News: Guest Posts
Study finds these elective surgeries influence perceptions of dog personality
Just when you think you know a thing or two about dogs, there I was in Italy a few weeks ago after the Canine Science Forum, looking at a dog on the street and exclaiming, “Who the heck is that!”
“A Doberman!” offered my good friend and Do You Believe in Dog? colleague, Mia Cobb.
“Really?” I said in disbelief. Because it was true. I’d never seen a dog that looked like that. Every Doberman I’ve seen has looked like this:
Dog with docked tail and cropped ears. Credit: Figure 2. Mills et al (2016)
Not like this:
Same dog, but natural. Credit: Figure 2. Mills et al (2016)
The bottom image, of course, is the Doberman in her natural form. A dog born from two Dobermans will grow up to look like the bottom image. But the Dobermans I’ve seen have had two post-birth surgeries; their tails are shortened or docked, and the floppy part of each ear is cut, followed by the ears being taped to a hard surface forcing them to stand upright in a way they normally would not.
These cosmetic surgeries (also referred to by veterinarians as elective surgeries) are built into breed standards — see an example from theAmerican Kennel Club. Which is to say that a Doberman puppy born from two Doberman parents does not meet his or her own breed standard.
In some countries, dog surgical procedures for cosmetic purposes are restricted or banned, but in others, the practices are rampant. For example, cosmetic tail-docking is banned throughout Australia and in numerous parts of Europe, which is why I saw my first natural Doberman in Italy. In North America, things look a bit different. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) oppose these procedures, with the AVMA stating that these procedures "are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient," and "these procedures cause pain and distress, and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss, and infection." Even so, restrictions are rare. As of 2014, only two states, Maryland and Pennsylvania, have any restrictions on tail-docking, focusing on the dog’s age at the time of surgery and the use of anesthesia. Only nine states regulate ear cropping.
In addition to welfare concerns associated with docking and cropping, the surgeries could affect dog social communication. Numerous studies find that tails are (gasp) useful and meaningful in dog-dog communication (more formally known as intraspecific communication, or communication between members of the same species). Even Charles Darwin recognized that tail up has a different meaning than tail down, and dogs attend to long tails better than short ones. The side of the body that a tail wags can even be informative to another dog: a dog seen wagging more to his right-side would be perceived more positively than a dog wagging more to his left. A stump is less informative.
The communicative function of dog tails has received oodles of attention (see additional readings at the end of the post), and I’m going to focus on a new issue raised last month by Marina von Keyserlingk and colleagues at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. Their open access article in PLoS One finds that these appearance-altering procedures are not meaningless; they affect how dogs are perceived, independent of the dog's actual behavior or personality.
Study participants, United States residents participating via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), saw images of four dog breeds that commonly have their tails docked and ears cropped: the Doberman Pincher, Miniature Schnauzer, Boxer, and Brussels Griffon. The first three are in the top 20 of registered breeds, and the Brussels Griffon, while not as popular, was selected to include a small breed in the study.
Participants saw two different images of the same dog breed, one in the natural state (long tail and unaltered ears) and one modified (docked tail and cropped ears). They were told that the dogs were siblings and asked to explain why the ears and tails looked different.
Fifty-eight percent of participants correctly identified that “some dog breeds have part of their ears and tails surgically removed after they are born.” Dog owners were more likely to answer correctly than non-owners.
On the other hand, 40% did not know that these dogs are not born with their ears cropped and tails docked. Instead, these participants thought these traits resulted from genetic variation, agreeing with the statement, “individual dogs of the same breed vary in appearance, meaning some will have tails and ears of different shapes and sizes.” Sorry y’all. Not so for the dogs in this study! The tails and ears on the ‘modified’ dog are all us.
But what’s the effect? Another experiment in the study found that these cosmetic surgeries are not meaningless to dogs or people; in fact, these procedures affect how participants perceived dog personality traits. Generally speaking, surgically altered dogs were seen as more aggressive toward people and dogs than natural dogs, and natural dogs were seen as more playful and attractive than their altered counterparts.
But when looking at the four breeds individually, something odd popped out about attractiveness. For the Boxer, Doberman Pinscher, and Miniature Schnauzer, neither the natural or surgically altered dog was considered more attractive. Take the tail off, leave it on, crop those ears, whatever. For those breeds, people were indifferent — one appearance was not viewed as more attractive than the other. Only for the Brussels Griffon was the natural dog considered more attractive than its surgically altered counterpart.
If not all people know that the cropped/docked look is surgically created and don't find these dogs less attractive than their natural counterparts, what incentive is there to reduce these cosmetic surgeries in the companion dog population? Since 2008, the American Veterinary Medical Association has encouraged “the elimination of ear cropping and tail docking from breed standards.” Who is going to stand with them?
