Animal Health Foundation Blog

2019 Holiday Pet Shopping Report

December 2nd, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

The New No-Grain Ingredient Coming to Your Pet Food Aisle

November 18th, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Story at-a-glance

  • Despite growing concerns about the connection between grain-free formulas containing pulse crops and dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs, the processed pet food industry continues to talk up the use of fava beans in grain-free pet food
  • In addition to the DCM connection, there are many other reasons pulse crops such as fava beans don’t belong in dog and cat food, e.g., they contain substances pets’ bodies can’t digest, that also interfere with mineral absorption

Despite the much-publicized suspected link between grain-free diets high in legumes and diet-related dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs, the processed pet food industry remains very committed to searching out biologically inappropriate pulse crops for potential use in dog and cat food.

A recent favorite is fava beans (also called faba and broad beans), which “may be the next new grain-free ingredient in the pet food aisle,” according to a recent article in a pet food industry publication.1 Last year the same publication promoted a 2017 study that suggests fava beans are an “effective ingredient for use in a commercial dog diet.”2

“It appears fava beans were well tolerated at all levels tested and only influenced digestibility at higher levels,” reported study co-author Greg Aldrich, PhD. “The dehulled fava beans in our study processed well in extrusion. They would be a solid contributor as an ingredient choice in modern pet foods.”3

This study is typical of pet food industry scientific research designed to see how much of a biologically inappropriate ingredient pets can ingest before it interferes with their digestion in an immediately measurable way. The dogs in the study didn’t develop noticeable digestive issues until they were subjected to higher levels of fava beans.

This is a considered a win by the industry, because they now have yet another inexpensive, plentiful, plant-based (i.e., biologically inappropriate) ingredient they can use to inflate the protein percentage in their formulas, and also potentially use to replace meat protein in vegetarian or vegan pet foods.

Why Pulse Crops Don’t Belong in Pet Food

Pulse crops, also called pulses or legumes, are plants with a pod. “Pulse” is the term used to identify the edible seeds of legumes, and is derived from the Latin word puls, meaning thick soup. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)4 recognizes 11 primary pulses:5

Dry beans (kidney, lima, azuki, mung, black gram, scarlet runner, ricebean, moth, and tepary) Lentil
Dry broad beans (fava, horse, broad, field) Bambara groundnut
Dry peas (garden, protein) Vetch
Chickpea Lupins
Dry cowpea Minor pulses (lablab, jack, winged, velvet, and yam beans)
Pigeon pea

Because they are high in fiber, folate, iron (when eaten with a source of vitamin C), and complex carbohydrates, and are also low in fat, pulse crops are considered nutritious for humans by some nutritionists, and not by others. Some experts advise keeping legume intake minimal for the same reason I recommend avoiding feeding these foods to pets — the presence of phytates and lectins that are naturally found in legumes.

Phytates are substances that carnivores can’t break down because they lack phytase, the enzyme necessary to process phytic acid. Phytates bind minerals (including zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium), leeching them out of your pet’s body. Lectins are sticky proteins that when consumed in large quantities may contribute to gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances and leaky gut.

Pet food producers and their ingredient suppliers are aware that many pet parents tend to believe foods that are healthy for humans are also healthy for dogs and cats. In fact, they use pet owners’ lack of knowledge about pet food ingredients to create and market biologically inappropriate diets. For example, one of the marketing approaches used to promote pet foods containing bean meal is weight loss.

The nutrient profile in beans may benefit some humans and other omnivores and herbivores, but carnivores thrive on animal — not plant — protein, and they don’t benefit physiologically from starch or high levels of dietary fiber. Cats are true carnivores and dogs are facultative carnivores, not omnivores or herbivores, but that pesky little fact certainly hasn’t diminished the pet food industry’s love affair with ingredients nature didn’t design dogs and cats to eat.

Most Pet Food Research is Conducted for the Benefit of Pet Food Companies, Not Dogs and Cats

Also good news for pet food producers is that fava beans “processed well in extrusion.” Extrusion, as we know, is a manufacturing method that has been used by the pet food industry for decades. About 95% of dry pet diets are produced using the extrusion process.

Batches of raw ingredients are mixed, sheared and heated under high pressure, forced through a spiral shaped screw and then through the die of the extruder machine. Extrudate is the result — a ribbon-like product that is then knife-cut and dried.

The high temperature used in extrusion (nearly 400°F) and the short time frame to process (under 5 minutes) creates continuous chemical and physical alterations to the ingredient mixture. This not only changes the molecular activity of the food, but also potentially contributes to a heavier carcinogenic load and profound levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). So, to review, the pet food industry’s takeaways from the study are:

  • Fava beans hold up well in the extrusion process
  • Fava beans in moderate amounts can be tolerated by dogs
  • Fava beans can be used to boost the protein percentages (misleadingly, in my opinion) in pet food formulas

Honestly, the simple fact that an ingredient such as fava beans must be tested in pets to see how much they can tolerate before they become ill is all the proof anyone should need that they didn’t evolve to eat that ingredient. Therefore, the intent and result of this study is 100% for the benefit of big pet food, and 0% for the benefit of the dogs and cats who will at some point be fed processed diets containing fava beans.

