Good Dog: Studies & Research
A new study of the genomes of domestic dogs and wolf populations has determined that the domestic dog most likely originated in the Middle East. The finding strongly contradicts earlier mitochondrial DNA studies that put the origins of the domestication in East Asia. In comparing the various genomes of different populations of wolves and dogs, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that dog genomes and Middle Eastern wolf genomes contain the greatest similarity.
The research team, led by Dr. Robert K. Wayne and Bridgett M. vonHoldt, used a genome-wide methodology to determine which populations of wolves were most closely related to dogs. SNP or “snip” chips (devices similar to computer chips than can “read” the DNA down to a single nucleotide polymorphism), looked at 48,000 different locations in the dog genome. SNP chips have been used to scan humans for susceptibility to disease, such as cancer predisposition. In this study, the chips mark regions of common variation within the DNA, allowing researchers to make more accurate comparisons across populations.
It turns out that dogs have more similarities at these 48,000 different locations with Middle Eastern wolves than with other populations of wolves. The findings strongly suggest that today’s domestic dog descends from ancestors in the Middle East.
The original mitochondrial DNA studies looked at only one part of the genome, which is inherited from the female ancestors. Such studies found greater variance in the mitochondrial DNA of East Asian dogs, and since organisms have greater genetic variation at their point of origin, it was then thought that dogs were originally domesticated in Southern China. Because mitochondrial DNA is but a small part of the genome, inferences gleaned from its study may not be as valid as those from a genome-wide study.
Now we know that Middle Eastern wolves likely were among the first populations of wolf to encounter humans; thus it is from these populations that our oldest friend evolved. Researchers also looked for signatures of selection in the genes, and one of the notable genes identified has a human counterpart — implicated in Williams syndrome — which is expressed as extreme friendliness disorder in humans.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
By the Numbers
Applied animal behaviorists are constantly developing new techniques, exploring new ideas, considering controversial theories and conducting research. So what is on the minds of the people in this dynamic field? What are behaviorists talking about right now?
1. The prevention of problem behaviors. As behaviorists, we generally deal with serious problems that have been going on for a long time by the time we become involved. For example, when someone whose dog has bitten a child for the sixth time contacts us, we are both glad that they’re looking for help and often saddened as well, since we know that early intervention might have prevented— or at least ameliorated—this problem.Prevention can take many forms, including responsible breeding, good matches between dog and household, proper socialization, effective training, and quick responses to warning signs.
2. An increasing focus on ethology. Ethology is the study of the behavior of animals in their natural habitat. A trained ethologist working in applied canine behavior has an ability to read a dog’s body language, understanding signs that indicate the dog is stressed, anxious or afraid. Additionally, a skilled ethologist working with dogs is able to interpret the displays and cues dogs use to communicate, and has a deep knowledge of the sensory world, or umwelt (also defined as the “subjective universe”) in which dogs live. An understanding of dogs’ natural history and behavior deserves as much attention as canine learning theory, which has been focused on so much of late.
3. The need for more research. Basic questions such as what information dog scent marks contain, how best to treat dog–dog aggression within a household and the purpose of canine play remain at least partially unanswered.Despite the obvious need, standard funding sources —the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)—support precious little research in applied animal behavior.
4. Genetic studies that further our understanding of dogs. Findings of the latest research into dog evolution are exciting, and new discoveries are being made all the time. For example, a recent study identified a gene responsible for the tremendous variation in size among dogs. Advances in technology have facilitated a new wave of genetic research into the time and place of dog domestication and the development of breeds.
5. Breeding pet dogs. Regrettably, few breeders focus on breeding companion animals. Many purebred dogs sold as “pet quality”are somehow non-standard: They may be the wrong size, color or general structure to show; they may not have the drive necessary to compete, as in agility; or they may be afraid of the sheep they are supposed to be herding. There is a need for dogs with the behavioral traits required to be the best pets.
6. The need for interdisciplinary collaboration. When people have behavioral problems, psychologists, doctors, clergy, coaches and teachers often collaborate. Similarly, in an ideal scenario within applied animal behavior,we would have regular collaborations between ethologists, psychologists, veterinarians and trainers. When professionals from different disciplines work together, we are all more effective at helping clients with their dogs’ behavioral problems.
7. Reconsidering temperament tests. Some tests are designed to predict the potential for aggression in shelter dogs and to help shelter staff decide which dogs are adoptable. Others are designed to predict the personalities of puppies in order to determine which are best suited to performance homes, companion homes or working homes, and even which specific puppy would be most compatible with which specific household. These are admirable goals, but the problem is that no temperament test has been shown to be reliably predictive of future behavior or personality. Behaviorists talk a lot about the shortcomings of the existing temperament tests, whether or not more predictive tests can be designed, or whether these tests have intrinsic limitations.
8. Upgrading certification programs. Unfortunately, anybody can hang out a sign and call him- or herself a behaviorist, and there are certification programs with alarmingly low standards. The most stringent certification program is the one that leads to the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) designation. To become a CAAB, a person must have substantial coursework in both ethology and psychology, five years of experience in applied animal behavior practice, and either a PhD in a field related to behavior (such as biology, zoology or psychology), or a DVM, in addition to two years in a university-approved residency program in animal behavior.
9. The demand for more qualified behaviorists. There are very few truly qualified behaviorists, so it is hard for people whose dogs have behavioral issues to get the help they need. Training new behaviorists is a big challenge because the two kinds of experience needed—academic and practical—are not linked by any structured program that helps interested people transition from one to the other. Few opportunities exist in academia to pursue research in applied animal behavior, because most people with expertise in this area are working as applied animal behaviorists, not as professors. Therefore, despite there being many people with advanced degrees in ethology or psychology, few have significant practical experience in applied animal behavior, including the actual experience of working with dogs.
10. The importance of using humane, positive training and treatment methods for dogs.No matter how popular abusive and aversive techniques may be in the media, or how they are marketed to the public as the quick fix everyone wants, they are not the best choice for us or for our dogs. Better, safer options are out there, and behaviorists take very seriously their responsibility to educate the public about the difference between techniques that help dogs and techniques that harm dogs. This list includes some of the hot topics of concern and controversy that we discuss (sometimes heatedly, but always cordially) when we get together at conferences, seminars and workshops. But truth be told, there is a good chance that, at this very moment, your local behaviorist is doing what we all enjoy doing more than anything, which is talking about our own dogs. After all, as dog behaviorists, we are not just experts on canine behavior, but dog lovers of the highest order.
During the past 25 years, there have been amazing advancements in the dog world. To commemorate them, we set out to find the people behind these accomplishments—the innovators, thinkers and achievers who relished challenges and whose creativity, compassion and commitment helped reshape the world of dogs and our understanding of it. Without further ado, we present our honorees: The Bark’s 100 Best & Brightest.
Patricia McConnell combines her love for dogs with a well-grounded scientific understanding of them. For decades, she has spoken and written about the ethological aspects of canine behavior and the importance of applying that scholarship to practical work that helps both dogs and people. She brought a vast knowledge of canine visual signals to a generation of dog trainers and other professionals, and was the first to teach about the signals’ importance for reading dogs, understanding their emotional states and predicting their future behavior. She has always valued understanding people and dogs in order to improve the relationships between them; Trisha truly likes people as much as she likes dogs, and is respectful and kind to members of both species. Despite charges of anthropomorphizing, she maintains that dogs’ emotions are important and can be studied. By discussing the natural behavior of both canines and humans, she has helped dog lovers be closer to their animal companions and communicate more effectively with them.
The gospel of Jean Donaldson—cheerful training with profuse praise and gentle correction—has happily permeated the world of co-pilots like water on a sponge, thanks to her bestselling books, including Culture Clash, Dogs Are from Neptune and Oh Behave!, and the Academy for Dog Trainers—sometimes called Harvard for dog trainers—that she founded and directed for a decade.
The public gleans practical wisdom from animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman through his bestselling books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much. But his fellow veterinarians look to him as well. The founder and director of Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behavior Clinic, one of the first of its kind in 1986, Dr. Dodman works on the frontier of behavioral pharmacology—conducting groundbreaking studies on the use of medication to tackle knotty behavioral challenges, such as canine compulsive disorders.
Couldn’t survive without a Gentle Leader? Gratitude goes to R.K. Anderson. The multi-laurelled, multi-degreed veterinarian, epidemiologist, behaviorist, researcher and professor co-invented the tried-and-true headcollar as part of his mission to gently and humanely prevent behavior problems that land dogs and cats in shelters by the millions. Dr. Anderson is also a main mover behind the Animal Behavior Resources Institute, a free, collaborative educational resource with expert videos, podcasts and articles for professionals and their clients.
Training methods using rewards and a whistle or a click—more formally known as operant conditioning and bridging stimulus—have become so ubiquitous that most of us take them for granted. We tip our cap to the late Marian Breland Bailey, who (along with Keller Breland and Bob Bailey) developed these humane approaches and taught them to others for more than 60 years; thousands sharpened up their skills and became better trainers at the Baileys’ operant-conditioning workshops, a.k.a. “chicken camps.”
Karen Pryor’s impact on dog nation has a soundtrack —or rather, a sound: click! A pioneer of positive reinforcement training (inspired by the operant conditioning she mastered working with dolphins in the 1960s), Pryor is the founder and leading proponent of clicker training. Today, marking desired behavior with a noisy click (and a treat) isn’t limited to the dog world—the sharp snaps regularly ricochet off zoo enclosures, out in pastures with livestock and even in gyms, signaling “well done” to human athletes.
Ian Dunbar’s ideas about dog training—that it should be a fun bonding experience—have become so central to the practice, it would be easy to forget someone (Dunbar!) got us thinking this way in the first place. Advocating a hands-off, reward-based approach at his Sirius Dog Training centers, the behaviorist and vet first promulgated the now-accepted-as-gospel notion that teaching good behavior to puppies before six months of age, using positive reinforcement, prevents most future problem behaviors.
For more than two decades, Robert K. Wayne has used the powerful tools of genetic analysis to revise and, in some cases, redraw the evolutionary history and relationships of the family Canidae. In constructing that evolutionary tree (or phylogeny), Dr. Wayne, a professor of evolutionary biology at UCLA, his students and postdoctoral fellows have documented the monumental loss of diversity the gray wolf eradication programs of the past three centuries have wrought here and in Europe. In the early 1990s, Dr. Wayne used mitochondrial DNA to clinch the case for the gray wolf as the wild progenitor of the dog, laying to rest that “southern,” or pariah, dogs were descended from jackals, while “northern,” wolf-like breeds came from gray wolves.
While at London’s Natural History Museum, Juliet Clutton-Brock penned many definitive texts on the archaeology of animal domestication, including A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. In her work, Clutton-Brock illuminates our tangled history with dogs (among others), establishing a baseline for understanding the reasons, biological and behavioral impacts, and unexpected consequences of domestication.
L. David Mech, founder of the International Wolf Center and chair of the IUCN Wolf Specialist Group, has studied wolves and their prey since 1958. His is among the foundation work on canines wild and domestic.
Mark Neff, a professor at the University of California, Davis, participated in the Dog Genome Project at UC Berkeley as a postdoctoral fellow. More recently, he has been working to locate the genes that cause a variety of genetic disorders in domestic dogs. Among his research results is the identification of the gene that causes dwarfism in several breeds, and his findings continue to inform veterinary medicine about the inheritance of many canine diseases.
