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

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

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.