Category Archives: Human-Animal Bond

Animal Assisted Therapy at the San Diego Airport

On a recent trip through the San Diego Airport, I was surprised to see a dog wheeling around the airport. He was dressed for the holidays wearing a Santa hat, elf collar and a vest that read, ‘Pet me’ in big bold letters. People surrounded him like presents around a Christmas tree. Young and old, travelers, airport staff, pilots and crew all stopped to pet the adorable ball of fur.

Koda Xmas San Diego Airport closeup

When the crowds parted, I got my chance to meet this wonderful canine ambassador. Champion Brother Bear is a 12 year old Siberian Husky who lives with 7 other huskies in California. His nickname is Koda. He takes turns with the other dogs coming to the airport to de-stress the travelers. Research conducted by Dr. Karen Allen verified what pet people already know – spending time with animals lowers our blood pressure and heart rate. People who live with pets also get more exercise, visit their physicians few times each year and have lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. I hope more airports will follow the San Diego Airport’s lead and embrace animal assisted therapy!

Sources:                                                                                                                            -Allen, K., Shykoff, B. E., Izzo, Jr. J. L. Hypertension, 2001;38:815-820. -Friedmann, E. et al, Social Interaction & Blood Pressure: Influence of Animal Companions. J of Nervous and Mental Disease 17 (8): 461-465.                                                                                                                           -Seigel J.M., Stressful Life Events and Use of Physician Services Among the Elderly: The Moderating Role of Pet Ownership. J. Person Soc Psych 1990; 1081-1086.                                                                                -Serpell, J.A. Evidence for long term effects of pet ownership on human health, Pets, Benefits and Practice, Waltham Symposium 20, April 19, 1990.

 

 

 

Study Reveals Dogs Prefer Petting Over Praise

As we all know, dogs like petting. But do they like petting  better than praise? Erica Feuerbacher, a fellow and doctoral candidate from the University of Florida, Department of Psychology and Dr. Clive Wynnne, professor from Arizona State University teamed up to answer this question. The researchers set up three experimental groups of dogs and then measured their reaction to various combinations of petting and/or vocal praise during eight, 3-minute sessions. The first group contained shelter dogs interacting with strangers. Owned dogs interacting with strangers made up the second group. The third group contained owned dogs interacting with their owners.

Although the characteristics of each group were different, the results were always the same. All of them preferred petting over praise. And what was really interesting, is that they never seemed to get enough petting. The researchers stated, “dogs did not show any sign of satiation with petting across all eight sessions.” My own uncontrolled study with my dog confirmed this result. He always wanted more, especially when I was scratching the area in front of his tail.

Now, how do we apply this information to our own dogs? When you want to reward your dog, pet them. During obedience training, I have heard trainers tell handlers to praise their dogs for good behavior. Petting was discouraged as it ” made the dog needy.” In my experience, dogs trained under this praise method do not learn as quickly as dogs who receive petting and an occasion treat. Instead of making the praise the reward, use it as a bridge to petting. Think clicker training. Remember, dogs are like humans. Positive reinforcement is better than negative.

If you would like to learn more about how dogs think, check out the Canine Cognition Lab at Florida State University. Here’s the link:  http://www.caninecognition.com/caninecognition/Home.html

Sources:

Feuerbacker EN & Wynne CD. Shut up and pet me! Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) prefer petting to vocal praise in concurrent and single-alternative choice procedures. Behav Processes, 2014 Aug 27.

 

Fashion Month – Julie The Chimp

Since September is fashion month, I decided to write about animal fashion. No, I don’t mean animal print fabrics or other animal inspired clothing for human wear.  Instead, I thought it would be fun to celebrate an animal who started her own fashion trend.

Julie is an adult chimpanzee who lives in the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage Trust Sanctuary in Zambia. In 2010, researcher Edwin van Leeuwen from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics noticed that Julie had a long, stiff piece of grass hanging from her ear. She liked to place it in one or both ears when she was grooming, resting or playing. Before long, many of the chimps in her group starting doing it. Her son Jack was the first, followed by other chimps that had close relationships with Julie.  Even after her death, a couple of the chimps have continued the tradition.

I have no idea of the origin of her desire to do this nor the deeper meaning beyond this fashion flair.  But, I think she looks beautiful. The grass reminds me of earrings. Here’s a link to her picture: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140703102612.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Animal Hoarders

As a veterinarian, I believe it is appropriate that most of the attention regarding hoarding focuses on the animals that suffer in these deplorable situations. But the hoarders need help too. In 2013, animal hoarding was recognized as a psychiatric disorder. The cause is still under debate. One theory suggests that hoarding animals may be caused by neglect or abuse during childhood.  Because the child didn’t have a good relationship with their human family, they form excessive attachment to their pets. Another theory believes the hoarder uses animals to replace human relationships. It is based on the observation that many hoarders start this behavior after the loss of a significant other.

