All posts tagged 'og smarts'

Make Your Dog Happier by Thinking Like One

appreciating-beauty

Most people who have a dog love their dog. Unfortunately, sometimes that love falls short of actual empathy. For example, many of the "problem dog behaviors" that people complain about aren't really your dog's fault. If someone you know keeps getting "bad dogs," chances are that the dogs aren't the source of the problem. By showing your pupper a bit of empathy by viewing recurring issues from their perspective - both physically and mentally - you will develop a deeper appreciation and love for your furry companion. And that translates into a happier dog ... and a happier you!

Dogs are so much more than most people know. Like humans, dogs produce oxytocin, which allows both species to experience love and affection. Canines also have highly evolved limbic systems - more advanced than the majority of other species and comparable to humans - which enables them to experience a range of higher emotions, including an appreciation for beauty and something akin to religious ecstacy. If you've ever caught your dog gazing at a sunset or drinking in the beauty of nature, such meditative moments are caused by flares of limbic activity. 

live-is-better-with-a-pack

The most important point about dogs is that they are pack members. This is one of those facts that everyone knows but hardly anyone ever considers when trying to understand canine behavior. Imagine how confusing it is for animals with a genetic predispostion towards a pack mentality when you - the de facto leader of the pack - don't exhibit pack behavior!

Your dog's socialization instincts are very strong. Pack hierarchy was established millions of years before domestication (search for "Tomarctus," "Miacid" and "Cynodictis" for more details about the ancient progenitors of modern dogs). Humans and dogs began living together starting around 30,000 BC, so there's a long history behind the "man's best friend" descriptor. Because you provide food, shelter, affection and fun, you are the de facto leader of the pack. That's why it's so vital for you to understand how this should inform your interactions with your pup! To get you started on this journey of understanding, here are three examples that frequently crop up for pet parents.

He Stares at Me Every Time I Eat!

regarding-hooman

From pitiful, longing looks to grumpy growl grumbling, dogs all over the world appear to be begging to eat the food on your plate, much to our annoyance. While he may find the smell of your food super appealing, that's not the primary take-away from this behavior. So, what is he trying to communicate? Let's put on our "pack mentality glasses." As social creatures, dogs view mealtime as a social event. As top dog, you are responsible for fairness at mealtime. But when you - and other human family members - partake, your dog feels left out. Punished even. So, in a sense, they are begging ... only they're begging for inclusion. If at mealtime, you provide them food or a healthy treat, then suddenly your dog not only feels included, they also no longer feel ostracized. Try it for yourself and see if everyone isn't happier!

She's Just Scared of Everything!

dogs-eye-view

Again, dogs are sensitive social animals. Recent MRI studies show that dogs are capable of complex emotions and reading the emotional state of their caregivers. When people express anger or annoyance - whether it's at the news, a bad day at work or problems with a spouse or partner - dogs are highly attuned to that. Frustration on your part over skittishness or anxiety will likely only exacerbate these very issues. Whether you realize it or not, you're setting the tone for everyone else in your home. If you're quick to snap, your dogs will be anxious. For the wellbeing of your pack, be careful about the emotions you project.

He Keeps Chewing Up My Shoes!

This one is so common, it's hard to find someone who hasn't experienced the heartbreak of losing a favorite pair of shoes. Sadly, many feel their dog was being vindictive and dole out a harsh punishment. First of all, canine memory works differently than it does for us. Shaking a slobbery, mangled shoe at your pupper is really going to baffle them, especially if it's been more than 20 minutes since it was destroyed. So, what are dogs trying to tell you when they chew up your shoes? This question is answered best with another question: what is the last thing you do before you leave the house for an extended period of time? You put on your shoes, right! Your dog believes - with evidence gathered basically every day - that destroying your shoes will prevent you from leaving the house (i.e., the pack). He's really not being a jerk, he's just trying to keep you where you belong ... with him! To avoid this happening, simply protect your footwear with a dog gate.

intense-focus-pupper

There you have it. Three simple examples of "problem behavior" that can be understood in a completely new way that's more charitable to your dog. Just remember that you're the leader here and your dog looks to you (often lovingly) for reassurance, consideration and safety.

