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Art Exhibit For Dogs Encourages Owners To Play With Their Pups
Interactive displays for canines by experiential artist Dominic Wilcox
This exhibition by MoreThan is part of the #PlayMore initiative which encourages dog owners to spend time playing with their pets.

More Than insurance company commissioned British designer Dominic Wilcox to create a contemporary art exhibit for dogs. It is part of an ongoing effort by the company to improve the physical and mental health of dogs by encouraging people to play with them more.

One goal was the development of an exhibit like those in the best science and children’s museums that stimulate visitors and entice them to interact with the displays. Another part of Wilcox’s assignment was to come up with an exhibit that would fit in at any of the world’s best museums of modern and contemporary art.

The displays in “Play More” are varied and focus on different senses. There are paintings in colors within the dog’s visual spectrum and hanging at just the right height for them to view easily. The Watery Wonder exhibit is a series of fountains in water bowls with the water jetting from one bowl to another. Cruising Canines simulates an open-window car ride by blowing a fan to send the scents of raw meat and old shoes to the dogs seated behind cutouts in a two-dimensional car. Dinnertime Dreams is a 10-foot representation of a dog bowl filled with 1000 balls that each resemble dog kibble. Catch is a video of a FrisbeeÒ disk bouncing around a screen and consistently held many dogs’ attention.

It’s a daunting task to create a series of interactive displays for canines to enjoy that are also contemporary works of art worthy of display in a modern art museum. I think Wilcox succeeded, but you can judge for yourself in this video.

 

 

Playlists Aimed at Calming or Energizing Your Dog
Listening to Music Makes Dogs Happy - Deezer Streaming Service

Ever wonder how your dog feels about your musical tastes? To celebrate National Dog Day (Friday, August 26), Deezer, the on-demand digital music streaming service has assembled a couple of playlists that should be enjoyed by the entire pack. Deezer worked with animal behaviorist Dr. David Sands to study how dogs hear and react to different kinds of music based on beats per minute. The results are two playlists that they claim are scientifically proven to help energize or calm your pup. Unlike previous studies of the impact of music on dogs and recommend the classical genre … there’s no Brahms or Mozart in sight. Instead there’s a selection of more contemporary musical styles including Shutdown by Skepta; Sit Still, Look Pretty by Daya plus favorites Hey Ya! by OutKast and Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees for the “happy” playlist. For the “chill” side, Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself; Adele’s Someone Like You and Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Could You Be Loved top the list for a calming vibe.

Not only is it important for dogs to be healthy and happy, but it’s equally important for their people to be as well. When canine guardians are calm and in good spirits, they project the same feeling of happiness onto their dogs. The normal resting heart rate of an average adult is between 60 to 100 beats per minute, but listening to favorite music tracks can raise the heart rate to match the increased heart rate pups experience from the exact same tunes. 

“Your overall health and happiness has a huge effect on your canine counterpart,” emphasizes Dr. Sands. “Both humans and dogs are stimulated by the frequency range, pattern and volume of the beats in music. This is why turning on your favorite tunes cannot only positively affect you, but also your dog.” So, take off the headphones and share the music …!

Here are the complete Deezer’s playlists …

Songs to Make Your Pooch Happy 
The Prodigy – Firestarter
Major Lazer, Fuse ODG & Nyla – Light it Up
Skepta – Shutdown
Daya – Sit Still, Look Pretty 
Timbaland, Keri Hilson, D.O.E. – The Way I Are 
Avicii – Wake Me Up 
Salt-N-Pepa – Push It
OutKast – Hey Ya! 
Underworld – Born Slippy (Nuxx)
Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive

Songs to Chill Your Canine
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Could You Be Loved
Adele – Someone Like You
Blur – Parklife 
Justin Bieber – Love Yourself 
Caribou – Can’t Do Without You
Baz Luhrmann – Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)
The Stranglers – Golden Brown
Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody 
Snoop Dogg, Charlie Wilson, Justin Timberlake – Signs
Pulp – Common People

Study on Dogs’ Preferences for Praise Versus Treats
Individual variation explains a lot
Is this dog waiting for a treat or some attention?

Dogs are well known to be chowhounds. The idea that they love food more than anything else is practically (excuse the expression) dogma in the fields of canine behavior and dog training. The trouble is, recent research suggests that it is not true for all dogs.

In a study called “Awake Canine fMRI Predicts Dogs’ Preference for Praise Versus Food” scientists investigated whether dogs prefer treats or praise, and whether their choice can be predicted by their brains’ response to both stimuli. In one experiment, they measured the level of activation of the brain’s ventral caudate, an area known to function as a reward center, in response to items that predicted various outcomes. A toy car predicted that verbal praise was coming, a toy horse predicted that food on its way and a hairbrush was associated with nothing. Dogs were trained to make these associations with a series of 40 pairings of each object with what it predicted. The activation of the specific region of the brain was measured with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which is possible because the dogs in the study have all been trained to remain motionless while in the scanner.

