a higher passing rate. More than 70 percent of the children never received formal dog bite prevention education, although 88 percent of parents wanted it for their kids.
Animal bites are the second most common reason for kids seeking medical care and the effects reach far beyond the initial injury. Over half of children who've been bitten have shown evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder one month after the injury.
It's clear that there's a need and hopefully this study will encourage schools and youth groups to incorporate formal dog bite prevention education into their programs.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Have dogs, will run
Say “mushing” and most people envision a team of sturdy, excited dogs pulling sleds hundreds of miles along snowy Alaskan trails. Increasingly, however, urban dog lovers are learning that dog-powered activities are a great way to keep themselves and their pooches in shape while experiencing the joy of human-canine teamwork. Once temperatures turn cool and trail traffic thins out, your favorite non-paved trails are perfect for dryland mushing. You don’t need a lot of equipment, a team of Huskies or even snow.
Dryland or urban mushing refers to non-snow, dog-powered activities that involve one to two dogs, a human, and minimal equipment. In canicross, the most popular type of dryland, dogs help runners or walkers increase their speed, stride and endurance. It’s also a fantastic way to bond with your furry buddy. Once the principles of canicross are mastered, you may also consider bikejor (dog pulling a bike) or dog scooters. Whatever you choose to do, it is important to be absolutely comfortable with the apparatus you’re using so that you can focus on your dog’s experience of the activity.
Any breed can take part in canicross; all you need is a dog who’s healthy and loves to run. (Puppies, dogs with prior injuries or older dogs with arthritis should not take part in dryland activites.) If your dog hasn’t been particularly active, get him in shape first. Begin by walking and progress to running as his endurance improves. As with any new activity, check with your veterinarian before starting.
For canicross, in addition to a dog (or two), you’ll need a properly fitted and padded pulling harness; a padded belt for you; and a gangline, which connects you to your dog. Appropriate harnesses can be found online (search for “canicross equipment” for a list of sources), but be sure to read measuring guidelines closely to ensure a proper fit. Dogs rarely stand still for long, so measure your dog several times to get a reliable average.
The harness must distribute the pulling weight along the dog’s shoulders while avoiding shoulder joints, belly and spine. Many people prefer a shorter, “buggy style” harness for dryland because it gives a better pull angle, but you can also use a traditional X-back sled harness. Freight- or weight-pulling harnesses do not work well, since they’re designed for a load that’s much closer to the ground than the average person’s waist. Each harness maker designs a variety of fits and features to accommodate different breeds, sizes and activities. Most are very knowledgeable and are willing to help you find the right fit for your dog. You can expect to pay between $25 and $50 for a good harness. For the human portion of the canicross setup, a commercial skijor system with a belt and gangline will run between $40 and $70, and is often sold as a kit.
You can also design your own system; make sure it’s comfortable, keeps you safely connected to your dog and has some sort of shock absorber (such as an interwoven bungee) between you and the dog to prevent jarring injuries. The line should be long enough to keep the angle as low to the ground as possible, yet not be an obstacle to other trail users. Most skijor lines have about eight to 10 feet of quality polypropylene rope between the waist belt and the dog’s harness. This allows the harness to properly distribute the load and the dog to have more forward power.
Initially, some dogs are more willing to pull than others. The most important thing to remember when getting started is to give dogs fun and positive experiences so they end their training sessions craving more. If you’ve worked hard to train your dog not to pull, never fear! You can maintain your dog’s leash-friendly behavior by conditioning him to know that wearing a harness means it’s OK to pull. Be consistent: if a dog is wearing the harness, he needs to be pulling something. Start off with something small—a little log, a milk jug filled with water, a small wheelbarrow tire. Go on your normal walk, but put the harness on your dog and have him drag the object. Once he’s used to having weight and movement behind him, you can gradually increase the load to about 25 percent of his body weight.
As your dog becomes comfortable with pulling weight, start positioning yourself behind him while he’s pulling to get him used to the idea that you will be behind rather than next to him. Now, you can introduce some commands. Traditionally, “gee” means turn right, “haw” means turn left, “whoa” means stop, and a cheerful “hike” means “Let’s go.” However, you can use any set of terms you wish as long as you use them consistently and they are distinct enough to not be confusing for your dog.
Always say the turn commands as you are making the turn. If your dog starts down the wrong direction, stop, give a verbal correction (I use “Ah!”) and repeat the turn command. The moment your dog looks down the correct trail, give a happy “Good dog!” and start moving. Be patient and make sure you don’t give an incorrect direction. A dog will naturally learn that the correct direction means the walk continues.
Another important command is “on by,” which means “Continue straight through that intersection or past that distraction” (squirrels, other dogs, kids). While your dog is working, you want him to continue down the trail and not stop to visit along the way. Be sure to give him lots of praise at the end of each session.
Once you and your dog are working as a team, start increasing your speed and distance. Try new trails. Add some challenge by going to an area with lots of turn choices; when it comes to team-building experience, mental workouts are just as important as physical.
If you’re lucky enough to live where there’s snow on the ground, a pair of cross-country skis (no metal edges) will allow you and your dog to try the Scandinavian sport of skijoring, gliding along snowy trails together. As you get more proficient, check out local mushing clubs to see if there are any events in which the two of you might participate. Before you know it, you and your dog will be working as a unit, enjoying the cool days and staying fit through the winter.
Wellness: Health Care
Rethinking paper products with Super Bowl approaching
Just when I think I’ve seen it all...
Paper towels? Causing an obstruction in the intestines? There’s no way! Those were my first thoughts as I started to read about a dog named Sydney, who recently ended up at the Pet Emergency & Specialty Center of Marin. A surgeon there saved the life of the 13-year-old Australian Shepherd/Chow mix with an intestinal resection, during which she remove a wad of paper towels that Sydney had apparently swallowed during a football party. [UPDATE: Here's a link to the original PESCM story.]
I have officially headed into my eleventh year of practicing emergency medicine, and I just when I think I’ve seen it all, I promptly get schooled in the possibility of the seemingly impossible. I frequently receive calls from worried pet parents saying that their dog ate some toilet paper or a paper towel containing irresistible food tidbits. I go on to say in a reassuring manner, “That should pass right on through with no troubles, just keep an eye out for any vomiting or diarrhea.”
Well, I suppose you can still teach this “older” dog a new trick! Although paper towels should pass without difficulty, I have never (until now) taken into account the invention of industrial strength paper towels. You know, the kind that soak up a gallon of liquid and still safely work as a hammock for two. The new breed of towels with “cloth-like durability” has opened up a whole new way for canines with indiscriminate eating habits to get into trouble. These industrial strength paper towels are essentially cloth, which can get stuck in the intestines and cause an obstruction, because they don’t “break down” in water (or stomach fluids) like weaker paper products.
I can now say one thing with certainty: the quicker picker-upper can turn into the quicker problem-maker, so please take extra precautions with these commercial-strength products should you use them in your home. And while we can’t prevent messes from happening, we can choose how we clean them up, so may I suggest using recycled paper products, such as Seventh Generation. Made from recycled paper, these towels are not only better for the environment, but they will break down into passable pieces should our furry pals sneak a piece while we are not looking!
News: Guest Posts
Stuffed dogs and cats provide comfort and raise funds for Alzheimer’s patients
My name is Michela and I am senior in high school. For my senior project, I’ve joined forces with Memorable Pets, a new company that sells specially made stuffed animals to educate the public about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, while raising money to fight Alzheimer’s disease.
Memorable Pets sells adorable stuffed-animal dogs and cats, carefully selected for people with mid-late stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The stuffed animals may resemble patients’ old pets or simply be a new friend to nurture. They allow patients to express love and care and also give them something constant to rely on. [Read more.]
Memorable Pets gives $2 per pet sold to support Alzheimer’s care and research through the Alzheimer’s Association. I am hoping that you will help me support the cause by either spreading the word about Memorable Pets or purchasing a pet to donate or for someone you know. Pets can be purchased online at memorablepets.com.
While a Memorable Pet is a small gift, it can have a huge impact on someone’s quality of life by providing a constant source of comfort. These animals make great gifts! Thank you so much for contributing to my project.
Remember for those who cannot.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Easing the sadness isn’t easy
My brother-in-law, sister-in-law, and two nieces said good-bye to their dog today. Lizzie was almost 14 years old and in heart failure. They thought that they would lose her last October, but she survived for months more than they expected. That doesn’t make her death any less sad. Though it’s great when a dog reaches old age, it doesn’t take away from the fact that the lives of dogs are far too short relative to ours.
There are many ways to prepare for and handle the pain of losing a dog, all of which honor the dog’s life and the relationship that you shared.
If you know that the end is near for your dog, and she is able, take her to her favorite place, whether it’s the park or a place where she can swim. Treat her to her favorite foods and give her special items to chew on, so you can make her happy and provide yourself with fond memories of those last days. Take photos of these moments so that you can look back and know that the end of your dog’s life was filled with kindness.
Tangible reminders of your dog can be wonderfully therapeutic after your dog has passed away. Photos are helpful for many people, especially if you have some good shots of your dog over the years doing the things you’d most like to remember—running through the woods, looking through the window as you come home, playing with a favorite toy. Even one of the many times she got into the trash can be a treasured memory after she is gone. A photo of your dog misbehaving in this way can be fun to look at, even if it was never fun cleaning up the mess. Many people like to make collages or memory books of their dogs with photos from all stages of life.
Other ways to create memories of your dog include putting together a record of your favorite stories about her. Write down what your dog most loved to do, how she changed over the years, the biggest trouble that she ever got into, and some of the happiest times you shared. Some people like to save a little lock of fur.
It can be healing to make a donation in memory of your dog to a shelter, rescue group, or any other organization that works on behalf of pets, as a way to pass on the joy that your dog gave to you.
Though it’s challenging, refuse to allow anyone to give you the “it was just a dog” treatment or try to trivialize the pain you are feeling. It hurts to lose a family member no matter what the species, and you need time to grieve, even if not everyone understands what a big loss you have suffered.
There’s no way out of the pain when a dog dies but to move forward through it. My hope for anyone who loses a dog is that over time, the sadness fades and the happy memories linger.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc