A Guide to Choosing the Right Toys for Your Dog

 

Choosing the right toys for your dog may seem like an easy task, but have you ever asked yourself if you are really choosing those toys for your dog or for yourself? It’s easy to fall into the trap of choosing what appeals to us, after all, we are the buyers with money in hand and toy manufacturers know that. Even manufacturers of dog treats manipulate our choices, making dog treats with shapes and colors that are appealing to buyers, but that dogs could care less about. Let’s face it, if your dog was doing the shopping, he would ignore aesthetics and would head for the smelliest, albeit ugliest, dog treats on the market. Choosing the right toys for your dog entails putting yourself in your dog’s shoes and being aware of  marketing ploys that often trick our minds, often at an unconscious level.

A red toy is easy for us to see, but what about Rover?

Choose the Right Toy Colors…

Color is often not kept in consideration when choosing the right toy for dogs, but it should as it plays an important role in how your dog interacts with the toy. Dogs do not see colors in the same way we do. If we want to put ourselves in our dog’s shoes, we can say that our dog’s color vision is roughly similar to that of a person who is red-green color blind, the technical term would be a deuteranope.  

If dogs were shown a green and red apple, they would have a hard time to discriminate between these two colors. You can see how a dog sees apples or a rainbow in a previous article, how do dogs see colors?

Dogs may therefore not be able to tell well the difference between red and green, but they have a better time detecting blue and yellow.

So what does this mean for dog owners? Based on these findings, it means that we should choose toys that are easier to notice such as blue or yellow (not coincidentally the colors often seen on dog agility obstacles), which is not  that easy considering that many popular dog toys are orange or bright red. Colors that may be appealing to us, but not to our dogs!

So yes, whether you are choosing a Frisbee or a ball to play fetch, your choice of color is important if you want it to stick out, especially for those dogs who love to retrieve toys for you. Choosing a red toy that is hard to distinguish from the green grass of the dog park can make life difficult for Rover.

“Overall, if we want dogs to distinguish between colors, the best colors to use are blue and yellow.” Dr. Sophia Yin, D.V.M, M.S

But Be Ready for Toys Being Torn Apart

When you look at a dog toy, you may see it as something cute or appealing, but again you are likely looking at it from a human perspective. As humans we are stuck into thinking that toys must look appealing and cute perhaps because they remind us of when we cuddled with these toys at night.

Well, this may sound like a a harsh wake-up call, but from your dog’s perspective toys are perceived like prey animals to tear apart. No, dogs don’t play with their Barbie dolls as we do, nor do they cuddle with their toys to feel less scared at night and fall asleep.

Dogs want to chase toys and chew toys with their chompers as if they were prey animals they just caught. They enjoy to the whole evisceration and dissection process. So dog owners should not be upset if Rover manages to behead a teddy bear the first night and “de-guts” it to get all the stuffing out.

This is therefore something to keep into consideration before shelling out a bunch of money on a dog toy. Not surprisingly, sometimes the most fun objects are free, and dogs are often happy to shred boxes and paper just as cats are happy playing with a ball of tin foil.

” I often stop local thrift shops and Salvation Army stores to pick up a few small plush toys which are usually sold for less than a dollar. These are then sacrificed to my dogs who proceed to tear off their heads and limbs and scatter their filling about, much to my wife’s dismay.”~Stanley Coren

Keep Safety Always in Mind…

With a dog’s propensity to tear toys apart in mind, it’s also important to consider safety. Some toys may be OK for small dogs or dogs who aren’t too destructive, but they still require close supervision.

If your dog has a history of ingesting foreign objects skip toys that have pieces that can be torn off and swallowed or toys that can be ripped apart. Also, be aware of the dangers of squeakers.

When working for a vet a few years back, toys with squeakers inside where a big hit, but sadly many dogs managed to get the squeakers out  and ended up ingesting them. This practice often led to blockages requiring expensive surgical intervention. I still remember as of today a dog owner complaining about how a two dollar toy ended up costing her almost a thousand dollars in surgery to get it out.

Sure, not all dogs eat toys when they break them apart, but for those who do, it can be very problematic. So if your dog has a Hoover reputation, look for toys crafted with sturdiness and safety in mind. They might not be as fun, but hey, safety is always paramount. Some toy companies are so confident their toys are sturdy, they have even started to offer money back guarantees if your dog manages to break them apart.

“Because we think that dogs perceive toys in the same way that wolves perceive prey, they prefer toys that either taste like food or can be torn apart, however the latter can cause health problems if the dog accidentally swallows some of the pieces.”~John Bradshaw

And Consider Joining In the Fun.

According to a study published in the journal Animal Cognition, 16 Labrador retrievers between the ages of one and eight were provided with different types of toys of  different colors, and with different smells. The toys were given to each dog one at a time until the dogs stopped interacting with them and then were swapped with a different toy.

All dogs in the studies showed interest in the toys, but the interest was rather short-lived. The results suggest that dogs are prone to exploring new objects in their environments, but they quickly get accustomed to their sight, smell and feel, which leads to boredom and little further interest.

What do the results of these studies mean for dog owners? They suggest that dog toys need to have some elements to keep that interest alive. One of the best ways to bring a toy “alive” is by using it to play fetch or perhaps attaching it to a flirt pole.  Balls that bounce around attract because of their unpredictability, Frisbee and tug toys encourage dog and human interaction. Dogs love interaction with their humans and becoming part of the game allows owners to spend quality time with their dogs which also helps with bonding.

““For an animal as social as a dog, toys only become really excited when they are part of a game with a person. Few toys will sustain a dog’s interest for long if the owner is not around to offer encouragement.” ~Bradshaw

And Don’t Forget: Variety is the Spice of Life!

Being too stingy in the toy department may translate into dogs who grow easily bored of their toys. If your dog’s toys are getting dusty, chances are there is not much variety going on.

Choose dog toys of different textures, producing different sounds and with different shapes and sizes, while keeping safety in mind. Then rotate these toys randomly so that they preserve an element of novelty.

This means you might want to keep them out of sight for some time and then bring them back out so that your dog gets to enjoy them again and again. Another idea is to get creative and change a bit how your every-day dog toys look or smell.

You can try to stick some toys in your dog’s bag of kibble for a few hours so they get impregnated with its taste and smell, or if feasible, you can try sticking a toy inside another one and letting your dog work on dislodging them. You can also hide your dog’s favorite toy under a blanket or bench and let him find it, or turn it airborne by hanging it to a rope by a tree. Just think outside of the box and get creative!

“Instead of leaving toys out all the time so that they lose their appeal, toys can be put out of sight. Old toys can be rotated back into sight as somewhat ‘new’. Like old Seinfeld re-runs.”~Julie Hecht

Did you know? According to 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, dog owners spend an average of $47 annually for dog toys.