The average activation of the reward center of the brain was higher in the food and praise conditions than in the neutral condition, which shows that the dogs did learn the associations between the objects and what the objects predicted. (Each dog’s responses in the brain to seeing the toy horse and NOT receiving the expected praise was also measured.) There were 15 dogs in this experiment, and most of them had a similar response in the reward center to the food or to the praise. Four showed a stronger response to praise and two showed a stronger response to food. The average response to praise and to food did not differ.

In another experiment, dogs were placed in a Y-maze and given the opportunity to choose which arm of the maze to go to. One arm led to a food bowl with treats and the other arm led to the dog’s guardian, who provided petting and praise. Each dog was tested in the Y-maze 20 times. Seven dogs in the study chose the guardian the more times than the food, and seven dogs chose the food more often. One dog chose the guardian and the food an equal number of times.

The relative value of praise versus food in the first experiment was highly predictive of the choices that dogs made in the Y-maze experiment. Dogs whose ventral caudate showed a strong response to praise were more likely to choose their guardian over food but dogs who did not show such a strong response to praise relative to food were more likely to head for the food when given a choice.

Regrettably, the results of this study have erroneously been reported in many places as proof that dogs prefer praise and belly rubs to treats, and suggested that using treats in training is therefore unnecessary. It has been written in many places discussing this study that 13 of 15 dogs prefer praise to food, and that’s not correct. What the researchers actually wrote is that in 13 of the 15 dogs, the ventral caudate showed either roughly equal activation to food and to praise or greater activation to praise than to food.

It’s quite interesting that roughly half of the dogs chose their guardian over food. For those dogs, social interaction such as praise and belly rubs may be more effective than treats in training. However, caution is important when acting on the findings in this study because the research may overestimate the response of dogs to their guardians relative to food in situations outside the laboratory setting.

The lab may have been stressful, causing a bias in dogs towards an increased interest in their guardians when compared with food. They may have been seeking comfort from their guardians in a way that they might not be during typical training situations. The scientists do point out that these dogs have been trained to stay still in the scanner and that the lab is a familiar environment. That does not mean the dogs are as comfortable as they are at home or in other areas such as on neighborhood walks, at the park or at the training center where they attend classes. It’s important to know what dogs choose in the actual training setting before changing what reinforcement to use based on lab research.

Additionally, although dogs may value social connections over food when the social interaction is with their guardian, not all training occurs between guardian and pet. I do a lot of training with dogs who I adore, but I don’t share quite the same bond with them as they do with their own guardian. So, just because dogs may prefer affection from their guardian over food does not mean that they prefer affection from just anyone over food. Finally, in many training scenarios, dogs receive praise in addition to food during training, and that may be more effective than either one alone.

Many people swear that their dogs prefer praise and petting to treats, and others are just as certain that food wins out every time with their dogs. Perhaps the most important lesson from this study is that individual variation in preferences is huge. If you feel strongly about what matters most to dogs, there’s a good chance you’re right—when it comes to your dog, anyway.

Do you think your dog would go for food or for praise and affection if given the choice?

 

More Companies Are Allowing Pets At The Office
Pups as a Work Perk
The Nerdery - Dog Friendly Company

For dog lovers, being able to bring our pups to work is a huge perk. Most companies don't allow pets in the office, but that is slowly changing. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, seven percent of employers now allow pets to come to work—up from five percent five years ago. 

Many companies see this as a way to help with retention and work-life balance at no extra cost. It's often people's favorite perk. 

At North Carolina based Replacements Ltd, there are about 30 animals that join their 400 workers on a regular basis. Their policy is probably one of the most liberal—the office has even been visited by a duck, potbellied pig, and possum. Public Relations manager, Lisa Conklin, even hopes to bring in her horse, Azim, one day.

The pets have always been on their best behavior. Although on a number of occasions the human employees have broken the fine dining dishes that Replacements sells, no one can remember an animal ever being responsible for an incident before.

Bringing our pets to work is a fun perk, but it has tangible benefits as well.

In 2012, Virginia Commonwealth University professor Randolph Barker led research that measured levels of cortisol in workers' systems. His team found that people whose animals came to work saw a decrease in stress throughout the day, while those who didn't have a pet saw their cortisol increase. Randolph says that pet friendly companies typically report more coworker cooperation and interaction as well.

But there are some challenges with having a liberal pet policy. Not all animals like being in an office environment and it's up to the individual employee to make the best decision for their pet. There are also other considerations for organizations, such as allergies and finding a building that is pet friendly.

However, provided that a company can make it work logistically, the benefits seem immeasurable! 

The CIA’s Spot On Dog Training Tips
Important enough to be a featured story

I’ve been a dog trainer long enough (almost 20 years) to see a massive change in the perception of the field. It used to be considered more a hobby than a job, even though many of us were already making a living doing it full time. I remember someone once telling me that it was “almost as though you have a real career”. Now, dog training is recognized as serious business and as a valuable contribution to society. In fact, it’s so legit that the CIA discussed its top 10 dog training tips in a featured article alongside articles such as “The Korean War Controversy: An Intelligence Success or Failure?” and “The Spymaster’s Toolkit”.

