Doggy quote of the month for March

“Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment.”

– the late Caroline Knapp, author of Pack of Two (one of my favourite books)

Olive, Mabel & Me – book review

It seems fitting that, on the eve of March 2021 – one year to the month since the world and our lives became dominated by Covid-19, I have finished reading Olive, Mabel & Me (Life and Adventures with Two Very Good Dogs) by Andrew Cotter.

If you’re a dog lover, you must know about Mr Cotter by now and the narrated antics of his black Labrador, Olive, and her little sister, yellow Labrador Mabel which entertained many of us while we were locked down (with new videos still being shared). What started as a bit of a laugh, a sports commentator with nothing to comment on but his dogs, The Dog’s Breakfast Grand Final became an Internet sensation thanks to a video uploaded on Twitter which went viral. The public demanded more videos and Mr Cotter obliged with Game of Bones….and the list goes on.

Thankfully, while this book talks about the videos and the circumstances of their production, it goes beyond that to talk more deeply about Andrew’s life with his dogs (and a period when he was also dog-less thanks to career demands). We see pictures of a much-younger Andrew with his family dogs, for example. Andrew loves the mountains and takes his dogs with him on long walks in all seasons while his partner, Caroline, usually remains at home.

Olive and Mabel have contributed in their own words The Foreward to the book, but the rest is all Andrew.

Andrew has written this book as if he were sitting in our lounge talking to us directly. I could hear his voice as I read the pages of his words which share tales of his life with his dogs and his wit, more generally.

Some examples:

  • On Labradors: “A Labrador is a velvet cushion in animal form – short coat, perfect domed head and ears made from the softest material known to man, woman or beast. As if created for therapy and designed for stroking.
  • On Walkkies: “Let’s get one thing straight. Dogs are happy with any walks. Through the lofty pine trees of Yosemite or down a filthy inner-city pavement – it’s all good.
  • On the Vets – a chapter entitled “The Place That Shall Not Be Named
  • On staying in a dog-friendly hotel: “Unable to leave them alone, I was restricted to a room-service dinner, with both dogs agreeing that it was quite the most brilliant thing in the world that food should simply appear – but only after the poor member of staff who had knocked on the door was forced to hear what Olive thought about his mother.
  • On seeing a dog in Tokyo: “Once when out for a jog in Yoyogi Park, near where we were staying in Tokyo, I saw a dog – not running around, catching a frisbee, chewing on a stick or sniffing other dogs. Rather, this proud and noble descendant of the wolf was being pushed around in a buggy while wearing a Superman costume. Everyone there who saw it seemed to consider it perfectly normal behaviour, while the dog itself looked as royally pissed off as you might imagine. Perhaps he had really wanted to be Spider-Man.

Because I want you to buy this book, I’m going to leave it to you to find the passage in the book which deals with the topic of pulling grass out of your dog’s bottom…we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

I don’t follow sports and so even though I live in a country which regularly carries broadcasts of the BBC, I would never have heard Andrew Cotter if it wasn’t for his work with Olive and Mabel. And I am truly grateful for the humour he shared when I (and many of us) most needed it. Buy this book and reward Mr Cotter for his talents. You’ll be rewarded because it’s really an excellent and entertaining read.

I’ll leave the final words to Andrew:

“The power of love for dogs is a curious thing. The connection you have with these creatures is so very strong and one that can’t really be explained to those who don’t share it. But there are millions of people who do. Not that I didn’t know it already, but the whole success of Olive and Mabel has shown me just how far-reaching that love for dogs is.


Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Wolves, dogs and dingoes

Dogs are generally considered the first domesticated animal, while its ancestor is generally considered to be the wolf, but where the Australian dingo fits into this framework is still debated, according to a retired Penn State anthropologist.

“Indigenous Australians understood that there was something different about the dingoes and the colonial dogs,” said Pat Shipman, retired adjunct professor of anthropology, Penn State.  “They really are, I think, different animals. They react differently to humans. A lot of genetic and behavioral work has been done with wolves, dogs and dingoes. Dingoes come out somewhere in between.”

A) Person holding the front paws of a dingo spread wide.  B) Shows a dingo climbing rocks. Image: Lyn Watson

Wolves, dogs and dingoes are all species of the canidae family and are called canids. In most animals, hybridization between closely related species does not happen, or like female horses and male donkeys, produce mules — usually non-fertile offspring.  However, many canid species, including wolves, dingoes and dogs, can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Defining species boundaries in canids becomes more difficult.

