New York's JFK airport unveils comprehensive veterinary services on the tarmac.
This month the first-ever full-service airport veterinary hospital opened at New York City's JFK airport. AirHeart Pet Hospital, inspired by aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, is part of another first--The ARK, the world's first privately owned, 24-hour animal terminal and airport quarantine center. The ARK’s 65 million dollar facility is located right on the tarmac at JFK, spanning 14 acres.
The hospital will provide veterinary services for travelers, military personnel, employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, JFK airport employees, and area residents. At the moment AirHeart provides primary and urgent care, with plans to add 24-hour emergency care.
As many as 15,000 animals, including 4,000 horses, pass through JFK each year. There also are about 2,000 working canines with the military and government agencies who may also need care.
“Because of our location, we will face some of the most interesting medical challenges," explains AirHeart veterinarian Lauren Jordon. "So we have ensured our state-of-the-art facility and the professional staff are fully equipped to meet any issue that comes our way.”
Dr. Linda D. Mittel, a senior extension associate at the Animal Health Diagnostics Center at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, believes AirHeart will also play an important role in curbing the spread of animal and avian-borne diseases.
Animals are quarantined for three to 30 days depending on where they originated and their physical condition and vaccination records. AirHeart staff will be ever-vigilant for rare and contagious diseases and will be working closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
The quarantine center at The ARK features 48 climate-controlled stalls for horses, which have state-of-the-art biosecurity designs to prevent disease. There's also an aviary that has three rooms for staff to feed, clean and care for birds under supervision of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As more people travel with their pets, this hospital is going to be a much needed service at the busy JFK airport. Being at such a busy crossroads, I also hope the AirHeart veterinarians will have the opportunity to collect unique data that might be useful in future research.
Puppy mill dogs have more behavioral problems
“We found that across all behaviour categories, including trainability, dogs from less responsible breeders had significantly less favourable behaviour and temperament scores than puppies from responsible breeders.”
The above statement by researcher Catherine Douglas sums up the study “Do puppies from ‘puppy farms’ [puppy mills] show more temperament and behavioural problems than if acquired from other sources?” More extensive results were presented at the annual conference of the British Society of Animal Science.
It was the first study in the UK on the behavior and temperament of adult dogs who came from puppy farms, which we call puppy mills on this side of the Atlantic. Dogs were divided into two categories. One set came from puppy farms or other commercial breeding facilities that did not follow the good practice standards of the RSPCA or the Animal Welfare Foundation’s Puppy Contract (less responsible breeders). The other group in the study was made up of dogs who came from responsible breeders who put a priority on the welfare of the breeding dogs as well as of the puppies (responsible breeders).
Dog guardians filled out surveys about the conditions of the facility the dog came from to determine whether the dog came from a puppy farm (or similar) or from a responsible breeder. They were asked such questions as “Were the puppies raised in a home environment? Did you see the mother? At what age did you get your puppy?” They also filled out a standard survey (the CBARQ, or Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire) to evaluate their dog’s behavior. The breeds studied were the Pug, the Jack Russell Terrier and the Chihuahua.
Though there have been many studies about the physical health of dogs from puppy farms, there is far less research about the adult behavior of these dogs. The results of this study overwhelmingly support the common advice NOT to buy a dog from such a place. In every category, the dogs from less responsible breeders were found to have less desirable behavior than dogs from responsible breeders. Specifically, they were more likely to be aggressive to members of the household, more likely to be aggressive to strangers, more likely to be aggressive to dogs, more likely to be fearful of new objects, more likely to have noise phobias, more likely to suffer from separation anxiety, and less likely to be rated high in trainability.
It’s not clear what factors contribute to these extensive differences in temperament and behavior, but there are many possibilities. Stress during pregnancy can contribute to anxiety in puppies and affect their ability to learn in training. Being separated from the mother while very young can also have detrimental effects on adult behavior. There could also be genetic factors that account for some of the differences between the two groups of dogs.
Though the results of this study are not surprising, they do confirm that where we get our dogs matters. Acquiring dogs from puppy farms supports an industry that lacks proper safeguards for animal welfare and also makes it less likely that your best friend will be the ideal companion and family member that we all want.
Parker, Colorado gets its first off leash space while paying tribute to a local Marine and dog trainer.
Last week Parker, Colorado unveiled their first official off leash space, USMC CPL David M. Sonka Dog Park. The dedication honored the park's namesake, a local service member killed in action alongside his military working dog, Flex. David was in Afghanistan at the time and worked as a dog trainer with the Marine Corp.
It's a fitting tribute to the duo. The park's impressive five acres feature shade structures, drinking fountains, a small dog run, and an agility course, ensuring many happy puppies for years to come. A lot of work and dedication went into this canine haven.
Ever since town councilwoman Amy Holland attended David's funeral in 2013, she was determined to create something meaningful in his memory. When Amy returned to her office that day, she took the program with David and Flex's photo and put it on her bulletin board. Amy vowed to get the dog park built in their honor.
