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JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

News: Guest Posts
Dog Park Honors Fallen Marine
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.

 
Good Dog: Studies & Research
First Dog Breeders
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.

An analysis of canine bones from Zhokhov suggests that these hunter-gatherers were among the first humans to breed dogs for a particular purpose—by thousands of years.

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.”

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Standard Tick Advice May Put Us At Risk
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.

Dog's Life: Humane
Delaware Governor Signs Dog Breed Bias Bill
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!

 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet and House Sitting Exchange
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?

 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tips and Etiquette for Vacationing with Dogs
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.

Car Rides

  • Remember to take enough breaks to let your dogs stretch their legs and potty.
  • Have snacks and water handy so your pups don’t get hungry or dehydrated. 
  • Be careful when leaving your dogs in the car when it’s warm out. Cars can heat up to a dangerous level even if it’s only 60 degrees outside.
  • Create a Rescue Tube to attach to crates with important information that would be invaluable in a car accident.

Hotel

  • When you arrive, check the floor carefully for medication. Dangerous pills are often dropped under the bed or behind nightstands.
  • If your dog will spend time on the bed, use a blanket to guard against fur.
  • Don’t leave your pets in the room unattended.  This is against most hotels’ pet policies.
  • Be mindful of people and dogs you encounter in the hallways and elevator. As hard as it is to believe, not everyone wants to say hi to our pets!
  • Pick up after your dog. People who don’t scoop poop are a major reason why many hotels start banning pets.

Parks

  • Abide by park leash laws, as tempting as it is to let your dogs run around outside.
  • Don’t leave bagged poop on the side of the trail. Even biodegradable bags take a long time to degrade. It’s preferable to carry out the bag until you see a trash can or burry the poop (without the bag) off the trail.
  • Follow trail etiquette, such as yielding to passing hikers and keeping your pup close and under control.

Miscellaneous 

  • Before you leave on your trip, make sure microchips and identification tags are updated with your current cell phone number since that will be your main point of contact.
  • Carry a photo of your dogs so that you have it handy in case one of them gets lost.
  • Look up the closest emergency hospital to the hotels you’ll be staying at along the way. This way you’re not scrambling to find a veterinarian if something happens.

Hope you and your pups enjoy a summer full of exciting adventures!

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Planning a Pet Friendly Vacation
Tips for devising a summer road trip with your pup.

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer vacations, so it’s time to plan a road trip with the entire family—and that includes our pups!

Planning Destinations and Activities
As a starting point, I usually ask around for new vacation ideas. Facebook, dog training clubs, veterinarians, and groomers are good places for recommendations. In addition you can search online and visit Go Pet Friendly’s Destination Guides, which is a great source for sparking brainstorming. 

My favorite trips involve the outdoors, especially when I can bring my dogs. Pet Friendly Travel has a helpful list of pup friendly recreation areas, beaches, and National Parks across the United States.

Prepping for Car Travel
Road trips involve a decent amount of time in the car, so it’s important to consider how your dog will ride. A crate or specially designed seat belt (that is well fitted) will help keep pets safe in the event of an accident, while also preventing distractions for the driver.

The crate or seat belt should be set up in the backseat, away from airbags which can be fatal. The cargo area of hatchbacks and SVUs isn’t ideal because of crumple zones, but I often put a crate there because I don’t have space elsewhere with multiple people in the car.

Also, be sure to get your dog used to their restraint ahead of time by easing them into longer rides. You don’t want a multi-hour road trip to be their first time in a crate or seat belt!

Accommodations
I haven’t had difficulty finding pet friendly accommodations as hotels realize the growing market for vacationing with dogs.

Web sites like Orbitz and Booking.com have the ability to filter hotel search results by pet friendly accommodations. There are also specialty web sites like Go Pet Friendly and Bring Fido, which only list dog friendly lodging, including campgrounds.

Online reviews are invaluable for narrowing down choices. Bring Fido has some reviews, but I also check TripAdvisor since there are millions of users and you can search reviews by keywords such as “dog” or “pet.”

Planning the Route
When planning a road trip with my dogs, I’ll look at the route and do an online search for pet friendly spots in the major cities we’ll pass through. I also like Go Pet Friendly's Road Trip Planner which lets you map your route and view pet friendly hotels, restaurants, parks, and stores along the way. PetFriendlyRestaurants.com is another source for places to eat.

Many restaurants with outdoor seating with allow pets, but not all. Also policies can change, so be sure to call ahead to confirm.

Happy planning and enjoy your next trip!

Dog's Life: Humane
Malik Jackson Sponsors 181 Adoptions
NFL defensive lineman teams up with local rescue organizations in his new community.

Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars signed defensive lineman Malik Jackson to a lucrative contract. Malik wanted to give back to his local community and teamed up with the Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS) and Jacksonville Animal Care & Protective Services (ACPS) for a two-day adoption event earlier this month.

Malik promised to sponsor the adoption fees for all pets adopted over the weekend and visited the JHS to meet fans and talk about the importance of fostering and adopting. It was a critical time since Jacksonville shelters were full. And, as a result, 181 pets found homes due to the event.

