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Wednesday
Jun272012

Book Review: Inside of a Dog

I recently finished reading a delightful book that I stumbled upon in the Dubuque library. It was written by Alexandra Horowitz and is titled Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. The author is a cognitive scientist, and she writes with clear, understandable, thoughtful science, interspersing wonderful little anecdotes throughout the book. I loved how she described the various experiments discussed in the book, as well as how she explained her theories about what is going on in dogs' heads and why she came to that conclusion. While I disagree on a fair bit of what she mentioned training wise, this book is highly valuable for the understanding inside it, despite our different views on how to apply that understanding toward dog training. The 301 pages of content are jam packed with information, with an additional 29 pages of notes and cited sources (so you can look up all the experiments she mentions and read the research yourself if you want!)

One of the things I enjoyed was the layout of the book. Alexandra Horowitz takes the reader through what science knows about dogs by first introducing the concept of umwelt (using science to safely anthropomorphism, that is, to put yourself in the dog's shoes and see life as your dog might see it) and then explains what science knows about the various senses of dogs so that in later chapters she can put that all together to display the umwelt of the dog as she sees it. She uses lots of historical and current research to back up her ideas and to lead to new questions, and she explores the limits of what science can and can not tell us about how our dogs see the world. Finally, she uses the umwelt she has laid out for the reader to theorize on how best we can pamper our pooches.

I loved how she handled anthropomorphization- not just dismissing it as altogether harmful. But also acknowledging the good qualities about it and the fact that people are going to anthropomorphize. She then takes the reader through where the pitfalls might be so we can avoid them, and using umwelt to guide your conclusions seems like a cool way to go from my point of view. She doesn't shy away from delving into the theoretical, either.

All in all, I love this book. Amazon has it listed right now for only $17.82, so it's a good deal if you plan to get a copy for yourself. I think it's a great book for any dog owner interested in learning more about their dog and getting closer to their dog to read, so I am seriously considering adding it to my library. If the Dubuque library didn't already have a copy, it would be a no-brainer. Check it out!

Wednesday
Jun062012

"Vicious Breeds"

There are many myths that abound in society than I and other trainers are constantly working to debunk. Among the constant streams of "his tail's wagging, so he's happy" and "what could my dog be stressed about" and "she knows what I'm saying- she's just stubborn", we hear constantly about so-called "vicious breeds". This makes no sense. Why would people willingly breed animals dangerous to humans? To be sure, there are plenty of disreputable breeders out there, and aggression can have a genetic component. However, these comprise a small sunset of the population. Most owners do not want vicious, dangerous dogs, and most dogs out there are not vicious or dangerous. Why have we let the exception overwhelm us and become the rule?

 

 

I think the answer is a combination of mis-education and fear. Pitbulls are the breed popular to hate these days. When you hear about a dog attack in the news and the breed is identified, chances are the dog is identified as a Pitbull. But are all pits really dangerous? First of all, let's examine the fact that so many dogs in the media that attack are identified as pitbulls. Chances are the media did not do a background check into the dog's lineage to determine that fact. The truth is, many, many breeds are mis-identified as pitbulls. I challenge you to go to Find the Pit and look through the pictures there. How many wrong answers did you select before finding the one Pitbull pictured? For full disclosure, let me tell you that I have worked hard on appropriately identifying breeds by look, although I regularly disclaim mixes as impossible to know for sure, and I guessed wrong once before I found the Pitbull. There were a few I thought might have been the pit but I didn't guess them. I did click on the Alapaha blue blood bulldog as a pit, only to find out I was wrong, and the other two that I nearly chose but didn't were the Presa Canario and Cane Corso, both of which I hope I would have correctly identified in person! How well did you do? Did you find the pit right away, or was it difficult? How much experience do you have identifying breeds? Now imagine how hard it may be for someone in the heat of the moment or who does not have a lot of experience in breed identification to correctly identify an attacking dog as a Blackmouth Cur or a Fila Brasiliero rather than saying "Pitbull" (not that either of those breeds are inherently vicious, either).

I hope the quiz opens your eyes to the vast amount of misidentification that occurs so often in the media. That doesn't mean no Pitbulls bite, but instead I hope you will think twice before accepting it on someone's word that the dog was a Pitbull. One personal example of breed mis-identification that I have is a Bull Terrier that was adopted out to a town that had a Pitbull ban. As a Bull Terrier is not a Pitbull, no one thought twice until the town government began harassing the poor owners and their dog. These owners were super responsible dog owners, and wonderful people. Their dog was a gem of a dog- sweet and well behaved. Nevertheless, because of the judge first and ask questions later view of this town, the dog ended up back at the shelter, where she had to wait to find a new home through no fault of her own, and no fault of her owners. We at the shelter were stunned, because none of us though she looked anything like a Pitbull, but apparently to the untrained eye, Bull Terriers and Pitbulls look an awful lot alike.

