News: Guest Posts
Smooch Your Pooch—adorable story with dangerous advice
Every Christmas it seems like some child-safety watch group finds at least one or two toys that are dangerous for kids. This Christmas there is one gift that’s actually dangerous for both kids and pets. It’s an adorable book called Smooch Your Pooch, and its message is so dangerous that even the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is taking a stand against it. In a press release, they state, “[AVSAB] strongly advises that parents avoid purchasing the recently released children’s book Smooch Your Pooch for their kids. The book recommends that children ‘Smooch your pooch to show that you care. Give him a hug anytime, anywhere.’ This information can cause children to be bitten.
What’s the Problem? While this adorably illustrated book, with its sweet, catchy rhymes, is meant to foster affection for pets, the contents, as well as the cover illustration, teach kids to hug and kiss dogs; this can cause dogs to react aggressively. No one knows that better than Dr. Ilana Reisner, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Reisner and her colleagues published a study examining why children get bitten by dogs. Says Reisner, “The recommendations in this children’s book—and even the title of the book—are potentially dangerous.” That’s because many dogs do not like being petted or hugged. They just tolerate it—at least temporarily. Reisner elaborates, “Although some dogs are not reactive about being kissed and hugged, these types of interactions are potentially provocative, leading to bites. In a study we published in a journal called Injury Prevention, we looked at dogs that had bitten children and found that most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting. Most important here, familiar children were bitten most often in the contexts of ‘nice’ interactions—such as kissing and hugging—with their own dogs or dogs that they knew.” Because children are shorter than adults, the bites can be severe. “Sadly, small children are most often bitten in the face and head,” Reisner says. “We assume this is because they are bringing their faces close to the dogs.” Given this information, teaching kids to kiss and hug pooches is clearly not safe. But Smooch Your Pooch goes a step beyond and recommends, “Give him a hug, anytime, anywhere.” While some dogs may tolerate or even enjoy an occasional kiss or hug, they may not tolerate incessant kissing or hugging indefinitely. To the dog who needs a break from kids or needs to know he has a safe location where he can choose to be free of constant attention and pestering, these unsolicited hugs can take him to the breaking point—the same way incessant pestering does for human adults and sibling. The difference is that a human sibling might get angry and hit or scream. Dogs growl, snarl and bite. So, even dogs who are perfect most of the time can bite seemingly out of the blue. Of course, to the skilled eye these bites are not random or even unexpected. Reisner’s study found, that in addition to biting when they are hugged, kissed, bent over or sometimes simply petted, dogs are reactive when they are approached/touched while resting, when they have anything they consider “high value” (food, toys, a favorite blanket or even the parent), and when they are hurt or frightened. Based on these research findings, Reisner states emphatically, “I would not recommend that children take this book’s advice to kiss and hug their dogs. After all, dogs do not hug or kiss each other, and it is understandable that they might feel uncomfortable with such displays by children. In fact, bending over a dog and looking directly into its eyes can be seen as a ‘threat’ in dog language.” Instead, she recommends more appropriate games and displays of affection, such as fetch, going for a walk together (with adult supervision), and even training new tricks. “Training simple tricks can be very rewarding for both the dog and for its young companion,” Reisner says. “Dogs like to be warm and comfortable and well fed, and most of all to be near us rather than isolated.” Does this mean you should never hug your dog? Reisner suggests, “If a family dog is clearly unconcerned about being hugged and kissed, showing affection that way is probably fine.” You can tell when a dog enjoys being hugged because he leans or rubs against you the way a human enjoying a hug would. Dogs who don’t enjoy hugs act aloof and may lean or look away, similar to the way a child reacts when you pinch their cheeks affectionately. Dogs who are not enjoying this kind of attention may also show other signs of anxiety, such as yawning, licking their lips, tensing up, or dropping their tail low or between their legs. When we ignore these signals of discomfort, they may try to warn us with a raised lip or a low growl. Reisner does stress that children should never approach or interact with dogs who are lying down, resting or asleep. Instead, she recommends that children only pet the dog if the dog chooses to come to them. “Pick up a leash and a box of treats, and call the dog to you,” she says. So the rule for kids is: Interact with the dog when the dog approaches willingly. Otherwise, kids should give the dog his own space.
