Who, Whom and a Fifteen Thousand Year Gap

A recent New York Times article has covered a new, collaborative study which may allow us humans to

“…come close to settling the thorny question of when and where the tearing power of a wolf jaw first gave way to the persuasive force of a nudge from a dog’s cold nose.”

-Greger Larson, biologist, University of Oxford

This is exciting news, considering there is currently over a fifteen thousand year gap in the span of theories considering when dogs came about.  That’s a very large section of  time and points to the fact that there is a lot of information waiting to be inserted and that there is potential for much more research to help nail down significant dates.  Parallel to this is a huge potential to align canine history with our evolutionary timeline and to answer the current question en vogue:  did dogs evolve because of us, or did we evolve because of dogs?  Much evidence pointing to the latter has surfaced in recent years, and a worldwide joint effort (as explained in the article) might add even more ammunition to this smoking gun.

Another interesting set of thoughts, highlighted in the article, is these:

Researchers also point out that of the estimated one billion dogs in the world, only a quarter of them are pets. The vast majority of dogs run free in villages, scavenge food at dumps, cadge the odd handout and cause tens of thousands of human deaths each year from rabies. They are sometimes friendly, but not really friends.

Modern dogs are different from modern wolves in numerous ways. They eat comfortably in the presence of people, whereas wolves do not. Their skulls are wider and snouts shorter. They do not live in pack structures when they are on their own, and so some scientists scoff at dog-training approaches that require the human to act as pack leader.

Gormanian, James .  “The Big Search to Find Out Where Dogs Come From.” nytimes.com.  18 January 2016. Web.

dingo-285516_1920It is amazing that there are 750,000,000 wild dogs roaming the earth, and even more amazing that studies on these animals aren’t often publicized!  Wolves, who are much more far removed from our domesticated companion dogs, have provided a lot of the framework for theories on dog behavior.  This, not surprisingly, has led to some misunderstanding.  Most significantly, there is a confusion as to how pack structure affects canine behavior, as it is oft though that dogs employ a strict hierarchy when interacting with other dogs or even us humans.  As noted in the last quote, dogs do not live in pack structures.  I will respectfully disagree with that bold statement and add that there are some wild populations that do form packs.  African Wild Dogs do, for instance, as noted in the article here.  However, it has been seen that even if there is a pack structure among dogs, it is dynamic and a land where leadership/roles can change often.  Hence, the “leader of the pack” mentality often employed when interacting with canines serves us poorly.

“Hierarchy in dogs is neither static nor linear, because the motivation to obtain and retain a specific resource, together with previous learning, defines the relationship between two individuals for each encounter.”

http://www.merckvetmanual.com/mvm/behavior/normal_social_behavior_and_behavioral_problems_of_domestic_animals/social_behavior_of_dogs.html

It excites the mind and curiosity to know that there is still so much to be discovered about our amazing companion, the domestic dog!  Soon we will be better owners, more understanding trainers and more astute researchers.  And we will know…who came about because of whom.

On Storm Keeping Ants Out of His Belly

Storm the Border Collie

Storm the Border Collie

I knew there was trouble as soon as I rounded the corner and caught sight of Storm’s kennel.  He was laying in it, as usual, peering up at me with those round, little Border Collie eyes.  However the shreds of plastic laying near the kennel entrance were new.  What the?  Oh no, it hit me like a wrecking ball (thank you Miley)…he had made an early morning snack of one of the ant traps I had set out!  Where’s the box, I thought, hoping that somewhere in the fine print it would state “really toxic to ants, but perfectly fine for canines to ingest and share with other doggie friends.”  Unfortunately, there was no such gentle wording on the box I yanked from the shelf (where I put all of the chemicals so the dogs don’t get into them…hrrrmmph).  It plainly stated that whatever was in those attractive little black discs was toxic for domestic animals. Now in my defense, the little voice in the back of my head had told me to be cautious.  For I know….I have an eater!  Storm has ingested items that would make any other dog shake his head in disbelief.  He has an affinity for toilet paper rolls and steals them from bathroom wastebaskets any chance he gets.  Cotton swabs are a delicacy in his eyes.  I still can’t find the tiny remote that belonged with my digital alarm clock….huh.  Anyway, I thought I was exercising caution when I put the ant trap up high and behind some appliances that would be tough to maneuver around.  Darn that canine sense of smell for betraying my stealth and cunning.  Storm must have smelled whatever attractant is housed in those black domes, and he wasted no time working to get to it.  I am still not sure how he maneuvered onto the kitchen island and around the appliances to get to it, but a snack was available, and he was going to have it!

So as it sank in that Storm could get seriously sick, my heart sank at my apparent lack of caution.  I hurriedly called my vet and luckily, since Storm has just recently enjoyed his unconventional meal, there was a chance that vomiting would help keep him out of trouble. One teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide was prescribed…two if he wasn’t “hurling chunks” in a matter of a few minutes.  Disclaimer:  this doesn’t always work, and certain things ingested are not good to bring back up so in short, kids, don’t try this at home without your vet’s approval.  Being a dog who tries his best to respond quickly to any demand placed upon him, Storm was launching remnants of ant bait, plastic and the morning’s kibble towards the floor shortly after I administered the first spoon of peroxide.  Good boy!  Just to show off, he threw up two more times afterwards. Ok, that’s enough…you can stop now!  Poor dog, he looked absolutely pitiful after all of this.  I am sure I did as well, but I was immeasurably relieved that my sweet boy was likely going to live to eat another toilet paper roll.

Dogs are certainly very intelligent and perceptive creatures. However they need us to be constant ambassadors to the human world and to help them stay away from things that they are just not able to interpret appropriately.  Especially if they are like my sweet Storm, and everything is interpreted as the next great meal!

Playing Around with Dog Training

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My hand lifts up slowly and Storm’s eyes follow it, full of anticipation and razor sharp focus.  He is seated and his head is slightly low, in classic Border Collie focus fashion.  The ball in my grip is his only concern at this point, and he is poised to go as soon as I launch it down the hallway behind him.  Except for one thing.  I have now told him to “wait!”  As I let go of the ball, it flies, fast and furious, towards the end of the hall.  Storm is still planted in the same spot, looking at me and waiting, waiting, waiting for…”bring it!”  Upon release of the magic words, he turns on a dime and goes after the ball as if his life depended on the retrieve.  He quickly catches up to it, scoops it up with his mouth, and returns it to me for another throw.

This type of scenario happens often at our house.  I am a big time multi-tasker, so anytime I can shove two tasks together in one frame of time, I do it!  Hence, it is wonderful for me to be able to combine ever-important training with play when it comes to my dogs. This was especially true when I was considering competitive obedience for my dog Storm.  I trained and/or reinforced the wait, send away, sit, down, stay, and drop on command…all through a retrieve!  Not only did it make for more efficient training, it was fun!

Here’s how you can explore this type of training with your dog (or other pet). First of all, find out what types of play your dog really enjoys.  Retrieving is a wonderful tool, and even if your dog is not a natural retriever, you can teach it!  Click here for  a great article by the ASPCA on how to do that.  Tug can also be used, or perhaps you have a dog that likes to catch things (although similar, this can be different from the retrieve…I have cared for dogs who aren’t so excited about retrieving but think catching objects in their mouths is pure awesomeness).  Touches or “tags” could also work!  For instance, ask your dog to sit, and then offer a quick touch/tickle wherever your dog likes one after releasing him.  Perhaps then puppy gets to chase you for a moment.  Be open to thinking outside of the box!

Once you’ve found something motivating, us it as a reward for the behaviors you are trying to teach!  You can show your dog how to do behaviors as you play with him.  Targeting is great here, because you can teach your dog to target your finger and then use it to direct the dog quickly and then reinforce the behavior with play.  In other instances, you can reinforce a behavior you have taught your dog via other methods by rewarding the behavior with play after you’ve requested it.

I always say, training should be fun, and there is not better fun than training a dog while playing with him.  I hope you find some great ways to play around with your dog’s training!

May I pet your dog?

This lovely post reiterates a concept that, I don’t think, can be shared enough. I also love the fact that there is an analogy contained therein which speaks to how we humans would perceive an unexpected intrusion. Walk a mile in my paws.

Dog's Day Inn

May I pet your dog?

This is a very simple and important question, yet so often unasked.One of the biggest concerns we hear from clients is how other people will rush up to pet their dog without asking. Likewise, strangers will allow other dogs to pounce upon their dogs, again, without asking. Although the gesture is intended to be “friendly”, the importance of asking permission to pet or touch another dog FIRST should not be overlooked.

Remember, not all dogs want to be greeted, and there are many reasons for it. Dogs can be very protective of their owners and may consider the intrusion into their space as a threat. It is also very common for a dog to have a fear of strangers and your advance could cause a defensive reaction. The dog may even have aggressive tendencies that should be avoided for your own safety. Lastly, he may…

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