Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Q&A with Dr. Robynne Chutkan
February 22 2016
Dr. Robynne Chutkan, one of the leading gastroenterologists in the country, is the author of a new book, The Microbiome Solution, in which she takes us on an exploration of our guts’ ecosystems. Her rousing endorsement of “living dirty” includes the benefits of living with dogs. Bark’s editor speaks with her about just how helpful dogs are to our health, inside and out.
Is it true that there are similarities between our microbiome and those of our dogs, and that dog-owning families have more diverse microbial colonies than dogless households?
Although we share many of the same microbes, dogs in general have a more diverse microbiome than we do. Not surprisingly, some of their additional species are soil microbes (rolling in the dirt from time to time may be a habit worth copying!). Close contact with our dogs is hard to avoid, and that’s a good thing, because they end up passing on some of their unique microbes to their owners, giving dog-owning households a microbial boost.
Dog owners who have children share more mouth bacteria with their dogs than they do with their children. Is this a good thing?
The microbiome in children under the age of three is still developing and as a result, is very different from that of an adult, although there are still lots of shared species with household members (and pets), given the proclivity children have for [putting] everything in their mouths. So, most adults (not just dog owners) have a very different microbiome from their young children. As children get older, their microbiome starts to more closely resemble that of the other household members—not just parents, but pets, too. The vast majority of microbes our canines pass on to us are helpful or benign, not harmful, so keep those doggie kisses going.
So bacteria aren’t species-specific? Is that why, as you note, owning a dog is a highly effective way to replenish and revive bacteria that are basically under attack by modern-day living?
Some bacteria are species-specific, but many are shared by both humans and dogs. Most dogs are much more in touch with the natural world than their owners are, and that’s exactly where lots of the health-promoting microbes come from: soil; unfiltered, unchlorinated water; and, of course, the poo of other animals that our dogs are constantly checking out. Dogs tend to go easy on the hand sanitizer and antibiotics and eat a less processed diet (all habits worth emulating), so they haven’t super-sanitized away as many of their microbes as we have. Some of these canine microbes can be passed on to us, helping to replenish our lackluster microbiome.
The high-fat, low-fiber food we eat, attracts a different range of microbial types; do you know if that is the same for dogs?
I’m not aware of any specific studies looking at variations in canine diets and the effects on their microbiome, but certainly, dogs who eat more processed grains and other foods not natural to their diet tend to have more health problems, and the same is true for humans.
You mention that it’s okay to be a little dirty and sweaty. Why do you think Americans are so obsessed with being hyper-clean?
In the pre-antibiotic era, epidemics of the plague, cholera and other highly infectious diseases wiped out vast numbers of people. The advent of penicillin in the 1930s is still one of the most important contributions to modern medicine, and antibiotics have saved countless lives. But now the pendulum has swung the other way; we’re currently in an era of overdiagnosis and over-treatment, and we’re seeing the emergence of new “modern plagues,” not from infection, but from not enough microbes.
However, the public still sees antibiotics as the life-saving miracle workers they were in the first part of the last century, not as the overprescribed menace they’re becoming. Plus, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in the livestock industry, mostly to fatten animals for slaughter. Clearly, that’s not a lifesaving endeavor.
I think the pharmaceutical and personal-product companies also have a lot to do with it. They’re responsible for many of the public-health campaigns that incorrectly equate cleanliness with health, and of course, they make billions of dollars selling hand sanitizer and other anti-bacterial products.
It’s not just okay to be a little sweaty and dirty, it’s great for your microbiome and your overall health. We need exposure to dirt and germs (bacteria, fungi, protozoa and so forth) to train our immune systems to recognize friend from foe. Not enough exposure to germs, especially when we’re young, leads to a confused immune system that tends to overreact. The result is allergies and autoimmune diseases.
In defense of less bathing and shampooing: your body is really good at concocting the exact formula needed to keep your skin and hair moisturized and healthy. But what do we do? We scrub away our natural oils with harmful antibacterial products and then try to revive our skin and hair with store-bought products full of chemicals. Live dirty for a healthier— and better looking—you!
Many studies have shown the benefits to children of having a dog, including a decrease in eczema and asthma. Why else would you recommend that a family get a dog?
Having a dog is great for reducing stress and anxiety and lowering blood pressure. And we already know they improve the microbiome of the entire household.
What’s your personal dog “biome”?
My mother’s bridge partner, Eva, worked for the Swedish embassy, and when she moved back to Sweden, she left her beloved German Shepherd, Trygg, with us. He’d been used to spending all his time with Eva, and became immediately attached to my mom. We had to be super vigilant in the bathroom because he loved to drink from toilets (all kinds of rewilding going on!).
