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Pit Bull: What's In a Dog Breed?
Pit Bull: The Battle over an American Icon

In her new book, Pit Bull, Bronwen Dickey thoughtfully examines the history, stereotypes, fiction and societal worries surrounding a breed that was once thought to be an American icon. In this excerpt, she scrutinizes the science behind a misunderstood and complicated behavior.

The Victorian dog-show mania of the mid-nineteenth century not only created hundreds of new breeds, but also created two possible categories of bloodlines within many of them: working bloodlines, in which behaviors were most important, and conformation or show bloodlines, which prioritized appearance over behavior. The “washouts” from the conformation lines usually went on to pet homes. The dramatic increase in the number of breeders also allowed for more physical and behavioral variation within each breed, with the most popular dogs also being the most varied. Today, Labradors from American show lines are much shorter and fatter than they were even twenty years ago, while Labradors from British field lines are leaner and leggier. Dogs from these two strains may not only look different, they may also have drastically different behavioral profiles.

When breeders stop pushing, the car rolls back down the hill, and canine behavior drifts back to the middle. Exaggerated traits that are not selected for and not adaptive will mellow out and disappear over time, which is what appears to be happening in both the American and European dog populations. The overwhelming majority of modern dogs live as pets, rather than workers. Great Danes are no longer used for boar hunting. Siberian huskies do not pull sleds. Rhodesian ridgebacks do not bay lions, and most dachshunds will never see a badger, let alone kill one. Rather, these animals are physical reminders of the way the world once was. As the historian Scottie Westfall says, “Dogs are artifacts.” Though it is common to attribute a dog’s behavior to the task it was historically “bred for,” many of us fail to consider that most of today’s dogs are “bred for” the work of being companions, and have been for many generations.

In 2005, Kenth Svartberg, a zoologist from Stockholm University, collected data from more than thirteen thousand dogs from thirty-one breeds that had been subjected to a standardized behavior test and sorted them according to behavioral traits such as “playfulness,” “curiosity/fearlessness,” and “sociability.” After analyzing the data, Svartberg and his colleagues found that there was “no relationship . . . between the breeds’ typical behavior and function in the breeds’ origin.” He did, however, find that dogs from working lines (not breeds, but lines) retained more of their historical working traits than dogs from show lines, leading him to conclude that “basic dimensions of dog behavior can be changed when selection pressure changes, and . . . the domestication of the dog is still in progress.”

Pit bull breeds are not exempt from this trend. Unlike pointing or retrieving, both of which increase a dog’s ability to feed itself and its offspring by hunting, fighting isn’t one behavior but a complex series of behaviors that put the animal at tremendous risk. As highly social creatures that negotiate and renegotiate their relationships over time, most dogs depend on shared resources for their survival. If removed from human society, a dog that indiscriminately attacks or kills its own kind doesn’t live very long. While it’s certainly possible to breed for certain types of aggression (toward humans or other animals), it’s much harder to breed dogs that match the profile that fighters say they want: an animal that is indiscriminately accepting of humans, selectively reactive around other dogs in a specific environment—the pit— but tolerant of dogs outside of it, one that “doesn’t signal its intentions,” and also “doesn’t feel fear or pain.” They may as well be describing the American unicorn terrier, because these are all genetic dead ends.

No researcher has yet located an “aggression gene” or a set of aggression genes, despite years of genomic analysis. While conducting his research at Bar Harbor, John Paul Scott considered aggression “a poor scientific term [that] chiefly functions as a convenient handle to relate phenomena described in more objective terms to practical human problems.” At best, today’s scientists can only make educated guesses about certain components of canine reactivity, like the startle reflex (which multiple studies indicate is heritable) and individual pieces of the agonistic repertoire (freezing, fleeing, defensive postures, vocalizations, etc.). But this requires that researchers clearly define and isolate the behaviors they are observing, which is always a challenge. It’s possible, for example, that what was once called “rage syndrome” in certain lines of the English springer spaniel and English cocker spaniel is not one condition but several that were mistakenly grouped into one category. A few studies in mice and dogs have shown that disruption of the 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) receptors in the brain, which regulate the neurotransmitter serotonin, may be linked to specific types of impulsive aggression, but in both animals and humans, the 5-HT receptors can be damaged by stress and trauma that occur both in utero and after birth. Yet even these possible neurological links have been observed only in dogs from tightly closed gene pools. They are not widely passed from dog to dog in an open breeding system, like the passing of a disease.

