Dog Traits, Including Shyness, Have Implications for Human Longevity

Scientists knew that dogs were breed for different tasks, but new research shows that traits like activity or aggression needed for those tasks may influence a dog’s lifespan – a finding that may be key in unlocking the mysteries of our own lifespan.

By domesticating dogs, humans unwittingly initiated an artificial selection experiment on personality – the results of which may have implications for our own longevity.

We know that dogs were breed to specific tasks and that individual dogs were selected for reproduction based on certain behavior traits – such as activity, aggressiveness, and docility – related to those tasks.  Today those traits are recognized at dog shows by categories like Sporting, Working, Herding, and Toy and dogs within those categories are recognized for their skills at retrieval, guarding, herding, and human companionship.

But it’s assumed that other traits, such as longevity or energy expenditure were probably not targeted for selection.  Now researchers are finding correlations that suggest metabolism and lifespan changed as by-products of selection on personality traits.  These connections between behavior, metabolism, and longevity have resulted in a “pace-of-life” syndrome hypothesis.

A team led by Vincent Careau, a PhD student at University of Sherbrooke, gathered data on many aspects of dog biology published in such disparate fields of study as psychology, longevity, and veterinary research. While the information was well known within the respective research domains, it was never put together. By combining findings, the authors show that obedient breeds — on average — live longer than disobedient breeds, but aggressive breeds have higher energy expenditure.  As the late naturalist Don Thomas said, “It is hard to imagine how an aggressive personality could be adaptive if it lacked the energetic and metabolic machinery to back up the threats. Simply put, 100 pound weaklings don’t kick sand in weight-lifters’ faces and survive in nature.

This study, published in the June 2010 issue of the American Naturalist, is significant because it contributes to the growing body of research that shows that personality is related to many crucial aspects of an animal’s life – including energy needs, growth rate and lifespan.  It also brings scientists a step closer to understanding evolutionary causes and consequences of different personality types and may someday be a key in unlocking what determines our own lifespan.

To Scoop or Not to Scoop: Your Dog’s DNA May Incriminate You If You Don’t

Scooping will keep your neighbors happy, your community healthy and may help you avert public embarrassment or hefty fines.

Do you or don’t you? Pick up after your dog that is. Call it an eyesore, an embarrassment or a public health issue, doggie doo doo is in the news. And now, thanks to tactics that would make CSI investigators proud and be a fitting topic for a Seinfeld episode, it looks as if your dog’s DNA may incriminate you if you fall into the latter category.

The issue had so enraged residents at The Scarlet Place condominiums in Baltimore that the condo association considered mandating all the residents give their dogs DNA cheek swabs. After reporter Jill Rosen posted the original story in the Baltimore Sun, it hit the Internet and went global. When the association met again to debate the merits of the idea, cooler heads prevailed and the idea was put on hold.

It turns out the company, BioPet Vet Lab – that advertised it could catch the offenders by keeping a database of all the condo dogs’ DNA and then matching the offending debris to the offending dog or rather owner (someone from the condo association would have been responsible for collecting a sample and mailing it in a sealed container to the company) – may have never tested an actual field sample. But as Jim Simpson, president of BioPet told about communities that use the service “what we’re finding is that most people, after it’s been implemented, clean up after their dogs.”

Residents were also concerned that testing didn’t really address the problem, it merely offered consequences afterwards. Others wondered how one would go about convincing Fluffy or Fido that getting their checks swabbed was a good idea. There was even some speculation that testing might take an ugly turn if a neighbor, irate about another issue, managed to secure and “plant” a sample from someone’s dog, thus resulting in false incrimination.

But with approximately 77.5 million owned dogs in the United States (averaging 1.7 dogs per owner) according to the Humane Society of the United States, and more apartments, condos and hotels than ever that are pet friendly; this is an issue that’s not likely to go away.

It’s estimated that there are four million tons of dog waste a year, posing serious health hazards for children, adults and the dogs themselves. According to the Center for Disease Control, dog waste transmits several parasites, including roundworm and Cryptosporidium, both of which causes gastrointestinal illnesses in humans. The waste is also a magnet for heartworms and tapeworms which pose serious health risks to your dog. Left long enough, the waste washes into storm drains and from there works its way into rivers, lakes and streams, polluting our water supply.