Hugo, our German Shorthaired Pointer puppy, came into our lives about six months ago. Getting a dog forced me to slow down my too-busy lifestyle and spend more time sitting on my front steps, stroking Hugo and literally smelling the roses. He’s super active, so my husband and I take turns running with him in the mornings and evenings.
We live near Rock Creek Park in Washington, DC, so, thanks to Hugo, there’s a whole lot of dirt and sweat happening on a daily basis. Our daughter Sydney loves him so much that we really can’t imagine life without him.
Hugo slobbers over everyone he comes into contact with, and since I frequently have meetings with the Gutbliss team at our house, he’s become our CRO—Chief Rewilding Officer!
One Man, One Dog, and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage and Survival in WWII
February 19 2016
There’s no denying it: war is hell. In No Better Friend by Robert Weintraub, we once again are confronted by the god-awful truth behind that expression. But we also learn about the true nature of grit, resiliency, courage and, in this case, the strength of the bond between man and dog.
This inspirational story revolves around an English Pointer born in 1936 in Shanghai, who became a mascot on one of the many English gunboats that patrolled the Yangtze River. At first called Shudi, Chinese for peaceful, she became Judy, and was adopted by the crew of the Royal Navy’s HMS Gnat.
Although the crew hoped that Judy would be a good hunting companion, it quickly became clear that her talents didn’t lie in that direction. But she was able to put her alertness, intelligence and intense drive to use by barking alarms at sewer ships (“cess boats”) and river pirates—even defending against onboard invaders. After 1937 and the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, she ratcheted up her early-warning system, signaling when fighter planes were approaching.
How she became the war’s only official canine POW is a long story, and one best left for readers to discover for themselves. Suffice it to say that Judy, who was, as Weintraub describes, “a fiercely loyal dog, with a keen sense for who was friend and who was foe,” performed many memorable feats (see excerpt).
After Singapore fell to the Japanese, she dug up a life-saving fresh water source for those who were marooned on a barren atoll, and led soldiers (including Frank Williams, who became her chief caregiver and companion) on a dangerous march across Sumatra. Once she and the soldiers had been captured and interned in a Japanese POW camp, she found rodents, snakes and other creatures to help feed herself and her fellow captives. For four horrible years, she and the other prisoners were kept under barbaric conditions. Judy had numerous near-misses with guards who wanted to kill (and eat) her; it’s amazing that anyone, much less a dog, survived such treatment.
Williams and hundreds of other prisoners (all of whom were slowly starving to death) were forced to build a railroad by hand. As Weintraub noted, “Judy’s mere presence on the railway rallied men who had been pushed beyond the brink.” One prisoner penned a quatrain to memorialize the men’s feelings for this heroine dog, and his words summed up their sentiment perfectly: “They would stagger to their workplace/Though they really ought to die/And would mutter in their beards/If that bitch can, so can I.”
Weintraub’s compelling, well-researched book does justice to the remarkable Judy and the men whose stories he tells so effectively and poignantly. Theirs is truly one of the great sagas of WWII and I highly recommend it to everyone. (A younger readers’ version is due out soon—keep an eye out for it.)
For more see our conversation with the author, Robert Weintraub and an excerpt from the book.
Message from the Editor
February 19 2016
The first issue of what would become The Bark came out in 1997, which makes this our 19th year. It’s hard to believe we’ve lasted this long. In the beginning, Bark was a humble community newsletter drumming up support for an off-leash area in Berkeley. We had no intention of transforming it into a full-fledged magazine.
But, as they say, timing is everything. While publications aplenty focused on what’s called the dog “fancy,” there was a noticeable gap in the larger area of everyday life with dogs—what has come to be called dog culture. Bark stepped in to fill it and, in many ways, defined it.
For dogs and the people who love them, things have evolved in many interesting directions over the last 19 years. Most of the changes have been for the better.
On the science front, researchers across a number of disciplines are expanding our understanding of the canine mind, the domestication process and how our two species co-evolved. More humane and science-based training methods have come to the forefront, as have increasingly sophisticated and well-informed behavior-modification strategies. Advances in veterinary medicine and health care include an increased validation of alternative modalities.
