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Tag: behavior

What it means when your dog pees on you

dsc05666Christmas was kind to me this year. I got some gift cards, some underwear, some cookies, a hummingbird feeder and a drill.

And from my dog, I got peed on.

This was actually the day after Christmas. Out for the afternoon walk, we saw some neighbors and their dogs, all of whom we’d met before, approaching.

With Jinjja being the new guy on the block the other dogs were pretty excited to see him.

So three of my neighbor’s poodles, and the giant schnauzer down the street swarmed around him, barking and sniffing.

That was when Jinjja — either because he was stressed out or wanted to show all those other dogs that I belonged to him — lifted his leg and enjoyed a nice long pee on my pants leg.

I didn’t notice until the neighbor shouted, “Hey he’s peeing on you,” which was about the same time my leg started getting warm.

dsc05447I’ve been on the lookout for strange behaviors in the dog I’ve had about a month now. He was rescued from a dog meat farm in South Korea, so I expected to face some unique behavior, in addition to all the other new dog issues.

Other than his initial skittishness and getting accustomed to new surroundings and what seemed, to him, novel things like television, there haven’t been that many.

Other than one small pee the first night home, his record is spotless, and so are my carpets.

But this one surfaced over the weekend — first when I, against my better judgment, brought him over to a party at my neighbor’s house. The one with the five dogs.

He’d met a couple of them by then, and they all greeted him in a friendly manner. But it wasn’t long before Jinjja decided he should leave a mark, or 20, on this new home he was visiting.

He’d been well drained before we entered, but peed by the door anyway. Then about five more times he started to lift his leg, but stopped when I yelled at him. When all five dogs went out on the back patio, Jinjja went into a peeing frenzy, dashing from spot to spot and, if not actually peeing, going through the motions.

He’d also peed a week earlier in the exam room at the vet’s office — despite having peed repeatedly outside before entering.

Whether it’s stress, or turf-marking, I can’t say for sure.

My kindest interpretation, though, is that he was passing on information to the other dogs — for in one good squirt of urine a dog reveals much of himself, to other dogs at least.

It’s like, “sure you can smell my butt, but that is ephemeral, a quickly passing pleasure.” By peeing in the home of five dogs, though, he could have figured, “I’ll just leave this and you can get to know me better after I leave.”

dsc05464That’s the generous view, and one that’s hard to see when you’ve just been peed on.

The more immediate reaction is more like, “Dammit, you peed on me!”

(I’m sure I’ll laugh about it later. My neighbors laughed about it right away.)

Many experts will tell you a dog who pees is marking his territory, and when he pees on a person, there may be some dominance issues involved.

With Jinjja, I think the bigger issue is insecurity, and that he is still figuring out his place in the social order. (Happily, it is no longer as meat.)

I’m, in a way, doing the same thing, being new to the townhome neighborhood. On my street there are 20 homes, and 26 dogs. I am pretty sure the dogs outnumber the people. Part of the reason I moved here was because it seemed so dog friendly, and because I thought it would be a good place for my previous dog, Ace, and myself, to enjoy our golden years.

He died before I made the move, and six months later, I met Jinjja.

The neighbors have welcomed Jinjja with open arms. My neighbor Trish with the five dogs was even smiling as she mopped us his pee from her entryway Friday night — in the middle of her retirement party.

I’m glad I’m on a street of dog lovers. I’m glad to be among all those dogs. I’m glad Jinjja is now one of them.

I’m not so glad about being peed on, or the prospect that whenever Jinjja visits someone’s house, he will feel the need to christen it.

Oh well, something to work in the New Year.

Stress can turn dogs prematurely gray

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Young dogs who are especially anxious and impulsive can grow gray hair on their muzzles prematurely — just like humans, a new study says.

Scientists involved in the study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, said they had long suspected stress led to premature gray around the muzzle in dogs, even though little research exists on the topic.

SONY DSC“Based on my years of experience observing and working with dogs, I’ve long had a suspicion that dogs with higher levels of anxiety and impulsiveness also show increased muzzle grayness,” said Camille King, a Denver area veterinarian who led the study.

Author Temple Grandin also took part in the study, according to a press release from Northern Illinois University, King’s alma mater.

To investigate, the researchers traveled to dog parks and veterinary clinics in Colorado, giving questionnaires to the owners of 400 dogs, CBS reported.

