Archive for January, 2008

Pitbull a Winner in 2007 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge

A Pitbull named Wallace is the 2007 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge Freestyle Flying Disc National Champion.  Wallace, the only pitbull who competed in the finals, was adopted from a shelter where he had been scheduled for euthanasia by his owners Clara and Andrew Yori of Rochester, Minnesota.

I got to meet Clara, Andrew (aka Roo) and Wallace this year.  They’re fine folks and he is a sweet dog.  Its inspiring to see what love and hard work can do for a dog, and Clara and Roo have put a lot of both into Waz.

A sad aside to this wonderful story is this quote from Clara, “We actually have to be careful about what cities we go to compete in because some cities don’t allow pit bulls so we always have to check that before we go.”

Click on the screen shot above to see a video report on Wallace from KAAL TV:    

Go to the gallery and check out the Rocky-style training video.  It’s adorable – and inspiring.


January 19, 2008 at 12:51 am Leave a comment

Better Health May be Another Benefit of Dog Ownership

Canadian researchers are studying the health benefits of dog-walking, an exercise that most dog owners probably don’t realize offers real health benefits to them, as well as to their dogs.  An important factor in the equation is that many dog owners feel obliged to walk their dogs regardless of the weather or other extenuating circumstances.  These regular walks keep both the dog and its owner fit and makes them both feel better once they get out.  According to Ryan Rhodes of the University of Victoria, only about half of dog owners actively walk their dogs. “So there’s still room in there to try to get people who own dogs to walk more.”

Walking the Dogs

The goal of Rhodes’ research is to find the best ways to motivate people to walk their dogs.  And as a dog trainer who specializes in helping problem dogs, I think this work will help dogs as much as their owners.

Another study conducted at the University of Portsmouth, found that along with health benefits, walking a dog provides a ritual that can create a deeper bond in human families.  Parents who participated in the study were pleased to discover that their children were happy to leave behind the television and computer to get some fresh air and exercise by walking the dog.

January 18, 2008 at 2:25 am 1 comment

Doolittle V. 2.0?

Csaba Molnár from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary and his research team have developed a computer program to analyze dog barks.  The computer input (i.e. barking samples) came from 14 Hungarian Mudi sheepdogs.  The dog’s vocalizations were recorded in six different situations: ‘stranger’, ‘fight’, ‘walk’, ‘alone’, ‘ball,’ and ‘play’; in an attempt to learn more about the nuances of auditory communication in dogs.

The software correctly classified new barks in less than half of the samples. The highest rates of correlation were obtained with the alert type barks for ‘fight’ and ‘stranger’, and the worst in correctly identifying ‘play’ barks.

Although I find this work interesting, I admit that I found it odd that the focus of the study was vocal communication.  In my experience, vocal or auditory communication is not the primary way that dogs communicate with each other – or with us.  I suspect that scent is the primary sense they use in communication with each other and vision (as in use of body language) is the primary sense they use to communicate with us.

Human beings are excessively verbal animals.  When we aren’t talking out loud we’re usually carrying on an internal verbal dialog with ourselves.  This excessive use of verbal language is a uniquely human trait.  So is this study just a bit of well-intentioned but misplaced anthropomorphism that accomplished little more than the creation of a more accurate version of the Bowlingual?

Can we talk?

According to Roger Abrantes, PhD, “Communication between man and dog requires the use of accurate signals the dog is able to understand. When choosing signals we may need to think as a dog to understand how the dog will decode them.  Yet, we can only have an approximate idea of the dog’s world of signals, its semiosphere.”

The dog’s semiosphere is the stimuli, signs, mind, communications and culture he exists in with the one he is communicating with – sometimes also referred to as ‘shared umwelt’. The semiosphere is a wonderfully complex realm that includes not only perception from the sense of scent, sight, sound, touch and kinaesthesis; but also all of our life’s experiences.

Taking a single piece of the semiotic equation and separating it from the whole to analyze it, seems to me to be a bit like trying to understand the Earth’s ecosystems solely through a study of the chemistry of water. 

phoneme is the smallest unit of human speech that can be differentiated.  To the dog, a bark likey provides a similar function – that of a minor part of his lexicon.  Without being considered in conjunction with the various body postures the dog makes as it barks, it makes no more sense in isolation than the isolated sound ‘hey’ would to us.