 

References:

  • Habituation and dishabituation during object play in kennel-housed dogs, Anne J. PullenRalph J. N. MerrillJohn W. S. Bradshaw Animal Cognition , Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 1143–1150
  • Patricia Kaulfuß and Daniel S. Mills, (2008). Neophilia in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) and its implication for studies of dog cognition. Animal Cognition, 11 (3), 553-556.
  • Scientific American, Studies Find Dogs Prefer New Toys, But You Can Make Old Toys New, retrieved from the web on January 23rd, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr Creative Commons, sailn1, I haz many toys, CCBY2.0

Discovering the Effects of Testosterone on Dog Behavior

 

A dog’s endocrine system is composed by several glands that are meant to produce hormones which are then transmitted through the bloodstream where they have several effects on the dog’s body and mind. The hormone testosterone, in particular, is secreted by the male dog’s testes and is known for producing several physiological and behavioral effects. So today let’s discover more about the effects testosterone has on dog behavior, and surprisingly, on female dogs as well!

Testosterone Starts in the Womb…

Testosterone generally flows at a pretty steady pace during an intact (not neutered) male dog’s life, but there are two specific times during a dog’s lifetime during which this hormone significantly impacts the dog’s brain. The first time likely takes place very early in development, when the puppy is still in the womb.

During this time, testosterone is spread from the amniotic membrane and through the blood flowing from the uterus until it reaches the pup’s brain. Once in the dog’s brain, it’s as if testosterone turns on an imaginary switch that prompts the brain to undergo anatomical changes and turns on the “masculine”  button.

Also, it appears that the hormone creates a predisposition for hard-wired behaviors in male dogs that may remain dormant until the next testosterone surge switches on later in life.

“In the uterus, testosterone can diffuse through the amniotic membrane and through uterine blood flow. Once it reaches the male dog’s brain, it brings about gender-specific structural changes that then relate to later development of sex-typical behaviors… These changes masculinize the male brain structure.” James O’ Heare

And May Affect Female Dogs Too!

Wait, what does testosterone have to do with female dogs? Isn’t testosterone exclusively a male dog hormone? While testosterone is associated with maleness and typical male dogs behaviors, there are chances it may affect female dogs too. How is that? Well, here’s an insight into what may be happening

The phenomenon is known as androgenization, and it takes place in the uterus (yup in the womb). What’s likely to trigger this is a matter of the position of female dogs in the mother dog’s womb. If a female dog happens to be positioned between two males, there are chances her brain may be influenced (masculinized) courtesy of the diffusion of testosterone through the amniotic membrane, explains James O’Heare in the book “Aggressive Behavior in Dogs: A Comprehensive Technical Manual for Professionals.”

“Strong experimental evidence suggests that female embryos situated between males in the uterus are more likely to develop male-like aggressive tendencies and scent-marking patterns than are counterparts otherwise situated. Some suggestive evidence regarding the effects of perinatal androgenization of female dogs has been reported by Coppola. ~Steven Lindsay

But it’s During Puberty That Dogs Get the Big Surge.

Back to male dogs, the second surge of testosterone occurs when the male dog reaches puberty. According to a study by Pathirana IN et al 2012, the levels of testosterone in dogs starts to rise in dogs just prior to puberty, around the ages of 4 to 6 months old, and then reaches a surge once the dog reaches puberty, generally when the dog is an adolescent between 6 and 12 months. Afterwards, testosterone levels maintain a state of little or no change, generally from when the dog is one to five years old and then those levels starts declining when the dog becomes senior.

As Expected, Testosterone Triggers Male Behaviors…

During the puberty surge in testosterone, there is often an increase in sexually dimorphic behaviors, basically behaviors that are mostly seen in male dogs. This is often when owners of intact dogs start noticing behaviors such as roaming in search of a mate, lifting the leg to urine mark, mounting, and competition with other male dogs. These behaviors are often what causes dog owners to consider neutering their dogs.

But there Are Chances Neutering May Reduce Them.

When a male dog is neutered (castration) the removal of a dog’s testes causes the production of testosterone to come to a halt. With testosterone levels reduced, there is often a marked decrease in behaviors driven by hormones such as urine marking, roaming in search of a mate and competition with other male dogs.

For those looking for statistics, a study has found that after neutering, roaming behavior decreased 90 percent, aggression between male dogs decreased 62 percent, urine marking decreased 50 percent and mounting decreased 80 percent.

However, there’s not much good news for dog owners expecting to see their male dogs calm down and settle after castration. That’s likely never going to happen any time soon because excitability and unruly behaviors are seldom driven by testosterone, explains Mat Ward, a Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviorist. On top of that, owners must consider that, despite the statistics appearing promising, neutering does not necessarily have total control over stopping sexually dimorphic behaviors.

But a New Study Says Neutering Won’t Likely Do Much to Stop Aggression.

Many people consider neutering their dogs because they feel that testosterone plays a role in aggression, but how true is that? For many years, and in many cases  still as of today, the advice to neuter a dog is given out by dog trainers and veterinarians when presented with an intact male dog showing signs of aggressive behavior.

Neutering therefore has been commonly recommended throughout the years and has been a strong selling point to solve aggression problems, but it’s not that easy to justify the common notion that neutering is a cure-all. So does neutering stop dog aggression?

Karen Overall in her book  Clinical behavioral medicine for small animals, talks about testosterone acting as a behavior modulator causing intact dogs to react more quickly, more intensely and for a longer period of time compared to neutered dogs. However, she also warns that when it comes to aggression, neutering a dog may lower the tendency to exhibit aggression towards other dogs (which can be hormonally driven); but there’s not enough data to show the effects neutering may have on other specific types of aggressive behaviors.

Indeed, in most cases, neutering won’t fix dog behavior problems such as territorial or fear-induced aggression,resource guarding or food aggression. This is likely because there are several other factors at play other than hormones when dogs behave aggressively such as the impact of the environment in which the dog is raised, the dog’s genetic makeup, the dog’s history, and so forth. However, it’s also true that testosterone has been known to affect anxiety behaviors; for instance, among humans men who fail to produce enough testosterone tend to be more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and testosterone treatments tend to alleviate these.

Interestingly, for those looking for data, a study using a large sample of dogs conducted by Parvene Farhoody and M. Christine Zink, found strong correlations between neutering and aggression, with neutered dogs exhibiting high levels of fear, anxiety and excitability, regardless of when the dog was neutered. And this is quite impressive data, especially considering the increase in aggressive behaviors seen in the past years in our companion dogs and considering the fact that a large percentage of aggressive behavior in dogs stems from fear, which coincidentally correlates with the modern trend of neutering dogs.

” Our data showed that the behavior of neutered dogs was significantly different from that of intact dogs in ways that contradict the prevailing view. Among the findings, neutered dogs were more aggressive, fearful, excitable, and less trainable than intact dogs. “~Parvene Farhoody & M. Christine Zink

References:

  •  Hopkins SG, Schubert TA, Hart BL. Castration of adult male dogs: effects on roaming, aggression, urine marking, and mounting. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1976;168:1108–1110.
  •  Overall KL. Clinical behavioral medicine for small animals. St Louis: Mosby Year Book Inc, 1997.
  • Cooley DM, Beranek BC, Schlittler DL, et al. Endogenous gonadal hormone exposure and bone sarcoma risk. Canc Epidemiol Biomark Prev 2002;11:1434-1440.
  • Howe LM, Slater MR, Boothe HW, et al. Long-term outcome of gonadectomy performed at an early age or traditional age in dogs. J Amer Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:217-221.
  • Pathirana IN et al (2012) Plasma insulin-like peptide 3 and testosterone concentrations in male dogs: changes with age and effects of cryptorchidism. Theriogenology77(3):550-557
  • Farhoody, P. Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs. Smmary of findings detailed in Masters thesis submitted to and accepted by Hunter College in May 2010.
  • Hart, B. L., & Eckstein, R. A. (1997). The role of gonadal hormones in the occurrence of objectionable behaviours in dogs and cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52, 331-344.
  • Aggressive Behavior in Dogs: A Comprehensive Technical Manual for Professionals, James O’Heare, Dogwise Ebooks; 2 edition (April 17, 2014)

