life with dogs
News: Guest Posts
How many different situations does your dog understand?
Dogs respond to our behavior when we are preparing to leave the house. Reactions are different depending on where we are going. Each type of excursion is associated with a distinct set of (human) behaviors that occur prior to the departure. Dogs pay attention to these different behaviors because they carry a lot of information that matters to them.
The going-to-work behaviors that dogs observe their guardians perform mean that the person is leaving for much of the day. Those behaviors can include packing a lunch, blow drying hair, putting on dress shoes, carrying a specific bag or backpack and possibly being rushed and impatient. Dogs typically respond by sighing, going to lie down, and perhaps acting bored or disinterested. Their reaction reflects their understanding that they will not get to come along.
The actions that take place before a run may be putting on running shoes, grabbing a water bottle, stretching or eating something specific like toast or a banana. It’s easy for dogs who are running buddies to figure out that they get to come along and become excited in anticipation. Many will jump, spin, bark or do some other behavior associated with their enthusiasm or happiness. Some will bring the leash to their guardian, and others will stick very close, as if making sure that they are not accidentally left behind.
The behavior that is often most distressing to dogs involves the actions associated with travel. When many dogs see people filling suitcases, gathering items for a trip or anything else they connect to a long departure, their reactions reflect their displeasure. It’s as though they are thinking, “Uh-oh. I don’t like the looks of this at all.” Some dogs whine, some look sulky and others try to get in the way of our packing efforts.
Some departures are so brief that most dogs don’t make too much fuss over them. If you look outside, slip on your flip-flops and go outside suddenly, a dog who has seen this many times before likely connects those actions to your daily visit to the mailbox. Dogs may watch you from the window the whole time you are gone just to make sure they’ve read the signals correctly, but few experience much distress.
There are so many cues that tell dogs whether or not they are going when you leave, and give details about what’s to come. A bike helmet often means they stay behind (though in some families, it means just the opposite). Picking up the leash is a clear sign that they get to go with you. Shopping bags mean they are staying behind, as does a stuffed Kong being prepared. Grabbing poop bags is a good sign from the dog’s point of view, but grabbing your tablet is not. Dogs pay attention to what we do before we leave because information about their immediate future resides in our actions.
I’ve generalized about the reactions by dogs to various pre-departure behaviors. Obviously, a dog who is too new to the household to know the various patterns will not react predictably to your actions. Dogs who struggle when left alone, especially those with separation anxiety, are often too emotionally overwhelmed and panicky at any sign that you are leaving without them to cope with details distinguishing various situations. (Such dogs are often the most astute at figuring out whether they will be coming with you or being left behind, though.) Most dogs become quite attentive if they’re unsure about what is happening and can’t tell what your actions mean. If the cues that tell them what kind of departure is impending are mixed up or don’t match your usual pattern, most dogs focus closely on what you are doing to try to figure it out.
How many different situations involving your departures can your dog distinguish, and how nuanced are his reactions to each one?
News: Guest Posts
Has it happened to you?
A couple of times a decade, a fall of a truly spectacular nature occurs in my life because of dog-related forces. This morning, for example, an unlikely combination of bad luck and bad timing led to this score: Laws of Physics—1, Karen—0. I was walking Saylor, a sweet, cuddly adolescent dog with more power than you’d think based on her medium size and willowy build. Her strength is most obvious when she sees another dog, but usually I can distract her with treats and (reasonably) calmly walk by another dog without revealing her reactivity to anyone. That’s not how life unfolded today.
We had received more than a foot of snow this weekend. It’s still deep in places but has turned slick in others. (You can probably see where this is going.) On a sidewalk that had not been shoveled, I spotted a sled that resembled a boogie board. Detecting a potential issue, I actually said out loud to Saylor, “Don’t step on that sled. You’ll go flying,” without expecting her to understand. It was just my way of getting her attention so we could veer around it. Saylor noticed the dog before I did, and moved in his direction before I could make an adjustment or give her treats. The dog leapt up on the fence in front of the house so that his head and forelegs were over the fence. He remained there, threatening to make it all the way over, and barked aggressively.
