Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Border Collie Fun and Games
Sneaking up on their buddies

The expressions on these dogs’ faces and their movements captivated me while I watched them sneak up on other dogs in the field.

Dogs often move so fast that it’s hard to see all the details of their body language, but these dogs are stalking so slowly that you can see the tiniest changes in expression or posture. It’s cool to see the muscles along the backs of the two dogs move as they creep forward. The lighter dog ever-so-slightly opens and closes his (her?) mouth during the stalking. Both dogs move their heads a little and their eyebrows a lot during their approach, and I love the way they periodically keep one paw elevated as they pause in their forward motion.

It’s interesting to ponder what makes them move at the same pace as each other and in the particular positions that they are relative to one another. There does not seem to be any conflict about how to approach or at what pace, but it’s not clear how they coordinate that. It could be as simple as one dog following the other’s lead, but perhaps more complex feedback and communication are involved.

It’s likely that these dogs entertain themselves with this sort of activity often, because none of them ever truly startle or look surprised. I wish I knew when the three dogs who were lying down became aware that there were two dogs sneaking up on them. I suspect it was long before they turned around to chase them, but it’s hard to say for sure. Two of the dogs are in a position to see the dogs coming, and the one who is not twitches an ear 41 seconds before turning around to give chase, and has his (her?) head turned towards them several seconds before chasing them. It’s impossible to say what the dog was attending to at either point, but I don’t think the presence of the two sneaking dogs or their actions came as a surprise.

Have you seen your dogs sneak up on each other?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Braving the Doorbell on Halloween
All Hallows' Eve strategies for barking pups.
In my house, and countless other canine homes, the doorbell is followed by a chorus of excited barking. Training this behavior away takes a lot of patience (more than I have!) and is particularly challenging since barking is so self-reinforcing. So I embrace my canine "back-up" doorbells and let the dogs freely voice their opinion about incoming guests. There's only one time of the year that I really think about all of the barking, and that's Halloween. The holiday brings about 40 costumed kids to our doorstep each year, translating to a few episodes of barking per hour... followed by confused pets wondering where the visitors are.

On Halloween night, my dogs go into their crates with holiday treats (usually new bones or antlers). This isn't for the barking, but for their own safety (keeping them away from potentially scary costumes and opportunities to bolt out of the door).

As an alternative, some of my dog friends opt to leave a basket of candy outside for trick-or-treaters (so the doorbell never gets rung) or skip Halloween all together by turning off the lights in the front of the house (universal sign that a house is not participating in trick-or-treating). These are particularly good ideas for a dog that may be anxious around so much unusual activity or noise. A friend of mine had the great idea of hosting a party at our local training club during trick-or-treating hours (we had a similar party on the Fourth of July to distract pups during peak fireworks time).

I find that trying to drown out doorbells with music or using Halloween as a training opportunity can just make things worse. The best Halloween strategy is to act like nothing out of the ordinarily is happening (to the extent possible), while making sure your dogs are comfortable and secure.

What's your canine influenced trick-or-treating strategy this year? Check out more Halloween safety tips here.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sweet Dreams Hector

I cried today, for a dog I only met once, years ago. I first met Hector at a Bad Rap (Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pit Bulls) event. Hector and another dog that had been rescued from Michael Vicks dog fighting ring were there. The two of them were as delightful as any dogs I’ve ever might. Hector was horribly scarred but all he wanted to do when he saw another dog was play. His eager whines, gently wagging tail and welcoming play bows were evident whenever he saw a potential new friend, human or canine. I fell in love with him on the spot.

As a long time shelter worker, I have an embarrassing confession. When I heard that Bad Rap was going to try and save some of Michael Vicks dogs, I disagreed with it. I love dogs. I love pit bulls. And I had seen far too many of them euthanized for lack of homes. My feeling at the time was that we couldn’t even find homes for all the pits that hadn’t been bred and trained for fighting so it didn’t make sense to save a group of dogs with such a terrible history. I felt that the kindest thing was to gently let them go. Hector taught me that every dog deserves to be judged on his own merits. As it turned out, most of Vicks dogs were just neglected, unsocialized animals in desperate need of a friend. With few exceptions, most of them even liked other dogs.

