Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Happy birthday to the memory of John Steinbeck and the dogs that he loved.

Born Feb 27, 1902, John Steinbeck was an American writer widely known for the novels The Grapes of Wrath (1939), East of Eden (1952), and of course, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, a cross-country travelogue documenting a 1960 road trip Steinbeck took with his ten year old French Poodle, Charley.

Charley was Steinbeck's most famous dog, but not his only one.  The author had a particular fondness for badly behaved Airedales whose delinquencies he often wrote of in letters to friends. To Steinbeck a dog was a dog:  "I distrust people who believe that dogs are better than we are.  Dogs are not better.  They are just different from us.  Surely then can do some things better, but I have yet to see a dog balance a checkbook, or make an omelette or compose a sonnet."

The author with Charley (aka Charles le Chien).
Of his English Setter, Toby, he wrote “…I once had a dog who saw things that were not there, or if they were, neither I nor my family or friends could see them.  He was a large and dreamy English setter named Toby, the White Flower of the Mountain... Lying in front of an open fire, he would awaken, look at the front door and with his eyes and nose follow something across the room, sometimes watching it exit through another door and sometimes move to a chair.  Toby thumped his tail in greeting to some of these things he saw, while he greeted others with a low growl of dislike.” (The Thinking Dog’s Man by Ted Patrick, 1964)

Describing his standard Poodle, Charley, he wrote,“He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little Poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down.”

“[Charley] is a unique dog. He does not live by tooth or fang. He respects the right of cats to be cats although he doesn’t admire them. He turns his steps rather than disturb an earnest caterpillar. His greatest fear is that someone will point out a rabbit and suggest that he chase it. This is a dog of peace and tranquility.”
Charley, who died in 1961, seven years before Steinbeck,
is buried at the Steinbeck Estate, Pacific Grove, California.

Happy birthday Mr. Steinbeck.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Are We Neutering Our Golden Retrievers Too Soon?

A new study suggests that the age at which a Golden Retriever is neutered may increase the animal's risk for certain types of cancers and joint disease.

University of California, Davis announced:

Neutering, and the age at which a dog is neutered, may affect the animal's risk for developing certain cancers and joint diseases, according to a new study of golden retrievers by a team of researchers at the University of California, Davis.  The study, which examined the health records of 759 golden retrievers, found a surprising doubling of hip dysplasia among male dogs neutered before one year of age.  This and other results were published Feb. 13, 2013, in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE. "The study results indicate that dog owners and service-dog trainers should carefully consider when to have their male and female dogs neutered," said lead investigator Benjamin Hart, a distinguished professor emeritus in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

To read more click here.

A word of caution - This study included only Golden Retrievers, a breed with a 60% or higher cancer rate.   Lots of variables affect health in dogs.  For instance, little dogs, under 15 pound, have a very small chance of dying from cancer.  Read my post about causes of death in purebred dogs.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Presidential Dogs in the White House

"You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog," said Harry S. Truman, the 33rd  U. S. president, who apparently didn't have friend, because he didn't get a dog, at least not while he was in the White House.  But plenty of other POTUS made room for the first DOTUS. Thirty-two of forty-four presidents had dogs.

Although Lincoln is know more for feline affection, he had a very spoiled dog named Fido who had his own horsehair sofa. Read a post about Fido here.

JFK may have had the most dogs while in the White House - fourteen.
Welsh Terrier Charlie

The most famous presidential dog was Fala Roosevelt, a Scottish Terrier.  Fala and the President were constant companions.  The press turned the dog into a media darling. Who wouldn't snap this picture?

And of course there's Bo'bama.  The President is trying to be a dog person, but he still has a lot to learn.
Bo'Bama and the President 

Warren G. Harding's Airedale, Laddie Boy,  sat in his own chair during cabinet meetings.  The Hardings threw birthday parties for their dogs.  

Teddy Roosevelt had lots of dogs, but he's most well known for his little rat terriers.

Jack with one of the Roosevelt children

Calvin and Grace Coolidge were frequently photographed with their canine menagerie. This is the Coolidge family with Rob Roy and Prudence Prim.

Herbert Hoover loved German Shepherds. Here Pat accompanies Mr. and Mrs. Hoover down the steps.

