Arriving home at 4am with the ghost
This is what I need – belief that everyone
Have we gone too far with this Halloween dog costume thing?
I hate to admit it but I’m a Scrooge when it comes to dressing dogs up in Halloween costumes. I know that some dogs look irresistibly cute but few, in my eyes, really seem to enjoy it as much as we humans do. Especially when the costumes are too elaborate, that seems to be happening more and more. So I was relieved when I read New York Magazine’s blog “The Cut” and how they too frowned at this extravaganza that, at this time of year, is on display at dog runs around the city. Foremost among them is the ever popular event at the Tompkins Square dog run. That particular one we have covered in the past with contributing editor, Lee Harrington (author of the popular Rex and the City), even serving as one of the judges. I guess it is just that people might just be going overboard and not paying enough attention to how their dogs are taking it on it, or trying to squirm out of restrictive costumes. As The Cut pointed out, that a few years ago Alexandra Horowitz had this observation about costuming a dog in the New Yorker:
“To a dog, a costume, fitting tight around the dog’s midriff and back, might well reproduce that ancestral feeling [of being scolded by a more powerful dog]. So the principal experience of wearing a costume would not be the experience of festivity; rather, the costume produces the discomfiting feeling that someone higher ranking is nearby. This interpretation is borne out by many dogs’ behavior when getting dressed in a costume: they may freeze in place as if they are being “dominated”— and soon try to dislodge the garments by shaking, pawing, or rolling in something so foul that it necessitates immediate disrobing.”
Or Patricia McConnell, the leading dog behaviorist and former Bark columnist, commented on this topic last year that
“I can’t think of anything that better exemplifies our changing perception of the social role of dogs as the current splurge in dressing them up for Halloween.”
She then went on to say that:
“But what about the family Labrador dressed up like Batman? Or the Persian house cat dressed up as a mouse? Are they having as much fun as their owners? I suspect that many are not.”
Karen London, our behavior columnist, also agrees and she urges “caution when considering costumes for dogs. Most dogs hate costumes. They easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body.”
Simple, soft costumes, like this one, work best. But heavy, stiff and hard ones like this one, should be avoided.
There are so many better ways to share the joys of our relationship than imposing the necessity to “perform” for us on our dogs, then dress them up as a superhero, pope, or a presidential candidate. Just think of much more they would like it if you just took them on a nice long walk in the woods letting them sniff around, letting them follow their noses and embracing them for being “just” dogs.
So what do you think? Do you or have you ever dressed your dog up for Halloween? How did your dog like it?
News: Guest Posts
There’s something special (and valuable!) about it
Having two dogs can be more than twice as much work as having one, and having three can require way more than three times as much effort. That pattern continues as the number of dogs increases. There’s no doubt that having a multi-dog household is a big undertaking, and yet many people can barely imagine having just one dog in their heart and home at the same time. They would miss scenes like the one to the left of an adorable dog pile.
These are the three dogs—from two different households—that my family recently hosted for a couple of days, and it was a good experience for all of us. (They live on the same street and their guardians are friends, so they know each other. Luckily, they all get along.) The companionship they gave one another during their stay with us made me happy, and not just because it took some pressure off of me to make sure that they were having fun. When I observed them together, there was a comfort in the company they provided one another that was lovely to see. I’m not saying it is better or worse than the social benefits to dogs of being around people, but it’s different.
Despite the extra work for the people, I kept thinking about the benefits for the dogs of being in a group, beyond just how nice it was for them to have a couple of buddies of the same species around. There are obviously drawbacks to having more than one dog, but some of those can be channeled positively. Having multiple dogs can provide training challenges, but it also offers opportunities to help dogs learn to attend to a person despite big distractions. While these dogs were visiting us, I made a point of doing some training sessions with the added difficulty of having other dogs around. Here is a photo of Marley and Saylor successfully holding their “stay” while Rosie (out of view) played with a toy nearby.
Performing any skill in a distracting environment is a challenge, and the presence of other dogs is often particularly hard for social dogs. With three dogs in the house, it was easy to set up situations where one dog worked on a skill while one or both other dogs were there. Rosie worked on her “spin” trick a lot during her visit. In the first video below, she practices it while the other dogs are not around. That work was to lay the groundwork for the success you can see in the second video, in which she spins when the other two dogs are present.
Walking three (or more) dogs at the same time is not always easy, but it offers opportunities, too. Each time one dog stops to sniff or for a potty break, the other dogs need to exercise patience.
It’s hard standing around when you want to keep going, but being required to do so brings benefits. Handling frustration and exhibiting self-control in such situations is beneficial to dogs. Similarly, waiting your turn when it comes to treats or dinnertime also gives dogs practice with emotional self-control, and that is an important part of maturing into a pleasant adult.
My main concern before the shared visit was making sure that Marley, who is 10 years old, had some peace and quiet from both his regular housemate Saylor, who is about a year old, and from his neighbor Rosie, who is about eight months old. Marley likes both dogs and often plays with them, but he needs more rest and snoozy time than the young pups. He opted out of some play sessions, as many older dogs often do. He would take a rest, hang out with us or chew on something while the other two played.
We also helped Marley get away if he wanted to by letting him up on our couch, but not allowing the younger dogs to bother him when he was there.
The only reason it ever felt overwhelming to have three dogs was a result of bad luck in the form of the weather. It rained all day in the middle of the visit, which meant that every time the dogs came inside, we had a dozen wet, muddy paws to deal with. I’m not going to lie—that was a big hassle. Other than that, we had a glorious time while these three little angels were visiting us.
What advantages do you appreciate about having multiple dogs?
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
86 toxic plants to keep away from your dog
While plants and flowers are a great way to decorate, not every plant is safe in a home with pets. Below is a list of 199 common poisonous plants, 86 of which are toxic to dogs, so you can be sure you’re picking the safest choice. The majority are safe to grown in your home, but should be avoided if you’re concerned of accidental ingestion from a curious and/or hungry pup. Look through the list of plant names and make sure no one in your home is at risk.
Infographic by proflowers.com
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Study trains dogs to sniff out bacteria from urine samples.
What if service dogs could do double duty, helping people with limited mobility, while monitoring them for possible infection? Many people with assistance dogs have injuries that make them especially prone to frequent and complicated urinary tract infections (UTIs). These infections aren't just uncomfortable, they can spread quickly to the kidney and blood stream, causing sepsis that can result in death. Early detection is important, but difficult for this population. So Assistance Dogs of Hawaii teamed up with Pine Street Foundation and the Kapiolani Medical Canter of Women and Children to explore how their talented pups could help.
In their study, five Labrador and Golden Retrievers were clicker trained to identify urine samples that were culture-positive for bacteria, including E. coli. They had no previous scent training. After eight weeks, their new skills were put to the test with 687 new urine samples. 456 were from subjects with negative urine cultures (the control group) and 231 were from subjects with positive urine cultures for bacteria.
The dogs detected positive samples with a 90 to 94 percent accuracy. Also, sensitivity was not affected when E.coli urine was diluted with distilled water. The study showed that canine scent detection is a feasible method for the detection of bacteria. The scientists hope that future research can teach dogs to identify other infections, such as MRSA and C-Diff, or distinguish between bacterial and viral infections. At the moment they're conducting research in hospitals, where UTIs are the most common acquired infection in all patients.
A month after the study was completed, one of the dogs spontaneously alerted the staff to a person visiting the training center. They had been feeling ill, but hadn't suspected a UTI. Afterwards the person went to the doctor who made a UTI diagnosis.
There is really no limit to what our amazing dogs can do!
Good Dog: Studies & Research
New research explores how kids respond
The dogs of childhood are important beyond imagination. Kids describe them as their best friends and as their siblings. Many children view themselves as the primary recipient of their pets’ affections. Often, young people see little difference between the close connections they have with the human members of their family and those they share with the non-human ones. Because of most animals’ shorter lifespans, though, many kids must face the death of a dog, cat, or other pet. Their emotional response to the loss of a pet and what they say about the experience is the subject of the dissertation research and further study by Joshua J. Russell, PhD.
According to Russell’s research, children’s responses to the death of a pet are predictable in some ways. Kids had a much easier time dealing with the death of a pet if the animal reached an age where death was expected. Early deaths, especially unexpected ones, made it much harder for children to come to terms with the loss. Russell points out that kids have a strong sense of fairness related to whether their animals lives as long as they were “supposed to” or whether they died before that. Acceptance was easier for kids whose pets lived far into the normal lifespan for the species. Generally, kids understood that hamsters and fish don’t live very long, but many struggled to understand that our dogs, cats and rabbits will often die before we do. When a death happened because of an accident, it was especially difficult for kids to cope.
Many children who Russell interviewed felt that euthanasia was the right thing to do if a pet was suffering. Kids were split in their views about getting another pet after the death of another. Some felt that it was disloyal to the previous pets and their relationships with them. Others felt certain that they would feel better if they got a new pet and that the new relationship didn’t have anything to do with the old one.
It’s always difficult to deal with the grief of losing dogs, and it hurts my heart (a lot) to consider the pain that it causes children. It’s no fun to think about the way it feels for children to lose a pet because we can empathize all too well, no matter how old we are.
What do you remember about what is was like when a dog from your childhood died?
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Competitive runner befriends a stray dog who sticks with him for 80 miles in the desert.
This summer, Australian ultramarathoner Dion Leonard was running through China's infamous Gobi desert when a stray pup started following him. The scruffy little dog turned out to be one tough cookie, joining Dion for four of the six day-long stages of the race, an astonishing 80 miles! Dion named the dog Gobi and they became inseparable. The pair slept together in camp and Dion started carrying Gobi over river crossings. They even won the third stage together, beating many top athletes.
After the race was over, Dion knew that this special dog could not be left behind. He made plans to bring Gobi back home to Edinburgh, Scotland, but just before she was due to travel to Beijing to enter quarantine, Gobi slipped out of the home she was staying at in Urumqi. Dion flew back to China where volunteers helped him search for Gobi from dawn to midnight. They put up posters, asked taxi drivers and fruit vendors, and visited parks and animal shelters. The local television station interviewed Dion and residents even stopped him in the street to say they too were keeping an eye open.
However, Dion was afraid the search was wouldn't be successful, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There was a good chance that Gobi may have run back to the countryside.
“I needed to come and do it, just to be sure in my own mind I had done it," said Dion. “But realistically, I was dreading having to go back home next week without her.”
Then a man called saying he and his son had brought a stray dog home from the park and thought she might be Gobi. Dion was skeptical after a few false alarms, but when he walked into the man's house, Gobi immediately recognized Dion. She ran over, jumping on Dion and squealing with joy. Gobi has barely left Dion's side since.
Dion says that losing Gobi was one of the worst days of his life, but that being reunited with her was one of the best.
"It was just mind-blowing to think that we had found her," said Dion, "It was a miracle."
There are not many people or dogs that can run 80 miles, which makes it even more amazing that these two found each other!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Does your dog untangle himself from a leash?
I was walking two dogs this week and noticed that they react very differently when they step over the leash or get tangled in it. Marley has a “let it be” approach to having the leash drop under or go around a leg, but Saylor consistently steps back over a leash that is not as it should be.
Some dogs never learn to untangle themselves when the leash goes under one or more legs, even with efforts to teach them how to do this. Other dogs step out of what my son refers to as “Leash Twister” without any instruction whatsoever. I’ve often wondered what it is about dogs that divides them into these two categories. Obviously, intelligence in the problem-solving area can play a role in which path a dog takes. (Saylor is obviously smart, so her ability to deal with a messed-up leash is no surprise. It’s harder to judge Marley’s intelligence. He’s easy to train, but there’s a charming simplicity in his take-it-as-it-comes, easy going approach to everything in life.) I’m convinced it’s far more complex than a simple question of brain power, with other factors being important, too.
One big predictor of which dogs learn to extricate themselves when the leash has gone between their legs or wrapped around them is whether it makes them uncomfortable to have the leash there. Some dogs don’t seem to care if the leash is partially wrapped around a leg or if it touches their belly, so a twisted leash does not represent a problem. If it’s not a problem to a dog to have the leash out of place, then there is nothing to be solved. So, even if those dog have great problem solving skills, you won’t see evidence of those abilities.
Some dogs are too interested in other things to focus on a tangled leash. If they are attending to the smells or sights on a walk, any issues with the leash may not be top priority. Paying attention to other things may account for the dogs who sometimes choose to step over a leash purposefully and sometimes don’t bother; it depends on how exciting the walk is at the moment. Other dogs are always too intent on the sensory experiences during the walk to fuss over where the leash is.
There are two reasons that I care whether a dog is helpful about keeping the leash properly organized during a walk or leaves that task entirely to me. Though I’m interested in what it might tell me about the dog (emotionally and cognitively), safety is the main cause for concern. It can be dangerous if the leash wraps completely around a leg, and a leash that is out of place can cause a dog to be off balance. I like to keep dogs free of leash issues during a walk, and it’s convenient if the dog can help. However, for dogs who need assistance extracting themselves from a tangled leash, I’m happy to do it for them.
Does your dog untangle himself from a leash that he has stepped over or gotten twisted in? If not, why do you think that is?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Three organizations in Finland team up to understand root causes of dog behavioral issues.
A research group from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Centre recently teamed up with the LC-MS Metabolomics Centre of Biocentre Kuopio to study the blood count of hyperactive and impulsive dogs--another successful collaboration between canine and human scientists. The three organizations decided to embark on this study to understand the most common behavioral problems in dogs--fearfulness, sensitivity to noise, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Since these issues can have a negative impact on the wellbeing of both canines and humans, the scientists wanted to uncover root causes. Part of their work is also helping to test a new metabolomics technology which could speed up future genetic research, particularly as it relates to behavioral research.