Saylor had charged in his direction with such speed and power that my next step was right on the sled. It traveled in the way that children everywhere want sleds to move—fast and with no friction—resulting in an immediate slam to the ground with my entire backside hitting at the same time. I still had a firm hold on the leash, but that just meant that in addition to my undignified position in a pile of snow, my arm was thrashing about as she lunged at the dog attempting to climb the fence.
“I’m okay!” I said immediately to my husband, who was walking Marley—a dog much older and more calm than Saylor. I assumed (correctly) that my husband would be concerned that such a fall might have caused serious damage. I feel a bit stiff, but I’m grateful to have avoided the usual worries—broken wrist, concussion, bruised tailbone. My pride was far more damaged than my body. I got up laughing, headed away from the debacle of the sled, snow and barking dog on the fence, and worked on calming Saylor down.
I would love to have the incident on video because I’m sure it was hilarious, if not the sort of footage I would use to promote my dog skills. It’s all just part of life with dogs! If you’ve taken a similar spill, please share your story. (And I hope you were also unhurt.)
News: Guest Posts
A new study shows dogs display episodic memory supporting what many already knew
Dogs are "in." Hardly a week goes by that a research paper and numerous popular accounts don't appear in the news. This week is no different. First, on the "down" side, we've learned that researchers in some laboratories in the United States often secretively do whatever they want to dogs "in the name of science" in "wasteful, bizarre and deadly experiments" with little to no transparency. Basically, they get away with murder, using taxpayer's money, and no one does anything about it.
On the "up" side of things, I was so pleased to learn about a study by Claudia Fugazza, Ákos Pogány, and Ádám Miklósi, who work in the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, that was just published in Current Biology. This new and very significant essay is titled, "Recall of Others’ Actions after Incidental Encoding Reveals Episodic-like Memory in Dogs." Needless to say, this study received broad global coverage in mass media. People really do want to know what dogs know. And, here is a video of how the research was conducted.
Their summary of the important research essay that's available online reads:
The existence of episodic memory in non-human animals is a debated topic that has been investigated using different methodologies that reflect diverse theoretical approaches to its definition. A fundamental feature of episodic memory is recalling after incidental encoding, which can be assessed if the recall test is unexpected . We used a modified version of the “Do as I Do” method , relying on dogs’ ability to imitate human actions, to test whether dogs can rely on episodic memory when recalling others’ actions from the past. Dogs were first trained to imitate human actions on command. Next, they were trained to perform a simple training exercise (lying down), irrespective of the previously demonstrated action. This way, we substituted their expectation to be required to imitate with the expectation to be required to lie down. We then tested whether dogs recalled the demonstrated actions by unexpectedly giving them the command to imitate, instead of lying down. Dogs were tested with a short (1 min) and a long (1 hr) retention interval. They were able to recall the demonstrated actions after both intervals; however, their performance declined more with time compared to conditions in which imitation was expected. These findings show that dogs recall past events as complex as human actions even if they do not expect the memory test, providing evidence for episodic-like memory. Dogs offer an ideal model to study episodic memory in non-human species, and this methodological approach allows investigating memory of complex, context-rich events.
Didn't we already know dogs had great memories?: A brief interview with Dr. Ádám Miklósi
Many animals spend a lot of time resting, often peering around at their surroundings and taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. Dogs surely do this. I often smiled as I watched the dogs with whom I shared my home just hanging out and looking around at their dog and human friends and their environs. When I've done field work on a number of different animals, I also noted that they spent a lot of time just hanging out and looking around as they rested. I was convinced that they were picking up a lot of information from just looking around, and that what they learned they could use in their social encounters with others.
In response to this new study I received a number of emails asking something like, "Didn't we already know that dogs had great memories?" Yes, we did, and a good deal of "citizen science" shows this to be so. But, I wanted to know more, so I sent dog expert Dr. Ádám Miklósi, founder of the Family dog Project who was involved in the study, two questions to which he responded immediately. They were, "Why did you do this study?" and "How does it extend what we know from (i) other formal studies and (ii) what people know from watching their dog at home or at a dog park?"
Dr. Miklósi answered the first question quite easily: "Claudia [lead author of the study, Claudia Fugazza] went to a conference on memory, and then she suggested that maybe the 'Do as I Do' method offers a way to provide some evidence for this."
