Travel provides opportunity
My dog life is very America-centric. I have not owned dogs anywhere but in this country, nor have I taught dog training classes elsewhere. Except for the occasional seminar in Canada and some ad hoc consultations in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, my canine experiences are confined to the United States.
This summer promises many lessons because my family will be spending the entire season in Western Europe. So far, what I know about dogs in that part of the world is that they are not spayed and neutered at nearly the rate of dogs here, there is some evidence that they live a little longer, and they are rarely vaccinated against rabies because that disease has been essentially eradicated in the region. I also know that a lot of canine research is currently being conducted in Europe.
Based on the limited level of knowledge that is my starting point, it is exceedingly likely that I will be getting quite an education during our travels. I look forward to everything from observing how people interact with their dogs in different countries to meeting new breeds to seeing how dogs behave in public and what is expected of them.
For those of you who have personal experience with dogs in Europe, please tell me what pleasures you expect await me. All advice about observing and enjoying dogs in countries that are (mostly) new to me is welcome!
I’ll be spending a month each in Scotland and Germany, plus making short excursions to Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and possibly Poland. The trip is for my husband’s work, and we expect him to be busy. That puts me on full-time duty as recreation director for our kids. I’ve never taken such a long hiatus from work (not even after the births of the children) so this promises to be a new experience. I will miss, among many other aspects of my professional life, blogging here for The Bark. I’m already looking forward to resuming that when we return in August!
Nikon designs a heart rate triggered camera for canines.
You Tube is filled with "dogs eye view" videos, where energetic canines run around with GoPros strapped to their bodies. But what would our pups capture if they could take still pictures? Nikon decided to find out by figuring out a way to let a Border Collie become a "pho-dog-rapher."
Nikon's Heartography experiment didn't start specifically with dogs in mind, they simply wanted to translate emotions and feelings into a photo. The outcome was a 3-D printed camera case that's connected to a heart rate monitor strap. Using Bluetooth technology, the camera takes a photo when the person's heart rate goes above a set baseline.
They then decided to take the experiment a step further by creating a custom case that could be strapped onto a dog. Just like the human version, when the pup's heart rate spikes, the camera takes a photo. The tester was a Border Collie named Grizzler, who took many amusing photos of food, objects he encountered on walks, and other animals he met. Nikon did say that Grizzler took many blurry shots, so they picked the best ones for their video.
Unfortunately Nikon has no plans to make the experiment into a commercial product, but it would certainly be fun to have photos documenting our dog's walks, from their point of view, giving us another viewpoint into what might be going through their brains.
What do you think your dog would take a photo of?
Surprises when bringing a dog to school
Besides veterinarians and zookeepers, not many professions related to animals are well known. That’s why I was so happy for the opportunity to represent my field and share what I do as a canine behaviorist and dog trainer with elementary school kids.
I was granted special permission to bring a dog as one of the requested “visual aids” for a career day presentation at my son’s school. The best part was the mutual enjoyment between Marley and the students. He clearly loved every second of the attention, and they were quite enamored with him. It was pretty blissful all around, but in truth, I expected that. He’s a social dog who loves attention, and any group of kids is likely to enjoy spending time with a nice dog while at school.
There were ways in which I was caught off guard, though. I was pleasantly surprised by how much most of the children knew about dog behavior. It seemed to be common knowledge that when dogs wag their tails to the right, they are especially happy. The kids were aware that they should not stare at dogs or hug them and that a dog who goes stiff should be considered unapproachable. Most of the kids knew about using clickers and treats to train dogs, and several brought up the issue of dogs being left-pawed or right-pawed.
Additionally, the students surprised me by asking high-quality questions, including the following:
Is this fun for Marley or stressful?
Do all of the dogs you work with stop being aggressive?
How do you decide which trick will be easiest to teach a certain dog?
How can you tell when Marley has learned enough and he should get to go to recess?
Why is it easier to train dogs than to train cats?