"Behavior and behavioral disorders often develop as a combination of hereditary and environmental factors, which makes studying them challenging," explains lead scientist Hannes Lohi. "Metabolomics, or the study of the metabolism, provides us with new clues on the biological issues underpinning behavioral disorders while promoting genetic research. At the moment, metabolomics research in dogs is rare, and the purpose of this pilot study was to examine new approaches and attain information on any metabolic abnormalities associated with hyperactivity in dogs."
Looking at blood metabolites showed a significant link between hyperactivity and lower blood phospholipid levels. It wasn't surprising because several studies in humans have shown lower blood lipid and fatty acid levels in ADHD patients. This also tied in with their earlier research that showed blood count differences between fearful and fearless pups.
Another interesting finding was the negative correlation between hyperactive behavior and the levels of metabolites of tryptophan, an amino acid that's produced in the gut when intestinal bacteria processes food. This difference in the gut bacteria of hyperactive and normally behaved dogs supports previous research in humans that found a connection between the intestines and the creation of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and behavior in the brain. It was also found to work in the opposite way. A stress reaction in the brain can have an adverse effect on the gut microbiota.
However, the causal relationship for these findings isn't clear, so more research is needed. The hope is that this work could eventually better our understanding of these behavioral issues in both dogs and people.
Anyone who has worked with an extremely fearful dog knows how painful and frustrating it can be to both the animal and the people who love them. So I'm excited to see research that might help improve the lives of those affected. However, I hope that people won't think these biological findings mean they should give up on a solid training plan. While the cause of these fearful or hyperactive behaviors may be somewhat innate, we can still help dogs cope and even thrive with training. No doubt it takes a lot of dedication and patience, but I hope that this research will only help us make gains with these affected pups.
Are the rules governing service animals on airplanes about to change? The US Department of Transportation’s advisory committee on accessible air transportation met recently to consider refining the presents rules for Emotional Service Animals. Ever since 2003 when the DOT revised its policy on service animals to include emotional-support animals, there have been no restrictions for these animals and no real definition of a service dog. As Jenine Stanley, who serves on the committee and is with the Guide Dog Foundation, has noted there are no real rules as to what is a legitimate service or support animal.
“Once you board your plane with your animal and you say ‘I am coming with a service animal,’ i.e. an animal that is trained to medicate my disability, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether it’s true or not,” she said. Which is why the U.S. DOT wants to change the rules.
There have been numerous complaints from fellow travelers about the wide assortment of species, from miniature horses, pigs, boas, cats, and of course, dogs, that have been accorded the status of ESA and who usually have scant training about how to behave on an airplane. Some of the complaints have also been generated by people who have highly trained and skilled service dogs, such as seeing-eye dogs. Many of the ESA pets on planes can also distract (to put it mildly) a service dog from doing her job.
One key issue the committtee looked at was: Should specific species be defined? If so, what are they? The group suggested only dogs be listed as service animals, and dogs, cats and rabbits qualify as emotional support animals.
Another complication surrounding ESAs are the legal ramifications to the mental health professionals who are providing certifications. The University of Missouri recently conducted a study about the possible conflicts this presents to psychologists. Cassie Boness, a graduate student in clinical psychology, says these requests for certification for emotional support animals present several potential conflicts for mental health professionals.
“There are no standards for evaluating the need for an emotional support animal, whereas there are concrete rules to determine if someone is eligible for a service animal. These emotional support animal letters are formal certifications of psychological disability, and the psychotherapist is stating, by writing such a letter, that the person needing the emotional support animal has such a disability and that the presence of the animal addresses that disability.” Jeffrey Younggren, professor of clinical and forensic psychology, believes that the evaluation process should address the specific psychological issues that are going to be improved, and not just that the owner wants to be with their pet. They also noted that the lack of scientific guidelines regarding emotional support animals would make it difficult for the psychologist to defend this certification letter in court.
Younggren noted that "the study recommended was two fold: First, that these letters not be written by treating therapists for ethical issues but that they should be written by forensic evaluators/psychologists who do not have a dual role with the client. Second, we stated that, since these are disability determinations, there needs to be some type of comprehensive psychological assessment of that disability and that assessment should directly assess how the presence of the animal ameliorates the disability."
The working group committee members include representatives from American Airlines, Psychiatric Service Dog Partners, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs. Key issues about service animals can be found here.
Stanley said she expects the new rules to be out for public comment within the year and to be set within three years.
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