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News: Guest Posts
Pet Loss Research:
How Does the Loss of a Dog Impact the Wellbeing of other Dogs in the Household?

I recently came upon the link for a pet loss survey through social media. My summer of 2013 had far too much pet loss. Curious, I went to the website, which is sponsored by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I met the study criteria: over 18 years of age; have lost a pet from my household due to death, temporary or permanent absence; and at the time of the loss, had at least one other pet that is still in my household today.

I took the survey, a process of about twenty minutes. Many questions were quickly answered by filling in the appropriate multiple-choice bubble; others could be answered with additional detail typed into a box.

I was impressed with the topics covered by the survey; having so recently lost two of my three dogs, I felt they were spot-on based on my experiences. Clearly the study delves into questions and concerns that many of us have about how our pets grieve but presently have no real answers for. We simply hope we’re doing the right thing for them.

I lost Maia, the oldest of my three dogs to old age last June (she was 14). Then quite unexpectedly I lost Meadow, age 12, to bone cancer just six weeks later. I found myself in troubling new territory with no guide. How do I help the surviving dogs through their grief? How is their grief impacted by my own? Was Finn, my youngest (age five) and now sole remaining dog going to be traumatized by losing two housemates in such quick succession? What could I do to make the losses easier for him, even while I was a wreck from grief?

There are websites addressing the issue of pet loss. Believe me, I visited several last summer. There are suggestions about helping us handle loss, helping children grieve, or responding to family, friends and co-workers who don’t understand why you’re a wreck and say, “It’s just a pet.” A few websites offer suggestions for helping other pets grieve, but there’s no research, no science behind the information. I didn’t want to make things worse for my dogs. I remember struggling mightily with whether to let the surviving dogs/dog see and smell the departed dog’s body. I searched for answers online, but couldn’t find anything concrete. I decided to let them come into the room after their housemate was gone. I only hope I made the right choice. It would be nice to have some research saying I did, or if not, what to do differently in the future.

Leticia Fanucchi, DVM and a Ph.D student, is working to bring us the science that will help us help our pets through the dying and grieving process when they lose household members (animal or human) to which they’re attached. As Dr. Fanucchi notes, there’s been some anecdotal data about the grieving process of other animals—elephants, apes, chimpanzees, marine mammals—but no systematic research regarding them or our companion animals. She aims to correct that, conducting controlled studies to help us and our vets better understand pet loss and grieving. Dr. Fanucchi describes this research as her career-long project.

Dr. Fanucchi currently has two surveys going—the pet loss survey I took, and a control survey for pet owners who aren’t experiencing loss. The data she collects will form the basis for the next stages of her research: measuring changes in behavior and diet when a pet loses another pet or a person in their household, and whether the grief of the owner impacts the grief of the pet. To gain early data during the next stage, Dr. Fanucchi will observe in the lab the brief separation (two minutes) of two pets sharing a household, to determine if the pair are attached or not. “If they are attached, then I can assume they will grieve.”

Eventually her research will involve finding pets actually going through the grieving process. The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine sees many animals that are old or have cancer or other life-threatening diseases. “Eventually, sadly, we lose animals,” said Dr. Fanucchi. “They will be the samples we study.” Dr. Fanucchi will seek owners willing to let her visit the pets and family in their home, observing and video-taping behaviors and measuring eating before and after loss to detect changes and influences.

Dr. Fanucchi anticipates analyzing the current pet survey data this summer and publishing the results by the end of this year, although the surveys will stay up all year. Thereafter, as she moves forward through research stages and collects additional data, she will try to publish annually so that new information is shared regularly. So far, some 700 people have responded to the pet loss survey, and another 500 to the pet behavior without loss survey.

You can help this important research by responding to whichever survey applies to your household:

Pet Loss Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petloss

Pet Owner (without loss) Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petbehavior

Participation is voluntary and anonymous. If questions make you uncomfortable, you can leave them blank. If the pet loss survey causes any distress, counseling services are available through the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline (website and phone numbers provided before you enter the survey).

I urge you to take the small amount of time needed to complete one or the other survey. The more data collected, the better the results and subsequent research, leading to information that, sadly, we will all need at some point in our lives shared with animal companions.

 

News: Guest Posts
Zoo Baby: Part 3
Welcome, Zoo Baby!
newborn zoo baby dogs family

He’s here! Our little zoo baby, Brandon Richard Lane, was born February 23, 2014. He let out a powerful wail as the doctor placed him on my chest, assuring us that he would fit right in with our vocal pack. At 6 pounds 5 ounces, he weighed less than our tiniest cat, Cricket, and he measured 20.5” long. He had a surprising amount of brown hair and beautiful, dark blue eyes.