We're very interested to know if this article leads you to reconsider some aspect of your dog's behavior, so please let us know your take in the comments section below!

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

Make Vet Visits Less Stressful

car-trip

Does your dog experience mild-to-severe apprehension when it comes time for a veterinary check-up? If so, you’re definitely not alone. My own dogs, Oliver and Zelda, are well-adjusted happy campers. But when it’s time to go to the vet’s office, they both start to freak out before we’re barely out of the door.

Until something dawned on me. I had been going about vet visits all the wrong way. Even though I had incorporated all the tricks I’ve learned over the years – travel to places other than the vet, trips to the vet where we just visited with the techs and no exam was given, taking a pocket full of Tasty Rewards or Turkey & Berry Chewies – and though there was marginal improvement, the fear factor continued to be all too real for my puppers.

My realization? Dogs are fundamentally pack animals. I know, I know, everybody knows this. But how might I apply that to vet visits? What if, I thought, instead of one person taking one dog to the vet, we made it a family outing? And so it was settled. Both my wife and I decided we’d BOTH make the time to take BOTH of our dogs, even though Zelda (the younger) was the one with the appointment.

And the most amazing thing happened. There was no jittering or shaking. There was no rapid panting, just the regular riding-in-the-car excitement. We were traveling as a pack. I truly think dogs feel like they can handle anything as a complete pack.

Traveling-to-vet
Zelda accompanied by her big little brother/therapy dog Oliver

We arrived 15 minutes early at the vet’s office, and we walked all around the building, taking our time. I think not being in a rush helped too. We entered the office as a united front, and low-and-behold both dogs were fine!

When it was time to go into the patient room, we all went in and hung out on the floor. The vet tech came in and asked us about Zelda’s history as she fed both doggos some of the treats I had brought. We asked that any tests be done while we were together, which they were happy to do. Of course, it helps to have a great veterinary staff, which we’re fortunate enough to have found. When Zelda was getting her exam, we were all nearby and talking calmly and cheerily. And for the first time in nearly four years, she barely even noticed when she got her vaccines or had blood withdrawn. We were all honestly amazed at the difference!

We hope you’ll try this "power of the pack" strategy to make your next vet visits less stressful … maybe even enjoyable! And feel free to submit your own ideas in the comments section below.

For those interested in learning more about the effects of pet stress, be sure to check out Dr. Jane’s insightful post on pet anxiety.

Dave Mattox
Content Editor

Six Amazing Facts About Canine Perception

one-with-nature

Have you ever wondered how a dog perceives the world? If you're like many pet parents, at some point you've asked your dog, "What are you thinking right now?"

We already know that dogs have a sense of smell that puts our own to shame. But how do they use all of this sensory information? According to a brand new research study, the answer to that question just became a good bit clearer.

Researchers found that canines actually construct a mental image of what they smell, before they see it. Furthermore, behavioral scientists were amazed to find that the dogs in their study expressed surprise when the object they thought they were tracking turned out to be different than they expected! 

In light of this remarkable view into canine perception, we're taking a closer look at how dogs view, interact and understand the world.

To view the full-size PDF, simply click on the image below. 

PDF DocumentPDF Document

Interested in more details about the latest ground-breaking research into canine perception? Check out the study below!

Bräuer, J., & Belger, J. (2018). A ball is not a Kong: Odor representation and search behavior in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) of different education. Journal of Comparative Psychology. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/com0000115

The Secret to Finding a Lost Dog

Chevy-Koko

Few feelings of dread are as harrowing as the moment you realize your dog is missing.

Late Sunday afternoon, our long-time employee, Dawn Tate, experienced just such a moment. After hanging out with her two dogs, Chevy and Koko, in an open field near her home, Dawn realized that her Florida cur, Chevy, had not returned from her recent romp. Minutes later, as Dawn’s searches became more and more frantic, she realized that Chevy had vanished.

After a several minutes of fruitless searching, Dawn launched a full-out rescue attempt. Not only did she contact her local Animal Control Department, but also the police. Both agencies expressed concern for Chevy’s welfare and were only too happy to receive her emails with photos of Chevy, so they could keep an eye out. In addition to contacting the authorities, Dawn turned to social media for help. She posted images of Chevy and shared her last-known location with her friend network. Unfortunately, there were no sighting reports of Chevy.

frantic-phone

Dawn was determined to bring her baby home, searching the surrounding areas as late as 2 a.m. and then was up before the crack of dawn to resume search efforts.

