Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Doggie See, Doggie Do – Dogs Can Remember and Copy What Humans Do

It is said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery so of course leave it to our dogs to give us that boost. A recent study reveals that dogs have the ability to copy our behavior up to 10 minutes after it’s happened. Up to this point, this mentally demanding ability was found in humans and apes only. A few years ago, scientists discovered that some dogs have the ability to imitate their owners but the study had never been linked to how dogs learn or tested after lengths of time had passed in between.

Adam Miklosi, a behavioral ethologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, wanted to find out more. He devised an experiment to teach the dogs exactly what he wanted done. He did so with a series of commands – first, the command “Do as I do” is given to instruct the dog to pay attention to the demonstration. Second, the command “Do it” is given to prompt the dog to imitate the action. The third command instructs the dog to wait before performing the imitation. This is a key because deferred imitation is a significant cognitive skill as it requires recalling an action after at least one minute has passed. The dogs in this study were able to recall familiar actions with wait times up to 10 minutes later.

The results of this study are beneficial to trainers, especially those working with guide and other working dogs. Dogs have a strong willingness to learn by watching and we should take advantage of their natural ability to socially learn from us.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Bon Voyage! Traveling with Pets

 The first thought that crosses my mind when a vacation is coming up is, what am I going to go with my dogs? Making the decision to travel with your pets or leave them behind is a tough one. There are many factors to consider for the enjoyment of both you and your pet during this trip.  You have to consider that some pets are not suited to travel based on temperament or physical condition. Other pets that suffer from separation anxiety will need some serious conditioning if you intend to leave them for an extended period of time.

Put your pets’ interests first. While taking your pet with you on vacation may seem like a really good idea, are you going to be out sightseeing or partaking in activities while leaving your pet in an unfamiliar hotel room or kennel most of the time? That’s certainly not ideal for your pet. Cats are especially against travel because they are territorial and do not enjoy change.

Whichever decision you make, there are a lot of things to consider when leaving your pet or taking them with you.

If your pet it staying behind:
There are a lot of great kennels out there - there are also a lot of terrible ones too, so do your homework. Arrange to meet the staff and even some of the regular guests if possible. A lot of kennels also offer doggie daycare and you can see everyone in action and get a sense of the group dynamic. Many kennels offer webcams so pet parents can check in on their loved ones while they’re away.  Don’t ever let the staff make you feel guilty for occasionally checking in (don’t go overboard and call every hour either, hopefully you wouldn’t leave your pet somewhere you don’t trust).  This time should be a nice vacation for your pet as well so make sure you choose a place where they will have fun!

Some pets aren’t suited to spend time away from you in a kennel. I know my dogs are in that category, which I why I arrange for a pet sitter to stay at my house while I’m away.  This is certainly not a selection to take lightly, not only are you trusting this person with the care of your pets but you’re giving them free reign in your home. Schedule interviews, check to see if they have any bad press online and definitely call references. If you have a trusted neighbor, family member or friend to take on the responsibility- that’s great too. Once you and your pets agree on a good sitter, make sure they spend some quality time with you and your pet before you leave so that your pet is completely comfortable with them in your absence. Don’t forget to leave all your contact information, emergency contacts (including your vet) and a detailed record of your pets’ routine and any medical, dietary, or behavioral needs. Since they are still in their house, pets are usually more comfortable and relaxed while you’re away.

If your pet is traveling with you:
Do your research in advance! I can’t say that enough. There is a lot of planning required in traveling with pets. Traveling with a pet means you can’t drive until you’re tired and stop at the first hotel you see. You need to plan ahead and find out which hotels are pet-friendly. Some hotels offer the added benefit of doggie daycare and pet services while you’re involved in an activity where your pet cannot join you.

If you’re flying, you need to be sure you are totally compliant with that airline’s regulations. Each airline is different so it’s important to prepare the appropriate paperwork and carrier well ahead of time.  Just as some humans need to prepare themselves to fly, you must do the same for your pet. You can help your pet get used to the sensation of flying by placing him in the carrier on the floor of your car while you’re driving. Before getting on the plane, make sure your pet gets a lot of exercise so he’s tired and more likely to relax during the flight. 

If you’re traveling by car to your destination, make sure your pets have access to water and plan to stop every few hours so your dog can go to the bathroom. If traveling with a cat, you may want to consider getting a portable litter box, that folds up and can be disposed of easily after use.  Cats should always be secured in a carrier while dogs have a bit more freedom to move about the car. You may also want to protect your dog with a seat belt harness. Most pet seat belts are made up a harness that fits around the dog’s torso and a belt that buckles into the seat. Some options are more like short leashes and allow for more mobility.

Do you travel with your pets or arrange for a them to stay in a kennel or with a pet sitter? 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Size Doesn't Matter

Have you ever noticed how there is a huge disconnect between behavioral standards and dog size? If a large dog barks and jumps on you as soon as you walk through the door, you wouldn’t stand for it, would you? So why is it that people let their small dogs engage in the same poor behavior and just laugh it off or think it’s cute? It’s not cute, poor behavior is poor behavior – no matter the size.

When searching for an apartment several years ago, I became so frustrated because I was repeatedly told that my Chihuahua would be accepted but I could not move into the apartment because of my Akita. In my experience, big dogs are usually better trained and cause less issues than smaller dogs yet they are still discriminated against based on size alone. It’s not like there wouldn’t be enough room in a 3 or even 2 bedroom apartment for an Akita so why wouldn’t the apartment perform a temperament test or at least meet my big dog before immediately discriminating against him? Big and small dogs both deserve the same treatment.

Just because a big dog appears more terrifying when that loud bark is released and it’s more annoying when their muddy paws end up on your shirt, people seem to spend more time training them out of the bad behavior. A tiny bark and muddy paws on your ankles are just as unacceptable and should be given the same amount of attention. The little dogs are no less capable of proper training and good behavior. Small dogs are intelligent too and they have the same needs for training and work. Don’t assume that a little dog is like a stuffed animal and all you have to do is cuddle and love them. They need discipline too and they’ll be happy to receive it. Laughing and encouraging bad behavior is really detrimental. A well discipline dog knows what is expected of them and by receiving praise for good behavior; they too can lead very satisfied lives.

Take a closer look at the dogs around you, do you see the same disconnect between behavior standards and dog size? Have you ever been discriminated against for your big dog?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Survival of the Desired – The Story of Humans and Domestic Animals

Say for some reason all humans were gone from earth and only animals remained. What would happen to our beloved household pets and barnyard compadres? Could they survive without us and if so, which domesticated animal would be able to thrive?

Humans have been domesticating animals since back in the prehistoric times. Dogs are the earliest domesticate. They were very useful as hunters and guards for the hunter-gatherers and became a staple in human life. Years later, during the transition point between hunter-gatherers and agriculture, humans began domesticating animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs for use as food. The domestication of cats came much later after houses and farms were built.

At its core, domestication is a reliance on humans for food, shelter and control of breeding. The vast range of animals that fall under this definition is incredible. They generally fall into three categories: work, companionship and food. Obviously these categories are not mutually excusive as in the case with pigs who are can be pets or food and dogs who can work and be pets.

Within the different animals, the variations can be numerous as well. Take dogs for example, all descendent from wolves yet bred by humans into over 400 different breeds. By artificial selection, we have turned a wolf into both a 3-lb Chihuahua and a 200-lb Mastiff. Breeds are so different that it is almost impossible to select an image of a dog that would encompass the species as a whole. It’s not just looks either, the temperaments of each breed vary and some are so far removed from the working, protective traits desired by our ancestors years ago.

The domestication of cats stands out on its own because unlike dogs, who were sought out to improve human’s lives through their usefulness, research suggests that it is unlikely that humans in the agricultural era would have had any reason to seek out cats for domestication. It is thought that cats became domesticated by habitat choice of some individual wildcats better suited for urban life who wanted to take advantage of the new environment that was rich in food and generally free of predators. Over time, those wildcats with a tame temperament and tolerance of people became today’s housecats.

So have you figured out yet which domestic animal would survive the best without humans? If you said cats, you’re right! This is mostly related to a few key points - the majority of cats allowed outdoors can get food on their own and around 90% of cats breed without the help of humans, including both housecats and feral cats.

Based on your knowledge of domestic animals, do you agree or disagree?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Pets on Independence Day

While celebrating our nation’s independence don’t forget about your pets. This can be a dangerous and scary holiday for them. Here are a few tips to make sure your 4th of July celebrations are enjoyed by all!

1.     If you’re celebrating at an outdoor event with your pets for an extended period of time, make sure they have access to fresh drinking water at all times. The temps can really rise in July and we have to watch out for heat exhaustion and dehydration.
2.     Fireworks are beautiful to watch but your pet may not be as into them as you are. For many pets, the loud repetitive noise is very frightening. Make sure they are in a calm, familiar place and avoid leaving them alone to panic for hours. Our pets are comforted just by our presence and a reassuring gesture from you indicating there’s nothing to worry about will go a long way.
3.     Inform your party guests to be cautious of your pet when they are playing with sparklers or small fireworks. Children especially need extra attention to ensure that your pets are kept out of harm’s way.
4.     Cleaning up after your party is just as important as being cautious during it. Make sure that before you let your pets out in the yard, you’ve done a thorough sweep to pick up any straggling firework or party remnants.
5.     An of course – Have Fun! This is a great day to celebrate how far we’ve come since our founding fathers declared our independence. I’m sure tossing your pet one of those awesome brats you grilled won’t go unappreciated either J