“Let’s assume that you and I are working to breed the most dangerous aggressive fighting dog in the world,” Kris Irizarry, the geneticist at Western University, told me. “And we want this dog to turn and attack any human being, child, or any other animal relentlessly and never stop until it dies, 100 percent of the time. That’s our goal, okay? Now, let’s make the crazy assumption that we achieve that goal, and we produce, I don’t know, fifty dogs, a hundred dogs, even a thousand dogs that all have the same amount of this supernatural trait. For our purposes, we’ll call them ‘Crazy Dogs.’”

As he previously pointed out, “The moment our dog mates with any other type of dog, half of that genetic material is lost, so now you have a litter that’s only 50 percent Crazy Dog. If that litter reproduces, then their offspring are only 25 percent Crazy Dog. Then it goes down to 12.5 percent, 6.25 percent, et cetera. Within only seven generations, you’re at 1 percent Crazy Dog, and that’s assuming you were 100 percent successful at the beginning, which we know isn’t true of any breeder or any type of dog. Especially when you’re talking about complex behaviors like fighting, it just doesn’t work that way. There are probably constellations of genes, maybe even hundreds or thousands of genes that are contributing to that behavior. You have to get the right neuron shape, the appropriate amount of neurotransmitters, all these things.

“So,” he continued, “the idea that any dog that has an ancestor—however many generations back—that had a head shape that cast a shadow against a wall that looked like the shape of a dog that bit someone in the pants . . . the idea that this dog is now going to be biting people is absolutely ludicrous! Americans watch too many zombie movies.”

A number of other studies have confirmed that dogs lash out most frequently from fear and anxiety, not “rage.” Not every dog that displays these behaviors has been abused, neglected, or formally trained, but overwhelmingly, the factors most highly correlated with dog aggression, such as the dog’s early development, its level of socialization with people and other dogs, how it is contained, and which training methods the owner uses, are completely within the owner’s control. Research indicates that these factors are far more important than the physical shape of the dog in determining its behavior.

Our own perceptions and expectations of the animals we encounter play a role in this, as well. “Dog breeds develop reputations,” writes the biologist Ray Coppinger, “and those reputations color people’s interactions with them.”

The fearful responses of people to a perceived aggressive breed “teaches” the shepherds or pit bulls to be aggressive with people. As the dog walks the streets, some people, almost imperceptibly, will take a step back or away from the dog. In two weeks the dog can become aggressive toward people. If people treated a golden retriever the same way, in theory one would get the same results.

Are shepherds genetically aggressive? Yes! Where are the genes for aggression? In their coat color and shape. It is a feedback system, where each time a person steps back from the shepherd because of its coloring and shape, the dog becomes more responsive to the move, and the people react more demonstratively to its movement, and so on. Can you train the dog not to be aggressive once it has learned to be? Probably not satisfactorily.

Okay, then can you breed people-aggressiveness out of shepherds? Of course! I’d start by breeding shepherds to have yellow coats and floppy ears. “Gameness,” however one defines that elusive quality, has never been studied in the laboratory with other variables held constant. Nor is it defined with any consistency. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist—there’s much anecdotal evidence that it does—but we have no way of measuring it. And, as we know, not all pit bulls come from fighting stock, anyway. The Stafford and AmStaff are show breeds, as is the American bully. Most APBTs come from conformation/ pet lines as well. So, the selective pressure for “gameness” was relaxed for most pit bulls between 80 and 150 years ago. As a result, many have retained their looks but not their historical working drives.

If we want to own dogs, their teeth come along. It is up to us to learn how and when dogs use them and to keep our dogs out of situations where they feel they need to. Aside from that, we must also accept that sometimes accidents and misunderstandings, even tragedies, can happen. As much as we may want them, there are no simple answers.

