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One of the most shared recent articles in the New York Times was one about a “wrong dog” and how the op-ed blogger felt she was wronged by agreeing to adopt a young dog from a rescue group. I was going to write about this but then our good friend, and former Bark science editor, Mark Derr, wrote a great post for Psychology Today that brought up all the points, and then some, that I had wanted to make. He kindly allowed us to cross post his article:
The New York Times ran a opinion piece on Saturday, December 13, by Erica-Lynn Huberty on the trauma caused when a well-meaning young couple bring a sweet young rescue dog into their home who turns into a cat-killing maniac. The essay, “The Wrong Dog,” serves as a sobering reminder that not all found dogs fit as seamlessly into their new homes as Arthur, the Ecuadoran stray who joined a team of Swedish adventure racers and traveled several hundred arduous kilometers with them last month. The team captain then sought and won permission to take him home to Sweden, and their story went viral.
Arthur’s story raised several questions in my mind: How frequently can dogs be said to choose their human companions, what criteria do they use, and what is their success rate? I have several friends who literally rescued dogs off the street, in one case the Brooklyn Bridge, and took them home to discover they had a friend for life.
Is it merely random chance that a dog and man or woman should meet and become instant friends? I think that both are choosing—the human to save a fellow creature in distress; the dog to find a loyal companion. Any dog dumped in the road would want that but be suspicious, too, I should think.
People I know with multiple dogs often have dogs dumped near them by neighbors who assume they will take the dog in. They do and if it doesn’t fit into their existing “pack,” they will find the dog a home. The private placements I know of have worked well—on occasion spectacularly. But dogs who go that route are the lucky exception among the abandoned millions.
The apparent ease with which human and dog share affection and respect casts light on why wolves and humans teamed up initially. Though the reasons remain mysterious, they clearly, I have long suspected, have to do with the ability of individuals from both species to form lasting bonds of friendship with someone other than their own kind and to do so voluntarily, as adults, as well as children and puppies.
Whatever mutations governing sociability occurred to make dogs, at least one must have involved fixing them as dominate in the dog genome—or so it appears.
But there are times human and dog don’t match up well, and unless something is done, the results can be tragic. Many of the failures in that relationship seem to arise from a lack of forethought on the part of the human, a fundamental failure to think through and find ways to meet the animal’s need for exercise, social contacts with people and dogs, consistent treatment and mental stimulation.
The central problem with Huberty’s essay lies in her argument that nothing short of ditching the dog when she first started acting oddly would have prevented the catastrophe that occurred. They would have done that had they known that some dogs are unfit for adoption, and no amount of training, discipline, or coddling will change that.
“We let ourselves believe that beneath our rescued puppy’s strange, erratic behavior was a good, loving pet,” Huberty writes. The truth was the opposite.
The back story is common enough. Having become smitten with a five-month old Lab mix, Huberty and her husband, decide to have her share their home with their three cats, a female dog, and two children.
From her arrival, the new dog, Nina, showed a defensive/possessive aggression that led Huberty to seek more information from the group who rescued her.
Huberty says that she and her husband followed the advice of Cesar Millan, “the Dog Whisperer” to create a “loving but disciplined environment.” Nina responded by attacking a cat and biting Huberty when she intervened.
In response, Huberty called the woman who gave them Nina. She agreed to pay for a trainer, who proved to be the anti-Millan. She advocated a rewards-based approach rather than “discipline.” The essay takes an odd turn here as Huberty calls the rewards-based method ‘coddling” while appearing to indicate that it was working up to a point.
Nina would go along being a normal, playful puppy. But at times, out of nowhere it seemed, she would snap at me or Alex and, once, at our son,” Huberty says, “She would suddenly cower and growl. It was like a switch flipped, yet we couldn’t figure out what had done it.”
Nor do they try to find out. Dogs do not usually change their behavior that rapidly and dramatically without reason. That could very well be an underlying pathology that a thorough examination by a veterinarian might reveal. Indeed, Huberty gives no indication that she ever took the dog to a veterinarian—the first stop a new dog or cat companion should make.
If no physical reason for the behavior can be found, the next stop is to consult a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. There are not many in the country but your veterinarian should help arrange a consultation.
Huberty blames the dog, the woman who gave her the dog, the trainer—everyone but herself and her husband—and Nina herself for her failure to fit seamlessly into Huberty’s home. From this experience, she draws the conclusion that some dogs are just unsuitable for living with humans. That might be the case but there is no proof of it here.
Maybe we should seek ways to allow more dogs to choose their human companions. I have a notion they would do a better job of it. “And when they don’t fit in they may be saying ‘wrong family,’” said my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff after reading “The Wrong Dog.” “Living with a dog is a two-way street and assigning unilateral blame gets us nowhere and once again leaves the dog out in the cold. This sort of ‘musical dogs’ is bad for the dog, as much research and common sense tell us.”
Nina might pay with her life for human miscalculations and failure to seek professional help.
Smiling Dog Jack helps local shelters
Lexie Harpold submitted her photo to our Smiling Dog contest and we were smitten with Jack as Batman. We selected the photo for use as a Weekly Smiler and just recently learned about Lexie’s trips to the Arizona Humane Society where Jack was adopted.
Lexie described the shelter saying, “There are many animals that do not have blankets or beds”. She visited the shelter recently noticing that many of the dogs were depressed, scared and anxious, so she decided to start a donation drive.
I love the idea and want to encourage everyone to get out there and do something. November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month, not everyone can adopt, but everyone can contribute.
Whether you help Lexie with her goal, donate to your local shelter/rescue, or volunteer to foster or walk, anything helps.
You can donate or get information about Jack & Lexie’s fundraiser My Favorite Breed is Rescued here.
My last blog post included a bit of ranting about puppy mills and the importance of purchasing puppies responsibly. While it’s unusual for me to rant two weeks in a row I simply can’t resist given what I just viewed in the September 8-15 edition ofTime magazine.
The Time cover states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids”? Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.
My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.
IF I WERE IN CHARGE
While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing will shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.
My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders believe that “designer hybrids” detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.
Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. He did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated,
In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!
Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.
How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?
Nancy Kay, DVM
In honor of national guide dog month, I'm reprinting excerpts of an interview I did several years ago with seven experienced blind people who've used guide dogs most of their lives. Here they compare problem solving strategies between 36 dogs representing six breeds. Compared to my usual posts, it's a lengthy conversation, but if you've lived with a Lab, Golden, German Shepherd, Aussie, Border Collie, Flat Coat, Poodle or hybrid of these breeds, you'll be fascinated by the comments.
Some blind handlers argue that there are marked differences in each breed’s approach to guide work, while others think that the traits that make good guides neutralize the larger behaviors that characterize each breed.
One blind handler who has worked with a German Shepherd for 10 years, a Lab for seven, two different Golden Retrievers for 15 years, and now has two years’ experience under his belt working with a Golden-Lab cross says that there are some physical characteristics that are different among breeds, such as the gait and how the dog feels through the harness. “Even so, the dog’s unique personality, combined with the person’s — how they work together and what they expect of each other — that’s where the differences are.”
“It’s a 50-50 relationship,” says a handler who’s worked with one Lab, two mixed-breed Labs and two Goldens, and now is partnered with a Lab-Poodle cross. “Neither one of us is in total control at any given time. Both of our lives depend on what the other one does. Neither of us may be able to make a safe street crossing alone, but together we do it gracefully."
“How my dogs dealt with obstacles isn’t, in my opinion, a function of breed-specific differences,” says a seasoned 25-year guide dog user who has partnered with an Airedale, a Border Collie mix, an Australian Shepherd and, briefly, a Siberian Husky. “My Airedale, as I recall him, was quick to generalize about the concept "obstacle” but wasn’t particularly good at scoping out his environment and making decisions in advance.” The Aussie and the Border Collie mix seemed to generalize quickly.
“The Border Collie mix had very high head carriage and was by far the very best dog I've worked when it came to overhead hazards,” he said. “The Aussie has been harder to teach naturally occurring overheads like tree limbs, but whether that's a breed thing or a result of their tendency to work with their heads a little low, I'm not sure.”
Another woman who has worked with two Shepherd guides and one Lab-Golden cross said, “In my opinion, you might say that the retrievers’ style provides more information about the specifics ofthe environment, but the Shepherds’ style makes for more efficient travel. My Shepherds, in comparison to my retriever, both typically looked farther ahead as they guided. They corrected for upcoming obstacles from a distance and our travel path was typically a smooth line. Sudden turns or stops happened only in response to an obstacle that unexpectedly crossed our intended path. My retriever cross clearly does not take the same approach. In general, this dog will stop and show me the obstacle, and he will almost always seek prompting from me on which way to go next.”
Another typical difference between dogs, explains a blind handler is their approach to routes.“Personally I find that my retrievers enjoyed familiar routes. In comparison, my Shepherd gets bored with routine, so you have to get creative with routes and mix things up,” she says.