What’s even more exciting to me than seeing how seriously the CIA takes its dog training is realizing that the CIA’s Top 10 Dog Training Tips are absolutely spot on. The first tip is “Make it fun” and the last one is “Always end on a positive”. Everything in between is just as likely to make your typical dog trainer nod, smile or click. Dogs who work for the CIA begin their training as part of civilian training programs such as Guide Dogs for the Blind or programs in which inmates in jail train puppies in basic skills.

Dogs in the CIA aim to do what other members of this agency try to do—keep people safe—though their specific job is primarily sniffing out explosives. In addition to that detection work, dogs may be involved in apprehending suspects and educating the public. The K-9 program at the CIA emphasizes training as well as lots of exercise and plenty of time to play.

It was news to me that the CIA’s methods of developing great working dogs combine consistent and positive training with making sure the dogs have happy, balanced lives. Did you already know this?

 

NJ Pays Tribute To 9/11 Search and Rescue Dogs
9/11 SAR Dogs honored with commemorative statue
911 Statue of Memorializing Search and Rescue Dogs

The service dogs that responded to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks have not been forgotten. However, monuments to their service are few compared to those devoted to two legged responders. On Wednesday August 17, New Jersey officials gathered at the Essex County Eagle Rock September 11th Memorial in West Orange to do their part to change that. They dedicated a new commemorative statue honoring the Search and Rescue Dogs of 9/11.

The four-foot tall bronze dog sits atop a 12-inch slab of granite, and weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. It was designed by Oregon artist, Jay Warren and paid for by corporate donations. The West Orange 9/11 Memorial opened in 2002, almost exactly one year after the attacks. The park overlooks Manhattan across the water. Citizens once gathered there, helplessly witnessing the chaos at Ground Zero.

Second angle of 911 Statue of Celebrating Search and Rescue Dogs

In September 2001, countless heroes emerged from obscurity to aid their country in its time of need. Men and women of law enforcement and fire rescue courageously faced the devastation alongside everyday citizens. The new West Orange monument stands as a reminder that not all 9/11 heroes were human.

Roughly 350 Search and Rescue Dogs worked tirelessly in the tragic aftermath searching for survivors; and after, searching for human remains. Sifting through the jagged rubble and blinded by smoke and debris, the dogs battled exhaustion and emotional distress.

After hours of searching and finding no one alive, some handlers would ask for a volunteer to hide amidst the rubble to be “located”, helping to raise the dogs’ spirits. Even when the search mission became one of recovery instead of rescue, the dogs carried on diligently, providing what little peace they could for the families of the victims. 

In a press release for the commemoration of the new statue, Newark Public Safety Director, Anthony Ambrose said:

"Search dogs covered 16 acres of land at Ground Zero covered with metal and debris, and went where humans could not go. This is a fitting way to remember how many families gained some sort of closure because of the work by dogs."

The presence of the dogs at the recovery sites had an even greater impact than many may realize. Dutch photographer, Charlotte Dumas is the author of the 2011 book, Retrieved featuring the stories and portraits of 9/11 canines. She interviewed Denise Corliss, handler of famous 9/11 FEMA Search Dog, Bretagne. Dumas recounted an emotional narrative from her time with Corliss to Daily Mail UK:

“She told me a touching story of one fireman who was there in the rubble, and how taken he was with Bretagne who comforted him as he sat down to catch his breath. Years later at a Remembrance Ceremony, the same fireman recognized Bretagne and her handler and they had a touching reunion. It developed that even though the dogs couldn't find people still alive, they could provide comfort for the brave firemen and rescue workers of the emergency services.”

SAR (Search and Rescue) Dogs and Firefighting Human Partners

Most Search and Rescue Dogs are trained by non-government organizations. Often their handlers are civilians as well. Many of the teams that responded to Ground Zero did so on a volunteer basis, simply because their country needed them. Now these pups are getting the recognition they deserve from the folks in Essex County, NJ.

To learn more about search and rescue dogs and the brave men and women who train them and act as their handlers, visit searchdogfoundation.org or disasterdog.org.

Puppuccino Pals at the Kitsap Humane Society
Shelter volunteer treats dogs to an outing and a Starbucks snack.
There are many "secret" items on Starbucks' menu, including one for dogs called the puppuccino. Now I don't drink coffee, but I have a friend who regularly takes her pup with her to Starbucks and orders a puppuccino along with her regular drink. The item is just a small cup filled with whipped cream, but dogs love it!  In Washington, a few lucky shelter pups are being treated to puppuccinos while they wait for their forever homes.

Kitsap Humane Society volunteer Molly Clark had been taking rescue dogs on her local Starbucks visits for some time, but recently it has become an official program. As part of Puppuccino Pals, Molly takes one lucky pup each Tuesday to get a puppuccino. The local Starbucks pitches in by posting signs telling customers about the dog of the week to pique the interest of potential adopters. Molly also posts photos of the outings on the shelter's Instagram account.

"The dogs love the shelter breaks, and they adore the puppuccinos," says Kimberly Cizek Allen, events and outreach assistant coordinator at the Kitsap Humane Society. "You can see it in their little eyes as they lick the whipped cream out of the cup."

Not all dogs love an outing to Starbucks, so Molly will sometimes bring a puppuccino back and treat a pup to whipped cream and some time in the quiet room or play yard. This is such a fun collaboration between a shelter and their local Starbucks.

Rescuing a Dog in an Unlikely Predicament
A Maryland pup was saved after falling into a dry well.
Mabel with Harford County Technical Rescue Crew Chief Dan Lemmon
Earlier this month, a Saint Bernard in Perryman, Maryland found herself in an unlikely predicament—stuck at the bottom of a 30-foot dry well. Her family noticed Mabel was missing when they went to refill a play pool for her in the backyard. After looking everywhere, they decided to reconsider checking their well, which seemed unlikely because of the heavy lid. Too scared to look themselves, a neighbor ended up bringing a flashlight to peer in. To everyone's surprise, there was Mabel staring back up at them.

It's not exactly easy to rescue a dog from a 30 foot well, but fortunately Mabel had some incredible people on her side. First a hazmat team checked the air quality in the well before giving Daniel Lemmon, a firefighter with the Harford County Technical Rescue Team, the go ahead to rappel down. From there he gave Mabel a treat and harnessed her up. Mabel was then lifted her out using a pulley system.

As Daniel says, "It's a whole team effort. Sometimes we forget all those parts, but without them it just doesn’t work."

Although it was a complicated rescue, Mabel made it as easy as possible. According to Daniel, Mabel was on her best behavior. "She was so cooperative the whole time, no issues at all, didn’t snap at me, didn’t bark. If there’s someone who’s the star of this, it’s really the dog."

As soon as Mabel was lifted to safety, she immediately began jumping around, too excited to even drink water. Everyone was in disbelief that she survived the fall without any injuries.

No one knows how long Mabel was stuck in the well, or how she even got in there in the first place. Perhaps she was looking for a place to escape the 100 degree heat that day. Only Mabel will know for sure!

2016 Olympians Posing With Puppies
Partner with the Clear the Shelters initiative encouraging pet adoptions.
ashleigh johnson and aly raisman with puppies / dogs

Dealing with the media can get in the way of Olympic athletes’ training, but it’s obvious that none of them were complaining about a recent photo shoot to promote Clear the Shelters. This is a nationwide adoption effort to find loving homes for pets in need.

Even paired with such famous Olympians as Michael Phelps, Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Gabby Douglas and Venus Williams, the puppies stole the show. The expression on the puppy with Nathan Adrian is so cute it almost hurts to look at him! The little guy held by Michael Phelps is obviously in tune with others, realizing that the greatest swimmer of all time is uncharacteristically dry and needs to be licked. Justin Gatlin and Alex Morgan both enjoy a laugh with their puppies.
 

 

 

There’s a lot of love on the people’s faces in all the photos. Though a few of the puppies look a little overwhelmed, they were all adopted into loving homes. Gymnast Aly Raisman fell in love with Gibson, the Maltese-Shih-Tzu puppy who posed with her, and ended up adopting him. He was just one of the over 45,000 pets in need nationwide who was adopted thanks to Clear the Shelters.

 

Shop Class for Pups
Construction class learns to build dog and cat houses for a good cause.
My memories from elementary school shop class are of making lots of fun, but ultimately useless paper holders and boxes. I'm sure my parents pretended to use them for a few months, and then they got relegated to a box in the attic. Florida shop teacher Barry Stewart had a much more practical idea in mind for his students. Barry wanted his class to learn construction skills while helping a good cause.

About ten years ago, Barry was inspired by a program called Houses for Hounds, which provides dog houses to lower-income residents with pets in North Carolina. As it turns out, building dog houses can be used to teach the basics of constructing a human home.

“The framing technique and terminology for pet housing is the same as for a regular house," explains Barry. "The floor system, wall system, roof system and all the actual parts are identical. So, every part we use on the pet houses we can reference to the correlating part in the home. I realized that it would be easy enough to work into what we were doing in the classroom. It was a good fit.”

Additionally, students are tasked with identifying and rolling out structural improvements as they work on their projects. One adjustment was creating an off-center entrance to shield dogs from being hit directly with wind and rain. They also work on feral cat houses with removable roofs that allow for easier cleaning and access to kittens that need medical attention.  

Barry says that this project teaches students to think about the reason behind everything. "Even a really good idea can withstand some improvements,” he says.

Since Barry started teaching his students how to build, they've donated over 600 dog houses and 110 feral cat houses. Currently the pieces are donated to Friends of Jacksonville Animals. This is such a great way for kids to learn new skills while also developing compassion for others!