Separately, David's family has worked hard to create a legacy so that he will never be forgotten. The Marines Special Operations command renamed its dog kennel after him. And David's father, Kevin, runs Rocky Mountain Dawgs, a charity in his honor that teaches veterans with PTSD to train their own service dogs. But they are humbled and grateful that Amy and the town of Parker put in so much work to create this lasting tribute to David and Flex.
“All the signage they put up, all the thought they put into this, I know David’s name will be carried on for generations to come,” said Kevin. “I don’t even know if I can put it into words how incredible this is. How proud we are that Town of Parker would do something like this, to make a memorial that will last forever in his name, that’s unbelievable.”
Creating this space for dogs to enjoy off leash freedom and the company of other pups is such a great tribute to the work David and Flex accomplished together and their special relationship.
Canine amenities include pet beds, crates, bowls, washing stations, doors and even a designated pet water bowl filler
As our lives revolve around our beloved critters more, we need to make space for them. If you have at least a medium-size laundry room, or a combined laundry room-mudroom, it’s prime real estate for dog needs. Pet-washing stations can also double as a place to rinse off muddy boots and rinse out laundry. And if well-planned, these rooms can also provide space for pet beds and crates, food and treats, toys and leashes. See how some people are outfitting their laundry rooms to work for their dogs too.
Grooming. Pet washing stations can be quite handy, and the laundry is an ideal place for them. A dirty dog doesn’t make it past the mudroom before cleaning up, and they are also a good place to clean off muddy cleats and let snowy boots drip dry.
An elevated dog bath is a good option for those with bad backs and knees who have small to medium-sized dogs. It can also double as a utility sink. But the main reason I absolutely had to include this photo is because the dogs in the photo match the dogs on the wallpaper.
Beds and crates. Rather than lower cabinets, these built-ins incorporate a dog bed. Yellow and white stripes and beadboard make it a cheerful design asset as well.
The designers did a great job of maximizing this laundry room wall to fit in a pet washing station and bed.
These clever Murphy dog beds fit right in with the rest of the cabinetry, then flip down for nap time. Though narrowness doesn’t appear to be a problem in this laundry room, this is a clever solution for a tighter space. You can flip the dog bed up if you need the room to access a front-loading washer or dryer.
Built-in dog crates are another good option. Cabinetmakers can trick out cabinets to serve as dog crates for a seamless look.
Pet food. Keeping pet food close to where the pets eat makes mealtime easy. Laundry-mudrooms are often a convenient place to set this up.
The space under a utility sink is prime for a domesticated version of a trough. Pet bowls slip right into custom holes for easy filling. They stay in place rather than sliding all over the floor when a hungry dog is going to town on them.
Easy entering and exiting. This laundry room has a motorized pet door. The door opens when the pets wearing their power door collars want to go in and out, thanks to directional ultrasonic detection circuitry.
Electronic pet door: High Tech Pet
Dog's name and age: Maggie, 14 years old
Originally from Minnesota, Maggie's previous person couldn't keep her, so she was given to the rescue group Washington State Setter Rescue. Living in Seattle at the time, Maggie's soon-to-be people and their beagle were excited to meet her so they scheculed a visit. Maggie, then known as "Mcgyver", and her foster mom came over for a meet and greet and it was love at first sight! Everyone in the family knew it was a perfect match.
Tasty treats, taking up the whole couch, and doing tricks like high-fives.
Dog clearly communicates his desire to continue walking.
We were in a rush that morning, and though we felt a little guilty about it, the plan was for the morning walk to be just a 10-to-15-minute quickie around the block. The dogs would just have to wait until later in the day for some real exercise. As we rounded the last corner of our block to head home and begin the work day, Marley put the brakes on and resisted the turn. He stood his ground, facing a different direction than the way we wanted to go. I interpreted his action to mean that he was not yet ready to end the outing. I thought he was conveying the sentiment, “Don’t you dare just go around the block and call it a walk.” My husband’s take was that Marley was thinking, “The walk can’t be over. I haven’t even pooped yet!”
We can only guess what was actually going on in his head, but he was able to communicate quite clearly his desire to walk in the direction that did not lead directly home. Marley is an exceptionally agreeable dog, but he is no pushover. He only infrequently objects to something and is extremely easy going, but once in a while he will assert himself to get what he wants. When he doesn’t want to keep running, he lies down and simply does not continue. When he is cozy in a spot that we want to occupy, he becomes dead weight and is resistant to getting up.
I really like this quality in Marley because it’s nice to know what he wants. He doesn’t often express an opinion, but when he does, he makes his desires quite clear. “I want to walk this way.” “I do not want to move.” “That is enough of a workout for me.” He is not pushy, and I would not describe him as stubborn. He simply has his limits, and expresses them on rare occasions. Most of the time he goes with the flow, being more than up for whatever we have in mind, but he is capable of calmly letting us know his preference.
Do you have a laid back dog who lets you know, every once in a while, that he has a strong opinion about what he wants to happen?