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
News: Karen B. London
This dog running company is great business idea
Like many runners who have lived in Flagstaff, Ariz. Adam Vess is a professional runner. Adam is also, like many people in Flagstaff, a dog person. He found that if he runs 4-6 miles with his dogs Alex and Macy before going to work, they are happier and easier to live with. His business began with the thought, “Could other people use this, too?”
The answer was yes, and Flagstaff Dog Running was born. Now that Vess has moved back to the east coast, there is not anyone in our area offering this service. Vess spent many hours taking dogs out to run on the trails or fire roads around town to keep their joints and the rest of them safe from the dangers of the streets. Dogs were always on leash, and were with him for up to two hours. He ran them long enough that they’re fatigued, but not anywhere near exhaustion. Most dogs are happily tired out in 30-40 minutes, though some dogs need well over an hour to reach that point.
The charge was $25 a session, and $40 for two dogs. They never ran more than two dogs at a time because of safety concerns, and 10-12 miles is the maximum distance he took any dog. That was only for fit dogs who have gradually and safely built up to running such distances.
Adam originally planned to expand his business to exercising dogs at boarding kennels. People boarding their dogs would have been able to request and pay for the running as a special service. The exercise and the opportunity to go on an adventure as well as to have some company would all have enhanced their kennel experience.
If you lived in a town with a dog person who was a professional runner, would you consider hiring that person to exercise your dog? Does anyone in your area offer this service?
News: Guest Posts
Most dog professional feel crates are a necessity when sharing your life with a dog. Crates can be a great management tool. They are helpful with a new puppy’s house-training routine. They can be a wonderful place for your dog to safely go and relax when there are too many visitors in the home or small children are at risk of bothering him. They are often recommended to safely transport dogs in a vehicle, and they can be a nice, comfy place for your dog to take his afternoon nap.
Having said all that, you may be surprised to hear that I don’t always recommend using a crate. The reason is, as a certified separation anxiety trainer, I spend much of my time working with dogs who suffer from separation anxiety and isolation distress. These dogs’ brains process things a bit differently, and confining them to a small space can often heighten their anxiety and stress levels. Think of it like being trapped in an elevator full of people, or in a traffic jam in an underground tunnel. Even those of us without anxiety issues may become a bit nervous or uncomfortable. Now add in an actual anxiety disorder and bam!, you have a full blown panic attack.
There could be several reasons a dog is not comfortable in a crate and it’s not always due to separation anxiety. If you have rescued a dog from a shelter, he probably spent many hours confined to a small wire kennel. It’s very possible that he has a negative association with this type of enclosure and won’t find an even smaller crate a comfortable place. This can sometimes be easily overcome by using positive reinforcement training and fun games to help your new dog build a positive association with his crate. Crate Games by Susan Garrett is one example.
When working with dogs who suffer from anxiety when left home alone, confining them to a crate or other small area is often recommended by well-meaning professionals. They might suggest using an exercise pen (also known as an X-pen), a baby gate, or closing the dog in one small room. The reasoning behind these suggestions is usually to prevent potty accidents on the rug and/or destruction to the home while the human is gone. The irony is that many dogs with separation anxiety manage to cause even greater destruction or self-injury while in their confinement area or crate. This can be seen in the form of torn up bedding, bent crate wires, broken teeth or bloody gums and/or nails. Not to mention, their anxiety typically worsens now that there is a combination of “home alone” and “confined to a small area.”
I have found that many of my clients’ dogs with separation anxiety also suffer from confinement anxiety. Therefore, they actually begin to relax and show more progress when allowed to be free in all or a large portion of the home. Once we eliminate this confinement, they no longer have that feeling of being trapped, or as if the walls are closing in on them. This allows us to introduce our behavior modification program with one less hurdle in front of us. My clients are very relieved once they see their dogs begin to relax and lie down on their comfy dog bed.
Our individualized protocol keeps the dog below their stress threshold during the desensitization process, which means they are not pushed to the point of destruction or self-mutilation. This allows the dog to move about and explore their environment calmly while their guardians’ know they won’t return to a mess. Humans are usually fine forgoing the crate once they realize how calm their dog is becoming.
Please don’t get me wrong. I still believe a crate can be a wonderful thing for a dog. In fact, some dogs I work with will seek out their crate and willingly go in it several times a day. I just think it’s important for all of us, including trainers and veterinarians, to consider that this is not a “one size fits all” solution. We must be willing to consider what’s best for each individual dog and honor those needs. This should include performing a proper and safe assessment to determine if a dog is comfortable in a crate, especially when left home alone. Some dogs need us to think outside the box before placing them in one.