Commercial Dog Foods Affect Fertility and Sexual Development

Researchers Richard G. Lea and associates published on Aug 9th, 2016, a report entitled Environmental chemicals impact dog semen quality in vitro and may be associated with a temporal decline in sperm motility and increased cryptorchidism. (In Nature, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 31281 (2016) doi:10.1038/srep31281). Against the background of declining semen quality and rising incidence of undescended testes (Cryptorchidism) in humans associated with exposure to environmental chemicals (ECs) during development they report that “a population of breeding dogs exhibit a 26 year (1988–2014) decline in sperm quality and a concurrent increased incidence of cryptorchidism in male offspring (1995–2014). A decline in the number of males born relative to the number of females was also observed. ECs, including diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and polychlorinated bisphenol 153 (PCB153), were detected in adult dog testes and commercial dog foods at concentrations reported to perturb reproductive function in other species”.

Estrogen-mimicking, endocrine-disrupting chemicals have become virtually ubiquitous in many of the foods we consume, some of which, along with their byproducts, are included in most manufactured pet foods; in the can-linings of moist, and in plastic bagging and wrapping of dry and semi-moist foods. Plastic may also be processed into the manufactured food along with discarded meats, packaging and all.

Food wrappers and other industrial and commercial products from firefighting foam to water-repellant clothing contain poly-and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, detected in drinking water and having endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic properties.

Dioxins, predominantly released as byproducts of human activities such as incineration and fuel combustion, are a most potent class of carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. They are ubiquitous in the environment, and from the soil and vegetation undergo bioaccumulation in the fat (tallow) of cattle, and sea foods, especially farmed salmon, which are common pet food ingredients. Their adverse impact on wildlife reproduction and sexual development in several aquatic and terrestrial species has been well documented.

Other estrogen-mimicking and endocrine disrupting contaminants of pet (and human) foods include glyphosate and other herbicide residues in corn and other cereals along with phytoestrogens in soy products especially in GMO soy, a widely used pet food ingredient.

Aflatoxin B1—yet another endocrine disruptor-from the mold on corn and other cereals, is often found in dry dog foods which are recalled too late to save many dogs from acute toxicity and death. Aflatoxins, dioxins and other endocrine disruptors, estrogen mimics, carcinogens and obesogens have  harmful consequences in extremely low concentrations in the diet over an extended time period with possible synergism operating where one contaminant increases the toxicity of one or more others; and prenatal, epigenetic, developmental effects on the offspring of exposed parents.

For additional details visit www.drffoxvet.net and see review: CHEMICAL-RELATED HUMAN DISEASES IN COMPANION ANIMALS

Statement to appear in Animal Doctor syndicated newspaper column by Dr. Michael W. Fox.

Farmer’s Insurance and the “Mer-Mutts”
Canine Synchronized Swimming Commercial

The Rio Olympics inspired a Farmer’s Insurance commercial featuring dogs enjoying a flooded home. The five dogs play in the water and perform a synchronized swimming routine.

In a related ad, the same water-filled home serves as the venue for a dog diving competition.

Seeing these commercials provides some compensation for the misery that comes from staying up way too late watching the Olympics every night!

6 Simple Steps to Keep Pets Safe in the Heat

It can be dangerous when pets’ body temperatures get just a few degrees above normal. Elevated temperatures can lead to heat stroke, dehydration and hyperthermia. Fortunately, with a little planning and preparation, keeping four-legged friends safe in hot weather can be a breeze. Here are six easy ways pet parents can help their pets beat the heat.  

•    Chill out with a tasty treat. Freeze low-sodium chicken broth in a popsicle mold or ice cube tray for dogs and cats to enjoy on a hot day. See our recipe for Frozen Sunrise treats. Try Karen B. London’s Frozen Kong stuffing tips.

•    Hose down hot pavement, patios and porches before letting your pets outside. A little water could go a long way toward keeping paws cool and avoiding paw pad burns. Pet parents can also run cool water over their dog’s feet. 

•    Say yes to ice water. Adding ice to pets’ water bowls creates a game for curious canines—they’ll bob for ice cubes and stay cool and hydrated in the process! Be careful for choking and teeth damage with ice, as always assess your individual dog’s abilities.

•    Cool the crate. If your pet will be crated while you’re away, try freezing two-liter water bottles and placing them on top of the crate. They’ll give off cool air and help keep the spot cool. 

•    Wear a cold compress. A refrigerated wet bandana will help keep Fido cool and stylish this summer—this is especially effective because of the temperature receptors around dogs’ necks. 

•    Make a splash. A backyard baby pool is a great way for pets to stay cool (and it’s fun too!). 

Study Finds Declining Fertility in Male Dogs
Toxic chemicals also found in dog food

A long-term study conducted in Britain has found that male dogs are losing fertility, and that exposure to environmental chemicals (ECs) that have leached into the environment may be to blame.

The dogs—Labradors, Border Collies, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers bred to aid the disabled—made an ideal group to explore the larger question of a decline in human semen quality that has been occurring since long before this study.

This twenty-six year long study, 1998-2014, was conducted by Richard Lea and colleagues at Nottingham University’s school of veterinary medicine. They collected annual samples of semen from dozens of dogs, all from the same breeding program, all healthy and well cared for. Each year, the same problem recurred; a 2.4 percent dip in sperm motility, that is the ability to swim in a straight line. In addition to monitoring semen quality, they analyzed health records, finding an increase in cryptorchidism, a condition in which the testicles fail to extend normally to the scrotum. Over the same years, fewer male pups were born than females, also there was an increase in fetal and prenatal female mortality.

And, lurking in the samples of semen and testicles of dogs obtained from neutering, it found ECs—chemicals that tamper with hormones. The chemicals include polychlorinated bisphenol (PCB), a compound banned in 1977, and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). PCBs don’t readily break down while phthalates are common in a wide number of products, from cosmetics to detergent. Both chemicals are associated with fertility issues and birth defects.

In human babies, exposure to chemicals has been linked to faulty development of semen quality and cryptorchidism. According to the study, such reproductive problems often cluster in geographical areas, and so are suspected of having a common cause; exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is “thought to be the initiator.” To explore the same possibility in dogs, chemicals were measured in canine testes and semen taken from the same geographical area where the study took place.

Both chemicals “perturbed sperm viability, motility and DNA integrity in vitro.” The researchers concluded that the direct effects of chemicals on sperm “may contribute to the decline in canine semen quality” that parallels that in humans.

“Why the dog?” said Dr. Lea. “Apart from the fact that it is a great population of animals to work with, dogs live in our homes, they sometimes eat the same food, they are exposed to the same environmental contaminants that we are, so the underlying hypothesis is that the dog is really a type of sentinel for human exposure.”

The same ECs were found in a range of commercially available dog foods. DEHP and PCB153, “were detected in adult dog testes and commercial dog foods at concentrations reported to perturb reproductive function in other species.”

While the brands were not named, they are reported to be both wet and dry forms sold worldwide. The scientists don’t know how the chemicals made it into the food, but since they are not deliberate additives, they may have leached from the packaging or processing sources.

These overall findings are troubling, but they also noted that: “Amongst the dry dog food samples, one sample designed for puppies (1 to 24 months of age) had higher concentrations … relative to the other samples tested.”

Plus, while the researchers cannot say the dog food is a direct source of the ECs, the New York Times reports that "Dr. Lea said it was probably a major one." 

What is known is that the chemicals wound up in dog’s testicles, where they messed with sperm motility and viability. “This may be a way by which environmental chemicals directly affect male fertility.”

While the dogs in the study were still able to reproduce, it’s hardly reassuring that, once more, the dogs who share our homes also share our diseases, unwittingly, acting as the “canary in the mine” for us.

 

Adopting From Thousands of Miles Away
German flight attendant meets her dog in Argentina

When flight attendant Olivia Sievers met a stray dog near her hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she could hardly have predicted that she would adopt him a few months later. A dog lover, she gave the dog some food and played with him for a bit. This loving attention resulted in a strong attachment by the dog to her, and he continued to seek out her company. He waited outside her hotel until she emerged again, and no matter where she went or by what route, he found her and followed her.

It’s easy to imagine that this sociable dog had rarely encountered people who were as kind and giving to him, so naturally he felt a strong bond with Sievers. He stayed by the hotel’s entrance, prompting her to give him an airline blanket to keep him cozy at night.

She returned to Germany, but the dog greeted her outside the hotel on her next trip to Argentina, and the next one, and the one after that. For several months, the dog was outside her hotel every time she arrived in Buenos Aires, and their friendship grew. She named him Rubio (Spanish for blond) and continued to feed and play with him. Wanting the best for him, Sievers contacted a local rescue group so that he could be adopted. Though he was in a loving home, he escaped and headed back to the hotel in search of his German friend.

When Sievers learned that Rubio escaped and had apparently come to find her, she decided to adopt him herself. Following a mountain of paperwork for the woman and a flight to the other side of the world for the dog, there was a happy reunion for the pair of them.

Sometimes we have to travel to the ends of the earth to find our true love!

Pilot Program Connects Dogs With Students Overcoming Speech Anxiety
Presenting to Pups
Every semester, my Sheltie, Nemo, participates in a program where we go to one of the local colleges during finals week. The students always say how much they look forward to these visits, and how much comfort the pups provide during a stressful time of year. Bonnie Auslander, director of American University's Kogod Center for Business Communications, was inspired by how much students seemed to benefit from these programs that she decided to connect dogs with students trying to overcome speech anxiety. "As a dog lover, it occured to me what a wonderful thing it would be to practice with a dog," she said. "It's easier to practice with a nonjudgemental presence."

Last semester, the center booked about a dozen sessions using six pups recruited for their calm personalities. Students were sent photos of their canine match in advance and then met in person.

Masters student Zachary Fernebok was skeptical at first, but decided to try it out because he was familiar with the amazing work of therapy dogs. "My background before coming to business school was actually in therater," Zachary says. "So I had experience speaking in front of a lot of people, but never as myself." He found it extremely helpful to practice his final masters presentation in front of Ellie, a Bernese Mountain Dog.

 
 
Jessica Lewinson, who recently practiced a presentation on corporate responsibility, said that the pups made her smile during her speech, but they also play a practical role as well. "It kind of gives you a chance to step back from your presentation, to step out of that track you get stuck in."

For those of us with dogs, I'm sure we've all used our pups as guinea pigs for everything from practicing speeches to testing a new cookie recipe. It's always great to see new ways the human-canine relationship manifests itself. In the words of Bonnie, "what is more human than loving an animal?"

 
Malachi the Wolfdog Snuggles with Foster Puppies
Malachi the wolfdog and Becca the puppy
Our litters of foster puppies always adore our feral sanctuary wolfdog, Malachi, and he loves playing with them. Malachi wasn’t handled as a baby and although he lives in the house with us, he still behaves like a wild animal in many ways. After the loss of his closest dog friend, our rescued Great Dane Tyra, Malachi was depressed and even more flighty than usual. Playing with the puppies cheers him up and the puppies love him so we made sure they got lots of time together. And although not comfortable with people much of the time, Malachi is amazing with puppies. When we have bottle babies he’s especially interested and has even overcome some of his fear of people to be near them. He licks and nuzzles them and wants to be as close as possible. 
 
As our last litter of fosters began to wean and their mama was adopted, one puppy in particular sought out Malachi for comfort. Little Becca was the smallest of the litter of ten and preferred Malachi’s company to that of her littermates. There are always plenty of dogs here to play with between our own and various fosters but I was fascinated to see how little Becca always bypassed the other dogs and searched for Malachi when I let the puppies out. He would lie down and patiently let them clamor all over him but Becca always stayed long after the others wandered off to explore. 
 
 
One evening as I sat quietly outside with the dogs I saw Becca snuggle as close as she could to Malachi. He wrapped his big paw around her and leaned in. The two of them remained in that sweet embrace for a long moment as I watched, enthralled. Although Malachi rarely lets us comfort him, he comforts the puppies and in doing so, sooths his own loss. And so, although not quite wild and not quite tame, Malachi has found his place in the world as the comforter and playmate of the endless rescue dogs and puppies that come through our doors. 
 
Dog Helps a Lost Hiker in Mexico
A injured and disoriented teen is aided by a local pup.
We've written about rescuing dogs that get injured on a hike, but what about when it's the other way around? 14-year old Juan Heriberto Treviño was attending summer camp in Mexico's Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range when he got separated from his group on a hike. Things quickly got worse when Juan fell down a ravine looking for wood to start a fire.

But thanks to a watchful pup, Juan wasn't alone. A Yellow Labrador Retriever, that Juan had encountered a few hours before, found him and stayed by his side through the cold night. Juan hugged the pup and took advantage of the extra body warmth. In the morning, Juan says the dog even led him to a puddle where he was able to drink some water.

When rescuers found the pair, 44 hours after they began their search, Juan and the pup were airlifted to safety. Juan was dehydrated and malnourished, but he quickly recovered at the hospital. Juan's family was so grateful for the dog's help that they requested to adopt the pup. But it turns out the Lab's name is Max and he already has a family in the area (it's not clear if Max was lost at the time or is allowed to wander for days at a time).

As an avid hiker, this story underscores the importance of being prepared when in the wilderness. However, I'm glad that Juan and Max found each other and that this story had a happy ending!

English Bulldogs Face Extinction
English Bulldogs

Not surprisingly, a study published July 29, 2016 found that the English Bulldog no longer retains enough genetic diversity to correct life-threatening physical and genomic abnormalities. This means breeders cannot use the established population of purebred dogs to reverse the trend in extreme and painful exaggerations such as crippling dwarfism and respiratory deformities - traits that uninformed pet-owners find appealing.

In the early 1800s Bulldogs were trained for bull-baiting, a particularly cruel and vicious sport. In 1835 the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals convinced Parliament to enact the first animal cruelty law for the protection of domestic animals, including outlawing bull baiting. 

As such, the Bulldog had outlived its usefulness. Like the pre-19th century Wolfhound that disappeared with the eradication of wolves in the British Isles, and the Tumbler whose demise was the invention of hunting firearms, the Bulldog was destined for extinction.

English Bulldog from 1890

But it was not to be. Beginning about 1840, the Victorian dog fancy's unabashed sentimentality was a catalyst for saving even the most formidable working breeds from their inevitable demise. Like many others, such as the Dachshund and Mastiff, Bulldogs went from working hard to hardly working.

Utility dogs were "refined" and transformed to fill jobs they weren't originally bred for - as show dogs and companions. Altered physical and behavior characteristics along with decreased levels of aggression were more compatible for their augmented duties as house pets.

English Bulldogs from 1920s

Beginning in the late 1890s, Bulldog breeders (and other breeders as well) selected small groups of genes from a diverse genome and created new breed-types. They were in effect increasing the odds that genetic anomalies would more likely be expressed to bring out exaggerated traits, like the Bulldog's baby-like face, corkscrew tail and affable personality.