In the spring of 1967, I moved to San Francisco and had a couple of months to become acclimated to the West Coast climate—both social and meteorological— before summer hit. Hard to believe that 50 years have passed, but that summer has stayed in my memory. In retrospect, it was a seminal moment, although the magnitude of this cultural watershed wasn’t apparent at the time. Even so, we knew that something was definitely happening here: be-ins; love-ins; and music by the likes of Janis, Jimi and Jerry and a long playlist of others flowing almost nonstop from clubs and parks. I think of that time now not only to mark its golden anniversary but also because, while so much has changed, some societal and political similarities have persisted over the past half-century. Still, for me, it was a great time and place to be a young adult—to actually be there. The good times really did rock (and roll).
Back to the present … I just read a research paper in Science Daily with the intriguing title, “Lifting your spirits doesn’t require many reps,” which concludes that simply getting out of your chair and moving around can reduce depression and lift your spirits. As I was reading it, my three dogs urged me to do just that, barking their need to see what that darn squirrel was up to in our back yard. Even though I was mildly annoyed with them for breaking my concentration, I knew I had something to thank them for. As a bonus, the paper’s lead author, Gregory Panza, observes that the study’s results suggest that the “more is better” mindset may not apply when it comes to the connection between movement and our sense of well being. So, even short bursts of mild activity, like walking around the block with your dog (or chasing them around the yard, as it was in my case), can improve your mood.
To help you tap into some good vibrations this summer, we chose “Journey” as our issue’s theme, trippin’ in both the metaphorical and the literal sense. To start off, we’ve packed this issue full of reasons for you and your dog to get out and about. We have 51 tips —one for each state and the District of Columbia—for exploring with your dogs, from “California to the New York Island,” as Woody Guthrie famously sang. We also give a special nod to the fine city of Austin for its five-star dog friendliness, as well as to New Mexico’s Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, where guests relax while helping with the socialization of future assistance dogs.
If you’re thinking about wandering overseas, you’ll be inspired by Belgian photographer John Thai’s work at Thailand’s Headrock Dogs Rescue, where he contributed his talents during a working “volunteer vacation.” Similar opportunities to help animals in need abound, many in scenically beautiful locales.
For our literature coverage— what would summer be without lots of good reading material?—we travel with author Laura Schenone as she covers the stories and meets the people who started Greyhound rescue in Ireland and beyond. We interview her and excerpt her book, The Dogs of Avalon, a thoroughly enthralling and inspiring read. We dip into our archives to bring back Michelle Huneven’s essay, “Lala the Loot,” from our anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Her story, about a charming little dog whose cuteness inspires others to snatch her, has a happy ending, so be prepared to smile.
In another entry with a journey theme, Laurie Priest tells us how a kayak vacation to Baja California’s Sea of Cortez netted her a honey of a dog, along with an amazingly complicated return trip with the dog to her home in Massachusetts. Dana Shavin’s essay, “There Is Now Only This,” comes with another twist—how being dogless just doesn’t feel right. As she notes, “My meticulous tending to the ever-expanding needs of my dogs became the point of my life. It was what defined me.” Without that, who are we? Finally, our “Backstory” features a man who traveled into outer space with the support of his pups, whom he considered to be his family.
On the department front, Karen London tells us why bite inhibition matters and how it develops; Carin Ford provides pointers on starting a rescue; and Ernest Abel explains how the R.E.A.D. program, which is now in just about every country, came to be. Heather McKinnon gives us another reason to consider getting a doggy-pack for our dog; Erica Goss reveals how research into human color blindness was helped by a Poodle aptly named Retina; Sarah Wooten, DVM, shares new treatments for arthritis; and we interview the star and writer of “Downward Dog,” a new TV comedy we hope hits it big.
In this issue, you’ll find a new short feature, “Dog-eared.” If you’re like me and read a lot, you have no doubt encountered references to dogs in books that are not about dogs at all, perhaps as a refreshing plot turn or as part of a character’s environment. We’ve started collecting these dog-eared finds, and if you run across any you’d like to share with us, we would love to hear about your discovery (be sure to note the source’s title/author/page number). To kick it off, we found the perfect paragraph in Louise Erdrich’s wonderful LaRose; in a very few words, we come to know both characters better (see page 20 in The Bark Summer 2017).
Finally, as always, we have some unforgettable artwork for you to feast your eyes on.
We hope you take a liking to what we’ve put together, and that your own 2017 summer of love goes well. We look forward to connecting up with you again in fall. You can purchase a copy of The Bark Summer 2017 here or subscribe to get all these wonderful articles.
A metro Phoenix community college teacher’s civics assignment wound up helping create a law to aid dogs trapped in hot cars.
Debra Nolen, who teaches ethics, suggested her students find ways to help dogs left behind in locked vehicles.
“I wanted to find a topic for them to learn about civic engagement and social responsibility and this seemed perfect,’’ she said.
