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Good Dog: Studies & Research
Easing Dogs’ Stress During Veterinarian Visits
Interactions with guardians offer some relief

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.

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Lexi
Dog's name and age: Lexi, 4 years     Adoption Story: After deciding they absolutely needed to have a dog in their life, Lexi's people adopted her through a local rescue group. On the way home, they discussed names and they settled on Lexi as being the one they both loved.   Lexi's Person Writes:  Lexi is so precious, sweet and adorable that she makes my heart melt. I thank God for her every day that she's in my life. She is my child. My world. I love her so much.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Standard Tick Advice May Put Us At Risk
Research shows that the pesky insects can infect in less than 24 hours.

Earlier this year I wrote about how 2017 is expected to be a risky year for Lyme disease, particularly for the mid-Atlantic and New England areas. If my last hike with my Border Collie, Scuttle, was any indication, ticks are going to be the bane of our existence this summer and fall!

Not only is the problem growing worse in known problem areas, but the reach of tick borne disease is also spreading. Experts have warned veterinarians practicing on the edges of endemic areas, such as the Dakotas and Kentucky, to be aware of encroachment. Western Pennsylvania has already reached endemic status.

In my original article, I wrote about the standard adage that it takes 24-36 hours for a tick to transmit disease. But it turns out that advice may be problematic. A reader brought to my attention a few studies that show disease transmission can happen in far less time.

Researchers from East Carolina University and North Carolina State University scoured the literature to see just how accurate the 24-36 hour guideline was. With approximately 40 tick species in the United States, it would make sense that they all don’t pose the same risk.

One study found that soft ticks (Ornithodoros spp.) could transmit the virus behind Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever to mice in as few as 30 seconds of attachment. Another study found that ticks carrying Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (R. rickettsii) could infect hosts in as little as ten hours.

Much of the research on tick attachment times were conducted on mice, often in studies where multiple ticks were placed on the subjects. So the findings can be hard to compare. However, given the variable virus transmission times, I think the 24-36 hour guide may give us a false sense of security. With the severe forecast for 2017, we must be extra vigilant about guarding ourselves and our pups against ticks.

News: Guest Posts
Bad Dog Behavior is Not Charming
Let’s celebrate dogs like Lassie instead of like Marley

There’s no doubt that a certain amount of impishness can be delightful, and it’s easy to be amused by it. For example, many people have understandably laughed at Marley’s escapades in the book or the movie he inspired. Yet, I think it is really important to keep in mind that what we are laughing at—destructiveness, pulling on the leash, eating jewelry, greeting people by putting paws on their shoulders and running away—is actually straight-up undesirable behavior.

It has become increasingly common in the dog world to excuse ill-mannered dogs who lack any kind of training skills by saying they are just like Marley. It’s as though that validates the behavior, making it not just acceptable, but enchanting. Often, guardians who use this excuse could improve the dog’s behavior with some effort and education, but they don’t bother. Instead, they seem to find any obnoxious (or even dangerous) behavior hysterical. It’s an unfortunate cultural development to value behavior stemming from bad manners and a lack of training. Regrettably, it is has become some kind of competition about whose dog is the worst and most incorrigible, to the point that many people aspire to having a dog who acts “like Marley”.

It’s not that I expect dogs to be perfect or that I expect guardians to act as professional trainers in all their free time or raise a model dog. I’ve seen plenty of dogs do things that I wish they wouldn’t and understand all too well how hard it is to teach dogs to be polite canine citizens. I also get that although many dogs are generally good and can learn to be reasonably calm and well-behaved with even a little training, it is much harder for some dogs. There are plenty of dogs who have impulse control issues, and whose natural behavior doesn’t lend itself to high praise. That doesn’t bother me, and I enjoy dogs who struggle to be their very best selves as well as dogs who are naturally easy keepers. Marley was the most rambunctious puppy in the litter and suffered an extreme fear of thunderstorms, so it’s unfair for anyone to claim that Marley’s issues could have been resolved with simple training. It’s also true that more training would have helped.

Although absurd situations based on dreadful behavior are bound to happen, we shouldn’t accept such incidents as the best and most fun part of life with dogs. The occasional story of generally nice dog having an “oops” moment can certainly provide a good laugh. It’s normal to tell tales that begin, “Well, there was this one time. . .” What’s not normal is having all the stories about a dog be about something horrible. Such stories should be the exception rather than the descriptions of a dog’s day-to-day actions.

Sure, if a dog runs into the clothesline one time and races through the neighborhood in a panic dragging towels across everyone’s gardens, that can become a good story. However, if there are a dozen stories from the last month or so about similar incidents, that’s a problem. If your neighbors all think, “Oh, no! What now?” when they see your dog—once again—off leash, out of control and being destructive, it should be more alarming than funny to all of us.. There is a high risk of harm to dogs who bolt out the front door, ingest inedible items or destroy household objects, among other “bad” behaviors.

I object to the glorification of impolite, out-of-control behavior, and celebrating the most devilish aspects of our canine friends. It can be tiresome to have people find it endlessly charming when dogs are not trained and have bad manners, especially when the humor aspect is used as an excuse not to teach their dog how to behave in an acceptable manner. The Bark Magazine co-founder and editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska receives many submissions about “dogs who are worse than Marley” and detailing situations the people invariably call hilarious. It’s common for people to describe the incidents as being scenarios much like those Marley got himself into, but point out that the dog in this story is “even worse” than Marley. Many of these pitches reveal guardians who are uninterested in training and have no knowledge of how to teach their dogs anything, including basic manners. The result is a lot of untrained and ill-mannered dogs doing things that aren’t funny at all. In part because of the success of Marley and Me—both the book and the movie—dreadful behavior has not just been excused, but celebrated.

I wish good canine manners were more interesting to people than bad canine manners, the occasional story of mischief by a generally well-behaved dog notwithstanding. I’d like to see more people brag about their dog’s stay, their new trick, how they greet visitors, or any other example of training and good social skills rather than about problem behavior. It may very well be the dog trainer in me, but I remain hopeful that there are a lot of us out there who are more charmed by good behavior and good manners than by bad behavior and bad manners.

Dog's Life: Humane
Delaware Governor Signs Dog Breed Bias Bill
The state makes a big step towards ending discrimination against breeds like Pit Bulls.
Last week Delaware Governor John Carney signed a bill that prohibits cities in the state from enacting breed specific legislation. The law, introduced by Representative Charles Potter and State Senator David Sokola, stipulates that state regulations protecting the public from dangerous dogs cannot define criminal liability based solely on breed specific criteria. Determining whether a dog is dangerous or not will be based on the individual's behavior, not by breed. This means that cities and other municipalities can't enact any breed-specific ordinances or regulations. Animal control teams and shelters also won't be allowed to discriminate against certain breeds for the purposes of facilitating adoption.

"The passage of HB 13 is a resounding victory for dogs and dog lovers, not only in Delaware but across the country, as the momentum against breed discriminatory legislation continues to build," said Best Friends Animal Society legislative attorney Lee Greenwood. "The simple truth is that breed discrimination doesn't work and the safest laws focus on the behavior of the dog and the dog owner."

Other states with similar legislation include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Arizona. These laws prevent local governments from creating breed-specific legislation, but doesn't mean that bully breeds are welcomed everywhere in these states.

For instance, as Sassafras Lowrey wrote last week, the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which manages the nations oldest and largest public housing program, has had a breed specific ban for their low income apartments since 2009. New York State Assemblyman and Pit Bull adopter, Ken Zebrowski, is spearheading legislation that would make this illegal, preventing landlords in public housing from discriminating against specific breeds.

Nevertheless, Delaware's new law is a huge step in the right direction!

 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet and House Sitting Exchange
Web site allows members to trade pet and house sitting for free lodging.

Unfortunately I can't always take my pups with me on vacation. It's doubly difficult because I hate to leave them behind and I also miss having a dog to cuddle with when I get back home (or in this case, my hotel room). A web site has aimed to solve these issues while saving people money.

Rachel Martin and Andy Peck felt a lot of pet lovers avoided traveling because they didn't want to leave their pups in a kennel. So they founded TrustedHousesitters, a site where animal lovers can find pet and house sitters or places to pet and house sit at. Launched in 2010, the site now now has thousands of members in over 140 countries. Members pay $119 per year to be able to use the TrustedHousesitters. Rachel and Andy's favorite house sit has been watching Labradors Rufus and Gracie at a home in Breckenridge, Colorado. The trip wasn't all about the dogs as Rachel learned to snowboard while on that vacation.

