I’ve been replaced??

Buster finally realized that maybe the cat was more than a temporary guest.


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Maybe it was just indifferent, but everything I know about cats would suggest that this one is peeved.

And probably plotting murder. Probably.
This cat is NOT happy

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Finding The Perfect Canine Match – or How Not To Run Amok

Don’t leave finding your perfect canine match up to chance. Breaking up is hard to do and  these tips may save you as well as your pup from heartbreak.

  • Take your time. This is a commitment. A dog’s average life expectancy  (13 years) is longer than the average length of first marriages (8 years.) Committing to a person after only one date would be insane. Making a commitment to a dog or puppy  after one date is equally insane. Plan to spend some time with the puppy or dog, whether n a home, foster home or shelter.
  • Size matters . But more important than size is your energy level and that of your prospective pet partner. Do not delude yourself that getting a Border Collie is going to make you a jogger because of their high exercise needs. Instead, better to be realistic and assess your current level of activity. M atch accordingly. If you are a couch potato, realize that you are likely to remain so. And there is no shame in that! There are plenty of dogs who are looking for a couch potato buddy. Consider an older dog, or a breed that is known for their laid back demeanor.
  • Personal Hygiene. Yes, some dogs are naturally easier to live with than others because of their fastidiousness and physique. If you aspire to being featured in House Beautiful perhaps you should not consider a breed that is heavy on the drool, spittle and shedding. Newfies, Mastiffs, and Bulldogs immediately spring to mind. Long haired breeds  also of course leave behind long hairs. So  if you don’t consider  slime trails  and long hairs a fashion accessory then these breeds may not be for you. Whether you consider these attributes design flaws or endearing  qualities may help  narrow your choices.
  • Look to the future. If you plan on a change in your family composite, be realistic about the impact it may have. Are  children a likely addition in the course of your intended canine friends life? A small nervous breed might not be the best choice. Is your boyfriend/girlfriend a fan of large breeds, if that is what you are considering? If your household might include elderly parents or grandparents  who are frail then a large breed that might knock them over might best be avoided.
  • Are you a gambler or do you like to minimize the risks? Any committed relationship is a gamble. But if you would like to minimize your risks consider an older dog who has been with a foster family.  They may be able to tell you whether the dog is good with kids. They may know whether they are good with cats or whether they consider them a delectable morsel. They may have experience with them around other dogs or on leash. A  purebred dog may minimize the risks as well. A Chihuahua is not likely to pull you down the stairs or eat you out of house and home. Some pure bred dogs will absolutely require grooming, which may best be handled by a professional, thereby running up the cost of maintenance. Others require little or no grooming. Some breeds have been bred for specific purposes and generalizations may be made about their temperaments, though bear in mind that yours may be the exception.
  • Are you a patient person? Puppyhood , though it may only last one year, can easily feel like five. Can you keep “that lovin’ feelin’” and are you prepared to love him even when no one else could, should or would? Puppyhood requires patience, preparation and more patience. Be prepared to spend time and money . The primary reason dogs are surrendered is behavioral so at the top of your must do list should be “seek professional training.”


Above all, before you walk down the  aisle with your new partner ask yourself if you are  truly being realistic and if you are prepared.

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Does Your Dog Do Halloween?

It is that time of year again, when the search is on for the perfect Halloween get up for our charges. begins If you, like so many of us, think that your dog is cuter in costume then now is the time to begin shopping or sewing.

Why We Do What We Do

What, I wonder, is the motivation for this? Did we not have sufficient time playing with Barbie and Ken as children? Celebrating with our dogs is something we do regularly from doggy birthday parties to Christmas. We include and exalt them, so why not Halloween. Fourteen thousand years of living with us has made them tolerant of our silly ways, and some, though not all, are at least tolerant.

The Sky Is The Limit

Aside from safety and comfort, what other factors should we take into consideration? Some of the funniest ones rely on the contrast between the size of the dog and the nature of the costume. It is somehow amusing to see a Chihuahua dressed as a lion or a mastiff as a mouse. Others choose to emphasize some physical aspect of their dog. Witness the dachshunds dressed as hotdogs. And then there are those that live vicariously and choose a costume based on their own aspirations. Perhaps dogs dressed as princesses or fighter pilots would fall in this camp. And of course sheer availability may enter into your choice as well. Some breeds are just difficult to fit with an off-the-shelf costume and have limited selection.


So if you are game to join in, and Fido is as well, look around the web for inspiration. Every year it seems there are new costumes available, and new variations on old themes. One character that inspires me is Zelda, who seemingly dresses up on a daily basis. With words to the wise, her audacious costumes and daily advice make me smile.


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Neutering News

Neutering (both castration and spaying) is one of those subjects that can be very divisive among dog owners. And when a friend mentioned that he and his wife were thinking about neutering their Bulmastiff , or as he put “making that visit to the vet where they go in as a man and come out as less than, ” I couldn’t stop myself from sharing some interesting new data with them which may affect their decision.  It confirms the findings of some  older studies and raises other issues as well.

Neutering…Is it Beyond Questioning?

In the US, neutering is not only an accepted practice, it is virtually beyond questioning if you are a responsible owner of a pet dog. And the age at which these surgeries are being performed is dropping. Typically neutering before 6 months of age was referred to as “early neutering” but the ASPCA has suggested that the word “early” implies “prematurely” and so is suggesting new terminology. Most likely the new terminology will be either “juvenile spay/neutering”  or “pediatric spay/neutering.”

In Europe on the other hand, neutering is not typical and generally not promoted by veterinarians. In Sweden for example, nearly 99% of pet dogs are intact. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act discourages the neutering of pet dogs unless it is clearly beneficial to the dog. The Norwegian Animal Welfare Act makes it clear that surgical procedures are not to be used to adapt animals to the needs of humans, unless strictly necessary.

Most other European countries range between 40 – 50-%, whereas in the US the figure is closer to 80%.

Gonadal Hormones and Development

Without question, the loss of gonadal hormones affects development. The effect of these hormones, and therefore the lack of them, is far – reaching.

The most recent study, which involved Golden Retrievers  showed that  the neutered (spayed and castrated)dogs  had a higher incidence of:

  • Hip Dysplasia and arthritic hip joints
  • Lymphosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Mast Cell Tumors
  • Cruciate Ligament Disease

The rate of occurence was higher in both male and female  neutered dogs.

The Waters are Muddy Indeed

For me, this study brought up the question of cultural differences. As mentioned earlier, in some European countries, spaying and neutering is only considered if it is in the best interest of the dog. Note the emphasis on dog, not the dog population, or the owner, or society but rather what is in the best interest of that particular dog.
It is a tough question, but I do think we need to ask for whose  sake are we neutering.

In the US the impact that neutering has had on the overpopulation of shelters is significant and not to be minimized.

But if you are carefully considering whether to neuter or not, a conversation with your veterinarian, should encompass discussion of:

  • your dog’s breed and breed – related medical isues
  • your dog’s age and health
  • your goals
  • your level of training and responsibility
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Love, Science and Your Dog

At this time of year we often think of love. Do you ever wonder why you love your dog so much? Although you may enchanted by his winsome ways, let’s look at what science says aboput the subject.

If you are reading this, then I am probably bloggin’ to the choir. Most of us recognize that our love for our pets is deep and perhaps a bit of a mystery to us and others. I am often reminded of this when I explain how I don’t sleep very well unless I have my dog  snoring and drooling on my shoulder.  It isn’t the noise or drool I crave, but the contented look on her face when she takes that last big breath before she dozes off. It makes me happy and I have always suspected that there must be some sort of physiological response that occurs when we spend time with our charges. What is really going on here? Is there a scientific explanation behind those feelings? Yes, there is. And as you will read shortly, more studies come every day.

If asked why they love their dogs, most people will respond with some variation of the following:

  • They provide unconditional love
  • They are always there for me
  • They are always happy to see me
  • They don’t care if I have messed up at work
  • They comfort me

And of course there is truth in this.  But long ago and far away I was a biology major, and those four years of college forever shaped the way I look at things.  I want to know the science behind things and have been especially intrigued by the strong connections people feel with their dogs.  This has been driven in part by my own quest to understand my deep feelings for my dogs, but also the evidence all around of others’ feelings for their dogs.  I have known people to sacrifice a relationship because the other person involved didn’t love their dog, or pass on an opportunity to vacation when the dog couldn’t go along, or who have gladly sacrificed their home furnishings to the comfort of their Fido. So are we all crazy?

The more I read the more I have come to blame, or appreciate ,depending on your view, oxytocin . Oxytocin is a hormone found in male and female mammals. The experiments I will refer to shed some scientific light on the issue of why we love our dogs so deeply and in no way do they diminsh these feelings.

Oxytocin – The Hugging and Cuddling Hormone

There are reports of studies that show a relationship between oxytocin and long-term relationships. These were same species studies. But now there is a paper, soon to be presented in Sweden  at  The 12th Annuual International Conference on the Human Animal Interactions, linking increased levels of oxytocin when people interact, either petting or gazing, at their dogs. This research was done by Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg and will be presented in July.

But many other studies have been done on the effects of oxytocin. It has long been called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone.” It plays a big part in birth, sex , maternal behavior  and even commitment. Much of the research has been done on voles and rats, but more and more is being done with humans.  And there have been a number of surprising findings.  For example, “investors” are likely to invest more when treated with an oxytocin inhaler than not.

A Dog Can Improve Your Math Skills!

I bet you don’t believe me but it has been shown that the presence of our beloved dog can markedly affect our ability to do mental math! On the other hand, the presence of friends  has the exact opposite effect.  The same is true when it comes to giving a speech. It is theorised that when the pressure is on and we are stressed, friends and  are perceived as threatening and judgemental or “evaluative”,thereby increasing the stress. Karen Allen’s research involved only women and their pets. They were asked to perform some mental math and where tested under three scenarios – friend present, alone, or dog present. It wasn’t surprising to me that they performed significantly better with their pet present, less well if alone, and the worst if a friends was present.

Another interesting study was done on couples. They were asked to rate the level of “partner support” they experienced. They found that those who perceived higher levels of support from their partners also had higher levels of oxytocin in their blood.

One characteristic of autistic children is their difficulty in relating socially. If you are interested in how autistic children can benefit from actually training dogs, see my earlier post “How Can Autistic Kids and Dogs Work Together?” In 1998 a study was conducted comparing levels of oxytocin in “aloof” autistic children to normal children.  The data clearly showed significantly lower levels of oxytocin in the autistic group. Social impairment was related to lower levels of oxytocin.

So if oxytocin increases bonding and trust, as as the studies above indicate, how does this fit in with the whole dog thing and our relationships with them?

Mystery Solved – Or Is It?

Now, back to the research that Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg and her colleagues have done recently. Female particpants rated the quality of their relationship with their dogs. The women then interacted with their dogs both petting them and talking to them. Oxytocin levels were measured. Higher oxytocin levels correlated with higher positive ratings of the participant’s relationship with their dog. But even more interesting, if the participants ranked their relationship as positive, the dogs themselves also had increased levels of oxytocin.

This finding interests me on so many levels. First, it scientifically authenticates my strong feelings toward my dogs. Secondly, it shows that my perception of my relationship has some physiological bearing on my dog as well. But another thought comes to mind.  These experiments were done with Labradors. There are breeds which are considered more “neotenous” than Labs and I am wondering whether there might be a difference in the oxytocin levels in neotenous vs. less-neotenous breeds.

Neoteny is when traits that are baby-like or youthful are still present when they are adults. Think breeds with short muzzles and big eyes. A human infant’s head makes up 1/3 rd of the total length of the body.  An adult head averages 1/7 th of the heigth. Now imagine a Pug’s head or a Bulldog’s head . Much closer to 1/3 rd than 1/7 th. It is speculated that these baby-like proportions in humans evoke in us that “Ahhhh, how cute!” and protective, parental emotions. Some even speculate that our idea of feminine beauty is neotenous. Men are seen to be most attracted to women with large, round eyes, small noses and chins, relatively large head and so on.  All very debatable, but interesting nonetheless.

So if oxytocin is influential in lactation and maternal bonding and it is also released just by gazing into the eyes of our canine friend it makes sense that we have fashioned some breeds that are particularly neotenous. Neoteny could be one factor that enters into the release of oxytocin in ourselves.  With the release of oxytocin come those feelings of bonding and maternal care. And thus those positive feelings in turn could bring about the increase in the release of oxytocin in Fido and that in turn may increase their  bonding with us. A beautiful circular design! I wonder whether there is a difference in the levels of oxytocin released in humans when they interact with a neotenous vs. less-neotenous breed.

I wish I could be in Stockholm for the presentation of  Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg’s findings, though I am sure that we will hear about it from the animal behaviorists and ethologists who attend.

As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said ” We are in very deep waters”.

Photo Credit: Dunechaser on flickr

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Quick Tip: How To Use Gooey Treats For Training

An important component when you are training your dog, is the immediate and timely rewarding of good behavior. With some dogs this is simply a scratch behind the ears, a toss of the ball or a few kind words.  But for the majority, when training NEW behaviors, the reward must be of a higher value.  Typically, a semi-moist tiny treat is used.

Keeping in mind the training tenet “the subject dictates the rewards,” we occasionally have the dog who shuns those handy treats but will adore the less handy peanut butter, or some sort of soft food.

But when out and about on the town training your dog, using these less than user-friendly treats can be problematical.

Now what are we to do? Grab that ketchup bottle. Make an easily dispensed mush of whatever it is your dog finds rewarding, stuff it in the ketchup bottle and you now have an easy to handle way to give him a little lick of that cherished treat. Using a blender, I have managed to do this with liver, peanut butter and even tuna. Just add water until you have a consistency that is manageable.

Let your dog’s imagination guide you!

For more ideas on rewards and how to use them effectively, and wean them off, read “Calling All Cookie Monsters and Treat Whores.”

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The Ticklish Issue of Dominance

There are many trainers who base their dog training methods on a mistaken interpretation of some research done in the 60’s involving captive grey wolves, dominance and “the pack.“ These beliefs have become so entrenched in popular culture that while getting to know a new client I make it a point to find out where they stand on this issue. Their belief and adherence to this approach has come to be predictive of a client’s success.

It was not until recently that these assumptions have been questioned. So what have researchers found that undermines the assumption that a dog’s behavior can be equated to that of the wolf?

The research that led to the notion that a pet dog will act as if, with his human family, he is a “pack,” was done through observation of wolves in captivity.  Whereas in captivity there are frequent skirmishes and attempts to maintain a hierarchy, in a free ranging pack it is a rarity. In a captive population the pack has been put together by humans, usually comprised of unrelated wolves,  and individuals are unable to either leave the pack or use many of their natural behaviors. The assumption that since a captive wolf may try to raise its status that, similarly, domestic dogs will try to raise their status in their pack, or in other words, their human family was based on the captive “pack” that was very different from what occurs naturally. Owners were frequently led to believe that they needed to establish themselves as “leaders of the pack” which is now generally accepted as an approach based on a misconception.

A more fruitful approach would limit this idea to very specific situations.  Dog-dog and dog-human relationships may be explained by the concept of dominance but only in very limited situations, usually involving access to or control of a cherished and limited resource. Rawhide frequently comes into play here as it is a scarce and cherished resource. If the owner attempts to take it away and is nipped for his trouble, the owner withdraws and the dog has been successful. Thus the dog has learned that aggression succeeds. This is frequently misinterpreted as an attempt to gain ”dominance” when in fact it is simply a learned behavior that has worked effectively.

It can be boiled down to this: domestic dogs do not form packs, and especially not with another species.

An analogy would be cattle in a field and cattle egrets. Do we call that a herd? Or a flock? Do we attempt to describe the egret’s behavior in terms of a cow herd?

In some very very limited situations the idea of dominance may come in handy.  But unfortunately, what I see more often is that people relying on this outdated misconception become fearful that their dog is trying to gain “dominance.”

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Made In The USA – Meet the Chinook

The Chinook is a newly recognized, rare and fascinating breed, bringing the total number of AKC recognized breeds to 177.

The story of this breed is touching and historic and is one of the truly American breeds.*

In 1896 a young man named Arthur Walden left his job on a New Hampshire farm for the trip of a lifetime to Alaska. While there he had many jobs and experiences but the one job that shaped him for the rest of his life was “dog punching.” Dog punching, essentially dog sledding, was the use of dogs to move merchandise across the frozen lands of Alaska. With this experience under his belt, he eventually returned to New Hampshire where he was unable to find the quality of sled dog that he had become use to. But in 1917 a litter was born to his Husky, a granddaughter of Admiral Peary’s lead dog during his 1909 Arctic expedition, and a stud of mixed heritage. Peary, an egotistical and colorful character with a hefty share of character flaws, actually missed the North Pole by a bit.

In this litter, related to Peary’s lead sled dog, were three buff colored puppies that stood out. They were large and intelligent and eventually one, Chinook, became Walden’s prized and beloved lead dog. Walden developed a team of sled dogs and was winning some races, but an outbreak of distemper wiped out his entire team except for Chinook.

At eleven years of age Chinook joined Admiral Byrd’s team set to explore the Antarctica and build a new city, “Little America.” The night after setting a record for hauling 3500 pounds with his team of 13 dogs, Chinook woke Walden several times during the night. Walden patted his head and told him to go back to sleep. As Walden was preparing to leave Little America the next day, Chinook wandered off and was never found.  When a new highway was built in the area, the people wanted to name it after Walden. But Walden asked that it be named after Chinook, and today is still named the Chinook Trail.

Three offspring of Chinook went on to become the foundation for the Chinook bloodline. With the comeback of this breed, they are now being bred, carefully and selectively, both as ideal companions and recreational sled dogs. This history of this breed is directly connected to the great explorers Byrd and Peary , the 1925 Nome Serum Run, and exploration of the Antarctica.

* The Plott Hound, the Boston Terrier, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever,the American Eskimo, the Toy Fox Terrier, the American Staffordshire Terrier, the Rat Terrier, the American Water Spaniel, the Alaskan Malamute, the Boykin Spaniel, the Redbone Coonhound, the Black Mouth Cur, the American Foxhound, and, oddly, the Australian Shepherd, are the others I can think of. Can you think of any others?

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New Ways To Exercise Your Dog

Find The Balance Between Mental and Physical Stimulation

Does your dog have a weight problem? Is he the perfect weight…but just too short?

Canine obesity is rampant. And losing weight by exercising regularly is one of the most popular and frequently broken New Year’s resolutions, so this year I am aiming low. I hereby resolve to meet all my dog’s exercise needs!

While it is pretty easy to keep up with my dog’s physical needs (aging Bulldogs require little) many of my clients are not so lucky. Meeting a dog’s exercise requirements can be a daunting task. The key here is balance. Without it, you may end up with a bored dog with an over- abundance of energy, and stamina. If you provide a lot of physical exercise and your dog then becomes  a very fit athlete, but his  mental exercise needs are not being met, you may have developed a very fit, athlete, with all the energy of the Energizer bunny, and no way to expend it.

Simple Games

My favorite way to exercise my dogs is through mental stimulation. Amazingly, training in and of itself can help to tire them out. Simply running through some basic obedience and a few tricks is helpful. But there is so much more!

A number of simple games can be improvised hiding treats or kibble. Even something as simple as placing a bit of kibble under their metal dog food bowl can be challenging, as well as pretty entertaining to watch. I have seen many approaches to solving this dilemma. Some dogs will use their paws and nose to overturn the bowl. Others will push it to the threshold of a door and force it over the edge. Others will just bark at it incessantly till you give up and turn it over. I have seen dogs jump on it with all four, paw at it till it is skidding across the floor like a hockey puck, and others who push it recklessly across the floor til something, anything, stops it.

Another inexpensive toy requires a couple of tennis balls, a muffin pan and a few treats. Cut the tennis balls in half. Put a treat in the muffin pan and then cover each muffin area with one half of a tennis ball. Let the games begin!

Car Trips

Taking your dog to a public place where he can meet new people, and smell new things can be exciting, and exhausting, for your dog. There is a plethora of stimulating events on even the shortest ride. Many times I run short errands and could have included my dogs, but just didn’t think to. I resolve to do this more often.

Innovative Toys and Companies

There are two companies that have especially large selections of dog challenging toys.

Kyjen adds new toys frequently to their developing line of brain games. Some of them involve rawhide so be aware of the dangers associated with rawhide if these appeal to you. Many are treat – finding puzzles. My dogs are much more interested in the “Hide A….” plush toys. Current favorite? The “Ginormous Hide A Squirrel” which comes with six wonderful squirrels to find and do with whatever their little hearts desire.

 These are soft toys with squeakers that “live” inside of a soft structure such as a tree trunk or birdhouse.  You place them inside and your dog works to get them out.  Their Egg Baby Puzzle Toys are a variation on this theme.

They also have a line of “Lil’ Rippers” which appeal to dogs on several levels. The defining aspect of these toys is the lovely, music-to-their-ears, ripping sound that is made by pulling these apart.  They are designed for rugged play and can by pulled apart again and again. This one is ingenious.

Nina Ottoson, of Sweden, was one of the first companies to develop an extensive line of toys that challenge your dog’s mental skills. These toys are beautifully made, and are also divided into Level 1, 2 and 3 and come in both wood and plastic.

If you are interested in developing a well balanced athlete who is both mentally and physically strong and  agile, as well as having fun and strengthening the bond with your dog, consider adding a handful of these challenging toys. For more excellent ideas on exercising your dog’s puzzle – solving abilities, take a look at Smellorama: Nose Games For Dogs by   .Viviane Theby and available through DogWise.

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