Complete newcomers to politics, students and teacher contacted Nolen’s state legislator, John Kavanagh, who had previously supported other animal-welfare laws. He agreed to sponsor their bill and other Arizona animal-rights groups got behind it.
Under the new law, someone who uses “reasonable force” to break into an unattended motor vehicle is not subject to civil damages if there’s a “good faith belief” a child or animal “is in imminent danger of suffering physical injury or death.”
Would-be rescuers must first notify police, medical personnel or, if needed, animal control officers. Then, after entering the vehicle, they must remain until responders arrive.
Previously, Arizona laws weren’t clear if a Good Samaritan could be sued for damaging property while rescuing a trapped animal.
Now, 29 states have some type of a “hot car” law on the books, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Laws vary; some make distinctions between domesticated animals versus livestock; some differentiate between law-enforcement personnel and citizen rescuers.
“In the last few years, there has been an explosion in the number of hot-car laws,’’ said Lora Dunn, director of the criminal justice program for the fund. “There’s greater awareness, people are getting involved and pushing their lawmakers.’’
But it’s not always easy.
Some Arizona legislators questioned why animals warranted the same expectation of protection as humans.
“I actually had one legislator describe pets as ‘chattel’,’’ Nolen said. “I had to tell him how so many people have sacrificed their own well-being on behalf of their pets.’’
Having Arizona’s governor talk up the legislation in his State of the State address helped push it past those ideological obstacles, Kavanagh said. Nolen’s participation too was key, he said. “She was a like a bulldog on this.’’
All part of the learning process, says Nolen. “My kids learned so much from this, how to be active in their communities for good. I look at them and think ‘these are tomorrow’s leaders’.’’
Siberian hunter-gatherers may have bred canines for pulling sleds and hunting polar bears.
Last month I wrote about how studying dogs gives scientists a unique view into genetics because of the way they’ve been bred by humans. So who were the first people to breed dogs?
Recent evidence now points to the hunter-gatherers of a Siberian Island known as Zhokhov. Populated nine thousand years ago, these people lived in an unforgiving land, hunting polar bears and reindeer in year-round freezing temperatures.
Vladimir Pitulko, an archeologist at the Russian Academy of Scientists, has been excavating Zhokhov since 1989. It’s well known that the island’s hunter-gatherers were using dogs to pull the sleds they used to pursue reindeer, but it wasn’t previously known if they were actually breeding dogs for this purpose.
Now Vladimir believes he has evidence that says that they were. His team of scientists studied the fossil bones of 11 individuals. Ten of the pups weighed between 35-50 pounds and may have resembled Siberian Huskies. The remaining dog weighted 63 pounds and seemed to be a wolf-dog hybrid, perhaps resembling an Alaskan Malamute.
According to Valdimir, good sled dogs typically weight between 44-55 pounds, big enough to pull sleds but won’t overheat like larger dogs. He believes the Zhokhov people bred the smaller dogs for sledding and the larger ones to hunt polar bears. “They were clearly shaping these animals to do something special,” he says. The size grouping is important.
About 7,000 years ago, dogs were used for herding in the Near East, but the wide range of weights in the ancient canines there argues against strictly controlled breeding. Angela Perri, a zooarchaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, believes that different kinds of dogs were mating with each other, producing random litters of puppies. The people there may have selected the most promising sled dogs from those litters but they probably weren’t specifically breeding them.
“It fills in a missing piece of the puzzle of early human-dog relationships, and even domestication itself,” says Angela.
The finding may also shed light on why dogs were domesticated in the first place. Though all scientists don’t agree on when this happened, recent research suggests it was at least 15,000 years ago. This happens to be around the time when Earth was beginning to warm, with large species like mammoths disappearing and smaller migrating animals like reindeer starting to dominate the landscape. Dogs could help hunt down this smaller prey and even provide a way for people to follow them.
“Before then, there was no real reason to have a dog,” says Vladimir. “We turned to them when we really needed them.”
Were your dog’s DNA results just as unbelievable?
Many members of a local dog group had their dogs’ DNA tested, and one meeting served as the big reveal. Luckily for me, that was the day I had been invited for a Q&A session, because even the introductions were a hoot. Everyone told me their name, and then announced the results of the DNA test of the dog at their feet.
Many of the results were unsurprising. That dog everyone had assumed was a Rottweiler and German Shepherd Cross? Throw in a little Bearded Collie, and that’s just what the test said. The dog that looks exactly like an Irish Setter except that it is black? It is half Lab and half Irish Setter. How about the dog that seemed so impossible to identify that the group couldn’t agree on any likely possibilities? The test came back with breeds nobody had guessed—Plott Hound, Puli, Saint Bernard and Beauceron.
Other results went far beyond surprising and straight into the seemingly impossible. The 90-pound dog that appeared to have some northern breed as its primary source of DNA, but also looked like it had some hound in it? The test said it was half Dachshund, and then a few other small breeds that I can’t remember because the Dachshund part made us laugh so hard it affected our memories. The 25-pound dog that was all white with long hair was reported to be predominantly Portuguese Water Dog with some Great Dane. There was an apparent Terrier mix whose DNA test revealed it to be about half Siberian Husky with some Beagle and a little Shiba Inu.