Legumes and Grain-Free Pet Food

As I mentioned earlier, there’s also cause for concern now that a link has been established between grain-free dog food containing legumes and a growing number of cases of the heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. Of the DCM cases the FDA reviewed for its report published in June, 91% of the diets were grain-free and 93% contained peas and/or lentils.

It’s important to note that while legumes are being singled out as a potential problematic ingredient, no definitive test results have been released. However, grain-free kibble is often much higher in both whole carbohydrates and purified starches (e.g., pea starch, potato starch and tapioca starch) than grain-based dry dog food.

The higher the starch level in any pet food, the less protein is included (hence my suggestion to avoid both grains and other sources of unnecessary starch in all pet food). You can find my most recent update on the grain-free kibble/DCM issue, including feeding recommendations, here.

Pet Cremation: Practical First Steps & Memorial Ideas (2019 Edition)

November 15th, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

 

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened. ” – Anatole France

Introduction

I’ve noticed my little Shih Tzu is failing. She hides under my bed or stays outside in the rain. When I call for her, she turns toward me in confusion. Her eyes are blank and searching, for she is blind. In the mornings, I regretfully leave her hoping that when I return, she will greet me excitedly at the door. I dread the days when I have to hunt her down as though we are playing hide and seek. I’m never sure of what I will find, and that makes my stomach flip nervously and my heart race.

Our pets are our family, and our family is our world.

For this reason, it’s important to begin thinking about a pet’s death and how we would like to honor and memorialize our companion before our pet passes.

Suggested ReadSay A Meaningful Goodbye To Your Pet

Pet Cremation Services

Before losing my last pet, I never thought about what I would do with his remains. I regret not preplanning for my pet’s death because I put myself in a position to make a hasty decision–one I would later regret. We have options as pet owners, and it’s important to know what those options are.

If you choose to leave your pet with the veterinarian, make sure you ask your vet how he or she disposes of an animal. It could mean that your pet will be included in a mass cremation process or taken to a landfill. If this is not your desire, make sure to speak up.

Pet Cremation Cost

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, at least 17% of funeral homes in the U.S. now offer pet cremation services, and another 13% plan to do so. As of 2016, there were over 800 pet cemeteries and crematoriums in the United States, and the pet funeral industry continues to grow. 90% of pet owners choose cremation while less than 10% choose burial when their beloved pet passes.

Depending on your pet’s size and weight and the market where you reside, cremation costs can vary substantially. The price can range between $30 – $250. In addition, there are add-on services that can influence the price like memorials or funeral ceremonies. The good news is that most crematoriums have options that fit the budget of the owner.

Private or Individual Cremation

Private or individual creation is the most costly option. Your pet will be placed in the cremation chamber alone, ensuring that it will not be mixed with other animals’ remains. Some people request to view the cremation of their pet to help with closure and provide comfort that the pet’s remains were, indeed, cremated individually. There may be an added fee for this service.

Semi-Private or Partitioned Cremation

During a semi-private or partitioned cremation, pets are cremated at the same time with other animals. Even though crematoriums do their best to keep the remains separated in the chamber, there is a chance that part pf the remains could be comingled or mixed together which makes this choice less costly. Some crematoriums may refer to a partitioned cremation as individual, so be sure to ask specific questions.

Communal or Group Cremation

Communal or group cremation involves the cremation of multiple animals in the same chamber at once. The remains cannot be separated, and therefore, will not be returned.

Pet Funeral Plaque

Pet Funeral

Practical First Steps

There is no right or wrong way to announce a pet’s death. Some people turn to social media and find comfort in reading comments and responses. Others send an email or post card notification to their closest friends. Still others prefer to keep the news private and limit an announcement to family and close friends. Today, anything goes.

In fact, as I’m writing this, the news is announcing the death of a celebrity’s dog. It has become socially acceptable to acknowledge the suffering and despair that accompany the loss of a pet. It’s important that the owner do what is most comfortable for them.

If an owner chooses to write a death announcement or obituary, they have creative freedom, as there is no prescribed way to compose a pet obituary. Including a picture of a pet, sharing a fond memory, or writing about a pet’s personality is common. However, the tone of an obituary can be sad, humorous, inspiring, or serious. Every pet’s personality is unique, and this can be reflected in how one tells the story of their pet’s life.

Organizing a Funeral Service or Ceremony

Holding a pet funeral is a cathartic means to gain closure after the loss of a pet. The funeral can reflect the pet’s personality or its owner’s. Funerals can be fun, quirky, serious, elaborate, or simple. From backyard ceremonies to procuring the services of a pet funeral home and cemetery, there are many choices that can adapt to your budget and taste.

