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Create Sensory Spaces for Dogs

An article from Australian Dog Lover on how to create a “sensory garden” for dogs was a nice escape from the cold of a Montana winter. It’s filled with great tips for creating mental stimulation for dogs that you can adapt to any space. The author describes watching how her dog used their outdoor space, and then designing around that dog’s preferences. But for those creating a sensory space for, say, a doggy day care or a training space or a dog park, it’s possible to generalize. It’s feasible to include… Continued

Dogs and Marshmallows

I’ve been interested in dogs and self-restraint for as long as I have trained dogs. So, several years ago, a friend and I applied an adapted version of the Marshmallow Test to her guide dog. Alberta passed with flying colors. Her current guide, Koala, also aced the test. For decades, the Marshmallow Test has been a sort of shorthand for self-restraint; it was thought to predict all sorts of things, like whether a person would do well on SATs or succeed in saving enough for retirement. In the spring, I… Continued

Career Aptitude Testing … for Dogs

What if there were a test that could tell you whether a dog would make a good assistance dog or detection dog or search & rescue dog … or whatever career you hoped the dog would choose? Researchers Evan MacLean and Brian Hare are working on it. Their recently published study, “Enhanced Selection of Assistance and Explosive Detection Dogs Using Cognitive Measures,” describes initial attempts to create a sort of career aptitude test for working dogs. What I love about this study: It recognizes that dogs’ cognitive abilities a) exist,… Continued

Dogs Are Exceptional, Despite Attempts to Argue Otherwise

Headlines like this really bother me: Dog intelligence ‘not exceptional.’ Compared with what? How are you defining ‘intelligence’? Seeking answers to these questions, I downloaded and read the full study, which is available for free. It’s 20 pages, plus 8 pages of references. It’s primarily a review of existing literature on the cognitive abilities of a wide variety of nonhuman animals. So, compared with what? The researchers decided that they needed to compare canine cognitive abilities with those of species related phylogenetically, or by evolution; ecologically, or related in terms… Continued

Dogs CAN Learn That … and That, and That!

Do you know anyone who has more than one service dog because “one dog couldn’t be taught to do all the tasks” that person needs? Have you ever heard a dog owner (or worse, trainer) claim that dogs “can’t learn” to distinguish similar commands or tasks or learn multiple related tasks — for instance, detection of more than one type of drug or contraband or … the list of things that people claim dogs “can’t learn” is endless. And mostly wrong. “Our conservation detection dogs are agile, portable, and endlessly… Continued

“No-Kill” Shelters Are Not Enough

An article I read recently in the New York Times (online) talked about a downside of a heavy emphasis on no-kill policies at shelters: By focusing on getting dogs and cats into new homes, the shelters might be neglecting the reasons many of those animals are in the shelter in the first place. Many people abandon their pets because they cannot afford to feed them or house them or provide needed veterinary care. I don’t for a minute think that that is the only reason animals end up in shelters, but… Continued

Managing Expectations

A wonderful Australian study published July 6 looks at the expectations of potential dog adopters and considers them in light of the potential adopters’ previous dog ownership experience (or lack thereof). It’s a nice look at what people are thinking as they contemplate adopting a dog and whether their expectations are realistic. The authors look at high rates of dog ownership — and satisfaction with dog ownership, as well as at high rates of relinquishment of dogs. Seeking to understand these numbers, they asked prospective dog owners about the expected… Continued

Scents Can Help Dogs Relax

A small study published in May looked at the effects of four scents on dogs in a shelter kennel. The focus was whether the aromatherapy would help the dogs relax. Though it’s a small study and, oddly the only one of its kind, it points to some additional ways that trainers and canine behavior consultants may be able to help clients with anxious dogs. (Odd because of how much we know about how important scent is to dogs; isn’t aromatherapy an obvious avenue for exploration?) The shelter environment is generally… Continued

Onset of Noise Sensitivity Might Indicate Pain in Dogs

Older dogs who develop noise sensitivity might be in pain. Other behavior changes, like a normally friendly dog showing aggression to children or dogs, have long been regarded as potential indicators of pain. But a study published in February might be the first to make the connection between the onset of noise sensitivity and pain. The researchers looked at two groups of dogs. The group they termed “clinical” had developed noise sensitivity and had diagnosed painful musculoskeletal problems. A “control” group had noise sensitivity but no known painful conditions. One… Continued

Talking to Dogs

A newly published study finds that dogs pay attention to both the way we talk to them and to what we say. Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe’s ‘Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog‑directed speech looked at what they term “dog-directed speech,” or DDS, which is similar in tone and affect to baby talk. Their canine test subjects were all adult dog guests of a boarding kennel whose humans gave permission for their participation. An earlier study had played recorded human voices using baby talk and regular speech. The content of the speech… Continued

Teach Old Dogs New Games

A team of researchers at the Clever Dog Lab (oh, how I’d love to work there …) at the Messerli Research Institute in Vienna suggest teaching older dogs to play brain games on touchscreen computers and tablets. The articles describing the related study don’t go into details on what these Lumosity-like brain games for dogs entail (and I haven’t gotten hold of the full study yet), but that’s almost beside the point. The premise of the study is something that trainers should take and run with — in all different directions.… Continued

New Delta Rules Signal Tightening Up of Rules for Service, Emotional Support Animals

Updated Feb. 25 to reflect Delta’s change: Travelers with trained service animals are encouraged, but NOT required, to provide proof of health and vaccination records 48 hours ahead of travel; passengers should have this documentation with them as Delta might request it. Those traveling with psychiatric service animals and ESAs will be required to provide all required documentation at least 48 hours ahead of their flight. US-based airline Delta announced January 19 that, effective March 1, it is tightening the rules for passengers wanting to bring service or emotional support… Continued

So Easy to Miscue …

A few days ago, I heard a story on the radio about police dogs and their handlers. The reporter was talking to a retired police dog handler who now trains dogs and works as an expert witness. What he said was disturbing for anyone who gets stopped by a police officer-and-dog team, but, to anyone with dog training experience, sounds plausible. What he was talking about was how common it is for the K9 handlers to miscue their dogs. Sometimes it is conscious and intentional; the officer wants to do… Continued

Dogs Are Better Partners to Humans Than to Other Dogs

The New York times recently published an article describing a study that compared dogs’ and wolves’ ability to perform cooperative tasks. The article, and the short accompanying video, are somewhat disdainful in their assessment of the dogs, who did not perform as well as the wolves on the task. The rope-pulling task used for the study is one at which other species, including elephants, chimps, and multiple bird species, have succeeded. Two test subjects must pull on ropes at the same time in order to bring a tray with food rewards… Continued

Prepare Clients for Potential Emergencies

As I write this, huge areas of Northern California are on fire. I lived in Sonoma County for a while and have many friends there. I now live in Missoula, Montana, where we had a brutal fire season. Tens of thousands of people have had to evacuate their homes due to the fires. Over the summer, thousands more in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean evacuated due to hurricanes. What happens to all of those people’s pets? Here during the most intensive fire activity, two local organizations helped with pet and… Continued

No Magic Bullet

A recent New York Times article discussed growing skepticism of a common test that supposedly assesses dogs’ aggressive tendencies. The test uses a fake hand, called an Assess-A-Hand, to “determine” whether a dog will be aggressive in protecting his food bowl. The idea is to identify dangerously aggressive dogs in shelters. In many cases, this is done so that aggressive dogs could be “euthanized,” leaving scarce resources for the more adoptable, non-aggressive dogs. However, the concept of culling dangerously aggressive dogs is tough to put into practice. The Assess-A-Hand test, like any test, is… Continued

Do Helicopter Moms Impede Pups’ Success?

Talk about a tough graduate research assignment: Watching puppy videos. Where can I sign up? Seriously … it’s been done. A research team watched hundreds of hours of video of puppies interacting with their moms. The goal was to evaluate how the way moms treated their very young puppies affected the pups’ future success as guide dog candidates. But the results are interesting to any dog lover. An early paper by the team, led by researcher Emily Bray, looked at variations in maternal style. A later paper, just out, looks… Continued

Cognitive Dog Training

              I first started teaching about what I called cognitive dog training several years ago. I didn’t invent it; I simply named what a lot of positive, forward-thinking dog trainers were already doing. Cognitive dog training enlists the dog as a partner in learning; it is not about training so much as it is is about teaching. It’s also about redefining human-dog relationships. How does it differ from other approaches to dog training? It encourages dogs to think and solve problems. Often, there is… Continued

Service Dog Teams and Continuing Education

A few weeks ago, I was part of an amazing experience — the first-ever continuing education weekend seminar for guide dog teams that included trainers and puppy raisers, as well as 80 teams. The weekend was organized by the Guiding Eyes for the Blind graduate council. Actually, it was two members of the council and their partners (including me). It was a lot of work to pull it off, and as the teams started arriving, we all had a moment of panic. But the weekend was an enormous success — and it made… Continued

Do Dogs Use Tools?

More than fifty years ago, Jane Goodall made a discovery that shook some scientists — particularly those that had long lists of all the things that made humans unique and superior to nonhumans. She saw Chimpanzees using tools. Since then, other researchers have found other nonhumans using tools, from dolphins who use sponges to protect their beaks to elephants using tools to scratch itches, reach food, and plug water holes. Even crows use tools. But, as far as I know, no researchers have studied whether dogs use tools. I’d argue… Continued

Letting Go of Puppyhood Things …

When should a dog stop sleeping in a crate? Most people, when faced with this question, will think about whether the dog can be trusted in the house unsupervised: Will she sleep through the night? Can I leave her alone without worrying that she’ll chew on things? Does she know that she’s not allowed on the sofa (and does she follow that rule)? Some think about convenience: The crate is big, unattractive, in the way. It’s got to go. Or they think about convenience: I like being able to crate… Continued

Where Do You Stand on Raw Diets for Dogs?

A recent Canine Corner post by Dr. Stanley Coren, a well-known writer on canine cognition, strongly suggests that raw diets are unsafe. I’d like to present an opposing view of this often contentious question. Full disclosure: I feed Cali a partially raw diet; I did the same for Jana for several years and she thrived on it. I’ve seen many, many dogs’ health and fitness improve dramatically and quickly when they switched to a raw diet. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Coren; I’ve read most of his (copious) work… Continued

Thoughts on the Controversy over “A Dog’s Purpose”

A reader recently asked me what I think of the controversy over the movie A Dog’s Purpose, particularly allegations that a dog was abused during filming. I had had tickets to a preview showing that was a fundraiser for a local dog rescue organization. However, the preview was canceled and the rescue organization took a loss once the film clip showing the alleged abuse was released, so I was already following this controversy. Here’s my take on it. First, a caveat: We’ll never know the whole story. There have been good… Continued

Marshmallow Tests for Dogs

A guide dog partner, Deni Elliott, devised a dog version of the marshmallow test for her guide dog. She administered it to her guide Alberta a few years ago. Alberta did well; she actually did many of the things that children who take the marshmallow test do — she looked away, she distracted herself. She didn’t use her toes as a piano or sing a song, but she did distract herself from temptation. In her case, temptation was a bowl full of dog cookies. We were delighted with her response,… Continued

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