The best thing about knowing a variety of trainers and reading blogs and posts by other dog people, is that it gives me ideas and sources for my blog, usually much better ideas than I can dream up!
This week, The Whole Dog Journal (WDJ), my bible for all things canine, blogged about dental care for your dog and why keeping his teeth clean and tartar free is important for Fido’s overall health. Dental care is not just about preventing bad breath.* Like humans, dogs can develop gingivitis (swollen, red, inflamed gums due to infection) that can lead to more severe health issues as the infection moves into the bones and ligaments surrounding the teeth. Moreover:
Because of the rich blood supply to the mouth, the infection can also spread systemically, making your dog quite ill and/or affecting his heart, kidneys, and liver. This chronic condition can prematurely age your dog. (WDJ)
Yikes! Considering how short our dogs’ lives are, we certainly do not want to risk anything that potentially decreases their life spans.** So, here are some things you can do to keep your dog’s teeth healthy:
- Regularly check your dog’s teeth for signs of tarter build up. “Tartar builds up on the teeth, forming a concrete-like crust on the teeth at the gum line. It also forms under the gums, which helps [the] bacteria get under the gums and proliferate.” (WDJ) If your dog’s teeth are discolored and show signs of plaque build-up, you will need to schedule a professional cleaning with your vet. Unfortunately this is the only way to get rid of the tartar and will require that your dog be under full sedation.
- Brush your dog’s teeth. Once your dog’s teeth are pearly white again, you can maintain them with regular (i.e.: daily) brushing. Use a soft brush and canine toothpaste as human toothpaste containing fluoride is toxic to dogs. Start slowly, allowing the dog to sniff and lick at the toothbrush, and become comfortable with the process. Here is a video from ClickerTraining.com with instructions for teaching your dog to accept having his teeth brushed.
- Raw marrow bones. This is a bit controversial as some dogs might chip or break a tooth on a marrow bone, but my experience has been that it does help to keep my dog’s teeth cleaner and they have not had any problems with chipped or broken teeth. I do, however, have a couple of rules for bones:
a) Supervise your dog chewing on the bone and if it gets too small, trade your dog for something else, lest she choke on it and;
b) Be careful about the diameter of the opening of the marrow bone. Marrow bones are cut from the leg bones of cows and if you get one that has the flanged opening at the top of the bone (i.e.: the socket part of a ball and socket joint) the opening may be large enough for your dog to get his lower jaw through it and get stuck! This happened to my dog Bingley and it required a trip to MedVet to have it removed.*** In the photo with the bones, the one at the bottom has a wide opening on one side and is the type of bone which attached itself to Bingers (external diameter of 3 1/2″). The one on the top is narrower in both internal and external diameter (2″ external diameter) and is also longer, which helps to prevent it from slipping over the jaw. This is the type of bone my dogs now get, and so far, it has not produced deleterious results.
Your dog only has one set of teeth, and proper care of them will help to keep him happy and healthy longer! And, look on the bright side, at least you don’t have to floss them!
*Bad breath may be an indication of more severe health problems such as kidney disease, diabetes, or injested toxins. If your dog has chronic bad breath, or suddenly develops bad breath, please see your vet.
***MedVet assured me that they see this at least once a week. Most dogs are taken in the back, have their jaws lubricated and the bone slides right off. Bingley, not being most dogs, required sedation as well as lubrication. Luckily they did not have to pull out the Stryker oscillating saw to remove it, but that was the next step.
That I love talking about dogs and find them endlessly fascinating, will come as no surprise to anyone of even passing acquaintance. And yet, there are times that I am stumped about what to write about in my blog. After trolling through various things I settled on linking to three short articles that I found on Facebook through Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services and/or behaviorist Traci Shreyer.
On March 30 Traci Shreyer posted an article about the long-lasting effects of punishment on our pets. In the study which the article reviews, researchers “taught mice to associate a tone with a mild shock and found that, once the mice learned the association, the pattern of neurons that activated in response to tone alone resembled the pattern that activated in response to the shock.” In other words, the tone alone elicited the same physiological response in the dog as did the shock. And, significantly, “[t]he findings also reveal that the neurons never returned to their original state, even after the training was undone. Although this was not the main focus of the study, the results could have wide-ranging implications for studying emotional memory disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” [Emphasis mine.]
