The first re-homing of laboratory beagles in Finland

The paper’s abstract begins “The fate of experimental animals represents an ethical dilemma and a public concern.” I would say that this is an understatement. But, researchers in Finland decided to re-home their laboratory Beagles once their work was completed and documented the process of helping the dogs to adjust to pet life.


The re-homing of laboratory dogs was the first of its kind in Finland. The re-homing process was started with months of practising basic pet dog skills with the dogs and by familiarising them with the world outside the laboratory.  

The practice period lasted from four to six months, depending on the dog.

“However, we found out that the socialisation time was not quite sufficient for all dogs; owners reported that some dogs continued to be timid and suffer from separation anxiety. The laboratory dog re-homing process would be smoother if in the future laboratory dog facilities separated out the defecation and rest areas, gave dogs access to an outside area and walked them outside on a leash,” says Docent Marianna Norring from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Helsinki.

The dogs had been living in packs of eight dogs for two to eight years in the University’s laboratory animal facilities, from where they had daily access to an enclosed outside space. They spent the nights in smaller groups of dogs.

At the University, the dogs had participated in both animal cognition and veterinary medical studies. The cognition research provided basic information on canine minds, and a new tranquilising agent suitable for dogs was developed in the veterinary medical study. The University of Helsinki does not currently have laboratory dogs.

The re-homing of laboratory dogs was implemented as a collaboration between SEY Animal Welfare Finland and the University of Helsinki. A large group of individuals participated in socialising the dogs and acquainting them with life outside the facility: animal caretakers, researchers, animal-rights campaigners and dog trainers. The aim was to take into account the individual characteristics of each dog when searching for a new home for them. Whenever possible, dogs were re-homed in pairs. Generally speaking, the new owners have been extremely happy about their new pets.

For the study, the dog re-homing process was monitored at the University for four years by interviewing the participants and collecting information from the new owners.  

Article:

Laura Hänninen and Marianna Norring, 2020, The First Rehoming of Laboratory Beagles in Finland: The Complete Process from Socialisation Training to Follow-up, Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA), Vol 48, Issue 3, 2020.

Source: University of Helsinki

I took my dog to the vet…

Izzy went to the vet this week. It’s funny because some people I meet think that I should be anti-vet because I work in the field of complementary therapies for dogs.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Traditional veterinary care is essential – it’s like going to the family doctor – or GP as they are called here in New Zealand. Your dog will need things like check-ups and vaccinations during the course of its life; many dogs end up with injuries that require surgery of some sort and your vet does these, too. The work I do with dogs integrates well with traditional veterinary care.

(I’m not anti-vet – but I do meet vets that are anti-complementary therapies. That’s a whole other subject for another day and not the purpose of this post.)

In Izzy’s case, this week we were visiting so she could have another injection of SYNOVAN™ and to get a repeat of her gabapentin, which we use for pain relief for her arthritis.

I always bring a mat for her because the floor is slippery and not nice to lay down on when you are an arthritic senior dog. Her mat is also useful because it is her safe place – a Fear Free technique – because often vets do things that are ouchy and frightening. We bring the mat with us to the exam room, too, so she has a surface that is comforting and familiar.

What do you do when your take your dog to the vet?

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

The Biggest Little Farm

It all started with a dog named Todd…

I’m sharing this film, originally released in 2018, because of the uplifting true story which all started because a dog named Todd wasn’t suitable for city living. Todd’s needs meant that Molly and John Chester sought out a way of making their sustainable farming dream a reality.

This documentary spans 8 years of their journey to bring a ‘dead’ Northern California farm back to life using holistic and sustainable techniques.

If you’re a customer of the The Balanced Dog, this month you received a special code in your October newsletter which allows you to join DocPlay free for an extended trial period of 45 days – that’s plenty of time to watch this film and lots of other great documentaries.

It’s spring here in New Zealand. I hope this film inspires you to garden with the environment in mind. I’ve already bought bags and bags of compost for my garden, realising from the film that my soil needs more organic content. And thanks to a client who works in the flower growing industry, I have a great guide to companion planting to help me plan the vege garden.

Thanks to Covid-19, more people than ever are taking to gardening and there are ways to garden which are more sustainable and healthier for us, our animals and the planet. Watch the film for inspiration and then get planting!

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

Petco removes shock collars from sale

This week, those of us in the Force Free/Fear Free movement were given cause to celebrate when Petco, a major pet retailer in the USA, announced that it was removing shock collars from its stores and online platform.

Shock collars are aversives – they use pain to suppress an unwanted behavior. These totally unnecessary devices are inhumane when behavioral science has moved along to prove that positive reinforcement training works better and is an ethical approach to dog training.

I’m interested in this subject because, sadly, shock collars are widely available in New Zealand. I see many Facebook groups of dog owners who recommend these devices as soon as there is a barking dog complaint, for example. And the body language of a dog wearing a shock collar tells the story of a dog being punished.

To continue to raise awareness to this subject, I include the statement of the Pet Professional Guild released this week in response to Petco’s announcement.

Official PPG Statement

Official Pet Professional Guild Response to Petco’s Removal of Electric Shock Collars from Stores

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and The Shock-Free Coalition are greatly encouraged by Petco’s announcement on October 6, 2020 that it will no longer sell electric shock collars “operated by a person with a remote in hand.” PPG has always believed unequivocally that the pet-owning general public needs – and deserves – to have access to better educational tools so they can, 1) make the right decisions regarding their pets’ training, care and welfare, and 2) ensure they live in safe, nurturing and stable environments, free from fear and pain.

Scientific Data
Increasingly, peer reviewed, scientific studies are showing that, whether discussing dogs, humans, dolphins or elephants, shock as a form of training to teach or correct a behavior is ineffective at best and physically and psychologically damaging at worst (Schilder & van der Borg, 2004; Schalke, Stichnoth, Ott, & Jones-Baade, 2007; Polsky, 2000; Cooper, Cracknell, Hardiman, Wright & Mills, 2014). Overall (2013) states that shock collars, aka e-collars, “violate the principles of three of five freedoms that define adequate welfare for animals: Freedom from pain, injury, and disease, freedom to express normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.”

The current scientific data, in addition to the moral and ethical concerns about mental and physical damage to animals subjected to methods using force, fear and/or pain, have moved a number of representing professional organizations* to advocate for the use of humane training techniques founded on evidence-based learning theories and avoid training methods or devices which employ coercion and force. PPG is delighted that Petco has now joined their ranks.

Effects of Electric Shock
The use and application of electric shock provides no effective strategy for an animal to learn a new or alternative behavior. Some common problems resulting from the use of electronic stimulation devices include, but are not limited to:

Infliction of Stress and Pain
Generalization
Escalation
Global Suppression or “Shut-Down”
Fear, Anxiety and Aggression
Redirected Aggression
Unintended Consequences

Shock-Free Coalition
In September 2017, the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) rolled out its Shock-Free Coalition, the key purpose of which is to build a strong and broad movement committed to eliminating electric shock devices from the worldwide supply and demand chain. This would be achieved by:

 Engaging and educating pet owners and shelter/rescue workers to help them make informed decisions about the management, care and training of the pets in their charge.

Building a worldwide coalition that provides pet owners access to competent, professional pet industry service providers.

Creating widespread pet industry transparency and compliance regarding how professionals implement their services and communicate their philosophy to pet owners.

Supporters are encouraged to sign the Shock-Free Pledge, much in the same way as Petco has invited supporters to sign its #StoptheShock petition.

Consumer Transparency
One of PPG’s key goals is to shape the pet industry to ensure that dog trainers, behavior consultants and professional pet care providers, 1) pursue an ethical responsibility to do no harm to the animals in their care, and 2) present their qualifications and experience truthfully with full transparency and disclosure – including the training tools and methods they use.

PPG recognizes that industry changes will happen in stages and, just like the progressive behavior change programs we create for the animals in our care, gradual changes must be reinforced. By encouraging “anyone using or looking for shock collars to consider training with treats instead of electricity and partnership instead of pain,” Petco has made an important first step towards improving the lives of pets everywhere, as well as educating dog owners about alternative, kinder training methods and tools. We look forward to seeing electric fence systems, which work in exactly the same way as shock collars, i.e. by causing fear and pain, follow suit.

*Including, but not limited to, the American Animal Hospital Association, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the British Veterinary Association, the New Zealand Veterinary Association, the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology and Pet Dog Trainers of Europe.

Resources
Pet Professional Guild. (2015). Open Letter Regarding Shock Collar Training. Available at: https://petprofessionalguild.com/An-Open-Letter-Regarding-Shock-Collar-Training
Tudge, N.J, Nilson, S.J., Millikan, D.A., & Stapleton-Frappell, L.A. (2019). Pet Training and Behavior Consulting: A Model for Raising the Bar to Protect Professionals, Pets and Their People. (n.p.): DogNostics Career Center Publishing

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 October

All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.

– Charles M. Schulz

The Dogs of Democracy

“Humans would do well to study the character of dogs” – Diogenes

This quotation is the opening slide of the documentary Dogs of Democracy, by Mary Zournazi, which was released in 2016. I’ve just watched the film on Doc Play, the app where it is available in New Zealand.

The film portrays the many stray dogs who live in Athens and the people who take care of them. It’s set at a time when citizens of Greece had been protesting against years of austerity measures that depressed the economy and its people.

One dog, Loukanikos, participated in many of the anti-austerity marches and his story is told posthumously by the people who knew him best. I particularly liked when Loukanikos is described a symbol of revolt and purity.

If you like dogs, you’ll like this 57-minute film. And if you follow news about economies and world economics as well as being a dog lover, you’ll have an even better appreciation for the timing and subject matter of the film.

For me, well – I’d like to go to Athens when this pandemic is over and give every one of those strays a good massage while visiting the birthplace of democracy.

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

Tracking the working dogs of 9/11

When veterinarian Cynthia Otto was in Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks helping support the search and rescue dogs, she heard rumors about the possible impact on the dogs’ long-term health.

“I was at Ground Zero and I would hear people make comments like, ‘Did you hear that half of the dogs that responded to the bombing in Oklahoma City died of X, Y, or Z?’ Or they’d say dogs responding to 9/11 had died,” she recalls. “It was really disconcerting.” 

Cynthia Otto (center) cared for search-and-rescue dogs during their work at the 9/11 disaster site, later studying the impact of their service on their health. (Image: Courtesy of Cynthia Otto)

It also underscored to her the importance of collecting rigorous data on the health of dogs deployed to disaster sites. An initiative that launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks did just that, and this week, 19 years later, Otto and colleagues’ findings offer reassurance. Dogs that participated in search-and-rescue efforts following 9/11 lived a similar length of time, on average, compared to a control group of search-and-rescue dogs and outlived their breed-average life spans. There was also no discernible difference in the dogs’ cause of death.

“Honestly this was not what we expected; it’s surprising and wonderful,” says Otto, director of the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Working Dog Center, who shared the findings in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

While postmortem results showed that dogs that deployed after the 9/11 attacks had more particulate material in their lungs upon their death, it seems this exposure didn’t cause serious problems for the animals in life. The most common cause of death were age-related conditions, such as arthritis and cancer, similar to the control group.

During and in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 response, Otto and colleagues reached out to handlers to recruit search-and-rescue dogs into a longitudinal study that would track their health, longevity, and cause of death. They recruited 95 dogs that had worked at the World Trade Center, Fresh Kills Landfill, or Pentagon disaster sites. As a control group, they also included in the study 55 search-and-rescue dogs that had not deployed to 9/11.

As part of being involved, the dogs received annual medical examinations, including chest X-rays and blood work. When the dogs died, the researchers paid for the handlers to have veterinarians collect samples of various organ tissues and send them for analysis at Michigan State University. Forty-four of the 9/11 dogs and 19 of the control group dogs underwent postmortems. For most of the other dogs in the study, the research team obtained information on cause of death from medical records or the handlers themselves.

While the team had expected to see respiratory problems in the exposed dogs—conditions that have been reported by human first responders to 9/11—they did not.

“We anticipated that the dogs would be the canary in the coal mine for the human first responders since dogs age faster than humans and didn’t have any of the protective equipment during the response,” Otto says. “But we didn’t see a lot that was concerning.”

In fact, the median age at death for 9/11 dogs was about the same as the control group: 12.8 compared to 12.7 years. The most common cause of death for the dogs that deployed was degenerative causes—typically euthanasia due to severe arthritis—followed closely by cancer, though the risk of cancer was about the same as in control group dogs. 

Otto and her colleagues have ideas for why the foreign particulate matter found in some of the dog’s lungs did not translate to ill health, though they emphasize that they’re speculations, not yet based in data. 

“For the pulmonary effects, it’s somewhat easier to explain because dogs have a really good filtering system,” Otto says. “Their lungs are different—they don’t get asthma, for example—so it seems like there is something about their lungs that’s more tolerant than in humans.”

She notes that working dogs tend to be extremely physically fit compared to pet dogs, perhaps counteracting any ill effects of the deployment conditions on health. But working dog handlers and trainers can always do more to focus on fitness and conditioning, especially because doing so could slow the progression of arthritis, a disease which played a role in the death of many dogs in the study.

“We know when people stop moving, they gain weight and that puts them at a higher risk of arthritis, and arthritis makes it painful to move, so it’s a vicious cycle,” she says. “The same can be true of dogs.”

The mind-body connection may also help explain the difference between humans and dogs and the longevity of the working dogs, Otto says, as dogs don’t necessary worry and experience the same type of stress in the wake of a disaster.

“These dogs have an incredible relationship with their partners,” Otto says. “They have a purpose and a job and the mental stimulation of training. My guess is that makes a difference, too.”

Cynthia Otto is director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and professor of working dog sciences and sports medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences and Advanced Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

Source: University of Pennsylvania, Penn Today

The Dog Doc

I’ve been wanting to watch the documentary The Dog Doc since March 2020 – when New Zealand was heading like so many countries into a Covid-19 lockdown. The film had just been launched and sadly, also due to Covid-19, its many planned showings had been cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions and the temporary closure of movie theaters. The film’s producer had then opted to make the film available on-demand.

Unfortunately, due to licensing restrictions for New Zealand, Amazon Prime would not allow me to hire this film. And then other priorities took over for a time….I finally contacted the film’s producer, Cindy Meehl, through the film’s website to ask how I could view the film from New Zealand so I could write about it in my column for NZ Dog World magazine.

I was pleasantly surprised when Ms Meehl responded to me the same day and put me in touch with MadMan Entertainment, whose Communications Director also responded to me the same day (I was on a roll) to say that the film was available on Doc Play. All I had to do was to sign up for my 30-day trial. (Score!)

Dr Marty Goldstein’s story is inspirational to anyone who has had a beloved pet facing a health challenge – terminal or otherwise. Sometimes, traditional veterinary care just isn’t enough to give the dog quality of life while preserving as much time together as possible for the human family.

Because Dr Marty has made it his life’s work to use integrative therapies – traditional veterinary medicine alongside homeopathy, massage, physical therapy, cryotherapy, herbal remedies, and other options. For someone like me working in complementary therapy, he is one of my idols. We need more Dr Martys.

The film follows real clients who presented to Dr Marty’s Smith Ridge Veterinary Clinic in New York State – in real-time. As a Fear-Free certified practitioner, I was dismayed to see two dogs in the film wearing prong collars and also a scene where veterinary technicians are physically restraining a dog with strong force.

Before we cast judgement, though, we must remember that documentary film making is designed to capture the moment without stage management. I was lucky enough to have Madman Entertainment organise an interview with Dr Marty via Zoom, where I asked him about the prong collars. He replied that the owners would have been spoken to during their initial consultations about the use of these aversives, which he doesn’t support:

“When you impart stress on a dog, such as through the pain of a shock or prong collar, you add to their immune system load and add to the disease rather than the ability of the body to fight the disease.  A strong and relaxed mind helps to re-build a strong body.”

There is a wonderful scene in the film where Dr Marty explains the use of titre testing to a client. Dr Marty is not an anti-vaxxer but he is clearly anti-over-vaccination and a titre test can show whether a dog has sufficient immunity without requiring a re-vaccination simply because of a date on the calendar.

Dr Marty explained in his interview with me that there is proven science behind titre testing, but that for a range of reasons – commercial veterinary practice is not following the science but rather the profit motive. (See my 2013 review of the book Pukka’s Promise – a great read for those wanting to understand canine health and longevity).

An added benefit for me was that Dr Marty counts a greyhound as part of his pack (Izzy liked this, too).

I thoroughly recommend a viewing of The Dog Doc. Dr Marty’s wish is that the film is an enduring resource for pet parents to help them ask informed questions about their pet’s care and to seek the support of integrative specialists when there may be no options in their local community.

For my New Zealand clients, stay tuned for my October newsletter which will include a special offer to clients of The Balanced Dog to access Doc Play for an extended free-trial period.

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

4 Paws Marathon – Covid edition

Today was the second annual 4 Paws Marathon. Thanks to Covid-19, this event was different than last year. Firstly, we were wearing masks which would have been unheard of a year ago.

Because of Alert Level 2 requirements, the race director was forced to cap entries at 100 people (and dogs) and to request that no spectators linger at the start/finish to manage the numbers attending. And social distancing was expected during the race briefings.

Even with all of those restrictions, it was still a great spring day and, alongside Rachel from Bodyworks Massage Therapy, we again offered couples massage: runner and dog.

We met runners who had just completed there first-ever marathons which made it extra special because their dog came too. And some people attended the first event last year and challenged themselves to go a longer distance. For example, one lady did the 10 kms last year and completed the 15 kms today.

I always aim to support dog-friendly events because our dogs are family – and we want to spend our free time with them. Plus this event helps me to promote canine fitness and wellness – the cornerstones of my practice.

My favourite photo of the day – great perspective from my massage table. The finish line is in the background.

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

New research finds Australian labradoodles are more poodle than lab. Here’s what that tells us about breeds

It all started in the late 1980s. Wally Conron, a breeding manager for Guide Dogs Victoria, noticed that some people needing a guide dog appeared to be allergic to the shedding hairs of Labrador retrievers.

Aware of the perception that poodles shed little hair and so shouldn’t create such a reaction, Wally crossed a Labrador retriever with a standard poodle. The result proved to be successful, and breeding “labradoodles” took off around the world, with Wally left standing on the sidelines.

In a new study published in the journal PLOS, an international research team has documented the molecular basis of the Australian labradoodle. Their main conclusion is that animals in the Australian labradoodle breed registry are mostly poodle, and not a 50-50 split as might have been expected. It’s also important to mention the Australian labradoodle is a budding breed, not yet an official one.

These results aren’t surprising to animal geneticists. They provide scientific evidence for the common understanding of how breeders choose dogs to mate for their desirable traits, such as a poodle-like coat. And over generations, this preference leads to a strong genetic predominance in the new breed.

This is Sultan, the very first Labradoodle. Credit: Guide Dogs Victoria

What the research found

The researchers from U.S., Pakistan and South Korea analyzed genetic data from individual Australian labradoodle dogs and a variety of other breeds, including Labrador retrievers and poodles of different varieties. They included dogs from the two distinct types of labradoodles:

Labradoodles: the offspring of a Labrador and a poodle

Australian labradoodles: dogs resulting from generations of breeding and selection among the descendants of early crosses between Labrador retrievers and standard poodles and (as it turns out) the occasional other breed.

So what did the researchers discover? Not surprisingly, the actual offspring of a cross between a Labrador and a poodle have an equal share of genetic material from each breed. We expect this because each pup will have one Labrador chromosome and one poodle chromosome for each chromosome pair.

Also not surprisingly, individual dogs of the Australian labradoodle breed have a range of proportions of Labrador and poodle ancestry, strongly tending towards the poodle.

When first generation labradoodles are bred together, their resulting descendants have a range of genetic contributions from the Labrador or poodle grandparents.

Any pup can have 100% Labrador DNA, 50% poodle DNA or 100% poodle DNA at any particular gene. If a pup accidentally inherits no poodle DNA at the relevant coat genes, then it will have a Labrador coat.

Given the main initial aim of creating labradoodles was to make use of the perceived low-allergenic properties of poodles, the higher proportion of poodle ancestry in Australian labradoodles is expected after generations of selection for a poodle-like coat. This is the main conclusion of the paper just published.

Interestingly, the researchers make the important point that even though a poodle-like coat is widely regarded as being lowly allergenic, there seems to have been no research study that has investigated this. This is an important knowledge-gap that needs to be filled.

The study also found other breeds have made small contributions to Australian labradoodles, including poodles of different size varieties. There’s even a touch of spaniel.

This is a common occurrence. As soon as breeders decide to mix two breeds in the hope of combining some desirable traits, it makes sense to introduce other breeds if it’s thought they could make a useful contribution. For example, a cockerpoo (cocker spaniel crossed with a poodle) might have been mixed in to make the breed smaller.

What does this tell us about the concept of dog breeds?

This study reinforces the common understanding that, from a biological point of view, a breed is an amalgam of genetic variation derived from various sources. It shows Australian labradoodles have considerable genetic diversity, most of it derived from poodles.

As a breed becomes more recognized and more formalized, the only animals that can be registered as members of that breed are the offspring of other registered members. At present, Australian labradoodles are commonly regarded as a breed but are not, so far as we can determine, officially recognized as such by relevant national authorities.

Importantly, there are no scientific criteria for when a breed should become closed and when it should be formally recognized: these are decisions that are made solely by interested breeders and the registering authorities.

What this means for breeders

The Australian Labradoodle Association lists 32 accredited breeders which suggests the breed is a moderately-sized population in Australia. It likely produces 150 to 300 pups per year. This is a population size comparable with many other registered dog breeds in Australia.

As in any population of most animal species, problems can arise in any breed from the mating of close relatives. The more closely related the parents, the greater is the chance valuable genetic variation will be lost from a breed, and the greater the chance of offspring having inherited diseases.

Two examples of problems like this are progressive retinal atrophy (a disorder that causes blindness) and degenerative myelopathy (a disorder that causes paralysis in aged dogs).

Fortunately, pedigree tools are available to enable breeders to consider a wide range of possible matings. DNA tests, which are becoming increasingly available for inherited diseases, can also be very helpful.

The International Partnership for Dogs provides information on resources available for breeders to improve dog genetic health.

In any case, the new research results have provided an important, solid scientific underpinning of the common understanding of how breeds are formed. By combining the desirable aspects of both Labradors and poodles in one breed, the Australian labradoodle is a welcome addition to the dog-breed pantheon.

It is to be hoped breeders of Australian labradoodles, indeed breeders of all breeds, use the available powerful scientific tools to maintain genetic variation within their breed and reduce substantially the chance of inherited diseases.

Source: Phys.org