Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do dogs feel guilt?

Here's an interesting blurb that has been making the rounds lately:

ScienceDaily (June 11, 2009) --- What dog owner has not come home to abroken vase or other valuable items and a guilty-looking dog slouching around the house? By ingeniously setting up conditions where the ownerwas misinformed as to whether their dog had really committed an offense,Alexandra Horowitz, Assistant Professor from Barnard College in NewYork, uncovered the origins of the "guilty look" in dogs in the recently published "Canine Behaviour and Cognition" Special Issue of Elsevier's Behavioural Processes. ( http://tinyurl.com/mpkmpk ) Horowitz was able to show that the human tendency to attribute a "guilty look" to a dog was not due to whether the dog was indeed guilty. Instead, people see 'guilt' in a dog's body language when they believe the dog has done something it shouldn't have -- even if the dog is in fact completely innocent of any offense.During the study, owners were asked to leave the room after ordering their dogs not to eat a tasty treat. While the owner was away, Horowitz gave some of the dogs this forbidden treat before asking the owners back into the room. In some trials the owners were told that their dog had eaten the forbidden treat; in others, they were told their dog had behaved properly and left the treat alone. What the owners were told,however, often did not correlate with reality.Whether the dogs' demeanor included elements of the "guilty look" had little to do with whether the dogs had actually eaten the forbidden treat or not. Dogs looked most "guilty" if they were admonished by their owners for eating the treat. In fact, dogs that had been obedient and had not eaten the treat, but were scolded by their (misinformed) owners, looked more "guilty" than those that had, in fact, eaten the treat. Thus the dog's guilty look is a response to the owner's behavior, and not necessarily indicative of any appreciation of its own misdeeds.This study sheds new light on the natural human tendency to interpret animal behavior in human terms. Anthropomorphisms compare animal behavior to human behavior, and if there is some superficial similarity,then the animal behavior will be interpreted in the same terms assuperficially similar human actions. This can include the attribution of higher-order emotions such as guilt or remorse to the animal. The editor of the special issue, Clive D.L. Wynne of the Department of Psychology, University of Florida, explained, "this is a remarkably powerful demonstration of the need for careful experimental designs if we are to understand the human-dog relationship and not just reify our natural prejudices about animal behavior." He pointed out that dogs arethe oldest domesticated species and have a uniquely intimate role in the lives of millions of people. Recent research on dogs has indicated more human-like forms of reasoning about what people know than has been demonstrated even in chimpanzees.

I thought this was a great study! This is something I hear from my clients everyday, ESPECIALLY when talking about housebreaking puppies.

Think of it from the puppy's point of view. You go off to work and leave them at home and they go about their business for the day, which, naturally, includes pooping and peeing. DUH! Their owner comes home and they are so excited because they've been BORED; they run over to greet them and maybe even are excited enough that they pee on the floor a little bit right there. Suddenly they look up and realize their owner's face looks like a thundercloud...uh oh. Somebody must have peed on mom's wheaties today! So puppy tries his best to show placating and submissive behavior which includes lower head, slinking, not making direct eye contact...all of which convinces the owner that the puppy knows what he did wrong, when in fact, the poop occurred several hours ago and is the farthest thing from the puppies mind. What he HAS learned, however, is to scan your face and body language carefully when you walk through the door and react accordingly.

So here a very important rule in training, especially when you start housebreaking your pup. If you didn't see it happen, it doesn't count. So if you catch the pup in the act, you can take action to interrupt him and get him outside to where he SHOULD be going; this can be a clap, a verbal no, etc; but should NOT be overwhelming for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you scare him the most likely thing he's going to do is urinate submissively- just what you are trying to stop! Secondly, he will learn that eliminating in front of you is a BAD thing and he should only do it while you're not watching- so instead of going when you take him out on leash (you are going out with him on leash, aren't you, so you can reward right away when he goes??!), he waits to sneak off into the dining room when you aren't looking. And finally, harsh corrections for housebreaking mistakes I firmly believe are a big factor in dogs who are fearful as adults. This is a big imprinting time in their lives and we do not want any big scary associations with humans that will last a lifetime. (I also believe that housebreaking mistakes are so upsetting to us because they involve a violation of OUR territorial rights...but I digress).

Another common scenario is the dog who is bored and chews up the sofa cushion while you are at work. You come home, flip out, and punish him; he starts to feel anxiety as the time approaches when you come home each day and to alleviate the anxiety he finds something to chew...pretty soon we have a full fledged separation anxiety dog who may require medication to break the cycle.

Ultimately, while it is very interesting to contemplate how are dogs are feeling and what feelings motivate certain behaviors, when it comes to changing those behaviors the emotions behind them are mostly irrelevant. If you don't like a behavior, you reinforce an incompatible behavior- for example, if you don't like a dog who barks like an idiot at guests when they come in, you teach him to go to his mat, lie down, and wait for a cookie when the doorbell rings. It really doesn't matter much if he is barking because he is excited, scared, or protective; you just pick another behavior to reinforce.

Don't take this to mean that I don't think dogs experience many of the same emotions that humans do- I think in many instances they do! They certainly feel fear, joy, and anger; I am not sure that the majority of dogs feel guilt as we would interpret it but I would not rule it out. BUT (and it's a big but) I think that humans are much better at projecting their own emotions onto their dogs than they are at interpreting accurately what the dog is really feeling. And I can't tell you how often I hear the whole saga of "I KNOW he knew that peeing on the floor was bad by the way he acted"- at least daily. I can think of very few instances where I thought the client's assessment was accurate- puppies don't know that peeing on the floor is wrong until you teach them- hopefully using rewards for going in the RIGHT spot rather than punishment for the wrong spot. It's like me coming in and punishing you for breathing- it would be the last thing that would occur to you I was upset about because for you it is a very natural behavior. But I think hours analyzing each tiny detail of the dog's emotion from a training standpoint is not helpful and can be counterproductive- just change the behavior and quit making excuses for it.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tuesdays at MaryAnn's

Every summer, for more years than I can remember, from roughly Memorial Day to Labor Day Tuesday evenings have been reserved for a trip to my friend MaryAnn's farm. This year we had to break with tradition and change to Wednesdays, but in my mind it will always be "Tuesdays at MaryAnn's". I make the drive, over 100 miles round trip, often through rush hour traffic, to MaryAnn's farm in Warren county Ohio. There anywhere from half a dozen to as many as twenty of us meet with our dogs for training, relaxing, and a potluck dinner.

The farm is actually the home of a large boarding stable, complete with indoor arena; but nestled just beyond the pastures and paddocks and the dressage rings is MaryAnn's house, with a large fenced backyard and an open field in front full of agility equipment. These pictures show the fields behind her house. After we are done training and before we go in for dinner, most weeks a group takes their dogs (usually around a dozen people and upwards of 20 dogs, all running free) and walk down through the fields.

We often see deer in the fields; sometimes have to chase dogs chasing various wildlife, and my friend Joann has been known to have to retrieve her terriers from the pond where the frogs prove irresistable. This summer we have the added excitement of multiple black bear sitings in the area, some right on the road the farm is on.

There is a small airfield just beyond those fields, so in addition to getting to proof our dogs against horses we often also see low flying planes, including stunt planes doing all kinds of spins and dives, and at least a few times a year we see hot air balloons. We couldn't ask for a better training opportunity!

A kiddie pool is kept full of water for cooling off after agility runs. Somehow though it never seems as humid at the farm as it is everywhere else, there's always a nice breeze, and often the rain totally misses it. Supposedly it is the highest point in Warren County, so that may have something to do with it.

Just behind the house there is another small barn and a couple of small paddocks, often empty but sometimes used for horses who have special needs. This year there are two mares with foals. This week it was particularly hot, we were particularly lazy, and the back yard was nice and shady under the walnut tree, so most of us skipped the agility equipment and set up our chairs back there to let the dogs run and watch the foals.

They were so cute! And the grey filly is quite the social butterfly- she really enjoyed all the attention. The little bay is a bit more of a mama's boy.

Izzy enjoying her lobster after a satisfying attempt to tunnel to China.

Cory doing his best Gene Simmons immitation.

Casey is obsessed with balls...any ball....any time!

We are so lucky to have a friend who shares her place so generously! Our Tuesday nights (and now Wednesdays) have greatly enriched my dogs' lives, giving them a chance to run free, play with their friends, and enjoy the beauty of such a wonderful place. A little piece of Levi and Andy live on there still, as well as many of their friends who have gone ahead of us.

Thanks MaryAnn! See you Wednesday!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Cory's thoughts on "Marley and Me"

Only an idiot would have two kittens

I must be nuts. Did I say everyone should have kittens? Put me in the asylum. The kittens are about 3 1/2 mos old now and are going through the terrible teens. Last night they knocked over my lamp and broke the bulb, pulled the runner off the piano and broke the music box my sister brought me from Europe years ago when we were in college (luckily it's fixable), pulled all the strings out of the tassel on one end of the runner...and on and on. Even Stevie was getting fed up with them.

I finally got around to buying some of those styrofoam swim noodles to use as padding around the poles in the basement training room...the kitties think I put them up especially for them and now the poles are kitty climbing trees...I can see the noodles will need replacing before too long at all! And that's with nail caps on! Even Stevie was inspired to try and haul his gargantuan butt up the pole after watching the kittens.

Today they are sweet as sugar and all innocence...but I know they are just waiting for when I am most tired and least patient for their true selves to surface!

Here is video of Cory and the kitties playing on Wednesday. I have to admit, they are entertaining!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today would have been Andy's 12th birthday. How I still miss my boy!

The pictures below were taken two years ago; five of the dogs who were "regulars" in our tuesday night agility/potluck group all turned 10 years old that summer and we had a party for them complete with cake. Of those five, three are gone now; Tux, the tri sheltie in the middle passed away just a few weeks after Andy and Riley, the Wire Fox Terrier left us last week. Just the girls, Trixie and Breeze, the bookends in the picture below, are left.

I'm so glad you boys got to have the chance to enjoy our Tuesdays at Mary Ann's; I know it was Andy's favorite place in the world and it was one of his greatest pleasures to be able to do agility as well as run and play with the other dogs in the fields. The cake was just an extra bonus!

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Must see TV

Tomorrow Karen Pryor, one of the pioneers who helped to make the use of operant conditioning widespread in dog training (better known as "clicker training") will be on Good Morning America to promote the release of her new book "Reaching The Animal Mind". If you are familiar with Karen I'm sure it will be an interesting bit (although probably pretty basic and short, given the show's format).

If you aren't familiar with Karen, and you have any interest in dog training whatsoever, then get thee to a bookstore and buy her classic "Don't Shoot The Dog". This is NOT a cookbook approach to how to teach sit, stay etc, but a really good treatise on the theory behind operant conditioning. Before you say yuck, it is also very easy to read and quite entertaining. This little book will give you the tools to solve almost any training problem there is, you just have to practice using them and then use your imagination a little bit. Oh, and then put in the WORK to get the job done (that's where I usually fall down!). Karen also has a website,
http://www.clickertraining.com/, which has lots of good resources as well as carrying all of her books and related topics by other authors for sale.

I saw Karen give a seminar at the Ohio Veterinary Medical Assoc. annual conference way back in the early 90's, probably around 1992. At the time, it was double billed under animal behavior AND staff management as her techniques applied equally well to training either! At the time, I think my first dog Levi had his CDX and was training in utility; I had already listened to some poor advice (and probably some good advice that I implemented poorly) and had caused some stress related issues. Her approach totally changed how I trained my dog. While she is not a competition obedience (or other sport) trainer, I think she has done more to advance dog training than anyone in the past 25 years, certainly.

Karen started as a dolphin trainer and a follower of BF Skinner many years prior to becoming involved with dog training. Her methods have gained popularity in horse, bird, and even cat training as well and are used in zoos all over the world, both to train animals to perform but also to teach them basic behaviors which make caring for them so much easier on a daily basis.

I do not claim to be a "pure positive" trainer, but my relationship with all of my dogs has definitely benefited from using some of her techniques. Learning together how to "free shape" behaviors actively got my dogs involved in the training process; instead of being something I would do TO THEM it became something we did together. Training became all about communicating with my dog...some days better than others, of course! Even my cats come running when I get out the clicker and vie for their share of training time.

So please, turn off the Dog Whisperer and check out Karen- your dog will be so glad you did!

Keep your pet safe while traveling!

A couple of incidents last week have brought safety when traveling with our pets to the forefront of my mind.

When riding in your car with your pet, make sure they are safely restrained. Ideally this means in a crate; if your car will not accomodate a crate large enough for your dog, using a seatbelt/harness is an option. Crates are by far preferable however.

Just as your two year old should not sit in the front passenger seat next to you, neither should your pet! The same air bag that presents a danger to a child is no less threatening to a dog or cat. Uncrated pets should be restrained in the back seat; crates should be securely fastened so they do not become a projectile and should be placed ideally in an area that would be appropriate for a car seat. For smaller crates, you can just place them in the back seat and run the seat belt around them.

Here's my set up in the back of my van for my dog and equipment (of course, my dog typically spends at least an hour a day in the car with me and we travel to shows frequently on the weekends, so we are a little more "permanent" than my typical client. This is a very typical set up for those of us who show, though). The crate is on a raised platform made of pvc and plywood and covered with carpet, and both are attached to the metal rings on the floor of the van with heavy duty cargo straps to secure them in place. This is quite important; a few years ago a fellow agility competitor rolled her RV; her dogs, who were crated, all survived, but one of the crates was not secured, became a projectile, and struck her in the head killing her. So make sure everything is securely attached!

Last week I had a 3 1/4 pound chihuahua transferred to me from the emergency clinic. He had been traveling with his owner and riding in the backseat (good) but loose in the car (not so good, but I am guilty of this occasionally as well when I drive my mom's Mini!). She made a stop and got out of the car and the dog decided just as she started to shut the door to try and dart out from behind the back seat. His head was shut in the car door and he had some pretty serious resulting injuries. He spent the next three days transfering between us and the emergency clinic as he needed critical care and was lucky enough to survive, but will have some long term issues as a result of the accident.

Just two days later, a couple was traveling with their nine border collies in their Suburban from Pittsburgh to a show in the Columbus area. They were sideswiped by a semi resulting in a serious accident and the dogs all were loose on the highway. Someone had the presence of mind to call the show secretary, who put out a call for help on our agility email list and I understand that nearly 50 fellow competitors showed up to search for the dogs and all were found that same day. One of the owners however was not so lucky and sustained serious injuries. Most show competitors travel with their dogs crated, in this case due to the number of dogs in the vehicle it was not practical and it was only due to very good fortune and good friends that all the dogs were recovered.

When choosing a crate, the two main issues are ventilation vs protection. Plastic crates such as varikennels may provide more protection than some wire crates, but significantly less ventilation which can be a big factor when traveling in warm weather. For short trips and when the crate is not left in the care between trips, the ventilation is less critical. I use a wire crate both for my ability to see out my rear window and for ventilation, but I am less than satisfied with its sturdiness. I reinforced it with cable ties for strength to help, but I am still looking for one of the old style, heavy gauge wire crates similar to those with square mesh made by TF Scott, now out of business. Central metal makes a similar, but size options are very limited.

For those of us who do long trips and time frames in the car, protection from heat is essential. If you look closely at the pictures, you can see the fan on the back of Cory's crate; I have a golf cart battery powered generator which will run it for the better part of a day. You can also buy smaller vans that run off of the cigarette lighter attachment, but I like this bigger one as it puts out far more air. I also use a product called a "hatch latch" available from http://www.cleanrun.com/ which is a solid bar that attaches to the latch of the van hatch and allows me to leave it slightly open, but still locked to no one can get into the car. Attached to the front of the crate is the monitor for a product from Radio Shack called a wireless thermohygrometer, which has a remote reciever I can carry with me that transmits information about the temperature in the crate up to 300 feet away (far enough that I can run into the grocery for short stops and feel confident that I know if the car is starting to get too warm). Mesh aluminum tarps which block the sun but allow airflow can be attached to the van with heavy duty magnets or bungees, and are also available at cleanrun as well as many other sources. Between all of these, I can keep the van comfortable for several hours even on a day in the mid nineties; OF COURSE I check every few minutes even with these safeguards because nothing is more awful than a dog who has overheated in the car. These mostly allow me to make short stops on the way home from work, or to crate out of my car at shows for longer periods when the doors can be opened up for ventilation.

I also try to keep a leash clipped to the front of the crate at all times in case the dog needs to be removed in a hurry; I also used to keep wire cutters attached to the crates just in case, but will admit they have disappeared and need to be replaced! Especially when traveling long distances it is important to have ID tags on your dog with a phone number where someone can be reached- ideally your cell and an alternate contact in case of an accident where you are incapacitated. For years I had emergency info laminated and attached to the front of my crates; I never added one for Cory but Andy's contained all the info. Since he passed away I've removed his crate and need to do a new sheet for Cory. I included their picture (for easy ID and in case they were lost I had one readily at hand to use to make flyers), age and health info, several emergency contacts both for the dogs and me, and a statement in red asking that in an emergency they be taken to a veterinary hospital or boarding kennel, not a shelter, and the numbers for someone who would guarantee their bill. I also included information on vaccine dates.

But probably the most important thing I've done to ensure my dogs ride safely is to teach them they are not to leave the car until I clip on a lead and give the ok. Even when we are at a show and Cory is at fever pitch and ready to explode he will wait in his crate with the door open until I am ready for him to get out. This can save a life if you are stuck by the side of the road on a busy highway. The best thing is, I taught Levi many years ago and have never had to teach it since! Levi taught Andy and Andy taught Cory- no way is the older dog going to allow that young whippersnapper to beat them out of the car- they make that clear from the beginning!

Hope I have given you some food for thought; even if your dog only makes the short trip to the vet once a year, if he is smaller beg or borrow a crate for safety and even Biggs is now carrying harness type seat belts. For cats it is especially important to confine them as they can escape very easily, and also can become frightened and bite their owners severely if they are held on a lap or loose in the car. No one ever thinks their cat will do this until it happens, but I am here to tell you ANY cat will react this way under the right circumstances, including my own. So err on the side of caution!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bureaucratic nonsense just in time for the boarding season

Fair warning to those of you who plan to board your dogs, especially in the fast approaching Fourth of July season-

Kentucky just passed an amendment to their veterinary practice act making it mandatory for veterinarians to have a signed release prior to releasing any medical information on their patients. That means that this has to be done prior to us giving vaccine information to boarding kennels, groomers, etc- even if you are leaving town today and don't have time to come in and sign it! We are trying to make sure everyone who comes in signs a release to keep on file to allow us to give out vaccine info; if you need full medical records however you will need to sign one specifying who to release them to at that time.

If you plan to board or groom in the near future, stop by and sign a release form or call us and we can email one to you that you can fax back.

We're doing our best to make sure people aren't caught unawares and stuck trying to fix this at the last minute. Remember, this isn't OUR rule, it's the law so there's not much we can do about it!

Everyone should have kittens

The kitties are doing great and are so cute ;-). Stevie loves them, especially Tyler who is his special buddy. If I don't have all three curled up on my lap, then Toby is with me and Tyler and Stevie are snuggled together on the couch cushion.

Most nights they sleep in my room with me now and are getting to where they almost make it all night long; sometimes around 5 or 6 they start getting a bit wound up and get booted into the laundry room and basement. The basement training room is their favorite place- all that space to run and tunnels to hide in, as well as the windows looking right out at the bird feeders!

At their last trip to the clinic two weeks ago, they both weighed about 3.25 lbs; I suspect they are about 4 lbs now and starting to lose their kittenish look. Now they are looking more and more like little cats. Bummer!

Who could be in a bad mood when you have two kittens purring in your lap, or making you laugh with their antics?