The owners answered 42 questions about their dogs’ behavior, age and health, while the researchers took photos of each dog.

The researchers excluded dogs with light-colored fur. They focused just on dogs between ages 1 and 4, as older dogs could have gray fur simply from aging, the researchers said.

To gauge anxiety levels, the researchers asked about whether the dog destroyed things when left alone, had hair loss during vet exams or when entering new places, or cringed or cowered around groups of people.

To rate impulsivity, the researchers asked if the dogs jumped on people, whether they could be calmed, if they had difficulty focusing, and if they continued to be hyperactive after exercising.

Female dogs tended to have higher levels of grayness than male dogs did, the researchers found, and dogs that showed fearfulness toward loud noises and unfamiliar animals and people also tended to have increased grayness, they said.

In contrast, they said, grayness had nothing to do with the dog’s size, whether it was fixed and whether it had any medical problems.

(Photos by John Woestendiek)

When Jinjja met Roscoe, and the family heirloom that keeps on giving

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Jinjja met Roscoe this week, and it was a mostly peaceful exchange.

In what was his first real outing since learning to jump in the car by himself, with help from a family heirloom, Jinjja had his first meeting with my brother’s dog at Winston-Salem’s Leinbach Park — neutral ground as neither had been there before.

They touched noses, sniffed each other out, and did well together — at least for the first 30 minutes.

dsc05619-2So far, despite his unusual background — Jinjja was rescued from a farm in South Korea where dogs were being raised for slaughter — he has gotten along with every dog he has met, from the flirtatious basset hound who lives across the street to rambunctious poodle (one of five) who live next door.

We haven’t tried a real dog park yet, but I think he is ready for that. (And I almost am.)

Leinbach Park is semi dog friendly. Leashed dogs are allowed in the park. But dogs, leashed or unleashed, are not allowed on the hiking trail.

“Dogs are not allowed on the sandstone walking trail at any time. The reason should be obvious,” the city’s director of Parks and Recreation told the local paper a couple of years ago.

(Sorry, but the reason isn’t obvious to me.)

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Still, we mostly heeded the warning, staying to the side of the path as much as possible, Jinjja sniffing for squirrels and Roscoe barking without provocation, which he’s prone to doing.

It wasn’t until we stopped walking and took a seat on a bench that, for no apparent reason, there were snarls and growls exchanged, followed by another brief confrontation. There was no real contact, and they seemed to make up afterwards.

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Ace (my previous dog) and Roscoe never became the best of friends. They reached a certain detente after a confrontation that also seemed to have erupted out of nowhere, and left both a little bloody.

On the way back to our cars Jinjja and Roscoe got along fine. I was a little worried about getting him back in my Jeep. I was advised by shelter he came from that it wasn’t a good idea to try to move his body or pick him up. Even though he has almost totally let down his defenses with me, I still haven’t tried to lift him up yet.

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Instead, to get him loaded, I used an ottoman from my living room, which my mother passed on to me. It has a cushion that was embroidered by a great aunt we all called “Tan.” When I back my car up to curb, the ottoman, along with a dangled piece of bologna, makes it easy for Jinjja to step up and jump in.

This was our first time without a curb. He hesitated a bit, but on the third try, just as the bologna ran out, he went for it, back paws getting a good grip on the carpet-like embroidery, and made it.

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I’ve been leaving the footstool in my car, until I buy some kind of sturdy box to replace it.

(That will probably be about the time he realizes he doesn’t even need it.)

I still have Ace’s old ramp, but it’s pretty cumbersome, and Jinjja might resist climbing up it even more than he has jumping in.

Once Jinjja masters the leap into the back seat — with or without a step up — the footstool will return to the inside of the house, and I will continue to prop my own feet up on it, even if it is a work of art.

“No feet on the footstool” would be a stupid rule, much like “no dogs on the trail.”

tanTan, whose real name was Kathleen Hall, was a teacher for many years and later a principal. There’s a school nearby that is named after her. She died in 1983. But I’m guessing what she shared with students lives on in them, their children and their children’s children.

The same can be said of her embroidered footstool, which is helping a South Korean dog who had no future hop into a car and see a little more of the world.

It’s one of those gifts that keep on giving.

The 12 days of Jinjja

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On the first day of Jinjja, he came home in a crate with me, from the Watauga Humane Society.

On the second day of Jinjja, he peed twice in the house, still was very fearful, but otherwise he acted quite friendly.

