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News: Guest Posts
Rant Related to Elderly Off-Leash Dog
It’s hard to understand why anyone objected

We have leash laws, and I understand the value of them. Leashes control some of life’s chaos and protect people (and other dogs!) from out-of-control dogs. For those who fear dogs, having them leashed eases many anxieties, and leashes have certainly saved many dogs from injuries. So, please understand that I support leash laws and wish more people complied with them. I also wish that many communities had more places where dogs could be off leash, but that’s a rant for another time.

Today’s rant is about someone screaming at a person in my neighborhood for having his dog off leash. I thought it was an odd battle to choose because this dog is so geriatric and moves so slowly that as you drive by, you can barely tell that the dog is out for a walk. You could just as easily mistake him for a dog waiting at a bus stop. Really.

I see this dog out fairly regularly, because his guardian takes him out daily for a walk, and their schedule often coincides with my drive to school to drop off my kids. The dog travels, on his own four paws, down the block and then returns home, but he is barely moving. The walk is so slow that I sometimes see the dog soon after I leave my house and again 20 minutes later when I return, though the dog’s journey could be covered by a younger dog in two minutes. The guardian shuffles along with him, continuing their 16-year tradition of enjoying the great outdoors together.

Yes, this dog did not have a leash, and yes, I realize that is technically a violation of our local ordinance. Still, I cannot imagine why anyone would be so upset that it would be worth making a fuss about this dog. He is in the latter stages of his golden years and shuffling along the sidewalk, bothering nobody at all and posing no threat to anyone. Yet, someone did make a fuss. A man came up to the guardian, yelling about our leash laws and threatening to call the police. He demanded that the guardian put his dog on leash immediately or that “he would be very sorry.”

I did not witness this firsthand, but heard about it when I commented to a neighbor that I was surprised to see this man was suddenly walking his dog on leash. It seemed so unnecessary after seeing him walk his dog without one for the last year or so. It makes me sad to know that this man was criticized so harshly. Luckily, I don’t think the dog minds the leash, and I’m pleased to see that the guardian has chosen to use the thinnest, lightest leash I have ever seen used on a 50-ish pound dog, and that the leash has a super light clip. I suspect it’s actually a cat leash.

I see plenty of loose dogs who should really be on leash because it adds to the comfort and safety of everyone around the dog. This dog just isn’t one of them. Being on a leash makes absolutely zero difference in his behavior. He is just as old and slow and harmless as ever. In my opinion, all that has changed is that the guardian has been made to feel rotten for no useful reason.

It’s easy to object to my distress on the grounds that the guardian of the dog was violating the law. It’s still hard to imagine what motivates someone to complain about such an extremely old and hobbled dog going on a walk without a leash.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The Joy of New Lessons
Some dogs prefer recently acquired skills

“The new action is always her favorite!” one of my clients told me. And it’s true—whenever Stella is taught something new, she’s so excited about it.

Stella knows a lot of skills already—sit, down, stay, wait, come, heel, touch, take it, leave it. She needs those skills because she is a service-dog-in-training. Most of these skills she knows really well and can do even in hectic situations. That’s important, because at times, she has lived in a house with up to nine people ranging in age from 6 months old to upwards of 90 years, two other dogs and four cats. Not every dog can hold a stay when a three-year old is running around, cats are zipping by her, and a few adults are talking at the same time in order to work out the day’s complicated logistics, but Stella can!

During the course of her training, Stella has also learned some tricks such as bow, crawl and sit pretty—and it’s about the cutest sit pretty you will ever see. She modified it on her own to grasp her handler’s hand. It always looks to me like she is praying reverently.

One of the reasons Stella has learned these tricks is that she loves to learn new things, so we’ve introduced them along the way. In some training visits to her home, we work on something new just because it makes her happy. She likes to work and enjoys all of her training exercises, but whatever she has learned most recently provides her with a little extra joy.

It’s not clear why that is, but there are a number of possibilities. Some dogs enjoy the puzzle of figuring out what they are supposed to do. Some dogs become bored of any routine and get very excited when something unexpected is happening. Others seem to relish learning something new because of the satisfaction of getting it right. Other dogs love the new trick because many trainers use the best food or especially high rates of reinforcement with new skills to help dogs learn them faster.

Does your dog get excited about learning a new trick or other skill?

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Peanut

Dog's name and age: Peanut, 14 years old

About Peanut:

Peanut now well into her senior years has degenerative myelopathy, so her back legs don't work so well anymore. The vet initially thought she might not be the type of dog to take to a doggie wheel chair, but I had faith in Peanut and decided to try. After a few false starts, she got rolling and began taking short walks around the neighborhood.

People driving by often slow their cars down to watch and cheer her on! Peanut is quite happy to take in all of the sniffs and smells through the walk. Sometimes we still visit Peanut's favorite park in the East Bay hills, where this photo was taken. Peanut enjoys a double happy bonus, because she always gets a treat once she's out of her wheels and back indoors. I've learned old dogs really can learn new tricks, and am grateful and inspired by each walk and every day we get to spend together.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Elderly Man and His Dog
My favorite sight in Mérida, Spain

Mérida, Spain is famous for its World Heritage Site—an extensive set of archaeological ruins that include a well-preserved 2000-year old Roman theater. One might expect that it is these ancient treasures that my memory would lock onto most fiercely, but that is not the case. The lasting mental image I took away from my visit to this beautiful city was that of an elderly man sitting on a park bench with his dog lying next to him. Happily, I thought to take a photograph so that I also have a permanent digital image to go along with my memory.

There is simply nothing more endearing than the companionship of a person and a dog, and I find that especially true of the elderly of either species. When I see an old dog accompanied by an unhurried and endlessly patient person, my heart swells. I have the same response when a kind and gentle dog shares a peaceful moment with an older human.

It is especially inspiring to see people and dogs spending time together when they take a leisurely approach to enjoying life that allows a full appreciation of each moment. This man and his dog seem completely content to sit outside together taking in their surroundings. I do not know this man’s story, but I like to imagine that he, like many people, considers all to be right with the world as long as he has his dog for company.

There is no doubt that I will remember this man and his dog long after my memories of the extraordinary Roman relics in Mérida have faded away.

News: Editors
Humane Disaster Relief Flies Dogs to Safety

So many hopeful stories of goodwill and humanitarianism are emanating from the tragic circumstances caused by Hurricane Harvey and Irma—good people lending a helping hand in difficult circumstances. We were pleased to find out that our neighbors, the Berkeley Humane Society, have stepped up to assist a Florida shelter prepare for the anticipated disaster heading their way with the arrival of category 4 Hurricane Irma.

Yesterday we visited the Berkeley Humane Society that has just returned from the airport where they picked up 50 dog and cat evacuees from the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale. A number of humane organizations outside of Florida are coming to the aid of shelters helping to “clear” the decks in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. We are proud that our neighbor, who is just down the road from our offices, more than doubled their population with these new arrivals. We visited the shelter shortly after the dogs and cats arrived, and the animal care volunteers were busy taking tallies, and making sure that their new guests have their needs met and have settled in. We were shown around the shelter facility by executive director Jeffrey Zerwekh and Tom Atherr, director of development & communications who generously give us time to tell us about their work and introduce us to the new arrivals.

This Ft Lauderdale-to-Bay Area mission was organized by Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in nearby Walnut Creek, that also took in a large number of the animal evacuees, along with the East Bay SPCA and the Berkeley Humane Society. The remarkable organization Wings of Rescue provided the airplanes, piloted by volunteer pilots with GreaterGood.org, Freekibble.com and the Rescue Bank helping to pay for the flight. All told, more than 175 cats and dogs were evacuated. Ric Browde with Wings of Rescue noted that, “we wanted to be proactive before the storm and get as many of the animals as we had at the shelter out of the facility.” Christopher Agostino, President and CEO of the Humane Society of Broward County added, “This is a tremendous undertaking and we are grateful for all our partners making this possible. We want to be prepared as much as possible for after the storm and to be able to help our community.”

The rescue flight, with a stopover for refueling, took 10 long hours, with most of the dogs taking it in stride. During our visit, many of the dogs came up to the front of their enclosures to sniff and greet us. The BHS has a full veterinary facility on premise which helps make it an ideal partner in this evacuation project. The shelter medical staff was on hand to review medical records and make sure that everything was in order. The shelter will be arranging foster homes for many of these southern transplants, recognizing that dogs do much better with foster families paving the transition to forever homes. BHS will be waiving the adoption fees in order to help expedite the adoptions of these animals, said Altherr, but welcomes donations, be it online or in person, to help cover the shelter’s costs. “Berkeley Humane is grateful that we are in a position to help animals that were at risk and are now safe. Doubling our animal population with only a few hours notice is difficult and a significant drain on our resources, but we know what we have to do and we are confident our community of volunteers, adopters, and donors will participate in these efforts,” added Zerwekh.

