On The Origin of Dog…

33_dog_sittingDogs are dogs. While there is virtually no doubt that dogs originated from wolves, they are not wolves, and according to some scientific evidence may have ceased to be wolves as long ago as 100,000+ years. Although that is a short blip geologically, it is, nonetheless, a pretty long time to not be something.

Various studies in the last 20 years have looked at the origins of dogs via their mitochondrial DNA. The results of these studies have raised some interesting theories on the origin of this species. While DNA that determines eye color, curly hair, and earlobe shape, comes half from mom and half from dad, mitochondrial DNA, on the other hand,

comes entirely from the mitochondrial DNA of the mother. In normal sexual reproduction genetic change from one generation to the next is very rapid, as the parental genes are mixed and remixed in new combinations. Mitochondrial DNA, in contrast, can change only by mutation, which takes place quite slowly — at a rate of around one or two percent every 100,000 years. (The Truth About Dogs, Part Two, by Stephen Budiansky, The Atlantic Online, July 1999).

Because it changes so very slowly, it can be used to gauge when dogs and wolves first separated, and the results seem to conclude that it happened about 135,000 years ago! There are indications that dogs split from various wolf populations around the world and that there was some interbreeding between wolves and dogs. But, the split did not occur very often, nor was there a lot of interbreeding. Dogs, it seems, left their wild brethren behind and integrated pretty quickly into human society. It also appears that humans and dogs may have conjoined before humans were fully human.

Archeological evidence tells a different, but not necessarily incompatible story. The earliest canine fossil records seem to 81_dog_dreams of bones-01IMG_1304Russian plain about 15-17,000 years ago (though others state that it is southern China, which is also the only fossil record that indicates dogs were used as a food source). Recent studies (2011) by paleontologists in the Czech Republic found dogs from the paleolithic period, one of which was buried with a large bone in its mouth that was “clearly placed in the dog’s mouth after death indicat[ing] that a human being was involved in the burial, as no other known animal would be capable of doing such a thing.” ( According to Wikipedia, there was a dog found buried with a human in Israel which dates from 12,000 years ago, and a burial site in Germany called Bonn-Oberkassel with joint human and dog interments dating to 14,000 years ago.

Interestingly, there is no western European cave art depicting dogs, perhaps suggesting, that before 16,000 BC dogs were unknown 12_dog_run horusin western Europe. However, not all animals known to early hominids were depicted in cave art, nor do we know the reason cave art was created. So, does the lack of canine portraiture indicate that dogs were unknown to early man, or just not depicted in art for some reason? Dogs did however, make the art scene in Ancient Egypt, appearing on the walls of burial sites dating back to at least 3500 BC.

I have barely scratched the surface of the current debate about the time and place that dogs became dogs and commenced on this journey with their human companions. I think, however, the important thing to remember is that whether you look at DNA or at the fossil record, dogs and man were clearly besties by 10-15,000 years ago, making them the first domesticated animal, and truly deserving of the title: Man’s Best Friend.

Next Week: Why it matters that dogs are not wolves.

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A “positive” connection…

A vet friend of mine (and great dog owner) posted this link on her Facebook page titled:


It was posted on Victoria Stilwell’s website* and it lists the 5 most important factors which contribute to dog aggression. In order:

#1: Training methods used.

The researchers found that dogs trained using punishment and aversive training methods were twice as likely to be aggressive towards strangers and three times as likely to be aggressive towards family members.

Aggressive training methods create fearful, insecure dogs who often cease to use warning signs before biting, and cope with their fear and insecurity with aggression. A confident dog trained using positive methods does not feel the need to react aggressively. This study exemplifies why it is critical that dog owners, regardless of their dog’s breed, behavioral problems, or past history, choose positive methods over punitive methods.02_dog_will be cute

In other words, violence begets violence. You want a gentle, social dog? Then treat it with gentleness and humane, dog-friendly training methods. To find a positive reinforcement trainer in your area, check out the trainer search feature on the  Assoc. of Professional Dog Trainers website:

bob3#2: Age of the Owner.

