Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Are some individuals incapable of self-control?
I specialize in working with dogs with aggression issues, so I think about biting behavior a lot. Mostly, I’m pondering ways to help dogs stop doing it and ways to help people who want to help their dogs stop doing it. Many thoughts center on protecting dogs from situations in which they are prone to biting, and protecting people and dogs from being bitten. Other topics include the motivation behind biting, the triggers that elicit it and the effects of a bite on everyone involved.
My biting obsession is always centered on dogs. I had given very little thought to biting by people until this week’s incident at the World Cup in the game between Uruguay and Italy. In that match, Luis Suárez of Uruguay bit (actually bit!) the shoulder of Italian player Giorgio Chiellini, who showed the tooth marks to the referee. The commentators seemed dismayed with remarks such as, “Oh dear, dear, dear,” and perhaps more alarmingly, “Surely not again.”
Yes, that’s right, this is not the first, but rather the third time that Suárez has bitten an opposing player. In the past, he has been suspended for a number of matches because of his behavior. It seems crazy to jeopardize his career and his reputation, embarrass himself and hurt the chances of his country succeeding at the World Cup by biting again. Television cameras are everywhere, and millions of people throughout the world are watching. There wasn’t a chance that another bite would go unnoticed or unpunished, and he has in fact been given the longest suspension in World Cup history and fined over $100,000. That’s why I think that Suárez is literally unable to stop this behavior because he lacks emotional control. (I’m not suggesting that he is not responsible for his behavior or that he should be treated leniently because he can’t control himself. I’m just saying that he seems unable to exercise normal inhibition of his own impulses.)
Biting is far more common in the canine world than in the human world, but it’s still rare to meet dogs who bite in such an uncontrollable way. I’ve known very few dogs like this, and though the behavior is unacceptable, I do find myself feeling pity for individuals—both dogs and people—who are unable to control themselves. It’s a shame to lack normal social skills and become dangerous to others or unwelcome in various situations as a result.
Emotions such as anger and frustration combined with high arousal are typically involved with dogs who bite in an out of control way. (Suárez has said that he was angry with Chiellini for hitting him in the eye during the game, and there’s no doubt that the intensity of a high stakes international soccer match lends itself to high arousal in the players.) Such bites happen when dogs have the canine equivalent of a toddler’s tantrum because they don’t get what they want. Dogs who bite in these contexts are literally unable to control themselves. It is much harder to substantially improve their behavior compared with other dogs, most of whom are biting as a result of fear.
Many humans go through a biting stage at around age 2, but they outgrow it. They learn self-control as well as developing an understanding of what is socially acceptable. Similarly, dogs use their mouths both playfully and not so playfully as puppies, but then the vast majority of them develop normal bite inhibition and an understanding of what they are and are not allowed to do with their mouths. Biting is a more normal part of canine behavior than of human behavior since people are more inclined to hit when behaving aggressively than to bite, so the analogy is not perfect, but there are similarities.
It’s important when working with an aggressive dog to understand as much as possible about why the dog is biting. There’s hope for the overwhelming majority of dogs with a bite history, as many are able to improve their behavior with a combination of behavior modification and a sensible management plan for prevention. However, there is the rare dog whose likelihood of improvement is small because of a lack of any kind of self-control and the tendency to bite when frustrated, angry and aroused.
Did anyone else see this incident and have their minds immediately go to thoughts of dog bites?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Japan debuts long term care facility for pets
Japan has one of the highest average life expectancies and one of the largest pet populations in the world. So it probably comes as no surprise that the country is opening their first canine retirement home outside of Tokyo.
Although long term pet care facilities exist elsewhere in the world, Aeonpet, the company behind Japan's retirement home, is hoping to establish an industry standard and create the first chain with multiple locations. Aeonpet is already a fixture in the Japanese pet market with specialty stores, animal hospitals, and a luxury pet hotel.
Aeonpet's first location will care for up to 20 dogs at a time, charging about $1,000 per month. The price will vary based on dog breed and size. Amenities include an on-call veterinarian, a grooming "spa," a playground, and a swimming pool--enough to make any human jealous! Hotel rooms are also available for people to stay during their pup's last days.