Dog's Life: Travel
Jenny Collins of Portland, Ore., is a dog nut with a big heart. She and her yellow Lab, Patience, a certified therapy dog, have spent years together in Reading with Rover programs at prisons on family visiting days and with children at Ronald McDonald House.
So, when she and her friend Amy, who works with a Beagle rescue group, began planning a Hawaiian vacation, they naturally wondered if they could incorporate helping a shelter into their time in the islands. When they discovered the Maui Humane Society (MHS) website and its Beach Buddies program, their first thoughts were “Perfect! Awesome!” And when they shared their plans with friends, the usual reaction was, “Of course you are!”
Shelter dogs everywhere benefit from a break in routine. Even in the best facilities, even in Hawaii, shelter life is stressful for most dogs. Getting outdoors, exercising and interacting with the world does wonders for their emotional health, which ultimately makes them more adoptable. MHS’s Beach Buddies program gives its dogs a day of fun away from the shelter, hanging with a vacationer who’s primed to go out and explore.
Beach Buddies started in April 2015 and required a leap of faith, according to Jerleen Bryant, the society’s CEO. “The shelter on Kauai had started a program called Shelter Dogs on Field Trips, and it had been going about a year; they had great success and limited problems.
We held off another year, asking lots of questions, [then launched] our own program.” In the few months it has been active, it has proven to be a big hit.
For Bryant, the overriding factor in determining whether to go with the Beach Buddies program was, How does the program benefit the animals? She knew that socializing and exposure would improve adoptions, and indeed, adoption rates are better because of the Beach Buddies dogs, according to Bryant. “Some people adopt the dog they took out for the day,” she says. (Kauai Humane Society’s website notes that they adopt out four dogs each month to people participating in Shelter Dogs on Field Trips.)
So far, MHS staff and volunteers— not to mention the dogs—love the program, which has grown from one day a week to twice weekly (currently, Wednesday and Friday) with five or more “Beach Buddies–approved” dogs available each day. “We choose rocksolid, no-red-flags dogs,” says Bryant. “Once the dogs are selected, people who sign up can choose among them, firstcome first-served.
“People are calling all the time to participate. The program is now always fully booked, but if people book a time far enough ahead, they’ll get in.” Bryant hopes that, with more resources, they can add more days per week to meet demand, which would be a plus for dogs and vacationers alike.
The program is run by a volunteer coordinator, who matches dogs with vacationers who have signed up online. The shelter has five staging areas, where, among other things, the lucky dogs chosen to participate are bathed before meeting their vacationer and heading out the door.
Both small and big dogs are available. They go out with special “Adopt me!” harnesses and leashes, a backpack with supplies for the day (towel, water, bowl, poop bags, treats, emergency contact info) and a list of suggested places to visit. Participants are encouraged to record their outing, and the shelter shares their videos and photos on its Facebook page.
Arriving at MHS for their Beach Buddies day, Jenny and Amy went through a short orientation, during which they were instructed to keep the dogs on-leash at all times and to not leave them alone in a car. Since they both wanted a dog for the day, they had asked for dogs who were compatible, and were assigned two who had been surrendered to the shelter together: Jax, a two-year-old Lab mix, and Zane, a hound/Corgi mix. As Jenny recalls, “Both connected to us pretty quickly. Dogs are so accepting; they roll with change.”
Jenny and Amy took their charges to a beach, but quickly realized that the pups weren’t into the ocean scene, so they went on a hike in an experimental forest (“It felt like Oregon,” Jenny says). Afterward, they went to more populated places, including a Starbucks, where they sat with the dogs on a patio. A couple of people came up to meet Jax and Zane, and Jenny and Amy happily handed out the bio cards the shelter had provided; the cards also supplied MHS’s contact information and a “wish list” of items the shelter can always use. Postouting, MHS asks participants to provide a write-up of their experience for potential adopters, and Jenny and Amy were happy to do so; it gave them another way to help the shelter and its dogs.
Come Fly with Me
Wings of Aloha, another MHS program, was born out of desperation, according to Bryant. On Maui, there are far more dogs than homes able to take them in. The island has a population of roughly 140,000, and the shelter takes in 8,000 animals each year, one-third of them dogs. (The shelter is working hard to control the island’s population of homeless animals. With grants from PetSmart Charities, they’ve started M*A*S*H [Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital] clinics, high-volume sterilization clinics that earlier this year provided free spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, microchipping and licensing to 712 cats and 338 dogs over a nine-day period. Nine more M*A*S*H clinics are scheduled through 2016.)
