How Does Rain Affect Dogs?

 

“It’s raining cats and dogs”goes the old saying, but when it comes to rain and getting wet, dogs seem to react in different ways. Whether it’s a steady rainfall or a downpour as seen in summer storms, some dog owners seem to notice some changes in their dogs’ behaviors when it’s pouring. Is it just our imagination or is there something really going on that we might not be aware of? Well, in some cases, dogs will tell us straightforwardly that, yes, they hate rain and the associated sensation of getting wet, while on other occasions, their reaction to rain may seem more subtle, making us wonder if rain affects dogs in different ways than us. Following are some possible explanations to a dog’s reaction to rain.

Dogs Who Sniff More When it Rainsdog sniff in the rain

Yes, you are not imagining things if your dog seems more sensitive to smells when it rains. You have likely witnessed this phenomenon of how moisture intensifies smells first hand when your dog got skunked and that skunk smell came back to haunt you when your dog got his coat wet, or, even without getting skunked, you may have noticed how bad that “doggy smell” gets when your dog’s fur is wet. Turns out, there is an explanation for this and, for those nerds out there, it has a scientific basis. Basically, what happens is that, humid air traps smells causing them to linger around much longer than they normally do, explains Avert Gilbert, a “smell” psychologist.

What does it mean to our dogs?  It means that they are offered a “smorgasbord” of smells that are more intense than usual, increasing their desire to go on a sniffing (and possibly, marking) adventure. Even indoor dogs may catch outside whiffs of smell when it rains. There are several reports of dog owners noticing how during or after raining, their dogs will catch a whiff under the door or the air coming from the vents and start whining as they possibly detect the nearby presence of other dogs, cats or wild animals.

“The optimal time to work search dogs is when it’s damp, foggy, drizzling and even raining. Scent needs moisture to survive, which rain provides. Rain does not make scent mysteriously disappear. Rain will not destroy scent, but a heavy downpour on concrete can disperse it, making it difficult to follow a trail.” ~Kat Albrecht, Detective Dogs

Dogs Who Refuse to Go Out in the Raindog rains

Yes, many dogs have this negative reaction to rain. You can see it on your dog’s face when you let him out to potty and it’s pouring cats and dogs. If your dog hates to potty in the rain, rest assured you’re not alone. Many dogs dislike rain and its associated sensation of getting wet. This “hate” may stem from lack of a proper introduction to rain and getting baths, which should start when puppies are young, ideally during the critical window of socialization. It’s a good idea to therefore start early and turn rain into a fun event by playing under the rain, engaging the pup in fun water games and making baths fun.

Hating rain though doesn’t necessarily stem from lack of exposure, it can also stem from a negative association with it. If you have ever scolded your dog when it was raining because he wouldn’t go potty or for some other reason, there are good chances that he has associated the rain with your scolding rather than “not going potty in the rain.” Also, dogs are often influenced by our mood and reactions to stimuli. So if for instance, you make a big deal about rain such as making a big deal of it, rushing inside when it rains, avoiding puddles on walks etc. there are chances that your dog may pick up these negative emotions and belief that rain and getting wet is something that should be absolutely avoided.  For dogs who hate going in potty in the rain, here are a few tips: tips for dogs who refuse to potty in the rain. 

scared dog fight or flightDogs Who Shiver When they Hear Rain

Some dogs may not hate much the rain or getting wet per se, but they are actually afraid of its noise. For instance, sometimes when it’s heavily pouring, the noise can be scary especially for those folks who live under a metal roof. There are dogs who are scared of the noise produced by hail and then their fear expands to include also loud pouring of big rain drops.

Owners who create a lot of commotion when it rains may also contribute to the problem. Rushing to close a window or to grab clothes that were hanging out while screaming “Oh, no it’s going to get all soaking wet!” can be enough to traumatize a sensitive dogs and make him associate all that commotion with the scent and noise of rain. The fear of thunder in dogs may also generalize to other events associated with the noise of thunder and sometimes this may include darkening skies, the noise of rain and strong winds and even those subtle changes in barometric pressure.

dog loveDogs Who Mate More When It Rains 

OK, this won’t likely affect spayed and neutered dogs much that spend most of their time indoors, but we thought this curious fact was worth mentioning. Interestingly, in India, rain seems to bring more love in the air when it comes to free-ranging dogs. It has been observed that raining causes an increase in the rate of mating in free-ranging dogs in urban environments. Why is that? According to a study, it’s likely a matter of chemistry. Living in an urban environment, dogs are exposed to a lot of “olfactory noise,” and  this seems to interfere with the dog’s ability to discriminate pheromones of female dogs in heat. When it rains though, the increased humidity levels and reduced temperature of the air, intensifis those pheromone signals leading to more frequent matings.

 

References:

  • Changes of pressure and humidity affect olfactory function, Kuehn M1, Welsch H, Zahnert T, Hummel T.,Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2008 Mar;265(3):299-302. Epub 2007 Sep 25
  • When Love Is in the Air: Understanding Why Dogs Tend to Mate when It Rains.Sen Majumder S1, Bhadra A, PLoS One. 2015 Dec 2;10(12):e0143501. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143501. eCollection 2015.
  • PBS Newshour, 8 things you didn’t know about humidity, retrieved from the web on June 30th, 2016
  • Dog Detectives, How to Train Your Dog to Find Lost Pets, By Kat Albrecht (Dogwise Training Manual) Paperback – November 1, 2007

Dog Word of the Day: Intrinsic Reinforcer

 

The term “reinforcement” in behavior terms is used to depict the instance where the likelihood of a behavior increases. A reinforcer is therefore anything which, added after a behavior, makes the behavior put roots and stay alive, preventing it from extinction. In dog training, we want to see desired behaviors put roots and establish and that’s why we use positive reinforcement. That cookie given the moment the dog sits, makes the dog more willing to sit in future instances. However, we must consider that reinforcement is also at play when dogs repeat certain behaviors that are undesirable to us. In these cases, it’s helpful to investigate and determine what reinforcer (extrinsic, intrinsic) is maintaining the behavior so we can prevent access to the reinforcer if feasible and provide alternate, more acceptable outlets for those behaviors. Today we will be taking a closer look at intrinsic reinforcers.

“Behavior which is reinforced tends to be repeated (i.e. strengthened); behavior which is not reinforced tends to die out-or be extinguished.”

— B.F. Skinner

dog tricksDefining Intrinsic Reinforcers

If we look at the history of the word “intrinsic,” we will find that it derives from the ancient Medieval Latin word “intrinsecus “which means inwardly, on the inside. ” The Latin word “intra” indeed means”within.”  The word reinforcer comes from the 1650’s and means “to make stronger.” So if you put the two words together and apply it to dog behavior, you will get something along the lines of “something from within that makes the behavior stronger.”

Intrinsic reinforcement is the opposite of extrinsic reinforcement, which entails reinforcement produced indirectly by the behavior itself and therefore comes from an external source. In dog training or behavior modification, the addition of extrinsic reinforcement is artificially arranged in training settings for the purpose of deliberately increasing desired behaviors (contrived reinforcers). For example, back to the dog sitting for a cookie example, sitting is normally not intrinsically reinforcing for the dog (unless the dog is tired on his legs) but by adding an external reinforcer (the cookie) when the dog sits, the behavior becomes more likely to occur in the future. So next, let’s take a look at a few examples of intrinsic reinforcers.

“Not all reinforcers controlling instrumental behavior are present as external rewards; in fact, many voluntary behaviors are controlled by intrinsic sources of reinforcement associated with the act itself. ” ~Steven Lindsay

Examples of Intrinsic Reinforcersdog intrinsic behavior

As the words above imply, intrinsic reinforcers come from within, but how can dogs gain reinforcement from within? We are so used to thinking of ourselves as the ultimate sources of reinforcement, our mind can go blank for a moment. Let’s think of behaviors dogs do that feel good on their own…Sniffing, chewing, chasing prey, playing, urine marking, barking, digging, retrieving objects and licking may be examples of intrinsically rewarding behaviors. However, one must remember that what’s reinforcing is in the eye of beholder, thus, what’s perceived as reinforcing to one dog may not necessarily be to another. There are several categories of intrinsic reinforcers, here are a few.

 

Genetically-Based Intrinsic Reinforcers: We will find that for certain types or breeds of dogs, certain behaviors they were bred for, are self-rewarding. Generally, the scent hounds gain internal reinforcement from going on a sniffing adventure, the sight hounds feel good when they go on a quick chase and the retrievers gain their inner reward when they get to retrieve a ball over and over without any need for external reinforcement.

Biologically-Based Intrinsic Reinforcers: the intrinsic reinforcer may feel good because it fulfills a biological need. If for example, a dog feels hot, going under a tree will cause the dog to feel better. The shade of the tree may therefore be an intrinsic reinforcer in this case, as the behavior of seeking shade in that place will likely repeat in the future. Most dogs share the same biologically driven, self-reinforcing behaviors because they are important for survival purposes.

Chemically- based Intrinsic Reinforcers: Sometimes a dog’s behavior is reinforced because of the presence of certain chemicals in the bloodstream. How it this possible? Emotions such as fear or anger can cause the release of chemicals in the dog’s brain and this can become physiologically addictive. James O’Heare, in the bookThe Canine Aggression Workbook”explains that this could be an explanation as to why certain behaviors tend to repeat over and over.

Putting  Intrinsic Reinforcers to Good Use

The good thing about intrinsic reinforcement is that behaviors are maintained without the need of any form of external reinforcement. Your dog loves to sniff? On walks, after rehearsing some heeling exercises, you can reward your dog by loosening your leash and telling him to “go sniff!”Your dog loves to run at the dog park? Call him to you and then reward him by letting him go back to run around with his friends. Your dog has great fetching genes? Reward him for bringing a toy to you by tossing it again and again.

You can also take advantage of your dog’s biological needs and use them to you advantage. Simply know what your dog needs the most in a given moment and call your dog and provide him access to that intrinsic reinforcer. So is your dog in the yard playing and now he looks as if he’s feeling hot? Maybe he looks forward to being cool and perhaps he’s even a bit thirsty. Why not take advantage of these internal states to call your dog inside your cool home and reward him with fresh water? Your recall will be associated with these wonderful happenings! Was your energetic dog inside all day and you know he’s now dying to spend time playing and romping in the yard to burn up that pent-up energy? Have a helper stay in a room with the door closed while you go out in the yard leaving the backyard door open and call your dog. Let your helper open the door and watch him enthusiastically rush outside!

barkingAdding External Reinforcement

What happens though when an intrinsically-driven behavior is given external reinforcement? Let’s say a dog likes to bark a lot. It’s as if the dog just likes listening to his voice. A trainer starts giving a treat for every bark, and at some point, the trainer even puts the behavior on cue, by saying “speak” when the dog barks and rewards accordingly. At this point, what do you think will happen? Many people will think: “It would turn the dog into the biggest barking machine on earth since he’s reinforced for barking” while others may think “it will reduce the barking behavior because now you have control over it.” Who’s right? The best way to determine the effectiveness of this method is to simply look at what happens next: does the barking reduce or increase? There’s the best answer, but let’s take a closer look at the dynamics.

A Reduction in Barking 

With the above method of putting barking on cue, there are chances that at some point instead of barking because the dog likes to, he’ll start barking for treats. The barking behavior therefore may start becoming more and more dependent on the extrinsic reinforcer rather than the intrinsic one. For sake of an example, imagine making necklaces and giving them away as gifts. Then, one day out of the blue, you find a company that will actually pay for them. Most likely at this point you will want to work for money and you may never go back to giving necklaces as gifts. Once the behavior is strongly on cue and has attained stimulus control, there may therefore be a reduction in interest in performing an intrinsically reinforcing behavior.

An Increase in Barking

While putting an intrinsically reinforcing behavior on cue such as barking may make it less frequent, there are some risks though to keep in mind. Sure, we can easily put non-intrinsically reinforcing behaviors on stimulus control, but with intrinsically reinforcing behaviors things can get more challenging as we’re competing with its self-reinforcing nature. For example, the dog may learn to bark only when the owner asks him to, but left to his own devices, the dog may revert to barking for its intrinsic value when he’s home alone. And then, back to being in the presence of the owner, you may stumble on dogs who love to offer behaviors, so they will bark just in hopes of getting a reward. Oh, and let’s not forget about dogs who are smart enough to figure out that they must bark and wait the owner to give a “quiet” cue in order to get a treat! Owners should never reward their dog’s barking unless asked to, but the problem is that some dogs bark for attention, so with these dogs even the simple fact of looking at them or talking to them is sufficient to keep the barking behavior alive. So it’s also important to ask “why is the dog is barking in the first place?” Barking is often a dog’s way to release frustration, anxiety or stress so these states of mind will also need addressed.

A less convoluted, and most importantly, less risky option may be to train the dog to perform an alternate behavior instead. An option may be to thank the dog for alerting if he’s barking at outside stimuli, and then re-directing the dog to another more acceptable activity, such as coming to the owner or lying down on a mat for some treats or a longer lasting reward such as a stuffed Kong.

Here are just a few tips for dealing with intrinsically reinforced behaviors:

  • Use management strategies to prevent the dog from rehearsing the problem behavior
  •  Remember to provide positive outlets for the behavior (eg. provide acceptable digging areas, let your dog “hunt” for kibble in the home)
  • Train an incompatible behavior (tell your dog what you want him to do instead)
  • Interrupt behaviors with a trained cue
  • Put the behavior on cue (may not always work, but implemented correctly and with certain types of behaviors it may help somewhat)
  • Consider that ignoring the unwanted behavior may work poorly as intrinsically reinforcing behaviors are pretty much immune to extinction.
  • Keep in mind that these behaviors will never totally disappear as most are within the dog’s nature.
  • Avoid using harsh, aversion-based methods as these will only cause frustration, anxiety and stress.

 

References:

  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Vol. 2: Etiology and Assessment of Behavior Problems 1st Edition, by Steven R. Lindsay,  Iowa State University Press; 1st edition (2001)
  • Dog Aggression Workbook Paperback – December 1, 2007 by James O’Heare, Dogpsych Publishing; 0003- edition (December 1, 2007)

Your Dog Will Never Get This Medical Condition

 

In a certain way, dogs and humans (other than a few obvious differences) are quite similar when it comes to anatomy. We share several organs and our brains are designed in a similar fashion. It’s therefore not surprising that humans and dogs suffer similar medical conditions when it comes to health. For example, dogs just like us can develop muscle sprains, they can suffer from seizures and they can get urinary tract infections too. There are certain conditions though that we may never see in dogs and for some very good reasons. So today’ dog trivia question is:

Out of these conditions, which one doesn’t affect dogs?

A:  Laringitis (inflammation of the larynx)

B: Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva)

C: Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsil)

D: Appendicitis (inflammation of the appendix)

The correct answer is: Drumroll Please!

drum

Dogs, just like us, can get laringitis, they can get conjunctivitis, and they can also get their tonsils inflamed (tonsillitis), the only condition they will never get is appendicitis. So the correct answer is D: appendicitis. Why is that? Why do dogs not get appendicitis? For a very good reason, read on to discover why.

dog appendixA Phantom Organ

Appendicitis is the inflammation of the appendix, a tube-shaped structure found by the colon in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen. When the appendix in humans gets red and angry, it causes severe abdominal pain accompanied by fever, nausea and vomiting.

While dogs may also develop these symptoms, they are rather associated with something else rather than the appendix.

Why is that? For the simple fact that dogs don’t have an appendix! So while a dog’s body shares many similar body features with us humans, the appendix is definitively an exception!

Not Useless as Thought

In humans, the appendix has been considered pretty much useless for many years, so much so that people can live without one without encountering any problems. However, recent research conducted at Duke University Medical School, has found that the appendix instead has likely a function, and a very important one too! The study’s findings suggest that the appendix works as a reservoir for good bacteria. Surgery professor Bill Parker, co-author for this study, claims that this reservoir is possibly there for a specific purpose: to help recover in the case of a sudden depletion of good bacteria as it can happen with serious diseases such as cholera or amoebic dysentery. Despite its usefulness, professor Parker though claims that the appendix should be still taken out when inflamed as appendicitis can turn deadly.

An Alternate Structuredog cecum

Even though several animals along with the dog don’t have an appendix, they seem to depend on some alternate structures, which, even though they might not  be as effective as the appendix, they’re still capable of storing good bacteria, explains professor Parker, this time in an article for Duke Magazine. 

The cecum, a pouch-like structure located nearby, may therefore work as a reservoir for beneficial bacteria in the eventuality of severe diarrhea, just like the appendix does in humans, explains veterinarian James C. Coghlan, in the book “Paleopet: The real reason your dog or cat eats grass.”

 

 

References:

  • Paleopet: The real reason your dog or cat eats grassKindle Edition, by James C. Coghlan DVM  Booktango (December 18, 2012)
  • NBC News, Scientists May Have Found Appendix’s Purpose, retrieved from the web on June 28th, 2016
  • Duke Magazine, Volume 94, No.2, March-April 2008, An Evolutionary Curiosity, retrieved from the web on June 28th, 2016

Photo credits:

  • Cieco (parte dell’intestino crasso) by AdertOwn work. CC BY-SA 3.0, modified  to add captions.

 

I am Your Dog’s Dewclaw

 

Whether your dog still has his dewclaws or you never got to see them because they were removed when he was just a few days old, it’s interesting learning more abut these structures. If you have no clue what dewclaws are, you are at the right place. Many dog owners are unaware that dogs have dewclaws until they get a closer look or they have seen them all the time but just weren’t aware they’re called this way. Today we’ll be learning more about dog dewclaws, where they are located and what they look like. We will also be taking a look at their function and how they may help a dog’s performance in some dog sports. So let’s have the dog’s dewclaw do some talking to get more familiar with this is often neglected body part.

Introducing Your Dog’s Dewclaw dog dewclaw

Hello, it’s your dog’s dewclaw talking! You may not be much familiar with me but you may have sometimes seen a breeder advertising a litter of puppies without dewclaws on a newspaper ad or you may have heard your vet talk about me. I am basically, somewhat the equivalent of your thumb, but I am located up your dog’s leg, and, unlike the rest of your dog’s toes, I generally don’t make contact with the ground when your dog is standing. I am typically found on your dog’s front legs, but in some breeds, I am present in the rear legs too. Actually, in some dogs you may find two of us on the same paw. This is seen in the great Pyrenees ans Icelandic sheepdog.  Dogs with this feature are known as being “double-dewclawed.” However, sometimes in some dogs, I may be poorly connected and prone to injury, so I am surgically removed.

If you do not see me on your dog’s  front leg, most likely your breeder has removed me when your dog was a puppy and less than 5-days-old. Poor me! The breeder just snipped me off using a nail clipper and the puppy obviously squealed since the procedure was done without anesthetic! You see, I  am still considered pretty much useless, and often perceived as a trouble maker as many people fear that I may get snagged on stuff when the dog is playing around or working. Since I rarely touch the ground, unlike other toes,  I don’t get worn down and this may cause me to grow quite long and require frequent trims. In many cases, I am simply removed so the dog can adhere to its breed standard. However, as of late, people have been discovering that I am there for some reason, rather than being a useless inconvenience worthy of being tossed away.


I am There for a Reason!lundehunde

Even though I may look like a useless structure, more and more people are discovering that I have several functions. First of all, let’s take a closer look into my anatomy. According to veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist Christine Zink, I am attached to five tendons and such tendons are attached to a muscle. Hey, don’t know about you, but to me this suggests that I must have some sort of functionality!

If you look at the Norwegian lundehund dog (which, by the way sports six toes!) and what these dogs used to do for a living, you will see how I was considered an asset more than an inconvenience. But without going back in time or visiting distant lands, you may be interested in discovering that even the average dog may actually need me.

 

Dogs Use Me!bone dog

Sure you likely won’t see your dog using me to send text message or engage in some innocent thumb-twiddling activity, but please stop labeling me as useless. If your dog is able of grasping a toy, bone or stick  it’s often thanks to me that he has such good manual dexterity. Indeed, I can help dogs grasp objects and hold them in place so they can effectively gnaw on them.

 I also play a role in helping Rover climb up, (ever known some dogs can climb trees?), and when he has a sudden itch, my extra nail can come handy in reaching certain hard- to-reach spots.

 

agility dewclawI Prevent Torque

If your dog is a working dog or simply loves the sport of agility, you may want to think twice before thinking of me as useless and snagging me off.  You see, when your romps around at a fast pace and makes a tight turn, it is thanks to me that your dog’s leg doesn’t twist on itself.

Indeed, according to Christine Zink, when dogs canter or gallop, and then make a quick turn, their dewclaws get in contact with the ground, digging in to provide more traction and preventing the dogs’ legs from getting potentially twisted or injured.

 

” I have seen many canine athletes with carpal arthritis. Interestingly, this condition is much more common in dogs that have had their front dewclaws removed” ~ Dr. Christine Zink,  veterinarian and rehabilitation specialist.

 

When Things Go Wrongdouble dewclaws

Did I already say that sometimes I can be a troublemaker? Because I don’t wear down as the other nails on the dog’s toes, I may grow quite long and if I am not trimmed often enough, I can even embed in the dog’s paw pad. Sometimes, I am weak and barely attached. When I flimsy like that, I tend to get caught on something and may cause pain, bleeding and sometimes even an infection. Yes, I can’t blame you, it’s annoying to deal with these inconveniences, especially when I am not structured too well,  but please wait before thinking that my presence is always bad news!

Did you know? While the general trend in mammals is to have five toes at the end of a leg, fossil evidence shows that a loss of toes in cursorial animals (such as dogs) was convenient as it made for a lighter foot, allowing dogs to   maintain higher speeds over long distances.

“Members of the dog family (canids) have small feet, with usually four digits in contact with the ground. The small size and weight of their limbs requires less energy to move, allowing them to run more efficiently.”~ John Buckwalter,  Professor, Physical and Life Sciences, SUNY College of Technology, Alfred, NY

The Bottom Line 

 As seen, I carry out several functions! Perhaps this is another reason why (other than the obvious pain factor) removing me has become illegal in some countries. You see, people often remove me for cosmetic reasons only rather than medical ones, which is a shame because I am not totally useless as people often portray me.  I hope this article has helped you understand me and has raised some awareness of my important functions. In the meanwhile, I wish you and your dog, a good rest of your day (and, Rover, no more thumb-twiddling please!)

Your Dog’s DewclawDog Pawprint

References:

  • MadSci Network, Why do dogs have dewclaws? and why are they only in the front?John Buckwalter, retrieved from the web on April 10th, 2o16.
  •  Vertebrates: Structures and Functions, By S. M. Kisia, CRC Press (April 12, 2010)
  • Do the Dew(claws)?  by M. Christine Zink DVM, PhD, DACVSMR, retrieved from the web on Aprile 10th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Letter “D” in the image indicates the dewclaw on this dog’s front paw. Letter “E” is the carpal pad. Amos T Fairchildown work (photo and GIMP modifications) CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Wikipedia, Foot of a Norwegian Lundehund. Picture taken by myself, User:ZorroIII, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
  • jaimekay16, agility163,  Flickr creative commons (CC BY 2.0)
  • Picture of dual dewclaw on hind leg of Border Collie / Burnese mountain dog 5 month old puppy, by VinCBR900 Licensed under the GFDL by the author; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License
  • Wonderlane Rose, a puppy, chewing on a bone, south U District near the Montlake Cut, Seattle, Washington, USA,  Flickr creative commons CC BY 2.0
 

Understanding Dogs That Stalk Other Dogs

 

It’s not an unusual sight: a dog watches another dog walk by, his look is fixated on the dog, then, he lowers his body assuming a stalking posture that mimics the creeping as often seen in predators. Stalking behaviors are sometimes seen more in certain dog breeds than others, but they can be seen in many other dogs. The sight may be funny in certain contexts, but there are cases where the stalking behaviors may be worrisome, especially when there seems to be an intent to harm incorporated in the behavior.

dog stalkA Hunting Strategy

A dog’s stalking behavior can be strikingly similar to that seen in other predator animals we may have watched in some wild animal documentaries. However, nowadays dogs have been domesticated and their natural predatory sequence (eye, orient, stalk, chase, grab/bite, kill/bite, dissect, consume) has been morphed through selective breeding so that they could work with animals without harming them.

Dogs with a history of having high prey drive include those within the herding group. These dogs will stalk, crouch and creep, run and sometimes even nip, but their predatory drive doesn’t encompass the final consummatory phase, explains veterinary behaviorist  Dr. Nicholas Dodman.

This of course is important, otherwise more than herding sheep, dogs would be eating them!

Stalking and herding behaviors may be so strong in certain dogs that, if not provided with an outlet, they will seek other ways to redirect it. For instance, a border collie without sheep to herd may stalk and chase people on bikes or running children, explain Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons and Stephen Zawistowski in the book “Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff.”

dog tipDid you know? The behavior of crouching down and leaping in the air can be seen in puppies when they pounce on their toys and then shake them, pretending they are prey. This behavior seems to have an early start. According to dog trainer Arden Moore, it first starts to surface at around 5 weeks of age.

A Matter of Playdog stalk

Some dogs incorporate stalking  and other predatory behaviors into their play sessions with other dogs. Dogs may stare, stalk, chase, nip, grab, and wrestle in play.  They often takes turns playing predator and prey roles.

Rough play is often preceded by a play bow, which is a meta-signal that tells the dog that what comes next is just play.

When it comes to stalking, a dog may stare another dog intensely, start stalking and, then suddenly pounce followed by a game of play biting, wrestling or chase. In these “play ambush” games both dogs playing look loose, bouncy and overall happy.

Stalking may therefore sometimes be appropriate when dogs give frequent meta-signals to communicate their playful intent or when dogs know each other well and are familiar with each other’s play styles (think play mates or dogs sharing the same household).

Stalking though becomes risky when it’s exhibited among unfamiliar dogs. Sometimes the dog who is aware of  being stealthily approached (the “stalkee“) may appear somewhat vigilant or worried about the other dog showing a stalking posture directed towards him. He may walk cautiously keeping an eye on the stalker as if he knows he’s a target, and when the stalker pounces, he may just freeze while the other dog sniffs over him or he even may act defensively.

Repeated stalking can become a form of bullying when the dog being stalked appears intimidated by the behavior and hides.  For those who frequent the dog park, this is definitely a behavior to keep an eye on.

stalk dog

Sometimes, an intense stare and stalking behavior can be a sign of big trouble when the behavior is exhibited by a large dog targeting  a smaller dog or some small, furry pet.

Some sight hounds, may see any hare-looking animals as fair game, and this may sometimes include small dogs, explains David Ryan, a Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist in the book “Dogs that Bite and Fight.

Dogs slowly creep towards their target, stalking silently as predatory behavior is usually quiet. If the dog is growling or barking, it’s likely not predatory behavior,  The only exception would be if the dog is held back from performing the predatory behavior and starts barking, but this would be from frustration, further points out David Ryan.

“Preparatory behaviors (eg, sniffing, scanning, searching and stalking) belonging to the prey drive system are under the influence of a positive feedback mechanism that makes their performance mechanism that makes their performance intrinsically reinforcing for dogs. ” ~Steven Lindsay

Behavior On Walksdog stalking other dogs

Some dogs may do the whole stalking/hunker down/creeping behavior when they see another dog on walks. This behavior may be frowned upon by other dogs and dog owners as they may not understand whether the dog’s intent is friendly or not.

It is important not to use aversive methods (leash pops, collar corrections, spray bottles, shock collars etc.) to correct this behavior as this can lead to the dog associating the corrections with the sight of other dogs which can lead to further exacerbating problems down the road.

Instead of correcting the behavior through fear or intimidation, it would be best letting the dog know what to do instead. It’s best to guide the dog into performing a more appropriate behavior (eg. watch me)  before he sets on the intense stare  as this behavior may be difficult to interrupt once initiated  for a good reason Patricia McConnell calls it the “locked and loaded” look!). If your dog is showing worrisome stalking behaviors consult with a force-free dog trainer/behavior consultant.

“Dogs that pull on leash often approach other dogs with a lowered body posture (as they put their weight into the leash) combined with “choking” on the leash. This can be interpreted by some dogs as a stalking-­like behavior and makes the other dog nervous.”~Lore I. Haug –Veterinary Behaviorist

Just for Fun: What Bored Border Collies Do When They Clock Out

 

References:

  • Pet Place, Understanding Hunting & Predatory Behavior, retrieved from the web on June 26th, 2016
  • Animal Behavior for Shelter Veterinarians and Staff, edited by Emily Weiss, Heather Mohan-Gibbons, Stephen Zawistowski, Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (July 7, 2015)
  • Off Leash Dog Play: A Complete Guide to Safety and Fun, By Robin Bennett, CPDT and Susan Briggs, CKO, RB Consulting; 1st edition (January 1, 2008)
  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Procedures and Protocols, edited by Steven R. Lindsay, Wiley-Blackwell; Volume Three edition (June 15, 2005)
  • The Dog Behavior Answer Book: Practical Insights & Proven Solutions for Your Canine Questions, By Arden Moore, Storey Publishing, LLC (November 8, 2006)
  • Dogs that Bite and Fight, By David Ryan PG Dip (CABC) CCAB, lulu.com (September 17, 2013)
  • Dog Behavior Q and A with Dr. Lore Haug, retrieved from the web on June 26th, 2016

Photo Credits:

Three Reasons Dogs May Hate The Veterinary Exam Table

 

By Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA

Many dogs dread the vet, we all know that, but we sometimes may not be aware of exactly what may trigger their fear. Sure, being touched, poked and prodded in a small room with nowhere to escape isn’t something that dogs really look forward to, and on top of that, dogs tend to pick up the fear of other dogs there and may react accordingly. The exam table though is often overlooked as a source of dog’s fear at the vet, when in reality, many dogs dread it. So what’s wrong with that innocent-looking table? Let’s take a look at it from a dog’s perspective, shall we? Here are three reasons dogs may hate the examination table.

dog scared of examination table1) Lack of Exposure

First of all, the exam table is often overlooked when it comes to exposure. Many puppy owners are often told to get their puppies accustomed to veterinary offices from an early age by stopping by the office for treats. So puppy owners swing by the office, the veterinary staff fuss all over the puppy and give him treats and then back to normal life they go. Many puppies therefore fail to visit the actual exam room, fail to meet the vet and aren’t placed on the quintessential examination table. Even when puppy owners try to set up “mock vet visits’ by placing the puppy on a household table and having other people pretend to be a vet examining the puppy, they miss exposing their puppies to the “real feel” of a vet’s examination table.

A veterinarian’s examination table is unlike any tables your puppy or dog will ever encounter in a household setting, so unless you have a similar surface to practice on, it may be difficult to replicate its feel for the purpose of getting a puppy accustomed to it. Most vet examination tables are made of stainless steel or some other hard metal surface. The reason for use of these materials is a practical one: they are easy to wipe down. Just a few spritz of disinfectant spray and voila’ the table is ready for the next patient. So yes, practical and important for sanitary reasons, but not with the animal’s best interest in mind.

 

2) Negative Associationsdog fear of vet

Does your dog get all excited when you grab the leash and acts all eager to go on walks? Does hearing you open the refrigerator cause him to come running in hopes for a goody? Does the sight of the bath towel cause him to hide in fear of a bath? These reactions are normal as dogs tend to associate events, pairing one to another. So if your dog has a negative experience while he’s on the exam table, he will quickly learn that bad things happen there, so next time (not surprisingly) he will be more uncomfortable and reluctant to be examined there. On top of that, the fear may also generalize to other stimuli or events, so a dog may start with a fear of the the exam table and then end up with other fears such as fear of the veterinary office smell or even  fear of the car ride to the vet.

“When cats and dogs are fractious, scared or embrassing and difficult for the clients, veterinary care is delayed or avoided. This means that patients are seen only when they are sicker and the situation is potentially tragic.”~Karen Overall

dog scared exam table3) A Matter of Feel

One may think at this point that dogs don’t really fear the examination table per se’, but the things that happen on it. However, this is not always true. There may be dogs who are fine with the vet but dread the table. Why? Another problem with the examination table is “its feel.” How does it feel to a dog? Veterinary exam tables are cold, and worst of all, slippery. Not only is the puppy or dog in a small room with little chance to escape, but he’s also placed on the examination table, where he’s touched just about everywhere, and possibly, poked and prodded with needles, and even if he tries to escape, his feet slip out from under him, leaving him in quite a helpless or panicky situation.

Ever seen those humid paw prints left on the exam table? Yup, a sure sign of stress! On top of that, exam tables are high, and many puppies and dogs aren’t used to being lifted up onto the table.

“I have a slide I show my veterinary students where I show a dog with its legs kind of splayed out bracing itself on a slick veterinary table. I show it to the vet students and say, ‘Do you see anything about this picture?’ Most of them don’t see that the dog is having difficulty standing on that table. You go on the Internet and you type in ‘dog at the veterinary clinic’ and you get all these cute pictures there, and half the dogs have their front feet splayed out because they’re having trouble staying upright — and people don’t notice it.” ~Temple Grandin

Implementing Changes

(Tony Alter/Flickr)
Tony Alter/Flickr)

As seen, examination tables can be scary to dogs! Fear of the vet though is often made of several fears lumped up together rather than one fear alone, but they can start with just one stimulus and then generalize to others. What can be done to help these dogs? Owners and staff of more and more veterinary offices are becoming aware of the implications of pets having negative experiences within their practices’ walls. The late applied animal behaviorist, trainer, author and lecturer, Sophia Yin started a movement called Low Stress Handling, which focused on making veterinary office less stressful to pets and safer for veterinarians and staff.  As of late, there is a renewed interest in making veterinary clinics less scary. Some veterinary hospitals now even hold puppy socialization classes where pups get to be exposed to stimuli associated with the veterinary environment, “like going on a scale for treats or associating the smell of alcohol with training and play,” explains dog trainer Mikkel Becker.

When it comes to the examination table there are several things that can be done to make a change. For mild fear and food-motivated puppies and dogs, the exam table can be converted into a “feeding station” where they are fed tasty treats while mindful vets examine the pet while giving praise and loving on them. Another option is to make the surface of the exam table less scary. Some veterinary hospitals have started to place towels or other nonslip surfaces over the exam table. Veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, in the book”Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats” suggests using a mat the pet has been previously positively conditioned to. Puppies and dogs can be easily trained to “go to a mat” and sit for treats. Not a bad idea to choose one with a a nonslip bottom. An innovative product is the Ezee-Visit Pet Vet Mat which is purposely built to provide secure footing on slippery veterinary surfaces.

Want to really kick things up a notch? Choose a vet who is willing to skip the exam table all together. Veterinary surgeon Dr. Jennifer Wardlaw for instance doesn’t force her patients to get on the examination table but has opted instead to get down on the floor with the animal for their exams. Talk about putting the pet’s comfort first!  To further help your canine companion, consider still using a mat your dog is accustomed to during these on-the-floor exams.

“Be sure that you have a nonslip surface on the exam table to reduce the pet’s fear and anxiety.” Dr. Marty Becker

 

References:

  • Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs and Cats: Techniques for Developing Patients Who Love Their Visits by Dr. Sophia Yin (CattleDog Publishing, 2009; ISBN 978-0964151840)
  • Elsevier, Temple Grandin on new edition of ‘Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals’, retrieved from the web on June 25th, 2016
  • DVM 360, Table the table, and other Fear Free tips from a veterinary orthopedist, retrieved from the web on June 25th, 2016
  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, By Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)

Photo Credits:

  • A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. “Steve” Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Tony Alter, Clean Bill Of Health, (CC BY 2.0) Flickr, Creative Commons
    Wonderlane Starving puppies, Fuzzy, Orange and Blue Boy, at the Veterinarians office, San Rosalia, Baja California Sur, Mexico, (CC BY 2.0) Flickr, Creative Commons

Male and Female Dog Physical Differences

 

Let’s face it: with certain dogs, it’s quite difficult to tell a female dog and a male dog apart. Unless the dog is wearing a distinctive blue or pink collar that says “boy” or “girl” all over it, in many cases, you may need to take a quick and discreet peak down there just to “verify” or you may simply use the easy way out and ask the owner directly. However, in certain dog breeds the physical differences between male and females are more noticeable, so much so, that even in their breed standards, female dogs are often described as appearing  more “feminine” compared to the male dog counterparts.

Physical Differences Between Male and Female Dogs

The condition where there are differences between two sexes within a species, that go beyond the appearance of their sexual organs, is known as “sexual dimorphism.” Size, color, markings are often the most distinguishing secondary sexual features. Sexual dimorphism is often seen in birds (think difference between male peacock and female), insects and plants, while in dogs, it seems to be more prevalent in certain dog breeds compared to others.

According to veterinarian Dr. Bonnie V. G Beaver, physical differences between male and female dogs starts when dogs are still in the womb. Male dogs are exposed to a testosterone surge which generates male characteristics, therefore puppies not exposed to this surge will be females. Sexually dimorphic differences are quite subtle in young puppies but tend to become more noticeable after the onset of puberty. After all, doesn’t that happens in humans well? How many times are baby boys and baby girls confused for one another?  So next, let’s take a look at four common physical differences between male and female dogs.

1) What a Big Dog You Are!dog rottweiler

In most dog breeds where sexual dimorphism is present, size (sexual size dimorphism) is the most striking distinguishing feature between male and female dogs. There’s an interesting phenomenon worth mentioning that’s called”Rensch’s Rule” which was named after Bernard Rensch, who first described it in 1950. Basically, according to the rule, when the male is larger within a dog breed, the female is respectively smaller. This difference is more prevalent in the larger breeds while in the smaller breeds, there appears to be less variability.

There are several examples of sexual size dimorphism in dogs. For instance, the American Kennel Club Rottweiler breed standard states that male dogs are more massive throughout, have a larger frame and a heavier bone structure.  Male Rottweilers are expected to reach 24 to 27 inches at the withers. Females on the other hand, are described as being distinctly feminine and reaching 22 to 25 inches at the withers. In a study, smaller dog breeds like Chihuahuas, Prague ratters, papillons and miniature spitz showed less significant differences in shoulder height. And of course, with height comes weight, so male dogs are often weighing more than females.

german2) What a Big Head You Have!

Other than size, the shape of the head is often a distinguishing factor when it comes to physical differences between male dogs and female dogs. Male dogs of certain breeds may have a blockier head, while females have smaller heads with more delicate, refined features. For example, in the German shepherd dog breed, the head is expected to be more masculine looking in males while in females it’s expected to be more feminine.

3) What a Long Back You Have!

There are several dog breeds in which females are distinguished from their male counterparts due to the way their back appears. Female dogs are sometimes expected to have longer backs in certain breed standards.  There is a chance that this is something that is expected in female dogs considering that longer bodies in females may give the impression of these dogs being able to better carry puppies, explains Caroline Coile in the book “The Chihuahua Handbook.”

4) What a Nice Coat You Have!

In many birds, males often have a more strikingly appearing plumage showing more distinct colors compared to females. Just think about turkeys: male turkeys are significantly bigger and their plumage is more impressive.  In dogs, male dogs sometimes have a more luxurious coat that is more evident in long-haired breeds. For example, in the Belgian Tervuren, males are described as having long and abundant hair around their neck, while females rarely have a coat that is as long and ornamented as the male.

idea tipDid you know? Dogs show more physical diversity than any other species and this is attributed to the fact that they were selectively bred and therefore underwent strong artificial selection.

 

german shepherd10 Dog Breeds with Significant Sexual Dimorphism

As mentioned, some dog breeds are more prone to show secondary sexual features compared to others. This is just a small list of the many dog breeds with males and females generally showing differences. Of course, there are many more! Years of elective breeding and adherence to breed standards has made these differences more pronounced.

Rottweiler: Male Rottweilers are more massive, have heavier bone structure and a larger frame, while females are distinctly feminine, but without any weakness of substance or structure.

Bernese Mountain Dog: The American Kennel Club standard reports males appearing masculine, while female dogs are distinctly feminine.

German shepherd: According to American Kennel Club standard, secondary sexual characteristics between male and female German shepherd dogs are strongly marked. The male head is distinctly masculine, and that female is distinctly feminine.

Shiba Inu: According to breed standard, male dogs and female dogs are distinctly different with male dogs appearing more masculine without coarseness, and females appearing more feminine but without showing any weakness of structure.

English Setter: Male English setters are described by the American Kennel Club standard as being decidedly masculine but without coarseness. Female dogs, on the other hand, are decidedly feminine but without over-refinement.

Norrbottenspets: According to AKC breed standard, sexual dimorphism is clearly apparent in Norrbottenspet and  a distinguishing factor is the structure of the head. Also, when it comes to proportions, male dogs are slightly rectangular while female dogs are a little longer.

Samoyed: According to standard, male Samoyed dogs are masculine in appearance while female dogs are feminine, slightly longer in back, but shouldn’t show weakness of structure.

Belgian Tervuren: the standard describes the male dog as appearing unquestionably masculine; while the female should have a distinctly feminine look. Female specimens should be judged equally with the male.

Mastiff: according to standard, male mastiff dogs are more massive while females are smaller but still having a proportionally powerful structure.

Belgian Malinois: The male in this dog breed has a more impressive appearance while females have a distinctly feminine look.

 

 

References:

 

  • Frynta D, Baudyšová J, Hradcová P, Faltusová K, Kratochvíl L (2012) Allometry of Sexual Size Dimorphism in Domestic Dog. PLoS ONE 7(9): e46125. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046125
  • Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, By Bonnie V. G. Beaver, Saunders; 2 edition (January 5, 2009)
  • The Chihuahua Handbook, By D. Caroline Coile, Barron’s Educational Series; 2nd ed. edition (April 1, 2010)

Photo Credits:

Dr. Manfred Herrmann Allgemeiner Deutscher Rottweiler-Klub (ADRK)

 

Beware of Acepromazine Side Effects for Dog Fear

 

As summer is in full swing, the chances for rain and thunderstorms significantly increase, causing many fearful dogs to shake, hide and panic as they seek a safe retreat around the house from the booming thunder. It’s very tempting to seek out some remedy or medication to help these dogs out, but sometimes things may not go as planned. Acepromazine is a central nervous system depressant that is sometimes prescribed by veterinarians to help dogs better cope with fearful situations such as grooming visits, vet visits and anxiety associated with exposure to loud noises such as thunder and fireworks. As much as Acepromazine may seem effective, there are chances that this same drug meant to help your dog, will actually make things worse.

dog pillsHow Acepromazine Works

Also known as Promace, and often referred to as “Ace,” acepromazine maleate is a sedative that is frequently used in veterinary medicine for its sedative and antiemetic (effective in reducing nausea and vomiting as seen in motion sickness in dogs) effects. This drug is classified as a phenothiazine neuroleptic drug, which, according to veterinarian Dawn Ruben, simply means that it works by changing the chemicals in a dog’s brain so to change behavior accordingly. As a sedative, Acepromazine works by depressing the dog’s central nervous system; however, the exact dynamics remain unknown. There’s belief that it works by blocking the receptors (theD2 receptors) of dopamine , a neurotransmitter released by the brain that helps regulate movement, focus and attention and emotional responses. By blocking dopamine, Acepromazine should therefore help dogs suffering from fear and anxiety.

“Acepromazine works by depressing the central nervous system. The exact mechanism of action of acepromazine is unknown. It is thought to block receptors of dopamine in the brain, a chemical used for cell-to-cell communication.”~ Dr. Dawn Ruben

The Problems With Acedog acepromazine

As a sedative, and central nervous system depressor, Acepromazine may at a first glance seem like a good option for anxious and fearful dogs. Indeed, still as of today, Acepromazine remains one of a veterinarian’s preferred go-to tranquilizer; however, there are some problems with its use that more and more veterinarians and board-certified veterinary behaviorist are raising awareness about. So what’s the problem with this drug? There are actually several.

A “Misleading” Effect

At a first glance, Acepromazine may make a dog or cat  look as if he’s handling the fear well, when in reality, he just can’t show the signs or do anything about it, explains Jason Nicholas, graduate of The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and Chief Medical Officer of Preventive Vet. If we put ourselves in our dog’s shoes (or better, paws)  it’s as if we’re being aware of a fearful situation but because of the drug’s dissociative effects it doesn’t make any logical sense. As Karen Overall claims “it scrambles perceptions.” Phenothiazines such as acepromazine are sedatives but they really do not reduce anxiety, explains Gary Landsberg, board-certified vet working for North Toronto Veterinary Behaviour Specialty Clinic. Marsha Reich, another board-certified veterinarian claims “I do not use acepromazine for thunderstorms because it is not an anxiolytic– a dog is less responsive to the storm, but is just as anxious about it.”

“Acepromazine does little to nothing to help mitigate the fear and anxiety that these suffering pets experience from fireworks and thunderstorms. What it does do though, and do well, is make them unable to move and/or exhibit any of the other outward signs of their fear and anxiety. Ace is kind of like a “chemical straightjacket” in these instances.” ~Jason Nicholas

AIREDALE TERRIERIncreased Noise Sensitivity

Another problem with the use of Acepromazine for dogs who suffer from fear of noises like thunder and fireworks is the fact that it seems to increase sensitivity to noises. Talk about giving something to make dogs feel better, and instead making things much worse! Veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Karen Overall in the video below explains how dropping a hemostat on a metal table will cause an animal treated with Ace to jump despite being sound asleep.

So what happens when a dog is  in a situation where there is raised awareness of the frightening stimulus, but it doesn’t make any sense and nothing can be done about it as its motor skills are impaired? It makes the situation much worse, which leads to the dog’s fear increasing, the owner reaching out for more Ace, and the dog being put in a vicious cycle of negative associations while the animal is in a state of lowered arousal and lowered behavioral response and appears ataxic (lacking voluntary coordination of muscle movement).

Risk for Paradoxical Excitement/Aggressiondog paradoxical effect

Another possible “side effect” from a behavior standpoint, involves what is known as a “paradoxical” effect. Paradoxical effect simply means that the drug would cause an effect that is opposite to the one it would normally be expected. When working for the vet, I remember seeing this word the first time in a chart. The dog was given Ace, and the owner reported that his dog instead of acting calm, was acting restless and even aggressive at times. The vet recommended the owner not give this drug again. Veterinarian Dawn Ruben warns that dogs taking this drug should be handled gently and not left alone with children due to the risk of paradoxical effects.

” I wish this medication would be placed at the far back of a top shelf and used only exceptionally…If what you need is sedation – acepromazine can be an acceptable adjuvant, but it makes most of my really fearful and really reactive patients worse, so all sorts of other drug combos can work better and do less harm than is done by the routine use of acepromazine.. ~Karen Overall

warning caution Did you know? Brachycephalic dog breeds (those with short noses and flat faces) are more prone to develop complications from the use of Acepromazine and its use can be problematic in dogs with the MDR1 gene mutation.

A Vet’s Perspective

So if Ace has such negative effects why would vets prescribe it in the first place? It ‘s likely because Acepromazine has been used for many years so it’s tried and true and vets have been comfortable with using it. “For some reason, switching from ace to something else––even while all the research tells us it’s safer––is a stressful process for all practitioners. Knowing the ins and outs of how our favorite drug works means more safety in the short run…even though we know better choices are available when it comes to achieving a quiet animal,” explains veterinarian Dr. Patty Khuly. There’s also the price factor, as it’quite cheap compared to other drugs and clients like that. Not to mention that it’s common practice for Western medicine to suppress symptoms instead of trying to address the underlying cause. Restless dog? Give Ace. Dog won’t hold still for grooming? Ace comes to the rescue. Ace stops dogs in their tracks and we like that.  Dr. Khuly finally adds “Sedating pets without regard for what they may experience is the height of human hubris. Especially when there’s a better way. ”

Alternate Options to Acepromazineidea tip

So what should dog owners do if they wish to avoid these undesirable “side effects?” It’s not a bad idea to ask the vet for alternatives or better consult with a veterinary behaviorist. Alprazolam (Xanax) for instance is an anti-anxiety medication that unlike Acepromazine, doesn’t sedate the dog, explains veterinarian Dr. Betsy Brevitz in the bookHound Health Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Dog Happy.” Anti-anxiety medications work best when used a long a program of force-free behavior modification. Jean Donaldson in the book “Oh Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker” mentions Valium (diazepam) as a better choice to Acepromazine for fear of storms.

“Acepromazine makes dogs staggery, sluggish, bleary-eyed and generally out-of-it: not what we desire in modern behavioral therapy.”~Nicholas H. Dodman

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary or behavioral advice. If your dog is sick or has behavioral problems, please consult with your vet or veterinary behaviorist.

 

References:

  • VSPA Veterinary Specialty Practice Alliance, Treating Thunderstorm Phobia, retrieved from the web on June 23, 2016
  • DVM360, Storm Phobias, by Karen Overall, retrieved from the web on June 23, 2016
  • Pet Place, Acepromazine, Promace for Dogs and Cats, by Dawn Ruben, retrieved from the web on June 23, 2016
  • Hound Health Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Keeping Your Dog Happy, Healthy & Active Paperback – April 1, 2004, by Betsy Brevitz, Workman Publishing Company; 1 edition (April 1, 2004)
  • The Well-Adjusted Dog: Dr. Dodman’s 7 Steps to Lifelong Health and Happiness for Your BestFriend Paperback – June 24, 2009 by Nicholas H. Dodman BVMS, Mariner Books; 1 edition (June 24, 2009)
  • Oh Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker, ny Jean Donaldson, Dogwise Publishing (April 1, 2008)

Dog Word of The Day: Generalization

 

We often hear conflicting information about the word “generalization” when it applies to dogs. We are often told that “dogs don’t generalize well”, but then, there are instances when generalization takes place quite quickly as many owners of fearful dogs can attest. Today, we’ll therefore be taking a closer look into dog generalization, the meaning of the word, how it happens and the process it entails. We will also be taking a peak at some examples of generalization taking place in dog training and dog behavior as it can happen in specific contexts.

generalizing behaviorWhat is Generalization? 

Generalization is often defined as “taking something specific and applying it more broadly.”We often use generalization in our linguistic world to cover make broad statements. For example, if we say “customers are always right” we are making a broad statement clumps customers together as having something in common (being always right.) To go more in depth on the subject, we can see generalization occur in the history of words (etymology).  According Richard Nordquist, a Grammar & Composition Expert, the English word dog, comes from the earlier word dogge, which was originally used to depict a powerful breed of dog that originated in England. Today, the word dog has evolved though and generalized as an umbrella term used to include all of our domesticated canine companions.

To give a more technical explanation we can say that generalization occurs when a new stimulus/setting/situation that has similar characteristics to a previous stimulus/setting/situation comes to trigger the same response. So if Mary listens to the radio one day and falls in love with a specific heavy metal song made by a specific band, she may then later on find out that she likes other heavy metal bands so starts listening to more and more heavy metal songs and even starts attending concerts. In this case, her passion has generalized from one song, to other songs made by different bands that share similar features with the original band/song she first fell in love with.

Stimulus generalization occurs when a response is “provoked not only by the object or event that originally provoked it, but also by objects or events that are similar to the original stimulus.” Karen Overall

Generalization in Dog Training: Settingssit

When applied to dog training, generalization can be defined as the process where, the settings in which a dog initially responds to, start to increase so that the dog starts responding to more and more different settings. We often talk about generalization when a dog who was initially trained to sit in a quiet room, starts then sitting in rooms with more distractions, then starts sitting in the yard, and then on walks, at the park etc. Since we have (hopefully!) helped the dog progress by training in more and more distracting environments through gradual exposure, and have rewarded each time the dog responded, the dog succeeds despite the increase in challenge.

We can therefore pat ourselves on the back and claim that the behavior of sitting has successfully generalized to other settings other than the one in which the dog was originally trained. We have therefore taken something that was initially trained in a specific setting  (sit in a quiet room) and expanded it to encompass various settings (sit in the yard, sit in the park, sit on walks). When people say “dog’s don’t generalize well” they often refer to the fact that with potty training, it’s often hard to train a puppy to use a pee pad at home and then go potty outdoors on a totally different surface or the fact that it’s hard to train a dog to sit in a quiet room and then ask the dog to sit on walks.  However, this is not the dog’s fault! This tends to occur when people fail to use high-value treats (the more distracting the environment, the higher value the treats) and don’t take time to make sure the sitting behavior in quiet settings is fluent enough before moving to training in more and more distracting areas. Slow and steady wins the race!

Did you know? Generalization, strictly speaking is not really something somebody does (the dog doesn’t really “generalize”) but it rather refers to a process. So it would be more correct to say “the dog’s behavior of sitting in the park is sign that generalization has occurred.”

spinningGeneralization in Dog Training: Prompts

Another example of generalization is seen when we are in the process of increasing criteria and we start training our dog so that he learns to respond to more  and more subtle forms of our prompts that share similar features with the original version. For example, if we have trained a dog to spin in a circle by bending down and moving our arm and pointed finger in an imaginary circle that the dog must follow, at some point we might want to make the signal less significant. So we work on making the hand gesture gradually less and less evident by bending down less, then making the circle less and less wide, up until we reach a point where the dog responds just to a mere small imaginary circle drawn with a finger.

Since we have gradually made the hand gesture less and less significant and we have rewarded the dog for responding to these more subtle gestures, we have helped the dog succeed. We can therefore pat ourselves on the back and claim that the behavior of responding to our initial prompt has successfully generalized to other prompts. We have therefore taken our initial pronounced prompt (bending down and moving our arm and pointed finger in an imaginary circle) gradually morphed it so that dog responds to incrementally more and more subtle prompts (circle carried out while bending less, less wide circle.) and at the end, we may have finally decided to make the small imaginary circle drawn with a finger the new permanent cue.

Tip: the more similar the new prompt is to its previous version, the higher the chances for the dog to succeed.

Generalization in Dog Behavior: Feardog fear

Generalization can also occur in dog behavior and we often see examples of this with fears. When people say “dogs’ don’t generalize well” owners of fearful dogs may disagree when they notice how quickly a dog’s fear can generalize and spread like a wild fire! We can see an example of this phenomenon in people. Let’s say a young boy is attacked by a black dog. At some point, the child may acquire fear of black dogs, and then later, fear of all dogs (despite coat color) even though the initial negative encounter encompassed a single black dog. Generalization in this case occurs because of shared features (having four legs and a tail) with the original dog who attacked him.

In dogs, we can see something similar occur. A dog may one day get traumatized by an unusually loud crack of thunder. Soon, the dog comes to react fearfully to the noise of gunshots, then firecrackers, and then other similar loud noises such as a person closing a car door or person clapping hands. Or in another example, a dog who becomes reactive one day towards a man in uniform coming to read the meter, may in the future start becoming reactive towards other people wearing uniforms such as the Fedex and UPS guys.  It’s therefore important tackling fearful behaviors at their early onset before generalization occurs and things get more complicated to treat.

“The more similar the original and subsequent stimuli, the more similar and intense the response.”~ Karen Overall

warning cautionDid you know? According to James O’ Heare, President of The Companion Animal Sciences Institute,  sometimes a dog’s fear generalizes so much that at a certain point you may have a hard time identifying the original stimulus that caused the fear to occur in the first place!

 

little albert generalizationA Look Back

One of the most popular examples of stimulus generalization affecting fear comes from the famous  Little Albert experiment conducted by behaviorist John B. Watson and Rosalie Raynor. What happened in this study? A child around 9 months known as Albert was exposed to various stimuli including a white rat, a monkey, a rabbit and masks and his reactions to these stimuli was observed. Albert showed no signs of fear towards these stimuli whatsoever.

At some point though, Watson decided to make a loud noise by hitting a metal pipe with a hammer the moment Little Albert was shown a white rat. This caused Little Albert to cry. After several repetitions of pairing the rat with the sound, Albert starts to cry at the mere sight of the rat. This was a classical example of associative learning where Albert learned to associate the sight of the rat with the loud noise so much so that just seeing the rat resulted in a crying spell. The experiment though didn’t end here… After further experiments, Watson noticed how Albert’s fear wasn’t just limited to the white rat, but soon began generalizing to a wide variety of similar white objects such as Raynor’s fur coat and Watson’s Santa Claus beard! This phenomenon was therefore called stimulus generalization.

“Generalization is often an adaptive function that allows an organism to rapidly respond to novel stimuli that are related in some way to a previously learned stimuli.”Joseph E. DunsmoorStephen R. Mitroff and, Kevin S. LaBar

References:

  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, By Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Watson JBRayner (1920) Conditioned emotional reactions. J Exp Psychol 3:114
  • Generalization of conditioned fear along a dimension of increasing fear intensity, Joseph E. Dunsmoor, Stephen R. Mitroff, Kevin S. LaBar, Learn. Mem. 2009. 16: 460-469
  • James O’ Heare, The Dog Aggression Handbook, Dogpsych Publishing; 0003- edition (December 1, 2007)

The Difference Between Fear and Anxiety in Dogs

 

Fear and anxiety are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they are actually words that have a different meaning when it comes to dogs and people is general. While both can generate similar physiological responses, a closer look reveals that the dynamics are a tad bit different and may occur in different contexts. For example, Bella is a 5-year old Weimaraner that, the moment she notices her owner is putting on her shoes, she starts pacing and whining because she predicts her owner may be leaving soon  Today’s trivia question therefore concerns the main differences between fear and anxiety, so the question is:

Is Bella, in the exact circumstance described above, likely showing signs of fear or  anxiety, or perhaps, neither of them?

A   Fear

B  Anxiety

C  Neither

The Correct Answer is: Drum roll please….

drum

 

 

The correct answer is B, anxiety.

dog anxietyAnxiety

Anxiety in dogs and people takes place in anticipation of a future event. Have you ever found yourself unable to sleep at the idea of a job interview or, if you dread flying, the thought of a future flight? Well, dogs can feel this way too, only their anxiety may develop closer in time with the event, once they detect stimuli suggesting what’s coming next. Perhaps the most classical example of this is observed in dogs suffering from separation anxiety. These dogs are often hypervigilant and readily recognize subtle pre-departure cues before the owner even actually leaves the house. Dogs suffering from separation anxiety will therefore start pacing, panting and whining at the mere sight of their owners putting on their makeup or changing their clothes. These cues therefore generate an increasing anxious state as these dogs anticipate their owner’s departure.

In the same fashion, dogs who dread thunderstorms may start getting anxious as they sense the first signs of an impending storm. These dogs may therefore start building up increasing levels of anxiety at the mere detection of increasing winds, darkening skies and even changes in barometric pressure. Owners of these anxious dogs often report that they no longer need to watch weather reports as their dogs have become quite reliable in detecting “rain-with-a-chance- of-thunderstorms” forecasts!

“Anxiety can be defined as the apprehensive anticipation of a threat.”~Jon Bowen (BVetMed.), Sarah Heath

scared dog fight or flightWhat’s The Function of Anxiety?

Anxiety may seem like a useless state, especially when it’s exhibited in anticipation of harmless events. Sure, for those anxious flyers out there, there are tiny chances that an airplane may plunge into the sea and crash, but statistics tell us that we’re more likely to get injured or killed on our car ride to the airport, yet the curious fact is that we use our cars every day without giving it a second thought! Whether it affects humans or dogs, anxiety though has a precise function: to prepare us in the eventuality of threats. The body will therefore produce a similar biological response as seen in actual fear. The heart rate and respiratory rate may increase and we may have trouble sleeping as our body becomes more alert as if to to fight or escape a threat.

Anxiety may seems like a waste of energy when it presents itself  in anticipation of irrational fears, but under the right circumstances, anxiety may be helpful. Those folks who are anxious prior to an exam may find that their anxiety (when not too overwhelming!) makes them perform better. Back to dogs, anxiety may also turn out helpful (adaptive) some times. Imagine a dog who wanders in the country and gets attacked by a black bear in front of a farm. The anxiety felt the next few days when walking nearby the farm may help him stay safe and avoid the area, or, should he still manage to make an unfortunate encounter, his alert state would hopefully help make a swift retreat. This state of anxiety despite the possible absence of a direct danger may therefore turn out helpful (adaptive) keeping him safe in the eventuality of  another encounter.

“Anxiety is more of a future-focused emotion. Your body is putting you on alert for some possible future dangerous situation.”~Alexander L. Chapman PhD, RPsych, Kim L. Gratz PhD, Matthew T. Tull, PhD

Fearscared dog

Fear is the state of apprehension associated with a particular stimulus or event. Unlike anxiety, it’s likely to take place the moment the fearful stimulus is presented or the moment the scary event unfolds. Fear is therefore a more in-the-moment response you may experience when an off-leash dog starts barking at you and chasing you or when a stranger starts knocking at your door in the middle of the night. In dogs, fear may be felt when they hear a sudden startling noise or when a bigger dog approaches them and gives signs of wanting to fight.

When confronted with a fearful stimulus or event, the fearful reaction may vary between one animal and another based on individual factors and circumstances. Some dogs may decide to escape (flight), while other may choose to defend themselves (fight).

In addition, some others may just become paralyzed by fear and hope for the best (freeze) or engage in out-of-context behaviors (fiddle about) as a coping strategy.

“While a certain amount of anxiety or fear may be adaptive in some situations, an animal that experiences fear or anxiety frequently, especially if unable to safely escape from fear-inducing stimuli, will begin to suffer from stress and its effects.”~ Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB

gazelleWhat is the Function of Fear?

Fear is important for an animal’s survival, without it, entire species would be wiped-out from the face of earth. Imagine the catastrophic consequences if gazelle would have no fear of lions, cheetahs and crocodiles! Fear is therefore an adaptive response that’s meant to aid an animal’s safety and survival. The heightened state of awareness associated with fear and its amplified startle response can make a difference between life and death.

Adaptive fear can be exhibited through direct exposure with a stimulus that an animal has an natural fear of, as in the case of gazelle running away from a lion or crocodile or moving away from a rampant fire. The fear is also adaptive when animals react fearfully to exposure to a stimulus that has been associated with another stimulus they have a natural fear of. For example, gazelle that run away from the the noise of roaring (denoting presence of lions) or water moving (denoting presence of crocodiles) or the sight and smell of smoke (denoting presence of fire) are escaping despite not directly encountering the fearful stimulus.

“Fear is an adaptive emotional response to a specific event or situation that threatens to produce injury. The elicitation of fear activates animals physiologically and behaviorally for immediate emergency action appropriate to a situation. “~Steven Lindsay

A Roller Coaster Ride of Emotionsrollar coaster

As seen, fear is depicted as the onset of an emotional response geared towards the presence of a specific threatening stimulus or event. It takes place the moment the apprehension-eliciting stimulus or situation presents. On the other hand, anxiety is a state of  anticipatory apprehension and vigilance exhibited in the eventuality of a possible threatening event (there is no certainty that the owner will leave the house when he changes clothes or that a thunderstorm will pop up when the sky darkens but the dog develops anticipatory anxiety regardless). The threat is therefore not really present in the immediate present time, but anticipated. Fear is present tense, anxiety is future-based.

*Note: A word of clarification is warranted though when looking at these definitions: things can get a bit fuzzy when we say that gazelle show fear when they are exposed to the smell of smoke as this doesn’t fit the definition of fear being exhibited in the presence of a specific threatening stimulus, as the fire (the specif threat) is not directly seen by the gazelle.

To sum things up, a good way to think about the difference between anxiety and fear is to imagine being on a roller coaster ride. If you’re like me, all sort of scary, paralyzing anticipatory thoughts may cross your mind before before being strapped in such as: “What if I am not properly strapped in well and fall out? Or, “What if I feel like throwing up?” Then, as I get off the ride, well, alive and with my lunch still in my stomach, I feel like kissing the ground and think to myself “Phew! So glad it’s all over! The below quote  from the bookThe Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety” therefore offers a great explanation that’s surely worth of remembering when thinking about the difference between anxiety and fear in dogs.

“Anxiety is what you experience as you get strapped into your seat and make it towards the first gigantic hill. Your anxiety may increase, peaking as you reach the top of the hill and experience that slight pause right before you drop. Fear is what you experience as you rush down that hill.”~Alexander L. Chapman PhD, RPsych, Kim L. Gratz PhD, Matthew T. Tull, PhD.

idea tipFood for thought: Curse of blessing? Anxiety depends on the ability to anticipate. While this ability is present to a certain extent in animals ( mostly, as a response to anticipatory cues that are close to the actual fearful event) it’s highly refined in humans who have demonstrated a great ability to dig into past events and project in the future like no other other creature can. We can put this ability to work in productive ways making our lives better, but we can as easily turn it into something negative, worrying  ourselves excessively over things, explains Joseph Ledoux , Professor of Science and Neural Science.

Human Versus Animal Anxiety

References:

  • Behaviour Problems in Small Animals: Practical Advice for the Veterinary Team, By Jon Bowen (BVetMed.), Sarah Heath, Saunders Ltd.; 1 edition (6 Sept. 2001)
  • The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety: Breaking Free …By Alexander Chapman, Kim Gratz, Matthew Tull, New Harbinger Publications; Workbook edition (November 3, 2011)
  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Etiology and Assessment of By Steve Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; 1st edition (2001)
  • The New York Times, Searching the Brain for the Roots of Fear, retrieved from the web on June 21st, 2016
  • DVM360, The physiologic effects of fear, retrieved from the web on June 21st, 2016

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