Karen B. London
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression
Good Dog: Studies & Research
A new approach allows further study
July 6 2017
The influence of genes on personality and behavior is of great interest to people who love dogs as well as to scientists studying the genetics of animal behavior. Since dogs’ personalities play a major role in their ability to function as our companions as well as to carry out a variety of tasks as working dogs, it’s important to understand the contribution of genetics on behavior. It is well established that genetics plays a large role, as evidenced by behavioral differences between breeds. Even substantial differences in behavior within breeds can be accounted for by genetic variation.
One of the challenges to studying behavioral genetics is that large sample sizes are required because there are so many factors that influence behavior (e.g. early environment, training methods, various lifestyle factors). To achieve adequately large sample sizes in research is both expensive and time consuming, sometimes prohibitively so. A recent study called “Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Traits” took a creative approach to meet this challenge.
The scientists were interested in genetic contributions to personality, defined as “individual consistency in behavioral responsiveness to stimuli and situations”. Researchers took advantage of the substantial knowledge people have about their own dogs’ personalities to explore genetic contributions to personality traits. Their work shows that it is possible to detect genetic variation in dog personality traits by using questionnaires to collect large quantities of useful data.
In this recent study, researchers used the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment Research and Questionnaire) as well as a separate questionnaire about demographics to study 1975 UK Kennel Club-registered Labrador Retrievers. The C-BARQ allowed each dog to be scored for the following personality traits—Agitated When Ignored, Attention-Seeking, Barking Tendency, Excitability, Fetching, Fear of Humans and Objects, Fear of Noises, Non-Owner Directed Aggression, Owner-Directed Aggression, Separation Anxiety, Trainability and Unusual Behavior.
The additional questionnaire collected data about the dog’s age, coat color, sex, neuter status, housing, health status, exercise, daily exercise and the role of the dog. (The various roles were gun dog, show dog and pet dog.) To gather genetic information, the study took advantage of the dogs’ pedigrees, which involved 29 generations and 28,943 dogs. Further genetic data on the dogs were obtained as part of a different study using standard genomic methods and genetic markers, with 885 dogs from that study also participating in the C-BARQ portion of the research. In the analysis, the researchers estimated heritability of personality traits based on both the pedigree and on the genomic data.
The researchers found that fetching has a higher heritability rating than any other personality trait. Interestingly, some previous studies have lumped trainability with fetching ability, which results in lower heritability scores for both of them. This study also revealed a considerable genetic component to the fear of noises. Aggression directed towards owners showed no genetic component at all, while aggression towards strangers had a moderate genetic component.
Many behavioral traits are polygenic (influenced by a large number of genes, with each one often having a small effect) and also have significant environmental influences, which means that it is difficult to determine genomic associations. Estimates of heritability are likely to increase with technological advances in genetic work.
The importance of this study is that it shows that genetic variance can be detected and studied with the use of questionnaires filled out by owners. It also reveals that grouping responses into behavioral factors may make it harder to detect the genetic influence on various traits.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A soft mouth can be the difference between life and death for dogs.
July 5 2017
All dogs come equipped with powerful jaws and teeth capable of inflicting injury, but they vary in their willingness to use them as weapons. Most save them for marrow bones, chews or Kongs, a quality that makes for good pets and great friends. The degree to which dogs learn not to use the full force of their mouths on people and other dogs is called “bite inhibition,” and it is the most important part of a dog’s education.
Unfortunately, all dogs are likely to experience unpleasant or stressful incidents, but those with proper bite inhibition will not cause much (if any) damage in response. That’s why bite inhibition is so valuable. If an injured or terrified dog air-snaps or inhibits his bite so effectively that contact with another dog or person causes no pain or injury, that’s a manageable problem by most people’s standards. If a dog with poor bite inhibition is in the same situation and inflicts serious damage, it’s a potentially disastrous problem from a physical, emotional and even legal standpoint.
Consider the following incidents from my own case files.