What does this mean for family dogs? It means that after your dog has experienced the tone followed by the shock (from an electric fence or an electronic training collar), from that point on, even if you use only the tone on your shock collar, he will react in the same way as if he were receiving the shock. Every time he hears the tone, he will re-experience the trauma or fear associated with the shock. Even after several repetitions where the shock does not follow the tone, dogs may not show the outward signs of fear (such as freezing or running away), but their neurons will never return to the original state. How this may manifest in your dog is uncertain, but since the neurons never completely recover from the shock or trauma, it isn’t a stretch to think that your dog won’t either.*
Few things strike dread into owners of shy dogs, parents of small children, or frail individuals more quickly than the cry of “Don’t worry, he’s friendly!” as an out of control dog races towards them. In a post shared by Reisner Veterinary, blogger PawsforPraise states:
Interestingly, confrontations such as this often play out in jurisdictions where leashes are mandatory. Yet, owners of off leash dogs still sometimes chastise their law-abiding counterparts as if accepting the unwanted advances of their out of control dogs should be acceptable. (It’s not.)
If you have control over your dog (real control, so that he really, truly comes when you call and you are not just saying his name repeatedly in a desperate plea for compliance), then I don’t have a problem with him being off lead in public areas.** But the vast majority of owners do not have this level of obedience, and it is incumbent upon them to keep their dog under reasonable control so that they do not cause injury or trauma to others (this applies to off lead areas such as dog parks as well).
For any dog, especially those who are young, fearful, or reactive, having another dog charge them can be not only scary, but genuinely traumatic, which can result in both short and long term behavior problems. I have helped several dogs recover from being attacked, but as we now know, the neurons involved in trauma never fully recover. And, moreover, most of these pups will need extra support and supervision for the rest of their lives.
The third article, Deadly Trust, by Karen Peak, owner of West Wind Dog Training in Virginia, continues the discussion of off lead dogs and why it might be in the best interest of everyone to keep your dog on lead. After discussing several instances where tragedy could have been prevented by leashing a dog, she says this about what we can really trust regarding our dogs:
I trust my dogs 100% to be dogs. I trust they will do dog things. They will do things others find gross. They may steal food if left unattended where they can get it. They will chase squirrels. They will growl when something is wrong or when playing. If pushed too far, they may nip. They are dogs. My job is to have them build trust in me so they feel comfortable letting me know what is going on. My job is not to trust but to work to increase safety for my dogs and the community. This means leashes, observation, recognizing situations that could set them up to fail and not demanding them to tolerate unfair treatment. My duty to my dogs is to remember they are a different species with different communication and behaviors trying to exist in my life.
Dogs are wonderful companions and their connection with humans can make it seem as if they are on a higher plane than other animals. Perhaps they are. But, if we do not provide for them the security and safety that they need, the resulting trauma can last a lifetime. We do them and ourselves no service if we disregard the very essence of their nature and fail to keep them safe and under control.
*Experience has shown me that it is very difficult to gauge what is traumatic to another person or animal. Something that does not bother you, may be quite scary to someone (think of spiders and how some people are terrified, while others have them as pets). Moreover, you might not be teaching your dog what you think you are when you use punishment. A dog may learn that the lawn is a scary place to be, not that he shouldn’t go to the edge. Or, if he is shocked while barking at a dog, he might learn that dogs cause him pain and he becomes leery, frightened, or even more reactive at the sight of a dog.
** The intent of this blog is not to argue for or against leash laws. My view is that if there is an ordinance requiring your dog to be leashed, then leash your dog even if he is the world’s reigning obedience champion. Dogs are not robots and can be unpredictable or reactive at times, especially when startled. So do everyone a favor and increase your level of control by leashing your dog.
This week Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services had a Facebook post about choosing a dog trainer, which links to an article in Companion Animal Psychology titled, How to Choose a Dog Trainer. It is a great article, clearly written, with good advice as to what to look for in a trainer, and what questions you should ask the trainer. Remember, this is your dog and you get to decide how it will be treated and to require that your trainer be committed to humane, dog-friendly training techniques.
When choosing a dog trainer, the most important thing is to find a trainer who uses reward-based dog training methods, which they might call positive reinforcement, force-free, or humane training methods.
You want to look for someone who uses a reward based method of training, meaning that the trainer uses rewards (primarily food) to make a behavior more likely to reoccur, and withholding a reward to lessen a behavior. For example, when your dog’s bottom hits the ground after you say “Sit,” reward with a tasty treat. If your dog jumps, turn your back on him (withholding the attention he seeks) and wait for his bottom to touch the ground. When it does, reward with affection and food!
In practice, the reward that works best is food. It is possible to use other types of reward, such as play, but food is more efficient because it’s faster to deliver; it’s better for most dog training scenarios (for example, if you’re teaching a dog to sit-stay, play will encourage your dog to jump out of the sit); and all dogs love food.
So in other words, you want a dog trainer who will use food to train your dog.
Many people fear that if they use food to train their dog, the dog will only listen when the food is present. A good trainer will also teach you how to: 1) use your dog’s food (so you are not always dependent on treats); 2) reduce the amount of food as training progresses and; 3) add in other rewards for desired behaviors.
The article goes on to talk about certification for trainers, professional memberships, and continuing education. Most professional organizations require continuing education, so check and see if the trainer you are considering pursues further education, and with whom!
There are certain names that are a very good sign. For example, if someone has attended training with the likes of Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Kathy Sdao, Chirag Patel, Ken Ramirez, Ian Dunbar, or Bob Bailey, that’s very promising, because these are all important names in science-based dog training.
Check out the trainer’s website and Facebook page to get an idea of what they do when they train and the methods they employ. Do they blog or podcast? Looking at their writings or listening to them talk about dogs will give you a clearer idea of how they approach training. Also, look for customer reviews (not only on their websites, but other forums such as Angie’s list or Thumbtack), and ask for references. And, to really get a good idea of what training will look like with a particular trainer, ask the following three questions:
What, exactly, will happen to my dog if she gets it right?
What, exactly, will happen to her if she gets it wrong?
Are there any less invasive alternatives to what you propose?
If you are uncomfortable with the answers to any of these questions, keep looking.
The article also discusses the advantage of group versus private lessons, what to do if there isn’t a trainer in your area, and who to call if your dog has a behavior problem. This comprehensive article is well worth reading and will help you to make the right decision concerning the training and well being of your dog. Remember, you are your dog’s best and only advocate, do not settle for less than the best for your best friend.
With the opening bell of Halloween behind us, the holiday season is underway! Thanksgiving is looming around the corner and our dogs may or may not be ready for the onslaught of activity that is the end of the year. I have written several columns about preparing your dog to have a jolly holiday, but here are some reminders (as well as links to those columns) of what you can do to make this merry for everyone.
- Make sure your dog knows sit! “A dog that is sitting is not jumping on Grandma, chasing the grandkids, or running joyfully through the house announcing the visitors. Practice sit everywhere and at all times of the day or night. (50+ sits a day is not over doing it, really.) The more times and places your dog sits, the more it becomes his default behavior and one that he is likely to do when in doubt about the busyness around him.
- Know your dog’s stress signals! “One common stressful scenario is staged photo shoots…Think carefully about how you arrange the family photos. If your dog goes from open mouthed to close mouthed, wiggly to barely moving, looking at you to avoiding eye contact, he is telling you that this is not comfortable for him. Your best bet is to give him more space, especially around his head and face. Also give him several tasty treats throughout the photo session and have someone dedicated to be his private treat dispenser so that he has one person to focus on. If there are loud children, sudden movements, or other distractions that un-nerve your dog, give him a treat every time a kid shouts, runs, or otherwise acts in an erratic fashion.”
Exercise your dog! Getting Fido out for a good romp before the guests arrive (or before you leave to go to Grandma’s house) will help him to be the well-mannered dog you know is in there somewhere. And by exercise, I mean taking him to run in a field, chase balls till he drops, and generally be active for at least 45 minutes. Then, when he gets back to the house, a stuffed Kong and long nap are not only in order, but welcomed!” (See also “Fun”nel of Activity! for a detailed strategy for taking Fido from crazed to calm.)
- Food Management: human and canine. One food strategy to keep in mind is: “Have dog appropriate treats handy in every room so that you can reward Fido when he is well behaved and to distract him from temptation. For instance, if our pups are lying around providing doggie ambiance, I will drop a treat or two at their noses to let them know that I appreciate their calm demeanors. I will also use a well timed canine cookie to get Bingley to move away from a grandchild’s toy.”
If you are looking for things to keep your pup occupied and out of trouble, or Christmas presents for your favorite canine, here are some things you might consider that will give him mental challenges and/or more fun at mealtime:
- Intelligence toys: There are many food related interactive toys on the market and finding the right one for your dog can be challenging. Bingley is not as interested in the food as he is in the challenge so I look for food toys that require him to puzzle things out a bit, such as the Tug-a-jug, Buster Cube, and Kibble nibble. Buckley loves his Twist and Treat because it rolls and quickly distributes the object of his desire.
- Interactive Food bowls: Our dogs love their puzzle food bowls. Not only does it slow eating (thus helping to prevent bloat in big dogs), but it makes dinnertime challenging and entertaining. I rotate the bowls between all the dogs so that no one knows which bowl is going to appear next, all part of the fun!
- If your dog is a chewer and loves to hunker down with something to gnaw, consider investing in an elk antler for him, or one of Nylabone’s interesting chews (such as a Galileo bone). Check out the Village Pet Market or Bath and Biscuits (both here in Granville) for other interesting toys and treats designed to keep your dog entertained and out of mischief.
Paying attention to the signals your dog is giving you, and providing him with appropriate physical and mental outlets for his energy will help all of you to have the merriest holiday season ever.
I have updated a couple of blogs and thought that the best way to get this information out would be to do an update blog, add a few interesting tidbits and call it a major accomplishment…
The Funnel of Activity has been modified to better reflect the transition from crazed maniac to zen master. The original had the second step as a vigorous rubdown (still appropriate), but the new version, thanks to the input from Dr. Meghan Herron, is “Mental Stimulation” as a transition from big aerobic activity to deep tissue massage. After your dog has frenetically fetched, try doing some training (teach a new trick perhaps?), or give him an intelligence toy for some mental gymnastics before you calm him with a good massage. Here is the link to the revised blog: “Fun”nel of Activity. And here is the new graphic:
Growling is a good thing! Really! has been updated to include a link to a terrific article on developing and maintaining good bite inhibition by Pat Miller, in the Whole Dog Journal online. It links to another article on growling, but you have to be a member of WDJ to access that article.
News and Tidbits:
1) The summer is still with us and August can be a blistering month! Take care when you go hiking with your pooch, heat stroke can affect canines as well as humans and three dogs have died already this summer from it: http://www.thv11.com/story/news/2015/07/19/more-dogs-dying-from-heat-while-hiking/30393095/
If you take your dog hiking, be sure to carry enough water for him as well as you, take frequent breaks so he can cool down, and try not to hike during the hottest part of the day.
2) Be careful as well about overexposure to water! A rare but deadly condition is water intoxication. From my blog Summertime fun:
Water is a great way for dogs to cool off in the summer but one thing to be aware of is an uncommon but deadly condition called water intoxication that occurs when a dog (or person) takes in more water than it can handle. Signs of water intoxication include: “lethargy, bloating, vomiting, loss of coordination (stumbling, falling, staggering), pale gums, dilated pupils, and glazed eyes” Whole Dog Journal (WDJ), June 14).
When excessive amounts of water are ingested the sodium levels outside cells are depleted and the body responds by increasing fluid intake in the cells. This causes organs,including the brain to swell. As the pressure in the brain increases, cells die off and “the dog may have difficulty breathing, develop seizures, and lose consciousness” (WDJ, June 2014). Dogs can develop and die from water intoxication in the span of just a few hours.
To help prevent water intoxication, give your fetching fiend a flat toy to retrieve in the water rather than a ball, take frequent breaks and play fetch on land, and make sure your dog gets out of the water and pees regularly. See Summertime fun! for more details.
3) Reisner Veterinary (regular readers will know my devotion to Reisner…) posted a tidbit about whether or not you should allow your dog to exit the premises before you. Some people suggest that letting the dog go first allows him to dominate you. Poppycock! As Reisner put it: “Should you let your dog exit before you? Unless it’s icy outside or you have other reasons to keep him from bolting (a safety issue), no problem!” Dogs are “not interested in being dominant, just interested in getting out the door!” Go here for a great photo of her dog Asher enjoying the great outdoors.
4) And lastly, thanks to faithful reader Kayce L. a fun video which could only have been made by dogs trained with positive reinforcement:
This is National Dog Bite Prevention week and in it’s honor I am linking to a poster on my Facebook page called “Better Never Bitten,” created by Ilana Reisner, DVM, PhD, of Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services. It gives some tips for keeping everyone in the family safe, including the dog!
I am also reprinting my blog from March 4, 2014 about dog bites and 2 important ways to prevent being bitten:
I have a couple of easy things you can do to prevent canine inflicted injuries, but I also think it is important to know just how likely you are to be injured by man’s best friend. According to Janis Bradley, author of Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous*,
Your chances of being killed by a dog or dogs are roughly one in 18 million. That means you are twice as likely to win a super lotto jackpot on a single ticket than to be killed by a dog. That means you are five times as likely to be killed by a bolt of lightening-not just struck by one, mind you – killed.
She further notes that “dog bite fatalities fall far behind other very rare causes of death in children, including five-gallon buckets, party balloons and swings.” Children are much more likely to be killed by a family member or caregiver than a dog. In fact, the average number of deaths per year caused by family and friends: 826, caused by dogs: 10. If you include the entire population, death by choking is 5555/year, bicycles: 774, falls: 14,440, dogs: 16.
But what about incidents with dogs that don’t result in death, but require medical treatment? Interestingly, Ms. Bradley notes:
In the United Kingdom, where injuries are broken down by very specific causes, bedroom slippers and sneakers each cause significantly more medically treated injuries than dogs. This is also true for “other” shoes, which do not include slippers, sneakers, sandals, high heels, platforms, clogs, or boots. And you can’t avoid the danger by going barefoot, which is almost twice as dangerous as any kind of footwear.”
Here are the numbers to support this statement: (Average number of injuries per year): Bare feet: 423,825; Sneakers: 214,646; Shoes: 198,670, Slippers: 64,974; Dogs: 62,743 (note that it doesn’t stipulate if this is dog bites, or just injuries involving a dog, such as tripping over one and spraining an ankle). With these sorts of statistics you’d think there would be a push for breed specific slipper bans…
Moreover, if you look at the raw numbers of dogs, estimated to be 60-64 million in this country (one for every 4-5 people) and figure that they come into contact with several people every day, that results in tens of billions of hours of dog-human contact every year. Realistically, anything with that level of exposure is going to have some risks or hazards attached. Comparatively, Ms Bradley states that,
roughly 180 million people of all ages in the US participate in some kind of sport or physical activity at least occasionally. The actual exposure time is probably much lower than that with dogs, but at least it’s a large scale one. So about double the number of people who live with dogs participate in sports. Yet emergency departments treat over 13 times as many sports-related injuries as dog bites. (emphasis mine.)
Still, dog bites do happen and children (especially those between the ages of 5 -9) are more likely than adults to be bitten, and boys are more likely to be bitten than girls. Children are also more likely to be bitten by a resident or family dog than a stranger dog. So what are parents to do to reduce the risk of a dog bite to one of their children? If I could give only two pieces of advice to anyone wishing to avoid being bitten here they are, in order of importance:
#1: Do not approach or pet a dog with a closed mouth.
#2: Wait and let the dog approach you.
I choose these two rules because they are easy to understand and remember for people of all ages, especially rule number one. So, what is the big deal about a closed mouth? First of all, this is something that is quick and easy to note about any dog and it is a bright line that children readily understand. Secondly, while this isn’t the only way a dog communicates its feelings about a situation, a closed mouth can serve as a good general indicator of a dog’s approachability. Dogs, like humans, often carry tension in their mouths. And, like people, when stressed or uncertain, dogs may keep their mouths closed. Just as people who smile are more approachable, dogs with open mouths tend to be more relaxed as well. Think of it this way: if he isn’t smiling at you, he probably doesn’t want to meet you.
As for rule number 2, if a dog wants to meet you, he will come up to you. Be patient and allow a dog to make the decision that you are irresistible! Sometimes dogs have bad days. Perhaps their hips hurt, or they are tired from running, or they are sleepy, or they have already met enough people that day and do not wish to meet any more. If you allow the dog to make the decision about who he meets, you are much more likely to have a good encounter. Think of it like this: how many new people do you want to meet who charge into your personal space and thunk you on the head, even when you feel great? Now imagine you are hot, tired, sore, or uncertain about how that stranger smells or looks. How tolerant would you be to his intrusive behavior?
Dogs are remarkably tolerant and gracious about the rudeness displayed to them by humans, increase your chances for a great interaction by giving the dog a choice.
* Find Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous at : http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-Bite-Balloons-Slippers-Dangerous/dp/1888047186/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393907976&sr=8-1&keywords=dogs+bite+but+balloons+and+slippers
As I was preparing for this week’s blog, I found several articles that I thought were interesting and insightful. This first one is about the emotional states of older dogs and how they may not show it, but they need the comfort and support of their caregivers as much as young dogs, and perhaps even more. Their signals may be subtle, (lip-licking, panting, avoiding eye contact), but strange situations or people may give them pause and they depend on their people to help them in stressful situations.
The next article contained a terrific chart of “30 Positive Reinforcement Training Tips for Your Pet.” Like the above article, Reisner Veterinary Behavior Services posted the link to this chart on its Facebook page. This chart has a straight forward explanation of how positive reinforcement works, and how you can easily incorporate it into your training. For example, something often advocate is summed up nicely in tips #4, 5, and 6:
4. Keep any commands short and uncomplicated.
5. Don’t say the command word more than once. They will learn the sooner they obey, the sooner they’ll get the treat.
6. Always use the same word for the same action.
Reisner made this comment with which I also agree: “Two thoughts I would add: For #25 – no need to completely phase out food; it continues to be the best (intermittent) reinforcer for many dogs. And #30 – don’t massage paws unless you’re quite sure your dog enjoys it.”
The third thing I wanted to share was a puppy socialization chart that I found at doggiedrawings.net. This poster is a great summary of what you should (and shouldn’t) do when exposing your pup to new things. As I mentioned in previous posts, properly socializing your puppy is your best insurance policy for a well adjusted adult dog. I especially love the paragraph at the bottom of the poster, and it bears repeating (a lot…):
Remember: EXPOSURE alone isn’t socialization!
If your dog isn’t having a great time you could do more harm than good. Dogs don’t just “get over” issues by themselves, so if your dog is shy, worried, or overly excited, leave the situation and work with a professional who can help both of you. If your dog is having a blast and is happy and comfortable, you’re doing a great job of socializing him!
Snuffle. Sniff. Snort. Repeat.
So goes man’s best friend as he ambles odiferously through his daily routine. Everyone knows that canines have epic olfactory capabilities, but just how great is the doggie sense of smell and how is it accomplished?*
To start with, the anatomy of a dog’s nose is magnificently designed to maximize odor detection. The number of scent receptors for humans is about 5 million, for a dog it ranges from 125 to 300 million, depending on the breed (with Blood hounds being the heavyweight champion of odor detection). This means that dogs can smell somewhere between 10,000 to 100,000 times better than humans. To give you an idea of the difference several million receptors make, imagine if this were vision instead of smell and a dog could see only 10,000 times better than you can. In this case, if you stood at the Farmer’s market in Granville and looked up Broadway to Whit’s ice cream, a total of 338 feet, then your dog could see clearly, all the way to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, 647 miles away. If, dogs smell 100,000 times better and taste were the analogy, then where we can detect a teaspoon of sugar in our coffee, a dog could detect 1 teaspoon in a million gallons of water.*
The anatomical structure of a dog’s nose also aides super powers of an olfactory nature. Humans breathe in and out and we have no dedicated pathway for odor detection. Our “sense of smell is relegated to a small region on the roof of our nasal cavity, along the main airflow path.”* When a dog breathes in, the air is divided in two. 88% is devoted to respiration and 12% heads directly to the dog’s olfactory center. (See Figure A). Imagine for a moment how wonderful it would be to wake up to the smell of cinnamon rolls on a Sunday morning if the smell wasn’t filtered but instead channeled directly into our brains!
Dogs inhale throughout he central part of the nostril and the aerodynamic design of the central nostrils aids them in determining which nostril the odor entered. They exhale through the slits in the sides of their noses which “actually helps usher new odors into the dog’s nose. More importantly, it allows dogs to sniff more or less continuously.”* Thus, dogs can quickly pick up more scents as well as determine from whence they came.
Now, if all of this weren’t cool enough, they also have a second scent detection system called the vomeronasal organ (VNO) or Jacobson’s organ.** Also found in a variety of animals, including snakes, tigers, tapirs, and horses (See figure to the the left), the VNO is generally assumed to be important in detecting pheromones “that advertise mating readiness and other sex-related details.”* It may also cause physiological or behavioral changes in animals. For example, “[i]nduction of uterine growth and estrus in female prairie voles normally resulting from exposure to males is also dependent on an intact VNO.”** Who knew? Vole secrets revealed!
A dog’s vomeronasal organ is located in the bottom of the dog’s nasal passage. “The pheromone molecules that the organ detects—and their analysis by the brain—do not get mixed up with odor molecules or their analysis, because the organ has its own nerves leading to a part of the brain devoted entirely to interpreting its signals. It’s as if Jacobson’s organ had its own dedicated computer server.”* While it is generally accepted that the VNO detects pheromones, the full function of the VNO is not entirely understood. This may explain, in part, why your dog likes to carry around your smelly sock, underwear, or t-shirt: it has your distinctive smell on it and carrying it around puts your scent close to him, literally!***
We are often told that we ought to stop and “smell the roses.” So, even though a well trained dog should walk along with you when you want him to do so, think about how he perceives the world and allow him the occasional luxury of leisurely smelling the smorgasbord of smells that await him on every block.
* This is a great synopsis of our dog’s phenomenal olfactory abilities: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-sense-of-smell.html
**Whether or not adult humans have a VNO and what function(s) it might perform has been a long-standing debate. “Recent endoscopic and microscopic observations suggest that here is an organ on at least one side in most adults. This review enquires into its function.” Human Vomeronasal Organ Function: A Critical Review of Best and Worst Cases (http://chemse.oxfordjournals.org/content/26/4/433.full)
*** In humans, apocrine glands are located in specific areas such as the armpits and groin area. These glands secrete information about our age, sex, health, emotional state, etc. This information is specific to each person, thereby giving your dog something highly personal to hang on to. The Canine Senses (http://www.responsibledog.net/canine_senses.html)
“I know this is terrible and I am embarrassed to tell you this…”
“I know I shouldn’t do this, and you will be upset with me…”
“I just know this is wrong. You will not approve. but….”
What horrible thing are these clients confessing to me in great angst, sure that I will declare them incorrigible dog owners with no possibility of redemption? The answer: They let their dogs sleep on the bed!
So you can imagine how delighted I was when Reisner Veterinary Services, in a facebook post on January 21, 2014 openly declared. “It’s fine to allow a dog to share your bed.”
Of course, there are circumstances where it is not advisable for your dog to be on the bed. For example, dogs who resource guard or are aggressive. Or, if you have more than one dog on the bed and there have been skirmishes between them over space on the bed. If the dog (or dogs) has snapped or growled when someone approaches the bed or jostles it, then I would not be inviting the perturbed canine onto “the big dog bed” (as it seems to be known in our house!)
But, there are advantages to having the dog on the bed. It’s warm and cozy to have a fur-covered space heater warming the bed for you. My dog Bingley sleeps on the end of the bed in a tidy ball and provides wonderful warmth for my toes on wintry nights. In the morning he nuzzles me, then lies right next to me with his head tucked into my waist at just the right level to stroke his silky ears. His brother Buckley also snuggles in the morning, and there are times I find myself sandwiched between two fur coats! I enjoy this comfort level with my dogs, and refuse to forsake this quality time together, mud, dirt, and dog hair notwithstanding. I remind myself regularly that dogs pass through our lives much too quickly, and I want to enjoy as much time together as possible.
I do recognize, as Reisner so aptly puts it, that: “It’s obviously a personal choice whether or not to invite the hairiest family member onto the bed.” Those who are afraid that it might cause your dog to disrespect you and think it is the “Alpha”dog, have no fear:
[T]he habit itself does not lead to problems, and it certainly has nothing to do with social dominance. I do advise clients to keep their bed and other furniture dog-free when there is any history of resource-guarding (“my bed, not yours”) or conflict-related aggression (“nudge me again and I’ll bite you”). For most dogs, however, “spoiling” them by snuggling does not have anything to do with behavior problems. (Reisner Veterinary Services)
5:56 AM: Pad, pad, pad, pad. Nudge. THUMP! Paw, wiggle, wuffle. (Bingley)
5:58 AM: Wuffle, wuffle, wuffle, wuffle, nudge, wuffle, poke. (Hudson)
6:00 AM: “I’m up. I’m up. I’m up. Good morning boys!” (Me)
Thus starts another day in the Smith household as I am poked, prodded, whispered to, and assaulted with gifts of tennis balls, by the beasts who set the rhythm of my life. Summer is a relatively easy time to slide out of bed at 6 am, but come the long days surrounding the winter solstice, I am reluctant, at the very least, to relinquish my snug recumbency. And yet, even on my most reluctant mornings, I find that getting up and taking care of the dogs is as good for me as it is for them. There is a quiet rhythm to our routine that satisfies and cares for all of us.
Their needs are a daily reminder of what I also need to be happy and healthy. Good nutrition, plenty of fresh water, daily exercise, companionship, naps, chew toys, rolling in dead weasel….well perhaps we differ a bit on entertainment choices, but if you look past the differences (after all there is no accounting for taste…) the reality is that owning and caring for a pet dog keeps you healthier and happier in a variety of ways.
According to an article on Active.com (http://www.active.com/fitness/articles/are-dog-owners-healthier-people):
The Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that dog owners are more likely to reach their fitness goals than those without canine companions. Researchers at Michigan State University found that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to fit in 150 minutes of walking per week than non-dog owners. The study also found that owning a dog promotes health and fitness even after you take your pup for a stroll, increasing leisure-time physical activity by 69 percent.
Dog ownership can also help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and allergies. “Dog owners who walk their dogs regularly have one-third the risk of diabetes than those who don’t own a dog, according to exercise scientist, Cindy Lentino…Researchers at the University of Cinncinati College of Medicine found that children from families with a history of allergies are less likely to develop eczema and asthma (atopy) if they grow up with a pet dog starting at birth.”
Management of chronic diseases and recovery from surgery or a medical condition (such as a heart attack) is also enhanced by the presence of canines. “Loyola university researchers found that people who regularly petted dogs needed 50 percent less pain medication when recovering from surgery.” And, a “study from the National Institutes of Health found dog owners had a better one-year survival rate following a heart attack than non-dog owners…Other studies “show that the mere act of petting a dog decreases blood pressure.”
Dogs are good for our mental health as well. They keep us engaged with the world by getting us out the door for walks and they are a great conversation starter! I cannot walk my three pups downtown without someone coming up to meet them. It’s a great way to get me out of my own head and connected with the world around me.
Being close with a dog helps improve human relationships. Studies find that owning and walking a dog increases social interaction. Dogs help ease people out of social isolation or shyness, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta…Children who experience caring for a dog have higher levels of empathy and self-esteem than children without pet dogs, shows child psychologist Robert Bierer.
So, next time your dog nudges you to get up and play, take a walk, or just to say “I love you” remember that the interactions you have with your dog today can keep you healthier, help you live longer, and make your life a whole lot happier.