Thankfully for Hector and the rest of the Vick dogs, the amazing folks at Bad Rap believed the dogs deserved a chance. They evaluated them, found foster homes, waited through a lengthy trial and finally placed the dogs in homes or sanctuaries depending on their needs. Hector was placed in amazing home and soon had his own facebook page that topped 200,000 likes. He lived out the rest of his life as an adored and beloved companion until he passed away October 27th from cancer. Sweet dreams Hector. 

You were loved.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Dog in the Wedding
Ring “Bear”er adds to the ceremony

Even at a wedding filled with happy moments, the presence of a dog during the ceremony adds a whole new level of joy. When “Bear” walked down the aisle, the guests, the families and the wedding party all smiled and laughed just a little more. Part of it was the dog’s dashing good looks enhanced by a neck garland of wedding flowers, though the way he sniffed at some of the people on his way was charming, too. Clearly, the best part was when he found the groom—his guardian, Stephen—and wagged his biggest wag of the day.

I love seeing dogs in weddings, although it has to be the right dog and there has to be a solid plan to make it work out. At this wedding of my friends Meredith and Stephen, they did things right to make having Bear’s participation in their special day a positive experience for all. Here are some of the reasons that it worked out so well for them.

Bear is a social, well-behaved, well-trained dog. He could handle the crowd, the music, the flowers, the new setting and the general bustling of activity of a wedding. For many dogs, this would all be too much, and they would be stressed and unlikely to exhibit their best behavior as a result. You could see in the video that Bear was able to lie down and relax during the ceremony, and was perfectly content to do so.

Somebody who could handle him was in charge of Bear at all times. Throughout the afternoon, various people were in charge of Bear so that the bride and groom could attend to all of their duties. On a related note, Bear walked down the aisle with an adult rather than with the flower girl, so that in his enthusiasm to reach his guardian, he was still under control.

Bear was an honorary ring bearer, but a person was the true bearer of the rings. I’ve seen people struggle to remove the rings from a dog’s collar, and I heard of a case in which the dog ran off while the rings were still attached to him. Having the dog carry the rings is often the cause of glitches, and it’s wise to avoid potential problems by keeping the dog’s role as simple as possible.

The dog went home after ceremony. The wedding was a good environment for Bear, but the reception would not have been fun for him. Between the toasts and announcements over the microphone, the DJ, the loud music and all that off-limits food, the party would have been too much for most dogs, even a happy-go-lucky, well-behaved, stable one like Bear.

Have you been to a wedding with a dog where it was a positive experience all around (as in this case), or one in which it was not so great?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Instinctive Canine Comfort?
Does your dog know when you're not feeling well?

I always hear stories about how dogs sense when we're not feeling well and instinctively provide comfort. Although my own pups don't seem to care if I'm sick (my Border Collie, Scuttle, will just throw balls at me while I lay on the couch), I have no doubt that our pets can pick up on subtle changes that we can't see. Most notably, dogs have been successfully used to predict seizures and even detect cancer. 

This year, Dawn Marcus of the University of Pittsburgh and Amrita Bhowmick of Health Union wanted to explore a dog's ability to predict migraines. As part of their study, they had over 1,000 dog loving migraine sufferers (recruited from online communities) complete a questionnaire about any behaviors their pets exhibited before or during their migraines.

Dawn and Amrita found that 54 percent of the migraine sufferers reported changes in their pets' behavior during or preceding migraines. This isn't completely surprising since the dogs were probably reacting to the person's unusual behavior during intense headaches, but about one in four migraine sufferers reported changes in their pet's behavior before symptoms started, giving them time to proactively take medicine.

The most common alerting behavior involved the dog paying close attention to the person and refusing to leave their side. Other behaviors included persistent licking, barking, pacing, herding, or staring.