A visiting child loses his temper when the family dog distracts him during a game of ping pong by yawning and whining. The child hits the dog in the face with the ping-pong paddle, and the dog runs away yelping. A teenager tries to dress up her dog to match her own outfit, and the dog resists. As she continues forcing the clothes on him, he whines and struggles. After several minutes, the dog growls and snaps at her face but makes no contact. An elderly man trips and falls onto his dog while the dog is eating. The dog bites the man on the leg, leaving no mark. A toddler tries to climb on her sleeping dog to ride him like a horse. The dog stands up and begins to walk away, but when she tries once again to get on his back, he bites her on the shoulder, causing a bruise. When a man reaches to pet his friend’s dog, his watch catches on the dog’s collar. He gently tries to disentangle himself, and the dog bites him on the leg, leaving two puncture marks and some bruising. A woman walks into her dining room, sees a dog toy under the table and reaches down to get it. Her dog races in from the living room and bites her arm repeatedly, resulting in multiple punctures along with fractures to her wrist and arm that require several surgeries to fix.
In each instance, it’s easy to see why the dog was distressed. Yet, the seriousness of the responses was not directly related to the injustice or pain suffered by the dog, but rather, to the dog’s ability to exercise proper bite inhibition. It’s no exaggeration to say that bite inhibition can be the difference between success and failure in treating behavior problems, and even between life and death for the dog.
When evaluating risk, it’s reasonable to ask what’s the worst that could happen if for example, a gate is left open, a leash breaks or a person barges in unannounced. If the answer is, “Someone could get really spooked and be furious with us because our dog may bark, lunge or snap,” many people would be willing to take that chance. If instead, the answer is, “Someone could be badly and even permanently injured, require medical care such as surgery or be deeply traumatized,” far fewer would be able to live with that risk. The answer is really important because it will generally determine how willing people are to live with the risk, which in turn influences how committed they are to their dog and working to improve his behavior.
Some dogs develop the bite inhibition so essential for navigating life’s tricky and unexpected events while others don’t. Both genetics and learning influence the process. Though there’s genetic variation among individual dogs, some types of dogs are famous for soft mouths. It’s not surprising, for example, that dogs bred to retrieve game use their mouths gently to avoid damaging that game. Retrievers are also well known for being “mouthy,” meaning that they use their mouth, including their teeth, often. Though there are cases of dogs who are gentle with their mouths while retrieving but do not have good bite inhibition in social situations, it is more common that dogs who are able to exercise control in one situation are able to behave similarly in others. That does not mean that dogs with good bite inhibition won’t kill squirrels or tear up their chew toys. Bite inhibition is all about exercising control in social situations, but that does not necessarily apply to predatory behavior or to play with objects.
Experience with play biting and mouthing often leads to better bite inhibition, and like anything else, those who practice become the most skilled. Littermates are a puppy’s first teachers, one of several reasons that it’s beneficial for puppies to stay with their litter for about two months. As the young dogs play, they use their mouths to tug or gnaw on their siblings’ ears, tails, paws and loose skin. If one puppy mouths another too hard, the puppy who got hurt will yelp, stop playing and move away. This teaches puppies that hard bites, even if not intended to cause pain, result in an interruption in play. Singleton puppies and those taken from their litter before the age of five or six weeks often lack proper bite inhibition. It seems that puppies need their littermates’ feedback to learn to control the pressure they exert with their mouths.
Once puppies head to new homes, their education needs to continue, and that includes socialization with other puppies and dogs. This does not mean throwing a puppy into the dog-park scrum and hoping it will all work out. In that setting, puppies are far too likely to be overwhelmed and to experience it as we might experience a gladiator pit. Rather, it means supervised play dates with carefully selected and well-behaved canines.
Lessons from people are also useful in teaching bite inhibition. Though using their mouths on our hands, arms, legs, hair and clothes is natural behavior for them, dogs must learn to interact in ways that are appropriate in our world. An effective technique, one based on puppies’ earlier experiences with their littermates, is to startle and then redirect the young offender. If a puppy mouths too hard, yelp with a puppy-like sound (Aaarp! is the closest description of this sound that can be spelled), which often interrupts the puppy’s biting. Take advantage of that pause in the behavior by immediately giving the puppy something appropriate to chew on. Good options include bones, chew toys, Kongs, squeaky toys and stuffed animals.
A common mistake when using this method is to make the yelping sound and then fail to redirect the puppy. In most cases, although the sound will startle the puppy into a break in the mouthing, he or she will go right back to it unless given another, more appropriate object to focus on. Many people begin by doing both steps (startle and redirect), but as time goes on, they switch to startling without bothering to redirect. They then report that the technique doesn’t work.