Photo Credits:

Flickr Creative Commons Renee , Roxie supports breast cancer awareness, CCBY2.0
Flick Creative Commons, Andrew Vargas I’ll flick you up if you login one more time! CCBY2.0

Study Reveals Why Labrador Retrievers are Always Hungry

 

Owners of Labrador retrievers often wonder why their Labradors are always hungry, constantly looking for food to fill up their seemingly bottomless stomachs. And if you own a Lab, you’re likely not imagining things if you think your Lab is getting rounder and rounder as days go by. Labradors are quite prone to obesity, and it seems like every where you turn, there’s an obese Lab, what gives? If you are considering enrolling Marley into a Weight Watchers Program you may be interested in discovering what this new study has to say.

labrador hungry fatA Gene Alteration

If you’re often blaming your Labrador for being a glutton, take a deep breath and stop; chances are, there is a biological reason for your Labrador’s fixation with food.

According to a study published on Cell Metabolism there is a gene alteration in Labrador retrievers along with their flat coated retriever relatives, and this may be the cause for these dogs’ insatiable appetites and predisposition to canine obesity.

Conor O’Donovan at the University of Cambridge and his colleagues, conducted a study by evaluating the weight and body condition of several Labrador retrievers. Interestingly, the study found that 23 percent carried at least one copy of a variation of a gene called POMC (pro-opiomelanocortin). This means that statistically, about 1 in 4 Labradors has this variation.

“This is a common genetic variant in Labradors and has a significant effect on those dogs that carry it, so it is likely that this helps explain why Labradors are more prone to being overweight in comparison to other breeds.”~Dr Eleanor Raffan.

No Off Switchwhay are labradors hungry

What effect does this variant of the POMC gene have on these dogs? Affected Labradors basically seem to be lacking an “off switch” when it comes to feeling hungry. It’s as if they never get to feel fully satiated.

While not all the affected Labs were reported to be obese, most of them showed signs of being more likely to search and beg for food, according to surveys sent out to the owners. And the more copies of the gene variants these dog had, the fatter and more food-motivated they were.

It was estimated that for each copy of the gene carried, the dog was 2 kilograms heavier. Because some humans also have been reported to show a variation of the POMC gene just as the dogs in the study, further research like this may come handy for human health too.

 

labrador always hungryWill Work for Food

Why were Labradors found to be more prone to having this genetic variation?  Dr Giles Yeo who was involved in the research has a possible theory. He claims: “Labradors make particularly successful working and pet dogs because they are loyal, intelligent and eager to please, but importantly, they are also relatively easy to train. Food is often used as a reward during training, and carrying this variant may make dogs more motivated to work for a titbit. But it’s a double-edged sword – carrying the variant may make them more trainable, but it also makes them susceptible to obesity.”

References:

  • Raffan, E et al. A deletion in the canine POMC gene is associated with weight and appetite in obesity prone Labrador retriever dogs. Cell Metabolism; 3 May 2016
  • Live Science, The reason your Lab is Fat, retieved from the web on August 25th, 2016

 

Five Fascinating Facts About Your Dog’s Nostrils

 

That dogs have a dazzling sense of smell is a known fact that most people are aware of, but many folks might not know much about a dog’s nostrils, those openings that allow dogs to breath in air, exhale and evaluate all those interesting smells lingering around. Like us, dogs have two nostrils, but a dog’s nostrils are quite interesting to discover more about considering their roles in taking in all sorts of smells. So today, let’s learn more about a dog’s nostrils. So here are five fascinating facts about dog nostrils just waiting to be discovered!

nostrils1) Wiggle that Nostril

Dogs have the ability to move their nostrils independently.  Yes, that means one at a time. When they do this, they are evaluating the smell and perhaps even trying to determine exactly from what direction the scent is coming from. Cool, eh?

2) Pant or Sniff?

While dogs can move a nostril independently from the other, on the other hand, they are not able to pant and sniff at the same time. This is why when you present a panting dog your open hand with a bit of food on it, he will stop panting. When he does this, he’s temporarily turning off his normal breathing process and “switching on” his scent processing ability so to check it out, explains  Stanley Coren in the book “How Dogs Think.”

This also explains why working scent dogs become less reliable when the weather is particularly hot. According to research conducted by Irit Gazit and Joseph Terkel, reduced olfactory efficiency was noticed in sniffer dogs when they were overheated. This can obviously turn quite problematic for search and rescue teams, but it can remedied by keeping the dogs cool and allowing them time to acclimate to hot weather.

“Dogs cannot simultaneously pant and sniff or breathe through their nose, and they have alar folds/flap on the sides of their nose that move up and out when they take a deep breath. This means you can use the movement of these folds -the dilation of the nostrils- to indicate and confirm when the dog is holding his breathe.”~Karen Overall

dog nose3) Right Nostril Bias

In humans and dogs, it’s a known fact that the brain is divided right down the middle leading to a specific hand preference. We therefore have “lefties and righties,” but what about dogs? We know that dogs seem to have a paw preference too, but even more interestingly, it looks like when it comes to dogs, nostril preference is also present and it’s used accordingly based on what they’re sniffing.

In a recent study conducted by Siniscalchi, M., et al, dogs were exposed to six different types of smell and their reactions to these smells were evaluated. The dogs were introduced to the smell of food, the smell of a female dog in heat, the scent of lemon, an odorless cotton swab, the smell of sweat coming from a vet and the smell of adrenaline.

The dogs were allowed to investigate these smells several times and watched carefully. It  was noticed that when they investigated these smells for the first times, they used their right nostril. After some time though, they then switched to using their left one. The only exception to this rule occurred with the smell of the vet’s sweat and the smell of adrenaline which they must have categorized as “aversive.”

At a closer evaluation, this”right nostril bias” isn’t surprising because the olfactory system is displayed ipsilaterally (affecting the same side of the body) and therefore the right nostril is known to connect with the right side of the brain and vice versa. From previous research it’s known that the right hemisphere of the brain is the side that tends to deal with novelty and the elicitation of emotions associated with the fight or flight response, while the left hemisphere tends to deal with routine investigation, approach behavior, and attractiveness.

nostril airflow4) Those Interesting Slits

Why do dogs have slits on the sides of their nostrils? Well, believe it or not, even those slits have an important role. While the front part of the nostrils take in air, those slits on the sides are there so to allow the air to escape when the dog exhales. When the air flows out of the side slits, it creates a swirl that helps with the sampling of new odors. But wait there’s more! Those slits may also carry another important role, but this time, it has to do with awww, cute baby puppies…

“Here’s why this is particularly special: the photography also reveals that the slight wind generated by the exhale in fact helps pull more of the new scent in by creating a current of air over it.”~Alexandra Horowitz

  puppy5) Heat Sensors

Mother Nature may spare puppies from being able to see or hear at birth, but she was certainly generous in the olfactory department. Not only can puppies smell at birth and even prior to being born, but their noses appear to be equipped with special heat sensors.