She adds that retrievers are looking to please the handler, as if asking, “Did I do what you wanted, am I making you happy?” whereas her shepherds have been motivated by doing the job and solving the problems. “With Shepherds, it’s not so much about what pleases me as it is about pleasing themselves,” she says.
A guide dog handler who has worked with three Labs, a Lab mix, a Golden Retriever and a German Shepherd explained, “If I were to generalize,” she says, “I’d say my Labs often worked up to an obstacle before deciding what to do about it, while my shepherd would decide in advance what to do, perhaps starting the turn more gradually as we approached the barrier. My Golden would stop to show me before trying to work it out.”
Eight guide dogs and 34 years later, a handler contemplated her experiences with four Labs, two Goldens, one Shepherd, and one Flat-coat Retriever. “My Flat-coat solved problems by coming to a full stop. Sometimes he would just stand there and I could feel his head moving. People said that he looked like he was weighing all the possibilities. Then he would make his decision. And in nine years of partnership he never made a mistake.”
One woman got her first German Shepherd in 1996 after working with three Labs. She says she had to learn the body language that was unique to the Shepherd. “At first I thought when my Shepherd would insist on going a certain way and I wanted to go another that she was being stubborn or willful. I soon discovered that if I acknowledged her for what she was showing me, and then asked her to go the direction I wanted to go, she was totally fine with that. My second Shepherd is the same way.”
Regardless of genealogy, each dog takes a unique approach to problem solving. “I noticed that the Aussie I’m working with now had a very strong preference for traveling on one or another side of a street when we walked home from work,” explained his handler. “Eventually, I figured out the preference stemmed from whether it was or had recently been raining. One side of the street was commercial, the other had lots of trees with branches that hung low when wet.”
“My Goldens were much more attuned to my reactions to things. If I did hit a branch, I needed only to flinch and they both acted as if they had been corrected. I would describe my Labrador as being solid, but she had the attitude that things would move for her or she would move them. She was careful, generally, but also had no compunction about moving me through some tight gaps. It wasn’t always pretty, but she would get you where you needed to go safely and with enthusiasm.”
Person and dog work as a team, each contributing to a relationship built on trust that begins during class, then deepens and broadens over time. Says a guide dog user with 35 years of experience, “I think developing trust is incumbent on the person. That’s who sets the tone of the partnership so that the dog learns to be, in essence, not just a guide, but responsible for the person’s safety.”
A blind woman who has traveled with guides since 1968 said, “My assumption is that my dog is acting to keep us safe until he proves to be distracted or is putting his agenda ahead of mine. Sure, if that sudden plunge proves to be because my Lab dove for a French fry, the appropriate correction needs to be made. Extra work to minimize that behavior may be called for, but ‘follow your dog’ has to be the first response if we are going to learn to trust and read each other. My safety depends on my ability to read their reactions and go with it and figure out the ‘whys’ later.”
“Working a guide dog is like dancing,” she explains. “And being responsive to my partner’s moves is how it works best for me. I've had had two very large Labs both with a lot of initiative. They seldom asked for my input, made quick swift movements and expected I would be able to keep up and go with them. They were more likely to try to interpose their bodies between me and muscle me out of the way or into safety. My Golden, and my small Lab were likely to be cautious and refuse to leave the curb until they determined that a car they watched was not going to move toward us.”
One man described all his dogs as having been keen observers.“They’ve all had similar complex personalities,” he says. “They enjoyed their work and have been more than willing to guide and do things such as squeeze into small spaces and stay for hours, only because I have asked them to.”
A thirty year guide dog veteran summed it up. "I've owned plenty of dogs as pets, but my relationship with the half dozen guide dogs I've worked with was different: All of my guide dogs seemed to own me rather than the other way around.”
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.
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.
If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a dog trainer or are already a dog trainer looking to further your education, you won’t want to miss the world’s largest all-positive training conference: ClickerExpo 2015!
Held every year in January and March, ClickerExpo features leading-edge training seminars taught by top trainers from premier animal institutions and schools from all over the world, all brought together by training innovator and author Karen Pryor. Learn the all-positive training techniques used by top animal trainers to teach any animal almost anything. At ClickerExpo you can practice teaching your dog to retrieve (not eat!) a hot dog and watch live training sessions by the faculty.
In addition to courses focusing directly on obedience, agility, service, and behavior management and science, you’ll find a wealth of in-depth courses that apply across disciplines. Teachers and attendees listen, practice, and learn from each other for up to three days of unparalleled interaction in over 60 Sessions and Learning Labs.
ClickerExpo is coming to Portland, Oregon January 23-25, 2015 at the Red Lion Hotel and Dearborn, Michigan March 20-22, 2015 at the beautiful Adoba Hotel. For more information or to register, visit www.clickerexpo.com.