Dr. Miklósi's answer to the second question, "How does it extend what we know from (i) other formal studies and (ii) what people know from watching their dog at home or at a dog park?" was: "As usual this is something that dog people may have assumed the dog is capable of doing. But most of them did not think about the possibility that dogs remember specific events happening around them. This study shows now that dogs (and probably many other animals) are able to do this. So they not only remember (spontaneously) what they have done (there are studies on chimps, rats, dolphins along this lines), but also what their owner did. For example, they may watch the owner cut the roses in the garden one day, and then when they see those flowers again, this memory could pop up in their mind. This could happen without showing any change in behavior, because this is just a spontaneous 'thought,' although in some other cases such thoughts may actually become causes of (spontaneous) behaviour."
In one interview I did about this study, I noted, "Dogs have great memories of a lot of events and this study shows that we’re still learning just how good their memory really is ... Dogs need to be able to learn and remember what their human wants them to do, and there won’t always be an immediate association of the events in time ... So, it is not surprising to me that dogs can remember the ‘Do it’ request after a period of time even if they weren’t expecting to be asked to do something.”
A few of the dogs with whom I lived acted like "know-it-alls": Dogs remember yesterday and much more
This new research reminded me that many of the dogs with whom I lived acted like "know-it-alls." They seemed to have a sense of knowing what I was going to do or what I wanted them to do, although I'd never explicitly taught them to make these associations. I felt the same about some of the wild coyotes I studied for years. They just seemed to know what others were thinking, feeling, and wanted them to do. I'm sure the dogs and coyotes (and many other animals) had some sort of "theory of mind." (See "Theory of Mind and Play: Ape Exceptionalism Is Too Narrow.")
As I read through this new research paper I remembered an essay I wrote last year called "Dogs Don't Remember Yesterday, Claims Psychologist," about the seemingly ludicrous claim that "dogs don't remember what happened yesterday and don't plan for tomorrow." The author claimed that dogs are stuck in an "eternal present."
In my essay I wrote, "There are many examples of dogs and other animals 'remembering yesterday.' Think of dogs and other animals who have been severely abused and who suffer from severe fear or depression for years on end, and also, for example, think of dogs who remember where they and others peed and pooped, dogs who remember where their friends and foes live, dogs who change their behavior based on what they learned in various sorts of learning experiments, and dogs who remember where they're fed and where they've cached food and other objects. The list goes on and on."
I also wrote, "From an evolutionary point of view it would be somewhat odd and exceptional if mammals such as dogs and many other animals didn't remember yesterday and plan accordingly." Along these lines, the authors of the present study write, "This is the first evidence of episodic-like memory of others’ actions in a non-human species, and it is the first report of this type of memory in dogs. We suggest that dogs might provide a new non-human animal model to study the complexity of incidental encoding of context-rich events, especially because of their evolutionary and developmental advantage to live in human social groups."
This is a very exciting time for the comparative study of animal minds
I'm very pleased to share the results of the present study with you. Yes, many of us already "knew" from "citizen science" that dogs often know more than we give them credit for, but it's also nice to know that science backs us up. I've learned an incredible amount from people writing to me and talking with me about their dogs, and I've often noted that when the serious science is done, results rarely conflict with what many others already knew.
This is a very exciting time for the comparative study of animal minds, a branch of science called cognitive ethology. Please stay tuned for more on the fascinating and "surprising" cognitive lives of dogs and other animals.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.
This story was originally published by psychologytoday.com. Reprinted with permission.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
No outfit is safe anymore
The neighbors at the end of our block recently adopted a fourth dog, which no doubt has made for many changes in the household and a lot of adjustments for everyone. All the dogs get along, and the transition seems to have been smooth. I’ve only heard one comment about the new challenges, which is “Now no color is safe to wear!”
That’s because once the fourth dog joined their family, the household contained dogs of every color, meaning that no matter what anybody wears, at least one dog’s fur will show up on it. Enzo is a reddish Golden Retriever, Sake is a black Shiba Inu and Luna is a Pointer and Blue Tick Coonhound mix with black and white mottled fur. The best guess about Candy, who is white with reddish markings, is that her lineage includes Border Collie, Australian Shepherd and Jack Russell Terrier.
