Two independent studies show the benefit of dog ownership for children

A study conducted by Darlene Kertes and her colleagues from the University of Florida documented how a pet dog helped children cope with stress. To test this the researchers had children perform stressful things, such as giving a report, or doing a math problem. They compared children who were allowed to have their dogs with them to children who did not and found that the ones who had their dog with them were much less stressed. They also found that a pet dog lowered the stress level of children more than having a parent with them.

Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and co-authors Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand conducted a study to determine how a pet dog could help a child with disabilities.

They determined that children with disabilities do not exercise as much or join in physical activities the way children who do not have disabilities do. So they developed a physical activity program where the family dog would act as a partner for the child.

Although their study initially only involved one child, based on its success, they have expanded the program. What is unique is that their study was one of the first to evaluate animal-assisted therapy.

It is reasonable to assume that children with disabilities who are challenged to exercise and/or socialize are also stressed. Based on the two studies, it appears that children who are stressed and those who are stressed that have disabilities benefit from having a pet dog. This is a win-win situation.

Scout & Tom

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Dogs, wolves and some primates understand inequality

A new study by comparative psychologists at the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna has illustrated that both dogs and wolves understand what it means to be treated unequally.

Previously, the studies that illustrated that dogs understood and reacted negatively to inequality, assumed that this reaction was due to domestication. The current study illustrates that this is not true because wolves  reacted the same way as dogs.

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The tests also showed that higher ranking wolves and dogs became frustrated more quickly when they perceived favoritism. Scientists assumed this is because they are not used to receiving lower quality rewards.

What makes this interesting is that the study illustrates that the animals being tested understand and recognize what a lower quality reward consists of. This means that they observed the differences in the rewards, were able to value the reward and determine that they were not getting as much.

The most exciting information from this experiment is how it illustrates an animal’s ability to think, reason and make decisions and judgements. For pet owners, it shows us that when we train our animals, the reward needs to be something valued by the animal. After all don’t people feel the same way too?

Thinking of getting a pet? Here’s what you need to know.

by guest blogger Jessica Brody

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Photo by Pixabay

Have you been thinking of adding a pet to your family? If you’ve never had pets or are inexperienced in pet ownership, you’ll need to do a little thinking and research first. What kind do you want? What fits your lifestyle? Where do you get it? These are all good questions to get ready.

First, consider your home and lifestyle. What kind of pet can your home handle? If you’re in an apartment or condo, you will have different needs than someone with a big house and a yard. Are you home a lot or do you travel often for work? If you’re a traveler, you’ll need a pet like a cat or rodent who is much more independent. If you’re home a lot and physically active, you might do better with a dog (though not all dogs like to run). Start by assessing your lifestyle.

If you want a dog, you’ll want to consider breeds. One of the great things about dogs is that they come in so many shapes, sizes and personalities. You are almost certainly likely to find one that fits your style. Start reading up on breeds that you like and determine if they fit your personality. Don’t trust what you see on TV. A dog that looks like a calm friend on a sitcom is actually a well-trained actor. For example, Eddie, the super-cool dog from “Frazier” is a Jack Russell Terrier, one of the most high-energy breeds.

Pay attention to grooming and medical needs, too. If you can’t stand dog hair, don’t even think about getting an Akita, Chow Chow or Husky. If you’re not into dog drool, avoid St. Bernards or bloodhounds. If you live in close quarters with your neighbors, you might want to avoid the barky breeds.

Next, consider where you’ll get your dog. Never buy a dog from a pet store or flea market. They get their dogs from puppy mills, which don’t breed with care and often keep their breeders in inhumane conditions. Seek out reputable breeders, preferably those who work or show dogs. Quality breeders are careful to breed out bad temperament and genetic diseases.

If you would like to help an animal in need, stop by your local shelter or rescue organization. There are millions of dogs in shelters that need homes, and many are purebred or close to it.

