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News: Guest Posts
Dog Aggression vs Lack of Social Skills
The transformation of Katie.

As a rescue, we see a lot of dogs who lack social skills with other dogs. Some of them show what appears to be aggression, and can be dangerous to other dogs, when they aren’t truly aggressive by nature. Katie was such a dog. Katie is a black Great Dane, very tall, very underweight and a stray at a rural shelter. She was friendly with people, but wildly aggressive to other dogs. Even the sight of another dog had her barking, lunging and snarling as she tried to attack. If unable to bite the object of her fury, she would spin and bite herself. Truly a disturbing sight. If fact, Katie had been adopted out to a person who promised to keep her separate from other dogs but it didn’t work out because she got so wild at just the sight of another dog. She was returned to the shelter.

Katie was scheduled for euthanasia but the shelter reached out to see if any rescues wanted to try to try and take her first. I was so torn. Katie reminded me of my own Dane girl Tyra, who was once a snappy shelter stray scheduled for euthanasia, but turned into the best girl ever with a lot of time. But this dog was ten hours away and I couldn’t even assess her before committing to taking her. I was told that she had never harmed an animal to their knowledge but still, what if I got her and she couldn’t be rehabbed? Not all aggressive dogs can be made safe and there is a lack of good homes for dogs as it is. I lost sleep over a dog I had never met, and tossed and turned trying to decide.

Finally Katie was down to her last day. She would be euthanized the next day if not pulled then. I knew if I pulled her and she couldn’t be safe I would have to put her down anyway. But I realized that it was better to have the chance of a wonderful life than no chance at all. In Katie’s final hours, I found a transport willing to get her to me and I picked her up in a store parking lot off the freeway at midnight. In the dark parking lot she was certainly people friendly, and she jumped willingly into my car for the final journey home. So far, so good, I thought.

I had put the dogs to bed in another room where Katie wouldn’t be able to see them.  I fed her, tucked her into a colossal crate in our room and we slept without incident.

The next morning, I took all the other dogs out for a run, then back in the house where Katie couldn’t see them before taking her out. I let her explore the yard and fenced field, smelling where the other dogs had been. At one point, she saw some foster puppies in a run at a great distance and began barking, growling and lunging. There were two fences between her and them but she was determined to get at them. It wasn’t the happy, excited bark of a dog wanting to play, it was serious.

I leashed her and pulled her away and placed her in a spacious run where she couldn’t see the puppies. I then let my sweet, gentle, Doberman, Breeze, into the adjoining field. Breeze is wonderful with dogs, very forgiving and gentle and with beautiful social skills. Katie immediately began barking, lunging and snarling at Breeze and trying to get to her. When she couldn’t reach the object of her aggression, she began spinning and trying to bite herself. I leashed her, placed a basket muzzle on her and walked her into the yard where Breeze was. Katie was incredibly powerful, nearly jerking me off my feet in her single-minded attempt to get to Breeze. Wise Breeze ignored her completely as I walked her out into our fenced field.

We kept moving while Katie continuing her lunging, stiff body and guttural roar and with Breeze never acknowledging her. We continued walking, with Breeze off leash and walking nearby. It was obvious that Katie was completely clueless in how to greet another dog and likely had never had any kind of positive experiences with dogs. At one point, I allowed Katie enough of the long line to approach Breeze. Katie was still muzzled and she was shaking with stress and excitement. She made another lunge and attempt to bite through the muzzle which I checked with the long line and told her no. After another ten minutes or so, Katie approached Breeze’s rear and made a cautious sniff which I praised repeatedly.

The morning progressed with Katie meeting all the other dogs in the same manner and then I put her in her crate out of sight of the others to let her relax and decompress. We had several more short sessions throughout the day with Katie making improvement each time.

The following day was similar, with Katie muzzled and on a long line while the other dogs romped and played around her. At one point, she lunged for little pitty mix Widgie who had enough of the obnoxious stranger and came back up in her face with a roar. I redirected Katie to some toys and continued our walk.

After the first two days, Katie began making incredible progress. We removed the muzzle and allowed her more space on the long line. She began learning more appropriate interactions and we celebrated every butt sniff and praised every positive interaction.

