A balanced approach to fitness in dogs

The name of my canine massage practice is The Balanced Dog.  Balance is important to many aspects of our lives as well as the lives of our dogs.

When I interview owners who come into my practice for the first time, we discuss all aspects of their dog’s history and health before I massage their dog.  That’s because I want to see how the dog feels, but in context of what I know about their history.

For example, for an owner with a dog that competes in agility, they will think their dog is fit because it ‘runs around like a maniac’ with a ‘desire to win.’  But they aren’t winning and that is why they end up at my door.

This is when I explain that for dogs of any age, there are different components to fitness – described in the chart below.

The individual components of dog fitness

Their agility dog may be strong, but perhaps they are lacking in body awareness or balance – and so that’s where we will concentrate on exercises to improve these aspects of fitness.

For an elderly dog, we will want to ensure good flexibility (where massage and stretching come in) and exercise that is within the bounds of what the dog can tolerate.  ‘Stamina’ is age and breed dependent, for example.

By the way, these aspects are also useful when considering your own fitness.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Dogs share food with other dogs even in complex situations

Generosity, even among family members, had long been considered to be a specifically human characteristic. Yet rats, chimpanzees and other animals also exhibit similar behaviour. Rachel Dale, Friederike Range and colleagues, of the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna had already shown that dogs also share food rewards with other dogs. Using a bar-pulling task, the dogs delivered the treats to partner dogs – especially if these were already known to them.

A new study by the research team, published in the journal PLoS ONE, now used a more complex task set-up to confirm the prosocial behaviour of dogs. The experiment showed that dogs continued to prefer familiar partners. However, the increased complexity of the task influenced the readiness with which the dogs delivered a food reward to another animal. The study thus confirmed that the chosen method affects the result and is much more dependent on social proximity than had previously been assumed.

Recognition of objects necessary for giving treats

Instead of pulling on a rope, the dogs in the present study had to recognize special objects in the form of tokens in order to deliver a food reward to the other dog. “This time we not only tested a different experimental set-up but also the level of difficulty,” explains Dale. “The dogs were first trained to touch a token in exchange for a food reward for themselves. They were then trained to recognize two more tokens: one that resulted in a reward being delivered to a partner dog and another which did not.” Three experiments were then conducted to test whether the dogs exhibited prosocial behaviour even in this more complex task and whether they would deliver a food reward to a partner or not. The researchers also tested whether it made a difference to the donor dog if the receiver was familiar or a stranger and whether the presence of another dog was enough to trigger generous behaviour in the test dog even if the partner had no access to the food.

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For testing prosocial behaviour, donor dogs had to choose via tokens, if they share Food or not. (Photo: Rachel Dale/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Do dogs have to see the recipients to reward them?

The test set-up consisted of two enclosures. The test dog was trained to wait on a specific location in one enclosure until the researchers revealed a board containing the tokens. The dog could then choose to deliver a food reward to the receiver dog or not. In the first test, either a familiar dog or a stranger sat in the receiver enclosure. The dogs could see each other during the experiment. In the second test, the receiver enclosure remained empty but the other dog was present in the testing room. In a third test, the test dogs were alone in the entire set-up. At the end of each test series, the donor animals could reward themselves by being allowed to touch the token that delivered the food reward to them. This was done to ensure that the dogs remained motivated and unstressed and did not become distracted by an unfamiliar dog.

Dogs remain charitable even in complex tasks

The experiment confirmed that dogs continue to exhibit prosocial behaviour despite the more complex task. The dogs clearly showed a preference for sharing the food reward with a familiar dog. Unfamiliar dogs were rewarded nearly three times less often than familiar ones. The higher level of complexity, however, impacted the general frequency of the food delivery. This influence could be shown among dogs for the first time by comparing the token choice experiment with the simpler bar-pulling set-up and confirms the results of similar tests performed with small children and chimpanzees.

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The donor dogs shared food even in the more complex token-test, but more likely for dogs they know. (Photo: Mylene Quervel-Chaumette/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Presence of a partner makes dogs more likely to share

The behavioural biologists found another significant difference regarding the question whether the presence of a partner was important for the motivation of the test dog. Even when a second dog was present in the testing room without being in the other enclosure, the donor dogs were more motivated to give a food reward. When the test dogs were alone in the room, the number of food deliveries went down.