When it’s time to bring your new pal home, do a little shopping. Make sure you have all the basics that your pal needs, including a dog bed that’s the correct size for your pet, food and water bowls, leashes and even a stroller for your pet who won’t or can’t go for walks.

If you adopt a pet, especially a dog or cat, give him a chance to adjust. If he’s from a shelter, he’s likely been through a lot and can be nervous, so don’t force yourself onto him. Give him a chance to hide out at first, and just sit near him and speak to him softly. He’ll slowly come out of his shell and fall in love with you. Tell children to give him a little space, and remind them that dogs (and cats too) don’t always like being grabbed or hugged. Lay down some ground rules with your child such as leaving pets alone when they are sleeping, eating, and pottying. Of course, a life-size version of their stuffed animal is tempting, so never leave children unattended around pets, no matter how kid-friendly the pet may be.

Before long, you’ll have a great friend who is ready to spend his life hanging out with you. You can take Fido on adventures with you, or just chill on the couch and watch movies. Either way, you’ll learn each other’s quirks and have a life of laughs together. With a little planning, introducing a pet to your home can go smoothly and happily.

It is important to control how much weight your young dog retrieves

A study by the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna showed that young hunting dogs who are trained using  the same weight as adult dogs, can cause damage to the joints and tendons, especially of the front legs.

This is because the extra weight that young dogs carry causes them to tilt forward in much the same manner that a person would who was carrying a heavy load. The researchers felt that adult dogs are suited for carrying loads but young dogs that are growing should use adjusted weight instead of the same weight as adult dogs.

They suggested that young dogs in training be checked regularly by a specialist to be sure that there is no damage to joints, tendons and muscles.

It stands to reason that if a dog associates pain with an activity, he will not enjoy the job or game and may not perform to his best ability, especially if he is being trained for competition.

Although this study was conducted primarily on hunting retrievers, many breeds of dogs enjoy the game of fetch. This means that all dog owners who play fetch with their dogs should be aware of how much weight the object is and not allow young dogs to carry heavy objects.

I personally had a Border Collie who as an adult, loved to play with a bowling ball and would successfully put his canines in the holes and pick it up and carry it for a short distance. You never know what a dog will fancy and play with!

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How to Fade Food Rewards for Learned Behavior in Dogs by guest blogger, Mat Coulton

There are a lot of folks that think that if you use food rewards to train your dog, then your dog won’t be responsive to direction unless you have food to “bribe” her.

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(all photos from pixabay.com)

In fact, this is an often-used excuse for using punishment-based training methods. Although it certainly doesn’t have to be true, sometimes inexperienced owners and handlers make it true by failing to understand when and how to fade food rewards.

If the only time you ever train your dog is with a bag full of treats hanging on your waist, then yes, it’s very likely that you will be mostly ignored in just about every other situation. Dogs are smarter than you think!

In this article you will learn why food rewards are preferred by most reinforcement based professional trainers, some tips on keeping food rewards healthy, and how to move away from using food rewards once your dog is performing a behavior to your expectations.

Why Most Trainers Use Food to Teach New Behavior:

Both reward and punishment can motivate your dog (and people too!) to learn. The benefit of using reward as the “go-to” training tool is that in addition to being effective, it helps to build a bond of trust with your dog.

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Have you ever been punished for making a mistake when you did not understand what it was that you really did wrong? That is how dogs feel, every time they are punished for failing to be mind-readers! When your dog feels safe in the training environment, she will volunteer new behaviors (critical for some training techniques) as well as give you her eager, confident, focus.

Another big plus of using food as a reward has to do with “rate of reinforcement,” a fancy term that just means the faster you can solicit a behavior and reward it, the faster your dog will learn it. Unlike most other rewards, food rewards can be repeated as fast as every single second, making it the top choice for trainers looking to train complex behaviors like running an agility course or training service animal tasks.

