News: Guest Posts
Inspired by 9/11
Jim Kessler has worked at the Seeing Eye school in Morristown, New Jersey over a dozen years now, and when I was training with my Seeing Eye dog Whitney, I happened to ask if he’d had any other jobs before this one.
His answer was surprising. “I worked for Lehman Brothers until it imploded, and then I worked at the Federal Reserve,” he said. “And I can tell you the very last day I ever went to work in Manhattan: it was September 11, 2001.”
Jim had already been contemplating a career change at the time, and 911cemented the decision. He said a position at the Seeing Eye appealed to him because it combined his interest in teaching, working with dogs and helping people. His three-year apprenticeship program at the Seeing Eye started at the end of 2001, he became an instructor in 2004, and he was promoted to Senior Manager of Instruction and Training in 2011.
I learned all this during a drive with Jim to visit his daughters’classrooms. The last few days of training at the Seeing Eye are called “freelancing”—instructors expose us to some of the unique situations we’ll be facing once we’re home.
I’m a children’s book author, and I give a lot of presentations at schools. When I learned Jim and his wife Carrie have three daughters in school (in addition to a two-year-old son at home), I asked if I could spend my freelancing time visiting the students at Warren G. Harding Elementary School with Whitney.
Jim stayed at the school with us during the visit, and you didn’t have to be able to see to know he was beaming when we arrived. He was unabashedly delighted to be at school with his daughters, and they were proud to have their dad—and a Seeing Eye graduate with her working dog—at school with them that day, too.
A story in The North Jersey Record reports that salaries start in the $40,000 range for those in the Seeing Eye’s three-year apprentice training program, and that the salary for full instructors ranges from $50,000 to $85,000. Odds are that Jim Kessler took a significant paycut to work for the Seeing Eye, but he doesn’t talk about that. He talks instead about his respect for the instructors he works with, his pride in the remarkable work the dogs do, and how much he loves his family. And after what happened on September 11, 2001, he'll be the first to tell you that he considers himself a very lucky guy.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog activity throughout the day
It’s such rotten luck than just as many of us are coming home from work hoping to chill out, our dogs are ramping up for high activity. When dogs go nuts at that time of day, their happy reunion with us not the only reason. Most dogs naturally exhibit high energy and elevated activity levels in the early evening. That’s why it’s so important to spend some time with our dogs then. It pays to get them outside and exercising, even though that may not always be our first inclination.
Dogs are also ready for some action in the mid-morning, and this is also species-typical. They are inclined to be active at certain times of the day just as birds are inclined to sing at sunrise and coyotes tend to howl during the night. The tendency to behave in certain ways over the course of the day is part of the daily cycle called a circadian rhythm. Many living organisms have circadian rhythms, including animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria.
The light/dark cycle of our rotating planet is responsible for the circadian rhythms that lead to the predictable timing of behaviors throughout the day. Light leads to changes in the hypothalamus, which regulates these daily rhythms. The pattern of light affects sleep cycles, hormone levels, brain wave activity and body temperature, all of which have an impact on behavior.
Dogs certainly have a natural circadian rhythm with activity peaks in the mid morning and early evening. Although dogs may vary in how closely they follow this typical pattern, few adult dogs are completely at odds with this normal schedule. Puppies, on the other hand, are not born with a circadian rhythm, and it takes months for them to develop the pattern typical of their species. Their active times are not as predictable as those of adult dogs.
Is your dog predictably active at certain times of the day?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study looks at what canines find reinforcing.
Whenever I talk to people who are facing a dog training challenge, I always ask questions about the reward they're offering for the desired behavior. Often roadblocks can be overcome by increasing the frequency of the reward (and by making the exercise easier). For instance, if you're trying to reduce leash pulling, you might help your dog earn more rewards by reducing the distraction level (by moving further away from enticing dogs) or breaking down behaviors and acknowledging small successes (such as a head turn in your direction).
In addition to the number of rewards you give, it's also important to understand what is most motivating to your pup. For my Sheltie, Nemo, food is his number one reward, followed by toys, but for my Border Collie, Scuttle, it's the opposite.
