My… what big teeth you have!! National Dog Bite Prevention Week

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girl and puppy     This week (May 17-23rd, 2015) is National Dog Bite Prevention Week; a week created to educate people on canine behaviour, how to interact with them, and as awful as it sounds… how to teach people not to get bit.

Does that seem crazy to you? I’ve heard it said that all it takes is common sense to avoid being bitten, but what really is common sense? We all have different backgrounds, experiences, and outlooks and these shape how we go about our daily lives and consider “Normal” or “Not”. And beyond all this… accidents do happen. Here are a few facts from the American Veterinary Medical Association that they post in regards to NDBPW:

1. 4.7 million people in this country are bitten by dogs every year.

2. Children are by far the most common victims.

3. 800,000 Americans receive medical attention for dog bites each year.

4. Children are far more likely to be severely injured; approximately 400,000 receive medical attention every year.

5. Most dog bites affecting young children occur during everyday activities and while interacting with familiar dogs.

6. Senior citizens are the second most common dog bite victims.

The Montreal SPCA has even created a website, www.dogsandkids.ca to help facilitate the education process and to help understand some of the very very basics that is canine behaviour and areas to focus initial teachings with your children.

For trainers, caregivers, puppy and adult raisers, foster homes, shelter systems, private, and public facilities, these reported numbers are alarming! How can this be? Well we aren’t hear to place blame, point the finger, or create an example out ofbaby and dog anyone. The fact is, is that these statistics are partly a result of how we as a majority “HAD” educated ourselves and interacted with canines, assumptions we had potentially made about their physiology and psychology, and it isn’t because of how many of us currently “ARE” working with canines.

For me as an advocate for canine-related education, caregiver training and the creation of a bond based over mutual respect and understanding, doing what we do, and educating as many as we can is the most important part of our jobs! Unfortunately, accidents happen. But education is power, and spreading what we now know about canine behaviour and physiology through formal education (Bachelors and Master’s Degrees in Dog behaviour, Veterinarian), and the service dogs industry, will only help our society and local communities embrace, understand, and further integrate canines successfully, while decreasing ugly bite statistics that in a large part can be avoided with a little foresight and education! And anyone can do it! Just getting out, putting your best foot forward, and setting theory into motion shows everyone around you that it is possible, and that there is this new way to listen and interact with dogs!

So for all of you, EVERYONE, that gets out, puts a smile on, helps educate those around them by socializing, educating and working with their canine and people around them (even the very basic and small things), THANK YOU! From the bottom of my heart. You are all leaders, teaching by example, educating the “young” to the “not so young”!!! Keep it up!!

puppy face

The Quick Fix: Should You and Your Canine Be Skeptical?

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canine jump!Being together, training together, playing together, smiling together. Canine Companionship…. It’s the life!! But occasionally, funny little things happen and certain behaviours can arise that become disruptive (in a “nails on a chalkboard” sort of way) during our special time with our canines.

Sometimes this behaviour starts off cute, but then veers toward the dangerous or destructive, and we might find ourselves in a state of confusion, anger panic, sadness, or helplessness… Our human nature takes over, and we rush to our nearest source of information (WebMD, anyone?) and attempt to label, define, and understand what is going on. It’s perfectly logical that we would want to know why our dog is doing said behaviour, especially if we aren’t confident in the appropriateness or safety of it all.

And, in a way, this attention to the situation is good! Canines are not mindless automatons without feelings or personalities. They are dynamic – and their resulting behaviours are not automatic responses to environmental cues. But what isn’t helpful when you are concerned is all the BAD information that is out there. There are pages and pages of misleading, wrong, and downright dangerous advice out there!

Have you ever watched one of those “As Seen on TV” adverts and said “Ya right….” Or “if only it actually did that or worked…” – maybe we would all have 6-pack abs and amazing golf swings. The reality is, the majority of these products don’t work, or they only work as a small portion of a larger plan.

Canines and their behaviours are dynamic, and the causes for their actions are as equally dynamic, with environmental and internal factors contributing to the “whole” behaviour. And yet there are umpteen people and products out there offering the quick fix. “Try this and your dog’s barking will be solved first try,” or “this collar will get your dog walking right.” The reality is, good behaviours take time to mold and fine-tune and bad behaviours take time to correct – because your canine needs time to learn what is right! Quick fixes attempt to treat the “visible” behaviours and in doing so can cause other inappropriate behaviours to arise, can harm the welfare of the animal, and can actually have no effect at all (except on your wallet).

So be aware of those “quick fix” promises! (But don’t feel hopeless!) This is the part of the change we are seeing in the Pet Industry, specifically the canine world. I, like my student cohort from Bergin University, are some of the first academic minds to have their post secondary and graduate education focus entirely on canines, understanding their history, development, physiology and psychology. We are being trained to treat the underlying emotions and behaviours that result in the “visible” behaviour and it is from this new wave of academic focus that we will move away from the “quick fix” concept to creating useable and successful programs that work, while putting the needs of the canine at the forefront.

Lose that stress TODAY! How? Pet a Dog!

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IMG_2222Daily, one can read headlines about “Big Pharma’s” advancements on a groundbreaking drug (and subsequent increase in market share) on one page, and the recently discovered harmful side effects of a trusted treatment on another. This is the development of the medical field at its best and worst, delivered in digestible coffee break morsels.

To be newsworthy is powerful, and yet, so is acknowledging the importance of enduring positive influences on our minds and bodies that we, all too often, take for granted. Shouldn’t it be front-page news that we have a time-proven, stress-busting treatment that is all natural, readily accessible and low cost at our fingertips? (A warning though – addiction is likely.) This revolutionary treatment is: Pet a dog!

You are unlikely to receive this prescription written in your doctor’s illegible scrawl, with the advice to proceed to the nearest Lab, Poodle or Labradoodle. However, the effects are undeniable. The question is: How do we reconcile the laboratory and the dog park?

The bond between human and animal has been one that has fascinated us and, in many ways, eluded our efforts to dissect and understand its complexities. We can inherently feel this connection, and yet it is incredibly difficult to replicate, reproduce, and report in a laboratory setting. Laboratory scientists are confined to structure their studies in such a way so that a direct relationship between action and response can be drawn. Controls are put in place to keep external factors at bay in order to produce “pure” results and “good data.” My undergraduate background in Animal Biology was built in this safe and sterile environment: laboratory-based physiological research on a cellular level, where every step, exposure time, and protocol was developed to ensure controlled experiments in hopes of understanding very specific processes.

Studying behaviour like emotional response poses very differentIMG_1837 challenges that must be assessed before, during and after the research is performed. For example, when research subjects are asked to describe the statement “I feel happy”, researchers receive a wide array of adjectives and metaphors that explain this topic. But how can emotion be measured? Using the control-based approach that scientific research is founded in, scientists now understand that there are markers in each of us that unite and relate our responses to “happy” situations. More importantly, there are markers that those of us in or from the laboratory-based research community can measure, quantify, publish, reproduce in another study, publish, and maybe even verify!

One of the approaches to how dogs make us feel has taken this very path. Using variables in our lifestyle (e.g. daily exercise amount) and physiological markers such as heart rate, as well as measuring a variety of cellular responses (e.g. cortisol levels) attained from study participants, all lead to the fact that the emotional impact of this human canine bond can, in a sense, be measured.

So where does petting a dog come into play? And how can this simple act help you feel better? Among many studies looking into the variables at play, researchers of two separate studies found that participants being monitored for physiological response to stressful situations actually had lower stress responses (measured through cortisol levels) when dogs were present than those participants that underwent the same test without dogs being present. In both cases, the presence of a canine during testing decreased the extent of the participant’s response to stress (Miller et al., 2009; Pohleber & Matchock, 2013). Researchers are now applying these positive results to the classroom and the office by studying various aspects in which the presence of canines, and the calming, pleasant effect they have, can be applied purposefully for therapeutic and educational options for children, and even in such a way to increase productivity in office and workplace settings (O’Haire, 2013; One Health, 2014; Fitzgerald and Kimberly, 2012).