To be as safe as possible, members rely on Trust Badges, earned by levels of checks and verifications, such as doing a criminal background check, and user reviews. Members can also request third party references. To pet sit at the more desirable homes, it's known that members must have a series of good ratings, which can be achieved by doing a few local pet sitting stints first. Amazing opportunities have included oceanfront lodging in Australia, a central London flat, and a private villa in the Spanish countryside. There are also long-term listings in case you want to relocate or test out a new city.

Members say TrustedHousesitters is a cheap way to travel and stay in nice houses, while ensuring your pets are cared for by fellow animal lovers in the comfort of their own home. It's also a great way to keep your pets on their normal schedule as much as possible.

TrustedHousesitters certainly isn't for everyone. While I really love the idea behind the web site, I can't imagine leaving my dogs in the hands of someone I don't know well. And not all pets will be comfortable with a stranger living in their home and caring for them. But with the right people and dogs, it's a great option.

What do you think about a pet and house sitting exchange?

 

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Cassie

Dog's name and age: Cassie, 3 years

Adoption Story:

Cassie, was waiting for a forever home at a rescue group in the Sacramento, CA area. Her soon-to-be people had made an appointment to meet another dog that day, but that dog had been adopted just before they arrived. Lucky for Cassie, they found her so friendly with other dogs and people with such a big heart it won them over!

Cassie's Interests:

Cassie loves meeting her friends at the Rescues United For Fun (RUFF) Meetup at either Pt. Isabel or Crissy Field, in California. It's this group that has given her the title of "social director" since she shares her love with all! Cassie willingly shares toys, food, and water since it's the interaction she enjoys the most.

She has a best friend and role model, Max, a golden retriever that she adores and plays tug of war with, and she admires her walking buddy, Duke, a labrador, and his human, Michelle. She also loves her neighbor, Mary. Cassie will run at breakneck speed 2 blocks to jump in the mail truck when she sees Jim, the mailman coming.

Cassie loves to go for rides in the car because there are always new people to meet when they stop. When she goes outside, she smells the flowers blooming on the back step before continuing on her way. Like most dogs, she loves digging in the sand and running on the beach. She likes meeting people on the street in San Francisco. And, nothing would make her happier than meeting you and your dog!

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Should we call these canine behaviors calming signals?

“Calming signals” is a term coined by Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas to group a large number of behavior patterns that she says dogs use to avoid conflict, to prevent aggression, to calm other dogs down and to communicate information to other dogs and to people. Since the publication of Rugaas’ 2006 book On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals, it has been a popular idea that actions such as lip-licking, sniffing the ground, yawning, scratching, looking away, play bowing, sitting down, lying down, softening the eyes, blinking and even sneezing (along with many others) are social signals that help calm down those around them.

Rugaas’ observations are compelling, and many dog trainers and behaviorists, including me, have learned a lot from her work. However, the term “calming signals” entered the lexicon without much analysis, which is problematic. Using a term that ascribes functionality to behavior patterns prior to scientifically testing whether or not that’s true creates challenges, and is a big no-no in ethology. One problem is that claiming that certain behaviors are “calming signals” creates a bias such that people tend to accept that this is, in fact, what they do. The idea that these signals are functioning in this way is an intriguing hypothesis. However, in the years since Rugaas shared her ideas with the dog community, there have yet to be adequate tests of their function, or substantial efforts to determine if the various behaviors have different functions. Rather, the idea that they were calming signals was broadly accepted without being subject to rigorous scientific study.

There is, however, a recent pilot study investigating the function of the behavior patterns that have all been placed into the category of calming signals. The purpose of the study “Analysis of the intraspecific visual communication in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris): A pilot study on the case of calming signals” was to assess if the behaviors that have been called calming signals are used to communicate, and if they de-escalate potentially aggressive situations between dogs. In the study, 24 dogs were observed interacting two at a time. Dogs interacted with familiar and unfamiliar dogs of both sexes.

Throughout the course of the study, 2130 calming signals were observed, with the most common being head turning, nose licking, freezing and turning away. Dogs were more likely to display calming signals when they were interacting with the other dog compared with when they were not interacting, which does suggest a communicative role. It does not prove it, though, as it is possible that these behaviors indicate stress and that they are performed during social interactions more often than they are performed outside of that context because such interactions are stressful. In fact, most of the signals that Rugaas has called “calming signals” are also considered indicators of stress.