Given that there are a finite number of homes able to adopt, and that it’s especially hard for renters to do so, the shelter staff asked themselves what MHS could do to address the imbalance. The answer? Fly some of the dogs to the mainland, where partner shelters help find them homes. Thus, Wings of Aloha was born.
When Wings launched in 2012, Bryant was the shelter’s director of development. Before moving to Maui, she had run a rescue organization in Oregon, often pulling up to 40 dogs at a time from shelters if their lives were at risk. Moving large numbers of dogs didn’t faze her. However, the cost to do so was an obstacle.
Fueled by donor money, Wings of Aloha began by purchasing airline tickets and crates to transport the dogs stateside, also paying to return the crates, which turned out to be cheaper than buying new ones. Eventually, the shelter forged partnerships with Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines; the airlines agreed to attach a shelter dog to a passenger’s —any passenger’s—ticket, significantly reducing the cost of transportation.
During their Beach Buddies orientation, Jenny and Amy learned about Wings of Aloha, and signed up. As luck would have it, Jax and Zane were two of the dogs scheduled to go on the women’s flight back to Portland. They and three other dogs were all attached to Amy’s ticket, reducing the price per dog to $100 and saving the shelter approximately $1,000 in fees.
“The shelter people had everything ready,” says Jenny. “They know all the rules. TSA took each dog out of the crate, checked the crate and the food in the bag taped on top, and zip-tied the crate door closed after the inspection.” Even though they weren’t obligated to, at the airport, Jenny and Amy stayed with the dogs until they were taken behind the check-in counter on their way to being loaded on the airplane.
Upon arrival in Portland, in another act of generosity, the women waited with the still-crated, off-loaded dogs until volunteers from a nearby Vancouver, Wash., shelter arrived to whisk them off to their new temporary home. Both women felt a strong connection to these dogs and wanted to be sure they made it to their final destination. “The Alaska Airlines people were willing to cut the zip ties for us in Portland, but we didn’t have leashes, so we asked them not to,” Jenny says. Jenny was impressed with how seamlessly the whole process worked.
In addition to financial resources, Wings of Aloha requires a significant effort from MHS staff and volunteers. Two lead volunteers field calls from people willing to share their airline tickets, and coordinate with mainland shelters accepting the transported dogs. They create a weekly list of dogs to transport, including a bio, pictures and why they’re good candidates for transfer: they’re too stressed in their current environment, or they’ve been there too long and need a change of scenery. “We have plenty of awesome dogs,” Bryant says, noting that as we spoke, 13 dogs were being prepped for transfer the following week. Since the program’s start in 2012, MHS has shipped some 740 dogs to the mainland.
“It’s amazing to have so many people [willing to] attach dogs to their tickets,” Bryant says. “We get pictures of people with the dogs in their crates at check-in and post them to our Facebook page so everyone can feel good about these dogs and the wonderful opportunity they have to start over in the Pacific Northwest. [People are] doing their part to save a life.”
Jenny’s vacation experience with MHS and their dogs didn’t end when she waved good-bye to Jax, Zane and the others heading off to the Vancouver shelter. “Our Beach Buddies outing occurred on May 1; our flight to Portland was May 5. On May 8, I received an email from MHS saying that Jax and Zane had been adopted into forever homes. It was totally meant to be!” says Jenny, who couldn’t be happier about the outcome and her role in it.
Jenny remains on the MHS email list, getting updates on the shelter’s animals and programs. “I wanted to buy one of their T-shirts, but they insisted I take it as a gift, saying I’d done so much. [She and Amy purchased several items on the shelter’s wish list at the local Target and Petco stores and made a donation.] I cried!” Asked if she would participate again in either program, Jenny says, “In a heartbeat. The experience did so much for me. It was the highlight and best memory of my vacation!”
Dog's Life: Travel
Village dogs understand communal space.
This morning, on my daily run, I came upon a black-and-tan puppy sitting at the edge of the Thu Bồn River. I’ve seen him before, but never in this spot. Upon my approach, the puppy scampered back to his front yard, which is separated from the Thu Bồn by a small lane, traveled by motorbikes and pedestrians, and the occasional car.
It is my fourth week here in Hội An, Vietnam. When I first arrived, this same puppy hovered close to his house. While I didn’t notice anyone keeping an eye out for him, it was clear which house he considered home. Then, the puppy was young enough that his eyes were still that indistinct gray-blue color. He was a bit wobbly on his feet, and sported a rounded puppy belly.
Now, his eyes are focused and a clever brown. He is slimmer and a lot quicker, and he is learning, as most dogs here must, to get out of the way of any person or thing barreling in his direction. Soon, he will be able to distinguish between the people and things that will intersect with his trajectory and those that will not. He will learn to ignore the latter. He must, else he will be one tired puppy, as Hội An is a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Vietnamese alike.
Most puppies in Hội An are raised without leashes or fences. The entire time I’ve been here, I’ve seen only two dogs walked on leash, and one appeared to be visiting from elsewhere (the dog’s people were revolving as they walked, in an attempt to take in a panoramic view).
As a dog trainer in the United States, I’ve had clients who insisted on trying to raise a dog with little to no use of leash or fence. What these clients failed to understand is that it’s not a simple matter of removing restraints. Many factors help shape a puppy into a dog who will not wander from home or family. Among other things, dogs must lead a fulfilling life at home, or they will seek fulfillment elsewhere, whatever “fulfillment” means to a particular dog. And even if home life is fulfilling, dogs will roam if life away from home is equally or more fulfilling. It’s not that different from human behavior. Some of us require quite a bit of enticement to leave the comforts of our own home. Some of us return home only when entirely depleted.
In this area of Hội An, many shopkeepers live behind or above their stores, so their dogs are never alone. The house where I’ve been staying shares a courtyard with a number of other homes. Some of my neighbors disappear off to work at various hours. Others work from home. The dogs who share the courtyard have constant, though rotating, human company. They spend time around a variety of people, making it less likely that they will become hyperattached to a single person.
They also grow up with an understanding of communal space. The whole time I’ve been here, I’ve seen only two canine squabbles, and no one was hurt either time. One altercation involved a leashed dog being walked through a pack of canine friends gathered for their morning social. (An imbalance in freedom often results in confrontation, as does the addition of a newcomer to a close-knit pack, which this clearly was.) The other involved a young and overly exuberant dog who interrupted a group already at play. The interrupter was ostracized, but once he mellowed, he was permitted to join in the fun.
Here, one puppy excepted (a very young one, at a shop on a bustling street), all the puppies I’ve seen have been granted complete freedom. Like the little black-and-tan one I see each morning on my run, the puppies learn from the start that safety is found at home or close to it. In this city, if a dog leaves home, he is soon intruding on another’s turf. Neighbor dogs share common space without issue, but may not appreciate a “stranger” dog passing through.
Some of the more confident dogs will cross streets; their navigation of intersections bustling with motorbikes and pedestrians is a sight to behold. I’ve spent many mornings on the patio of a coffee shop watching the same few dogs travel up and down the road with purpose. Sometimes with great purpose, as when carrying a scavenged treasure. (They seem inclined to retreat a good distance from the site of the discovery, perhaps to keep that site secret.)
Certainly, not every dog survives this amount of freedom unscathed. I have sighted one, maybe two, with a noticeable hitch to their gaits, the hitch likely earned in a collision with a motorbike. At the same time, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of dogs who live very full lives, exploring their corners of the city at will, socializing and exercising in the early dawn as their humans do, when the air is freshest and the traffic lightest. Some do so in the company of people; others seek out canine friends independently.
While there are many loose dogs and swarms of tourists, I have yet to see a single dog react to a person walking by, no matter how close. And given the heavy foot traffic here, passing happens in tight proximity. Yet, while the dogs have no issue whatsoever with being passed, even brushed, by a pedestrian, a number have no interest in interaction beyond the accidental.
How do I know? I’ve heard them growl, usually when a tourist has been so bold as to reach a hand forward to touch without invitation, or moved in purposefully, camera in hand. The dogs communicated their displeasure quite clearly. Unlike in the U.S., in Hội An, dogs are not punished for their display, even in shops where the owners earn their livelihood by catering to tourists.
While here, I’ve been able to relate more closely to the predicament of dogs who are forbidden to express themselves in this way. There is a restaurant east of the marketplace that is owned by a woman who enjoys employing her English language skills. Since the first time I enjoyed a meal there, the owner has taken to shouting after me every time she sees me. When I am within her reach (she surprised me once rather far from her restaurant), she grasps me tightly in a bear hug. I’m not a terribly demonstrative person, especially with people I barely know. Were it socially acceptable (and I wish it were), I would emit a low growl to make clear my preferences.
I would have no more intention of biting than the growling shop dogs do. It’s clear from their body language: they are not about to get off their haunches and into a messy, tiring altercation by sinking their teeth into someone, especially not while the heat index is well over 100; they have no reason to. They have learned that a single clear communication gets them what they want: a bit of personal space.
Why is it that in the U.S., we consider such a reasonable request to be rude? As in humans, in dogs, bottled-up emotions tend to lead not to dissipation, but rather, to explosion. Imagine if every new person I encountered decided to give me a bear hug. You don’t have to know me personally to guess where this might eventually lead.
