Fearfulness in dogs

An interesting study has determined that dogs raised in urban settings are more fearful of people and other dogs than those raised in rural areas. The survey revealed that inadequate socialization of puppies was one of the main cause of fearfulness.

Jenni Puurunen at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki based the research on approximately 14,000 dogs. It was noted that in humans, people living in cities have more mental health issues than those living in rural areas. The researchers are not sure if there is a connection between people and dogs in this regard. Fearfulness was more common in spayed females and small dogs.

They also found that fearful dogs were less active and their owners did not take them for training and other activities. Another fact that came to light was that there were significant differences in breeds. Spanish Water Dogs and Shetland Sheepdogs were very fearful while Wheaten Terriers were among the bravest breeds. The Cairn Terrier and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi had the least fearfulness toward other dogs. This indicates that genetics also plays a part in fearfulness.

Sue’s Note: Because fearfulness can be inherited and the environment a puppy is born in contributes to fearfulness, it is very important to carefully select an ethical breeder and avoid situations where puppies are mass produced solely for profit.

Separation anxiety in dogs

Researchers have recently determined that separation anxiety is a symptom of various frustrations rather than a diagnosis. The key symptoms of separation anxiety are: destruction of household items, urinating or defecating indoors and excessive barking.

The team of scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK found that there are four main forms of distress when dogs are separated from their owners. These include when the dog wants to get away from something in the house, or they want to get to something outside. It can also be a reaction to external noises or events as well as simple boredom.   

A combination of factors such as the dog’s temperament and the type of relationship it has with the owner will determine whether or not a dog will develop separation anxiety.

Sue’s Note: Dog owners often create separation anxiety in dogs by making dramatic arrivals and departures from their home. It helps to prevent this problem by making arrivals and departures as calm and non-specific as possible. If a dog owner notices any of the behaviors listed above, do not wait to engage the help of a certified canine behavior consultant. The longer the behavior is allowed to continue the harder it will be to cure. Cats can also suffer from separation anxiety. To find a qualified behavior consultant go to iaabc.org

Because of the unique combination of issues that contribute or cause separation anxiety, diagnosing the problem is difficult therefore a dog owner should not try to solve the problem themselves or go to a dog trainer since this is not a training issue.

A Dog’s Devotion: True Adventures of a K9 SAR Team

A Dog’s Devotion: True Adventures of a K9 Search and Rescue Team by Suzanne Elshult and James Guy Mansfield, 286 pgs., ISBN: 978-1-4930-6871-5, Published by Lyons Press, $28.95.

As a K9 SAR person with over 20 years in the field, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. What I found refreshing was that Ms. Elshult and Mr. Mansfield included the struggles that they encountered which seem to permeate the SAR community, such as personality differences, leadership conflicts, and gaining acceptance by non-SAR agencies.

The authors share with us some of the search missions that were especially meaningful to them including those for human remains. Ms. Elshult’s dog Keb, a yellow Labrador Retriever was successfully cross trained in both live detection and human remains. Unfortunately, many SAR people feel that a cross trained dog cannot perform reliably. I personally successfully cross trained all of my search dogs so I understand the struggles that she had.

The book is written in a non-emotional, almost report like manner where we are told the facts. The authors reactions to the situations that they faced are covered but not dramatized. However, we are told of all of the hardships and challenges that they faced and how they worked through them. Even though some of the searches involve looking for human remains, the writing style makes it safe for even the squeamish to read and enjoy.

The beauty of this book is that it clearly gives the reader a factual picture of what search and rescue involves, how searches are managed and decisions are made. Ms. Elshult’s love and admiration for her dog Keb is evident throughout the book and Keb is a good representation of what many search dogs are capable of and do throughout the world. While the searches take place in the Pacific Northwest forests, the dynamics apply to all searches.

Managing aggressive behavior in dogs

Dr. Emma Williams, from the School of Psychological Science at the University of Bristol has conducted a study about managing aggressive dog behavior. According to her research, aggression in dogs is a worldwide problem.

She found that animal behaviorists need to focus on helping dog owners feel confident that the rehabilitation program prescribed will work. Behaviorists must also ensure that the dog owner is capable of initiating and following through with the program. Behaviorists should not only focus on the behavior of the dogs, but also the behavior of the owner when developing a rehabilitation program. They found that when a dog acts badly toward a person or another dog, the dog’s owner may react with extreme negative feelings.

