Spice was a victim of extreme neglect. He came to the ASPCA after being confined in a squalid basement without adequate access to food or water. At just 32 pounds, Spice was severely underweight. Veterinarians and staff at the ASPCA Animal Hospital nursed him back to health and helped him gain a life-saving 20 pounds.
Spice’s life today couldn’t be any further from that cold, dark basement. After his rescue, he was adopted by two brothers who shower him constantly with love and affection. He is a happy, friendly dog who already knows “Sit!” and loves to learn new tricks. Learn more about his amazing transformation.
You can help more animals like Spice by becoming an ASPCA Guardian. ASPCA Guardians are a group of dedicated friends of the organization whose regular, monthly donations make a difference for victims of animal abuse all year long.
Please consider supporting the ASPCA’s life-saving programs by becoming a Guardian today. For as little as 60¢ a day, you can help transform the lives of countless animals.
Study looks at stress behavior associated with different training methods.
A study published earlier this month showed that shock collars can lead to an increase in stress behaviors in dogs. This may seem like stating the obvious, but these type of training devices continue to be popular despite the risks. The research by the University of Lincoln was commissioned by the U.K.'s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to provide scientific evidence on which to base their animal welfare policy (pretty cool!).
The study was made up of 63 dogs that were identified as having poor recall skills and related problems, such as attacking livestock, a main reason for the shock collar's use in the U.K. The canine subjects were divided into three groups: Group A used a shock collar under the direction of trainers nominated by the Electronic Collar Manufacturers Association (ECMA). Groups B and C trained without a shock collar. One group under the direction of the same ECMA trainers and the other with trainers from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a group committed to reinforcement based methods.
The trainers worked with each dog for two 15-minute sessions a day, for five days. The interactions were videotaped to analyze behavior, and saliva and urine samples were collected to measure cortisol levels (a hormone associated with stress).
The researchers found that the dogs in the shock collar group showed significantly more stress behaviors, such as tense body language, yawning, and disengaging with the environment. Although a smaller preliminary study found higher cortisol levels associated with the shock collar, there wasn't a significant difference in cortisol levels in the larger research.
Furthermore, following the five days of training, 92 percent of owners reported improvements in their dog's behavior. There was no significant difference in reported efficacy across the three groups.
Some people say that there are certain behaviors, like a reliable recall, that can't be taught without a shock collar. And that is simply not true. I've seen people train rock solid recalls using only reinforcement based methods. It's nice to have this scientific research to back up that claim. I was also impressed that the U.K. government commissioned this research to inform their policy.
Of course training using reinforcement based methods doesn't come without dedication. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts in dog training! However, a key learning from this study is around the consistency in results across groups (as a side note, while results seemed consistent in the short term, I believe that punishment tools, like shock collars, can often develop unintended consequences in the long term). The short training sessions repeated every day was the primary diver for getting results. Even if you only train for five minutes a day, if you stick to it, you'll see progress in your training challenges.
Not fun for you or your dog
As my sister says, “’Move’ is a four-letter word.” She also says, “’Pack’ is a four-letter word,” which I consider equally accurate. Anyone in the middle of relocating is likely to agree with both sentiments, and not just because they are technically true. Moving, with all the hassles and associated packing, is usually a horrible experience with a bit of the dreadful and stressful thrown in just to make sure that you really hate it. It’s generally no better for dogs than it is for people, so when you do have to move, I suggest that you make it even harder on yourself by putting the time and effort into making it easier for your dog. It will be better for both of you in the long run.
Have the boxes and other gear like packing tape, newsprint, and bubble wrap in your house way ahead of packing and moving so your dog can get used to them. Associate them with play and treats so that your dog develops positive rather than negative feelings towards them. Also, keep them away from your dog when you are not there to supervise. Boxes can easily be damaged by dogs, and dogs can easily be damaged by bubble wrap, so don’t let them be together unattended.
Carve out a little time for your dog despite the mayhem in your life. If you can make a lot of time to take your dog out for walks, classes, or for playtime, so much the better, but even a little goes a long way. If you are swamped by all the packing and other torturous parts of moving and your schedule is disrupted, that’s understandable. Still, it’s important not to make the mistake of thinking that since you don’t have time for a 45-minute walk, no walk is possible. Even 10 minutes of getting out of the house to walk or 5 minutes of fetch in the yard is a way to be kind to your dog, and to yourself. Everybody needs breaks for a little fun! Hopefully, this rough patch will be brief, and after the move you can return to a routine that involves the usual amount of time devoted to your dog.
Keep your pet away from the actual packing as much as possible. Watching everything in the house be shuffled and packed is inherently unsettling for most dogs. The less they see this going on, the better. If your dog is comfortable in another room or in a crate out of sight, give him something to chew on or a stuffed Kong while you work. Sometimes being out for a walk with another family member may be an option that allows you to pack without stressing out your dog. If it’s possible, have your dog at a friend’s house so he’s away from the packing nightmare entirely. People often say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” and that’s a great time to ask, “Can you watch my dog tomorrow evening?” or “Are you able to walk my dog some morning?” Many people will be so relieved that they can be of service without having to lift a heavy sleeper sofa that you are likely to get the assistance you need with a smile.
If you and your dog are facing a packing and moving phase of life, you have my sympathy. Please know that my paws are crossed for you, hoping that it all goes as well as possible.
As an animal control officer, I’ve seen a lot of tough stuff, but last summer’s callout to pick up a stray Pit Bull was about as bad as it gets. The old dog was so emaciated that I could count every rib and vertebra, and could have hung my hat on her hip bones.
She was also missing much of her hair, her skin was inflamed, her nails were long and the cruciate ligaments in both of her hind legs had clearly ruptured. In spite of her condition, this old girl was thrilled to be shown some attention. She held my gaze with big brown eyes that melted my heart. When I stroked her sweet face, her hairless tail whipped so hard that she nearly fell over. I wrapped my arms around her stinky, bony body and hugged her.
The shelter vet gave her a poor prognosis. Not only was she old, she was in extremely bad condition, and her blood work looked terrible. Still, the shelter did what it could for her, among other things, starting her on a gradual re-feeding program; her appetite was voracious. I visited her every day, and when her stray hold was up, I named her Patty and took her home to foster.
As Patty settled easily into life as a pampered house dog, I went to work on finding justice for her. I consulted a friend, an investigator for the DA’s office, and together, we put in many hours on the case. During the investigation and court proceedings, Patty lived in our home but could not be formally adopted until the case was resolved. In the meantime, she gained 20 pounds, her hair grew back and her skin improved tremendously. She was so strong, shiny and vigorous that it was hard to believe she had ever been anything else.
Finally, 10 months after I picked her up, we wrapped up Patty’s case with two arrests, a felony conviction with jail time and a court-ordered diversion program.
During her time with us, my entire family fell in love with this delightful old dog (we learned that she will be 12 this year). She cuddles with my geriatric cats and ancient Chihuahua mix, greets visitors like long-lost friends, and adores children. Without a doubt, Patty has blessed our lives at least as much as we have blessed hers. You can guess where this is going. Years ago, I made a sort of “bucket list,” things I wanted to do or to accomplish. One was to adopt an old, beat-up dog and pamper the heck out of him or her. Last week, I finalized Patty’s adoption as a formal member of our family. This may be the best thing I’ve checked off that list yet.
This experience reminded me of two important facts: justice for abused dogs is possible, and many elderly dogs—even elderly, broken-down dogs—have life and joy left in them; all they need is a chance. If you’re thinking about adopting a dog, find it in your heart to give one of these venerable creatures a home.
Pete's Pet Posse launches as part of the school's America's Healthiest Campus initiative.
Earlier this week Oklahoma State University announced the launch of the country's most comprehensive university-wide pet therapy program. This initiative, named after the school mascot, Pistol Pete, is part of their commitment to be America's Healthiest Campus. Pete's Pet Posse is currently made up of thirteen dogs who are clients of OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
The program was designed to help students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors overcome emotional and stressful situations. But the unique part of their mission is the goal of being proactive, not reactive. While many schools bring in therapy dogs during high stress times, like finals week (my Sheltie, Nemo, has been one of those pups at a local college), OSU recognizes that the benefits of animals are needed year round. Pete's Pet Posse is strategically deployed across the campus, with each department deciding how the therapy pets will be utilized.
During the program's pilot phase, Posse pups have been used in many capacities such as greeting students studying in the library and reassuring new employees in orientation. Dr. Lee Bird, Vice President of Student Affairs, has also requested dogs to join meetings to help students grappling with a particularly difficult challenge. The therapy dogs also provided comfort this spring after a student was killed by a drunk driver. The pups truly play a multifaceted role on campus!
