Tag Archives: Pet peeves

Gilly’s obsession with mac-n-cheese, explained.

Interesting research on wolves, dogs, and digestion of carbohydrates:

“No one knows for sure when or where the first dogs came to be, but most evolutionary biologists agree that the wolf probably made the first move and that the draw was the food humans discarded. Only much later did people intensively mate dogs of different shapes and temperaments to create today’s hundreds of breeds and varieties, from the hulking and noble to the tiny and yapping.

The new analysis by Axelsson and his colleagues examined a mix of DNA from 12 gray wolves and compared it with DNA collected from 60 domestic dogs, including cocker spaniels, giant schnauzers, golden retrievers and 11 other breeds.

The scientists sequenced the dog and wolf DNA and searched for tiny differences. Because they were seeking features that cropped up early in dog evolution, they focused on genetic variations that dogs shared but wolves lacked. They also looked for variations that all, or most, of the dogs had in common.

From this analysis, the team identified 36 places in the genome, containing 122 genes, that seemed to have been important in dog evolution. Ten of the genes are involved in starch or fat metabolism, including three that carry instructions for making a protein that is pivotal to digestion of starch.

In addition to the starch genes, Axelsson’s team found others involved in brain and nervous system development that appear to have been important in the transition from wolf to dog.

That isn’t surprising, said Adam Boyko, an evolutionary geneticist at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who wasn’t involved in the study. Dogs differ behaviorally from wolves in myriad ways, he said — in tameness, curiosity, social structure, tail-wagging, novelty-seeking behavior and their penchant to bark (and bark) well into adulthood.

The next step is to study that list of genes to figure out how they affect behavior and development to make dogs distinct, Boyko said.

Oscar Chavez, director of the veterinary technician program at Cal Poly Pomona, said the findings served as a reminder that dogs don’t eat like wolves. He said he and his colleagues were befuddled by the trend toward pricey low-carb dog foods and raw diets, which could stress dogs’ kidneys with their extra protein load.”

You can read the whole thing here.

This is not news, by the way – instead, this is new and more detailed science explaining why domesticated dogs are omnivorous, and how we know.

I linked a good article on the mythologies associated with canine digestion, woo-based GRAINS = DEATH! fads, and raw foods diets a while back: worth a read if you’re considering how to best feed your beloved canine friends.

And for what it’s worth, which isn’t much (since people are devoted to doing exactly what they’re doing, most of the time, regardless of evidence that it isn’t working, sigh): if your dogs get sick every time they eat – which is truly not normal (a thing that shouldn’t need saying but does) – some things to consider:

  •  go to an evidence-based vet (not someone who suggests not only unproven but actually disproven treatments like homeopathy and acupuncture and raw foods/BARF/Chinese medicine which has never been tested for use in animals & is more likely to be toxic to them than anything out of your fridge/etc.
  • human beings who never go outside except under very controlled and artificial conditions, who never ‘eat dirt,’ as we say (develop healthy and necessary gut bacteria and appropriate immune system response to their environments), or otherwise live in totally sterile, urbanized, or otherwise unnatural environments also become weak and ill and hyper-reactive and allergic to the entire world – we now make dogs live this way, too, and they pay for it just as we do
  • we have over-bred dogs into literal physical dysfunction which causes them profound suffering and disease; the total lack of functioning of a digestive system that when healthy is essentially that of a scavenger may be a by-product of this inbreeding
  • and finally: people project a lot of their own psychological issues about food, food-as-love, illness, illness-as-love, etc. onto their dogs in ways that are quite harmful and restrictive to the animals – do try to not be that person, for your dog’s sake, eh?

Some of these things we have control over, some we don’t – but a lot of it is our garbage, not theirs.

There are about a billion forums and websites dedicated to how to feed your dog. Most of them cater to human issues and baggage about food and illness, not canine ones.

Again, for whatever it’s worth – which isn’t much all things considered – my experience is that the way humans and dogs are most alike is this: if someone gets several hours of really good exercise spread out throughout each day, good sleep, high quality and balanced food of a wide variety excluding poisons, meaningful work, clear boundaries and expectations so they know how to be safe, successful, and secure in their world, happy and regular socialization with others, and love, they are happy and healthy. If these things go out of balance in a big way, they start to fall apart.


