Friends Across Species
Dogs and people are truly the best of friends, but that doesn’t mean that dogs can’t be buddies with other animals, too. Though dogs and cats are often considered natural enemies, countless households have a dog and a cat who very close. They play together, sleep together and generally prefer to be near one another.
Less common, but still far from rare, are the dogs who have strong social connections to other species. I have one client whose dog loves to head upstairs in their apartment complex to hang out with the neighbor’s rabbit. A friend of mine has a ferret who plays daily with her dog until they are both exhausted.
Dogs and pot-bellied pigs can be great chums, and countless canines love spending time with their horse pals. There are plenty of dogs whose friends include sheep and goats.
I know of a couple of parrots and parakeets who socialize with dogs, and one pair of these vocalize together with great regularity. I’m not going to lie—the howling dog and the screaming bird don’t sound pleasant to me, but they seem quite happy with their symphony, and that’s what matters.
If your dog has a friend outside the dog or human species, how do they interact?
Watch just for laughs
This video of “Dog Fails” by FailArmy is filled with moments that show dogs being just like us at our worst—a little uncoordinated, confused or just plain silly. It even shows dogs acting unlike dogs by loving the vacuum cleaner or disliking meat. There are a few clips included that are a little scary either because of the risk of injury or because a dog seems scared. The rest are pure entertainment.
Can you describe an all-time favorite goofy moment featuring your own dog?
Differential use of the left and right nostril
The common wisdom that dogs can smell fear doesn’t give dogs full credit to the nuances of their ability to sense emotion through their noses. A recent study titled “The dog nose “KNOWS” fear: Asymmetric nostril use during sniffing at canine and human emotional stimuli” examined dogs’ tendencies to sniff various substances with the right or the left nostril. Exploring this side bias may seem like looking at random details, but the side of the nose used to sniff something tells us a lot about the dog’s emotional reaction to the odor. The use of one side of the body indicates a differential use of one side of the brain or the other, which is a clue to the dog’s emotions.
The left side of the brain processes more positive emotions such as happiness and excitement as well as stimuli that are familiar. The right side of the brain tends to take over when a dog is processing negative emotions such as sadness or fear as well as novel stimuli. In general, the right side of the body is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain and vice versa. However, the nose is an exception; the right nostril sends information to the right side of the brain to be processed and the left nostril sends its information to the left side. The findings of this study suggest that the pathways used to process various olfactory stimuli are dependent on more than just whether they elicit negative or positive feelings.
Eight odors were tested—four from dogs and four from humans. The four human odors were collected as sweat from donors who were joyful, fearful, physically stressed, or in a neutral situation. The joyful and fearful states were elicited by movies, and the physical stress odor was collected after donors ran for 15-minutes. The four canine odors were collected from dogs who were happy following a play session with the guardian, stressed by isolation in an unfamiliar place, disturbed by a stranger approaching the car, and dogs who were asleep. The dogs who “donated” odors were different from the dogs whose sniffing behavior was studied.
To further explore the phenomenon of side bias in sniffing, the guardians of the dogs in the study filled out a questionnaire related to each dog’s temperament. During the study, dogs were led to a video camera under which was mounted a Q-tip saturated with various odors. The videos captured the dog’s sniffing behavior so that it was possible to determine a laterality index for each dog for every odor based on the amount of time spent sniffing with each nostril. A laterality index of 1.0 indicated exclusive use of the left nostril and negative 1.0 indicated exclusive use of the right nostril. Dogs’ cardiac activity was also recorded during the tests of each odor.
I’m sure it’s the science geek in me, but I got a kick out of reading the sentence, “Results for nostril use are shown in Figure 2.” Three of the odors elicited consistent sidedness in nostril use and five of them did not. Dogs more frequently used the right nostril to sniff the canine isolation odor. They more frequently used the left nostril to sniff the human fear odor and the odor from human physical stress.
There were two ways in which the results of the questionnaire were correlated with the laterality pattern for a particular odor. The higher a guardian ranked the dog’s fear/aggressiveness to other dogs, the more likely that dog was to use the right nostril for sniffing the disturbed canine odor. This suggests that individual differences in emotional arousal and perhaps even in temperament influence asymmetries in sniffing behavior. Dogs with higher scores for predatory behavior used the left nostril more for sniffing the odor that came from physically stressed humans. This makes sense when we consider that it is structures in the left side of dogs’ brains that are involved in predatory behavior.
Dogs’ brains are every bit as amazing as their noses, as research about both of them reveal!
Carrying dogs no easy task
I saw Lucy at the running store that her guardians own, bandaged up and limping a bit. She was also enjoying the sympathy of customers and friends, especially if that sympathy came with a side of treats. While chasing a squirrel, Lucy had run into a piece of old barbed wire that had sliced her leg pretty badly.
Following a visit to the emergency veterinarian, treatment involving stitches, bandages, antibiotics and painkillers, and a substantial transfer of funds from the guardians to the vet, Lucy is on the mend. She won’t be running for the next little while, but will instead be on a strict regimen of rest and sleep. She certainly will not be left home alone with the other two dogs in the household to play and damage her bandages or healing leg, which is why she was at work.
Luckily, Lucy will be fine, but there is one piece of the story that really stresses me out, and that’s how far Lucy’s guardian had to carry her from the spot where she was injured to get back to the car. I had asked about this specifically because so many people here in Flagstaff, Ariz. love running on remote trails, especially with their dogs. It was alarming to learn that Lucy had to be carried a mile and a half. This was quite a physical endeavor with a dog weighing over 60 pounds—even for her guardian, who is strong and fit. Some adrenaline from concern about her injury probably gave him a little boost, but it was still a challenge.
Even with internal chemical changes that help us out in emergencies, I shudder to think how hard it would be for most people to carry their injured dogs. Depending on the size of the dog, and the strength of the person, it could range from no big deal to actually impossible. If anyone is ever out stranded with a full grown English Mastiff or a Saint Bernard, the situation could become serious quite quickly, but many of us could run close to full speed with a small terrier.
How far have you had to carry your dog because of an injury? How far could you do that if you had to?
Adjustments because of the heat
A client just called me to request that we change our appointment this week to early in the morning to beat the record heat expected over the next few days. We have to be mindful of preventing this dog from overheating because one piece of our behavior modification work each week involves having him play fetch with strangers. The goal is to teach him to feel happy when he sees a stranger by associating strangers with the opportunity to play his favorite game. Right now, he still finds unfamiliar people scary, but thanks to many fetch games, his circle of familiar people has grown. There are now quite a few of us who he greets with happy anticipation, knowing that our presence means that a fetch game is in his immediate future.
Every summer, people make adjustments based on the heat, and this is especially true for those who live in hot climates. Sometimes the schedule changes are as simple as walking the dog a little earlier in the morning or a bit later in the evening. In other cases, physical activities are shortened by running or playing fetch for 20 minutes instead of for 45 minutes. There are dogs who have a seasonal rotation of activities based on the weather, so they may swim or walk in the hottest months, even though they go running alongside a bicycle for exercise during the rest of the year.
The most basic ways to modify activities to accommodate the stress of hot weather are to do less vigorous activity, to exercise for shorter periods of time and to be active during the coolest parts of the day. What changes are you making in your schedule so your dog is not exposed to the excessive heat?
Natural detection task is very revealing
We all know that Beagles have better noses than Whippets, right? This almost seems too obvious to point out, especially to anyone who has ever had a dog of either breed. However, the authors of a recent study claim to be the first to scientifically document a difference in olfactory abilities across groups of dogs.
The researchers compared scenting ability across four groups of canines: dog breeds that have been selected for scenting abilities, dog breeds that have not been selected for scenting abilities, short-nosed dogs and hand-reared wolves. The task asked of these animals was simple—find the raw meat in a container that is hidden underneath one of five pots. There were multiple tests that varied in difficulty based on the number of holes in the container’s lid.