People in the pet industry understand that losing a pet can be as devastating as losing a beloved family member; therefore, they are there to assist you. Not only do pet cemeteries and funeral homes offer burial and cremation services, but they also sell caskets, urns, and grave markers specifically created for pets.

As noted above, some traditional funeral homes are now providing pet services. Funeralwise.com is an excellent resource to search for pet cemeteries and cremation services in your area.

Choosing a Location

If you choose to have a funeral for your pet, the first decision to make is where to hold the ceremony. It could be at a favorite park, a beach, or a cat’s favorite place to sun itself. Choose a location that reminds you of spending joyous moments with your pet.

Ideas to Include In Your Ceremony

Below are some common features to include in your ceremony:

  • Displaying photographs and videos to memorialize your pet
  • Sharing memories with the attendees
  • Reading poems and/or religious passages
  • Offering prayers and blessings
  • Holding a candle lighting ceremony
  • Concluding and saying goodbye and thank you to guests

Some popular prayers include:

Pet Loss Prayer

Dear God, we bring our grief in the loss of (pet’s name) to you and ask for the courage to move through our grief. We bring you all our thanks for (pet’s name) who we were blessed to have as our precious pet. She/he gave so freely of his/her love to all those who she’d meet. We commit our beloved pet and companion into your loving hands. Surround us with your love and give us others to support us as we mourn.

Amen

Good-bye Prayer of a Beloved Pet

We gather today joining hearts as we honor the loss of our beloved pet (pet’s name) who made our days and our lives more enjoyable. Someday we hope to meet with you again (pet’s name) in eternity with hugs, kisses and tears. We miss your daily presence and unending love in our daily lives. Death ends a life but our relationship still lives on in my heart and in my memory of times we spent together. You are now free running the fields where we will meet again. You are restored to complete health. You are in God’s loving care forever.

Amen

Prayer for a Candle Lighting Ceremony

We honor the memory of our precious pet with the warm light of this candle, sending to all our beloved pets a message of peace and love. We, as pet caregivers, bring our loss and sorrow to this place and together we ask that day by day our grief will be lessened. Each day let us continue to see how the relationship we had with our beloved pet still impacts our lives today.

Amen

Additional popular poems and prayers

Below is a further list of popular poems and prayers:

More like This: Mourning The Loss Of A Pet With A Pet Funeral

8 Pet Memorial Ideas

8 Pet Memorial Ideas

The final farewell to a pet can be simple to elaborate.

It could be a verbal, “Goodbye, my friend. You will be missed.” While other people may choose to complete the ceremony by releasing lanterns, butterflies, or even setting off fireworks. One could even choose to give away a favorite book about a dog or present a heartwarming movie like “A Dog’s Purpose” to their guests. The celebration of a pet does not have to end with the funeral. It can be everlasting with a permanent memorial.

Suggested Read: Establishing A Permanent Memorial

1. Offer Donations

A charitable way to memorialize a pet is to offer a donation to a preferred animal shelter or rescue. I love the idea of holding an annual party in your dog’s name where friends and family are asked to bring blankets, treats, or food to offer as a donation.

2. Volunteer at an Animal Shelter

Another philanthropic way to remember a pet is to offer your time at a local shelter. Volunteering can help relieve the pain that accompanies a pet’s death. It is difficult to be sad when you are bringing joy to other animals.

3. Framing The Rainbow Bridge Poem

The Rainbow Bridge poem is a beautiful reminder that your pet lives on after their earthly life. Framing it can provide comfort and reassurance that one day you will be reunited with your pet again.

4. Plant a Memorial Tree

Planting a tree or flowers to remember a pet will keep their memory alive; however, I like the idea of putting a beautiful plant or picture of a pet in their favorite indoor spot.

5. Add Memorial Stones to Your Garden

A mosaic portrait stone for the garden is another beautiful way to memorialize a pet, or commissioning an artist to paint a portrait of a beloved pet is another way to pay tribute to a loyal companion.

6. Incorporate Their Memory into Jewelry

There are many ways to incorporate jewelry into memorializing your pet. There are charms, bracelets, rings, and pendants that can hold remains, incorporate paw prints, or be imprinted with photos.

7. Create a Stuffed Animal

Companies exist that will create a stuffed animal from a picture of a pet. This is a comforting way for a child to remember a cherished pet.

8. Get a Tattoo

Finally, tattoos are becoming a popular way to memorialize both people and pets. A person can ink a pet’s paw print, name and/or date of birth and death, or a full pet portrait.

Pet Cremation

Conclusion

Pets greet us with enthusiasm, love us unconditionally, and are able to overlook our greatest flaws. Even when we are irritable and cranky, they still want to snuggle up next to us. I think this is why we mourn these loyal companions so deeply when they pass. The bond we share with a pet is the one relationship we can count on day in and day out. When our world falls apart and human challenges befall us, our pets are right there to provide comfort.

Our human relationships can be complicated and difficult while the relationship we have with a pet is seemingly simple and easy. For these reasons, it is important that we allow ourselves to mourn these beautiful creatures. In fact, grieving the loss of a pet in a way that makes sense to us is an act of kindness we can do for ourselves during this very difficult time.

Everdays sends important service details and updates, finds support in private condolences with family and friends, and celebrates the life of your loved one (including pets 🐾) with a dedicated tribute of shared photos with keepsake video. To learn more, visit our website or download our app, available on both iOS and Android. 

Debunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory

November 13th, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

From the Whole Dog Journal   By   Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Subscribe to the Whole Dog Journal

Exerting “dominance” over your dog is the wrong way to build a good relationship.

The alpha myth is everywhere. Google “alpha dog” on the Internet and you get more than 85 million hits. Really. While not all the sites are about dominating your dog, there are literally millions of resources out there – websites, books, blogs, television shows, veterinarians, trainers and behavior professionals – instructing you to use force and intimidation to overpower your dog into submission. They say that you, the human, must be the alpha. They’re all wrong. Every single one of them.

The erroneous approach to canine social behavior known as dominance theory (two million-plus Google hits) is based on a study of captive zoo wolves conducted in the 1930s and 1940s by Swiss animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel, in which the scientist concluded that wolves in a pack fight to gain dominance, and the winner is the alpha wolf.

The Origin’s of the “Alpha” Dog Theory

Schenkel’s observations of captive wolf behavior were erroneously extrapolated to wild wolf behavior, and then to domestic dogs. It was postulated that wolves were in constant competition for higher rank in the hierarchy, and only the aggressive actions of the alpha male and female held the contenders in check. Other behaviorists following Schenkel’s lead also studied captive wolves and confirmed his findings: groups of unrelated wolves brought together in artificial captive environments do, indeed, engage in often-violent and bloody social struggles.

The problem is, that’s not normal wolf behavior. As David Mech stated in the introduction to his study of wild wolves (Mech, 2000), “Attempting to apply information about the behavior of assemblages of unrelated captive wolves to the familial structure of natural packs has resulted in considerable confusion. Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps. The concept of the alpha wolf as a ‘top dog’ ruling a group of similar-aged compatriots (Schenkel 1947; Rabb et al. 1967; Fox 1971a; Zimen 1975, 1982; Lockwood 1979; van Hooff et al. 1987) is particularly misleading.”

What we know now, thanks to Mech and others, is that in the wild, a wolf pack is a family, consisting of a mated pair and their offspring of the past one to three years. Occasionally two or three families may group together. As the offspring mature they disperse from the pack; the only long-term members of the group are the breeding pair. By contrast, in captivity unrelated wolves are forced to live together for many years, creating tension between mature adults that doesn’t happen in a natural, wild pack.

Dominance-Based Training is Disrespectful to Your Dog

But that’s all about wolves anyway, not dogs. How did it happen that dog owners and trainers started thinking all that information (and misinformation) about wolf behavior had anything to do with dogs and dog behavior? The logic went something like, “Dogs are descended from wolves. Wolves live in hierarchical packs in which the aggressive alpha male rules over everyone else. Therefore, humans need to dominate their pet dogs to get them to behave.”

Perhaps the most popular advocate of this inaccurate concept, Cesar Millan, is only the latest in a long line of dominance-based trainers who advocate forceful techniques such as the alpha roll. Much of this style of training has roots in the military – which explains the emphasis on punishment.

As far back as 1906, Colonel Konrad Most was using heavy-handed techniques to train dogs in the German army, then police and service dogs. He was joined by William Koehler after the end of World War II.

Koehler also initially trained dogs for the military prior to his civilian dog-training career, and his writings advocated techniques that included hanging and helicoptering a dog into submission (into unconsciousness, if necessary). For example, to stop a dog from digging, Koehler suggested filling the hole with water and submerging the dog’s head in the water-filed hole until he was nearly drowned.

Fast-forward several years to 1978 and the emergence of the Monks of New Skete as the new model for dog training, asserting a philosophy that “understanding is the key to communication, compassion, and communion” with your dog. Sounds great, yes? The Monks were considered cutting edge at the time – but contrary to their benevolent image, they were in fact responsible for the widespread popularization of the “Alpha-Wolf Roll-Over” (now shortened to the alpha roll). Reviewing the early observations of captive wolves, the Monks concluded that the alpha roll is a useful tool for demonstrating one’s authority over a dog. Unfortunately, this is  a complete and utter misinterpretation of the submissive roll-over that is voluntarily offered by less assertive dogs, not forcibly commanded by stronger ones.

The Monks also advocated the frequent use of other physical punishments such as the scruff shake (grab both sides of the dog’s face and shake, lifting the dog off the ground) and cuffing under the dog’s chin with an open hand several times, hard enough to cause the dog to yelp.

While professing that “training dogs is about building a relationship that is based on respect and love and understanding,” even their most recent book, Divine Canine: The Monks’ Way to a Happy, Obedient Dog (2007), is still heavy on outdated, erroneous dominance theory. Immediately following their suggestion that “a kindly, gentle look tells the dog she is loved and accepted,” they say “But it is just as vital to communicate a stern reaction to bad behavior. A piercing, sustained stare into a dog’s eyes tells her who’s in charge; it establishes the proper hierarchy of dominance between person and pet.” (It’s also a great way to unwittingly elicit a strong aggressive response if you choose the wrong dog as the subject for your piercing, sustained stare.)

Despite the strong emergence of positive reinforcement-based training in the last 20 years, the Monks don’t seem to have grasped that the “respect” part needs to go both ways for a truly compassionate communion with your dog. Perhaps one of these days . . .

The Birth of Positive-Reinforcement Training

Just when it seemed that dog training had completely stagnated in turn-of-the-century military-style dominance-theory training, marine mammal trainer Karen Pryor wrote her seminal book, Don’t Shoot the Dog. Published in 1985, this small, unassuming volume was intended as a self-help book for human behavior. The author never dreamed that her modest book, paired with a small plastic box that made a clicking sound, would launch a massive paradigm shift in the world of dog training and behavior. But it did.

Forward progress was slow until 1993, when veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ian Dunbar founded the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. Dunbar’s vision of a forum for trainer education and networking has developed into an organization that now boasts nearly 6,000 members worldwide. While membership in the APDT is not restricted to positive reinforcement-based trainers, included in its guiding principles is this statement:

“We promote the use of reward-based training methods, thereby minimizing the use of aversive techniques.”

The establishment of this forum facilitated the rapid spread of information in the dog training world, enhanced by the creation of an online discussion list where members could compare notes and offer support for a scientific and dog-friendly approach to training.

Things were starting to look quite rosy for our dogs. The positive market literally mushroomed with books and videos from dozens of quality training and behavior professionals, including Jean Donaldson, Dr. Patricia McConnell, Dr. Karen Overall, Suzanne Hetts, and others. With advances in positive training and an increasingly educated dog training profession embracing the science of behavior and learning and passing good information on to their clients, pain-causing, abusive methods such as the alpha roll, scruff shake, hanging, drowning, and cuffing appeared to be headed the way of the passenger pigeon.

A Step-Backward for Positive-Reinforcement Training Techniques

Then, in the fall of 2004, the National Geographic Channel launched its soon-to-be wildly popular show, The Dog Whisperer. Dominance theory was back in vogue, with a vengeance. Today, everything from housetraining mistakes to jumping up to counter surfing to all forms of aggression is likely to be attributed to “dominance” by followers of the alpha-resurgence.

“But,” some will argue, “look at all the dogs who have been successfully trained throughout the past century using the dominance model. Those trainers can’t be all wrong.”

In fact, harsh force-based methods (in technical parlance, “positive punishment”) are a piece of operant conditioning, and as the decades have proven, those methods can work. They are especially good at shutting down behaviors – convincing a dog that it’s not safe to do anything unless instructed to do something. And yes, that works with some dogs. With others, not so much.

My own personal, unscientific theory is that dog personalities lie on a continuum from very soft to very tough. Harsh, old-fashioned dominance-theory methods can effectively suppress behaviors without obvious fallout (although there is always behavioral fallout) with dogs nearest the center of the personality continuum – those who are resilient enough to withstand the punishment, but not so tough and assertive that they fight back. Under dominance theory, when a dog fights back, you must fight back harder until he submits, in order to assert yourself as the pack leader, or alpha.

Problem is, sometimes they don’t submit, and the level of violence escalates. Or they submit for the moment, but may erupt aggressively again the next time a human does something violent and inappropriate to them. Under dominance-theory training, those dogs are often deemed incorrigible, not suitable for the work they’re being trained for nor safe as a family companion, and sentenced to death. Had they never been treated inappropriately, many might have been perfectly fine.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, a very “soft” dog can be easily psychologically damaged by one enthusiastic inappropriate assertion of rank by a heavy-handed dominance trainer. This dog quickly shuts down – fearful and mistrusting of the humans in his world who are unpredictably and unfairly violent.

Most crossover trainers (those who used to train with old-fashioned methods and now are proud to promote positive reinforcement-based training) will tell you they successfully trained lots of dogs the old way. They loved their dogs and their dogs loved them.

I’m a crossover trainer and I know that’s true. I also would dearly love to be able to go back and redo all of that training, to be able to have an even better relationship with those dogs, to give them a less stressful life – one filled with even more joy than the one we shared together.

We Aren’t Dogs, and Our Dogs Know It

Finally, the very presumption that our dogs would even consider we humans to be members of their canine pack is simply ludicrous. They know how impossibly inept we are, for the most part, at reading and understanding the subtleties of canine body language. We are equally inept, if not even more so, at trying to mimic those subtleties. Any attempts on our part to somehow insert ourselves into their social structure and communicate meaningfully with them in this manner are simply doomed to failure. It’s about time we gave up trying to be dogs in a dog pack and accepted that we are humans co-existing with another species – and that we’re most successful doing so when we co-exist peacefully.

The fact is, successful social groups work because of voluntary deference, not because of aggressively enforced dominance. The whole point of social body language rituals is to avoid conflict and confrontation, not to cause it. Watch any group of dogs interacting. Time and time again you’ll see dogs deferring to each other. It’s not even always the same dog deferring:

Dog B: Hey, I’d really like to go first. Dog A: “By all means, be my guest.” Dog B passes down the narrow hallway.

Dog A: “I’d really like to have that bone.” Dog B: “Oh sure – I didn’t feel like chewing right now anyway.” Dog A gets the bone.

Social hierarchies do exist in groups of domesticated dogs and in many other species, including humans, and hierarchy can be fluid. As described above, one dog may be more assertive in one encounter, and more deferent in the next, depending on what’s at stake, and how strongly each dog feels about the outcome. There are a myriad of subtleties about how those hierarchies work, and how the members of a social group communicate – in any species.

Today, educated trainers are aware that canine-human interactions are not driven by social rank, but rather by reinforcement. Behaviors that are reinforced repeat and strengthen. If your dog repeats an inappropriate behavior such as counter surfing or getting on the sofa, it’s not because he’s trying to take over the world; it’s just because he’s been reinforced by finding food on the counter, or by being comfortable on the sofa. He’s a scavenger and an opportunist, and the goods are there for the taking. Figure out how to prevent him from being reinforced for the behaviors you don’t want, and reinforce him liberally for the ones you do, and you’re well on your way to having the relationship of mutual love, respect, communication, and communion that we all want to have with our dogs.

Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s Training Editor. Author of numerous books on positive dog training, she lives in Fairplay, Maryland, site of her Peaceable Paws training center, where she offers dog training classes and courses for trainers.

Heart-Wrenching Study Shows The Long-Term Effect Yelling Can Have on Your Dog

November 11th, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation
From SCIENCEALERT.COM by MICHELLE STARR  7 NOV 2019

Your dog may be the apple of your eye, but let’s be honest: she is an animal, with her own instincts and idiosyncrasies, and there are going to be times when she makes you want to tear your hair out.

According to a new study uploaded to pre-print server bioRxiv, aversive training such as punishment and negative reinforcement can have long-term negative effects on your dog’s mental state.

“Our results show that companion dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare as compared to companion dogs trained using reward-based methods, at both the short- and the long-term level,” the researchers write in their paper.

“Specifically, dogs attending schools using aversive-based methods displayed more stress-related behaviours and body postures during training, higher elevations in cortisol levels after training, and were more ‘pessimistic’ in a cognitive bias task.”

This sort of research has been conducted before, and found that aversive training has negative effects, but it’s primarily been on police and laboratory dogs. In addition, the aversive training tends to be shock collar training, which is only one of several tools used.

So, led by biologist Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal, the international team of researchers conducted their new study on companion dogs.

Each dog was filmed during the first 15 minutes of three training sessions, and saliva samples were taken to assess stress levels from training – three from each dog relaxing at home to establish baseline levels of stress hormone cortisol, and three from each dog after training.

The researchers also analysed the dogs’ behaviour during training to look for stress behaviours, such as yawning, lip-licking, paw-raising and yelping.

Unsurprisingly, the dogs in the aversive training classes showed elevated stress behaviours, particularly yawning and lip-licking. Their saliva also had significantly increased levels of cortisol compared to when they were relaxing at home.

By contrast, the positive reinforcement dogs were pretty chill – far fewer stress behaviours, and much more normal cortisol levels.

The next step was to assess the longer term effects of this stress. A month after the dogs were assessed at training, 79 of them were then trained to associate a bowl on one side of a room with a sausage snack. If the bowl was on that side, it always held a delicious treat; if located on the other side, the bowl never had the treat. (All bowls were rubbed with sausage to ensure the smell didn’t give the game away.)

Sure enough, the more aversive training a dog had received, the more slowly it approached the bowl. Interestingly, dogs from the reward-based training group actually learnt the bowl location task faster than the aversive-training dogs.

This suggests that reward-based training may actually be more effective, although the researchers suggest this may be because the dogs already understand treat-based training methods. It’s possible that the other group would learn more quickly were an aversive method applied – more research needs to be done to determine this.

Overall, though, the results seem to imply that aversive training doesn’t necessarily have an edge over reward training, and that reward training is much better for your dog’s happiness.

“Critically,” the researchers said, “our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk.”

The full paper is available on bioRxiv ahead of peer review.

The 5 Things You Should Never Do With a Pet in the Car

November 5th, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation
Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
  • A recent study confirms what almost all of already know — pets riding in cars should be restrained
  • The study showed that free-roaming pets in vehicles increase driver distractions, unsafe driving behavior, and stress for both drivers and pets
  • It’s important to know the five things you should never do with a pet in the car
  • For everyone’s safety, including your pet’s, it’s important to secure him or her with a preferably crash tested harness, travel crate, or travel carrier
  • Other important tips for safe travel include ensuring your dog or cat is wearing an up-to-date ID tag, and bringing along a pet emergency first aid kit

Recent research conducted by Volvo and The Harris Poll confirms what most of us already know — allowing your pet to ride and roam around in your car unrestrained is not a good or safe plan.1 The study showed that “free-range” pets in vehicles leads to an increase in unsafe driving maneuvers, driver distraction, and stress on both the animal and the driver.

A previous report by the same researchers suggested that 32% of pet parents have left a dog at home because they felt their car wasn’t safe enough, and 77% of Americans believe people don’t take vehicular dog safety seriously enough.2 Clearly, pet owners know better than they do, when it comes to traveling with furry companions.

Why Allowing Your Pet to Ride Unrestrained in Your Car is So Risky

The just-released study followed 15 drivers with dogs in their vehicles for more than 30 road hours. The researchers set out to compare how driving with an unrestrained pet vs. a pet in a seat belt, harness or carrier affected driver behavior. A few highlights:

  • Unsafe driving behaviors — including pets climbing on drivers’ laps or hanging their head out the window — more than doubled when pets were allowed to roam freely, with 649 instances vs. 274 with restrained pets
  • Driver distraction caused by dogs jumping from seat to seat or otherwise pulling drivers’ eyes off the road also more than doubled at 3 hours and 39 minutes with unrestrained pets vs. 1 hour and 39 minutes with restrained pets
  • Heart rates increased for both drivers and unrestrained pets, with dogs averaging 7 beats per minute faster and drivers, 28 to 34 beats per minute faster

Beyond these significant issues, free-roaming pets in cars can receive devastating injuries in the event of an accident or can run away from the chaotic, frightening scene of the accident, never to be seen again.

5 Never-Dos When Traveling With Pets

Veterinarian Dr. Elisa Mazzaferro, an expert in emergency and critical care of animals, offers the following tips for driving with pets:3

  • Never drive with your pet in the front seat — In the event of a collision, your dog or cat can be thrown into the windshield, even if restrained. Deployment of the passenger side airbag can also be dangerous to a small pet.
  • Never drive with your pet on your lap — It is not only a serious distraction to driving, but your pet can get caught under the steering wheel and cause an accident or be thrown forward in a collision.
  • Never drive with your pet unrestrained — Not only can your pet be a distraction, but an abrupt stop can cause him to fall and be injured. In the event of an accident, your frightened dog or cat may jump from your vehicle and run into moving traffic, be hit by other vehicles, or become lost.
  • Never allow your pet to lean out your car window — Debris can fly into your pet’s eyes and cause abrasions or punctures that could result in blindness.
  • Never leave your pet unattended in a vehicle — Depending on the breed, level of anxiety, and the time of year, some people may be tempted to leave their pet in the car while running a short errand. Even during cooler months, never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle, no matter how short a period of time, to avoid extreme temperatures and hyperthermia/ heat stroke.

Pet Restraints: Harnesses, Travel Carriers, and Travel Crates

Putting your pet into a crate, carrier or secure harness is for their safety as well as yours. As discussed above, an unrestrained dog or cat can be a distraction while you’re driving, and more than a few have crawled under the driver’s feet, causing an accident, and an unrestrained animal can become a projectile, which is life-threatening for both your pet and other passengers.

You’ll want to choose a crate or carrier that fits your dog or cat snugly, with enough room to be comfortable but not excess room (which poses a risk in the event of an accident). The crate or carrier should then be secured into the back seat or cargo area of the vehicle — not the front passenger seat.

While you can fasten almost any crate or carrier in your vehicle using elastic or rubber bungee cords, this method may not be secure enough in an accident, putting your pet at risk of injury. In addition, many pet restraint manufacturers claim their products are crash-tested and safe for use in a vehicle, but there are no established test protocols or standards required to make such claims.

Fortunately, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) and Subaru have collaborated to perform crash tests on a wide range of harnesses, carriers and crates on the market. CPS actually provides a list of crash test certified pet restraint systems (up to date as of November 2018). The links below take you the test pages, including videos, for each product:4

Safety Harnesses Travel Carriers Travel Crates
Sleepypod Clickit Sport (Sm, Med, Lg, XL) Gen7Commuter Carrier Gunner Kennel G1 Small with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
Sleepypod Clickit Terrain (Sm, Med, Lg, XL) Gunner Kennel G1 Small with Strength Rated Anchor Straps Gunner Kennel G1 Medium with Strength Rated Anchor Straps
ZuGoPet The Rocketeer Pack Sleepypod Carriers Gunner Kennel G1 Intermediate with Strength Rated Anchor Straps

The CPS and Subaru also crash-tested pet travel seats. These are portable booster seats for small dogs that are placed on the passenger seat or console to elevate small dogs so they can see out the windows. None of the four tested seats safely restrained the (stuffed) dogs in the crash tests,5 so while they may be fun for dogs, they shouldn’t be considered effective safety restraints.