Not only is fur of every color always present, the guardians of this handsome crew swear that the dogs know what they are wearing and choose to give extra love each morning to whoever is wearing a contrasting color. It does seem as though fur is drawn to outfits that will show it to best advantage, and it’s not much of a stretch to think that the dogs are in on the strategy of making their fur visible.
Fur color is a big deal when it comes to planning one’s wardrobe. Naturally, I am never far from a lint brush, but my best defense against the look of unfashionable dog hair on my outfits is to wear colors that match the current dogs in my life. I have always worn black a lot, and my black dog Bugsy could shed on me without it ever showing. I once traded dogs for the afternoon with a co-worker who had an American Eskimo and within hours, I was streaked with white. My co-worker fared little better, and after a few hours with Bugsy, her crisp khakis and white shirt looked less professional than when she began the day.
Do you have an abundance of colors of dog fur in your life?
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
To avoid an unwanted trip to the vet, be aware of these holiday-related hazards for dogs
If you’re a pet owner, you’re probably aware of the things you need to do to keep your pets safe around your home. But as the holidays approach, you may have to step up your game a bit to make sure your celebrations aren’t interrupted by a pet-related crisis. A big problem is pets eating something they shouldn’t. Another concern is that in the confusion of guests and celebrating, pets can easily get out and get lost. Candles and holiday decorations can be dangerous temptations for a pet too. So while you’re celebrating, watch out for the following to ensure that your good times are also good for your dogs and cats.
Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season for most people in the United States. For pet owners it marks the start of the season when extra vigilance is required, especially when it comes to dogs and food.
Houzzers have stories galore about dogs eating the turkey (bones and all), the foil and string it was wrapped in, and even the oil it was fried in. Side dishes and desserts are equally tempting. The happy confusion of a holiday meal with family and friends creates plentiful opportunities for a dog or cat to snag some human food. So keeping pets and food separated is always a good idea.
Even if your pets are normally well behaved, the noise and confusion of the holiday may be difficult them, and they could seek to escape if given an opportunity. Finding a quiet and secure place for pets away from festivities is a good idea.
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Christmas comes with a long list of possible problems. Ornaments can get broken, creating a danger of cuts, or can be swallowed. The hooks they hang on can also cause problems if swallowed, as can tinsel. Bubbling lights and fire salts may contain toxic chemicals, while the spun glass that constitutes angel hair can irritate skin and eyes and is dangerous if eaten.
Other dangers are typical holiday plants, such as mistletoe, lilies, holly and Christmas rose, which can cause gastrointestinal distress at the very least. Candles and open fireplaces can harm pets if they get too close to the flames and ashes or, in the case of candles, overturn them. Even the tree water, which can be stagnant or contain preservatives, can cause upset stomachs and worse. And you shouldn’t use a ribbon as a collar; pets can easily get them caught on something and choke.
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Of course, this means your holiday decorating may need some adjustments, such as placing the tree and cherished family heirlooms out of reach.
My family has done just that. For the past three Christmases, we’ve encircled our Christmas tree with a dog fence, keeping the tree, ornaments and wrapped presents safe until the holiday. Since it looks like this may be a continuing issue, I’m already exploring ideas for tastefully and safely decorating the fencing next December.
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When it comes to Hanukkah, keep an eye on any small gift objects or toys and the chocolate coins, which can tempt pets and create problems for them.
Ringing out the old year and ringing in the new is a happy tradition for many on New Year’s Eve, but a skittish cat or dog may be overwhelmed by the noise and confusion. And while balloons and confetti add to the festivities, they can cause internal problems if your dog or cat eats them.
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The same general rules apply to other holidays and other celebrations, especially birthday parties.
Chocolate and xylitol-sweetened gum are harmful or toxic to pets, and other candies aren’t good for them. Candles can be a problem, as pets can knock them over or can be burned by them, while dangling decorations and balloons can be tempting to play with or try to eat. Small trinkets, fake grass and many popular plants given as gifts, including tulips, daffodils and lilies, should also be kept out of your pet’s reach.
Fireworks can be a major problem for pets on the Fourth of July. Some animals do fine; others are freaked out by the noise. If your pets are nervous, ask your vet for antianxiety medications designed for animals. You may need to start some ahead of time.