Pet retirement homes play an important role in ensuring proper care as people get older or move into nursing homes that don't allow animals, but many people may not be able to afford the price tag. Aeonpet's facility comes at a good time for Japan, since they recently revised their Law on Welfare and Management of Animals. The updated legislation requires pet owners to take responsibility for their animals, either by taking care of the pets themselves or finding them a new home.
Making plans for the inevitable isn't fun, but I'm glad that pet retirement homes give us yet another option for how we can care for our pets if we are no longer able to do so.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Australian office workers rescued by dogs
We all know that many dogs are in need of rescue, but The Lost Dogs Home in Melbourne Australia took a different approach to enticing people to their facility. They started a program called the Human Walking Program, which offers relief to office workers who spend too much time indoors and sitting at their desks.
They offered people the opportunity to spend time over their lunch hour outdoors walking dogs. The promise of fresh air, a little exercise and time with a new canine buddy was very appealing. At the inaugural event in April 2014, over 5000 office workers were rescued from their daily grind and all of the available dogs were adopted.
Most of us realize that people need rescuing just like dogs do. The Human Walking Program turns that fact into happiness for members of both species. I’d love to see programs like this become popular in other countries.
News: Guest Posts
Are all fatty tumors benign?
Expanding on the topic of tumors discussed last week, this blog is devoted to lipomas, aka fatty tumors. Of all the benign growths dogs develop as they age, lipomas are one of the most common. They arise from fat (lipid) cells and their favorite sites to set up housekeeping are the subcutaneous tissue (just beneath the skin surface) of axillary regions (armpits) and alongside the chest and abdomen. Every once in awhile lipomas develop internally within the chest or abdominal cavity. Rarely does a dog develop only one lipoma. They tend to grow in multiples and I’ve examined individual dogs with more lipomas than I could count.
Should lipomas be treated in some fashion? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a definite, “No!” This is based on their benign, slow-growing nature. The only issue most create is purely cosmetic, which the dog could care less about!
There are a few exceptions to the general recommendation to let sleeping lipomas lie. A fatty tumor is deserving of more attention in the following situations:
1. A lipoma is steadily growing in an area where it could ultimately interfere with mobility. The armpit is the classic spot where this happens. The emphasis here is on the phrase, “steadily growing.” Even in one of these critical areas there is no reason to surgically remove a lipoma that remains quiescent with no discernible growth.
2. Sudden growth and/or change in appearance of a fatty tumor (or any mass for that matter) warrant reassessment by a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.
3. Every once in a great while, a fatty tumor turns out to be an infiltrative liposarcoma rather than a lipoma. These are the malignant black sheep of the fatty tumor family. Your veterinarian will be suspicious of an infiltrative liposarcoma if the fine needle aspirate cytology reveals fat cells, yet the tumor feels fixed to underlying tissues. (Lipomas are normally freely moveable.) Liposarcomas should be aggressively surgically removed and/or treated with radiation therapy.
4. Occasionally a lipoma grows to truly mammoth proportions. If ever you’ve looked at a dog and thought, “Wow, there’s a dog attached to that tumor!” chances are you were looking at a lipoma. Such massive tumors have the potential to cause the dog discomfort. They can also outgrow their blood supply, resulting in possible infection and drainage from the mass. The key is to catch on to the mass’s rapid growth so as to surgically remove it before it becomes enormous in size and far more difficult to remove.
How can one prevent canine lipomas from occurring? No one knows. Anecdotally speaking, it is thought that overweight dogs are more predisposed to developing fatty tumors. While I’m not so sure I buy this, I’m certainly in favor of keeping your dog at a healthy body weight.
Does your dog have a lipoma, or two or three?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A dog is saved after his family's car ends up submerged
Last month Debra Titus accidentally drove her pickup truck into a lake near a retirement community in Carver, Mass. She was able to escape with one of her dogs, Stitch, but her Chihuahua, Moochie, was trapped in the submerged vehicle.
When the police arrived on the scene, Officer David Harriman knew there was only one thing to do when he learned Moochie was still under water. The police officer removed his holster and dove right into the murky water.