What they also found was that positive reinforcement-based behavior modification techniques were very effective in rehabilitating aggressive dogs while punishment-based methods were detrimental for the dog and led to increased aggression.       

Sue’s note: At the first sign of aggression, even in a puppy, the dog owner must consult with a certified canine behavior consultant. Too often dog owners feel that the dog will out-grow the aggression when in reality it always gets worse if not addressed immediately.

A link between a dog’s sense of smell and vision

Researchers at Cornell University have found that there is a neurological link between a dog’s sense of smell and their vision. This study shows that a dog perceives his environment using both vision and scent. This is the first time that scientists have found a neurological connection of this nature in any animal.

In addition, scientists have found that dogs have connections between areas in the brain that process memory and emotion which are similar to humans but that they also have connections between the spinal cord and the occipital lobe which are not found in humans.

Riley

This finding explains why blind dogs are able to function, being able to play fetch and navigate their surroundings much better than people with similar blindness. That is comforting for people who own dogs who are blind or have gone blind.

Author’s Note: Although blind dogs can find their way around better than people, it is still a good idea to not move furniture around. If you have to move or add furniture, you can put a unique gentle scent on the corners of the furniture at the dog’s level to help the dog locate and identify the new or moved object.

We also have to think about how the relationship between scent and vision affects dogs in terms of training and their reaction to the environment, taking into consideration personality traits such as friendliness, fear, aggression etc. While we know that many of the personality traits of dogs are inherited, is it possible that these findings might explain further exactly how and what is inherited. Many people do not realize how complex dogs and perhaps other animals are.

Knee injuries in dogs

Dogs who compete in agility and flyball and lack core strength have a higher rate of cranial cruciate ligament rupture which is similar to ACL in people.

According to Dr. Deb Sellon, a Washington State University veterinarian, some types of exercises and the size and shape of the dog increase the risk of knee damage. The exercises that increased the risk were short walks, runs over hilly or flat terrain, even if done on a weekly basis. The exercises that seem to help build core strength are balance exercises, and wobble boards. Dogs that competed frequently in agility at a higher level (more technically rigorous courses) built more core strength.

good core strength for SAR training

Regular exercise such as swimming, playing fetch or frisbee, walking or running didn’t increase or decrease the risk of injury.

It seems that Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers and Australian Cattle dogs were high risk breeds. The researchers also felt that having or not having a tail could be a factor.

Dogs can suffer from ADHD and OCD

Dogs share many things with humans, both in their physical and mental health. It is important to understand that your dog’s behavior may not be deliberate on the dog’s part, or a result of his environment, but a result of a type of mental illness.

A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Helsinki, found that dogs suffer from hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention similar to the behavior of humans who have ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The researchers found that a dog’s age and gender combined with the owner’s experience made a difference in the 11,000 dogs studied. Hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention were more common in young dogs and male dogs, the same as young children and males in humans.   

The researchers also found that dogs suffer from an Obsessive/Compulsive type behavior that mirrors the same disorder in humans. OCD often shows up in people who suffer from ADHD as well. In dogs it can manifest itself as such behavior as: continuous tail chasing, licking objects or themselves and staring at things.

The researchers also noted that certain breeds of dog are more likely to exhibit ADHD and OCD behaviors than others.

It is important to understand that if a dog exhibits these behaviors, that they cannot help themselves and should not be punished or otherwise subjected to aversive training methods to try and change the behavior(s). If a dog exhibits ADHD or OCD related behaviors, contact a certified canine behavior consultant for help. However, it would be diligent to the prospective dog owner to carefully research different breeds and breeders. Also avoid designer breeds, they are typically not well bred and are often a mix of puppy mill stock. If anyone would like my free brochure about how to find the right breed and breeder, please feel free to contact me.

Pet Toys

Note: This article is my opinion, based on my experiences with many dogs, cats and birds.

Pet owners spend a considerable amount of money on toys for their pets. Toys are important for pets; they give pets something to do and, in some cases, build the bond between the pet and owner. While I will refer mostly to dogs, this article applies to all pets.

It is important to realize that there is no regulatory body for pet toys. What that means is that manufacturers can use whatever material they choose to make pet toys. Unfortunately, many of the products that are available are not safe, either because of a chewing or a toxic substance risk.

When picking a toy for your pet, you should consider the type of animal it is and what it likes to do. Dogs like to fetch, toss and chew and shred toys. This satisfies their natural hunting instinct. Cats like to chase, pounce, carry and sometimes tear up toys.

Birds generally like to tear apart, peck and toss toys. Although many birds play with toys in various ways. I had a budgie who liked to “herd” plastic balls into a tight group.

When considering a toy for a pet, keep in mind that if there is a risk associated with the toy, the risk increases if the pet is small. This is because it takes less material to block their intestines and less toxins to make them sick or kill them. This is why a pet owner should carefully evaluate what toy they give their pet.

I feel that toys for dogs pose the most risks because dogs tend to chew and eat pieces of their toys more than other pets. Know how your dog likes to play with a toy before you pick one out for him. Some dogs will totally destroy a stuffed toy or a plastic one. Other dogs like to carry a toy around and will not destroy it. Many dogs are obsessed with getting the squeaker out of a toy that has one. My Parsons Russell Terrier is a squeaker killer. He will work on a toy almost endlessly until he gets the squeaker out. Then for the most part, he loses interest in the toy.

Puppies almost always chew a toy until it is destroyed and they are more likely to eat the pieces of the toy. For this reason, plastic toys are a higher risk for puppies. Regardless if your dog is a puppy or an adult, plastic toys in general are the highest risk.

Because dogs like to chew and destroy toys, they are less likely to play with the chew-proof variety of toy. Some of the nylon toys are coated with a scent and when the coating wears off, the dog loses interest in the toy. Stuffed toys pose a problem because the stuffing, which can be ingested and not digested. The stuffing in most dog and cat toys are fiber fill which is a form of plastic.

If a dog owner is going to give their dog one of the many products on the market designed to clean the dog’s teeth while they chew the toy, be sure to check the ingredients. Most dental chews for dogs are only 96% digestible. What is the other 4%? Some of these products have plastic in them to make them last longer.

Those chew products that are designed to be eaten, should break down in five to ten minutes when placed in water, if not, it is a high risk for your dog. These types of products can block a dog’s intestines. Because of a dog’s short digestive tract, these products do not have enough time to break down if they can break down at all.

This is also true of any rawhide product. I personally do not approve of any animal product such as cow hooves, pig’s ears and rawhide. These products are often treated with formaldehyde as a preservative. Many people think that rawhide comes from a butcher, but in reality, rawhide comes from a tannery. Also, keep in mind that any wild domestic canine does not eat bones, skin or hooves.

This is evident when you see a dead deer along the roadside. After everything, animal, bird and insect are finished feeding on the carcass, the things left are hide, hooves and bones. The main risks for letting a dog eat rawhide are contamination, choking hazard, and intestinal blockage. A number of pet related organization discourage giving dogs rawhide. However, dried chicken feet and antlers are a better alternative than rawhide, pig’s ears and cow hooves.

Rope toys are acceptable if your dog does not chew them and swallow the threads. The safest rope toy is one made of cotton instead of nylon. Cotton has a better chance of breaking down if it is ingested whereas the nylon will not.

Ness’s favorite toy, an old bowling ball

It is never a good idea to give a dog old shoes or slippers because of the chemicals used to make them. It is especially difficult for a puppy to understand that old shoes and slippers, and rawhide products are OK to play with but new shoes and slippers are not. Keep in mind that rawhide comes from a tannery and dogs have a very sophisticated sense of smell. Therefore, a dog of any age can smell the similarity between rawhide and other leather products, which include furniture, gloves, jackets and briefcases.

Bones are not a good choice for dogs either. Again, it is not natural for dogs to eat bones. Many of the “natural” bones have bacteria on them that can harm both dogs and people who handle them. Some of the stuffed bones that are treated can be safer for a dog who likes bones. The danger associated with bones are splinters from the bone and bacteria.

The bottom line is knowing your dog. If a toy becomes small enough to swallow it should be taken away from the dog. By knowing your dog’s play habits you will be able to decide what toy is safe for them to play with. The best toy is one that allows you to interact with your dog, playing fetch games, chase games or whatever your dog likes. If you understand your dog’s breed, it will guide you to selecting the right toy for your dog. All dogs can benefit from puzzle toys and treat dispensing toys. Also think outside the box, you never know what a dog will take a fancy to as illustrated by our dog Ness.

Household noise and stress in dogs

We all know that some dogs seem to be more stressed than other dogs. Part of the reason is the genetics of the dog. Certain breeds tend to be more noise sensitive than others. But all dogs can be stressed by certain types of noise. Researchers at the University of California found that dogs are often stressed by common household noise. Particularly noises that are high frequency or very loud. Examples are smoke detectors, microwave ovens, and vacuum cleaners.

Many loud and high pitches noises actually hurt a dog’s ears. Most owners recognize obvious signs of fear or stress, such as trembling, hiding, howling, barking and running away. However, owners often miss a dog’s more subtle signs and therefore do not help their dog when stressed.  Some of the subtle signs are panting, licking their lips, turning their head away, a rigid body, ears turned back or flattened against the head, and lowering their head below their shoulders.

By watching your dog or cat carefully you can learn to recognize their relaxed body language. This will help you recognize when your pet is not relaxed.

Babs, totally relaxed

Whenever a stressful noise occurs, a concerned owner will remove the dog from the area. It is important to watch the dog’s body language to see how far away the dog needs to be to avoid being stressed.  

Cats are also stressed by noises therefore cat owners should also be aware if noise bothers their cat.

Pluskat totally relaxed

Staying on Good Terms with the Neighbors: Four Tips for Dog-Owners

by guest blogger Brandon Butler

What goes into being a great dog owner? Obviously, it means giving your pet the best possible care. It means building a long-term relationship of trust and affection. But there’s another component of being a great dog owner, too, that has to do with how you and your dog relate to your neighbors. If you want those around you to love your pet as much as you do, it’s important that you keep in mind certain basic principles of good neighborly behavior for dog owners. After all, failure to do so can jeopardize your relationships in your community, which can have a harmful effect on your dog’s well-being, too.

image pixabay

Keep the noise down.

Just because your dog’s barking doesn’t bother you, that doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable. For one thing, your dog may be barking because they are anxious, bored, or feel threatened. It’s important to pinpoint the reason behind the barking so you can help your dog get past whatever is bothering them. Secondly, you don’t want your family to be a nuisance. Hearing constant barking can be frustrating for your neighbors, and significantly reduce their quality of life. Seek the help of a trainer if your dog is barking excessively for no clear reason.

Clean up after your dog.

Hopefully, you know that letting your dog defecate on someone else’s property is a major faux pas. In fact, in many states, it constitutes a trespass and is technically illegal. Make sure you keep your dog from running onto someone else’s property. Should they happen to do so, however, and relieve themselves there, be sure to clean up after them and apologize to your neighbor. You don’t want to let feces accumulate on your property, either, as the stink can be unpleasant to those around you. It can also attract flies and other unappealing insects, and in significant quantities pose a health risk, as dog poop can carry dangerous parasites and bacteria.

Don’t let your dog roam past property lines.

If you live in a rural area, this rule may be easy to follow – even then, it’s important to train your dog not to leave your property. In the suburbs or in urban areas, letting your dog run about willy-nilly could lead to an accident. They could get struck by a car or get into a fight with another dog. They could become the victim of dognapping or animal cruelty. If your dog is more reactive or nervous, they could end up doing physical harm to someone else. If you want to let your dog run freely in your yard, have sturdy and attractive fences installed. Do a little research to see what kind of fence will work best for you and your dog – then, when searching for a fencing company near me, compare prices and read reviews on the specific type of fence you are looking for.

Communicate with your neighbors about your dog.

As a dog owner, you will find that plenty of people want to chat with you, especially those who have dogs themselves. But even if your neighbors are reserved, it’s important for you to let them know about your dog’s temperament, especially if there are any behavioral issues you are working out. If your dog tends to be aggressive or reactive, let your neighbor know. Or, if your dog is friendly and enjoys being petted, your neighbor may (or may not) appreciate the opportunity to make a new local friend. Be sure, too, to let your neighbors know they should feel free to communicate with you if any issues arise with your dog.

When you adopted your dog, you may have signed on to accepting a certain level of noise, mess, and disruption, but your neighbors did not. You owe it both to the others in your community, and to your dog, to train them well so that they can be a happy, pleasant member of your community, and be appreciated – not resented – by others around you. It might be helpful for you as a dog owner to understand more about canine behavior, so reach out to a certified animal behavior consultant like Susan Bulanda for more tips and pointers.