Remember that pets can become overexcited and act out or run away when things are chaotic, such as during a party or on the Fourth of July or Halloween. You might want to find them a safe and quiet spot indoors and away from the activities, even if they normally live or spend time outside.
News: Guest Posts
How often do you buy them for your dog?
If the pet store is the place where you are at the greatest risk of blowing your budget, I’m eager to hear from you, especially if your purchases involve toys or items to chew on. It is challenging to keep some dogs adequately supplied with these things.
Serious chewers, especially those young dogs in their peak chewing years, need a near endless amount of appropriate things to chew on to keep them from destroying things that are meant to be left alone. There are dogs who have a few favorite toys or only like tennis balls, and the expense of keeping such dogs in toys is on the low end. At the other extreme are dogs who tire quickly of toys and only become excited by new and different ones. Particularly playful dogs often benefit from new, entertaining toys. Though rotating toys every few days will keep some dogs interested in toys for many months, it doesn’t always have that effect. Some dogs make a distinction between toys that are truly new and toys that they just haven’t seen for a while. Regardless of how often they get new things, dogs sometimes destroy the things we buy for them extremely quickly, and are soon eager for more.
During the four years that my husband and I lived long distance, I kenneled our dog every time it was my turn to fly for a visit. I would bring a bag of toys and chews to the kennel with instructions to give my dog one new one each day. When I was home with him, he had a lot of activities such as running with me, going out on walks, training sessions and playing with various neighborhood dog buddies. He did get new toys and chews from time to time, but not even close to every day. When he was at the kennel, I knew he was getting some attention and exercise, but I used the extra toys and things to chew on to help make up some of the difference between the calm life there and the more eventful life at home. Most of my visits were just for a weekend, but twice a year I would go for two full weeks, so we ended up spending a lot of money on these extras for the dog. (We just considered it one more expense related to living 1300 miles away from each other.)
Buying lots of toys and chews is common for people who have young, playful, active dogs, especially if the jaws are among the most active parts of those dogs. Other people cannot resist picking something fun out each time they go to the pet store whether their dog is really into them or not. I certainly know of husbands and wives who have begged their partner to stop buying something on every trip, and I know of other couples whose members are both big fans of bringing something home for the dog at every opportunity.
How often do you buy your dog new toys or new things to chew on? How much do you think you spend providing for your dog in this way?
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Give pets their own safe haven with these built-in dog beds for the kitchen, living areas and laundry room
Pet experts will tell you that dogs need a space of their own to snuggle up and sleep in. Canines curl up in a ball in the wild to retain warmth, an instinct that carries over to our suburban pets. So instead of just throwing a dog bed on the floor, why not carve out a space to satisfy your pet’s denning instinct? As den animals, dogs need a “sanctuary that is just large enough for them to fit inside and feel secure,” the American Humane Association says.
A built-in sleeping area in a home’s cabinetry fits that bill and makes a perfect hideaway for our domesticated canine friends. It can be adapted for any home’s style — traditional, sleekly modern or a bit blingy. An added bonus is that built-ins keep the house uncluttered by clunky dog beds. Here are some striking examples.
1. Lucky, a goldendoodle, enjoys his special spot in his family’s renovated kitchen and mudroom. “The small addition, tucked between existing spaces, gives Lucky his own hangout area in the mudroom, and allows the family to easily (and stylishly) gate him when need be,” Jean Rehkamp Larson of Rehkamp Larson Architects says. “The custom metal gate operates like a concealed pocket door, conveniently sliding in and out of the wall when needed.”
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2. A dachshund gets a cozy nook in this modern kitchen-dining area in a country house near the appropriately named Petworth, in southern England. The cabinetry doors, drawer fronts and side panels are covered in ash veneer.
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3. The dog cubby in this kitchen was part of Bunch Design’s partial renovation of a midcentury house in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. The peninsula is wrapped in strips of painted medium-density fiberboard.
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4. Dog crates, or kennels, can be an excellent housetraining aid, and act as a temporary “special retreat” rather than an all-day cage, according to the American Humane Association. But their boxy, chain-link ugliness is a design challenge. Not for lucky rescue dogs Maxie and Scout, though, who get to hang out in a custom-designed pen in this Newton, Massachusetts, kitchen by Betsy Bassett. The pups open the gate with their noses. The dog den can be replaced with a base cabinet later if desired.