It's important to keep in mind that this survey relied on self-reported data and memory of past events, so it's not the most accurate study. It's easy to be unintentionally less objective when reporting your own dog's behavior. Who wouldn't want to think that their pet has amazing predictive behaviors and cares about your wellbeing?

But if dogs could be trained to predict migraines, it could be a significant help to those dealing with debilitating headaches. I would like to see a more rigorous study as a next step. 

Does your dog know when you're not feeling well? For migraine sufferers, does your pup's behavior change when a headache is on the way?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I Always Carry Dog Gear
There’s no denying my life involves dogs

The man had to bend over awkwardly to hold the dog’s collar as they walked down the block.  Assuming that he was holding on to prevent a lost dog from running into the street, I pulled over to ask, “Did you just find that dog?”

“No,” he replied, “My leash broke, and I’m just trying to get home.” With his other hand he held up a mangled non-retracting retractable leash that was now worthless. I told him I had a leash he could have, and gave him the 6-foot lead that I keep in my car. The friend with me pointed out that I always have dog gear with me, which I had not really noticed.  She was right, though.

I’ve seen dogs out in traffic and stopped to help out, using whatever I had on hand to lure them away from trouble—squeaky toys, tennis balls, treats, rope toys, Kongs. At any point, I’m likely to have some treats and toys in my car.

Once on the way to the park, I saw a woman who was not picking up after her dog, and suggested that she do so. “I would, but I don’t have a plastic bag,” was the insincere response. “You’re in luck! I have one right in my purse,” I said and handed it to her. She looked anything but grateful, but she did use it to clean up. A similar bag once came into service on a school field trip when a child was carsick. On that occasion, the bus driver, the teacher and the student all seemed genuinely appreciative.

I often keep a plain squeaker in my pants pocket during my private consultations, and I’m very poor at remembering to remove it. (They go through the laundry completely unaffected, in case you were wondering, which is more than I can say for the treats that end up in my washer or dryer from time to time.) That has worked out well on multiple occasions. I once used that squeaker to help lure a dog back to his guardian when he jumped out of the car in the parking lot of the mall. Another time the surprise of that sound distracted a toddler who had become bored and fussy while his mom was trying to pay for her groceries, making the situation easier for her, and faster for the rest of us in line behind her.

Some of the gear I have with me is planned because I like to be prepared. Some of it is just residue from my daily life. It happens to be in my car because I have my house call bag with me or it was left in my pocket by mistake.

What do you always have in your car, purse, backpack or pockets that would make it impossible to deny that your life involves dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Therapy Dogs on Campus
Study looks at animal-assisted therapy and college students.

Last month Oklahoma State University launched the country's most comprehensive university-wide pet therapy program, part of their commitment to be America's Healthiest Campus. Most schools bring in therapy dogs only at stressful times, such as finals week, but OSU's goal is to be more proactive.

I'd love to see more schools adopt similar programs, but they may be wondering, are therapy dogs a “nice to have” or a valuable resource for students?

Dr. Leslie Stewart of Idaho State collaborated with Georgia State University and Savanna College of Art and Design to explore this question. Dr. Stewart had seen the prevalence of anxiety, loneliness, and post traumatic stress disorder increase on college campuses, putting a strain on limited counseling resources.

In the study, 55 students were given access to animal-assisted therapy twice a month throughout the course of an academic quarter. In the group sessions, the participants were invited to stop by and interact with a German Shepherd named Sophie for up to two hours. They were allowed to pet, hug, feed, brush, draw, photograph, and play with the dog.

Dr. Stewart's team found a 60 percent decrease in self-reported anxiety and loneliness symptoms following the animal-assisted therapy. 84 percent said that their interaction with Sophie was the most significant part of the program for them.

This is a small study with self-reported data, but I hope this leads to more research in the area. While no one would argue the upside of having dogs on campus, having the numbers to back up the benefits will help more colleges secure funding for robust programs like OSU's.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mislabeled Food
Study finds that ingredients listed on packages differ from what's inside.
With recent allegations of mislabeled food, we've never been so far removed from where our meals come from. Last year a study across 21 states found that as much as 33 percent of seafood in the United States is sold as a different product than what's listed on the package. And it's not just human food.