Owners under the age of 25 are almost twice as likely to have aggressive dogs.

#3: Dog Gender.

Male dogs (neutered or not) are twice as likely to be aggressive than spayed females. It didn’t say anything about intact or lactating females.

#4: Early Training._CSG5608

Dogs who attended puppy classes when they were young were about one and a half times less likely to show aggression towards strangers. This factor may be twofold: first, that owners who took their puppies to puppy classes are more likely to be overall responsible dog owners, and second, that these dogs received socialization from a young age. (Emphasis mine).

Please join us for training. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, and it starts up again March 11th and 12th! Check out our class offerings at:

#5: Origin Of The Dog.

“Dogs that were bought from a breeder were much less likely to be aggressive than dogs obtained from shelters or rescues, pet stores, or Internet sites.” Unfortunately, getting a dog at a shelter means that you probably do not know its full background and how it was treated by previous owners. That makes it even more important that you choose positive reinforcement training methods in order to provide the best chance for a successful adoption. Also, it isn’t advisable to purchase a dog at a pet store or online as it is highly likely that these puppies are products of puppy mills or backyard breeders who are more interested in profit than breeding healthy dogs with stable temperaments.

The bottom line here is that it really does matter how you choose to interact with your dog.  There is a positive connection between positive reinforcement and well adjusted dogs, so why not choose the method that enhances your relationship with your dog as well as improves the chances that he will be a happy member of society at large?



*Ms. Stilwell provides a nice summary of the study, but for a more in-depth look go here: It also includes some good suggestions for reducing the chance of aggression developing in your puppy (including leaving him with his litter until 8 weeks of age) and tips on body language that will help you to spot an aggressive dog. For my two hints on avoiding dog bites, see last week’s blog:


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Beware of the slipper! (or, how to successfully meet and greet a dog…)

According to Janis Bradley, author of Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous*,IMG_1610

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.

I would give this guy some space and time to decide if he wants to meet me.

I would give this guy some space and time to decide if he wants to meet me.

#2: Wait and let the dog approach you.


Hudson, our highly social golden is not interested in visiting right now.

Hudson, our highly social golden is not interested in visiting right now.

A happy dog ready to say hi!

A happy dog ready to say hi!

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.

Buckley meets a new friend.

Buckley meets a new friend.

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.

Marley ran up to say hi!

Marley ran up to say hi!

* Find Dogs Bite, But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous at :

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A little bit of this, a little bit of that…



Quandary: What to write about when you don’t have enough for a short dissertation?

Solution: Let other people do the work!

As a result of this stunning insight, I decided that this week I would do a blog with links to articles, advice, etc., that I really like, but I am not sure need an entire blog post. There isn’t a common theme per se, but two of them are by Robin Bennett, one of my training mentors in Virginia and they have quick, easy directions that will dramatically improve the quality of your life and/or your dogs.

The first is how to get your dog to sit when it wants to jump on people. I posted this a few weeks back on Facebook and I got a message from the sister of a woman I met on a plane that it really works! If that isn’t a ringing endorsement, I just don’t know what is.

So, how do you get crazy dog to sit? Find out here:

Then, this last week, Robin posted a terrific blog on how to tell when your dog is ready to go home from an outing (specifically the dog park, but the signals are universal). I LOVED this post:

Apparently last week was a real treasure trove, as I found this article on cat bites in the Wall Street Journal:

According to the article:

‘Cat bites can be very serious, and when you do get an infection, it can be very difficult to treat,’ said Brian T. Carlsen, a Mayo surgeon…That’s particularly true with a hand injury because of the structure of the tendons and the joints, he said.

In a study at the Mayo Clinic, in which Dr. Carlsen participated, the researchers found that of “193 patients who came in for 29_cat_pensivecat bites on their hands over a three-year period, 30% had to be hospitalized for an average stay of 3.2 days. Most of those admitted…needed their wounds surgically cleaned to eliminate infections.” (emphasis mine). Other research has “suggested a possible link between cat bites and depression.” A University of Michigan Medical School study analyzed health records of 1.3 million patients and “found that 41% of those treated for cat bites were also diagnosed at some point with depression.” Apparently, this needed a study because the researchers were not convinced that being bitten by your beloved feline is a depressing event…?

But in all seriousness, cat bites are particularly troublesome due to those sharp teeth penetrating deeply and driving bacteria into the wound. If you are bitten by a cat, please do not delay, but get to your doctor or an emergency room quickly. Dog bites can also be quite nasty. When our daughter Emma was 9 she was bitten by a friend’s dog whose teeth raked down the finger. We washed it thoroughly and throughout the day I periodically changed the bandage and cleaned the wound, but by bedtime, when I went to clean it for the last time, her finger was red, and swollen twice its size. We went straight to the ER, and though she was not hospitalized, she was given a very strong antibiotic. We also went to the pediatrician’s office every morning for almost a week to have it cleaned and checked. They were quite concerned that the infection might enter the joints on her finger causing arthritis like problems.

And, lastly, just for the fun of it, here is a link to a video of the Nelson family (Ozzie and Harriet) trying to teach the neighbor’s dog a trick. My favorite part is where they wave the toy behind the dog’s head so he can’t see it! Not very valuable as either a lure or a reward. Perhaps if they used some of  that tasty Ken L Ration horse meat, the trick training would go a bit faster…

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Le Bing et le Pew: a modern folktail….

small_heroic_bingleyFebruary is not only Groundhog month, but the time when skunks begin to emerge from hibernation. In their honor I have crafted a modern folktale: Le Bing et le Pew:

Once upon a time there was a young and very happy flattie named Mr. Bingley (aka: “No, No Bingley!” or “What the heck…?”). He loved to play and go for walks with his decent-enough dog trainer/owner, Julie. One balmy springtime evening, Mr. Bingley and his brother Hudson convinced their people that it would be lovely to go strolling on the campus of the nearby institution of higher learning.

While walking along the path that winds around the football stadium, Bingley suddenly launched himself up the hill bordering the path as if he were lava spewing from Mt. Vesuvius. Julie watched in horror as he rocketed up the incline towards the object of his desire: a skunk.

Faster than a toddler lurching toward a body of water, Mr. No No! grabbed the monochromatic carnivore and began to shake it back and forth, while said carnivore retaliated by spraying impressive amounts of olfactory-challenging liquid in every perceivable direction. Julie, continued to watch in horror (realio trulio, this did seem like the best response at the time…) and then realized that this stinky drama would continue ad infinitum without direct intervention.

Forthwith, Julie sprang to the crime scene and told “What the Heck…?” to  “Drop it, NOW!”, which amazingly, he did. 39_skunk_signsHowever, the skunk landed on its side, rolled and got tangled in the leash, thereby lashing the dog to the malodorous mammal. Without a moment’s hesitation, Julie grabbed the dog end of the leash and snapped it, thus flicking the skunk into the air where it performed a maneuver similar to Shawn White’s 720 backside corkscrew, landed on its feet (receiving top scores from the judges for perfect execution) and waddled off into the emerging darkness.

Mr. No No and Julie faced each other, enveloped in noxious fumes and far from home. Thus began the long and stinky trek back to the land of late night baths and seemingly futile odor management. But, the fates were feeling magnanimous that day and as luck would have it, this was the Bingster’s third intimate encounter with a skunk, so Julie was prepared! Once home, she bathed Bingley with the following mixture that really did remove the stench enough that Bingley slept in blissful contentment on the foot of the bed that night dreaming of high adventure and stunning aerial take downs.