While more than 90 percent of puppies will respond to this method if it is used correctly and consistently, there are indeed dogs who seem to get worse in response to high-pitched yelps, becoming even mouthier and more revved up. For those dogs, it’s usually effective to startle the dog with a deep-voiced “Hey!” or “Ouch!” Otherwise, the technique of interrupting the behavior and then redirecting the dog to an appropriate object is the same. If the puppy fails to respond to either sound, walk away so that he learns that biting brings an end to the fun.
It’s important to begin by startling and redirecting the puppy only in response to the most forceful bites. Employing this approach with every instance of mouthing can be overwhelming to the puppy, who is, after all, doing what comes naturally and exploring the world by mouth. So, the first goal is to teach the puppy not to mouth so hard rather than not to mouth at all. When the hardest bites have been inhibited, the next step is to startle and redirect after medium-force bites. Finally, once the puppy has learned to mouth people with only the gentlest of pressure, teach him not to do this at all by employing the same technique in response to any occasion in which his teeth touch delicate human skin, hair or clothes.
There are many recommendations out there for stopping puppy mouthing and I advise against most of them because they are inhumane and generally ineffective. For example, do not hold the dog’s muzzle closed, yell at the dog, jam your fingers into the dog’s mouth or swat the dog. Basically, it comes down to one piece of general advice: Don’t do anything that involves any kind of physical punishment that causes pain or frightens the dog.
Proper bite inhibition is incredibly important, and developing it requires lessons early in life. The normal process of learning bite inhibition is linked with puppy development and it can’t usually be learned later in life with the same degree of success. Dogs without this essential skill may cause severe damage—punctures, painful bruising and even broken bones on occasion. Learning bite inhibition is one of the first and most essential lessons for puppies, because it is about safety as well as being a well-behaved, polite member of society.
News: Guest Posts
Stray attends Vienna Chamber Orchestra concert
July 4 2017
Music lovers in Turkey were already enjoying an outdoor performance by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra when a stray dog came onstage and made the concert even more entertaining. The dog calmly wandered into view and stood right in front of the first violin, which could certainly have been a random selection. However, I’m intrigued by the idea that the dog was able to pick up on subtle cues that this was the person worth attending to out of all the members of the orchestra.
The dog did not appear to be too upset by the delighted laughter of the crowd, though he does yawn and give a tongue flick—signs of mild anxiety—at the very end of the video. He settled himself in his position by the concertmaster, lying down and looking out peacefully at those in attendance. His efforts were rewarded with hearty applause.
Every bit as captivating as this dear dog was the delight of the musicians. Though typically serious while playing, many of the violin players near the dog were clearly amused by their new fan. Quite a few seemed in danger of laughing out loud, but as professionals, they were able to keep their focus on the music.
While I was watching the dog in this video for the first time, my husband looked up from his work and cheerfully commented that the piece sounds like Mendelssohn. (And indeed it is.) Apparently both canines and humans are destined to be happy when hearing Mendelssohn’s Symphony #4 (commonly known as The Italian). This would probably please the composer, who described it in a letter to his sister as “the jolliest piece I have ever done”.
Does your dog appreciate orchestral music in general, and this composition in particular?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Adults don’t always understand dogs’ behavior around kids
June 30 2017
Supervising children and dogs when they are together is an important part of preventing dog bites as well as of protecting the well-being of both kids and canines. However, even carefully monitoring the interactions will do little to prevent trouble if the adults watching aren’t knowledgeable about dog behavior. Research has shown that adults often underestimate the risks of dog bites to children, and that children tend to engage in riskier behavior around dogs when an adult is present.
According to a study called "Adults' Ability to Interpret Canine Body Language during a Dog-Child Interaction", misinterpreting the body language of dogs during interactions with children is quite common. Three videos of young children and dogs interacting were used in this study to assess adults’ ability to understand canine body language. A panel of behavior experts considered the dogs in all three videos to be fearful and anxious, emotionally conflicted, and lacking in confidence. However, approximately two-thirds of the subjects in the study considered the dogs to be relaxed and a similar percentage thought their behavior indicated confidence.
The subjects of the study came from four different groups: 1. People with dogs and with children, 2. People with dogs but no children, 3. People with children but no dogs, and 4. People without dogs or children. Interestingly, people without dogs were more successful at interpreting the emotional states of dogs than people who are dog guardians. Dog guardians were more likely to think the dogs were relaxed than people without dogs and less likely to label their emotional state as conflicted. Parents and non-parents did not differ in their ability to interpret the emotional states of the dogs in the video, to determine the dogs’ response to the situation, or to categorize the predominant behavior of the dog (e.g. play, friendly behavior).
Previous work has yielded conflicting results about whether people with dogs are better or worse at interpreting canine body language and emotional expressions. This study suggests that experience with dogs without any theoretical knowledge of dog behavior may not enhance people’s ability to recognize signs of trouble in interactions between young children and dogs. Perhaps people with dogs are more likely to give dogs the benefit of the doubt and assume they are friendly. Similarly, people without dogs may be more cautious when observing dogs, especially around young children, and may therefore be more receptive to the possibility of danger.
The general conclusions of the study are that people have great difficulty interpreting the signs of fear and anxiety in dogs who are interacting with young children and that it is important to educate people about dog body language in order to minimize problems when dogs are interacting with young children.
News: Guest Posts
Pit Bull triumphs over Australian Shepherd and Border Collie
June 28 2017
The new mayor of Rabbit Hash, Kentucky is a three-year old Pit Bull named Brynneth Pawltro who goes by Brynn. It’s natural to wonder how the town feels about having a canine mayor, and the answer is that they must like it. Brynn is the fourth dog in a row to be elected mayor there. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the position is largely ceremonial.
Rabbit Hash is a small town (population 315) known for having the best known and best-preserved general store in the state of Kentucky. The Rabbit Hash General Store was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989, but unfortunately, it burned down in 2016. Rebuilding it is a shared goal within the town, and money brought in by the mayoral election is an important source of funds for the project. Each vote costs a dollar, with this year’s election bringing in over $7300 for the Rabbit Hash Historical Society.
The election is less a typical exercise in democracy and more a source of community pride, good fun and fundraising. The first election for mayor took place in 1998, when a dog named Goofy Borneman-Calhoun won. He died in office at the age of 16 in 2001, and the office of mayor remained empty until 2004 when Junior Cochran, a Black Labrador Retriever, assumed office. Junior Cochran died in office in 2008, and a few months later, a special election was held to fill the position. It was at that time that the town elected its first female mayor, a Border Collie named Lucy Lou.
After Brynn won the most recent election, the Rabbit Hash Historical Society decided to make the first and second runners up Ambassadors to Rabbit Hash. If Brynn is unavailable for an event, Bourbon the Australian Shepherd or Lady Stone the Border Collie will appear in her place.
News: Guest Posts
Surprising legislation about our best friends
June 24 2017
There are some crazy laws related to dogs throughout the United States. In most cases, it is not clear how they are enforced or why people believed there was a need for such a law. It is obvious, however, that dogs play a large enough role in our communities to warrant a lot of legislation about them.
In Illinois, it is against the law to give a dog whiskey. It is also a violation of the law to give a dog a lighted cigar. There is nothing on the books about whether the dog may light the cigar on his own.
International Falls, Minnesota passed a law making it illegal for a cat to chase a dog up a telephone pole. Hopefully, there is no victim blaming if a dog does get chased up a pole by a cat.
For a dog to mate in a legal manner in Ventura, California, a permit is required. Presumably, there are many violations of this law, as is often the case with forbidden behavior.
If you’d like to hold hands or display any other forms of public affection while walking a dog on a leash, you can’t do it in New Castle, Delaware without violating the law. I suppose this protects a dog from getting tangled up in a weird love triangle?
Dogs and cats in Barber, North Carolina are not allowed to fight. It certainly seems wise, but why is it illegal for these fights between species to occur? It’s possible that the motivation was preventing an underground world of fighting along the lines of cockfighting and dogfighting.
Animals in California, including dogs, are not allowed to mate within 500 yards of a church or a school. Apparently, these sexual escapades are something that we need to prevent those at church or at school from witnessing.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, dogs who bark after 6 pm are violating the law. Enforcing this one seems absurdly challenging!
In Galesburg, Illinois, there is a statute stating that no person may keep a smelly dog. There is quite a spectrum for canine odor, so it’s hard to imagine an exact legal definition of “smelly” for dogs.
If you have a French Poodle who you want to take to the opera, you will have to do so someplace other than in Chicago, because there is a law on the books prohibiting that. Apparently, someone opposes exposing these dogs to that particular cultural experience.