In addition, many special needs pets were adopted as well. That included Prince, a dog who needed to find a single pet home willing to maintain his arthritis treatment, and Devan, a senior citizen cat with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Hearing about the free adoptions, his new mom checked out the JHS web site, fell in love with Devan, and made sure she was first in line the next morning.

I always feel conflicted about “free” adoption fees since it's a small cost compared to the financial commitment of a pet. But as long as the shelters do their due diligence in screening potential homes, having a National Football League player sponsor these kinds of programs can go a long way in encouraging people to consider adoption. 181 pets with forever homes to be exact!

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Interpreting Growls
Study looks at human understanding of canine vocalizations.

I would think our dogs are better at understanding us since they devote so much time to studying our every move... and are much better at picking up on the subtleties we are too busy to notice.

There has been an increasing amount of research in recent years on canines and their ability to understand humans. But relatively little has focused on how well people understand dogs.

Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest set out to study our comprehension of canine language. They chose to focus on growls since they may be the most preserved mode of communication.

According to lead researcher Tamás Faragósays, barks have been the most studied canine vocalization, but have likely changed significantly as dogs were domesticated by humans. However, growls may not have changed much since dogs diverged from wolves.

Tamás' study tested people's understanding of three growl sounds recorded from three scenarios: playing tug of war, resource guarding food, and feeling threatened by a stranger.

Overall humans were pretty good at differentiating growl types, classifying them correctly about 63 percent of the time. Participants identified 81 percent of the play growls correctly, but were less accurate when it came to resource guarding and threatening growls (60 and 50 percent).

Interestingly, listeners rated threatening growls to be more fearful and less aggressive than the resource guarding. Although the threatening and resource guarding growls were similar acoustically, there were distinct differences between all three types.

“We found that playful growl bouts are built up from short, quickly repeated growls, while the aggressive ones were more elongated,” explained Tamás. “The food guarding growls differed from the threatening growls in their formant dispersion, a parameter that gives a size impression of the vocalizing individual for the listeners.”

It may come as no surprise that dog owners were better than non-dog people at correctly identifying a growl's meaning. Though previous research didn't find this same advantage when interpreting barks. Researchers hypothesize that this is because barks are loud and easily heard, while growls are quieter and likely to be heard regularly by only those who spend a lot of time with dogs.

The study also found that women were better at distinguishing between the growls.

“This is a common pattern in emotion recognition studies,” says Tamás. “Probably women are more empathic and sensitive to others’ emotions, and this helps them to better associate the contexts with the emotional content of the growls.”

Tamás' team has also been conducting fMRI scans on humans and canines. They've found that people and dogs process emotional vocalization similarly, suggesting that, among mammals, there are simple rules rooted in biology that define how emotional states get translated into sound structure.

Another interesting similarity we share with our pups!

Good Dog: Studies & Research
New Canine Genome Map
Examining genomes uncovered interesting findings.

A study published last month details one of the most diverse canine genome maps produced to date tracing the relationship between breeds. In examining the genomes of over 1,000 dogs, the map provided insight into two interesting findings.

The first showed that canines bred to perform similar functions, such as dogs from the herding or working groups, don’t necessarily share the same origins.

Herding breeds are my favorite, holding beloved traits like intelligence and agility. So it’s surprising that these dogs may be more different than they seem.

The reason behind this convergence may also be why geneticists had difficulty mapping out herding dog lineages in the past. Study author Elaine Ostranger believes this happened because herding dogs emerged through selective breeding at multiple times in many different places.

“In retrospect, that makes sense,” says Elaine. “What qualities you’d want in a dog that herds bison are different from mountain goats, which are different from sheep, and so on.”

The second finding shed light on an ancient type of dog that may have come to the Americas thousands of years before Christopher Columbus. Researchers have looked for the genetic legacy of these dogs in the DNA of modern American breeds, but have found little evidence until now.

Most of the breeds studied originated in Europe and Asia. But domestic dogs first came to the Americas thousands of years ago, when people crossed the Bering land bridge linking Alaska and Siberia. These “New World dogs” later disappeared when European and Asian dogs arrived in the Americas.

But the way two South American breeds, the Peruvian hairless dog and the xoloitzcuintli, are clustered together on the map suggest they could share genes not found in any of the others. This means those genes could have come from dogs that were present in the Americas pre-Columbus.

“I think our view of the formation of modern dog breeds has historically been one-dimensional,” says Bob Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California. “We didn’t consider that the process has a deep historical legacy.”

Researchers now think that dog breeds underwent two major periods of diversification. Thousands of years ago, dogs were selected for their skills. This changed a few hundred years ago, when animals were bred for physical traits instead.

Bob says that, when it comes to genetics, studying dogs is a unique opportunity since no other animal has had the same level of intense deliberate breeding.

While it’s interesting to learn more about our dogs and where they came from, the scientists had practical reasons for creating this genetic database. They hope that this information can help future studies of canine and human diseases.

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