Rather than allow a dog to express his discomfort in a given situation, in the U.S., we tend to think it proper to forbid, and even punish, a dog for barking—let alone, horror of horrors, growling—at a person. This is unfortunate, as even children who haven’t been taught proper behavior around dogs understand the meaning of a growl.
As I prepare to sign off, one of the Chihuahuas who lives across from my house is telling an unfamiliar Cavalier mix in no uncertain terms to move it along. The courtyard is buzzing with neighbors newly returned from work. No one is telling the Chihuahua to put a lid on it. People recognize that she has a right to say what she’s saying.
I’ve heard, and read, many a complaint about the treatment of dogs in Asia. Here in Hội An, it’s been a joy to witness so many dogs leading full, wellbalanced lives, including enjoyment of the freedom of expression we hold dearly—for humans, if not canines— in the United States.
News: Karen B. London
What has your dog broken into?
Some dogs would make excellent cat burglars. They seem to be able to break into anything. Secure trash can? Not so secure actually. Treats high up on top of the fridge? Not high enough to be out of reach. Storage bin that you can’t open without tools? Some dogs have all the tools they need inside their heads and mouths.
There are dogs capable of climbing to seemingly inaccessible spots, and dogs who can have a snack whenever they want just by opening up their dog proof food canister. Here is a video of one methodical dog patiently working out how to pull the top off a container of food.
Don’t even get me started about the dogs who actually open the fridge! If it weren’t for YouTube, I would have no idea that this is so common. Over the years, I’ve had a few clients tell me about dogs who do this, but if you look at videos online, you can find tons of examples. This collection of fridge-opening dogs features individuals using paws, noses and mouths to get inside and help themselves to the treasures within.
Dogs who can break into supposedly secure places to get what they want are probably quite happy and find many aspects of their world exceedingly convenient. What has your dog broken into that was supposed to be off limits to dogs?
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
A guide dog goes the distance for her human hiking partner.
For most dogs, a hike in the mountains is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. But for Tennille, a five-year-old black Labrador from North Carolina, it’s just another day at the office. While other dogs sniff the underbrush and splash through creeks, Tennille is hard at work keeping her owner on the trail, alerting him to obstacles and watching for dangerous wildlife.
If it sounds like Tennille’s hikes are no ordinary walks in the park, it’s because she’s a guide dog and her owner is a professional long-distance hiker who also happens to be blind.
Tennille’s story begins not on a trail in the mountains, but in the California home of Tasha Laubly, a volunteer puppy raiser. Laubly socialized Tennille, taught her basic manners and then, like many a proud parent before her, selflessly sent her baby off to school. That “school” was Guide Dogs for the Blind, and it was there that Tennille would meet Trevor Thomas and the course of her life would change forever.
In 2005, Thomas, a recent law school graduate and self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, received the devastating news that a rare and incurable autoimmune condition was taking his sight. Eight months after that diagnosis, his vision had diminished to nothing.
To reclaim his independence, Thomas began long-distance hiking. Just 18 months after losing his vision, he became the first blind person to complete a solo thru-hike of the 2,190-mile-long Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine. And that was just the beginning.
Thomas began hiking trails all over the country and found that, while he could navigate the well-traveled Appalachian Trail by himself, if he wanted to take on more remote areas, having a partner was vital. When Thomas’s human hiking partner pulled out of a big hike at the last minute, he decided it was time to get a guide dog.
The search for the right dog and an organization that would work with him was arduous. While dogs have long been used to help the visually impaired regain their independence, training one for the trail was unheard of. When Thomas explained that he wanted a dog he could take on long, solo expeditions in the backcountry, most guide-dog schools balked. They were concerned that a guide dog would not be able to handle the sport’s mental and physical demands.
Then, he put in a call to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif., and found an organization that was willing to give him and his crazy idea a chance. When the trainers introduced Thomas to high-energy and exceptionally smart Tennille, the bond was instant, which was a good thing. Tennille was the only dog they had who might be able to meet the mental and physical demands of long-distance hiking.
Training a guide dog for backcountry work was unprecedented. There were questions about how she would physically handle the rigors of the trail, whether she could adapt to the unique demands of backcountry work and how she would transition between days on the trail and life in town. When it came to taking a guide dog into the backcountry, it seemed like there were more questions than answers. But Thomas, Tennille and her trainers were willing to give it a shot.
To be Thomas’s eyes on the trail, Tennille not only needed to master all of the skills required of guide dogs in the city but also, had to learn about life in the wild. She was trained to watch for low-hanging branches (she knows how tall Thomas is) and alert him to tripping hazards. If she decides that a situation is too dangerous, she will refuse to move forward. The Lab has also been trained to handle encounters with everything from rattlesnakes to moose, and knows how to look for trail signs and other landmarks.