Domestic dogs came to the Australian continent in 1788 with the first 11 ships of convicts, but dingoes were already there, as were aboriginal Australians who arrived on the continent about 65,000 years ago. A large portion of dingoes in Australia today have domestic dog in their ancestry, but dingoes came to Australia at least 4,000 years ago according to fossil evidence. Shipman believes that date may be even earlier, but no fossils have yet been found.

“Part of the reason I’m so fascinated with dingoes is that if you see a dingo through American eyes you say, ‘that’s a dog,'” said Shipman. “In evolutionary terms, dingoes give us a glimpse of what started the domestication process.”

Shipman reports her analysis of wolves, dogs and dingoes in a January 2021 special issue of the Anatomical Record.

Dingoes, and the closely related New Guinea singing dogs, look like the default definition of dog, but they are not dogs. 

“There is a basic doggy look to dingoes,” said Shipman.

Genetically and behaviorally they differ from dogs and are more like wolves in their inability to digest starches and their relationships with humans. 

Most domestic dogs evolved along with humans as humans became agriculturalists and moved to a diet containing large amounts of starch, whether from maize, rice, potatoes or wheat. Their genome changed to allow the digestion of these starches. Dingoes, like wolves, have very few of the genes for starch digestion.

While indigenous Australians stole dingo puppies from their dens and raised them, these puppies generally left human homes at maturity and went off to breed and raise offspring. The ability to closely bond with humans is limited in dingoes, although present in dogs. Native Australians also did not manipulate dingo breeding, which is a hallmark of domestication.

Dingoes are also well-adapted to the Australian outback and fare well in that environment. Domestic dogs that become feral do not survive well in the outback.

“Aboriginal Australians were not well-regarded as holders of knowledge or special skill when Europeans came to the continent,” said Shipman. “So, no one thought to ask them about dingoes. Even recently, asking aboriginals for their scientific or behavioral knowledge really was not common.”

However, aboriginal Australians have a long history of living with dingoes in their lives. Many people argue that dingoes are just dogs — strange dogs, but just dogs, said Shipman.  But, according to aboriginals, dingoes are not dogs.

With dingoes showing behaviors somewhere between wolves and dogs and exhibiting only slight genetic ability to consume starchy foods or tolerate captivity, Shipman concluded that “A dingo is a wolf on its way to becoming a dog, that never got there.”

Source: Penn State News

A Rover By Any Other Name

A study by FirstVet of 100 years of American animal records reveals how the nation has named its pets throughout recent history.

Did you know that ‘Princess’ is America’s most popular pet name?

The research team has analyzed over a century of American cat and dog names, in a study of domestic animals buried in the nation’s oldest resting place for pets, Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, based in Westchester County, New York.

Photo by Hartsdale Pet Cemetary https://petcem.com/

Looking at over 25,000 Hartsdale names records from 1905 onwards, the team identified the most popular names for cats and dogs over the decades, as well as the cultural trends that may have influenced these naming choices.

115 Years of Animal Names

  • Perhaps reflective of a cultural fascination with monarchies and fairy tales, ‘Princess’ is the most popular overall pet name in the U.S. over the last 115 years (with both dogs and cats frequently receiving the name). ‘Princess’ has consistently been in the top-ten most popular dog names since the 1960s, but has never been the number 1 most popular name in any single decade.
  • ‘Tiger’ is the most popular cat’s name of the last 115 years. This might be a legacy of the earliest domesticated cats in America being European ‘tabby’ cats, with distinctive tiger-like striped markings (prior to the importation of Asian breeds). The acquisition in 1961 by Disney of licensing rights to Winnie The Pooh (from the estate of English writer A. A. Milne), likely further contributed to the popularity of naming a small cat after its bigger cousin: Tigger being Christopher Robin’s bouncy toy-tiger friend.

The Most Popular Names of Each Decade

Note: Assuming the average dog and cat to have a lifespan of approximately 10 years, the following is based on pets being buried in the decade subsequent to their naming.

The most popular name in each decade for dogs is as follows:

  • 1930s: Queenie
  • 1940s: Tippy
  • 1950s: Sandy
  • 1960s: Lady
  • 1970s: Brandy
  • 1980s: Max
  • 1990s: Max
  • 2000s: Max

The most popular name in each decade for cats is as follows:

  • 1960s: Cindy
  • 1970s: Ginger
  • 1980s: Tiger
  • 1990s: Smokey
  • 2000s: Smokey

Regnal Numbers

  • The pet name with the highest regnal number (a number denoting that the pet is one in a series of pets with that name) is Virgo XIII.
  • The name with the second-highest regnal number is Silvia IV.

Noble Aspirations

In the U.S., which became a republic when it rejected the British monarchy and aristocracy, nobility-related names such as ‘Princess’, ‘Duke’, ‘King’, and ‘Lady’ featured consistently in the top-ten animals names in the U.S. throughout the latter half of the 20th century.

This contrasts with the U.K., a constitutional monarchy, where royal or noble names never featured in the top-ten most popular animal names in the latter half of the 20th century.

‘Princess’ was only the sixth-most popular pet name in the 1970s, but shot to being the most popular pet name in the 1980s, and the second-most popular pet name in the 1990s. This coincides with the rise in popularity of Princess Diana, who visited the U.S. on a royal tour in 1985, during which she famously danced with John Travolta at the White House.

Possible Pop Culture Inspirations

  • ‘Max’ was the most popular dog name for three decades in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. This may be partly as a result of the launch of the wildly successful Mad Max film series, the first of which was released in 1979, as well as Russell Crowe’s character Maximus in the movie ‘Gladiator’.
  • ‘Smokey’ was the most popular cat name for two consecutive decades, in the 1990s and 2000s, rising from being the 9th most popular cat name in the 1980s. This might be linked with 1977 American road action comedy film, Smokey And The Bandit, starring Burt Reynolds (and its many TV and movie sequels), as well as the enduring popularity of Motown singer William “Smokey” Robinson, who regularly featured in the Top 10 charts throughout the 80s.
  • ‘Baby’ appears third in the list of most common names for cats buried in Hartsdale in the 1990s, and remains popular throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Dirty Dancing was released in 1987, with its famous line ‘Nobody puts Baby in the corner’.

Note: The above takes culturally significant events from the previous decade as correlating to naming trends, based on the aforementioned average lifespans of pets.

Source: FirstVet.com

Dogs put the fun into learning vital social skills

A new UBC Okanagan study finds children not only reap the benefits of working with therapy dogs–they enjoy it too.

“Dog lovers often have an assumption that canine-assisted interventions are going to be effective because other people are going to love dogs,” says Nicole Harris, who conducted this research while a master’s student in the School of Education. “While we do frequently see children improve in therapy dog programs, we didn’t have data to support that they enjoyed the time as well.”

Harris was the lead researcher in the study that explored how children reacted while participating in a social skill-training program with therapy dogs.

The research saw 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club take part in a series of sessions to help them build their social skills. Over six weeks, the children were accompanied by therapy dogs from UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program as they completed lessons.

Each week the children were taught a new skill, such as introducing themselves or giving directions to others. The children would first practice with their assigned therapy dog before running through the exercise with the rest of the group. In the final phase, the children —accompanied by their new furry friend and volunteer handler —would practice their new skills with university students located in the building.

“Therapy dogs are often able to reach children and facilitate their growth in surprising ways. We saw evidence of this in the social skills of children when they were paired with a therapy dog,” says Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of BARK. “The dogs helped create a non-threatening climate while the children were learning these new skills. We saw the children practice and hone their social skills with and alongside the dogs.”

While the children were learning and practising their new skills, the research team collected data.

“Findings from our observations suggested that canine-assisted social and emotional learning initiatives can provide unique advantages,” says Harris. “Our team saw that by interacting with the therapy dogs, the children’s moods improved and their engagement in their lessons increased.”

In fact, 87 per cent of the team rated the children’s engagement level as very or extremely engaged during the sessions.

At the end of the six weeks, Harris interviewed eight children, aged 5 to 11 years old, who regularly attended the sessions. Each child indicated the social skill-training program was an enjoyable and positive experience and the dogs were a meaningful and essential part of the program.

One participant noticed that the children behaved better at the sessions than at their regular after-school care program, and they thought it was because the children liked being around the dogs.

Half of the children mentioned ways that they felt the dogs helped with their emotional well-being, with one participant crediting a dog with helping him “become more responsible and control his silliness.”

As a full-time elementary school teacher, Harris notes that schools have become increasingly important in helping students develop social and emotional skills, and this research could contribute to the development of future school-based or after-school programs.

“Dogs have the ability to provide many stress-reducing and confidence-boosting benefits to children,” says Harris. “It was really heartwarming to see the impact the program had on the kids.”

The research stemmed from the Building Confidence through K9s program, which was offered in partnership with the TELUS Thompson Okanagan Community Board.

The study was published in the Journal of Research in Childhood Education.

Source: University of British Columbia

Teaching the basics of massage

Last weekend, my greyhound Izzy and I taught another Learn to Massage Your Dog workshop. I have lost count as to how many dog parents we have taught together, but there are always more who should sign up. In fact, I’d like every dog owner to be able to massage their dog with the basic knowledge of where to massage, why, how and also when not to massage.

Massage is a skill that should be learned hands-on and live. What better way than to attend a class with your own dog and learn together?

Massage is one of the oldest healing skills. It dates back to 3,000 BCE (Before the Common Era) in India and long before pharmaceutical and surgical choices were considered (by many) to be the only options for health care.

Koda was re-homed by Carey and attended Learn to Massage Your Dog; Koda is also a regular customer for professional massage because she has a repaired hind leg injury which she compensates for

Massage by an owner has many benefits. If done regularly, the owner is the best position to pick up on changes that may require professional attention. Lumps and bumps, for example, should always be investigated. When a dog has been injured in some way, even a minor injury, the owner is a great position to help relieve the initial stress through their massage without waiting to see a professional.

Massage is also a great way to spend quality time with your dog – enhancing your love and bond.

For clients of my professional practice, I feel much more confident in giving them a home care program when they have been to a massage class. It’s also very satisfying when an owner gets in touch to say that their dog has had a minor injury, such as a back strain, and I’m able to advise them which strokes of their massage sequence to use for home care.

The winner is, of course, the dog.

My love of dogs and the passion to see them cared for using traditional, natural options alongside veterinary care is the reason I chose this line of work. Teaching and sharing skills is an honor that I hope to share with more dogs and their families in the years to come.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Izzy is a seasoned professional demo-dog who is happy to spend most of the class on my massage table

New Stem Cell Therapy in Dogs

A team of scientists in Japan has developed a novel method to induce stem cell generation from the blood samples of dogs. Through this technique, the scientists hope to advance regenerative therapies in veterinary medicine. This would mean that, in the near future, veterinarians might be able to reverse conditions in dogs that were previously thought incurable.

Dogs have been faithful human companions ever since their domestication thousands of years ago. With various improvements in veterinary medicine in the past decades, their life expectancy has increased. However, an unfortunate side effect of this longevity, much like in humans, has been an increase in the occurrence of chronic and degenerative conditions.

In humans, modern efforts to fight such diseases have culminated in the development of regenerative therapies, largely based on stem cells. These “baby” cells have the potential to differentiate and mature into many specialized cell types— called “pluripotency.” By transplanting stem cells and guiding their differentiation into desired cell types, researchers are effectively able to regenerate damaged tissues, thereby reversing the course various complex diseases. Although this technology is widely studied in humans, the potential for stem cell therapy in dogs is lacking.

To this end, a research team from Japan, led by Associate Professor Shingo Hatoya from Osaka Prefecture University, has been working on isolating “induced pluripotent stem cells” (iPSCs) from canine blood samples. iPSCs are a type of stem cell that can be “programmed” from a developed (or “differentiated”) cell by introducing a specific set of genes into them. These genes code for proteins called “transcription factors,” which induce the change from a differentiated to a pluripotent stem cell, which then have the ability to mature into various cell types. iPSCs can proliferate very rapidly, providing a reliable supply of suitable stem cells for regenerative therapies. “We successfully established an efficient and easy generation method of canine iPSCs from peripheral blood mononuclear cells” explains Dr. Hatoya. He highlights the significance of these findings for veterinary science, stating he hopes that in the near future, “it may be possible to perform regenerative medicinal treatments in dogs.” These findings were published in the journal Stem Cells and Development.

The previous attempts by these scientists to generate iPSCs from canine blood cells, using viral “vectors” to deliver the pluripotency-inducing transcription factors, were not as effective as hoped. Therefore, in this study, they tested a different combination of inducing factors, which they believe were key to harvesting the full potential of these cells. Most importantly, the researchers needed to control how the reprogrammed cells replicated in the host body. Viral vectors that encode pluripotency-inducing transcription factors can be used to infect cells obtained from the blood and convert them into iPSCs; however, the researchers needed to be cautious: because these vectors integrate into the host genome, re-expression of these pluripotency factors in the host cell can cause tumor formation when these cells are transplanted in patients. To avoid this, the team developed “footprint-free” stem cells by using a particular type of viral vector that can generate iPSCs without genomic insertion and can be automatically “silenced” via “microRNAs” expressed by the cells. Then, they grew these cells in a special type of medium that contained various factors enhancing their pluripotency (including a “small-molecule cocktail”). Indeed, these cells grew and successfully developed germ layers (which form the basis of all organs).

Fascinatingly, these findings have paved the way for an easy stem cell therapy technique for man’s best friends. “We believe that our method can facilitate the research involving disease modeling and regenerative therapies in the veterinary field,” says Dr. Hatoya. Furthermore, the authors also believe that additional research into regenerative therapies for canines might have some ripple effects for human medicine. “Dogs share the same environment as humans and spontaneously develop the same diseases, particularly genetic diseases.”

Translating findings from one field to another might mean veterinarians are able to find treatments, maybe even cures, for some of the diseases that still plague humanity.

Source: Osaka Prefecture University

Labeling of raw ingredients

I use a fair amount of lambs fry (liver) since I make my own dog treats and cakes. A friend recently bought some liver at the supermarket and was feeding it to her dog (raw) as a treat. I asked her if she had frozen the lamb first, and she hadn’t.

I explained that the liver I buy from the supermarket, which is human grade, comes with this warning:

She had purchased her human-grade liver from her local supermarket but it wasn’t marked. So I asked a few questions about labeling and, apparently, a warning about freezing or cooking is only required if the liver is sold for pets; if selling for humans, this type of labeling isn’t required because it is assumed that humans will be cooking the liver. My supermarket opts to label the lambs fry even though it is sold in the human-grade butchery area.

Eating of raw liver (if not frozen beforehand) increases the risk of hydatids. Since many pet owners opt to buy human-quality food, I wonder if we are missing a vital step in educating people about the risks? Raw pet food retailers in our area all supply their products to consumers in a frozen state.

Anyway, my friend promised to go home and freeze the remaining liver first before feeding it to her dog…

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Doggy quote of the month for February

“Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission – to be of service to them whenever they require it. If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

– Saint Francis of Assisi

Liv­ing en­vir­on­ment af­fects the mi­cro­bi­ota and health of both dogs and their own­ers

For both dogs and humans, the risk of developing allergic diseases was at its lowest when the skin microbiota was shaped by a rural environment and a lifestyle that promotes microbial abundance. Photo: Emma Hakanen

In urban environments, allergic diseases are more common among dogs and their owners compared to those living in rural areas. Simultaneous allergic traits appear to be associated with the microbes found in the environment, but microbes relevant to health differ between dogs and humans.

In a joint research project known as DogEnvi, researchers from the University of Helsinki, the Finnish Environment Institute and the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare have previously observed that dogs are more likely to have allergies when their owners suffer from allergic symptoms. In a new study, the researchers investigated whether such simultaneous presence of allergic traits is associated with gut or skin microbes shared by dogs and their owners. A total of 168 dog–owner pairs living in rural and urban environments participated in the study.

“Research shows that dogs and owners living in rural areas have a lower risk of developing an allergic disease compared to urban areas. We assumed that in rural areas both dogs and owners are exposed to health-promoting microbes. We found that the microbial exposure of both was different in rural and urban environments. For instance, the skin microbiota varied more between individuals in rural areas compared to their urban counterparts. A diverse and varying microbial exposure may be precisely what provides the associated health benefit,” says Senior Researcher Jenni Lehtimäki, PhD, from the Finnish Environment Institute.

Dogs and their own­ers seemed to share mi­crobes on their skin, but not in their gut

The study demonstrated that the living environment had a markedly more significant effect on the skin microbiota than on that of the gut in dogs and humans. Dogs living in urban areas had on their skin more microbes typically found on human skin, which may be caused by the accumulation of microbes typical to humans indoors and in urban areas, a phenomenon that has been previously observed.

In a study conducted earlier, the researchers noticed that both the living environment and living habits affected the canine skin microbiota.

“The same was now observed in humans. For both dogs and humans, the risk of developing allergic diseases was at its lowest when the skin microbiota was shaped by a rural environment and a lifestyle that promotes microbial abundance. Such a lifestyle was associated with a number of different animals in the family, as well as larger family size,” says Professor Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki.

While the living environment appeared to alter the species of the skin microbiota as well as the risk of allergic diseases in both dogs and their owners, no single shared microbe in the environment had a link to allergies in both dogs and humans.

“We detected microbes associated with allergies in urban dogs, as well as microbes connected to health in rural dogs and humans, but these microbes were different in dogs and humans. It appears that the microbes in the living environment are important for the health of both dogs and humans, but due to the physiological differences of the species, the microbes that are relevant can vary,” Lehtimäki sums up.

DogEnvi, a multidisciplinary research project launched in 2014, is aimed at investigating the significance of the living environment to canine health. Under the project, a study on the link between canine gut microbiota, nutrition and allergies is being prepared. The project has received funding from the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, among others.

Source: University of Helsinki

Ori­ginal art­icle:  

Jenni Lehtimäki, Hanna Sinkko, Anna Hielm-Björkman, Tiina Laatikainen, Lasse Ruokolainen, Hannes Lohi. Simultaneous allergic traits in dogs and their owners are associated with living environment, lifestyle and microbial exposures. Scientific Reports 2020. DOI:10.1038/s41598-020-79055-x