Cabinets: Brookhaven, Wood-Mode; countertop: Jet Mist honed granite; backsplash tile: Desert Sand Stripe, Akdo
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5. This sleeping space under the stairs gets the chic treatment in a Cape Cod-style home in Huntington Beach, California. “Our dogs love it,” says homeowner Janine Roth, who put custom foam beds in the space and painted the walls a dark color, then hung photos of the dogs inside. “Our friends love to stick their heads in and look at all the photos,” she says. The space is bigger than it looks. An electrician fit inside to install can lights, a carpenter added baseboards and a painter finished the walls.
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6. The canine of this house has a view of both upstairs and downstairs from its niche in a stairway landing. The arched opening matches other doorways in the Craftsman homein Seattle. The designers at Board and Vellum carved the recess from an adjacent closet with a dog in mind. The space came first, the dog came later.
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7. Designer Mary Ludemann of New Old was tasked with transforming a small space into a laundry room-pocket office-craft and wrapping area, complete with pet station and wall-hung sink, in this English-style fundraising showhouse in Charlotte, North Carolina. She wanted to get the enormous dog bed off the floor and tucked away, so she created custom cabinets to fit a bed insert. (The cover was sewn by a local seamstress.) Her Labs, Briar and Bramble, are shown enjoying the area. The wood cabinets to the left hold 40-pound bags of dog food.
Paint: custom colors, PPG Porter Paints; art: Decorative Lighting; hooks and bin pulls: Pottery Barn; cabinets: custom, Walker Woodworking
Photo by Lands End Development - Designers & Builders - Search rustic entryway pictures
8. Yellow Labs Blais and Gino snuggle up in bed together in the mudroom of their Minnesota home by Lands End Development.
Wall paint: Baguette 6123, Sherwin-Williams; tile: Gobi large Versailles, The Tile Shop; wood: knotty pine
Your turn: Do you have a smart and stylish sleeping area for your dog? Post a photo in the Comments!
Dog's Life: Humane
1. Every time you volunteer, you are fueled by love. And that kind of fuel is different from greed, or fear, or competitiveness. It will give you the strength to do things you never thought you could do. And then some.
2. Dress for the occasion, meaning wear jeans and a T-shirt that have seen better days. Leave your jewelry, especially dangly earrings, at home. Keep your hair in a messy bun (some dogs mistake pony tails for rope toys). Please don’t bother with makeup, it will inevitably be licked off your face. And for the love of God, no flip flops. The day you wear them will be the day you inevitably step in poop.
3. Don’t be afraid to talk to the animals. Tell them about the advice you give but cannot follow. Tell them your secrets and fears. And then let their tongues and thumping tails and clumsy paws remind you that there are still plenty of reasons to smile. That life is not as serious as it seems.
4. It is not a good idea to try posting pictures of dogs on Instagram when they are jumping all over you. Rather than typing, “Adopt Joey and Spot at the Department of Animal Services,” you will inevitably type “Department of Anal Services.” And then your post will go viral for all the wrong reasons.
5. When you tell someone that you volunteer at an animal shelter, and they say that they love animals—but it’s too sad, they could never do it—tell them that you once felt that way, too. Tell them how shocking it was to find out that you could in fact do it. And that sadness is not the enemy after all. The enemy is doing nothing. The enemy is fear beating out compassion and empathy and love.
6. Dog poop is gross, but not life-threatening.
7. In most cases, it doesn’t take much to make a tail wag. A yard of grass. Fresh food. A warm touch. A soft blanket. A ten-minute walk. Dogs appreciate the little things, and we can learn a lot from this.
8. The animals are seeking what we seek. They want to be warm, not cold. They want to be safe, not vulnerable and unprotected. They want to be seen and heard and loved, not invisible. They want to be themselves, not somebody else. They want to forget the pain of their pasts, but sometimes they can’t.
9. Learn to take care of yourself, even if at first, it’s for the sake of the animals. If you try to be everything to everyone, you will burn out. Set boundaries. If you don’t take care of you, you can’t take care of them.
10. Goodbyes are hard. Always.
11. Frequently ask yourself this: How might my life be transformed if I treated myself with the same love and kindness that I offer to the animals I care for? And then, every day, try to do it.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
These working dogs calm harried travelers.
Traffic on the way to the airport makes you late. Rushing, fearing you’ll miss your flight, you anxiously stand in endless check-in and security lines, annoyed at the delay. Your stress level increases with every passing minute. Finally clearing security, sitting to put your shoes back on, you notice something unusual across the room: an enormous harlequin Great Dane wearing a vest that says, “Pet me!” A smile breaks across your face and your blood pressure immediately drops. You say a quick hello to the dog and rub his soft ears, and the tension of the past hours melts away.
We’re used to seeing security dogs at airports, but those dogs are working— no petting allowed. The “pet me” dogs are a different story altogether, reflecting the industry’s growing understanding that helping passengers destress, especially during busy holiday flying seasons, has value. These dogs are all about being touched!
So far, some 30 airports across the country have therapy dogs on duty, and luckily for travelers, the number is steadily growing. The idea started at California’s Mineta San Jose International Airport shortly after 9/11 as a way to ease traveler jitters. Videos of those dogs at work convinced other airports give it a go.
The distinctively outfitted dogs and their handlers position themselves throughout the airport, from checkin to boarding—wherever passengers can use some calming canine love. Recognizing that not everyone loves dogs, the teams typically remain stationary in an open area so those who wish to greet the dogs can do so while anyone not so fond of dogs can easily avoid them.
One of the most recent converts to the service, North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport, began deploying professionally certified therapy dogs in March 2015. Currently, there are 15 dog/handler teams providing coverage daily between 10 am and 4 pm. Lauri Golden, the airport’s manager of customer engagement, supervises the all-volunteer CLT Canine Crew. “We wanted a way to create a sense of place,” she says. “Our airport is a hub for American Airlines; 70 percent of traffic is connections, so the passengers just see the facility, not the city.”
Initially, Golden worried about finding enough volunteer teams. However, the pilot program created to iron out the logistics was an instant success. “We expected that kids would like the dogs, but even more, it’s the adults benefiting from them,” she says. “They pull out photos of their own dogs; talk about ones recently lost; take selfies; ask the name, age and breed of the dog … lots of questions. The dogs create a gathering, an audience, which creates its own community as people talk to each other, sharing dog stories. They are our superstars.” The demand for teams is high, and Golden is constantly recruiting.
Max the Great Dane and his handler Fred McCraven make up one of the Charlotte teams. “When I asked Fred why he wanted to join, he was so honest: ‘I just want to show off my dog.’ Max is a complete sweetheart!” says Golden.
Fred thoroughly enjoys taking Max to the airport. “Some tourists just light up when they see Max, and take photos,” he says. “Some look at him funny, like, ‘Please don’t bring that big dog near me.’ I try to gauge peoples’ reactions. Even those who don’t come up to touch Max are smiling. I once met a woman who was traveling to her brother’s funeral. Her brother had a Great Dane as well and she took it as a sign her brother was okay.”
Los Angeles World Airports (LAX) was the third to create a therapy dog program, after San Jose and Miami. Heidi Heubner is director of Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUP) and volunteer programs for LAX. PUP, which launched in April 2013 with 30 teams, now has 52, allowing them to have dogs in most terminals every day of the week. Each PUP dog has his or her own baseball card–style ID, which is given to passengers as a keepsake.
Heubner enjoys observing the interactions between volunteer teams and passengers. “The dogs bring strangers together,” she says. “We’re often afraid to talk, or are on our devices, but with the dogs, people are sharing stories and photos of their own dogs, talking about where they’re going. I never get tired of watching them. Sometimes my face hurts from smiling so much, watching them in action and listening to what the passengers are saying.”
Therapy teams are also called upon to calm passengers when things don’t go as planned, Heubner notes. “One day, a f light was cancelled. A f light attendant asked if one of the dogs could visit with the passengers. The passengers loved it, were saying, ‘Who cares that we’re delayed! It was worth it to see the dogs.’”