Zerwekh explained that the Broward County people were extremely well-organized and were making evacuation plans, and lining up out-of-state shelters, in anticipation of Irma. Being able to clear their shelters means that the Broward people, in turn, can open their doors to the animals that will be needing assistance during and after the upcoming storm. The Florida shelter evacuation follows another recent transfer of animals from Texas shelters to nearby Oakland. Fifty dogs and 20 cats arrived in the Bay Area via a private jet, thanks to efforts by the San Francisco SPCA, Mad Dog Rescue, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and the Milo Foundation. The animals were flown in and slated for adoption in order make room for the many pets that got lost during Hurricane Harvey.

It seems that so many lessons, on the humane front, were imparted during Katrina and recent disaster relief efforts. It is wonderful to see that the nation’s humane network, stretching across state and regional boundaries, coming together to assist this long-distance rescue and evacuation collaboration.

 

News: Guest Posts
Why People Get Bitten by Nice Dogs

Picture this: You’re alone on an elevator and a very large man gets on. The door closes and the man approaches you and starts putting his hands all over your body. What do you do? Tell him to stop? Scream? Fight back? It’s terrifying, right?

Recently I had a call of a dog running around an apartment complex, barking and growling at people. I arrived to find a small mixed breed, obviously someone’s baby, and completely terrified. He wasn’t about to come to me and no amount of sweet talk or cookies was going to do it. I had to corner him, dodge his teeth and slip a leash over his head. Once I had him he settled down a bit and I was able to walk him over to my truck. As I was preparing to scan him for a microchip a man walked up and reached for the dog, who I’ll call Fluffy, to try and pet him. Fluffy’s body language screamed “back off, you’re scaring me. I will bite if you don’t give me space.” The man kept coming and I said, “please don’t touch him, he’s scared enough to bite.” The man said, “oh no, I’m good with dogs.” And I’m thinking, if you were good with dogs, you would not be causing this poor dog more fear and stress, and if you were good with dogs, you would see that this dog is about to bite you. I had to ask the man several more times to stop reaching for the dog and I knew without a doubt that I would be writing a bite report and labeling this poor scared dog with a bite history if I couldn’t get the man to back off. 

I finally got the man to stop but he argued with me and I could see that he thought I was being unreasonable. I was able to slowly, gently, scan the dog, pick up a microchip and wrap him in a blanket and get him in my truck. I could see that he wasn’t a bad dog, just a lost dog, scared enough to bite if strangers took liberties. Thanks to the chip, I had him home to his grateful person in a few minutes, but thank goodness I was able to prevent a bite that so easily could have happened. 

I also recently had a similar experience at an adoption event for our non-profit rescue. We had a very sweet, 6-month-old border collie mix puppy up for adoption and it was her first event. She had been an absolute delight, wagging her tail, approaching people and really loving the attention. I turned away to look at something for a moment and suddenly she was flipping around on the end of the leash trying to get away and a man was trying to corner her to pet her. She even started snapping at him in her panic and I said, “sir, it’s her first event, please wait and let her approach you.” Shockingly, he kept coming, following her and reaching for her as she retreated in terror. I had to ask him twice more, quite firmly, before he backed down, and then he looked annoyed at me. Even the most un-dog-savvy person should have been able to tell that this puppy did not want him touching her. She literally needed only a few seconds of introduction before climbing in people's laps and he couldn’t even give her that.

Dogs are amazing. They are adorable, and soft and it feels good to touch them. I love dogs, I work with dogs all day and have several adult fosters and a few litters of rescued pups at home most of the time along with my own dogs. I never get enough of cuddling them, stroking them and touching them. But it’s so critical to take a moment to assess how comfortable the dog is and to respect what they are telling us.

I’m sure many of our readers have had similar situations with dogs and pushy people. Tell us your experience. 

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Reading to Dogs Benefits Children
Study suggests surprising reason

There are lots of programs that allow children to be with a dog when reading. The goal is to help children read better and to feel more comfortable doing so. There’s a general understanding that the presence of a dog is beneficial to children who are learning to read, but not much data about how dogs help. A new study, “Minor Immediate Effects of a Dog on Children’s Reading Performance and Physiology" tested the effects of dogs on kids who are learning to read. The project found that (surprise, surprise) dogs have a positive impact, and that it is largely due to the effect of dogs on psychological factors.

