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This is why dogs are man’s best friend…

Bandit 2.1I was doing some research for my blog when I came across a story that seemed so appropriate for this season of giving. Arthur, a scraggly street dog was adopted by a Swedish trekker participating in the Adventure Racing World Championship* in Ecuador, in no small part due to his gift of devotion.

Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Arthur volunteered himself to help this racing team complete the 20 mile hiking section of their adventure through the dense mud of the Amazon jungle. When they arrived at the kayak portion of the race, organizers warned them that taking Arthur along on this section could be dangerous. Arthur, however, disagreed and launched himself into the river following the racers. The captain of the team, Mikael Lindlord, pulled him onto his kayak. “You can’t reject a dog that had put in so much energy into you,” Lindnord says. “It felt like he was one of the team members, and we didn’t want to let him down.”  Lindnord covered the shivering Arthur with his Gore tex jacket and despite the challenge of kayaking with a dog who would jump into the river to chase fish, he finished the race with Arthur. If you want to know the rest of the story, you can click here to learn what happened to Lindnord and Arthur.



The story resonated deeply for me as my husband’s and my first dog was a small black mutt I bought for Brad at a flower market in Guayaquil, Ecuador for our first anniversary.** Like Arthur, he was a highly social and loyal dog and travelled with us from the Pacific coast through the Andes and down to the edge of the jungle. He was a great little dog who, having been raised the first 4 months of his life in the busy local flower market, was comfortable with a sorts of people, places, smells, etc. Also, like Arthur, he was a testament to the importance of solid temperament (see my blog, Beauty is only Fur Deep, for a more detailed discussion on the value of temperament over looks) and a reminder that even with humble beginnings, a dog with a solid temperament is a treasure indeed. Bandit moved back to the United States with us and had a wonderful life working beside me in our import store, attending political rallies, visiting at nursing homes, and welcoming our children with the unconditional love and good humor he showed for everyone he met. The only problem with Bandit, as it is with all dogs, was that his time with us was far too short.

My wish for all of you this Christmas season is that at some point in your lives as dog owners you have the opportunity to welcome into your heart and home a dog whose temperament seems to have been bestowed upon him by the angels, and who brings light, love, and joy unconditonally into your life each and every day for many years to come.


*Adventure Racing, by the way, is comprised of “up to 10 days of non-stop racing in the disciplines of trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, navigation and more.” Adventure Racing.

**Brad and I got married and moved within a couple of months to Ecuador where he was stationed as a diplomat in the Foreign Service. We spent 1 1/2 years in Ecuador traveling as much as possible on weekends and vacations.

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Odorwhelmed. The dog’s amazing sense of smell.


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.*

IMG_2890The 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!IMG_2908

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.

The Flehman response in a horse gets scent to its VNO.

The Flehman response in a horse gets scent to its VNO.

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:

**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 (

*** 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 (



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Cats are not small dogs, part 2.

Bella1Last week I did a blog on cats and I only had space enough to cover inappropriate elimination and a bit on cat diets. This week I wanted to look at the spacial needs of cats, especially cats in multi species households. While cats may well want to decrease the distance between them and the pet gerbil, they can also be equally determined to increase the distance between them and the family canine. Cats, upon seeing the lumbering approach of Fido, will scurry away as fast as feline legs and motivation will carry them. Unfortunately, running can be a trigger for dogs to chase, and thus set up the predator/prey relationship you, the owner, would just as soon avoid. So what’s a multi-species household to do?

There are several options actually, not all of which work for every household. The most effective for dogs and cats who seem to be constantly plotting the demise of one another is to provide separate household zones. Indoor cats may have the luxury of the upstairs, while Fido’s realm is the first floor.

Another option is to set up gates so that the cat can move through various zones that the dog Carlson dog:cat gatecannot.  The picture to the left is of the Carlson 0930 Extra-wide Walk-Thru Gate with Pet Door that you can get on Amazon for  $38.34 ( There are a variety of gates with pet doors on Amazon, but this picture clearly illustrates my point. The nice thing about this gate is that there is a person door as well, so that you do not have to take the gate down every time you (or Fido) want to walk through to the next room.