Then there’s food, which always provokes a lively discussion. In the commercial food sector, a greater variety of ingredients can be found, along with different delivery systems —dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw-prepared—many of them healthier than they were 19 years ago. The industry also has paid attention (to some extent) to consumer’s post-2007 food-recall concerns, but there is a still a long way to go on that front, and greater transparency is still needed. In the DIY sector, there’s a growing interest in angst-free home-prepared meals that can be as balanced and nutritious as packaged varieties.
Many of Dog Nation’s greatest strides have come in the increasing social acceptance and understanding of the role of dogs in communities—not just in the lives of dog lovers, but in the lives of people in general. For example, we’re seeing more dog-friendly housing opportunities (some with amenities), dog parks, off-leash recreation options, day care centers and professional services. There’s a canine sport for every type of dog, and people are actively interested in supplying dogs with enrichment activities. Hotels and resorts are eager to attract the growing number of people who travel with their co-pilots. In literature, a flood tide of books, both fiction and nonfiction, explore our oldest friendship, and filmmakers and other inventive artists recognize and pay homage to our favorite muses.
In another healthy sign of progress, there are fewer dog race tracks, which are now legal in only six states. This bodes well for Greyhounds, who can retire and live their lives as the elegant companions they were meant to be.
In the digital world, Petfinder and similar sites have revolutionized the way we locate the dog of our dreams and, by extension, meet up with others of similar dog-centric interests. A plethora of apps and gadgets promise what seems like hands-free pet care, and a few may prove to be helpful in enriching the lives of workday-home-alone dogs.
Dogs have many talents, more of which are being tapped for a wider variety of guide and assistance work; many jobs can’t be done—or done as well—without them. It’s also inspiring that canine rehabilitation and training are taking place in unlikely venues, such as prisons and juvenile institutions.
The best development of all, however, is that mixed-breeds are now number one in the nation, most of them likely to have been adopted from a rescue group or shelter. People are beginning to understand how important it is to be part of the solution by adopting rather than buying, to opening their homes and hearts to shelter dogs. Shelters also have come a long way since 1997, with many of them offering state-of-the art care and accommodations and paying greater attention to enriching the lives of their charges: organizing play groups and innovative volunteer, foster and walking programs, and working collaboratively with local rescue groups. Burgeoning rescue and sanctuary movements, including the transport of animals both within the country and internationally, are inspiring to behold.
As editor-in-chief of The Bark, when I look back at the past two decades, I can truly say that there have been more positive advances in Dog Nation than in most other areas of our society. But while we celebrate these developments, I must also caution that there is a still a long way to go. The number of Beagles and other dogs being bred for and used in labs—living out their entire lives in cages—remains a blot on the landscape; there really has to be a better and more humane alternative. And there must be an end to the needless deaths of animals in shelters, and to animal abuse and cruelty.
That being said, I’m proud to be in a position to keep tabs on these situations, and to report on them to you. My hope is that by chronicling what’s going on, and shining a light on areas that still need work, we (the magazine and our readers) can inspire policy- and decision-makers to step up and make the changes needed to push that progress along. We would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
February 16 2016
Behaviorist Patricia McConnell has observed that when it comes to dogs and people, “play isn’t what makes our relationship with each other better, play is what creates the relationship in the first place.” With that in mind, recent findings of a Bristol University survey are worrying: most of the 4,000 respondents simply didn’t spend enough time playing with their dogs. The UK-based study also found a clear link between “limited playtime and animal behavior problems, such as being nervous when left alone, disobedience and snapping at other animals.”
Others have taken note of the role of play in our dogs’ lives as well. Marc Bekoff, one of the leading scientists of animal play, has said, “We train too much and play too little. … Whenever you are playing together, you and your dog learn the most important rules of social interaction: mutual trust, accepting the limitations of the other individual and dealing fairly with each other.”
Play is also ripe with opportunities for shared joy. As Mechtild Käufer, author of Canine Play Behavior, writes, during play, you and your dog experience “moments in which two species— human and dog—really become one.”
So, how does all this research and insight play out (no pun intended) in real life? Here are some data points to keep in mind.
> Play develops trust and increases the degree and amount of attention your dog will pay to you. (Particularly if you let your dog win occasionally, including when playing tug.)
> It also develops communication. To get your dog’s attention, hold a toy out in front of you, slap both hands on the ground, play bow or make a quick forward movement.
> Dogs will play longer with humans than with other dogs; they’re also less competitive and will both present and surrender toys to the human more frequently.
> Play signals given by humans are more likely to elicit a response when accompanied by play vocalizations.
> Dogs in multi-dog households are more (rather than less) interested in playing with humans.
> Dogs who frequently play rough-and-tumble games with their humans have fewer problems with separation anxiety and are more self-confident.