This aspect, known as social facilitation, could not be shown in the first study. The social facilitation theory starts from the assumption that animals will perform more readily in the presence of conspecifics. Given a more complex task, the presence of a partner appears to play a greater role. In this case, too, the donor dogs preferred familiar partners. “The difference was smaller, however, than when there was direct visual contact. Social facilitation should therefore be considered and controlled more strongly in future studies and in simple experiments,” says Range.

Source:  Vetmeduni Vienna press release

R.I.P. Oddball the Maremma

I only recently watched the film about Oddball, although I blogged about the Maremma project in 2011….our thoughts go out to everyone who knew Oddball or loved the story

jaspersdoggyworld

Greeting loyal readers and fellow maremmas. We three were sad to learn of the passing over the Rainbow Bridge of Odball, a world famous maremma.

Oddball the pioneer passes away

12.20PM: Warrnambool’s former tourism services manager Peter Abbott has described how the story of Oddball tugged at heartstrings across the world.

He said there were a number of Qantas passengers on international flights to Australia who changed their travel plans to visit Warrnambool and the home of the pioneering Maremma.

“When I was there we had people changing their travel patterns because they had seen the movie on their flight,” Mr Abbott said.

He joked Oddball took the glory for the work the other Maremmas had kept up.

“We always laughed that Oddball took all the glory and our current dogs have been doing it for nine years and Oddball…

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Scat sniffer dogs help tell the story of endangered lizards

Dogs can be trained to find almost anything (people, drugs, weapons, poached ivory) but one York University researcher had them detect something a little unusual – the scat of endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

The scat detection dogs helped biology PhD student Alex Filazzola discover not only scat, but the importance of shrubs in preserving lizard populations in the face of climate change.

“The loss of these lizards would likely have a cascade effect on other species,” said Filazzola, the study lead.

The research team geo-tagged 700 Ephedra californica shrubs in a 32.3-hectare area of the Panoche Hills Management Area in San Joaquin Valley, California. They then took two scat detection dogs from Working Dogs for Conservation on the hunt for lizard scat in 2013 and 2014.

In 2014, there was a drought during which time lizard scat was found more frequently under shrubs, especially those with dense canopy cover, than out in the open. The shrubs proved instrumental in providing critical micro-environments for the blunt-nosed leopard lizards, in particular, shady places to regulate their body temperature in extreme heat, as well as refuge from predators. The lizards use rodent burrows, most often found under shrubs, to escape predators.

“As the climate warms and lizards find it more difficult to regulate their body temperatures in the heat, these findings could help preserve them not only in California, but globally,” said Filazzola of York U’s Faculty of Science. “It demonstrates how much animals rely on plants for survival that goes beyond that of simply eating them. Positive plant-animal interactions could further support animal populations that are already threatened.”

The research, “Non-trophic interactions in deserts: Facilitation, interference, and an endangered lizard species,” was published in the journal Basic and Applied Ecology.

Once abundant in the San Joaquin Valley, agriculture and industrialization has reduced the lizards’ range by close to 85 per cent. Predictions of increased drought in the area put the lizards at a high risk of being wiped out. The study also pointed out that management techniques used over the past 50 years have done little to change the endangered status of the lizards.

“Planting shrubs, such as the Ephedra californica, could prove critical in managing and preserving endangered species in high-stress or arid ecosystems, such as a desert,” said Filazzola. “Continuing to remove these shrubs to install solar panels, however, further endangers this species.”

In addition, the study found that invasive grasses in the desert were not beneficial. They interfered with the lizards’ ability to move around and limited available habitat by reducing the variety of rodent species which create burrows. The invasive grasses also competed for space with shrubs and caused diminished shrub growth. Managing invasive plant species is therefore crucial in these ecosystems.

The research was funded by the Central Coast Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and York University.

Source: York University media release

Tips for a successful dog birthday party

On Saturday, we celebrated Izzy’s 8th birthday with a walk at the beach and an afternoon tea at The Beach Cafe on Waimairi Beach.  It was a gathering of our closest friends – all who have dogs in their families.