What’s worth reading?
As was noted in Sunday’s Denver Post article, dog books are being published in record numbers. The success of more recent books like Marley and Me (2005), along with worthy “classics” like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas’ Hidden Life of Dogs (on the bestseller list for 28 weeks in ’95), convinced publishers there certainly is a great interest in this genre. People love their dogs and love reading about them.Bark receives, on average, 8 to 12 new books a week, most of them heartfelt, a few opportunistic, and a scant few really good. But this year was a stellar one for canine-centric titles. Here’s our top 10 list for 2010 (plus four noteworthy memoirs). Do you have a favorite book from 2010 you want to share with us?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The pictures are fantastic!
I wrote a book review for The Bark about the book "Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook" by Barbara Handelman. I liked the book very much but my main criticism of it was that the quality of the reproduction of the photos was poor. I thought it was just a result of color photos being printed in black and white leading to low contrast. Apparently, the issue was that the first printing didn't go right. However, the problem has been fixed so that the second printing is gorgeous with the photos showed off to full glory.The author arranged to send me a second printing copy from Dogwise. This book is really lovely now that the photo issue has been fixed. It has the largest collection of photos I know of illustrating aspects of dog behavior and merits a place on the bookshelf of everyone interested in dogs.
News: Guest Posts
Plus enter to win a copy of DogJoy
Tune in today to see Bonnie Hunt talk about our new book DogJoy—The Happiest Dogs in the Universe. The hostess of the daytime hit “The Bonnie Hunt Show” is a confirmed dog lover and companion to Charlie, a Pit Bull mix, who often appears on her show. In today’s segment, Hunt talks about the joy dogs exude—perfectly captured in the smiling canine faces found in DogJoy. The book was assembled by the editors of The Bark from submissions to the magazine’s infamous “Smiling Dog” contest. For the past eight years, enthusiastic readers have been sending in photographs of their smiling pups, DogJoy assembles the best of the pack. Hunt clearly connected to the charm and infectious happiness a smiling dog can provide.
DogJoy is featured on Hunt’s popular “Saw it? Want it? Win it?” web page—where you can enter to win a copy of DogJoy.
Check here for airing times in your area.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Check out this great new book!
Veterinarian Jeff Wells has written a new book called All My Patients Have Tales about his adventures and misadventures as a mixed-practice vet. The vignettes about the lessons he has learned provide insights into what it takes to become an experienced vet. The highly amusing adventure of him chasing a client’s feral cat around his office and receiving multiple injuries in the process will ring true to anyone who has ever dealt with a feline escapee. It will also draw understanding from anyone who has ever had on-the-job training. Having to deal with a traveling circus requiring blood tests for its animals, he provides the zinger, “At no time during veterinary school had anyone mentioned how to go about finding a vein on an elephant.” From dealing with porcupine quills in a horse’s leg to a bizarre blockage in a puppy’s intestines, Wells’ love for animals is the link that ties these stories together. I’m excited about this book and equally excited about sharing it with others. Published about three weeks ago, it is on its way to making a big splash in the animal world. Wells has been inspired by the writings of both James Herriot and Garrison Keillor. The charm and humor that made these authors so popular also appear in All My Patients Have Tales. When I asked Jeff Wells what he thought of comparisons to the legendary James Herriot, he laughed and replied, “I’ll take that any day of the week.”
For six years, they shared a 25-acre enclosure at the base of Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains with a pack of gray wolves. Their office was a Mongolian yurt; their sleeping quarters, a canvas tent. In the winter, the path to the outhouse required frequent shoveling to clear the snow away. This was the life of Jim and Jamie Dutcher, awardwinning documentary filmmakers. Their book, The Hidden Life of Wolves, is the culmination of this unique experience.