More calming signals were displayed when dogs were interacting closely (within 1.5 body lengths of the dog displaying) than when interacting at a greater distance. Overall, more calming signals were exhibited during interactions with unfamiliar dogs than with familiar dogs, but licking the other dog’s mouth was more frequently observed when the other dog was familiar.

During the interactions in the study, there were 109 instances of aggressive behavior. A calming signal never came right before the aggressive behavior, but 67% of the time, at least one calming signal followed the aggressive behavior. In over 79% of the instances in which a calming signal followed the start of the aggression, there was a de-escalation in the aggressive behavior. These data are consistent with the idea that these behaviors function to calm other dogs down and lessen their aggression, but the work is too preliminary to conclude this for certain. More research is needed to explore other possibilities, such as the role of stress in these behaviors and their effects, and the potentially different functions of each of the dozens of behaviors that have been lumped under the term “calming signals”.

This is a pilot (or preliminary) study, and though the results are intriguing, they are in no way a definitive test of the function of “calming signals” in dogs, which the authors correctly point out in their paper. Though this research makes an attempt to test the often-accepted hypothesis that many behavior patterns function as calming signals that de-escalate aggression, its biggest flaw is that it lacks a very important control. De-escalation of aggression is quite common, and in this study, the authors report the frequency of de-escalation after a calming signal, but do not report on the rate of de-escalation in the absence of a calming signal. Part of the problem is that with so many possible calming signals, it is quite likely that one will be exhibited as a response to aggression. (Dogs are unlikely to have no reaction to such behavior.)

To evaluate the function of the behaviors, it is necessary to know the frequency with which the aggression de-escalates in the absence of any calming signals. We know that there was often de-escalation in the absence of calming signals because the authors report that in quite a few cases, the dog on the receiving end of the aggression walked or ran away, increasing the distance between the two dogs, which was often associated with a de-escalation in aggression. Fleeing is not considered a calming signal, and yet when the distance increased between the two dogs, there was also usually a de-escalation of the aggression. Future research should explore the differences in behavior in cases in which there was de-escalation and in which there was not.

News: Guest Posts
Working to End Dog Breed Ban in Public Housing
Ernie, the pit bull mix who inspired Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski to sponsor a bill to disallow breed-specific bans by landlords.

New legislation being introduced in New York could change the lives of dog loving low income New Yorkers dogs, and very likely the thousands of dogs in NYC area shelters and rescue organizations. New York State Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, himself a rescued Pit Bull owner is spearheading legislation that would prevent landlords in public housing from discriminating against any specific breed of dog.

Currently, the New York City Housing Authority or NYCHA which manages the nations oldest and largest public housing program providing low income apartments to over 400,000 New Yorkers has had a breed specific ban in place since 2009. When that ban took effect 115 dogs, mostly Pit Bulls were surrendered to Animal Control, 49 of whom were euthanized. NYCHA housing as explained by the Mayor’s Alliance For NYC Animals “restricts specific breeds, including Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans, either pure- or mixed-breed.” The breed ban actually impacts over twenty breeds (including some fairly rare ones) and dogs mixed of any of those breeds

Breeds and Breed Mixes Currently banned from NYCHA Housing: Akita Inu, Alangu Mastiff, Alano Español, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Argentine Dogo, Bedington Terrier, Boston Terrier, Bull and Terrier Bull Terrier, Bully Kutta, Cane Corso, Dogue de Bordeaux, Dogo Sardesco, English Mastiff, Fila Brasileiro, Gull Dong, GullTerr, Irish Staffordshire Bull, Korea Jindo Dog, Lottatore Brindisino, Neapolitan Mastiff, Perro de Presa Canario (Canary dog), Perro de Presa Mallorquin (Cade Bou), Shar Pei, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Tosa Inu

Assemblyman Zebrowski’s proposal will be discussed by the New York State Assembly’s Housing Committee in the coming weeks, and then will go before the full Assembly followed by the Senate. In an interview with ABC news Assemblyman Zebrowski said: “You can have no dogs, you can have a restriction on the number of dogs, you can have some sort of subjective criteria to evaluate the dog, make sure they are not dangerous…. You just can't banish all of one type of breed.”

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tips and Etiquette for Vacationing with Dogs
Stay safe and courteous when sharing your next trip with your pup.

Earlier this week I wrote about planning a trip with your pets. This article will cover tips and etiquette for vacationing with your dogs.

Car Rides

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

Hotel

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

Parks

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

Miscellaneous 

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

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

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