Seresto collars

There has been great deal of interest and reporting about the EPA’s report on dog illnesses and fatalities linked to the Seresto flea and tick collar.  Like most dog owners, I’m interested in this reporting.  But I’m bothered by the reporting for much different reasons than most others whose comments I’ve seen.

The story, which first appeared in USA Today on March 2nd,  (www.usatoday.com/story/news/investigations/2021/03/02/seresto-dog-cat-collars-found-harm-pets-humans-epa-records-show/4574753001/ ), states that 1,700 pet deaths have been attributed to Seresto collars.  As stated in the article “Seresto, one of the most popular flea and tick collars in the country, has been linked to hundreds of pet deaths, tens of thousands of injured  animals and hundreds of harmed humans, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency documents show.   Yet the EPA has done nothing to inform the public of the risks.”  The article provides a link to the EPA’s website, containing an aggregate summary of pet deaths attributed to Seresto collars from 2012 through 2020.   The report contains information about the total number of reported illnesses and deaths, along with reported severity of the illnesses.  However, that’s all the information that was provided.  The article doesn’t provide any amplifying information about the data collection.

For example, the article provides a link to the aggregate reporting of pesticide incidents attributed to Seresto, but does not state the source of those incident reports.  There is no explanation as to whether the incidents were reported by private citizens, veterinarians, state agencies or the manufacturer.  Every one of these potential sources can contribute to the EPA’s database, with varying degrees of reliability ( www.epa.gov/pesticide-incidents/introduction-pesticide-incidents ).  And, although part of the data collection for incident reporting, the aggregate database cited in the article contains no information about the probability that the incident was accurately reported.

The fact that the article apparently used raw data without further examination leads to some questions about the data itself.  For example, in previous investigations of flea and tick treatments, the EPA has found that a significant number of incidents were based on improper use of the products, including applying the wrong amount of treatment for the animals’ weight or age, or using the product for the wrong species of pet ( www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/safe-use-flea-and-tick-products-pets  ).  The EPA has addressed concerns with other topical flea treatments by requiring modifications to their safe use ( EPA Evaluation of Pet Spot-on Products: Analysis and Plans for Reducing Harmful Effects | Protecting Pets from Fleas and Ticks | US EPA ).

Although the article questions the safety of Seresto collars, it fails to consider how many reported incidents may be inaccurate.  Or how many deaths and illnesses are attributable to other causes.  Or how many reported incidents are the result of incorrect use.  For example, one active ingredient in Seresto collars, imidacloprid, has been found to have no adverse side effects when applied topically, but is extremely toxic when ingested ( www.dogaware.com/articles/wdjmdr1.html ).  This raises the possibility that dogs licked or chewed on a collar, or that the insecticide was ingested by excessive grooming or licking a hot spot, rather than becoming ill through normal use.

All this is not to say that the Seresto collars should not be re-examined for safety concerns and that mitigations may be needed.  And there is clear evidence that the EPA has been lax in enforcement in recent years.  But the article took one data element that is used to evaluate product safety, and drew somewhat inflammatory and potentially misleading conclusions from it.  We need to be mindful that this is only part of the story.

Dog thefts

 

Dog Theft:  Is it really on the rise?

Like everyone else who watches the news, I was shocked by the recent assault on Lady Gaga’s dog walker and the theft of her French Bulldogs.  I was heartened by their quick return (Lady Gaga’s two French bulldogs have been returned safely, LAPD says – CNN), and more so by the fact that her dogwalker is getting the best of care and seems to be out of danger.

In light of all the press coverage, I had to wonder how prevalent dog theft really is, and how the pandemic is affecting the frequency of pet theft in the United States.  There is a great deal of information on the seriousness of dog theft in the United Kingdom; the reporting of pet thefts has increased over one hundred percent in 2020.  This is due to several factors:  The stringent pandemic lockdowns in the UK have created an increased demand for puppies and dogs as Covid companions; while the lockdowns and European travel restrictions have created a shortage of purebred dogs for purchase or adoption (Huge increase in UK dog theft blamed on COVID-19 restrictions | Euronews).  This has resulted in an increased demand and a sort of black market for desirable dog breeds.  There is little doubt that the rate of dog theft is drastically increasing (Puppy shortage amid COVID leads to uptick in animal thefts (radio.com)).

With regard to the United States, it turns out that it is hard to determine whether the pandemic is resulting in an increase in dognapping.  There simply isn’t a lot of available data on this subject.  Most states do not have dedicated statutes for pet thefts – these are considered to be crimes against personal property.  Only fifteen states have specific criminal codes regarding dog theft.   I have seen some reporting that dog thefts in the United States has increased substantially, but haven’t been able to locate any actual figures to support those claims.  Many of the claims are anecdotal and, frankly, the media accounts are generally written to maximize their emotional impact.  Also, since the AKC’s statistics have been derived from media reporting, this has the potential of being a self-licking ice cream cone:  As public interest in dog theft increases, media outlets are more inclined to cover these thefts which, in turn, increases the number of thefts that appear in media-derived statistics.

Here’s what we do know:

Small breeds are very vulnerable to theft, simply because they are easy to snatch and hide (ref).

Stylish breeds, such as French bulldogs, are targeted by thieves because of their size and popularity.  They are easy to sell.

Small, pure-bred dogs are generally stolen by dog-flippers, who sell them for profit, or by people who simply want one for themselves (Dognapping: How to Keep Your Dog Safe When Pet Theft Is on the Rise (akc.org)).

Only about ten percent of stolen dogs are recovered and returned to their owners (The Alarming State Of Stolen Dog Laws & How To Prevent – CanineJournal.com ).

The number of thefts has been steadily increasing in recent years, so it is reasonable to assume that we have had a significant increase in the number of thefts in 2020.  Although our lockdowns have not been as widespread and draconian as in the UK; there has been a definite increase in the demand for small companion animals (ref) and breeders and rescues have had difficulties in transporting dogs.

And the fact is, from the standpoint of the criminals, dog theft is a relatively low-risk crime.  Even in states with criminal statutes regarding dog theft, they are generally considered misdemeanors with minor penalties.  Also, without compelling evidence such as high-quality video recording of the theft, these crimes are hard to prove.  A thief can simply say that he found the dog wandering on the street (The Alarming State Of Stolen Dog Laws & How To Prevent – CanineJournal.com ).

So, if you have a puppy or a dog that happens to be a popular breed, what can you do?

First off:  Microchip your dog. Although this may not prevent your dog from being stolen, it greatly increases your ability to positively identify him or her.

Second:  Don’t leave your dog unattended in a public place.  Don’t leave them tied up outside a store, or in your car.  And if your yard is plainly visible from the street and can be accessed by passers-by, don’t leave your dog unattended outside for any length of time.

Third:  Be conscious of your surroundings while walking your dog.  Make sure that you are aware of cars that are driving too slowly, or that you see more than once.  Be aware of who is walking behind you.  Carry a whistle or other kind of alarm.

Lastly:  Be aware of your dog’s social media presence.  Do you really need to show him off to the entire internet?  You do not know who is looking for available dogs in your neighborhood.

Stages of puppy development

A friend of mine recently expressed some exasperation that her 10 month-old puppy suddenly seemed to forget everything he had learned and was actively resisting training.  I asked her what she was like when she was an adolescent.  My friend’s dog is somewhere in the adolescent or juvenile stage, and is being a brat.  Its just a good thing he’s cute.

Like us, dogs go through stages of emotional and physical development, and their behavior changes during those phases.  Here’s an excellent brief on the subject, courtesy of the Arizona Humane Society.

Developmental-Stages-of-a-Dog

Alternative Veterminary Medicine – Homeopathy

Various pharmacy bottles of homeopathic medicine on dark background

I was thinking about hitting a hornet’s nest with a stick, but decided to stir up some real trouble instead.  So, I’m working on a few pieces regarding the use of alternative veterinary medicines, starting with today’s article on homeopathy.

First off:  What is homeopathy?

Homeopathy is a field of veterinary medicine that has a loyal following and a number of professional practitioners.  Homeopathic remedies are widely marketed as curatives for a wide variety of physical, emotional and behavioral conditions; but the general public has very little knowledge of this field or its principles.

Homeopathy is the creation of Samuel Hahnemann (1755 – 1843) a German physician, building on previous studies by Anton Von Stork, who proposed that poisonous plants can have medicinal values when administered in small doses.  The basic principles that Hahnemann proposed are:

  • Like Cures Like:  Meaning that a very minute dose of a toxin can cure the symptoms that it would cause in larger doses, or would cure similar symptoms caused by a disease.  Putting it another way; poison ivy causes itching, therefore a minute dose of poison ivy would cure a rash. 1
  • Water Memory:  The concept that water is able to retain and remember the shape and characteristics of medicines that it once contained.1
  • Dilution:  The principle that the more a substance is diluted in water, the more powerful it becomes in treating symptoms.2  The process of “succussion” (being shaken between dilutions) and successive dilutions is a key characteristic of homeopathic “remedies”.

Example:  Lets suppose that a homeopath chooses to treat a patient’s fever with a plant substance that can induce a sensation of heat:  Chili peppers.  He wants this treatment to be very effective, so he will subject is to 30 succussion and dilution steps (called 30X, a very common homeopathic dilution, homeopathic remedies are often distilled far more than this).  He would create a ten-to-one mixture of 10-to-one chili peppers and distilled water; then take one part of that mixture, shake it and dilute it in ten parts distilled water.  This step of shaking and diluting would then be repeated twenty-nine times.  The final result would be that the each drop of chili pepper solution would be diluted by 10 to the 30th power (or, one in a million trillion trillion).  Put it another way, it would be pure distilled water.  But the homeopath would state that this dilution would make the treatment of the fever even more effective.

What is it used for?

Veterinary homeopaths and alternative medicine practitioners will prescribes homeopathic treatments for behavioral problems, phobias, wounds, diarrhea, viruses, gallstones, fibroid tumors, allergies, asthma, colitis, high blood pressure, thyroid problems, chronic infections and a host of other conditions.3

Does it work?

In a word.  No.

Homeopathy is based on an 18th century understanding of disease, nervous systems, immune systems and physics.  The fact is, a homeopathic “remedy” is simply distilled water, or a drop of distilled water poured on a sugar pellet. There is no active ingredient in a homeopathic treatment, so it can’t do anything.

This is, however, a major industry that has spent enormous sums of money attempting to prove that homeopathic remedies are effective.  This has been studied by the Federal Trade Commission4,  The National Institute of Health5, the British National Health Service2, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council7 along with other national and international medical associations, have all concluded that no evidence exists to support claims that homeopathic treatments are effective in treating any diseases or medical conditions.  Each of these bodies has concluded that homeopathy has never been found to be more effective than placebo.

So, in summary:  Like does not cure like, water does not have a memory, and dilution doesn’t make medications stronger.  (A note on those last points:  Proponents of homeopathy would have you believe that water retains a memory of a substance that it touches, but does not retain a memory of every bladder and bowel that it passes through.  By homeopathic principles, a small cup of water from your kitchen faucet is actually a tremendously powerful dose of mastodon pee.)

Is homeopathy harmful?

In and of itself, no.  Since a homeopathic remedy has no active ingredients it can’t be directly harmful or interact with any medications.  However, if an animal is treated for a medical condition only with homeopathic treatments, it is harmful in that it amounts to withholding effective care from the suffering animal. 6

Conclusion

The takeaway from all this:  If you believe that your animal is suffering from a condition that would be cured by a drop of distilled water or a sugar tablet, then use homeopathy.  Otherwise, seek help from a qualified veterinarian.

  1. What is Homeopathy? | Live Science
  2. Homeopathy – NHS (www.nhs.uk)
  3. Veterinary Homeopathy | Homeopathic Treatment For Animals | Alternative Veterinary Services (alternativevetservices.com)
  4. Staff Report on the Homeopathic Medicine & Advertising Workshop (ftc.gov)
  5. Homeopathy | NCCIH (nih.gov)
  6. 1,800 Studies Later, Scientists Conclude Homeopathy Doesn’t Work | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine
  7. Homeopathy not effective for treating any condition, Australian report finds | Homeopathy | The Guardian

Eastern Coyote Myths and Reality

Its coyote season again.  This is the time of year when coyotes mate and establish dens and territories in preparation of new puppies arriving in the spring.  We can expect new encounters and sightings in our neighborhoods in the coming months.  So, I thought this might be a good time to discuss some commonly held notions and beliefs about them.

Myth Number One:  Coyotes roam in packs. Everyone knows that.

Actually, they live in small groups of about 5 individuals, consisting of a dominant male and female pair, with a few lower status members and any puppies that have been born that year.  In some cases, the “pack” may consist only of the breeding pair and any pups they may have.  The size of the pack is limited by the availability of game and the level of danger in that environment – in areas in which they are hunted or more likely to be killed by automobiles, their “pack” size tends to be smaller.

A third to a half of the coyotes that you may encounter don’t belong to packs at all, and are solitary animals.  They may be individuals who have left their packs and are looking for mates, or a looking for a pack to join, or just like being alone.1

The misconception that they live in larger groups may be due to their vocalizations.  When they get together for a good howl, two or three of them can sound like ten, as seen in the below video:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtsZoIe3Czk

Myth Number Two:  Coy-wolves. They’re enormous.

Not so much.  Coy-wolves are not a thing.

Before Americans started moving west, coyotes were rare east of the Mississippi River.  Starting over 100 years ago, coyotes from the American west began moving into Ontario, CA, taking over the space left by other predators being forced or hunted out.  As they drifted eastward, they intermingled with hybrid wolf populations in Canada, and became genetically distinct from the western coyote populations.  These hybrid coyotes are generally referred to as Eastern Coyotes.

A genetic study of coyotes in the New York area found that they generally 64% coyote, 13% gray wolf, 13% eastern wolf and 10% dog.  This should not be interpreted as meaning that they are interbreeding with domestic dogs.  That DNA was picked from the hybridized wolves they interbred with on their way east.  There is some speculation that species that are endangered or under pressures to survive, such as wolves, are more likely to breed with other, more successful species.  2

As a result of this genetic mixing, the coyotes we see in the US northeast are somewhat larger than their western counterparts and have slightly larger heads.  The ones that you are likely to see in your neighborhood will be between 20 and 40 lbs, about the same as a small- to mid-sized dog.  But they’re not coy-wolves.

Myth Number Three:  Coyotes attack people. Everyone has a story.

No.  They don’t.  They really want nothing to do with us.  You and your kids are safe from them.

Coyote attacks are, in fact, very rate.  There is only one recorded incident of a human being killed by coyotes in the United States.  Most cases in which humans have been bitten by coyotes are instances in which the coyotes were being fed (its never a good idea to feed wildlife) or in which people were attempting to save their pets from a hunting coyote.3

There are stories of people who claim that they were “stalked” by a coyote while out walking or hiking.  It is more likely that the coyote was simply curious, or had been fed by someone, or has simply become habituated (accustomed) to humans and is less fearful than it should be.

Myth Number Four:  Coyotes are rabid. One bite and you die.

Not really.  There is a coyote strain of rabies, but that is limited to a population in Texas.  They are considered to be a disease vector for rabies, but no more so than any other wild predator.  The primary risk of a rabid coyote is one that was bitten by an infected animal of another species.6,8

Not a Myth:  Coyotes can prey on pets and livestock

Yes, this can happen.  Coyotes are opportunistic predators and will attempt to make a meal out of any small prey they encounter.  This can include your pets, including smaller dogs or cats, or any other pet animals that you may leave out in your yard.

Dogs can be particularly vulnerable.  We encourage them to be social with their fellows and they may approach coyotes that they encounter.  Particularly so at this time of year then coyotes are mating – a fertile female coyote can be very interesting to a male dog. 4,8

That said, they don’t make a practice of eating our pets.  Nor, contrary to popular belief, do they live largely on our garbage.  Studies of eastern coyote scat from urban and suburban areas show that they live primarily on rodents, fruit (Yes, they have a sweet tooth and like berries or apples and pears) and deer (whether they hunt deer, or are scavenging road-killed deer carcasses is unclear).  2,5,7

The easiest way to protect your pets from coyotes to not let them roam, and don’t let your rabbits and chickens freely wander around your yard.  Keep them in protected runs.  And take particular care to have them secure at night.  Eastern coyotes hunting habits are shifting in response to human behavior and they are becoming more and more nocturnal –  when we are less active. 3,4

Lastly, we also share our suburbs with other predators, including feral cats and dogs, raccoons, foxes, weasels, minks, owls, etc.  Although coyotes are becoming more and more common in our neighborhoods, its likely that they are being blamed for predation done by other species.

What’s the takeaway?

The reality is that they are present in your neighborhood.  They are getting used to the flood of noises, smells and activity that we create, and are thriving in our urban and suburban ecosystems.  They are somewhat beneficial as they prey on rodents such as rats, mice and moles that can become nuisances if left unchecked.  They’re not going away and we need to cohabitate with them, just like we do with foxes, raccoons, opossums, weasels, raptors and other local predators.

So what to do?  First off, do not – not – ever feed them.  That is that unkindest thing you can do to them.  Having them become unafraid of humans and seeing us as a food source is dangerous for both them and us.

If you encounter one or more?  Scare them.  Make yourself look as big as possible and make a lot of noise.  The more they fear humans and avoid us, the better for all concerned. 9

1 General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research

2 Nagy, C.,  (2017)  New York’s Newest Immigrants:  Coyotes in the City.  Anthrozoology Graduate Program, Canisius College

3 Coyotes and people: What to know if you see or encounter a coyote | The Humane Society of the United States

4 Coyotes are everywhere and breeding season is here, so watch your pets (newbernsj.com)

5 Gerhart, S. and McGraw, M. (2007) Ecology of Coyotes in Urban Landscapes.  Proceedings of the 12th Wildlife Damage Management Conference

6 urbancoyoteresearch.com/coyote-info/disease

7  Suburban coyotes, foxes favor wild prey over pets and trash – THE WILDLIFE SOCIETY

8  How to Protect Your Pet from Coyotes | PetMD

9 What To Do If You See A Coyote – CoyoteSmart (coyotesmarts.org)

Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA)

In previous posts, I’ve mentioned the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) approach to training and behavior.  So, what is it?  The latest training fad?  Hardly.

LIMA is an approach that has been adopted by the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) as a humane and ethical practice of dog training and behavior modification.1  Although this approach was developed for canines, it can be applied to all living creatures.  LIMA incorporates a systematic hierarchy of procedures that should be followed in all cases.

Hierarchy of Procedures for Humane and Effective Practice

Source:  m.iaabc.org/about/lima/hierarchy/

  1. Health, nutritional, and physical factors: Ensure that any indicators for possible medical, nutritional, or health factors are addressed by a licensed veterinarian. The consultant should also address potential factors in the physical environment.
  2. Antecedents: Redesign setting events, change motivations, and add or remove discriminative stimuli (cues) for the problem behavior.
  3. Positive Reinforcement: Employ approaches that contingently deliver a consequence to increase the probability that the desired behavior will occur.
  4. Differential Reinforcement of Alternative Behavior: Reinforce an acceptable replacement behavior and remove the maintaining reinforcer for the problem behavior.
  5. Negative Punishment, Negative Reinforcement, or Extinction (these are not listed in any order of preference):
    1. Negative Punishment – Contingently withdraw a positive reinforcer to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.
    2. Negative Reinforcement – Contingently withdraw an aversive antecedent stimulus to increase the probability that the right behavior will occur.
    3. Extinction – Permanently remove the maintaining reinforcer to suppress the behavior or reduce it to baseline levels.
  6. Positive Punishment: Contingently deliver an aversive consequence to reduce the probability that the problem behavior will occur.2

 

As seen above, a humane and ethical trainer/behaviorist will first determine if a behavior is caused by a medical or physiological issue.  Often, they will have their clients consult a veterinarian to determine whether such an issue if contributing to the behavior.  Once this first step is eliminated, they will then attempt to simply remove or modify any conditions or stimuli that are causing the behavior:

Example:  Fluffy stands at the window and barks at passers-by, even though they are a reasonable distance from the house.  Assuming that no medical conditions are involved, a behaviorist may recommend installing shutters or blinds that can cut off her view of the street during times that barking is an issue – like when the baby is taking a nap.

Only when these two first steps have been considered will the behaviorist try behavior modification techniques, emphasizing the positive reinforcement of desired behaviors.  In all cases, a trainer should ask “What do you want the animal to do?”

By emphasizing reinforcement of desired behaviors, and minimizing any aversive measures, a trainer or behaviorist can humanely teach an animal alternative reaction to a stimulus.  Using the above example, the trainer may prompt Fluffy to sit quietly when people walk past the house, or may help Fluffy’s owners desensitize her so that she only reacts when strangers come closer to the house.  However, a trainer who ascribes to the LIMA approach will only use aversive measures, such as a bark collar, only when all other options have been ruled out.  IAABC and ADPT sites for detailed position statements on the use of punishment during training and the use of “training aids” such as shock collars.

1 apdt.com/about/about-lima/

2 m.iaabc.org/about/lima/hierarchy/

Finding a Canine Behaviorist

So, your puppy is growing up, or your rescued dog has been in your home for a while, and your best buddy is turning into a terrible roommate.  Your dog is incessantly barking, or chewing everything in sight, or aggressively charging other dogs, or doing something else that is making you miserable.  You’ve taken the first step and decided that you need help.  Who do you turn to that can transform your problem pet back into the sweet companion that you brought home?

This is the difference between a dog trainer and a canine behaviorist.  A behaviorist is a professional who addresses a problem behavior – namely something the dog does either too often or not often enoughto the extent that it cannot be ignored.  All you need to do is figure out who’s the right behaviorist to help you.  How can you tell whether a behaviorist is reputable?

Like many pet-related professions, this is an unregulated business.  Literally anyone can put up a website, print some business cards, and call himself a behaviorist.  Let’s discuss how you can find one who’s actually put in the time and effort to learn this profession, abides by professional standards and ethics and knows what he’s doing.

First off, a good behaviorist will not:

  1. Start off by saying that he’s dealt with situations like this and knows exactly what to do.
  2. Immediately tell you what’s causing the dog’s behavior and how he’ll fix it.
  3. Guarantee results.
  4. Say that he’ll take the dog to his facility for treatment, and bring it back completely fixed.
  5. Advocate the use of aversive methods or punishments as a standard approach.
  6. Disparage other professionals or their methods.

On the other hand, a good behaviorist will:

  1. Tell you that he will have to determine exactly what triggers and reinforces the problem behavior by careful observation of the dog before, during and after that behavior occurs.
  2. Involve you in identifying the causes of the behavior and implementing a treatment.
  3. Be credentialled by the ABS, IAABC, CCPDT or other reputable body.
  4. Not guarantee results.
  5. Collect data on the effectiveness of the treatment being applied and change the behavior modification program, as needed, based on that data.
  6. Provide you with feedback and progress reports.
  7. Abide by the ethical practices of this profession.

See the difference?  A knowledgeable and ethical behaviorist will implement a program of Applied Behavioral Analysis, which is a structured methodology for changing a problem behavior by modifying the events or conditions that happen before and after the behavior takes place.    He might ask you make video recordings of your dog, keep a record of the behavioral incidents – in other words, take an active role in the treatment.

By maintaining a professional certification, your behaviorist is demonstrating that he is continuing his education and keeping knowledgeable of developments in this field, and abiding by stringent ethical standards.  Most importantly, he will abide by the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) protocols for behavior modification.  I’ll get into the details of what this means in my next post, but for our purposes today it means that he will be primarily concerned with your dog’s physical, mental and emotional welfare.

Next:  What is LIMA?

  1. Chance, Paul.  (2006).  First Course in Applied Behavioral Analysis.  Long Grove, IL., Waveland Press

Choosing the Right Dog Trainer

In previous articles, I discussed the differences between dog trainers and behaviorists, and provided some insight into the various qualifications and professional organizations that are part of those professions.  Today, we’ll talk about how to pick the right person.

To keep it simple, I’ll limit this post to picking the right trainer:  What to look for and how to find one who meets your needs.  Picking a behaviorist will have somewhat different criteria and I’ll discuss that in my next post.  Note:  This assumes that we get back to a more normal society in the coming months and can have in-person interactions more freely than we can at present.  In the interim, there are a number of trainers who are providing very effective remote consulting, or one-on-one social-distanced training, during the pandemic.  But, for our purposes today, lets hope for the future.

So.  The first thing to do is ask around.  In this business there is nothing as beneficial as word-of-mouth advertising.  If one of your friends has a well-behaved and socialized dog, and had a good experience with a trainer, that’s definitely a plus.  Not only do you get to see the dog’s interactions and behavior, but you and your friend will probably have some shared values about training methods and similar lifestyles.

Next, look at the trainers’ advertisements and see what qualifications they have.  For example, if they have a CPDT-KA or CPDT-KSA certification, that means they have documented experience, have demonstrated skills and knowledge and –  very importantly – are engaged in continuous education1.    That said, when you see some letters after a trainer’s name, take the time to look that up and see what that certification actually means, what that certifying agency is.  They’re not all the same.  By the same token, when you see “member of ________” , take some time to look that up.  Some professional organizations have stringent membership requirements in terms of qualifications and experience.  Others, not so much.

After that, look at what they offer in terms of training styles.  A trainer who is a member of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, or holds most certifications, will adhere to the Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive (LIMA) philosophy of training and behavior work.  I’ll get into the details of this in a later post, but for our purposes today it means that the trainer adheres to professional standards that avoid any punishment-based training measures.  If you see an advertisement of a trainer who promotes the use of punishment methods, such as e-collars2, I would consider that to be a red flag.  Not only are aversive training methods contrary to ethical standards, but they have also been found to be damaging to dogs’ welfare and are less effective than positive training methods3.  Similarly, I would advise looking carefully at a trainer who describes his program as “balanced”.  This can often mean that this person is more prone to implement punishment as a training measure, instead of as a last resort.

If your trainer uses phrases such as “pack”, “authority”,  “Alpha” or other terms related to a dominance hierarchy, this can mean that he is using outdated and discredited training methods4.  This points out the advantage of hiring trainers who are maintaining a certification and are required to keep current on developments in the field.

Trainers will offer a variety of environments for you and your dog.  They may offer anything from group classes, structured playtime for socialization, individual one-on-one training, or board-and-train programs.  They may have a facility for conducting classes, or they may come to your house to offer individualized programs.  Each of these approaches have advantages for dog owners.

If your dog is new in your house, regardless of his/her age, I recommend taking part in a group training session.  This is a good social and bonding event for you and your dog, and also gives you a chance to learn about how well he is socialized with other dogs in a controlled and safe environment.   Again, read reviews and get recommendations before picking a program.

One-on-one programs are particularly useful for specific training in your home environment, such as loose-leash walking, greeting strangers, or other activities that don’t require a social setting but are centered on you interacting directly with your dog.

Board and train facilities, or doggy-daycare facilities that provide training can be very favorable for working people who don’t have a lot of spare time.  However, these programs must include the dogs’ owners in the training.  Your dog isn’t a car that can be dropped off at a mechanic.  A good facility such as this will involve the owner in training and provide work to do at home.

Lastly, interview the trainers that you are considering and tour their facilities.   They should provide their rates up front, along with details of their training program; and information about their business license, insurance and bonding.  Find out if they are affiliated with any shelters or rescues and ask for references.

Every person and every pet have individual needs and personalities.  One size does not fit all. But this will hopefully help in identifying the kind of trainer you need.

Next up:  What to look for in a canine behaviorist.

1  How to become a certified dog trainer – CCPDT

China, Mills & Cooper (2020), Efficacy of Dog Training With and Without Remote Electronic Collars vs. a Focus on Positive Reinforcement.  Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2020).  doi:  10.3389/fvets.2020.00508

3  Fernandes, Olssen & Vierira de Castro (2017), Do Aversive-based Training Methods Actually Compromise Dog Welfare?:  A Literature Review.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 196 (2017).  1 – 12, doi: 10.1016/j.applanim 2017.07.001

4  The Dominance Controversy – Dr. Sophia Yin

Shelter Dog Welfare

This is a short paper that I did a couple of years ago.  Its still current today.

Shelter Dog Welfare Challenges

Dogs hold a unique place in American society.  They have been our companions and work partners for many thousands of years and are unique among non-human animals in their ability to form attachments with members of other species.  They are the most commonly found companion animal in the United States; a recent survey found that 48 percent of US households include at least one dog, and the majority of dog owners are described as considering their dogs to be family members (Humane Society of the United States, n.d.).  Despite the affinity between dogs and humans, approximately 5.5 million are put in shelters every year (Woodruff and Smith, 2017).

Dogs enter shelters or rescue organizations from three primary sources:  They may have been confiscated by local animal control or police as abused or endangered,  or because their owners were taken into custody.  They may have been picked up as strays, having been lost or abandoned by their owners; or simply as “street dogs”.  Lastly, the dogs may have been surrendered by their owners for any of a variety of reasons, such as loss of income, the family having to move, medical issues or behavioral problems.  In some cases, dogs are moved from one shelter to another either for space and funding restrictions, or to provide a better chance for placement.

In any case, the dog entering shelters face multiple challenges to their emotional and physical welfare; some of these issues stem from limitations of care available from the shelter organization, and some simply from the shelter’s environment.   This paper will attempt to identify these issues and their impact on the dogs, and will discuss possible ways to mitigate these challenges to improve the dogs’ welfare while they are kept in shelters.  This will conclude with possible ways of influencing the outcomes of their stays in these organizations.

Welfare Challenges

Methodology.  This review of welfare concerns will deal with dogs in shelters that meet the following criteria:  First, the shelters must be “intake facilities”, meaning that they accept dogs from various sources including owner surrenders and confiscation by authorities.  Second, they must adopt dogs to the public.  Third, the shelters must be “brick and mortar” facilities, meaning that they have a physical location for housing and caring for the dogs.  No distinction will be made between shelters operated by local governments and those run by private organizations.   The various challenges addressed in this paper are drawn from peer-reviewed studies and from data collected and published by animal welfare organizations.

Welfare Issues

Euthanasia.

When a dog is placed in a shelter the possible outcomes are limited.  Strays can be returned to their owners.  Dogs can be adopted or transferred to other organizations such as breed-specific rescue organizations or shelters and rescues with higher adoption rates.  Lastly, the dogs can be euthanized due to space and funding concerns, medical reasons or behavior issues that are judged to make the dog unadoptable.   In many cases, owners surrender dogs to shelters for the purpose of euthanizing them, often for reasons of age, health issues or behavioral concerns (Patronek, Glickman & Moyer 2015).

Estimates of euthanasia rates vary widely, as there are no real metrics maintained by state or local agencies.  Recent survey data shows that approximately 777,000 dogs are euthanized annually; however, there is no information available on how many were “put to sleep” for medical or behavioral concerns or based on owners’ instructions.  Further, the likelihood of a dog being euthanized by a shelter varies by geographic area; shelters in the southeast and southwest united states are more likely to euthanize unadopted dogs than shelters in other regions of the US (Woodruff & Smith, 2017).  In any case, approximately 14 percent of all dogs in placed in shelters every year will be euthanized.

Medical Welfare Issues.

Dogs housed in shelters are particularly at risk for exposure to infectious diseases.  The population of dogs in any shelter is fluid, as new dogs arrive frequently from multiple sources in varying degrees of health.  In many cases, dogs are surrendered or seized by authorities with no, or unreliable, information on their immunizations, medical  history or current state of health.  Dogs seized by authorities as a result of criminal activity, such as dog fighting operations, have been found to have had a very low degree of preventative care and are at high risk for spreading disease and disease-bearing parasites (Cannon et al, 2016).

A 2014 study found that dogs entering shelters from the local community with infectious respiratory illness, such as Canine Influenza, had a very high incidence of affecting other dogs held by the shelter (Pecoraro, Bennett, Nuyvaert, Spindel & Landolt, 2014).  Further, the majority of shelters do not have on-site veterinary staff and use local veterinary clinics on a periodic or ad hoc basis (Laderman-Jones, Hurley & Kass, 2016).  The training and disease awareness of shelter staff and volunteers is also a subject of concern, creating higher risk of disease transmission within shelters (Steneroden, Hill & Salman, 2010).

The gaps in veterinary staffing and availability mean that intake evaluations are conducted by shelter staff with varying levels of expertise, increasing the risk that medical conditions or infectious diseases will not be detected (Steneroden, Hill & Salman, 2011).  Further, shelters have a high concentration of animals, which creates a situation in which animals are more likely to be exposed to diseases than they would be in private residences (Newbury, et al., 2010).  Although guidelines have been published for the vaccination of shelter dogs (AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines, 2017), they are not implemented uniformly (Pecoraro, Bennett, Nuyvaert, Spindel & Landolt, 2014), increasing the likelihood of disease transmission within kennels and by transfer of dogs between shelters.

Stress-related welfare issues.

The experience of being housed in a shelter is stressful for dogs.  Upon entering a shelter, dogs find themselves separated from any personal attachments they may have, isolated in unfamiliar surroundings and being cared for by strangers.  This naturally creates a state of heightened fear and anxiety, which impact their health and behavior.  This fear reaction can result in dogs’ exhibiting defensive behavior and avoidance of humans and other dogs (McMillan, 2017).  Aside from the direct impact on a dog’s quality of life, the behavioral indications of stress, such as stereotypic behavior, increased arousal or displays of anxiety, negatively affects dogs’ chances of being adopted (Wright, Smith, Daniel & Adkins, 2007).

There are multiple stressors affecting shelter dogs’ quality of life:

Separation.

Dogs have lived with humans for tens of thousands of years and have adapted to be human companions.  They affiliate with humans and form attachment bonds with their owners and caregivers, and these bonds provide a measure of security for dogs when they are in unfamiliar situations (Bradshaw, 2012; Mariti, Ricci, Zilocchi & Gazzano, 2013).  Isolation from their human attachment figures and people in general, particularly in an unfamiliar environment, causes anxiety and stress.  This condition persists as long as the animal remains isolated (Marston & Bennett, 2003).

Further, dogs are social animals with a natural desire to interact and form attachments with other members of their species.  To reduce the transmission of disease and the possibility of aggression and fighting, shelters typically isolate them from each other. Thus, shelter dogs are aware that other dogs are nearby, but are unable to engage in normal social activity with them.  They can detect stress and excitement from the other dogs’ vocalizations, but are unable to communicate and interact with them as part of their natural behavior (Hedges,2017).  This serves to increase their frustration and anxiety while housed in shelters (Grigg, Nibblett, Robinson & Smits, 2017).

Confinement and reduced activity.

While kept in shelters, dogs are housed in confined spaces and have limited access to outdoor spaces.  The fact of being kept in a restricted space with no means of exit and no opportunity to engage in any play or physical stress-relieving behavior has been shown to increase the anxiety and stress reactions of dogs in shelters (Normando, Contiero, Marchesini & Ricci, 2014).  The confined space also requires dogs to engage in an unnatural behavior of eliminating and urinating in close proximity to the spaces in which they eat, drink and sleep, adding to their anxiety (Wagner, Newbury, Kass & Hurley, 2014).

Environmental stressors.

The lack of a familiar environment in a shelter can be exacerbated by sensory overstimulation.  The dogs are suddenly thrust into completely new surroundings and the sounds and smells within a kennel can be overwhelming.  Their senses are suddenly bombarded by intense new odors and sounds.  The noise level found in shelters is particularly concerning from a welfare standpoint.

Dog shelters are noisy environments.  The shelter interiors are generally hard, smooth walls and floors to facilitate cleaning and disinfecting.  While these hard surfaces are beneficial from the standpoint of hygiene, they contribute to the problem of excessive noise levels inside the buildings.  Although dog’s hearing is far more sensitive than that of humans and extends to frequency ranges that are not audible to humans, dogs housed in kennels are regularly exposed to continual noise levels that exceed ranges considered safe for a human work environment. The sound levels in shelters has been found to regularly exceed 100 decibels; by contrast, the mean sound level of human houses is 45 decibels (Coppola, Enns & Grandin, 2006).  Although the physical effects of this noise exposure in dogs has not been adequately explored, the noise levels commonly found in kennels have been found to cause damage and stress in animals with less sensitive hearing (Sales, Hubrecht, Payvandi, Milligan & Shield, 1997).

Conclusion

Dogs in a kennel environment face unique challenges to their health and general welfare.  The causes for these challenges tend to overlap, requiring great care in identifying and addressing particular issues.

The most pressing concern is the possibility that shelter dogs will be euthanized for non-medical reasons.   Although there are no statistics available to determine the number of dogs that shelters euthanize for medical reasons, the raw numbers suggest that non-medical euthanasia occurs at a high rate.  Short of increasing space, funding and training for shelter staff and volunteers, the most obvious solutions would appear to provide outreach and assistance to owners in the process of surrendering their dogs and to increase the dogs’ chances of being adopted once they are in the shelter.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that interviews with owners who are surrendering dogs to shelters, coupled with assistance in resolving the issues leading to the surrender, would assist them in keeping their dogs at home (Protopopova & Gunter, 2017).  Increasing dogs’ chances of being adopted once in the shelter can be accomplished by human interaction and socialization, coupled with enrichment of their environment and training in basic behavior.  (Luescher & Medlock, 2008).

The next major concern is the risk to dogs’ health. Animals in shelters are at a heightened risk of exposure to contagious diseases due to the density of the shelter population and the varying states of preventative care that the animals received prior to intake.  Steps should be taken to increase the level of training among shelter staff and volunteers in disease awareness and transmission, and to encourage the administration of all recommended and optional immunizations for shelter dogs, regardless of their medical history (Steneroden, Hill & Salman, 2011; American Animal Hospital Association, 2017).

The above steps would also serve to remove causes of stress and anxiety in these dogs, enabling them to interact with visitors and becoming more adoptable.  When it is all said and done, the best way to improve a shelter animal’s welfare is to have a family take it home.

References

American Animal Hospital Association (2017). Vaccination Recommendations – Shelter-Housed Dogs. Retrieved from: www.aaha.org/guidelines/canine_vaccination_guidelines/shelter_vaccination.aspx

Bradshaw, J. (2012, November 19).  The bond between pet and owner. Psychology Today.  Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pets-and-their-people/201211/the-bond-between-pet-and-owner

Cannon, S. H., Levy, J. K., Kirk, S. K., Crawford, P. C., Leutenegger, C. M., Shuster, J. J.,…Chandrashekar, R. (2016). Infectious diseases in dogs rescued during dogfighting investigations.  The Veterinary Journal 211 (2016). 64-69.  doi:  10.1016/j.tvjl.2016.02.012

Coppola, C. L., Enns, R. M. and Grandin, T. (2006), Noise in the animal shelter environment:  Building design and the effects of daily noise exposure.  Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 9 (1). 1-7. doi: 10.1207/s15327604jaws0901_1

Grigg, E. K., Nibblett, B. M.. Robinson, J. Q. & Smits, J. E. (2017).  Evaluating pair versus solitary housing in kenneled domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) using behavior and hair cortisol: a pilot study.  Veterinary Record Open 4 (193) doi: 10.1136/vetreco-2016-000193

Hedges, S. (2017).  Social behaviour of the domestic dog.  Veterinary Nursing Journal 32 (9). 260-264. doi: 10.1080/17415349.2017.1333474

Humane Society of the United States (n.d.).Pets by the numbers.  Retrieved from: www.animalsheltering.org/page/pets-by-the-numbers

Laderman-Jones, B. E., Hurley, K. F. & Kass, P., H. (2016).  Survey of animal shelter managers regarding veterinary medical services.  The Veterinary Journal 210 (2016). doi:  10.1016/j.tvjl.2016.02.007

Luescher, A. U. & Medlock, R. T. (2008). The effects of training and environmental alterations on adoption success of shelter dogs.  Applied Animal Behavior Science 117 (1-2). 63-68.  doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2008.11.001

Mariti, C., Ricci, E., Zilocchi, M. & Gazzano, A.  (2013). Owners as a secure base for their dogs.  Behaviour 150 (2013). 1275-1294.  doi: 10.1163/1568539X-00003095

Marston, L.C. and Bennett, P., C.  (2003) Reforging the bond – toward successful canine adoption. Applied Animal Behavior Science 83 (3).  Doi:  10.1016/S0168-1591(03)00135-7

McMillan, F. D. (2013). Quality of life, stress, and emotional pain in shelter animals.  In L. Miller and S. Zawistowski (Eds.), Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff (pp 83-92). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell

Newbury, S., Blinn, M. K., Bushby, P. A., Cox, C. B., Dinnage, J. D., Griffin, B.,…Spindel, M. (2010).  Guidelines for standards of care in animal shelters.  Retrieved from: www.sheltervet.org/assets/docs/shelter-standards-oct2011-wforward.pdf

Normando, S., Contiero, B., Marchesini, G. & Ricci, R. (2014) Effects of space allowance on the behavior of long-term housed shelter dogs. Behavioral Processes 03 (103). 306-314. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.01.015

Patronek, G. J., Glickman, L. T. & Moyer, M. R. (2015).  Population dynamics and the risk of euthanasia for dogs in an animal shelter.  Anthrozoös 8 (1).  31-43. doi:  10.2752.089279395787156455

Pecoraro, H. L., Bennett, S., Huyvaert, K. P., Spindel, M.E. & Landolt, G. A. (2014). Epidemiology and ecology of H3N8 Canine Influenza Viruses in US shelter dogs. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine 28 (311). doi: 10.1111/jvim.12301

Protopopova, A. & Gunter, L. M. (2017) Adoption and relinquishment interventions at the animal shelter: a review. Animal Welfare 2017 (26). 35-48. doi:  10.7120/09627286.26.1.035

Sales, G., Hubrecht, R., Peyvandi, A., Milligan, S. & Shield, B. (1997).  Noise in dog kenneling:  Is barking a welfare problem for dogs?.  Applied Animal Behaviour Science 52 (3). 321-329.  Doi: 10.1016/S0168-1591(96)01132-X

Steneroden, K. K., Hill, E. H. & Salman, M. D. (2010). A needs-assessment and demographic survey of infection-control and disease awareness in western US animal shelters.  Preventive Veterinary Medicine 98 (2011).  52-57. doi: 10.1016/j.prevetmed.2010.11.001

Steneroden, K. K., Hill, A. E. & Salman, M. D. (2011).  Zoonotic disease awareness in animal shelter workers and volunteers and the effects of training.  Zoonoses and Public Health 58 (7). 449-53. Doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2011.01389.x

Wagner, D., Newbury, S., Kass, P. & Hurley, K. (2104) Elimination behavior of shelter dogs housed in double compartment kennels. PLoS ONE 9 (5). doi: 10/1371/journal/pone.0096254

Woodruff, K., A. & Smith, D. R. (2017), An Estimate of the Number of Dogs in US Shelters [Slide presentation].  Retrieved from: petleadershipcouncil.org/resources/uploads/MSU_Shelter_Census_Presentation_NAVC_2017.pdf

Wright, J., Smith, A., Daniel, K., Adkins, K. (2007). Dog breed stereotype and exposure to negative behavior:  Effects on perceptions of adoptability.  Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 10 (3). 255-265.  doi: 10.1080/10888700701353956

Trainer or Behaviorist?

In an earlier post, I talked at length about the certifications to look for in a dog trainer or behaviorist.  If you took the time to read it, you might be wondering what’s the difference between them.  After all, they do the same thing, right?  Well, not really.  They represent two different disciplines that you might need in living with your dog.

So, you are sharing your home with a pretty intelligent non-human who has social and emotional needs, and communicates non-verbally.  And he is turning into a terrible roommate.  One of you needs help, but what kind of help?  As in all things, that depends.

First, keep in mind that anyone can put up a website, print some business cards and call himself a dog trainer or behaviorist – or dog whisperer, dog guru, dog spiritual healer, dog communicator, or any other title.  This is an unregulated industry, with its share of quacks and frauds.  In the first article in this series, What Do All Those Letters and Certifications Mean? I discussed the various organizations that certify and vet members of these professions.  In the next article, I’ll address what to look for in picking the right person to help you with your dog, but at this point, we’ll discuss what these professionals do.

What is a dog trainer?

Putting it simply, a trainer is someone who teaches you and your pet the skills needed to function well in your home and in society.  This includes manners, pet etiquette and behaviors that are needed to safety and a happy life.  These can range from basic skills such as sitting and lying down on command, coming when called, walking nicely on a leash, traffic safety, etc., to advanced skill levels such as protection training, sports and other activities.

Types of dog training.

The training can take many forms, ranging from multi-dog classes for teaching basic skills to owners and their pets, moderated play sessions for socialization (generally for puppies), advanced group classes, private sessions at owners’ homes, or board-and-train sessions in which the dog lives at the trainers’ location for a time.  In my next article I’ll go into these approaches in depth and discuss how to pick a trainer, but for the time being, it suffices to say that trainers have a number of tools at their disposal, and a number of different business philosophies and approaches.  One size does not fit all.

What is a canine behaviorist?

A behaviorist is someone who can address a problem behavior that your dog has developed.  A “problem behavior” being defined that something that the dog does too often, or not often enough.1   For example, if your dog has anxieties about certain situations – such as being left alone in the house, or your dog barks excessively at the neighbors, or is overly protective of his food bowl, these are problems that the behaviorist can help with reducing.

Behaviorist Methodology

Where a dog trainer uses repetition and encouragement to educate dogs and owners in how to perform certain actions; a behaviorist will work with the owners to observe what the dog does, determine what events or triggers cause it to happen, and develop an intervention to reduce or modify the problem behavior.  The key elements of this are to closely observe what happens before, during and after the behavior occurs; and develop an intervention based on behavioral science and professional ethics.

I hope this helped to clarify when you should seek a trainer or behaviorist.  We’ll get into the mechanics of training and behavior modification in a later article, along with what you should look for when searching for a reputable and effective professional to help you with your dog.