Excerpted from Pit Bull by Bronwen Dickey. Copyright © 2016 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Wellness: Health Care
Canine Disease Forecast 2016
Dog Diseases for Summer 2016

As the mom of two young children, I’m always checking the weather forecast. Jacket or sweater? Rain boots or sneakers? As a veterinarian with the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), I rely on a different forecast, the Companion Animal Parasite Council findings published by my veterinary colleagues, which tracks the intensity of pet diseases from year to year. Here’s what to expect for the remainder of 2016.

HEARTWORM DISEASE FORECAST: STORMY

Veterinarians anticipate a rise in heartworm disease because of the unusual weather pattern created by El Niño. The warmer temperatures and wetter conditions create an ideal breeding environment for mosquitoes. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, the larvae are injected into the dog’s skin. They migrate through the body, finding their way to the large blood vessels of the heart and lungs. There, they mature to the size of cooked spaghetti. These tangled masses of worms can cause heart failure, and even death, if not treated early.

Expect to see cases skyrocket in:

  • Florida
  • The Gulf Coast
  • New Mexico
  • Northern California
  • Northern and western states

Heartworm disease is prevalent in the Lower Mississippi River region and this year it’s expected to spread to:

  • Eastern Missouri
  • Southern Illinois
  • Southern Indiana

All dogs need to be protected from heartworms, even those who rarely venture outside. The one mosquito that flies through your open window and bites your dog just might be infected with heartworm larvae. Preventives are available in the form of pills, topical liquids and injections. All kill the larvae once they enter the bloodstream. The AAHA recommends year-round heartworm prevention.

TICK-BORNE DISEASE FORECAST: PARTIALLY CLOUDY

An infected tick can spread a number of life-threatening diseases when it bites a dog. The most common are Lyme, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, and their prevalence varies by region. Some dogs with Lyme disease will run a high fever, experience painful joints and exhibit swollen lymph nodes. Others will present no signs at all. Untreated infections can lead to kidney failure and death.

In regions where Lyme has been living comfortably for years, the incidence is expected to rise. These regions include:

  • New York State
  • Northern California
  • West Virginia
  • Western Pennsylvania

Recently, the disease has spread to:

  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky

These states may have a higher-than-average occurrence the rest of the year.

Historically, Lyme has thrived in New England, but, oddly enough, the incidence there is expected to fall below normal this year, perhaps because more owners are vaccinating their dogs.

If you live in an area where ticks are abundant, take precautions to keep your dogs safe. Your veterinarian will prescribe a tick preventive in the form of pills, topical liquids or collars. In areas where Lyme disease is prevalent, she may recommend vaccination.

Anaplasmosis causes disruptions in blood clotting, which results in bruising, internal bleeding and nosebleeds. Signs of Lyme disease also present in anaplasmosis.

Anaplasmosis shows moderate to high activity in:

  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia
  • (Wisconsin and Minnesota show below-normal activity.)

Ehrlichiosis displays signs similar to both Lyme and anaplasmosis along with eye, liver and spleen infections. Above-normal incidence of ehrlichiosis is expected in:

  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • The Southeast
  • Southern California
  • Western Texas
  • (Arkansas will experience a slight reprieve, as ehrlichiosis is expected to be less prevalent than last year.)
CANINE INFLUENZA FORECAST: UNKNOWN

Just like the human flu, canine influenza is spread by one infected dog sneezing or coughing on another. Two strains of canine influenza are present in the U.S. H3N8 has been here for years, but a vaccine has kept it at bay. A new Asian strain, H3N2, hit Chicago last spring, causing a local epidemic; dogs didn’t have a natural immunity to the strain and there was no vaccine. Since then, H3N2 has infected more than 1,000 dogs in more than 25 states. Fortunately, H3N2 vaccines were developed not long after the outbreak, which likely curbed the spread. It’s difficult to predict how the flu season will play out for the rest of the year. With so many dogs on the move with their owners, and not all of them protected by vaccines for the new strain, the disease could spread quickly. If you plan to travel with your dog, visit your veterinarian for a vaccine protocol.