When I think of laws relating to dogs, my mind goes to basic issues like having them on leash or requirements such as buying a dog license. Apparently, I am not nearly as creative as many lawmakers when it comes to dog legislation.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Puppy mill dogs have more behavioral problems
June 21 2017
“We found that across all behaviour categories, including trainability, dogs from less responsible breeders had significantly less favourable behaviour and temperament scores than puppies from responsible breeders.”
The above statement by researcher Catherine Douglas sums up the study “Do puppies from ‘puppy farms’ [puppy mills] show more temperament and behavioural problems than if acquired from other sources?” More extensive results were presented at the annual conference of the British Society of Animal Science.
It was the first study in the UK on the behavior and temperament of adult dogs who came from puppy farms, which we call puppy mills on this side of the Atlantic. Dogs were divided into two categories. One set came from puppy farms or other commercial breeding facilities that did not follow the good practice standards of the RSPCA or the Animal Welfare Foundation’s Puppy Contract (less responsible breeders). The other group in the study was made up of dogs who came from responsible breeders who put a priority on the welfare of the breeding dogs as well as of the puppies (responsible breeders).
Dog guardians filled out surveys about the conditions of the facility the dog came from to determine whether the dog came from a puppy farm (or similar) or from a responsible breeder. They were asked such questions as “Were the puppies raised in a home environment? Did you see the mother? At what age did you get your puppy?” They also filled out a standard survey (the CBARQ, or Canine Behavioral Assessment & Research Questionnaire) to evaluate their dog’s behavior. The breeds studied were the Pug, the Jack Russell Terrier and the Chihuahua.
Though there have been many studies about the physical health of dogs from puppy farms, there is far less research about the adult behavior of these dogs. The results of this study overwhelmingly support the common advice NOT to buy a dog from such a place. In every category, the dogs from less responsible breeders were found to have less desirable behavior than dogs from responsible breeders. Specifically, they were more likely to be aggressive to members of the household, more likely to be aggressive to strangers, more likely to be aggressive to dogs, more likely to be fearful of new objects, more likely to have noise phobias, more likely to suffer from separation anxiety, and less likely to be rated high in trainability.
It’s not clear what factors contribute to these extensive differences in temperament and behavior, but there are many possibilities. Stress during pregnancy can contribute to anxiety in puppies and affect their ability to learn in training. Being separated from the mother while very young can also have detrimental effects on adult behavior. There could also be genetic factors that account for some of the differences between the two groups of dogs.
Though the results of this study are not surprising, they do confirm that where we get our dogs matters. Acquiring dogs from puppy farms supports an industry that lacks proper safeguards for animal welfare and also makes it less likely that your best friend will be the ideal companion and family member that we all want.
News: Guest Posts
Dog clearly communicates his desire to continue walking.
June 15 2017
We were in a rush that morning, and though we felt a little guilty about it, the plan was for the morning walk to be just a 10-to-15-minute quickie around the block. The dogs would just have to wait until later in the day for some real exercise. As we rounded the last corner of our block to head home and begin the work day, Marley put the brakes on and resisted the turn. He stood his ground, facing a different direction than the way we wanted to go. I interpreted his action to mean that he was not yet ready to end the outing. I thought he was conveying the sentiment, “Don’t you dare just go around the block and call it a walk.” My husband’s take was that Marley was thinking, “The walk can’t be over. I haven’t even pooped yet!”
We can only guess what was actually going on in his head, but he was able to communicate quite clearly his desire to walk in the direction that did not lead directly home. Marley is an exceptionally agreeable dog, but he is no pushover. He only infrequently objects to something and is extremely easy going, but once in a while he will assert himself to get what he wants. When he doesn’t want to keep running, he lies down and simply does not continue. When he is cozy in a spot that we want to occupy, he becomes dead weight and is resistant to getting up.
I really like this quality in Marley because it’s nice to know what he wants. He doesn’t often express an opinion, but when he does, he makes his desires quite clear. “I want to walk this way.” “I do not want to move.” “That is enough of a workout for me.” He is not pushy, and I would not describe him as stubborn. He simply has his limits, and expresses them on rare occasions. Most of the time he goes with the flow, being more than up for whatever we have in mind, but he is capable of calmly letting us know his preference.
Do you have a laid back dog who lets you know, every once in a while, that he has a strong opinion about what he wants to happen?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Were your dog’s DNA results just as unbelievable?
June 13 2017
Many members of a local dog group had their dogs’ DNA tested, and one meeting served as the big reveal. Luckily for me, that was the day I had been invited for a Q&A session, because even the introductions were a hoot. Everyone told me their name, and then announced the results of the DNA test of the dog at their feet.
Many of the results were unsurprising. That dog everyone had assumed was a Rottweiler and German Shepherd Cross? Throw in a little Bearded Collie, and that’s just what the test said. The dog that looks exactly like an Irish Setter except that it is black? It is half Lab and half Irish Setter. How about the dog that seemed so impossible to identify that the group couldn’t agree on any likely possibilities? The test came back with breeds nobody had guessed—Plott Hound, Puli, Saint Bernard and Beauceron.
Other results went far beyond surprising and straight into the seemingly impossible. The 90-pound dog that appeared to have some northern breed as its primary source of DNA, but also looked like it had some hound in it? The test said it was half Dachshund, and then a few other small breeds that I can’t remember because the Dachshund part made us laugh so hard it affected our memories. The 25-pound dog that was all white with long hair was reported to be predominantly Portuguese Water Dog with some Great Dane. There was an apparent Terrier mix whose DNA test revealed it to be about half Siberian Husky with some Beagle and a little Shiba Inu.
It’s natural to want to know more about our dog’s genetic heritage, but it’s important to know that these DNA tests are not 100 percent accurate. The evidence suggests that they are not completely reliable, and nobody has been able to validate them to the satisfaction of geneticists. If you want to have your dog tested for fun, that’s fine, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the results are necessarily a true reflection of your dog’s background. Many people have submitted their dog’s DNA to multiple testing companies and received different answers about the dog’s breeds.
I had a dog whose heritage was a mystery. On some days, I didn’t care, figuring, “All that matters is that he is a dog and I love him.” On other days, I felt a desperate yearning to know what he was, and my thoughts strayed more towards themes of, “It’s my life’s quest. I MUST know what breeds of dogs went into him.” I always described him as “Half Black Lab, Half Handsome Stranger” and if he were still alive, I would most definitely pay to find out what the DNA tests had to say about it.
Even with doubts about their accuracy that require one to take the results with some skepticism, I still love to meet dogs and hear the results of their genetic tests. It’s especially fun when the results are unexpected.
Have you received DNA results about the breeds in your dog and found them, um, unlikely?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Interactions with guardians offer some relief
June 10 2017
Veterinary examinations are stressful for dogs, and being stressed is counterproductive to general well-being. We don’t want our dogs to suffer, especially when the purpose of seeing the veterinarian is to help them. Another issue is that the effects of stress—both the behavioral and physiological responses—can make it harder to examine the dog thoroughly and properly diagnosing the dog becomes harder as well.
A recent study examined the effects of contact with the guardian during veterinary exams on the stress levels of the dog. The basic conclusion of the study was that it is beneficial to dogs for their guardians to interact with them with physical contact and verbal communication. Dogs were less stressed by several measures when their guardians interacted with them compared with just having their guardian present in the room.
Every dog was studied during two visits to the veterinarian—one in which the guardian talked to and had physical contact with the dog, and one in which the guardian was present in the room but did not interact with the dog. The canine behaviors observed were panting, vocalizing, attempting to jump off the exam table, struggling, lip licking, yawning and paw lifting. The physiological measures were heart rate, cortisol levels, maximum ocular surface temperature and rectal temperature. All behaviors and physiological measures are associated with stress in dogs.
When guardians were allowed to talk to and pet their dogs (the “contact” condition), the dogs attempted to jump off the table less often and vocalized less than dogs whose guardians were present but not interacting with the dog (the “non-contact” condition). There were no differences in any of the other stress-related behaviors. On the physiological side, dogs in the “contact” condition did not have as large an increase in heart rate or maximum ocular surface temperature as the dogs in the “non-contact” condition did. There were no differences between the two conditions in rectal temperature.
This study offers some encouragement about our ability to make a difference to our dogs’ stress levels when at the veterinarian. The results suggest that interactions with the guardian may be more effective than just the physical presence of the guardian, but the effect is not striking. By many measures, there were no differences. The behavioral measure that did differ—vocalizing and trying to jump off the exam table—may do so because both of those behaviors could be an attempt to make contact with the guardian. Dogs do often vocalize as a response to separation, and dogs who try to jump off the exam table may sometimes do so as an attempt to make contact with their guardians.
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