Austrian children who were 9-10 years old and reading at below average levels participated in this study. Each child was involved in two videotaped reading sessions—one with a dog and one without. (It was randomly determined for each child whether the dog was present in the first or in the second session.) All of the dogs were previously certified as school visitation dogs and regularly interacted with kids in the school setting.

The children’s heart rates and heart rate variability were measured as an assessment of stress and excitement and levels of salivary cortisol were measured multiple times during each session. The quantity of various actions by the children were measured with videotape analysis. Behaviors of interest were those indicating nervousness such as coughing, throat clearing, jiggling the foot or leg, and playing with or fumbling with objects. The amount of time children spent talking or engaged in self-manipulation (such as scratching) was also recorded.

In the comprehension tests, reading performance was similar for children regardless of whether a dog was present. However, in a repeated reading (RR) test, the dog was a factor. For this test, children read a passage of text with the instruction to read as fast as they could while making as few errors as possible. They then had an opportunity to review words that gave them trouble and practice those words before reading the passage again. When children had a dog present in their first session, they did better on the repeated reading test. There was no such effect without a dog present or when the dog was present in the second session, suggesting that in the new situation of an experimental reading test, the dog’s presence offered some benefit. The advantage of a dog’s presence may be due to an increase in arousal and motivation that positively impacted children’s reading performance.

Additional evidence for an increase in arousal comes from the physiological measures taken during the study. Children had higher cortisol levels in the second session when a dog was present than when there was no dog, and kids had higher heart rates in the presence of a dog than when no dog was there. However, increased arousal in the children when a dog was present was not seen across the board. For example, children with a dog present in the first session showed fewer nervous movements than children whose first session did not have a dog present.

Most ideas about dogs helping young readers assume that the mechanism is a calming effect of the dogs on kids, including a decrease in their anxiety. This study suggests that increased arousal, which may add to children’s motivation to read, may be at play. The subjects of this study were children who had problems with reading, but most studies have used children whose reading skills were average, so that could be a factor in the findings. As the authors note, studying children over additional sessions would be more likely to reveal long term differences in reading progress.

News: Editors
AVMA’s Emergency Prep Kit for Pet Owners

The AVMA has created a Pet Evacuation Kit for pet owners to assemble, and have ready, in case of an emergency, such as natural disasters like hurricanes. The kit provides a checklist for the items and the tasks to be done before an evacuation.

The kit should be assembled well in advance of any emergency and store in an easy-to-carry, waterproof container close to an exit.

Food and Medicine

  • 3-7 days’ worth of dry and canned (pop-top) food*
  • Two-week supply of medicine*
  • At least 7 days’ supply of water
  • Feeding dish and water bowl
  • Liquid dish soap

*These items must be rotated and replaced to ensure they don’t expire

First Aid Kit

  • Anti-diarrheal liquid or tablets
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Bandage tape and scissors
  • Cotton bandage rolls
  • Flea and tick prevention (if needed in your area)
  • Isopropyl alcohol/alcohol prep pads
  • Latex gloves
  • Saline solution
  • Towels and washcloth
  • Tweezers

Sanitation

  • Litter, litter pan, and scoop (shirt box with plastic bag works well for pan)
  • Newspaper, paper towels, and trash bags
  • Household chlorine beach or disinfectant   

Important Documents

  • Identification papers including proof of ownership
  • Medical records and medication instruction
  • Emergency contact list, including veterinarian and pharmacy
  • Photo of your pets (preferably with you) 

Travel Supplies

  • Crate or pet carrier labeled with your contact information
  • Extra collar/harness with ID tags and leash
  • Flashlight, extra batteries (remember you can use your cell for this as well)
  • Muzzle Comfort Items
  • Favorite toys and treats
  • Extra blanket or familiar bedding

News: Editors
FTC’s Concern about Lack of Competition is Requiring Mars to Divest 12 Vet Clinics

Earlier this year we reported on Mars’ plans to acquire VCA, for $9.1 billion that would mean that the world's largest pet food company would also own the most vet clinics in the US. It is interesting to see that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is charging that this purchase would violate antitrust laws. So Mars had to agree to divest 12 vet clinics, especially those with specialty and emergency services.

The FTC complaint goes on to detail its concerns about how this purchase would affect competition:

According to the FTC’s complaint, if the acquisition takes place as proposed, it may substantially lessen competition for certain specialty and emergency veterinary services in 10 U.S. localities by eliminating head-to-head competition between Mars specialists in the area and those of VCA.