Ever wondered how a newborn puppy is able to crawl back to mom? Momma’s smell may play a role, but  Yngve Zotterman, of the Swedish Research Council, actually discovered another fascinating perk.

Basically, puppies are equipped with special heat sensors which are located around those nostril slits and the opening to their nasal passages. It has been found that these sensors are capable of detecting infrared energy that’s radiated from warm objects. Fascinating stuff!

“Evolution has provided an additional source of sensory information to help the puppy at this critical time in the form of special heat sensors in his nose”~Stanley Coren 

References:

  • Siniscalchi M., Anna M. Pepe, Salvatore Dimatteo, Giorgio Vallortigara & Angelo Quaranta (2011). Sniffing with the right nostril: lateralization of response to odour stimuli by dogs, Animal Behaviour, 82 (2) 399-404. DOI:
  • Irit Gazit, Joseph Terkel, Explosives detection by sniffer dogs following strenuous physical activity Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 81, Issue 2, Pages 149–161
  • How Dogs Think, Understanding the Canine Mind By Stanley Coren, Free Press; 1st edition (August 3, 2004)
  • Why Does My Dog Act That Way?: A Complete Guide to Your Dog’s Personality, By Stanley Coren Free Press; 1 Reprint edition (December 4, 2007)
  • ‘Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, By Alexandra Horowitz, Scribner; a edition (September 28, 2010).
  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, By Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)

 

Do Dogs Laugh Like Humans Do?

 

Dogs bring us so much joy and happiness in our lives that it wouldn’t be surprising if dogs were gifted with the ability to laugh, just as we humans do. Last time we checked though, we never saw our dogs chuckling, giggling, or burst out laughing even when they were tickled or were told an irresistible joke. Max Eastman though seemed to be on the right track when he coined his famous quote “Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails. ” Just because dogs don’t laugh as humans do, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’ enjoy a nice chuckle. A study conducted by Simonet, a Cognitive Ethologist and Animal Behaviorist, has actually shown that dogs do have the ability to laugh, and if we pay close attention, we can hear them “laughing” too.

playA Different Laugh

While humans tend to laugh when they are tickled, told a joke or when watching a funny movie, in dogs laughter seems to occur in different contexts. Dogs tend to “laugh” mostly when they are playing. When dogs were observed during play, they were found to use several different vocalizations: the familiar high-pitched barks, several whines and playful growls. Among these vocalizations was also a fourth type: a breathy forced exhalation that Simonet refers to as “the dog laugh.”

According the study, dogs used these doggy laughs to initiate play and the other dogs responded to them with a play face, game of chase or a meta-signal such as a play bow to invite to play. Interestingly, these dog laughs were found to take place exclusively for play encounters or friendly encounters with people and dogs. What does this dog laugh sound like? According to Simonet, it’s somewhat similar to a human laugh, but with the vowels removed. So instead of the quintessential “hah, hah, hah!” it would sound more like a “hhh, hhh, hhh,” with the same amount of forced air released. For those who wish to hear what it sounds like, they can found a brief clip on Simonet’s Laughing Dog Website. The website also has a clip on  a dog panting so one can differentiate between the two.

Did you know? A study by  Rooney et al. back in 2001 revealed that humans were more successful in initiating play with their dogs by whispering to their dogs rather than mimicking a play bow. It’s likely that the whispering was perceived by dogs as an approximation of the “doggy laugh.”

Calming Dogs Downdog laugh

Have you ever noticed how listening to people laughing on shows has the power of influencing your mood and brightening your day? American sound engineer Charles  Douglass was the first to introduce the sound of audience laughter in several prime-time sitcoms aired between the late 1950s to the late 1970s. In honor of his invention, this fake laughter was referred to as the “Douglass laugh track.” Well, it appears that dogs seem to exhibit a similar response when listening to “doggy laughs.”

Interestingly, when recorded and played back using a recorder, the “dog laugh” has been shown to reduce stress in dogs kenneled in an animal shelter. On top of exhibiting lower levels of stress, the dog listening to the play back also manifested pro-social behaviors such as approaching and tail wagging. This is important considering the considerable stress dogs in shelters go through due to confinement and being in a poorly stimulating environment. There are therefore chances that the exhibition of pro-social responses manifested as a consequence to the play backs could lead to reduced residencies at the shelter before adoption. Happier looking dogs make for happier adoptions, a win-win!

Just for Fun: Five Dogs Who Broke Up Laughing

These dogs may not be “laughing” in the real sense of the word (who knows what they were really thinking!) but we thought these funny expressions might cheer you up and brighten your day.

dog laughing 1

DOG LAUGHING 2

dog laughing 3

DOG laughing 4

funny dog laughter 5

 

 

References:

  • Simonet, P. Versteeg, D. and Storie, D. (2005). “Dog-laughter: Recorded playback reduces stress related behavior in shelter dogs” (PDF). Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment.
  • Rooney, N. J.; Bradshaw, J. W. S.; Robinson, I. H. (2001). Do dogs respond to play signals given by humans? Animal Behaviour, Vol 61(4), 715- 722.

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Jelly Dude, My bloody Valentine, Shorty laughing his head off at the latest 3D horror flick, CCBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Rachael, Laughing dog, hehehe…funny 🙂 CCBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Jack Berry injun laughing, the plan worked hehehe :O) CCBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Danny Ayers, Basil hears a good one, CCBY2.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons, PRO Tony Alter, Link and Frank, It was pointed out to me that Link looked like he is laughing, that gave me the idea for a use for fdflickrtoys captioner. CCBY2.0

 

How Dogs Develop Fear Memories

 

Your dog might not remember exactly what kind of treat you fed him yesterday or what color of shirt you were wearing, but if you were to ask him precisely where he was when he heard a loud noise and startled, he would likely be able to identify the exact location. When it comes to recollecting stressful and scary events, dogs seem to have the uncanny ability to remember quite well. Owners of dogs suffering from noise phobias know this too well, all it takes is a loud noise for their dog to activate all sorts of avoidance behaviors when they encounter the same area again. As much as this sounds like a bad thing, the fact that fear sinks in deeps, is  survival instinct working at best.

dog pheromonesThe Power of Stress

During times of stress, the dog’s body is bombarded with the release of stress hormones into the blood stream. These hormones and all their associated physiological changes are there for a good reason: to up the dog’s chances for survival. The dog’s heart rate and breathing increase, his senses are amplified, the ears are ready to capture the slightest sounds and the pupils dilate so Rover can see with more clarity.

At the same time, muscles receive increased blood flow so that the dog can sprint into action, blood pressure increases, a surge in blood sugar released from the kidneys provides a boost of energy and a dog’s appetite is suppressed as blood flows away from the digestive tract to the muscles for action (try dangling a slice of baloney in the face of a terrified dog). Several changes also take place at a mental level. Dogs who are stressed and frightened, often have a hard time concentrating, their impulse control and bite threshold may lower. When it comes to memory though, the ability to recall the event seems to sharpen.