It’s natural to want to know more about our dog’s genetic heritage, but it’s important to know that these DNA tests are not 100 percent accurate. The evidence suggests that they are not completely reliable, and nobody has been able to validate them to the satisfaction of geneticists. If you want to have your dog tested for fun, that’s fine, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the results are necessarily a true reflection of your dog’s background. Many people have submitted their dog’s DNA to multiple testing companies and received different answers about the dog’s breeds.
I had a dog whose heritage was a mystery. On some days, I didn’t care, figuring, “All that matters is that he is a dog and I love him.” On other days, I felt a desperate yearning to know what he was, and my thoughts strayed more towards themes of, “It’s my life’s quest. I MUST know what breeds of dogs went into him.” I always described him as “Half Black Lab, Half Handsome Stranger” and if he were still alive, I would most definitely pay to find out what the DNA tests had to say about it.
Even with doubts about their accuracy that require one to take the results with some skepticism, I still love to meet dogs and hear the results of their genetic tests. It’s especially fun when the results are unexpected.
Have you received DNA results about the breeds in your dog and found them, um, unlikely?
Interactions with guardians offer some relief
Veterinary examinations are stressful for dogs, and being stressed is counterproductive to general well-being. We don’t want our dogs to suffer, especially when the purpose of seeing the veterinarian is to help them. Another issue is that the effects of stress—both the behavioral and physiological responses—can make it harder to examine the dog thoroughly and properly diagnosing the dog becomes harder as well.
A recent study examined the effects of contact with the guardian during veterinary exams on the stress levels of the dog. The basic conclusion of the study was that it is beneficial to dogs for their guardians to interact with them with physical contact and verbal communication. Dogs were less stressed by several measures when their guardians interacted with them compared with just having their guardian present in the room.
Every dog was studied during two visits to the veterinarian—one in which the guardian talked to and had physical contact with the dog, and one in which the guardian was present in the room but did not interact with the dog. The canine behaviors observed were panting, vocalizing, attempting to jump off the exam table, struggling, lip licking, yawning and paw lifting. The physiological measures were heart rate, cortisol levels, maximum ocular surface temperature and rectal temperature. All behaviors and physiological measures are associated with stress in dogs.
When guardians were allowed to talk to and pet their dogs (the “contact” condition), the dogs attempted to jump off the table less often and vocalized less than dogs whose guardians were present but not interacting with the dog (the “non-contact” condition). There were no differences in any of the other stress-related behaviors. On the physiological side, dogs in the “contact” condition did not have as large an increase in heart rate or maximum ocular surface temperature as the dogs in the “non-contact” condition did. There were no differences between the two conditions in rectal temperature.
This study offers some encouragement about our ability to make a difference to our dogs’ stress levels when at the veterinarian. The results suggest that interactions with the guardian may be more effective than just the physical presence of the guardian, but the effect is not striking. By many measures, there were no differences. The behavioral measure that did differ—vocalizing and trying to jump off the exam table—may do so because both of those behaviors could be an attempt to make contact with the guardian. Dogs do often vocalize as a response to separation, and dogs who try to jump off the exam table may sometimes do so as an attempt to make contact with their guardians.
Dog's name and age: Lexi, 4 years
After deciding they absolutely needed to have a dog in their life, Lexi's people adopted her through a local rescue group. On the way home, they discussed names and they settled on Lexi as being the one they both loved.
Lexi's Person Writes:
Lexi is so precious, sweet and adorable that she makes my heart melt. I thank God for her every day that she's in my life. She is my child. My world. I love her so much.
Research shows that the pesky insects can infect in less than 24 hours.
Earlier this year I wrote about how 2017 is expected to be a risky year for Lyme disease, particularly for the mid-Atlantic and New England areas. If my last hike with my Border Collie, Scuttle, was any indication, ticks are going to be the bane of our existence this summer and fall!
Not only is the problem growing worse in known problem areas, but the reach of tick borne disease is also spreading. Experts have warned veterinarians practicing on the edges of endemic areas, such as the Dakotas and Kentucky, to be aware of encroachment. Western Pennsylvania has already reached endemic status.
In my original article, I wrote about the standard adage that it takes 24-36 hours for a tick to transmit disease. But it turns out that advice may be problematic. A reader brought to my attention a few studies that show disease transmission can happen in far less time.
Researchers from East Carolina University and North Carolina State University scoured the literature to see just how accurate the 24-36 hour guideline was. With approximately 40 tick species in the United States, it would make sense that they all don’t pose the same risk.
One study found that soft ticks (Ornithodoros spp.) could transmit the virus behind Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever to mice in as few as 30 seconds of attachment. Another study found that ticks carrying Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (R. rickettsii) could infect hosts in as little as ten hours.