Culture: Stories & Lit
Finding Amazing Service-Dog Candidates in Shelters
Excerpt from The Underdogs by Melissa Fay Greene
Shelter Dog, Shepherd, Trained as Service Dog

A German Shepherd mix slated for euthanasia watched Karen Shirk from behind the bars of his cinder-block cell in a cacophonous county animal control building. With his long black muzzle and imploring brown eyes, he looked at her with that heartbreaking shelter-dog mix of worry, fear, confusion, and hope. “This is a good-looking boy. Do you know anything about him?” Karen called from her wheelchair to a nearby worker. “Can he sit? Can you sit, boy? Sit.”

The dog sat. His haunches trembled with the sincerity of his “Sit.” He tentatively raised one paw a few inches above the floor, in case the stranger also wanted “Shake.” She didn’t say “Shake,” so he lowered his paw quietly and put his whole focus back into his excellent “Sit.”

He was an “owner-surrender,” though there was no coercion or “surrendering” about it: his people, for reasons unknown to the shelter, had brought him here to be disposed of. In crowded shelters, owner-surrenders are among the first to go: without the required ten-day “stray hold” bestowed upon lost dogs or cats for whom someone may be searching, the owner-surrenders quickly join the ranks of the sick, the injured, the elderly, the pregnant, the nursing mothers and their newborn litters, and the defamed pit bull breeds—no matter how gentle—to be euthanized one by one by one, usually by lethal injection …

The scrape of shovels and splash of water and the homesick yelps of imprisoned dogs ricocheted around Karen and the German Shepherd mix as the dog sat for her on the cement, making worried eye contact, in the most important and possibly last audition of his life. Did the shelter dog understand on any level that he had won Karen’s attention, however briefly? As he gazed unflinchingly and longingly into her eyes, was he aware that he’d captured the attention of a human being, something in scarce supply in a county animal shelter? Of course he knew. He was begging her, with his eyes, not to leave him.

“I’m going to give him a try,” Karen said to an employee. “Let’s take him outside.” The worker stepped into the pen and clipped a leash to the dog’s collar.

On the way down the cement hall toward the steel exit door, the shepherd, leashed, stayed beside Karen’s wheelchair, but his paws moved double-time, like a speeding cartoon character whose legs accelerate into wheeling blurs. Outside, the dog blinked in the sunlight and barely knew which way to run first. Just in case, he briefly sat again, tremblingly, joyfully. When the passenger door of the van opened to him, he bounded into the seat, wiggled in happiness, settled in, and never looked back. He moved into the cabin with Karen and her own dog, Ben, and soon began training for Karen’s first child client, a twelve-year-old girl with paralysis. Soon two rescued Golden Retrievers joined them, one for each of the adult women who’d requested dogs. It was a happy messy life for Karen, the start of her finding a way toward the life she wanted. The hospitalized preteen squealed with joy when she saw the German Shepherd mix for the first time and named him Butler—“because he’s going to be like my furry butler!” When his mobility training was finished and he was placed with the family at home, Butler broke the no-child barrier among service dog agencies, among the first service dogs in the world to be trained for a child.

He was a great success! He heeled beside her wheelchair, slept on her bed, and always sat up extra straight and tall when told to sit, since this was evidently his winning skill. The girl’s laughter rang through the house again whenever Butler, unable to contain his love and happiness, stood up, propped his front feet on the armrest, and leaned into the wheelchair to lick her cheeks.

“Am I too old for one of your dogs?” strangers phoned to ask Karen. “Is my child too young for one of your dogs?” “Am I too disabled?” “Am I disabled enough?”

Karen told everyone the same thing: “If your life can be improved by a dog and you can take good care of a dog, I’m going to give you a dog.”

A couple with a ten-year-old son with autism phoned to say that their boy constantly ran away and they’d hoped a service dog might keep track of him, but the service dog agencies had all denied them. This was again new territory. Karen knew that placing service dogs with adults with invisible disabilities, like post-traumatic stress disorder or seizure disorder, was the cutting edge of service dog work, but it hadn’t yet been tried with children. It was a tall order, quite different from training Butler for mobility work with a child.