After reading about horse meat found in ground beef products sold in European, California's Chapman University decided to explore mislabeling in the pet food industry. Students extracted DNA from different brands of commercial dog and cat food to test for the presence of eight meat types--beef, goat, lamb, chicken, goose, turkey, pork, and horse.

Of the 52 products included in the study, 20 were potentially mislabeled and one contained a meat ingredient that could not be verified. 16 included a meat type not listed in the ingredients and three substituted a listed meat for a different type. Pork was the most common undeclared ingredient.

The researchers noted that while the pet food was mislabeled, it was unclear if it was accidental or intentional, or at which point in the production chain it took place.

It's not always a matter of the company itself being deceptive, but that there are so many layers of food production these days. Earlier this month Blue Buffalo revealed that a supplier's mislabeling of ingredients may have caused some of their pet food products to contain poultry by-product meal instead of 100 percent chicken meal.

Inaccurate ingredient lists are not only frustrating (who wants to pay a premium for whole meat ingredients that turn out to be cheap byproducts), but also dangerous (how can you find food for a dog with allergies if you can't trust the labels?). The fact that this problem is happening with human food as well means that this is tied to a much larger problem with the way our production chains operate. This information makes a hefty case for making your own meals--for you and your pup!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Details Behind Stories Matter
It’s true for dogs and proposals

The details behind stories add to the understanding we can take from the stories at face value. I find this most obvious with stories about dogs and about marriage proposals. For example, which sounds better to you—a proposal on a beach in Hawaii or the proposal while at home mopping the floor?

It’s natural for our opinion to change with additional information. The details make all the difference. The woman proposed to in Hawaii thought it was too cliché, which annoyed her so much that she didn’t decide to say yes for a few days. When she and her husband tell this story, there’s an awkwardness between them, even 20 years later. The proposal at home took place in that setting because the man was so set on surprising her that he decided he had to propose at an unexpected time. She leapt into his arms with such enthusiasm that she tipped them both over the dirty bucket of mop water. They both love to tell this story, and it’s a joy to listen because it’s obvious that they adore it and each other.

Some friends of mine have a delightful dog whose behavior is entertaining, if not typical. This dog lives in a duplex and he once bolted out the door on his own side of the residence and went a-visiting next door. He used his nose to push open the screen door, burst inside, grabbed a new dog toy belonging to his neighbor’s dog, gave one loud, “Woof!” and came back home with his new treasure. (His guardian returned the toy not long after.) The people in both sides of the duplex love this dog and enjoy telling the story of his big adventure. You can tell that the dog is well loved and that the people in his life find his actions endearing rather than objectionable.

It’s not obvious why this story is told with such love because on the surface, it just sounds like it’s about a rude pushy dog who mugged his neighbor’s dog and took a toy that was not his. The importance of the story lies in the fact that this dog is fearful of many people, and his guardians have been working hard to help him overcome his fears. The toy-borrowing incident was proof of progress. He was comfortable enough to put himself in the presence of the neighbors, so this episode is actually a success story, not a tale of a dog’s misdeeds. In the months after this happened, he became much more comfortable around people in general. Now when most people meet him, they aren’t even aware of his fears. Up until this incident, the dog was reliably on the skittish side, but he acted so boldly that day that it marked a turning point in the efforts to overcome his fears.

Do you have a story about your dog that requires an explanation to be properly understood?

News: Editors
Tom Brady’s Best Friend Is a Pit-Mix Named Lua
Today’s inbox brings us a special bit of eye-candy (also known as publicity pitches) that we think is worth sharing. It’s a video featuring NFL quarterback Tom Brady playing fetch with his dog Lua. This short contemplation on hard work, success and man’s best friend is a promotion for UGG, the Australian shoemaker who employs Brady as their official pitchman. We don’t know if it will make people run out and buy their shoes, but maybe a few will be inspired to adopt a Pit or Pit-mix ... like Tom.