President Hoover and King Tut

Liberty, Gerald Ford's Golden Retriever, attended all oval office meetings.
Gerald Ford and Liberty

Millie Bush was famous.  She had her own book.
George Bush Senior and Millie

Barney, George W. Bush's Scottie, was his best friend in Washington.
George W. Bush and Barney

LBJ brought his Beagles to Washington, and got a lot of flack for pulling on their ears, like in this photo.
Beagles Him and Her

Nixon had lots of dogs, including an Irish Setter named King Timahoe, and a Poodle named Vicki. But Cocker Spaniel, Checkers, was the most famous Nixonian pooch.  You can read the President's Checker's speech here.
President Nixon and Checkers

The Presidential Pet Museum is the best source for more information about all First Dogs of the United States.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Labs Get into Trouble at Home More than any Other Breed

Labrador Retrievers win the dubious prize for getting into things they shouldn't.  In 2012, the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center received nearly 14,000 calls from worried Lab owners.  These are the top five trouble-makers by breed:

  • 10,000 Labrador Retriever
  • 8,000 Mixes (I'll bet most of them were Lab mixes)
  • 4,833 Chihuahua
  • 4,819 Golden Retrievers
  • 3,800 Yorkies

It's true that there are a lot more Labs in the U.S. than Yorkies, which skews the data, but those of us who've lived with a Lab know that anything within mouth distance is fair game.

Below is the full story:

Which Dog Breed Gets into the Most Trouble at Home? 
According to the ASPCAs Animal Poison Control Center, 2012 was the Year of the Mischievous Labrador Retriever
For fifth year in a row, prescription human medications are top problem out of 180,000 cases
NEW YORKAccording to a new list released today by the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), the Labrador retriever led the pack when it came to cases handled by its Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). The APCC, headquartered in Urbana, Ill., handled more than 180,000 cases about pets exposed to possibly poisonous substances in 2012 and nearly 14,000 of those calls were from worried Lab owners whose naughty pups got into things they shouldnt have. Topping the toxins list for the fifth year in a row are prescription human medications.

Another discovery: Curious canines far outpaced their feline counterparts in cases handled by the APCC. Domestic shorthair cats were involved in approximately 10,000 cases (second on the list), but canine breeds occupy nine of the top 10 spots on the list. Mixed breeds (8,000 cases), Chihuahuas (4,833 cases), golden retrievers (4,819 cases) and Yorkshire terriers (3,800 cases) complete the remaining top five slots of dog breeds. However, the expertise of APCC toxicologists is not limited to cats and dogs. The call center also handled calls regarding horses, snakes, primates, fish and even a bear last year.

There is no telling what types of calls we will get on a given day at the ASPCAs Animal Poison Control Center, but there are clear trends that surface when we analyze our case data, said Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director at the APCC. Dogs explore the world with their mouths, so it is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of calls we get are from dog owners. The Labrador retriever is one of the most popular breeds in this country, and evidently they get into the most trouble as well!
According to the ASPCA, the top five calls into its APCC in 2012 were regarding the following toxins:

1. Prescription human medications: The APCC handled 25,000 cases regarding human prescription medications in 2012. The top three types of medications that animals were exposed to include: heart medications (blood pressure pills), antidepressants and pain medications (opioids and prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Many of these exposures were due to people dropping their medication when preparing to take it, and before they knew it, Fido had gobbled the pill off the floor.

2. Insecticides: Insecticides are used in the yard, home and on our animals. While only 11 percent of all calls to the APCC are about insecticides, over 50 percent of the calls to the APCC involving cats  are about cats exposed to insecticides. Always read the label before using any insecticide on your pet, in your home or in your yard.

3. Over-the-counter (OTC) human products: More than 18,000 cases that the APCC fielded regarded over-the-counter human products. This group contains acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen as well as herbal and nutraceutical products (fish oil, joint supplements). Many of these products are tasty to pets, and some can be life threatening if ingested.

4. Veterinary products: Veterinary products made up nearly six percent of the APCCs case volume for 2012.  Both OTC and prescription veterinary products are included in this group. Flavored tablets make it easy to give your pet pain or joint medication, but it also makes it more likely for them to ingest the entire bottle if given the chance.