After three days in the hospital, we missed our dogs and cats and couldn’t wait to bring Brandon home to the zoo. In order to prepare them for the new arrival, my mom, Grandma K., brought them a little shirt Brandon wore so everyone could sniff it.

She reported that only our oldest dog, Darby the 11.5-year-old Dalmatian, excitedly checked it out and whipped her tail into circles. I think she smelled her favorite person, my husband Brian, on the shirt. Everyone else demonstrated some curiosity but once they realized Grandma wasn’t offering food, they wandered back to their favorite sleeping spots.

When we came home that night, I entered the house first and spent a good 10 minutes greeting everybody. Jolie, my 10-year-old Dalmatian, bounced up and down with joy, while the younger dogs, Ginger Peach and Magnum, swirled around me, bringing offerings of slobbery Kongs and rubber balls. Darby the Queen, who usually waits for her loyal subjects to approach her, thrust herself into the chaos, slapping her tail against my shins while she growl-grumbled hello.

Brian then entered the house, carrying Brandon in the car seat. The zoo repeated its manic greeting ritual, either ignoring the baby in the room or just being unaware of his presence. Finally, their noses started working and they realized the humans had increased their ranks. Before they could uncover the blue polka-dot Dalmatian blanket protecting Brandon from cold, wet noses and pools of dog slobber, Brian placed the car seat on the kitchen table.


Cricket literally warmed up to the baby

This, of course, delighted the cats, who were lying in wait for their opportunity to climb into that comfortable looking cat bed. Unfortunately, there was some weird creature in the way. Cricket tentatively smelled Brandon, and she was on the cusp of tolerating him when he startled and waved his arms around. That did not go over well. She hissed in his face and would’ve started trash talking had we not intervened. Thankfully, our gentle giant cat, Bruiser Bear, just sniffed Brandon a few times before sauntering away.

I had expected – and prepared for - a variety of behaviors from the dogs. Darby had never been comfortable around children. For everyone’s safety, we taught her to leave the area rather than feel she had to confront a child (many thanks to our nieces, who were willing guinea pigs in the training process). So it was no surprise that she excused herself from the room.      


Jolie the Dalmatian enjoys napping with baby Brandon

Jolie is a Therapy Dog who adapts well to new situations and is drawn to people, especially if they’re upset or lonely. She is wonderful with children, who love to pet her soft fur and count her spots. She remained at a respectful distance from Brandon until we invited her over. After inspecting him thoroughly and making sure he didn’t have any crumbs of food to offer, she turned her attention to me. Sensing my exhaustion, she gave me a little kiss on the ear (I can count on one hand the number of times Jolie has kissed anybody in 10 years). That was all the assurance I needed.

Magnum and Ginger Peach were the surprises. The former is a two-year-old Border Collie who adores people and grew up with our young nieces. Yet his high energy and sensitivity to pressure and space made me wonder if he’d feel overstimulated and lose his cool. On the contrary, Magnum loved the baby. He was curious without being obnoxious, and sweetly licked the tips of Brandon’s tiny fingers. When Brandon would cry or fuss, Magnum was right there, wanting to know what job he could do to help this poor little puppy feel better. I figured they would bond once Brandon was old enough to throw a ball, but there was an instant closeness between the two.


Brandon, 2.5 weeks old & his best friend, Magnum, 2 years old

The dog I thought would be Brandon’s best pal from day one was actually very conflicted about him. Although she loves people, too, she is an anxious rescue girl who does not handle change easily. Her response to stress is to madly lick everything in sight, from the carpet to people’s clothing. She has strong prey drive and is not to be trusted unsupervised around small dogs. Every time Brandon cried, which sounded like a squeak, Peach went on alert, hoping to find a toy. Yet she knew it wasn’t one, leaving her confused.

Upon meeting Brandon, she demonstrated a behavior that shocked me. She narrowed her eyes, lowered her head, and slunk around the car seat, like a feral dog. She was afraid and unsure. Of course, we moved Brandon up to the table again to remove the pressure from Peach and keep him safe. In typical shepherd mode, she placed herself between Brandon and me. That’s when I realized that she wasn’t necessarily being more protective of the baby when I was pregnant. She had wanted to protect me in what she must’ve perceived as a more fragile state.  

We were too tired that night to worry about Ginger Peach’s behavior with the baby. But it was something we would have to address over the next few days. I hoped that with my training background, we would find a way to help her gain confidence around the newest member of the zoo.

