Category Archives: special dogs and awards

Emotional support animals

10+ years ago when I was working as a science manager in a local council, I recall that a member of staff had been trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant.  Her doctor suggested that she and her husband adopt a dog (which they did) because he felt that caring for the dog would help relieve the anxiety about not getting pregnant.

In effect, her doctor prescribed an emotional support animal.   This is an animal that, simply by virtue of its presence in the person’s life, provides companionship and support.

Such animals have been increasingly in the news for all the wrong reasons.  Untrained animals being brought onto US-based airlines and causing havoc including going to the toilet in the aisles and biting passengers.

Emotional support animals are not trained service dogs.   Whenever an incident occurs that makes the news, it makes life a little harder for people who truly need a service dog.

Denver International Airport

Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a service animal must be trained to perform tasks for a person with a disability, be it physical or psychiatric. Disabilities include things like being blind or deaf, using a wheelchair, relying on a dog to remind you to take meds, or having a dog around in case of an anxiety attack.

Under federal law, only dogs and miniature horses weighing less than 100 pounds qualify for the “service animal” designation.

The major airlines are responding with tightened rules for traveling with emotional support animals and I think this is a good thing.

Here are the steps passengers have to take to bring an emotional support animal into the main cabin on one of the three major US airlines:

  • American – Passengers must submit a document signed by a licensed doctor or medical health professional which states that the passenger has a “mental health or emotional disability” and needs the animal “for emotional support or psychiatric service” on the flight or at the passenger’s destination. The document needs to have been signed within the past year and must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight.
  • Delta – Starting March 1, passengers will have to submit three documents if they wish to travel with an emotional support animal. In addition to a signed statement from a medical professional, passengers will have to provide vaccination dates and the contact information of the animal’s veterinarian and sign a statement that claims the animal is properly trained “to behave in a public setting” and take the passenger’s “direction upon command.” The document needs to have been signed within the past year and must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight.
  • United – Passengers must submit a document from a medical or mental health professional which states that the passenger has a “mental health-related disability” and that the emotional support animal “is necessary to the passenger’s mental health or treatment.” The document needs to have been signed within the past year and must be submitted at least 48 hours before the flight.

I’m not against the designation of emotional support animals, particularly if a health professional has prescribed one.

That said, let’s be honest that most of us don’t train our dogs to the standard of a service dog because we don’t have to.  Subjecting the traveling public to a dog that you love but isn’t properly trained is just wrong.

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

Source:  Business Insider

 

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Sit, Stay, Heal: Study finds therapy dogs help stressed university students

Therapy dog sessions for stressed-out students are an increasingly popular offering at North American universities. Now, new research from the University of British Columbia confirms that some doggy one-on-one time really can do the trick of boosting student wellness.

“Therapy dog sessions are becoming more popular on university campuses, but there has been surprisingly little research on how much attending a single drop-in therapy dog session actually helps students,” said Emma Ward-Griffin, the study’s lead author and research assistant in the UBC department of psychology. “Our findings suggest that therapy dog sessions have a measurable, positive effect on the wellbeing of university students, particularly on stress reduction and feelings of negativity.”

In research published today in Stress and Health, researchers surveyed 246 students before and after they spent time in a drop-in therapy dog session. Students were free to pet, cuddle and chat with seven to 12 canine companions during the sessions. They also filled out questionnaires immediately before and after the session, and again about 10 hours later.

The researchers found that participants reported significant reductions in stress as well as increased happiness and energy immediately following the session, compared to a control group of students who did not spend time at a therapy dog session. While feelings of happiness and life satisfaction did not appear to last, some effects did.

“The results were remarkable,” said Stanley Coren, study co-author and professor emeritus of psychology at UBC. “We found that, even 10 hours later, students still reported slightly less negative emotion, feeling more supported, and feeling less stressed, compared to students who did not take part in the therapy dog session.”

While previous research suggested that female students benefit from therapy dog sessions more than male students, the researchers found the benefits were equally distributed across both genders in this study.

Since the strong positive effects of the therapy dog session were short-lived, the researchers concluded that universities should be encouraged to offer them at periods of increased stress.

“These sessions clearly provide benefits for students in the short-term, so we think universities should try to schedule them during particularly stressful times, such as around exam periods,” said Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and an assistant professor of psychology at UBC. “Even having therapy dogs around while students are working on their out-of-class assignments could be helpful.”

The therapy dog sessions were organized in partnership with UBC’s Alma Mater Society and Vancouver ecoVillage, a non-profit organization that provides therapeutic services, including therapy dog sessions, and mental health wellness services.

Source:  University of British Columbia press release

 

Jake the Diamond Dog

It’s spring training time and soon the baseball diamonds all around the USA will be open again for Major and Minor League Baseball.

So I thought it would be worth giving Jake a mention.  Jake is a special Golden Retriever who travels around the Minor Leagues entertaining the public.

Jake has many duties, such as retrieving bats and balls and even bringing water out to the umpires.

Good boy, Jake.

And bring on baseball season!

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

New sniffer dog research

A team of scientists has provided the first evidence that dogs can learn to categorise odours and apply this to scents they have never encountered before.

The research reveals how the animals process odour information and is likely to have a profound impact on how we train sniffer dogs.

Sniffer dog research
Training a sniffer dog (photo courtesy of University of Lincoln)

The study, led by researchers at the University of Lincoln, UK, and funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Global in the US,
found that dogs are able to categorise odours on the basis of their common properties. This means that dogs can behave towards new smells from a category in the same way as smells that they already know.

As humans, we do not have to experience the smell of every fish to know that it smells ‘fishy’; instead we use our previous experience of fish and categorise the new smell in the correct way. The new research, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that dogs can do the same.

Researchers separated dogs into two groups and then trained them to respond to 40 different olfactory stimuli – or smells – half of which were accelerant-based. The dogs in the experimental group were trained (through a reward) to offer a behavioural response, for example “sit”, when they were presented with smells which fit a specific category, but to withhold that response for other non-category stimuli. The remaining dogs were trained on the same stimuli but were not rewarded for the categorical variable.

The researchers found that only the dogs in the category group were able to learn the task. Even more significantly, when presented with completely unknown smells, the dogs were able to place them in the correct category and to remember the odours six weeks later.

The researchers concluded that this means that dogs can apply information from previous experience to novel – or new – scents in order to apply an appropriate response.

Dr Anna Wilkinson from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln said: “As humans, we are very good at assigning different things to different categories; for example, we know something is a chair because there are identifiable aspects such as a flat space to sit on, or four legs. Categorising odours works the same way, and we were keen to discover whether dogs would be able to learn those skills.  

“This was an extremely hard task for the dogs as the odour stimuli varied in strength, so animals were never trained on exactly the same stimulus. As such, it is even more impressive that the experimental group dogs learned and retained the information.

“These findings add substantially to our understanding of how animals process olfactory information and suggest that use of this method may improve performance of working animals.”

The findings have implications in the field of working dog training as it implies that it may be possible to improve the way we train detection dogs.

Source:  University of Lincoln press release

Therapy dog vs service dog

There are differences between a therapy dog and a service dog, but the two are often confused.

That’s why I really liked this graphic, produced by the Las Vegas Sun:

Therapy vs Service Dog

The difference between a therapy pet and a service animal (courtesy of the Las Vegas Sun)

The newspaper interviewed Sue Grundfest, Lead Animal Therapist at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center, for its article.

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

A chicken-flavored electrolyte drink could help sniffer dogs stay hydrated

The first comparison of three common hydration methods for sniffer dogs shows that while all are effective, dogs drink more and are more hydrated when given a chicken-flavored electrolyte drink compared to plain water or when injected with electrolytes under the skin. The study, published in open-access journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, also shows that the dogs did not suffer from a buildup of electrolytes from the drink, suggesting that electrolyte drinks are a safe hydration alternative for sniffer dogs, who are at risk of heat stroke in hot weather.

Working dogs, such as search and rescue dogs or police dogs, are crucial assistants when authorities respond to disasters or check for contraband at border crossings. These dogs often work in challenging environments, and can sometimes exert themselves to the point of exhaustion and heat stroke. In fact, hot weather can be dangerous for working dogs, as dogs don’t sweat much and rely on panting to cool themselves, meaning they can overheat easily.

detection dog

The risk of heat stroke increases with dehydration, so one effective way to help working dogs stay safe is to keep them hydrated. However, there are different ways to do this. “People use different techniques to hydrate working dogs,” says Cynthia Otto of the University of Pennsylvania, who was involved in the study. “Dog handlers disagree about the most effective method, and since there was no data on the safety or effectiveness of each technique, we wanted to provide some clarity.”

The classic hydration technique is to provide free access to plain drinking water. A second technique involves delivering water and electrolytes through a needle under the skin, which is known as subcutaneous hydration. Drinks containing electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are a third option, but these are controversial. Such drinks make sense as a rehydration aid for humans, as we lose electrolytes when we sweat. However dogs sweat very little, leading critics to say that the drinks could cause an unhealthy buildup of electrolytes in dogs.

The research team investigated these three common hydration strategies in a group of Border Patrol sniffer dogs who inspect vehicles at the Texas border, during the hot summer months. The team took a variety of measurements for each dog, including their hydration levels, fluid intake and work performance.

Happily, all three hydration strategies appear to be effective, and the dogs showed similar behavior, body temperature, and work performance regardless of the way they were hydrated. “In this controlled setting, all the hydration techniques were safe and effective,” says Otto.

However, dogs receiving a chicken-flavored electrolyte drink drank significantly more fluid and had greater hydration levels. Interestingly, these dogs did not suffer from a buildup of sodium, a component of electrolyte drinks that could have negative effects in the body in large quantities. The dogs who drank electrolytes excreted the sodium in their urine, meaning their blood levels remained normal. Overall, the dogs handled the electrolytes well, suggesting they are a safe and effective hydration method.

These results surprised the researchers, as a previous study had reported that dogs who were offered a non-flavored electrolyte drink, drank very little of it. The chicken flavoring may have been key, making the dogs think they were having a tasty treat, but the team will need to investigate this further.

“If a dog is reluctant to drink, then a highly palatable flavored electrolyte solution may give them a boost,” says Otto. “However, these are healthy dogs in a controlled environment, and we don’t know if all electrolyte or flavoring approaches are created equal, so we will need to do further work.”

Journal reference:  Cynthia M. Otto, Elizabeth Hare, Jess L. Nord, Shannon M. Palermo, Kathleen M. Kelsey, Tracy A. Darling, Kasey Schmidt, Destiny Coleman. Evaluation of Three Hydration Strategies in Detection Dogs Working in a Hot Environment. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 2017; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2017.00174

De-stressing airport passengers – PUPs

I flew through LAX earlier this week, and the Las Vegas shooting happened when I was in the air on my way home to New Zealand.  LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) has had a dog therapy programme in place for a few years.

The airport announced this week that in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, it had added more of its PUP teams to support passengers at a time of intense stress and grief.

PUPS

Volunteer PUPs Jack and Chance with their “moms” Debra Mindlin and Heidi Huebner at LAX’s terminal 4 on Monday, Oct 2, 2017. (Photo courtesy Heidi Huebner)

The PUP teams are made up entirely of volunteers who enjoy sharing their dogs with passengers and staff at the airport.  Yet another way that our dogs can work for us, and use their unique gifts of unconditional love and support.

I wrote about the PUPs programme in August 2014, by the way:

August 2014

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