What are scientists trying to learn about dogs right now?
Another surprise is one that perhaps I should have anticipated, but thoroughly failed to do so. I had assumed we would be in a classroom like all of the other presenters. Instead we were out in the courtyard. That means that various classes were walking through to spend time in the school garden and that there were (Oh my!) squirrels running around a few times during the course of the event. Naturally, this was potentially distracting for Marley and very exciting, but he rolled with it. He stayed focused on me and also on the kids in the group.
Marley got a chance to perform some of his best tricks, along with displaying the good manners that come from a mastery of basic obedience and lots of practice being in a variety of situations. When given each appropriate cue, Marley responded by sitting, lying down, coming when called, heeling and waiting at doors. He also showed off his lovely “Leave It” by not eating a treat or biscuit that was on the ground until he was given permission to do so. The tricks he did included “High-5”, “Sit Pretty”, “Rollover”, “Crawl”, “Spin” and “Unwind” (spinning in the opposite direction.)
The kids were most impressed by his tricks, but I was particularly proud of what nobody else probably even noticed—Marley was unreactive to distractions, remained focused on me, and was gentle as he visited all the children, letting each one have a moment to meet him. As a professional, I know that this generally polite behavior is actually more worthy of admiration than responding well to specific cues.
It’s not easy to remain calm in a new place no matter what happens—school bells ringing, children running, squirrels appearing and a breeze wafting in smells from the cafeteria. Of course, as a professional I also know that not every dog is capable of behaving well in such a stimulating environment. I would never bring a dog to an elementary school unless I was completely confident he could act appropriately no matter what.
Marley’s behavior was exemplary, so he definitely deserved to end each presentation by showing off his newest trick, which is “Take a Bow.” Good dog!
From living in a tree to forever home
My last blog I wrote about the little starving dog found living in a hollow tree. Another officer and I spent around an hour trying to coax her from her hiding spot before we were finally able to catch her. The dog, who we called Boo, was pretty much feral, terrified of people and unused to any kind of human touch.
An editor from a popular animal site called The Dodo saw the Boo blog and asked to use it, then the Huffington post, People.com, Yahoo, Dogster, Freekibble.com and many others jumped on board. Soon little Boo had people following her story from all over the world. There were messages of support from Australia, Switzerland, The UK, Canada, Brazil and more. She also had adoption inquiries, lots of adoption inquiries. People were begging for her from all over the United States, even as far away as the opposite coast. I said I didn’t want to traumatize her more by shipping her so one woman in New York offered to buy a round trip ticket to pick Boo up personally in California. I declined, but was fascinated by the response. Not bad for a little skinny feral dog who doesn’t want to be touched.
The beauty of Boo’s story is that it got people thinking about adopting pets in need. When people requested to adopt her from out of state, I suggested that they check out their local shelters and rescues instead. The money that would have been used to ship her could have saved multiple dogs, or spayed and neutered numerous dogs and saved even more lives. Every day friendly, healthy dogs go without homes in communities everywhere
Meanwhile I continued to work with Boo and she learned to walk on a leash, became crate trained and house trained and made friends with our sweet old dog Patty. She got used to the car and took treats politely from visitors. She began to greet me with a happy dance when I came home and the day I got her first tail wag and first tentative kisses was a milestone. She started following me around the house wanting to be near but she still had a long way to go and continued to be resistant to touch most of the time. She would need a very patient adopter.
As people followed Boo’s progress on my The Secret Life of Dog Catchers page, many people were insistent that I adopt her myself. I could see their point. It was so rewarding to see her gradually begin to trust me and feel comfortable with the routine in our home. She rode along with me every day at work and slept next to my bed every night. I fall in love with every dog that shares my home and I hate for them to have to go through yet another adjustment in a new home. Of course I toyed with the thought of adopting her myself, but the secret to my being able to help more animals in need is keeping space open in my home for fosters.