Arthritis research updates

Summaries of some new research on CAM arthritis treatments, via SkeptVet:

I’ve written extensively about alternative arthritis therapies, largely because that is one of the most common conditions for which complementary and alternative treatments are used. While a few are promising (such as fish oils), there is little good evidence to support most such practices. A detailed and very useful new review of alternative therapies for arthritis in humans has just been released. And while extrapolation from humans to pets has dangers and has to be viewed with some skepticism, this at least gives us some guidance as to whether such therapies have proven their value for people, a question for which the evidence is usually much greater in quantity and quality than we often get for veterinary uses.

In super-brief: still no evidence for glucosamine/chondroitin in either humans or animals (though you’ll still get told by many you’re the Worst Dog Owner EVER if you don’t spend! spend! spend! on it anyway). Still some evidence for possible benefit in fish oil. And SAMe may improve functional mobility.

Read the whole brief & useful summary here.

My best strategy for Gilly, at this stage (eleven & a half year old lifelong athlete), seems to still be: keep him trim, keep him strong and well-muscled, decrease his high-impact running and diving and general crack-headedness about sticks and instead increase long, mellow walks and never-more-than-trot bike rides.

I also give him salmon oil in his food several times a week (because he likes it, it seems to be good for his coat, and it may or may not help in other ways), I make sure he gets a wide variety of delicious, balanced, and healthy foods and treats and all the other things that keep him happy, well-socialized, low-stress and well-rested.

When he inevitably topples in a rumpus or slips (something he used to have rubber-bones to deal with or prevent, but which now is more frequent as well as painful and consequential), I don’t make a big deal of it but rein him in and try to be mindful of minimizing the hazards of falls on ice or uneven ground. His joints just aren’t as flexible as they used to be, and sometimes – often, actually – he forgets that, so I try to remember for him.

Mostly, I have to remember that he’s mortal. And yes, I hate that. But my job is to protect and maintain his quality of life as best as I can, not to project magical thinking onto him – at the expense of more useful approaches – simply to make myself feel better.

Complementary and alternative medicine: an information resource

I meant to share this post from SkeptVet a while back: a useful compendium of info on CAM and why skepticism matters.

The Harm Complementary and Alternative Medicine Can Do

What’s the Harm

I have written often about ways in which complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be harmful. This is not because I believe CAM is necessarily always unsafe, or that I think conventional medicine doesn’t have significant risks as well. Any therapy that is doing anything at all is likely to have potential risks as well as benefits. It simply isn’t possible to tinker with as complex a system as a living organism without affecting elements of the system one does not intend as well as those one is targeting.

However, the advantage to science-based medicine is that the risks and benefits of individual therapies are often well understood. If we have sufficient information about what an intervention does and what the risks and benefits of it are, we can then make rational choices about using it. The problem with CAM is that there is often very little information about risks and benefits and yet strong claims are frequently made that these therapies work and are safe. The lack of real, scientific information, and beliefs about safety which are not founded on reliable evidence can generate harm.

What follows is a large resource-list of the evidence-based research on varying kinds of CAM sometimes recommended for animals (and humans), and a clear discussion of the associated risks.

Evidence-based care? Not if there’s profit to be had.

Via SkeptVet, disappointingly burning stupid from the American Veterinary Medical Association’s revision of their Model Veterinary Practice Act:

The AVMA has long taken the position that it exists not to protect veterinary patients or consumers but the interests of veterinarians, narrowly defined in primarily economic and political terms. Rather than work towards sound scientific standards of care, the organization prefers to defend veterinarians’ right to profit from anything they can sell as veterinary medicine without competition from non-veterinarians. If unscientific therapies are in demand, the AVMA has no objections to veterinarians selling them.

And as a membership organization, the AVMA must also bow to the wishes of its constituencies. These include several groups of veterinarians, including the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, who promote alternative therapies regardless of the scientific evidence, and who are far better organized and funded than the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association and others promoting evidence-based medicine.

Given such policies, the AVMA position is not surprising. But it is disappointing and dangerous in that it gives the appearance of legitimacy to “philosophies and practices” which at best are insufficiently tested and at worst are based on pseudoscience and are clearly ineffective.

The “Western” language is particularly irritating in its inaccuracy, misdirection, and endorsement of ridiculous (and racist) views of all “Eastern” stuff as oooooo, maaagical (or, if marginally less woo: ‘proved by millennia’ – I’ll be over here being bilious whilst throwing salt over my left shoulder to invite the faeries to make me more sanguine, since Humours and Scottish superstitions are an ancient and pretty continuous part of my Western tradition, and therefore clearly ‘proven’ as reasonable and appropriate responses to life and death matters).


You can read the whole thing here.

* * *

Here are some related posts from the past dealing with evidence-based vet care vs. pseudoscience – these also link back to SkeptVet’s great blog, because it’s one you should be reading if you’re not.

As I said in the post “Human woo increasingly inflicted on animals in place of science-based medicine” –

Adult humans can make at least somewhat informed decisions about their own medical care, and some, sometimes, can also benefit from (limited) placebo effect.There’s been a bunch of new research on the placebo effect recently: a usefully to-the-point post about it is here.

But animals cannot make these choices or even reap the minimal benefits of placebo effect, since in order for it to help, one has to know something about the pointless treatment and invest it with belief – which then reduces stress and sometimes causes some improvement based in that belief.

Animals probably do get some variable health benefits as a result of people being nice to them, just as we sometimes do – but that doesn’t replace our responsibility to also do something concretely, consistently useful and responsible when they are sick or hurt. Pan pipes and incense, so to speak (or thoroughly debunked practices like homeopathy) aren’t going to cut it. And while humans have the right to choose these things for themselves, to withhold proven and available medical care from animals who cannot speak or make informed choices for themselves is unethical.

If I want to stick some hot rose quartz on my chakras while inserting needles into my feet and drinking water someone said once had an herb waved over it instead of going to the doctor when I find a lump in my breast or start puking blood, it’s my right to hurt myself.

It’s not my right to withhold appropriate medical care from animals for whom I’m responsible.

Is there going to have to be an Occupy AVMA movement to counter the CAM lobbyists/merchandisers? Who’s bringing the pooper scoopers?

Number One Top Secret Pesticide-Free Insect Repellent Revealed!

Instead of standing around complaining, walk swiftly and carry a big switch.

July 4 festivities with Gilly and Tito – and a little rant about training for confidence and joy vs. training for fear and neuroses

Well, July 2nd. But you know.

Gilly loves fireworks. And parades, and huge drum corps, and fuggedabout bagpipes: he’s going to sing along. Loudly.

This is not magic, and it’s not ‘just his personality’ (well, the bagpipe thing probably is).

It’s because I trained him, from early life, by creating a positive experience of crowds and noise and strange events for him. Really, he usually doesn’t care much about what the main event is, because to him, the main event isn’t the lights in the sky or the marching people, it’s the festive energy of the crowd, the fried dough, the other dogs, the new smells: it’s a party for his nose and brain, and sometimes for his stomach.

Mainly, I made this positive association by making sure he went into new experiences after some good exercise so he was a bit tired-out, and by always remaining calm and relaxed and being visibly curious about new things (rather than worried about them) myself. And of course, he has leash-training so he’s safe walking around in mayhem, and always under control. He doesn’t drag me, or jump on people, or try to take off: he and I move around as one unit, and we both enjoy it. I trust him, he trusts me. Because of training, not magic.

Like all dogs, Gilly looks to me (and to a lesser degree, to the other people and dogs around), to see how he’s supposed to react to something. If I’m calm, and there’s a lot of happy energy and laughter, he follows that lead. If I’m neurotic and unhappy and loud and weird and histrionic and acting like something is wrong and he’s going to be VERY UPSET ANY SECOND BECAUSE THIS IS BAAAAD, VERY BAAAAD, AND DOGS HATE THUNDER!!!! OR WHATEVER!!!!! OR – OHMYGOD WHAT WAS THAT NOISE!?!?!?!?! – well then, he’ll be miserable. Because I told him to be, pretty much: with my own behavior and emotional state, I told him something is wrong and he should be afraid.

If something just randomly startles him, I have two choices: I can a) remain calm and help him come to terms with it so it won’t be scary next time,  or b) convey to him that SOMETHING VERY BAD JUST HAPPENED!!!!!!!  and he should be  VERY UPSET!!!!!! and OHMYGODAREYOUOKAAAYYYY??????? followed by lots of weird, confusing energy and messages which all boil down to a clear, clear signal that whatever the hell just happened, it was bad and next time it happens the human’s expectation is that the dog should freak out.

It seems like ‘conventional wisdom’ (in the press, from most dog owners, even from otherwise responsible shelters) is a message of avoidance and hysteria that guarantees that second reaction and consequence. That human and canine reaction then gets reinforced over and over again, so the negative association gets as deeply entrenched as a positive or neutral association could have in its place.

I started taking Gilly to parades and barbeques and fireworks displays and for hikes in thunderstorms as a pup, and have continued to expose him to all sorts of fun and out of the ordinary experiences – because new things can either be fun or terrifying for him, and I vote for fun.

I also exposed him to buses and air brakes and elevators and spiral staircases and electric wheelchairs; to a multitude of other dogs and people and skateboards and bikes and every other thing I could think of which might potentially be alarming or weird.

We went to obedience school starting when he was a pup (for socialization as much as for specific training), and I keep his leash manners perfect. To me, that’s safety-101: if I want to be able to walk him in town, around cars, I need to be able to rely on him to listen and to keep in heel position. If I can call him right to heel even when he’s off-leash in the woods, I also have good ability to protect him if something weird comes at him: more than once we’ve come across a bear or a snake or a skunk or porcupine while out in the woods – I call Gilly to heel and we pass on by without incident.  We also run into aggressive/untrained/badly socialized/unsupervised dogs on various trails from time to time: the dog charges or threatens him, I call him to heel and/or get to him first (usually we meet in the middle), my body language conveys to the other dog that Gilly is mine and that’s the end of any discussion about it, the threatening dog backs down and we pass on by without incident. His socialization with other dogs also means that his own body language often diffuses situations like this before it even gets ugly: he knows just what to do to set other dogs at ease.

I taught him all sorts of weird, funny tricks and games which we do for sport when we’re snowed-in or just bored, he worked a Saturday shift for a while in our friend’s dog-toy store as a young dog so he’d be exposed to all sorts of people and dogs and weird town things (he’s lived in the country all his life, pretty much, so making sure he got town-exposure was important), we walk daily, on leash in town and off leash in the woods.

In part, I’ve been super-conscientious about doing all of this extra-exposure training in addition to the basics of leash training and adequate exercise because Gilly’s nature is to be a nervous, tightly-wound dog.  I wanted him to build confidence as a puppy and to hang onto it as an adult, so that life could be more joyous for him and he could be safer in more situations. But I also do it because it’s fun for us both, it’s a bonding thing we do together, and the higher his skill level in the more situations, the more I can have him with me, which is where I want him whenever possible.

I’ve also been able to do this level of training because I make conscious choices about dog-raising and being a good guardian. For me, this includes things like only having one dog at a time so I can a) invest a lot of training and time and total consistency, b) afford quality vet care and food, and c) develop a very deep bond so that much of this communication between us happens below the level of consciousness – and what doesn’t I have the time and focus and energy to give him out loud and in consistent action.

I figure I need to do exactly as much as I can do really right. For me, that’s one dog.

That’s not everyone’s choice, and many people pull off great socialization and training and care for multiple dogs, but the ones who do have more money than I do, and generally are able to take on twice as much work (or three times, or four times – however many dogs they have). They also tend to want a different kind of relationship with their dogs than I want with my one dog. And that’s fine, as long as the dogs are happy and healthy and well-adjusted and cared for properly. Since I want just one dog, that means I have the additional responsibility of making sure my single pooch gets a lot of time with other dogs and has a core group of other dogs in his ‘family’ – they are pack animals, and they need that.

More often than the good care of packs, though, I see people with houses full of dogs just presume the dogs will take care of each other – and those houses are run by those dogs, none of whom get adequate training or exercise and most of whom develop behavior problems as a result.

Then those behavior problems circumscribe the dogs’ lives (ie: the dogs are never allowed out of their house or yard because they can’t be walked on a leash or trusted with other dogs or won’t come when they’re called or whatever) – and the behavior worsens.

As dogs are continually left without guidance or boundaries or clear expectations and someone they can trust, and as they are increasingly reacted to with overwhelm and helplessness, the absence of clear, consistent leadership escalates the dogs’ anxiety – and their behavior worsens.

And then, the cherry on top:  even the best-intentioned people start screwing over other dogs by disseminating bad information which inexperienced dog owners believe, and the cycle perpetuates.

Next thing you know, among many other things, every July 4 season, articles start popping up all over the place saying “YOUR DOG’S GOING TO FREAK OUT ABOUT FIREWORKS!!!! ONLY BAD PEOPLE LET THEIR DOGS OUT OF THEIR KENNELS!!!! KEEP YOUR DOG INSIDE!!! HIDE YOUR DOGS IN THE BASEMENT AND WAIT FOR THEM TO FREAK OUT!!!!!!! EXPECT BAD THINGS!!! DRUG YOUR DOG!!!!!!”  And yep, “drug your dog” is everywhere in the press. I’ll leave you to figure out who finances those articles.

Look, it might be more convenient to dose your dog unconscious instead of doing the continuous work of earning their trust by giving them lifelong and appropriate training and exposure to all sorts of noises and crowds and new things. But a dog is not an ottoman. It’s not something you can put your feet on when you feel like it and ignore the rest of the time – not without major consequences to the dog (and maybe anyone else the dog interacts with, including you). It’s a lifelong relationship with a living being who requires a major investment of care and time and proactive thoughtfulness and training and support.

Not human-therapy-style: dog-style. Which means: it’s not about you and your needs. It’s not about processing feeeeeeeelings, it’s about showing up for useful actions. It’s about being clear and calm for your dog.

The hidden benefit? What’s good for your dog is also good for you.

Personally, I find that the daily work of training and exposure does not feel like work at all: it’s fun, and a source of joy, it’s quality-time with the pooch, it’s often hilarious and moving and profound.

Sometimes I make mistakes: I get it into my head that Gilly’s going to (fill in the blank), and then he does – because he does what I expect him to do, for better or for worse, so if my expectation is negative, he fulfills it obligingly and I have to pause, rewind, clear the memory, and start over with a positive and clear expectation of the good behavior I want for and from him*.

*Please don’t misinterpret that as magical thinking or some creative visualization ‘we create reality’ nonsense. Or as ‘dogs are blank slates with no personalities of their own.’ Neither thing is true. Very simply, dogs (and, arguably, people – especially kids) don’t pay much attention to what you say, they pay attention to what you do, and to non-verbal cues. If you are a neurotic mess saying ‘everything’s fine,’ it’s meaningless. What the dog ‘gets’ is the neurotic mess, which makes them nervous, which creates good conditions for bad behavior. If you can learn to be calm, so can your dog. Even if your dog is adopted late, formerly abused, etc. – in fact, in those cases, my experience is that they thrive even more visibly with clear, calm leadership in which they can have total confidence.

That mutual learning process fascinates me, and is different with every dog. I like showing up for that, and figuring out with each dog what it is that they need from me in order to feel calm, confident, happy, joyous, curious, engaged, and well.

I do believe there are a handful of dogs who truly have an inner-ear construction that makes therm unusually vulnerable to barometric pressure changes, and possibly to loud noises (I’m thinking of one of my Mom’s Aussies who used to put herself in the bathtub and barf her way through thunderstorms, poor girl).

But I also think that is exceedingly rare, and far more often, they’re responding to our neuroses. Our fear and reactivity. Our projections onto them about how they are going to behave.

And every year around this time I get irritated by the commitment with which people seem to train their dogs into fear and problems they don’t need to have, because it seems easier than doing the real work of responsible ownership. It’s not easier. It creates difficult problems, and bypasses all the glee and pleasure involved in a good, healthy relationship with a well-cared-for dog. It locates the center of the relationship with the dog in stress and avoidance, rather than mutual delight and shared experience. It’s more work and misery, in the end, than good training, good exercise, and fun adventures ever could be.

Dogs hear better than we do, so obviously they need more distance from loud noise than we do in order to be comfortable.

It also takes time to develop the degree of mutual trust and consistency and reliability I have with Gilly:  he’s ten this summer, so we’ve been doing this stuff for ten years. But that’s how we got to the guy sitting next to us at the fireworks saying: “I’ve never seen such a well-trained, good dog in my life. That’s really impressive.” And that’s how we got to me answering: “We’ve done a lot of training. And, I’m also just lucky to know him.”

Given the opportunity to have lots and lots of good training and exposure and positive experience, what fireworks means to Gilly is this:

Me: Hey poochelah. Want to go on a special date? A Very Important Dog date?

Gilly: Will there be a long walk and interesting smells and new stuff to look at and maybe some steak involved?

Me: Hell yeah.

Gilly: Let’s go!

And then we walked a couple of miles (after already having had a good walk that day – and a cannonball swim!) so that when he got to the crowd he had already worked off any surplus energy that could have translated into nervousness. We met many dogs along the way, and he got thoroughly trounced and loved by a bonkers Beagle who thought Gilly was MAGIC and had to communicate this by performing an elaborate choreography of racing in circles and tap-dancing on his head, a couple of desperately beautiful Rottie-mix puppies who agreed except that they weren’t coordinated enough yet to tap-dance so instead they did a lot of squealing and falling over, several mellow and dignified Labs, Lab-mixes and an elegant Dachshund who all nodded and greeted and sniffed politely.

We cruised the crowd several times, and were attacked at varying speeds by several small children – a thing that used to be Gilly’s worst nightmare, since they do everything wrong for a nervous dog. One particularly hyper kid he dodged a couple of times (reasonably, I had to as well), but then I started the kid talking, stopped him running at Gilly, and in seconds the whole thing had settled down into the child standing calmly next to Gilly and patting his back softly. A couple of kids approached as beautifully as the best dog trainer, which was a lovely thing to see: someone taught them how to meet a dog on dog-terms, making both kids and dogs safer. And Gilly let all of them pat him – a thing he doesn’t like all that much from strangers, but will tolerate when he’s feeling calm and secure.

We stood in line in front of a magic kitchen-on-wheels where a steak and cheese sub suddenly appeared: we shared the sub on a nice grassy patch. We ate ice cubes while watching little kids ride a kiddy-train. We met many very nice dogs. We got a glo-necklace, so that everyone who passed by him said “Oh what a cute dog! He’s glowing!” – a blast of positive regard from nearly every passing stranger.

When the fireworks started, as usual, the fireworks themselves were much less interesting to him than the cheering and clapping of the crowd of people. After a little bit, he splayed out flat on his side and asked me to scratch his chest, practically dozing: working the crowd and the steak & cheese was the main event for Gilly, the fireworks were just the closing ceremony.

And then we walked home, tired and relaxed and happy, with an even deeper bond than we had the day before, not as deep as it will be tomorrow, and with total confidence in each other.

Not by magic.

By love.

Which is an action, not a feeling.

Unnecessary surgeries and the American Veterinary Medical Association

In my travels at VetBlog, I found several articles of interest on the practice of ear and tail docking, the effort to change breed standards to do away with this painful and potentially dangerous practice, and the changes in veterinary medicine in this area.

AVMA Comes Out Against Ear Cropping and Tail Docking

Ear Cropping and Tail Docking Create Ethical Dilemmas for Vets

On a related subject, there’s also a post about a Massachusetts teen’s effort to ban ‘de-barking’ surgery:

Teen With Gumption Plans to Drive the Final Nail Into Debarking’s Coffin

There are also a number of entries about the almost always unnecessary and extremely inhumane practice of declawing cats.

The solution to problem barking is training.

The solution to protecting upholstery and toddlers from clawing cats is a combination of training, supplying appropriate places for your cat to shed its claws (scratching posts, etc.), using strong upholstery (or covering it), and training little kids.

The children-problem is often cited as the justification for much mistreatment of animals, ranging from declawing to locking dogs outdoors,  in basements, or turning crate-training into cage-living.

Obviously, people want their kids to be safe. Kids should be safe. Animals, too. They both need training.

For safety’s sake, all children should be taught how to safely and respectfully handle animals, and how to leave them alone when the animal doesn’t want to be handled.

This is an essential area of knowledge for all children, even ones who don’t have animals in their own homes: they will encounter them elsewhere. A 101-level understanding of animal body language can usually prevent a bite or scratch.

Some shelter behaviorists put on workshops in schools and community centers teaching this information. Your vet might also be able to direct you to resources for training children in animal-handling skills.