Cats love to get vertical. If in doubt, go up. Providing Mr. Mittens with several easy and comfortable places to get out of reach of Rover will help to increase domestic harmony. Astute reader, cat lover, and multi species person, Laura Sommers, introduced me to CatastrophiCreations on Etsy which has several wonderful solutions that allow Mr. Mittens to survey his domain from the soaring heights afforded by the living room wall (limited only by the ceiling height!). Here are a couple of my favorites from the CatastrophiCreations catalog, (or click here to go to the main shop):

1) Cat lounger with escape hatch, $78.00 The cat lounger is a heavy duty fabric hammock firmly attached to the wall by posts on either end. “Each post is very strong and reinforced with three layers of board and attach to the wall with large 4″ brackets.” Situated above the hammock is another shelf with a hole, hence the escape hatch.

2) Stylish Cat Wall Shelf w/ Stretched Fabric Raceway Lounge/Cat Bed, $38.00: What can I add, the name says it all! This is an inexpensive way to provide your cat with a place all it’s own where it can be a part of the household on its terms and at its own altitude.

CatastrophiCreations Cat Maze

CatastrophiCreations Cat Maze

3) Fabric Cat Maze, $140.00: piece has 5 wooden planks and one 18″ shelf with hole cut into it to access it from underneath. This extra-large hole is lined with sisal. The entire piece reaches 11″ away from the wall. Attaching all of the shelves is a stiff bottomweight fabric.” This piece is super for multi-cat households as it provides a safe place to play that is above canine reach and it has three places for cats to lounge about. Similar to the maze is the Deluxe Play Space ($125.00). The play space has a nifty ladder, but fewer lounging areas.

For those of you wanting to give your indoor cats a taste of the great outdoors, and keep them safe from marauding canines, you might want to consider a “Catio”. Here is a link to one that shows a great management of space  for cats and dogs.  This site also features cat enclosures that you can mount to the side of your house, so your cat can get out of doors, and you don’t have to remodel the entire outdoor living space!


Catio Window Box

” Catio Window Box

Catio Spaces in Seattle sells pre-assembled Catio Kits that come in two designs: Window Box and Garden Window which:

“can be mounted to your home’s wood siding or window trim if it is 2-3” wide and “flush frame” (flat) all the way around the window.  Or, if mounted to your siding, you are not limited to the size of your window frame as you can extend the catio length to provide more space for your cats.”

Of course, depending on where the window is located in your house, your dog may be able to stick his head inside a Catio window unit, thus violating the separation of church and state clause in their constitution. But that snafu can be eliminated if the entrance to the window box/catio is made small enough for a cat, but too large for a dog (or out of reach of small dogs). Another solution is to use a pet gate to cordon off the room with the feline garden. Consider putting a pet gate at the door to the room with the cat window even if the window opening is too small for Fido, as this insures that Mittens has an escape route and is not panicked when heading towards its exit.

Remember, the idea behind all of these systems is to reduce the stress of everyone in the household and to help promote civility between the species. If your cat doesn’t have to run to get away from the dog, and has an easy escape route (up and/or out), then your dog will have less motivation to chase the cat. However, if chaos still reigns even with the addition of a feline Taj Mahal, then I recommend that you find a good trainer or behaviorist in your area who is experienced with cats and dogs to help  you find a peaceful solution that sees to the needs of all involved.

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Cats are not small dogs.

I will not lie, I am a dog person. But, some of my best friends own cats.  And I have a grandcat named Strumpy who was rescued at 1 week of age by my older daughter (who with 3 children under the age of 5, really needs another small defenseless creature clambering for food and attention.*) I also have several clients with multi-species households. Moreover, I have come to appreciate cats for their uniqueness, which is why every year at the Midwest Veterinary Conference, I spend one full day in lectures on cat behavior.

I have learned that there are a couple of areas of cat behavior that many owners do not realize the full importance thereof, especially if they have more than one species hanging about their abode. For example, not only are cats obligate carnivores (i.e.: meat is a must in a cat’s diet. Dogs can be vegetarians, but not cats), but they need to eat every day. Dogs, believe it or not, can go up to 2 weeks without eating, but cats cannot). Therefore, if you suspect that your cat has not eaten in a day or two, consider calling or visiting your vet to be sure everything is okay with Mr. Mittens.

But, perhaps the most common frustration for cat owners is inappropriate elimination, especially since it is suppose to be easy to train your cat to use a litter box. So, why is it so many cats don’t get it? Perhaps it would be constructive to look at it from a feline rather than a human perspective.

Litter and litter boxes are a BIG deal to cats. The type, depth, and smell of the litter matters a lot as does the size, style, and cleanliness of the box. Owners like to place litter boxes in remote locations, put lids on the boxes, fill them with a shallow layer of perfumed litter, and keep the number and size of the litter box(es) to a minimum. All if this is quite understandable as no one wants their home to smell like cat poop!

Cats however, have a different perspective. They do not like the smell of poop either, but find that covered boxes keep the smell contained in such a way that it becomes very unappealing to use the box. Perfumed litters can overwhelm a cat’s sensitive nose and may cause her to reject the litter box entirely.Bella3

Cats like to dig and scratch in the box and bury their litter, and they do not like to have their urine pool at their feet. So if the litter isn’t deep enough they will find someplace that better suits their needs. They are also particular about the type of litter they use. Sandy, clumping litters that allow them to dig and bury their duty are popular with most felines.

Cats prefer litter boxes that are accessible and tidy. Put the box somewhere that the cat can get to easily and feel safe that nothing is going to spring out at it (like a dog coming thru a dog door), or make a sudden noise (such as stereos, dishwashers, washing machines). Being startled too many times next to the litter box is a surefire way to convince your cat it is a bad place to be. (Think about how you feel when someone barges in on you in the loo!) If possible, clean the box twice a day to keep the odor at a reasonable level for both of you. (When I pet sat, I cleaned litter boxes at every visit because it reduced the stress the cat felt at having a stranger in the house.) Another way to make sure there are clean facilities available is to have a litter box for each cat, plus one. So, if you have three cats, you ought to be thinking about four litter boxes.
EmmyOne final thing to consider is the size of the box, if your cat is constantly missing the box,  it might just be too small for him! Ideally the box should be 1 1/2 times the length of your cat from the tip of the nose to the tip of his tail. For example, if your cat measures 18” from nose to tail, the litter box should be 27” long.
Following these guidelines should help to reduce or stop inappropriate feline elimination. If you continue to have problems, you may want to consider contacting Dr. Meghan Herron, veterinary animal behaviorist at The Ohio State University Veterinary Hospital. Dr. Herron can help to diagnosis and treat your cat’s behavioral problems. See for more information.

*Strumpy, needing to eat every 2 hours, was an impromptu guest at the wedding and reception of my younger daughter. Many thanks to Lydia Hill, my assistant trainer, and her husband John for aiding us in keeping Strumpers fed and happy throughout the day.

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Dogs are dogs, part 2.

Dog or wolf?

Dog or wolf?

Last week I looked at some of the evidence about canine origins. A comment from last week suggested that the current evidence from gene sequencing seems to strongly support the archeological, not the mitochondrial evidence.  In a study* that was released early this year, a team of scientists sequenced the genes from three gray wolves representing three regions where domestication may have occurred, a Basenji and a Dingo (breeds isolated from modern wolves) and a golden jackal. These genomes were compared to the sequenced genome of a Boxer.

Based on their analysis, the team concluded that dogs and wolves parted evolutionary paths sometime between 9,000 and 34,000 years ago. That predates our development of agriculture, supporting the idea that dogs accompanied our hunter-gatherer forebears and only later adapted to an agricultural lifestyle. Of more interest, though, is the fact that the three dog genomes formed a sister group to the wolves, rather than clustering under one of them.**

Therefore, we can safely conclude that dogs have been around for several thousand years, and that dogs (not wolves or hybrid wolves) were the first domesticated animal. Moreover, to consider them and their social structure to be wolf lite ignores the uniqueness of dogs, not to mention it sets them up to be misunderstood and mistreated by people in the pursuit of establishing “dominance” over the dogs in their household/pack.

So, how did we get to this idea that we can use wolf pack behavior to better control our domesticated buddies? In the 1940’s a series of studies were conducted on

captive wolves gathered from various places that, when forced to live together, naturally competed for status. Acclaimed animal behaviorist Rudolph Schenkel dubbed the male and female who won out the alpha pair. As it turns out, this research was based on a faulty premise: wolves in the wild, says L. David Mech, founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center, actually live in nuclear families, not randomly assembled units, in which the mother and father are the pack leaders and their offspring’s status is based on birth order. (Dog Training and the Myth of Alpha-Male Dominance, Time Magazine, July 30, 2010)