And it's not an easy job to get. Each canine-human therapy team must apply to the program. Once accepted they go through extensive training in partnership with the veterinary school. A top priority is also to make sure that the Posse is healthy. Participants are given a stipend towards a microchip, vaccinations, and heartworm/flea/tick prevention, as well as regular wellness exams.
If Pete's Pet Posse continues to be successful, the goal is to extend the program system-wide across all OSU campuses. I hope that more colleges will follow OSU's proactive example!
The effects can last a decade
For years after the release of 101 Dalmatians, I saw representatives of this breed a lot in group classes and in private consultations for serious behavioral problems. Then, after the popularity of Eddie in the TV show Frasier, I saw more Jack Russell Terriers than before, even though that dog was a mix. When the movie Mozart came out, there was a bit of an upswing in the number of Saint Bernards I saw. I never thought I could see MORE Labrador Retrievers, but when Marley and Me was all the rage, there were even more than ever. I’m always conscious of what types of dogs are becoming stars, because it’s been my impression that it will affect my work.
Now, a new study in PLOS ONE titled “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice” has confirmed what anyone working with dogs professionally has long suspected: Canine movie stars influence the dog breeds that people choose. The reason that can be a problem is that it means that people are choosing dog breeds based on fads and fashion rather than on compatibility of the breed with lifestyle or the health of the dogs.
To study the degree of media influence on the choices people make about the type of dog to welcome into their family, researchers collected data from the American Kennel Club (AKC) about registered dogs of each breed. They analyzed the changes in popularity of dogs that were featured as main characters in movies from 1927 through 2004. In order to make sure that specific dogs were not in movies BECAUSE the breed was popular, they looked at trends in the relevant breeds both before and after the release of the movies
Movies in the early period of the study had a greater impact on breed choices by the public than movies in later years. The researchers suggest that this might be because of competition from other movies. Early on (before 1940), movies featuring dogs came out less than once a year, but later on (by 2005), it was not unusual for seven dog movies to be released in a single year.
In many cases, an increase in registrations of a particular breed that was seen in a popular movie was strongest 10 years after the movie was released. This may mean that preferences for a certain breed seen in a movie may be long-lasting and influence decisions about what dog to acquire many years after seeing a movie.
Did you ever fall in love with a dog in the movies and acquire one of the same breed later on?
Bretagne is the last surviving search and rescue pup.
As we pass another 9/11 anniversary, we will never forget the countless human and canine rescuers who dedicated weeks of their lives to finding survivors. Bretagne, the last surviving Ground Zero search and rescue dog, returned to Manhattan on Thursday for the for the first time since 2001. The then two year old Golden Retriever, and her handler Denise Corliss, traveled from Texas to New York for what was their first national assignment together.
Denise was inspired to enter the search and rescue field after volunteering as a "victim" during a training session. She still remembers the moment when a dog discovered her buried under rubble after a few hours. Even though it was only a test, the feeling of relief and joy left a lasting impression.
Soon Denise found herself with Bretagne and started training the puppy for search dog duties. Just a year later the duo made it onto the Texas Task Force 1, meaning they were good enough to be selected for national disaster duty.
Following 9/11, Bretagne and Denise worked 12 hour days at Ground Zero alongside about 300 other search and rescue dogs. When they weren't searching, the pups served as unofficial therapy dogs for the stressed human rescuers. Bretagne and her canine co-workers brought smiles and hope when it was needed most. And they didn't need to be trained for this part of the job.
Denise tells the story of when Bretagne rushed over to a depressed firefighter. Even when Denise called the otherwise obedient pup, Bretagne stayed by the firefighter's side, putting her head on his lap. It was exactly what was needed in the moment.
After 9/11, Denise and Bretagne went on to help in rescue efforts following Hurricane Katrina, Rita, and Ivan. Six years ago, Bretagne retired from rescue work, but now travels to Texas elementary schools to help students with special needs. She is truly living a life of service!
It will come as no surprise that Bretagne is currently up for the American Humane Association's annual Hero Dog Award. And you can help her win by voting through the Hero Dog Award web site.
Our featured smilers of the week.
This week: Asher, Beamer, Harley, Huckleberry, and Sassy.