Thanks to a helpful friend, Dawn decided to try a recovery strategy that someone shared online. It’s a method that’s popular among outdoorsmen for lost hunting dogs. The trick is this … return to the location where you first became aware you were separated from your canine. At the scene, place at least one article of recently worn clothing (not anything freshly clean from the wash). The more scent it holds, the better. If at all possible, also bring along a crate or carrier and two or three of your dog’s favorite toys. It is recommended that you also provide a bowl of water (not food, as it may attract wildlife that might scare off your dog). You might also consider leaving a note for any people who happen by, requesting that the items remain undisturbed and why.

The basic concept here is that your dog wants to return to you, he just can’t find you. Thanks to their incredible sense of smell, they will be able to find their way back to these familiar items. Time and time again, this method has proven highly successful in reuniting lost dogs with their caretakers.

Why is it so effective? Dogs have an amazingly keen sense of smell. Their noses possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors, which is 50 times more than humans. To convert all of the sensory data picked up by these detectors, there’s a great deal of processing power. The canine brain allocates 40 times more brain power proportionately, compared to people.

It’s hard to quantify exactly how much better a dog is at detecting scents compared to ours. Some experts say it’s a 1,000 times better, while others say it’s one million times better. And humans actually have well-developed sniffers. All of us have had the experience of returning home and opening the front door to smell that someone’s been cooking. You were probably even pretty sure what dish was being made. If we can smell this, a dog could detect the same in a house the size of an average-sized city!

Dogs are able to pick up on a whole host of information from smells. When it comes to knowing their pet parent, they can read unique chemical markers (such as hormones) that we’re not even aware we’re emitting. With one breath, they can easily determine if we’re fearful, anxious or sad. That’s astonishing! Just remember, the next time you’re walking your dog and she lingers to smell the grass, she’s reading all sorts of information from the last dog that passed by. In this scenario, veterinary experts would say that your dog’s interior thoughts probably sound like, “Let’s see, you’re also a girl, you’re about 4 years old, you had a chicken-based meal this morning, you were super excited on your walk, etc.”

A HAPPY RESOLUTION

It was a frightening 24 hours, both for Dawn and for Chevy. But thanks to the innovative strategy we just explained to lure her back to the exact spot where they were separated, Dawn, Koko and Chevy are now safely back under the same roof. Yay!

Chevy

Have you ever become separated from your companion animal? What strategy did you use to search, and were you successful? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Share your stories in the comments section below!

Antioxidants and Canine Wellness

happy-pittie

Many of us are familiar with the idea of antioxidants, and we know they are a good thing for both dogs and humans, but do you know why? There’s a reason we put so much thought and effort into our formulations at Life’s Abundance, and antioxidants are some of our favorite ingredients!

To understand why antioxidants are vital to health, you need to know about free radicals, a by-product of normal metabolism. When oxygen molecules are split into two oxygen atoms, they are missing one electron ... thus a free radical is born. These little guys are highly reactive, so they steal electrons from other molecules, which also become free radicals. Cellular components such as proteins, DNA and cell membranes can be negatively affected, further creating more free radicals. Why is this problematic for health? Well, the DNA damage causes cells to reproduce incorrectly, which can lead to abnormalities.

How do antioxidants work? They can donate an electron to a free radical without becoming unstable themselves. In fact, many scientists now refer to antioxidants as ROS, or Reactive Oxygen Species. In essence, they neutralize damaging free radicals and break the replicating cycle.

Why do dogs need antioxidants? As pets age, the free radical damage accumulates and accelerates. It contributes to the natural declines due to aging, and can trigger some illnesses due to damaged cellular DNA. So, how are free radicals counteracted? Perhaps the best, most natural way is through antioxidants!

Why are antioxidants so often linked with brain health? With aging, many canines experience some degree of cognitive decline. This can manifest as changes in behaviors, lapses in house training, altered sleep cycles, disorientation and repetitive behaviors such as pacing or licking. Learning and memory deficits may begin in pets as young as six years of age, though many pet parents don’t notice until pets are quite a bit older. There’s good news, however. Senior dogs fed a diet high in antioxidants actually perform better on tests that assess their ability to problem solve!

Who should be taking antioxidants? Everyone, including your dogs! While the benefits are most obvious for seniors, all of us are exposed to free radicals on a regular basis. Early nutritional support with antioxidants is a great way to maintain vibrant health. Even though the body produces some antioxidants on its own, the most significant way to get antioxidants into the body is through nutrition. Fruits, vegetables and even some herbs are high in antioxidants such as lycopene, carotenoids, lutein, and vitamins E and C.

antioxidant-health-bars
Antioxidant Health Bars help maintain a healthy immune system

What’s an easy way to make sure my dog is getting guaranteed amounts of antioxidants? This month, I encourage you to try one of our premium baked treats, Antioxidant Health Bars. Featuring the great taste of apples, peanut butter and honey, dogs just can’t resist these delicious bars, which also include oatmeal, brown rice, ground flaxseed, dates, rolled oats, flaxseed oil, eggs, cranberries and carrots. Since antioxidants are so important to maintaining a healthy immune system, we’ve added a hefty helping of vitamin E, vitamin C and beta-carotene. And the amounts of these important nutrients are guaranteed, so you know exactly how much nutrition your dog is receiving on a daily basis.

Thank you for everything you do to make the world a better place for companion animals!

Dr Jane Bicks  

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

The Complexity of Canine Memory

Have you ever sat staring deeply into your dog’s eyes, wondering “I wonder what you’re thinking?” Sure, they give us clues here and there, but as whole, the workings of your dog’s mind remains a mystery.

But there’s mounting evidence that we may have underestimated their mental capacities. I know when I was going through school and we would use words describing the emotions the pets seemed to feeling - love, anxiety, fear - we were often shut down with a stern, “Don’t anthropomorphize!” It was assumed that only humans were capable of such human-like emotions.

As we’ve studied more the amazing bonds that exist between humans and dogs, we’ve gotten better insight into the inner workings of their doggie brains. And while it’s true that we can’t say with 100% certainty what a dog thinks and feels (because you’d actually need to be able to talk to a dog in order for him to tell you that), I can tell you that the more we learn about their inner workings, the gap between people and dogs is narrowing. Each new study offers amazing insight into how smart, individual, and yes – emotional – they really are.

One of the most common tropes we hear about dogs is, “They live in the moment,” which assumes they don’t spend too much time thinking about the past. But all of us who share our lives with dogs have seen them react to something in a way that indicates they sure do remember things, thank you very much! As a veterinarian, “white coat syndrome”, the fearful reaction of a dog to a veterinarian in a white lab coat, is so well-documented that many of us just stopped wearing the jackets entirely.

And now science is finally showing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that dogs remember much more than we previously thought possible.

A recent study of 17 dogs in Current Biology explored the idea of episodic memory in dogs. They began by training the dogs to “Do as I do”, i.e., to imitate their trainer’s behavior. In this case, the dogs were aware they were receiving a cue, a signal to say “pay attention to what I’m doing.”

Then the researchers repeated the experiment, but without giving the “Do as I do” cue beforehand. Regardless of what the person was doing, the dog was instructed to lie down. Afterwards, trainers gave the dogs the command to repeat what they had just observed. This forced the dogs to recall what they had observed using episodic memory. This form of memory centers around the ability to recall a specific event from the past, but you didn’t know you were supposed to remember it at the time it happened. Despite showing signs of surprise, the dogs were able to recall what they had seen and imitate the person’s actions.

By demonstrating this ability to mimic, the study designers showed that dogs are watching and storing what they see all around them. Like people, they appear to be dumping all of that input into a short term memory bank, and if the information isn’t needed, it gets tossed out. Much the same way I can tell you what I had for dinner last night but not last month, a dog’s brain is quite capable of assessing memories and storing those considered pertinent for survival. As a social species whose evolution is closely tied to ours, it makes sense that they actually think in many of the same ways.

So, the next time you do something embarrassing around your pup, don’t be so quick to think they won’t remember it. At least we know for certain they won’t be spilling our secrets via speech, right?

Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM