Thursday, December 31, 2009

Indoor Dogs, Outdoor Dogs

I did my radio show yesterday (you can hear a podcast at - look for PetSmith), and a caller comment brought up a question -- what does someone mean these days when they say "indoor dog"?
"Outdoor dog" generally still means just that, a dog who spends his or her life outdoors and is not brought into the house. But surely an "indoor dog" does go outside, right? Well, maybe in my world, but what about the world of 100-story apartment buildings? I'm not so sure about that. Do you get a small dog and just use piddle pads or those little enclosures of artificial grass and never actually take the dog outdoors (except maybe when you're carrying it as a fashion accessory)?
The caller said they were getting an "indoor dog" and had narrowed their choice down to a Chihuahua, Jack Russell Terrier, or Beagle. They also said they had four children. Unless they keep their children indoors (which would be truly strange here on the Olympic Peninsula), I can't imagine the dog not venturing outside. So I think what they meant was that the dog would be WELCOMED indoors, not relegated to the yard. So that would make an indoor dog a good thing. But how do you know what someone means when they say those words?
Like so many things in the world of dogs, we struggle with definitions and understandings. The four-part reinforcement/punishment box (positive/negative punishment, positive/negative reinforcement) may work for the realm of psychology, but it messes up communication between dog behaviorists/trainers and the general dog-owning public. Shoot, I know dog trainers who don't understand it!
An even worse problem exists when it comes to animal welfare/animal rights. One still aims for the humane treatment of animals, the other has gone over the edge into being pro-abolition of pets. But does the public know the differences or which organizations are which? In general, no.
I have no idea how to resolve any of this. I try to consider terms carefully and understand what they mean and in my writing, make it very clear what I mean when I say something. But I'm not always successful. And I'm certainly not always successful at understanding what someone else means when they use a particular phrase.
On the radio show, I don't have time to conduct an in-depth interview to parse exactly what someone means, I just have to try and answer their question as best I can (I recommended the Jack Russell from their choices, by the way). For written terms, I usually can't question the author. At conferences, I try and get any questions answered. . . but how many conferences can you attend?
I hope dog "authorities" are not going the way of other fields, trying to make their specialty as arcane and mysterious as they can to make themselves feel superior. But sometimes I wonder.

Monday, December 28, 2009


No, this has nothing to do with sleeping dogs (or with letting them lie). It is actually a rather serious matter of an increased incidence of theft of dogs.
The AKC noticed an approximately 50% rise in theft of owned dogs in 2009 compared to 2008. A spokesperson appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the rising problem. A bill was introduced in the Texas legislature which would have made it a state felony to steal a pet, with prison time if convicted. California and Delaware have tried to regulate roadside pet sales to combat trafficking in stolen pets. (I can get behind that effort -- I hate having to see the pickup with Lab puppies in the back, and people holding a sign about "Puppies for Sale." It doesn't have anything to do with stolen pets -- almost certainly backyard breeding -- but at certain times of the year, they appear on several corners I have to drive by, and cause my blood pressure to rise.)
There was a report from Idaho of an 11-week-old puppy being taken right from the arms of a 5-year-old girl who was sitting in a park. They got right onto the media, and the puppy was found living at someone else's home. The alleged thief was charged with a misdemeanor possession of stolen property, the only charge available.
The AKC recommends a lot of things I have been telling people for ages --
Don't leave your dog unattended in the yard (I get tired of reciting my "the yard is not a good babysitter" mantra).
Be cautious with information about your dog. Yes, we're all proud of our dogs, but don't tell strangers how much your dog cost or what a rare breed he or she is.
Don't tie your dog outside a store (well, duh!).
Have some sort of permanent ID on your dog, be that tattoo or microchip.
Don't buy pets from roadside trucks or vans, at flea markets, or from unknown sites on the Internet. Be cautious of buying dogs through newspapers ads -- those that can't spell the name of the breed are a good indication that they aren't responsible breeders.
It seems that some people see other people's dogs as a way to either make money or procur a pet for their own family, so be careful out there. I can't imagine my reaction if my dog suddenly went missing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gift Almost Nobody Wants

Dear Abby had a question some time ago from a person who walked their dog in the neighborhood, picked up the dog's poop, sealed it in a baggie, and deposited it in the nearest trash can. Not a public, municipal trash can, but some homeowner's private can, put out at the curb for collection. Abby thought that was a perfectly acceptable practice, but she got called out by her readers. They pointed out that many trash companies merely yank the large trash bag out of the can, and anything smaller falls on the ground or back into the can. One acknowledged that people can be territorial about their trash cans. Another said depositing your trash of any kind in someone else's can would get you fined and told to clean it up.
It would never have occurred to me to deposit my dog's doo in someone else's garbage can, but apparently some people think that is accepted practice. I can just see someone, somewhere, sometime, being shot over this.
I do have a problem when cities or counties provide parks and trails, but no way to be a responsible owner and clean up after your dog. . . i.e., no trash can. When the Olympic Discovery Trail was begun here some years ago, people were jumping to donate to have benches installed along the trail with plaques in memory of family or friends. I endowed a garbage can in memory of deceased dogs. At the time, it was the only garbage can on the trail for miles. Now, thankfully, there are others. I don't mind carrying a poop-laden baggie to reach a can, but if I'm miles out on a trail, I don't want to have to carry it all the way back and then put it in the car to take home. That seems like an awful lot to ask!
I wonder if anyone will ever do a survey on the poop disposal habits of those who walk with dogs. It might prove interesting. Meantime, I would advise against dropping your poop, even if it is securely bagged, in the trash of strangers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Homeless People and Pets

This is a topic I've had a hard time wrapping my head around. On one hand I worry that people who can't take care of themselves very well can't take care of a pet. On the other hand I certainly understand how much a pet can mean in times of trouble. So I have never mentally resolved the dilemma of homeless people having pets.
It came up again with a recent report on the groundbreaking for a veterinary clinic in Eugene, Oregon, to treat the pets of people who are homeless or living in poverty. Pro-Bone-O clinic has been open twice-monthly for free veterinary services, but they can't provide surgeries or take x-rays, and they have to operate on a lottery system because they can't treat everyone in the few hours the clinic is open. They now have a modular classroom donated by the local school district and a piece of property, and hope to have a summer opening of a full-time clinic.
Kate Joost used a pooper scooper to break ground, and noted that during her 5 years of homelessness her now-17-year-old dog Maggie helped her through the ordeal. Seventeen! Dogs in posh mansions don't live that long.
So I guess I have finally decided on the side of the homeless. I well remember how I rushed to acquire my first dog as soon as I moved out of my parents' house. The mayor of Eugene must have felt pretty much the same way, as she said at the groundbreaking that her parents never allowed pets but she hasn't been without one since being on her own.
If you see a homeless person with a pet, maybe you can afford to buy a spare bag of dog food and give it as a holiday gift. I know I will.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back to Those California Chihuahuas

Look back a couple of blogs for my comments on the prevalence of Chihuahuas in California shelters. Well, I apparently made the mistake of taking an AP news release at face value.
I've since talked to a friend who is a toy dog specialist, and she says that though the problem is real, it has been greatly overblown. She has seen photos of some of the shelter "Chihuahuas" in question, and says they are no more Chihuahuas than your average Beagle! Some indeed, look nothing like Chihuahuas and are far too large to be even a bad representative of the breed.
This points up a common problem with shelters -- breed identification. Around here, pretty much everything in the shelter is a Lab, Pit Bull, or German Shepherd or crosses thereof, according to their descriptions. The specific breeds may vary in other areas. But you'll generally find a pretty narrow range of breed descriptions in any given shelter. And DNA testing is revealing that even those of us who think we're pretty good at identifying what has gone into a mixed breed can be lead astray by appearance. Behavior is a much more reliable indicator, but of course you have to get to know a dog (and often away from the shelter environment) to see their true behaviorals colors.
So California probably did see a spike in Chihuahua, they became one of the popular shelter breeds, and now "anything under 50 pounds" as my toy friend says, is being dubbed a Chihuahua.
It doesn't change the fact that people are getting dogs for the wrong reasons and abandoning them for no good reason. . . just the breeds that may be involved.

By the way, for anyone wondering, Nestle's surgery went well. I don't have biopsy results yet, but our vet said it looked like a nonmalignant fatty tumor. I still have my fingers crossed, but I'm breathing a little easier.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Amid all the furor over the health care bill and banking bailouts, did you know that there is potential legislation affecting pet owners. . . and in a good way for a change?
Representative Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan, has introduced the HAPPY Act (Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years). If passed, it would allow pet owners in the United States to take a tax deduction for pet care expenses up to $3500 per person. It defines a pet as "a legally owned, domesticated, live animal," which would seem to cover not just my dogs and cats, but my sheep and llamas and chickens as well.
A tax writeoff is certainly appealing, especially as I just paid nearly $500 for Nestle's surgery for a tumor (which we hope is just a benign fatty tumor, but we are waiting for the biopsy results). And there would seem to be some reasonableness behind this, as so many studies have shown that having a pet reduces doctor visits among senior citizens, improves the health and longevity of heart attack survivors, improves mental health, and on and on. These has even been talk from time to time of "prescribing" a pet cat or dog. There are now a growing number of autism service dogs to go along with the growing problem of autism.
I doubt that the bill will get anywhere. Government at every level is seeking ways to generate more income, not give it back. But it was a nice idea, Representative McCotter. Kudos to you for the thought.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Society" Could Learn Some Things from Dogs

This is a small item from the AP in yesterday's paper:
"California has more Chihuahuas than it can handle, and it has Hollywood to blame. There are so many Chihuahuas at shelters in Oakland, they have started shipping the dogs out of state. They have sent about 100 to Washington, Oregon and Arizona. Chihuahuas make up 30 percent or more of the dog populations at many California shelters. Experts say pop culture is to blame, with fans imitating Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandoning the dogs. The problem appears to be specific to California."

Heavy sigh. First, why would anyone want to emulate Paris Hilton, who abandoned her own Chihuahua when it got too big? (Not to mention the zillions of other reasons to aim a bit higher.) Second, shipping small dogs to other shelters mean that the small dogs get adopted, leaving more of the big dogs facing a very uncertain future. As someone who is a confirmed fan of larger shelter dogs, that really rubs me the wrong way. There's nothing wrong with small dogs -- there's one in the house with me, though she's a bit bigger than a Chihuahua -- but we don't need to be importing them to Washington state or anywhere else, when we have more shelter dogs than we can handle already.
So just what is it that makes society so screwed up regarding such matters as this? Myself and all my dog trainer/behavior friends preach constantly to be sure you understand what adopting a dog entails. If you just want something pretty to look at, get a stuffed toy. If you want a being who will offer you unfailing loyalty (though not always on your terms) and are willing to hold up your end of the bargain, then check out what sort of dog will suit you best. Don't run out and get a Chihuahua (or anything else - I'm not trying to pick on Chihuahuas, more the people who tote them around as fashion accessories) because Miley has one.
But of course the people who listen probably didn't need to hear it from us anyway because they had more sense, and the people who need the advice the most don't listen. It gets very frustrating, and has led several of my best-known trainer friends to get out of the business. It's hard banging your head against a wall, trying to get the same message across year after year. I often feel like I'm writing to the wind, that my words (sometimes repeated now for 20 years) fall on deaf ears or no ears at all.
"Society" could use some growing up. I was stupid when I got my first dog. I was lucky that she happened to be a Keeshond who could teach me what I didn't know, and I dedicated myself to knowing a heck of a lot more before I got my second dog. But it seems that some people repeat the same mindless behavior, including acquiring and then disposing of dogs, over and over. For them, I wish coal in their stockings and some event that will awaken their slumbering brain cells. I'm getting tired of having to try and do the awakening.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Do Dogs Comprehend Seasonality?

Full disclosure -- I have no answer to the above question, only observation and conjecture.
Last year during November and December I faced some rather dire circumstances with a cancer diagnosis. I had surgery in November and was consequently in and out of emergency rooms and hospital stays through November and December. My dog was usually in the car when I went into an emergency room and disappeared into a hospital for 5 to 7 days.
In December, Nestle started having pretty severe separation anxiety in the car. He would get into the front, into the wheel wells, and chew up whatever he could reach, including the rubber pads on the pedals, a water bottle in the car door holder, the knobs on the radio, the plastic things to hold the floormat in place, the cover of the 12-volt plug, and a couple of times part of the dashboard.
I wasn't feeling up to doing much until March, but then I started working on a long desensitization program to get Nestle comfortable with being left in the car again. It was a LONG road, but by September we were starting to do pretty well, and the last couple of months we were finally able to leave him in the car with him staying in the back and not drooling all over himself.
Then we had a cold snap and the first dusting of snow this last week. (It was quite cold and sometimes snowy last year at this time.) And all of a sudden I came back to the car to find Nestle trembling on the floor under the steering well, the top chewed off my water bottle. Yesterday I was IN the car with him while my roommate went to a doctor's appointment, and he was leaning on me and trembling.
As far as I know, nothing bad has happened while I was away from the car. So I am forced to wonder, has the weather triggered this? Is he "flashing back" to last year because the weather is now the same? I can't think of any other possible reason, but I'm not sure if this is a capability that has ever been established in canines.
In any case, I am now starting again on desensitization. I guess this time it's to the season as much as the car. Sigh.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Skill Learning and the Brain

I saw an article today on what actually happens in the brain when animals (including humans and dogs, one presumes) are learning a new motor skill. The researchers, studying mice being trained to reach through a slot to get a seed, observed that new synapses in the motor cortex formed rapidly during learning. So the brain was actually remodeling to incorporate the new skill. The new synapses were still there four months later, when the mice were again asked to perform the seed-reaching activity. However, other already-existing synapses were selectively eliminated so that the overall density remained the same.
This seems to prove the old adage that "you never forget how to ride a bike," unless of course those paticular synapses are replaced by some other more newly learned motor activity. There was no mention of how the brain decides which connections to delete.
But this is an excellent recommendation for the idea that keeping a brain working helps to keep it active and helps prevent cognitive loss in older age. So when you're training your dog, consider that you may be helping both of you (as training is often somewhat challenging for the trainer as well as the subject)! I can testify that due to cold and snowy conditions here in the northwest, Nestle and I spent the weekend mostly indoors. He demands exercise, so though we played some tug games, we also worked on some training, and it left both of us happily tired. As my co-author Mandy Book and I are working on a new edition of our clicker training book, Quick Clicks, it looks like Nestle is in for somewhat more training than usual. He gets so excited when I pick up a clicker that I always feel guilty that I don't indulge in teaching him more new things. But we're including lots of new behaviors in the book, so his repertoire is about to increase. We're looking forward to our brains expanding!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


There was a report a couple of days ago about two or three dogs testing positive for the swine flu virus in China. I don't put too much stock in reports out of China (after all, they're the country who gave us melamine in our dog food), but it's certainly plausible. The article even pointed out that the dogs probably contracted the virus from their human caretakers, and that the virus appeared able to spread between dogs.
There's an odd thing about zoonoses -- those diseases that can be shared between humans and other animals (and pronounced without any "zoo" in case you care). You only ever seem to hear the news talking about diseases being passed from other animals to humans. . .sometimes with dire consequences for those other animals. I mean, Washington state gets absolutely hysterical about bird flu every year, waiting with bated breath for the first confirmed case to appear. Even though, much like swine flu, this is NOT a disastrous disease for humans by any stretch of the imagination. Was pretty bad news for horses until they developed a vaccine, but pretty much just your run-of-the-mill case of the flu for everyone else.
Now we have swine flu and yes, it was impressive how quickly it spread around the globe. But that shouldn't have been surprising to anyone, given how many people travel via air every day. Calling it a pandemic may have been correct vocabulary-wise, but it didn't help keep a lid on the anxiety at all. Certainly it should be watched for any sudden increase in virulence, but so far it's killed far fewer people than the regular old annual flu.
And did you know that it's just as common, if not moreso, for our animals to catch diseases from us? The swine flu is far from the first or only instance of dogs being sickened by diseases their humans are carrying. The dogs just don't complain and carry on so much.
The concept of "One Medicine" has been gaining steam amid medical personnel and researchers both in the veterinary and human medicine communities, so maybe we'll see a more balanced outlook someday soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

St Louis Airport Adds "Dog Parks"

I actually heard this on overnight news while I was half awake, and then wasn't sure if I had dreamed it. But no, I looked into it and found out it is indeed true.
I don't know exactly when this was implemented, but it couldn't have been too long ago, as it only made the news last night. The St. Louis Airport has added two tiny dog parks to its terminals. I don't know if each is 400 square feet, or if they total 400 square feet together -- what I read was unclear -- but I hope it's the former.
At the Main Terminal, outside Exit MT-6 there is a fenced area with synthetic turf. At the East Terminal, outside baggage claim, there is real grass and a tree! Both areas have benches, fire hydrants, and plastic mitts for owners to use to clean up after their dogs.
What I heard and read suggested that dogs could "romp" and called them dog parks, and I think meant that dogs could be off-leash. I would certainly want to see how very secure that fencing is before I would let a dog off-leash at an airport, but at least it's somewhere to take a dog for a potty break before or after a flight. I don't fly my dogs, but I know people who do, and that's often a big problem.
The airport spokesperson said that other airports have made similar improvements, though he didn't give any details. So I don't know if this idea has come to an airport near you, or one to which you'll be traveling, but it's a step in the right direction. I mean, Seattle-Tacoma airport has a meditation room. A dog park doesn't seem like such a wild idea.