Airport therapy dogs come in all sizes and breeds but the thing they have in common is that they’re all certified by one of the country’s therapy-dog organizations; for example, Charlotte and LAX use teams certified by the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. New teams do an initial walk-through at the facility to make sure the dog is comfortable with the noises, smells and crowds of strangers. If that goes well, they’ll go through a more thorough vetting, with the human half of the team undergoing background and security checks. Once approved, teams typically work one day a week.
Dog-loving passengers rave about the programs. A letter sent to the Charlotte program expresses an often-repeated sentiment: It was like having my pups with me though they are miles away. The stress that is lifted when you see and touch a dog, it’s indescribable and it was the best part of my trip today. I cannot thank you, the staff that implemented the program, the handlers and the dogs enough for this remarkable program.
Clearly, these programs are positive for passengers and airport staff, but they’re also proving beneficial for the handlers. “Max has made me a better person,” says Fred. “I’m not a very social person, sort of a lone wolf, but taking Max to the airport has gotten me out and around people, improved my social skills. And it puts me in a good mood. Last week I had a bad day at work. I took Max to the airport and came home in a totally different mood.”
News: Guest Posts
There’s something special (and valuable!) about it
Having two dogs can be more than twice as much work as having one, and having three can require way more than three times as much effort. That pattern continues as the number of dogs increases. There’s no doubt that having a multi-dog household is a big undertaking, and yet many people can barely imagine having just one dog in their heart and home at the same time. They would miss scenes like the one to the left of an adorable dog pile.
These are the three dogs—from two different households—that my family recently hosted for a couple of days, and it was a good experience for all of us. (They live on the same street and their guardians are friends, so they know each other. Luckily, they all get along.) The companionship they gave one another during their stay with us made me happy, and not just because it took some pressure off of me to make sure that they were having fun. When I observed them together, there was a comfort in the company they provided one another that was lovely to see. I’m not saying it is better or worse than the social benefits to dogs of being around people, but it’s different.
Despite the extra work for the people, I kept thinking about the benefits for the dogs of being in a group, beyond just how nice it was for them to have a couple of buddies of the same species around. There are obviously drawbacks to having more than one dog, but some of those can be channeled positively. Having multiple dogs can provide training challenges, but it also offers opportunities to help dogs learn to attend to a person despite big distractions. While these dogs were visiting us, I made a point of doing some training sessions with the added difficulty of having other dogs around. Here is a photo of Marley and Saylor successfully holding their “stay” while Rosie (out of view) played with a toy nearby.
Performing any skill in a distracting environment is a challenge, and the presence of other dogs is often particularly hard for social dogs. With three dogs in the house, it was easy to set up situations where one dog worked on a skill while one or both other dogs were there. Rosie worked on her “spin” trick a lot during her visit. In the first video below, she practices it while the other dogs are not around. That work was to lay the groundwork for the success you can see in the second video, in which she spins when the other two dogs are present.
Walking three (or more) dogs at the same time is not always easy, but it offers opportunities, too. Each time one dog stops to sniff or for a potty break, the other dogs need to exercise patience.
It’s hard standing around when you want to keep going, but being required to do so brings benefits. Handling frustration and exhibiting self-control in such situations is beneficial to dogs. Similarly, waiting your turn when it comes to treats or dinnertime also gives dogs practice with emotional self-control, and that is an important part of maturing into a pleasant adult.
My main concern before the shared visit was making sure that Marley, who is 10 years old, had some peace and quiet from both his regular housemate Saylor, who is about a year old, and from his neighbor Rosie, who is about eight months old. Marley likes both dogs and often plays with them, but he needs more rest and snoozy time than the young pups. He opted out of some play sessions, as many older dogs often do. He would take a rest, hang out with us or chew on something while the other two played.
We also helped Marley get away if he wanted to by letting him up on our couch, but not allowing the younger dogs to bother him when he was there.
The only reason it ever felt overwhelming to have three dogs was a result of bad luck in the form of the weather. It rained all day in the middle of the visit, which meant that every time the dogs came inside, we had a dozen wet, muddy paws to deal with. I’m not going to lie—that was a big hassle. Other than that, we had a glorious time while these three little angels were visiting us.
What advantages do you appreciate about having multiple dogs?
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