Although the book is oversized and contains hundreds of the Dutchers’ compelling photographs (as well as beautifully rendered maps and illustrations), it is not a skimmable coffee-table tome. An extensive study of wolves both inside and outside of the enclosure, it is comparable in depth to Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men.
The Hidden Life of Wolves details their social structure, hunting techniques and body language (among other things) as well as human-influenced issues, including the Yellowstone and central Idaho wolf reintroductions of the mid ’90s. The Dutchers explore similarities between the eradication of wolves in the 1800s and the current explosion of wolf hunting and trapping, which became legal when wolves were dropped from the Endangered Species List in 2011. Solutions to wolf problems, including livestock depredation, are discussed, and the “Little Red Riding Hood” myth is thoroughly debunked. The Dutchers also incorporate insights from a number of respected authorities, including Aldo Leopold, Gordon Haber, L. David Mech and Carter Niemeyer.
Acknowledging the vast disparity of opinion on Canis lupus, the Dutchers suggest that the wolf “may be the greatest shape-shifter in the animal kingdom.” Through intensive observation of their hand-raised pack, which they assembled from rescue centers in Montana and Minnesota, the Dutchers gained intimate knowledge of the inner workings of wolves. They came to the conclusion that their extremely social and complex subjects were “neither demon, nor deity, nor data.”
Readers come to know the Sawtooth wolves. Kamots, the benevolent leader, maintains order without undue force. Littermate Lakota is larger than Kamots, yet remains at the bottom of the pecking order, often harassed by the others; younger brother Matsi comes to his rescue, blocking blows from the aggressors. Clever Wyakin, a small female, loves to snatch extra food and cache it for later.
These individuals and other members of the pack are brought to life as they interact with one another and with the Dutchers, who record them with cameras and sound devices. Though their hearts are never quite out of the picture, the couple observes at a distance that allows for an objective view.
With a foreword by Robert Redford, The Hidden Life of Wolves is a richly layered work that speaks to the complicated and controversial place wolves occupy in the human imagination. While some consider them embodiments of a litany of evils, the Dutchers maintain that “more than wolves themselves, it is our relationship with them that needs to be managed.” Their aptly titled book provides a valuable roadmap to guide us through this process.
Neil Abramson’s engaging debut novel has everyone talking. Narrated from the afterlife by Helena, a veterinarian who clings to the creatures she left behind—including her devastated widower David, her menagerie of heartbroken pets, her colleagues and friends—Unsaid places the lives and love of animals at the story’s center. As David struggles to restructure his personal life without his wife in the picture, he finds his professional life as an attorney pulling him into realms of Helena’s world that he didn’t even know existed. Stepping outside of his own grief, he is asked to take up the cause of Cindy—a chimpanzee Helena worked with whose intelligence promises to expand the frontiers of communication and consciousness and whose passion reorients the lives of every last person Abramson introduces. Abramson deftly draws characters whose interactions represent the real, current matters central to animal rights—dignity, quality of life and human accountability among them. As an animal lover, the husband of a veterinarian and an attorney himself whose pro bono work centers on the rights of animals, Abramson brings a deep appreciation for the subtleties of animal personality. He talked with us shortly following the release of Unsaid.
The Bark: When writing Unsaid, did you think about characterization for the animals in the same way as you did for the human characters?
Neil Abramson: Actually, because the central animals in the story were based on real life animals with whom I have been privileged to share my life, they came to the novel almost fully formed. The reality is that they are as complex in personality as the humans who love them (at least in my house).
Could you tell us a little bit about these animals and what made them special to you?