If I say “Hey” as I jump up and down, and wave my arms with an excited look on my face; it means an utterly different thing than it does if I say “Hey” as I cock my head slightly to one side, smile, and wink at you.  If I live on a farm I might say “Hey” as I look at you and point toward the loft, indicating that that’s what you should feed the steers tonight, or I could say “Hey” with little associated expression just to answer your question regarding what I’ll plant in the south 40 this year.

In trying to understand what my dog means when he says “Hey,” not only do I need to put that sound into context – combining it with the situation the dog is in and the postures and expressions he expresses as he barks; but I also need to consider that my dog’s umwelt, his accumulated life’s perceptions and experiences, are very different from mine.

If you’d like to learn more about the idea of the umwelt, the world around a living being as the creature experiences it, read “The View From The Oak” by Judith and Herbert Kohl.  Even though the book was written for older children, its a fascinating and well-written book, even for adult readers.  If you want to dig deeper, the article where Jakob vonUexkull originally coined the term umwelt and described the idea in detail is available in “Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept” edited by Claire Schiller.

“When observing animals we must try to give ourselves over to their experience and imagine worlds as foreign as any that can be found in novels or science fiction. … To become close to other worlds means giving up our own for a while” 

          Judith and Herbert Kohl, “The View From The Oak

January 17, 2008 at 5:39 am Leave a comment

Dogs as Pony Show?

Apparently WordPress doesn’t *yet* allow me to imbed yahoo video in my blog, so I’ll have to post this as a link:

The talented man featured in the video is Irina Markova’s son Andrey, who is also a dog trainer.  His work lends an entirely new dimension to the sport of canine dressage!

….and possibly the perfect venue for a new ‘breed’ – the PonyDoodle!


January 15, 2008 at 10:58 pm Leave a comment

Making the Right Kind of Noise

Complaints about canine misbehaviors, such as nuisance barking, are increasing across the country.  This is a disturbing trend for responsible dog owners because, in a backlash effect, many cities, counties and states are passing increasingly restrictive laws affecting pet ownership.  Spay and neuter laws, breed banspet limit laws and other restrictions are being passed in a landslide effect across the country.

Why is this happening?  Partly because lazy journalists looking for an simple and sensational story to cover either fail to adequately research stories or mis-state facts and partly because animal rights groups (as opposed to animal welfare groups) who want to end pet ownership are pouring enormous amounts of money into supporting these efforts.

The sad irony is that dogs aren’t the problem – PEOPLE ARE.  People who are, in most cases, already breaking EXISTING laws.  We don’t need more laws, we need better law enforcement.

If your city, county, township or state is considering passing additional laws limiting your right to own and enjoy dogs, please go here: Where there is an excellent sample letter opposing pet limit laws. Make the right kind of noise and use Jim’s letter to let your legislators know that a majority of law-abiding pet owners refuse to be punished for the transgressions committed by an irresponsible minority.

If you have a neighbor who’s barking dogs annoy you, don’t call the police to report them.  Make the right kind of noise.  Instead of filing a complaint, politely explain to your neighbor that his dog’s excess barking is bothering you. If he doesn’t listen (or can’t hear you because of his dog’s barking) look into one of these nifty devices to solve the problem amicably. 

petsafebarkunit.jpg      cool cd

If you have a dog – give it enough mental and physical stimulation to keep it from annoying your neighbors.

If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

January 15, 2008 at 1:08 am Leave a comment

Smart Poodles!

Irina Markova and her Performing Dogs on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” January 8th, 2008.

Truly a pack of Very Smart Dogs!

January 14, 2008 at 3:09 pm 2 comments

Is There a Dogtor in the House?

A recent article in Scientific American reports on a new technological development: the electronic nose.  The electronic nose consists of an array of olfactory sensors activated in unique patterns by different aromas.  Software identifies each odor analyzing these patterns.  The technology was originally designed to detect chemical leaks and identify spoiled food, but it may also have diagnostic potential.

We can't help but wonder if this technology was inspired by the work of dogs who have been trained to detect impending seizures, asthma attacks, hypoglycemia and even some cancers.  The dog’s sense of smell is amazing.  Canines can detect chemical constituents in the part per trillion range.  To give you an idea of how incredible this is, consider that one part per trillion corresponds to one minute in 2,000,000 years!

dogtor.jpgHow do they do it?
One theory is that protein molecules called the major histocompatibility complexes (MHCs), exist on the surface of all cells in our bodies. Each individual has a unique combination of the MHCs, making each unique.Besides coding individual identity, MHCs also display fragments of other proteins that are present inside each cell. White blood cells (WBCs) check each cell’s MHC. If the WBCs only see familiar MHCs they ignore them, but if alien fragments, such as those from bacteria or viruses are detected, the WBC will kill the cell to stop the infection from spreading. If the cell has and MHC coding that don’t match the white blood cell’s (as in a transplanted organ) the WBC mistakes it for an infected cell and kills it.

MHCs stick to and display fragments of other proteins.  These fragments don’t ordinarily have an odor but some researches theorize that they may be broken down into smaller, odor-carrying molecules by decay or other metabolic processes or that they aquire odorants in the blood along with the protein fragments. When  the blood serum is processed into urine in the kidneys, the body breaks down the MHCs and releases odorants to the urine. Untreated blood serum has no individual smell because the odorants are still stuck to the MHCs. But once the proteins are digested (by the kidneys, in perspiration or by decay) odorants are free to be detected. 

"This isn't anything magic," says Dr. Larry Myers, associate professor at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, AL.  Dr. Myers has tested the olfactory capabilities of more than 4,000 dogs in the last twenty years.  "Physicians have always used their own senses to determine the presence of absence of disease."  Serpil Erzurum, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic says that "When you have an exhaled breath, there are all sorts of volatile organic compounds that are produced.  Those compounds are a result of metabolism and, when you have cancer, metabolism changes and the volatile organic compounds are altered.  The changes are detectable by an electronic nose."

Whether it is furry and four-legged or has an electronic display, we look forward to seeing more of these new -- and old -- technologies in the future.

January 13, 2008 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment

Dog Breeds and Brand Names

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol, design, or combination of these intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers so as to differentiate them from those of other sellers”.

The brand name is what a consumer associates with a product and offers and represents. For example: McDonalds is a brand recognized even by preschool children. They can’t read the name, but they recognize the logo and, most importantly, they equate that logo and brand name with the experience that that logo means to them.  Adult consumers expect that when they purchase a specific brand, they will get a consistent product no matter which store they purchase it from. This consistency of service and products, results in brand loyalty.   

Many people today seem to equate dog breeds with brand names.  They think that if they get a new Labrador to replace the one they lost, the new dog should be as much like the old one as one Chevy Blazer is to another. What these people fail to realize is that the concept of breed is far more complex than simply applying a label to a dog that looks and acts in a certain way. 

In fact, the concept of what a breed is often creates confusion today, even among experts. 
·         To a geneticist a breed is: a population of animals whose breeding is controlled and whose out-crossing is limited, so that genetic selection can be exercised on it.
·         Webster defines a breed as: “a homogeneous grouping of animals within a species, developed by humans,” and Oxford defines a breed as: “a line of descendants perpetuating particular hereditary qualities.”
·         Multi-breed dog registries such as the AKC define an individual animal’s breed by its parentage.

All of these definitions leave room for interpretation.

A dog breed might most accurately be described as a grouping of descendants categorized using criteria relevant to the behavioral and physical qualities desired by the people who selected the line of genetic descent.

Most dog breeders seek to achieve some degree of predictability in the appearance and behavior in the animals they produce but all dog breeds display a range of physical qualities and temperaments. Too much deviation is problematic because the goal is to differentiate one breed from another. However, some deviation is advantageous as it results from a broader genetic base. When a breed becomes extremely uniform because of a very narrow genetic base serious problems from inbreeding can occur.


When breeders select for certain physical and behavioral traits within a breed, they also have to select for some degree of variation in that trait. Behavioral traits, like shyness or protectiveness, are created by a combination of inherited behaviors.  Because of this, each breed will include a continuum of inherited behavior traits and those at the extreme ends of the scale will likely not be desirable.  So, we can end up with some Labradors who don’t hunt and some Bloodhounds who don’t track. 

While studies show that genetic variation within a breed of dogs is significantly less than variation between breeds, dog breeds should not be thought of as brand names.  A pet owner who purchases a German Shepherd expecting to get Rin Tin Tin (or a Golden Retriever who will be just like the last one they had) – without doing research into the genetic background of that specific dog – will very likely be disappointed in the dog they get. In extreme cases, these people may get rid of the dog because it did not meet their expectations. While you should expect to find a certain degree of uniformity in the appearance and behavior within dogs of a specific breed, it is also important to remember that all dogs are individuals and these individuals can vary widely in their genetic makeup. 

Your dog is an individual.  Regardless of what breed he is, he has his own likes, dislikes and personality traits. Cherish those differences, don’t resent them

January 12, 2008 at 5:51 pm 2 comments

The Best New Book on Dog Training


How to Have an Ill-Behaved Dog from the Self-Hurt Series at Knock Knock is THE best book on dog training that I’ve read in a long time.  I’m not joking.  This book will give you all the information you need to train your dog.

This is from the promo on Knock Knock’s website:
Have you ever been to the dog park and wondered, “How do those people achieve such ill-behaved dogs?” Or perhaps you’re thinking about adopting a canine companion and want to start off on the right paw. Whether you’re experienced or new at the pet game, this book will teach you the most cutting-edge techniques for cultivating a dog who doesn’t listen, barks incessantly, and destroys your shoes.

Learn How To:

·         Develop your dog into a narcissistic extension of yourself
·         Make sure your dog jumps on all visitors
·         Harness your dog’s natural drives to extract the worst possible behavior with the minimum effort 

And, if you follow the directions in the book, I guarantee that you will have an obnoxious, ill-behaved dog!  There’s even a place inside the front cover where you can sign a pledge committing yourself to accomplish the task. 

If you read this little gem of a book closely, you’ll see that the folks who wrote it (and by the way, the only way that the book disappointed me was that it gave no credit to the authors or editors) must be absolutely brilliant dog trainers… or psychotherapists who specialize in treating dysfunctional dog owners.  Their descriptions of neurotic dog owners, obnoxious dogs and the ways that they create each other are deviously clever and wonderfully entertaining. 

You might think that this is just a silly, useless, little book — and you’d be wrong.  “How to Have an Ill-Behaved Dog” provides the thoughtful dog owner with a sort of magic mirror on “How Not to Live With a Dog.” 

Get this book and read it twice.  The first time read it purely to be entertained.  It’s a very funny book and even someone who isn’t a dog owner will appreciate the humor.  Then read it a second time with a more critical eye, to see if you recognize yourself (or your dog) anywhere in its pages.  If you do — use the book as a guide to change, and correct the parts of your behavior that you saw mirrored in the book.  If you see yourself in many places in its pages, you may want to call a professional dog trainer – and a therapist!

January 9, 2008 at 5:37 am 1 comment

Fur-Kids or Kindred Spirits?

Humans have always felt a strong kinship with animals.  Our ancestors believed that animals were aware and that their lives and communications were as meaningful as ours.  They were better able than we are to find meaning in subtle nuances of animal behavior because their survival depended on it – and because they saw animals as kindred spirits who understood the world in a different way than they did. 


Today most humans live in an environment far removed from the one our ancestors’ relied on for their survival, and most of us find it more difficult to recognize and understand the deeper meaning underlying animal behavior than our ancestors did.  We still feel a strong connection to animals, but changes in our environment and cultures have drastically changed the way we experience that connection.  Instead of seeing animals as kindred spirits with different perspectives and ways of life, many of us now think of them as amusing copies of our human selves.  Animals as kindred spirits, guides, teachers and partners have given way to fur-kids wearing designer dog coats.


This common, excessively anthropomorphized view may be part of the reason why many behaviorists and sociobiologists believe that assigning human, or human-like emotions and intentions to animals is a scientific taboo (as it has been since the time of Descartes).  But in a recent reversal, instead of denying the similarities between us, some scientists are studying how the emotions, modes of communication and motivations of animals do, in many ways, resemble our own.

The problem is not that we anthropomorphize, but that we tend to do it in the wrong ways. 

If we view anthropomorphism as a means, rather than an end, and use it to study the ways that animal behavior resembles human behavior we may gain valuable insights.  Research on the qualities that we share with them may help us better understand the areas where their perspectives differ from ours.  If, on the other hand, we adopt anthropomorphism as an end in itself, we simply stop at assigning human values and motivations to animals.  And when we do this, not only do we lose an incredible opportunity to expand our horizons, but we condemn them to a life and a set of expectations that they can never meet or be fully content with.

“So many baffling aspect of animal behavior are like that – baffling only because we fail to appreciate that the animal’s range of senses is not the same as our own: different but not always inferior.”  Hans Brick “The Nature of the Beast

January 5, 2008 at 8:18 pm Leave a comment

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January 2008