For a while she still became overstimulated by every fast movement or noise by the other dogs and kind of had it out for Widgie. But with a great deal of work, and schooling from the pack she does great. She meets new dogs successfully almost every day and they all play off leash together both inside the house and out. We don’t leave her unsupervised if we leave home but she’s made incredible progress.  She also does great on walks with us praising and redirecting at the sight of another dog. She eventually progressed to doing great at the off leash dog beach.

Had Katie been truly aggressive, she would never have been able to progress to this point. She’s a beautiful example of how a dog with a lack of social skills may just need some time in finishing school rather than euthanasia. Katie was adopted after more than a month in foster care and her new family adores about her. She’s affectionate and fun and has a bright future. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Walk Encounters: Give My Dog Space!
When people don’t recognize evasive actions.
Watch our for ignorant pet owners

Out on a walk today with a sweet dog who is a bit fearful, I saw a man with two rambunctious, though also sweet, dogs headed our way. Knowing that the dog with me would be stressed by (and possibly react to) those dogs, I crossed the street. No big deal. Crossing the street while walking dogs to avoid any number of possible triggers—runners, bikers, skateboarders, scary lawn art, plastic window coverings flapping in the wind, children riding in red wagons, other dogs—is second nature to me after two decades of working with dogs with behavioral issues. Most people with dogs realize what I am doing, we pass by one another in peace, and that’s the end of it.

Today, we did not pass by one another in peace, and that was not the end of it. The man crossed the street, as I had, so we were now on the same side. That’s happened before, because occasionally when I am trying to get out of someone’s path, I end up going right where that person was headed. So, I did the obvious thing and crossed back over the side where I had come from, but then he did that, too. At this point, I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed (Is he so unaware that he doesn’t realize I’m trying to avoid his dogs?) or scared (I clearly want to get away, so why doesn’t he want me to get away?)

Here’s how our conversation went, starting with me.

“My dog won’t act well if our dogs greet. I’m trying to give her some space.”

“Oh, don’t worry! My dogs are friendly and love every dog!”

“I’m not worried about your dog. I’m concerned about mine, She’s shy!”

“Oh, they’ll be find! She probably just needs to socialize.”

“No, she needs more distance. I’m going to keep moving away. Please stop following me.”

And then we ran.

Thankfully, the guy with the dogs did not follow us, and we were happy to run for several blocks until he was no longer in sight.

The entire exchange was irritating. I’m trying to increase the distance between the dog with me and other dogs, and I even said so in very direct terms. Why must people insist on trying to close the space? I realize that some people have had the luxury of never knowing a dog who needs some space or tends to react to many aspects of the world, but that is no excuse for ignoring a clear request. I could not have stated my intentions or the needs of the dog any more plainly.

Have you had an issue with someone who refused to give you and your dog the space you wanted and needed?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Can Anybody Care for Your Dog Like You Do?
The challenges of leaving your dog with someone else
Dog Sitters -- Caring for Dogs

It’s hard for almost everybody to leave a dog behind for travel, whether it is business related or purely recreational. We miss our dogs when we go, even if we are headed off on a grand adventure. Beyond the emotional strain of taking off while our best friend stays behind, there are many roadblocks to feeling comfortable about it. No matter how caring the person is who is taking care of your dog, there is often at least one concern about what the people will (or won’t) do.

Here are some common sources of uneasiness.

They will let dogs develop bad habits. It’s common to worry that other people will let them develop bad habits. Perhaps you do not tolerate begging, but you know that the people watching your dog will offer him a tidbit or two from the dinner table. Even though this will not likely cause immediate harm to your dog, you know that you will have to work extra hard to teach your dog that begging is still not going to work in your house, even if the dog sitter gave in to it. The same goes for allowing your dog up on the furniture. It’s a hassle if other people allow your dog to sleep on the bed or rest on the couch and then they try to do this when you are home. Even if your dogs have been forbidden to get on the furniture for years, a few days with a dog sitter can undo a lot of your efforts. (Confession: I have done this as the dog sitter—let a dog up on the furniture at my house when he isn’t allowed to do it at home. What can I say? I was weak and gave in to temptation. I fessed up to the guardian, who was a sport about it.)

