The pledge

With every New Year, I read about how people make resolutions – many of which despite the good intentions don’t last much longer than February. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the lifelong commitment we make to a dog, and of course the number of cases we see each year when people don’t fulfill that commitment.

If we could change the rules of pet ownership, I’d definitely support the case for licensing owners rather than the dogs.

If I could change one thing about my practice, it would be that I would see more dogs for canine fitness and well-being and less for rehabilitation. Rehab means that the dog has been injured in some way, and often when I do the health history as part of my intake process, I can see where the dog was probably going to have a problem and that the early warning signs were missed or ignored.

So here’s my best effort for the Dog Parent’s Pledge for 2021.

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

Ban this toy from your household

Ball launchers are ‘cheap’ and plentiful – and full of hazards for your dog

I follow a number of Facebook pages dedicated to pets. On some, the main theme appears to be ‘what’s the cheapest?: What’s the cheapest vet? What’s the cheapest groomer? What’s the cheapest food… and, of course, what is the cheapest toy?

These plastic ball launchers are plentiful in supply and sell for about $2 each. It would seem like an easy solution: buy one and stand still in the park while you chuck a ball at high speed for your dog to chase over and over so they come home tired and exercised. Yet, it is this chasing that puts undue strain on your dog’s joints and increases their likelihood of painful injuries – some of which will require expensive surgery and intensive physical therapy.

You’re basically taking a pet dog and asking them to run like a sprint athlete, and then leap and twist to get the ball. They start from a standing position and then sprint before braking hard to catch the ball. At speed, the forces on the dog’s muscles and joints is much greater and the repetitive nature of the exercise is likely to cause micro-tears in the tissues of the muscles and the cartilage of the joints.

It probably is fun, until your dog ruptures a cruciate ligament or develops arthritis over the years of chasing balls in this way.

Often, I see these toys being used in the park on wet grass (a slip hazard) or at the beach over soft sand which isn’t supportive to joints and exacerbates the effects of a twisting and landing.

There’s so much more we can do for our dog’s fitness, flexibility, and stamina as well as enrichment. And we shouldn’t be lazy dog owners – standing in the park chucking a ball is hardly a sign of commitment as your dog’s guardian.

In as little as one session, I will interview you about your lifestyle and your dog’s health and we can come up with the basics of a fitness regime for your dog. Fitness is fun!

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

My calendars

It’s the start of a new year and one of my annual rituals is hanging up my new wall calendars for the year in the office and kitchen. My calendar choices are a reflection of my interest in dogs and the causes I hold dear.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a US-based charity dedicated to providing guide dogs to the vision-impaired. When I was only 10 years old I read Emma and I by Sheila Hocken, a memoir about the chocolate Labrador guide dog who changed Sheila’s life. I have read many other dog books since then, too, but Emma and I continues to be one of my favourites.
Greyhounds as Pets (NZ) is the adoption agency responsible for matching me with Izzy. Buying the calendar each year is a simple way of supporting the work of GAP. This calendar features the photos of greyhounds that have been adopted through GAP – all are submitted by their families in the annual calendar competition

What does your calendar say about you?

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

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Doggy quote of the month for January

Reflections on 2020, Covid-19, resilience and our dogs

I’m staying home tonight (New Year’s Eve), in my pajamas and with Izzy. As it should be. I don’t particularly like being out and about on New Year’s Eve, which is a holiday that seems to equate to lots of inebriated people, loud noises (often including fireworks), and general debauchery.

If you are one of my followers who is currently locked down due to Covid-19, I realise that it has been a tough year and that you are probably itching to get back to a normal social life. Try to see the glass as half-full – you are home safe with your dog.

As we see out 2020 and welcome 2021, I cannot help but reflect on the events of this year and the role our dogs have played in it:

  • The best lockdown companions you can have – dogs. We always knew that dogs are great companions but how much did they prove it to us (and continue to do so in many places) during lockdown?
  • Izzy was the host of Word of the Day during our lockdown and she also was the reason I was outside walking twice every day – as usual for us – but even more important for structure to our lockdown days and for the mental health that physical exercise and fresh air bring.
  • So many office-based jobs can be done from a home office – and how many dogs benefited from this? If my friends and clients are anything to go by – plenty.
  • My hope is that employees have proven their ability to remain productive in a working-from-home environment and, therefore, that employers will be more receptive to work from home arrangements going into the future.
  • Working from home cuts down on commuting times, reducing pressure on the environment from emissions which is good for the environment. And reduced commuting times mean added time for quality of life for everyone. More time typically means that dogs benefit from longer walks and bonding time with their owners – and both benefit from the companionship of having the owner around more. I’m not a big fan of commercial day cares, with dogs in an over-stimulated environment and walking/standing on concrete all day – working from home is such a better option for office-based roles!
  • Olive and Mabel – the rise of the dog superstars and their sports commentator Dad, Andrew Cotter. I loved watching all the YouTube videos with expert commentary by Andrew. What an example of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” With professional sports shut down, Andrew directed his talents in a new direction and he and his dogs have become celebrities because of it. I haven’t read Andrew’s book yet, but it is on my reading list. Here’s one of my favourites from the Olive and Mabel YouTube series:
  • Teaching humans resilience. Dogs live in the moment and how much of that did we need in 2020? They didn’t understand a virus and the need to obey physical distancing. But they did it. And so can (and should) we!
  • A new respect for vaccinations and their role in society. I’m not an anti-vaxxer but I have a healthy respect for what protections proper vaccination can give. How many people are now totally reliant on a global strategy to vaccinate against Covid-19? It makes you think, doesn’t it?
  • Emergency planning – what happens if you can’t be there to take care of your dog? With the prospect of getting ill, many pet parents have finally made the time to make arrangements for their pets.
  • Adoption rates soar – a recognition that it takes time to settle in a new pet and a Covid-induced lockdown provided that time. And while there have been training challenges for puppies raised during periods where socialization hasn’t been possible, overall the role of a pet to support physical and mental wellness has never been more recognised.

The pandemic has also taught us about how much we rely on each other – for trade, for the manufacturing and the movement of goods, and for our economies. I am grateful to all who embraced SUPPORT LOCAL and have deliberately chosen my independent practice to support their dog’s needs, even when faced with reduced incomes and stress brought about by Covid-19.

As many of you know, I embraced Fear Free certification in 2018. Fear Free is about reducing fear, anxiety and stress in animals and promoting these strategies to professionals in pet care and to pet parents. My wish for you is that 2021 is also a Fear Free year – where we see an improvement in the pandemic, and for all those affected, the time and space to begin the healing process.

My best wishes to you and yours for 2021.

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

Study Sets Baseline for Sleep Patterns in Healthy Adult Dogs

A new canine sleep study from North Carolina State University could serve as a baseline for research on chronic pain and cognitive dysfunction in dogs, potentially improving detection and treatment of these conditions.

“The study was necessary because research on dogs and sleep has outpaced our basic knowledge about what a ‘normal’ sleep/wake cycle looks like,” says Margaret Gruen, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at NC State and corresponding author of the work. “The studies currently available are over 20 years old, only followed small numbers of dogs or dogs that were not in a home environment, and didn’t really capture data that is relevant to how dogs live (and sleep) now. We designed the study to update these findings and fill the knowledge gap.

“And for me, someone interested in how dogs develop and age, it’s a critically missing gap: we talk about a symptom of age-related cognitive dysfunction in dogs as being a disruption in the sleep/wake cycle without really understanding where the baseline is.”

The study followed 42 healthy adult dogs – 21 male and 21 female – ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old. The dogs wore activity monitors on their collars for a two-week period, and their owners filled out a questionnaire on the dogs’ sleep patterns. Functional linear modeling of the activity data showed that most dogs have two activity peaks during the day: a shorter window from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by a midday lull and a longer active period from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. All dogs were more active during weekends than weekdays.

“Since most of the participants were pets of people who work outside the home, we saw that the dogs were most active when human interaction happens,” Gruen says. “There were the occasional outliers – we did capture some midday ‘zoomies’ – but the pattern held true on average across 14 days for each dog. These findings aren’t surprising – they line up with many of the assumptions we’ve been making, but now the data are characterized and documented.”

The research revealed that weight and sex had an effect on the active periods; lighter dogs tended to be more active in a short period just after midnight, while female dogs seemed to be more active during the evening peak than males. Even in these healthy adult dogs, age had an effect; older dogs were less active during the peak activity times.

“Our hope is that this will serve as a foundational study for future work on the relationship between pain, cognitive dysfunction and sleep disruption, and as a study that is relevant to the way dogs live now,” Gruen says. “By establishing norms, we can better identify abnormalities and intervene earlier in the process. We can also use this as a baseline to evaluate development of adult sleep patterns in puppies.”

The research appears in Scientific Reports. NC State graduate student Hope Woods is first author. Duncan Lascelles, professor of translational pain research and management at NC State, also contributed to the work. Evolutionary anthropologist David Samson and his team, from the University of Toronto, Canada, created the functional linear models.

Source: North Caroline State University


Izzy’s thank-you Christmas message

Izzy has a friend named Trevor whom she has never met. But it is Trevor who gives us many egg cartons over the course of a year.

This year, Izzy sent him this Christmas message, along with a video:

“Dear Trevor,

Thanks for all the egg cartonz.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and eat more eggz.

Love, Izzy”

From our home to yours this Christmas season…

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

Training methods based on punishment compromise dog welfare, study finds

Dogs trained using aversive stimuli, which involve punishments for incorrect behavior, show evidence of higher stress levels compared to dogs trained with reward-based methods, according to a study published on December 16 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro from the Universidade do Porto, Portugal, and colleagues.

The researchers observed the behavior of 92 companion dogs from 7 dog training schools in Portugal that use either aversive methods (which use mainly aversive stimuli), reward methods (which focus on rewarding desired behaviours), and mixed methods (which combine the use of both rewards and aversive stimuli). They filmed training sessions and tested saliva samples for the stress-related hormone cortisol. Dogs trained using aversive and mixed methods displayed more stress-related behaviors, such as crouching and yelping, and showed greater increases in cortisol levels after training than dogs trained with rewards.

The cognitive bias test

The authors also conducted a cognitive bias test in an unfamiliar location outside of the dog’s usual training environment with 79 of the dogs, to measure their underlying emotional state. They found that dogs from schools using aversive methods responded more pessimistically to ambiguous situations compared with dogs receiving mixed- or reward-based training.

Previous survey-based studies and anecdotal evidence has suggested that punishment-based training techniques may reduce animal welfare, but the authors state that this study is the first systematic investigation of how different training methods influence welfare both during training and in other contexts. They say that these results suggest that aversive training techniques may compromise animal welfare, especially when used at high frequency.

The authors add: “This is the first large scale study of companion dogs in a real training setting, using the types of training methods typically applied in dog training schools and data collected by the research team. The results suggest that the use of aversive training methods, especially in high proportions, should be avoided because of their negative impact on dog welfare.”

Source: Science Daily

Journal reference: Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, Danielle Fuchs, Gabriela Munhoz Morello, Stefania Pastur, Liliana de Sousa, I. Anna S. Olsson. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (12): e0225023 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225023


K9 Chemistry: A Safer Way to Train Detection Dogs

Trained dogs are incredible chemical sensors, far better at detecting explosives, narcotics and other substances than even the most advanced technological device. But one challenge is that dogs have to be trained, and training them with real hazardous substances can be inconvenient and dangerous.

NIST scientists have been working to solve this problem using a jello-like material called polydimethylsiloxane, or PDMS for short. PDMS absorbs odors and releases them slowly over time. Enclose it in a container with an explosive or narcotic for a few weeks until it absorbs the odors, and you can then use it to safely train dogs to detect the real thing. 

A detection dog in training.
Credit: Courtesy of Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine

But a few weeks is a long time, and now, NIST researchers have developed a faster way to infuse PDMS with vapors. In the journal Forensic Chemistry, they describe warming compounds found in explosives, causing them to release vapors more quickly, then capturing those vapors with PDMS that is maintained at a cooler temperature, which allows it to absorb vapors more readily. This two-temperature method cut the time it took to “charge” PDMS training aids from a few weeks to a few days. 

“That time savings can be critical,” said NIST research chemist Bill MacCrehan. “If terrorists are using a new type of explosive, you don’t want to wait a month for the training aids to be ready.”

For this experiment, MacCrehan infused PDMS with vapors from dinitrotoluene (DNT), which is a low-level contaminant present in TNT explosives but the main odorant that dogs respond to when detecting TNT. He also infused PDMS with vapors from a small quantity of TNT. Co-authors at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine then demonstrated that trained detection dogs responded to the DNT-infused PDMS training aids as if they were real TNT. 

While this study focused on DNT as a proof of concept, MacCrehan says he believes the two-temperature method will also work with other explosives and with narcotics such as fentanyl. Some forms of fentanyl are so potent that inhaling a small amount can be harmful or fatal to humans and dogs. But by controlling how much vapor the PDMS absorbs, MacCrehan says, it should be possible to create safe training aids for fentanyl.

Other safe training aids already exist. Some are prepared by dissolving explosives and applying the solution to glass beads, for example. “But most have not been widely accepted in the canine detection community because their effectiveness has not been proven,” said Paul Waggoner, a co-author and co-director of Auburn’s Canine Performance Sciences Program. “If you put an explosive in a solvent, the dogs might actually be detecting the solvent, not the explosive.”

To test the two-temperature method, MacCrehan devised a PDMS “charging station” with a hot plate on one side and a cooling plate on the other (so the “hot stays hot and the cool stays cool,” as a 1980s commercial jingle put it). He prepared various samples by placing the DNT on the hot side, where the chemical was warmed to temperatures ranging from 30 to 35 degrees Celsius (86 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit) — well below the temperature that would cause TNT to detonate. The PDMS was kept a relatively cool 20 degrees Celsius, or about room temperature, on the other side of the charging station. 

MacCrehan loaded the DNT-infused PDMS samples, which hold their charge for up to a few months, into perforated metal cans. He also loaded several cans with blanks — PDMS samples to which no vapors were added. He labeled the cans with codes and shipped them to Auburn University. 

The researchers at Auburn had trained a team of six Labrador retrievers to detect TNT using real TNT explosives. They then conducted a study to determine if the dogs would alert to the PDMS from NIST samples as if it were real TNT.

This study was “double blind”: Neither the dog handlers nor the note-takers who scored the dogs’ responses knew which containers underwent which preparation. This is important because dogs are keenly attuned to the body language of their handlers. If the handlers knew which samples were prepared with DNT, they might inadvertently cue the dogs with the direction of their gaze, a subtle shift in body position or some other subconscious gesture. And if the note-takers knew which samples were which, they might over-interpret the dogs’ responses.

The dogs alerted to all the DNT-infused PDMS samples. They did not alert to the blanks, meaning that they were responding to the DNT, not to the PDMS itself. “They responded to the samples as if they were the real thing,” Waggoner said. 

The dogs did not respond as consistently to PDMS that was infused with limited quantities of TNT. However, MacCrehan explains that the very small amounts of TNT he used for this purpose may not have contained sufficient amounts of DNT to fully infuse the samples.

Looking forward, MacCrehan will be experimenting with ways to safely prepare PDMS training aids for the improvised explosives TATP and HMTD. These compounds are extremely unstable and detonate easily, so having safe training aids for them will be especially useful.

MacCrehan is a laboratory chemist, not an animal behavior expert. But despite his technological orientation, he is amazed by dogs. He estimates that they are 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than the most sophisticated analytical instruments. “We are nowhere near having a hand-held gizmo that can do what they do,” he said.  


Paper: W. MacCrehan, M. Young, M. Schantz, T.C. Angle, P. Waggoner and T. Fischer. Two-temperature preparation method and visualization of PDMS-based canine training aids for explosives. Forensic Chemistry. Published online Oct. 15, 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.forc.2020.100290

Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Showered with love

Christchurch is known as The Garden City because so many residents, including me, like to have flower and vegetable gardens.

When I was gardening a few weeks ago, I noticed that the flowers on the left and right ends of my planter boxes had died. The others were coming away again with the spring rains and warmth.

And then I remembered. Spot has been coming to stay with us for daycare dates over the winter and spring. A boy, Spot likes to mark and my planter boxes are the perfect height for him.

Spot

Dog urine has a high concentration of nitrogen which will kill lawns and other plants when applied in a concentrated way. This is the same reason why gardeners who don’t follow the instructions on the label of nitrogen fertilizers find that instead of feeding their lawns and plants, they kill them off.

“Showered with love,” says Spot’s Mum… It’s okay. I like Spot and so does Izzy. A couple of dead plants are a small price to pay when we can enjoy the company of this beautiful boy.

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