If I kept Boo it would limit the number of dogs I can foster. I have only so much space, time and resources and I always say that the difference between a rescuer and a hoarder is the word no. Dogs are incredibly adaptable. If Boo is able to bond with me, she can also bond with someone else and the sooner the better so she can begin to form an attachment to her forever family.
After carefully interviewing multiple wonderful homes I began to focus on one potential adopter, Kim, several hours away. Kim’s family had already taken in a scared little Chihuahua type mix and brought her around and they are very dedicated to their pets. I grilled them relentlessly by message, phone and in person. I called their vets and local animal control, I Googled their names and scrolled through their facebook page. Our meeting with Boo and Kim’s other little dog went smoothly and after we finalized the adoption I watched them drive away with a smile and a lump in my throat. Kim has been wonderful about keeping me updated on Boo’s progress. The family is doing a fabulous job with her and Boo is settling in. She even has her own FB page now called The Life of Boo.
The day that Boo was adopted, a little abandoned Chihuahua and her four puppies came home to foster. Placing Boo means that another dog in need gets a safe place to be until she’s ready for a forever home. And so the cycle continues, one dog at a time.
Study finds that some kids confide in their dogs more than their human siblings.
Anyone who grew up with animals knows that you develop a special relationship with your pets. For me, my cat was a willing (although sometimes not so willing!) playmate in all my games of make believe. But the child-animal bond may be even more significant than we realized. A new study out of the University of Cambridge found that, not only do these relationships have an impact on positive interpersonal behaviors, but for some kids, they are stronger than the bond they have with their siblings.
These findings are a result of PhD student Matt Cassels' analysis of data from the Toddlers Up Project, a ten year longitudinal study of children's social and emotional development, led by Professor Claire Hughes. The original research included a section on children's relationships with their pets, as well as a broad range of other data from the children, their parents, teachers, and siblings.
This made the data set unique because, while there are many studies on our relationship with pets, few used the same tool to compare children's relationships with pets with other human relationships, let alone over such a long period of time.
Matt hypothesized that strong pet relationships would make for happier children, but he found that animals create more than just smiles. The kids with solid animal bonds had a higher level of prosocial behavior, such as helping and sharing, than their peers. A subsection of the group, particularly girls and those whose pet was a dog, were even often more likely to confide in their pet than in their sibling.
Matt also found that children who had suffered adversity in their lives, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, or were from disadvantaged backgrounds, were more likely to have a stronger relationships with their pets than their peers, though they did less well academically and suffered more mental health problems.
Thanks to Professor Hughes' decision to include data points on pets in her study, there's a lot of interesting areas of research that can be done from the Toddlers Up Project. One area that Matt is interested in looking at next is the impact of pet deaths on children. I hope to see a lot more insights into the childhood side of the human-canine bond come out of this research!
I know they’re in there, but how do I find them?
Televisions and computers can be confusing for dogs. It’s not easy for our canine friends to figure out that videos are merely recordings of life, and that what they see is not really present. In this video, a Westie is confronted with a laptop showing a video of another Westie and a couple of puppies.
He seems to be searching for these other dogs, which he can so clearly see, and attempts to find them by walking around the computer and sniffing it. He’s making use of several senses, apparently listening, looking and smelling in order to track them down. The dog’s name is “Radar” so you’ve got to think it’s likely that this dog can usually locate what he’s looking for.
Radar is able to handle with ease a situation that might cause frustration in other dogs. He remains calm and methodical where many dogs would become upset. There’s another aspect of Radar’s behavior that is of great interest to me. He’s clearly confused, and he does a couple of things I interpret as attempts to get more information. He repeatedly cocks his head, which dogs may do to better localize a sound. Additionally, he repeatedly looks at the camera, where there is presumably a person filming the scene. We know that dogs often look to people for information when they are struggling to solve a problem, and it’s easy to imagine that Radar is seeking help with this challenging task.
How has your dog reacted when faced with a similar situation?