“I thought ClickerExpo was a fantastic experience to connect with other trainers with like-minded styles and to hear new ideas that people are working on.”
Casual comments when aggression is brewing
The dog was scaring me. He was heading towards us, calling to mind a true wild predator. Moving slowly, silently and with unsettling stillness, this dog was stalking us and I felt true fear. This was a 70-pound tall and leggy dog who had a coyote-like look to him. He was only about 30-feet away at the hole next to us on the disk golf course where we had come with Marley. His family showed no signs of concern with their dog’s behavior and perhaps they had not even noticed it.
I resisted the urge to shriek, “Call your dog! What made you think it’s remotely okay to have a stalking dog off leash around kids and other dogs? Sheesh!” Blaming or shaming them with a knee-jerk response such as that would have done nothing to accomplish my goal of influencing their behavior to make the situation safer and less scary. Instead, I faked calmness and said, “I think your dog is making our dog uncomfortable.” This was a serious understatement as Marley seemed truly distressed by this dog’s approach.
It turned out to be a good choice of what to say. One guy in the group casually said, “Oh, sorry,” and called his dog with a cheerful, “Bear, Come!” Bear trotted over to him and regained a relaxed and playful body posture. I was still glad when they left not long after.
It feels satisfying to diffuse a potentially tense situation that involved the potential for canine aggression as well as social awkwardness between people. I wish it were always possible. The previous day, I had tried to make light of a situation with a dog and had failed miserably and comically.
I was out for a run and feeling tired though I still had a few miles to go. I was inspired by the peppiness of a Boston Terrier who was headed towards me while out for a walk with a young couple. As we approached each other, I said exactly what was on my mind: “I wish I had the spring in my step that your dog has.”
The dog reacted by barking and lunging at me, hitting the end of his leash and making a bit of a scene. The people were probably hoping as we approached that we would all ignore each other, so that their dog would not have an outburst. Sadly for them, they had come across their worst nightmare—an extreme dog lover and an extreme extrovert, so that was not to be.
It was my attempt to diffuse the situation rather than my original comment that was really the mistake, though. After I had remarked on the dog’s energy and she had replied with her, “BARRARRARR BARRARRARR,” I said, “See, she has so much energy!” My intention was to try to lighten up a tense situation and to let them know that I was not scared or angry. These things happen, as I know as well as anyone. Understandably, they just looked annoyed.
When I came home and told my family about it, my 9-year old son’s comment was, “Do you think they thought maybe you weren’t that smart?” (It’s a reasonable conclusion about someone who has described a dog’s aggressive barking and lunging as “energetic.”) I replied, “Well, I’m sure they didn’t think I was an expert in canine behavior, and they’re surely not praising my social skills.” I just didn’t want them to feel ashamed or bad in any other way, as I know so many people do when their dog’s behavior falls short of perfection.
Have you had luck—good or bad—diffusing awkward situations involving potentially aggressive behavior?
John Dolan and his dog George
Coming home a little earlier from nights out; waking up with the sun to get in that daily walk; adding a new vacuum to the top of your birthday wish list—things have a tendency to change when you bring a dog into your life. London based artist, John Dolan, was no exception to this rule. We recently read about Dolan and his dog, George, in an interview published by the Guardian earlier this month, and we were instantly enamored with the duo.
Dolan, struggled with poverty, addiction and homelessness for most of his adult life, then, one day in 2009, a young homeless couple, about to move into an apartment, gave him George. And then things began to happen...
In 2009, in an attempt to make an honest living, John turned to selling sketches of George to passers-by on the street for about $30 each. A few years later, his drawings were published in Shoreditch Unbound, a limited edition book showcasing East London's creative culture. After that, commissions started rolling in, including a request from gallery director, Richard Howard-Griffin. This is when his fledgling career as a working artist took off.
John now has a solo show under his belt (which happened to be a sell-out) and another just opened; he has collaborated with many high-profile street artists, including ROA, Stik and Tierry Noir; he has written a book about his life with George (an experience he likened to therapy), and, later this year, he'll cross the pond for a third solo show in Los Angeles.
While John's life has seen a dramatic turn-around in the past few years, there is one thing that remains constant—George, the staffy-bull who saved him.
Again, from the Guardian:
This sweet pup, Doogie, who lists his personal interests on his facebook page as "Sassing anyone in a uniform." and "Being under the blankets." loves when his person Shane plays guitar! Watch the video below to see this adorable duo in action. We love how Doogie nuzzles up to enjoy the music!
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