Archive for January, 2020

Look for the Look Away

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

AHF Board Member awarded Shomer Ethics Award

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

AHF Board Member, Dr. Alice Villalobos, was awarded the prestigious Shomer Ethics Award at the 2020 annual meeting of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics in Orlando, FL.

Dr. Villalobos was presented the award by Dr. Paul Pion, Co‐Founder of VIN.

Dr. Villalobos was given the award “for her years of service and leadership for the SVME, and for her role as the “Mother” of veterinary hospice and quality of life assessment at end of life, with emphasis on bioethical decision making for euthanasia, while honoring the human-animal bond.  She introduced Pawspice, an end of life care philosophy that embraces kinder, gentler palliative cancer care and palliative medicine for terminal pets, while supporting the emotional needs of carers.”

To learn more about this award and it’s criteria, please go to www.https://www.svme.org/page-528501

Cats Do Bond Securely to Their Humans – Maybe Even More So Than Dogs

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

FROM WWW.SCIENCEALERT.COM   BY   MICHELLE STARR  –  25 JAN 2020

Many think of dogs as loyal, love-filled companions, and cats as cute beasts that tolerate us – but we might have to rethink that a little. According to 2019 research, cats can get just as bonded to their human friends as dogs do.

“Like dogs, cats display social flexibility in regard to their attachments with humans,” said animal scientist Kristyn Vitale of Oregon State University in September 2019.

“The majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment.”

In their behavioural experiment, the research team observed how cats respond to their owners in a strange environment. Previous research on rhesus monkeys (the controversial wire mother experiments reported in 1958) and dogs (a much more ethically sound experiment reported last year) had shown that both species form secure and insecure attachments.

In a secure attachment, a dog in a strange environment will, upon being reunited with their humans, relax and continue to explore. An insecure attachment, on the other hand, will see the dog continue exhibiting stress behaviour, either clinging excessively to the human, or avoiding them as much as possible.

First, the kitten or cat and their human caregiver were placed together in a room, with the human sitting in a marked circle. If the cat entered the circle, the human could interact with it. After two minutes, the human left, leaving the cat alone. After another two minutes, the human returned to the room, to sit in the circle again.

The entire test was filmed, and the scientists analysed the video to classify the cats’ attachment type.

The adult cats only participated in the test once, but the kittens were tested twice – once initially, and once again two months later, after 39 of the kittens had been through a six-week training and socialisation course. The other 31 acted as a control group.

Of the kittens, 9 ended up being unclassifiable, but of the remaining group, 64.3 percent were categorised as securely attached and 35.7 percent as insecurely attached – with the training having no bearing on attachment style. Once an attachment style has been established, it seems, that’s probably how it is going to stay.

Interestingly, those rates – 64.3 percent and 65.8 percent – are pretty close to the 65 percent secure attachment rate seen in human infants. And cats showed a secure attachment rate slightly higher than found in a test of 59 companion dogs published in 2018; the canines were 61 percent secure and 39 percent insecure.

Previously, Vitale’s work has shown that cats aren’t as aloof as their public image would make them appear; in fact, those fuzzy little felines can be downright sociable and affectionate, so long as you aren’t a jerk to them. And they often prefer to interact with humans over food or toys.

This new study suggests that cats have the ability and the necessary traits to form deep social bonds with humans. It’s just that they may express themselves in their own special way.

“In my opinion, it’s very important to go out and try to interact with your cat and see what happens,” Vitale said last year.

“I think there’s this idea that dogs are this way, and cats are that way. But there’s a lot of variability in both populations.”

The research has been published in Current Biology.

A version of this article was first published in September 2019.

Our Pets are Lent to Us

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020

Pet Loss Bereavement Specialist Certification Course Available

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020
Pet Loss Partners has some exciting news.
They are offering an online Pet Loss Bereavement Specialist Certification Course in response to the many inquiries from people interested in the area of pet loss.
Their goal is to design a course that would give not only information about grief and pet loss but also specific and useable tools for helping grieving pet parents.

Angel Fund Helps Give Owner Options for Bulldog With Cancer

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

In late October Laura Pierson’s bulldog, Baby, had a puffy ear.  So she took the dog to see her veterinarian, Dr. Wendy Brooks at Mar Vista Animal Medical Clinic.  “I thought the ear might be infected but it was just a blood clot from shaking her head,” Laura said.  “However, the doctor noticed a tumor on her abdomen.”

Laura, whose primary income is a Social Security disability check, did not have the resources to pay for surgery to remove the tumor.  Dr. Brooks told her about Angel Fund.   She applied and received a grant of $314.50, which was matched by the hospital and the surgery was scheduled.

When the procedure was performed, Dr. Brooks removed the growth she had originally found and a second tumor.   A biopsy revealed that the masses were cancerous. The disease had spread to Baby’s lymph glands.  The doctor told Laura that Baby was not likely to live much longer than six months but that chemotherapy could extend her life to a year.

That was not something Laura thought she could do.  “I opted not to do chemotherapy.  I couldn’t afford it and I don’t want to inject her with any chemicals.  But I definitely am going to keep on top of the progression [of the disease].

“I am in the process of changing her diet,” Laura said, and is hopeful that will help Baby live longer.  She has spent considerable time researching recommended diets for dogs with cancer.

“It’s uncharted territory for me,” she said.  Dr. Brooks, who has been Baby’s veterinarian all her 12 years, “is very respectful of what I feel like I can do and what I can afford to do.  She is my go-to expert.”

Laura’s reading indicated that she should not feed Baby raw foods and that cooked meat and vegetables with some supplements could be beneficial. “I’ve been trying to get her closer to higher protein, higher fat and less carbs in her diet with none of the additives like corn and rice.

“If nothing else, I’ll be adding to the quality of her life,” she said.  “She’s my girl.  She’s my child. And she’s doing really well, actually.  She’s such a youthful dog.  You’d never know that she’s 12 years old.”

Laura, who lives alone in a Venice apartment, adopted Baby as a puppy.  About the same time, she adopted Whiskers, a Schnauzer mix.  “I’ve raised them like a family,” she said. Whiskers, also female, is a happy dog who is makings Baby’s life better, Laura believes.

Laura was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2007, shortly before she adopted her two companions.  “They are my emotional support,” she said.  In recent years, she has worked part time as a personal assistant and a curator for a photographer.  She was working on a Ph.D. when she was diagnosed.

She finds living in Los Angeles challenging and has decided that she will return to Parkersburg, W. Va., to be near her family.  Her father suffers from Parkinson’s disease.  She plans to make the trip in her car with Baby and Whiskers.

Laura is grateful to Angel Fund – and to Dr. Brooks – for making Baby’s surgery possible. After the surgery, a member of the hospital staff “told me that Baby woke up from anesthesia wagging her tail, wiggling her bottom,” she said.

“I thought that was a wonderful thank you to the doctor.  I got really excited when I heard that.”

 

 

Cold Weather Can Kill Your Pet — Follow These Tips

Sunday, January 19th, 2020
from Mercola.com   Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker  January 18, 2020

STORY AT-A-GLANCE

  • Cold weather has arrived, which means it’s time to make sure your four-legged family members stay safe, warm and comfy over the next few months
  • Frigid temps are as hard on pets as they are on people; always keep your pet indoors with you during the winter months
  • Additional tips to help keep dogs and cats safe and healthy this winter include taking them for a veterinary wellness exam and ensuring they get regular exercise

Winter is in full swing, and unfortunately, cold weather can be just as hard on our pets as it is on us — especially dogs and cats left outdoors for any length of time (which I never, ever recommend). Pets left outdoors in cold weather can fall victim to a long list of injuries and illnesses, including hypothermia and frostbite.

The following is a list of things you can do to help keep the furry members of your family warm, safe, and healthy over the next few months.

Tips to Keep Pets Safe and Warm All Winter

Keep them indoors — I recommend keeping cats inside at all times (unless you have a secure outdoor cat enclosure for use during nice weather, or you take him on walks using a harness), but especially during winter. Accompany your dog outdoors for potty walks or to get some exercise. When you get cold enough to go back inside, chances are your dog is also cold.

If your dog is a large breed, chances are he’ll be able to tolerate cold temps and snow much better than a smaller dog. If your pet has a condition like diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease or an endocrine disorder, it can compromise his ability to regulate his own body heat.

Pets with a chronic disease and very young and older animals are more vulnerable to the cold than healthy youngsters and adults. Also never leave your pet unattended in a car in cold weather. Hypothermia can be just as deadly as heatstroke.

Let their coats grow — Don’t shave or clip your pet’s coat short during the winter months. A longer coat will keep her warmer. And make sure long-haired pets are brushed and groomed regularly, since matted fur can interfere with their ability to regulate their body temperature.
Make sure they get regular exercise — It’s really important to maintain your pet’s physical condition year-round. If you allow your dog to become a couch potato all winter, you increase his risk of injury when he starts exercising again in the spring. Especially if you live in a location that gets really cold and wet during the winter months, it can be challenging to ensure your dog stays physically active. Some ideas to consider:

  • A hydrotherapy or warm water dog pool
  • An indoor dog park (this is also a great idea for those of you who live in climates where the summers are too hot for strenuous outdoor exercise)
  • Indoor agility or tracking training, or nose work
  • Cross-country skiing

Kitties can actually be easier to keep exercised during bad weather: 10 ways to help your cat exercise.

Provide sweaters for shorthaired, hairless, older, and frail pets — Some pets won’t wear clothing no matter how chilly they are. But if your pet tolerates it well, a sweater can help keep your dog or cat warm, especially when you take her outdoors. But keep in mind that pets lose most of their body heat through the pads of their feet, their ears and their respiratory tract, so there’s a limit to how much warmth a sweater or jacket will provide.

Signs your pet is uncomfortably cold include whining, shivering, appearing anxious, slowing down or stopping, and looking for a warm place to burrow.

Take extra care with senior, arthritic or feeble pets — Cold weather can be especially hard on senior pets and those with degenerative joint disease or another chronic, debilitating condition.

Talk with your integrative veterinarian about physical therapy and other safe, natural methods for improving your pet’s comfort and mobility during cold weather. And make sure your pet has a thick, soft, non-toxic (organic) bed in a warm room for naps and at bedtime.

Take them for a wellness exam — I recommend twice-yearly exams for all pets, and especially seniors, so making one of those visits in the fall or early winter is a good way to ensure your dog or cat is healthy before the cold weather arrives. Your integrative veterinarian will measure muscle mass, joint range of motion, check vital organ function and make a wellness plan for the upcoming cold months.
Make sure ID tags are current and keep pets leashed outdoors — More dogs go missing in the winter months than any other time of year. It’s very easy for your pet to lose his scent and get lost when snow or ice is on the ground, and especially during snowstorms.

Snow accumulation can make it impossible for him to know if he’s in his front yard or standing out on a street or highway. Light-colored dogs with snow on their fur can quickly blend into the background, making them nearly impossible to spot.

Wipe them down after a trip outdoors — Pets who go outside during the winter months can pick up rock salt, ice, antifreeze, and other toxic chemicals on their footpads.

To keep your pets’ paws from becoming chapped and raw, and to prevent ingestion of toxins, thoroughly wipe off their feet, legs, and underside after they’ve been outside in the snow and ice. Also regularly check paws for any signs of injury or bleeding from walking on frozen or snow-packed surfaces.

Be careful near water — If you live near a pond, lake or other inland water source that tends to freeze over during cold weather, take care when letting your pet off the leash. Animals can easily fall through the ice, and it’s very difficult for them to escape on their own, or for humans to rescue them.
Stay alert for outdoor cats — Hopefully you keep your cat inside, but your neighbors may not, or there could be strays or feral cats in the area. Kitties left out in cold temps will sometimes crawl up under the hoods of cars or into the wheel wells. Starting or moving the vehicle can hurt or even kill a cat taking shelter inside a car.

During winter months, it’s a good idea to bang loudly on your car hood before starting the engine as a warning to a cat that might be in or around your vehicle.

Keep them safe from potentially dangerous heat sources — If you use a fireplace or space heater, expect your pet to lie near it for warmth. Keep a close watch to ensure no part of her body comes in contact with flames, heating coils or other hot surfaces. She can easily burn herself or knock a heating unit over and put everyone in the house in danger.
Have your furnace inspected and change your air filter — It’s a good idea to have your heating unit checked for carbon monoxide leaks before winter sets in. Carbon monoxide is odorless and invisible, but it can cause serious health problems in both people and pets. Since your dog or cat very likely spends much more time at home than you do during the winter months, she’s more vulnerable to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Changing your whole house air filter twice a year is a great idea. Most people are shocked to learn how much dust, dirt, allergens, pollen and mold can accumulate in filters over the summer.

Dust mites thrive during the winter months, making your home a ripe environment for year-round misery, in terms of itchy paws and bellies. Providing pets with filtered air is one way to help reduce the allergen load in your house during winter.

Dr. Scott Weldy Receives Prestigeous AHF Cortese-Lippincott Award

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

Dr. Weldy Has Devoted His Career to Exotic Animals

By Jim Bell

When Scott Weldy was a kid in Mission Viejo, he would go hiking in the hills, catching snakes, lizards and other animals and bringing them home.  “I’ve always been interested in exotics,” he said.

That is probably more true now than it was then.  Dr. Weldy owns Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital in Lake Forest and he spends much of his time treating exotics of all species in three zoos and at his practice.  He also is director of the Orange County Bird of Prey Center.

On February 1 at the SCVMA Annual Celebration he will be presented with the prestigious Cortese-Lippincott Award.  That will be a special moment for Dr. Weldy.  He knew both men for whom the award is named but Dr. Joe Cortese was a good and special friend. He had met Dr. Larry Lippincott but did not know him well.

“I really loved Joe,” he said in an interview.  “I was a technician when I first met him. It’s an honor to be up there [for this award], especially because of Joe.  He was such a gem to me.  He was a good doctor but he was a great guy, too.  If I could be half the person he was, I’d be in good shape.  My wife Marie and I really enjoyed his wife Goldee – both of them.  They were nice people.

“The only reason most people get recognized,” he said, “is because they’re surrounded by a team of people that keeps them honest and humbled.  I’ve got a good group of people around me.  We’re all part of a good team and they support me.”

Dr. Weldy moved his practice to a new facility last January, more than doubling its square footage.  Five doctors work in the facility, two of them part time.

“Tuesdays we do the Santa Ana Zoo all day and Thursdays we spend most of the day at the Orange County Zoo, then finish up in Santa Ana,” Dr. Weldy said.  “There are always two of us.

“We go to the Exotic Feline Breeding Compound in Rosamond near Palmdale as we’re needed.  Sometimes we stay overnight.  It’s a breeding center for endangered species.  They’re all exotic types: ocelots, leopards, jaguars.”  He is the veterinarian of record there.

Dr. Weldy took over the Bird of Prey Center in 1990.  Now that his new hospital is up and running, his major goal, he said, is to get the center up to par.  “That’s the last major goal of my career,” he said. “It’s a nonprofit organization.  I’m the medical director and director of the operation.  The center focuses on raptor education, rehabilitation and release.

“It’s a dream I’ve been working on since 1998.  We have a chunk of land that has some cages on it and a small building.  We’re slowly building up the cages.  It’s a temporary facility right now but we do educational programs.  The center is tucked in the back area of Rancho Las Lomas in Santiago Canyon.”

The new center is being built off El Toro Road behind O’Neill Park on land generously leased by Orange County Parks, he said.  Eventually, it will be able to provide medical and educational functions and will be the Bird of Prey Center’s permanent home, replacing the Rancho Las Lomas facility.

“We’re trying to get grants and public money.  We’re also wrapping up endowments and trying to raise money to accomplish our goals,” Dr. Weldy said.  The center rehabilitates injured hawks and owls and releases them.

Raptors needing medical care are treated at Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital.  “That’s all free stuff,” Dr. Weldy said. “No one pays for it.  We’ve also treated racoons and bobcats, ring-tailed cats and weasels.

“We don’t do small birds.  We work with wildlife biologists, the U.S. Geological Survey and people in mountain lion groups.  Most of the time when wildlife is brought into the practice it’s by Animal Control, and sometimes by good sam[aritan]s.”

Dr. Weldy loves the desert.  “I still go out and hunt reptiles and stuff like that,” he said, “but now I hunt them for photos.  I’m more of a desert person than anything.”

Her loves restoring old cars.  He has a 1961 Volvo that is fully restored and a 1969 Camaro that is nearly restored.  He also has a ’67 Camaro in waiting.  The Volvo is a special car.  It has been in his family since it came off the show room floor.  “My grandmother owned it then.  It later became my first car.”

He loves driving “muscle cars” – and his motorcycle, he said.  He is planning a motorcycle trip to “Bike Week” in Daytona, Fla., with friends in March.  “I have relatives and friends all the way across the southern United States so we’ll see part of the U.S. and spend a couple of weeks doing it,” he said.

Dr. Weldy came to Southern California in 1966.  He earned a BS degree in 1979 and a DVM degree in 1985, both from UC Davis.  He returned to Orange County and El Toro Animal Hospital, where he had worked as a teenager, after he became a doctor. He worked there 10 years before starting his practice in 1996.

The year 2019 has not been a good one for Dr. Weldy.  Wife Marie died of cancer last May – eight days after his mother died.   He has a daughter, Jennifer, 34, who is a registered veterinary technician.  She is teaching at Orange County Veterinary Assistant School in Garden Grove, where she had studied.  His son, Robert, 30, does research work in human neurology.

Besides cars and motorcycles, Dr. Weldy loves travel and scuba diving.  “Almost everything I do is related to animals,” he said.  “There has got to be an animal in it somewhere.”

The Animal Health Foundation’s Cortese – Lippincott Award was created to recognize and honor an individual who has gone above and beyond in making the world a better place for both animals and humans.  The winner of this award has gone above and beyond in community service, service and education of the veterinary community and the human-animal bond.

The award was named in honor of veterinarians Larry Lippincott and Joe Cortese.

Veterinary euthanasia: the last act of love

Thursday, January 16th, 2020

from dvm360.com   2019-08-20

Mike Paul, DVM

When it comes to ending a pets life, many people wonder, How do vets do it? I consider ending an animals suffering to be one of the greatest responsibilities entrusted to the veterinary profession and one of the gifts many veterinarians take for granted.

When a pet’s quality of life declines so much that the owner is faced with having to make the decision to actively end that pet’s life, it can seem impossibly overwhelming. Euthanasia is a difficult discussion topic for both pet owners and pet care providers. The concept of proactively ending a pet’s life, regardless of the reason, brings up complex emotions and challenging ethical issues, especially as euthanasia for people is increasingly explored and legalized. After all, where is the line to be drawn when we discuss end-of-life issues? While animal euthanasia is almost universally accepted as humane and necessary when quality of life fades, very similar scenarios are commonly faced and debated in human health care.

Physician-assisted death, or “aid in dying,” is currently legal in a number of countries, including Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, Switzerland, and parts of Australia and the United States (California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine [bill signed by the governor June 12, 2019], New Jersey [as of Aug. 1, 2019], Oregon, Vermont, and Washington). There is little question that as medical science advances and people are living longer, the progress of disease will change. People will become more involved in decisions about their own right to die, and a greater number of states, countries and societies will create a space for physician-facilitated death owing to physical and emotional pain as well as dignity and quality-of-life issues.

I cannot imagine the difficulty of making this ultimate decision for myself, nor can I imagine actively participating in the death of another human being even if they choose to end their life. And yet, all practicing veterinarians have participated in ending the suffering of animal life.

Of all my professional interactions with patients, caregivers and family members, by far the most emotional have revolved around issues of euthanasia. I have always viewed euthanasia as one of the greatest responsibilities entrusted to our profession and at the same time one of the gifts many veterinarians take for granted. Clearly, we all value the lives and welfare of our patients, but at times our abilities have been exhausted and we must consider the remaining options. After all, our professional oath dictates that our ultimate goal is to relieve suffering for those under our care.

An old friend recently said goodbye to his very special dog. Now, I know all pets are special to their caregivers, but even I cried at this pet’s passing despite not having seen the dog in years. As his pet parent (not a term I use often or take lightly) and I shared a tear, he raised the question, “How do you vets do it?”

It never gets easier, I started to explain, and as I spoke I recalled countless euthanasias I had performed over the course of my career. My own philosophy about ending a patient’s life is this: “Not a day too soon but not a moment too delayed.” The growing movement in the direction of pet hospice is based on that perspective. Saying goodbye to a beloved pet carries so many emotions and psychological steps that we sometimes gloss over them … until it is our pet and we experience it up close and personal.

For veterinarians, humane euthanasia is a way of ending pointless suffering in animals when all else has failed. It is often a difficult therapeutic option in the best interest of the animal and the family. In fact, we are obligated to consider euthanasia as an option to relieve suffering. It seems there is always another thing that can be done in an effort to forestall pain and death, but to what end? Sometimes it seems rather than extending life we wind up prolonging the death process.

Discussing death: an ongoing conversation

Click here for the dvm360 end-of-life toolkit, which includes articles, tips, handouts, videos and other tools designed to help veterinary professionals have thoughtful, meaningful end-of-life discussions with pet owners.

While animals are not thought to be self-aware or able to reflect on their own condition, and they cannot balance their suffering against time or pleasure or memories of better days, they are certainly sentient creatures capable of feeling physical and psychological pain. Yet, they are not in a position to make decisions about their own medical care. That responsibility falls on their owners.

For many pet owners, however, even the thought of losing a beloved pet can be too much to process. When a pet’s quality of life declines so much that the owner is faced with having to make the decision to actively end that pet’s life, it can seem impossibly overwhelming. How many times has an owner told me that they just wanted their pet to “die peacefully in its sleep”? Yet, very few animals die quietly in their sleep and even those pets too often have suffered needlessly until their body simply could not go on. A peaceful death is often only possible with the intervention of euthanasia.

As veterinarians, we are expected to be more objective and should work with owners to decide when euthanasia might be the kindest option, providing permission and support when the time arrives. Euthanasia is sometimes the last arrow in our quiver … the last act of love we can give.

Dr. Mike Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of Magpie Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

Debunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory

Monday, January 13th, 2020

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.

police dog training

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.