Here is the magic formula that Julie’s Fairy godmother bestowed upon her:

Nota bena: AVOID EYE CONTACT!! This stuff can cause blindness, so be careful using it around the dog’s head. I folded a hand towel into quarters lengthwise and held it over Bing’s eyes (holding it by the ends under his chin) while I bathed his head. It is much easier with a helper, but doable on one’s own. (For some reason, I have a hard time recruiting people to help with this task…) Because of the risk of blindness, I use this only on the back of his head, holding his chin up while rinsing. On his snout I use a paste of baking soda and a small amount of liquid soap and rinse well. It is not as effective as the hydrogen peroxide mixture, but it eliminates most of the smell. 

  • 1 quart Hydrogen peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon liquid soap

After applying this liberally to the miscreant and rubbing it in thoroughly, I rinse and rinse and rinse, then repeat the treatment, each time thoroughly rinsing his until the water runs clear, his hair is squeaky clean, and the odor is gone.

Here’s hoping that you have a fresh smelling spring, but in off chance that some malodorous event is in your future, you too can be prepared!IMG_2386

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This for that

IMG_2571Imagine this scenario: You have a steaming cup of tea, a good book, and a couch with your name on it. Just as you settle in, your pup trots into the room proudly carrying one of your favorite Italian loafers. What do you do? The way I see it, you have 3 basic options:
Option 1: Panic! Leap up from the couch shouting,”NO, NO, NO  YOU SILLY DOG!!! DROP IT! DROP IT! DROP IT!” while you run after him and try to tug it from his deadly grip.
Option 2: Anger! Reach down, grab the shoe while yelling at the dog and swat him to make him drop it.
Option 3: Stay calm. Look at the dog, ask him quietly, “What’ja got boogerhead?” and offer him a tasty treat in exchange for your penny loafer.
          With option 1 and 2, you may well get the loafer back, but what are you teaching the dog? In the first option, you are likely teaching him that bringing you an object results in a very exciting game of chase in which you become quite animated and end the affair with a terrific game of tug. Probably not a scenario likely to teach him to drop it on command.
          Option 2 may well result in a dog who is afraid of you and who will not bring objects to you. Most likely, he will run off and hide with them, or perhaps learn to guard them (resulting in growling and possessiveness of objects he finds valuable). What happens if your dog picks up something truly dangerous to it and instead of bringing it to you, slinks off to chew on it, perhaps poisoning himself, or swallowing something that chokes him?
          Option 3, as you probably guessed, is my preferred method of object retrieval. Trading with your dog is important as it will teach your dog to bring you things, rather than run off and hide with them, it will help to prevent your dog from guarding objects it desires or values and, as I hinted at earlier, it can also save your dog’s life. My trainer in Virginia practiced trades with her Lab from day one. When he was about 2 she heard him heading down the hall to her office doing his “I have something for Robin!” prance. She reached for the treat jar on her desk, turned to Denver and asked, “What ya got bubblehead?” He dropped a paring knife at her feet that one of her children had knocked off the counter. Instead of running off with it he brought it to her because he knew she would trade it for something wonderful.
          If you are going to teach your dog to trade with you, here are a few key things to remember:
1) Always trade up! If your dog has a dead bird, he probably won’t give it up for a dry milkbone, but is likely to relinquish it for some hotdog, hamburger or roast chicken.
2) Show your dog what you are offering, but do not let him have it until he gives up the object you want him to drop. As soon as he relinquishes the object, give him the tasty treat you have promised to him. This should be nearly simultaneous.
3) Do not force your dog to give up something, instead, practice trading with him on all sorts of things so it becomes a fun game for him. That way, when you really need to get him to drop something, it will be a lot easier to get him to let go.
This is my cellophane stealing buddy.

This is my cellophane stealing buddy.

At a recent dog training conference I was working with a young dog, who went behind my chair, into my purse and pulled out some cellophane that had been on a cookie. I saw what he had stolen and fortunately had some treats I could offer him for the wrapper. He would not give up the wrapper for a piece of hot dog, but he loved cheese and happily traded the cellophane for cheese. I had never worked with this dog before, but I knew that if I could offer something he really liked, I would be able to get the wrapper without fighting with him. It worked! How much better will that work for you if you have practiced this regularly with your dog and if you use what you know he truly loves. For example, Bingley is so ball motivated that he once dropped a half a frozen groundhog to chase his beloved tennis ball. Within a second of dropping the frigid rodent, I threw his ball long and hard, picked up the ground hog, and tossed it to my husband who chucked it into the woods while Bingley zoomed after the golden orb. He, Bingley that is, never gave the groundhog a second thought! Whether or not my husband has nightmares about frozen rodents being chucked at him, that I do not know…

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Playing with your dog enriches your relationship with her. It’s as simple and as beautiful as that.

– Karen B. London, PhD and Patricia B. McConnell, PhD, Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs

26_dog_there it is

Learn how to get Fido to bring the ball back!


Well-written and funny, this delightful booklet is filled with easy to follow directions for engaging in a variety of games and activities with your best canine buddy.  They plunge right into activities such as “The Chase Game”, “The Crazy Owner Game”,  “Hide and Seek”, and “Play Ball!” They also provide a fine collection of tricks to teach your dog, and an overview of organized classes that promote owner and dog sports such as agility, tracking, herding or mushing. They cover toys (Toys: The Good, the Bad, and the Squeaky) that are interactive between owners and dogs, as well as puzzle toys for independent play. Plus, there is a chapter on incorporating obedience training into your play sessions. They are thorough enough to cover “How Not to Play with Your Dog”, and have a nice index of resources. All this in just 90 pages!

37_dog_dreamingofrunningOne of my favorite entries is the Chase Game. Dogs love to play chase, just watch two dogs tearing around a dog park, running, jumping, pausing, changing directions, changing leaders, pausing again and starting over. As Drs. London and McConnell put it, “it’s hard to find a happier expression than that of a dog engrossed in a chase game. But, why leave all the fun to the dogs?”

The instructions for The Chase game are easy and you do not have to be a runner to enjoy it!

All you need to do is clap or “smooch”to get your dog’s attention, then take off running away from him as soon as he looks at you. We like to clap as we run; giggles are optional, but they make it more fun. Of course, the best place to play chase with your dog is outside in an area where you know your dog is safe off-leash. That gives you room to run ten yards one way and then sprint off in another direction before your dog catches up.”

24_dog_zombie run away

Grace plays Zombie chase!

It is possible to have a modified game of chase in the house. Bingley and I do that on occasion, but be careful of rugs, furniture, stray shoes, or other dog toys that can literally trip you up! Also, no matter where you choose to play Chase, there are some rules that help to keep it safe, fun, and effective:

1) One way play. The most important aspect of Chase is that you always run away from the dog so that he is chasing you! This is important because if you start chasing him, he will learn to run away from you when you move toward him thinking you are going to play. This makes it very hard to get him to come to you later, especially if he perceives you are leaning, even slightly towards him.

2) Know when to stop. Balanced play in dogs includes a lull in the action. Build lulls into your Chase play so your dog does not get overly excited. Moreover, in the prey sequence, the chase is followed by a grab bite, which is not exactly what most owners are looking for in their family dog. So, “when he is four or five feet away, turn toward him and reinforce him with a treat, toy, or the beginning of another chase game,” or throw in a couple of obedience commands (Sit! Down! Spin! Target! etc.) to get him to re-focus, calm down a bit and learn not to bite at the end of a chase sequence.

3) Also, you don’t have to run far before changing directions. You can go 5 yards in one direction, then 8 in another, then 6 in yet another, followed by 10 yards back towards where you started. This will make the game more fun for non-runners and may help to keep him focused on following his crazy owner rather than going in for the take down.

Play Together, Stay Together: Happy and Healthy Play Between People and Dogs is available through ( or on Fun, easy and quick to read, Play Together offers all the incentives and instructions to do just that!


Tennis anyone?


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