Just be quiet

One thing that I have learned from years of working with insecure, reactive and fearful shelter dogs is the value of just being quiet.  Just relaxing with your dog is one of the best things you can do for your dog’s emotional stability and well-being.  And it’s not bad for you, either.

You don’t need to be a constant source of entertainment for your dog, and you don’t need to provide constant stimulation.  In fact, it immensely helps your dog for you both to be in a mildly stimulating environment, like a park or green space, and just relax.

Anytime you take your dog for a walk, your pup is constantly receiving new stimuli.  His nose, ears and eyes are taking in new information all the time you are out of the house, and his brain is actively processing all that data.  You don’t need to do anything else, except be a steady and positive companion.  I’ve found that being a quiet and calm influence in information-rich environments can help a nervous or reactive dog to find his “off-switch” and learn that he can live in the world without becoming anxious or over-excited.

When weather permits, take your dog on a walk to a quiet, pleasant place and just sit.  Read a book – a real book with pages.  Don’t look at your phone, get any work done, watch any videos or read anything that has a string of nasty and stupid comments at the end.  Just relax and find your own off-switch.  Let your dog sniff and explore within the range of his leash and do whatever he’s going to do.

After a while, you’ll find that he is just scenting the air, listening to new sounds and watching things that are interesting to him.  If he’s being at all reactive to any of that, take him to a new spot and start over.  It may take some time, but you’ll find that he will eventually sit or lay down and relax with you.  Watch the shape of his eyes and the corners of his mouth, along with the position of his ears.  You’ll be able to tell when he’s just quietly enjoying the day.  With you.

This will do wonders for your relationship with your dog, and will help him to learn how to be less reactive to stimulus.  If he sees that you are not stressed or bothered by the people, animals and things you encounter, he will take that as a reference for his own behavior.  This is good therapy for you both.

If You Love Your Cat, Keep Him Indoors

One of the most enduring myths about our pets is that housecats need to be allowed to roam free in our neighborhoods.  The fact is, they don’t.  In fact, being let outdoors will shorten their lives, along with those of a lot of other animals.

Studies of the life expectancy of roaming cats vary, with some claiming that their life expectancy is as low as two to five years (Watson, nd; Loyd et al, 2013a), however this is complicated by the difficulty that researchers have in distinguishing between feral cats, strays and pets that are allowed to roam outside the house.  But all of these cats face the same dangers and threats to their health and lives.

The leading cause of death for roaming cats is by automobiles (Tan, Stellato & Niel, 2020).  Lesser, but still serious risks are becoming trapped or lost, drinking dangerous substances, being poisoned, fighting with other cats or wildlife, or being preyed upon by wild predators, such as foxes, coyotes or raptors (Loyd et al, 2013a).  They are also at high risk for exposure to diseases and parasites, many of which can be passed to their human families, such as tularemia, rabies, ringworm and other human-transmissible pathogens or parasites (Gerhold & Jessup, 2012).  One of the greatest threats to human health from free-roaming cats is toxoplasmosis, an intestinal microorganism that can spread throughout households from an infected cat (Aguirre, et al, 2019).  All of these factors represent serious threats to their health and well-being and significantly shortens the life expectancy of any cats that are allowed to freely roam their neighborhoods.

And there is also the damage they inflict on other animals.  Unlike dogs, cats have been domesticated for only a few thousand years and have retained their predatory instincts to a much greater extent.  When allowed to roam, they’ll establish a range of up to 1,500 meters from their homes and spend much of their time hunting (Nicholas, 2019).   And they are efficient killers of the birds and small animals that make up the ecosystem we live in.  A 2012 study showed

Cats retain their predatory instincts and will stalk and kill small animals regardless of how well they are fed at home.

that cats will actively engage in hunting small prey regardless of how well fed they are at home (Kitts-Morgan, Parsons & Hilburn, 2014) and, on average, will kill two prey animals per week (Loyd et al, 2013b).  A 2016 study of animals admitted to a Virginia wildlife hospital showed that cat attacks were the second leading cause of small birds and animals being treated (Mcruer, Gray, Horne & Clark, 2016).

The bottom line is that allowing your cats to roam not only endangers them and shortens their lives significantly, it places you and your family at risk for diseases and parasites.  They also prey on small birds and animals, and represent a risk to the ecosystems in our towns and neighborhoods.  There is no good reason to allow them out of the house, and every reason to keep them indoors.

If you have a cat that has been allowed to roam and would like to make the transition to keeping him indoors, The Wildlife Center of Virginia has published a step by step guide to accomplish this:  Steps to Bring Your Outdoor Cat Indoors | The Wildlife Center of Virginia

 

References

Aguirre, A.A., Longcore, T., Barbieri, M. et al (2019). The One Health Approach to Toxoplasmosis: Epidemiology, Control, and Prevention Strategies. EcoHealth 16, 378–390. doi.org/10.1007/s10393-019-01405-7

Gerhold, R. W. and Jessup, D. A. (2012).  Zoonotic Diseases Associated with Free-Roaming Cats.  Zoonoses and Public Health 60 (3). doi 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2012.01522.x.

Kitts-Morgan, S., Parsons, E. and Hilburn, K. A. (2014). Sustainable Ecosystems:  Free-Ranging Cats and Their Effect on Wildlife Populations.  Paper presented at the 2014 ADSA-ASAS-CSAS Joint Annual Meeting

Loyd, R. A., Hernandez, S. M., Shock, B. C., Abernathy, K. J. and Marshall, G. J. (2013a).  Risk Behaviors Exhibited by Free-Roaming Cats in a Suburban US Town.  Veterinary Record (2013).  Doi:  10.1136/vr.101222

Loyd, R. A., Hernandez, S. M., Carroll, J. P., Abernathy, K. J. and Marshall, G. J. (2013b).  Quantifying Free-Roaming Domestic Cat Predation Using Animal-Borne Video Cameras.  Biological Conservations 160. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2013.01.008

Mcruer, D. L., Gray, L. C., Horne, L. and Clark, E. E. (2016).  Free-Roaming Cat Interactions with Wildlife Admiited to a Wildlife Hospital.  The Journal of Wildlife Management 81 (1).  pp 163-173.  doi:  10.1002/jwmg,21181

Nicholas, J. (2019). What Cats Do When They’re Out at Night.  Preventive Vet.  Retrieved from What Cats Do When They’re Out at Night (preventivevet.com)

Tan, S. M. L., Stellato, A. C. and Niel, L. (2020).  Uncontrolled Outdoor Access for Cats:  An Assessment of Risks and Benefits.  Animals 10 (258).  doi:  10.3390/ani10020258

Watson, S. (nd) Should You Have an Indoor Cat or an Outdoor Cat?  WebMD.  Retrieved from Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cats: Health and Safety (webmd.com)

It’s Tick Season. Protect your pets from tick-borne illnesses.

It’s Tick Season

If you live pretty much anywhere in the United States, you are in tick country.  These little parasite arachnids are not only a pest, they present a serious health risk for both humans and their pets.  There are numerous tick species in the US that present varying levels of threats to us, our pets and wildlife (Mayo Clinic, 2021).   I’ll be discussing what they are and how they feed in for a little bit; if you’re a little squeamish you might want to skip down a couple of paragraphs.

What are they?

Basically, they’re bloodsuckers.  They are opportunistic feeders that are found in tall grass, low-hanging bushes and leaf litter, along the edges of wooded areas and in gardens; that will crawl onto any animal that brushes up against the plant material they’re using at the time (New York State, 2011).  Once a tick finds itself on a promising host animal, it will crawl to a protected area on that animals skin and plant its mouth into the skin.  The tick then injects its saliva into the bite, alternating with sucking blood from its victim.  The saliva facilitates feeding by suppressing any local pain or immune system response, allowing it to remain attached and feeding for days at a time.  This saliva also acts as a transmission mechanism for various tick-borne pathogens (Bonnet, Kazimírová, Richardson & Šimo, 2018).  The tick will remain attached for up to 10 days, while it becomes engorged on its hosts blood before dropping off.

Aside from feeding off their hosts, ticks present a serious danger.  They are a disease vector for a number of diseases, such as Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, along with others, that can affect both us and our pets (CDC, 2020).  These illnesses are contracted by the ticks’ victims as the ticks remain attached while feeding.

How to Prevent Tick Bites

There are a number of things you can do to protect your pets from ticks:

First off:  Keep your lawns mowed and gardens trimmed to reduce the risk of ticks being present in them.  Clear any piles of leaves or brush.  Don’t allow your pets to roam in areas where ticks are likely to be found. If possible, put a fence around your yard to prevent deer from visiting and depositing ticks.

Second:  If your pets have been in an area with low plants or high grass, check them for ticks.  In fact, check them regularly.   As I said above, ticks tend to attach themselves to dogs in protected areas, including in the ears, around the base of the tail, under their front legs, on their bellies, and a few others (CDC, 2019).  Your pets can also be treated with topical sprays and powders to kill any ticks they may have picked up.  However, you should consult your veterinarian before using any such preventatives regularly.

Third:  Have your veterinarian prescribe a flea and tick preventative and keep your pets on them year-round.  It is important to follow your vets’ advice in this and obtain these medications from a trusted source.

  • Your vet should be fully knowledgeable of any medications that your dogs is currently taking and is the best source for understanding the risks to your dog. He is in the best position to know what particular flea and tick medications should be prescribed.  For example, collies and related breeds often have a genetic anomaly that causes a deadly reaction to the drug Ivermectin; and preventatives that contain Ivermectin should be avoided in dogs with this genetic condition.  Your vet will be able to ensure that you are using safe and effective preventatives.  Also, as discussed in my March 2021 article on Seresto collars (March, 2021 | The Animal Nerd), medications are also prescribed based on your dogs size and related factors.  This is something that is best left to professionals.
  • There have been frequent reports of counterfeit pet medications being marketed to pet owners, with ingredients that can range from being completely ineffective to downright dangerous. Use trusted sources, such as your veterinarian or a reputable pharmacy for flea and tick preventatives, along with all of your pets’ other medications (EPA, 2004).
  • Another reason to use veterinarian-prescribed preventatives from trusted sources is that they are proven effective and safe. There are a number of internet sources that cite “natural” or “home-made” tick preventatives, with no evidence that they are either safe or effective.  Look for preventatives that have “Approved by the FDA” on their label (Roberts, 2018).

Fourth:  Have your dog inoculated against Lyme Disease.  There is a safe and effective Lyme vaccine that will keep your dog protected from that tick-borne illness.

What to do if you find a tick on your pet?

So, if you find a tick on your pet, what do you do?  Remove it as quickly and safely as possible.

Using a fine-tipped tweezers, grip the tick firmly by the head at the point where it is attached to your pet’s skin, and gently and firmly pull it upward and away. Do not squeeze the ticks’ body as that can cause infectious material or pathogens to be injected into your pet.  And do not twist while pulling, as that can result in the tick’s mouth breaking off and remaining in the dog (Although this sounds gross, it is not a big deal.  If they’re left in the dog, the mouth parts will eventually dry up and fall away, or you can just remove them like a splinter.  Still, its best to avoid this happening.)

You can also buy special tools such as “tick keys”, which are small devices that you can use to safely pull the tick away from your pet’s skin.  One advantage to these items is that they can be carried on your key chain for handy use.

Once the tick has been removed and disposed of (e.g., flushed), keep an eye on the site of the bite for a few days.  Normally, there will be a small rash or skin irritation that clears up within a couple of days.  However, if a circular red rash or a bulls-eye rash persists, consult your veterinarian as that can be an indication of a disease process or infection.

And, lastly, be familiar with the general symptoms of tick-borne diseases.  This is important for your family and your pets.  I can tell you from personal experience that these are serious medical conditions that can severely harm your pet.

References:

Bonnet, S., Kazimírová, M., Richardson, J. and Šimo, L. (2018).  Tick Saliva and Its Role in Pathogen Transmission.  In N. Boulanger (Ed.), Skin and Arthropod Vectors , Academic Press, London, UK

CDC (2019a).  Ticks, On Pets.  Retrieved from Preventing ticks on your pets | Ticks | CDC

CDC (2019b). Symptoms of Tickborne Illness.  Retrieved from Symptoms of Tickborne Illness | Ticks | CDC

CDC (2020). Diseases Transmitted by Ticks.  Retrieved from Diseases Transmitted by Ticks | Ticks | CDC

EPA (2004).  Fact Sheet:  Retailers and Counterfeit Pet Products.  Retrieved from U.S. EPA – Fact Sheet – Retailers and Counterfeit Pet Products

Mayo Clinic (2021).  Slide Show:  Guide to Different Tick Species and the Diseases They Carry.  Retrieved from www.mayoclinic.org/tick-species/sis-20147911?s-8

New York State (2011).  Be Tick Free – A Guide to Preventing Lyme Disease.  Retrieved from Be Tick Free – A Guide for Preventing Lyme Disease (ny.gov)

Roberts, C. (2018).  Should You Use Natural Tick Prevention for Your Dog or Cat?  Consumer Reports.  Retrieved from Use Natural Tick Prevention for Dog or Cat? – Consumer Reports

Recommended Summer Reading

I’ve compiled a short list of animal-related books that I strongly recommend.

The first list are books that will interest and entertain people who have a concern for animal welfare, particularly young people who should be encouraged to have a love and respect for both companion animals and wildlife.  The second list is for dog owners.  This isn’t a list of “how-to” training guides, although there are several excellent ones that I could recommend if anyone is interested.  Instead, this is a list of books that will help people understand how their dogs perceive the world, why they behave in any particular way and what they are attempting to communicate.

Your comments and recommendations are most welcome.  I’ll update the site’s References page with these titles (some are already posted there), along with any good recommendations that may come in.

I hope you enjoy them.

Recommended reading for animal lovers:

Children / Young adult:

Owls in the Family, by Farley Mowat
www.google.com/books/edition/Owls_in_the_Family/q-bKFtbhif8C?hl=en

Big Red, by Jim Kjelgaard

holidayhouse.com/book/big-red/

Young adult / adult:

All Creatures Great and Small series, by James Herriot

us.macmillan.com/series/allcreaturesgreatandsmall/

Dogtown, by Stefan Bechtel

www.simonandschuster.co.uk/books/DogTown/Stefan-Bechtel/9781426205620

Never Cry Wolf, by Farley Mowat

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Never_Cry_Wolf

Dog owners:

The Other End of the Leash, by Patricia McConnell, Phd

www.dogwise.com/the-other-end-of-the-leash-why-we-do-what-we-do-around-dogs/

Through a Dog’s Eyes, by Jennifer Arnold

www.goodreads.com/book/show/8079728-through-a-dog-s-eyes

Decoding Your Dog, Debra Horowitz, John Ciribassi and Steve Dale, editors

www.dogwise.com/decoding-your-dog-the-ultimate-experts-explain-common-dog-behaviors-and-reveal-how-to-prevent-or-change-unwanted-ones/

Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz

alexandrahorowitz.net/Inside-of-a-Dog

A Pack of Two, by Caroline Knapp

www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-31698-9

The Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson

www.dogwise.com/the-culture-clash/

Dominance, or Confrontational Training, in Dog Ownership

In 1947, researcher Rudolph Schenkel published a very influential study titled Expression Studies on Wolves (Schenkel, 1947), which became the basis for the understanding of canine behavior and training practices for decades to come.  Schenkel wrote of the hierarchical nature of wolf “societies” with a dominant mated pair of wolves at the head of the wolfpack, and stratified levels of more and less dominant wolves under them.  This was reinforced by a later (1970) study of wolves by David Mech, in which he introduced the concept of “alpha” pack leaders (Ha and Campion, 2019)
 

Dogs playing at public park.  The muzzle grabbing is part of the smaller dog’s play repertoire.

This became the model for 20th century understanding of canine social behavior and was incorporated into the practices of dog trainers – because, after all, dogs are close relatives to wolves.  Dog trainers, including very influential ones such as William Koehler (Koehler, 1962) incorporated a mindset that a human dog owner must be the dominant figure (the Alpha) to his dog and constantly enforce that relationship (*).   The use of dominance and pack theory has been adhered to by a large number of trainers, including celebrities, such as Cesar Millan and The Monks of New Skete (Monks of New Skete, 1978).

Under this theory, dogs feel more secure when they have a distinct place in a hierarchy.  Dominance trainers will tell their clients to physically place their dogs in subordinate positions, such as holding them by the muzzle, or putting them in “alpha rolls”.   Owners will be told to engage in dominance displays such as staring contests, forcing their dogs to look away first.  This extends to play activities:  owners will be told to never let their dogs win a tugging contest and to take away their toys when the play activity is done.  They are told to claim territory and never allow dogs on chairs or beds, never allow the dogs to precede them through a doorway and other controlling activities.   All this under the belief that domestic dogs are pack animals that thrive in a strict hierarchy and that the owner must be the “alpha dog” (Peeples, 2010; Herron 2009).  It should be noted that in later editions of How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend, the monks have moved away from recommending dominance enforcing actions such as “alpha rolls”, due to the number of biting incidents that resulted from this advice (Monks of New Skete, 2002).

This belief has given rise to the theory of “dominance aggression” in which dogs who growl at, or bite, their owners are disputing their position in “the pack” and are actually challenging them for the position of “alpha” (*).  These displays of aggression are seen as rebellion and resistance on the part of the dog which require the owners to reinforce their position as leader and instill submission on the dogs’ part (Uchida, Dodman, DeNapoli and Aronson, 1997).

This entire practice is fundamentally wrong on many levels:

First:  Schenkel was not researching wolf packs in the wild.  He was observing a population of unrelated wolves that had been put together in a confined space in the Basle Zoological Garden.  His theory of a pack hierarchy was based on observing a highly stressed population of wolves that had been put in a very restrictive environment, analogous to a human high-security prison (*).   Mech later retracted much of his conclusions about his research into wolves social behavior, when later investigations showed that his study population was atypical (Ha & Campion, 2019).  More recent research has shown that neither feral dogs nor pet dogs engage in any social hierarchies and that simple resource guarding has been commonly misinterpreted as a dominant behavior between dogs (Bradshaw, Blackwell & Casey, 2009)

Second:  Wolves are not dogs.  Although they are related species, they diverged from each other about twenty thousand years ago and have followed different evolutionary and behavioral paths.  Dogs have thousands of years of behavioral adaptation between them and their wolf cousins.  Dogs’ body language is more subtle than wolves and depends largely on individuals

.  For example, holding another dog’s muzzle in its mouth could be an attempt to make the other dog stop doing something, or it could be an invitation to play – depending on the dog or the situation.

Third:  Dogs know that humans are not dogs.  They are adept at reading our expressions and body language and do not need us to act like dogs to understand our emotions and intentions (Sinischalchi, d’Ingeo and Quaranta, 2018).

Fourth:  Dominance does exist in the canine world, but it is situational.  It centers on avoiding conflict rather than establishing a hierarchy.  When a dog owner tries to lock eyes with his dog and the dog looks away, the pup is not acknowledging that he is subordinate; he is responding to his owner’s aggressive stance and attempting to calm the situation and defuse a confrontation (Rugaas, 2006).

The white dog is voluntarily rolling over in a submissive display as a calming signal to the black dog.

Dogs’ actions that had been previously thought to be displays of submission to higher-status animals or people are now understood to be “calming signals”, intended to avoid conflict.  Looking away, sitting, tail positions, and even rolling on its back are a dog’s efforts to signal that he is trying to avoid a confrontation and bring calm to a stressful situation.  We must remember that these behaviors are part of dogs’ communications repertoire and are a completely voluntary – we must not impose them on our dogs.  When we roll a dog on its back, grab its muzzle, glare into its eyes, we are acting like highly aggressive animals trying to provoke a confrontation.  Our dogs will typically try to appease and calm us down by engaging in “submissive” or calming signals.  This isn’t real submission to a pack hierarchy, they’re just attempting to avoid conflict.  When we engage in dominance behavior with our dogs, we’re simply creating an antagonistic relationship with them (ASVAB, 2008).

Similarly, there’s no such thing as “dominance aggression”.   When we act in a dominant or aggressive way with our dogs, we make them stressed and fearful.  When we impose dominance during play or simply walking, we are not making our dogs more secure in their “pack status”, we are making them insecure.  And when we ignore every appeasing and calming signal that the dog is desperately sending us, when we take away every other way for them to escape the stressful environment we’ve created for them, they will act in a way that we call “aggressive” (McConnell, 2002).   This isn’t an attempt to move up in some imaginary hierarchy, they are simply desperate to make their owners stop scaring them.   What has previously thought to be “dominance aggression, in which dogs are attempting to assert themselves in being “alpha”, is now understood to be the dogs being fearful of their aggressive-behaving owners (Herron, 2009).

Dogs, like us, are individuals.  Some are more assertive than others, some are braver, some are timid, some are more or less outgoing than others and some are socially awkward.  But they are never trying to challenge us for leadership.  Dogs have been with us for thousands of years and are the most human-cooperative animals in the world.  You don’t need to impose your dominance on your dog, all that does is damage his trust in you and make him stressed and apprehensive when you are around.  Your dog should be your buddy and companion.  Take the time to learn his personality traits, just like you would with a human friend, and train him in the skills he needs to live with humans just like you would with a human child.  Use positive reinforcement and make your interactions with your dog fun, even joyful.

References:

American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (2008), Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals.  Retrieved from Dominance_Position_Statement_download-10-3-14.pdf (avsab.org)

Bradshaw, J. W. S., Blackwell, E. J. and Casey, R. A. (2009).  Dominance in Domestic Dogs – Useful Construct or Bad Habit?.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 4 (3). 135 – 144. doi:  10.1016/j.jveb.2008.08.004

Ha, J. C. and Campion, T. L. (2019).  Dog Behavior, Modern Science and Our Canine Companions.  Academic Press, London, UK

Herron, M. E., Shofer, F. S. and Reisner, I. R.  (2009).  Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2), 47 – 54.  doi:  10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011

Koehler, W. R. (1962).  The Koehler Method of Dog Training.  Retrieved from Amazon.com

McConnell, P. (2002).  The Other End of the Leash.  Ballantine Books, New York, NY

Peeples, L. (2010), Critics Challenge ‘Dog Whisperer’ Methods.  Live Science.  Recovered from:  www.livescience.com/5846-critics-challenge-dog-whisperer-methods.html

Rugaas, T. (2006).  On Talking Terms with Dogs:  Calming Signals.  Dogwise Publishing, Wenatchee, WA.

Schenkel, R. (1947). Expression Studies on Wolves.  Retrieved from Expression Studies on Wolves – Rudolph Schenkel, 1947 : Rudolph Schenkel : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Siniscalchi, M., d’Ingeo, S. and Quaranta, A.  Orienting Asymmetries and Physiological Reactivity in Dog’s Response to Human Emotional Faces.  Learning Behavior 46 (4). 574 – 585. doi:  10.3758/s13420-018-0325-2

The Monks of New Skete (1978). How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend. Little, Brown & Company.  New York, NY

The Monks of New Skete (2002). How To Be Your Dog’s Best Friend (2 ed.). Little, Brown & Company. New York, NY

Uchida, Y., Dodman N., DeNapoli, J. and Aronson, L. (1997). Characterization and Treatment of 20 Canine Dominance Aggression Cases.  Journal of Veterinary Medical Science 59 (5). 397-9. doi: 10.1292/jvms.59.397

Dog Training with “Aversives” or Punishment

When you examine the various advertisements for dog trainers or behaviorists, you will find a number of them describe the approach they use in training as “balanced”, or will indicate that they follow the “Koehler Method” or some other methodology such as the use of “e-collars”.  You should take the time to research what is meant by that terminology.   In general, these training approaches incorporate the use of “aversives” or punishment as part of the dog’s training.

What is an “aversive”?  Why are they used?

Essentially, an aversive is something that the training does to the dog when that dog does something undesirable.  They can take the form of an electric shock, an unpleasant spray to the face, throwing an object at the dog, making a sudden startling sound, jerking the dog’s collar, jerking on a prong collar or choke chain, or physically punishing the dog by hanging or choking.  In short, an aversive is an action on the trainer’s part to make the dog afraid of not obeying, or afraid to do something other than what the trainer wants.  The use of punishment in dog training is closely associated with the dominance or “pack” theory, in which trainers physically correct dogs with unpleasant outcomes for their actions.  This theory of behavior will be addressed in more detail in a later article.

A “balanced trainer” typically follows the training philosophy that punishments should be part of the trainers’ toolkits, along with incentives.  This is a carrot and stick approach.  Some of them claim that it is a science-based approach and point to the four quadrants of operant conditioning as justification for this thinking. Proponents of the Koehler method will state that dogs are being given freedom of choice about their actions and are learning to not make certain choices because of the pain or discomfort that they receive afterwards.

William Koehler (1914 – 1993) was a well-known, celebrity dog trainer and his book The Koehler Method of Dog Training was for many years considered to be the bible for dog trainers.  Like many trainers of the last century, he used extreme methods of punishing dogs for disobedience or for perceived “defiance”.  These methods included hanging a dog by a choke lead until he ceases moving and is unconscious, as well as the use of a weighted hose to discipline a rebellious dog by beating him.  In Koehler’s view, allowing a dog to be untrained or disobedient was more inhumane than using harsh methods to instill obedience in the dog (Koehler, 1962).    Koehler’s methods are still practiced by a number of trainers today, notably some of the trainers involved in the training of police or military K-9s.

In addition to the beating described above, trainers who incorporate aversives in their programs may use a wide range of tools, including but not limited to prong collars, shock collars, choke chains, thrown objects, loud noise makers and unpleasant sprays.  They can also use personal corrections, such as swinging the

Bull Terrier with prong collar

dog on its leash, hanging the dog by its collar, choking the dog, striking them, yelling at them, or a number of other physical punishments.

Why use aversives?

The use of aversive measures in dog training is based on the belief that the dog is intentionally and willfully being disobedient and that he needs to learn that this deliberate behavior leads to punishment.  Alternatively, these methods are used to form such unpleasant associations with certain behaviors so as to make the dog avoid performing them.  This second aspect is why these methods are sometimes called “scientific” by the trainers using them, as they involve some form of reflexive or Pavlovian behavior modification.

So what’s the problem?

The simple fact is that the use of physical punishment, intimidation and aversive measures in dog training isn’t necessary, or any more effective than positive training methods (Ziv, 2017).  In fact, the use of harsh corrections in training has been found to be counterproductive and actually increases behavior problems.  Studies have shown that punishment-based training not only increases a dog’s fear of his owners, it affects the dog’s social behaviors and overall trust of humans; the dogs actually become more resistant to training (Rooney & Cowan, 2011).     The use of aversives in dog training has been shown to be no more effective than positive training, and will actually increase serious behavioral problems (Hiby, Rooney and Bradshaw, 2004; Blackwell, Twells, Seawright & and Casey, 2008).  As mentioned above, dogs trained in an environment that incorporates aversives will actually be more stressed in training and resist taking part in it, due to their anticipation of physical pain and discomfort.  Their stress levels and anxiety during training are notably higher than dogs’ who are trained with positive methods.  In fact, dogs trained with punishments tend to avoid their owners and be less attentive to them than dogs trained with positive reinforcements (Deidalle and Gaunet, 2014).  These methods kill the dogs’ motivation to learn.

Studies have shown that the use of aversives and punishment in training are closely associated with increases in aggression and biting, due to the stress and strain associated with those training methods (Herron, Shofer and Reisner, 2009).  Such training methods actually endanger both the physical and mental heath of the dogs involved (Ziv, 2017).  The use of aversives actually causes dogs to be fearful and can create unintended negative associations for them – damaging their relationship with their owners and humans in general (Todd, 2018).

For these reasons, animal welfare organizations such as the RSPCA, the ASPCA, the HSUS, the AAHA and the AVMA have issued statements supporting positive training methods and condemning the use of aversives in pet training.  According to the AVMA “Aversive training has been associated with detrimental effects on the human–animal bond, problem-solving ability, and the physical and behavioral health of the patient. It causes problem behaviors in normal animals and hastens progression of behavioral disorders in distressed animals.” (AVMA, 2015).  The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the International Association of Animal Behaviorists and the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers have all established the Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive  (LIMA) protocol, which emphasizes the use of positive training methods with an absolute minimum of any aversive measures.

Summary

The bottom line is that we have learned a lot about animal behavior and learning in the 60 years since Koehler published his training method, and have found that punishment and aversives are not only cruel, they are harmful to animals’ welfare, and result in behavior problems and fear-based aggression.  Further, they don’t get any better results that positive methods.  In spite of this, although many trainers and owners are resistant to positive-only training, citing their own expertise and questionable authorities.

References

American Veterinary Medical Association (2015). AAHA Releases New Canine and Feline Behavior Guidelines.   Retrieved from AAHA releases new canine and feline behavior guidelines | American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org)

Blackwell, E. J., Twells, C., Seawright, A. and Casey, R. A. (2008).  The Relationship Between Training Methods and the Occurrence of Behavior Problems, as Reported by Owners, in a Population of Domestic Dogs.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 3 (5). 207 – 217. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008

Deidalle, S. and Gaunet, F. (2014).  Effects of 2 Training Methods on Stress-Related Behaviors of the Dog (canis familiaris) and the dog-owner relationship.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior (9) 2. 58 -65.  Doi 10.1016/J.veb.2013.11.004

Herron, M. E., Shofer, F. S. and Reisner I. R. (2009).  Survey of the Use and Outcome of Confrontational and Non-Confrontational Training Methods in Client-Owned Dogs Showing Undesirable Behaviors.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2). 47 – 54.  doi:  10.1016/j.applanim.2008.12.011

Hiby, E. F., Rooney, N. J. and Bradshaw, J. W. S. (2004).  Dog Training Methods:  Their Use, Effectiveness and Interaction with Behavior and Welfare.  Animal Welfare 13 (2004).  63-69.

Koehler, W. R. (1962).  The Koehler Method of Dog Training, Kindle Edition.  Retrieved from Amazon.com

Rooney, N. J. and Cowan, S. (2011). Training Methods and owner-dog interactions:  Links with dog behavior and learning ability.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 132 (2011). 169-177.  doi:  10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007

Todd, Z. (2018).  Barriers to the Adoption of Humane Training Methods.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 25 (2018), 28 – 34.  doi:  10.1016/j.jveb.2018.03.004

Ziv, G. (2016).  The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs – a Review.  Journal of Veterinary Behavior 19 (2017). 50 – 60.  doi:  10.1016/j.jveb.2017.02.004

Disposing of dog poo in a safe and eco-friendly manner

Your pets poop.  But what do you do with it?

Most of us who live with a dog or cat have the unenviable job of cleaning up after them.  Those of us who live in condominiums and apartments have fewer options than people who live in rural or suburban areas, but still have a desire to dispose of their pets’ waste in a way that is safe for the environment.  And, of course, there are a wide variety of products being marketed to address this need for an eco-friendly way to dispose of the poop.  I’ll talk about the various products that are being sold for this purpose, and then get into practical solutions.  Today, I’ll talk about disposing of dog poo – cats are an entirely different problem as far as waste disposal goes and will be addressed in a separate article.

First off, there are “compostable” or “biodegradable” poop bags.  These are plastic bags that are advertised as being safe for the environment because, unlike other plastics, they will harmlessly dissolve over time.  If you are a pet owner, you are probably being bombarded with advertisements for them.  The problem is, in all likelihood they don’t work in a way that would be useful for you1.

These bags are generally marketed as meeting ASTM D6400 standards, meaning that they are made of a polymer that will degrade in a few months in a commercial aerobic composting facility2.  The problem is that municipal landfills are not aerobic composting facilities and, if these bags wind up in a landfill, they will not break down any differently than any other plastic bag3.

And then there are water-soluble “flushable” bags.  These bags are made of Polyvinyl Alcohol (PVOH) and are marketed as dissolving readily in water.  There is truth to this, but your results will vary.  Not all of these bags are created the same; some will dissolve quickly in hot water but will take months to break down in cold water.  The good news is, once they have dissolved, they do not leave microplastics in the environment4.  The bad news is that they will not dissolve in trash or landfills; and can clog pipes and sewers while in the process of dissolving very slowly in cold water.

If you have a good-sized yard, you might consider a pet septic system, or “digester”.  These are generally metal containers with open holes or slots and an opening on the top with a movable lid.  They are intended to be placed in a deep hole in your yard, with only the top lid exposed and accessible.   The idea is to dump the dog’s poo into the septic tank and add chemicals from time to time to help it break down and leach into the surrounding soil.  These systems can work under the right conditions.  But if you have a high water table where you live, or if your soil has a high clay content, they are not effective.  Also, these systems do not work in cold weather – they simply do not break down biological waste when the weather is too cold (this is why household septic systems are buried below the frost line)5.

If you have a lot of outdoor space and a large garden of ornamental plants, you can establish a compost heap and dispose of your dog’s waste there.    But you absolutely cannot use animal feces in composting a kitchen garden or for growing any edible plants.  Feces contains bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that are dangerous to humans and should not be used to fertilize any plants intended for consumption.  And it will make for a smelly and unpleasant compost heap.  If you are interested in recycling your dog’s poop for composting purposes, The Bark, published an informative page that can be found here:  pet_poo_what_to_do_infographic_02.19.2020.pdf (thebark.com)

So far, I’ve discussed everything you can’t, or shouldn’t, do with your dog’s poo; along with all the products and methods that probably won’t work as advertised or have serious limitations on their usage.  So what can you do with it?

If you live in an apartment or house that is connected to a municipal sewage system, you can simply flush your dog’s poop down the toilet.  Your town’s sanitation system will handle your dog’s poop just fine.  The drawback, of course, is transporting the poo from wherever your dog leaves it to the toilet.  And you cannot flush whatever bag or wrapping you used to carry the waste to the toilet.  A word of caution – if your home has a septic system, be sure that it is able to process animal waste before flushing your dog’s poop.  And do not flush any bags of any kind into a septic system.

The best solution that I have found is this:   If you have a yard, simply dig a small hole or trench about six inches deep, deposit the poop in the hole, refill it with the soil you removed and tamp It down.  The bacteria and worms in the soil will break down and digest the poo very quickly and cleanly, with no mess or smell.  But do not, repeat not, bury your pet’s feces in or near a garden used to produce food or if the water table is less than 18 inches deep5.

If none of these options work for you, then pick up the poop in a plastic bag, tie it securely, and dispose of it in your municipal trash (unless forbidden by your local municipal codes.  It will go into a landfill with all the other biological and plastic materials that your town produces, but it will at least be handled safely.

  1. The Truth About Biodegradable and Compostable Bags is Out – But No One is Asking the Right Questions — Water Docs
  2. Standards for Biodegradable Plastics | ASTM Standardization News
  3. Environmental Deterioration of Biodegradable, Oxo-biodegradable, Compostable, and Conventional Plastic Carrier Bags in the Sea, Soil, and Open-Air Over a 3-Year Period | Environmental Science & Technology (acs.org)
  4. Biodegradability of Polyvinyl Alcohol Based Film Used for Liquid Detergent Capsules (degruyter.com)
  5. web.uri.edu/safewater/files/Pet-Waste.pdf

Suburban Wildlife – Backyard Critters

Above and below: Local wildlife captured on a backyard trail cam

If you live outside of a major city, you might be surprised to learn that your home is part of an ecosystem.  Your yard is a place where animals roam, hunt, forage and raise their young; and you are part of it by virtue of the boundaries you place on it, the shelter and food sources that you create, and the dangers that you bring to it.

Set up a trail cam outside your house before you settle down to an evening of television and you will see what I mean.  In the mornings, you will see pictures of animal comings and goings in the night that you probably never knew were happening.  You will find that you are sharing your turf with opossums, rabbits, raccoons, skunks, woodchucks, coyotes, foxes, owls and other critters that you may never have been aware of.  They are your neighbors and live their lives right  under your nose.  They are the reason that your dog wakes you  up in the night and barks to go outside.

What’s your part in this?  The best thing you can do is be responsible and be aware of their behaviors.

First off:  Control your pets.  Always keep your cats indoors and do not let your dog outside at night without keeping an eye on him.  Your cats are predators by nature and will attempt to hunt and kill birds and any other small animals that they can get.  Further, your cat is prey for the larger predators in your area.   By keeping your cat indoors, you are increasing its life expectancy by 12 to 15 years1,2.

Second:  Keep your trash inaccessible and use bins that cannot be opened by wildlife.  We do not need to attract wildlife to our homes or invite them to visit us for food.

Third:  Do not feed them.  If wildlife is present in your neighborhood, that means they have plenty of food and do not need you to supplement their diets.  And, the fact is, the sugar, fat and salt content in our diet is just as unhealthy for them as it is for us.  You are not doing them any favors by sharing it with them.  I am not saying to take down your bird feeder, just don’t share your breakfast cereal or dinner leftovers with them.  And absolutely do not feed your pets outdoors or leave their food bowls outside.  Not only do your pets’ bowls attract wildlife – sharing them with wildlife is an avenue for diseases.

One of the main reasons to admire wildlife from a distance is that they can carry diseases and parasites that are dangerous to both humans and our pets.  Not only profoundly serious diseases such as rabies and distemper, but tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, parasites such as mange, fleas and scabies, and other communicable diseases.   You can keep these illnesses and parasites outside by simply taking simple precautions about your pets and their food.

Lastly:  Leave them alone.  Do not try to make friends with them.  In fact, the more wary they are of people, the better.  If you see a critter that seems to be unafraid of you or tame; or if one approaches you, it is probably sick3.   In fact, animal welfare organizations across the country are seeing increases in diseases such as canine distemper4,5, a disease that can be spread to unvaccinated dogs.

Summing it up:  Just recognize that we share the world with wildlife, and we should respect their space.  We can enjoy them from a distance, but for our benefit and theirs we should minimize our intrusion into their lives.  We also need to protect our pets by keeping them from having any interactions with wildlife and keeping their vaccinations up to date.

References:

  1. Watson, S. Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cats: Health and Safety (webmd.com)
  2. www.thehumanesociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/indoors_outdoors.pdf
  3. Sick animals being reported throughout Bristol | EastBayRI.com – News, Opinion, Things to Do in the East Bay
  4. yubanet.com/regional/distemper-cases-rise-among-californias-foxes-raccoons-skunks/
  5. patch.com/virginia/arlington-va/newsroom-canine-distemper-confirmed-raccoon-population-north-arlington

 

Suburban Wildlife – Deer

Deer are becoming more and more common in human-populated areas and are establishing themselves as a fixture in our neighborhoods.  In the coming months we are going to see increased deer activity as fawning season begins in late April and May.  Depending on your viewpoint, they’re a nuisance and garden thief, or they’re an attractive addition to your local community.  In either case, there are some do’s and don’ts that you should keep in mind.

First off, do not feed them or do anything to attract them to your home.  For one thing, not all of your human neighbors would appreciate it – particularly those with gardens.  And any food that you might put out would also attract other animals that you might not want to have nearby, such as mice or rats.  The deer in our backyards are feeding themselves very nicely and do not need your help.  In fact, we do not want them to become even more accustomed to human habitats than they already are.   For their own sake, we want them to be cautious around humans and avoid us.  Another reason to keep them at a distance is that they carry parasites and diseases (ticks, mange, lyme disease, leptospirosis, salmonella and giardia, to name a few) that are contagious to us and our pets1.  Your pets belong in your yard; the deer may visit from time to time but do not need to be regulars.  In fact, it’s a bad idea to let them become regulars.