Because I consider understanding rewards so essential, I was excited to see that Dr. Erica Feuerbacher and her team at the University of Florida is doing research on this topic.
Their latest study looks at how dogs respond to different interactions with people, verbal and physical (petting). Their "test subjects" included a mix of shelter dogs and non-shelter pups, and the humans giving attention included strangers and owners. The team found that across all groups and situations, the dogs showed a preference for petting over verbal interactions by staying near the person longer during petting sessions. The pups showed significantly less proximity seeking behavior with the verbal interactions, similar to the control sessions with no interaction at all. They also found that the dogs never seemed to tired of being pet.
Erica and her team believe that petting is an important interaction between dogs and humans that may maintain inter-species social behavior. Vocal interaction, on the other hand, is something that needs to be conditioned. I definitely see this in my training. A "good boy" or "yes!," usually garners a response from my pups, but I believe it's because they know a treat usually follows the words (similar to the way you'd condition a click with a treat in clicker training).
Previous research from Erica's team showed that animals preferred food to being touched. I think most pups would agree with those findings!
What's your dog's number one reward?
Walking the dogs
I was walking Lola, Kit and Charlie this morning at the Bulb, a regional park in nearby Albany (CA), when I saw a man setting up, what looked like a birdwatching apparatus, but, happily and surprisingly, it turned out to be a set of bagpipes. I held back with two of the dogs (asking them to jump up on a “painted” boulder) not being sure how they would react to this unexpected park visitor. But I let Lola go up to him and sniff around. He welcomed her, reached down to pet her and to assure her that the sounds coming from the strange “bag” weren’t going to harm her. He turned out to be a really nice guy—which could be easily gleaned by the way he welcomed the dogs—he looked to be in his 60s, and has worked in public libraries (around the country) all his life, and just started to pick up the pipes again after a long hiatus. I certainly look forward to seeing and hearing him practice again.
I was able to capture a video snippet of this special moment. Would love to hear about the ones you have had during a dog walk—an unexpected surprise, a lovely sunset, meeting an interesting person, just something that made you thankful that you and your dog were able to share in its magic.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Kidnapped pup is reunited with her original family.
Imagine relocating to a new city and having your dog stolen right from your new yard. That's exactly what happened to LaShena Harris eight years ago, just weeks after moving to Memphis, Tenn. LaShena just went into her house for a few minutes. When she came back, a truck was flying down the street and her puppy, Cashmere (a.k.a. Fatcat), was gone. LaShena did everything she could to find her beloved English Bulldog, but eventually gave up hope.
All that changed last week when LeShena's mother in Chicago received a call from the West Memphis Animal Shelter. Fatcat was abandoned there and her phone number was listed on the microchip (LeShena never updated the information when she moved). LaShena first cried tears of joy after learning Fatcat had been found, but her happiness soon turned to horror after she found out how her pup had been treated. According to rescue workers, the English Bulldog had been abused and bred countless times. Fatcat would require a lot of medical care, estimated at $5,000.
Also, since Fatcat's disappearance, LaShena moved to Arizona and was nearly 1,4000 miles away. Fatcat wasn't in any condition to fly and LeShena couldn't drive across the country to get Fatcat. It looked like the sick pup may be euthanized until shelter director Kerry Sneed called back with a solution. A friend was moving to Scottsdale, Arizona and had agreed to transport Fatcat to her rightful family.
When LaShena was reunited with Fatcat, the pup immediately rolled over for a belly rub. Kerry believes that it's a miracle Fatcat survived the years of mistreatment and outlived the average Bulldog lifespan. Fatcat is a fighter who was just waiting to come home.
Faced with mounting vet bills, LaShena's coworker convinced her to open a GoFundMe account. She's already raised the $5,000 needed and plans to donate the remainder to the West Memphis Animal Shelter.
"I think the moral to this story is never lose hope or give up, timing is everything," LaShena told AZ Central. "Have your pet microchipped. And when the stars are aligned, anything is possible." I would also add, it's important to keep your microchip information current!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Animals swallow the weirdest things
A shish kabob skewer, almost 4 dozen socks, a light bulb, 5 rubber ducks, 9 needles, 104 pennies along with a quarter, a hacky sack and a pocket knife all showed up—literally!—as winners in Veterinary Practice News’ annual contest called “They Ate WHAT?”
It’s frightening what dogs can swallow, but it’s also reassuring how often dogs are either able to pass or vomit up a dangerous item without injuring themselves further, especially when they receive proper medical care. It’s also comforting to realize how well dogs can recover from surgeries to remove objects from their insides that should have stayed on the outside.
In this ninth annual radiograph contest, the winning X-rays really are impressive. Not all of them are from dogs, but our canine friends are certainly well represented. This is no surprise—dog and stories of ingesting strange objects are a natural pairing.
Has your dog’s X-ray ever revealed something really special inside?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Combating the pet overpopulation problem with education.
Nine years ago, filmmaker Tom McPhee was sent to post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans to document animal rescue efforts. After discovering a world where people risked everything to save animals, Tom was inspired to create the World Animal Awareness Society to capture human-canine interactions on film.
Tom's mission led him to Detroit where he witnessed firsthand the dire overpopulation problem (according to Detroit Dog Rescue, over 90 percent of stray dogs in the city are euthanized) and the negative perception around stray animals. Tom was determined to get to the root cause of the issue and believed the key was teaching the kids of Detroit.
Tom worked with two teachers, Beth Molnar and Catherine Potoff, to develop an eight-week curriculum that combines lessons about dogs with subjects such as reading, math, and social studies. People in Detroit grow up learning to run from stray animals to avoid getting bit. The goal of the Good Pet Guardian lessons is to help kids become more aware of dogs and how they interact with them, while creating more empathy.
This month the curriculum will roll out to fourth- and fifth-graders at Dixon Educational Learning Academy in Detroit. The modules were made specifically for the city, exploring the history of human-canine interactions and how negative economic conditions can affect pets. The students will be assigned to observe and record dogs they see around their homes.
In addition to the community centered lessons, the students will also write an essay from the perspective of a stray and learn what to do if they come across one.
I just love this approach to the overpopulation problem. Not only does it spark a much needed mindset shift around animals in Detroit, but it creates a generation of advocates for homeless pets.
Tom plans to eventually bring the Good Pet Guardian lessons to other schools in Detroit and around the country. 4th and 5th grade teachers can request a copy of the lesson plans through their web site.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Animal control officers often have to be very creative in capturing an elusive dog. The key is to make the animal feel safe but sometimes they are just too afraid to trust. I recently had a call of a dog that showed up as a stray with a companion near a rural vineyard. The two dogs were large flock guardian types and wanted to be friendly but just too wary to be captured. A fellow animal control office finally managed to skillfully loop one of them and bring him to safely but the companion bolted, becoming even more fearful.
I was working the area over the next few days and was so hopeful to capture the remaining dog. The dog refused to go in a trap or be cornered in any way and I worried about him out there on his own. He also refused treats if anyone was near. I worked closely with the residents to come up with a plan but a couple of days passed with no luck. I gave the resident my personal cell number to keep in touch and we worked out a plan. Finally I went into work early and got the dog that was already at the shelter. I was worried about losing him again so I placed him in one of our large dog traps to keep him safe. I loaded him up in the truck, picked up a couple of cheeseburgers on the way and headed out. With me I had my rescued Doberman, Breeze, who loves other dogs. I also carry a sealed plastic bag containing a rag with scent from a female dog in season. It took nearly an hour to reach the remote location where the dog was and there was no guarantee that I would even find the other dog.
I was thrilled to find the remaining dog lying in front of the gate at the remote property. Scared dogs are uncomfortable with any kind of attention focused on them so I ignored him and unloaded his buddy. The loose dog showed immediate interest so I walked away, admiring the view high on our mountaintop location. The two dogs sniffed and wagged through the wire and I watched the loose dog began to relax. I gradually walked back to my truck, still ignoring the loose dog. I got Breeze out and tied my “in season” rag to her collar. She greeted the loose dog happily and he sniffed her eagerly. I then began feeding bites of cheeseburger to the caged dog. Breeze joined in and we had a little pow wow with the dogs eagerly taking the bites I offered.