The difference between loving and threatening
There has recently been a lot of interest in people and dogs gazing into each other’s eyes and how this creates feelings of love. The evidence is compelling that this interactive behavior does enhance the bonding between us. I have no objection to this assertion, but it does make me concerned that these new findings will cause a problem.
It’s one thing to gaze softly into the eyes of your dog. It’s another thing entirely to stare at that dog or at any other dog. In fact, it’s potentially hazardous because staring is often considered a threat by dogs. So, I hope nobody goes around trying to bond with new and unknown dogs by looking them right in the eye. It’s a reminder that subtle differences in behavior can have vastly different meanings.
One of the first things I learned when I began to work with aggressive dogs is to pay attention to eye contact. This was especially important for me because I have big dark eyes and I tend to open them wide when expressing interest or surprise. It would be all too easy for me to scare the dogs I’m trying to help with my frog eyes. It has become second nature for me now to turn off my wide-eyed actions when I am around dogs. I take care not to look directly at them without squinting just a little until they are comfortable around me.
It’s because dogs are afraid of big eyes, especially when they are aimed directly at them, that many dogs react to cameras with big interchangeable lenses. It’s likely that our canine subjects perceive these lenses as giant scary eyes staring at them. Many dogs who are not particularly fearful or nervous freak out when faced with a new camera and a person enthusiastically pointing it at them often and for long periods of time. If a dog’s tendency when alarmed is to look away, cower or hide, that’s what may happen in the face of a big camera. If a dog is more likely to bark, growl and lunge when scared, then that may be the reaction you see when a camera is pointed towards that dog.
Has your dogs reacted fearfully to someone staring or to a camera?
A dog's actions inspires a change of heart in Michigan.
Back in March, Jamie Kraczkowski was being attacked by her drunk ex-boyfriend when her Pit Bull, Isis, took a bite and scared him away. The man was charged with domestic violence, and ordered to stay away from Jamie, but Isis didn't get any thanks for her actions. See Jamie and Isis live in the town of Hazel Park, Michigan, which instated a Pit Bull breed ban two years ago. When word of Isis' heroic actions reached local officials, they ordered Jamie to move out with her pup.
Michigan's Political Action Committee for Animals worked on convincing city official to repeal the Pit Bull ban, but in the meantime Jamie ended up raising money to move out of Hazel Park. Protecting Isis was her top priority, so she didn't want to take any chances.
However, Isis' story eventually did inspire local officials to have a change of heart. Hazel Park has now decided to lift the Pit Bull ban. City Manager Edward Klobucher explained that the 2013 ban originally went into effect because they couldn't "ban stupid owners." But now residents in the city will be able to keep their Pit Bulls as long as they keep them licensed, up-to-date with shots, inside of fenced yards, and maintain homeowner's or renter's insurance.
Thanks to Isis, a Michigan town has realized that they can't punish an entire breed based on irresponsible dog owners or stereotypes. Hopefully this will inspire more cities to think carefully about their breed bans as well!
N.Y. state is one step closer to legalizing outdoor dining with pets.
One thing that I love about summer is being able to dine with my pups at restaurants with outdoor seating. There's something fun about enjoying the good weather, sharing food, and people watching with your canine crew. In Manhattan, almost every restaurant with sidewalk dining has as least one or two dogs sitting underneath the tables during the warmer months. While it's not technically legal in New York, that may soon change.
On Wednesday, the New York State Senate approved a bill 60-0 that will let food service establishments welcome dogs in outdoor eating areas. Of course there are a few restrictions. Pets would have to be on leash and kept away from food preparation areas. The outdoor seating area would also have to be accessible without needing to enter the restaurant building. One of the more unusual specifications is that there can't be any communal water bowls. Single-use disposable containers must be used.
The law doesn't mean that dogs will be automatically welcome at any business with outdoor seating as individual restaurants will still be able to set their own policy. The legislation will serve to protect pet friendly restaurants that follow health standards and local ordinances.
The bill will now go to the State Assembly, where the bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, is hopeful that it will pass. If the legislation does become a law, New York will join California, which passed a similar state law last year.
Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal made an interesting comment when talking about her bill. She said that pet lovers are some of her most vocal constituencies, frequently writing and calling to express their opinion. I think that's because dog people have a greater sense of community than the average person. We're constantly walking the neighborhood, talking to people, and watching what's going on. With this bill passing in the Senate 60-0, it's clear that we can have a significant impact!
Understanding dogs makes all the difference
“Our dog bit our son completely out of the blue! There is no way we could have seen it coming.” I hear this sentiment from parents all the time, as do all other behaviorists and trainers, but we know it’s not true. Dogs rarely, if ever, bite without warnings, and sometimes those signs of trouble have been going on for months or even years before the bite happens.
The problem isn’t unpredictable dogs. It’s misunderstood dogs. Dogs are often trying hard to communicate that they are uncomfortable or that they don’t like what kids are doing to them. If nobody understands those messages, the dogs continue to be in situations that make them unhappy, and some of those dogs may end up biting.
Most dog bites to kids come from the child’s own dog or the dog of a friend. In fact, this is true 77 percent of the time. Check out this video by the family dog about how dogs and kids can have such different views of their experience together.
Several other videos by the same organization are really helpful when teaching kids (and adults!) things they need to know to stay safe. I love how these videos are targeted at different ages. This video is for kids in elementary school.
This video is for kids of preschool age.
The goal of keeping kids safe around dogs involves education so that people of all ages understand dogs better. It’s important that kids know how to act around dogs and that everyone in the family can distinguish happy, relaxed dogs from dogs who are nervous or uncomfortable. “Stop the 77” is the movement to prevent dog bites to kids, most of which come from dogs they know well.
(even if it’s only 7% of our lives)
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 87% of their life indoors with another 6% spent in automobiles for a total of 93% habitating in enclosed spaces. That leaves only 7% of one’s entire life to spend outdoors. Translated to daily life, we average only about 100 minutes of our day outside. For many, that’s time spent walking the dog or hanging out at the dog park. My outside quotient averages closer to 120 minutes per day—what with a morning and an evening walk, plus a daily noontime stroll. The revelation is that thanks to our dogs, I spend more time outside than the average American! Another reason why dogs make us healthier, happier and closer to nature by getting us outdoors …
Ga. man is arrested for breaking into a hot car to rescue a Yorkie mix.
Last weekend a group of people at an Athens, Georgia shopping center noticed a Yorkie mix panting in a hot car. The police were called, but Army veteran Michael Hammons couldn't wait while the small pup was in distress. He grabbed his wife's wheelchair leg and smashed the car's window, giving the trapped dog some fresh air.
When the dog's owner returned to her vehicle, she was furious. Although the police didn't want to press charges, the woman insisted. She claimed that she only left for a few minutes, but witnesses said it was much longer.
The woman was given a citation for leaving a dog in a hot car, which could result in a $250 fine and community service hours, while Michael was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. He could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine if convicted.
However Michael has no regrets. He knew there could be consequences and didn't want the dog to be hurt if he could prevent it.
16 states have statues that prohibit leaving animals in cars when their safety is compromised, but Georgia is not one of them. And most of those states only allow law enforcement or humane officers to perform the rescue. In general, a member of the public, like Michael, would not be protected if they entered a car.
The high temperature in Athens on Saturday was 86 degrees. On a day like that, a car can heat up to over 120 degrees in just a few minutes. It's a shame that the woman didn't realize what she did was dangerous and that someone who potentially saved her dog is now being punished. At a minimum, I hope that this story will create more awareness around the dangers of hot cars and pets.
It's common for people to think that they're just going to run a quick errand or that cracking a window will be sufficient, but temperatures can quickly become fatal. Even on a 60-70 degree day, temperatures inside the car can reach well into the 90's and beyond.
What would you do in this situation?
