Archive for the ‘Behavior and Training’ Category

Dangerous breed debate fueled by recent media stories on dog attacks

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

Pit BullPit bull attacks on humans are often news-grabbing events, but they don’t represent the disposition of all dogs included in this breed category, according to the National Canine Research Council’s Don Cleary. A 2012 AVMA report on dog bite incidents concluded that no single breed is inherently more dangerous than another, Cleary said. Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

By Tom Barnidge

Contra Costa Times Columnist

Pit bulls are in the news, and that’s rarely a good thing.

A 10-year-old boy mauled in Antioch this month had to undergo skin graft surgery and have his right ear reattached.

A Concord man, whose pit bulls fatally attacked his 2-year-old step-grandson three years ago, is standing trial for manslaughter and child endangerment.

A 6-year-old Union City boy died two months ago after being bitten while playing with a family pit bull that was described as “good with kids.”

Before the National Association of Pit Bull Huggers pickets in my front yard, let’s make one thing clear: Not all pit bulls are alike, and they don’t all attack children.

“I can safely say there are many more pit bulls that are wonderful, loving companion animals than there are pit bulls that have caused damage,” said Rick Golphin, deputy director of Contra Costa County Animal Service. “We adopt out a lot of pit bulls.”

One of the problems with trying to generalize about the breed is … well, pit bull isn’t a breed.

“The term is applied over a very broad range of dogs that aren’t defined by pedigree,” said Don Cleary of the National Canine Research Council. Pit bulls can be bull terriers, Staffordshire terriers, cane corsos or a mixture of those breeds and more. What matters more than the definition is the image the term conveys — a ticking time bomb with powerful jaws and sharp teeth that can turn savage in an instant.

Those who love the dogs point to the findings of the American Temperament Test Society, which I hadn’t heard of until two days ago. It subjects all breeds to pass-fail exams that measure their ability to interact with humans and their environment. You may be surprised to learn that pit bull terriers (86.8 percent) score higher than Dalmatians (82.7), beagles (80.0) and dachshunds (68.8), although that won’t comfort a 10-year-old whose ear has been ripped off.

Opponents point to the hundreds of cities nationwide that have outlawed ownership of such dogs, beginning with Denver in 1989. Even in anything-goes San Francisco, an ordinance passed in 2005 requires “pit bulls” — the legal definition spans 99 words — be spayed or neutered to curtail aggressiveness.

One thing all can agree on is the important role owners play. A dog’s behavior generally is a product of the training and treatment it receives. Find a neglectful pit bull owner, and you’ll find an ill-behaved dog at the end of his leash.

“Socialization is important with any companion animal,” Golphin said, “especially with one that has the potential for causing as much damage as large canines can.”

Cleary believes too many factors affect a dog’s disposition to blame the breed or pass sweeping laws. He cited a 2012 report by the American Veterinary Medical Association that surveyed 40 years of dog-bite studies in Europe and North America: “They reported there is no breed or kind of dog that we should consider disproportionately dangerous.”

He thinks the media focus excessive attention on sporadic attacks. (You know how the media is.) Circumstance and environment shapes a dog’s temperament, not genetics. You’re just as likely to get bitten by a Yorkshire terrier as a pit bull.

Maybe that’s so. But the results of those bites can be terrifyingly different. That’s why the pit bull debate won’t go soon away.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Pet deposits, and how to put landlords’ minds at ease

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

BonnieComerRenters with pets typically pay an additional deposit to cover damage or cleaning fees. Rental expert Niccole Schreck advises pet owners to provide evidence of their animals’ good behavior, such as obedience school certificates or letters from previous neighbors and landlords, and even bring their pet in for an “interview.” She advises owners to resist any temptation to conceal their pet, or they may find themselves looking for a new home for the animal or the whole family. U.S. News & World Report/My Money blog (7/17)

In a recent Rent.com survey of 500 U.S. renters with pets, 48 percent said the pet deposit was the biggest headache when moving with a pet. Pet deposits are usually charged in addition to your security deposit before you move in to cover any damages that may be caused by your pet during your lease term. At the end of your lease, some landlords will refund your pet deposit if your rental is undamaged, while others will keep all or part of the pet deposit as a cleaning fee.

Why do landlords charge a pet deposit? Most landlords have legitimate concerns when it comes to renting to pet owners. Though you may be a responsible pet owner who takes care of your rental home, there are plenty of people who do not, so allowing animals can be risky for a landlord. Many property owners are reluctant because they fear pets will damage the unit, make too much noise or inconvenience other renters.

How much is a typical pet deposit? On a one-year lease, 71 percent of the pet owners Rent.com surveyed said they would expect to spend $200 or less on a pet deposit, while nearly a third (29 percent) said they would typically spend more than $200. In general, there is no typical pet deposit. Deposit amounts will vary depending on how many and what kinds of pets you have, the size, the breed, where you live and even the landlord’s past experiences.

Can I negotiate a pet deposit? Given the inconsistency in pet deposits, they can be negotiable depending on the landlord. The best way to barter for a lower pet deposit is to build the landlord’s comfort level with you and your pets, which can be done in several ways:

• Recommendation letters: You know that your cat isn’t going to scratch at the walls, but your potential landlord can’t be sure. Put his or her mind to rest with recommendation letters from past landlords stating that your four-legged friends were well behaved and left your previous rentals in good shape. You can also obtain letters from previous neighbors to reassure the landlord that your pets won’t bother or harm other renters, as well as a letter from your veterinarian stating that your pet is spayed/neutered and up to date on vaccinations.

• Obedience training: The more evidence you can provide that you’re a responsible pet owner, the better your chance of lowering the pet deposit. Written proof that your dog has completed obedience training will show your new landlord that your dog is well-behaved and socialized.

• Renters insurance: Renters insurance is always a good idea, but having a rental insurance policy – especially one that covers pet-related damages and has liability coverage – can be a helpful tool when discussing pet deposits. Your willingness to be financially responsible for your pet shows the landlord that you are respectful of their concerns and feel a sense of responsibility for your rental.

• Pet interview: Ask your landlord if he or she is willing to do a pet interview, so you can demonstrate that your pet is not aggressive, destructive or too energetic for an apartment. If you opt for an interview, make sure your pet has been walked, fed and relaxed so he or she is on their best behavior.

The bottom line: Don’t be like the 10 percent of renters surveyed who have hidden a pet from a landlord. You could put yourself at risk for eviction or have to find a new home for your pet. Your best bet is to be honest and find an apartment that is happy to have you and your furry companion.

Niccole Schreck is the rental experience expert for Rent.com, a free rental site that helps you find an affordable apartment, gives you tips on how to move and then says, “thank you” with a prepaid $100 reward card.

Proper pet care keeps us all healthy and happy

Monday, July 15th, 2013

person walking with dogsHappy, healthy pets are key to human and animal health, according to this article. Veterinarian Joan Hendricks, dean of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, explains how owners can ensure good health and well-being for their animals and themselves. It’s important to start by researching the species and breed of pet that best fits your family, Dr. Hendricks points out. Pets need proper training to prevent injuries to people, regular veterinary care and good nutrition, and it’s essential to properly handle animal waste to prevent disease, Dr. Hendricks explains. U.S. News & World Report (7/3)

Sudden outbreaks like swine or bird flu remind us all too well that humans are not immune to diseases animals carry. These particular illnesses are most likely to affect people who work with animals regularly, like in a farm setting, but being at risk to an animal’s health hazards can happen in your own home. Improper care for a pet can lead to diseases, and a misbehaved pet can be dangerous to families.

At the same time, being around animals has been shown to increase a person’s well-being. The American Heart Association released a study this year that showed people who own pets have improved cardiovascular health. Animals often are used to help children with special needs or in visits to hospitals. Their presence can abate loneliness, increase altruism and reduce anxiety.

With pet ownership at 62 percent among American households, according to the American Pet Products Association, it is important people understand their risks and benefits. Having a healthy pet requires first learning about the animal you want, then caring and providing for it accordingly, says Joan Hendricks, the Gilbert S. Kahn dean of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. U.S. News turned to Hendricks for advice about pet and family dynamics.

Understand your pet’s natural tendencies. Before you adopt a pet, know what role you want it to have in your family. Do you want a pet for companionship or to guard the house? Do you expect that your pet will join you on your morning run? Do you have the finances to pay someone to take care of your pet while you work or while you’re on business trips?

“People should know enough about their animal when they get it and after they get it,” Hendricks says. “They also must be open to the idea that they may not know as much as they thought.” Even dog breeds vary in terms of what they need from people, Hendricks says. Some dogs are meant to work, some need intellectual stimulation and some need little exercise. Bulldogs, for instance, are happy to lie at home sleeping a lot and show affection when you return from work. Great Danes also don’t need to run around much.

“If a pet’s specific needs are not attended to then they will not be good pets,” Hendricks says. They can even get sick with gastrointestinal upsets and develop behavior disorders – which could lead to wrecking furniture – if a family is not the right match. There are cases when pets aren’t the right fit for the family, she says, which is why it’s important to become informed before you adopt.

When it comes to exotic animals, such as tarantulas or pythons, there isn’t as much information available for pet owners. “There’s always a health concern for veterinarians that anyone who has one of these animals doesn’t know how to take care of them,” she says.

Train your pet properly. Animal bites are the single biggest health risk to kids when it comes to pets, Hendricks says. Avoiding this danger returns to the first principle of understanding your pet’s needs.

“People treat animals as if they were people, and they treat us as if we were their species,” she says. For example, dogs often bite each other out of play, but owners must reinforce that this kind of behavior isn’t acceptable when playing with people. Work with your pet to manage its behavior so everyone is happy. Make sure your children show mutual respect by not teasing or harming the pet, she says.

An irritated cat, for instance, could scratch its owner and spread bartonellosis, commonly called “cat scratch disease,” which causes swollen lymph nodes in people as well as possible fever, headache and fatigue, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Baseball team’s special canine bat boy dies of lymphoma

Friday, July 12th, 2013

Chase the Bat DogChase the golden retriever entertained fans of the Trenton Thunder, a New York Yankees affiliate in New Jersey, for years before his death from lymphoma on Monday. The team and fans threw Chase a retirement and birthday party last week, and last month he was honored at Yankee Stadium. Chase is succeeded by one of his offspring, Derby, who’ll carry on the family tradition of retrieving bats, carrying water bottles to umpires and catching discs in the outfield. The team posted a tribute to Chase on its website.

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — He doggedly did his work, this pinstriped pooch who faithfully served minor leaguers of the New York Yankees while providing big league entertainment.

Chase, the bat-retrieving golden retriever for the Double-A Trenton Thunder who made highlight reels all across baseball for a decade, has died at 13.

“Chase was there a long time. He put a lot of smiles on people’s faces,” Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain, who played in Trenton, said Tuesday night.

“You know it’s going to be sad, but his lineage is carried on. You know it’s something that people are going to miss, but it was fun to be around Chase,” he said.

Chase lived just long enough to be thrown a retirement party by the Thunder last Friday night — featuring Chase bobbleheads, no less. The team said he died Monday.

Chase had been diagnosed in February with a form of lymphoma and had arthritis.

The Thunder’s website Tuesday featured a photo of their late mascot with a bat in his mouth and the caption, “In Loving Memory, Chase That Golden Thunder.”

His bat-retrieving legacy will live on with his son Derby, who continues to be part of the Thunder’s home game entertainment. Another son, Ollie, performs with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

Chase made his debut with the Thunder in 2002. He would trot out in the bottom of the first inning to the batter’s box to pick up bats with his mouth and bring them back to the dugout. He also carried a woven basket with bottles of chilled water to the umpires and entertained fans by running down flying discs in the outfield.

At Friday’s celebration, which coincided with his birthday party, fans were encouraged to bring their dogs to the game.

Last month, he was also honored on the field at Yankee Stadium. Chamberlain petted Chase before the game and infielder David Adams came over to greet his old friend.

Adams recalled Chase retrieving his bat, doing it without leaving teeth marks in the wood.

“He’s not chomping at the bit,” Adams said then. “Or at the bat, either.”

Dogs of all shapes and sizes were at Trenton’s game Friday night against Reading, sitting in the stands with their owners. As fans filed in, Chase lounged on the grass outside the Thunder’s dugout on the first-base side.

A tribute to Chase’s career was shown on the video board. Chase was in position near the bench when Eduardo Nunez — who has since rejoined the Yankees — led off for Trenton in the bottom of the first inning. After the at-bat, Chase trotted out, picked up Nunez’s bat and returned to the dugout to a big cheer from the crowd.

Research reveals dogs of the Americas

Friday, July 12th, 2013

sled-viewInuit sled dogs and other Alaskan breeds are the only dogs with American origins, according to new research. Although the original canine stock has been traced to Asia, there is evidence of dogs in the Americas dating to 10,000 years ago, before transoceanic travel brought Europeans and their dogs to the continent. “Nobody knows exactly what happened,” researcher Peter Savolainen said. “Most probably migrated together with the humans that entered America from Asia via the Bering Strait. These humans became today’s Indians and Inuits.” The canines became Inuit sled dogs, the Greenland dog and the Eskimo dog, according to the research.

Alaskan breeds — such as Inuit sled dogs, the Eskimo dog and the Greenland dog — are the only canines with actual American roots, according to DNA analysis. All of these pooches hail from the 49th state and nearby areas, according to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

“They are all equally American,” co-author Peter Savolainen told Discovery News. “They originate from the indigenous Indian-American and Inuit dog populations, and have only marginally been mixed with European dogs in modern time.”

Savolainen, an associate professor at KTH-Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, explained the determination after tracing the origin of mitochondrial DNA lineages for several dog breeds suspected to be pre-Columbian, meaning before Europeans settled in the Americas. Dogs inherit their mitochondrial DNA from their mothers.

Alaska’s Denali National Park uses sled dogs to patrol its 6 million acres of Arctic terrain.Scientists widely agree that the original stock of all canines worldwide originated from Asia. This is similar to the widely agreed-upon view that all members of our species originated in Africa before some people left that continent.

“There was a single origin of the domestic dog somewhere in Eurasia,” Savolainen explained. “The exact place is still debated, but our previous studies strongly indicate the southern part of East Asia, basically southern China.”

The earliest archaeological evidence for dogs in the Americas dates to around 10,000 years ago, long before the dawn of transoceanic travel in the 15th century that saw the arrival of Columbus and other Europeans.

Most U.S. dogs today, however, have European origins. Golden retrievers, poodles and many more breeds fall into this category.

Inuit sled dogs, the Eskimo dog and the Greenland dog, though, show no European heritage in their genes. Like Native Americans, they were in the United States and nearby areas long before Europeans arrived.

“Nobody knows exactly what happened,” Savolainen said. “Most probably migrated together with the humans that entered America from Asia via the Bering Strait. These humans became today’s Indians and Inuits.”

“Our data shows dogs came in several migrations, at least one with the Indian-American ancestors and at least one with the Inuit ancestors,” he continued.

The result for Alaskan Malamutes was ambiguous, but these dogs appear to come from slightly different stock originating in Siberia, Japan, China and Indonesia. The Alaskan husky and the American Eskimo dog have a known origin from Siberian spitzes and European dogs.

The dogs with the most pre-Columbian Mexican heritage, according to the study, are the Chihuahua and Xolo (Mexican hairless dog).

The researchers additionally determined that a group of free-ranging dogs based in South Carolina and Georgia — known as Carolina Dogs — likely have an ancient Asian origin.

Carolina Dogs might have once been associated with a Native American tribe, the canine’s relatives turning feral once their humans disappeared.

“The reason might be that the human population keeping these dogs was wiped out when Europeans came,” Savolainen said.

Prior research by Sarah Brown of UC Davis and colleagues is consistent with the latest findings about the Inuit sled dog, Eskimo dog and Greenland dog. Brown and her team found “ancient DNA evidence for genetic continuity in arctic dogs.”

Scientists hope to use such DNA studies and other research on dogs to learn more about past human migrations. From at least 10,000 years onward, wherever migrating humans went, dogs often came too.

Sibling rivalry: Even the royal dog isn’t immune

Friday, June 28th, 2013

Kate and LupoWith the birth of Prince William and Duchess Kate’s baby expected next month, experts say the pair would be wise to prepare their cocker spaniel, Lupo, for the royal infant’s arrival. The ASPCA’s Victoria Wells recommends all expectant parents do the same. Wells offers several recommendations parents-to-be can implement before a baby arrives, but in the end, owners must follow their intuition and re-home a pet they truly believe to be unsafe around children. NBC News (6/25)

Preparing a “canine kid” for a baby’s arrival might seem a little silly to some people, but it’s serious business according to vets and animal behaviorists. Expectant parents who don’t help their dog adjust before the new bundle appears may run into trouble down the road, when their furry friend acts out and vies for adult attention.

And the most famous royal pup in the world is no exception.

Experts say Duchess Kate, due to have her first child mid-July, should take precautionary measures now to ensure that her little Cocker Spaniel, Lupo, who the couple adopted last winter, and has already made Tatler’s 50 most fascinating “people” list, is all primed for the newest member of the royal family.

Victoria Wells, senior manager of behavior and training at the ASPCA adoption center in New York City, says she sometimes sees pregnant moms bring dogs to shelters before there’s even been a problem because they’re so anxious about their pooch getting along with their newborn.

She firmly believes that parents can take pro-active steps before a baby comes home to ensure that their “fur kid” is ready for the big change— and to calm their own prenatal nerves about everyone coexisting. She advises the Duchess of Cambridge and all other expectant moms this summer: Make sure your four-legged friend knows some basic commands, like “stay’” and “leave it,” so Fido doesn’t jump on the baby and listens when called.

“Go to dog training classes or hire a trainer,” says Wells. She also suggests teaching dogs impulse control before there’s an infant in the house.

Marc Siebert, owner and medical director of The Heart of Chelsea Animal Practice in downtown Manhattan, has seen many couples in his more than 20 years of practice balance new baby and beloved pet— and he breaks it down in canine terms for new parents.

“Most dogs will accept a new baby as part of their ‘pack’ readily,” he explains. But sometimes the dog will “see the new baby more as prey,” which is when you have problems.

So how do you convince your “canine kid” that the baby is part of the pack, royal or otherwise? Let the dog get used to the nursery and the smell of an infant before you walk in that door with the car seat, Siebert says. Encouraging your puppy to explore the new room and smell those blankets and onesies really does help a dog get acquainted with a new baby before the official introduction.

For first time mom Aubrey Bartolo, 29, of Greenwich, Conn., ensuring a smooth transition between her 7-year-old Yorkie, Rufuth, and baby girl Bartolo, born two weeks ago, was a top priority.

“We had our doula bring a blanket and a little hat home each night from the hospital,” Bartolo said, “And she’d wrap [Rufuth] up in the clothes so he was used to her smell when we came home a few days later.”

Bartolo also says she’s been reserving special, one-on-one time in their bed, every night cuddling with her “first kid”— no babies allowed.

Victoria Wells tells parents they can even buy an infant doll and use baby products on it, as well as “rocking it” to sleep in a glider to prepare the dog for what life will be like with a “sibling.”

“The key to all of this is positive reinforcement,” says Wells. “Whenever you’re interacting with the baby or the doll, before the real baby arrives, try to make a positive association for the dog and give him treats.”

Which shouldn’t be a problem at the palace, as the pregnant princess regularly receives treats for her pup from her loyal fans.

In the final analysis, though, it’s crucial to trust your gut, no matter how hard it might be to admit that your baby and pet are incompatible.

Unfortunately, for Stephanie Klein, 37, a blogger and Jericho, New York, mom of 6-year-old twins Lucas and Abigail, obedience classes and behavior therapy didn’t do the trick for her toy fox terrier, Linus. The dog had nipped various people before the twins’ arrival. And despite all the professional help she sought and progress he was making, Klein ultimately made the heartbreaking decision that it was too risky to have the dog around her babies.

Linus now lives happily as an “only child” with Klein’s sister in Florida.

Dogs learning to pick up cancer’s signature scent

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

dogs11The University of Pennsylvania and the Monell Chemical Senses Center are training three dogs to help detect compounds produced by ovarian cancer, providing a possible way to detect the disease in its earliest, most treatable stages. Early-stage ovarian cancer, which has a 90% survival rate, is difficult to detect, and later stages carry a worse prognosis and kill 14,000 U.S. women annually. The Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation is funding the research with an $80,000 grant. Philly.com (Philadelphia) (5/6)  Sam Wood, PHILLY.COM

In the battle against ovarian cancer, three puppies at the University of Pennsylvania will be on the front lines.

The pups – Ohlin and Thunder, both Labradors, and McBain, a Springer Spaniel – have been conscripted to lead the charge in a novel collaboration announced last week between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Center.

Ovarian cancer claims the lives of more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation. The new collaboration takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.

Turns out, each cancer has its own odor. And what better sensor is there to detect a faint scent than a dog’s nose?

Researchers at Penn and Monell recently received an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation to develop new ways of sniffing out gynecological malignancies.

Using man’s best friend to detect cancer isn’t new. Studies in California, Chicago and Europe in the last decade have employed trained canines to detect lung and breast cancer.

A group in Sweden had done some preliminary investigations with dogs and ovarian cancer, but the professor in charge is retiring and he was using his own personal dogs, said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.

“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” Otto said. “We haven’t done cancer work before.”

Ovarian cancer is notoriously difficult to detect in its early stages because its symptoms — constipation, weight gain, bloating, or more frequent urination — are easily confused with other ailments.

If it’s diagnosed early, though, ovarian cancer has a survival rate of 90 percent. Unfortunately, its often not detected until it is too late. An effective screening protocol doesn’t yet exist and a doctor’s sight and touch haven’t been enough to detect cases in its first stages.

Each cancer has its own signature scent, however. And even before ovarian cancer can be detected by current methods, it creates minute quantities of “odorants,” Otto said. A doctor’s nose isn’t nearly sensitive enough. But the odorants can be sensed by trained dogs.

In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients.

The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists working with nanotech – and the puppies at the Working Dog Center.

We’ve been training them since they’ve been 8-weeks old,” Otto said. “They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction.”

They already have experience with bomb sniffing and human remains detection. Cancer detection isn’t that much different, she said.

The dogs will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in containers they can’t access, but are vented so they can smell them.

“We’ll train them to alert us when they discover the samples of cancer patients,” Otto said.

When they distinguish the correct one, they’re rewarded with food or a toy.

“Some are very much into their ball,” Otto laughs. “We will do what makes the most sense for each dog and what makes the dog want to work.”

Contact staff writer Sam Wood at 215-854-2796, @samwoodiii or samwood@phillynews.com.

Owners may overlook dogs’ fearfulness

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Dog-expressions_2511743bPet owners may misread or not understand the extent of dogs’ fearful responses to loud noises, according to U.K. researchers who found that although one-quarter of owners reported their pets were afraid of loud noises, half in more detailed interviews reported behaviors associated with such fears. Breed and age were among the factors that appeared to play a role in dogs’ fearful behaviors, and the researchers noted early life experiences are also important. ScienceDaily (2/18)

A study has gained new insight into domestic dogs’ fear responses to noises. The behavioural response by dogs to noises can be extreme in nature, distressing for owners and a welfare issue for dogs.

The research by academics from the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, and funded by the RSPCA, is published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science. The study provides an important insight into dogs’ fear of noises, and could improve our understanding of behavioural signs of fear or anxiety.

In the study two approaches were taken to investigate the occurrence of, and risk factors for, these behaviours: a postal survey of dog owners to investigate general demographic factors and a structured interview of a sub-set of owners to gather more detailed information.

Almost half of the owners who were interviewed reported that their dog showed at least one behavioural sign typical of fear when exposed to noises such as fireworks, thunder and gunshots, even though only a quarter had reported their dog as ‘fearful’ of noises.

This suggests that whilst they are aware of their pet’s behavioural response when exposed to a loud noise, owners do not necessarily recognise this as being indicative of fear or anxiety. This has relevance both for awareness of compromised welfare, and the methodology for surveying such behaviour.

The most commonly reported behavioural signs were vocalising, trembling/shaking, hiding, vocalising and seeking people. It is thought trembling and shaking are more often reported by owners than other behaviours because they are similar to fearful behaviours in humans.

Other behavioural signs, such as decreased activity or salivation, may not be as easily recognised by owners as signs of fear, and may be under-reported. Also, signs of urination, salivation and destruction may make owners disappointed or angry, and this may influence their interpretation that such behaviours are associated with fearfulness.

Responses to fireworks were the most common, but fear responses to loud noises such as fireworks, gunshots and thunder appear to commonly co-occur, suggesting generalisation between salient stimuli.

The risk factors for owner-reported fear of noises included breed, although 12 breeds or breed types were less likely to show fear responses to noises than cross-breeds, including popular gundog breeds such as the Labrador, Cocker Spaniel and Springer Spaniel; age, where risk increased with age; and origin, where dogs living with the owner who bred them had a reduced risk compared to dogs purchased from the breeder by a second owner, supporting the view that an early environment that is very similar to the environment experienced in adulthood is advantageous.

The researchers suggest a dog’s early life experience is an important factor in the development of fear responses to specific loud noises.

Dr Rachel Casey, European Specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine and Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare at Bristol University, said: “Our results suggest that the characteristics of dogs, their early environment, and exposure to specific loud noises are involved in the development of fear responses to noises. Interestingly, less than a third of owners sought professional advice about treatment for their pet’s response to noises.”

Disappointingly, less than a third of owners currently seek professional advice about treatment for their pet’s fear. The researchers recommend there is a need for veterinary surgeons to increase awareness among the general dog owning public that treatment is both available and effective in dealing with fears of loud noises, and to direct them towards appropriate sources of help.

 

 

Domesticated cats may still hear the call of the wild

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Many behaviors we see in our domesticated felines speak to their wild ancestry, as evidenced by similar behaviors in lions, tigers and other big cats, writes wildlife cameraman Simon King. Cats’ habit of rubbing against their owners at mealtime mirrors lions’ social behavior, and felines sleeping on high perches in the home resemble African leopards, who dine and doze on tree branches high above potential threats on the ground. The Huffington Post/The Blog

Have you ever wondered why your pet cat rubs up against your legs, kneads your thighs with its forepaws or sleeps on top of a wardrobe? These, and many other behaviors, can be attributed to the tiger lurking within your pet tigger.

A recent report conducted by feline experts Whiskas has established close links between domestic cat behavior and behaviors exhibited by their wild big cat cousins.

The report also revealed some startling statistics about the way cat owners relate to their pets.

Over a thousand owners were involved in a survey that investigated regularly observed behaviors around the home and garden and also asked how owners responded to their pets. Some of the results were startling!  Over 95% of cat owners considered their pet as part of the family. And a surprising one in 10 admitted to preferring having a cuddle with their cat than with their partner!

Many cat owners maintain that stroking their pet reduces feelings of stress and this has been born out by empirical study that correlates a reduction in blood pressure among people who regularly look after and show affection to their pets.

One of the most tangible illustrations of owners recognizing the similarities between domestic cats and their wild counterparts is when it comes to naming them, with Tigger and Tiger being among the favorites!

As someone who has spent a great deal of the past 30 years watching and filming the big cats of the world, chiefly in Kenya and India, I was asked to analyze some of the most regularly witnessed domestic cat behavior to see if there were indeed any patterns which echoed that of their big cat cousins.

A common observation was that of cats rubbing against their owners’ legs with their temples, cheeks and flanks, especially as meals were being prepared. The cat is in fact scent marking, using special glands in their face and sides, and in so doing they are reinforcing a ‘family’ scent.  Very similar behavior can be seen in lions, particularly when subordinate females or youngsters greet more dominant animals in the pride. As the subordinate lion approaches it lowers its head slightly, often raises its tail and then pushes its head into and along that of the more dominant colleague. The importance of establishing a clan or family scent for these sociable cats is key to the avoidance and diffusion of aggression. And woe betide any intruder that does not bear the familiar smell! When your domestic cat scent marks you it is showing its confidence and comfort in being close to you and at the same time recognizing your dominance in the relationship. In short, it’s a cat compliment.

Many owners observed their pet cat choosing to rest on a high point like the top of a cupboard, and some said that their cat preferred to eat from a bowl that was raised above ground level. This again is echoed by one of their big cat cousins, the African leopard, which in parts of its range regularly climbs trees to rest and may haul meals up into the branches too. This is a defence strategy, avoiding contact and conflict with other predators, especially hyenas and lions. When your pet cat seeks a high point it is responding to an ancestral urge to get out of the way of trouble that may lurk on the ground.

Padding, or kneading with the forepaws is another behavior often witnessed in pet cats, especially when they are lying comfortably on their owners’ laps. This action stems from infantile behavior, when nursing kittens rhythmically knead their mothers’ mammary glands to stimulate milk flow. Over thousands of years of domestication we have encouraged cats to maintain much of their kitten-like relationship, with ourselves playing the role of surrogate parents, and it is this that leads to the perpetuation of this padding behavior. The same can be said of play behavior, with many pet cats remaining very playful with their owners well into adulthood, a pattern of behavior that generally wanes soon after adolescence in wild cat populations.

So much of the charm of living with a cat can be attributed to the close connection many have with the wild side of their character, whilst continuing to surprise and amuse us with their sense of fun, trust and independent character.

What’s your dog really thinking?

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Humans are highly capable of reading dogs’ facial cues, according to researchers from Walden University in Minneapolis, who tested a group of 50 volunteers using different pictures of the same dog. In some cases, volunteers who had limited experience with dogs did the best at categorizing facial expressions, suggesting the ability is innate.

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A study has shown that people are able to precisely identify a range of emotions in dogs from changes in their facial expressions.

The research showed that volunteers could correctly spot when a dog was happy, sad, angry, surprised or scared, when shown only a picture of the animal’s face, suggesting that humans are naturally attuned to detecting how animals are feeling.

Dr. Tina Bloom, a psychologist who led the research, said: “There is no doubt that humans have the ability to recognize emotional states in other humans and accurately read other humans’ facial expressions. We have shown that humans are also able to accurately – if not perfectly – identify at least one dog’s facial expressions.

“Although humans often think of themselves as disconnected or even isolated from nature, our study suggests that there are patterns that connect, and one of these is in the form of emotional communication.”

The study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes, used photographs of a police dog named Mal, a five-year-old Belgian shepherd dog, as it experienced different emotions. To trigger a happy reaction, researchers praised Mal. The result was the dog looking straight at the camera with ears up and tongue out.

They then reprimanded the dog to produce a “sad” reaction, causing the animal to pull a mournful expression with eyes cast down.

Surprise, generated using a jack-in-the box, caused the dog to wrinkle the top of its head into something akin to a frown. Medicine that Mal did not like was produced to stimulate disgust – flattened ears – and nail trimmers, which Mal also disliked, were brandished to create fear, causing the ears to prick up and the whites of the eyes to show.

For anger, a researcher pretended to be a criminal. Mal’s teeth were bared in the beginnings of a snarl.

The resulting photographs were shown to 50 volunteers, who were split into two groups according to their experience of dogs.

By far the easiest emotion they recognized was happiness, with 88 per cent of the volunteers correctly identifying it. Anger was identified by 70 per cent of participants.

About 45 per cent of volunteers spotted when Mal was frightened, while 37 per cent could identify the relatively subtle emotion of sadness.

The canine expressions that were hardest for humans to identify were surprise and disgust, with only 20 per cent of the volunteers recognizing surprise and just 13 per cent recognizing disgust.

The study by Dr Bloom and Prof Harris Friedman, both from Walden University, in Minneapolis, found that people with minimal experience of dogs were better at identifying canine disgust and anger, perhaps because dog owners convinced themselves that their dog was not aggressive and so the associated facial expression was just playing.

The researchers believe the ability of inexperienced volunteers to sometimes be better judges of emotions may be because reading dogs’ faces comes naturally, rather than being a learned skill.

Dr Bloom said she hoped further research might determine whether this apparent natural empathy with canines was something we shared with all mammals, or could be explained by humans and dogs evolving side-by-side for the past 100,000 years.

As a dog lover — who was “very confident” in her ability to read the faces of her two Dobermans and two Rhodesian ridgebacks — she admitted such unproven theories were emotionally appealing.

She added: “If I adopted a cat, or a snake or a turtle, I don’t think it would be as emotionally attached to me and watching my face as much as a dog would. There is something different and special about a dog — I’m not sure what it is, but it’s there.”

Beverley Cuddy, the editor of Dogs Today, said dog lovers would feel vindicated by the research. “I am not at all surprised that science has finally accepted what we knew all along — dog and owner communicate perfectly well without words.”