Category Archives: dog ownership

The importance of “Dog Speak”

Scientists at the University of York have shown that using ‘dog-speak’ to communicate with dogs is important in relationship-building between pet and owner, similar to the way that ‘baby-talk’ is to bonding between a baby and an adult.

dogspeak

Dogs paid more attention to people that used ‘dog-speak’ (photo courtesy of University of York)

Speech interaction experiments between adult dogs and humans showed that this particular type of speech improves dog attention and may help humans to socially bond with their pets.

Previous studies on communicating with dogs had suggested that talking in a high-pitch voice with exaggerated emotion, just as adults do with babies, improved engagement with puppies but made little difference with adult dogs.

Researchers at York tested this theory with new experiments designed to understand more about why humans talk to dogs like this and if it is useful to the dogs in some way or whether humans do this simply because they like to treat dogs in the same way as babies.

Speech register

Dr Katie Slocombe from the University of York’s Department of Psychology, said: “A special speech register, known as infant-directed speech, is thought to aid language acquisition and improve the way a human baby bonds with an adult.  This form of speech is known to share some similarities with the way in which humans talk to their pet dogs, known as dog-directed speech.

“This high-pitched rhythmic speech is common in human interactions with dogs in western cultures, but there isn’t a great deal known about whether it benefits a dog in the same way that it does a baby.

“We wanted to look at this question and see whether social bonding between animals and humans was influenced by the type and content of the communication.”

Unlike previous experiments, the research team positioned real humans in the same room as the dog, rather than broadcasting speech over a loud speaker without a human present.  This made the set-up more naturalistic for the dogs and helped the team test whether dogs not only paid more attention to ‘dog speak’, but were motivated to spend more time with the person who had spoken to them in that way.

Dog-related content

Researchers did a series of speech tests with adult dogs, where they were given the chance to listen to one person using dog-directed speech containing phrases such as ‘you’re a good dog’, and ‘shall we go for a walk?’, and then another person using adult-directed speech with no dog-related content, such as ‘I went to the cinema last night.’.

Attention during the speech was measured, and following the speech, the dogs were allowed to choose which speaker they wanted to physically interact with.

The speakers then mixed dog-directed speech with non-dog-related words and adult-directed speech with dog-related words, to allow the researchers to understand whether it was the high-pitched emotional tone of the speech that dogs were attracted to or the words themselves.

Preferences

Alex Benjamin, PhD student from the University’s Department of Psychology, said: “We found that adult dogs were more likely to want to interact and spend time with the speaker that used dog-directed speech with dog-related content, than they did those that used adult-directed speech with no dog-related content.

“When we mixed-up the two types of speech and content, the dogs showed no preference for one speaker over the other.  This suggests that adult dogs need to hear dog-relevant words spoken in a high-pitched emotional voice in order to find it relevant.

“We hope this research will be useful for pet owners interacting with their dogs, and also for veterinary professionals and rescue workers.”

The research paper, ‘’Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog-directed speech, is published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Source:   University of York media release

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Finances and financial sacrifices

When you make a commitment to a dog, you make it for life – or at least you should (although from many of the listings I see in Facebook groups and on Trade Me, it is clear that others don’t believe in the lifetime commitment).  With that lifetime commitment comes a fairly significant financial commitment.

That’s why I applaud the recent survey undertaken by the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants (AICPA) concerning the cost of pet ownership.  Although this survey was done in the USA, I would expect the findings to be broadly transferable to New Zealand – certainly the recommendations are!

The overall findings were:

  • On average, American pet owners spend $1,560 per year on their pets
  • One-in-four say their pets cost more than they expected
  • More than 3-in-4 Americans would make financial sacrifices for their pets

And the survey even asked how these pet owners would make financial sacrifices, if they had to, to fund emergency pet care expenses which is illustrated in the graphic below:

The Financial Impact of Fido by the American Institute of CPAs

To help Americans fully understand the financial commitment that comes with bringing a pet into their home, the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission has the following tips:

  • Be honest with yourself financially – If you are struggling to pay off your student loans and have credit debt piling up, does it really make financial sense to get a pet?  Pets are great but they are meant to help relieve stress, not add to it due to financial difficulties.
  • Do your research – Though the cost of routine care may be predictable, it varies widely from animal to animal, and even from breed to breed, across the full spectrum of family pets. Know ahead of time the probable cost of care that will come with your companion.
  • Make a budget: “pre-pet” & “post-pet” — Include all related expenses, i.e. food, treats, leash, crates – including tank for fish, lizards, etc.—toys, vet visits, grooming and other services such as boarding and day care. If your pet will require a habitat powered by electricity, be sure to factor in the impact it will have on your utilities bill.
  • Be prepared – If you’re worried about unforeseen costs, use an emergency savings calculator to help you regularly set aside funds, or consider getting pet insurance.
  • Buy in Bulk – Items such as food, treats and preventive medicine can be purchased in bulk, reducing the overall cost per unit.

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

Puppies are not presents

The RSPCA has issued a new advert for 2017 to illustrate the message that puppies are not Christmas presents – they are a lifetime commitment that a family should knowingly make.

Follow the story of Woody, the pup given as a Christmas gift who ends up neglected, abandoned and in the care of the RSPCA.

Kindness goes a long way and animal welfare agencies work 24/7 – throughout the holiday season – taking care of unwanted animals.

If you are considering adding a pet to your home, do your homework and be prepared for the unconditional love that an animal brings to your home – but with responsibilities.

Adopt, don’t shop.

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

A dog’s life in families with children

Note from DoggyMom:

This research reinforces my advice to families with young children and dogs:  understand your dog’s non-verbal and verbal cues so you can pick up when they are stressed, going over threshold, and need time away from the children.

I have several clients on my books currently who are expecting their first child in 2018; this is a subject that we discuss on a regular basis.


Millions of families know how rewarding and enjoyable dog ownership can be – but now a new study has for the first time examined the quality of life for a pet dog owned by a family with children.

happy dog

Photo courtesy of University of Lincoln

There is now extensive scientific research showing the many benefits that pet dogs bring to families, including improved family functioning and wellbeing for those with children with neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. For all children, dogs can provide valuable companionship, encourage exercise and family activities, and teach them about responsibilities.

Until now, little attention has been paid to how living with children affects quality of life for pet dogs (those not trained as assistance dogs). Funded by Dogs Trust – the UK’s largest dog welfare charity – a team of animal behaviour and welfare specialists from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences are examining this question.

Published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, their latest research involved interviewing parents who own a dog – half with typically developing children and half with children with Autism or ADHD, with all children aged between four and 10 years old.

The research revealed that the child-dog relationship has a number of beneficial aspects for the dog, including a sense of routine, more time for fun and play, and companionship.

Dr Sophie Hall, a Research Fellow specialising in human-animal interactions at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Our study involved 36 dog-owning families, who all highlighted some key benefits that their pet dogs receive from living with young children.

“For example children provide close companionship for pets as well as imposing a sense of predictable and consistent routine in the home, in terms of feed and walk times, which we know is extremely important for a dog’s wellbeing. Of course, children also play regularly with their pet dogs and activities such as throwing a ball and doing assault courses represent really valuable opportunities for exercise and positive mental stimulation.

“The study also highlighted some potentially negative impacts on the pet, which it is important for parents to be aware of when bringing a dog into a home with children.”

The negative impact could be brought on by children having tantrums, with parents observing their dogs running away, shaking or hiding on some of these occasions. Parents also observed a change in their dog’s behaviour if it became ‘over stimulated’ – such as barking, becoming agitated, or seeking a place to escape – when their children were very noisy.

Other events that could cause potential distress for dogs in homes with children could include rough play or accidents such as collisions with toys or pulling the dog’s tail.

The study suggests that in a home with small children, it is important for dogs to have a ‘safe haven’ to escape to if needed, and for parents to understand both the obvious and more subtle signs of distress in their pets and to teach their family about these signs. For example, pet dogs often have wide eyes or lick their lips when they are mildly stressed.

Dr Hall added: “The positive and negative aspects of the child-dog relationship were similar in families with typically developing children and in those with children with a neuro-developmental disorder.

“As such, providing they are aware of key risk events and how to cope with these, and ensuring adequate supervision, parents should not necessarily be dissuaded from acquiring a pet dog because of their child’s developmental issues. As we know, pet dogs can really enrich family life and support child development and wellbeing.”

The results of this initial study are now being developed further by the team at the University of Lincoln with support from Dogs Trust.

The paper is freely available to view online at PLOS ONE.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

Dogs are individuals!

All dogs are different

Earlier this week, I attended a seminar in human digestive issues at the local natural health practice, The Herbal Dispensary.  The naturopath made the point to say that everyone has a unique digestive system and so what works for one person, may not work for another.

Bingo!

I’m tired of seeing posts from dog owners on Facebook asking what they should feed their dog.  And then dozens of answers, few which agree, and typically from no one who is a professional in the field.

There are many considerations when choosing a dog’s diet.  It is why I use a TCM food therapy approach, augmented by tests like Nutriscan.  These tools help to determine food ingredients that match the dog.  Considerations into format, such as commercial dry kibble or raw, come later.  And then the new diet needs to be trialed to ensure it is a good match.

Dogs are individuals in all aspects of their life, not just diets.

This week alone I’ve dealt with a paraplegic dog who needs help and a new wheelchair, an older dog with intermittent lameness, a year-old puppy who just needs to slow down and relax, a dog with irritable bowel disease, and a dog who is anxious and reactive.

My approach is different with each of these dogs because the dogs are different.

Celebrate your dog’s uniqueness and address their health as a special journey!

Being unique is better

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

Dog park designs

If I ever win Lotto, I’d like to sponsor a major dog park development.

Dog park designs are an interesting line of work for landscape architects.  James Harrison Melnick of the University of Arizona did a review of A Successful Southwest Dog Park in 2013.

His report is still a useful document with various designs, their pros and cons, reviewed and discussed.

Chaparral Dog Park Scottsdale AZ

The Chaparral Dog Park in Scottsdale, Arizona

His report is downloadable through this link.

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

Owners of seriously ill pets at risk of stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms

Owners of seriously or terminally ill pets are more likely to suffer with stress and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, compared with owners of healthy animals, finds a study published by Veterinary Record.

old dog

Caring for a sick or dying pet can be a serious emotional burden. Credit: © tuaindeed / Fotolia

This ‘caregiver burden’ may also lead to increased veterinarian stress, say the authors.

Research on human caregiving describes ‘caregiver burden’ as a response to problems and challenges encountered while providing informal care for a sick family member. But little is known about the impact of caregiver burden on owners of animals with chronic or terminal diseases – and the veterinarians who care for them.

So a team of researchers, led by Mary Beth Spitznagel at Kent State University in Ohio, set out to assess caregiver burden and psychosocial function in 238 owners of a dog or cat.

They compared 119 owners of an animal diagnosed with a chronic or terminal disease with 119 healthy controls blindly matched for owner age and sex and animal species.

Symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression were measured using recognised scales, and quality of life was assessed by questionnaire. Owners’ demographic information was also recorded.

Results showed greater burden, stress and clinically meaningful symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of animals with chronic or terminal disease. Higher burden was also related to poorer psychosocial functioning.

The authors outline some study limitations which could have introduced bias, but they say their findings “may help veterinarians understand and more effectively handle client distress in the context of managing the challenges of sick companion animal caregiving.”

And they suggest that future research is needed to better understand risks for caregiver burden in the client, how this might be reduced, and how it impacts veterinarian wellbeing.

In a linked commentary, Katherine Goldberg calls for improved training for veterinarians around provision of long term care for serious illness. This includes tailoring treatment plans to client preferences, recognising when clients are distressed, and partnering with mental health professionals to provide support.

“This inaugural exploration of caregiver burden within a veterinary setting is the first step in assessing the impact of veterinary caregiving on clients, as well as the impact of client emotional distress on veterinarian wellbeing,” writes Goldberg. “It is my hope that with continued dialogue, we will continue to build the literature in these essential areas.”

Source:  BMJ press release