On the third day of Jinjja, I left him home alone, only for an hour, he didn’t cower, and he didn’t destroy anything.

dsc05557On the fourth day of Jinjja, I gave him his new name. Jinjja’s Korean. It seemed to fit him. That’s where he came from. Translated, it means “Really!”

On the fifth day of Jinjja, he was still shaking his past: Raised on a dog farm, tied up or crated, little human contact, headed for slaughter, and destined to end up as meat.

On the sixth day of Jinjja, he started coming to me, not when I called him, of his own volition, just for affection, maybe a butt scratch, gave me some face licks, and not only when I dangled yummy treats.

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On the seventh day of Jinjja, he faced another test. It was Thanksgiving, I left him for two hours, stuffed myself with turkey, made off with leftovers, came home and found him, despite all my worries, behaving absolutely perfectly.

On the eighth day of Jinjja, I tried once again, to get him in my car. He can’t be lifted, try and he’ll nip ya, bribed him with turkey, made a little headway, he put his front paws there, didn’t make the leap though, still apparently not quite ready.

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On the ninth day of Jinjja, he spent the night in my room. First time he’s done it, not in my bed though, won’t jump there either, or up on sofas, I know he can do it, seen him in in my courtyard, when he thinks I’m not looking, gets up pretty high too, every time he sees or hears a squirrel.

On the tenth day of Jinjja, this Jindo dog of mine, continues to impress me, no inside peeing, tearing up nothing, stopped fearing TV, eating much more neatly, barking somewhat less-ly, mellow for the most part, friendly to strangers, be they dogs or humans, or anything other than squirrels.

On the eleventh day of Jinjja, he’s much better on the leash, much much less tugging, stops when I tell him, still trips me up some, but fewer collisions, and he finally got into my Jeep, with help from a stepstool, and lots more turkey, enjoyed a short ride. It’s a very, very major victory!

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On the twelfth day of Jinjja, as I composed this piece, I realized it goes on … just a little too long … sure the song’s beloved … but the beats a little humdrum … keeps on repeating … makes me quite sleepy … Jinjja, too, I thinky … He’s dozing at my feet, see … Still, there’s a meaning … in this song that I’m singing … about a dog who would’ve been eaten … My point is every day with him’s a gift.

The nose knows but the ears tell

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Many of us may be most familiar with infrared thermography from its least valuable (I’d argue) use — ghost hunting.

It serves many far more sophisticated purposes, though, than providing fodder for those shaky-camera paranormal TV shows — from assessing medical conditions to military reconnaissance, from finding missing children to sensing mood changes in humans.

And, no big surprise, dogs.

In the latest post on Dog Spies, her blog on Scientific American, Julie Hecht recounted a recent study at the Animal Behavior, Cognition and Welfare Research Group at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Researchers found, through infrared thermography, that the ear temperature of dogs decreased (turning blue on the camera) when they were isolated, and warmed backed up (turning red) when they reunited with people.

It’s similar to findings in studies of human stress levels — except in humans it’s the nose, instead of the ears, that is the most common giveaway.

As Hecht explained, infrared thermography picks up changes in surface temperature. When frightened, stressed or placed in unfamiliar surroundings, blood rushes away from your extremities, in dogs and humans. They get cooler as your core gets warmer and ready to react to whatever threat may be ahead.

The tip of a scared person’s nose gets cooler in such situations, just as rat paws and tails have been shown to do in experiments. In rabbits and sheep, the ears are the most obvious indicator.

Stefanie Riemer and colleagues placed dogs for brief periods in an isolated and novel environment. As the researchers expected, thermographic images of the dogs in isolation showed their ear temperature increasing, then rising when they were reunited with people.

The study appears in the current issue of Physiology & Behavior.

Six dogs were included in the study, and several were found to be unsuitable for study because their fur was too dense to get a good reading.

It seems like a technology that could be put to good use when it comes to studying dogs, and in learning more about those with behavioral issues and what triggers them.

That seems to me a better pursuit than chasing ghosts who aren’t really bothering anybody. Non-invasive, physically, as it is, even infrared photography has the potential for being cruel.

In a study in Italy two years ago, 20 bank tellers who had been robbed at gunpoint were shown a series of faces — happy, neutral, angry, etc. On the fifth face, the researchers exposed them to a loud and unexpected blast, and recorded, thermographically, how the blood left the noses and face.

Half of the tellers had already been diagnosed with PTSD.

Whether the researchers ended up giving PTSD to the other half is not addressed in the study.

(Photo: S. Riemer / Physiology & Behavior)

Garmin takes heat for dog-zapping device

Garmin, a company that makes devices that tell us how to get from here to there, has unveiled its latest gadget aimed at “teaching” your dog good behavior — by shocking him when he misbehaves.

The Delta Smart is a small, smartphone-compatible gadget that fits over a dog’s collar, enabling an owner, through an app, to keep track of their dog’s activity levels, and how much barking they are doing while we’re away.

It’s not the first Garmin product for dogs, and not the first to include a shock feature — but it is the first to spark such widespread protest and an online petition asking the company to remove the feature.

The product promises to “reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors” and make your dog a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

It gives dogs warnings by beeping, vibrating or by applying what the company likes to call “static” or “stimulation” — which is a nice way of saying a jolt of electricity.

deltasmartThere are 10 levels at which a dog can be zapped, either by an owner who is present, or remotely.

As the petition points out, it’s not the right way to train a dog:

“For example, a woman wants her dog Bowser to learn to not jump on the couch. Bowser trots into the family room, jumps up on the couch, and climbs into her daughter’s lap — at which point the electric shock hits him. She has now put her child in serious danger.

“Bowser will not associate the act of jumping up on the couch with the pain; he will associate her child with the pain and could very well become aggressive toward her.”

Like all the makers of shock collars, Garmin says the jolt does not hurt the dog.

“What is missing from this argument is the fact that aversive methods only work if they scare and/or hurt the dog. If the zap doesn’t bother the dog, then the dog will not learn. Electric shock collars do hurt and scare dogs. If they didn’t, no one would use them,” says the author of the petition, dog trainer and freelance writer Tracy Krulik.

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Garmin’s Bark Limiter

We haven’t seen the CEO of the company try one out (but then again maybe he or she hasn’t misbehaved). To the company’s credit the new device has put some cushioning over the two metal probes that, in earlier versions, stuck into the dog’s neck.

The Delta Smart is basically a combination of a FitBit-like device and the company’s “Bark Limiter,” which has been on the market for a while.

In the ad above, various dogs are shown, each labeled for the kind of bad behavior they engaged in — barking too much at the mailman, shredding the blinds, stealing food off the kitchen counter, knocking over the trash can, chewing up the slippers.

The “dog activity trainer and remote monitor” can correct all those problems — even when you’re not home, the ad says.

It can monitor barking and activity levels while you’re away, and it comes with tags that can be placed on items and in areas you don’t want the dog near that activate warning tones when the dog approaches.

In other words, it is a control freak’s dream — and it’s only $150.

After the video was posted on Facebook, it had nearly 2,800 comments, most of them condemning the product as cruel, and the wrong way to train a dog, according to the Washington Post

On YouTube, the company has disabled public comments on the video — and if you try to leave one, you receive an electrical shock. (OK, we made that last part up.)

You’ve got to wonder, though, technology being what it is, if the day will come when we get shocked for making wrong turns or for not taking enough steps during the day, for failing to do our sit ups or eat our vegetables — and if someday, by a family vote, we can equip a bratty nephew or an annoying uncle with such a device.

For his own good, of course, and just to make him a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

Which motivates more — food or praise?

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A study at Emory University suggests that dogs aren’t strictly the food-obsessed beasts they’ve traditionally been seen as — and that many, maybe even most, prefer attention and praise over a chewy treat.

While only 13 dogs participated in the study, there were only two of them who — judging from their neural reactions — showed a distinct preference for food over praise.

The study, published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore what kind of rewards canines prefer.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory and lead author of the research.

“Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology. It was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.

Their previous research using the technique identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center and showed that region responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

Phys.org reports that, in the new study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.

The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

Berns says the findings run counter to the old view that dogs “just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it … Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

In another part of the study, dogs were put into a Y-shaped maze in which one path led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner.

The dogs were repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths.

While most dogs alternated between the food and their owner, dogs who showed a greater response to praise in the first part of experiment chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Berns said the study “shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

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(Photos: At top, Kady, a Lab-retriever mix in the study who preferred praise from her owner to food; at bottom, Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix who chose food over his owner’s praise / Emory University)