> Dogs score higher in “obedient attentiveness” after play sessions than before the sessions, according to researchers Nicola Rooney and John Bradshaw, which suggests that training after play can be highly effective.
> They call it “play” because it’s not goal-oriented. Try not to focus on winning ribbons or breaking records—in that case, it’s more like work, and the positive aspects disappear.
So, what are you waiting for? Go have a romp with your dog!
For more on this fascinating topic, add Canine Play Behavior by Mechtild Käufer and Play Together, Stay Together by Karen B. London and Patricia B. McConnell to your reading list.
February 9 2016
Even if we can’t be there in person to marvel and bid, we love checking out the offerings at the annual Bonhams sale of canine art and artifacts on February 17 in New York. As is customary, there will a trove of historical paintings of pedigreed dogs, many of the hunting variety on display. Though we enjoy these paintings of faithful companions, we find the objects de canine and their fascinating back stories much more to our liking. One such highlight is a Victorian silver collar created in 1883 for a dog named Help. The shaggy black Scotch Collie was trained and handled by John Climpson, a passenger guard on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. The dog was equipped with a collection box, and traveled extensively throughout Britain and France from 1882 to 1889, raising money for the “Orphans Fund”—a charity that assisted children of railway workers who had died on the job. The tag on his collar was inscribed with a London address where donations would be “thankfully received & duly acknowledged.” His appearances at railwaymen’s meeting, fundraisers and dog show made Help a celebrity, and prompted a legion of charity-collecting dogs. The source of the dog’s name? Here’s a clue: Help’s image appeared on badges with the slogan “Help Our Noble Railway Dog,” with proceed from the sales of the badges going to orphanages. During his lifetime, Help brought in thousands of pounds sterling to aid the Orphans Fund. Upon his death in 1891, at the age of 13, a railway magazine ran a tribute: “No dog probably lived a more useful life the did ‘Help.’” His lovely silver collar and tag is estimated to sell for $2,500 to $3,500.
Antique collars of historical note and belonging to celebrated dogs have become a highly prized collectible in recent years. Bonhams handled the sale in 2010, of a leather-and-brass collar that Charles Dickens used on his dog (shown above), eventually selling for the princely sum of $11,590. A few years later, a brass-and-leather collar from Joe, a sled-dog Husky who died during a 1903 expedition to Antarctica, sold for nearly $12,000 at Bonhams in London. So, hold on to those old dog collars, they may well become a family heirloom one day.
Bonhams “Dogs in Show and Field” auction is scheduled for February 17, 2016 beginning at 10 pm EST. The auction and pre-auction display is held at Bonhams’ New York venue and is available for viewing and bidding online at bonhams.com.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
January 22 2016
What makes a “super” food? Edibles that deliver the maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories. Humans and dogs can share several common foods that are nutritionally dense, and pack a lot of healthful benefits into a serving. These super foods help people and their pets fight disease, boost energy and maintain good health in general. They make great additions to your dog’s diet—whether you feed packaged dog food or home cook meals—consider adding the nutritionally-packed components to compliment your dog’s eating regime. Be sure to introduce these foods gradually and with the proper proportions, and check with your veterinarian if your dog has any dietary or health concerns.
Besides these, there are also many simple, fresh and wholesome food items that dogs and humans can thrive on, including apples, green beans, papaya, leafy greens, liver and hearts, eggs, oats, bananas, wheat grass, cranberries, nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut oil, parsley, wheat germ and apple cider vinegar. For dogs, animal protein such as, chicken, turkey, duck, lamb, goat, rabbit, pork, beef, fish and venison, should be an integral part of their meals.
January 20 2016
While we on the west coast are contending with a very robust El Nino rainy season, we aren’t complaining after so many years of drought. But it does make dog walks and exercising extra challenging. But for most of the rest of the country dealing with harsh and cold winter weather is even more difficult. So today when we received a press release from the Central Veterinary Associates in Long Island, NY we thought that they had many good ideas to help you prepare for wintery conditions.
● Always Dry Off: When your dog comes in from the snow, ice or sleet, be sure to thoroughly wipe down their paws and stomach. He or she may have rock salt, antifreeze or other potentially dangerous chemicals on their paws which, if ingested, can cause severe stomach problems. Antifreeze should especially be watched for as it can lead to kidney failure. In addition, paw pads may get cut from hard snow or encrusted ice, so it’s important to check them over and treat them accordingly.