According to the complaint, without a remedy, the acquisition would likely lead to higher prices for pet owners and lower quality in the specialty and emergency veterinary services they receive. These effects are unlikely to be mitigated through timely new entry, as opening a specialty or emergency services veterinary clinic presents some unique challenges, including the need to recruit specialist veterinarians with considerably greater training than general practice veterinarians.

One clinic each in the Kansas City, New York, and Phoenix areas will be divested to National Veterinary Associates. One clinic each in Chicago, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and two clinics in Seattle, will be divested to Pathway. Two clinics serving the Portland area and two clinics in the greater Washington, DC area will be divested to PetVet.”

These are the veterinary clinics to be divested and their buyers, according to the FTC:

> One clinic each in the Kansas City, New York and Phoenix areas will be divested to National Veterinary Associates.

> One clinic each in Chicago, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and two clinics in Seattle will be divested to Pathway.

> Two clinics serving the Portland area and two clinics in the greater Washington, D.C., area will be divested to PetVet.

Mars is also prohibited from entering into contracts with any specialty or emergency veterinarian affiliated with a divested clinic for a year after the order takes effect, the release states. Mars is also required for 10 years to notify the FTC if it plans to acquire any additional specialty or emergency veterinary clinics in certain geographic areas. 

More information about the divestiture and consent agreement can be found here. Good to know that the FTC is, in this case, looking out for the interest of pet owners. The commission’s vote to issue the complaint was unanimous. The FTC will publish the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly.

Comments can be filed electronically here or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Supplementary Information” section of the Federal Register notice once it’s published.

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Have Fun Playing
It’s good for them, as it is for many species

It’s easy to feel sorry for this Bulldog when it looks like he falls and rolls down a grassy hill. Within 30 seconds, though, he has twice gone back up the hill and rolled down again. Clearly, he is playing, and having a great time at it.

Many animals engage in play seemingly just for fun, and dogs are arguably the champions, spending huge amounts of time engaged in play. The playful activities that dogs do for the sake of a good time include wrestling, chasing, fetching, tugging, rolling, leaping and pouncing.

To do something “just for fun”, scientifically speaking, is a bit weird because it takes away from the limited time and energy animals have for essential activities such as acquiring food, finding and courting mates, drinking, growing bigger than their rivals and fighting them. Play is costly in other ways, too. Injury is an inherent risk due to the physical, thrill-seeking nature of play. There’s also the danger of being attacked by predators while too absorbed in play to be on the lookout. Play must be highly valuable to offset its considerable costs, and in fact, it is. Generally speaking, playful behavior makes animals more competitive in the game of life. It increases their success by helping them to survive and reproduce more than less playful individuals.

Scientists have discovered a number of highly specific benefits of play in different animal species. Ground squirrels who engage in play frequently are more coordinated and rear more young than those who play less. The most playful feral horses are more likely to live until their first birthday than their less playful peers. More playful bears have a greater chance of surviving until they are independent of their moms than less playful cubs. Rats who are deprived of opportunities to play lack social skills as adults. Compared to rats who are able to play, they are more likely to behave badly in tough social situations, either running away and shaking, or having the equivalent of a rat temper tantrum. One study found that the more rats played, the bigger their brains grew.

Though canine survival and reproduction is heavily influenced by humans in many areas of the word, that does not mean that dogs are free of the evolutionary influences that made play such a valuable activity. Play still helps them develop a variety of social and cognitive as well as physical skills. Dogs who lack opportunities to play as puppies often have impulse control issues, poor bite inhibition and lack the social skills to interact properly with other dogs as adults.

Although scientists agree that play is valuable, there is still significant debate about the specific purpose of play, which may vary among species. Perhaps it allows animals a safe way to practice important behavior, such as predation or combat with members of their own species. The purpose of play may be to get physical exercise or to improve dexterity, agility, reaction time, or cognitive skills. Developing creativity or problem-solving skills could make play beneficial. Perhaps the opportunity to practice handling the unexpected is important, so that during life-or-death-situations, animals are capable of responding effectively to the danger. Socialization or relieving anxiety may also be important factors that favor play in animals.

Whether it is swans surfing on ocean waves, dogs treating a river bank like a luge course, dolphins playing underwater catch with seaweed, either by themselves or with other dolphins, many animals love to have fun by playing. Though playful fun is costly in terms of time and energy and imposes serious risks, it is worth it. The fun is just nature’s way of making sure that animals engage in the highly valuable activity of play. That is good news for dog guardians, many of whom view canine play as nothing more and nothing less than one of the great joys in life.

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