Sunday, December 11, 2011

Dingo using a tool to get at treats above his head

This is a very cool video of a dingo using a tool to get to treats left high above his reach.  For many years, it was thought that only humans used tools, but there have been documented instances of other animals using them as well, including crows.  So that is no longer held to be a uniquely human ability.  I love this video, and also the growing recognition that animals other than humans have abilities such as this.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Growling is good!

As a follow up to this post, The Gift of the Growl, here is a link to another article that explains why we should not punish a dog for growling.  Too often, people think that a dog is doing something wrong by growling;  on the contrary, the dog is trying to communicate discomfort or fear with a situation.  It's not wrong to be afraid.  Leah Roberts does a great job of explaining what growling is about, and why we should be grateful that dogs growl.  She also talks briefly about some ways to help dogs become more comfortable with the situations that make them worried or frightened.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Five Freedoms

Today's topic is the Five Freedoms, as drafted by the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  I think these are the minimum standards of care for domesticated animals.  We must strive to provide all domesticated animals with good welfare, and this is a great way to spell out what that means.

The Five Freedoms are:
1.  Freedom from hunger and thirst.
2.  Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
3.  Freedom from distress.
4.  Freedom from discomfort.
5.  Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

I think most people would agree on the first four;  but often people don't think about the final one.  Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being is not as obvious, but it is as crucial to good welfare as all the others.

I always say things like, "Cows should be able to be cows."  By this, I mean that cattle should be kept under conditions that allow them to achieve this fifth freedom.  And it applies to every animal -- they should all be allowed to be themselves.  If they are a foraging type of animal, they should be kept in a way that allows them to forage.  If they need company to have good psychological welfare, then they should be kept with others of their kind or acceptable substitutes.  These are only two examples, but I think my point is clear.  Animals should be able to do the things that come naturally to their species, and as the humans in the equation, we are obliged to make sure they are able to do so.

This is not to say that dogs should be allowed to bark uncontrollably, or cats should be able to scratch your leather couch, et cetera.  What it means is that dogs naturally bark, and they should be able to bark sometimes.  We can teach them to bark once or twice, then to be quiet.  Cats naturally need to scratch, so we must provide them with acceptable opportunities to do so.  Part of this requires us to research our animals' physical and behavioural needs, so that we can ensure that we are providing them with appropriate ways to fulfill those needs.

We should also strive to provide these five freedoms for all animals that we have care and control of.  Whether it is wild animals in a place like the BC Wildlife Park or zoos, or exotic animals in sanctuaries, these Five Freedoms should be the benchmark for care.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Raising our criteria for rescue

Thought-provoking article by Debbie Jacobs.  Are we really doing a kindness to all the dogs that we "rescue" from their awful circumstances?  This article, as well as my experience with a local shelter, has prompted me many times to think about this very question.  It is hard to find appropriate placements for many dogs, especially fearful dogs.  We don't want to leave them in the terrible situations that many of them are found in, but is re-homing them really the best alternative (thinking of the question from the point of view of the dog, and really considering the question of good welfare)?  Is the kindest thing to humanely euthanize them, if we can't find a home that really understands their needs, and is fully committed to the onerous task of working with them for their entire lives?  It's a very hard question to answer, but I think everyone who is concerned with animal welfare must consider it.

I know that this issue is very controversial and expect to hear comments.  Please remember to be respectful;  I am only raising this question out of concern for the lifelong good welfare of animals.

I think Debbie is right, though;  we must raise our criteria of what a "successful" rescue is.

Comments, thoughts, opinions?  I think a debate on the subject is healthy and important.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Misreading Dogs by Nicole Wilde

Nicole Wilde has another great blog post, located here, about misreading dogs' attempts to communicate and being our own dog's advocate.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Breeding - Bulldogs

Can The Bulldog Be Saved? is a thought-provoking article about the future and fate of the bulldog as a breed.  There are also other breeds that are in a similar state.  I think that there are a number of breeds that have been bred beyond the point where they can be healthy (either in the sense of physical health, or the sense of behavioural health, or both).  By our design, we have created dogs that have trouble breathing, overheat too easily, have hereditary diseases, and can't mate or give birth, among other problems.  And temperamentally, there are many breeds that are known to be genetically fearful.  I hope that the bulldog, and the other dog breeds that we have designed into disaster, can be saved.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The importance of puppies staying in their litter until at least 8 weeks of age

Puppies prematurely separated from their litters can develop behavioural problems in adulthood.  It is important that puppies stay with their litters until at least 8 weeks of age -- they gain so much from the socialization that being with their dam and littermates provides.  It is also extremely beneficial that the breeder (whoever that may be) provide as much other socialization as possible -- exposing the puppies to the sights, sounds and experiences of the human world makes the puppies more resilient and behaviourally healthy.  Remember that the socialization window closes somewhere around 12 to 16 weeks, so there is a lot to do in a short amount of time.

Some of the behavioural problems that this study found in pups prematurely separated from their litters include:

  • destructiveness,
  • excessive barking, 
  • possessiveness around food and/or toys, 
  • attention seeking, 
  • aggressiveness, 
  • play biting, 
  • fearfulness on walks, and 
  • reactivity to noises. 
Of course, some of these issues will have had multiple causes, but it is significant that the study found that they were more far more frequently noted in pups that were separated from their litter prior to 8 weeks of age.

So staying with the dam and rest of the litter is important, as is proper socialization while they are together.  Then once you get your puppy, you've got to continue socializing!