5. Household products: There were more than 10,000 calls to the APCC about household products in 2012. Household toxins can range from fire logs to cleaning products. Some items can be corrosive, while other can cause obstruction of the gastrointestinal tract requiring surgical intervention.

Toxins rounding out the list include: people food, chocolate, plants, rodenticides, lawn and garden products, automotive products and bites and stings. For about a complete list of the top pet toxins of 2012, visit If your pet has ingested something toxic, please contact your veterinarian or the ASPCAs 24-hour APCC hotline at 1-888-426-4435. Since its opening in 1978, the APCC has handled more than two million cases from worried pet owners.

About the ASPCA®Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is the first animal welfare organization in North America and serves as the nations leading voice for animals. More than two million supporters strong, the ASPCAs mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, the ASPCA is a national leader in the areas of anti-cruelty, community outreach and animal health services. For more information, please visit, and be sure to follow the ASPCA on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

St. Valentine Does Double Duty as Patron Saint of Seizure Dogs

Let's face it. The Catholic Church has a lot of human suffering to cover. If there aren't enough saints to go around, some have to multi-task.

St. Valentine, traditionally the patron saint of love, does double duty as the saint who watches over those suffering from epilepsy. Since this blog is about dogs, I'm stretching his duties to include patron saint of seizure-alert dogs.

My Seizure Dog
According to the Epilepsy Foundation this is what a seizure alert dog does:

They are an alarm system. They are helpers, protectors and service providers. So-called seizure response dogs can be all these things – and more.The term "seizure dog" covers a variety of activities associated with a service dog's response to an epileptic seizure. Some dogs have been trained to bark or otherwise alert families when a child has a seizure while playing outside or in another room. Some dogs learn to lie next to someone having a seizure to prevent injury. Others are said to be able to activate alarm systems. Dogs that are trained to respond in various ways when someone has a seizure are no different from service dogs for other disabilities. Public interest in seizure assistance dogs has fueled demand for dogs with these skills. Some people with epilepsy have found that trained seizure dogs help them with securing speedy assistance when a seizure occurs or alerting others for help. Dogs can be trained as service animals for people with seizures and the law protects a person's right to use the animal in any public place. 
Find out more about how the dogs are trained and how they know when to alert to seizures in US NEWS (November 27, 2009) 

It continues to be a topic that's not clearly understood. And there are skeptics.  Find out what they have to say - Neurology, 2007.

No matter what you think, make sure you kiss your pooch, seizure-alert dog or not, on Valentines' Day.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Charles Dickens' Dogs

It’s said that a good writer writes what he knows, and Charles Dickens knew dogs.

His sympathetic characters Oliver Twist and David Copperfield may be more well-known, but no more three-dimensional than their stories’ fictional dogs, Bulls-Eye and Jip, that Dickens sketched with pathos and personality.  Dickens’ canine characters were based on the rich material he gathered from observing his own menagerie which included among others, a Pomeranian, Havanese Spaniel, Mastiff, St. Bernard, Newfoundland, St. Bernard x Bloodhound hybrid and two St. Bernard x Newfoundland hybrids.

Dickens took long walks in the afternoon, 
ten miles or more, with the dogs as his sole companions. 
Illustration from Princes, Authors, and Statesmen of Our Time,
Henry Bill Publishing Co., 1885
Within his many books, Dickens included a great number of major dog characters that, according to Cumberland Clark’s 1926 book, The Dogs in Dickens, often determined the course of events in his stories:  The vicious Bulls-Eye, as brutal and loathsome as his master Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist but so devoted that he died trying to save his life; sagacious Diogenes, companion to the lonely Florence Dombey who lived in the gloomy home of father, in Dombey and Sons; good natured affectionate Boxer, from the Cricket and the Hearth; Jip, a little spaniel dog, “not of the friendly sort,” who belonged to David Copperfield’s love Dora Spenlow, and whom David had to woo to win Dora’s heart;  Merrylegs, the trained circus dog of Signor Jupe, a clown in Hard Times; and the less-than-handsome Poodles, from the Uncommercial Traveler who was found starving on the steps of the East London Children’s’ Hospital where he eventually made his home and who wore a collar bearing the inscription, “Judge not Poodles by external appearances.”

A dog collar worn by one of Dickens' dogs
sold at auction for $11,590 in 2010.
The following letter was written by Dickens on May 25, 1868, to the wife of his publisher Thomas Fields, describing his return home after an extended visit to America:

Mr. Dear Mrs. Fields, 
As you ask me about the dogs, I begin with them.  When I came down first, I came to Gravesend, five miles off.  The two Newfoundland dogs [Newfoundland x St. Bernard hybrids], coming to meet me with the usual carriage and the usual driver, and beholding me coming in my usual dress out at the usual door, it struck me that their recollection of my having been absent for any unusual time was at once cancelled. They behaved (they are both young dogs) exactly in their usual manner; coming behind the basket phaeton as we trotted along, and lifting their heads to have their ears pulled – a special attention which they receive from no one else.  But when I drove into the stable-yard, Linda [St. Bernard] was greatly excited; weeping profusely, and throwing herself on her back that she might caress my foot with her great fore-paws.  Mamie’s little dog, too, Mrs. Bouncer [Pomeranian], barked in the greatest agitation on being called down and asked by Mamie, “Who is this?” and tore round and round me…"

Today is the 201st anniversary of Dickens' birth. Click here to read an article I wrote about Dickens' Dogs.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Another Reason Dogs and Wolves are Different

Dogs and wolves share a similar genetic profile.
So why are their behaviors so different?

You can teach a dog to come when called, 
or even come while riding a bike.

But a wolf is only interested in the scent trail you left 
while you were walking from wherever you were to where you are now.

What's behind the differences isn't clearly understood. In a recent paper in the journal Ethology, evolutionary biologist Kathryn Lord's doctoral research (University of Massachusetts Amherst) reveals that differences in later behaviors might be related to the pups' earliest sensory experiences during the critical period of socialization, the brief period when a puppy's exposure to novel things results in long-term familiarity.

Domestic dog pups
Red wolf pups

Lord's research demonstrated that dog and wolf pups acquire their senses at the same time:
  • Hearing:  Onset 19 days, reliable by 28 days
  • Seeing: Onset 26 days, reliable by 42 days
  • Smelling: Reliable by 14 days (onset likely earlier)

What's different?
  • Dog pups wait until 28 days to explore their environment when all senses are operational. 
  • Wolf pups begin exploring the world at 14 days, relying solely on scent, when they are still blind and deaf.
Although wolves are tolerant of humans and things they were introduced to during the critical period, they don't generalize that familiarity to other people or novel things when they mature. Dogs on the other hand, can generalize, and if properly socialized are not spooked by novel sounds and sights.
Wolves like to hang out with other wolves.
Dogs adapt to new experiences.

Why do dogs and wolves behave so differently as adults?  Lord's conclusion is that at the gene level, the difference may be when the gene is switched on, not the gene itself.

Are wolves rewired for smell?
What  could that mean?  Research has shown that the brain is capable or rewiring itself in dramatic ways. Early loss of a sense affects brain development.  For instance, even though the developing auditory cortex of  a profoundly deaf infant is not exposed to sound stimuli, it doesn't atrophy due to lack of use. Rather it adapts and takes on processing tasks of other senses including sight and touch. 

Perhaps wolves see the world in smell, and dogs see it a lot more like we do.

Click here to read the journal article, A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), by Kathryn Lord, Ethology, February, 2013.

To read a good synopsis of the article, click here.

Or check out my blog post in Bark Magazine.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Puppy Bowl IX - Most Adorable Sports Event of the Year

I know where I'll be on Super Bowl Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm - Glued to my TV watching Puppy Bowl IX on Animal Planet.
All photos: Animal Planet
The most adorable sports event of the year features shelter puppies from all over the country.  With tail wagging touchdowns, puppy penalties and sleepy time outs, this year's event promises cute close-ups at the first ever water bowl cam.

Adoptions at shelters increase substantially following the annual event. And why wouldn't they? Check out the starting line up .

Can't wait for game day? See Puppy Bowl highlights from past games.