Much of the research on tick attachment times were conducted on mice, often in studies where multiple ticks were placed on the subjects. So the findings can be hard to compare. However, given the variable virus transmission times, I think the 24-36 hour guide may give us a false sense of security. With the severe forecast for 2017, we must be extra vigilant about guarding ourselves and our pups against ticks.
Let’s celebrate dogs like Lassie instead of like Marley
There’s no doubt that a certain amount of impishness can be delightful, and it’s easy to be amused by it. For example, many people have understandably laughed at Marley’s escapades in the book or the movie he inspired. Yet, I think it is really important to keep in mind that what we are laughing at—destructiveness, pulling on the leash, eating jewelry, greeting people by putting paws on their shoulders and running away—is actually straight-up undesirable behavior.
It has become increasingly common in the dog world to excuse ill-mannered dogs who lack any kind of training skills by saying they are just like Marley. It’s as though that validates the behavior, making it not just acceptable, but enchanting. Often, guardians who use this excuse could improve the dog’s behavior with some effort and education, but they don’t bother. Instead, they seem to find any obnoxious (or even dangerous) behavior hysterical. It’s an unfortunate cultural development to value behavior stemming from bad manners and a lack of training. Regrettably, it is has become some kind of competition about whose dog is the worst and most incorrigible, to the point that many people aspire to having a dog who acts “like Marley”.
It’s not that I expect dogs to be perfect or that I expect guardians to act as professional trainers in all their free time or raise a model dog. I’ve seen plenty of dogs do things that I wish they wouldn’t and understand all too well how hard it is to teach dogs to be polite canine citizens. I also get that although many dogs are generally good and can learn to be reasonably calm and well-behaved with even a little training, it is much harder for some dogs. There are plenty of dogs who have impulse control issues, and whose natural behavior doesn’t lend itself to high praise. That doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy dogs who struggle to be their very best selves as well as dogs who are naturally easy keepers. Marley was the most rambunctious puppy in the litter and suffered an extreme fear of thunderstorms, so it’s unfair for anyone to claim that Marley’s issues could have been resolved with simple training. It’s also true that more training would have helped.
Although absurd situations based on dreadful behavior are bound to happen, we shouldn’t accept such incidents as the best and most fun part of life with dogs. The occasional story of generally nice dog having an “oops” moment can certainly provide a good laugh. It’s normal to tell tales that begin, “Well, there was this one time. . .” What’s not normal is having all the stories about a dog be about something horrible. Such stories should be the exception rather than the descriptions of a dog’s day-to-day actions.
Sure, if a dog runs into the clothesline one time and races through the neighborhood in a panic dragging towels across everyone’s gardens, that can become a good story. However, if there are a dozen stories from the last month or so about similar incidents, that’s a problem. If your neighbors all think, “Oh, no! What now?” when they see your dog—once again—off leash, out of control and being destructive, it should be more alarming than funny to all of us.. There is a high risk of harm to dogs who bolt out the front door, ingest inedible items or destroy household objects, among other “bad” behaviors.
I object to the glorification of impolite, out-of-control behavior, and celebrating the most devilish aspects of our canine friends. It can be tiresome to have people find it endlessly charming when dogs are not trained and have bad manners, especially when the humor aspect is used as an excuse not to teach their dog how to behave in an acceptable manner. The Bark Magazine co-founder and editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska receives many submissions about “dogs who are worse than Marley” and detailing situations the people invariably call hilarious. It’s common for people to describe the incidents as being scenarios much like those Marley got himself into, but point out that the dog in this story is “even worse” than Marley. Many of these pitches reveal guardians who are uninterested in training and have no knowledge of how to teach their dogs anything, including basic manners. The result is a lot of untrained and ill-mannered dogs doing things that aren’t funny at all. In part because of the success of Marley and Me—both the book and the movie—dreadful behavior has not just been excused, but celebrated.
I wish good canine manners were more interesting to people than bad canine manners, the occasional story of mischief by a generally well-behaved dog notwithstanding. I’d like to see more people brag about their dog’s stay, their new trick, how they greet visitors, or any other example of training and good social skills rather than about problem behavior. It may very well be the dog trainer in me, but I remain hopeful that there are a lot of us out there who are more charmed by good behavior and good manners than by bad behavior and bad manners.
The state makes a big step towards ending discrimination against breeds like Pit Bulls.
Last week Delaware Governor John Carney signed a bill that prohibits cities in the state from enacting breed specific legislation. The law, introduced by Representative Charles Potter and State Senator David Sokola, stipulates that state regulations protecting the public from dangerous dogs cannot define criminal liability based solely on breed specific criteria. Determining whether a dog is dangerous or not will be based on the individual's behavior, not by breed. This means that cities and other municipalities can't enact any breed-specific ordinances or regulations. Animal control teams and shelters also won't be allowed to discriminate against certain breeds for the purposes of facilitating adoption.
"The passage of HB 13 is a resounding victory for dogs and dog lovers, not only in Delaware but across the country, as the momentum against breed discriminatory legislation continues to build," said Best Friends Animal Society legislative attorney Lee Greenwood. "The simple truth is that breed discrimination doesn't work and the safest laws focus on the behavior of the dog and the dog owner."