They won’t be giving enough. Will they give my dog enough love? Will they give my dog enough exercise? Will they give my dog enough attention? It’s hard for many people to imagine that another person can do enough for their dog. It’s hard to leave your dog for any reason, but especially so if you have doubts that someone else will care enough about them to make sure that they are happy, whether that means lots of time playing fetch, having a variety of things to chew on or going outside enough to let them burn off some energy.

They won’t manage potential mischief by removing temptation. A lot of people are completely used to making sure the trash can is covered, out of sight, or otherwise dog-proofed. Likewise, it becomes second nature for many guardians to keep the counters clear of food. If the people watching a dog are not accustomed to these basic habits, there is risk of both trash parties and counter surfing incidents. It’s especially important to make sure that the dog can’t get access to things that are certainly dangerous such as medicines or household cleaning products. Many people are used to managing these situations, but know that their friends who take care of the dog are not.

They won’t be cautious enough about bolting out the door. Perhaps the most serious concern for many guardians when others people watch their dogs is making sure that the dog does not run out the door. This is an extremely important issue because a dog who gets out is a dog who may be in danger. The scariest risk in many areas is that the dog will get hit by a car, but lost dogs or dogs who are taken in as a pet by someone else are often dogs who escaped a house. Many guardians are used to minding the door to keep a dog who likes to make a break for it safely inside. However, sometimes dog sitters are not as vigilant about it, especially if they are not used to dogs who try to sneak out the door.

What’s your biggest worry when other people take care of your dog?

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Floyd III

Dog's name and age: Floyd III, 1 year

Adoption Story:

Floyd III was spotted in the middle of a storm floating on a piece of wood during the flood. The two men who found him began searching for other puppies or the mother in the waters. After a few minutes of searching, and at the risk of their own lives, they found a dog house submerged underwater. Unfortunately, the dog house had been pinned down by a fallen tree with the mother and her six puppies inside. Floyd was the only survivor. Thankfully, Floyd was rescued and was adopted into a loving home.

Floyd's Name:

Floyd's human decided to name him Floyd III as a tribute to the previous two dogs that he shared his life with. Although they are expecting their first human child this month, Floyd III will be always our eldest son.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Genetics of Canine Personality Traits
A new approach allows further study

The influence of genes on personality and behavior is of great interest to people who love dogs as well as to scientists studying the genetics of animal behavior. Since dogs’ personalities play a major role in their ability to function as our companions as well as to carry out a variety of tasks as working dogs, it’s important to understand the contribution of genetics on behavior. It is well established that genetics plays a large role, as evidenced by behavioral differences between breeds. Even substantial differences in behavior within breeds can be accounted for by genetic variation.

One of the challenges to studying behavioral genetics is that large sample sizes are required because there are so many factors that influence behavior (e.g. early environment, training methods, various lifestyle factors). To achieve adequately large sample sizes in research is both expensive and time consuming, sometimes prohibitively so. A recent study called “Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Traits” took a creative approach to meet this challenge.

The scientists were interested in genetic contributions to personality, defined as “individual consistency in behavioral responsiveness to stimuli and situations”. Researchers took advantage of the substantial knowledge people have about their own dogs’ personalities to explore genetic contributions to personality traits. Their work shows that it is possible to detect genetic variation in dog personality traits by using questionnaires to collect large quantities of useful data.

In this recent study, researchers used the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment Research and Questionnaire) as well as a separate questionnaire about demographics to study 1975 UK Kennel Club-registered Labrador Retrievers. The C-BARQ allowed each dog to be scored for the following personality traits—Agitated When Ignored, Attention-Seeking, Barking Tendency, Excitability, Fetching, Fear of Humans and Objects, Fear of Noises, Non-Owner Directed Aggression, Owner-Directed Aggression, Separation Anxiety, Trainability and Unusual Behavior.

The additional questionnaire collected data about the dog’s age, coat color, sex, neuter status, housing, health status, exercise, daily exercise and the role of the dog. (The various roles were gun dog, show dog and pet dog.) To gather genetic information, the study took advantage of the dogs’ pedigrees, which involved 29 generations and 28,943 dogs. Further genetic data on the dogs were obtained as part of a different study using standard genomic methods and genetic markers, with 885 dogs from that study also participating in the C-BARQ portion of the research. In the analysis, the researchers estimated heritability of personality traits based on both the pedigree and on the genomic data.

The researchers found that fetching has a higher heritability rating than any other personality trait. Interestingly, some previous studies have lumped trainability with fetching ability, which results in lower heritability scores for both of them. This study also revealed a considerable genetic component to the fear of noises. Aggression directed towards owners showed no genetic component at all, while aggression towards strangers had a moderate genetic component.

Many behavioral traits are polygenic (influenced by a large number of genes, with each one often having a small effect) and also have significant environmental influences, which means that it is difficult to determine genomic associations. Estimates of heritability are likely to increase with technological advances in genetic work.

The importance of this study is that it shows that genetic variance can be detected and studied with the use of questionnaires filled out by owners. It also reveals that grouping responses into behavioral factors may make it harder to detect the genetic influence on various traits.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Safe Passage for Foster Dogs
The owners of 2 well-loved terriers give care and affection to canine visitors to prepare them for their forever homes
The joys of dog fostering

This household of four — a couple and their two dogs — welcomes in new faces all the time. These new faces are local foster dogs who need a temporary place to stay until they find a forever home.

Pets at a Glance
Pets: Chloe, a Jack Russell terrier; Tucker, a toy fox terrier; and their foster roommates
Ages: 6 (Chloe) and 5 (Tucker)
Location: Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin 
Owners: Drew and Jenna Kutcher

Meet Chloe: She was Drew and Jenna Kutcher’s first dog, as well as their first interaction with the foster dog system. Chloe had been staying with a foster family until the couple could pick her up. Jenna could see how well loved Chloe had been, and that positive experience made her decide to keep in touch with the rescue shelter and get on its email list.

Meet Tucker: Soon, Jenna found herself signed up to foster a dog. “I committed us to our first foster experience, which ended up being a failure in that we kept him — that’s our dog Tucker,” she says. 

Foster family: A year and a half later, a friend of Jenna’s started her own pet rescue. Jenna got involved and that’s when she started actually fostering dogs on a regular basis. Together, Drew, Jenna, Chloe and Tucker have become a temporary family to many young pups.

 

Welcome home: The Kutchers’ goal is to make every foster feel comfortable and safe in their home. To do this, Drew and Jenna carry around the pup in what they call a puppy sling. “We literally wear the dog on our bodies so they learn to trust us first, and it gives our two territorial pups a chance to adjust to the new family member,” Jenna says. They also keep the foster dog separate from Chloe and Tucker initially to ensure that everyone is comfortable with the new situation. 

Short but sweet: Each foster dog stays with the Kutchers for anywhere from a week to a month. This foster dog, Frito, stayed for two weeks.

 

Office space: The foster dogs, such as Emma here, call Jenna’s office home. “It’s a warm, sunny spot in the house, and it’s more removed from our bedroom where our two dogs sleep,” she says. “Our dogs are pretty feisty and used to ruling the home, so it’s always a shock to them when a new dog arrives. Keeping the fosters in my warm office with the French doors closed allows us to bond with the new pup and give our dogs time to adjust to the new friend.”

Plus, the room has hardwood floors, which makes it easier to clean up any accidents.

On the job: Both Jenna and Drew work from home. She’s a photographer, podcaster and educator and he’s a personal health coach. Because they work from home, the dogs spend almost every minute with them and not much time in a crate. The dogs get to explore the couple’s 105-year-old Craftsman home; for Miguel, that meant climbing up on a chair.

 

“Most of the time we will spoil the fosters and let them snuggle in our laps while we type at our computers, but we try to make sure our two dogs don’t feel left out,” Jenna says. Here, Max rests a paw on the laptop, which might be more distracting than helpful, but that’s OK.

Favorite part of the workday:Walk (or run) time! Both the humans and the dogs eagerly step outside to stretch their legs. Jenna and Drew also love to listen to podcasts while they walk the dogs around the neighborhood.