In Europe where dogs are welcome pretty much anywhere their owners want to take them, including restaurants, there is zero tolerance for scofflaw owners. In recent years fines for not picking up after dogs have ranged from the equivalent of $600 in Paris to $750 in London per incident.

So the next time you walk your dog, do a good turn for both your dog (and remember what people think of your dog is often based on what people think of you as a pet owner) and your community and pick it up!

Dog Rentals: A Good Deed or a Doggone Shame?

Dog rental companies let the renter experience what it's like to own a dog, while proponents and opponents of the idea debate the ethics of such entrepreneurship.

“Money may buy you a fine dog, but only love can make it wag its tail.” Kinky Friedman, former Texas gubernatorial candidate and self-proclaimed author, columnist, musician and beautician.

Most dog lovers would agree with that sentiment.  I know my heart was forever sealed the day at the Humane Society when I asked my dog, Nicky, if he wanted to come home with me, and in response, he put his paws on my shoulders and began kissing my face.  That was 10 years ago, and I can’t imagine life without him or a dog lover who would not, if circumstances allowed, choose to have a dog in their lives.

But now, it seems a new option exists for the dogless. Banned in Boston, but possibly coming to a city near you – Rent a Dog! The idea was formed when high end hostelries in the US, Europe and Japan began loaning out dogs as a way for travelers to have companionship away from home.

Operating in much the same way as a car rental – you choose the size, temperament (a sporting breed perhaps? or something more sedate), and duration (a couple hours romp in the park versus the overnight rental) – and the driving, er walking, pleasure is all yours with no worries about grooming, pet food costs or veterinary care.

Leading the way in the US is FlexPetz, the banned in Boston doggie rental.  With current locations in New York, San Diego, Los Angeles, and London, the company webpage announces plans to expand domestically into Seattle, Miami, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Phoenix, and West Palm Beach. The company says that where possible, FlexPetz dogs are rescue dogs or in urgent need of rehoming.  It also notes that it pays for training, veterinary expenses, including regular three months veterinary checks for all FlexPetz dogs, food and cage free shelter when the dogs are not out on rentals.  An interested dog renter must first register with FlexPetz, and if okayed by the company undergo a mandatory one hour session on training and handling a FlexPetz dog.

So who are the people that rent the dogs?  Some have had relocations from other countries or states and were unable to take their dog along when they moved.  A family might rent a dog to vacation with or a single might find it’s easier to met people accompanied by a dog.  Other people would love to be full-time dog owners but because they can’t give a dog enough time or they live in places that don’t allow pets, fill their need through renting.  Some have even lost beloved dogs and don’t feel able to commit to owning another animal.  Or someone might rent a specific breed before buying to see if it is a good match.  Most yearn for the companionship of a dog, and some will return time and time again to rent the same dog.

But, as critics charge, companionship doesn’t come cheap.  A monthly FlexPetz membership, which includes four one-day rentals, costs $279.95. In contrast is Rent-A-Pet, which allows people to rent dogs for free, but in return its members are expected to spend considerably more time with the dogs and are given assignments to expose the dogs to things like household sounds, riding in a car or climbing staircases. Rent-A-Pet dogs range in age from puppies to older dogs.  Some Rent-A-Pet dogs are described as being bit scruffy and bearing the signs of having lived on the street.

Given the cost and/or time involved, it seems obvious the people doing the renting must feel like they get something out of it.  But what about the dogs?

“Why would you need to rent a dog when you could walk a dog in a shelter in your community?” says Gary Patronek, director of animal welfare and protection at the Animal Rescue League of Boston.  Shelter dogs in Boston don red vests that say “Available for Adoption” and go on walks with volunteers.

Many others are also less than thrilled with the idea. The American Humane Society issued a statement saying “Pets are not like cars or furniture.  Moving them from person to person, home to home, can induce problems such as anxiety and depression.”  Dogs like children, it is thought, need routines and a stable environment in order to thrive. There is also the fear that rentals encourages people to treat dogs as a disposable accessory.  It may also make it very difficult for a rental dog to form bonds with humans.

Supporters point out that dog owners routinely hire others, such as dog walkers or pet sitters, to handle some of their dogs’ care needs with no ill effect to the dogs.  They also note that these are dogs that might have been euthanized under other circumstances, and that many rental dogs end up permanently adopted.  Rent-A-Pet reports that over 1,000 dogs have been adopted through their program.

What do you think?  Is this a humane alternative for dogs that would otherwise be homeless or possibly euthanized or is it one more example of how poorly we can treat our best friends?  I’d love to hear your views!

Dogs Show Their Feelings Through the Direction of Their Wags

New studies show that your dog's tail wag tells a lot: a wag to the right of its body shows positive emotions; to the left negative.

Imagine if your dog could talk. What does he really think of your new boyfriend? How badly does he want to go nose to nose with the overaggressive dog at the park whose owner assures you just loves everybody?

Most dog owner will look at their dog’s posture for some clue, and consider a wagging tail one of the best indicators. But which way is it wagging?

Dog’s tails fall in the mid-line of their bodies, neither to the right or the left. Now researchers in Italy have discovered that when dogs feel fundamentally positive about something or someone, their tails wag to the right. When they have negative feelings, their tail wagging tends left.

Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist at the University of Trieste in Italy, and two veterinarians, Angelo Quaranta and Marcello Siniscalchi, at the University of Bari, also in Italy, recruited 30 family dogs of mixed breeds that were enrolled in an agility training program. The dogs were placed in cages with cameras angled to precisely track the direction of their tail wags. Then they showed the each dog four stimuli through a slat in the cages: the dog’s owner, an unfamiliar human; a cat; and an unfamiliar, dominant dog.

When the dogs saw their owners, their tails all wagged vigorously toward the right side. Their tails wagged moderately and more to the right, when looking at unfamiliar human. When faced with a cat, the dogs’ tails again wagged more to the right but in smaller sweep.
When viewing an aggressive, unfamiliar dog – a large Belgian shepherd Malinois – the dogs tails all wagged to the left side of their bodies.

“This is an intriguing observation,” said Richard J. Davidson, a neuroscience researcher at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  Not surprisingly, the findings play up some of the fundamental differences that have been shown between the left and right brain in humans — research that has been replicated in other animals.

In most animals, including fish and birds, the left brain deals with behaviors scientist term approach and energy enrichment. In humans, that means the left brain is associated with positive feelings, like love, or a feeling of safety and calm.  The opposite occurs in the right brain with behaviors involving withdrawal and energy expenditure. In humans, these behaviors are associated with fear or depression.

The study which appears in the March 20 issue of Current Biology, suggests that the muscles in the right side of the tail reflect positive emotions while the muscles in the left side express negative ones.

Dog Training: Protecting Your Garden and Your Dog

Ah, the joys of gardening...with your dog!

Ah, the joys of summer. If there’s anything to get Fido off the couch after a long winter’s inactivity, it’s the prospect of digging in those lovely beds of newly overturned earth that you so thoughtfully provided. Followed, of course, by a dip in the pond.

Say what? That wasn’t your plan. If your dog is old/and or sedate, you’re probably shared many happy moments together:  the dog — snoozing peacefully in the sun, you — weeding the vegetable garden. But if you have a puppy or active breed, chances are good your garden has seen more upturned soil than a backhoe could shovel.

Animal trainers and behaviorists are divided over how to teach a dog proper behavior in the yard. But the ideas fall into four basic categories:

1. Confinement: your dog has his own dog run. Generally this area should include shelter from both heat and cold, a regularly filled water bowl, and some chew toys to occupy his time.

2. Reward: your dog gets her own sandbox. You create her own special area (a mixture of half sand/half mulch is suggested) to dig in, and to ensure she does, bury treats and small toys in there for her to discover.

3. Deterrent: a common suggestion is burying chicken wire just below the ground surface and covering it with mulch. Dogs don’t like getting their paws caught in the wire and will avoid these areas. Rocks or ornamental borders can also help train dogs that these areas are off-limits.

4. Exhaustion: seriously, a dog that gets enough exercise (and attention) through regular walks is far less likely to take out excess energy on your plants.

Other suggestions include working with and not against the natural tendencies of your dog. Since all dogs love to “run the fence” and guard their territory, establishing permanent pathways along the fence line will be more helpful than trying to fight against this tendency. If you really want to spoil your dog, giving her a “window” or lookout in a solid fence line to view passers-by will also help keep her occupied.

Now that you’ve protected your yard, there are some things you’ll want to do to protect your dog as well. Chemical fertilizers can get on paws and be ingested if the dog licks its feet. So beware of using them in an area that your dog would roam or seek organic alternatives.

A wide variety of common plants, including daphne, hydrangeas, and marigolds can be harmful if consumed. Complete lists of plants that are toxic to pets are readily available on the Internet, and your vet should be called at once if your dog has eaten one of the varieties listed.

If you have a pond or water feature that your dog likes to frolic in, consider triple-lining it to reduce the risk of punctures from toenails. But keeping your dog out of the pond water is better for both your water garden’s aesthetics and your dog’s health. A buildup of fish, amphibian, and reptile waste in a pond can cause skin lesions if your dog plays in the water or an internal infection if he drinks it.

But if you love gardening and your dog, don’t hesitate to mix the two. After all when else but down on all fours are you going to get to experience the world from your dog’s eye view?

Dogs on a Plane: When Fur Flies

Planning ahead is the only sure way to avoid air travel stress for both you and your dog

Thinking about taking your dog along on a flight? It is a common occurrence, but advanced planning will save your sanity, as well as your dog’s stress level. It’s all in the details, and there are a number of them to consider.

First, seriously contemplate whether taking your dog is absolutely necessary. Transport kennels and airplane cargo holds are not comfortable, and for some dogs they are not safe. Brachycephalic animals, such as Pekingese, Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, or Boston Terriers (those with the “smashed in faces”) should never travel in the cargo hold of a plane because the structure of their faces can inhibit their breathing. In addition, unweaned puppies, elderly dogs, or females in heat or pregnant should never travel by plane.

Many airlines do allow small dogs to accompany passengers in the cabin, as long as they are 20 lbs. or less and fit into a pet carrier with a waterproof bottom that will stow easily beneath the seat in front of you. Again, this requires pre-planning as airlines will only allow a handful of dogs on a flight. Fees range from $75 to $100 each way for this benefit.

Check with your airline for all the requirements you must know to travel with your dog

The cargo hold is pressurized and somewhat heated or cooled to accommodate traveling pets, but to ensure the animals’ safety, many airlines will not allow them to fly in overly hot or cold weather. As a rule, pets are not allowed on flights to Hawaii, or most international flights due to their length. The size of the transport carrier should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down, and it should not have wheels. Pet stores sell airline compliant travel crates that include the required labeling, and be sure to affix a tag indicating your name, home address, and phone number. Including this identification on your dog’s collar is also a good idea.

Tips to Prevent Major Headaches to Prepare Flying with your Dog

  • Book your flight directly with the airline. They know the specific pet transport requirements and can answer your questions. Third party booking agencies or online sites may not be up-to-date, or may not account for pet travel.
  • Book direct flights. Dealing with airline transfers or delays is not a scenario you want to experience traveling with your dog. In addition, avoid traveling with your pet during busy holidays as he could experience rough handling.
  • Acclimate your dog to the transport carrier before the flight. Familiarity will then cut down on stress during travel. Airlines recommend allowing your dog a month before traveling to get accustomed to the carrier.
  • Clip your dog’s nails before the flight. This is to ensure they don’t get caught in the pet carrier’s openings.
  • Be sure your dog’s shots are up-to-date. You will need to provide documentation of vaccines.
  • Carry a current picture of your dog with you and tape one to his carrier. If your dog becomes lost, this will make it much easier for him to be found.
  • Check with your vet to see if giving your dog a sedative is a good idea. Often this is not recommended as sedation can cause nausea, and the effects of tranquilizers at high altitudes can be unpredictable.

Preparing to fly with your dog can be rather overwhelming, but advanced planning will avoid many of the problems that can arise. And once you arrive to your destination, won’t it be great to have your best friend at your side?

Playground Pooch Police: Drug Sniffing Dogs At Schools

Hey poochie.

Drug sniffing dogs are common at airports and border checks and they’re about to become a familiar sight at some schools in Western Washington, too.

Local law enforcement and Peninsula School District leaders worked together to add this new wrinkle to the learning experience. Starting this spring, the cop canines and their handlers will regularly patrol the parking lots and halls of all three of the district’s high schools, sniffing out pot, heroin and cocaine. But apparently, the new policy won’t have much bite.

The dogs will keep to the byways and not actually go into classes. When a dog pegs drugs on a student or in a locker, the police officer at the leash will not arrest or search the student. He’ll just tell the principal on him or her.

The plan is meant to be a deterrence, rather than an enforcement effort. But for kids who already view their schools as a police state and their authority figures as intrusive, controlling nannies with weapons and rules, this will likely fan the teen angst flames to levels never seen.

The Peninsula School District encompasses Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula, near Olympia, Wash. The law enforcement agencies involved include Gig Harbor police and the Pierce County Sheriff’s department.

Small Dogs Genetics Indicate Middle Eastern Ancestry

A mutation may explain the size, but there's no excusing the cherry dress

A team of researchers, led by Melissa Gray and Robert Wayne from the University of California, Los Angeles, have traced the evolutionary history of the pint-sized pooch back to the Middle East. In a genetic study published in the open-access journal BMC Biology, the team surveyed a large sample of grey wolves, and discovered that the genetic mutation largely responsible for small body size had evolved long before wild dogs were ever domesticated by humanity.

Genetics are to blame for looks, as well as size.

All small dogs possess a variant of the IGF1 gene, and apparently, Middle Eastern wolves also have it. Previous work in the region has uncovered the fossilized remains of 12,000-year-old small domestic dogs, supporting the creature’s proposed origins. Older remains of much larger animals have been discovered in Belgium, Germany and Western russia, put the concentration of small animals in a very localized area. According to Gray, the smaller-sized animals were probably preferred by the individuals who lived in densely packed agricultural environments. A reduced size is a frequent side effect to domestication, as it has been demonstrated by goats, swine and cattle. Considering such an environment, where dogs are more likely going to live partially indoors or within confined parameters, it is likely that smaller pets were more popular than the larger dogs.

Drug Dogs Continue to Sniff Out Pot-Heads on Boston High-School Campuses

Police dogs are highly trained K-9 officers reserved for the most dangerous high-schoolers

Police dogs are highly trained K-9 officers reserved for the most dangerous high-schoolers

“As I stated at the beginning of this year,” began an email from the principal of Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, “if the possession, use, and distribution on campus didn’t change, I would bring drug-sniffing dogs onto campus. Today is that day.” Scott Carpenter, who is also the superintendent for the district, wasn’t kidding around when he sent the fiery e-mail out to parents, informing them about the 16 K-9 units scheduled to inspect their child’s school for illicit drugs today, Friday, April 9th. As a result of the first police raid of the high-school campus, two students were successfully apprehended and slapped with a civil violation and a $100 fine for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.

As expected, parents have chosen one of two sides on the issue: where one found the announcement encouraging, stating the importance of “young people” understanding

The newest frontier in the "War on Drugs:" High School

boundaries, another wondered if the majority of non-drug users could be significantly affected by such barbaric police-raids. Dean Holden, father of two Lincoln-Sudbury high-schoolers, was one of the dissenters, claiming that he supported the school’s zero-tolerance drug policy, but not the involvement of drug-sniffing dogs. For the most part, however,Lincoln-Sudbury parents supported Carpenter and the inspection.

Perhaps it’s because this isn’t really an isolated occurrence; after all, the Middlesex Sheriff, James Dipaola, said that he’d been performing school drug searches for the past decade, which turned up illegal substances 10 to 15 percent of the time. With the growing trend of incidents – especially distribution incidents – it doesn’t see like Sheriff DiPaola is in it for the long haul.