Everlasting Bad Memoriesdog anxiety

Ask anybody what they were doing on September 11th 2001, and most people will have a clear recollection. ” I was stacking supplies at the store” or “I was eating lunch with a friend” or “I was playing soccer when my sister called me and gave me the news.” Then ask anybody what they were doing a week ago at this same exact time, and they’ll likely give you a blank stare. It is natural for people and animals to remember bad episodes, especially when they are situations that had a strong emotional impact or that could have hurt somebody significantly. It makes sense for stress hormones to help recollect memories of events that take place when we’re undergoing stress,  explains Roger Abrantes, PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Ethology and director at the Ethology Institute Cambridge where he holds regular lectures.

“We cannot know what dogs “perceive,” but we do know that dogs have excellent memories and the same brain architecture and functions as humans do, so when we see behaviors consistent with true panic, even if the stimuli are not present, we need to consider that memory of these stimuli… could be what is distressing the dog.”~ Karen Overall.

Fear Through Generationspuppies nursing

Interestingly, fearful responses to certain stimuli may be even passed from a generation to another. In a study published in the Journal of Nature Neuroscience, rats were given an electric shock each time they were presented with acetophenone, a compound that gives off a scent resembling cherry blossoms. Shock after shock, the rats soon becomes sensitized to the the scent resembling cherry blossoms and they would show a fearful response.

After being bred, these rats gave birth to offspring who,without any prior conditioning (learning,) showed fearful responses to the scent despite never having witnessed it before.  This demonstrates that it is possible to pass down fear of a smell even in several generations, which makes evolutionary sense if you think about it, since teaching future generations to recognize the scent of dangers, can up the chances for survival. This is quite fascinating, and surely more studies are needed on this to understand the exact dynamics.

Did you know? When an intensely unpleasant or aversive event leads to a dog developing a fearful lasting memory, it’s known as “one-event learning,” explain  Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen and Lowell J. Ackerman in the book “Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat.

 

References:

  • Parental olfactory experience influences behavior and neural structure in subsequent generations, by Brian G Dias & Kerry J Ressler, Nature Neuroscience17,89–96
  • “How epigenetic memory is passed through generations: Sperm and eggs transmit memory of gene repression to embryos.”University of California – Santa Cruz. ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 September 2014.
  • Ethology Institute of Cambridge, Bonding and Stress, by Roger Abrantes, retrieved from the web on July 29th, 2016
  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, By Karen Overall, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat3: Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, By Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen, Lowell J. Ackerman, Saunders Ltd.; 3 edition (December 28, 2012)

 

Involve All Senses In Your Dog’s Environmental Enrichment

 

Environmental enrichment is important for dogs as it helps stimulate the brain. Its first application took place in zoos for welfare purposes so to help captive animals cope better in their non-natural environments. Bored animals can’t play a game of Sudoku or engage in thumb-twiddling to keep themselves busy, so they end up engaging in vacuum activities such as restless pacing, stereotyped movements or excessive licking or even destructive behaviors such as chewing and digging. While today there are many resources to help dog owners enrich their dog’s environment, it’s important to involve all of the dog’s senses.

synapsysBenefits for Animals

Until the 1970’s, it was common belief among neuroscientists that the brain underwent changes only during the critical period and afterward remained  in a relatively “static” state throughout adulthood. New research (Reference 4) has shown that many aspects of the brain can change even into adulthood, leading to the term “neuroplasticity” (plasticity of the brain).  Research on rats (Reference 1,2) has found that when rats were placed in a richer, more stimulating environment where they were cognitively challenged, the were prone to developing a thicker cerebral cortex with a 25 percent increase in synapses.

Additionally, the increase in synapses seemed to be not short lived. Indeed, another study (Reference 3) revealed that when the number of synapses increased in adult rats, their numbers remained high for 30 days despite the rats being returned to an impoverished environment.

 

Benefits for DogsDOG MENTAL STIMULATION

What do the results of this research mean to our dogs? It means that young dogs, adult dogs and most of all, old dogs benefit from environmental enrichment. For dogs, the focus is adding an element of novelty to an otherwise dull day such as teaching the dog a new trick or providing dogs with safe opportunities to engage in natural, instinctive behaviors without getting in trouble. It’s great news that today there is a lot of interest in providing dogs with environmental enrichment, but often they fail to fulfill all of a dog’s senses. Sure, it’s good that many dog owners now invest in food-dispensing toys to keep their dogs mentally stimulated as this is first step towards placing mental stimulation away from the back burner, but a dog’s world entails much more than extracting food from a Kong.

idea tipDid you know:? Dogs can quickly habituate to toys if the same toys are seen on a daily basis. This doesn’t mean though that you will have to break the bank and purchase a new toy every day just to make your dog happy! Instead, make it a habit to rotate toys. Keep some toys out of sight for some time and then present them again. After not seeing them for a while, the dog should show a renewed interest in them.

Involving All Senses

Dogs interact with their world through their main five senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. To enrich a dog’s life, it’s therefore a good idea to incorporate as many senses as possible. Dog walks are often a stimulating way to offer enrichment as dogs are given the opportunity to hear, see and smell many stimuli. Car rides with the window slightly open to allow a fresh flow or air along with its stimulus package of scents, may also be stimulating for dogs.  And of course, play dates with friendly dogs, games of fetch, training sessions and dog sports are all great ways to keep dogs exercised and mentally stimulated. Following are several enrichment ideas to address all senses in dogs.

Trivia: Can you guess How many senses dogs have?  Hint: it’s not easy as thought!

warning cautionWarning: While walks can be optimal for many dogs, dogs who are fearful or reactive dogs may perceive the outdoors as overstimulating. Until their behavior issues can be tackled with the help of a professional, for the time being it might be preferable to manage the environment by frequenting quiet places or the tranquility of the yard.

dog sense of visionSense of Vision

Play hide and seek games with your dog where you go out of vision and your dog must find you. Teach your dog to discriminate toys based on different shapes and colors (keep in mind though how dogs see colors). Some dogs enjoy watching TV and now there are also TV shows made purposely for dogs. Sight hounds may enjoy chasing flirt poles, while retrievers may love chasing and retrieving balls.  Instead of feeding food from a bowl, why not toss kibble for your dog to catch instead? For dogs who aren’t reactive, access to a window can provide a form of sensorial enrichment. While highly visually stimulating, it’s best to avoid using laser pointers for dogs.

dog sense of hearingSense of Hearing

Teach your dog how to play the piano. Play round-robin games using different people (with different tones of voice) and take turns calling your dog and rewarding him for coming. Also, you can have fun and train your dog to come at the sound of a whistle. For further stimulation when whistle training your dog, teach your dog that different whistle pips and blasts mean different things. For example, use a special pip for meal time and one for going on a walk. When your dog is alone during the day, play CD’S  purposely made for dogs such as Through a Dog’s Ear. Also, provide toys that make different noises. Many small terriers may enjoy squeaky toys, but be careful as some dogs ingest the squeakers.

dog sense of touchSense of Touch

A dog’s sense of touch involves receiving information about his internal and external environment.  Dogs can be mentally stimulated by offering them toys of different textures such as soft toys, hard toys, crinkly toys  etc.  Training the dog to walk on different surfaces (on grass, in a puddle, or on steps) may also be fun if you make it rewarding. Small terriers may enjoy walking through agility tunnels.