When I hear this question, my thoughts turn to Skippy. Skippy is one of the animals in the novel—a dog with a heart defect. But Skippy was a real dog—a small, black bundle of fur with a wise and handsome, fox-like face. Skippy had been born with a badly malformed heart. He showed up at my wife’s veterinary practice one day and she operated on Skippy, but she couldn’t fix him. She could only give him some additional time. We believed that Skippy likely would be dead within the year. No one wants a dog with that kind of life span, so he came home to us. That turned out to be a very good day.
We were blessed to have Skippy in our lives for three years. He used his time well—unafraid, present, loving, funny, loyal. He was a small dog, but he didn’t live a small life. Skippy died right in my arms. I depressed the syringe that released the pink fluid that finally put his heart at rest. I needed to do that for him. I wanted to spare my wife the burden of one more soul. When it was over, I was surprised at the depth of the loss I felt. The only way I can explain it is to tell you that something deep within me shifted. I realized I was so grateful for every minute with Skippy and wouldn’t have traded the time with him for anything in the world, even though that time ended too soon. Then I understood that this was Skippy’s last gift to me. By taking his life, I learned from him how important the act of living really is.
What’s your response to critics who claim our recognition of the emotional presence of dogs like Skippy, their sensitivity and sentience, are example of anthropomorphization on our part?
First, I tell them ‘so what.’ I think much of the fear of anthropomophism is BS. I am a human being, right? So is it any surprise that I will attribute human characteristics to those animals I value and share my life with? A chimpanzee is not a human—never was and will never evolve into one, but that doesn't mean that my feelings for him or her should be limited by that fact.
Second, I tell them they are wrong as a matter of science. I am not a scientist, but I did a great deal of research for the book and also had a wonderful science advisor. We have finally gotten to the point where the science has caught up with what we have always really known—the overwhelming majority of animals, and certainly the close primates, have many of the characteristics that we so jealously guard as ‘human.’ Of course there are differences, but do those differences justify the profound, destructive disparities in the way the law treats humans and animals? No way.
Let’s talk about those disparities. In legal terms today, are animals subject to animal testing still seen no differently than inanimate objects? Any developments on the horizon that might offer hope of change? What can concerned people do to help bring about change?
Lots of different questions here. The short answer is that in many areas, and particularly when it comes to the ability to be free from bodily injury, the law treats nonhuman testing subjects very much like inanimate objects. Those animals are just ‘things’ and have absolutely no personal rights of autonomy. The welfare of those animals may be regulated in many respects—cage size, clean and sufficient food and water—but that is a far cry from recognizing that those animals have rights as animals (not as ‘almost humans’) to be free from unnecessary injury and harm.
Is there hope for change? Yes, there is. There are a number of wonderful organizations that are working to change the law so that chimpanzees and bonobos, for example, will one day be recognized as having certain basic legal rights, like the right to be free from intentional harm. In addition to supporting those organizations, people can help by raising awareness of the issue through social media. The law will change when people insist that it is time for change.
McConnell Publishing, Ltd., 96 pp., 2011; $9.95
Volunteer long enough with shelter dogs and you develop a long list of their needs — each as essential as the last — that you absolutely must share with adoptive parents as they walk out the door with one of “your” pups. She loves belly rubs! Oh, he’s a bit scared of men, especially men wearing hats. Watch her with the cats; remember that when her prey drive kicks in, she may lose her manners. They’re common enough concerns, but we can’t squeeze them all in, let alone talk about how to work with these issues.
Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home by renowned animal behaviorists Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Karen London, PhD, is the next best thing to following the dog home (and a whole lot more articulate). This slim book from two powerhouse experts covers all the basics of adopting an adolescent or adult dog, preparing you for success when bringing the new family member into any kind of home — even one with kids, cats or other dogs.
Given that adopted dogs have their own unique histories, half of the book is dedicated to very brief considerations of the most common behavioral problems, which include house-training, fear of strangers and resource guarding. From its smart tips for dog-proofing in advance and the car trip home to sound advice on bonding, training and establishing daily routines, Love Has No Age Limit is a gift, one that will help everyone successfully weather the first month’s experiences. It would be an ideal addition to take-home packets supplied by shelters, rescues and breeders. Assuming you won’t let a volunteer tag along, that is.