When a hoarding situation is discovered, the attention is focused on providing care for the animals. The animals are removed, given veterinary care and then rehomed if possible. But what happens to the hoarder? Prior to 2013, most received some sort of punishment that included a limit on future pets. Unfortunately, this treatment failed miserably. Without addressing the underlying mental health problem that caused the hoarding, many will abuse animals again.

As with most diseases, early detection is the key to dealing with animal hoarding. If you encounter a potential animal hoarder, please notify your local police department or humane society. You will be helping the hoarder as well as the animals!

Sources:

-Cassidy, Karen L. What is animal hoarding? Is it like hoarding objects? Can people be cured. AADA. http://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/ask-and-learn/ask-expert/what-animal-hoarding-it-hoarding-lots-objects-can-peopl

-Soler, Paula Calvo. Animal hoarding isn’t just gross, it’s a recognized psychiatric disorder. To Your Health, Desert Counseling. August 8, 2014.

 

Helping Humans and Dogs with Breast Cancer

The University of Pennsylvania, College of Veterinary Medicine has joined the fight against breast cancer in women as well as dogs. Lead by Dr. Karin Sorenmo, a veterinary oncologist and Dr. Olga Troyanskaya, a bioinformatics professor at Pinceton, the team studies how breast cancer develops at the molecular level. The program accepts shelter dogs with breast cancer that would otherwise be euthanized.

Here’s how it works: Shelter dogs are enrolled in the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program. The first step is surgical removal of the tumors. Next, the samples are divided in half. One half go to pathology for diagnosis and analysis of the margins. The other goes to Dr. Troyanskaya who analyzes the genes. She looks at changes in how a gene or several genes transform a tumor from benign to malignant.

Dogs are a good model for human breast cancer for two reasons. First, just like humans they develop breast cancer in response to exposure to estrogen. The practice of spaying dogs and cats at a young age protects them from mammary gland cancer.  This is one reason among many to spay your pets.  Second, dogs have ten glands. In dogs who develop breast cancer, it is common for them to have it in multiple glands. The tumors are in various stages giving the researchers a rare chance to study the progression of cancer.

The Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program has treated over 100 dogs. Many of these dogs would have been euthanized because of the cancer. Instead, they received medical care and a chance to find a new home. Some have even been adopted by women who are breast cancer survivors. I hope they wear pink collars to celebrate their status as survivors!

Sources:
-Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program, http://www.vet.upenn.edu/veterinary-hospitals/ryan-veterinary-hospital/services/comprehensive-cancer-care/cancer-research/canine-mammary-tumor-program
-Rabin, Roni Caryn. From Dogs, Answers About Breast Cancer. The New York Times, www/well.blogs.nytimes.com, March 31, 2014.

Cooper – A Gift To Children

This blog post is dedicated to Cooper, a rescued dog who inspired everyone she met.  Here is her story written by the person who knew her best . . . the woman who adopted her shortly after Cooper’s rear leg was amputated.  This story reminds us of the strength of the human-animal bond and the way animals enrich our lives!  
 

Cooper’s Story

    I realized years ago that our dog Cooper was put on this earth for some very special reasons and that she is one very lucky dog!  When she was about 8 months old she suffered an accident and her owners at the time decided the only answer was to euthanize her.  As luck would have it one of the vet techs saw a sweet young dog that wasn’t ready to go.  A call was made to my rescue group for financial help but the money wasn’t there for emergency surgery as is often the case.  The group couldn’t do it but a compassionate volunteer agreed to personally pay for her surgery.  Her right hind leg was amputated at that time, surgery was done to repair her  intenstinal damage, a kidney was removed then several years later (during an x-ray) we found that she also and had several bridged vertebrae.
 

    I so vividly remember the moment I first met her; she had recently had her stitches removed and was still weak from her leg amputation and surgery but when I walked up to her kennel she smiled in greeting and wagged her entire body as her eyes asked if all was good.  Cooper came to live with us as a foster dog in April of 2002.  She was so fearful at first and was so concerned about pleasing us as we slowly introduced her to her new world.  She had gone from an ignored dog in the back yard to Queen of her castle!  We started her rehabilitation right away as she had not yet learned how to balance on the one hind leg.  Ever so slowly she gained strength and found her courage as we quickly learned that she had the biggest heart in the world.  When I got a call from the rescue Adoption Chairperson that someone was interested in interviewing her for a potential adoption my husband and I decided that NO WAY was this little girl ever leaving our home!

    In June of 2002 the White Mountains were ravaged by the Rodeo-Chediski fire and we found ourselves evacuated with our three house rabbits and one very fearful cattle dog.  At that time Cooper had barely learned to walk on a leash and we evacuated to my mom’s home in Scottsdale were we spent 12 days.  I was once again amazed with her resiliency as she still wasn’t quite housebroken and had never seen the hustle and bustle of the big city.  We came home from that experience and started working with her on basic commands and attended a few training classes.  In 2003 she passed the AKC Canine Good Citizenship class and then I was so pleased and proud of her when in January of 2004 she passed her evaluation for Therapy Dog International and became a Therapy Dog.  What an opportunity for her to give back to the community.

    During the school year Cooper visits the Step Ahead Pre-School every Friday.  There she teaches Pre-School children how to be respectful to dogs, groom them, care for them and most of all love them.  When I say “come let’s go see the kids” her eye light up and her entire body erupts in a huge wag.  Her summers are spent at the Show Low Public Library where every Friday in the Tail Wagging Tutor program kids make appointments to read to the dogs.  This program gives the kids reading confidence and Cooper lot’s of love.

So here we are almost 11 years later and truly what I find is that we are the lucky ones to have found her.  Not a day goes by that we don’t thank the amazing and loving volunteers that make our rescue group the organization that it is.  Adopt a rescue pet and you will forever be as grateful as we are!

Pets Reduce Stress

Most pet people know intuitively that pets are good for us.  We feel better in the presence of an animal.  The stresses of our day seem less daunting with a cat purring in our lap and a dog at our feet.  Scientists Karen Allen, Barbara E. Shykoff and Joseph L. Izzo, Jr. decided to study the interaction between people and pets to determine if the pet effect is real or simply a placebo.  They studied 48 stock brokers who suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure).  All of the participants were placed on the drug lisinopril (ACE inhibitor) and then divided into two groups, the first group adopted a pet while the second remained petless.  The lisinopril decreased resting heart rate and blood pressure in both groups equally. 

The big difference occurred when the two groups were asked to give a speech and solve math problems to induce stress.  While blood pressure and heart rate increased in both groups during the exercises, the group with pets had better results.  Their heart rate and blood pressure increased less than the group without pets and returned to resting levels more quickly.  The authors concluded, “ACE inhibitor therapy alone lowers resting blood pressure, whereas increased social support through pet ownership lowers blood pressure response to mental stress.”  (‘Pet Ownership, but Not ACE Inhibitor Therapy, Blunts Home Blood Pressure Responses to Mental Stress’, Hypertension. 2001;38:815-820.)

If you want to improve your blood pressure and heart rate, get a pet!  There are many wonderful animals waiting at shelters to help you improve your health.

Dogs Provide Help For Veterans With PTSD

    In honor of memorial day, I thought I would highlight the role animals play in helping our veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Here in Arizona, the nonprofit organization Soldiers Best Friend matches dogs with soldiers who suffer from this debilitating problem.  Once a soldier is accepted into the program, they are matched with a dog who is usually adopted from a shelter.  From that point on, the two live together in order to quickly create a deep bond.  They attend classes that teach the veteran and the dog how to work together as a team.  Depending upon the program selected, dogs will graduate as either a Certified Service Dog or a Therapeutic Companion Dog.  
    People with PTSD suffer from a multitude of symptoms including acute panic attacks, fear of crowded areas, nightmares, depression and anxiety.  The dogs learn to read their veteran’s emotional state and provide comfort by waking them up, cuddling into their side or protecting them from strangers.  The dog gives the veteran the confidence to go out into the world again.  More information is available at www.soldiersbestfriend.org
    The Veterinary Health Care Team of Arizona decided to sponsor the team of Staff Sergeant Michael Harris and his dog, Maddy.  Maddy was adopted from the Yavapai Humane Society in Prescott, Arizona.  They are trying to raise $2,500.00 for training expenses.  If you would like to help, please go to www.veterinaryhealthcareteam.org to make a donation. 

Dogs are Chick Magnets

The first time I heard one of my clients refer to his dog as a ‘chick magnet’, it surprised me.  But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed.  When I am walking, I am naturally attracted to people with pets.  The pet is an ice breaker, a conversation starter for people who don’t know each other.  
    In 2000, Dr. June McNicholas and Dr. Glyn Collis carried out a study to determine if dogs are indeed, chick magnets.  In the first phase of their study, they had a male test subject walk alone and with a highly trained therapy dog who would not solicit attention through a park and measured the number of social interactions.  Of course, the number of social interactions were the greatest when the dog was present.  In the second phase, they used a new male test subject and changed his appearance from well dressed to scruffy and measured the number of social interactions he received with and without the dog.  Again, the test subject received the most social interaction when the dog was present irrespective of his dress.  The scientists concluded that dogs are a great catalyst for human social interaction.
    People share an innate connection with animals.  Simply being around an animal will lower our stress and improve our mood.  Scientists call this ‘the human-animal bond.’  My next series of blog posts will focus on this wonderful relationship.  In the meantime, please enjoy the picture posted below of Paul with two adorable chick magnets, Sasha and Captain!

-McNicolas, J. and Collis, G. ‘Dogs as catalysts for social interactions:  Robustness of the effect.‘ British Journal of Psychology (2000), 91, 61-70.