Petting our dogs is also a way to provide enrichment. Play games with your family where you take turns calling your dog, giving him a treat while briefly petting him.We are used to petting our dogs, but there are other forms of tactile stimulation such as grooming, massage and T- Touch. Find ways your dog likes to be touched the most. Notice how your dog reacts to your touch.

dog noseSense of Smell

Canine nose work has been gaining popularity. You can train your dog to discriminate between different scents by using essential oils, but check for toxicity before using certain products. There are specific nose work kits available nowadays. For dogs who love to dig, bury a toy in in a bag of kibble for a day and then hide the toy in a child’s pool full of sand so your dog must use his sense of smell to find it. Scent hounds may enjoy following trails of kibble hidden around the yard. Certain types of scents can be also calming to dogs such as lavender.

dog sense of tasteSense of Taste

Dogs are known for not having very developed taste buds compared to us, but they benefit from working for their food. Hide portions of your dogs meals around the house, stuff a Kong in different layers made a various types of treats and in the summer make frozen treats. For instance, you can place some water in an ice cube tray and insert in the middle one of your dog’s favorite treat or a couple of kibble. Once the water freezes, the treat will be suspended inside the ice cube so your dog will need to lick the ice-cube to get to it. This is a great way to keep your dog hydrated and entertained! Veterinary behaviorist Lore Haug also suggests placing vegetables or fruits safe for dogs (apples, carrots, melon, celery) out in the yard or allowing them to float in a wading pool. She warns though to avoid grapes or raisins as they’re toxic to dogs.

 

References:

  1. Diamond MC, Krech D, Rosenzweig MR (August 1964). “The Effects of an Enriched Environment on the Histology of the Rat Cerebral Cortex”. J. Comp. Neurol.123: 111–20.
  2. Diamond MC, Law F, Rhodes H, et al. (September 1966). “Increases in cortical depth and glia numbers in rats subjected to enriched environment”. J. Comp. Neurol.128 (1): 117–26
  3. Briones TL, Klintsova AY, Greenough WT (August 2004). “Stability of synaptic plasticity in the adult rat visual cortex induced by complex environment exposure”. Brain Res.1018 (1): 130–5.
  4. Livingston R.B. (1966). “Brain mechanisms in conditioning and learning”. Neurosciences Research Program Bulletin4 (3): 349–354.
  5. Texas Veterinary Behavior Specialist, Environmental Enrichment for Dogs, retrieved from the web on July 24th, 2016.

Photo Credits:

  • Looie496 US National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging created originalPublic Domain

 

Scolding A Guilty Looking Dog After the Fact

 

It’s a typical scene many dog owners are familiar with: they come home from work only to find a mess of chewed up pillows around the house, so they angrily look at their dog, recognize a guilty look on his face and therefore decide to reprimand their dog telling him in an authoritative tone of voice what a bad boy he is. The dog, ears back, and tail  tucked between the legs, walks away from the room with his head low in search of a safe place to retreat until his owner calms down. As much as this scene sounds familiar and appears to make sense, there’s something seriously amiss about it: the poor dog has likely no clue what he’s being punished for!

guilty faceThat “Guilty Look” in Dogs

“How can my dog have no clue about what he’s being punished for when there’s undeniable proof all around him and  there’s the word “guilty” written all across his face?” dog owners may ask.

If you have seen that “guilty look” before, rest assured you’re in good company. According to Scientific American, 74 percent of dog owners have a strong belief that their dogs experience guilt.

But first things first, let’s take a closer look at the “guilty face.”At a first glance, we may assume the dog knows he did something wrong because, the moment we notice the mess, our dog flattens his ears, tucks his tail under, lowers his body, or perhaps lifts a paw and avoids eye contact, behaviors we associate with guilt.

However, this is just our interpretation, a mere assumption that insinuates in our minds because as humans we may have behaved in a similar fashion in similar circumstances. The below reasoning is indeed quite common among many dog owners.

“I behave in a particular way when I feel guilty; my dog behaves in a similar way in equivalent circumstances; I know intuitively that my behaviour is motivated by guilt; therefore the behaviour I see in my dog is also accompanied by feelings of guilt” ~Bradshaw and Casey, 2007

Can Dogs Feel Guilt?dog pride

In reality though, things are quite different when we step away from out anthropomorphic views, which means ascribing human traits to animals, and that often includes our canine companions.

First off, we know that dogs are capable of feeling several basic emotions such as joy, fear, anger, disgust, and likely, also love.

However, according to Stanley Coren, current research at this time seems to suggest that dogs are not capable of feeling more complex emotions such as guilt, pride and shame.

Turns out, these emotions “require a level of self-awareness that has been difficult to demonstrate even in chimpanzees” explain Bradshaw and Casey.

What Studies Say

There are several studies that have paved the path towards a better understanding of what’s behind that “guilty look” in dogs. Vollmer, back in 1977, conducted a study that suggested that a dog’s guilty behavior was simply a conditioned response elicited by the presence of the owner and a notable stimulus. In the study owners were asked to shred a paper, leave, and then come back home. Upon their return, dogs were found to show “guilt-like” behaviors despite the fact they did nothing wrong!

Another study conducted by Horowitz in 2009 revealed that the “guilty look” occurs as a dog’s response to owner cues, rather than an appreciation of a misdeed. Indeed, the “guilty look” tended to pop out  much more when the owner scolded the dog and it was displayed with more intensity when the dog did not engage in any “transgression. 

A later study by J. Hecht, Á. Miklósi, M. Gásci in 2012, revealed that when dogs exhibited guilty behaviors upon greeting their owners, this wasn’t necessarily a reliable indicator of whether or not a dog engaged in a misdeed. And finally, a study conducted in 2015, by Ljerka OstojićMladenka TkalčićNicola S. Clayton, also showed further potential evidence that a dog’s “guilty look”  doesn’t necessarily correspond with a dog’s knowledge of a misdeed.

dog guiltyIf Not Guilt Then What?

So if my dog isn’t feeling guilt, why is acting as if he was? What’s likely happening in this scenario is that, our dogs, as some studies have demonstrated, are simply responding to our anger and frustration, and what we interpret as a “guilty look,” are just these dogs’ way to manifest an appeasement/fear response.

Dogs are very sensitive to our bodily cues and can easily sense when we’re feeling upset about something so they may respond accordingly, using their body language (what we interpret as the guilty look) in hopes of calming us down and hopefully avoid punishment.

But what about dogs who look guilty even before even being scolded? Another possibility is that dogs are reacting to things in their environment that have been associated in the past with the owner delivering punishment, explains Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CCAB) Stephanie Hedges in the book “Practical Canine Behaviour: For Veterinary Nurses and Technicians.”

The guilty look therefore becomes a learned, ritualized behavior that has been associated with certain environmental cues and punishment and that’s therefore used in hopes of avoiding it.

So the presence of a shredded paper on the floor could become a predictor of a potential upcoming scolding. “Evidence + Owner = Trouble” says primatologist Frans de Waal, in the book Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals.” And according to the quote by de Waal below, that appeasing look seems to actually work to avoid it!

“In a questionnaire with study participants, I found that nearly 60% of owners surveyed reported that the dog’s “guilty look” led them to scold their dog less.”~Frans de Waal

A Matter of Bad Timingdog guilty look

So now that we know what’s truly going on with that guilty face, it’s time to understand why your dog has no clue of what he’s being scolded for.