It is also important to remember that the dog-human relationship is a two-way street. The benefits of a strong bond to combat stress and the unfamiliar are just as important for your canine. Just as petting a dog can lower stress in our own bodies, the same is being found true for canines. In one study, participating canines that were being touched by their caregivers during the presence of a stranger had marked decreases in their overall mean heart rate when compared to dogs faced with the same situation while separated from their owner (Gacsi et al., 2013). Another study looking at the benefits of brief petting and play sessions with a dog (30 minutes) from a shelter dog’s perspective found that this human interaction was effective in decreasing fear related behaviour (e.g. panting and vocalization,) and also had physiological benefits (a decrease in plasma cortisol level concentrations from the interaction) (Shiverdecker, et al., 2013). It is therefore possible for those of us who are not fulltime canine caregivers to still benefit from this therapy through volunteer and foster programs with local shelter and adoption services. It may also be possible for some of these canines to also benefit mentally and physically by participating in programs that offer therapeutic benefits back to humans through office and school education programs.

My research into the healthful benefits of interaction between our dogs and us does not pretend that canine ownership offers a medical cure-all for disease and health-related issues. Nor would I advocate for people to believe they should have a dog in their lives for the sole purpose of healing their mind and body. Rather this article, and the goal of Canines By Design, is to transform the field of dog owner education by integrating current scientific research with our everyday interest in the canine-human bond. Understanding these intricacies and being holistically educated on the topic of canines can have beneficial impacts socially, physiologically, and emotionally for both human and canines.

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References:

  1. Miller, S.C., Kennedy, C., DeVoe, D., Hickey, M., Nelson, T., Kogan, L. (2009). An examination of changes in oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog. Anthrozoos: A multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals. 22: 31-42.
  2. Polheber, J.P., Matchock, R.L. (2013). The presence of a dog attenuates cortisol and heart rate in the Trier Social Stress Test compared to human friends. J. Behav. Med.: DOI 10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1.
  3. O’Haire, M.E. (2013). Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic literature review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 43: 1606-1622.
  4. One Health- Mills, D., Hall, S. (2014). Animal-assisted interventions: making better use of the human-animal bond. Veterinary Record. Retrieved from: http://171.67.117.160/content/174/11/269.full.pdf+html. Accessed May 20, 2014.
  5. Fitzgerald, C., Kimberly, D.M. (2012). Evolution in the office: How evolutionary psychology can increase employee heath, happiness, and productivity. Evolutionary Psychology 10: 770-781.
  6. Gacsi, M., Maros, K., Sernkvist, S., Farafo, T., Miklosi, A. (2013). Human analogue Safe Haven Effect of the owner: Behavioural and heart rate response to stressful social stimuli in dogs.   PLOS One. 3: DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0058475
  7. Shiverdecker, M.D., Schiml, P.A., Hennessy, M.B. (2013). Human interaction moderated plasma cortisol and behavioral responses of dogs to shelter housing. Physiology & Behavior. 109: 76-79.

Doggin It… I mean Bloggin It For a Year! Keep on Waggin!

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Today marks the one year anniversary of the Canines By Design blog, and actually, really, the one year anniversary of starting my adventure writing and sharing information with the world about my experiences with canines.

A very supportive family and amazing post-secondary academic experiences helped catalyze the dream of starting my own business that focuses on improving canine lives in our community. There is academic literature being published on a fairly regular basis now that surrounds canine welfare and behaviour and it is up to those of us that have decided to be a voice for canines to continue to learn and help spread this knowledge into our communities.

Canines By Design has created quite a little following of people over various social platforms in the last year, and I wanted to thank all of you for the support and interest in reading what I put up here.  I like to think our little community is drawn together by our like-mindedness towards canines, and our desire to learn as much as we can so that we can be there for them just like they always are for us.

Our positive and inclusionary approach with our canines will become the societal norm, replacing older beliefs with academic proof. Canine behaviour and welfare will stop being a “mystery”, and everyone will be able to share in the benefits of canine companionship!  Spread the word!  Change is a happenin’! 🙂

So THANKS for reading!  And THANKS for the support!  But Most of all, THANK YOU for loving your canine(s)!

Keep checking back each week as Canines By Design continues to explore all things Canine!  ~woof~

Came across this video of dogs underwater in slow motion! Enjoy!

