Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The similarities are considerable
If you’ve always thought that you and your dogs understand one another’s emotions, you increasingly have scientific evidence supporting your views. The use of MRIs allowed researchers to demonstrate that the brains of both dogs and people have a similar response to human voices, crying and laughter, among many other sounds. Researchers conclude that the brains of both dogs and people have similar reactions to the emotional cues in many sounds.
Eleven dogs and 22 people were subjected to the same MRI scans during which they had to remain still for up to 8 minutes while exposed to various sounds. (A lot of training went in to teaching dogs to remain motionless during the scans.) The study is called “Voice-Sensitive Regions in the Dog and Human Brain Are Revealed by Comparative fMRI” (only the abstract is available online) and it was published last week in the journal Current Biology. It is the first study to use this technique to compare the brain of humans to a non-primate animal species.
Over 200 different sounds were played to each participant in the study over a number of sessions. There were sounds such as whistles and car noises as well as dog vocalizations and human sounds. The responses to human sounds in both people and dogs occurred in similar regions of the brain. This study is the first time such a similarity to humans has been shown in an animal species that is NOT a primate. Both the people and the dogs also reacted in similar regions of the brain to emotional canine vocalizations such as whimpering and intense barking.
Along with the similarities, there were also differences in responses between the two species. Humans were better at distinguishing between the sounds of the environment and vocalizations than dogs were. Additionally, both species responded more strongly to vocalizations of their own species.
It is impossible to say from this study whether these vocal regions of the brain evolved in a more ancient lineage than was previously thought or whether the dogs have evolved this similarity during the period of domestication as a mechanism to allow better communication and understanding between dogs and people.
Future studies that investigate brains of additional species may be able to determine the reason for the similarity between dogs and people. These scientists next plan to study the response of dog brains to human language, which was not a part of this study.
The other day Dexter, an adorable Jack Russell Terrier, had the chance to meet up with Micah, a 14-year-old Husky who he grew up with. Dexter’s new mom, Jody, took these charming photos of their joyous reunion. Almost two years ago their first mom, Carol, had died unexpectedly, and the dogs had been separated. We, and other friends of Carol’s, had a hand in finding a new home for Dexter while Micah went to live with a Husky-loving family.
While Micah might have slowed down some, Jody tells us that he howled and romped with his terrier pal who was simply ecstatic about seeing him. The little dog definitely grew attached to the much larger Huskies, and loves running up to greet the ones he sees at the dog park, but he simply adores his Micah, as these photos demonstrate. It was great that Jody was able to track down Micah’s family and arrange for their reunion.
We’re looking forward to our Wire-haired Pointer, Lola, seeing her brother Jack this July. Both dogs, as pups, were found roaming and fending for themselves in the Sierra foothills area of Northern California, and were rescued by a wonderful pointer rescue person. We adopted Lola from her posting on Petfinder.com, while Jack was adopted by a couple living in Utah, who are planning a visit to our area this summer! We can’t wait to see if Jack and Lola, who are now 8-years-old, will recognize each other. We certainly hope they do. And even if they don’t, we are thrilled about being able to meet Jack and his people.
Has your dog ever had the chance for a similar reunion with a dog friend or sibling/parent from the past? Would love to hear how that went!
Dog's Life: Humane
We've all seen them, the transient with the loaded backpack thumbing a ride with a cardboard sign or hanging out at the park and sleeping in cars with all their worldly belongings. Many of these people have dogs and in some cases are even homeless because of their dogs. People who have lost their homes or are unable to find pet friendly rentals are often forced to choose between giving up their beloved pet and homelessness.
As an animal control officer I've dealt with more than my share of homeless peoples dogs. In some cases these dogs lead a better life than dogs whose owners have plenty of money but no time for them. Other times the owner's lifestyle results in harm to the dog. I've been called to pick up homeless peoples dogs after the owners arrest, illness or death. Sometimes the owners are unable to provide veterinary care or other needs and we try to help them out. We do low-cost or even no-cost spay/neuter surgeries and vaccines whenever possible.
In many cases the dog is a homeless persons only friend and protector in a scary world. I was once called to check on a dog barking and howling beside a freeway overpass. I found a tent tucked back in the bushes and when I approached a black and white Pit Bull began barking at me. I didn't see anyone nearby and the dog was tethered to the tent stake. He retreated inside the tent as I came closer and I peered inside as he growled a warning. The tent was spotless clean and judging from the articles inside I guessed that the resident was a woman. The dog was in excellent weight and condition and wearing a coat. His reaction to my intrusion was appropriate given the circumstances. I posted a notice on the tent and left the dog where he was. The owner later called and confirmed that she had just been out looking for a job and was back with her dog.
I was once flagged down by a man walking with a darling older yellow Lab. He was disabled and had recently lost his job and his home. He was unwilling to go to a shelter because dog weren't allowed but the colder weather had his dog suffering outdoors too. After a brief discussion I agreed to house his dog at the shelter for a period of time while he explored his options. He had tears in his eyes as he lifted his beloved companion into my truck. I promised to take good care of her and drove away with a lump in my throat.
The dog was given a cushy bed on a heated floor in the kennels and I tried to spend a few minutes with her whenever possible. I wondered if she would ever be able to go home. We could have found a home for her, she was darling girl, but I know she would be happiest with her person. The man kept in touch and after nearly a month he found a place to live where he could have her. It was wonderful to see the reunion when he came for her.
There is a well known homeless character in my area who hangs out in the town square with his dog. He's older and wears layers of bright colored clothing with bits of yarn, feathers and other prizes tucked into it. The dog is an obese white mixed breed and he refuses to put a collar on her but leads her with a strip of rags around her waist. I stopped to talk to him one day and asked him how long he had lived like this. He turned his wrinkled face toward me and said “since I dodged the Viet Nam draft.” He then went on to tell me that he loved his life. He nodded toward the dog and said “I've got her, clothes on my back and enough to eat. What more do I need?” And I believe he meant it too.
News: Guest Posts
This past weekend, I attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. A conference described as “4 Days, 2,000 People, 1 Question: How Can We Live With Wisdom, Awareness and Compassion in the Digital Age?”
The answer is simple. Dogs.
That sounds like a biased answer coming from the president of Humane Society Silicon Valley. Except it didn’t come from me.
During the opening session, Wisdom 2.0 founder Soren Gordhamer highlighted how individual attendees answered the question, “What Most Inspires You?” When the words ‘my dog’ popped up on the big screen, more than a few knowing chuckles came from the audience.
And the evidence kept mounting.
· Facebook Director of Engineering, Arturo Behar, launched his presentation of ‘Putting Wisdom into Practice’ by showing a picture of Churro, his Siberian Husky puppy. The 2,000 people in attendance responded with a collective ‘Awwwww.’
· Instagram Director of Product, Peter Deng, discussed ‘Applied Mindfulness’ and said, “If you want to insert mindfulness into your busy life, the best way to start the day is with a cute dog.”
· Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wanted to deliver more happiness to employees at the new Zappos campus. He solicited employees for their input during construction. Some asked for an onsite gym, others an onsite library, some even requested an onsite pub. But the biggest request, by far, was onsite Doggy Daycare.
· Google VP of People, Karen May, interviewed Eckhart Tolle, one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time. May originally met Tolle a few years ago when seated next to him at a dinner. She figured that since Tolle is so spiritually lofty, he couldn’t possibly carry a technology device like the rest of us. And then he whipped out his iPhone to show her a picture of his dog. “That’s when I knew he was human,” she said.
Tolle continued to discuss why being overly absorbed in our minds keeps us from enjoying life. We get so wrapped up in our thoughts that we miss the moment. He warned that if we allow our connection to technology to take over, we could become completely disconnected to the life within us and around us. If we keep our minds so preoccupied with the next email, the next text, the next Facebook post, we will never be present for one another nor ourselves.
That would be such a tragedy! Because being present is a wonderful gift. When we give pure attention without any intention, it creates true relationship because intuitively, we know that we are not being judged. That’s where dogs (and cats) come into the picture. Tolle also talked about why so many of us love animals, and how it’s not necessarily the reason most of us think—the unconditional love they provide. When you look into the eyes of a dog or cat, you feel really alert. For a moment, it frees you from your mind. You not only sense the beingness; you recognize it. The real reason we love dogs and cats is that we love the consciousness that shines through. And when we acknowledge that consciousness, it arises in us.
And we become present.
Which brings me back to the original question asked by the conference description. How do we live with wisdom, compassion, and awareness in the digital age? From the sessions I’ve highlighted, I think it’s fair to say, that for many people, having animals in our lives is part of the answer.
And I couldn’t agree more! Animals, for those of us who resonate with them, are an entry point to living in the moment. And in the face of technology and the multitude of devices that are constantly pulling us out of the present—and out of our lives—dogs (and cats) are one of the few ways we can easily be pulled back in.
See Humane Society of Silicon Valley
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The dogs’ behavior is fascinating
The kinship I feel with dog lovers allows me to share the following with no concern that any of you would fail to understand: Yesterday I was in need of an emotional pick-me-up, but I was short on time, so I wandered over to YouTube to look for a dog video that would quickly make smiling a sure thing.
The first video I came to was called “Dogs Welcoming Soldiers Home” and I watched it once just for pleasure, enjoying the reunions. I especially loved the Great Dane at about 1:20 because a Great Dane on its hind legs is always a striking image and because this was my childhood breed.
Then, I couldn’t help myself, and I watched the video again. This time, I observed the dogs carefully the way I do when I am working. Several aspects of the dogs’ behavior interested me.
The most obvious behavior was also the least surprising. These dogs were exuberant, leaping and spinning (presumably joyfully) when greeting their returning soldier guardians. They were out of control in the best possible way.
They were so revved up that energy was exploding out of them, and that included vocalizations. Many of these dogs were whimpering and whining and making other loud sounds, but not barking. It’s hard to say what all these vocalizations mean, but I feel comfortable saying that they were likely indicative of dogs feeling intense emotions. The sounds they made seemed very expressive to me, even though I can’t claim to know precisely what they were expressing. It is interesting to me that so many of the dogs made these sounds. Since this was a compilation video, it is possible that the loudest dogs were chosen because the person who compiled the clips found these sounds interesting, as do I.
The close physical contact that the dogs sought with the people was fascinating. The dogs generally seemed not to be able to get close enough to the people. Many of them seemed to be pressing their bodies against the people in a way that’s not typical. Primates, including humans, often seek out the ventral-ventral (bellies together) contact of hugs, but it’s not very common dog behavior. Even most dogs who jump are more likely to make contact with just their paws rather than with their bodies.
In other contexts, such as cuddling on the couch or floor, many dogs do seek close contact, but that is more often lying next to or on top of people, rather than behavior that looks more like a human hug. These dogs were not resisting hugs and being picked up the way many dogs often do, but seemed quite comfortable with those human actions. (A few even jumped into the soldier’s arms.) One exception is the Golden Retriever at about 4 minutes who tolerates but doesn’t love the prolonged hug from behind. Even this dog soon settles in and seems somewhat more comfortable with full contact with the person in a slightly different position.
The most surprising behaviors I noticed were the tail wags. It has been well documented that dogs experiencing positive emotions tend to wag their tail higher to the right, and the study found that to be particularly true of dogs greeting their guardians. I would have expected dogs to be so joyous when greeting a guardian after a long absence that their tail wags would be to the right. Yet, in this video, many of the dogs exhibited left-biased tail wags, which I found curious. Certainly, the dogs seemed happy to see the people. After all, their enthusiasm is what makes this video so wonderful in the first place.
I can only speculate about why left-biased tail wags were so prevalent in this video. Dogs cannot understand the concept of deployment, and since most of these service members were probably gone for about a year, it’s likely that the dogs were surprised to see them again. It is my belief that many dogs whose guardians are gone for extended periods of time have already grieved for these people as though they are gone forever, which could make their return wonderful, but also startling. Perhaps confusion or shock factored into the emotions of the dogs enough to counteract the joy of the reunion that I thought would lead to right-biased tail wags.
If you have had an extended separation because of military service or any other reason, what was your reunion with your dog like?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
More Olympic athletes are saving pups at the Games
Earlier this month I wrote about the last ditch effort to save stray pups in Sochi and the hope that Olympic visitors might consider adopting. Now U.S. athletes are coming together to take homeless dogs back to America.
It all started with slopestyle skiing silver medalist Gus Kenworthy, who discovered a mom and her four pups living under a security tent at the Olympic media center. He was not allowed to bring the dogs into the Athletes' Village, but visited them every day. Gus said that the animals were a welcome distraction leading up to his competition.
Gus knew that these dogs would have nowhere to go once the security tent came down and could not bear leave them behind. So Gus postponed his return home and got the necessary paperwork to take the pups back with him. Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, the man backing the pre-Olympic rescue effort, is helping Gus get the puppies on a plane this week. Oleg is also planning to unveil a new shelter on Friday that can accommodate 250 dogs.
Now multiple athletes are following suit and adopting Sochi strays they've met on the Olympic grounds. Snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis didn't medal at the Games, but is ecstatic to be taking home an adorable pup she named Sochi (judging from what other athletes are calling their pups, Lindsey's dog won't be the only Sochi coming back to the U.S.!).
Other adopters include U.S. hockey team members, Ryan Miller, David Backes, and Kevin Shattenkirk, skiier Brita Sigourney, and bobsled and skeleton press officer Amanda Bird. Amanda has said she'd like to adopt an older dog, since the puppies are more likely to find homes.
For David Backes and his wife Kelly, adopting a Sochi stray was second nature. They already do a lot of rescue work through their charity, Athletes for Animals.
I'm happy to see so many athletes taking back Sochi strays, but I'm equally happy with how much publicity this has created for adoption in general. I hope people watching the Games will be inspired by the Olympians and think about visiting the animal shelter to save a dog close to home.
Spencer on the move!
Spencer is a two-year-old rescued Bulldog who had been paralyzed in his back legs since he has been a puppy. Linda Heinz found him on her back door step, but how he got there remains a mystery. She took him in and gave him a loving home. Her vet thought that Spencer’s injuries sadly pointed to abuse he had suffered as a young pup. He never had a chance to walk like other dogs. But Linda decided to take him to Tampa’s Westcoast Brace and Limb company and asked them to make a prosthetic to help Spencer to walk. Even thought they had never had a canine patient before, they were definitely up for the challenge and fashioned custom braces outfitted with green Crocks for rather adorable “feet” for him. As soon as Spencer was fitted with his new feet, off he went, running up and down the hallways at the clinic, he seemed to never get enough of this new walking sensation. See how Spencer got his “legs,” and how his pal, a blind pig named Porkchop, greeted him.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog flexibility strikes again
If you’re not amazed by the diversity of dog body type and the huge number of habitats in which they can live, then you’re in the minority. Scientists, dog lovers and scientists who are dog lovers consider the domestic dog a species of considerable interest for the great number of forms that have evolved over a relatively short time. Some of the variation is obvious because it involves shape, size and color, while some of the behavioral tendencies are subtle. Even less obvious are the physiological difference between different types of dogs, including the recent discovery of adaptations to high altitude by the Tibetan Mastiff.
This breed of dog is most closely related to the Chinese native dogs, but in recent history, has been selected to live high in the mountains of Tibet at elevations of nearly 15,000 feet. The biggest challenge to life at such heights is the low level of oxygen. Even individuals who are quite fit can become out of breath just from walking at a casual pace under the low oxygen (hypoxic) conditions at high altitude. So, how do Tibetan Mastiffs thrive in Tibet? They do it in much the same way that wild animals and humans do—with genetic changes that affect hemoglobin concentration, the formation of extra blood vessels and the use and production of energy.
In a new study called “Population variation revealed high altitude adaptation of Tibetan Mastiffs”, scientists found that this breed of dogs has at least a dozen areas in their genome that represent adaptations to the high life. One of the genes that helps them survive in their high-altitude/low oxygen environment is similar to a gene present in the Tibetan people, who are also adapted to the high life. The rest of them are different than those of the people as well as differing from animals such as the yak and the Tibetan antelope that are also adapted to this environment.
Though much selection on our companion dogs has changed their behavior and appearance, there are also examples of changes that are far harder to observe such as the Tibetan Mastiff ‘s adaptations to high altitude.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Non-surgical alternative sterilizes dogs in one shot
Sochi's pre-Olympic dog crisis brought the world's pet overpopulation problem to the forefront of people's minds. Neutering is not a cultural norm in Russia, exacerbating stray dog numbers to uncontrollable levels. Many countries have had success with Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programs in reducing stray pet numbers over time, but not all communities have the resources needed to implement TNR. Surgery is expensive and comes with the complications of any medical procedure. Neutering also faces a hurdle with Individuals who sometimes see it as unnatural or emasculating.
However, we could be entering a new era. On Monday, a vaccine started shipping that many animal welfare people are calling a game changer in lowering stray dog populations worldwide. Zeuterin is the first ever FDA-approved injectable sterilization compound. The vaccine sterilizes a male dog for life with one shot.
With Zeutrin five dogs can be sterilized for the cost and time it takes to surgically sterilize one dog. According to the manufacturer, Ark Sciences, the vaccine is five time safer than surgery. Zeutrin has a simple composition of sterile water, the trace element Zinc Gluconate, and the amino acid Arginine. All of these ingredients are required for the body, and no preservatives are needed.
At the moment Ark Sciences has regulatory approval in Panama, Bolivia, Columbia, Mexico, and the United States. They envision full adoption in the United States by the year 2020.
Besides the low cost and ease of this surgical alternative, there is another potential benefit to the vaccine. Dogs sterilized with Zeutrin retain about 50 percent of their testosterone levels. This is beneficial considering that recent studies have shown possible negative effects from eliminating sex hormones, particularly before full maturation.
Last weekend a group of volunteer veterinarians held a “Zeuterathon” in Los Angeles. Approximately 75 male dogs of all ages were sterilized in the span of a few hours. The suggested donation was $20.
While reading about Zeutrin, I came across a sad statistic that really drove home the overpopulation problem: only one out of every ten dogs born will find a permanent home. I hope that Zeutrin will be a major step in reversing the numbers of the overpopulation problem.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A war dog is featured in the latest Taliban video
War dogs are pretty incredible animals. They don't choose to be on the front lines of battle, but they serve at their handler's side through a multitude of horrific events. Many working canines have died on the job, but there are other risks as well. Like their human counterparts, dogs also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Recently a British Belgian Malinois joined humans in another aspect of war by becoming the first canine to be used in a hostage video.
Last week the Taliban released a clip showing a canine prisoner chained to a group of heavily armed men. According to the Washington Post, the men thank Allah for the capture of an animal of "high significance to the Americans," which they say took place during a night raid by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon confirmed that a working dog did go missing in December, but that the pup belongs to a British special forces unit. Officials also said they had no previous record of a military dog being held captive.
The video is hard to watch and the poor dog looks extremely confused. No one has identified the handler or his whereabouts, but knowing what a tight bond working dogs develop with their handlers, I'm sure he's devastated. I hope that by some miracle this pup is returned to safety soon.
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