What Food to Use for Training:

If you are lucky enough to have an extremely food motivated dog (ahem….like a Lab!), then your canine is likely to work eagerly for their regular kibble. This is a real bonus because it means that you can set aside a portion of his regular feed and save it to be dispensed one piece at a time during training.

If you have a picky eater on your hands, it might be a little trickier. But don’t think you have to go all out and train with nothing but cheese and hotdogs or expensive (and fattening) commercial treats. Instead, use a mix of pea sized safe foods your dog really gets excited about and some of his regular kibble rations. Smush them up in the bag to get the scent of the higher value foods all over boring-old-kibble. This will keep him engaged in learning, while helping you keep his waistline in check.

When to Fade Food:

Knowing when the time is right to fade food rewards is important. Since food is the most effective reward for “shaping” behavior incrementally towards a final goal, it makes sense to wait until AFTER the behavior is exactly where you want it before you start any of the methods listed here to start moving away from food.

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In addition, you want to be sure the behavior is largely “proofed” before taking it out of the regular training routine where food motivators reign supreme. Have you practiced the behavior in a parking lot? Around other people? Around other dogs? Until you have rewarded the behavior in a wide variety of contexts, it isn’t really “learned” so keep the rewards coming.

How to Fade Food:

There are several methods to fading food rewards. Feel free to mix and match these methods…that will keep her guessing!

Randomize Rewards

Once you are getting the right behavior (either on command or in conjunction with a certain stimulus), then you can start choosing only the VERY BEST examples of it to reward with food. For example, if you are working on recall, you can start rewarding only those recalls that are instant, with a very fast speed on that return.

Alternative Rewards

What does your dog love besides food? Once she has a behavior down pat, you can start to reward her with other things such as pets, a toss of the ball or a game of tug. In fact, once you realize the power of motivators, you can start to ask for known behaviors before giving her any of the things she loves.

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Surprise Rewards

Once you are using (mostly) non-food motivators to reinforce known behaviors, it is time to make sure you add in some big-time surprise rewards to the mix. These rewards need to be when he least expects them.

Frankly, they can be food or non-food rewards. Just make them BIG!

The point is, if your canine never knows when he is going to hit the jackpot for giving you the behavior you expect, then he is going to be that much more excited about rolling those dice. (Yes, if you were wondering, this is the principle behind gambling.)

Chaining Behaviors

This technique is perfect for use both in and out of formal training sessions. It’s simple: Instead of rewarding after every single cue/behavior, you can start to ask for several known behaviors in a row, followed by a reward (food or otherwise) for successful completion of the chain. This will get her used to giving you what you are asking for, without expecting food for every single trick.

Conclusion

Just because you are using the power of food to train new behavior, doesn’t mean your stuck with a dog that will only perform when you have treats in hand. By using the techniques outlined in this guide, you can have the best of both worlds: The fastest training method out there, and freedom from food rewards once behavior is learned.

Studies show that the family dog is most likely to bite a child

Christine Arhant from the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Protection at Vetmeduni Vienna studied bite incidents involving the family dog. What they found is quite interesting and makes a lot of sense.

Many bite incidents occurred while the parent or an adult was watching the child interact with the family dog. The researchers found that children love to pet their dogs, crawl after them and hug them. However, the dog may not want the constant attention that children give them. Dogs need quiet time away from children and often parents do not give the dog this option. Part of the problem is that adults trust the family dog and while they would not let their child interact with a strange dog, they allow them to harass the family dog to the point where the dog may not be able to take it any longer.

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The dog may snap or bite the child in an attempt to increase distance between them and the child. It is not necessarily an aggressive act but is the dog’s way of correcting the child. Unfortunately, a bite is a bite to authorities.

Parents must learn to recognize when their dog has had enough and separate the dog from the child. The dog must have a safe area where they can sleep and eat without being forced to interact with the child.

In multiple child households, each child may want to interact with the dog and each child may not spend a lot of time with the dog, but collectively it could be too much for the dog.

According to the researchers, “If the dog feels harassed by the child or restricted in its freedom, it will communicate this through body language. Clear signs include body tension, growling, frequent licking of the snout and yawning. Small children have difficulties interpreting this behaviour. Even a growling dog or one baring its teeth is often described by children as smiling.”

It would benefit the family as well as the dog if parents learned how to read canine body language. There are two presentations that are available that the family can watch to learn about canine body language. They are:

“What is My Dog Saying?” by Carol E. Byrnes, at Diamonds in the Ruff at www.diamondsintheruff.com  This is a power point presentation.  You can also get an excellent video, “The Language of Dogs” by Sara Kalnajs, at www.bluedogtraining.com

When a dog, especially a pet dog bites a child, it is often a traumatic event for the entire family. In some cases, it could mean that they will get rid of the dog which will upset the family as much or more than the bite.

This can be avoided by understanding the needs of the dog and learn to read the dog’s body language which is the only way a dog can quietly tell you what he feels.

The study showed that 50% of the parents surveyed did not supervise their child/dog interactions and allowed the child to have free access to the dog.

Young children should always be supervised while interacting with the family dog. This is the only way to teach a child how to appropriately interact with a dog. This will keep both the child and the dog safe.

Dogs Can Understand Vocabulary and the Intonation of Human Speech

The world was amazed by the accomplishments of Chaser the Border Collie. Chaser can identify 1022 toys by their name and retrieve them by category.

She also knows common nouns such as house, ball, and tree. What is more amazing is that she can learn new words by inferential reasoning by exclusion.

This means she can pick out an object that she has not been taught the name of by eliminating all the objects she knows.  She also understands sentences with multiple elements and has learned by imitation.

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Border Collie “Ness”

Scientists have shown that Chaser is not unique in her ability to do these things. They have discovered that dogs understand both vocabulary and intonation of human speech using their left brain the same as people do. Prior to this research, it was thought that understanding words and intonations was something only humans could do, but that is not the case. The study also showed that dogs, like people, process words separately from intonation.

This is exciting because it shows us that our dogs (and possibly other animals) are far better able to understand what we say than many people realize. It also expands the horizon as far as how and what we can train our dogs to do.

However, does this mean that if we want to hide something from our dogs that we are talking about we will have to spell out the word? I can only imagine the conversation, “You know I made a v-e-t appointment for R-o-v-e-r for tomorrow.”

An Excellent Book On SAR

This is an awesome book for SAR dog people and anyone who is interested in SAR. I had the honor of editing the rough draft of this book. Here is a blurb:

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This is the nitty gritty of what K9 Search and Rescue and Recovery Teams are and are not. It includes new research and 27 years of complied information from around the world on training, questions and problems. It also explains what credible handlers go through to become a competent resource in Search and Rescue/Recovery, and discusses sensitive subjects not mentioned in other publications. K9 Teams: Beyond the Basics in Search and Rescue and Recovery also provides information for law enforcement, fire department and emergency management agencies in communities of all sizes to help understand about those they call to assist. It could be the difference between life – or death; effectiveness of searches in homicide investigations or proficiency in disaster situations.
www.k9vihummelshafferk9.com

Dogs anticipate what they will find at the end of a scent trail

A new test conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Department for General Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience (Institute of Psychology) at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena illustrated that dogs have a mental picture or an expectation of what they will find at the end of a scent trail based on the scent of the object.

The test was conducted on dogs (police and search and rescue dogs) trained to follow a scent as well as pets not trained to follow a scent. Both groups showed surprise when the object that they found was not the one used to lay the scent trail.

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Although this test was not intended to illustrate the mind of the dog, this is further evidence of the mental abilities of dogs showing that they anticipate what will happen in the future based on their surroundings. Many dog owners have seen this behavior in relation to other events. An example is the dog who can anticipate the arrival of a family member when that person comes home at about the same time every day.

It is exciting to anticipate what future studies will show us about the mind of animals.

Separation Anxiety in Dogs

The old saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true when dealing with separation anxiety in dogs. The best thing an owner can do is prevent it from developing.

Most cases of separation anxiety occur in dogs that have a genetic predisposition for it and is enhanced or caused by the owner. This is why two dogs can live in the same home and one will suffer from this anxiety and another will not.

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The genetic predisposition for separation anxiety is not limited to any breed, type or sex of dog. Preventing it is almost the same as the method to cure it. So we will talk about it in general.

Whether you get a puppy or adopt a dog, the procedure is the same. Although it is hard to resist a new puppy or cute older dog, the new dog should be left alone while at home. Puppies need lots of down time to rest and sleep.

A dog’s growth rate is much faster than humans and puppies need to sleep a lot. A new adopted or older dog needs time to adjust to their new home. The stress of a new home can tire them so they may need a bit more down time as well.  The best rule of thumb is to let the dog solicit interaction rather than force it on the dog. This is especially important if there are youngsters in the home.

Do not hold, carry or dote on the dog. Let the dog be a dog, no matter what size it is. A dog can become addicted to too much tactile stimulation. Like any addiction, the craving can be there but at the same time it is not a pleasant experience. This explains why a dog may solicit interaction from the owner and then bite the owner for responding. This is especially true for small dogs where the owner likes to cuddle and carry the dog around.

Do not make a fuss over the dog when you leave home or return. Dramatic arrivals and departures only arouse the dog and build stress. Simply leave and return home without saying or doing anything.

Leave soft music on when you leave home. Classical music works best or easy listening music. No other kind is good for dogs. Along with the music leave a chew toy for the dog. Only use the kind that you stuff with treats where the dog must work to get them out. Stuffed Kong toys or cube toys work very well. Never give your dog greenies, rawhide, pig ears, cow hooves or bones. They can seriously injure or kill your dog.

Make sure that your dog gets a good walk or exercise before you leave and is taken out when you return to “do his business.” If the dog has to relieve himself after you leave it will cause stress. If the dog has to have an accident while you are gone it can also cause stress, as well as if the dog has to wait to be taken out when you come home.

Feed your dog twice a day with a high quality dog food such as Wysong or Annamaet. Nothing that you buy in the super market or discount store is good for your dog. Poor quality food can contribute to stress in your dog. Some foods are loaded with sugar, dyes and roughage that can raise your dog’s stress level and act as a diuretic and laxative .

If your dog is already showing signs of separation anxiety then work with the dog over a few days when you will be home. Start by leaving the dog for a few minutes and quickly returning. You can do this every fifteen minutes to a half an hour.

As the dog adjusts, you can leave the dog for five minutes, six minutes and work up to fifteen minutes. You may have to drive away from the house since some dogs will figure out that you are standing on the other side of the door or nearby.  If you can devote a whole weekend to this procedure you may be able to leave him for a normal work day.

Make sure that you change your routine for leaving the house. The dog will learn your routine and become anxious as soon as they see the signs that you are leaving. Dogs notice things such as when you brush your teeth, comb your hair, take a shower, pick out clothes and lastly, picking up your car keys. Examine the order you do things before you leave and change the order. This way the dog cannot determine when you are going to leave. An example would be picking up your car keys before you eat breakfast.

If your dog is destructive you may have to teach the dog to stay in a very large crate for his own protection. If this is not possible because the dog tries to get out to the point where he hurts himself it is time to call a certified canine behavior consultant. The behavior consultant will determine if the dog needs to see a veterinarian for medications and will develop a plan to work with the problem. You can find a behavior consultant at www.iaabc.org.

Last of all and equally important, if your dog does something you do not like, do not yell or punish the dog. This will only elevate his stress levels and make his separation anxiety worse. Ignore any damage the dog has done. He will not know that you are angry at what he did awhile ago but associate your anger as part of your return.

With a little understanding, work and help if necessary, you can make your dog’s life much less stressful.