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.

 

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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!

 

What Will Be the Top Pet Industry Trends for 2017?

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When it comes to caring for our dogs, cats, and other pets, many devoted pet owners will do just about anything to make sure that our fur kids lead healthy, happy, and pampered lives. Trends in the pet industry reflect our continuing interest in providing the best food, products, and care for our four-legged friends.

What will be the hottest trends in the pet business in the coming year? Industry experts predict the pet industry will continue to grow by leaps and bounds. Here are the top projections:

Natural Pet Products

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Consumers will continue to be aware of the safety and sustainability of the products they buy, and that goes for pet food and other supplies. More and more of us will be seeking out natural pet food, cat litter, flea and tick products, grooming products, and toys.

Specialty Pet Services

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We also will continue to provide our pets with the best care we can. The market for upscale pet services will continue to grow. Areas include training, grooming (and other “spa” services), behavioral consulting, photography, and boarding/pet sitting.

Pet-Friendly Business

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Other pet trends to watch for include the growth of mobile dog and cat grooming services, more businesses like stores and restaurants that welcome pets, pet-friendly travel and hotels, and the growth of pet health insurance.

 

The Hierarchy of Dog Needs™: A Wellness and Force-free Behavior Modification Guide

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Many of us first learned about Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model of human motivation back in Psychology 101 class. Maslow proposed that human behavior is motivated by an ascending hierarchy of needs, from basic ones like food and shelter to more complex emotional and social needs like feeling a sense of accomplishment and having a network of friends.

Linda with a little friend.

Linda with a little friend.

What if the Hierarchy of Needs model could be adapted to canine psychology and used for dog training as well as other human-dog interactions like grooming, veterinary practice, animal sheltering, and working/service dogs? Well, good news dog lovers! FACE Foundation friend and supporter Linda Michaels, M.A. of Del Mar Dog Training here in San Diego County has done just that!

Linda with a big friend.

Linda with a big friend.

Linda has been rated as one of the top 10 dog trainers in the U.S. With a background in experimental psychology, and a special focus on the psychological aspects of dog behavior, Linda has used her extensive experience to develop the Hierarchy of Dog Needs wellness and force-free behavior modification approach:

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As can be seen in the pyramid infographic (click on image above to enlarge), a dog’s needs progress like this:

  • Biological (food, water, sleep)
  • Emotional (security, love)
  • Social (bonding, play)
  • Cognitive (choice, novelty)

Added to this hierarchy of needs is a dog’s force-free training needs, what Linda calls “do no harm” management and learning. Once our dogs’ foundational needs (biological, social, emotional) are met, we can then use the HDN to address force-free behavior modification.

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What’s “force-free?” Linda explains that there is never a justification for using harsh training methods based on pain, fear, or dominance. She also strongly opposes harsh training devices (like shock, prong, or choke collars) on your dog. Instead, the Hierarchy of Dog Needs philosophy can be used in conjunction with a variety of established force-free training methods, including:

  • Desensitization
  • Classical and counter-conditioning
  • Differential reinforcement
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Antecedent modification
  • Management

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Interested in learning more about this unique and compassionate approach to dog training? There’s lots of great information about utilizing the Hierarchy of Dog Needs method on Linda’s website. Linda is currently working on The Hierarchy of Dog Needs Handbook, a step-by-step guide to the principles outlined in the infographic. Be sure to pick up a copy early next year!

 

Tips on House Training Your New Puppy

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What’s one of the most important elements of training your new puppy? Potty training, of course! House training a new pup can be intimidating for new dog owners. Here are some helpful tips to get you started on this fundamental training task from the experts at Labrador Training HQ.

The two most important training elements to keep in mind are to prevent mistakes from happening inside the house, and to always praise your puppy every time he or she goes to the bathroom in the right place.

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Start the house training process by restricting your pup to one area of the house, and make sure you have a good crate or puppy playpen. Feed your puppy high quality food on a regular schedule to promote good bathroom habits.

Be sure to clean up any indoor messes thoroughly and always make the outdoors the preferred potty area, preferably returning to the same spot every time. It’s helpful to teach your puppy to go to the bathroom on command, and also get her used to a collar and leash.

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There are four main types of house training: paper training, use of a crate, constant supervision, and something called “umbilical cord” training. Paper training is not ideal because you are teaching your pup to go in the house. Crate training is very effective because dogs do not like to mess their immediate living space. Constant supervision really only makes sense if you are able to be home all day with your dog. What’s umbilical cord training? This is when you put your puppy on a leash and take him with you wherever you go in the house. Like constant supervision, this technique works best if you’re home a lot, but it’s easier to do because your dog is leashed.

Whatever method you choose, always remember to keep your puppy on a regular schedule…not just feeding, but also other activities like exercise and play. You’ll find that keeping a diary will help you to better monitor and understand your individual pup’s routine.

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You can read the full, in-depth article (with complete, step-by-step instructions) on potty training your new puppy at Labrador Training HQ’s website.