Consistency Matters: 3 Areas That Will Improve In Your Canine Relationship

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Consistency At Dinner Time Helps Create Good Dinner-Time Manners

Consistency At Feeding Time Helps Create Good Dinner-Time Manners

Professionals do not become “Pro’s” overnight. Doctors do not become doctors on a hope and a dream, NHL All-Stars do not achieve greatness by sitting on the couch, and people dedicated to a deep understanding of canine behaviour don’t just wake up one day with the ability to speak “animal.” Such individuals work diligently and train mentally and physically to create the basic skill set required to master their area of expertise. Consistent effort and practice of the fundamentals are important exercises that help all types of professionals excel and reach the top!

That word, consistency, pops up quite a bit. Consistency can be defined as the “steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, form, etc.” (Dictionary.com, 2014). In the canine world, we talk about consistency of technique, timing, methodology, reward, punishment, routine, etc. but we don’t necessarily say why we want to be consistent. Well consistency, or being dependable with action and response, in all aspects of your relationship with your canine can have a profoundly positive impact!

All relationships are built on the basics of communication. Consistency, or acting in a consistent way as you instruct, praise, correct and go about navigating the world around you, will greatly help canines understand your requests and current emotional state. Consistency can give them clues on how to respond or prepare to respond. Being consistent will help our canines through:

Practice Practice Practice.  Zoom Helping Unload his favorite groceries

Practice Practice Practice. Zoom Helping Unload his favorite groceries

Reliability: Instructing, praising, redirecting and timing are the cornerstones to educating your canine in both an effective and efficient way during training sessions and new encounters. By structuring your training sessions and creating a plan to achieve new goals, we can control our learning sessions more effectively and add to our ability to remain consistent throughout the process.   By doing so, we are actually able to increase the reliability our canine’s behaviour across different situations and scenarios as they come up in our day-to-day lives.

Faster learning/sharper learning curve: Adding a level of consistency to our interactions with our canines will help them understand what is being asked of them regardless of the situation. If your dog has gone through a learning process where the actions and results are the same every time, the connection between cause and effect quickly becomes quite clear for them…. If this happens, and I act this way, this outcome (e.g. praise) will occur. If the outcome to their response varies in each “trial” or occurrence, then the connection becomes muddled and it will take longer to learn the right behaviour, as well as the possibility of learning the wrong behaviour can also arise. This is a basic fundamental of behavioural conditioning (both in a classical and operant sense) but isn’t necessarily thought of in a “practical application” sort of way when we are out in the world with our canines.

Emotional Understanding: Along with increased reliability of behaviour and ability for faster learning, working on the consistency within us will help our canines understand our emotional state. If we react to the same situations in a similar fashion each time, our emotional response remains consistent and our canines will begin to learn what we are/are not comfortable with. They can then begin to predict how we will react, thus speeding up their response to various situations and furthering the development of the human-canine bond. Don’t believe me? An article just released at the end of November shows canines demonstrating an understanding of subtle changes in human communication such as emotional tone, intonation and volume changes. Read more on how dogs do understand their master’s voice.

Adding consistency to our interactions with our canines requires practice. After a training session or new encounter/situation has come up, take an introspective moment to assess what went on, how your canine behaved, and most importantly, how you behaved and responded (acted). You may quickly find a key… possibly why the scenario worked out perfectly, and maybe why it could have gone better and how you can facilitate that the next time!

Need help with your consistency? Like a personal trainer for physical fitness, a large part of my work is assessing the areas of your canine relationship that could use more consistent effort. I design and chart training sessions and goals that you and your dog can follow and achieve together!

References:

Dictionary.com (2014). Consistency Definition. Retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/consistency. Accessed on: December 9th, 2014.

TheeAmigos

Nose to Tail Product Review: GoughNuts Toys

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GoughNuts.com Stick

GoughNuts.com Stick

At Canines By Design, we are always looking into new and exciting ways for you and your dog to interact and have fun. Both Zoom and I love checking out new products, games, puzzles, and gear that is geared for positive and safe experiences (and sometimes it’s hard to tell which of us geeking out more!).

I know I don’t have to look too far to find those of you who have a canine with some serious chewing power. I bet they are the kind of dog that has made those “indestructible” claims seem like a bit of a stretch. I also know that this… enthusiasm can make finding appropriate toys difficult, expensive and, frankly, distressing when yet another product fails miserably.

GoughNuts, LLC has created a line of safe dog products, made in the USA, that have specifically catered to the needs of champion chewers. Alongside Mechanical and Polymer Engineers, Goughnuts has developed products made of high quality materials with wear indicators to let caregivers know when the toy’s integrity has been compromised. They also come with a multi-Axis Groove System to help prevent potential choking/air blockage, bite-strength statistics and a return/replace policy for both Canada and the U.S.

Products with these types of considerations make canine safety a top priority, and GoughNuts makes sure customers know it when visiting their website. They go into detail about how to properly size their products based on your canine’s size and also give detailed information about when it is time to remove the toy to ensure your pet stays safe. They make a range of GoughNut Sticks and Rings with different bite strengths and sizes for both small/medium and large dogs, and have also recently released a tug toy and a ball design that follows their strict “Safety-First” policy.

Nothing is indestructible – this is always part of our environmental enrichment discussions with clients. Playtimes with toys should be monitored, especially with strong chewers. Developing safe and enriching spaces means working with the specific personalities, needs, and behaviours of each individual dog as well as all the variables (such as durability and budget) introduced in each case to strike a balance between an entertaining space and a safe one. No one wants to lay on a tile floor in a bare room with nothing to do! The GoughNuts company is helping this process for us all, by ensuring that the products they develop, produce, and promote already encompass major components of canine safety.

Always research your canine-related products. While those that offer bargain prices and multi-packs may seem enticing to those of us who have canines who don’t seem to know their own strength, the level of ingredient control and quality in these products can be quite varied. While I can offer many examples of dog-related surgeries due to the ingestion of toys and other materials in the environment, I thought I would post one that we will all be dealing with right now as it is BBQ season and we are all on the hunt for what we think is a deal: http://www.edmontonsun.com/2014/07/07/woman-hospitalized-by-cheap-bbq-brush.

 

 

 

 

Feeling Stressed? Pet a Dog!

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Zoom- Happy Labrador Face

Happy Zoom, #caninesbydesign

Daily, one can read headlines about “Big Pharma’s” advancements on a groundbreaking drug (and subsequent increase in market share) on one page, and the recently discovered harmful side effects of a trusted treatment on another. This is the development of the medical field at its best and worst, delivered in digestible coffee break morsels.

To be newsworthy is powerful, and yet, so is acknowledging the importance of enduring positive influences on our minds and bodies that we, all too often, take for granted. Shouldn’t it be front-page news that we have a time-proven, stress-busting treatment that is all natural, readily accessible and low cost at our fingertips? (A warning though – addiction is likely.) This revolutionary treatment is: Pet a dog!

You are unlikely to receive this prescription written in your doctor’s illegible scrawl, with the advice to proceed to the nearest Lab, Poodle or Labradoodle. However, the effects are undeniable. The question is: How do we reconcile the laboratory and the dog park?

The bond between human and animal has been one that has fascinated us and, in many ways, eluded our efforts to dissect and understand its complexities. We can inherently feel this connection, and yet it is incredibly difficult to replicate, reproduce, and report in a laboratory setting. Laboratory scientists are confined to structure their studies in such a way so that a direct relationship between action and response can be drawn. Controls are put in place to keep external factors at bay in order to produce “pure” results and “good data.” My undergraduate background in Animal Biology was built in this safe and sterile environment: laboratory-based physiological research on a cellular level, where every step, exposure time, and protocol was developed to ensure controlled experiments in hopes of understanding very specific processes.

Studying behaviour like emotional response poses very different challenges that must be assessed before, during and after the research is performed. For example, when research subjects are asked to describe the statement “I feel happy”, researchers receive a wide array of adjectives and metaphors that explain this topic. But how can emotion be measured? Using the control-based approach that scientific research is founded in, scientists now understand that there are markers in each of us that unite and relate our responses to “happy” situations. More importantly, there are markers that those of us in or from the laboratory-based research community can measure, quantify, publish, reproduce in another study, publish, and maybe even verify!

One of the approaches to how dogs make us feel has taken this very path. Using variables in our lifestyle (e.g. daily exercise amount) and physiological markers such as heart rate, as well as measuring a variety of cellular responses (e.g. cortisol levels) attained from study participants, all lead to the fact that the emotional impact of this human canine bond can, in a sense, be measured.

So where does petting a dog come into play? And how can this simple act help you feel better? Among many studies looking into the variables at play, researchers of two separate studies found that participants being monitored for physiological response to stressful situations actually had lower stress responses (measured through cortisol levels) when dogs were present than those participants that underwent the same test without dogs being present. In both cases, the presence of a canine during testing decreased the extent of the participant’s response to stress (Miller et al., 2009; Pohleber & Matchock, 2013). Researchers are now applying these positive results to the classroom and the office by studying various aspects in which the presence of canines, and the calming, pleasant effect they have, can be applied purposefully for therapeutic and educational options for children, and even in such a way to increase productivity in office and workplace settings (O’Haire, 2013; One Health, 2014; Fitzgerald and Kimberly, 2012).

It is also important to remember that the dog-human relationship is a two-way street. The benefits of a strong bond to combat stress and the unfamiliar are just as important for your canine. Just as petting a dog can lower stress in our own bodies, the same is being found true for canines. In one study, participating canines that were being touched by their caregivers during the presence of a stranger had marked decreases in their overall mean heart rate when compared to dogs faced with the same situation while separated from their owner (Gacsi et al., 2013). Another study looking at the benefits of brief petting and play sessions with a dog (30 minutes) from a shelter dog’s perspective found that this human interaction was effective in decreasing fear related behaviour (e.g. panting and vocalization,) and also had physiological benefits (a decrease in plasma cortisol level concentrations from the interaction) (Shiverdecker, et al., 2013). It is therefore possible for those of us who are not fulltime canine caregivers to still benefit from this therapy through volunteer and foster programs with local shelter and adoption services. It may also be possible for some of these canines to also benefit mentally and physically by participating in programs that offer therapeutic benefits back to humans through office and school education programs.

My research into the healthful benefits of interaction between our dogs and us does not pretend that canine ownership offers a medical cure-all for disease and health-related issues. Nor would I advocate for people to believe they should have a dog in their lives for the sole purpose of healing their mind and body. Rather this article, and the goal of Canines By Design, is to transform the field of dog owner education by integrating current scientific research with our everyday interest in the canine-human bond. Understanding these intricacies and being holistically educated on the topic of canines can have beneficial impacts socially, physiologically, and emotionally for both human and canines.

Canines By Design wants to help you and your dog achieve the most out of your relationship. Whether it is attending one of our family-friendly education classes, utilizing our customized training and enrichment services, or finding out how integrating canines into your workplace can improve office culture and productivity, we are here help.

References:

Miller, S.C., Kennedy, C., DeVoe, D., Hickey, M., Nelson, T., Kogan, L. (2009). An examination of changes in oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog. Anthrozoos: A multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals. 22: 31-42.

Polheber, J.P., Matchock, R.L. (2013). The presence of a dog attenuates cortisol and heart rate in the Trier Social Stress Test compared to human friends. J. Behav. Med.: DOI 10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1.

O’Haire, M.E. (2013). Animal-assisted intervention for autism spectrum disorder: A systematic literature review. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 43: 1606-1622.

One Health- Mills, D., Hall, S. (2014). Animal-assisted interventions: making better use of the human-animal bond. Veterinary Record. Retrieved from: http://171.67.117.160/content/174/11/269.full.pdf+html. Accessed May 20, 2014.

Fitzgerald, C., Kimberly, D.M. (2012). Evolution in the office: How evolutionary psychology can increase employee heath, happiness, and productivity. Evolutionary Psychology 10: 770-781.

Gacsi, M., Maros, K., Sernkvist, S., Farafo, T., Miklosi, A. (2013). Human analogue Safe Haven Effect of the owner: Behavioural and heart rate response to stressful social stimuli in dogs.   PLOS One. 3: DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0058475

Shiverdecker, M.D., Schiml, P.A., Hennessy, M.B. (2013). Human interaction moderated plasma cortisol and behavioral responses of dogs to shelter housing. Physiology & Behavior. 109: 76-79.

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