 

Read Zoo Baby: Part 2

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
First Sniff and First Lick
“First Kiss” parodies were inevitable

What will happen when strangers kiss on film? We still don’t know because this past week’s viral video that claimed it was “magic” turned out to be a clever advertisement for a clothing company. Since the “First Kiss” video had over 10 million views in a matter of days and is now approaching 50 million, it’s no surprise that parodies of it have begin to surface. Obviously, one that involved dogs was bound to make the rounds, and here is an example.

Just like the original that inspired it, “First Sniff” is in black-and-white, it shows some diversity of characters though all are attractive, it is set to moving music, has close-ups of faces and shows positive emotional interactions between the pairs.

There are so many parodies, and another of my favorites is First Lick: A Film by Jimmy Fallon, which includes both dogs and cats.

I think that the puppy who gets distracted by his own tail is the breakout star of the film, although the facial expressions of the Basset Hound are priceless.

Do you have a favorite part of any of the parodies of the First Kiss video?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Game of Thrones, Twilight Creates a Homeless Husky Problem
Wolves in popular culture increase the number of homeless pups
A direwolf from the television show, Game of Thrones.

Over the years various television shows and movies have been blamed for the overpopulation problem connected with iconic breeds like Chihuahuas and Dalmatians. It's unfortunate that people see these dogs in popular culture and feel the need to get a pet without doing any research.

The success of the HBO show, Game of Thrones, and fantasy films like Twilight, has spelt bad news for wolf-like dog breeds (fortunately for dragons, the fire breathing creatures are harder to acquire).

Game of Thrones features animals called direwolves that are played by Northern Inuit dogs on the show. Twilight has characters that shape shift into werewolves. As a result, fans have been buying breeds such as Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes, without planning for the level of energy these dogs have.

According to U.K. animal charity Blue Cross, this has led to a whopping 420 percent increase in Husky type breeds being abandoned since 2008, the year the first Twilight movie was released. Game of Thrones debuted three years later in 2011.

When I first watched the discovery of the direwolf puppies on Game of Thrones, of course I let out an “aww” and said that I wanted my very own direwolf. But a plush toy will have to suffice. It's situations like these that expose the root of our pet overpopulation problem—irresponsible ownership. People need to realize that pets require a great deal of time, money, and devotion. And not every dog is appropriate for every family and lifestyle. Animals are not disposable!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Happy Ending for 'School Dog'
Lab mix walks children to and from school, finds vet care and home

Seven years ago, a puppy showed up in Eagle Pass, Texas and started accompanying children as they walked to and from Benavidez Heights Elementary school. She even hung around at recess to play with the kids. At first the school tried to chase the dog away, but soon they gave up and named her Debbie. The faculty and students began leaving food and water for Debbie, and even got her basic vaccinations. It always remained a mystery where Debbie went during holidays and summer break, but she was always there for every school day.

However Debbie's daily walks came to an end in late January when she was hit by a car, just outside of the school. Fortunately teacher Dr. Ronald Zawacki-Maldonado was quick to rescue Debbie and get her medical attention.

Debbie was treated for several broken bones, a dislocated spine, skin injuries, and the loss of one of her toes. While Debbie was recovering, she received lots of get well cards and valentines from students, some who are now in junior high school and high school!

Although she'll need physical therapy, Debbie finally left South Texas Veterinary Specialists after over a month of treatment. The good news is that Debbie will be going home with Dr. Ronald, her new adoptive dad. And Debbie has inspired Dr. Ronald to start his own animal rescue!

Debbie will no longer be walking the kids to school, but I'm sure she'll get to visit as the unofficial mascot!

Dog's Life: Humane
Saving Abandoned Pups
Tiny Mr. Peebles is saved

Animal control officers and shelter workers see all the sad terrible things people wreak on each other and their fellow creatures. The cruelty, apathy and neglect can be overwhelming at times and the turnover rate is high in shelter work. Some days I just want to quit and do something easier and less stressful like lumberjacking or tax collecting. Still, in more than 25 years in the business, I’ve noticed that for every person doing terrible things, there are 100 people trying to make it better. If you look carefully, there are people everywhere you go who are fostering, adopting, donating and working behind the scenes to save lives. We often don’t notice those people because they are quietly doing what needs doing while cruelty and neglect are shocking and dramatic.

Every day I see dedicated shelter staff, rescue workers and volunteers working hard on and off duty to make life sweeter for animals in need. Volunteers work adoption events, fundraise, foster or make time to come and walk the shelter dogs or brush and play with the cats. Staff members take scared dogs and orphaned kittens home and care for them until they can be adopted.

Several months ago, two abandoned newborn puppies were brought to our shelter. They were chilled, dehydrated and suffered from severe bite wounds. They were rushed to the vet but the little female didn’t survive. The male had serious head trauma including skull fractures and infected wounds. His prognosis was poor. Lucky for him, one of our amazing staff members made him her project. She took him home and tenderly cared for him day and night on her own time. He had to be bottle fed every few hours around the clock and like all newborns he had to be stimulated to eliminate. His abscessed wounds had to be cleaned and drained several times a day.

Bits of teeth and bone were coming out of the wounds and Mr. Peebles had several surgeries to repair the damage. After months of devotion and TLC, he has made a full recovery and acts like a normal happy friendly puppy. The care Mr. Peebles received meant the difference between life and death. He has some vision loss and his head is rather crooked but it only adds to his charm.  He is waiting for his forever home.

 

News: Editors
Beyond the Myth:
A film about breed specific legislation

Beyond the Myth is a film about Pit Bulls that explores breed-specific legislation and how such laws are unfairly condemning thousands of dogs. It was made in 2011 but you can still host a screening in your area or purchase the DVD. See this movie trailer to learn more. This documentary was the brainchild of Libby Sherrill, as she notes, “I developed the concept as part of my senior project while attending graduate school at The University of Tennessee. After I received my M.S. in Communications, I left an eight-year career with Scripps Networks (HGTV) to produce Beyond The Myth.” You can read more about the myths surrounding Pit Bulls here.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Don’t Live Long Enough
But we share their whole life

Though I could go on endlessly about the fine qualities of dogs, I could also babble for a little while about some of the drawbacks. I could do without cleaning up vomit, excessive shedding, and the tendency of the heaviest dogs to stand on my foot without even realizing they are doing it, but only the shortness of their lives really, truly bothers me. I have often said that not a single dog has ever lived long enough, and I stand by that statement.

So, at the risk of sounding a little over the top in a rose-colored glasses, accentuate-the-positive, glass-half-full kind of way, I thought about dogs’ short lives in a new way when I saw a set of paired pictures of animals recently. Every animal (mostly dogs with some cats and one turtle) is shown twice—then and now. Some of the pictures show the dogs with just a few months of separation while other photos were taken 16 or 17 years apart.

As I looked through these photos, it struck me as beautiful that we are able to share a dog’s whole life. That’s quite rare in people’s relationships, which is why those friendships that began in early childhood and last forever are so cherished. In contrast, many dogs come into our lives as puppies or adolescents and remain with us until the end of their lives. Granted, that end comes too soon as I am always saying, but there’s something special about sharing all the stages of their life with them from youth through middle age and into the golden years.

In the set of photos that inspired these thoughts about dogs’ lifespans, I especially love the second set of photos which shows a young man holding first a black puppy and later a 10-year old black dog. Even though the dog is large, he looks content to be held by this guy, and that’s not common. The brindle boxer puppy lying on top of the fawn boxer also charmed me. Even though just 3 months passed between the photos, the puppy has grown so much, and the older dog seems to have accepted the new addition to the household.

In all the photos, I love seeing the joy in most people’s faces as they pose with their pets months or even years apart. There are big changes in the dogs and sometimes, depending on the time difference and whether the first photo showed a child or an adult, big changes in the people, too. I adore how the behavior and expressions are often consistent over time, even taking into account the purposeful reposing that obviously happened and the inability of many dogs to fit into spaces that used to accommodate them easily.

Do you have photos that span your dog’s lifetime?

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Dog Decoder

Jill Breitner is a dog trainer with a mission: to make us aware of how dogs communicate by showing us how to “read” them. She developed her Dog Decoder app to do just that.

A helpful and handy primer on canine body language, it demonstrates the ways dogs let us know they’re scared, excited, cautious, willing and so forth. As Breitner explains, “If we understood what dogs try so hard to tell us, there would be fewer people bitten and fewer dogs ending up in shelters.” The app highlights 60 different poses/situations; each one (“butt sniff,” for example) comes with a helpful description that points out some common misconceptions, or the circumstances in which a dog will exhibit it.

A great tool for newbie dog people and those of us who need to brush up on dog talk. dogdecoder.com

News: Guest Posts
Home-Schooling for Dogs Could Be Catching On
“Do As I Do” scores high

A rambunctious five-year-old Labrador Retriever who until a few months ago knew not a word of any language, obeyed no command, charged around the house or zipped through any hole in the fence before one could utter the name he didn’t seem to recognize has become my 91-year-old mother’s great and constant companion. He sits or lies by her when she is sitting or lying down. He moves with her when she goes somewhere with her walker and when she tells him to give her clear passage. He accompanies her when she walks around the pool for exercise. She says, “He is a good boy.” My mother has never trained a dog. She had a nice trained dog once, but she had been trained by someone else and given to her.

But Rocky, as he was named by my mother’s granddaughter, received no formal instruction from any source. He was neutered, which helped slow him down, but more profoundly, he and she opted for companionship and accommodation over ignoring each other. She talks to him constantly, telling him what she wants him to do. If she praises him, she is not effusive. She may occasionally slip him some food when she is cooking, and he will if given a chance steal her breakfast bagel. There is no system to it, but there is consistency.Top of Form

More than a few dog trainers who follow behaviorist principles that require a stimulus, a reward or punishment, for learning to occur would argue that Rocky is untrained—that is that he still will not perform on command the actions demanded of him—except he comes when called. He moves when told. He tells my mother when someone is at the door and stands by her when she opens it, thereby providing at least the illusion of protection. If that is not training, what is it?

My friend and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff (“Animal Emotions”), might call the process dog teaching or dog learning.

It might not be as quick or as systematic as one of the common schools of training, including those that use electric collars and choke chains and those that rely on clickers and food rewards or other positive re-enforcers. But then again the results might be quicker, deeper, and longer lasting.

I have seen no statistics on the numbers of dogs educated in this fashion, but I imagine it is substantial. Essentially it relies on the dog’s innate curiosity, desire to please, and recognized ability to imitate behavior and recognize words and emotions, traits which arguably thousands of years of living with humans have served to enhance. It also requires the human have an interest in being with the dog and interacting with him or her in a meaningful way—what used to be referred to as “quality time” with the hound. Praise and rewards are meted out more according to the person’s nature than any program or schedule. They do not have to involve food. Our Kelpie Katie was unmotivated by food—she would ignore food rewards—but when a tennis ball appeared she went on high alert. Even then the ball was not essential to her learning something.

This intuitive style of dog teaching is not without its intellectual underpinnings thanks initially to Edward Tolman in the first half of the last century. He proposed that learning had intrinsic value and that people and animals could learn in the absence of immediate rewards—latent learning it is called. That idea underpins what is called the social theory of learning, which also views learning as a social endeavor that can involve imitation of behavior that is demonstrated or verbally described.

In an article in the January 28, issue of Applied Animal (Behaviour Science, entitled “Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the “Do as I do” method and the shaping/clicker training method to train dogs,” Claudia Fugazza and Ádám Miklósi of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, look at a canine system of social learning that relies on the dog’s great capacity for imitation called Do As I Do (DAID) compared with clicker training, which relies on the timely delivery of rewards to employ the dog’s associative abilities in shaping its behavior. (The article is only available by subscription, but here is the Abstract.) The clicker becomes a stand-in (secondary re-enforcer) for the actual re-enforcer, usually food. Clicker training is individualized instruction that requires the dog to figure out what earns rewards.

Fugazza, a graduate student in ethology developed Do As I Do in order to study social learning in dogs. To do that she had to develop protocols for teaching them. Judging from its success, it should gain a wide following. In this method, trainers, usually the dog’s primary human companion, use standard reward-based techniques to teach the dog to associate a small number of gestures with the command, “Do It!” The dog is then shown a new task and taught to perform it upon being given that command.

 

For this study, Fugazza and Miklósi compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks of increasing complexity, from knocking over a glass (simple) to opening or closing a locker or drawer (complex task) to a sequence of actions, like hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a locker and removing a purse (compound). Objects were involved in each task that were not considered part of the family dog’s normal repertoire so that mastery of the task could be construed as learning. In the simple task there was no difference in performance between clicker-trained dogs and Do As I Do dogs, but that changed as the tasks became more difficult. Do As I Do dogs performed noticeably better, with more of them learning the task in the allotted fifteen minutes than clicker-trained dogs. 

No one knows how the dogs are making the connections, and in their conclusion Fugazza and Miklósi thought it more important to downplay that result in favor, Miklósi said in an email, of providing trainers with as many methods as possible so they can choose the one best suited to their needs.

That is a tactical decision rather than a scientific one. It is grounded in the recognition that, especially commercial dog trainers and trainers of working and service dogs, like to use what has worked for them in the past with the kind of dog on which it has worked. That is one reason punishment-based forms of dog training persist. 

For home schooling, time, patience, devotion—and a daily reminder of who has the big brain—are the keys to success and those come from discipline we often need more than the dog.

Used with permission of Mark Derr and Psychology Today, see more from Mark Derr’s blog “Dog’s Best Friend.”

Also see http://thebark.com/content/dogs-are-asked-just-do-it

 

 

 

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