As "desirable" aesthetic traits were selected for, other genetic variants including beneficial genes that contribute to overall health were eliminated from the gene pool, never to be reclaimed.

In the last few decades the most exaggerated traits in the Bulldog - the extreme brachycephalic skull and deformed skeleton- have become increasingly pronounced because naive consumers want that type of dog and consequently that's what many breeders select for.

Driven by economics, fashion, and uninformed decisions, breeders and buyers either ignore or are unaware of the genetic problems that have spread throughout the population.

The demise of the breed may not be a good thing for Bulldog-lovers, but it will thankfully put an end to the malformed and painfully crippled modern Bulldog we recognize today.

The good news is that some breeders are intent on bringing back the "Olde-Fashioned-Bulldogge". 

Dogs as Model for Emotional Expression by Robots
Using canine ethology to improve interactions
Belgian Malinois / Dog Robot

An understanding of canine emotional expressions and human responses to them are a promising avenue to pursue in developing the best social robots. Social robots are machines that interact and communicate with humans by following social behaviors and rules that go along with their roles. People want more out of them than simply performing tasks to make our lives easier. They want their Interactions with these robots to feel as natural as possible, which means minimizing the disturbing feeling many people experience with robots. For that to happen, social robots must act in a manner that is socially appropriate, which includes exhibiting the right emotions for the situation.

Much of the work on developing emotionally expressive robots has focused on human facial expressions, with some emphasis on gestures and tone of voice. These subtle forms of communication are difficult to create in an artificial system, and researchers are exploring other options. One promising line of study is to consider interactions between humans and robots as an interaction between two different species that must communicate, and to use a non-human species as a model for the robots.

Dogs are a natural choice because of the ability of humans, even without a lot of experience, to identify the emotional content of dogs’ behavior. Children can correctly identify the emotional content of dogs barks, people tend to ascribe emotions to their dogs, and these two species are able to cooperate and communicate with remarkable success. People are able to understand dogs, which is likely a result of our long-standing relationship and shared evolutionary history.

In a recent paper (“Humans attribute emotions to a robot that shows simple behavioral patterns borrowed from dog behavior”), a group of canine ethologists show that people are capable of understanding the emotions of robots when their actions are based on the behavior of dogs. Using a robot that was not shaped like a dog and could not alter its basic posture, this experiment asked the question, “Can even simple expressions of emotional behavior elicit an acceptable level of emotional attribution by people to the robot?” If so, such behaviors in a robot could lessen the need to develop robots capable of communicating complex emotions through behavior based on human facial expressions.


Photo from “Humans attribute emotions to a robot that shows simple behavioural
patterns borrowed from dog behavior” (Gásci et al. 2016)

 

The subjects in the experiment watched videos of a trained dog and of the robot and were asked to attribute emotions to them. The dog was a Belgian Malinois and the robot was a touchscreen mounted on a base with wheels. The body of the robot had arm-like limbs attached to it, one of which was capable of moving in a variety of ways and one of which was not movable. The touchscreen, or head-like part of the robot, could not move independently and had no face. The robot made sounds, which were considered vocalizations. The emotions expressed by the dog and by the robot were fear, joy, anger, sadness and neutral (no emotion). Both the dog and the robot made sounds to accompany other aspects of their behavior.

The behaviors of the dog for expressing joy were approaching, wagging his tail and sidling, while in the robot, joy was represented by approaching, lifting one arm and moving the fingers and spinning. Anger in the dog involved approaching and wagging the tail as well as moving the head up and down dynamically, barking and showing his teeth. The angry robot approached, moved its arm high and swung it several times. Sadness in the dog meant sitting followed by lying down with his head down and then not moving. The robot showed sadness by backing away and turning away, lowering its arm and remaining motionless.

People more often attributed emotions to the dogs than to the robots, but the type of emotion was correctly identified with similar levels of success. The amount of experience people had with dogs was not a factor in their ability to identify emotions in either the dog or the robot.

The goal of this study was to investigate the possibility that simple canine behaviors can provide a way to facilitate the understanding of emotional expressions of robots. The robot is not designed to resemble a dog, and indeed a strength of this approach is that robots do not have to match their animal models. That is an advantage because the robots can be built with their function in mind without the extra expense and constraints of creating a specific form in order to maximize emotional expression.

General behaviors such as approaching, backing away, turning to the side, being in motion or staying still can all be performed by a robot of any shape. These behaviors, though based on canine models, are hardly specific to dogs, but apply across a large range of mammals. It is possible that creating the most emotionally expressive and natural-seeming social robots may require developers to consider a number of universal actions that are easily understood by humans as well as by other mammals.

Because human facial expressions are often considered too complex or confusing to mimic in social robots, the use of simple behaviors that convey emotions may provide a better way to make robots that are capable of emotional expression. Future work will explore ways that dogs (and perhaps other mammals) can serve as models for combining functionality with sociality. This approach will allow researchers to develop better social robots that people consider more like companions and with which they are more comfortable.

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