On the trail of human and canine cancer, Elaine Ostrander and her group map the genes responsible for cancer susceptibility in both. Earlier, as part of the Dog Genome Project, she searched for the genetic markers that make up the concept of a “breed,” and found that genotyping could be used to assign 99 percent of individual dogs to their correct breeds.
Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, co-director of the Genome Sequencing and Analysis Program at the Broad Institute, maps genes associated with cancer and autoimmune diseases in dogs. Her group developed a SNP chip that has been used to identify the genes for several canine diseases.
James Serpell, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society, is currently involved in researching the relationships between domestic animals—especially dogs—and people. He has also traced the natural history of the human-animal bond, including the processes by which various species have been domesticated.
Stanley Olsen, a pioneer in the discipline of zooarchaeology, was among the first to search for the origins of the domestic dog; his work laid the foundation for later studies that significantly pushed back his original 8,000 year date.
Geneticist Jasper Rine and his Dog Genome Project collaborators began with a theory that it was possible to map the chromosomes of the domestic dog and thereby discover the genetic basis of mammalian development and behavior. In his early research on purebred dog behaviors, he crossed a Newfoundland with a Border Collie, two distinct breeds with very different breed typical behaviors, and then bred the offspring to see how these various behaviors were inherited.
Mark Derr, journalist and author, set the “fancy” world spinning in 1990 with his Atlantic Monthly article about practices in the show-dog realm. In his seminal book, Dog’s Best Friend, he proved that his range of interests in all things canine extended far beyond that topic. With an investigative reporter’s love for unearthing a scoop balanced by a wide-ranging knowledge of his subject, he is highly regarded by dog aficionados (and a nudge to some). As Bark’s science editor, he has been an invaluable advisor and translator when it comes to the latest research and discoveries.
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas took a bite out of the bestseller lists with her original examinations of dogs. Fueled by her Husky’s ramblings through civilization, field work with wolves and anthropology training, Thomas described surprising behaviors that in ensuing years have been affirmed in studies. In The Hidden Life of Dogs and The Social Lives of Dogs, Thomas deployed her keen eye and novelist’s sensibility to shed light on the mystery of dogs without erasing their magic.
Donald McCaig would be notable enough as the author of beloved dog books like Nop’s Trials and Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men. We also celebrate him as an early activist against the homogenizing perils of inbreeding, on behalf of his beloved working sheepdogs. That tale, too, is skillfully rendered in his book, The Dog Wars. He writes with an insight and subtle humor that befits his own Virginia breeding.
The first year that Caroline Knapp and I were friends, in 1996, we took the dogs on a beach run at Gay Head, on the southwestern tip of the island of Martha’s Vineyard. My Samoyed, Clementine, was not yet two, strong as an ox and full of fire. Caroline’s Shepherd-mix, Lucille, was smaller in stature and calmer in demeanor. We spent the afternoon watching them charge up and down the beach, until a series of sonic booms from a nearby naval airfield shattered our reverie. Clementine took off down the beach at a full run, as wild-eyed as a spooked horse. I got her back long enough to leash her, but she had the sled-dog ability to pull a small car, and I fell in the sand just trying to hang onto her.
Poet Mary Oliver has graced the world with her meditative eye and exquisite language for nearly 50 years, bringing the physical world—dogs not least among it—into sharper focus for the rest of us. Using humor to reconcile the intellectual with the natural, she imparts wisdom through such gems as this line, written from her dog’s perspective: Books? says Percy./I ate one once. It was enough./Let’s go.
Inspired by the late, great Earl, MUTTs creator and animal activist Patrick McDonnell is a cartoonist with a message, showing readers the world through the eyes of his animal characters.
Stanley Coren takes the canine IQ seriously, and has covered the topic in numerous articles and books. His work has done much to popularize the subject of dogs’ intelligence as well as our bond with them.
As the founding editor of the staunchly independent Whole Dog Journal, Nancy Kerns has been empowering dog owners with intel on dog-friendly training, holistic health care and practical nutrition—i.e., how to read a dog food label—for more than 10 years.
When Harriet Ritvo, a noted professor at MIT, wrote The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age in 1987, she launched an innovative animal studies curriculum that has inspired similar programs at universities around the globe.
Nationally syndicated pet columnist Gina Spadafori, author or co-author of a half-dozen top-selling books about animals, was hailed from the floor of the United States Congress for her coverage of the 2007 pet food recall.
Oh, those fabulous Weimaraners! Though William Wegman is renowned in the art world for his work in a variety of media, it is his photos of his pack of elegant, silvery-grey dogs—dressed in zany costumes and posed in tableaus reflecting his special brand of visual puns—for which he is most widely known.
Snoopy, everyone’s favorite Beagle and the quintessence of canine cool, sprang from the fertile imagination (and pen) of Charles Schulz, who created him along with the rest of the “Peanuts” crowd. Over a period of nearly 50 years, Schulz drew 18,250 cartoon strips, basing the character of Charlie Brown on himself and memorializing the dog of his adolescence in the character of Spike, Snoopy’s bedraggled, desert-dwelling brother.
For trainers who embrace science and medicine, Karen Overall has been an authoritative voice of reason and research for more than a decade. Dr. Overall’s bestselling textbook, Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Small Animals, was among the first to provide techniques for the prevention and treatment of behavior problems; some consider it the bible for vets and behavior consultants. After running the behavior clinic at U Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine for more than 12 years, Dr. Overall shifted her focus to study canine behavioral genetics as a research associate in UP’s Center for Neurobiology and Behavior. Her clinical work centers on humane treatment of troubled pets and their distressed people; she focuses on understanding the neurobiology and genetics of canine behavior and cognition, and on developing natural genetic and behavioral canine models wisdom of two decades ago upside down, and undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of dogs from harm.
Brian Hare began his academic career by examining the ability of dogs to follow human body language; recently, his lab opened the Duke Canine Cognition Center to further explore the effects of domestication on canine cognition.
Shirley Johnston, an expert in the field of animal reproduction, oversees the Found Animals Foundation’s Michelson Prize and Grants, established to inspire the development of a low-cost non-surgical sterilization product for dogs and cats.
Lawrence Myers, who founded the Institute for Biological Detection Systems at Auburn University, was among the first to determine that dogs can detect disease conditions.
Adam Miklosi helped found the Family Dog Research Project at Budapest’s Eötvös Loránd University in 1994, and he and his group lead the world in the study of canine psychology.
Alexandra Horowitz’s research, which resulted in her book, Inside of a Dog, explores what dogs know and how they know it, adding an important chapter to the study of canine cognition.
It was no surprise to dog lovers when Karen Allen, a social psychologist with SUNY at Buffalo, defined the “pet effect,” or the ability of our dogs to lower our blood pressure and help us cope with stress.
Larry T. Glickman’s long-term longitudinal study of bloat, undertaken at Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, followed more than 1,900 dogs of 11 breeds for five years, and the findings inform treatment of this dangerous condition.
Ronald D. Schultz is chair of the department of microbiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and one of the world’s leading veterinary vaccine researchers. His study of the science behind vaccine protocols, the harmful effects of unnecessary vaccines, and different types and brands of vaccines, particularly for canine parvovirus, has turned the conventional for human psychiatric illnesses, particularly those involving anxiety, panic and aggression.
Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, has studied dogs, wolves and coyotes, finding that these animals have a notion of fair play and a kind of moral sense based upon empathy. Bekoff is also interested in the human-animal relationship, and how this relationship affects the emotional lives of animals.
Pulling back the curtain on the mysterious social life of dogs, German researcher Dorit Feddersen-Petersen demonstrated that several dog species communicate with each other, and possibly us, using a complex spectrum of barking sounds.
Vilmos Csányi, author of If Dogs Could Talk, introduced a new approach to the study of ethology, one that relies on analyzing behavior’s genetic architecture. He and the department he founded at Eötovös Loránd University maintain a profound interest in dog-human relationships.
John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller conducted an extensive study of the inheritance of various behaviors of five breeds at the Jackson Laboratory at Bar Harbor, Maine; all of the dogs were of similar size but very different in their breed-typical behaviors, providing variances that could be measured as the dogs developed. The authors were the first to suggest the concept of “critical periods” in which puppies’ social behavior develops.
Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Laureate and co-founder of the field of ethology, was one of the first theorists to write about dogs. Man Meets Dog (1953) demonstrates that he was a remarkable observer of animals, a lover of dogs in particular, and oftentimes got things wrong. But, since he was the one who, according to Donald McCaig, “started all these debates,” his book remains a classic that deserves to be read (judiciously) for that fact alone.
Since the 2005 debut of trainer Victoria Stilwell’s hit television show, It’s Me or the Dog, her no-nonsense, positive-reinforcement-based approach has endeared her to pet lovers all over the world. Her holistic methods empower families to work together to create lasting solutions to behavioral problems. Stilwell’s acting background and dog-training experience have put her in an ideal position to promote positive methods to both professional and mainstream audiences in more than 30 countries. She’s judged contestants on the television show Greatest American Dog and appeared on numerous talk shows, written for several periodicals, and authored two books: It’s Me or the Dog: How to Have the Perfect Pet and Fat Dog Slim: How to Have a Healthy, Happy Pet (a third book is in progress). Plans are currently underway for a foundation to raise money for smaller rescues and assistance-dog organizations.
Together, Suzanne Hetts and Dan Estep came up with the concept of behavioral wellness, which emphasizes the need for baselines to determine what is “well” in terms of pets’ behavior.
Pamela Reid, director of the ASPCA’s Animal Behavior Center, not only lectures on animal behavior and learning theory, she puts it into action to improve human-canine relationships.
Terry Ryan has been a guru for a generation of trainers. Teaching others how to motivate dogs through games, lecturing, writing and presenting seminars, she is a bright light in support of good relationships between people and their pups.
Pia Silvani turned her love of teaching people and dogs into an amazing career as an internationally recognized canine coach and one of the training and behavior world’s go-to people.
For the past 30 years, Wendy Volhard—who is credited with developing the first puppy test and first drive theories—has been teaching people how to communicate effectively with their pets.
Sophia Yin is a multitalented vet, behaviorist, trainer, lecturer and videographer, with a great knack for imparting knowledge and expertise both to her colleagues—via her textbooks—and to the general public. Her site has invaluable info and fantastic videos.
Emily Weiss probably never thought of herself as a matchmaker, but to the benefit of many adult dogs in shelters, it’s worked out that way. During a career dedicated to creating positive, humane animal behavior programs, Weiss developed MYM SAFER (Meet Your Match Safety Assessment For Evaluating Rehoming), a test that helps animal-welfare professionals identify potential aggression in dogs as well as opportunities for behavior modification, which ultimately leads to more—and more successful—adoptions through appropriate placement.
If you want to become fluent in “dog,” start with Dog Language, the seminal work by ethologist Roger Abrantes, widely known for his views on social behavior and its applications to the daily understanding of pet behavior.
Well ahead of most of his ivory tower peers, Leo K. Bustad, dean of Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, perceived the healing power of animals and dedicated himself to establishing the science behind the notion that our dogs and cats make us feel better. As co-founder of the Delta Society, he promoted greater understanding of the human-animal bond, and helped create the gold standard for animal-assisted therapy in health-care settings.