“I’m the luckiest person around,” Thomas muses when talking about Tennille. “In a world of extraordinary animals, she is exceptional. She is a genius.”
In the three years since they became a team, Thomas and Tennille have covered more than 6,000 miles together, tackling trails all over the United States. With Tennille’s help, Thomas has completed solo hikes on remote, unpopulated trails that were out of his reach before she came along. Having a guide dog has been a game-changer for Thomas, who says that many hikers he meets on the trail don’t realize that he’s blind.
A day on the trail for Thomas and Tennille typically involves covering 13 to 18 miles of rocky and uneven ground. The distance alone is a lot for any dog, but Tennille is also working. She knows that once her backpack (which takes the place of a traditional guide-dog harness) goes on, it’s time to do her job.
As you may expect, this is no spur-of-the-moment operation. Long before Thomas and Tennille set foot on the trail, their hikes have been planned down to the last detail. In the months leading up to a hike, a set of detailed daily instructions is painstakingly created. Thomas uses these notes to tell him things like how far it is between trail junctions and which direction he is supposed to go.
Then, he employs a combination of bat-like echolocation and meticulous tracking of time, speed and cadence to get close to where he needs to be. Tennille takes it from there. She knows how to look for signs and other trail markers that will keep them headed in the right direction.
Thomas is quick to say that, while he holds the leash, Tennille is the boss. In the time they have been hiking together, Tennille has learned what is important, and when she alerts him to danger, he listens. It’s this unwavering trust in one another that has allowed them to take on some of the longest and hardest trails in the country.
In the summer of 2015, Thomas and Tennille conquered one of their toughest challenges yet when they completed a thru-hike of the 600-mile-long Colorado Trail. Traversing some of the tallest mountains in the United States, the two successfully navigated the rugged route that runs between Denver and Durango, summiting 14,440-foot Mt. Elbert along the way. While Tennille excels in the cool Rocky Mountain climate, there was some concern about how she would handle Colorado’s high altitude. But, as with everything else in her life, she was unfazed.
“Ice water runs through her veins,” Thomas replies when asked how his companion is able to handle the demands of long days and tough conditions. He has yet to find a situation that she can’t manage.
As the years and miles have gone by, Tennille’s body has become accustomed to the demands of her job. While many dogs’ pads become sore during long hikes in the backcountry, Tennille’s are as tough as leather. Thomas always carries booties for her, but unless the ground is very hot, she rarely needs them.
Thomas says that getting Tennille was the best decision he’s made since losing his vision. Not only has she greatly expanded the possibilities of what he can do, but also, she has changed how others see him. She’s a powerful icebreaker when it comes to interacting with people both on and off the trail. Thomas believes that Tennille’s friendly face and wagging tail have allowed him to form deeper connections with those he meets who may not know how to engage with a blind person. These connections have been an unexpected benefit of having Tennille along.
When asked what’s up next for the duo, Thomas rattles off a long list of goals. He is constantly on the hunt for new places and different environments in which to challenge himself and Tennille. In the coming years, he hopes to return to the Appalachian Trail, this time with Tennille by his side, and dreams of doing the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hike. The canyon’s high-desert environment would present a different kind of challenge from the mountains they are used to, but Thomas feels that Tennille will be up to the job.
Thomas’s courage and tenacity are making him somewhat of a celebrity in the hiking world, but he’s quick to point out that it is his dog who should be getting the attention. “I just hold the leash,” he says. “I’d be happy to be known as the guy who’s with Tennille.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seven ways to carpe the summer diem.
Sure, you could sit around inside with your dog, sweating and complaining about the heat. But why do that when there are so many ways to take advantage of the season’s longer days and warmer weather?
Make your dog a warm-weather flop spot. Look for a shady area in your yard, dig a shallow pit sized to fit your pup, line it with a thin layer of concrete and before the concrete dries, poke holes in it for drainage. Once the concrete has set, fill the pit with playground sand, dampen it and let the fun begin.
Plan a toxin-free and dog-friendly landscape. No snail bait, no cocoa mulch, no lethal plants (check out the ASPCA site for a list of ones to avoid), no chemical fertilizers, no fungicides, no herbicides, no pesticides. Ideal landscaping/hardscaping material doesn’t get too hot, is easy on the paws and— in a perfect world—doesn’t track into the house on fuzzy feet; pea gravel and pavers fill the bill.
Have some good, wet fun—summer’s prime time for water play. A caveat, however: keep an eye on your dog for signs of hyponatremia, aka water intoxication, which can come on fast and is life-threatening. Bone up on the symptoms and make sure your dog takes breaks.
Experiment with a new way to cruise. Rent a dog-friendly camper trailer or houseboat and see the world from a whole new perspective. Some camper rental companies will handle delivery, setup and hauling away; do an online search for a company in your preferred vacation spot. For on-the-water accommodations, check out Houseboating.org.
Take in a drive-in. Remember the al fresco movie experience of yesteryear? Some communities revive this lovely summer tradition, and some even allow you to skip the car and loll on a blanket under the stars. Search for summer + drive-in and see what comes up in your area.
Sign up for summer school and learn new skills or master old ones. Training, agility, herding and freestyle are all on the agenda. Then, there are dog camps—the summer camps of your childhood, but way better. For maximum relaxation, match the activity type and level to your and your dog’s temperaments.
Mark your calendar with “dog days” concerts and sporting events. Special offerings tend to pop up this time of the year, perfect for enjoyment with the pooch.
We know we don’t have to tell you this, but while you’re having fun with the pup, keep safety in mind. Stay out of the sun during the warmest hours, have plenty of water available, dab sunscreen on both yourself and your dog (yes, there are sunscreens for dogs), take lots of well-shaded rest breaks and never, never, never leave your dog in the car. If you’re out walking, listen to what your dog’s telling you; let him rest if he wants to and don’t coax him to go faster. Finally, do your best to avoid areas with foxtails, those sticky, diabolical grass awns (seeds) that burrow into fur and skin and, once well in, don’t come out without surgery. If these wild grasses show up in your yard—which they’re prone to do—pull them out while they’re still green.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
These stylish and durable flooring materials and fabrics let you give Fido the run of the house
World, meet Chewie. Chewie is my favorite chow chow–German shepherd mix in the world. But as much as I love my rescued best friend, having him around typically means constant shedding, some drooling and more than a few lost pillows. Sound familiar?
Having Chewie has forced me to consider how to make coexisting under the same roof more of a pleasant experience than a dreadful chore. And all it took was picking some clever materials for our townhome. Below is some advice I wish I’d had before committing to my long-term relationship with my dog. Let’s dig in.
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Let's start at the bottom: the floors. Our townhome has hardwood floors, and I've wished on more than one occasion that they were concrete instead. This is especially true for homeowners who are considering a puppy, because lots of messes come along with potty training.
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Another great floor material for puppy training? Natural stone — though be aware that porous materials, such as marble, can stain. So choose wisely what kind of stone you install.
Porcelain tile is a fantastic alternative to natural stone. To accomplish this sophisticated and clean look, make sure the grout lines are minimal. Also, it's good to note that dogs, seniors and puppies in particular, could have a tough time gaining traction on these floors so watch out for injuries. See our tips on caring for senior dogs.
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Of course, hardwood floors can work well too. Just know that when your pet reaches maturity, you may have to refinish those lovely boards. Thankfully, with hardwood floors, you can always count on intact wood beneath the scratched surface.
Laminate is a practical way to get out of the extensive care of hardwood. It maintains the look while offering a virtually indestructible play surface for your best friend.
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For a softer option, you can always choose carpet. Just be prepared — it will take some vacuuming to keep that freshly installed look.
If you want a more practical option for carpeting, you could choose carpet tiles. Minor accidents (bound to happen) can be remedied by replacing individual tiles instead of an entire floor of carpeting. I speak from experience.
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I would have thought a cowhide would be one of the last choices for floor treatments in a house with pets. To my surprise, the cowhide in my house is one of the most practical decisions I have ever made. Its texture naturally repels dog and cat hair. This interior takes full advantage of the cowhide's beauty and durability.
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When it comes to furniture, my advice is to go for a low-maintenance fabric. I have not found a successful way of keeping my dogs off the couch (have you?), and every day I am thankful for my lucky decision to purchase a microfiber sofa. Microfiber is one of the most forgiving upholstery fabrics; it cleans up with great ease.
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Perhaps an even better option for furniture is leather, especially for dogs. You can simply wipe it clean and be done.
Tell us: What materials have you used in your home to help you with your pet-related chores? How does owning pets affect your choice of furniture and decor? Please share below!
News: Guest Posts
How to craft your dog a better life.
In this piece, we give you some fantastic ways to treat your dog by building them some really simple and engaging toys. Not only will you be giving your dog something he’ll love and cherish, you’ll also be keeping the cost down, which is another bonus!
These ideas include some really fun toys, a feeding station, a doggy puzzle to get your pooch thinking, an awesome washing station and a really easy to make dog house.
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