Other states with similar legislation include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Arizona. These laws prevent local governments from creating breed-specific legislation, but doesn't mean that bully breeds are welcomed everywhere in these states.
For instance, as Sassafras Lowrey wrote last week, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which manages the nations oldest and largest public housing program, has had a breed specific ban for their low income apartments since 2009. New York State Assemblyman and Pit Bull adopter, Ken Zebrowski, is spearheading legislation that would make this illegal, preventing landlords in public housing from discriminating against specific breeds.
Nevertheless, Delaware's new law is a huge step in the right direction!
Web site allows members to trade pet and house sitting for free lodging.
Unfortunately I can't always take my pups with me on vacation. It's doubly difficult because I hate to leave them behind and I also miss having a dog to cuddle with when I get back home (or in this case, my hotel room). A web site has aimed to solve these issues while saving people money.
Rachel Martin and Andy Peck felt a lot of pet lovers avoided traveling because they didn't want to leave their pups in a kennel. So they founded TrustedHousesitters, a site where animal lovers can find pet and house sitters or places to pet and house sit at. Launched in 2010, the site now now has thousands of members in over 140 countries. Members pay $119 per year to be able to use the TrustedHousesitters. Rachel and Andy's favorite house sit has been watching Labradors Rufus and Gracie at a home in Breckenridge, Colorado. The trip wasn't all about the dogs as Rachel learned to snowboard while on that vacation.
To be as safe as possible, members rely on Trust Badges, earned by levels of checks and verifications, such as doing a criminal background check, and user reviews. Members can also request third party references. To pet sit at the more desirable homes, it's known that members must have a series of good ratings, which can be achieved by doing a few local pet sitting stints first. Amazing opportunities have included oceanfront lodging in Australia, a central London flat, and a private villa in the Spanish countryside. There are also long-term listings in case you want to relocate or test out a new city.
Members say TrustedHousesitters is a cheap way to travel and stay in nice houses, while ensuring your pets are cared for by fellow animal lovers in the comfort of their own home. It's also a great way to keep your pets on their normal schedule as much as possible.
TrustedHousesitters certainly isn't for everyone. While I really love the idea behind the web site, I can't imagine leaving my dogs in the hands of someone I don't know well. And not all pets will be comfortable with a stranger living in their home and caring for them. But with the right people and dogs, it's a great option.
What do you think about a pet and house sitting exchange?
Dog's name and age: Cassie, 3 years
Cassie, was waiting for a forever home at a rescue group in the Sacramento, CA area. Her soon-to-be people had made an appointment to meet another dog that day, but that dog had been adopted just before they arrived. Lucky for Cassie, they found her so friendly with other dogs and people with such a big heart it won them over!
Cassie loves meeting her friends at the Rescues United For Fun (RUFF) Meetup at either Pt. Isabel or Crissy Field, in California. It's this group that has given her the title of "social director" since she shares her love with all! Cassie willingly shares toys, food, and water since it's the interaction she enjoys the most.
She has a best friend and role model, Max, a golden retriever that she adores and plays tug of war with, and she admires her walking buddy, Duke, a labrador, and his human, Michelle. She also loves her neighbor, Mary. Cassie will run at breakneck speed 2 blocks to jump in the mail truck when she sees Jim, the mailman coming.
Cassie loves to go for rides in the car because there are always new people to meet when they stop. When she goes outside, she smells the flowers blooming on the back step before continuing on her way. Like most dogs, she loves digging in the sand and running on the beach. She likes meeting people on the street in San Francisco. And, nothing would make her happier than meeting you and your dog!
“Calming signals” is a term coined by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas to group a large number of behavior patterns that she says dogs use to avoid conflict, to prevent aggression, to calm other dogs down and to communicate information to other dogs and to people. Since the publication of Rugaas’ 2006 book On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, it has been a popular idea that actions such as lip-licking, sniffing the ground, yawning, scratching, looking away, play bowing, sitting down, lying down, softening the eyes, blinking and even sneezing (along with many others) are social signals that help calm down those around them.
Rugaas’ observations are compelling, and many dog trainers and behaviorists, including me, have learned a lot from her work. However, the term “calming signals” entered the lexicon without much analysis, which is problematic. Using a term that ascribes functionality to behavior patterns prior to scientifically testing whether or not that’s true creates challenges, and is a big no-no in ethology. One problem is that claiming that certain behaviors are “calming signals” creates a bias such that people tend to accept that this is, in fact, what they do. The idea that these signals are functioning in this way is an intriguing hypothesis. However, in the years since Rugaas shared her ideas with the dog community, there have yet to be adequate tests of their function, or substantial efforts to determine if the various behaviors have different functions. Rather, the idea that they were calming signals was broadly accepted without being subject to rigorous scientific study.
