Category Archives: special dogs and awards

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

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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

Bernese Mountain Dog is a golf ball retriever

Davos is a Bernese Mountain Dog who lives in Minnesota.  He helps his owner, Al Cooper, retrieve his wayward golf balls and in the process, finds lots of others.

The pair re-sells the balls for 25 cents each at their local golf course and recently made a donation to the Humane Society in Golden Valley.

Golf Ball Retriever – a whole new job description for an assistance dog?

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

Research dog helps scientists save endangered carnivores

Scat-sniffing research dogs are helping scientists map out a plan to save reclusive jaguars, pumas, bush dogs and other endangered carnivores in the increasingly fragmented forests of northeastern Argentina, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

Scat sniffing dog Train

Washington University researcher Karen DeMatteo and her scat-sniffing dog Train are on a mission to preserve jaguars, pumas, bush dogs and other carnivores in the forests of Northeastern Argentina. (Photo: courtesy of Karen DeMatteo/Washington University)

The study explores options for mitigating the impact of human encroachment on five predators who cling to survival in isolated pockets of protected forest surrounded by a mosaic of roadways, unprotected forest, plantations and pastures.

“The study details a least-cost plan for the development of a multispecies biological corridor that connects protected areas in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest Region of Misiones, Argentina,” said co-author Karen DeMatteo, a biology research scientist and lecturer in environmental studies in Arts & Sciences.

DeMatteo, who has spent 10 years working on the project,  said completion of the corridor model will allow researchers and community leaders to begin working with property owners to establish the habitat corridors.

“This plan is exciting not only for the future of the local biodiversity, but also because it involved a lot of collaboration from the local government and universities to make it happen,” she said.

Recent studies have argued that establishing small, protected reserves for endangered species, even in the best of habitats, is not enough to ensure long-term survival because species must move across their range to breed with other scattered populations and maintain genetic diversity.

Using dogs trained to detect the scat of specific species, DeMatteo’s team searched for evidence of the carnivores’ presence across a broad swath of northeastern Argentina, including public and private wildlife reserves, privately owned plantations, farms and pastures, and along roads and pathways leading to scattered communities.

DNA analysis of more than 900 scat samples collected over several summers allowed researchers to develop detailed maps of the species frequenting these habitats, including a sense of how their movements were influenced by habitat quality, topography, roadways and other human disturbances.

For species such as the jaguar, which rarely crosses into territory disturbed by humans, survival may hinge on the creation of habitat corridors linking isolated population pockets. Because the jaguar is so averse to human interaction, some studies have suggested that habitat corridors designed for it also would cover the needs of other predators.

DeMatteo’s study, which examined the habitat needs of jaguars, pumas, ocelots, oncillas and bush dogs, offers a more nuanced approach, suggesting that the optimal footprint for habitat corridors should be drawn with the overlapping needs of many species in mind.

While some species were less intimidated by the presence of humans, each had its own unique requirements in terms of what constitutes a suitable habitat and the length and width of possible corridor connections.

“Despite variation in body size, the jaguar, puma, ocelot, oncilla and bush dog overlap in their ecological requirements,” the study said. “However, this is not without variation in the degree of habitat flexibility. Puma, oncilla, and bush dog have comparatively higher levels of modified habitats in their potential distributions compared to the jaguar and ocelot.”

By combining data on all five of these species, researchers developed a model that provides maximum habitat connectivity for all species while minimizing the cost of establishing these corridors through privately owned lands and communities.

“The findings illustrate the benefit of using multiple species versus a single species to develop corridors, because using only the highly restricted jaguar to develop the corridor would mean that the potential distributions of the other four carnivores would be restricted and decreased by as much as 30 percent,” DeMatteo said. “So, it appears that, at least in the Misiones province, the jaguar should not be modeled as an umbrella species because the results fail to capture the varied requirements of coexisting species across the breadth of potential habitats.”

DeMatteo and colleagues hope the study provides a methodology for identifying the optimal footprint for proposed habitat connection corridors, while incorporating enough flexibility to ensure that the needs and desires of private landholders can be incorporated into the process.

“The approach in making a corridor a reality is multi-pronged and involves a strong investment from the local community, especially when developing corridors that use existing protected areas as ‘stepping stones,’ as private land will inevitably be involved to varying degrees in and around the corridor,” the study concludes.

Source:  Washington University media statement

Audience dogs

There seems to be no end to the list of jobs that can be given to a good dog.

Next up:  Audience dogs

You’ve probably heard of Toastmasters, which are groups that meet where participants practice their public speaking and presentation skills.   But did you know that the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, DC has introduced Audience Dogs into their program?

Students practice their speeches in front of a dog, who has been selected to be secure, calm and confident to make eye contact.  The service is provided free-of-charge.

A non-judgmental, cute, and attentive audience!

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

Trained dogs most efficient in monitoring hermit beetle larvae

Hermit beetles (Osmoderma eremita) are considered at risk, but in order to be effectively protected, they first need to be identified and consistently monitored.

However, this turns out to be a tough task, given that the species is only present for a short time as an adult while it is also extremely elusive. On the other hand, although it remains as a larva for up to three years, once again, it is difficult to spot as it hides inside hollow trees living in the wood mould.

The standard method for detecting hermit beetles involves wood mould sampling which is not only arguable in its overall efficiency, but is also unreasonably time-consuming and quite damaging to both the species communities and their habitat.

Searching for an alternative, Italian scientists, led by Dr. Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Sapienza University of Rome, suggested that trained dogs might be more successful. Such conservation detection dogs are currently being widely deployed when searching for mammals, reptiles and birds and have already been tested for locating a number of invertebrates.

In their paper, published in the open access journal Nature Conservation, the team tested a training programme before comparing it with the traditional method. The study has been conducted as part of the MIPP Project aimed at the development of non-invasive methods for monitoring selected saproxylic beetles.

Starting from the choice of a dog, the scientists carefully made their choice from a number of individuals as well as breeds. They settled on a Golden Retriever – a breed widely used in searches for biological targets. As for the particular dog, they chose Teseo – a six-month pup coming from a line with a strong background in locating illegally imported animals and animal parts.

Conservation dog

The training of Teseo began with the assignment of a trainer/handler and some basic obedience training, involving teaching simple commands, search games and agility activities.

The next step was introducing the dog to various types of odours, since the hermit beetles might give off a different odour dependent on their habitats, such as the presence of fungi, sawdust and other organic materials. Immediately after detecting the target smell, the animal would be given a reward such as food or play, so that its behaviour could be positively reinforced.

Then, the dog was taught to differentiate between different odours. The researchers presented a number of targets to the animal where it needed to select the right one. At this stage, the dog was only rewarded for correct signalling. Should the dog be distant from the trainer, a special clicker was used to ‘announce’ the treat in advance. The researchers noted that it was at this stage when the relationship between the dog and the handler needed to be really strong, so that the training was as efficient as possible.

In conclusion, the scientists reported a significantly higher probability (73%) of Teseo successfully detecting a tree colonised by the larvae, as opposed to two people conducting the traditional wood mould sampling (34-50%). Moreover, the dog would cover a particular area in a very short time when compared to the traditional method – on average it would take it 6 minutes and 50 seconds to examine the whole tree, while the operators using wood mould sampling would need about 80 minutes. Additionally, searching for larvae with dogs poses no risk to either the insects or other organisms that might be living in the trees.

Furthermore, the researchers provided a list of precautions in order to increase the efficiency when searching for beetle larvae with the help of trained dogs. The list included familiarising the dog with the survey site beforehand, opting for the part of the day with the most favourable atmospheric conditions and carefully monitoring the dog for signs of fatigue.

“A conservation detection dog is a powerful tool for locating O. eremita and these results can be useful for other related European species of Osmoderma“, commented the scientists.

“In fact, the use of a trained dog is a fast, accurate and non-invasive method that allows the detection of a target species in an area and to identify the colonised trees; this means that a conservation detection dog can locate new populations, can confirm the presence of the target species and can assist in the mapping of colonised trees in an area, accurately and efficiently.”

Source:  Pensoft Blog