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Tag: calm

Tell-tail signs: How to read your dog’s wag

wag

I’ve got to admit I’ve never paid much attention to which way Ace’s tail is wagging — mostly to the right, or mostly to the left.

More often, it just seems to go back and forth, one side to the other, which is kind of the definition of wag.

But researchers in Italy, who first reported that the prominent direction of the wag signifies whether a dog is experiencing positive or negative feelings, now say other dogs are aware of this subtle distinction, and apparently have been for some time, indicating they — dogs — are much more on top of things than researchers.

Researchers at the University of Trento, in a new study, had dogs watch videos of other dogs wagging their tails. They found, according to a study reported in the journal Current Biology, that dogs watching another dog whose tail is wagging left  showed signs of anxiety, including a higher heart rate. When watching a tail wag right, they remained calm.

When watching “Two Broke Girls” the dogs asked if they might please leave the room. (Not really.)

Returning to seriousness, the Italian researchers first reported in 2007 that dogs convey a wide array of emotions through the tail wag — not just happiness. A wag to the left indicates negative emotions; a wag to the right indicates positive ones. The directions are as seen when standing behind a dog.

In the earlier study, 30 dogs were placed, one at a time, in a large box surrounded with black plastic to prevent any visual stimulus (except maybe to dogs who find black plastic stimulating). The dogs were then shown a stimulus for 60 seconds  — a dominant Belgian Malinois, a cat in a cage, their owners, and a strange human, by which we only mean one they hadn’t met.

A system for measuring the tail movements of each dog was established — far too complex to go into here. Suffice to say, as the scientists put it:

wagchart“Tail wagging scores associated with the different stimuli were analyzed from video-recordings. Positions of the tail were scored every 10 seconds by superimposition on the computer screen of a cursor on the long axis of the body: the maximum extents of the particular tail wag occurring at each 10 second interval was recorded. Using single frames from video recording two angles were identified with respect to the maximum excursion of the tail to the right and to the left side of the dog’s body. Tail wagging angles were obtained with reference to the axes formed by the midline of the dog’s pelvis – the segment extending lengthwise through the dog’s hips, drawn from the largest points as seen from above and the axes perpendicular to it.”

When faced with their owner, dogs exhibited a “striking right-sided bias in the amplitudes of tail wagging.”  Less robust right-sided wags were observed also when the dogs were shown unfamiliar humans. When faced with a cat, dogs showed very reduced tail wagging, but still a slight bias favoring the right side. Seeing a dominant unfamiliar dog led the dogs in the study to wag more to the left.

The first study reported: “How far asymmetric tail-wagging responses are associated with postural asymmetry in preparation to the stimuli is difficult to say.” (You can say that again)  “It is likely that control of the flexure of the vertebral column is the same for the tail as well as the rest of the column, but the method we used for scoring tail-wagging responses and the panels flanking the body of the animal in the test-cage minimized any effect of asymmetric posture associated with spine bending.”

I’ve got to wonder which way the dogs’ tails wagged — or if they tucked them between their legs — when they were listening to the scientists talk.

The researchers stop short of saying wagging tails are a mode of communication between dogs.

“This is something that could be explained in quite a mechanistic way,” said Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist and an author of both studies. “It’s simply a byproduct of the asymmetry of the brain.” Dogs, he explains, have asymmetrically organized brains, like humans (or at least most of them): ”The emotions are associated presumably with activation of either the right or left side of brain,” he said. “Left-brain activation produces a wag to the right, and vice versa.”

But it would seem to me that if one dog is moving his tail, and another is drawing conclusions from that motion, as the scientists say is the case, that’s communication — perhaps even a clearer form thereof than that to which the scientists are prone.

(Photo: Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari)

Calming dog biscuits? I’ll take two

DSC07590

 
There’s an unusual energy in my house these days.

Her name is Darcy.

That bouncing bundle of Boston terrier, who has graced both my home and the pages of ohmidog! before, is back with me for another week as her parents get hitched in Hawaii. That’s fine with Ace, who enjoys periodically frolicking with her, followed by long periods of rest. Ace rests, anyway. Darcy rarely does. 

zendogLabelSo it seemed the perfect time to test — with her owner’s permission, of course — the new “Zendog Calming Biscuits” that were sent to me by Cranimals, makers of organic cranberry dog treats and supplements.

There were a limited number of the ring-shaped treats in the sample package, and I debated whether it would be best to give them to Darcy, or myself. Going the latter route had the potential advantages of (A.) Me being so calm that Darcy would pick up my calm vibe and be calm herself, and (B) Me being so calm that I really wouldn’t care if she was bouncing off the walls.

Seeing as Darcy — who possesses both an overactive mind and an overactive bladder — doesn’t seem to absorb any of Ace’s calmness,  and seeing as I just rent the walls she’d be bouncing off, I opted to try the biscuits on her.

First, we tried one in the morning. Darcy scarfed it down, then continued running around the house like a maniac, before settling down and gnawing on a long-since-spent marrow bone like there was no tomorrow. After about 30 minutes, she hopped into my chair, positioned herself behind me and fell asleep.

Was it the treat, or just her natural cycle? There’s really no way of knowing.

The next day we tried one in the afternoon, and it failed to slow her down at all. We tried one in the evening, but that’s when she usually quiets down anyway — apparently accustomed to an early bedtime. This morning I gave her another. She played all out with Ace for about an hour, which was enough to send Ace upstairs for a nap. Darcy kept going, like a pinball, for another hour — moving blankets around the house, gnawing the marrow bone, and looking for Miley the cat, who generally stays upstairs to avoid her.DSC08051

Finally she laid down at my feet, farted a few times (not necessarily from the Zen biscuit, it’s just what she does), looked around, got up, sniffed around, licked the kitchen floor, ran some more, acted like she needed to pee, went outside, didn’t, came back in, went outside again, peed, came back in and eventually dozed off. Again, there’s no way of knowing if the biscuit played a role in that, or if she just played enough to get tired.

I was probably overcautious with the biscuits, not giving her more than one a day, but I didn’t want her to OD and get stuck in a permanent state of Zen. (Cranimals say there is no danger of that.)

The biscuits are formulated with organic pumpkin extract, a natural source of tryptophan. Tryptophan — the same thing that makes us humans doze off after a big turkey dinner — helps induce calm by promoting the synthesis of sseratonin and melatonin, which Cranimals describes as the Zen hormones of the body.

Cranimals says the biscuits calm nerves and stomachs and are made with all natural, healthy, human-grade ingredients. Sources tell us that the inventor of the treats, Dr. Wilma Pretorius, the managing director of Cranimals, enjoys them with cream cheese.

As for my experiment, it’s inconclusive. Darcy was a dervish for a good two hours after her most recent Zendog Calming Biscuit. Then again, praise Buddha, she is sleeping now. As for the last biscuit in my sample, I’m thinking I’ll save it for myself.

And nothing but the truth, so help me dog

courthousedogsDogs aren’t just permitted in Washington state’s King County Courthouse, they work there — serving to calm the nerves of  intimidated witnesses and make their testimony flow more freely.

In addition to serving as companions for traumatized victims of child abuse who are testifying in court, the dogs are used for a variety of other courthouse purposes, according to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News.

According to the Courthouse Dogs website, dogs have been helping seek justice in Seattle since 2003.

The dogs provide comfort to sexually abused children while they undergo forensic interviews and testify in court, assist drug court participants in their recovery, visit juveniles in detention facilities, greet jurors and in general lift the spirits of courthouse staff.

Ellen O’Neill-Stephens, a prosecutor in Seattle, launched Courthouse Dogs in 2003 after using a service dog – Jeeter – for her son who has cerebral palsy.

She was in Dallas this week to make a presentation on the progam to the 21st annual Crimes Against Children Conference, sponsored by the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and the Dallas Police Department.

“Sometimes, these children will say things to the dog that they’re too embarrassed to say to a person,” Stephens said. “We had a girl who had been severely abused and she could never talk about it. But she petted Jeeter for over 90 minutes straight and she was able to tell what happened.”

Stephens said the courthouse dogs are usually golden or Labrador retrievers who go through an intensive training regimen. Only about 30 percent of the dogs that start out actually make it, she said.

She said she believes that the highly skilled canines can often be the difference in a conviction or not guilty verdict in child abuse cases.

“These children are suffering acute emotional trauma,” she said. “These dogs can help them get through that.”

(Photo courtesy of www.courthousedogs.org)

Prepare your dog for a not so silent night

Whether you plan to revel or spend a quiet (yeah, right) evening at home, don’t forget that there are some steps you can take to help your dog get through tonight’s fireworks.

New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July always see a surge in lost animals, many of whom run off because they are so stressed by the noise. (Some say the smell of fireworks — their noses, like their ears, being far more sensitve than ours – bothers dogs as well.)

Some last-minute tips:

  • Unless your dog has been gradually desensitized to the point that he can handle fireworks — and maybe even if he has — it’s best to leave him at home. Don’t take him to fireworks displays, or even outside during periods of peak boomage.
  • Make sure — right now — that your dog is wearing his collar, and that his ID tags are on it.
  • Find a quiet, secure place for him to hang out indoors. If your dog has a crate, make sure he has access to it, and to some toys that can occupy his attention. Close the curtains, turn up the radio or TV.
  • Don’t leave your dog outside – even in a fenced yard. Fireworks could stress him out to the point that he might leap over or tunnel under what he normally wouldn’t. Remember that, even inside, the noise may lead to uncharacteristic behavior.
  • Don’t leave your dog alone in a car, especially tonight.
  • If you’re going out, make sure there’s nothing he can get into, tear up, or hurt himself on. 
  • If you’re staying home, fight the temptation to cuddle your frightened dog for the duration, as it only reinforces wimpy behavior. It’s OK to pet him, but it’s better to distract him with a physical activity than to spend hours cooing poor baby to him on your lap.
  • Don’t scold him for his nervous reaction, as that will only confuse him. It helps if you act unbothered by the noise.

OK, now you can revel.

(Image courtesy of North Shore Animal League)

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