Culture: Stories & Lit
Severn House Publishers, 224pp., 2011; $28.95
It’s been way too long since the last Holly Winter mystery hit the shelves — 2007, to be precise, when All Shots was released. But finally, oh finally, our patience is rewarded with the 19th in the series: Brute Strength.
Fights, frights and mysteries break out at every turn in this new book. Amazingly, none of them are of the canine variety. Rather, Holly’s family and friends are the ones doing the scrapping. Turning down adoption applicants for her local Alaskan Malamute rescue group doesn’t win Holly any points, either. The big story, however, is the way catastrophe seems to surround a new neighbor, a woman with a gorgeous and slightly overweight Malamute female, the latter of whom has her almond-shaped eyes on Sammy, Holly’s young Mal.
Add references to Jane Austen, clueless (and careless) breeders, and observations on real-life training techniques and the scientific investigation of dog cognition and you have a literary meal dense and rich enough for the hungriest Malamute. Speaking of which … Over the years, I’ve learned as much about the behavior of northern breeds by reading this series as I have from much more serious works. At least once, and usually more often, I find myself smiling in recognition as Conant describes a typical behavior — in this case, the mealtime feeding frenzy, which Holly chooses not to train her dogs out of: “I have seen sick and dying dogs become indifferent to food and refuse it altogether. These raucous displays of appetite are confirmations of health, and I revel in every leap and every shriek.” To which I say amen.
As she frequently does, Conant keeps multiple story lines going, wrapping them up tidily at the end, albeit with a major scare as part of the conclusion. Now, when’s the 20th Holly Winter mystery coming out?
Skyhorse Publishing, 240 pp., 2009; $14.95
Randy Grim, founder of Stray Rescue of St. Louis (strayrescue.org), started his canine-focused career by driving around East St. Louis every morning before work, searching for feral dogs and spending weeks taming them. From those early years came an acclaimed book, The Man Who Talks to Dogs, coauthored with writer Melinda Roth.
Now Grim and Roth have collaborated on another book—one that sent them into gales of laughter every time they sat down to write. It’s called Don’t Dump the Dog, and it’s Grim’s answer to every lamebrained excuse he’s ever heard from people returning dogs to his shelter.
He wrote it to convince his therapist he wasn’t the crazy one.
Every week at therapy, Grim would throw himself on the couch and rail against human idiocy. For the dogs, he had nothing but sympathy. But for the woman who wanted to dump her dog because her boyfriend didn’t like him? Or the one who wanted to trade her senior dog for a puppy because he was getting gray around the muzzle and bumping into things? Or the guy who wanted to exchange a high-energy dog for a couch potato who’d watch TV? Only exasperated fury.
Some of Grim’s answers need no more than a line: “Dump the boyfriend.” But between these “Quick Fixes,” he inserts hysterically funny chapters laced with the most practical dog-behavior advice around. His favorite trick is teaching a dog to relax; his favorite training tool is hot dogs.He’s endearingly neurotic himself (he’ll let dog throw-up sit for days because he has “avoidance issues,” and he resorts to vodka or Xanax as needed).As a result, the book’s never preachy—but it’s immensely instructive.Grim’s expertise with ferals yields solutions for abused, timid, aggressive or hyper dogs.
What he can’t solve are the people. People return dogs because they bark— “Did they expect them to sing Handel’s ‘Hallelujah’ chorus at the door?” They return dogs because they’re moving, or having a baby—“That, I just don’t get at all.” He says he left out some of the best—like the guy who complained that the dog was lazy, or the woman with white furniture who wanted to exchange a white puppy because his fur darkened in adulthood.
He was afraid nobody would believe him.
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