Joan Esnayra, founder and president of the Psychiatric Service Dog Society, works to open people’s eyes to this more subtle form of service; much of her work focuses on assisting veterans suffering from PTSD.
From the depths of grim personal experience, Sister Pauline Quinn found the inspiration to start the Prison Pet Partnership Program that has helped heal the lives of an untold number of dogs and inmates alike.
Bonnie Bergin originated the concept of “service dogs,” canines trained to perform essential everyday tasks, such as opening doors and switching on lights, for people with mobility limitations—and then dedicated herself to getting these life-changing dogs to the people who needed them. In 1975, she founded Canine Companions for Independence, the first nonprofit to train and place service dogs. She later established a university of canine studies and spearheaded campaigns to help low-income individuals with disabilities afford assistance dogs.
Kathy Zubrycki and her late husband, Ted Zubrycki, pioneered the innovative development of “special needs” guide dog training, showing that guide dogs could be successfully trained for blind people with additional disabilities.
After a puppy spontaneously alerted Mark Ruefenacht to a dangerous drop in his blood sugar, he founded Dogs4Diabetics, which is dedicated to training dogs to detect the subtle scent of life-threatening hypoglycemia.
Inspired by her son’s cerebral palsy service dog, prosecuting attorney Ellen O’Neill-Stephens introduced canine advocates into Seattle’s criminal courts, and then co-founded Courthouse Dogs to promote the use of dogs to comfort traumatized victims and witnesses.
Sandi Martin’s flash of brilliance: Children who struggle to read will do better if reading to dogs. The success of her Intermountain Therapy Animals’ Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program spawned a four-pawed literacy revolution.
For nearly three decades, working-dog trainer and handler Larry Allen has been transforming “problem dogs,” especially Bloodhounds, into happily employed trackers for law enforcement agencies across the country.
Retired British orthopedic surgeon John Church made the leap from anecdote to science when he and his team undertook the first scientifically robust study that proved dogs can be trained to detect cancer.
Narda G. Robinson applies rigorous scientific methods to the study of complementary and alternative medicine for small animals; she holds the first endowed position in this field at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Veterinarian Anthony Smith makes saying goodbye gentler for dog and guardian alike through his Rainbow Bridge Veterinary Services, one of the few practices in the world devoted exclusively to providing end-of-life care.
Ann Martin, author of Foods Pets Die For, was among the first to raise the alarm about the dangers of commercial pet food, and continues to monitor the industry today.
The work of the late European herbalist Juliette de Baïracli Levy was the foundation upon which many later holistic practitioners built; her book, The Complete Herbal Book for the Dog, originally published in 1947, is still in print. (Read more about de Baïracli Levy in Eleanor K. Sommer's profile for Bark, Apr/May 2010)
Barbara Fougere’s Pet Lover’s Guide to Natural Healing for Dogs & Cats fortifies the bookshelves of guardians with an interest in natural healing by providing a straightforward alternative therapy reference for layfolk.
Carvel Tiekert founded the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association in 1982 and is the heart of this organization, which explores and supports alternative and complementary approaches to veterinary healthcare.
Allen M. Schoen is one of the pioneers in holistic medicine; his writings and influential speaking have brought complementary and alternative veterinary medicine to the hearts and minds of practitioners everywhere.
Cheryl Schwartz was among the first to use Traditional Chinese Medicine in the care of companion animals; her book, Four Paws, Five Directions, spread the word and made it accessible to everyone.
Tellington TTouch—need we say more? Linda Tellington-Jones is an expert in rubbing dogs (and other animals) the right way, and shares her techniques worldwide, much to the delight of dogs everywhere.
Back in the age of kibble, Ian Billinghurst took his bible of Biologically Appropriate Raw Food (known as BARF) directly to the people. In Give Your Dog a Bone, the Australian veterinary surgeon repudiated grain-based, commercially produced dog foods and advocated a diet based on what wild dogs eat, including plenty of raw, meaty bones. While BARF has detractors, there’s no doubt it shifted the entire dog food paradigm toward better nutrition.
Well before most Americans would consider acupuncture for themselves, holistic health care icon Ihor Basko was seeing good results using the ancient Chinese technique on arthritic and pain-racked dogs. Since the 1970s, he has been a leading light for expanding treatment and prevention options for animals with alternative therapies, including acupuncture, herbs and minerals, dietary therapy, homeopathy, and massage. Dr. Basko is a founder and current president of the Veterinary Botanical Medical Association.
A veterinarian with a PhD in immunology, Richard Pitcairn was a pioneer in the field of holistic pet care and raw feeding, both of which gained their current prominence largely due to his seminal book, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, published in 1982 and now in its third edition. He challenged the orthodoxy of the day that dogs and cats can only thrive on commercially formulated diets, and gave his readers an overview of the entire field of alternative medicine as it could apply to their family pets, from acupuncture to Chinese and western herbs, and chiropractic to homeopathy. He was among the first voices to question the then-common practice of routine annual immunization for dogs and cats, pointing out that such protocols could be risky and were probably unnecessary —wisdom that is now altogether conventional. Today, holistic veterinarians have their own medical association, the AHVMA, and even otherwise conventional veterinarians often recommend homemade diets and practice acupuncture. It’s a changed world, and one that might not have happened without Pitcairn’s early influence.
As founder of what is now the No-Kill Movement, Rich Avanzino changed how Americans view shelter animals. In his 22 years leading San Francisco SPCA, Avanzino demonstrated that shelters could be transformed from death camps for discards to adoption centers for pets whose worst sin was choosing their people badly. Now heading Maddie’s Fund, Avanzino anticipates the day when supply and demand balance, and a no-kill nation is achieved.
Kate Hurley, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at University of California, Davis, heads one of the very few dedicated programs of this type in the U.S.
Motivated by a New Year’s resolution to save one dog a month, Betsy Saul and her husband created Petfinder.com in 1996; in the years since, the free website has helped more than 13 million dogs, cats and other critters land in good homes.
Lawyer, author and no-kill activist Nathan Winograd is the voice of America’s displaced pets and the conscience of the animal sheltering industry. Uncompromising and committed, he heads the No-Kill Advocacy Center.
Since 2004, vegan Wayne Pacelle has built HSUS into a public policy powerhouse; his organization now has investigation, litigation and campaign teams. He has broadened HSUS’s scope beyond companion animals, and was the force behind California’s overwhelming passage of Prop. 2. HSUS has also recently teamed up with Maddie’s
A high-profile and articulate voice for companion and farm animals from the highlands of his native England to his home in Minneapolis, Michael W. Fox takes a broad view of the world in which our humanity and the rights of animals are intimately interconnected. The professor/bioethicist/veterinarian has been a leader in the movement to foster the ethical treatment of animals since 1967, including nearly three decades at HSUS.
An expert in the human-canine bond, Randall Lockwood gave everybody a reason to care about cruelty to animals. His groundbreaking research identified links between pet- and domestic abuse, and demonstrated that early animal cruelty predicts later violence against people. As an officer of ASPCA, he has advanced the forensic techniques and training of cruelty investigators and, on the brighter side, promoted humane education.
To honor his cherished Miniature Schnauzer, software mogul Dave Duffield endowed Maddie’s Fund with $300 million to promote a no-kill nation and end euthanasia as a form of population control. Big fund, great goal.
Randy Grim and canine sidekick Quentin, a gas chamber survivor, patrol the streets of East St. Louis, seeking new prospects for his Stray Rescue; 5,000 abused, abandoned dogs owe him their lives—we owe him our gratitude.
Ed Sayres directed PetSmart Charities and led SF/SPCA before becoming ASPCA president in 2003; though ASPCA played a key role in the Michael Vick investigation, it thereafter declined to associate with his public rehabilitation.
Singer, dancer, actress, and animal activist Gretchen Wyler had a big voice and a big presence, which she used to help animals by establishing her own Hollywood nonprofit animal protection group, the Ark Trust, Inc., and developing and promoting the Genesis Awards.
Bob Baker has a well-earned reputation as one of the country’s top animal welfare investigators. Now associated with the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Initiatives effort, he is a key player in the ongoing battle to combat the cruelties of puppy mills and large-scale commercial breeding operations.
Credit Tiny, Doris Day’s loyal companion during her Ohio teens, with forging her lifelong bond with canines. Still America’s all-time favorite actress, she has used her ample supply of good will to do well by animals through lobbying via the Doris Day Animal League, now part of HSUS, and funding projects like Spay Day and assistance to seniors seeking to keep their pets via the free-standing Doris Day Animal Foundation. Good dog, Tiny!
From humble counterculture origins, Michael Mountain and a group of about 25 animal-loving friends laid the foundation for what is today a vast animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, and the nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society that supports it, giving life to their simple mission: “No more homeless pets.” The continuing campaign by that name gathers momentum in the effort to achieve a no-kill nation.
Veterinarian Elliot Katz founded the animal rights group In Defense of Animals in 1983. For the past 25 years, he has campaigned against puppy mills, saved research lab canines from the needle and convinced many to call themselves “guardians.”
Nedim Buyukmihci, antivivisection vet and co-founder of Animal Place Sanctuary and Education Center, challenged the conservative status quo of his profession when he spoke out against the use of live animals in vet school training labs.
Game show host Bob Barker knows the media’s value and its uses. A vegetarian, he has fought pet overpopulation, promoted anti-cruelty legislation and donated $1 million each to five top law schools to fund the teaching of animal law.
Writer, humorist and humanitarian Cleveland Amory was fiercely dedicated to the cause of animal welfare. An early HSUS board member, he later created the Fund for Animals, for which he served as unpaid director until his death.
Take a dash of showmanship, add entrepreneurial savvy and Buddhist monk–level commitment and you get Mike Arms, adoption promoter extraordinaire. Going strong after four million animals, he recently founded the “Home for the Holidays” adoptathon.
At the helm of the Morris Animal Foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit organization funding research studies to protect, treat and cure animals, Patricia Olson wields a mighty big carrot for good. But that’s not all. Dr. Olson’s legacy includes establishing programs that foster the human-animal bond and address pet overpopulation, including co-founding the National Council on Pet Population and Policy, a coalition of organizations working to reduce the number of animals euthanized simply because they are homeless.
There are plenty of veterinary guidebooks out there, but it took Nancy Kay to compile one with essential and lasting lessons on how to be an effective advocate for your dog’s health-care needs. Speaking for Spot, Dr. Kay’s primer on everything from how to know if your pet is sick and finding the right vet, to knowing when to say goodbye, not only empowers guardians but also operates as a touchstone for many veterinarians.
Douglas Slatter literally wrote the books on small animal surgery. His Fundamentals of Veterinary Ophthalmology and Textbook of Small Animal Surgery have been used and referenced by thousands of vets.
We know that dogs’ knees blow out all too easily. What we didn’t know was that a good fix wasn’t available until the 1990s, when Barclay Slocum developed and patented the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO).
The compassionate care of companion animals has been greatly enhanced by the work of trailblazer Robin Downing, a leading voice in veterinary pain management and advocate of a preemptive approach to the control of pain.