The other thing is that so many dogs are mixes. The quiz I linked to above used only purebred dog pictures from the breeders, so you can imagine how it can compound the problem when the lineage is unknown or mixed. I have done a DNA test on both of my dogs, and if the results are to be believed, they are very surprising indeed, and no one has once guessed either correctly. For instance Boo, who I call a Lab mix apparently has as much Maltese as Lab in her. No one ever guesses she's a Maltese mix. Now imagine instead of Maltese, it was Pitbull, and also imagine we lived in a community where pits were restricted (thankfully, we do not). Should she, who looks just like a Lab, be restricted for her heritage just like the dog next door, who may be as much or even less pit than her, but look more pit just thanks to genetics? Obviously this is just a thought experiment, but I think it is still valuable to ponder. When has judging something purely on its looks ever done good in the long run? Instead, to ban all Pitbulls or immediately classify all pitbulls as vicious right off the bat is merely a slippery slope and supports myths that have no basis in fact.

The plain truth of the matter is that owners have the most effect on their dog's temperament for the vast majority of dogs. There are dogs out there with a genetic basis for aggression, and these dogs can be extremely hard to work with, but they are not confined to any one breed. There are also dogs out there with brain rumors and neurological problems that can respond suddenly and without warning with aggression. Again, these problems are not limited to a particular breed. The rest of the aggression (that which is not caused by an underlying genetic or health component) is behavioral and likely results from training or environment or lack of socialization, or some combination thereof. I work aggression cases, and hands down the most aggressive dog that I have worked with was a little Rat Terrier, although I did consult on a Chihuahua/Rat Terrier mix that was even more aggressive. Personal and professional experience have taught me that aggression is not limited to one breed, nor are all members of a breed going to act the same way (aggressive or not).

What about the fact that some breeds were bred to fight? Doesn't that have anything to do with where we are now? Let's explore the background of some breeds and see where that takes us. The American Pit Bull Terrier was founded from bulldogs and English terriers to provide a dog with great athleticism and gameness. This dog was used to hunt, drive cattle, and as a family pet. Because they are so loyal and driven, they made good blood sport dogs, but any aggression toward humans was a serious fault resulting in the destruction of the dog. Wikipedia has an interesting list of dog breeds that have been used at some point in time for dog-fighting. However, dog fighting is not the only blood sport humans have enjoyed. What about bull-baiting, bear-baiting, wolf-baiting, ratting, and other blood sports? These sports are not for the entertainment of dogs, but humans, and humans have developed many, many breeds including bulldogs, wolfhounds, Dogue de Bordeaux, and many many terriers. Any of the ancient Molossor dogs (many of which turned into Mastiff-types) have a history of violence, as they were kept for guarding and protecting, driving, herding, and fighting. Their descendants include Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bulldogs, Bullmastiffs, Great Danes, Rottweilers, Pugs, and more. Should all of these dogs have severe restrictions on them because of their history of fighting and protecting? If so, many people would be very upset to lose their beloved companions.

How about those towns that have banned certain breeds? It turns out breed bans don't make towns safer. In fact, both the CDC and the AVMA have declared that there is no scientific basis for breed specific legislation (http://www.avma.org/public_health/dogbite/dogbite.pdf). According to the NCRC, breed bans in Sioux City and in Miami-Dade county, among others, resulted in no decline in dog bites (in fact, the number increased for Sioux City). In addition, the cost to enforce such laws vastly outweighs any possible benefit, partly because dog bites are so rare (in the grander scheme of things) and aggression is not a single-breed problem. Let's take a look at bite statistics. For a list of media reports on dog bites (Warning: Could be depressing!), go to http://www.understand-a-bull.com/Articles/OtherBreedBites/AllDogsBite.htm. For more information of the research and statistics on dog bites, check out the National Canine Research Council. Let's look at the Tri-state area. According to the National Canine Research Council, there have been four dog bite related fatalities in Iowa in the last 47 years, regardless of breed. There have been 28 in Illinois in the last 47 years, and 15 in Wisconsin in the same timeframe. That's 47 fatal dog bites in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa in 47 years. While I agree that this number needs to decrease, motor vehicles, guns, second hand smoke, and many other things we are exposed to every day contribute to more fatalities than dog bites. And the kicker is that schnauzer-related deaths are included in the number, right alongside Labs and Pitbulls and German Shepherds and other big dogs. Dogs as small as West Highland White Terriers and Schnauzers have killed. Just because a dog is smaller does not mean they are "safe". What is a measure of the level of danger is not the size of the dog, but the dog's behavior and the owner's behavior.

So to my mind it makes far more sense to stress responsible pet ownership, responsible breeding, and bite safety education to meet this goal of lowering the incidence of dog bites even further (especially medically serious dog bites!) rather than per-judging a breed. The fact is, many of the targeted breeds do have a history of violence, just like the dachshund bred for badger hunting and the Newfoundland with Molossor blood. However, just because a breed has been used for violence in the past, or even currently, does not mean all individuals of the breed should be restricted or eliminated. Similarly, a few people making poor choices is no reason to condemn a community. The truth is, even with those breeds currently abused in dog fighting rings (like pitbulls), there are many, many breeders who are carefully continuing the line to preserve all the good qualities of the breed and who work hard to continue producing wonderful family pets. So instead of pre-judging breeds, let's eliminate dog fighting, let's encourage responsible pet ownership and education, and let's have high standard for our breeders to be sure they are producing puppies from mentally, emotionally, and physically sound lines.

Monday
May212012

The "S" word

In the dog training world, you hear about it all the time. As a trainer, I am taking about it constantly. For puppies and fearful dogs, it is all important. I am talking, of course, about socialization.

I figured I would continue with the puppy theme I've been doing lately and talk about the crucial topic of socialization. Basically, from age 6 weeks to age 16 weeks is a critical period in the puppy's life. Experiences that take place in this window tend to have a stronger impact on the puppy's personality and outlook on life than if those same experiences took place a few weeks or even months later. This is why puppy owners are counseled so strongly to get their puppies out into the world and expose them to life, while at the same time being careful to avoid high risk of exposure to diseases until their immune system is more mature. It is a tough tightrope to walk.

I am not a vet, and so I will advise you to talk to your vet about the risk of disease. However, I can tell you from a behavior standpoint, it is so much easier to prevent problems through socialization, especially when the puppy already has a fearful or nervous personality, than it is to try to remedially socialize an adult dog. It takes many times more exposures for an adult dog to approach the same effect that one single exposure has on a puppy inside the critical timeframe.

So what do you need to make sure your puppy is exposed to? Here are a few suggestions:

Surfaces:

Grass, cement, and dirt, parking lots
Stairs
Carpet, tile, linoleum, rugs, and shiny indoor commercial flooring like at pet stores
Manhole covers, metal flooring
Surfaces that move a bit or wobble beneath their feet, like clanging sidewalk plates or swinging bridges


Environmental:

Rain, snow, heat, and cold (being careful not to go to extremes and harm your pup)
Dog-friendly events
Car rides (shorter at first, then longer)
Kong toys (lightly stuffed first, then progressively harder)
Crates
Your vet's office and staff, groomer's office and staff, boarding kennel or pet sitter and staff
Fireworks (from a far distance), alarms, traffic, doorbells, jackhammers
Buses, motorcycles
Planes, trains, sirens, etc
Vacuum cleaner, broom, and lawn mower, snow blower
Forest, meadow, beach, mountain/bluff, rivers, ponds, large bodies of water, farm


Visual:

Umbrellas (opened and closed), rain coats, jackets, and winter coats, costume or unusual clothes
Caps, baseball hats, and wide-brimmed hats, helmets, hoodies, backpacks, large purses
Canes, walking sticks, walkers
Pots, pans, blankets, rugs, fans, balloons, gs blowing in wind
Sunglasses and regular glasses
Direct eye contact, direct eye contact with forward movement, direct eye contact with smile and forward movement
Bikes, trikes, wheelchairs, skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, and other wheeled non-motorized vehicles


People:

Infants squealing, crawling, in stroller or carrier
Children standing, walking, running, skipping, and jumping
Children being quiet, saying hi to the puppy, and being loud and obnoxious and playful
Teenagers
Men, especially larger, taller men, men with beards, men with deep voices
Women
People of various ethnic backgrounds
People with handicaps
The mail carrier and delivery person
People in uniforms


Other Animals:

Other dogs, both small, large, male, and female
Farm animals (if your puppy is at all likely to be exposed at a later date), cats, birds


Grooming:

Leash, collar, harness, and other equipment you will use regularly
Bathing, nail trims, teeth brushing, and other grooming rituals
Hugs, restraint, and head pats


In all of these, you need to be careful that these are good experiences. If you have an "oops", then be sure you seek out that very same category of socialization for 7 good experiences to every one bad experience, the sooner the better.

Wednesday
May022012

Puppy Picker: Which Pup to Choose?

Okay, so you've settled on a breed, and you've found a couple responsible breeders and/or shelters with litters to choose from. You go to look at a litter, but you have 4, 6, or more individuals to choose from. How do you decide who to bring home?

Let's look first at gender. Is a male or a female the better fit for you? Many people already have a preference, and that is fine. Take a look at the breeds you've chosen to see if there tend to be differences in gender for that breed. For instance, many people say that male Labs tend to be sweeter than female Labs, where as in other breeds the female may be more assertive than the males! Females are thought to be easier to housebreak in general, but really that is often because of the marking instinct of intact males. This means your neutered male may be just as easy to housebreak as your neighbor's female, and oh by the way, your intact female may also mark (and draw in intact males from the entire neighborhood when she's in heat!). 

One true gender trend is that males tend to be larger than females in almost every breed. Neutering (for males) is generally a little cheaper than spaying (for females), and males tend to recover much more quickly. In fact, I've known many males who don't even appear to notice that anything is missing after their neuter (though to be fair, I've also seen a few females that match this model. A trend is, in fact, only a trend)!

Regardless of whether you choose male or female, you need to realize that there tend to be some changes if you do "fix" your dog. No, your spayed female or neutered male is not doomed to get fat (unless you over-feed and under-exercise), but neutering generally decreases aggression in males and spaying tends to reduce mood swings in females. Because of the pet overpopulation crisis, I would highly recommend neutering and spaying any puppy who is not a purebred bought specifically to continue the line (and even then they should be exceptional individuals of that breed, and in the hands of an experienced and super-responsible breeder!). Add to this that by fixing your dog you also eliminate the chances of certain cancers and reduce the likelihood of some behavior problems (marking and running, for instance), and to me it's a no brainer. But I digress.

In choosing an individual, you need to think about if you have any dogs already at home, or dogs which the puppy will be playing with often. If so, you will want to pick a dog that is compatible with the dogs you already have. If you have a couple of rough and tumble dogs at home, think twice about bringing home that sweet but shy little one! Sometimes you can bring out the resident dogs to meet the new arrival so you can see if they hit it off. If at all possible, jump on this chance! It will give you invaluable information!

When looking at inter-dog relations, many people want to know what combination of dogs won't fight. In truth, males will fight males, females will fight females, and males and females will also fight. It all depends on the circumstances. In general, however, the fights between female and female tend to do the most damage and be the most furious. 

In some cases, all the other pups will be chosen, and your choice is easy. In other cases, your choices seem endless. Rather than picking a puppy based on appearance, I would urge you to pick a puppy based on personality. Which pup's personality will work best in your home? Which will mesh best with your lifestyle and your personality?

Some trainers believe that the ideal puppy personality for an individual is a personality similar to their own. If you are a socially-sensitive person, you may want a socially-sensitive puppy. If you are confident and self-assertive, you may enjoy a similarly confident pup. It is rare for a nervous, shy puppy to enjoy a loud, boisterous home, and it is equally rare for a boisterous pup to be handled well by a shy, timid person.

For a light-hearted look into personalities, try reading Dogology, by Vicki Croke and Sarah Wilson. For the more serious and specifically minded, I would recommend a temperament (or aptitude) test. The most important part of any aptitude test is to be careful not to hurt or scare the pup. You want to test the puppies, ideally, around 7 weeks of age. 

Perhaps the most popular aptitude test is the Volhard Aptitude test, which has been around for a long time. You can read through the test here. It was designed by Joachim and Wendy Volhard. This involves tests for sociability, will to follow, acceptance of restraint, social and elevation dominance, retrieving, touch, sight, and sound sensitivity, and also a startle test. 

Be aware that temperament testing only predicts behavior. Since training and socialization also impact the later personality of the grown dog, there is no guarantee in temperament testing. It is only designed to be a tool to help you decide on an individual who is most likely to fit your needs and desires. 

How did you choose your last puppy?

Wednesday
Apr252012

Puppy Picker: Which Breed is Best?

One of the most important decisions you can make about your new puppy is which one to bring home with you. Whether you've decided on a breeder or a shelter, a purebred or a mixed breed, you still have many decisions to make. Do you want a male, or a female? Do you want the biggest, or the runt? What breed are you going to decide on? And can you predict the adult personality from a puppy's temperament, or are they truly "blank slates"?

Let's start first of all with the question of breed. Different breeds were designed to suit different purposes. For instance, if you want a lap dog happy to lay at your feet the entire day with a single 30 minute stroll, you do not want to be considering a border collie. Likewise, a pug is not going to be very well suited to driving cattle all day. There are several different groups of breeds, according to the American Kennel Club. These groupings are supposed to reflect the dog's original type and purpose. They are: the Herding Group, the Hound Group, the Terrier Group, the Working Group, the Sporting Group, the Non-Sporting Group, the Toy Group, and the Miscellaneous Group. Sometimes by narrowing down what category might fit your lifestyle best, you can narrow down the breeds that best suit your needs.

 

The Sporting Group (or the Gun Dog Group) was designed originally to hunt alongside man for food and for sport. Sight and Scent hounds were originally both included in this group, along with terriers, until the Hound group and Terrier group were seperated out. Examples of this group include the much loved Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever, the Cocker Spaniel, and lesser known breeds such as the Sussex Spaniel, the Vizsla, the Spinone, and the Kooikerhondje from the Netherlands.

The Hound Group is often subdivided into sight-hounds and scent-hounds, with a third grouping of 'primitive dogs'. Some examples of this group inclue the Greyhound, the Afghan Hound, the Canaan dog, the New Guinea Singing dog, and the Bloodhound.

The Terrier Group was designed to 'go to ground' after their prey- and this is how they got their name as 'terriers'. Dachshunds are traditionally classified as scent hounds, but as they were designed to go to ground after badgers, I think they should be classed as terriers. Most terriers originated in Britain, bred from various hounds. Some examples are: the Airedale terrier, the Yorkshire terrier, the Cairn terrier, the Jack Russell terrier, Scottish terrier, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and the West Highland White Terrier (the Westie).

The Toy Group was bred to be companions and pets as opposed to working dogs. Even so, many toy dogs also earned their keep as pest control and watch dogs (alerting with fearsome barking as opposed to physically stopping intruders most of the time). Examples of this group include the Pekingese, the Miniature Pinscher (which is not a derivitive of the Doberman Pinscher, as Min Pins predate Dobies by some 200 years!), the Papillon, the Maltese, the Pomeranian, and the Chihuahua.

The Non-sporting Group (also known as the Utility Group) which was originally supposed to be a "catch-all" group for those breeds that didn't exactly fit the parameters of other groups. Obviously this ultimately failed, as we have the Miscellaneous group now, but it shows the ever-changing nature of the classification of breeds. Some well known members of this group at the Poodle, the Dalmatian, the Boston Terrier, the Bulldog, the French Bulldog, and the Lhasa Apso. Some rarer examples include the German Spitz, the Akita, the Schipperke, and the Tibetan Terrier. 

The Working Group was designed to classify the breeds that worked for man in other ways than Hunting. The Herding Group was split off from the Working Group. Some examples of this category include: the Bernese Mountain Dog, the Newfoundland, the Rottweiler, the Husky, the Doberman, and the Boxer.

The Herding Group is the newest group to the AKC. This group includes those breeds bred to herd animals for man, and includes: the Border Collie, German Shepherd, Swedish Vallhund, Briard, and Australian Cattle Dog.

The Miscellaneous Group was designed to categorize breeds not fully recognized by the AKC and who have not yet been categorized into a group officially. Some examples of these breeds include: the Boerboel, American English Coonhound, Pumi, Finnish Lapphund, Rat Terrier, and Dogo Argentino. 

 

The best thing you can do when narrowing down breeds is to do your research on breed tendencies and origins. Keep an open mind- don't get set on one particular breed, especially if it's a rare breed! Instead, try to narrow down your breeds to four or five acceptable choices. From there you can narrow down by individual, shelter, or breeder. Keep in mind your wishes- would you like a dog that practically trains itself, or one that challenges you a bit more? Do you want a dog who is stuck by your side all day, or a dog who is more independent? How about grooming requirements? How protective would you like your dog to be, and how would you like the dog to perceive children? 

If you're stuck, I would suggest taking a quiz of sorts to help narrow down your choices. If you have an iDevice (iPhone, iPod, or iPad) I would recommend DogShow from the Apple Appstore. Otherwise, you can try a breed selector on the Internet. I love Animal Planet's breed selector, because it's short, to the point, and also allows you to 'opt out' of answering questions that don't apply to you or that you have no preference on. SelectSmart's breed selector has some questionable accuracy, but could be used with other questionaires and some good old research to help suggest some breeds you many not think of. One good thing about this selector is that you can determine how important each question is to you. However, to get your results you need to scroll down a bit, and it's a little less than intuitive. Purina has a good selector (they also have a cat breed selector). I really like how you can opt out of questions and even more how it gives you immediate results an compare the breeds. 

 

Take a look through some of the selectors. Did the results surprise you? If you already have a dog, was that breed suggested to you by the selectors? How did you decide on a breed?