Break time: “You’d be amazed at how much puppies sleep,” Jenna says. Emma takes a snooze in the middle of the carpet; she needs a long nap after her jog with Drew.

Jenna says they also have lots of little beds around the house for the dogs to sleep in.

Occasionally, the foster dogs hop into the couple’s bed and snuggle under the covers.

Off-limits: To keep everyone safe and the carpet clean, the Kutchers use child gates to block off stairs and any carpeted rooms. This also means that big puppy eyes are never too far out of sight.

Picture-perfect: Jenna captures these cute pet moments by making the dogs comfortable and offering lots of treats and love. Catching the puppies, such as Finn and Belvedere here, when they’re sleepy also helps. 

Payment method: Treats, and especially rawhides, occupy the pups while they’re being photographed. Puppies have sharp teeth, and rawhides also help keep them away from furniture and shoes. “Luckily we haven’t lost any items,” Jenna says.

 

Sharing photos: Whenever a foster dog stays with the Kutchers, Jenna takes lots of photos and posts them online. “It helps them get adopted faster, which sometimes makes us sad,” she says. Jenna shed a few tears when this pup named Ruby left, but she knew she was going to a great family.

The joys of fostering: “It’s so fun to get to love on a pup and wait until they find their forever home,” Jenna says. “So many dogs are saved through fostering because it gives them that in-between space between getting rescued and being adopted. It also gives them the chance to live a normal life and get acclimated to what life with their forever family might be like! It’s always a zoo and a little crazy at first but it’s always, always worth it.”

Home, sweet temporary home: People often tell Jenna that they could never foster dogs because they would want to keep every one. Which Jenna understands, because she also wants to keep every one. “But when you foster you start to recognize the role that you play as a temporary mom or dad to the pup and you can love on them until they find the right family,” Jenna says. Watching that gratifying transition over and over has made it possible to keep fostering without keeping every pup that walks into the house. The couple enjoy the dogs while they can and then send them off to their next loving family. 

Your turn: Have you fostered a pet? Did you make any special accommodations in your house for it? Share your story with us in the Comments. 

News: Guest Posts
Music Appreciation by a Dog
Stray attends Vienna Chamber Orchestra concert

Music lovers in Turkey were already enjoying an outdoor performance by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra when a stray dog came onstage and made the concert even more entertaining. The dog calmly wandered into view and stood right in front of the first violin, which could certainly have been a random selection. However, I’m intrigued by the idea that the dog was able to pick up on subtle cues that this was the person worth attending to out of all the members of the orchestra.

The dog did not appear to be too upset by the delighted laughter of the crowd, though he does yawn and give a tongue flick—signs of mild anxiety—at the very end of the video. He settled himself in his position by the concertmaster, lying down and looking out peacefully at those in attendance. His efforts were rewarded with hearty applause.

Every bit as captivating as this dear dog was the delight of the musicians. Though typically serious while playing, many of the violin players near the dog were clearly amused by their new fan. Quite a few seemed in danger of laughing out loud, but as professionals, they were able to keep their focus on the music.

While I was watching the dog in this video for the first time, my husband looked up from his work and cheerfully commented that the piece sounds like Mendelssohn. (And indeed it is.) Apparently both canines and humans are destined to be happy when hearing Mendelssohn’s Symphony #4 (commonly known as The Italian). This would probably please the composer, who described it in a letter to his sister as “the jolliest piece I have ever done”.

Does your dog appreciate orchestral music in general, and this composition in particular?

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Roosevelt

Dog's name and age: Roosevelt, 1 year

Adoption Story:

We lost our 12-year-old Lab mix, Betsy, in December and our other dog, Hannah, seemed out-of-sorts and lonely without another dog in the house. I applied with the Pixel Fund Rescue (out of Florida and Maine) to be on their list of potential adopters. During the approval process, I saw Rosy's picture on their website (his name was Magoo at the time). What really drew me to him was the fact that he is blind. Hannah is blind and deaf, so I felt like it was meant to be that he would be her little brother. After talking to Rosy's foster mom several times, we decided that he would be a good match for our family.

On Dogs with Disabilities:

Both dogs are able to challenge peoples' assumptions about what a dog with a disability can do. We had no experience when we adopted Hannah, but she has shown us that she's 100% a dog first, and she does everything a typical dog does, in her own way. Roosevelt is the same; he's not very good at fetching a ball, but he certainly has other ways to play!

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Interpreting Canine Body Language
Adults don’t always understand dogs’ behavior around kids

Supervising children and dogs when they are together is an important part of preventing dog bites as well as of protecting the well-being of both kids and canines. However, even carefully monitoring the interactions will do little to prevent trouble if the adults watching aren’t knowledgeable about dog behavior. Research has shown that adults often underestimate the risks of dog bites to children, and that children tend to engage in riskier behavior around dogs when an adult is present.

According to a study called "Adults' Ability to Interpret Canine Body Language during a Dog-Child Interaction", misinterpreting the body language of dogs during interactions with children is quite common. Three videos of young children and dogs interacting were used in this study to assess adults’ ability to understand canine body language. A panel of behavior experts considered the dogs in all three videos to be fearful and anxious, emotionally conflicted, and lacking in confidence. However, approximately two-thirds of the subjects in the study considered the dogs to be relaxed and a similar percentage thought their behavior indicated confidence.

The subjects of the study came from four different groups: 1. People with dogs and with children, 2. People with dogs but no children, 3. People with children but no dogs, and 4. People without dogs or children. Interestingly, people without dogs were more successful at interpreting the emotional states of dogs than people who are dog guardians. Dog guardians were more likely to think the dogs were relaxed than people without dogs and less likely to label their emotional state as conflicted. Parents and non-parents did not differ in their ability to interpret the emotional states of the dogs in the video, to determine the dogs’ response to the situation, or to categorize the predominant behavior of the dog (e.g. play, friendly behavior).

Previous work has yielded conflicting results about whether people with dogs are better or worse at interpreting canine body language and emotional expressions. This study suggests that experience with dogs without any theoretical knowledge of dog behavior may not enhance people’s ability to recognize signs of trouble in interactions between young children and dogs. Perhaps people with dogs are more likely to give dogs the benefit of the doubt and assume they are friendly. Similarly, people without dogs may be more cautious when observing dogs, especially around young children, and may therefore be more receptive to the possibility of danger.

The general conclusions of the study are that people have great difficulty interpreting the signs of fear and anxiety in dogs who are interacting with young children and that it is important to educate people about dog body language in order to minimize problems when dogs are interacting with young children.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Arson Dogs Sniff Out Intentional Fires
These canines instantly detect what takes a crime lab months to identify.
From sniffing out cancer and drugs, dogs support us in so many ways with their incredible noses. So it's no surprise that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives found a valuable ally in their arson dogs. One of their newer canine ATF agents, Oscar, began his training with a federal prison inmate in Ohio through Puppies Behind Bars. Soon after graduation, ATF evaluated Oscar and decided the Black Labrador would be a good candidate for their program.

Oscar went on to complete an intense 12-week training program at the ATF National Canine Center in Virginia to become one of only 53 ATF accelerant detection dogs in the country. ATF really believed in Oscar's potential, having invested about $50,000 in his training.

Oscar now works with Utah Deputy Fire Marshal Troy Mills, investigating about 30-40 fires per year to determine a fire's cause and origin.

“He’s incredible in a fire scene,” says Troy. “He can pinpoint the location of accelerants--if somebody uses gasoline or diesel fuel, kerosene, charcoal fluid, anything like that to ignite a fire, he can pinpoint the location of where they poured it.”

Oscar is trained to recognize several products that have been divided within six different categories of accelerant. When Oscar recognizes an odor, he alerts Troy by pointing to it with his nose and then sitting. Oscar's nose is so powerful, that in training Troy can put a drop of gasoline on a golf tee in the middle of a grassy lawn and Oscar will find it.

Because there are so few accelerant detection dogs, Troy and Oscar are sent all over the state to investigate fires. At the scene, Oscar can immediately determine whether an accelerant was used. Without his powerful nose, investigators would have to send samples from the scene to a crime lab and wait months for the results.

It's amazing how the canine nose can solve problems better or faster than our best technology!

 

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