The behaviors that were observed in these short term studies were not representative of long term interactions of a stable SAM_0286wolf population. Moreover, what the researchers observed were “what are now known to be ritualistic displays and [they] misinterpreted them. Unfortunately, this is where the bulk of the “dominance model” comes from, and though the information has been soundly disproved, it still thrives in the dog training mythos.” (History and Misconceptions of the Dominance Theory, by Melissa Alexander, 2001) A prime example of this is the alpha roll. This gesture of submission comes from a lower ranking member of the pack who is appeasing a higher ranking member. It is all voluntary and is not forced by the higher ranking member. “A wolf would flip another wolf against his will ONLY if he were planning to kill it. Can you imagine what a forced alpha roll does to the psyche of our dogs?”  (Melissa Alexander)

Melissa Alexander also discusses a study done by Dr. Frank Beach on dog packs which lasted over 30 years. He came to some interesting _DSC0006-2conclusions and insights about dogs including what being alpha means. It does not mean that a dog is physically dominant over another dog, but is in control of resources that he values. An alpha dog may allow another dog to have a bone or a bed, but it is because he doesn’t care about that resource. In addition, Alpha dogs “rule benevolently” and do not resort to squabbling to keep their place. Medium ranked dogs are the ones who quibble in an attempt to raise their rank. The lowest ranking dogs also do not fight, but accept their lot in life with equanimity. So, if you man-handle your dog, force it to the ground, and growl at it, how do you think this affects your status with your dog?

If you want to be the alpha dog, then control the resources. Your dog wants out? Make him sit first. Have him sit before you serve dinner, let him on the couch, give him a bone, or go for a walk. Consistent training with clear rules and positive reinforcement will build a relationship with your dog based on cooperation and trust and establish you as his benevolent leader, not his brutal dictator.

_CSG8991-2 sm

*For a good summary of the study go here: Dogs are not Domesticated Wolves

**To read the original study go here: Genome Sequencing

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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:


Philosophy of training or "Why be positive?" Toy Box or stuff that doesn't fit neatly elsewhere0 comments

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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What’s good for the goose…

5:54 AM: Nudge. Nudge. Nudge. Wuffle. Nudge. Wuffle. Nudge. (Buckley)62_dog_how dogs envision-31

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  ( sm

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 65C_dog_lollipop-01who 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, IMG_0586IMG_0586PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta…Children who IMG_0585experience 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.

21_dog_kenny pool cheers



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Of dogs and cows…

This week I decided to do veer off in a slightly different direction and share a news item of which pet owners should be advised.

Guilty as charged?

Guilty as charged?

Dog Owners Can Be Held Liable for Negligence:

According to a recent court decision, a couple walking their dog in Central park can be held liable for negligence for allowing their dog to cross a path in front of a bicyclist who subsequently “flew off his bike and landed on his face” when the dog bumped into him. This decision comes after considering the case for a second time and is, in part, the result of an incident involving a cow and a car six years ago.

In the case of the wandering bovine, in 2007, the cow had escaped from a fenced pasture and was then hit by a car.

Until very recently, the Court of Appeals had held that a person who is injured in an accident involving an animal can never have a claim for negligence against the animal’s owner. Only if it were shown that the owner knew the animal had vicious tendencies could he be held liable for the injury, but it would be without a finding of fault.

But ruling on the cow case in April 2012, the Court of Appeals carved out an exception for situations in which a landowner may be liable for negligence for allowing a farm animal to stray from his property. (see link below for full article)

Although this ruling did not explicitly include pets, it opened up an opportunity for the bicyclist to get “another shot in court” and for a law suit to be filed against the pet owners. The case has not gone to trial yet and the pet owners can appeal to the state’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.

Here is the link to read more about this case:

For me, the question now is: What does this mean for the average pet owner? I am not a lawyer, but I am married to one, so I posed this question to my legal scholar husband, Brad Smith, and here is what he said:

For New Yorkers, an owner can be held liable for negligence if a pet causes an injury, either because the pet is not properly attended, or, as in this case, because it was doing what it was told by its owner. My guess is that this will be the trend nationally. Moreover, remember that you are liable for your dog and its behavior. If it causes harm to others – not merely by an aggressive act such as biting, but also by an innocent act, such as interfering with a cyclist on the biking trail, – the owner can be held liable. The moral here: Control your pets!

I caused how much trouble?

I caused how much trouble?

The best way to reduce your risk of negligence is to train your dog. Attending a basic obedience class can help you learn the best way to teach your dog to come, stay, and walk on a leash, as well as build a positive relationship with your canine buddy. Plus, it’s fun!


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