There is, however, a recent pilot study investigating the function of the behavior patterns that have all been placed into the category of calming signals. The purpose of the study “Analysis of the intraspecific visual communication in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris): A pilot study on the case of calming signals” was to assess if the behaviors that have been called calming signals are used to communicate, and if they de-escalate potentially aggressive situations between dogs. In the study, 24 dogs were observed interacting two at a time. Dogs interacted with familiar and unfamiliar dogs of both sexes.
Throughout the course of the study, 2130 calming signals were observed, with the most common being head turning, nose licking, freezing and turning away. Dogs were more likely to display calming signals when they were interacting with the other dog compared with when they were not interacting, which does suggest a communicative role. It does not prove it, though, as it is possible that these behaviors indicate stress and that they are performed during social interactions more often than they are performed outside of that context because such interactions are stressful. In fact, most of the signals that Rugaas has called “calming signals” are also considered indicators of stress.
More calming signals were displayed when dogs were interacting closely (within 1.5 body lengths of the dog displaying) than when interacting at a greater distance. Overall, more calming signals were exhibited during interactions with unfamiliar dogs than with familiar dogs, but licking the other dog’s mouth was more frequently observed when the other dog was familiar.
During the interactions in the study, there were 109 instances of aggressive behavior. A calming signal never came right before the aggressive behavior, but 67% of the time, at least one calming signal followed the aggressive behavior. In over 79% of the instances in which a calming signal followed the start of the aggression, there was a de-escalation in the aggressive behavior. These data are consistent with the idea that these behaviors function to calm other dogs down and lessen their aggression, but the work is too preliminary to conclude this for certain. More research is needed to explore other possibilities, such as the role of stress in these behaviors and their effects, and the potentially different functions of each of the dozens of behaviors that have been lumped under the term “calming signals”.
This is a pilot (or preliminary) study, and though the results are intriguing, they are in no way a definitive test of the function of “calming signals” in dogs, which the authors correctly point out in their paper. Though this research makes an attempt to test the often-accepted hypothesis that many behavior patterns function as calming signals that de-escalate aggression, its biggest flaw is that it lacks a very important control. De-escalation of aggression is quite common, and in this study, the authors report the frequency of de-escalation after a calming signal, but do not report on the rate of de-escalation in the absence of a calming signal. Part of the problem is that with so many possible calming signals, it is quite likely that one will be exhibited as a response to aggression. (Dogs are unlikely to have no reaction to such behavior.)
To evaluate the function of the behaviors, it is necessary to know the frequency with which the aggression de-escalates in the absence of any calming signals. We know that there was often de-escalation in the absence of calming signals because the authors report that in quite a few cases, the dog on the receiving end of the aggression walked or ran away, increasing the distance between the two dogs, which was often associated with a de-escalation in aggression. Fleeing is not considered a calming signal, and yet when the distance increased between the two dogs, there was also usually a de-escalation of the aggression. Future research should explore the differences in behavior in cases in which there was de-escalation and in which there was not.
New legislation being introduced in New York could change the lives of dog loving low income New Yorkers dogs, and very likely the thousands of dogs in NYC area shelters and rescue organizations. New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, himself a rescued Pit Bull owner is spearheading legislation that would prevent landlords in public housing from discriminating against any specific breed of dog.
Currently, the New York City Housing Authority or NYCHA which manages the nations oldest and largest public housing program providing low income apartments to over 400,000 New Yorkers has had a breed specific ban in place since 2009. When that ban took effect 115 dogs, mostly Pit Bulls were surrendered to Animal Control, 49 of whom were euthanized. NYCHA housing as explained by the Mayor’s Alliance For NYC Animals “restricts specific breeds, including Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans, either pure- or mixed-breed.” The breed ban actually impacts over twenty breeds (including some fairly rare ones) and dogs mixed of any of those breeds
Breeds and Breed Mixes Currently banned from NYCHA Housing: Akita Inu, Alangu Mastiff, Alano Español, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Argentine Dogo, Bedington Terrier, Boston Terrier, Bull and Terrier Bull Terrier, Bully Kutta, Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux, Dogo Sardesco, English Mastiff, Fila Brasileiro, Gull Dong, GullTerr, Irish Staffordshire Bull, Korea Jindo Dog, Lottatore Brindisino, Neapolitan Mastiff, Perro de Presa Canario (Canary dog), Perro de Presa Mallorquin (Cade Bou), Shar Pei, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tosa Inu
Assemblyman Zebrowski’s proposal will be discussed by the New York State Assembly’s Housing Committee in the coming weeks, and then will go before the full Assembly followed by the Senate. In an interview with ABC news Assemblyman Zebrowski said: “You can have no dogs, you can have a restriction on the number of dogs, you can have some sort of subjective criteria to evaluate the dog, make sure they are not dangerous…. You just can't banish all of one type of breed.”
Stay safe and courteous when sharing your next trip with your pup.
Earlier this week I wrote about planning a trip with your pets. This article will cover tips and etiquette for vacationing with your dogs.
Hope you and your pups enjoy a summer full of exciting adventures!
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