● Hold Off on Haircuts: Save for extreme circumstances, you should never shave down your dog during the winter. Their long, thick coats are vital for protection from the cold. If you have a short-haired breed, consider getting him a coat or a sweater with a high collar or turtleneck with coverage from the base of the tail to the belly.
● Keep Bedtime Warm: Make sure your dog has a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafty areas. A cozy pet bed with a warm blanket or pillow is ideal.
● Bathroom Breaks: If you have a puppy or aging pet that may be sensitive to the cold, it may be difficult to take them outside. Use wee-pads or old newspapers to train puppies or to allow older pets to relieve themselves.
● Bring Pets Inside: If domesticated animals are left outdoors during winter months, they run the risk of health conditions caused by extreme temperatures. Cats are especially susceptible as they have free reign of the outdoors, and become lost during a storm, or taken in by a neighbor. In similar fashion to summer months, you should never leave your pet alone in a car in cold weather, as they could freeze and develop serious cold-related health conditions.
● Keep a Short Leash: Never let your dog off the leash on snow or ice, especially during a snowstorm as they can lose their scent and easily become lost. More dogs are lost during the winter than any other season, so make sure that your dog always wears his identification tags. It is highly recommended that all pets are outfitted with a microchipping device, which it makes available as part of a low-cost service.
● Check Your Engine: As you’re getting into your car in the morning, bang loudly on the hood of the car before getting in. Outdoor cats and wild animals like to sleep under cars or within the engine compartment or wheel base, as the engines keep the vehicle warm long after the car is parked. However, once the car is started or in motion, the cat can be injured or killed by the fan belt or tires.
● Clean Up Spills: If you spill any antifreeze or winter-weather windshield fluid, be sure to clean it up immediately. Pets, especially cats, are enticed by the sweet-tasting liquid, but it is poisonous. Ingesting antifreeze leads to potentially life-threatening illness in all animals, domesticated or otherwise. If possible, use products that contain propylene glycol rather than ethylene glycol.
Also, Dr. Aaron Vine, DVM, Vice President, Central Veterinary Associates adds that, “It is very important to keep your pet safe and healthy during the winter season, especially during storms like the one in the forecast this weekend. The extreme cold may have an adverse effect on your pet’s health, so pet owners must take the necessary precautions for their pets when bringing them outside. It is especially important during extreme weather circumstances to ensure that your pet is microchipped, which makes it easier to locate them. In the event they become ill as a result of being exposed to the elements, please bring them to a veterinarian immediately.”
Do check out their Holiday Safety Tips blog and visit www.centralvets.com.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Winter Paw Tips
January 19 2016
Trim Fur between dog toe pads that can get packed with snow and ice walking painful.
Boot Up Consider dog booties, make sure the fit is correct and start with short walks, with plenty of treats.
Avoid Frozen ponds or streams, dogs may fall through ice less than 2 inches thick.
Lube Up Lubricate paws to prevent skin cracks caused by cold, dry air. A thin coating of products as Bag Balm, Musher’s Secret or petroleum jelly will also do.
Quick Wipe Wash paws off after walks. Dogs can lick salt, antifreeze or other chemicals, plus paw pads may bleed from snow or encrusted ice.
December 15 2015
Luckily, mor e and more people are interested in fostering dogs these days. It is a great way to assist the shelter/rescue community and be part of helping homeless dogs receive the care and attention they might require to help them find forever homes.
How to Foster Dogs by training expert and certified behaviorist Pat Miller will be a boon to both potential fosterers and humane/rescue agencies. An invaluable reference and guidebook, it’s written in an accessible, clear style, and addresses practical topics, such as the best ways to introduce the new dog to your own dog, preparing for specialneeds situations, and working with fearful dogs; it also provides many insightful management tips (including how best to handle the heartbreak of letting your foster dog go to a new family). The sound advice offered by Miller is not limited to foster dogs, but can be applied to all dogs, making this a good recommendation for every dog lover.
These delectable cookies are simple to make, and can be broken into smaller pieces perfect for training bits.
December 13 2015
Mix the flour, oats, whole grains, parsley, dried milk and salt.
Add the eggs, peanut butter and honey and stir into dry ingredients to combine; the mixture will be crumbly.
Add enough water to bring the dough together. Mix with a spoon, or if using a stand mixer, use a dough hook.
Drop (or form by hand) the dough into walnutsized balls onto the prepared baking sheets. Flatten them to about 1/4".
Bake for about 45 minutes. When finished, the cookies will be dark golden brown, and will be dry and crisp all the way through.
Cool right on the pans.
Yield: 60 small (round) cookies.
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