Famous pairs and the reasons behind them
When I met Halley and Comet in a consultation, I was not surprised to learn that both guardians were astronomers. Over the years, I have met many dogs with matching names, and many such pairs relate to people’s professions. I’ve met a Shakespearean scholar whose dogs were named Puck and Desdemona (Mona for short), a jeweler who lived with Diamond and Pearl, and an attorney who named his dogs Alibi and Jury. A favorite bakery was owned by a woman whose dogs Ginger and Cinnamon were the greeting committee for customers.
Often, hobbies are the source of matching names. One client of mine was a golfer who spent his time with Birdie and Bogey, and another was a pilot whose dogs were named Wilbur and Orville. A couple who competed in ballroom dancing named their dogs Tango and Salsa. A man who considered fishing the only worthwhile way to spend his recreational time had dogs named Walleye and Muskie, and a fellow who played bridge called his dogs Diamond and Spade.
Many paired names come from the world of entertainment. Among the dogs named after characters in the movies or on television are Beauty and Beast, Batman and Robin, and Bert and Ernie. Famous couples in history are the source of names such as Fred and Ginger, Lancelot and Guinevere, and Laurel and Hardy. I once met a dog named Jiminy and didn’t consider the origin of her name until the guardian mentioned how much her behavior changed when Cricket died.
The bible accounts for names such as Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, along with David and Goliath, while Zeus and Athena reflect a different source. An ice cream afficionado was the guardian of Ben and Jerry, and a Green Bay Packers fan was always out walking Lambeau and Lombardi.
Some paired names arise because they describe the dogs themselves. It’s easy to guess that my neighbor’s white dog was named Salt but their black dog was Pepper. On the other hand, the brown dogs named Moose and Bear were not so easy to connect with their names.
I’ve found that people who name their dogs in matching ways often have a strong interest that leads them to do so, but there are also people who simply like for their dogs names to go together. If your dogs’ form a pair (or a triplet or more), how did you come up with their names?
Inspired by 9/11
Jim Kessler has worked at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, New Jersey over a dozen years now, and when I was training with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I happened to ask if he’d had any other jobs before this one.
His answer was surprising. “I worked for Lehman Brothers until it imploded, and then I worked at the Federal Reserve,” he said. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan: it was September 11, 2001.”
Jim had already been contemplating a career change at the time, and 911cemented the decision. He said a position at the Seeing Eye appealed to him because it combined his interest in teaching, working with dogs and helping people. His three-year apprenticeship program at the Seeing Eye started at the end of 2001, he became an instructor in 2004, and he was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2011.
I learned all this during a drive with Jim to visit his daughters’classrooms. The last few days of training at the Seeing Eye are called “freelancing”—instructors expose us to some of the unique situations we’ll be facing once we’re home.
I’m a children’s book author, and I give a lot of presentations at schools. When I learned Jim and his wife Carrie have three daughters in school (in addition to a two-year-old son at home), I asked if I could spend my freelancing time visiting the students at Warren G. Harding Elementary School with Whitney.
Jim stayed at the school with us during the visit, and you didn’t have to be able to see to know he was beaming when we arrived. He was unabashedly delighted to be at school with his daughters, and they were proud to have their dad—and a Seeing Eye graduate with her working dog—at school with them that day, too.
A story in The North Jersey Record reports that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his respect for the instructors he works with, his pride in the remarkable work the dogs do, and how much he loves his family. And after what happened on September 11, 2001, he'll be the first to tell you that he considers himself a very lucky guy.
Dog activity throughout the day
It’s such rotten luck than just as many of us are coming home from work hoping to chill out, our dogs are ramping up for high activity. When dogs go nuts at that time of day, their happy reunion with us not the only reason. Most dogs naturally exhibit high energy and elevated activity levels in the early evening. That’s why it’s so important to spend some time with our dogs then. It pays to get them outside and exercising, even though that may not always be our first inclination.
Dogs are also ready for some action in the mid-morning, and this is also species-typical. They are inclined to be active at certain times of the day just as birds are inclined to sing at sunrise and coyotes tend to howl during the night. The tendency to behave in certain ways over the course of the day is part of the daily cycle called a circadian rhythm. Many living organisms have circadian rhythms, including animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria.
The light/dark cycle of our rotating planet is responsible for the circadian rhythms that lead to the predictable timing of behaviors throughout the day. Light leads to changes in the hypothalamus, which regulates these daily rhythms. The pattern of light affects sleep cycles, hormone levels, brain wave activity and body temperature, all of which have an impact on behavior.
Dogs certainly have a natural circadian rhythm with activity peaks in the mid morning and early evening. Although dogs may vary in how closely they follow this typical pattern, few adult dogs are completely at odds with this normal schedule. Puppies, on the other hand, are not born with a circadian rhythm, and it takes months for them to develop the pattern typical of their species. Their active times are not as predictable as those of adult dogs.
Is your dog predictably active at certain times of the day?
Timmy was one of 367 dogs rescued during a massive multi-state dog fighting bust last year. Only eight weeks old, he was chained up, cowering and vulnerable when the ASPCA found him and brought him to safety.
Victims of dog fighting are destined for a life of cruelty. They are frequently held in horrific conditions without adequate access to food or water, and dogs who lose fights are often discarded or simply left with their injuries untreated. Sometimes, they are brutally executed as part of the "entertainment.”
After his rescue, Timmy was given the love and care he was previously denied. He received enrichment with our behaviorists and was soon ready to be placed in a loving home. Learn more about his amazing transformation.
You can help more animals like Timmy by becoming an ASPCA Guardian. ASPCA Guardians are a group of dedicated friends of the organization whose regular, monthly donations make a difference for victims of animal abuse all year long.
Please consider supporting the ASPCA’s life-saving programs by becoming a Guardian today. For as little as 60¢ a day, you can help transform the lives of countless animals.
Study looks at what canines find reinforcing.
Whenever I talk to people who are facing a dog training challenge, I always ask questions about the reward they're offering for the desired behavior. Often roadblocks can be overcome by increasing the frequency of the reward (and by making the exercise easier). For instance, if you're trying to reduce leash pulling, you might help your dog earn more rewards by reducing the distraction level (by moving further away from enticing dogs) or breaking down behaviors and acknowledging small successes (such as a head turn in your direction).
In addition to the number of rewards you give, it's also important to understand what is most motivating to your pup. For my Sheltie, Nemo, food is his number one reward, followed by toys, but for my Border Collie, Scuttle, it's the opposite.
Because I consider understanding rewards so essential, I was excited to see that Dr. Erica Feuerbacher and her team at the University of Florida is doing research on this topic.
Their latest study looks at how dogs respond to different interactions with people, verbal and physical (petting). Their "test subjects" included a mix of shelter dogs and non-shelter pups, and the humans giving attention included strangers and owners. The team found that across all groups and situations, the dogs showed a preference for petting over verbal interactions by staying near the person longer during petting sessions. The pups showed significantly less proximity seeking behavior with the verbal interactions, similar to the control sessions with no interaction at all. They also found that the dogs never seemed to tired of being pet.
Erica and her team believe that petting is an important interaction between dogs and humans that may maintain inter-species social behavior. Vocal interaction, on the other hand, is something that needs to be conditioned. I definitely see this in my training. A "good boy" or "yes!," usually garners a response from my pups, but I believe it's because they know a treat usually follows the words (similar to the way you'd condition a click with a treat in clicker training).
Previous research from Erica's team showed that animals preferred food to being touched. I think most pups would agree with those findings!
What's your dog's number one reward?
Walking the dogs
I was walking Lola, Kit and Charlie this morning at the Bulb, a regional park in nearby Albany (CA), when I saw a man setting up, what looked like a birdwatching apparatus, but, happily and surprisingly, it turned out to be a set of bagpipes. I held back with two of the dogs (asking them to jump up on a “painted” boulder) not being sure how they would react to this unexpected park visitor. But I let Lola go up to him and sniff around. He welcomed her, reached down to pet her and to assure her that the sounds coming from the strange “bag” weren’t going to harm her. He turned out to be a really nice guy—which could be easily gleaned by the way he welcomed the dogs—he looked to be in his 60s, and has worked in public libraries (around the country) all his life, and just started to pick up the pipes again after a long hiatus. I certainly look forward to seeing and hearing him practice again.
I was able to capture a video snippet of this special moment. Would love to hear about the ones you have had during a dog walk—an unexpected surprise, a lovely sunset, meeting an interesting person, just something that made you thankful that you and your dog were able to share in its magic.
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