Before Cynda Crawford (along with Edward Dubovi from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University and others) identified the canine influenza virus—a.k.a. H3N8—it was thought that dogs weren’t susceptible to the flu.
A controversial figure, W. Jean Dodds has nonetheless persisted in questioning many “established truths” of veterinary medicine, pushing the envelope on vaccine safety and efficacy and the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease. She also established and runs Hemopet, a canine blood bank. In the on-going Rabies Challenge Project, she is researching the period of efficacy of rabies vaccines.
You’d think being a renowned veterinary cardiologist and discovering the cause and cure for a fatal heart disease in cats would be enough for one lifetime. Not for Paul D. Pion. In 1991, Dr. Pion began building bridges among notoriously competitive vets through the Veterinary Information Network. With more than 42,000 participating colleagues, scores of databases, message boards, conference rooms, et cetera, et cetera, VIN is considered by many to be the most comprehensive online resource for and by veterinarians.
When he wrote Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, leading gastroenterologist Donald Strombeck created a first-of-its kind volume on alternatives to commercial pet food and made canine nutrition understandable to the general public. m
The experience, common sense and insider knowledge that made Marion Nestle the go-to expert on dietary policy for humans reached the dog dish with her compelling investigation of the 2007 recalls in Pet Food Politics.
Clarence Rawlings led a team of researchers at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine in adapting minimally invasive surgical techniques for use with companion animals, reducing traditional surgical complications and improving outcomes.
Search and Rescue
Dog Park Activists
And to shelter staffers everywhere: You are all the best & brightest. Thank you for the work you do and the lives you save.
Limiting ourselves to 100 meant that we were not able to call out many worthy individuals. Read on to discover more hard-working and dedicated folks who have made life-time commitments to the well being of dogs and other animals.
Colin Allen teaches at Indiana University, and is known for his extensive research and writings on animal behavior and cognition.
Cora Bailey founded the Community Led Animal Welfare (CLAW), which provides low-cost veterinary services to impoverished communities around the globe.
Lynda Barry is an American cartoonist and author best known to dog lovers for her weekly comic strip, Ernie Pook’s Comeek.
Joseph Bartges is a renowned professor of animal health and medicine, with a special focus on bladder and kidney stones in canines.
Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, now leads the movement for an American College of Animal Welfare.
Marty Becker gets the word out on animal health as a contributor to Good Morning America and the resident vet on The Dr. Oz Show.
Ed Beltran explores the use of natural and homeopathic animal treatments at Blair Animal Hospital in Ottowa.
Phil Bergman, one of the nation’s leading veterinary oncologists, developed a vaccine for canine melanoma in partnership with colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Merial.
Dennis Chew, of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University, studies kidney function in animals, including methods to slow the progression of renal disease and interventions that can improve and extend quality of life for dogs and cats with chronic renal problems.
Dogs romp in hundreds of Billy Collins’ poems; Collins served two years as the American Poet Laureate.
Pam Constable founded the Afghan Stray Animal League, which fights for the welfare of strays in Afghanistan.
Alexander de Lahunta pioneered the containment of contagious disease in animals and is highly regarded as a scientist, diagnostician, educator, and mentor.
Thanks in large part to Christine Dorchak, co-founder of Grey2K USA, and her associates, legislation banning dog racing in Massachusetts was finally passed in 2008.
National Book Award–winning poet and memoirist, Mark Doty is the author of Dog Years, in which he bears witness to the unbounded joy dogs bring even in times of personal calamity.
Advocating for animals, Geordie Duckler heads up the Animal Law Practice, one of the few in the nation focusing on this particular speciality.
Donna Duford is not only an internationally known trainer and behavior counselor, she’s also among the early practitioners of canine musical freestyle, or “dog dancing.”
Long-time animal- and political activist Ed Duvin’s landmark article, “In the Name of Mercy,” sounded a wake-up call to the shelter community.
Ed Eames, co-founder of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, was a tireless worker for the rights of the visually impaired and their canine assistants.
Dogs are among Elliot Erwitt’s favorite subjects; his iconic black-and-white photographs capture them with both humor and dignity.
Australian Barbara Fougere is known for her advances in the field of herbal medicine for pets; her book, Pet Lovers’ Guide to Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats, is a staple on dog-lovers’ bookshelves.
Al Franken, media personality and U.S. senator for Minnesota, made it his first priority to push a bill through the Senate to increase the number of service dogs available for veterans.
Artist Lucian Freud has been called one of the greatest figurative painters of our time; he often features pets and their owners in his work.
Behaviorist Susan Friedman has pioneered efforts to train pet animals through “facilitation rather than force.”
Marjorie Garber, who teaches at Harvard University, considers dogs’ place in American culture; her book, Dog Love, demonstrates the ways dog stories have found a spot in our ongoing folklore.
Susan Garrett developed the “Say Yes” dog training philosophy, allowing dogs and owners to achieve their goals without physical or verbal correction.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Urs Giger studies hereditary and hematological disorders in small animals, as well as variations in the dog genome.
Bob Goldstein developed the “Breed Specific Healing Protocol,” using knowledge of breeds to create individualized holistic treatments for dogs.
Marty Goldstein is considered one of the foremost experts in alternative veterinary medicine, integrating both holistic and conventional techniques in his treatments.
Temple Grandin is a highly respected advocate for humane treatment of livestock and a keen observer of the relationships people have with animals, dogs among them. She has written several books on the subject, including Animals in Translation and Animals Make Us Human.
Among her other accomplishments, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Carol Guzy recorded the plight of animals in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and gives generously of her talents to help humane groups, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area.
Jemima Harrison directed the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, revealing dangerous breeding practices in the show dog community.
Lynette and Benjamin Hart are known for their collaborations on animal behavior and their books about the pet-human connection.
California State Senator Tom Hayden and UCLA professor Taimie Bryant fought for state legislation, colloquially known as the Hayden Law, to prevent shelters from killing savable animals.
In her crusade to change the way animlas were trained, Vicki Hearne wrote about their capacity for achievement and moral understanding.
Johnny Hoskins is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the authority on geriatric medicine for cats and dogs.
David Jaggar and Marvin Cain founded the International Veterinary Acupuncture Association, which promotes the highest standards for animal acupuncture worldwide.
Roy Kabat developed methods of training guide dogs for the deaf, building the framework for what eventually became Dogs for the Deaf.
Juliane Kaminski studies the evolution of social cognition in various mammal species at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology at Leipzig, Germany. Kaminski has found that domestic dogs have sophisticated cognitive abilities, which include “fast mapping” and enhanced sensitivity to the perceptions of humans.
Chand Khanna is changing the face of cancer research by integrating research of pet animal cancer into the study of human cancer treatment.
Expert trainer Brian Kilcommons, along with partner Sarah Wilson, has developed intuitive training methods based on a patient, friendly relationship between owner and dog.
Trish King, director of Marin Humane Society Behavior & Training Department, is nationally recognized as an extraordinary teacher, writer and speaker.
Biologist and ethologist Erich Klinghammer founded Wolf Park with a noble mission: education, research and conservation.
Jim Kutsch, president of the The Seeing Eye, is also a graduate of the prestigious guide-dog school, a first in the school’s history.
Baseball’s Tony La Russa and his wife, Elaine, co-founded the Animal Rescue Foundation, which not only helps individual animals but also sponsors comprehensive outreach programs and events to help educate the public about the value of animal lives.
Al Legendre has investigated the spread and prevention of cancer and infectious diseases in cats and dogs, receiving numerous awards for his work.
Steve Mardsen practices naturopathic treatment and acupuncture in effective ways, combating the most serious of animal cases with alternative medicine.
Kong Company president Joe Markham developed the rubber, snowman-shaped Kong toy loved (and chewed) by millions of dogs.
Jeffrey Masson, a trained Freudian analyst and prolific writer, has authored many books that give us insight into the emotional lives of animals.
Shawn Messonnier is a popular speaker and author on the subject of holistic animal wellness and animal behavior, as well as the host of his own SIRIUS radio show.
Myrna Milani studies and writes about the deeper psychological effects of relationships between humans and pets.
The name of Pat Miller’s training group, Peaceable Paws, neatly sums up her commitment to positive reinforcement methods. Spreading the word via workshops, apprentice programs, books and articles, and more, she’s a positive force for harmony between people and their dogs.
Jamie Mondiano, a veterinarian and molecular biologist, is advancing research on canine hemangiosarcoma, or blood-vessel tumors.
Willie Morris gave us My Dog Skip, a powerful story of a dog’s unquestioning love.
Gregory Ogilvie, director of the California Veterinary Specialist’s Angel Care Cancer Center, has done important and comprehensive work on the nutritional needs of dogs with cancer.
Carl Osborne’s research and clinical interests focus on urinary disorders and renal failure in small animals.
Rod Page is the founding director of the Sprecher Institute for Comparative Cancer Research at Cornell University, where he studies cancer diagnosis and prevention for the benefit of all species.
Donald F. Patterson is on the forefront of canine genetics and disease research, creating the Canine Genetic Disease Information System database for use by veterinarians.
Untold numbers of animals have benefited from Michael Pavletic’s skills as a reconstructive plastic surgeon and from the techniques he has developed for rebuilding and restoring function.
Niels C. Pederson is an international authority on immunological disorders in small animals, and advocates for less pet vaccination.
Agility maven Monica Percival started Clean Run, a weekly newsletter about the sport of dog agility that has expanded into a magazine and a full line of products.
Tim Racer and Donna Reynolds, co-founders of BAD RAP, are among the leaders in Pit Bull rescue; the group’s outreach and training programs have made a life-or-death difference for hundreds of dogs.
Jane Russenberger, an expert in dog training and behavior, has served as senior director of breeding and placement for Guiding Eyes for the Blind for more than 20 years.
Michael Sapp founded Paws for a Cause, a national organization that trains assistance dogs for the disabled and hearing impaired.
Peter Savolainen, a geneticist at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, studies dog mitochondrial DNA; he has posited that domestic dogs were domesticated 16,000 years ago in Southern China.
Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher and Princeton professor, sparks controversy with his views on animal ethics and his support of the animal liberation movement.
Sheila Styron, former president of Guide Dog Users, successfully campaigned to allow guide dogs to travel to Hawaii without a quarantine period.
Stephen Withrow established the Colorado State Animal Cancer Center, the largest of its type in the world, which works to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer in pet animals.
Thanks to Charlene and Larry Woodward, the dog world has Dogwise, a one-stop shop for books, DVDs, hand-selected toys, foods, supplements and other useful goods.
Susan Wynn is famous for her work in pet nutrition counseling, as well as her four books on the integration of holistic medicine into traditional veterinary practices.
Dog's Life: Humane
Academia and humane interests converge at University of Denver
Frank Ascione, PhD, is the first professor to serve as the new American Humane Endowed Chair and executive director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver (DU). This position is significant because it is a collaboration between a major academic institution and a major animal welfare agency—the American Humane Association—made possible through donor and university support. And it’s rare in that it is not in a veterinary school, a psychology department or a child-development program, but rather, in a graduate school of social work, where PhDs as well as clinicians are trained. During our interview, I was delighted, but not surprised, to learn that Dr. Ascione combines rigorous scientific inquiry with a passion for people and animals, which makes for the best sort of caring: the informed kind. He is a positive, energetic person with a lot of gratitude to go around. One of his first comments during our interview was, “I have high enthusiasm for this change in my career and great appreciation for those who made it possible.” He is sincerely interested in learning about domestic violence, animal cruelty and the links between them so that he can use that information to develop effective prevention and intervention programs. Expect more great work from Professor Ascione and his collaborators in the near future.