In the spring you might encounter a fawn that is bedded down in a corner of your yard or in a wooded area.  This is common.  The fawn is fine, you should leave it alone and keep your pets and children away from it.   Unlike a lot of other animals, deer do not keep their unweaned young with them 24/7; they will leave fawns in a safe, quiet place while they graze nearby2.  So, if you see a fawn, just assume that it is most likely not orphaned or abandoned and does not need your help.  If you are concerned about it, set up a camera and watch it for a day or two to see if the deer returns.  If she doesn’t, call a wildlife rescue organization.

Summing it up, deer are cute and attractive animals.  Even though they live close to us, they are still wild animals and its better for all concerned if we leave them alone and admire them from a distance.

References

  1. American Veterinary Medical Assocation.  Disease Precautions for Hunters.  Retrieved from Disease precautions for hunters | American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org)
  2. Mizejewski, D. (2015, April 15). Finding a Fawn:  What to do, retrieved from Finding a Fawn: What To Do • The National Wildlife Federation Blog : The National Wildlife Federation Blog (nwf.org)

CBD for Dogs

Does CBD have any medical uses, and can it be used safely for pet dogs?

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a naturally occurring chemical substance that is an active ingredient in marijuana.  It is not a narcotic and has no psycho-active effects – unlike THC, the other major compound found in marijuana and hemp. In the past year, it has been extensively marketed as a beneficial treatment for a number of health issues and has turned into a huge industry.  You can’t drive past a strip mall without seeing stores advertising CBD products.

What is it used for?

CBD products are available in capsules, pills, topical creams, lotions, oils and tinctures, food additives, smoothies, gummies, vaping products and pretty much any other form that can be taken internally or applied to skin1.  They are marketed as treatments for a huge array of ailments, including anxiety, PTSD, chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s Disease, autism and Alzheimer’s disease2,3, in both humans and animals.

Does it work?

Does it?  We don’t know.

There is clinical evidence that CBD is effective in treating some forms of childhood epilepsy.  And early studies suggest that CBD has some effect on insomnia and anxiety in humans, and in treating anxiety in humans.  Early studies indicated that it may have some use as an anti-inflammatory4.   However, later testing showed no pain-relieving or anti-inflammatory effects in dogs5.

Recent testing has also shown that CBD was not effective in reducing anxiety in dogs, either alone or in combination with other medications.  In fact, it seems to reduce the effectiveness of other medications when used in combination with them6.

The FDA has issued warnings to several companies, ordering them to stop making unproven claims about CBD’s effectiveness.  However, these warnings have little effect, and the FDA is essentially playing whack-a-mole in trying to reign in consumer fraud regarding CBD.

Adding to the confusion is that dogs have entirely different digestive systems than humans and produce different digestive enzymes.  Products designed for human consumption don not always work with dogs.

What are the issues with it?

First of all, there’s a serious lack of testing.  And much of CBD testing has been of questionable quality, relying on owners’ and veterinarians’ impressions of effectiveness rather than objective testing.  An AVMA spokesman estimates that the placebo effect of CBD studies can be as high as 40% 7.   As discussed above, when controlled testing takes place, efficacy claims are placed in serious doubt.

Being an unregulated product, there is no way of knowing whether the contents of a pill, cream or other form of CBD actually match what’s on the label8.   Further, its available in a wide range of forms.  We don’t know it should be administered or what dosage may be effective – if it has any effect at all.

We do know that it can cause liver damage and that it can affect other medications.  It can also cause mood changes and stomach upset9.

What’s the bottom line?

CBD has some interesting possibilities, but we have to wait for the scientific process to prove or disprove the marketing claims.  It is probably safe in that it won’t cause harm to your pets, although side effects have been noted, but we have no reason to believe that it will be effective in treating any physical, emotional or mental conditions.  And we don’t know how it may interact with other drugs, how it should be administered, what form it should take and what dosage is needed.  Further, until it is regulated in some form, we have no way to know what’s in those pills or gummies that are sold online or over the counter.

My advice:  If you think your dog needs medication for some condition, talk to your vet.

References:

  1. Beginners guide to CBD.  Retrieved from Your Guide to CBD (healthline.com)
  2. Mother Jones. (December 2018) Sorry, Hipsters. CBD Will Not Solve All Your Problems. Retrieved from Sorry, Hipsters. CBD Will Not Solve All Your Problems. – Mother Jones
  3. Hazekamp, A., (2018), The Trouble with CBD Oil, Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids 2018 (1). 65 – 72. doi: 10.1159/000489287
  4. Grinspoon, P. (August 24, 2018), Cannabidoil (CBD) – What We Know and What We Don’t. Harvard Health Publishing.  Retrieved from Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing
  5. Mejia, S., Duerr, F. M., Griffenhagen, G. and McGrath, S. (2021). Evaluation of the Effect of Cannabidoil on Naturally Occurring Osteoarthritis-Association Pain: A Pilot Study in Dogs.  Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association 57 (2), 81-90. doi:  5326/JAAHA-MS-7119
  6. Morris, E. M., Kitts-Morgan, S. E., Spangler, D., McLeod, K. R., Costa, J. H. and Harmon, D. L. (2020), The Impact of Feeding Cannabidoil (CBD) Containing Treats on Canine Response to a Noise-Induced Fear Test. Frontiers in Veterinary Science (2020).  doi:  3389/fvets.2020.569565
  7. DVM360, CBD in Pets, retrieved from CBD in Pets (dvm360.com)
  8. Grinspoon, et al.
  9. S. Food and Drug Administration. What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-Derived Compounds, Including CBD.  Retrieved from:  What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD | FDA