10 More Important Tips for Safe Road Trips With Your Pet

  1. Make sure your dog or cat is wearing a collar with a current ID tag. If your pet is microchipped, make sure the information is current in the microchip company’s database.
  2. Put together a travel kit for your pet. Include appropriate paperwork, food, fresh bottled water, bowls, treats, a harness and leash, and any supplements or medications your pet is taking.
  3. A first aid kit for emergencies is also a good idea. You can include a comb or brush, some toys, and, bedding. It’s also an excellent idea to include some recent pictures of your pet from various angles that would show any unique markings or any unique characteristics about her in the event (heaven forbid) she gets separated from you while traveling.
  4. If you plan to feed fresh or raw homemade food during the trip, obviously you need to pack an ice chest or some way to keep the food frozen. If you opt to switch to canned food for your journey, it’s important you make the dietary transition a week or so before you plan to leave, so you don’t encounter any unexpected bouts of diarrhea during your trip.
  5. Have clean up supplies on hand. Sometimes, there are potty accidents or vomit episodes that need cleaning up.
  6. Most cats won’t use a litterbox in a moving vehicle. If you make stops along the way, you can try to entice him to use the box at rest areas. It’s important to have a litterbox available when you make stops, but it also means that you’ll need a litter scoop and some plastic bags for used litter if your cat does decide to take advantage of the litterbox.
  7. Never open your cat’s carrier while there are any car doors or windows, even a sunroof, open. It’s a precaution you should follow religiously at all times when traveling with your cat.
  8. If you’re traveling with a dog, make sure his leash is attached to his harness or collar before allowing him off his travel harness or out of his travel crate.
  9. Don’t try to feed your pet while the car is moving. It’s best to offer a light meal a few hours before departure. If you’re traveling some distance and will be staying at a hotel in the evening, feed a second meal once your dog or cat has settled down in your room for the night. In the morning, feed some breakfast a couple hours before you get back on the road.
  10. Never leave your pet unattended in your car for any reason.

Listen, and remove the trigger. DO NOT PUNISH THE GROWL!

November 3rd, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

Dementia in Senior Dogs

November 3rd, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

Fire Your Dog Trainer If He/She

November 3rd, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation

When Animals Mourn: Seeing That Grief Is Not Uniquely Human

October 31st, 2019 by Animal Health Foundation
Olaf Kraak/AFP/Getty Images
An elephant at the Emmen, Netherlands, zoo stands at the edge of a ditch in 2009, a day after another elephant fell into the ditch and died.

Eleanor was the matriarch of an elephant family called the First Ladies. One day, elephant researchers in Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve saw that Eleanor was bruised and dragging her trunk on the ground. Soon, she collapsed.

Within minutes, Grace, the matriarch of another elephant family, came near. Using her trunk, she pushed Eleanor back up to a standing position. When Eleanor, greatly weakened now, thudded once again to the ground, Grace became visibly distressed: she vocalized, pushed at the body and refused to leave Eleanor’s side.

How Animals Grieve     by Barbara J. King  Hardcover, 193 pages

The breadth and depth of animal grief is the topic of my book How Animals Grieve, just published. Writing this book often moved me profoundly; through reading the science literature and conducting interviews with experienced animal caretakers, I came to understand at a new, visceral level just how extensively animals feel their lives. Elephants grieve. Great apes (think chimpanzees, bonobos) and cetaceans (such as dolphins) grieve. So do horses and rabbits, cats and dogs, even some birds.

Here at 13.7, I often write about science books. So it’s gratifying to write now about my own, especially this week when it’s the focal point of a story in Time Magazine called “The Mystery of Animal Grief.”

In my work, I define grief as some visible response to death that goes beyond curiosity or exploration to include altered daily routines plus signs of emotional distress. Horses who merely nudge or sniff at the body of a dead companion, for example, can’t be said to be grieving. Horses who stand vigil in a hushed circle, for many hours, at the fresh grave of a lost friend may well be grieving. A horse who refuses food and companionship, becomes listless and won’t follow normal routines for days when her friend dies? Why wouldn’t we see this as grief? (These examples are explained in detail in the book.)

As I’ve mentioned, it’s not only the big-brained “usual suspects” — the apes, elephants and dolphins — who grieve. In this brief video produced at The College of William and Mary (where I teach), I describe what happened when one duck named Harper, rescued by and living contentedly at Farm Sanctuary, witnesses the necessary euthanasia of his best duck friend Kohl. Emotionally, Harper simply cannot recover from his loss.

YouTube

In our own lives, when it hits hard, grief can be a wild and terrible force. In another post to come, I will outline some ways in which I think human mourning and thinking about death differs from the grief of other animals.

For now, I’ll conclude with the same words with which I close my book:

It won’t ease our deepest grief to know that animals love and grieve too. But when our mourning becomes a little less raw… may it bring genuine comfort to know how much we share with other animals? I find hope and solace in [these] stories. May you find hope and solace in them as well.


You can keep up with more of what Barbara is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape