Monday, September 28, 2015

Dog Play: Dog Parks

Oh Dog Parks. Still a controversial subject with passionate people on both sides of the fence :). Before I delve into my spiel, I do want to say that I do not frequent our local dog park. I just won't take the chance with my dogs since you never know what other dogs will be there.

But lots of people love going to dog parks and their dogs do just fine. I'm not judging :), there are good and bad things from both sides.

Dog parks are safe, fully fenced places, where people can exercise their dogs. Hey it's a place where dogs are actually welcome! :) And they can be an excellent resource for asshole adolescent dogs that have too much energy and no place to put it. Dog parks also facilitate socialization with a variety of breeds and play styles. Many also function as socialization centers for dog owners themselves!

Many people already know the advantages - that's why they use dog parks and love them! But there are many disadvantages that can cause behavioral problems that many people don't realize are related to their dog park visits. I'm going to delve into a few here in a minute, but I don't want it to seem like I minimized the advantages. There are two sides of the coin and for every dog and situation it's different. I'm just going to focus on the disadvantages here because many owners don't realize how dog parks are unintentionally reinforcing behaviors they are trying to get rid of.

I read a great article by Trish King and Terry Long <Dog Parks: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, 2004> describing the following disadvantages (and many more that I am not going to cover). Here is my summarization!

Dog parks can cause both short-term and long-term behavioral problems. And often, dog owners unknowingly contribute to the problems because they don't interpret correctly what their dogs are actually doing and learning. Here are several issues I have seen crop up from dog park usage...

Frustration Aggression
Ah, the canine temper tantrum :). Leash frustration can be an offshoot problem from the dog park for several reasons. It often begins when a dog is so excited at the prospect of playing that they pull their owner all the way to the park, lunging and barking (sometimes even in the car for blocks on their way to the park). The upset owner pulls back and yells at the dog (thus increasing arousal). By the time the dog gets to the park, they are all fired up for something physical - like a fight - and often dogs (and their people!) are gathered by the entrance to 'welcome' new dogs.

Leash frustration also occurs out on regular neighborhood walks, usually because dogs that frequent dog parks mistakenly believe that they can meet any other dog they see. Once again, they tend to pull on the leash and the owner yanks back, building frustration. The dog appears aggressive, so other owners pull their dogs back in fear and it turns into a vicious cycle. Eventually, leash frustration can lead to real aggression. Owners in this situation are generally very confused because their dogs are so good off leash and so bad on leash.

Learned Disobedience
When owners are not careful, dog parks quickly teach a dog that the owner has no control over them. I'm sure we've all seen that owner following their dog, calling frantically as the animal stays just out of reach, looks at them from afar, or just totally ignores them. And this is after the dog has learned to bark hysterically in the car all the way to the dog park, then pulled the owner through the parking lot, and finally bolted away from them as soon as the leash is off. :) I don't know about you, but that's not really what I want my dog to learn!

Owner Helplessness
When I think about this, it always makes me sad. When owners allow other dogs to play overly rough (body slamming, rolling them, etc.), their dog learns that their owner cannot keep them safe from harm. Remember the dog's perception of safety matters, not the owners. This can be difficult for owners, who dismiss their dog's fear since they 'know' the other dog(s) mean no harm. A dog that is chased or bullied by another dog is not only learning to avoid other dogs, they are also learning that their owner is completely ineffective. This can have a serious impact on the human-dog relationship.

This is the disadvantage that most everyone has been cautioned about. A traumatic experience can leave a lasting impact on a young dog. A puppy or adolescent who is attacked could very well show aggressive behaviors after the incident. Sometimes a young dog can be traumatized by situations the owners think are minor or are not even aware happened. This is always a risk you run when frequenting dog parks.

The Take-Away
Owners play an important in how their dog's dog park experiences go and sadly, many don't accept the responsibility they should. I've seen lots of owners not paying attention to their dogs and many have no idea what proper behavior actually is, or what a dog may be signaling to another dog. Some defend their dogs when the animal exhibits inappropriate behavior, while others overreact to a normal interaction where one dog discourages the attention of another. And as I've already mentioned, most owners have far less control over their dogs than they believe.

So what can you do? These are things I would do and recommend:
  1. Educate yourself on appropriate dog-dog interactions
  2. Always, always, always pay attention to your dog :)
  3. Stick up for your dog
  4. Instill training for impulse control and attention (for on the way to the park, entering the park, while you are enjoying the park, and exiting the park)
Here is a great list of Do's and Don'ts from Trish King and Terry Long:

*Check out the entrance before entering to make sure dogs aren't congregating there
*Pay close attention to your dog's play style, interrupting play if necessary to calm your dog down
*move around the park so that your dog will need to keep an eye on you
*remove your dog if the dog appears afraid
*remove your dog if it is bullying others
*respect your dog's wish to leave
*leave special toys at home to avoid resource guarding problems

*allow your dog to enter the park if there is a 'gang' right next to the entrance
*believe that dogs can 'work it out' if you just let them do so
*congregate at a picnic table or other area and chat with dog owners who are not watching their dogs
*let your frightened dog remain in the park and hope things get better
*listen to other attendees in the park who may not understand your dog's needs
*assume a dog is aggressive when it is only trying to communicate its discomfort

Snoopy's Dog Blog

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Soul of All Living Creatures {book review}

The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human

As an emergency room clinician four years out of veterinary school, Dr. Vint Virga had a life-changing experience: he witnessed the power of simple human contact and compassion to affect the recovery of a dog struggling to survive after being hit by a car. Observing firsthand the remarkably strong connection between humans and animals inspired him to explore the world from the viewpoint of animals and taught him to respect the kinship that connects us.

With The Soul of All Living Creatures, Virga draws from his decades in veterinary practice to reveal how, by striving to perceive the world as animals do, we can enrich our own appreciation of life, enhance our character, nurture our relationships, improve our communication with others, reorder our values, and deepen our grasp of spirituality. Virga discerningly illuminates basic traits shared by both humans and animals and make animal behavior meaningful, relevant, and easy to understand. Insightful and eloquent, The Soul of All Living Creatures offers an intimate journey into the lives of our fellow creatures and a thought-provoking promise of what we can learn from spending time with them.

My Thoughts
This was a beautifully written book that reminds us of the importance of animals in our lives. Virga uses anecdotes, fables, and parables to portray what he has learned about animal behavior. Each of the chapters relates a story that ties into that heading and shows how the animal and human are relating to each other and their environments. He urges us to take the time and have the presence to pay attention to all the things animals can teach us.

However, I was torn on this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed his stories of successes and appreciated his stories of losses; on the other hand, I was disappointed that Virga didn't go into more depth about specific animal behaviors and there wasn't the scientific underpinning I was looking for. I felt like Virga took some personal opinions about animals and tried to turn them into facts based on non-scientific evidence. This book definitely had more of a new age type philosophy to it. It could be arguably a self-help book that teaches us how to embrace life, grow in character and morality, and how to gain insight into what is truly valuable and precious.

But I thought this book really drove home the point of how we truly connect with animals on a deeper level then we really realize. Virga draws lots of beautiful conclusions showing what we can learn from the lives of animals. And he confirms what most pet-owners already know - animals have thoughts and feelings, souls and personalities. So while I finished this book wanting more information and more science, it is still a fascinating read for any animal lover :).

Check out the other books I've reviewed:
Dog is My Co-Pilot
When Elephants Weep
Scent of the Missing
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Little Boy Blue
Pawprints of Katrina
Hit By a Flying Wolf
What the Dog Knows
A Small Furry Prayer
Until Tuesday
The Dogs of Babel
Zoo Story

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Monday, September 7, 2015

Dog Play: Bitey-Face

Bourbon and Lola playing bitey-face back in the day :)
Teeth showing. Snarling. Growling. Biting. Neck grabbing. All this and more generally goes on during the rough game of Bitey-Face. And yes that is the technical term :). Most people that have a multiple dog home are very familiar with this game, but it can be quite intimidating for people that are not used to it or have never seen it before. No matter how vicious this play sounds or how much the dogs are showing Ugly Face (another technical term describing narrowed eyes and snarling lips), most of the time this interaction between dogs is quite harmless.

Dogs who know each other well are far more likely to engage in rougher play than two canine strangers. Though puppies are not known for having great social skills and may be rude <grin>, well-socialized adult dogs normally do not rush up to just any other adult dog and pounce upon his head without a bit of an introduction (even if that introduction is very subtle and brief it is still there!). Well unless you are Bourbon! Bourbon missed some of those key social etiquette lessons early on and has never been able to relearn them no matter how hard I or the other dogs he plays with try.

Bourbon and Jeter :).
Other dobermans seem to love Bourbon...not so much for other breeds LOL.

Sometimes You Feel Like Bitey-Face, Sometimes You Don't

Many dogs enjoy this game and really get into it, grabbing onto each others faces and necks and biting. Some with growl and show their teeth. My dogs do all of the above :). But sometimes it can be hard for people to tell if both dogs are actually having fun. Here are a few things to look for to make sure the interaction is pleasant for both parties:
  • Are the mouths open with floppy tongues?
  • Are the ears relaxed?
  • Are the dog's body movement relaxed?
  • Are they going down into playbows and turning their heads and bodies sideways as they play?
  • Are they taking brief breaks (even a couple of seconds) in between 'attacks' on each other?
Remember to see what is really going on between the dogs, you have to tune out the sounds and focus on the body language. Far too often we get caught up in the growls and focus on how ferocious it sounds without paying enough attention to what the dog's bodies are actually telling us.

If either of the dogs looks tense, is moving stiffly or hard staring, it is a good idea to cheerfully interrupt and distract them into another activity. Also with rough play, sometimes if it goes on too long your dogs can get over-stimulated or irritated with each other. So it's always a good idea to monitor this game closely, and if the two dogs aren't giving themselves breaks regularly, take it upon yourself to impose brief rest periods for them :).

Do your dogs like to play bitey-face? Do they really getting into the game with growls, snarls, and everything else? :)

This is the second post in a series of posts on Play. Please check back next week for Dog Play: TUG!!

The First: Dog Play: The Chase Is On

Snoopy's Dog Blog

Friday, September 4, 2015

Zoo Story {book review}

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French

Welcome to the savage and surprising world of Zoo Story, an unprecedented account of the secret life of a zoo and its inhabitants, both animal and human. Based on six years of research, the book follows a handful of unforgettable characters at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo: an alpha chimp with a weakness for blondes, a ferocious tiger who revels in Obsession perfume, and a brilliant by tyrannical CEO known as El Diablo Blanco.

Zoo Story crackles with issues of global urgency: the shadow of extinction, humanity's role in the destruction or survival of other species. More than anything else, though, it's a dramatic and moving true story of seduction and betrayal, exile and loss, and the limits of freedom on an overcrowded planet - all framed inside one zoo reinventing itself for the twenty-first century.

Thomas French, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, chronicles the action with vivid power: Wild elephants soaring above the Atlantic on their way to captivity. Predators circling each other in a lethal mating dance. Primates plotting the overthrow of their king. The sweeping narrative takes the reader from the African savannah to the forests of Panama and deep into the inner workings of a place some describe as a sanctuary and others condemn as a prison. All of it comes to life in the book's four-legged characters. Even animal lovers will be startled by the emotional charge of these creatures' histories, which read as though they were co-written by Dickens and Darwin.

Zoo Story shows us how these remarkable individuals live, how some die, and what their experiences reveal about the human desire to both exalt and control nature.

My Thoughts
I've always felt conflicted about zoos, a love-hate relationship if you will. I feel they are necessary, but I'm still uncomfortable with the concept. And I honestly think most people feel that way. Without zoos, most would never have the opportunity to see many of the beautiful and fascinating animals we share this world with. Zoos also offer the best hope for the continued survival of threatened species whose habitats we have taken away or ruined. Yet there is an unease that comes with holding wild animals in captivity.

In Zoo Story, Thomas French examines these complex and often contradictory issues at the Lowry Park Zoo in Florida. There are ethical problems that arise when intelligent animals are taken from the wild and placed in an artificial environment. French considers these ethical dilemmas in a thorough but sensitive manner. He definitely shows that the issues of zoos is nowhere near black and white. He presents the problems and solutions from both the environmental standpoint and the emotional angle. It's definitely a highly conflicting field and French does a wonderful job of summarizing it.

French covers several different animal stories throughout the book, and I loved all of them but I felt like the individual stories were too short :). I would get caught up in a particular story and then be disappointed when I didn't get more depth or a follow-up. Many of those individual stories could have been their own books!

I did find the book to be interesting and eye-opening. I'm walking away from this book with a lot of things to think about, as well as a big list of more books to read (check out the Notes and Bibliography sections!). I definitely recommend this book :).

Check out the other books I've reviewed:
Dog is My Co-Pilot
When Elephants Weep
Scent of the Missing
Tell Me Where It Hurts
Little Boy Blue
Pawprints of Katrina
Hit By a Flying Wolf
What the Dog Knows
A Small Furry Prayer
Until Tuesday
The Dogs of Babel

Wednesday, September 2, 2015