Back to an animal shelter she went. Despite the forbidding prison-like appearance of the place and the collective hysteria of the stressed and frightened dogs, Karen knew there had to be animals there with high intelligence and fine dispositions. The problem was that their panic at the harsh, crammedin, and grating conditions of captivity concealed their true natures. The confinement in cement cells with industrial drains in the floor made the dogs seem ferocious, impossible to tame, even insane. They bared their gums and barked in fear, scaring away adopters.

As Karen wheeled through the cat room on the way to the dog kennels, cats stuck their forearms through the bars of their stacked-up cages, waving their paws around in blind search for human contact. Karen stopped to stroke the arm of one cat; the lean middle- aged tabby instantly withdrew his arm and flipped onto his side in the cage in winsome appeal. He’d waited so long for a tummy-rub! He stretched out and began to purr. But Karen couldn’t reach that far into the cage and had to move on. She knew that virtually none of these adult cats would see daylight again.

Tail lowered, ears flattened, face downcast, Patches, a Beagle mix, managed just a couple of tentative halfhearted tail-wags from the back of his cell. His overtures hadn’t beguiled anyone in the nearly twenty-one days of his captivity and his time was up. Karen positioned her wheelchair outside his cage for a closer look. Every morsel of emotion rushed into the dog’s moist trembling nose. He approached and shyly pushed his nose through the chain-link barrier.

“Okay, boy, I see you,” she said. When he was led out of his cage by a handler for one-on-one time with Karen, the little dog was so excited, shaking so hard, he couldn’t avoid peeing a little on the cement f loor. Like Butler before him, he left the shelter riding high in the passenger seat of Karen’s van, his mouth wide open with happiness, his ears rippling in the wind he hadn’t felt in a long time.

Before pulling onto the state road, however, Karen sighed, stopped, wheeled around, pulled back into the parking lot, and called out her window to a staffer to bring her the middle-aged tabby cat.

Patches, the rescued Beagle mix, became one of the first dogs in the world (similar work was beginning in Canada at that time) trained in autism assistance. He may have become the first dog in the world trained to track a single child. Now when their son disappeared, his parents cried: “Patches! Find Kevin!” And Patches took off to find the boy, wherever he was. One night he tracked him to a stranger’s backyard three blocks away. The land sloped down to a stream; Kevin, in his pajamas, was peering into the water when the dog interrupted his reverie. “Patches just saved our son’s life again,” the parents emailed Karen.

The cabin filled up with rescued dogs. “It’s a wonderful feeling when we see one of our animals adopted by 4 Paws!” said Mary Lee Schwartz, executive director of the Humane Association of Warren, Ohio. “We’re happy when a dog gets adopted to a normal home, but when one gets adopted to a home when he’s going to help someone, we’re thrilled! I can’t think of a more exciting thing to happen for a dog, especially one on Death Row.”

Another shelter worker commented: “People are surprised that we have such highly talented dogs coming through our shelter, capable of performing the functions of service animals. But of course we do.”

All shelters have them: indescribably marvelous animals just waiting to be given a chance.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Autism and Dogs
Study finds that pets are beneficial to families with autistic kids.
Autism Service Dog
Animal assisted therapy has helped kids with a range of disabilities, but a new study has been looking at the effect of pet dogs on the whole family. A collaboration between researchers at the University of Lincoln and the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation has been looking at interactions between parents and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The study found that families with dogs experienced improved functioning among their ASD children and a reduction in the number of dysfunctional interactions between the parents and children.

The lead researcher, Professor Daniel Mills, says that while there's growing evidence that animal-assisted therapy can aid in the treatment of children with ASD, this is the first study to explore the effects of dog ownership. The team's work is also unique because the research looks at the effects on the family unit, as opposed to only looking at the ASD kids.

"We found a significant, positive‭ ‬relationship‭ ‬between‭ ‬parenting‭ ‬stress‭ ‬of‭ ‬the child‭'‬s‭ ‬main‭ ‬caregiver‭ ‬and‭ ‬their‭ ‬attachment‭ ‬to‭ ‬the‭ family dog," says Professor Mills. "This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ gain."‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ The reduction in stress was not seen in families without a dog.

I can only imagine the anxiety and stress that parents of children with autism feel, but it's heartening to see the important role dogs play in our lives.

According to HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman, "We have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony."

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tips on Creating a Dog-Friendly Workplace
Good for you, your dog and business
Amazon.com Dog-Friendly Workplace / Office

In 2010 a study, headed by Christopher Honts, at Central Michigan University, found that the mere presence of a canine in the office could help make people collaborate more effectively. The researchers also showed that the staff who worked with a dog gave all their teammates higher scores for trust and team cohesion than those who worked in dog-free groups. And now a new study confirms what The Daily Show people said in a recent interview with The Bark, dogs are the greatest destressors for both dog owners and the dogless employees in their office, as well as collaborative “assistants.” This study was conducted by an aptly named investigator, Randolph Barker, PhD, professor of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. The findings, published in March in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, found that dogs do buffer the impact of stress during the workday for their owners and make the job more satisfying for those with whom they come into contact. “Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference,” Barker said. He also concluded that “Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support. Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace.” (See the infographic on this topic created by the MBAPrograms.org)

The American Pet Products Association recently surveyed 50 companies that welcome pets and discovered:

1. Lower stress levels and less absenteeism than in pet-free offices;

2. Productivity and employee morale got a boost when canine companions joined the work force;

3. Employees were more willing to work overtime, thanks to the addition of pets in the workplace.

So if your company doesn’t have a dog-in-the-workplace policy and is, hopefully, considering developing one, the following tips can be used to help set up a successful dog-policy.

  • Start off with a dog-committee made up of dog owners and non-dog owners to draft a policy.
  • Dogs must be friendly to human and other dogs.
  • Make sure there are readily accessible outdoor areas for dog “breaks.”
  • Follow a dog “hire” policy where a new dog is interviewed for acceptability into the workplace.
  • Have a three strikes rule concerning behavioral breaches or human-non compliance (like not picking up after a dog), but if a dog displays aggressive behavior he/she must be removed from the office immediately.
  • Some dogs might not be “ready” for the workplace, make sure the office environment is amenable to your dog too. Fearful and shy dogs might not flourish in a busy office.
  • Basic training is a must and dogs should have a good social personality.
  • If dogs are permitted in meeting rooms, make sure your dog is well-mannered and does not cause distractions.
  • Curb barking and dogs should not be allowed to play with squeaky toys.
  • Dogs should be housebroken and receives frequent breaks.
  • Dogs should be clean, free of illness, and should be up on routine vaccinations and flea protection.
  • Introduce a dog slowly into the workplace, and introduce a new dog to the current office dogs in a neutral area, perhaps while out for a walk and not in the office itself.
  • Employees should sign a waiver and be responsible for any damage to equipment or other employees. Dogs should not chew on furniture, wiring, cords etc.
  • Checks for signs of stress in a dog, signs include excessive panting, drooling, pinned-back ears, etc.
  • Depending on the size and layout of the office, dogs can be leashed, and use of baby gates or crates can also be considered.
  • Consider a dog-free zone for employees who might have allergies or who are frightened of dogs.
  • News: Guest Posts
    NJ Pays Tribute To 9/11 Search and Rescue Dogs
    9/11 SAR Dogs honored with commemorative statue
    911 Statue of Memorializing Search and Rescue Dogs

    The service dogs that responded to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks have not been forgotten. However, monuments to their service are few compared to those devoted to two legged responders. On Wednesday August 17, New Jersey officials gathered at the Essex County Eagle Rock September 11th Memorial in West Orange to do their part to change that. They dedicated a new commemorative statue honoring the Search and Rescue Dogs of 9/11.

