Heavy mixed breed dogs have greater health risks

Benjamin Hart, a professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, did a comprehensive studyon health issues in mixed breed dogs weighing 44 pounds and over. He found that if these dogs were spayed or neutered prior to one year their health risks increased.

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The study analyzed 15 years of data from thousands of dogs at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. They found that joint disorders including hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears, and knee injuries jumped from 4% in intact dogs to 10 – 12% in those neutered or spayed prior to one year.

The problem which the study pointed out, is that when someone adopts or purchases a mixed breed dog as a puppy, they may not know who the parents are and thus will not know for sure how big the dog will get as an adult.

In an earlier study, the scientists determined that health risks due to the age of neutering varied a lot depending upon the breed of dog. In this case the common belief that a mixed breed dog is generally healthier than a purebred does not seem to be the case.

My question is, why is there a difference between mixed breed and purebred if the injuries are a result of weight.

The bigger issues as pointed out in the article is that the common practice of early spay and neuter needs to be reviewed and possibly modified. This is also important information for people who train working dogs.

Do animals think probabilistically?

We know that rats in studies create new mental maps for new spatial situations such as a new maze. But scientists do not know how the animal decides when a situation is new enough to requires a new map.

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No two situations are ever exactly alike, for animals as well as humans, but how much needs to change to create a new map? The scientists at MIT and Harvard postulate that they can determine this with Bayesian statistics, a mathematical model. This model can take into account individual differences in animals as well as the situation.

Understanding remapping is important because when scientists evaluate a problem or test, they do not know if the rat is thinking about experiment A or experiment B. This will change the results of the test and possibly give scientists false data which leads to conflicting, confusing or surprising results.

Communication is always a problem when people work or train animals. We cannot tell them about the context of an experiment, the animal has to make his own conclusions based on what he sees or experiences. The researchers feel that by using a probabilistic approach, they can determine how uncertainty plays a role when change occurs.

While all of these methods are a good attempt to understand the mind of animals, because if it applies to a rat it most likely applies to other animals as well. However, as I tell my clients, there are only two beings who will know for sure what is in the mind of an animal—the animal and God. No one else, but we need to keep trying.

Early childhood adversity lasts a lifetime

A study by scientists at theUniversity of Notre Dame on baboons has shown that early adverse conditions such as famine, abuse, neglect or the death of a parent in early childhood are not reversed by support in adulthood. They feel that things such as elevated stress hormones take a physiological toll on the body, and remain, even with a healthy, supportive relationships in adulthood.

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Because the subjects of the study were baboons, scientists measured life experience against levels of glucocorticoids (fGCs) — hormones that regulate physiological functions such as metabolism and immune function, and moderate the body’s response to stress. They found that the levels of fGC’s were 9% higher in subjects that had three or more adverse experiences and 21% higher than subjects that had no harsh experiences.

I have to wonder how this study relates to other animals. Does this mean that pets who are abused or experience harsh situations as youths, will not ever fully respond to kind treatment when they are adults? Will the stress always be with them? What comes to mind are children who are given up for adoption at birth and then suffer from attachment disorder. While further research is needed and on a wider subject base (other animals) this is important information to keep in mind when trying to rehabilitate abused pets. This may mean that failure is not the result of poor rehabilitation techniques, but is a result of the chemical changes in the subject.

Dog age vs human age

The old rule that one dog year equals seven human years is not true. New research has indicated that dogs are much older than we think. Based on DNA chemical markers called methylation marks, researchers have been able to come up with a better idea of the age comparison between dogs and humans.

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Dogs age faster when they are young and slower as they get older. The article points out that a 6 – 9-month-old puppy is capable getting pregnant which would be the same as a human who has reached puberty. Yet an eight-week-old puppy is equal to a nine-month-old human. A one-year old dog is the same as a 30-year-old human.

The researchers studied Labrador Retrievers and found that a 12-year-old Lab corresponds with a 70-year-old human. The researchers plan to study other breeds to see how their methylation marks relate to corresponding human age. This will be interesting since dog breeds have lifespans from six to eight years up to 16 years. The researchers hope that their findings will help veterinarians determine the best care for different breeds based on their relative age.

Dog Training Tips 3

In Dog Training Tips 2 I talked about how the type of dog, its breed(s) influence the dog’s personality and how biddable the dog is. The term biddable means how willing the dog is to obey. Some breeds are much more biddable than others. For example, most of the herding and some of the hunting breeds are very biddable. Some of the breeds classified as working dogs are biddable but some are not. The least biddable breeds tend to fall into the livestock guarding breeds and the hounds. However, this does not mean that they are less intelligent. As a matter of fact, the livestock guarding breeds are very intelligent but as a rule are bred to work independently, and alone. They must make very important decisions to protect the flock that they are guarding. Many people are attracted to these breeds because they are very quiet and calm. However, they do not make good pets. They are bred to repel an intruder regardless if it is animal or human. It takes a special person who understands this type of dog and knows how to train them to successfully own one.

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The hounds are another difficult breed to train. Again, not because they are less intelligent, but because they are bred to be very focused. Think of it this way. If a hound is bred and taught to hunt fox, they must only find and follow the scent of a fox. A Foxhound who is side-tracked on the fresher scent of a rabbit or deer, is no use as a Foxhound. But, some of you may say, what about Bloodhounds that look for missing people. Each person has his own unique scent. This is true, but the hound is trained to follow only human scent, whichever human scent his handler indicates. The Search and Rescue (SAR) Bloodhound will not veer off a trail to track an animal.

Because the hounds are very focused, they often block out everything else. For the pet owner, this can be frustrating because as hound owners know, when these dogs go for a walk, their noses are often on the ground taking in all of the scents. Their tendency to focus so strongly on scent, and their ability to block out everything else makes them seem to ignore the commands of their owners. The younger the dog, the harder the hound is to train because he is going to follow his instincts first. This means that the dog’s owner must exercise a lot more patience and realize that it will take much more effort on their part to motivate the hound to break his focus and listen to commands. One way to circumvent this is to use clicker training on the very young, 12-week-old puppy, before he fully develops his ability to focus on scent. All puppies have short attention spans and if you do not want to train your puppy to hunt, then this is a good time to take advantage of the puppy’s short attention span to teach him to focus on you.

Never forget, dogs do not speak human languages. Therefore, it takes patience on our part to teach them and you must take care not  to repeat a command. The dog does not understand that “Sit” is one word. If you say, “Sit, Sit, Sit!” the dog will think it is all one word and never sit until you say it three times. A thought for today, did you ever wonder why dogs seem to be able to communicate to us better than we can to them?

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or if you need a certified canine behaviorist.

Health issues related to early spay and neuter of dogs

For many years I have had working dog people tell me that a dog should not be neutered or spayed until after they reach puberty. For a bitch that would be after the first heat. They claimed that the dog fully develops mentally after puberty and that early neutering and spaying retards this development.

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In a recent study, scientists found that some breeds have a higher risk of developing certain cancers and joint disorders if they are neutered or spayed during their first year of life.

This study looked at 35 breeds over a ten-year period and analyzed thousands of dogs over fifteen years. What is interesting is that the age and sex of the dogs did factor into whether or not the dogs were afflicted with health issues.

The health issues under consideration included hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears and elbow dysplasia, lymphoma; hemangiosarcoma, or cancer of the blood vessel walls; mast cell tumors; and osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. While the study showed that early neutering did not affect all of the dogs, there were breed related problems.

I personally feel that a dog needs the full range of hormones to fully develop mentally. But it can be difficult for the owners of female dogs to control a bitch in heat and prevent an unwanted litter. For the owners of male dogs there are methods to prevent the dog from siring an unwanted litter other than neutering. It is always wise to consult with your veterinarian and explore all of your options.

As an aside, I would like to see a similar study about the health and mental affects of early spay-neuter in cats.

New discovery about sled dogs

An interesting study has shown that sled dogs are much older than previously thought. Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, along with the research conducted in collaboration with the University of Greenland and the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, Barcelona did a study of sled dogs. By extracting the DNA from a 9,500-year-old dog from the Siberian island of Zhokhov, they have sequenced the oldest complete dog genome to date. The results show very early diversification of dogs into types of sled dogs. The results also show that the ancient dogs were crossed with an ancient wolf but not with the modern wolves.

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What is important to note about this study is that the researchers found that the dietary needs of the sled dog are different from other dogs. Sled dogs do not have the same ability to use sugar and starch but do better with high-fat diets. This is similar to polar bears and Artic people. The researchers found that the Greenland husky is the purest with the least overlap with modern dogs.

Dog training tips 2 -The type of dog and training

Successful dog training is not just about the method of training the dog. A big part of training a dog depends on the type of dog you have and the lines it comes from. Whether it is a purebred or mixed, all dogs have lines which is another way to say their ancestry. Typically the term “lines” refer to selective breeding, but selective or not, the parents and grandparents have a strong genetic influence on the personality of the dog and make up the dog’s lines.

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Dogs were selected for specific traits, which make up the breed. These traits are a combination of the physical and mental attributes. For example, if you have a few sheep in a field and nearby is a rabbit hiding in the brush, a Border Collie will know that the rabbit is there but will focus on the sheep. If you put a Beagle in the same field, he will know the sheep are there but focus on the rabbit. This is part of their genetic mental makeup or to put it another way, what they are bred to do.

The attitude of the dog depends on the breed(s) that it is made of. In the case of mixed breed dogs, you will only know by observation which genes are dominating their mind and to confuse things even more, the environmental stimulation can trigger different responses. For example, a dog that is a cross between a Border Collie and Beagle may be attracted to both the sheep and the rabbit, making it unreliable to use in the field.

Added to this are the general canine instincts that all dogs have. The most common and easiest for dog owners to see, is the prey chase drive. What this means is that how easy it is to train a dog depends on the genetic makeup of the dog and its individual personality or temperament.

A good dog trainer will understand how the genetics of a dog affect how it thinks and responds to stimuli and adjust the training methods to ensure success. This does not mean that some dogs must be trained using harsh methods but finding what motivates the dog can be tricky.

There are many dog trainers worldwide that advocate using choke collars, pinch collars, and shock collars. There is never a need to use these methods to train a dog. I have been training dogs professionally since the 1960’s and specialized in aggressive dogs and have never had to use any of this equipment.

A good dog trainer will motivate the dog to want to obey. But as I have said in my previous article, obedience is not a question of knowing what to do or what not to do, but the ability to exercise self-control to do it. You must give your dog time and practice to develop self-control.  More tips to come. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. If you need the help of a certified canine behavior consultant go to www.iaabc.org.

Dogs monitor environmental chemicals

In a study conducted by North Carolina State University and Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, researchers attached a silicon tag on dog’s collars to collect the environmental chemicals that people (and dogs) encounter every day. What they found was interesting. The researchers had the dogs wear tags and their owner’s wrist bands for five days, then they compared the results.

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What they found was that there were similar patterns of exposure for both dogs and humans. The contaminants were mostly from the home environment. The researchers tested for three main contaminants, pesticides, flame retardants, and phthalates, which are found in plastic food packaging and personal care products.

The advantage of evaluating the contaminants in dogs is that diseases that result from these contaminants may take decades to show up in humans but only years to show up in dogs. According to Matthew Breed, Oscar J. Fletcher Distinguished Professor of Comparative Oncology Genetics, if scientists can develop ways to link dog disease with these exposures, they may find a way to decrease the diseases for both dogs and humans.

I would like to see the tests expanded to other household pets such as cats. This is an interesting study and using the silicon tag is inexpensive and works well.

CBD for dogs

In a study at Baylor College of Medicine the researchers found that giving dogs with arthritis cannabidiol, or CBD brought relief from arthritis. It has also been used to reduce anxiety in dogs. As an aside, I know that when I give it to my dog before a thunderstorm, he is much calmer. It does seem to take about a half an hour to work but it does help.

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Dr. Matthew Halpert, of the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Baylor conducted the research about arthritis and found that nine out of the ten dogs tested benefited from CBD. They also noted that the pain relief lasted for about two weeks after the treatments stopped.

It seems that CBD significantly reduces the production of inflammatory molecules and immune cells associated with arthritis. The improvement in the quality of life for the dogs was documented by both the dog’s owner and veterinarians. Since the structure of arthritis in dogs is similar to humans, the study supports future scientific evaluation of CBD for human arthritis.

However, it should be noted that the researchers found that the effect was quicker and more effective when CBD was delivered encapsulated in liposomes than when it was administered ‘naked.’ Liposomes are artificially formed tiny spherical sacs that are used to deliver drugs into tissues at higher rates of absorption. This means that buying CBD over the counter may not work as well or as quickly.

If you would like to try CBD, talk to your veterinarian first. It is never a good idea to administer any type of medication, natural or otherwise, without first checking with your veterinarian. I know from personal experience that although veterinarians use human medicines and herbal formulas for dogs, the dosage can be radically different for a dog.