Here are my tips for holding a successful dog birthday party:

  • Know your guests – if your friends have a dog that is aggressive or anxious, then maybe these dogs are best left at home.
  • Go for a walk first.  Our party started with a group dog walk at the beach; everyone was tired and happy when it came time to sit down for food.
  • Keep the number of guests manageable.  I suggest no more than 15 people and 10 dogs
  • Book the party in advance with the cafe so they can set aside an appropriate table location for you.  In our case, I asked specifically for a table in the corner (away from the main entrance to the cafe) and where we had some shade and would be sheltered from the wind.  Some cafes may want to limit the number of dogs they have on their premises – so they’ll be prepared for the arrival of your party.
  • Serve dog-and human-appropriate fare – and keep them separate.  No one wants to have an upset tummy after a party.  I booked a set menu of sandwiches, savouries and cake for the humans.  The dogs were given party bags of treats and I also baked the dog birthday cake which had layers of liver and salmon.  I brought my own paper plates for the dogs to eat their cake – so there were no risks or concerns about hygiene.
  • Casual dress only – dog parties are no place to become a fashionista.  Tidy and casual dress is recommended.  One of our guests was wearing leggings (a good choice) which came in handy when she was slobbered on by a Bernese Mountain Dog.

    Finally, relax and have fun.  If you are stressed out about arrangements, neither you or your dog will find the event enjoyable.

I’m happy to report a good time was had by all.  Happy birthday, Izzy!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

The 14th of February isn’t just Valentine’s Day

February 14 is also Pet Theft Awareness Day.

If you are like me, you find it pretty heart-wrenching to see posts on Facebook and to walk by posters hanging from telephone poles pleading for information about a missing dog.

Pet theft is a reality.  And there are things you can do to prevent it.

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  • Keep your dog inside, this is particularly important for the long hours when you are at work and away from home
  • Padlock gates to your section
  • Never leave your dog tied outside of a shop such as a supermarket; thieves are opportunists and they can snatch a dog that is unattended very quickly
  • Do not let your dog roam in the neighbourhood
  • Spaying or neutering your dog will discourage them from the urge to roam
  • Make sure your dog has its licence tag and identification tag on its collar; in New Zealand micro-chipping of dogs is now mandatory
  • When returning a stray animal to an owner, request proof of ownership, including photos of the animal, vet records, etc (in practice, I have not always needed to be so vigilant of this step because the dog has been SOOO excited to see its family)
  • Be aware of strangers in the neighborhood and join your local neighbourhood watch group.  It pays to keep a close eye on what is happening in your community. If you see something suspicious, snap photos with your phone, report it to the police ASAP, and let your neighbours know, too.

pet-theft-awareness-day

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

New hope for diagnosis of Chiari-malformation in toy dog breeds

Continuing to build on their specialist work in this area, researchers in collaboration with neurologists at Fitzpatrick Referrals and Helsinki University and a geneticist at the University of Montreal, have developed two separate studies, published the journal PLOS ONE last month, to learn more about these painful conditions affecting toy dogs.

Study one focused on how the Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia disorder affects the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed which is predisposed to the condition.

ckc-spaniels

Chiari malformation is the premature fusion of bones in the skull, which alters the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, resulting in a collection of fluid pockets within the spinal cord. These fluid pockets are commonly known as Syringomyelia and over time can cause irreversible damage to a dog’s spinal cord.

Using a novel MRI mapping technique, which can standardise images for different size dogs, researchers were able to examine a section of the dog’s skull, brain and vertebrae in greater detail and highlight via a movie clip how such disorders develop in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Examining the footage from the MRI movie clip, researchers were able to observe the compression of a dog’s brain caused by the premature fusion of bones in the skull. Such fusions also occur at the front of the head causing a dog’s face to become flatter, creating the often desirable doll like features common in this breed.

Study two examined characteristics that increased the risk of Syringomyelia in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Chihuahua and the Affenpinscher dog breeds. Using a similar technique to study one, the study found that skull and neck conformation that increased the risk for Syringomyelia associated with Chiari-like malformation were subtly different between breeds.

Researchers found that Syringomyelia-affected Chihuahua’s tended to have a smaller angle between the base of the skull and the first and second neck vertebrae, whereas the Affenpinshers had a smaller distance between the first and second vertebrae. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels had reduced space between the joint on the skull base and the first cervical vertebrae. All breeds had a reduced hind skull which altered the angulation of the skull base with neighbouring bones in affected dogs and observed in the movie clips.

Dr Clare Rusbridge, from the University of Surrey, said: “Toy dogs are increasingly popular and as such demand for these breeds is unprecedented. Due to selection for rounded head shapes with short muzzles we are seeing more and more dogs with the painful Chiari malformation and Syringomyelia disorder.”

“The innovative mapping technique used in this study has the potential to provide a diagnostic tool for vets, helping them to quickly identify dogs suffering from these painful disorders.”

Source:  University of Surrey media release

My other posts on toy breeds and the Chiari malformation include: