Buddhism for Pet Lovers

Within the last seven weeks, I have seen several dogs in my practice reach end of life. This is never an easy time, as I work in the energy field of a dog that is leaving while supporting their parents who often do not recognise that their dog is failing. Eventually, the family acknowledges the reality that they will soon face a decision about euthanasia.

For Christmas 2019, I was given the book Buddhism for Pet Lovers by David Michie and it has been a wonderful resource for my practice. This book, subtitled Supporting Our Closest Companions Through Life and Death, explains our partnership with our animals through life and death using Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

When discussing end of life, the book explains the process of dying from physical dissolution to mental dissolution and it emphasises the need for us to put our pets first by being supportive and staying calm and loving. The importance of pain management is also discussed because our dogs do not show pain in the same way we do – so we need to be keen observers and use our intuition. At this stage of life, I am focused on keeping the dog comfortable and sharing my observations with my human clients. At this point, as in any point along our journey together, I am focused on the dog’s health and needs. I often find myself being an advocate for the dog at this critical point in time.

Although the Buddhist philosophy does not support the concept of euthanasia, particularly for convenience reasons, the book endorses practices such as at-home euthanasia because if the aim is a peaceful passing, then an at-home passing is greatly preferable. (This is the same reason why I choose to practice massage and rehabilitation at home – because our dogs are most comfortable there).

And for those of you who have experienced the decision to euthanise, the book explains those feelings often put into words such as ‘he told me he was ready’ or ‘I get the feeling she isn’t ready to go.’

What many dog parents may not realise is the importance of the seven weeks following physical death, a time known as the Bardo state. This is a transition period where Buddhists believe the process of re-birth takes place. Although I have not had clients who have identified themselves as Buddhists, for example, I do know that many dog parents instinctively leave the dog’s bowls and bed in place for some time as they grieve their loss. The book explains what you can do in the seven weeks following your pet’s passing to help ease the transition, as their spirit may re-visit the home as part of their journey to re-birth.

In this post, I’ve focused solely on the ninth chapter of the book. But the entire book offers some useful insights and perspectives on our lives with our pet companions. Well worth a read.

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

Canine faeces reveal more about 17th century working sled dogs

Editor’s Note (tongue in cheek): Talk about a shitty job…


Proteins from frozen canine faeces have been successfully extracted for the first time to reveal more about the diets of Arctic sled dogs.

Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge sampling in the laboratory Credit: Katharina Dulias

Researchers – led by the University of York –  say the breakthrough will enable scientists to use palaeofaeces (ancient faeces), to reveal more about our ancestors and their animals.

The recovered proteins revealed that sled dogs at the Nunalleq archaeological site, near Quinhagak, Alaska consumed muscle, bone and intestines from a range of salmon species including chum salmon, often called,  “dog salmon.”

Proteins deriving from the dogs that deposited the samples were also detected. The majority of these were associated with the digestive system and confirmed that the samples passed through the gastrointestinal tract. However, a bone fragment found in one of the samples was identified as being from a canid, suggesting that the dogs also ate other dogs, which is supported by previous observations of gnaw marks on discarded bones.

Dietary habits

Lead researcher, PhD student Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge from the Department of Archaeology said that the study demonstrated the viability of frozen palaeofaeces as a unique source of information.

She said: “The lives of dogs and their interactions with humans have only recently become a subject of interest to archaeologists. This study of their dietary habits reveals more about their relationship with humans.  

“In the Arctic, dogs rely exclusively on humans for food during the winter but deciphering the details of provisioning strategies has been challenging.

 “In places like the Arctic the permafrost has preserved palaeofaeces. Now they can be used as a unique source of information by which we can learn more about the past.”

Past arctic cultures

The researchers used palaeoproteomics, a technique based on tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to recover proteins from the faecal samples. Unlike more established or  traditional analyses, proteomics can provide insight into which tissues the proteins originated from and makes it possible to identify which parts of animals were consumed.

Complementary analyses were performed with Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS), an analytical approach pioneered at the University of York, on bone fragments recovered from within the palaeofaeces. This technique uses the collagen protein preserved in archaeological and historic artefacts to identify the species from which it derives.

“Arctic dogs rely exclusively on humans for food during the long winters, but may have been fed differently or less frequently in summer, or been let loose to fend  for themselves. Working sled dogs are a particularly expensive resource, requiring up to 3.2 kg of fish or meat every day and provisioning of dogs would therefore have played a significant role in the food procurement strategies of past arctic cultures,” added Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge.

The University of Copenhagen, the University of Aberdeen, the University of British Columbia and the Qanirtuuq Incorporated village corporation were also part of the research project which was funded by EU Horizon 2020, Danish National Research Foundation, and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Source: University of York

The importance of a greeting

The Balanced Dog is a fully mobile practice. Working in home gives me much better information than if I practiced in a clinic setting. Clinics are not a normal environment for a dog and so they often don’t act normally when they are there. A common issue is that the owner reports lameness but the dog isn’t lame in the clinic – because their nervousness overrides any pain signals and the muscles are tighter than normal.

Another benefit to me and the dog when I arrive is that I am often greeted off-leash, as Dalmatian Velo did with me on Saturday.

In the act of greeting me, I got to watch Velo’s gait (a relaxed doggy on a Saturday morning at home) and I was able to confirm also that he’s being kept warm in his jumper.

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 July

Man has much power of discourse which for the most part is vain and false; animals have but little, but it is useful and true, and a small truth is better than a great lie.

– Leonardo da Vinci

Stan

Early Antarctic explorers malnourished their dogs

It’s one of the iconic images of early Antarctica exploration: the heroic explorer sledding through the icy wastelands from his loyal team of canine companions.

But new research analyzing a centuries-old dog biscuit suggests that the animals in this picture were likely marching on a half-empty stomach: early British Antarctic expeditions malnourished their dogs.

In an article just published in Polar Record, researchers from the Canterbury Museum, Lincoln University and the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed the history and contents of Spratt’s dog biscuits, the food of choice for canine members of early Antarctic expeditions.

The lead author, Canterbury Museum Curator Human History Dr. Jill Haley, has researched the life of dogs in Antarctica and curated the museum’s Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack 2018 exhibition.

“The early explorers valued their dogs not only because they pulled sleds, but also because of their company in the desolate seclusion of Antarctica,” she says.

“Our analysis of a partially crumbled Spratt dog biscuit, one of four cakes maintained by the Canterbury Museum, found that the contents of the cakes were not that different from modern dog biscuits. However, the amount of dogs fed on the expeditions did not differ not providing enough fuel for their high-energy activities. ”

Pet food was a relatively new invention in the early 20th century and was considered to be superior to older practices of feeding dogs table waste or letting them collect themselves.

Early polar explorers were particularly interested in Spratt’s dog biscuits because they were easy to transport, took no effort to prepare, and did not perish.

The cakes were used on two polar expeditions in the Arctic before being brought south by Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition (1901-1904). The 18 sled dogs of the expedition were fed the biscuits along with dried fish from Norway; all animals died after eating rancid fish on a sledge expedition.

Perhaps to avoid repeating this episode, the supervisors of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913) fed the animals alone on Spratts. With a ration of 0.3 kg of biscuits per day, the dogs became very hungry and even ate their own excrement. They recovered when meat was added to their diet.

Ernest Shackleton took Spratts on his Nimrod (1907-1909) and Endurance (1914-1917) expeditions, where they were part of a dog diet that also included meat, bacon, cookies and pemmican, a high-energy blend of fat and protein.

University of Otago researchers, Professor Keith Gordon, Dr. Sara Fraser-Miller and Jeremy Rooney, used laser-based analysis to determine the composition of the materials in the cake with a resolution of micrometers and to identify a range of components such as wheat, oats and bones.

Dr. Craig Bunt, Associate Professor of Animal Science at Lincoln University, compared the cakes to similar foods, including modern dog foods, and calculated how many kilojoules of energy each cookie would have provided.

To meet the energy needs of modern sled dogs, the dogs on the early Antarctic expeditions would have had to eat between 2.6 and 3.2 kg of Spratts dog biscuits a day.

However, historical reports suggest that the daily dog ​​rations on some expeditions were only about 0.5 kg of cookies and sometimes only 0.3 kg.

The researchers concluded that Spratt’s dog biscuits were likely a suitable complete food for dogs in Antarctica; Dogs on the early expeditions just weren’t fed enough of it.

###

Feeding the Team: Analysis of a Spratts Antarctic Dog Biscuit by Sara Fraser-Miller, Jeremy Rooney, Keith Gordon, Craig Bunt and Jill Haley is published in Polar Record, 57, E19. doi: 10.1017 / S0032247421000103.

Source: Fior Reports

Puppies are Wired to Communicate With People, Study Shows

Researchers evaluated social communication skills in 375 budding service dogs with Canine Companions. Courtesy of Canine Companions

Dogs may have earned the title “man’s best friend” because of how good they are at interacting with people. Those social skills may be present shortly after birth rather than learned, a new study by University of Arizona researchers suggests.

Published in the journal Current Biology, the study also finds that genetics may help explain why some dogs perform better than others on social tasks such as following pointing gestures.

“There was evidence that these sorts of social skills were present in adulthood, but here we find evidence that puppies – sort of like humans – are biologically prepared to interact in these social ways,” said lead study author Emily Bray, a postdoctoral research associate in the UArizona School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Bray has spent the last decade conducting research with dogs in collaboration with California-based Canine Companions, a service dog organization serving clients with physical disabilities. She and her colleagues hope to better understand how dogs think and solve problems, which could have implications for identifying dogs that would make good service animals.

To better understand biology’s role in dogs’ abilities to communicate with humans, Bray and her collaborators looked at how 375 of the organization’s 8-week-old budding service dogs, which had little previous one-on-one interaction with humans, performed on a series of tasks designed to measure their social communication skills.

Because the researchers knew each puppy’s pedigree – and therefore how related they were to one another – they were also able to look at whether inherited genes explain differences in dogs’ abilities. Genetics explained more than 40% of the variation in puppies’ abilities to follow human pointing gestures, as well as variation in how long they engaged in eye contact with humans during a task designed to measure their interest in people.

“People have been interested in dogs’ abilities to do these kinds of things for a long time, but there’s always been debate about to what extent is this really in the biology of dogs, versus something they learn by palling around with humans,” said study co-author Evan MacLean, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona. “We found that there’s definitely a strong genetic component, and they’re definitely doing it from the get-go.”

At the time of the study, the puppies were still living with their littermates and had not yet been sent to live with a volunteer puppy raiser. Therefore, their interactions with humans had been limited, making it unlikely that the behaviors were learned, Bray said.

The researchers engaged the puppies in four different tasks. In one task, an experimenter hid a treat beneath one of two overturned cups and pointed to it to see if the puppy could follow the gesture. To ensure that the pups weren’t just following their noses, a treat was also taped to the inside of both cups. In another version of the task, puppies watched as the researchers placed a yellow block next to the correct cup, instead of pointing, to indicate where the puppy should look for the food.

The other two tasks were designed to observe puppies’ propensity to look at human faces. In one task, the researchers spoke to the puppies in “dog-directed speech,” reciting a script in the sort of high-pitched voice people sometimes use when talking to a baby. They then measured how long the puppy held a gaze with the human. In the final task – a so-called “unsolvable task” – researchers sealed a treat inside a closed container and presented it to the puppy, then measured how often the puppy looked to the human for help opening the container.

While many of the puppies were responsive to humans’ physical and verbal cues, very few looked to humans for help with the unsolvable task. That suggests that while puppies may be born knowing how to respond to human-initiated communication, the ability to initiate communication on their own may come later.   

“In studies of adult dogs, we find a tendency for them to look to humans for help, especially when you look at adult dogs versus wolves. Wolves are going to persist and try to independently problem solve, whereas dogs are more likely to look to the social partner for help,” Bray said. “In puppies, this help-seeking behavior didn’t really seem to be part of their repertoire yet.”

In many ways, that mirrors what we see in human children’s development, Bray said.

“If you think about language learning, children can understand what we’re saying to them before they can physically produce the words,” she said. “It’s potentially a similar story with puppies; they are understanding what is being socially conveyed to them, but the production of it on their end is probably going to take a little bit longer, developmentally.”

MacLean said the next step will be to see if researchers can identify the specific genes that may contribute to dogs’ capacity to communicate with humans.

“We’ve done some previous studies that show that dogs who tend to be successful as service dogs respond to people in different ways than dogs who aren’t successful,” MacLean said. “If you could identify a potential genetic basis for these traits, you might be able to predict, even before the puppy is born, if they are part of a litter that would be good service dog candidates, because they have the right genetic background. It’s a long way down the road, but there is potential to start applying this.”

Source: University of Arizona

Giving back, paying forward

Most small businesses like mine are approached on a regular basis to donate to fundraisers for animal welfare groups and charities. Sometimes, we have relationships with these groups and other times, they’ve never done business with us and we have to ascertain whether it is within our marketing budget to donate something and also whether that group shares our values.

There are many ways besides fundraisers that businesses can give back to their community.

In my business, I offer a loyalty card. After every five sessions of massage and physical therapy, the owner earns a free bag of our dog treats. Owners have the option, however, to donate the cost of their bag to a registered animal charity of their choice, although most leave the choice up to me. I rotate the donations.

Over the years, the business has given to:

Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue

Dogwatch Sanctuary Trust

Greyhounds as Pets

Pet Refuge

….to name a few.

Last week, I also offered to give massage to Liam, the assistance dog to young Sam Ward. Sam’s story appeared in the local paper because the little boy is in the final stages of aggressive Duchenne muscular dystrophy and his family are raising funds so they can fulfill his bucket list. Rather than giving back, I consider this my time to pay it forward, thanking those who have supported the business so I can give my time to others in need.

If you would like to donate to help Sam complete his bucket list, you can donate via Givealittle.

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

Long-term stress in dogs linked to the owner-dog relationship

The relationship a dog has with its owner is related to its stress level. This is the conclusion of a study from Linköping University. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also suggest that the link between stress and the owner’s personality traits differs between dog breeds.

Researchers at Linköping University study how the interaction between dog and human is connected to the wellbeing of the animal. Photo credit: Nataba

Researchers at Linköping University have investigated whether the stress levels of dogs are affected by the people they live with. Stress levels for the past several months can be determined in both dogs and humans by measuring the levels of stress hormone stored in hairs as they grow.

The researchers have collected hair from both dogs and owners, and measured levels of cortisol, the most important stress hormone, in them. They were interested in whether there are differences between different dog breeds. Breeding has led to the genetic selection of different breeds for different tasks. The study included 18 dogs from breeds that have been bred for independent hunting, such as the Swedish elkhound, the Norwegian elkhound, and the dachshund. A second group included dogs from ancient breeds that are genetically more closely related to the wolf than other breeds. This group comprised 24 dogs from breeds such as the shiba inu, the basenji, and the Siberian husky. All owners completed questionnaires about their own personality and that of their dog. They also answered questions about their relationship with their dog, including such matters as how the owner experienced the interaction with the dog, degree of emotional attachment to the dog, and the extent to which owning a dog gave rise to problems.

“The results showed that the owner’s personality affected the stress level in hunting dogs, but interestingly enough not in the ancient dogs. In addition, the relationship between the dog and the owner affected the stress level of the dogs. This was the case for both types, but the result was less marked for the ancient dogs”, says Lina Roth, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM).

In a previous study, the same researchers had seen that dogs from herding breeds, which have been genetically selected for their ability to collaborate with humans, mirror the long-term stress level of their owner. When the researchers now added information about the relationship of the herding dogs to their owner, it became clear that the relationship was significant for the long-term stress levels also in these dogs.

The researchers conclude that long-term stress is influenced least strongly by the owner and their relationship to the dog for ancient breeds. The hunting dogs show clear links between both the personality of the owner and their relationship to the dog, but it is only herding dogs that demonstrate the unique synchronisation with the long-term stress in the owner.

“We believe that the synchronisation of stress is a consequence of breeding the herding dogs for collaboration with people, while the relationship to the owner and the owner’s personality are important parameters that influence the synchronisation of stress levels”, says Lina Roth.

Parts of the study have received financial support from the Sveland Foundation.

Translation by George Farrants.

The article: Long term stress in dogs is related to the human-dog relationship and personality traits”, Amanda Höglin, Enya Van Poucke, Rebecca Katajamaa, Per Jensen, Elvar Theodorsson and Lina S. V. Roth, (2021), Scientific Reports, published online 21 April 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88201-y

Source: Linköping University

Doggy quote of the month for June

“Dogs can tell when your heart is open – can tell when you’re dignifying them with your trust. Dogs smell trust.”

-poet Stephen Kuusisto, in his book Have Dog, Will Travel

Have Dog, Will Travel – a book review

Subtitled A Poet’s Journey, this book is a memoir about how Stephen Kuusisto’s first guide dog changed his life.

Born legally blind in the 1950s, Stephen’s family taught him to hide his disability. His alcoholic mother was particularly harsh and so the young Stephen would read books by pressing them right up against his nose and even rode a bike by teaching himself the layout of the local roads (which sounded to me like a particularly hazardous activity). A poet, at age 38 he was employed as a lecturer and made his away around his small college town because he had memorized the routes he needed to take.

Then he was made redundant and was disheartened and depressed when a job coach suggested that he could get a job as a pieceworker in an assembly line. Recognising that if he wanted more, he would need to broaden his world, Stephen registered with Guiding Eyes and started on a new journey with Corky the Labrador by his side.

This book recounts Stephen’s decision to get a guide dog. Under Corky’s guidance, Stephen was able to find an independence he had never known and was employed by Guiding Eyes to speak to audiences about the organisation’s activities and its value to those people with limited or no vision.

I liked this book; it’s a testament to the human-animal bond and the giving nature of dogs. I prefer hard copy books to e-reading and so this book will reside with my growing collection of dog books on the shelf in my lounge.

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