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BLOG POSTS BY Nicholas Dodman

Good Old Dog

Last week I was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air by Dave Davies (introduced by Terri Gross).  The subject was Tufts new book, good Old Dog, which I contributed to and edited. Right after the show the book took off. It was in the top 100 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, which means, by definition, that it is a best seller already. Amazon actually sold out of books for a while and had to reorder. Such is the power of public radio! This week is the so-called national radio tour where I sit at my desk and get local stations from all over the country call me to chat about the book. I have about 12 interviews set up so far and may be coming to a radio station near you (whoever you are and wherever you live!).  Then mid-November (the 15th) I will be on the Diane Rehm show and WAMU (2 separate shows, one before lunch and one after to be broadcast live from Washington DC). The release date of this book was well planned, right in time for the gist giving season!

Anyway, razzmatazz aside, the book should be very helpful for all owners of aging dogs and fills a niche that has hitherto neglected.  The population of older dogs is increasing in parallel with the human population and for similar reasons (enhanced preventive health care and more advanced medical techniques). These days, more and more people find themselves in the company of an aging dog and need to know where to look for help when things begin to go south. Old age is not a disease it is state that with care and knowledge can be managed. The book explains how. We hope that after reading this book owners will be in a better position to know what’s right for their dog and that they will have increased quality time with their dear old(er) friend.  Good Old Dog’s subtitle is: expert advice for keeping you aging dog happy, healthy, and comfortable. That just about sums it up.

To learn more about Good Old Dog see NPR’s website for an extract of the discussion.

http://www.npr.org/2010/11/22/131516152/helping-your-good-old-dog-navigate-aging

Yappier Hour

This week I attended a Powderhouse Productions/Animal Planet event to celebrate the premiere of DOGS 101 Season Three at the Liberty Hotel in Boston.  DOGS 101 experts Karen 'Doc' Halligan and Andrea Arden were in attendance and proceeds from the event went to the MSPCA. I must admit, I had no idea what to expect as my wife Linda and I, and our dog Rusty, sped down the Mass pike toward Boston. Apparently, the Liberty Hotel, which is animal friendly, puts on a Yappie Hour every Wednesday night and dog owners are encouraged to bring their pooches to enjoy the fun.

But this night was special, what with the premiere and all, so it was to be even yappier than usual.  I had visions of a bunch of dog owners discussing TV projects and quaffing beer and wine while their dogs, restrained on lead, attempted to meet and greet each other. Just in case Rusty got overly rambunctious, I brought his Gentle Leader head halter.  He started out the car ride excited, presumably thinking he was going for a walk with both his dog parents. As the miles whizzed by, he became more subdued, and licked his lips anxiously. What was going on? Where on earth was he going?

Finally, we reached our destination. When we got out my car, he became very excited at the new venue, spinning and twirling his way through the hotel lobby.  Then, as we waited patiently for an elevator to the first floor, he rudely goosed a young woman who was passing by. That was sit. The Gentle leader went on.  On exiting the elevator, we followed signs to an outdoor courtyard and gingerly made our appearance. To our surprise, dogs galore charged around the courtyard off leash having the time of their lives. No leash law here.  We immediately released Rusty, who joyously joined the throng.  There were little dogs, big dogs, running dogs, barking dogs, wrestling dogs, and chased and chasing dogs. It was heaven.  Rusty played and played but then we saw him thoroughly enjoying a doggie cocktail – a beefy broth in a paper cup. That was his aperitif as he moved on to not one but three (free) Frosty Paws.  Then back to playing.

Night fell slowly as we chatted and had a glass or two of wine in the evening air.  We definitely had fun but Rusty had the time of his life. He fell asleep happy and exhausted on the way home, having met and played with every dog there. Having a night out in the best dog friendly hotel in Boston - $100. Watching Rusty enjoy himself so much and have the best night of his life – priceless.  Thank you Liberty Hotel. Thank you Powderhouse.

Footnotes:

  1. The Liberty Hotel was formerly the Charles St. jail which housed many a crook in its day. Now transformed into stunning elegance, it retains some of its original jail features and names (the bar, surrounded by refurbished jail cells, is called “Clink”).
  2. Dr. Dodman will be giving a seminar on dog (and cat) behavior in Pittsburgh next month. For details, visit ThePetDocs.Com website and look under Events.

Colorado, Here I Come

Here we are again in the dog days of summer and most everything is well in my little corner of the world.  Many of our students are on break, though being a full service veterinary hospital, Tufts keeps senior students around so they can help man the trenches and, in the process, increase their veterinary experience.  Pretty much all of the professors are still around, too, though some are taking short but well-earned breaks over the summer, girding their loins for the teaching assault to follow in the fall.

I never really take a summer vacation but, instead, continue to see cases, keep the pot boiling with various research projects, and prepare for the teaching assignments to come.  One of these assignments is my next continuing education seminar to trainers, vet techs, and veterinarians, which is coming up in the last weekend of August toward the end of this steamy hot stretch that we call summer.  In Colorado, I have one cat day on a Friday in which I attempt to explain everything I know about behavior problems in cats in about seven hours.  Then I have two dog days on the Saturday and Sunday before returning to Massachusetts.  For anyone interested in attending either of these presentations, please visit my website ThePetDocs.com and look under the events heading.

Seizure Alert Dogs?

While it is reasonably easy to train dogs as seizure-response dogs to run and get help when someone is having a seizure, to have dogs pick up on an impending seizure before it actually happens is a totally different kettle of fish (and one that is somewhat equivocal).  Though there are groups who train seizure-alert dogs and place them with individuals who have seizures, there is no scientific evidence for seizure alert actually working except where brittle diabetics can be alerted by their dog before their blood sugar hits rock bottom and triggers the seizure. In the latter case, the explanation may be that when blood sugar drops below a certain level, metabolism changes producing different odors that dogs can detect.  If the dog is trained to respond to this odor by, say, by nudging a household member, the correct treatment can be implemented and a seizure thus averted.

But here’s a new twist on the old story of seizure-alert dogs, one in which almost behavioral seizures, in the form of “rage” were apparently detected ahead of time by his canine companions.  The dog in question, a Doberman pinscher whose name was Storm, formerly got on well with all his other Doberman housemates. But this amiable situation ended abruptly about two months prior to the owner noting any overt rage episodes. Suddenly the other dogs started giving Storm a wide berth.  His owner, a professional dog trainer, thought he was pulling a power trip, but it turns out they probably knew more about what was going with Storm on than she did at the time.  Storms owner reported the rage episodes, when they finally occurred with a vengeance, as follows: “His behavior before an attack was that he would be sitting just staring out a window, a blank stare, with dilated pupils and then he would turn, look at me briefly, look away and then, a split second later, launch into a full-blown attack.  The attack would last anywhere from thirty to sixty seconds and then he would come out of it, start shaking and appear totally disoriented.  He would then look at me like he was still a baby, as if to say, “What’s wrong?”  The episodes increased to four times a day and his vet put him on Valium® at first and then phenobarbital and, finally, lithium, but nothing seemed to help.

During the very last attack the owner had him muzzled because the episodes were getting worse.  He woke up and came over to her on the couch (she was lying down) and he attacked her without provocation despite being under the full influence of the medication.  She reports that she was never so glad to have had a muzzle on him because with him at face level she could have been seriously injured.  Unfortunately for Storm, there was no future and the vet decided he should be put to sleep as he shouldn’t have to live drugged and muzzled, as that meant essentially he had no life.

Two points emerge from this story.  The first is that there appear to be definite differences between seizure-induced aggression (a.k.a rage) and just nasty old “normal” aggression.  Minimal or no provocation is one of them as is the occurrence of a vicious attack associated with bizarre post ictal signs like shaking, disorientation, or extreme tiredness.

The other lesson from this story is that the other dogs seemed to have alerted to Storm’s pending seizures, both ahead of time and event by event.  Seizure-alert dogs may be able to detect human seizures before they occur and may be able to detect those of other dogs, too.

Though science has yet to catch up with this phenomenon, the truth is out there somewhere and, undoubtedly, will eventually come to light.

Dr. Dodman will be giving a 2-day seminar on dog behavior in Colorado in August. For details and registration, visit his website www.ThePetDocs.com.

Goodbye Pasadena, Hello Chicago

Toward the end of March, I traveled to Pasadena, California to give a three-day seminar on cat and dog behavior (one day on cats, two days on dogs).  The dog days were better attended than the cat days because, I suppose, there are more dog trainers than cat trainers but either way the event was a great success.  About 800 Power Points slides later and a score or so of videos, I wound up the event and headed to Santa Monica to watch the sun set over the Pacific before heading back to Boston exhausted but happy.  That week I was inundated with new cases involving canine aggression, various types of anxiety, compulsive disorders, and even submissive urination.  On the Friday of that week, I was joined by a reporter from Science magazine who is writing a piece about one of my main interests, how spontaneously occurring animal behavior problems can sometimes shed light on human psychiatric conditions.  The matter is somewhat controversial with opinions varying from “how can we learn anything about human behavior by studying animals” to “this is an untapped mine of information, the study of which will benefit not only dogkind but also mankind.”  Anyway, with that week behind me I am now preparing for another two-day canine behavioral seminar event at Narnia Pet Behavior & Training in Plainfield, Illinois (near Chicago).  Anybody from that area who is interested in attending should check out my website, The PetDocs.com under “Events” to see the full program.  That’s it for now.  Keep the faith and keep on training – positively.

Nicholas H. Dodman
ThePetDocs.com

The Charge of the Right Brigade

Fortunately there’s lots of good news around these days about positive dog training methods.  Note: positive does not equate with permissive; it involves setting limits, having reasonable expectations, paying attention to and helping a dog achieve desired behaviors, rewarding such behaviors and ignoring (or tsk-tsking) unwanted or objectionable behaviors.

Yes, the yin-yang approach of reward versus a tsk-tsk (or uh-uh) is a powerful way to coach a dog to understand what you mean and want him to do.  Negative punishment, by which a reward is withheld, plays an important role, too.  [“The opposite of reward is not physical punishment, it is no reward”].

dodman-rustydogVictoria’s approach is the right one and, thank heavens, she has the platform to promote it widely.  Notice that her bloggers are all of the same mentality and try as best they can, through whatever outlets are available to them, to spread the good word.

In that connection, I unashamedly promote my next gig at the Pasadena Humane Society and Shelter.  It’s coming up next month (see www.ThePetDocs.Com for details) and the early bird cutoff is almost upon us (some extensions granted for readers of this blog, of course).  Although my approach tends to be more medical-behavioral than most – e.g. the influence of thyroid and diet on behavior, chemical imbalances, genetic influences on behavior, and mood stabilization techniques (and so on) – it compliments what my illustrious co-bloggers are advising and blends well with other behavioral reshaping programs.

Training is an important component of what I advise and essential to overall lifestyle enhancement.  Exercise, diet, clear communication, proper leadership, environmental enrichment are also vital components in achieving a well-adjusted dog that will be a trusting and loyal companion for years to come.  Each will be addressed in my presentations as will specific behavior problem management.

Though some think might is right, I think of it the other way round, right is might.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!

A few days ago I was contacted by a reporter from People magazine looking for some input on an unusual story about a curious friendship that had developed between a lion, a tiger and a 1000-pound bear. Apparently, the three animals were confiscated as cubs from “drug barons” during a police raid several years prior and have lived happily ever since various zoos.

Why, was the question, would three apex predators who do not normally get on well together become such close friends and could there be trouble brewing on the horizon?  Should they be separated? The answer, I told the reporter, was that the three had become bonded at an early age and had now come to regard each other as friends. Separating them would likely cause them some distress and may not be the best thing for them.

The phenomenon of animals forming close bonds is hard-wired and has survival benefits. It is positively life-saving for young to imprint on their moms and to recognize and socialize with their own kind.  Because the mechanism for this close bonding is in place, if a young animal is exposed to even animals of a different species during sensitive period of learning, it may bond to those animals and come to regard them as friends. Examples of atypical bonding abound. Monkeys and cats have become trusting and inseparable; cats have developed deep affection for dogs, cats have formed close bonds with birds and even mice (I have slides of both of the latter situations that I use in my lectures); and birds have become psychologically attached to people. In one case that did the rounds on the Internet recently, an elephant became super close friends with a dog and even waited patiently for the dog to recover when it became ill. The lesson here is that any social animal can become bonded to another different creature if exposed under the right circumstances at an early age.  Domestic dogs are no exception to this general rule and, as pups, can be engineered to bond with all types of people, dogs, cats, and other species. If both parties are young, the bonding can be mutual, as occurred with the lion, the tiger and the bear. Is there trouble on ahead for those three? Not likely, not after this early bonding and eight years of mutual appreciation.

Understanding the power of socialization during the critical period of learning is something dog breeders, owners, and trainers should always have in the front of their minds as lack of appropriate exposure, particularly during the sensitive period of development (3-14 weeks), is a cause of problems ranging from frank fear to aggression. On the other hand, properly arranged exposure of young dogs to whatever and whoever they will be exposed during their lives can produce the most stable and well-balanced adult dogs.  Now if only we could do the same for people ...

Punishment

Hello everyone, it’s so nice to have been asked to blog for Victoria’s site. I have watched her show often and thoroughly approve of her training methods.  Positive training is the right way to go and, as you can see on the show, allows you to train a dog to do practically anything without resorting to chain jerking or psychological dominance.  Ethologist Konrad Lorenz said, regarding training a dog to do a task such as retrieving, “punishment here is not only incongruous but even harmful, since it is calculated to disgust the dog with this special activity, and to make him useless for it.” I say, it’s far better to have a dog do what is asked because he wants to please his owner than because he is afraid of the consequences if he does not.

Maybe the Army needs dogs of war to respond like automatons but pet dog owners do not need that level of compliance and most prefer to have a good relationship with their dog based on clear communication, mutual understanding, and trust. One thing to remember when training dogs is that the opposite of reward is not punishment, it is no reward.  I don’t mind a little “uh-uh-uh” (said in a growly voice) when a dog is not listening to help guide the correct response. It is helpful to have yin and yang, praise and chastisement, approach to expedite learning.  But the yang should be “uh-uh-uh” not snapping a choke collar or striking the dog with a hand or rolled up newspaper.

Think of dog training as similar to training a child. Children should be trained with patience and guidance, and by using physical compulsion. Spare the rod and spoil the child went out with Dr. Spock. Physical punishment of children under five years old is now illegal in many places. Personally I believe it should be illegal in children over five as well and also in dogs. It has recently been discovered that children who are physically punished as a method of disciplining them have an I.Q. five points lower (on average) than unpunished peers. Dogs fare worse when trained using methods involving physical punishment, too and physical punishment is not even necessary.

Let’s consider things from the dog’s point of view for a moment. (After all, it’s not all about us and our wants/needs).  If you want to pet your dog and ask him to sit to be petted (a very reasonable approach), if he does sit, all is well.  But he doesn’t want to be petted, doesn’t sit and wanders off, that’s fine too.  You are now having a conversation.  In effect you are asking, “Do you want to be petted?” (by asking him to sit) and he can reply “Yes” (by sitting) or “Not right now” (by wandering off).  You really don’t need to be like a sergeant major who must be obeyed; and your dog should not have to respond to all your utterances like a good little soldier. Fair enough, there may be times when a reliable response is needed for reasons of safety. For example, “Come (here)” requires an immediate response when a dog is running toward a busy road.  A few necessary commands like “Come” - not overused and spoken with authority - should well honed by positive training, not through physical punishment. Lorenz got it right again when he said (re. training dogs) “Art and science aren’t enough, patience is the basic stuff.” Although physical punishment can have immediate effects, e.g. whipping a prong collar to stop and dog from jumping and, to the uninitiated with short attention spans, makes good TV, the results of such punishment-based methods are transient and rely on continued punishment in order for them to be maintained. It is accurately stated about punishment that it teaches a dog nothing except how to avoid punishment.

That just about says it all. So, dog owners take heed: Watch and learn from Victoria. That way you will engineer a better relationship with your dog and any annoying problem behaviors will fade away.  As long as you are using the right methods and heading in the right direction, you will get where you are going (which is where you want to be).  Make sense?

Dr. Nicholas Dodman is a professor at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, where he is Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic. Please visit his website ThePetDocs.Com listing his books and forthcoming public appearances.

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