The results of the study were that dogs bred for scenting ability performed better than both short-nosed dogs and dogs who were not bred for their olfactory capabilities. The short-nosed dogs performed worse than any other group, suggesting that breeding for this head and face shape has adversely affected olfaction. In the most difficult of the tests, only wolves and the dogs bred for scenting abilities performed better than what would be expected if the animals were just guessing. Wolves improved their performance when they were re-tested, but the dogs in all three groups were no better the second time around.
Since dogs did not improve with repeated testing, this test may be a useful one-and-done way to assess a dog’s scenting capabilities. That is important because there is currently no standard method for testing the olfactory ability of dogs, but the method in this study could be used for quick assessments of dogs’ abilities. Most ways of testing dogs involve a match-to-sample design, which means that the dogs are taught a scent and they then have to find the same scent from among a group of scents. That requires extensive training, so it is impossible to determine to what degree those tests are assessing trainability and to what extent they measure scenting ability. Both trainability and olfactory ability are important for success as a working detection dog, but there’s great value in evaluating each trait independently.
Sikh man uses his turban to save him
Breaking a religious taboo may upset many people, but occasionally, it results in near universal respect and praise. That’s true in the case of Sarwan Singh, a 28-year old Sikh man in Punjab, India. His heroic action and willingness to briefly violate an important rule of his religion allowed him to save a life. He removed his turban in public in order to use it as a rope to save a drowning dog from a canal.
Singh, who himself cannot swim, was driving when he saw a group of people pointing at the canal. He stopped his car and quickly took in the situation. A dog was in danger of drowning, but nobody was helping. He says that when he started to remove his turban, people around him were shocked, thinking he was showing great disrespect to his faith. Wearing a turban is an important article of faith in the Sikh religion and the doctrine states that it can only be removed at home or while bathing. He says, “But what was most important at that point was to save the animal’s life.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Singh says that the dog was very frightened, and did not want to come towards him. They moved about 200 meters along the canal before Singh was able to capture the dog with one part of his turban and use the other piece as a rope to keep himself from falling into the canal along with the dog. I cannot understand the language they are speaking, but I can certainly notice the change in tone of the speakers. Before the rescue, everyone is frantic, but afterwards, the great relief and joy is obvious in all the voices.
I appreciate the value placed on religion and the rules that come with each faith. Still, I feel comfortable saying that it’s a beautiful thing to put kindness, humanity and saving a life over guidelines of any sort—even sacred religious ones.
Do you have a runner, a sniffer or a greeter?
Being overjoyed about going for a walk is almost universal among the canine set. If you reach for that leash, lace up your shoes or do anything that suggests even the remote possibility that you are going for a walk, your dog is probably thrilled.
However, dogs are making use of the sacred walk time for different purposes. Though many dogs like everything about a walk, there are at least three categories of dogs, based on what they most love about their outings.
Some dogs are runners. What they want out of the walk is exercise, so they want to be moving, preferably as fast as possible. These are the dogs who need their daily (or twice daily or all day) activity. They often pull on the leash at first, but once they get into a rhythm, burned off some energy and released some endorphins, they settle down a bit. They still want to run or trot, but they are more flexible about whatever pace you choose.
It’s rare to find a dog who has no interest in sniffing on their walks, but for many of them, it is their top priority from start to finish. They have their nose to the ground much of the walk, suddenly getting incredibly interested in stretches of grass that look to us, the olfactory challenged humans, exactly like every other stretch of grass. These dogs seek mental stimulation on walks, and their minds are stimulated by the smells that are here! And there! And everywhere!
Even the most social of dogs are often distracted by their own desire to be active or to sniff all over the place. However, there are some dogs whose main purpose on walks is to meet-and-greet. These are the social butterfly, table-hopper types who simply want to say hello to other dogs, to people or even to the occasional cat. These greeters love to connect with others, and may even be slightly disappointed if there are few others out and about during walks. Related to the social dogs are the dogs whose purpose is marking their territory and patrolling the area. These dogs, like other social dogs, are highly interested in who is (and has been)out and about.
