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.

Hearing loss in dogs

People often think that if a dog is not born deaf, the dog will be OK. Certain breeds of dogs, those with the merle, piebald and harlequin coat colors, such as Dalmatians, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Cattle Dogs and Great Danes for example, have a high instance being born deaf. The Baer test on puppies born in these breeds can determine if a dog is deaf or not. However, dogs can suffer from hearing loss, much the same as people.

A dog can lose its hearing if the hair cells in the cochlea or if the eardrum and the small bones are damaged. Dr. Kari Foss, a veterinarian neurologist/professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studied a gun dog, sniffer dog and a police dog and found that they had a hearing loss.

My deaf collie and I many years ago

Hearing loss can result from being exposed to loud noises, illness and old age. In some cases, the hearing loss can be cured, such as those due to infections or illness.

Dr. Foss stresses that many people miss the signs that their dog is suffering from hearing loss. Dog owners should take note if their dog fails to respond when called, sleeping through sounds that they would normally respond to, being startled at loud noise that did not bother them before, barking excessively or making unusual vocal sounds. If a dog is deaf in one ear, they may have trouble locating the source of sounds.

If you suspect that your dog has a hearing loss, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your veterinarian. There is a chance that the problem can be corrected. However, if the loss is permanent, you can ensure that your dog stays safe by taking precautions. Dogs can live a safe and happy life even if they are deaf, or partially deaf.

Canine coat color, surprising genetics

If a purebred dog is born with a coat color that it is not supposed to have, it may be due to hidden genes. Kari Ekenstedt, DVM, Ph.D. who is the assistant professor of anatomy and genetics, along with Dayna Dreger, Ph.D., lead researchers in Ekenstedt’s canine genetics research laboratory studied 212 different dog breeds and found that gene variants caused breeds to have traits that the breed standard did not allow. These included coat color, and other traits. For example, they found that 48 different breeds had the tailless gene variant, such as the Dachshund. Although the variant was low, it is possible that a Dachshund could be born tailless.  

One of the “fault” alleles allows the brown color. This allele produces the chocolate Labrador Retriever, yet the researchers found the same allele in breeds that do not allow the brown color, such as the German Shepherd and Rottweiler.

The lesson learned from this study is that if a puppy is born that is not what the breed standard calls for, it is not necessarily due to “bad” breeding, but the expression of a trait that was hidden and has surfaced.

Hearing loss in dogs

A number of breeds of dogs, mostly those breeds that have the merle, piebald or white coats, are prone to deafness. However, dogs that are subjected to frequent loud noise can suffer from hearing loss the same as people. This is referred to as noise-induced hearing loss.

A study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by Dr. Kari Foss, found that working dogs such as police, sniffer and gun dogs are a strong candidate to suffer from hearing loss. According to Foss,

“Most commonly, noise-induced hearing loss results from damage to the hair cells in the cochlea that vibrate in response to sound waves,” Foss said. “However, extreme noise may also damage the eardrum and the small bones within the inner ear, called the ossicles.”

         The most common signs that a dog is losing his ability to hear are when the dog fails to respond to commands, or they sleep through noise that would normally wake them up. They may bark excessively or make unusual sounds. Sometimes a dog may have a hearing loss in one ear only. If that is the situation, the dog may hear sounds but not be able to tell where it came from.  

         The researchers recommended that dogs who must work around loud noise wear hearing protection that is designed for dogs. It is also possible that dogs can lose hearing from ear infections and illnesses and as they age.

         If a potential dog owner is going to purchase a breed where deafness is a problem, they must be sure that the breeder has done a BAER test to determine if the puppy is deaf or not.

Unwanted behavior in dogs – surprising findings

In a study of 14,000 dogs, fully 73% of the dogs studied had unwanted behavior. One-third of the dogs studied had noise sensitivity. The other behaviors included fearfulness of people, other dogs and unfamiliar locations, fear of surfaces and heights, inattention and impulsivity, compulsive behavior, aggressiveness and separation anxiety. The most common were noise sensitivity, fear of surfaces and heights and general fearfulness.  

Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group from the University of Helsinki conducted the study and found that fearfulness and aggressive behavior were linked to each other as well as impulsivity, compulsive behavior and separation anxiety. The researchers also discovered that many unwanted behaviors are inherited. Their hope is that better breeding may help eliminate these behaviors.

Author’s Note: The article states, “The problems appear to be quite breed-specific. For example, in Border Collies we observed more compulsive staring and light/shadow chasing, behaviours that occurred more rarely in all other breeds.” Studies such as this are interesting, however, it should be considered what the breed traits are, the excessive staring could actually be the Border Collie “eye.” Since Border Collies herd livestock, they may have a tendency to chase light and shadows if their instinctive herding needs are not met.

Cat food formula surprise

Different groups of researchers are interested in learning how much wildlife cats kill for food. With this in mind researcher Roland Kays from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences decided to study how much wildlife domestic cats kill and eat to supplement the food they are fed by their owners. What they found was very surprising as well as important for cat owners.

The researchers found that they could not determine the amount of wildlife that cats eat because they were studying elements in cat food as a comparison. The reason why this study failed is because cat food manufacturers do not use consistent types and amounts of ingredients in their food. Even foods that were the same flavor and brand were inconsistent. The researchers found that the less expensive brands had more corn products and that the cat food produced in the United Kingdom had a lower amount of corn products.

Author’s Note: This information accounts for why some cats who like a certain brand and flavor of food will suddenly refuse to eat that food. Cats have a very acute sense of smell and they can detect the change in their food. Dog food is no better and dogs can suddenly reject a food that they liked previously. Changing the formula of dog or cat food can also induce loose stools and weight changes in a dog or cat.

New research about the Himalayan wolf

For many years researchers believed that the Himalayan wolf was related to the gray wolf and was not given its own identification. However, the latest research has shown that the Himalayan wolf is a different species than the gray wolf. So much so that scientists have given it its own wolf taxon which means it is recognized as a different species which allows conservationist to form programs to protect it.  

Researchers also found that the wolf not only lives in the Himalayans, but in all of the higher altitude regions of Asia including the Tibetan Plateau. This is a very large area of the planet.

The research teams also found that the wolf does not exist on livestock as is believed by the local people, but mainly preys on wildlife. This discovery is important because the wolf has been hunted due to the belief that they were killing livestock as well as for illegal wildlife trade.

With the wolf’s new status, conservation efforts can be initiated, the local population educated and hopefully help with conservation efforts.

How do elephants treat their dead?

There have been many stories about how elephants react to members of their species who have died. For the first time researchers Shifra Goldenberg, Ph.D., from the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, and George Wittemyer, Ph.D., from Save the Elephants and the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University have studied these phenomena.  

Google free images

Elephants clearly show feelings for deceased members of their species even if the dead elephant was not a member of their group. They approached the dead animal, investigated the carcass, and appeared to mourn when it was a relative. Some even visit the carcass repeatedly. Elephants have been observed vocalizing and attempting to lift a fallen elephant that had just died. This study indicates intelligence as well as deep emotions that we need more research to understand.

Dog’s eyes are different than wolves

Dr Kaminski and co-author, evolutionary psychologist Professor Bridget Waller, also at the University of Portsmouth conducted an interesting research project which found that dogs have a small muscle above their eyes that allow them to noticeably raise their inner eyebrow. Wolves do not have this ability. The purpose of this muscle is to allow dogs to better communicate with people. The expression that results makes the dog’s eyes appear larger and resembles the movement that people produce when they are sad. It also makes the dog’s eyes appear more infant like. People seem to want to look after dogs more when they exhibit this expression.

The researchers found that dogs will raise their eyebrows more when people are looking at them indicating that dogs are trying to communicate with people. This study illustrates how important and powerful facial expressions are in social interaction.

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.