Unless you caught your dog in the act, you aren’t punishing your dog for his misbehavior, but whatever he’s doing at the moment you punish him, explains dog trainer and behavior consultant Jolanta Benal.

So when you scold your dog upon opening the door saying “Hey! You managed to chew all the pillows, you bad, bad boy!” your dog will perceive he’s being punished for looking at you or walking towards the door to greet you or anything else he’s doing at the moment.

On top of that, since he most likely has no recollection of carrying out the forbidden act carried out several minutes or hours prior, you’ll come across as an unpredictable being who sometimes comes home in a good mood  and other times not, which can be very confusing to a dog and stressful too.

So no wonder why he’ll be showing more and more appeasing behaviors the moment you open that door! You can almost hear these dogs say something in the terms of “Will my owner be happy or upset? When in doubt, better be safe and show some appeasement!”

The next question though is, how can the dog not recall carrying out the forbidden act done a couple of hours ago, but then he seems to have no trouble remembering the punishment you delivered triggering appeasement behaviors for your future homecomings? There’s likely a good explanation coming from a recent study focusing on an animal’s abilities on recollecting past events.

The study found that animals tend to have specialized memory systems that are hardwired to store “biologically relevant information” that’s related to their own survival, comfort and safety. So while your dog may not be able to recall playing fetch yesterday or chewing up your shoes hours ago, he’ll have a better time remembering where he buried his bone or any scary past events such as that painful jab at the vet or your angered face upon coming back home and finding the remote in pieces.

DOG SUCCESSSo What to Do Instead?

First off, it’s important to avoid engaging in  harmful anthropomorphic beliefs as it can lead to misinterpretations and even the onset of behavior problems. “Such beliefs appear to contribute to the development of behavioural disorders in pets, for example, clinical experience suggests that the application of punishment by owners who attribute ‘guilt’ to their animals may unwittingly lead to compromised welfare” warn Bradshaw and Casey.

So what should dog owners do when they find their expensive shoes all chewed up or the couch throws and pillows reduced into a zillion pieces? A good place to start is to take a deep breath and count to 10, and seriously evaluate what measures can be taken to keep these items out of reach and prevent future occurrences.

Simply take a step back and evaluate what you can do to prevent your dog from making future mistakes, suggests Jolanta Benal. And while you are at it,  take time to also evaluate what may have triggered the destructive behavior in the first place.

Maybe Rover is teething and needs more appropriate chew toys? Perhaps  he needs more exercise and mental stimulation? Can stress be a trigger? For sure, those scoldings won’t teach your dog anything as Julie Hecht explains clearly in the quote below!

“Sadly, scolding dogs after the fact most often doesn’t decrease future bad behavior. If anything, the ‘guilty look’ could just become more exaggerated over time as your confused companion develops an anxious cycle of destruction and appeasement.” ~Julie Hecht

References:

  • Bradshaw, JWS; Casey, RA, Anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism as influences in the quality of life of companion animals, : Animal Welfare, Volume 16, Supplement 1, May 2007, pp. 149-154(6)
  • Vollmer, P., 1977. Do mischievous dogs reveal their guilt? Vet. Med. Small Anim. Clin. 72, 1002–1005
  • Horowitz, A. Disambiguating the guilty look: salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behav. Process. 2009;81:447–452.
  • J. Hecht, Á. Miklósi, M. Gásci, Behavioral assessment and owner perceptions of behaviors associated with guilt in dog, Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci., 139 (2012), pp. 134–142
  • Ljerka OstojićMladenka TkalčićNicola S. ClaytonAre owners’ reports of their dogs’ ‘guilty look’ influenced by the dogs’ action and evidence of the misdeed? Behavioural Processes, Volume 111, February 2015, Pages 97–100
  • Practical Canine Behaviour: For Veterinary Nurses and Technicians, by Stephanie Hedges, CABI Publishing; 1 edition (11 July 2014)
  • Scientific American, The Guilty Looking Companion, retrieved from the web on June 19th, 2016
  • Lind J, Enquist M, Ghirlanda SAnimal memory: A review of delayed matching-to-sample data, Behav Processes. 2015 Aug;117:52-8. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.11.019. Epub 2014 Dec 9.
  • The Huffington Post, Sorry, But Your Dog Can’t Remember That Fun Game Of Fetch, retrieved from the web on June 19th, 2016.

Studies Reveal Puppy Tail Docking Procedure is Painful

 

We often hear claims about tail docking being a pretty much painless procedure when carried out in young puppies, but many may wonder: How can a procedure like tail docking be painless when we’re talking about cutting through skin, nerves, cartilage and bones? The belief seems to stem from the fact that since tail docking takes place when a puppy is only three-days old, chances are high that his nervous system is immature. New studies today though seem to disprove this belief and suggest that the pain is there and it can be even quite significant.

wagging tailA Lesson in Anatomy

The dog’s tail is much more than just an appendage, it actually carries many roles including balance and communication. Composed of several highly mobile vertebrae surrounded by muscles, tendons and nerves, the tail has been shown to work as a means for counterbalance when the dog is leaping, climbing or walking on narrow structures.  The muscles of the tail also help stabilize the dog’s vertebral column and support the extensor muscles of the back, croup and buttocks. The muscles of the tail therefore also play a role during defecation helping the dog evacuate properly. Docking the tail early can therefore mean failure for the muscles of the tail and pelvis to develop to their complete potential. The problem is not limited to defecation though. A study conducted by Holt and Thrusifield in 1993, also showed increased risks for urethral sphincter mechanism incompetence which leads to urinary incontinence.

 The Tail Docking Procedure

There’s no denial over the fact that a dog’s tail is an important structure of the dog’s body from both an anatomical and physiological standpoint. Tail docking is a procedure that has been dictated by tradition for many years and nowadays  involves the amputation of the dog’s tail for cosmetic purposes. It takes place when the puppy is 2 to 5 days old without any anesthesia. More and more veterinarians have stopped performing the procedure and tail docking has been nowadays banned in many countries as it “cannot be justified medically or scientifically.” In 1992, Professor David Morton already questioned whether carrying out the procedure should be considered disgraceful professional conduct for veterinarians. In order to dock a dog’s tail, muscles, tendons and 4 to 7 pairs of nerves along with bone and cartilage are severed.

The Pup’s Nervous Systempuppy

Dogs are an altricial species, meaning that when they are born, they are in a pretty much helpless state. Indeed,  day-old puppies are born blind, deaf and barely capable of moving around. On top of that, during their first days on earth, puppies are also unable to regulate their temperature and require mother dog’s assistance in order to eliminate. Along with these traits, there has been belief for many years that puppies are born with an immature central nervous system along with an immature brain and limited sensory and motor processes. A recent study conducted by Australian veterinarian Robert K. Wansbrough has seem to have finally refuted the premise that “puppies do not feel pain therefore tail docking is not inhumane.”