His post-elimination running still makes us laugh
Our dog Bugsy must really have enjoyed a good poop. I say that because he seemed to celebrate each one with a good run afterwards. He ran at top speed in a big circle with a gleeful look on his face around the yard or in the woods. He became the quintessentially happy dog—sporting a big grin, ears flopping, running fast enough that his fur waved in the breeze. (If he was on leash, he modified his actions and just did a few spins in place looking moderately cheerful.)
My husband mentioned Bugsy’s post-elimination antics last night and we laughed remembering this particular behavior of a dog who died over a decade ago. It was absolutely predictable for Bugsy to do this after eliminating, and I used to look forward to watching him. My favorite part was the way it looked as though his back end was running faster than the front of him, causing his behind to be tucked down. In other contexts, he had a smoother gait and his body looked more organized.
It’s not that there is actually anything so special about a dog running around after pooping, as that is relatively common. We find this memory endearing because he looked so happy and because the precise posture and motions were distinctively his. I would have been able to spot him in a group of hundreds of dogs making wide arcs if he were running in this particular way because I’ve never seen another dog assume quite the same form when running.
We have many wonderful memories of Bugsy, and this just happens to be the one that struck a chord last night. Anything a dog does that is joyful and distinctive is likely to be remembered with love. That’s true even if it’s something that doesn’t seem typically sentimental, such as the way the dog runs after eliminating.
What behavior of a dog from your past brings you joy when you think back on it?
Study finds that girl pups are more likely to interact with people.
Many people believe that male dogs are mamma's boys and that female pups are more independent. This is of course a big generalization, but I have found that to be somewhat true of the pups I've had over the years, even if it was just a conincidence! So I was surprised to hear the results of a study coming out of Sweden's Linkoping University that suggested the opposite.
In the experiment, researchers gave 400 Beagles a puzzle that could not be completely solved. Three boxes with clear lids had biscuits inside, but one had its lid stuck shut, making it impossible to eat the treat. Researchers looked to see how the dogs reacted to the frustrating task. What they found was that the females scored significantly higher on social interactions and physical contact. The girls were more likely to look to the human assistant for help, making eye contact or putting their paw up on the person.
The scientists don't know why the females were more social towards humans, but made a hypothesis that it could be a side-effect of their nurturing instincts, making them better at cooperation. Lead researcher, Professor Per Jensen, acknowledges that we should avoid making any assumptions based on the results, particularly since the experiment was done on a group of closely related dogs of the same breed. The study will have to be repeated with a mix of breeds.
Professor Per Jensen is also interested in taking the work in a completely different direction. He would like to explore whether dogs could be important models for understanding the genetic basis of autism in humans, since reduced eye contact and communication have been important aspects of the disorder. That would be a really interesting way to apply this research!
What do you think about the social tendancies of your canine crew?
Portland photographer creates lasting memories for grieving animal lovers.
Letting go of a beloved pet is one of the hardest things to do. For those of us who have time to say goodbye, we'll never get enough of those last moments together. Portland, Oregon photographer, Kristin Zabawa, wanted to be able to help grieving pet lovers hold on to those memories and created Soul Sessions, which provides free photo shoots for people with pets in their final stages of life.
It's not easy work, nor is it an easy decision for people to contact Kristin. When they do, it's usually because they have accepted that the end is near.
The goals of her work is to capture the essence of a pet and honor the life the pet had together with their family. Every session is unique, which Kristin approaches with no judgement or expectations.
But Soul Sessions is so much more than just a photo shoot, it becomes part of the grieving process. The pet's family always shares stories and memories with Kristin, filling the time with both laughter and tears. It's therapeutic to talk about their pet, how they met, funny things that happened, and how they helped them through hard times. Being able to capture that relationship is the greatest reward for Kristin.
Next Kristin would like to turn Soul Sessions into a nonprofit so that more pet families can benefit from her work. Currently she has a Indiegogo fundraiser open to help achieve that goal.
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