Many dogs are a combination of these traits. The love to run, sniff and say hello, but as a guardian, you probably know your dog well enough to understand which activity is most important.
Do you have a runner, a sniffer, a greeter or a dog with an entirely different priority?
What non-essential dog items do you love?
As I get older I value my comfort just a little more. I appreciate cup holders, soft cozy blankets, and chairs whose designers were inspired by the human body rather than thoughts of fitting 100 chairs in a storage closet. When it comes to dogs, little luxuries mean more to me, too. Just today I walked dogs with leashes that have soft padding in the handle, and I realized that these are the leashes for me. It’s a little thing, that extra padding, but I just love the feel of it my hand. Even with dogs who have lovely leash manners (but especially if they are still working on them) that extra cushion protects my hands from any harshness, and I love it!
I felt the same way years ago when I first discovered the Chuck It. Okay, a little dog slobber never hurt anybody, but a quart of it on a tennis ball is not what I’m looking for in hand moisturizer, either. I’m also a big fan of the folding dog water bowl. To be able to hike with dogs and easily help them hydrate without having a big, clunky water bowl digging into my back through a backpack adds much joy to the outing.
While I am a huge fan of the stuffed Kong, sometimes it feels like a lot of work to stuff one. (I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth.) When such an every day task seems hard, I’m grateful for Kong’s Marathon toys. They can keep a dog occupied for a long time but just take a moment for me to lock the compatible treat into the fitted slot.
Microfiber towels that absorb water and mud from a dog’s underbelly and paws are indispensable to me now. Sure, any basic towel works, but they don’t necessarily work as well as the microfiber ones. Even easier to use (and therefore better) are the microfiber mitts that dry dogs without slipping, which means that your hands don’t get wet and muddy.
There are so many items that I appreciate just because they make life a tiny bit easier and more convenient. Non-stick mats that go under food and water bowl keep bowls from sliding all over the floor are a huge plus—no scratches in the floor, easy clean-up of spills, and no racket from clanking bowls. Travel food bags that only take up as much room as the food you have left are a huge improvement over bulky plastic containers. Poop bag holders that attach to a belt loop or the leash free up my hands and pockets, and therefore belong on my list of non-essential dog items that make me happy.
What little luxuries in dog gear make your life just a little better?
An adrenaline rush at the movies or on a roller coaster is fun, but not when the cause is seeing a dog dodging traffic. Yesterday, a dog raced across a busy road, right in front of our car, and then perilously close to oncoming traffic. He was running in a zigzag pattern and was clearly not experienced at crossing the street. I honked a few times, hoping to put all other drivers on alert so they could take evasive action to avoid this dog.
Fortunately, the dog made it safely across many lanes of traffic to the other side, but unfortunately, he immediately headed back across the road. There was more honking and braking, some skilled swerving and another blast of adrenaline all around. The dog survived his second crossing with help from a lot of drivers and a bit of luck thrown in. He was then in the grocery store parking that was the scene of his escape, where a woman grabbed his collar and held onto him.
I pulled into this parking lot just in case a spare leash would be helpful.(I usually have one in my car.) I arrived just as the dog’s guardian did, looking incredibly relieved and full of gratitude for the woman who had caught her dog. Thanks to a modern convenience, the dog had been released from the guardian’s car when she accidentally hit the release button for the back hatch instead of the one to unlock the doors. She was just exiting the store when it happened, so she was close enough to the car to activate it, but too far away to stop her dog from leaping out and going on his brief, but dangerous, escapade.
With this technology so commonplace, precautions against the dangers it presents to our dogs are in order. Securing our dogs with crates or barriers is an obvious option for avoiding this kind of trouble. There are so many arguments in favor of having our dogs in crates when they are in the car, and this is just another one.
The guardian of this dog was horrified about his near disaster, and will certainly have nightmares. (I probably will, too!) Even though her dog rides in the crate, she had let him out for a little more freedom while shopping, not considering the potential risk her new car posed.
Has an accidental hatch opening ever given your dog an unplanned adventure?
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