It’s hard to believe that our dear Irish setter Coral, is now 8 years old. To us she is still our little baby puppy. Coral is without a doubt one of the easiest dogs to live with we’ve ever had. Just the polar opposite of our most recent Dalmatian, Ashley, that we wrote about frequently throughout her almost 14 years with us (Ashley journeyed to the Rainbow Bridge this past January).
Ashley was a beautiful, sweet, friendly dog who was also easily excited, a definite food-aholic, quite tenacious when it came to getting what she wanted, naturally curious , into everything, and in her younger years seemed to be in constant motion unless she was asleep. (Keep reading for info about a FREE LIVE webinar!)
How do you know what breed – or mix of breeds your dog is? We know our dog Coral is an Irish setter because we purchased her from someone who we know has been breeding Irish setters for over 20 years. Not only does Coral look like an Irish setter (one who is bred for the field, not for show), but so did her mom, dad, grandmother, siblings, cousins, and aunts that we personally saw. She also is registered with the AKC as an Irish setter (which, by itself isn’t necessarily a determining factor) and we have her pedigree listing registered Irish setters going back several generations. In addition, every veterinarian she’s ever been to has identified her as Irish setter in her clinical records.
But what if you don’t have that sort of documentation?
By now you’ve probably seen the “shaming” pictures of dogs on the internet with hand-written signs about the “bad” things the dogs have done. These include peeing on the owner’s leg at obedience class, slamming against the bedroom door to wake the owner up, eating feces or TV remote controls, and more. We’ve included a couple of the cuter ones on this page.
No doubt you have heard about dogs that have been trained to find landmines. There are millions of live mines all over the world, placed in the last 70 years during wars, insurrections and even by criminals such as drug dealers. Dogs have proven to be very successful at helping to locate landmines that can then be disarmed by the people working with the dogs. But recently, scientists have begun to explore using other animals to find landmines. Some such as rats, may be even better at it than dogs.
Several recent news articles report that scientists in Colombia are breeding and training domestic rats to detect landmines so that they can be removed. Thousands of mines have been laid in Colombia by guerilla groups and drug dealers over the years and hundreds of people are injured or killed by them every year.
The rats have been bred to be tolerant of the outdoors conditions (after all they are laboratory rats, not wild ones) and they have been trained to recognize the odors of the metals and explosives used in landmines. The training is similar to that used with dogs to detect landmines. The animals are trained first to discriminate the odors associated with landmines from other odors and then taught a signal which they give when they locate the odor. The signal is that they stop and scratch the ground for five seconds when they locate the odor. The advantage to using rats is that they are lighter than dogs and less likely to inadvertently set off the mines. It is also claimed that they are easier to teach than dogs and they are certainly less expensive to train and maintain. Interestingly, the researchers also use the rat mothers to help train their offspring at the task by allowing the pups to follow along with their moms during training sessions.
A disadvantage to using rats is that they are easily preyed upon by birds, snakes and wild cats, foxes, coyotes and dogs. This is where the domestic cats come in. The rats and cats are raised together so that they form attachments to each other. Then the cats are trained to go along with the rats on their landmine hunting jobs to provide protection against predators. Did you ever think anyone would use cats as body guards for rats?
While it seems strange to use cats to protect rats, there really is no reason why they can’t be used in this way. Research from the 1920s showed that cats and rats are not born enemies and that cats have to learn who their friends are, and who they should prey upon. Cats that were raised since birth with rats, didn’t attack them when they were tested for predation as adults while cats that weren’t reared with rats readily attacked them. So raising cats and rats together leads them to treat each other as friends and makes it easy to train the cats to protect them. A similar technique is used in training sheep guarding dogs such as Great Pyrenees and Komondors. The dogs are raised with the sheep from a young age and become socialized to them. Then as adults they become protective of their flock against predators. (If you want to learn more about the socialization process in dogs and cats, and how it influences behavior, we have a two-hour webinar and summaries of scientific articles available on our membership site the BehaviorEducationNetwork.com. BEN is the premier website for scientific information about pet behavior.)
Colombia is not the only place where unusual landmine detector animals are being used. In Mozambique, Giant Pouched Rats, which are native to Africa, and so are adapted to the environment, have been successfully trained to locate landmines. They are claimed to have cleared hundreds of square kilometers of mines. There is also preliminary research suggesting that honeybees can be trained to locate landmines as well. We are just beginning to understand how we can make use of the natural abilities of different animals to help us with pressing problems. We just need to be sure that while these animals are serving us in these dangerous tasks, we are also looking after their welfare.
Everyone talks about responsible pet ownership but just exactly what that consists of isn’t very clear. It means different things to different people. Now, two very influential organizations, The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC), have created guidelines for responsible pet ownership that make this idea more concrete. These guidelines will certainly give pet owners and pet professionals alike much to think about and discuss.
The AVMA has just released its guidelines for responsible pet ownership. It is very nice to see this powerful and influential voice for the welfare of animals put forward these guidelines. The guidelines appear to have been written to cover all pets from dogs and cats to birds, fish, hamsters and horses, although some guidelines don’t apply very well to some pets. For example the guideline “Socialize and train your pet, which improves their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people” doesn’t really make sense for fish.
The guidelines are described in several places on the AVMA website but are most clearly outlined in a brochure written for pet owners, simply titled “Pet Ownership.” The brochure is short and the guidelines are brief and in some ways cryptic “Recognize any decline in your pet’s quality of life and make timely decisions in consultation with a veterinarian.” The reference is to age-related declines in pet health and making decisions about euthanasia, but changes in quality of life can occur at any age and may not be related to health issues. For example, changing a cat’s living conditions from predominantly inside to exclusively outside because the cat no longer reliably uses the litter box, can have dramatic effects on the cat’s quality of life.
While we think the guidelines should be fleshed out in more detail to be useful, they do cover the major issues related to pet welfare including the selection of pets, assuming life-time responsibility for the pet, providing for adequate health care, training and socialization, not letting a pet become a nuisance to others, controlling breeding of pets, and emergency planning and permanent identification of pets. These are all issues that pet parents should consider before and after they get their pet. The brochure can be a way to discuss these responsibilities with your veterinarian. You can download the brochure at the AVMA website for free. It can be found at https://ebusiness.avma.org/EBusiness50/files/productdownloads/Pet%20Ownership%20-%20English.pdf .
The American Kennel Club, has also created at document about responsible pet ownership for dog owners that seems to pre-date the AVMA guidelines. The AKC document provides a much more detailed list of “suggestions” for responsible dog ownership. The document is titled “Be a Responsible Dog Owner,” and there are 101 suggestions focused specifically on the ownership of pure breed dogs. Of course, most apply to any dog, pure bred or not. The AKC recommendations cover the same basic areas as the AVMA guidelines but with much more detail and concrete actions.
There are a few “suggestions” that are problematic such as # 75, “Be Alpha,” which promotes the discredited dominance theory of dog-human social relations. So the suggestions need to be evaluated very carefully before they are applied. As with the AVMA guidelines, they can be a useful starting point for discussion of responsible care of dogs with your veterinarian, trainer or other pet professional. They can be found on the AKC website at http://www.akc.org/public_education/responsible_dog_owner.cfm#train.
By the way, if you want to learn more about what’s wrong with dominance theory as it has been applied to dogs you can watch our DVD "The Dangers of Dominance" available at AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com. Also you can learn more about the science of dog behavior from our audio program "Shining the LIght of Science on Canine Behavior" and how to interpret dog communication signals with our DVD "Canine Body Postures" also available on the ABA website.