“Recent advances in knowledge about pain and the changes in approach to pain management refute the premise that ‘Puppies do not feel pain therefore tail docking is not Inhumane’, and also the premise that ‘the pain and the effects of tail docking are insignificant.”~Wansbrough RK.

countries that have banned tail docking

Debunking Pain Myths

Robert Wansbrough has debunked several myths about pain surrounding tail docking such as the belief that animals do not feel pain as humans do. Even though animals may manifest pain in different ways than humans, we share with them a similar nervous system capable of perceiving pain. Feelman in 1995 found that the pain threshold in humans and animals is actually the same. When it comes to puppies, the myth that their immature nervous system makes them incapable of feeling pain has been debunked courtesy of several studies. One by Anand and Cart in 1989 found that the nerve endings in the skin in newborn animals equals or even exceeds that of adult skin. This suggests the ability to detect pain. According to Wansbrough, the level of pain in day-old pups could be actually greater than an adult because their inhibitory pain pathways are not developed.

Observation of puppies following tail docking is also suggestive of pain. The whimpering and movements suggest substantial pain. Just because puppies may not show pain in the same ways humans do, doesn’t mean it’s not present. Dogs can be quite stoic and dogs tend to hide pain as a form of self-preservation. There is also common belief that, just because puppies go back to nursing right after being docked, means that the procedure is painless, but studies on this seem to reveal quite the opposite. Veterinarian Jean Hofve points out that there is research showing that suckling releases endorphins, natural pain relievers which can explain the desire to nurse after a painful procedure. Dr. Hofve also point out that in the human medical literature newborn humans, who are also altricial, are known to feel pain – “and neonatal pain management in humans is therefore taken seriously. ”

“Although it is difficult to objectively quantify the stress experienced by puppies undergoing tail docking, observations recorded during this study suggest that the animals do experience pain.”~ Noonan et al.

Did you know? According to Veterinary Practice News, Banfield, a company with more than 730 veterinary hospitals in the United States,  has stopped docking tails and supporting unnecessary cosmetic procedures since 2009.

 

References:

  • WANSBROUGH, R. K. (1996), Cosmetic tail docking of dogs. Australian Veterinary Journal, 74: 59–63. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-0813.1996.tb13737.x
  • Docking of dogs: practical and ethical aspects, by D Morton, Veterinary Record 1992;131:301-306 doi:10.1136/vr.131.14.301
  • Holt PE and Thruslield MV (1993) Vet rec 133:177
  • Anand KJS and Carr DB (1989) Paediatric Clinics Of North Am. 36:795
  • Noonan, GJ, JS Rand, JK Blackshaw, and J. Priest. “Behavioural Observations of Puppies Undergoing Tail Docking.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 49 (1996): 335-42. Michigan State University. Web. 8 May 2016.
  • World Animal Foundation, Cosmetic Surgery for Dogs and Cats, by Jean Hofve, retrived from the web on June 2nd, 2016.

Photo Credits:

Ljgua124Own work, Status of docking globally, CC0

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

Study Reveals Plane Travel Stressful for Dogs

 

With spring in full swing and summer around the corner, more and more people will be planning on going on a trip and perhaps this involves taking Fido along for a plane ride. If plane travel can be scary to humans, it should not be hard to imagine how it must feel to dogs. While dogs cannot talk about their fears or join a fear of flying chat room for support, there are several ways to assess how they react emotionally and physiologically to plane travel. A study conducted back in 2002, evaluated how dogs reacted during air transportation and their findings confirm that yes, air travel can be quite stressful to dogs. Knowledge is however power, so if you are planning to travel with your dog, there are many things you can do prior to departure day to make the trip less stressful for both you are your four-legged  travel companion.

airplaneWhat The Study Found

In the study,  physiological and behavioral reactions to air transport were studied by observing several beagles. Some beagles were sedated prior to travel and some were not. It was found that the cortisol concentration levels of these dogs were high after ground and air transportation. During their whole trip, the highest increase in heart rate was registered during the loading and unloading procedure. During the trip, dogs were found to spend 50 percent of their time lying down and they were found to be inactive 75 percent of time, except during take-off. Since these findings were similar even in the sedated dogs, this seemed to suggest that the sedative used (acepromazine) didn’t seem to affect the dog’s physiological and behavioral stress responses. This though could have been likely because it was administered 5 hours prior to take off when pharmacokinetic studies had shown that its sedative effect tend to last about 4 hours when given at a dose of 1.3 to 1.5 mg/kg.

So How Stressful is Air Travel?

Not surprisingly, the study revealed that air travel is indeed stressful for dogs. Despite the study showing that transportation by road or by air were both stressful for dogs, their levels of stress though were lower than the levels measured by Beerda et al in a study where dogs where exposed to a loud noise, a falling bag or electric shock. However, there are chances that the discrepancies are due to the fact that, by the time the samples were collected, the dogs may already have habituated to the transport stressor.

dog crate
Keep the crate open the first few days.

What To Do

While the study revealed that both ground and air transportation can stress out dogs, there are many thing dog owners can do to reduce the stress. It’s quite normal for dogs to get stressed out by unconventional forms of travel due to the novelty of it and the fact that dogs are taken away from their comfort zones. Taking steps to get the dog more accustomed to travel can help make it less stressful and less scary, here are a few tips:

  • Purchase the crate your dog will be traveling in several weeks before the big travel date and get him accustomed to it from day one. Make the crate comfortable and cozy and make great things happen in it. Feed your dog his favorite treats in it and let him chew on his favorite bone in there. You can start off by keeping the door of the crate open at first.
  • As the study has shown, ground transportation can be as scary as air transportation. Get your dog used to traveling in his crate in the car weeks before travel date. Make fun trips to places your dog loves.
  • If you live near an airport, take your dog to the airport for brief “practice trips” and to get him gradually used to the noises. Make the trips there fun and don’t forget to bring high value treats to feed while there.
  • If the airport is far, you can  play recordings of airport noises and planes taking off and landing while you play with your dog and feed him treats so he can form positive associations with the noises. Make sure you start paying these recordings at low volume first and then increase the volume gradually.
  • Since loading and unloading seems to be the most stressful part of the whole trip according to the study, it might not hurt to place your dog in the travel crate, place the crate on a cart, and stroll around as you talk to your dog in a happy, reassuring tone. Make it fun!
  • Do not sedate your dog! The International Air Transport Association’s Live Animal Regulations warns against tranquilizing pets for air travel. Sedatives may lower blood pressure and may interfere with an animal’s ability  to regulate body temperature which can become problematic during airline travel. Also, sedatives may interfere with the dog’s ability to balance in the case there is turbulence during the flight.
  • Dr. Jeannine Berger, a board certified veterinary behaviorist suggests using Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) spray in the kennel or the collar version which can be placed on the dog 24 hours prior to the trip. Anxitane (L- theanine), a natural anxiolytic can also be used help reduce your dog’s anxiety and fear.
  • According to a study by Wells DA, aromatherapy may also be helpful. A touch of lavender on a cloth in the car may help sooth mildly anxious dogs.
  • Walk your dog prior to having him board the plane and give him the opportunity to relieve himself.

” It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel.”~American Veterinary Medical Association

References:

  • Renée Bergeron, Shannon L. Scott, Jean-Pierre Émond, Florent Mercier, Nigel J. Cook, Al L. Schaefer, Can J Vet Res. 2002 July; 66(3): 211–216.
  • Beerda B, Schilder MBH, van Hooff JARAM, de Vries HW, Mol JA. Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1998; 58:365–381.
  • Beerda B, Schilder MBH, van Hooff JARAM, de Vries HW. Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1997;52:307–319.
  • Wells DA. Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:964-967.
 
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