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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Sweet Good-bye

Just about every Monday morning finds me at the local off-leash dog beach with a group of dogs and a friend or two. It is such a welcome break from my demanding and stressful job as an animal control officer. The dogs I see at the beach are beautiful, happy and loved. Old and young, large and small, they are having a blast getting exercise, playtime and social interaction. It’s a delightful change from some of the heartbreak I see at work.

On a recent beach day I came across a scene which touched me deeply. A couple stood looking out at the ocean. Between them was a canvas stretcher with a handle that could be pulled across the sand. There was a thick dog bed on the stretcher and a very old dog lay flat on the bed. I paused for a moment, gazing at the gray muzzle and alert but cloudy eyes of the old dog. One of my dogs came up and before I could call her, the two dogs sniffed noses. The old dog was unable to even lift his head, but I could see that he was aware of what was happening around him and seemed to enjoy the interaction. I called my dog and apologized to the couple for the intrusion.

The dog and his people were calm and accepting and I continued on my way with a lump in my throat. I’m guessing that this was good-bye and that the people wanted the dog to have a last visit to a place he loved. To smell the salt air and feel the sweet ocean breeze.  It was so obvious that this dog was adored, cherished, beloved. I teared up at the thought of what was coming and yet, in my world, I found it to be a beautiful scene. I’ve seen the old dogs, abandoned and alone in the shelter. I’ve held those unwanted dogs and tenderly stroked their gray muzzles. I’ve told them they were loved and kissed them as they drew their last breath.

This is what every dog deserves, I thought, as I took a final backward glance at the little family. All three were gazing out to sea.

I would love to hear how readers have made good-bye special for an adored companion.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Friendly Car Service in N.Y.C.
App connects pet lovers with transportation in the Big Apple.
There are many challenges to having a dog in New York City. In most of the Big Apple, patches of grass for potty breaks are few and far between. Off leash play areas are reserved to small fenced dog runs or parts of Central Park for early bird pups with reliable recalls. But one of the most annoying parts of sharing city life with a pup is finding transportation, especially if you have a non-handbag sized dog.

Since most New Yorkers don't own a car, animal lovers have to rely on the subway (where dogs have to be in a carrier, which is difficult, if not impossible, for big dogs) or a taxi. And it's not always easy getting a cab driver to stop when you have a large-by-New-York-standards pup. As if hailing a taxi wasn't hard enough in a city of over eight million people!

Enter yet another life changing app. Whisk, which launched in New York City last October, lets riders hail livery cabs with their smartphones. Earlier this month they added a new feature that connects people with animal friendly drivers. Users simply click the pet icon in the Whisk app to activate a search of eligible cars. Once Ride Now is clicked, a driver will show up with yummy treats to share and a blanket for the dogs to sit on in the backseat (animals are also welcome to ride in their own crate if they bring one).

Whisk CEO Michael Ibrahim was inspired to create the new feature when his Rhodesian Ridgeback Bafana broke her leg after being hit by a bicyclist in Manhattan. It was nearly impossible to find a cab that would take Bafana, so they ended up carrying her the 20 blocks to the veterinarian.

There is a $10 additional fee for riders traveling with pets, but it's seems like a convenient option for dog lovers with limited transport options. I hope that Whisk's new service will encourage other travel companies to consider adding pet friendly features too. If there's anything that New York City animal lovers can agree on, it's that having a pet here is expensive!

News: Editors
Check the Chip Day

Every dog has its day, and every day “has” its dog! So Friday August 15 has been declared as “Check the Chip Day,” by the AVMA (American Veterinary Medicine Association) and the AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association). It serves as a good reminder to make sure your dog’s microchip contact information is correct—perhaps you adopted a dog from a rescue group and forgot to change the contact info to yours, or your address has changed and you didn’t notify the microchip registry. And, if your dog isn’t chipped yet, this is also gives you the impetus to do it now—helps to ensure that you can be easily reunited with your dog if she is ever lost. A study of more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters showed that dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time, whereas microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2%. If you don’t know your dog’s chip number—a requirement to log into the registry—ask your vet or shelter to use a universal scanner to read the chip. Microchips come in various frequencies. Unfortunately there is no one frequency yet in place, so frequencies might be 125 kilo Hertz (kHz), 128 kHz, or 134.2 kHz, and only an universal scanner can read all of these. It also gets more complicated because each registry has its own database, but the AAHA maintains Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool linking all the registries. See this helpful video for more information about microchipping and if you have more questions these FAQs from the AVMA are useful.