Bark: Why did you decide to accept the offer to occupy the new endowed chair?
Frank Ascione: I didn’t want to leave Utah at the time the position first opened, but I spent half a semester at DU and they effectively romanced me. It’s a great place with so much respect for students and for scholarly activity. The university is vibrant and Denver is a fantastic city. The faculty, students and staff at DU were so affirming of my work.
B: What are your primary goals in your new position?
FA: I’m a child psychologist by training, but I am moving to a graduate school of social work. My interests are in animal abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse, and those all involve social work. I expect to have a great deal in common with my new colleagues. The potential is there for an amazing amount of collaboration, and my goal is to foster collaboration between those interested in animal welfare and groups working with and studying family violence, child abuse and elders.
B: What initially made you investigate the links between domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse?
FA: I was developing an assessment instrument for measuring abuse by children to animals or positive interactions with animals. When I began to interview children who abuse animals, about 5 percent in the community reported abusing animals and about 10 to 15 percent of kids with mental health issues reported it, so it was not a common behavior. I decided to look at areas where there was a higher frequency of violence. I interviewed women in domestic violence shelters and found that 54 percent of women in shelters reported that their abusers hurt or killed one or more of their pets. In a control group with no violence in the home, 5 percent of the partners hurt or killed a pet.
B: How do you label yourself professionally? Professor? Author? Social Worker?
FA: I’m a child psychologist, though I’m not a clinician. I’ve never conducted therapy nor am I trained or qualified to do so. I realized mid-career that my profession had ignored the role of animals in the lives of children. I worked on the role of animals in children’s lives, then into issues of who abuses.
B: What ways have you seen academia change in recent years in terms of attitudes towards the practical issues of interest to you?
FA: One of the hopes I’ve had in my work is I want to focus on the kind of research that has some socially valuable component to it. There’s a term, “urgent knowing,” which means that there is a need in society and not enough information about it. For example, there was this idea that people in situations of domestic violence delay leaving because they are afraid to leave their pets behind, but until you put a number on it, information that was needed to deal with it or to pass legislation about it was not available.
B: What countries do you consider role models for the sort of programs you’d like to see established in this country?
FA: Both the UK and Australia are a bit ahead of us with animal welfare programs and respect for the human-animal bond. The UK, which originated these programs, has one national animal protection agency (the RSPCA), so they have a commonality of laws across the whole country. We have 50 different laws.
B: Are you generally encouraged or discouraged with the state of the human-animal bond?
FA: I am encouraged partly because we have programs developing where this is being taken seriously academically and we’re also seeing people seriously evaluating programs in which people are engaged. There are many programs that incorporate interactions with animals, but they are not routinely being evaluated. It is essential that we sift good from bad, and we need studies of what’s working and what’s not so we can focus on the most effective programs.
B: How has the economic recession affected the relationship between people and their pets?
FA: I’m not an economist, but I’m aware of the issues. Foreclosures lead to pet abandonment in increased numbers. Financial trouble means that we tend to see more problems with child abuse and domestic violence. In the aftermath of disasters, we do see an increase in violence.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
An investigation into the genetics of canine anxiety, phobias and fears
“This is the job that Solo got me,” says Melanie Lee Chang, PhD, a biologist who got her doctorate in evolutionary biology and physical anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently working in canine molecular genetics. Solo is her eight-year-old Border Collie. The job is as a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) conducting research on the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project—commonly referred to as the Dog Project. The project’s primary purpose is to explore the relationship between genes and behavior, both normal and abnormal, in domestic dogs. The secondary purpose is to assess the amount and nature of genetic diversity in domestic dogs, both within and between breeds.
The Dog Project is a collaborative effort. Steve Hamilton, MD, PhD, is a psychiatrist and geneticist who has long been interested in the question of how genetics influences susceptibility to mental disorders in humans. Certified Veterinary Behaviorist Karen Overall, PhD, DACVB, a research associate in the Department of Psychiatry and Center for Neurobiology & Behavior at the University of Pennsylvania, emailed him about a paper he wrote on anxiety in humans. They soon realized they had a number of parallel interests. Dogs and humans have irrational fears and phobias that are similar biologically, in terms of treatment, and in their clinical manifestations. Dogs and children can both suffer from separation anxiety, and dogs exhibit obsessive-compulsive behavior similar to that seen in humans.
Hamilton hopes to be able to apply what is learned in this study to humans, but long before the research has an impact on people, the dog community will feel its effects. Among them, they could include influencing dog breeding and changing how dogs with behavioral issues are evaluated. A further understanding of the genetics of anxiety could even lead to insights about the very domestication of dogs.
A Hot Topic
In contrast, Hamilton believes that while “using such information may be crucial in cases where behavior disorders appear to cause intense suffering in dogs within a pedigree or breed, such information can be used prophylactically to signal which dogs warrant early intervention and treatment.” And Chang is concerned about the possibility of unwarranted oversimplification of the complexity of the links between genetics and behavior leading to inadvertent selection against behaviors that are desirable in certain breeds.
The Canine Behavioral Genetics Project does not breed dogs with behavioral issues. Rather, these researchers are analyzing the genes of existing dogs, and are recruiting dogs to participate (psych.ucsf.edu/K9BehavioralGenetics). Specifically, the researchers are looking for dogs who suffer from panic, fear, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors or aggression; unaffected close relatives of dogs with these issues; and dogs who do not have any of these behavioral issues or any known relatives who have them, either.
Participation consists of sending DNA acquired from a cheek swab of the dog and filling out a 25-page questionnaire about the dog’s behavior and any available pedigree information. Rather than ask, for example, if dogs bite people, the questionnaire is highly detailed, asking whether the dogs bite, whether the bites have broken the skin, how many bites there have been, and whether the bites are from the back, the front, or occur from any direction. The checklist about the dogs’ behavior after biting includes whether or not the dogs’ pupils are dilated, the dogs appear disoriented, dazed, tremulous, tense, or uneasy, whether they hoard objects, whether they are quick to recover, are light sensitive, their eyes appear glazed, whether they stare or are frozen in one position, whether they always hide in the same location, appear unaware of their own action, whether they react to benign motions such as raising an arm while reading the newspaper, and if there are any other post-bite reactions. The questionnaire is similarly detailed for separation anxiety, noise phobias and a host of aggressive contexts.
Canine Genes Rich in Information
There are two general approaches to finding genes correlating to specific behavioral tendencies, and the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project uses both. The first approach entails looking at purebred dogs, which gives the researchers access to populations of dogs with limited genetic variation because they are all descended from a limited number of individuals. This low genetic variation makes it likely that at least most dogs within a breed with a particular trait are more likely than dogs from different breeds to share the same genetic variation. This fact significantly simplifies the search for genes related to the trait of interest, and reveals why the domestic dog is such a valuable research tool for geneticists. Families of purebred dogs are even more genetically similar. Therefore, if the researchers can find close relatives in which some dogs are affected by a behavioral disorder and other individuals are not affected, it is even easier to pinpoint where the dogs’ genetics differ.
The second approach is to study both behaviorally affected and unaffected dogs that are unrelated either within breeds or across breeds. Because unrelated dogs are not as similar genetically, the areas in which their DNA is similar is particularly interesting if correlations can be found with abnormal behavior. If a group of unrelated dogs with the same behavioral problem all have a particular variation in their genes, then that variation is worth investigating as a possible cause of the disorder.
Solo’s Lucky Day
She had just lost a magical dog—a Pomeranian named Harley whom Chang could take anywhere because she was always good. Chang took her to classes she attended, to classes she taught, to her office, and with her when she went out. She sums up her grief by saying, “When you lose a dog, there’s a huge empty space, and in my case, it followed me around since I took her everywhere.”
After she lost Harley, Chang got connected to an independent rescue group, but something did not seem right to her at the arranged meeting with Solo. The man who brought Solo didn’t ask her much about herself, he didn’t check any references, and he seemed in a huge hurry to hand Solo off. Even though the whole situation seemed wrong, and she felt sure this was not how rescue was supposed to work, she obeyed the voice in her head saying, “Just let this happen.”
Chang realized immediately that Solo was nothing like Harley. She brought Solo to school, partly because it was apparent after just one night with him that he could not tolerate being alone. She left Solo in her office in the company of two female classmates and went to class. Five minutes later, her advisor, Art Dunham, came to get her because Solo was screaming his head off. Not only could her advisor recognize the seriousness of the problem, but he was fortuitously married to veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall. Dunham told her, “Karen can see you Saturday.”
Overall diagnosed Solo with generalized anxiety as well as separation anxiety. He was alternately agitated/panicky, pacing, scanning, panting, drooling or catatonic. When he was catatonic, he would lie on the floor with his eyes open, drooling, and he didn’t blink even if a hand was waved in front of his face. When Chang left him alone (even to take out the garbage) he would fly into a blind panic and cry at full volume. Solo immediately began to take anti-anxiety medication, and Chang began behavior modification that incorporated deference, relaxation, and desensitization to arrivals and departures. A combination of medication (Solo is taking Elavil and Prozac and used to take Alprazolam, drugs also used to treat human mood and anxiety disorders) and lots of practice has resulted in an extraordinary change in Solo’s behavior and quality of life.
Solo lives a full and basically normal life—he’s taken part in rally obedience, agility, stock work, and has appeared in instructional videos. While he does not want to be petted by strangers on the street and hates July Fourth, in most circumstances his behavior is completely unremarkable, which Chang considers his greatest accomplishment. Chang gratefully says, “I wouldn’t still have my dog if it weren’t for Karen Overall.” Years after this appointment, when Overall and Hamilton were looking for a biologist who was also knowledgeable about dogs to work on the Canine Behavioral Genetics Project, Chang was a natural choice.
Chang has gotten used to the idea that Solo will be on medication for the rest of his life. “If giving him drugs makes his world look safer and more normal to him, then I think it would be cruel not to give them to him.” Solo’s environment is also hugely influential on his behavior. Like many people whose dogs have behavioral issues, Chang is hyperaware of her environment and protects Solo as much as possible from things that upset him. Sheepherding has been a godsend for both Solo and Chang, who says, “I started working him on sheep because he was weird, and it was the only place where I got to pretend I had a normal dog. The more he sees sheep, the better he is.”
The helpfulness of the dog community has led to DNA samples from more than 3,000 dogs, and matching questionnaires for most of those. Almost 300 dogs are in the study of noise phobia involving Border Collies. Noise phobia is an example of a behavioral issue that occurs more commonly in certain breeds, including the Border Collie. McConnell notes, “It’s not always a problem in that surely, sound sensitivity is why a quiet whistle can get a Border Collie to lie down when he’s 500 yards away. However, the flip side of that can result in a dog who is thunder phobic or terrified on July Fourth.” McConnell’s experience with Border Collies and noise phobia goes beyond her professional life into her personal life. Several of her Border Collies have been uncomfortable during storms, and one, named Pip, was truly thunderstorm phobic. Pip was successfully treated/managed with a combination of counterconditioning, supplements, and body wraps. There’s little question in McConnell’s mind that she came with a genetic predisposition to be especially responsive to loud noises. Several other dogs in her lineage seemed to be particularly sensitive to loud noises.
The scientists working on the Dog Project are also interested in anxiety issues, panic, compulsive behaviors and aggression. They are especially interested in extreme forms of aggression in which dogs respond in a particularly reactive way, and PhD student Jennifer Yokohama is building a project focusing on these behavioral problems. According to Hamilton, “We’re looking for a disproportionate, out-of-the-blue aggressive response to a stimulus to which normal dogs even within the same breed do not react.” They are also looking for more typical, milder forms of aggression that may be a result of some of the same factors causing other, anxiety-based problems.
Not a Quick Fix
Chang hopes that when the results are presented, they will not be subject to that kind of misinterpretation. As far as she knows, there is no behavioral problem that is breed specific, and all breeds can exhibit behavioral problems. Hamilton comments that “The most extreme [misuse of the data] would be to overinterpret influence to ‘cause’ and use that information to make breeding decisions based on that or to make sweeping legislation about breeds or groups of breeds.” The researchers all adamantly oppose breed-specific legislation, and Karen Overall in particular has publicly voiced her opposition to it for years.
Despite people’s innate fascination with what drives their dogs’ behavior, until recently the answers to the questions posed by this project were not within reach. Zawistowski says, “I wanted to do behavior genetics with dogs for my PhD, but the systems were not in place for good, solid research. The dog genome work has changed that. At the same time, we’ve seen so much more interest in the behavior of domestic animals—long ignored by animal behaviorists. So this new work is really the culmination of two developments: better genetic methods, and more interest in dogs.”
There remains considerable resistance to the idea that behavioral problems may be genetically mediated. Zawistowski comments that people are uncomfortable with the idea of genetic predispositions to behavior because of the erroneous idea that genes are destiny. Hamilton points out that “Knowledge of the genetics helps shape the destiny.” A major hope that Chang has for the project is that it will have a positive impact on the way people feel about canine behavioral problems. “There’s often a refusal to believe that this is not the owner’s fault. Owners feel so much guilt. I’d like to change that.” Decades ago, psychiatry struggled with these same issues in the “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother” view of mental illness, but now affected people and their parents are not generally blamed for anxiety or depression. The field of canine behavior is catching up to this more enlightened viewpoint as evidence mounts in its favor.
A Happy Ending
Now, in addition to describing Solo as her soul mate, Chang has many other things to say about Solo, including, “He’s the canine John Nash … This is a dog who thinks too much … He got me involved in a whole bunch of things. Solo forced me to learn a lot. If you’re willing to put in the effort and work with a dog with behavioral problems, you’ll learn more from him than from a hundred normal dogs … Having Solo has made me more understanding about other dogs … He’s got a very complicated personality. If he could speak, it would be in complete sentences and he’d use big words … Everyone had let this dog down, and I did not want to be the last person to give up on him.”
Perhaps the most insightful comment Chang has about Solo is one that can be applied to so many relationships where love takes over and everything else is just a detail. In a voice rich with emotion, she says, “Solo doesn’t have the greatest temperament, but he has the best personality!”
Culture: Science & History
Breeding for looks, not function, threatens dogs’ well-being
Like many people, my wife Diana and I had long been in the habit of buying purebred dogs without bothering to learn much about their breeding beforehand. And so it was in 1977, when we made an impulse purchase of a Jack Russell Terrier named Phineas.
Despite the many other wonderful dogs who’d blessed our lives, we’d never known another like Phineas. Though short-legged and weighing barely 15 pounds, he thought he was 10 feet tall. And never had we known such a hunter! He became our “Orkin Man,” dispatching gophers more efficiently than any other predator.
Yet it turned out that Phineas wasn’t purebred after all. He was what old-time Terrier people called a sporting dog—a mixed-breed of indeterminate ancestry whose forebears had been bred and judged not on beauty, conformation or pedigree but on their ability to hunt. In fact, many JR owners in those days called their dogs “glorified mongrels.” And indeed, Phineas seemed to be a generic mutt who represented the wonderful qualities of all dogs: He was “Pete the Pup” in the 1920s Our Gang movies, with a painted black circle around one eye, and “Nipper,” the Fox Terrier who listened to “His Master’s Voice” on old RCA Victor records.
We loved this mutt-like quality. And although Phineas lived just a year—tragically falling victim to a coyote trapper’s poison—we were smitten with JRs. Five more generations would follow him into our hearts during the next 30 years. And while none was exactly like Phineas, each embodied the same “doggie” qualities we loved. JRs, we realized, don’t just look like generic dogs, they share all dogs’ past and future as well.
Bred for the Task
Fox hunting required dogs: long-legged Fox Hounds to chase the fox and smaller Terriers to go underground after the fox when it dove into its den. The Terrier’s job was not to kill the fox but to drive him out of his hole so the chase could continue. This was the Terrier’s vocation. The name, derived from the Latin word terra, meaning “earth,” signified the dog’s function. But it also symbolized the role that land played in the ancient and ubiquitous partnership between dogs and humans.
While there is no consensus among scientists as to just when or how this partnership began, somewhere between 27,000 and 12,000 years ago (depending on the estimate), dogs and people first learned the mutual advantages of cooperation. Some believe it occurred after early people discovered how to breed wolves for tameness. Others say that the wolflike ancestors of modern dogs simply found that scavenging in villages and joining human hunts were more reliable ways to find food than killing game themselves. But however this relationship began, people soon learned it was to their advantage to take dogs as hunting partners. A few thousand years later, the advent of agriculture offered still more ways to cooperate. In exchange for food and shelter, dogs herded and guarded livestock and killed varmints that threatened crops. And by working on the land together, dogs and people became companions.
Over time, the land shaped the dogs. Bred by farmers, herders and hunters from different regions, they developed varying skills and conformations. But these early people did not create breeds in the modern sense. They didn’t insist that dogs only mate with others descended from the same foundation ancestors. Rather, they kept types of dogs, such as Shepherds, Hounds, Spaniels, Retrievers and Terriers—dogs defined not by pedigree but by what they did and where they lived.
Such was the evolution of Terriers, as their owners custom-bred dogs to fit their own requirements. By 1800, this crossbreeding had produced, among others, a type of dog known as the Fox Terrier. But although its long legs were perfect for chasing foxes overland, they were a disadvantage for underground work. Fox Terriers who spent too long in a hole suffered terrible cramps and even crippling disabilities.
Russell saw this problem. Even while a student at Oxford, he realized that fox hunters needed a special kind of Terrier—one tough and brave, an expert excavator able to stay underground for extended periods, with short legs and a narrow chest that could squeeze through tight spaces. Then one day in May 1819, Russell met a milkman with just the dog he was looking for. Her name was Trump, and during the remainder of his life, Russell bred Trump and her descendants to any Terrier he could buy or borrow who approximated his ideal. He didn’t care about pedigree or papers. He just wanted dogs who did the job. This produced a line of small, brave Terriers perfectly suited to go to ground after badger, otter and fox.
Indeed, as every “MFH” (Master of Fox Hounds) had his or her own idea of the best Terrier for the locality, depending on soil, weather, kind of quarry and style of hunting, each—like Russell—experimented with various crosses to produce the best dog for the conditions. In Derbyshire, where hunts covered great distances, longer legs were favored. In the wintry Lake Country, rougher coats predominated. Huntsmen accustomed to carrying the Terrier in a saddle-mounted bag until they put him to ground preferred shorter dogs.
Given the various needs and conditions and the variety of bloodlines introduced, Terrier strains proliferated. Besides types known today, many others, now rare or extinct, appeared as well, including Jones Terriers, Trumpington Terriers, West Wilts Hunt Terriers, HH Hunt Terriers, Scorrier Terriers, Hucclecote Terriers, North Devon Terriers and Ynysfor Terriers.
The genes of many of these strains eventually found their way into the Jack Russell as well, producing a dog who came in virtually infinite variations. But whether short or tall; bowed- or straight-legged; “smooth”-, “broken”- or “rough”-coated; long-muzzled or short-muzzled—they shared a reputation for bravery and endurance that captured the respect and attention of an entire generation of English sportsmen.
Soon, American fox hunters discovered Reverend Russell’s Terriers and began acquiring them. And they, too, outcrossed to produce those best suited for local conditions. They did not adhere to a “closed stud book,” which stipulated that dogs could only be mated with others descended from the same foundation ancestors. So local differences proliferated and the little dog’s genes became progressively more diverse.
Among the casualties of this whirlwind were hunting and working dogs. Without a rural culture, there was little left for them to do; so, with the death of one came the transformation of the other. A new kind of dog buyer emerged, an urbanite who wanted pets and companions, not farm animals or hunters.
The earliest visible sign of this change were dog shows, the first ever held in England in 1859 at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Three years later in Birmingham, England, Fox Terriers competed prominently for the first time. By the 1880s, dog shows were wildly popular on both sides of the Atlantic. And as they multiplied, so did breeder associations, which set conformation standards and kept pedigree registries. These groups joined to form national kennel clubs to coordinate their activities, promote their dogs and organize shows. England’s Kennel Club was formed in 1873 and the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1884. (The first U.S. show—New York’s Westminster—was held in 1877, sponsored by the Westminster Kennel Club.)
With the advent of dog shows and breed clubs came a whole new idea of what the perfect dog should be. Whereas sporting dogs were judged by their stamina, hunting ability and courage, show dogs were measured by their beauty, style and how closely they supposedly resembled their progenitors. Breeders sought to produce dogs with perfect form. They wanted uniformity in appearance, which could only be achieved by closing the stud book. A Sealyham or Scottish Terrier must have parents who are Sealyhams or Scotties, and so on back to their foundation stock, somewhere in the mists of time.
Unfortunately, closing the stud book inevitably leads to what biologist Raymond Coppinger would later call “an evolutionary dead-end”:
Sexual isolation from the greater population of dogs leads almost inevitably to dire consequences for those dogs that get trapped in a pure breed .... Once the stud book is closed on a breed, it is unbelievable how fast they become inbred …They are caught in a genetic trap.
The purpose of such close breeding was to replicate dogs, ensuring that they resembled their parents as closely as possible by reducing genetic variability. But rather than preventing change, this hastened it. By reinforcing familial genes, close breeding not only increased chances the pups might share desired characteristics—the same head shape or coat color, for example—but also made it more probable that they’d share undesirable traits as well, such as the same allergy or propensity for kidney disease. And since no one knew what all the genes did, reducing their diversity put affected animals at risk in the same way that today, the lack of genetic diversity threatens cheetahs with extinction, or declining biological diversity imperils the health of natural ecosystems.
Consequently, Pearce noted, many purebred Terriers had become “poor, craven, shivering, shy, nervous animals, destitute of any qualification for the active, hustling, neck-or-nothing life of a country gentleman’s companion.”
Pearce and his contemporaries had a right to worry. Show breeders were changing the character, conformation and abilities of dogs as they sought to follow the fluctuations of fashion. “The better bred [Fox and Sealyham Terriers] are, of less value they are for work,” wrote J.C. Bristow-Noble, author of Working Terriers in 1919. Few of his “well-bred” dogs were “of use for real work,” he wrote. “Their noses were far from true, all grew to too large a size, particularly the Sealyhams; all lacked stamina, courage, and intelligence … so at length I gave up the attempt of making workers out of pedigree Terriers and confined myself to building up a strain of workers from crossbred Terriers.”
In 1931, the famed Terrier expert, Sir Jocelyn Lucas, noted that “the show bench is ruining Sealyhams as a worker” and lamented the “post-[First World] war craze for enormous heads.” Cairn and West Highland Terriers bred for show, Lucas reported, had become too “nervy to be a success underground.” The “show bench” he also said, has “ruined” Dandie Dinmonts and they, along with Cairn, West Highland and Scottish Terriers, are “chiefly known for show or as companions, for which latter purpose they are well suited, since they are very nice dogs, take up little room and require little exercise.”
To be sure, many nonsporting dogs were nice. In fact, they often made better pets. Sporting dogs were not for everyone—not even for most people. Bred to find, chase or kill game or varmints, they were too aggressive. They had more energy than their owners could tolerate, requiring virtual marathon runs to give them sufficient exercise to prevent their tearing the family sofa to shreds.
Jack Russells had all these faults. What concerned people like Lucas was not that show dogs were undesirable but that they threatened the future of sporting dogs. As more dogs were bred for pets and show, sporting-dog numbers declined. Would, they wondered, sporting dogs—and most important, their qualities of courage, strength, stamina, hunting ability and genetic diversity—eventually disappear altogether?
Driven by Demand
Each breed club began to promote theirs as “ancient”—a living relic of an earlier time. Making these claims required maintaining the myth of direct descendancy from the “original” dogs. Yet such “original” dogs never existed. The very concept of a breed—dogs whose reproduction was carefully restricted via a closed stud book to dogs descended from the same foundation stock—was an invention of the breeder associations.
However mythical, these claims of old lineage tapped the wellspring of show dogs’ appeal. For while we may love our dogs whether they’re deemed “ancient” or not, imagining them as relics of an early, pastoral way of life resonates within us. No matter where we live or what we do, love of the land is in our blood. For millennia, dogs and people lived on the land, working, herding, hunting, defending, rescuing. And when people began moving to cities, they yearned for the pastoral way of life all the more. They still do. Dogs preserve for us an emotional connection to our bucolic past that remains in memory and imagination. And when they demand that we take them for walks, they reawaken this connection. They become guides in a journey to rediscover our own genetic roots.
By the 1950s, the working- and show-dog cultures were following entirely separate paths, isolated from—and often hostile toward—each other. But demographics were on the side of the show dog. As the century wore on, show dogs waxed as working dogs of all kinds, from Shepherds to Terriers, waned.
Meanwhile, paradoxically, in England, JRs were becoming wildly popular. Even while they remained favorites of fox hunters, the feisty Terriers had been discovered by the working classes as well. Some took them as pets and others put them to work killing rats, stoats and rabbits. The new owners began breeding them for such a variety of jobs that “the mongrelly Jack Russell,” as Terrier historian D. Brian Plummer put it, “became even more mongrelly.”
“The first hunt Terrier shows I attended in the 1950s,” Plummer wrote, “were indeed extraordinary sights, with the most amazingly variable types of dog being proudly shown as genuine Jack Russells; some of them displayed hints of Collie, or, not infrequently, Dachshund, in their lineage. Many were quite hideous, but handsome is as handsome does, and some of those monstrosities proved to be incredibly good workers.”
Nevertheless, this mongrelly drift troubled many Jack Russell fanciers, and in 1974, to counter it, they formed the Jack Russell Terrier Club of Great Britain (JRTCGB), appointing Plummer as its first chairman. The club’s first task was to define the breed and set conformation standards. And the result was chaos. “Near-riot prevailed” at those early meetings, Plummer later recalled. Nevertheless, they did set a “standard of sorts.” At the beginning, Plummer wrote, “any dog that conformed to a rough description of a Jack Russell Terrier was eligible for registration in the initial register.”
Likewise, two years later in America, Terrier enthusiast Mrs. Harden L. Crawford III, having acquired her first Jack Russell from a friend at the Essex Hunt and fallen in love with the little dog, founded the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (JRTCA), dedicated to preserving the sporting qualities of the Terrier. Recognizing the importance of diversity, the club refused to close the stud book or set narrow conformation standards, and resolutely opposed recognition by the AKC, whose breeding practices would turn the JR into a show dog.
But neither of the original English and American clubs was entirely successful in fending off those determined to transform the JR into a pure breed. In 1983, in England, some of these advocates founded their own club, closed the stud book, drew up conformation standards and applied for Kennel Club membership. Likewise, a year later, some American JR advocates founded a similar organization, eventually called the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America (PRTAA); according to its website, this was done “in response to growing concerns that the breed was being misrepresented as a short-legged Terrier.” Dedicated to “continuance of the traditional, purebred Parson Russell,” it closed its stud book, established breed standards and applied for membership to the AKC.
“After some 90 years,” wrote Reverend Russell’s biographer, Gerald Jones (using the pen name “Dan Russell”) in 1979, “there can be none of the original Russell blood left today. Even if one could trace a Terrier’s pedigree back to Russell’s dogs, there must have been so many outcrosses that the original blood would have been thinned to the vanishing point. If one had bred true, one would now be producing half-wits.”
Certainly, none who knew Russell believed any such thing as a “pure” or “original” Jack Russell ever existed. As Lord Paltimore (whose father and grandfather had been close friends of Russell) explained to Lucas, “It is entirely misleading to talk of a ‘Jack Russell’ Terrier. Mr. Russell always said that he had no special strain of Terrier. If he saw a likely dog he would acquire it, and if suitable in his work he would breed from it, but he never kept any special strain.”
But although the breed clubs’ depiction of the “Parson Russell” rested more on myth than on historical fact, the image it created—of the leggy dog as the “original” JR—continued to build. In 1992, the television sitcom Frasier debuted, featuring a Jack Russell named “Eddie,” and in 1995, the PBS children’s program Wishbone appeared, about a JR who traveled through history wearing period costumes. These programs showed Jack Russells as terribly appealing, but by depicting them living in apartments and wearing skirts, they also grossly distorted the dogs’ true character.
Believing Jack Russells to be cuddly couch potatoes and good with children, the public flocked to them, often with tragic consequences for both dogs and people. Children were sometimes bitten, the family cat killed or other pets mauled. Soon, JR rescue organizations, dedicated to finding second homes for rejected dogs, had more than they could handle.
The public, in short, had fallen madly in love with Jack Russells, but wanted them as gentle pets, not feisty sporting dogs. And this popularity vastly accelerated the Terrier’s transformation into a modern show breed. In 1990, the Parson Jack Russell was recognized by Great Britain’s Kennel Club, and in 1997, its American counterpart was accepted by the AKC.
Following their own misreading of JR history, Parson Russell breeders set standards designed to produce taller and gentler dogs. None were allowed under 12 inches. Only smooth and broken coats were permitted (even though most of Russell’s had rough coats), And, since the parson’s own dogs were, they declared, “bold though cautious,” they decreed that submissiveness in the modern breed “is not a fault” while being “quarrelsome” is. “Overt aggression towards another dog” they deemed a disqualification.
Yet by stipulating taller Terriers, the PRTAA had ignored the advice of countless early JR people, including that of Russell’s friend and neighbor, Alys Serrell, who advised that “a leggy dog is of little or no use for underground work.” And its emphasis on less quarrelsome or aggressive dogs merely seemed to confirm what Pearce and other early Terrier people detested most—that show breeding not merely undermined a dog’s sporting ability, but its fighting spirit as well.
So, not surprisingly, although the Parson Russell’s stud book was closed less than 25 years ago, the dogs are already losing much of their once-glorious diversity. Many look mass produced—spindly dogs too tall for serious underground work and with monotonously similar coats and conformation. Certainly these “spiders,” as some critics call them, are less robust than Russell’s biographer “Otter” Davies’ description of Trump, whose “loins and conformation of the whole frame [were] indicative of hardihood and endurance.”
The transformation of the Parson Russell from mixed to pure breed parallels the history of all purebred dogs, and serves as a warning of the dire future that awaits them. For while many breeders take great care not to breed too closely or propagate inherited diseases, once the stud book is closed, even the most careful line breeding merely postpones the inevitable.
Already, veterinary pathologist George A. Padgett has found 532 diseases afflicting purebred dogs. Over two-thirds of Newfoundlands are born with a genetic defect, he says, as are 40.3 percent of Cairn Terriers, 29.8 percent of Bichon Frisé and 33.5 percent of Scotties. Others report that 30 percent of Dalmatians are born deaf. Borzois have been bred to have noses so long that some pups have difficulty suckling their mother’s teat. Many Norwich Terriers, Bulldogs and Boston Terriers can only be whelped by cesarean section. “A modern Bulldog,” according to Keith Steward Thomson, former president of the Academy of Natural Sciences, “more resembles a veterinary rehabilitation project than a proud symbol of athletic strength or national resolve.”
Aggravating this tragedy, says Padgett, is breeding of what he calls “matadors” (e.g., Blencathra Badger)—show-ring champions who “produce large numbers, perhaps hundreds or even thousands, of offspring.” Equally destructive is the belief shared by many breeders that any dog who wins in the show ring is “breedable”—an idea that, he says, is “just plain dumb. No. It’s not dumb, it’s stupid!”
Mixed Breeds Are the Future
When a beloved dog, whatever its breed, dies, we seek to find another just like him. So we go to a breeder and buy a replica. By doing so we convince ourselves that our departed dog continues to live in the soul of the new one. We think we have purchased his immortality. But we haven’t.
Purebreds represent neither dogs’ past nor their future. As geneticist Richard Dawkins tells us, genes are nearly “immortal.” So those of purebreds are no older than those of mongrels. A dog’s true connection with the past lies in his character and abilities, not his genes. For millennia, dogs were defined by the jobs they did, and crossbred to ensure they would continue to perform them well. When the rural people who created these jobs disappear, dogs lose this past, and attempts to freeze their shapes in time through inbreeding do not preserve it. They merely rob dogs of a future.
Purebreds can be saved only by opening their stud books. Just as the meek shall inherit the Earth, so lowly mixed breeds, including perhaps the few remaining crossbred Jack Russells, represent the future of dogs.
This article is an adaptation from the author’s new book, We Give our Hearts to Dogs to Tear: Intimations of Their Mortality (Transaction Publishers), a memoir of the Chase family’s 32 years in Montana, which they shared with successive generations of Jack Russell Terriers. The book considers the mortality of, and connections between, the land and dogs: how suburbanization and declines in land stewardship threaten the former, and indiscriminate inbreeding by show dog breeders imperils the latter.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
When it comes to reading human cues, dogs win, hands down.
As an anthropology student at Harvard, Brian Hare had a hunch. Although he was studying the cognitive capabilities of chimpanzees, his mind wandered to his youth, to playing fetch with his dog in the backyard. While the chimps he was analyzing failed to read his basic physical communications, Hare recalled how his dog would follow his pointed finger to a hidden stick or ball.” I was studying how chimp cognition compared to human cognition, and the chimps were doing poorly,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘My dog can do this. This is ridiculous.’”
