Friday, March 22, 2013

Dogs are the most diverse-looking mammals around
From the droopy Bassett hound to the sleek-and-slim Weimaraner, dogs show an amazing diversity in body shape. A study published in The American Naturalist in 2010 found that the differences between dog breeds' skullsare as pronounced as the differences between completely separate mammal species. A Collie skull, for example, is as different from a Pekingese skull as a cat's skull is from a walrus's.
All of this diversity makes dogs a great species for studying how genes work, allowing researchers to link genes to certain traits -- like what makes Shar-Peis wrinkly and dachshunds so stubby.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Why Does My Dog . . . Curl Up in a Ball When He Sleeps?

Dog Curled in Ball
It’s nighttime and your pup nestles snugly in his bed, rolled up tight like a drum.
It’s a common slumber position for dogs, but why? Wouldn’t it be more comfortable to stretch out while catching some shut-eye?
Well, yes, says Dr. Margaret Gruen, DVM, a clinician at NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine Animal Behavior Service.
But there are two valid reasons why your canine rolls up in a ball to snooze — and they both relate to evolution.

Keeping Cozy

“When dogs sleep in the wild, especially where it’s cold, they’ll dig a nest and curl up into it,” Dr. Gruen says. “This gives them warmth — tucking into a ball conserves body heat. It also protects their most vulnerable organs in the abdomen from would-be predators.”
So if your pooch sprawls out to nap — instead of curling up — he’s either hot or he feels very safe in his environment.

Creating Security

If a dog is in unfamiliar territory, he will revert back to the instinct-based, curled-up sleep position.
For this reason, whenever you bring a new pup home, you’ll want to give him enough space to acclimate to his foreign surroundings.
Another tip from Dr. Gruen: Consider getting him a blanket. “This way, he can ‘dig’ a nest with the bedding material before he lies down,” she says, “instead of digging a place to nowhere on your carpet or couch.”

Thursday, March 14, 2013


Change Your Perspective And Train Your Dog

As a dog trainer there are two questions I get more than any others:

“How do I get my dog to stop doing (insert annoying, yet often natural, behavior here)?”
“How do I punish my dog when he’s just being bad?”

There are also a few statements I get more than any others:

“She knows better!”
“She’s just being stubborn.”
“He doesn’t respect (me, my wife, my children).

Anyone see a pattern here? I’ll give you a second…

It’s all so adversarial and puts the entire responsibility on the dog. A dog! Blaming the dog for lack of communication skills or not understanding human language or desires is scape-goating and also gives a supposedly lesser creature (according to that whole “he doesn’t respect” me malarkey) a heck of a lot of power and responsibility. It’s also quite egotistical of us humans to think that a dog should respect us simply because we’re human. Even if dogs are capable of feeling the human notion that is respect, it’s something that is earned, not just inherently awarded.

Looking at, and dealing with, your dog from an adversarial perspective sets both of you up for failure. From this perspective every perceived transgression is an insult. When your dog doesn’t come when called it’s a slap in the face! “How dare Rover ignore me when I’ve demanded his presence!

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Presumably you got a dog because you wanted a companion, a sidekick. Presumably you live with a dog because you like dogs. Your dog is your friend, the two of you have so many great moments of fun and affection every day, yet you don’t even give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his perceived transgressions.

Ever consider that your dog isn’t listening to you because she doesn’t know what the heck you are saying, let alone understand what is expected of her in a given situation?

Most dogs don’t comply to your requests, commands, or more accurately, cues, because they haven’t been sufficiently trained to do so – by you.

Newsflash: Dogs are not born with a reverence for, or submission to, humans. Nor do they inherently “know” what we want them to do, how to behave in the presence or home of another species, or the meaning of human language. They also aren’t born with a penchant for world-domination.

Dogs are, however, born with a unique ability to “read” humans really well, better than any other species, and a desire to survive: be safe, fed, comfortable, socially accepted.

They’re pretty easy to manipulate, especially by more intelligent beings with bigger brains, greater access to all resources (including good dog training information), and opposable thumbs. (Hey, that’s us!)

When it comes to dog behavior there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that dogs often have a very different idea about what acceptable behavior is any given situation. The good news is that dogs are generally very malleable and willing to learn our strange human ways if given the opportunity via clear instruction and rewards.

So next time your dog doesn’t come when called at the park, or jumps up to greet someone think about whether she’s had sufficient instruction and repetition of recalls or if she’s ever been taught what a polite greeting looks like from the human perspective. Has she been taught what is “right” versus merely been told what is “wrong”? Has she been given an acceptable alternative to her natural doggy behavior and has it been heavily practiced and reinforced? Because behavior doesn’t lie, and it’s likely if your dog is doing something you don’t like it’s probably your fault and it’s definitely your job to teach her what to do.

So if you find yourself getting grumpy, or frustrated with Fido, first change your perspective, and then get to work training your dog!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

River Reflections From Jane

Why Does My Dog . . . Eat His Food Away From His Bowl?

Spilled dog food
It can be a peculiar sight: After you put food in your dog’s bowl, he takes a mouthful, walks across the room, drops it onto your carpet and then munches away. And he repeats this curious ritual until his chow is all gone.
It doesn’t seem like an efficient way to eat — not to mention that he's getting crumbs on your rug.
So what gives?

Possible Reasons Behind the Curious Mealtime Behavior

The answer to this propensity lies in two words: pack mentality.
When dogs in the wild make a kill, the outranked animals drag pieces of food away so they don’t have to fight the leader or a more dominant canine for it, says Dr. Julie Albright, MA, DVM, DACVB, an assistant professor of veterinary behavior at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.
“Fighting is obviously very risky, so most animals, especially subordinate ones, will go to great lengths to avoid an altercation,” says Dr. Albright. 
Although the competition in your house may not even be real — particularly if you only have one dog — it’s his evolutionary instinct taking over.
Another possibility: If you use a metal bowl, the noise of the food moving around in the dish or even his collar tags hitting the side can be frightening or annoying, notes Dr. Albright, so he may be taking the kibble away from the trigger of the sound.

How to Put the Kibosh on This Kibble Ritual

If you want to curb this unusual eating behavior, Dr. Albright suggests swapping metal bowls for plastic versions or paper plates to rule out issues with noise.
“If the dog still takes the food away, find a more secluded or confined area for him to eat,” she says. “And if there are other dogs in the house, separate them at feeding time to allow for privacy, so there’s no threat of competition — either real or imagined.”