    The four-foot tall bronze dog sits atop a 12-inch slab of granite, and weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. It was designed by Oregon artist, Jay Warren and paid for by corporate donations. The West Orange 9/11 Memorial opened in 2002, almost exactly one year after the attacks. The park overlooks Manhattan across the water. Citizens once gathered there, helplessly witnessing the chaos at Ground Zero.

    In September 2001, countless heroes emerged from obscurity to aid their country in its time of need. Men and women of law enforcement and fire rescue courageously faced the devastation alongside everyday citizens. The new West Orange monument stands as a reminder that not all 9/11 heroes were human.

    Roughly 350 Search and Rescue Dogs worked tirelessly in the tragic aftermath searching for survivors; and after, searching for human remains. Sifting through the jagged rubble and blinded by smoke and debris, the dogs battled exhaustion and emotional distress.

    After hours of searching and finding no one alive, some handlers would ask for a volunteer to hide amidst the rubble to be “located”, helping to raise the dogs’ spirits. Even when the search mission became one of recovery instead of rescue, the dogs carried on diligently, providing what little peace they could for the families of the victims. 

    In a press release for the commemoration of the new statue, Newark Public Safety Director, Anthony Ambrose said:

    "Search dogs covered 16 acres of land at Ground Zero covered with metal and debris, and went where humans could not go. This is a fitting way to remember how many families gained some sort of closure because of the work by dogs."

    The presence of the dogs at the recovery sites had an even greater impact than many may realize. Dutch photographer, Charlotte Dumas is the author of the 2011 book, Retrieved featuring the stories and portraits of 9/11 canines. She interviewed Denise Corliss, handler of famous 9/11 FEMA Search Dog, Bretagne. Dumas recounted an emotional narrative from her time with Corliss to Daily Mail UK:

    “She told me a touching story of one fireman who was there in the rubble, and how taken he was with Bretagne who comforted him as he sat down to catch his breath. Years later at a Remembrance Ceremony, the same fireman recognized Bretagne and her handler and they had a touching reunion. It developed that even though the dogs couldn't find people still alive, they could provide comfort for the brave firemen and rescue workers of the emergency services.”

    Most Search and Rescue Dogs are trained by non-government organizations. Often their handlers are civilians as well. Many of the teams that responded to Ground Zero did so on a volunteer basis, simply because their country needed them. Now these pups are getting the recognition they deserve from the folks in Essex County, NJ.

    To learn more about search and rescue dogs and the brave men and women who train them and act as their handlers, visit searchdogfoundation.org or disasterdog.org.

    Dog's Life: Home & Garden
    15 Doggone-Good Tips for a Pet Washing Station
    Turn a dreaded chore into an easier task with a handheld sprayer, an elevated sink or even a dedicated doggie tub

    This is going to sound harsh, but your dog stinks. Don't feel bad — it's natural, and you are nice to let him swim in that creek and run in the mud and roll around in yucky things. You don't notice anymore, because your schnoz is used to it. But when I come over to visit, the smell of your dog's bed and the smell on my hand after I pet him is very noticeable, so chances are, the same smell is in your carpets, car and any furniture Fido lounges on. 

    You probably mean to wash the dog more often, but it's a pain in the neck. Large dogs are tough to get into bathtubs, the big shake afterward makes a mess, and the whole thing can be quite an ordeal. 

    Now that we've got that out of the way, a home pet washing station isn't looking so crazy. In fact, you can use them for other things, too. A builder who's been adding them for years, Vincent Longo, says that one client uses his pet care station for cleaning dirty golf clubs, gardening tools and even the kids after a busy day making mud pies. 

    Whatever your thoughts about pet wash stations, there's no denying their popularity. If you're thinking about adding one, here are some ideas to consider.

    Incorporate the washing station into the mudroom. Mudrooms are a very popular spot for dog wash stations. Dogs enter from the back or side door, and their muddy paws never make it into the rest of the house.

    Include a handheld showerhead or sprayer. Not only will it help you get your dog's entire bod nice and clean, but it will also let you do a quick paws-only wash.

    Be prepared for the big shake. Anyone who has ever washed dogs knows that afterward they shake off the water with gusto and get the entire area wet (including the person doing the washing). Having a surround and floor that can stand up to water will keep the big shake from damaging drywall and floors. 

    If your dog is the type that runs around the house in crazy circles after a bath, all I can recommend is shutting the mudroom door until Sparky dries off and calms down, or else letting him into the garage for the runaround.

     

    Photo by Angelini and Associates Architects - Discover traditional laundry room design ideas

     

    Go bigger with the drain. Longo recommends using a 3-inch drain in a pet washing station. It will handle dog hair better than the standard 1½- to 2-inch shower drain. He also recommends adding a hair filter over the drain.

    Clearly, this dog loves the pet wash station and is just begging for a rinse.

     

    Photo by Designs Dell'Ario Interiors - Search contemporary laundry room design ideas

     

    Consider an elevated dog bath for smaller pets. It will be easier on your back and knees in the long run, as long as your dog is willing and able to jump into it, or you don't have a problem lifting your pet into place.

    Step it up. In this clever design, the counters double as steps up to the basin. The middle step serves as a drying station and has room for a cozy pet bed underneath.

    For smaller dogs a large utility sink plus a sprayer is all you need.

    Use what the pros use. You can find professional bathing stations complete with ladders or ramps at places like ProGroom.

     

    Photo by BACK Construction - Search traditional laundry room pictures

     

    Combine gardening and pet grooming. Pet washers are also great places to water plants, rinse off mucky Wellies and clean your gardening tools.

    Incorporate your own style. This custom dog bath utilizes vintage tiles that the homeowner had been collecting for years.

     

    Photo by Morning Star Builders LTD - Search traditional laundry room pictures

     

    Have drying towels handy. An overhead drying rack is a handy spot for drying dog towels as well as laundry. If you utilize this kind of system, be sure to remove your people laundry before the big shake.

     

    Photo by Witt Construction - More traditional home design photos

     

    Embrace the theme. This area celebrates dogs in the wallpaper and has plenty of shelves for dog supplies.

    Consider going high-end. Do you and your pet have luxurious tastes? If so, try a dog-specific tub. When family-owned company Hydro Systems decided to dip into dog bath design, the owners collaborated with their groomer of more than 20 years, adding features like skidproofing to prevent slips and slides, and even an optional jetted whirlpool system. 

    Is your dog the spa type? Do tell, because this idea is certainly new to me, and I can't quite wrap my head around it. Unless the dog's name is Zsa Zsa. Then it makes sense. (Seriously, though, the folks who designed this tub and added the spa option say it's a matter of personality on a case-by-case basis.)

    Hydro Systems Petopia II - $377.25

    This model is for smaller dogs. I included it because a photo of a dog sitting in its own personal bath wearing a bling-bling necklace simply must be shared.

     

    Photo by Schachne Architects & Builders - Browse traditional bathroom ideas

     

    Think about storage for supplies. Just like a human shower area, this one has handy shelves for dog shampoo and sponges.

     

    Photo by Phil Kean Designs - More contemporary patio photos

     

    Take it outside. Homeowners are increasingly incorporating pet washing stations into their outdoor showers. All it takes is a handheld sprayer or showerhead that can reach down to the ground. Rinse off muddy paws here before they can get inside and muck up your rugs.

    A second, lower handheld spay is good for pets and for rinsing off your own feet before going indoors.

    Provide a clean path to the door. A concrete, gravel or stone walkway will prevent your dog from dirtying up his paws on the way in from an outdoor wash. Unless, of course, the dog breaks free and does that crazy circle thing out in the yard.

    News: Guest Posts
    Tail Docking and Ear Cropping Affect Dogs, and Not Just Physically
    Study finds these elective surgeries influence perceptions of dog personality
    Dog au naturel Credit: MACMILLAN AUSTRALIA (MARS)

    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. 

    Dog surgery?

    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.

    Au naturel?

    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.

    Good Dog: Behavior & Training
    Flagstaff Dog Running
    This dog running company is great business idea
    Dogs love to run!

    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
    When it Comes to Crates, Think Outside the Box

    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.

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