So he left the resources of one of the nation's premier science facilities and traveled to his parents’ garage in Atlanta, where his subjects included Daisy and Oreo—two Labrador Retrievers. After a few rudimentary tests, his hunch was confirmed, his interest was piqued and the theories on canine cognition were about to change.
Ray Coppinger, professor of biology at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, and author of Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution (Scribner), lauds Hare’s quest. “As an initial experiment it’s rather interesting,” he says. “Hare is trying to get at the deeper message—the suggestion that dogs have minds.”
The group’s main test was labeled the object choice paradigm, in which “An experimenter hides a piece of food in one of two opaque containers, and the subject, who did not see where the food was hidden, is allowed to choose only one. Before presenting the subject with the choice, the experimenter gives a communicative cue indicating the food’s location, for example, by looking at, pointing to, tapping on, or placing a marker on the correct container.”
The team posed three hypotheses:
Canid Generalization Hypothesis—Many canids (especially wolves) should perform at least as well as dogs on social tasks, as has been found previously with non-social tasks.
“The idea was to compare our closest relative, chimps, to dogs and wolves and see who is more expert at reading humans,” says Hare.“ We thought we’d use chimps as the yardstick; it turned out that dogs are the experts.”
“What was fascinating was discovering that dogs don’t require exposure to humans to use these social cues,” says Hare.
“The big surprise for me was the puppies,” says Hare. “They were litter-reared, and even at a young age they did well.”
In simpler terms: “We sought to discover the origin of this ability,” says Hare. “We showed that there has been cognitive evolution; there has been a change in the cognitive abilities of dogs as a result of evolution. Dogs who could read human cues were more likely to survive, more likely to reproduce and pass their genes on to the next generation.”
“Dogs are so good at flexibly using social cues; over-training can be worse than not training at all. Over-training may make a dog less flexible.” Ray Coppinger agrees. “From a training point of view, if the average dog owner thought their dog had a mind, it could affect how humanely they treat the animal,” he says.
From humble beginnings in his parents’ garage to the discoveries that await him in Siberia, Hare examines the warm bond between man and dog in the cold realm of science, and sheds new light on a phenomenon that dog lovers have always recognized.
“It seems as though dogs, potentially through evolution, have been molded to be sensitive to human needs,” he says. “I don’t think dog owners were surprised by my findings. This is something that all dog owners intuitively know is true.”
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Learning dog training with fine feathered friends
I went through the picture in my head. Chicken number one climbs up the ladder, onto a one-foot-wide platform, makes a 180-degree turn and tightropes across a narrow bridge to a second platform, where it pecks a tethered ping-pong ball, sending the ball in an arc around its post. The chicken then turns 180 degrees and negotiates a second ladder back down to ground level, where it encounters a yellow bowling pin and a blue bowling pin in random arrangement. It knocks the yellow one down first and then the blue one.
Chicken number two grasps a loop tied to a bread pan and with one continuous pull drags the pan two feet. Then, in a separate segment, it pecks a vertical one-centimeter black dot on cue and only on cue three times in 15 seconds. The cue is a red laser dot.
Scenes from a Saturday morning cartoon? A twisted scheme of some sort? Neither of the above. It’s the assigned mission at the August 2000 Advanced Operant Conditioning Workshop (a.k.a. chicken training camp), taught by Bob Bailey and psychologist Marian Breland-Bailey. Nine animal trainers from the U.S. and Canada, including myself, are here to meet the challenge. We have five days. Sounds like a joke, but it’s serious business. We’re here not just to train chickens. We’re here to learn the intricacies of a universal mechanism of learning called operant conditioning.
Elucidated in the early 1900s by psychologist B. F. Skinner, this theory says that if you reinforce a behavior, it’s more likely to occur again. If you don’t reinforce it, it’s less likely to occur again. Says Marian Breland-Bailey, “Animals are learning all the time, not just during training sessions. And they’re learning with the same principles. Operant conditioning is the way that behavior changes in the real world.” As experienced trainers, we know this. We hope that with a better grasp of the principles of operant conditioning, we can catapult ourselves to a new level of training.
The nine of us form a diverse group. Some train animals professionally for theater or advertising, some have competed avidly in canine obedience trials or have been dog training instructors for years and others just enjoy training their own assortment of pets. Despite our varied backgrounds, we all envision the myriad of benefits these five days will bring forth. When we’re finished we’ll return home to train our clients’ animals more efficiently, to accomplish more with our own pets and to instruct our students
For Marie Gulliford, who has trained everything from cockatoos to pigs, horses and cows, one of the greatest benefits will be in her grooming shop. “I train the dogs who come in for grooming for my own benefit. My grooming shop is a business for profit. It’s much more profitable if you can groom the dog quickly and it’s easier to do that on a dog that behaves well than on one that’s doing all sorts of extraneous behaviors such as jumping off the table or biting you.”
It’s no accident that we’ve chosen this particular training camp to help us fulfill our training goals. Sue Ailsby, a retired obedience and conformation judge who’s been training dogs for 38 years, expresses the group sentiment: “This course offers an absolutely unique blend of scientific facts and practical applications thereof.” Ailsby, who’s trained dogs for every legitimate dog sport and competed in most of them and who’s also trained a number of service dogs including her own, frequently lectures at training, handling and conformation seminars. With her years of experience, she’s chosen to train here because, “The Baileys do it better, they do it faster and do it with a deeper background.”
A number of factors set the Baileys apart from other experienced trainers. The fact that between the two of them Marian and Bob represent 103 years of training and have trained over 140 species of animals is impressive in its own right. However, their contributions, especially Marian’s, to the field of animal training extend well beyond numbers. Marian and her now-deceased first husband, Keller Breland, were at the forefront of operant conditioning when it was a relatively new area of study. They were among B. F. Skinner’s first graduate students in the early 1940s. In an odd twist of fate, their studies were interrupted by World War II when Skinner took a hiatus from his university research and instead worked for the U.S. Navy on a project training pigeons to guide missiles. He enlisted Marian and Keller to help, and it was during this project that the two gained invaluable practical experience with the most advanced principles of operant conditioning—aspects they’d read about in their studies but never seen in action.
Surprisingly, it was the simpler principles that convinced them to make animal training a career. Principles such as behavior shaping, whereby you start with a simple behavior that the animal readily offers and gradually reinforce behaviors that look more and more like your goal behavior.
“Skinner had a push button in his hand and had the electronic feeder outside of the training box,” says Marian, recalling an incident during the pigeon bomb guidance project. “At one point he took one of the pigeons outside of its training box and worked on shaping its response because for some reason the pigeon was not pecking its target. So Skinner demonstrated the shaping process. It was then that Keller and I realized how powerful this system was. And we were very excited about it. We decided that after the war we would get into something where we could apply this.”
Since neither had gone on to get a clinical degree they knew they couldn’t get into the treatment of people using this technique. But since they both liked animals and were familiar with different kinds of animals, they decided to go into the animal business.
They started Animal Behavior Enterprises (ABE), a company whose goal was to demonstrate a better, scientific way of training animals in a humane manner using positive reinforcement. They started with dogs, thinking that with so many untrained dogs in the U.S. they’d just demonstrate their new humane way of training and people would begin coming in by the thousands. Says Marian, “We thought it would be a cinch.”
Well, the training part was, but unfortunately, the idea was too advanced for its time. Trainers shunned the new method, claiming that people had been training dogs for centuries already.
Undaunted by this obstacle, Marian and Keller instead headed in a different direction. For 47 years, ABE mass-produced trained animals for its own shows and for animal shows across the country. At their height, the Brelands were training about 1,000 animals at a given time for companies such as General Mills. They also worked on animal behavior research and training projects for groups such as the U.S. Navy and Purina, as well as at Marineland of Florida and Parrot Jungle, where they developed the first of the now traditional dolphin shows and parrot shows. Through it all, they kept rigorous data on all of the training sessions and published several landmark papers in respectable scientific journals.
During their 47 years, they made a number of important contributions to the animal training world. Says Marian, “One contribution was to give the science of behavior to animal trainers. To encourage the use of operant conditioning behavior analysis in many fields of animal work: in medical behaviors for animals, husbandry behaviors, show behaviors. Just a large number of fields have taken up the operant methods and have used them quite successfully. We’ve been quite gratified by this.”
In fact, the methods have become so ubiquitous that trainers have forgotten where the methods originated. Says Bob Bailey, “There’s one area that I think has been overlooked for a long time and that is that it was the Brelands, even beyond Skinner and the other psychologists, who realized the significance and widespread application of the bridging stimulus. That it would be a revolution in animal training. They recognized it as absolutely key to the widespread training and this was back in 1943.”
And they were right. The bridging stimulus, usually a whistle or a click from a toy clicker, is now used in virtually all marine mammal shows and in training of zoo animals for husbandry behaviors. And, over 40 years after the Brelands first introduced it for use in dogs, it’s finally taken off in the dog training world in the form of clicker training.
We use clicker training with the chickens too. In the beginning operant conditioning workshops, our chickens are trained that a click means food is coming. Now we use the sound to bridge the gap between the behavior we want and the food reinforcement. The bridging stimulus allows us to tell the chicken precisely when it’s doing something right.
While few of us will ever train a chicken again, there are many reasons beyond novelty why we use chickens in this workshop. For one, chickens are so quick that our timing has to be right on. The timing required to train the average dog won’t hack it with chickens. A fraction of a second off and you get a chicken who pecks the red cue dot instead of the black target, who shakes the loop attached to the bread pan rather than pulling it or who grasps the ping-pong ball rather than pecking it. Secondly, chickens are particularly skillful at telling us that we need to up the rate of reinforcement. Failure to do so and our fowl friend is running around on the floor in search of food instead of up on the training table learning her tasks.
And the benefits go on. Says Bob Bailey, “A chicken is the best teaching tool for training animals, offering more behaviors and more repetitions in the shortest amount of time.” More repetitions means we can train more behaviors in a short amount of time, and we have more chances to recover from our training blunders.
Yes, even though we’re in the advanced class, we still make our share of mistakes. The difference is that now we know within several five-minute sessions when we’ve made a mistake. Every session we take notes. How many times did we reinforce the chicken for the correct behavior? What percentage of time did the bird offer the correct behavior? By keeping these records we can make better decisions on when to expect more from our bird and when we’ve messed up.
Now, where we would have attributed slow learning to the dim-witted chicken, we instead look for our errors, in timing, rate of reinforcement or consistency. Are we always reinforcing the exact same behavior or do our criteria change from trial to trial thus confusing the chicken? We also record the number of times we reinforce the wrong behavior. A few of these in a row and we’re back to square one. It’s an uphill battle for us, but we’re determined to get the most out of it. And we do. On day five, after a total of 60 to 90 minutes of training per chicken per day, we’ve done it. It’s a room full of poultry performing on cue like pros. Up the ladder, turn 180 degrees, across the bridge, peck the ping-pong ball, turn 180 degrees, down the ladder and then whap! whap! First the yellow bowling pin, then the blue. Click! Treat! Voilà! A flock of trained chickens and nine happy trainers.
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc