Archive for the ‘Behavior and Training’ Category

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.


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.”

Time and love help heal war-zone dog’s wounds

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Post-traumatic stress disorder among military dogs has gained some recognition, but strays also seem to suffer the effects of a difficult life in a war zone, writes Jessie Knadler, whose soldier husband rescued their dog Solha from Afghanistan. “Right away, I could tell there was something different about this dog,” Knadler writes, recounting months of destructive, difficult behavior that seemed to be best explained by the scrappy, dangerous life Solha led as a stray. “All we could give her was time, love, freedom, and lots of exercise and discipline. Is that how to treat canine PTSD? I don’t know. But Solha is a different, calmer dog today than she was a year ago.” The Daily Beast (3/13)

My husband seemed OK when he returned from Afghanistan. It was the dog he brought with him who appeared to have PTSD. By Jessie Knadler.   

Around this time last year, I got a new dog. Her name is Solha. Solha is from Kandahar, arguably the most dangerous place on earth. She was rescued by my husband, Army reservist Maj. Jake Wilson, during his deployment to Afghanistan in 2011–12. Solha arrived at our place in  Virginia four days before Jake himself was due to arrive home from his yearlong tour.

Solha was rescued by Jessie Knalder’s husband, Army reservist Maj. Jake Wilson, from Kandahar, during his deployment in Afghanistan between 2011-2012. (Jessie Knadler)

Right away, I could tell there was something different about this dog. She was a mangy, wiry, desperate-looking thing, hopelessly underweight with bags under her eyes and fur that felt bristly and oily to the touch. But it was more than that. There was a hardness behind her eyes. Deprivation and exhaustion were etched upon her face. She was twitchy, feral, and cunning. She intimidated me, even though Jake assured me over email I had nothing to worry about.

I was raising our 1-year-old daughter by myself at the time, so my hands were somewhat full. The day after Solha arrived un-housebroken, I confined her to crate for an hour to introduce the concept of crate training while we went out to run an errand. When we came home, Solha had smashed out of the crate. The crate’s door and hinges were made of metal. As I picked up the mangled, bent prongs littering the perimeter, I pondered the super–canine strength she must possess in order to hurl herself out of a small metal enclosure.

I wasn’t dealing with Lassie.

Within three days, Solha had chewed through three leashes—one made of wire—and one harness. She got into two serious dogfights with much larger male dogs, and showed zero signs of playing the female submissive. The only way I could contain her in those first few crazy weeks was to confine her with a chain the size of a python (“the Michael Vick special,” my brother-in-law Mark called it). A couple of weeks after Jake got home, Solha scaled a 10-foot-high horse stall and perched atop a wooden divider like a chicken until she could be coaxed down. Then she meticulously chomped four more leashes and left them in a neat little pile like a toddler’s plate of broken spaghetti, as if to say, don’t f–k with me, I’m from Afghanistan.

Attention is being paid right now to military dogs coming home from combat exhibiting signs of post traumatic stress disorder. Four-legged PTSD is manifested in behavior like nervous exhaustion, distress, confusion, or forgetting routine commands. I don’t doubt that for a moment. Dogs absorb death, deprivation, and random gunfire as acutely as any soldier. Some 50 dogs have come home with symptoms of PTSD, according to researchers at Holland Military Working Dog Hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

She chomped four more leashes and left them in a neat little pile like a toddler’s plate of broken spaghetti, as if to say, don’t f–k with me, I’m from Afghanistan. 

My experience with Solha has made me wonder if it’s not just dogs on the frontlines who suffer trauma, but the stray animals who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, forgotten casualties of war. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of stray, nonmilitary animals—dogs like Solha, cats, donkeys—caught in the crossfire of war who live a waking nightmare every day of their lives in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia. These are countries with little steady food or water supply or basic infrastructure, where land mines are only a paw print away, and, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, where dogs are typically reviled by the local population. Rocks are thrown at them. They’re beaten and starved. In a land where resources are scarce, and spay-neuter initiatives are only starting to make inroads, this is not surprising.

Day after day in Kandahar, Jake would see large packs of feral dogs roaming the countryside, as wild and dangerous as wolves. Some lacked tails and ears, a sign they’d been hacked off so they would last longer in a dogfight, still a popular sport among some Afghans in certain back-alley quarters. (The ears and tails are removed to prevent a superficial wound like a gnawed tail or mutilated ear from ending a fight too early; the aim is to kill or be killed.) A feral dog in this condition is likely to have either escaped or been deemed useless and released. Strays tend to loiter around U.S. and NATO military bases seeking handouts, even though U.S. soldiers are often instructed to shoot dogs on sight in the event the animal is carrying rabies (most normal soldiers, reminded of their own pets at home, prefer to look the other way).

Behavior and Training suggested reading

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Below is a list of suggested reading when you want to have a fabulous relationship with your dog:

  1. The Other End of the Leash, Patricia McConnell; Ballantine Books
  2. Don’t Shoot the Dog, Karen Pryor; Bantam Books
  3. The Culture Clash, Jean Donaldson; James & Kenneth Publishers
  4. The Power of Positive Dog Training, Pat Miller; Howell Book House
  5. Positive Perspectives, Pat Miller; Howell Book House
  6. The Cautious Canine, Patricia McConnell; Dog’s Best Friend, LTD
  7. Feeling Outnumbered? Patricia McConnell, Karen London; Dog’s Best Friend, LTD
  8. The Dog Whisperer, Paul Owen; Adams Media Corporation
  9. Whole Dog Journal (800.424.7887) no ads just information
  10. Your Dog, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine atTuftsUniversity– no ads just information (800.829.5116)



1                 Take a Bow Wow – Dog Tricks , Virginia Broitmann, Sherry Lippman

2                 Take a Bow Wow Take 2, Virginia Broitman

3                 Click & Go, Deb Jones, PhD

4                 Click & Fetch, Deb Jones, PhD

5                 Click & Fix, Deb Jones, PhD





All videos and books are available through[1]

[1] Four Paws U, LLC

Pets are masters of deceit

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

More than 80% of pets over 8 years old have an illness their owners aren’t aware of, writes veterinarian Donna Solomon, who says it’s not because owners aren’t looking. Rather, pets are masters of deceit, deftly hiding symptoms or exhibiting only barely noticeable changes in behavior because that’s what their wild ancestors had to do to stay alive. Regular veterinary examinations are the best way to ensure covert illnesses may be detected in time for intervention. The Huffington Post/The Blog (3/11)

In a recent focus group study presented at the January 2013 North American Veterinary Conference, veterinarians were asked if they found it challenging to diagnose medical conditions in dogs and cats.  Fifty-seven percent of the veterinarians found it challenging to diagnose conditions in cats and 34 percent challenging in dogs. Now, imagine asking pet owners who have no medical training the same question. I’m confidant that the percentage of people finding it challenging to diagnose conditions in their dog or cat substantially higher.  In fact, many clients do not even recognize their pet is ill or in pain.  Did you know that over 80 percent of all pets over eight years of age have at least one unrecognized disease by their owners?

Why is it so difficult to recognize a sick pet? First, pets do not clearly articulate what is wrong with them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your cat told you the reason she is urinating in your bathroom sink is because she has a bladder infection?  Second, dogs and cats hide their illnesses for instinctual purposes. In the wild, pets that are ill and display overt signs of not feeling well will likely fall victim to predators.

To highlight the difficulties of recognizing an illness in your pet I would like to present you three recent medical cases I have seen at Animal Medical Center of Chicago.

Case 1: The case of the fighting brothers.

Last week I had the pleasure of examining two beautiful Somali cats for their annual physical examination. Historically, these 2-year-old cats were loving brothers. They played, groomed and slept curled around each other every night. Recently, however, the owners had noticed that the cats were fighting more and not sleeping together.  On physical examination of both cats each had severe stomatitis — which is a term reserved for severe inflammation of the gum tissue.  The gums were ulcerated and cherry red in color. I informed the clients that both of their cats needed immediate dental care, which would include a dental cleaning, probing, radiography and oral surgery to remove numerous problematic teeth. The owners were shocked that they did not notice any problems. The cats were eating well and showed no obvious dental pain like drooling, difficulties chewing or facial swelling. I told the clients that pet’s can be very secretive about their pain — it is an adaptive response to living in the wild. To temporarily reduce their pets’ discomforts, I sent the clients home with pain medication and antibiotics. We scheduled oral surgery for the following week. Two days later I called the client for an update and the pets were doing great. They were playful and positively interacting with each other again. As the client reported, “They are acting like kittens again.”

Case 2: The case of the stoic shelter dog.

Approximately two weeks ago a client rescued a really sweet, probably 2-year-old pit-bull, named Pilot, from a local shelter. Pilot had been sitting in a shelter cage for almost four weeks after being abandoned on the streets. The dog walked with a slight limp on his left hind limb. When he was standing still, I noticed that he would shift almost 75 percent his weight onto his right hind limb. A pelvic radiograph revealed multiple pelvic fractures. Although it was tragic that this pet was in a shelter cage for almost a month without any medical care, this benign neglect worked to his benefit. His immobility allowed the fractures to almost heal by itself.  Since the fracture was healing nicely on its own, I recommended to the owner to start anti-inflammatory and pain medications along with some nutra-pharmaceutical drugs to help with wound healing. I told her to continue to severely limit his activity and repeat pelvic radiographs in four weeks. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately??) Pilot has an extremely high pain threshold that masked his true problems.  I believe the well-intentioned shelter workers did not perceive Pilot in discomfort and therefore, did not seek appropriate medical or surgical care.

Case 3: The case of the playful Labrador retriever.

Just the other day one of my clients brought in her playful 8-year-old Labrador retriever, named Bentley, for a yearly examination. When I entered the room Bentley was jumping up and down off our examination table looking for treats. I asked the owner routine questions like, ” Is Bentley eating well? Is he having normal stools?  Any signs of orthopedic discomfort, like difficulties going up and down stairs or stiffness after rising?” The owner told me that after daycare Bentley is exhausted and can barely walk. She told me that she thinks he is just tired and that’s it. During my physical examination, I discovered that Bentley was moderately painful when I palpated both hips and shoulders. I told her that her dog is most likely suffering from degenerative joint disease (arthritis) and not exhaustion. I recommended radiographs of the problematic joints. The owner had not perceived Bentley in pain or suffering from any musculoskeletal problem given her dog’s energetic personality but it was obvious from my examination that he was uncomfortable.

These three cases are perfect examples of pet’s hiding their illnesses or diseases from their owners. Every day clients bring their “apparently healthy pet” to see me for their yearly examination and I frequently discover a medical condition that the client did not recognize. It is not that my clients are not observant or loving, it is that a pet will do their best to hide a problem.

Given their secretive nature, if your pet’s behavior deviates from its normal routine, please take note of it. Maybe he/she is trying to discretely tell you something.  If he/she is sluggish, seeking more or less attention, or not eating with the same gusto as it normally does, this may be your only sign that something may be awry. Please contact your veterinarian for advice.

Be observant. Be your pet’s best advocate for good health care. Don’t let your pet keep secrets!

Supreme Court sides with drug-sniffing dog

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

By ,   Feb 19, 2013 10:20 PM EST  The Washington Post

The Supreme Court on Tuesday sided with a drug-sniffing German shepherd named Aldo in ruling that police do not have to extensively document a dog’s expertise to justify relying on the animal to search someone’s vehicle.

The unanimous court overturned a decision by the Florida Supreme Court. That court had thrown out a 2006 search of a man’s truck after Aldo “alerted” to the smell of drugs, saying police must compile detailed evidence of the dog’s reliability before probable cause to search the vehicle is established.

 Justice Elena Kagan said the Florida court  had gone too far, and suggested that proper training and certification of the dog — rather than how it has performed in the field — might be enough for law enforcement’s purposes.

“The question — similar to every inquiry into probable cause — is whether all the facts surrounding a dog’s alert, viewed through the lens of common sense, would make a reasonably prudent person think that a search would reveal contraband or evidence of a crime,” Kagan wrote.

“A sniff is up to snuff when it meets that test. . . . Aldo’s did.”

The case was one of two the court accepted regarding drug-sniffing dogs from Florida. It has not decided the other, which concerns whether police may bring a dog to someone’s home and then use the dog’s “alert” to the presence of drugs as probable cause for getting a search warrant.

At oral arguments, that case — involving a chocolate Lab named Franky — caused considerably more debate among the justices.

Aldo’s case came from the Florida Panhandle, where Officer William Wheetley stopped Clayton Harris because of an expired license plate. Wheetley found Harris nervous and shaking, and the man refused Wheetley’s request to search his truck. Wheetley brought out Aldo, and the dog alerted to the smell of something on the driver’s side door handle.

Wheetley used the alert as probable cause to search the vehicle and found the ingredients for making methamphetamine. Wheetley was convicted, but the Florida Supreme Court reversed the conviction.

The Florida high court, citing a growing body of evidence that dogs often make mistakes or are influenced by their handlers, said judges had to consider a long list of specific findings, including how the dogs perform in the field.

Kagan said that went too far, and was at odds with previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions that prescribed “a more flexible, ­all-things-considered” approach. She noted that defense lawyers who had specific concerns about a dog’s qualification could still make such a case to a judge.

The case is Florida v. Harris.


Human medications pose pet health risks

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

Accidental pet poisonings in 2012 increased 7% over the previous year, according to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, and human medications are often the culprit. Insurance claims for toxin exposure and ingestion submitted to PetPlan averaged $465 after deductibles were met. To prevent accidental pet poisonings, veterinarians recommend storing medications properly and taking them when pets aren’t around. “Assume anything a kid can get into, pets can get into,” said veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald. The Wall Street Journal

Annie, the Berlin family’s three-year-old Cavachon, has always been alert to the possibility of dropped food, not least thanks to living with three kids under the age of 15.

So when Josh Berlin, 48, went to the kitchen to take two Tylenol for a headache last August, Annie was hot on his heels. Shaking out gel capsules from the bottle, Mr. Berlin accidentally dropped three from his hand to the floor.


‘Anything on the kitchen floor, she thinks it’s fair game,’ says Beverly Hills, Calif., pet owner Ronna Berlin of her family’s three-year-old Cavachon, Annie, pictured at home.

“Before I could do anything, she had lapped one up,” he recalls. Knowing that Tylenol’s active ingredient, acetaminophen, is toxic to pets, the Berlins rushed Annie from their Beverly Hills, Calif., home to their local veterinarian, who referred her to a nearby animal hospital. There she received an intravenous neutralizing agent and was kept overnight for observation.

Cases of accidental pet poisonings are on the rise. A new study from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that its Animal Poison Control Center, based in Urbana, Ill., handled more than 180,000 calls about poisonous substances in 2012, up 7% from the previous year. The problem might be bigger than those numbers suggest, since many pet owners—like the Berlins—head straight to the vet instead of calling a hotline, says the center’s medical director, Tina Wismer.


When Siamese cat Lilly of Doylestown, Pa., began vomiting blood, her vet  suspected she accidentally swallowed her owner’s blood-thinning medication.

Human medications and supplements are some of the most common toxins ingested by pets. Prescription medicines for humans have accounted for the majority of the ASPCA center’s calls for the past five years, with a 2% increase last year to more than 25,200 calls. Over-the-counter medications and supplements ranked third, up 2.8% to nearly 18,500 calls, after insecticides. Veterinary medications came in fourth, up 5.2% to nearly 10,700 calls.

Based on the ASPCA’s center’s statistics, the fatality rate from accidental poisonings appears to be low, at 0.2% of cases. Dr. Wismer says the center isn’t able to determine the outcome of each call, so that rate could be higher.

Follow-up figures suggest that insecticides and rodenticides are the deadliest household items for pets. But common medicines for humans can also prove lethal, depending on the pet’s weight, the amount consumed and the strength of the toxin. “One acetaminophen will kill a cat,” says Kevin T. Fitzgerald, a veterinarian with VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital in Denver.

Symptoms vary by toxin. An amphetamine such as Adderall, used in humans to treat narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, triggers seizures in both dogs and cats. An anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen might result in stomach ulcers or kidney failure, says Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services for pet insurer Petplan.

Pets’ tastes tend to follow prescription and health trends. In 2012, calls about prescription pain medications jumped 63%; antidepressants 47.5%. “More and more people are on these drugs, and dogs find them on the nightstand,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. And it isn’t always the medication they want in the first place: Prescription bottles can make an attractive chew toy for a bored pet.


Shakespear, a Basset Hound in Charlotte, N.C., overdosed on pain pills intended for another dog.

There is some evidence, too, that medications have gotten more tempting in recent years. Supplements for joints are often made of beef cartilage or shellfish, and more manufacturers are using gelatin-based soft gels or capsules, says Tod Cooperman, president of, a website that evaluates supplements. A dog’s sweet tooth makes sweetened or flavored human meds attractive. “Our pets have such good noses that even though the bottle is closed, they can smell the stuff,” says Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian with the Laguna Hills Animal Hospital in Laguna Woods, Calif.

Dogs are more susceptible to accidental poisoning than cats. Labrador Retrievers got into the most trouble last year, accounting for nearly 14,000 calls to the APCC. “Dogs experience the whole world by tasting it,” says Dr. Fitzgerald. “Cats are a little more picky.”

But not immune. Although more than half of the APCC’s 10,000 cat cases in 2012 involved exposure to insecticides and toxic cleaners that cats walked across and then ingested while grooming, there are certain medications—notably, the antidepressant Effexor—that cats will willingly consume, says Dr. Wismer.

Sarah Rothmann, of Charlotte, N.C., suspects that superior sense of smell was what prompted her 10-year-old Basset Hound Shakespear to “counter surf” last August, standing up on his hind legs to paw a bottle of veterinary pain pills off the kitchen island. The intended patient, Woody, another of her six rescued Bassets, was supposed to take half of a chewable, flavored tablet every 12 hours. Shakespear chowed down on eight full tablets in one sitting.

It was the first time Shakespear had surfed for something that wasn’t clearly food. “We have stuff up there on the counter all the time, including medications, and he’s never touched it,” says Ms. Rothmann, 42. After a call to the APCC, Shakespear got a daily dose for a week of human-heartburn medicine Pepcid to prevent stomach irritation from the overdose.

Pet poisonings can be costly. The APCC typically charges $65 for consultations. In 2012, Petplan’s average insurance claim for vet visits associated with accidental poisoning was $465, after a deductible of $50 to $200. Dr. Benson says the company has seen claims as high as $10,000 in more severe cases. And while insurance covers accidents including poisoning, some insurers might not cover a pet that has a track record of eating unsuitable items.

Wanted: Sweet, calm, patient dogs to comfort humans

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Ninety-five percent of therapy animals with one group that oversees 11,000 teams in 14 countries are dogs, but not all dogs are right for the job. Animals that comfort people in times of illness or trauma must be calm amid sometimes chaotic situations. Desensitization, training and certification are important steps for the owner and animal in the process of becoming a therapy team

By Associated Press,

Feb 05, 2013 06:30 PM EST

APPublished: February 5

PHOENIX — The children buzz in excitement, boisterous and barging in, their little hands covering seemingly every part of the Australian shepherd’s body.

Callie doesn’t flinch, calmly lying at the center of this circle of chaos, lightly panting with what appears to be a smile.

 Dogs don’t really smile, but this one sure was at ease.

“She loves the attention,” Callie’s handler Jeanette Wood said during the visit to the Child Crisis Center in Phoenix. “She eats this stuff up.”

Callie makes calm amid the clutter look easy, but it’s not.

Being a therapy dog — or cat or horse or whatever — like Callie takes a special kind of animal, one with just the right temperament and personality. It also takes training, not just for the animal, but for the handler.

“You have to be a certain kind of person and have a certain kind of dog to do this,” said Pam Gaber, founder of Gabriel’s Angels, an Arizona-based nonprofit that delivers pet therapy to abused and at-risk children.

Therapy animals are used at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, rehabilitation centers, institutions and in one-on-one sessions with therapists. They also have been brought in to comfort victims of mass-casualty events, including the Newtown, Conn., school shooting and the Tucson shooting that targeted former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

They come from a wide range of species, from cats and rabbits to barnyard varieties like horses, goats and pigs. Exotic birds, hamsters and Guinea pigs, even llamas and alpacas also have been used to comfort people of all ages.

The most popular and recognizable therapy animals, not surprisingly, are dogs. And it’s not even close.

Pet Partners, a nonprofit organization that promotes positive animal interactions as a therapeutic resource, has 11,000 therapy teams in 14 countries and 95 percent of their animals are dogs.

“Dogs are social by nature, but they’re also accustomed to going with us, going out and meeting people,” Bill Kueser, vice president of marketing for Pet Partners, based in Bellevue, Wash. “We take them on walks, we go with them to the pet store to get dog food. We integrate them in our lives in sort of a wider spectrum of activities than other pets and species are integrated.”

A wide variety of breeds is used. Gabriel’s Angels, which serves 13,000 children in Phoenix and Tucson, has everything from a 4-pound Chihuahua to a 190-pound English mastiff, though most of its animals are golden retrievers, labs or a mix with either breed.

But not every dog is suitable for therapy.

The key is temperament. Therapy dogs need to be relatively even-keeled and enjoy being around people.

If a dog cowers around new people, is too timid or overbearing, or gets jumpy when there’s a lot of commotion, it probably won’t be a good fit as a therapy dog.

“Sometimes the person wants it more than the dog,” said Gaber, who started Gabriel’s Angels after taking her Weimaraner, Gabriel, to the Crisis Nursery in Phoenix in 2000. “If they’re in the corner cowering, let them stay home and sleep on your bed during the day if that’s what they want.”

Brush pets’ teeth for fresher breath, better health

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

It’s best to brush the teeth of dogs and cats to keep their breath smelling fresh and prevent other health problems. “Brushing is the gold standard for good oral hygiene at home,” said veterinarian Colin Harvey, a professor of surgery and dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. If dogs and cats won’t tolerate brushing, products such as prescription food and certain chew toys may help, Dr. Harvey adds. The Washington Post/The Associated Press (1/15)


LOS ANGELES — Dogs and cats can’t brush, spit, gargle or floss on their own. So owners who want to avoid bad pet breath will need to lend a hand.

“Brushing is the gold standard for good oral hygiene at home. It is very effective, but some dogs and more cats don’t appreciate having something in their mouth,” said Dr. Colin Harvey, a professor of surgery and dentistry in the Department of Clinical Studies for the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

The bulk of bad breath odor — the trademark rotten egg smell — comes from hydrogen sulfide, which is waste from anaerobic bacteria that thrive without oxygen in places like gaps between teeth and gums. Plaque buildup also invites the bacteria and as the accumulation grows, so does the smell.

Animal shelters and rescues know bad breath and filthy teeth can be a deal breaker. Some shelters, such as the Humane Society of Vero Beach & Indian River County in Florida, shuffle their charges through a dental health program before the animals are adopted out.

“We usually do dental cleanings and extractions when animals are spayed or neutered so the animal doesn’t have to be put under anesthesia again after adoption and the adopter has one less thing to worry about,” said Janet Winikoff, the shelter’s director of education.

If a pet is already spayed or neutered, it will still get dental care before adoption, she said. Harvey added that bad breath could also be a symptom of an underlying medical problem.

Stacy Silva, Santa Barbara County Animal Services’ community outreach coordinator, noted that wear on teeth could give the wrong impression of an animal’s age. “(The animals) may look a lot older than their teeth, and it may just be a matter of cleaning the tartar off that gets them back looking their age and that helps them to be adopted,” said Silva.

The animals that need a cleaning get chew toys or ropes, hard treats or cookies and a prescription diet if the vet orders it, she said.

Harvey, who has been director of the Veterinary Oral Health Council since it was founded in 1970, said such products are good substitutes for a teeth-brushing. Pet owners can try a combination or use other products such as water additives, chew toys, plaque and tartar cleaners, and dental diets, Harvey said.

Puppies and kittens are born toothless. They get their baby teeth before they’re a month old, lose them three to five months later and get their permanent teeth by age 1. Dogs have 42 teeth and cats have 30.

Toy dogs tend to have more dental problems because breeding for their smaller size hasn’t caught up with evolution, Harvey said. “Primitive dogs had a standard size and shape because they were evolved from wolves” but for toy breeds, their jaw size was reduced and tooth size was not, “so their teeth are too large for their mouths,” he added.

Christie Keith, a communications consultant to animal welfare and veterinarian groups, said she spends about two minutes each night brushing the teeth of her three dogs after dinner. The Davisburg, Mich., resident believes most dog owners needlessly fear brushing their dogs’ teeth.

Israeli company trains mice to sniff out contraband

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Mice are effective at sniffing out explosives, drugs and other contraband, and they’re faster to train than dogs, according to Israel-based BioExplorers. The company has devised a system that directs a blast of air at a person and then into a chamber containing eight mice, who move into a second chamber when they smell contraband.

TEL AVIV — Israel has been using mice to detect explosives.

An Israeli company has developed a method that uses mice to detect hidden contraband at airports and other facilities. The company, BioExplorers, said the mice could identify anything from explosives, drugs and even cash.

Israeli researchers claim mice are more accurate than dogs or x-ray machines at detecting explosives.

“The mice can also be easily trained, and thanks to their small size, you can use a small group of them and have multiple sensors,” BioExplorers chief technology officer Eran Lumbroso said.

The system was unveiled at the Israel Homeland Security exhibition in Tel Aviv in mid-November 2012. Executives said BioExplorers was briefing governments, police and companies on the technology.

Executives said the portable system directs a blast of air toward somebody suspected of carrying contraband. The air that strikes the person is directed into a chamber of eight mice, who sniff and move into another compartment if they detect contraband.

Lumbroso, who also founded BioExplorers, said the technology stemmed from his service in the Israel Army in 2000. At the time, the Army sought to use small animals rather than dogs to detect and foil the numerous suicide bombings by such Palestinian groups as Fatah and Hamas.

Executives said the system envisions the mice working in shifts of four hours. They said the mice can be trained much quicker than dogs.

How to handle a dog with OCD tendencies

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Up to 3% of dogs have obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder seen more frequently in some purebred dogs and exacerbated by stress, writes veterinarian Francine Rattner. Dogs that exhibit behaviors such as tail chasing or constant licking may have the condition, although Dr. Rattner says it’s important to have the animal evaluated to ensure there is not an underlying medical issue. Exercising the dog and removing the sources of stress may help, according to Dr. Rattner. The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

Can dogs have OCD? I have a Shetland sheepdog who is constantly chasing his tail. We try to distract him and tell him no and eventually he stops. Is there anything else we should do?

Unfortunately, our canine friends can suffer from repetitive activities that seem very similar to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 Since dogs can’t tell us what they are feeling, we don’t know why they are doing these activities. Perhaps they become addicted to the behavior because it stimulates the release of endorphins or soothing chemicals from the brain.

We have to also make sure that there is not an underlying pain issue that is causing the abnormal behavior. This is more likely in a case where a dog constantly licks at a spot on his leg. Whatever the cause, obsessive behaviors often require modification for the dog’s sake and for yours.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder with as many as three percent of dogs affected. As it is found more often in certain purebred dogs, we believe there is a genetic component involved. Herding dogs like yours may spin or chase their tails, Doberman Pinschers may suck the skin of their flank or lick a leg until it is raw, Labrador retrievers can be obsessive about carrying a ball around, or eating nonfood items.

While dogs may be born with this tendency, they generally don’t show signs until at least 6 months of age. It is important to act quickly if you start to see these types of behaviors emerging. Since stress can make the obsessive behavior worse, reducing stress can help keep them from becoming ingrained habits.

A dog that seems to engage in these types of behaviors when a neighbor’s “bully” dog is barking through the fence is stressed. A dog that starts doing more obsessive behaviors when he is crated is stressed. Do what you can to change your dog’s environment to reduce stresses that you can recognize.

Make sure you give your dog plenty of exercise. Especially for hunting and herding dogs — they are generally not content to be kept indoors all the time with just a bathroom break a couple times a day. They need to be taken on long walks or runs, or engaged in activities that they are genetically programmed to perform.

In addition, behavior modification will help reduce the frequency of the unwanted behavior. The first step is to make sure you are not reinforcing the tail chasing. Dogs can regard yelling as a form of attention and think of it as positive response. This will serve to encourage them to engage in the behavior more often. Instead, catch your dog in the act of sitting calmly and not chasing his tail and lavish praise on him. Train him to do other behaviors at your request and reward him for those. Lying down quietly and staying until you give the signal is another calm behavior to reward.

In some cases, all the work you can do at home isn’t enough to help relieve a dog of his compulsive behaviors. In those cases, the same types of anti-anxiety medications that are prescribed for humans may be needed to help him live a calmer, more comfortable life.

Dr. Francine K. Rattner is a veterinarian at South Arundel Veterinary Hospital in Edgewater. Please send questions to or to