The conditions were so bad that Officer Harriman could barely see his hands in front of his face. But he was able to open the car door and save the poor pup. Moochie wasn't moving at first, but quickly regained consciousness after they got to dry land.
Officer Harriman didn't think twice about diving into the water, saying he was inspired by the love he has for his own 8-month old English Bulldog, Jax, who he considers to be a member of the family. Officer Harriman's colleagues describe him as an avid dog lover and we can certainly see why!
Charles Barsotti, a cartoonist whose drawings were a staple of The New Yorker magazine for decades, died on June 16 at the age of 80. While his name may not be familiar to some, most readers will recognize his cartoons—simply drawn with uncommon wit—nearly fourteen hundred of them appeared in that magazine over the years. Many featured his trademark round-nosed dogs—lying on a psychiatrist couch, gathered around conference tables, appearing before judges in court. One shows a dog dressed in standard issue spy garb confessing “They rubbed my tummy, chief—I told them everything.” Barsotti’s cartoons were poignant and sweet, delivering a good deal more than laughs. The best had a short story quality about them.
The Bark interviewed Barsotti in 2007 upon the publication of a collection of his dog cartoons entitled, They Moved My Bowl, the conversation, like his art, was spare and humorous. We asked him about the book’s dedication “to the memory of Jiggs, the world’s greatest dog.” The cartoonist replied, “Any kid who doesn’t think his dog is the world’s greatest dog is weird. Jiggs was part Dachshund, part mystery meatloaf. Jiggs was run over and killed when I was 10. In my book, there’s a cartoon with St. Peter and a dog named Rex who is a stand-in for Jiggs.” It dawned on us that one of our favorite Barsotti cartoons was autobiographical. We ended our interview by asking him his idea of dog heaven … he replied “I’ll ask Jiggs when I get there and send word back.”
Read the full interview here.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
19 pups become official bomb sniffers in New York City.
Service dogs have recently been honored in high school graduations and yearbooks, but last week a group of pups had their own graduation ceremony in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. The 19 bomb-sniffing German Shepherds went through an intense 12-week training program, making up the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's largest class to date.
Instead of a diploma, the each dog received an official badge with a collar and full color guard honors. Following graduation, the pups will patrol trains and station platforms by day and will live with their MTA and NYPD handlers at night.
Adding to the inspiring event, each of the dogs were named after New York fallen heroes whose families were in attendance. Their names are Augie, Chief, Daehan, Foxy, Geo, Holland, Joey, Mac, Patriot, Sentry, T.J., Vinny, Blue, Boomer, Dante, Falco, Nox, Sentinel and Tank.
Michael Stack said knowing that Chief, his dad's namesake, will be patrolling subways and fighting terrorism means a lot to his family. His father, FDNY Safety Battalion Chief Lawrence T. Stack, died while rescuing a man in the North Tower on September 11th.
The MTA's canine unit is one of the largest in the country and consists of 50 dogs that are trained to track the origin of thousands of unattended packages each year.
MTA Chief Michael Coan says the canine team is invaluable and also credits their success to the support of the handlers' families who take care of the pups when they're not on the job.
Having an official graduation ceremony is a great way to honor fallen heroes and the group of dogs waiting to carry on their legacy.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
There’s greatness in being a dog
“The only difference between them and us is they have four legs and we have two,” the woman said. She was expanding on her previous comment that she has a new baby and was picking up photographs of her new little girl. When some other people in line for their photos politely leaned in to look, she was very offended when one man said, “Oh, you have a new dog! I thought you had a new child.”
I’m confident that this woman was expressing how important her dogs are in her life and how much she loves them, but it’s possible that she chose her words in a way that was purposely misleading. The man who replied was genuinely surprised that her new addition was a dog and not a human, but I don’t think he was putting her down—just expressing his confusion. While I think it’s common to consider dogs as important and as loved as people, that’s not the same thing as considering them to BE people. Just because we love them doesn’t mean they are the same as we are. Their differences are part of what we love about that and I see no reason to deny that. Clearly, on a strictly factual level, there are many more differences than the number of legs we have.
It’s important to understand those differences if we are going to get along with each other and provide what our dogs need for a happy, healthy life. As responsible dog guardians, it’s essential to understand basic differences such as how they perceive our actions, what might frighten them, and how they like to play. We need to know that loud sounds and intense smells may upset them. It’s useful to know that, unlike people, most dogs prefer scratches on the behind to hugs, and that some foods that are good for us are dangerous to them. The list of the differences between people and dogs is extremely long.
I think that the viewpoint that dogs are just furry versions of people who happen to have four legs does them a great disservice. Dogs are their own unique and wonderful species. They deserve love and respect for who they are rather than for being like us in various ways. It seems to me that the attitude that dogs are people has a subtext that people are the best and that dogs are so great that they are honorary members of our species. I prefer to think of both of our species as amazing (since they are my two favorite species, after all!) without implying that one is better than the other.
It reminds me of a famous Star Trek quotes in which Captain Kirk says, “Spock, you want to know something? Everybody’s human,” and Spock answers, “I find that remark . . . insulting.”
Dogs are definitely family members, but they are not human ones. I think it’s respectful and loving to recognize that dogs are so deeply loved because of who they are as dogs. To be a dog is glorious, and I see no need to suggest that they are anything else.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
He likes the familiarity
When my sons and I entered Tucker’s home and met him for the first time, he responded in his usual way—with general hesitation and some barking. He’s in no way aggressive, but he doesn’t warm up to strangers quickly. He looked at us, backed away, and didn’t seem too pleased to see us. Over the next couple of hours, he accepted our presence, and was much more relaxed. Still, he was definitely not acting the same towards us as he does with the humans in his family.
Hours later when my husband Rich came over, Tucker acted completely differently with him than he had with the rest of us. His demeanor was significantly friendlier. He rushed up to greet him in a relaxed way, and he didn’t bark. He also looked completely confused and alternated between rushing up to my husband and running away from him.
It’s easy to understand Tucker’s confusion. Tucker lives with Steve, who is my husband’s identical twin brother, but he had never met Rich. The dog didn’t greet him as enthusiastically as he greets Steve, but their remarkable similarity was enough for Tucker to consider my husband “familiar” and to react to him without fear.
When Steve came home a little while later, Tucker went bananas in a happy way, leaping onto Steve, and exuding light-hearted glee from toe to tail. It was clear to us that Tucker knew the first twin to arrive that day was not Steve, but he didn’t treat him like he treats everyone else he is meeting for the first time.
When both my husband and Steve were present, Tucker loved to sit by both of them, but he would look at Rich in confusion, allow some petting, and them scoot closer to Steve and relax totally to the full body massage he received. He would look up, sniff the imposter, and go back to Steve.
The most relaxed Tucker ever was with my husband was on the day he borrowed Steve’s clothes. He was even more relaxed with Rich that day than usual, behaving almost the same way as he did with Steve. However, he sometimes seemed very confused, sniffing him excessively and periodically racing away, only to approach again for further investigation. I’m guessing that the familiar odor of Steve’s clothes was making it a little harder for Tucker to tell the two of them apart, but a little easier for him to feel comfortable around Rich.
Does anyone else have a story of a fearful (or any) dog meeting the identical twin of someone he or she already knows well? What about brothers, sisters, or parents and children who strongly resemble one another?
News: Guest Posts
Who drives four hours to see a concert? I do. When I first read about the Pittsburgh Symphony looking for a few good pooches to audition for an upcoming performance, I was there. The dogs were needed to round out Leopold Mozart’s (Wolfgang’s, or should I say Woofgang’s — father) “Hunting Horn Symphony,” which calls for barking to accompany the horn soloists. Even better: The world-class event was free, courtesy of the city’s annual spring outdoor arts festival at a great spot: Point State Park, where three rivers meet. I had the pleasure of meeting one of the stars prior to the performance: Sergeant Preston. His owner told me he was rescued off the streets of Houston, where she lived before moving to Pittsburgh. She works for the symphony, but insists there was no nepotism involved — his ability and strong stage presence blew everyone away at the audition. In case you were wondering like I was, he was named for a character in a '50s radio, and then TV show — "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon." His owner tells me that name meshed well with that of her other rescue dog, Nanook of the North. The performers took their places. And they didn't disappoint. The crowd gave it a resounding four paws.
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