The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed and soon the loose dog was taking bites of cheeseburger along with the others. I was able to scratch his neck but he still wouldn’t allow me to slip a lead on or get a hold on him. As he grew more comfortable he began trying to gulp the burger out of my hands and I was finally able to get him with a snappy snare (a flexible tool with a quick release loop). He didn’t even fight me at that point and I let him gobble the last of the treat before loading him in the truck alongside his buddy.
Driving back down the mountain I was so relieved and grateful that both dogs were safe and would get the care they needed. The dogs were not claimed and were later transferred to a wonderful rescue group experienced with flock guardian breeds where they wait for their forever home.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It’s a big change for dogs, too
Though summer is not officially over for a couple more weeks, it feels like the end of the season when the kids go back to school. That’s certainly true for the many dogs who say good-bye to endless fun with playmates when their best buddies return to the classroom. This can be sad and stressful for dogs, but there are ways to help our dogs cope with these big changes in their daily routine.
Make departures a happy time. Watching their buddies take off for the day is no fun for most dogs, so it’s important to teach dogs to associate these good-byes with feeling good. As the kids leave, give your dog something to chew on or a stuffed Kong to keep him occupied. The goal is to help your dog to feel happy when he sees that they are about to go because he has learned that their departures equals something good for him.
Hide something fun for your dog to find while the kids are gone. In addition to giving your dog something to occupy him as he sees the kids leaving, teach him to search for an additional treasure, too. This can be another toy stuffed with food and treats, or it can be any toy or chew item that he can safely enjoy.
Emphasize quality time in the morning. Most dogs will benefit from having the opportunity to exercise and to interact with the children before they take off. Try to incorporate exercise, training, play or some time for petting into the morning routine. That way, your dog will already have had some good times to start the day and be better able to cope with some down time.
Make after school playtime a priority. Few dogs in families with kids will have as much time to play during the school year as they did during the summer. That can’t be helped, but it’s important to maintain a routine that does include play once school is over for the day. Homework, band, soccer practice, dance class and all the other demands on our time are important, but so is playing with our dogs and spending time with them. Putting this on our “to do” list not only helps us provide for our dogs’ needs, it also helps us teach our kids that dogs matter every day—not just when we have time on our hands.
Consider other options for your dog. Some dogs do fine when the kids go back to school as long as they still have the opportunity to be with them before and after school. Other dogs, especially those who will be home alone, may benefit from going to doggy day care, or having a dog walker or pet sitter help out. It depends on the dog, though, because not all dogs enjoy spending time with strangers or a lot of dogs. For many dogs, being at home on their own is a better option.
How is your dog coping with the changes in routine that go along with the kids returning to school?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study shows the desire to protect social bonds between humans and canines.
Do our dogs get jealous? My pups definitely react when I pay more attention to one over the other, but is it right to call it jealousy? While scientists have long wondered whether the emotion requires complex cognition, two researchers at UC San Diego believe that dogs may exhibit a more basic form of jealousy, which evolved to protect social bonds.
For the first experiment of jealous behaviors in canines, Psychology professor Christine Harris and student Caroline Prouvost adapted a test used with 6-month old human infants. The team worked with 36 dogs in their own homes, running through different scenarios with their owner's attention--having the person show affection to a plush dog (that barked, whined, and wagged its tail), engage with a plastic pumpkin pail, and read a book that played music.
The researchers took note of aggressive, disruptive, and attention-seeking behaviors. They found that the dogs were more likely to exhibit behaviors like snapping, pushing, and getting between their owner and the other dog when the interaction was with the plush pup as opposed to the plastic pail (as high as 78 percent to 42 percent). The dogs were even less likely to exhibit the behaviors with the book reading (22 percent).
Christine believes we can label these behaviors as jealousy and that the study suggests the dogs were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a rival to protect an important social relationship. Because the majority of research is on jealousy between human mates, this study is an interesting insight into the dynamic between siblings, friends, and even people and dogs.
Do you think that your pup exhibits jealousy?
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