Dogs Help in Conservation of Endangered Species

As if we needed further proof that dogs are awesome, here’s a story about how specially trained dogs (and their sensitive noses) are helping conservationists study and protect endangered species in the wild.

According to an article on the CNN website, dogs are being trained to accompany researchers out into the field and help them identify the scents of endangered animals and their droppings.

Tracking droppings, also called scat, can tell researchers where endangered animals are living, how many of them are around, what they are eating, as well as parasite infection and overall health status.  This tracking is also much less stressful for the animals than trapping.

These conservation dogs have worked on many endangered animal studies, including ones for foxes, wolves, cougars, bobcats, otters, minks, ferrets, and more!  Some new training session are now focusing on teaching the dogs to track endangered lizards.

Interested in learning more?  Check out the website for the organization Working Dogs for Conservation.

 

Environmental Enrichment for Pet Birds

The Veterinary College at Texas A&M University has put out some very helpful tips on how to provide your pet birds with environmental enrichment and mental stimulation.

They report that birds are happiest when given many different forms of enrichment.  Not surprising given their intelligence, curiosity, and sociability!

Here are a few tips, but be sure to read the full story for more ideas for your own bird!

  • Besides regular toys, birds also appreciate objects that provide visual and auditory stimulation like mirrors, music, bells, and rattles.
  • Birds are sensitive to the texture of objects; some prefer plastic, while some prefer wood or paper.
  • Birds are color-oriented and may prefer certain colored toys over others (some dislike red!).
  • Be sure to choose toys that are lead-free and made from safe forms of plastic. Be careful of toys with string as these can harm a bird.
  • Household objects can also be used as bird toys, such as paper towel rolls and popsicle sticks.
  • Place your bird’s cage in an area where the outside is visible through a window.
  • Lots of interaction with you (and even other animals in the home) is a key form of stimulation and enrichment for birds. Pay plenty of attention to your feathered friend.  You can even teach it some tricks!

Interested in learning more?  Check out this Avian Enrichment blog from the Association of Avian Veterinarians!

 

UK Bans Use of Shock Collars for Pets

The UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs announced new legislation banning the use of electronic training collars for dogs and cats.

These devices, commonly called shock collars or e-collars, send an electronic pulse to your pet, with the idea of correcting unwanted behaviors.  Animal welfare experts note that the devices cause unnecessary harm and suffering and may even worsen a pet’s aggression or anxiety problems.

The Department reports that the ban on e-collars will not extend to invisible fencing systems, because they believe these are useful in keeping dogs and cats away from roads and traffic.

Secretary of State Michael Grove says of the ban, “We are a nation of animal lovers and the use of punitive shock collars cause harm and suffering to our pets. This ban will improve the welfare of animals and I urge pet owners to instead use positive reward training methods.”

The Department notes that members of the public are evenly divided over the use of invisible fencing, with 50% still in favor of the fences.  They also report that many citizens have expressed concern over people’s lack of knowledge and training when it comes to the proper use of electronic devices.

 

Study Shows MRI Scans Help Find Best Service Dog Candidates

In the ongoing effort to understand what our pets are thinking, researchers have been performing MRI scans on dogs’ brains for the past several years.  A recent canine brain scan study conducted by scientists at Emory University may help determine which dogs will make the best service dogs.

43 service dogs in training with the organization Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) underwent MRI scans to determine what makes a successful service dog.  While all the dogs in the study had outwardly calm temperaments, the scans revealed that some of the dogs had higher levels of activity in the area of the brain associated with excitability.  These dogs were more likely to fail the training program.

Scanning potential service dogs early in the training process could be very beneficial for organizations like CCI, since it can cost as much as $50,000 to fully train one dog.  70% of dogs that start a training program will drop out due to behavioral issues.  Since there are always waiting lists for good service dogs, it would be efficient to weed out problematic candidates at the beginning.

Without the MRI scan, the early identification of dogs that would ultimately fail training had a 47% success rate.  With the scan, the predictability of failure went up to a 67% success rate.

How did researchers test the dogs?  While in the MRI machine, dogs were given hand signals for “treat” or “no treat.”  The successful service dog candidates did show activity in a part of the brain associated with rewards when given the sign for “treat” but they did not show excessive activity in the excitability area of the brain.  In contrast, the less successful candidates showed more excitability with the “treat” signal, including when signaled by strangers, a trait which trainers consider to be a red flag for service dogs.

Interested in learning more?  You can read the full text of the article on the website for Scientific Reports HERE.

 

Top image of some very good study participants:  Dr. Gregory Berns, Emory University.

 

FACE Friend Linda Michaels Publishes “Do No Harm™ Dog Training and Behavior Manual”

A few months ago, we introduced you to FACE friend and supporter Linda Michaels of Del Mar Dog Training in a blog post.  Linda is a top-rated dog trainer and behavior expert who created the Hierarchy of Dog Needs® approach to force-free behavior modification.  Linda has expanded the ideas she outlined in the Hierarchy into a brand-new eBook called the Do No Harm™ Dog Training and Behavior Manual.  The manual is a great resource for anyone interested in learning about force-free solutions for common dog behavior problems (pet parents, trainers, animal welfare workers and volunteers, groomers, and more).  The book is available for purchase in pdf format HERE.

The manual covers both basic obedience and more advanced behavior issues like aggression and separation anxiety.  Topics covered include advice on finding the right dog for your family and lifestyle, as well as step-by-step training how-tos for many key behavior areas, such as:

  • Housetraining
  • Socialization to people and other dogs
  • Dog safety and body language
  • Good manners and impulse control
  • New puppy training
  • How to avoid “treat dependence”
  • Teaching the basic commands
  • Protocols for dealing with serious behavior problems

Linda has an MA in Experimental Psychology and has worked not only with dogs, but also wolves and wolfdog hybrids in need of treatment for aggression.  The foundation of her approach is to avoid the use of harsh, dominance-based training methods and aversive collar devices (shock, prong, choke).  Linda believes that these methods are often counter-productive and can in fact increase aggression in dogs.

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs® concept is based on the idea that dogs (just like people) have fundamental needs that should be met both in the training process and throughout their lives.  Besides basic physical needs like food and shelter, dogs also need to feel safe, secure, and loved.  Linda’s training methods take these important emotional needs into account, leading to optimal results.

As Linda notes, traditional dominance training methods and devices can inflict irreversible psychological damage on our dogs.  “This manual was written for ‘the heartbeats at our feet’ with their well-being and best force-free care and training practices in mind,” says Linda.  “We no longer leave the door open for any justification to use aversive/punitive methods of training with dogs.”  The key to effective training is the proper use of force-free methods…now easier than ever thanks to Linda’s contributions to the field!