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News: Editors
Robin Williams and Lenny, the Pug

As everyone knows by now, brilliant actor and comic Robin Williams died on Monday. I was one of the multitudes who have fond memories of him, not just for his work in TV and film, but also because of an unscheduled performance by him at a SF comedy club. He would do that a lot, just drop in for a “visit,” get up on the stage, or in this case, just go to the front of the room, and everyone, including the other performers, were beguiled by his enormous talent in making people laugh. In one of the articles this morning in the LA Times, it was noted that his neighbors in Tiburon, Calif. took special delight in seeing him walk his dog, “The children called him “the funny man” and would greet him as such when he was out walking his pug, Lenny (after another famous comedian). He joked around easily with them, Cook said, “because they were kids.” I also think that he joked with the kids because he had such a generous heart and was known to pay special attention to children everywhere.

As for the Pug, Leonard, Williams did adopt him back in March 2010 from Curly Tail Pug Rescue. See the story behind that adoption. And in an interview with The Telegragh (UK) he talked about little Lenny noting, “I also have a gay rescue pug called Leonard, who I take for walks, because I am very secure in my sexuality. He has a boyfriend and they are planning to adopt a Siamese kitten together. We’re very modern.” He was indeed a very funny man and will be missed by all.

 

 

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Vending Machine for Stray Dogs
Solar powered box dispenses kibble and recycles garbage

Homeless animals and garbage are just two of the many problems cities grapple with. Last month a Turkish company unveiled an ingenious machine that targets both of those issues, combining recycling and feeding stray dogs.

The Pugeon Smart Recycling Box releases kibble in exchange for trash, reminiscent of the machines at grocery stores that give you a nickel for cans and plastic bottles.

Located around Istanbul, anyone can walk up to the solar powered gadgets and insert an empty plastic bottle at the top. This activates the machine to dispense a small amount of kibble in a dish at the bottom. The bottles, which are later recycled, cover the cost of the food.

Istanbul is home to more than 150,000 stray dogs and cats, so the rations are gobbled up quickly. The city has struggled to manage the overpopulation problem over the years. In 2004, Turkey introduced an animal protection law centered around neutering homeless animals, but it is not well enforced.

While the Box helps hungry pups, it doesn't help solve the overpopulation problem. But besides providing food and disposing of trash, the machine plays a third important role--getting people to think and talk about homeless animals. Hopefully the Box will inspire people to take an active role towards a lasting solution for the stray pups.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Problem Solving Recalls
A dog struggles to figure it out

One day, Marley showed us a limitation in his problem solving ability when he failed to come when called. He just looked at me, cocked his head and stayed exactly where he was. That’s not like him, because he has a good recall. This was definitely not a matter of him being distracted or refusing by choosing to do something else rather than responding to my cue.

His recall may not be proofed in every situation yet, but at our house, it is rock solid. If he is able to come, he will do so when told. When I say, “if he is able to come,” I mean that if he can figure out how to get to me, he will head that way immediately. This time, he literally did not know how to reach me, even though he was standing in our backyard and I was only 20 feet away.

That 20 feet was not on the ground though. I was above him on the upstairs balcony, which does not have access to the ground floor. To respond to the cue appropriately and come to me, Marley would have had to run away from me to go through the backdoor downstairs, run through the house, up the stairs, through the hallway, into the master bedroom and exit through the sliding glass door to the balcony. I suspect he was unable to figure out that there was a way to come without running directly to me.

To help him solve this problem, we broke it down into three smaller steps. My kids called him to come inside and reinforced him for that. Then my husband called him from the top of the stairs, and also gave him treats. Finally, I called him from the balcony, and this time he was able to respond to my cue and be reinforced for doing so.

It will take him additional practice to be able to do the entire recall from the backyard, into the house, up the stairs and onto the balcony, but he has progressed already. He can complete this complex recall in two steps now instead of three, and I expect that he will soon be proficient at the task which once completely befuddled him.

Has your dog ever struggled to come when called because of confusion about how to reach you?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog Fire Hydrant
It adds to the town’s beauty

Dogs and art both dress up a city, and when they are combined, the charm is more than doubled. That’s why I was so pleased when I spotted this fire hydrant painted to look like a dog with a firefighter’s hat in West Jefferson, North Carolina. I already liked the area, and this discovery added to my warm feelings about it. It’s not everyone’s style, to be sure, but I like the whimsical look.

I spent some time watching the fire hydrant while sitting on a nearby bench. Though I saw a few people—certainly tourists like me—stop to admire it, I did not see a single dog sniff it or mark it. In this town, there were not a lot of dogs walking around, so the fire hydrant was not serving as a place to mark.

The real purpose of fire hydrants, of course, is to provide water in the event of fire and they are therefore important safety tools. Some people object to painting fire hydrants for fun because it may make them harder to find in an emergency. They are usually red or yellow in order to be easily seen, though the Dalmatian is one of the most common themes when they are painted as an art form.

Are there dog fire hydrants in your area?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Studying Behavior to Save Dogs
New organization aims to use research to keep pets out of shelters.

According to the Simon Foundation, behavior is the number one killer of dogs under the age of three. Challenges such as barking and aggression result in millions of dogs to be surrendered at animal shelters around the world each year.

This sad reality inspired the creation of their Center for Canine Behavior Studies. The Center aims to use behavioral science to advance our understanding of dogs and to strengthen the human-canine relationship to be proactive against the homeless pet problem.

Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, founder of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University, is serving as their Chief Scientific Officer.

One of his first studies will look at how owner personality influences the behavior of their dogs.

Past studies have shown that higher rates of behavior problems (sexual mounting, destructiveness, attention-seeking, separation anxiety, and aggression) in dogs were associated with people that were emotionally unstable (measured using tools such as the Eysenck Personality Inventory).

A study of search and rescue dogs deployed at the World Trade Center and Pentagon following the 9/11 terrorist attacks found that the handler's PTSD and depression symptom scores (one year later) predicted the development of behavioral problems, such as sepration anxiety and aggression, in their dogs.

Dr. Dodman and Professor James A. Serpell, Director of the Center of Interaction of Animals and Society at UPenn, are furthering this research by embarking on the largest owner-dog personality-behavior study ever conducted to establish the how a person's personality and psychological status can affect pet behavior.

They hope to use the results of the study to help people understand the influence they are having on their pet's behavior and to be able to modify their interactions accordingly. They also would like to use the information gained to help predict which owner personality types are most compatible with a particular dog that they plan to adopt.

There is lots of exciting research coming out of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies and I can't wait to see the impact on homeless pets.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Learning to Handle Stairs
Many puppies need a little help

Try crawling down a flight of stairs on all fours, and the experience may give you instant insight into why so many dogs hesitate about going down. Having your head aimed down at such a steep angle takes some getting used to. There are dogs who struggle to go up and down the stairs, but it is far more common for dogs who lack experience with them to be especially resistant to going down.

Luckily, most dogs respond well if they are taught how to negotiate stairs in an (appropriately named) step-by-step process. The key is to teach dogs how to go down one or two steps at a time, avoiding having those steps be the ones at the top of a full flight of stairs, where the view seems a bit scary to most dogs.

Ideally, begin by working with a dog in a place that has just a single step, if one is available to you. Typically, dogs are comfortable taking a single step down onto a long stretch of level ground. Using a smelly delicious food treat, you can lure a dog up the step, and immediately lure him back down. If the dog is small, you can lift him up and then lure him down the step, enticing him to step down by having him follow the treat. I prefer to lure both up and down, so the dog feels more in control of the situation. Do this several times in multiple short sessions until the dog is going up and down the step without any hesitation.

The next phase of training involves having the dog go down a few steps at a time. If you have a place with only 2-4 steps, that is ideal, but if not, you can use the bottom few steps of a flight of stairs. It’s easier with small dogs who you can lift up to the step and then lure down, but with bigger dogs, you can lure up and down if the dog is able to turn around on the step.

If the dog is too big to do that comfortably and safely, then either try to find a place with just a few steps, or work at the top of the steps, but hold a blanket or pillow to block the view of the full flight of stairs and lure down 2-4 steps at a time and then move the visual blocker and do the next few steps. Sometimes just standing below the dog on the steps is enough to block the view or reassure the dog and give him the confidence to descend one step at a time. If you have stairs with a landing in the middle, consider yourself lucky because you can do half as many steps and get the dog down on solid flat ground. That makes for a nice intermediate stage.

Once the dog is comfortable with several stairs (depending on your options, this may be 3 to 7 stairs at one time), expand the number of steps until the dog can go down an entire flight of stairs on his own.

The following video shows a small dog named Radar who recently learned to negotiate stairs with this step-by-step process.

As with any training, don’t force the dog. Work slowly within the dog’s physical and emotional comfort zone to avoid falls. Be patient, only progressing to a harder task when the dog is clearly comfortable with the current one.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Defusing Awkward Situations
Casual comments when aggression is brewing

The dog was scaring me. He was heading towards us, calling to mind a true wild predator. Moving slowly, silently and with unsettling stillness, this dog was stalking us and I felt true fear. This was a 70-pound tall and leggy dog who had a coyote-like look to him. He was only about 30-feet away at the hole next to us on the disk golf course where we had come with Marley. His family showed no signs of concern with their dog’s behavior and perhaps they had not even noticed it.

I resisted the urge to shriek, “Call your dog! What made you think it’s remotely okay to have a stalking dog off leash around kids and other dogs? Sheesh!” Blaming or shaming them with a knee-jerk response such as that would have done nothing to accomplish my goal of influencing their behavior to make the situation safer and less scary. Instead, I faked calmness and said, “I think your dog is making our dog uncomfortable.” This was a serious understatement as Marley seemed truly distressed by this dog’s approach.

It turned out to be a good choice of what to say. One guy in the group casually said, “Oh, sorry,” and called his dog with a cheerful, “Bear, Come!” Bear trotted over to him and regained a relaxed and playful body posture. I was still glad when they left not long after.

It feels satisfying to diffuse a potentially tense situation that involved the potential for canine aggression as well as social awkwardness between people. I wish it were always possible. The previous day, I had tried to make light of a situation with a dog and had failed miserably and comically.

I was out for a run and feeling tired though I still had a few miles to go. I was inspired by the peppiness of a Boston Terrier who was headed towards me while out for a walk with a young couple. As we approached each other, I said exactly what was on my mind: “I wish I had the spring in my step that your dog has.”

The dog reacted by barking and lunging at me, hitting the end of his leash and making a bit of a scene. The people were probably hoping as we approached that we would all ignore each other, so that their dog would not have an outburst. Sadly for them, they had come across their worst nightmare—an extreme dog lover and an extreme extrovert, so that was not to be.

It was my attempt to diffuse the situation rather than my original comment that was really the mistake, though. After I had remarked on the dog’s energy and she had replied with her, “BARRARRARR BARRARRARR,” I said, “See, she has so much energy!” My intention was to try to lighten up a tense situation and to let them know that I was not scared or angry. These things happen, as I know as well as anyone. Understandably, they just looked annoyed.

When I came home and told my family about it, my 9-year old son’s comment was, “Do you think they thought maybe you weren’t that smart?” (It’s a reasonable conclusion about someone who has described a dog’s aggressive barking and lunging as “energetic.”) I replied, “Well, I’m sure they didn’t think I was an expert in canine behavior, and they’re surely not praising my social skills.” I just didn’t want them to feel ashamed or bad in any other way, as I know so many people do when their dog’s behavior falls short of perfection.

Have you had luck—good or bad—diffusing awkward situations involving potentially aggressive behavior?

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