If you’ve ever watched a shampoo advert, you’ll know that hair needs amino acids, would be catastrophic without a regular wash in vitamin PF16 and various extract, and that 80% of women agreed about something to do with shininess.*

Shampoo adverts have a failsafe formula. Firstly, they target your sense of wonder (wow that hair is shiny, I want to tie my hair in a knot and have it look that good etc). Secondly, they reassure you that this shampoo is the real deal (that’s a long sciency word, they must know what they’re on about, 80% is quite a lot etc).

Broken down like this, their tactics are blindingly obvious, but in the moment, whilst waiting for ‘Britain’s Got The X Voice’ to come back on, you might just buy it.

Here’s the point. TV ‘dog expert’ personalities are shampoo advertisers. Not literally of course- they tend to have less than lust worthy hair- but you buy into their way because of a nice blend of mysticism and pseudo science. Then you are a ‘follower’. People tend to stick with one doctrine- be it in religion, hair care or dog training. This can be dangerous, because the sense of loyalty you will feel trumps your common sense. You might end up viewing people of other religions as sinners, forking out way to much in pursuit of shininess, or, god forbid, listening to Caesar Milan.

What’s great about following your favourite shampoo dog trainer is that you can find their helpful hints anywhere- watch their programs, find them on youtube, buy their books, their DVDs, their products. They are a highly successful group of showmen and businessmen and his largely harmful methods spread like wildfire.

My 2 top tips to guard yourself against ‘shampoo’ dog trainers are:

  1. Be vigilant against commonly used manipulation strategies, and retain your common sense.
  2. Look for qualifications. Would you go under the knife of a surgeon who hadn’t studied medicine?

Alas, shampoo trainers are only half of the problem. The people in possession of the bulk of animal behavioural knowledge are not showmen, in fact they are quite the opposite. They are researchers, working quietly in an office/dog centre to add to a wealth of know-how. This typically ends up in a dusty journal, subscribed to only by other quiet, hard working, researcher types. What’s the use of a can of paint if you’re not going to put it on a wall?

So, I trawled through youtube on your behalf to find these two gems (in terms of worth, not shininess!). Enjoy!

Zak George  Dr Sophia Yin

Image from puppylovedogs.com


*4 out of 5 women said their hair ‘didn’t look any worse than before’.

It’s Instinct


It’s commonly said that ‘Human beings have lost the instinct that animals have’. This is not exactly true. The original, and some would say correct, meaning of instinct is a trait that is inherent from birth, and therefore doesn’t have to be learned. We instinctively breath, drink to quench our thirst and squint in bright sunlight. 

ImageThe second and more common use of the word is a little trickier to explain, so please bare with me. Imagine you are watching the Women’s Finals at Wimbledon. You are in an aisle seat, and engrossed in a very exciting match. Serena Williams is on perfect form, returning every shot, she reacts with lightning speed. The speed and accuracy with which she interrupts the ball’s trajectory is impressive, resultantly she is comfortably leading. A shout from the crowd steals your attention- someone has been mugged. Your glance up is met fleetingly by the offender, who is just about to pass your seat. Without thinking, you put a foot out, impeding the man’s escape.

Serena does very little thinking when returning the ball, and you put your foot out without thinking to stop the mugger. So here lies our second interpretation. Instinct – action without conscious thought, which can be significantly refined through repetition. In the correct context, this interpretation is completely valid. (The English language can be quite problematic in its fluidity.) The statement we are discussing, however, is not the correct context for this interpretation, and here’s why. Humans have plenty of both ‘tennis’ and ‘true’ instinct. Its a popular idea that we have lost some of our ‘true’ instinct, and that’s because we are able to suppress it based on conscious thought. For example, you might feel the instinct to run away from the fear felt when being interviewed, but conscious knowledge that it might do you good in the long-term keeps you in your seat. It is not that we have lost the ‘true’ instinct, we just have means to keep it in check. 

So, perhaps the phrase should be: ‘Humans have more ability to suppress their ‘true’ instinct than animals, who rely more on their ‘true’ instincts for survival and reproduction. But both are equally capable of developing ‘tennis’ instinct‘. It doesn’t sound quite as catchy, does it? This small example is helps to explain why science is often labelled as boring and difficult. The whole truth is difficult to package into a catchy phrase.  

Image from bucs.org.uk

Despite it being one of my primary occupations, and therefore something you’d expect me to have answered by know, I have realised this blog hasn’t yet provided a satisfactory reason for the existence of a large proportion of its content. To some, welfare charities and the like exist for lonely people to include in their will, or as a distraction from more pressing international problems. After all, they’re only animals, right?

But this question’s most critical answer lies not in the muddy waters of animal rights, but on the dry and familiar land of basic human interest. Animal Welfare is important,  not only because we owe the beings that we depend upon respect and protection, but because caring for animals is good for human nature. Fostering concern for the welfare of another being, be it animal or human, is crucially important for the development of individual humans and the human race as a whole. 

Author Update


Firstly, I’d like to apologise for the lack of recent activity, and thank those who contributed to the AT’s Assistance Dog Week at the start of the year. There were some really engaging guest posts to read and due to it’s success, AT plans to host more themed weeks in the future.

Soon I will be graduating from the Animal Behaviour and Welfare degree at the University of Bristol, which has occupied much of my time in the past couple of months!

At the moment I am working on a Poultry Welfare project in Oslo, funded by the UFAW Vacation Studentship grant. The project aims to investigate the welfare of hens reared in aviaries that then go on to produce in the more restrictive ‘furnished cages’.

Watch this space for a resurgence of AT posts (some of which will feature more feathers than fur) in the coming weeks!

Picture by Martin de Witte

Although theses dogs are not typical members of the assistance dog group (they are primarily pet dogs and don’t perform assisting tasks on command) they bring companionship, humour and love to many different people. Pets as Therapy Dogs go with their owners to visit special needs schools, hospitals, care homes and hospices.

The psychosomatic impact of PAT dogs continues to be validated through scientific research. The unconditional, undemanding love they provide is a universal healer.

If you’d like to find out more about PAT dogs, and perhaps look into what it takes to volunteer with them, visit their website.

Photo from www.sellafieldsites.com

This guest post talks through the pros and cons of deciding to get a service dog. As mentioned in ‘Assistance Dogs: The Basics‘, psychiatric dogs are less common in the UK and are not yet certifiable. If you’re interested in reading more about Sandi’s progress with Bambi, check out her blog, ‘Training a Service Dog‘.

Let me start by saying that I am not a dog trainer, or an animal behaviorist.  I am the human side of a service team.  The following is what I have learned from trainers and people working with service teams, and from my experience.  I have only dealt with psychiatric service dogs and have not dealt with guide dogs, seizure dogs or any other teams.  I have also done more research on veterans and psychiatric dogs, so I will be speaking more from the perspective of a veteran and a service dog.

There are a lot of things to think about when deciding if a service dog is the best addition to therapy for you.  There are many pros and cons with having a psychiatric dog.  Psychiatric dogs are also a new form of therapy and having one can be like blazing new territory on so many levels.

I will start with cons first, since so much information is out there on the pros, but less on the cons.

Combat veterans coming back from war right now are typically young and independent.  They may be missing their legs or other appendages.  They may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other psychiatric maladies. As young soldiers, they are stronger in mind and body than most.  Adding a service dog at this early stage of their therapy, this person could hide their problems in their dog.  They may not push themselves as hard to heal themselves and get better if they have the help of a dog.  They no longer need to get completely better, the dog will do things for them.  If the dog is comforting a PTSD patient, and the veteran has not worked with a therapist enough, and something happens to the dog, this could set back their treatment.  A newly returning PTSD patient can even delay their therapy, thinking that the dog has made them all better, until the dog passes years later, only to find they are in worse shape than when they first came home.

Some psychiatric patients can have aggressive tendencies when working on their problems.  A great deal of these post traumatic stress disorders stem from violent occurances.  The dog becomes tied into their therapy.  If something were to happen to the dog, accidently, the aggression can be focused on the people involved in the accident.  For example, if the dog were hit by a car, would the patient be aggressive towards the person that accidently hit the dog?

An obvious problem is that the patient may outlive their dog.  Is this person in a place to handle the death of the animal they have become so dependent upon?   Can they live without a dog until another is trained to help them?

The needs of the dog can be overwhelming for a person who needs help themselves to get things done.  The dog needs attention, and to be fed and walked.  These needs increase exponentially if the person is training their own dog from puppyhood.  Some people choose to go this way so that the dog will be trained to their needs and to train the dog to be a better fit. I have chosen to take this path but I do not recommend it unless you have a lot of time and patience for a puppy doing what puppies tend to do.

When having a service dog, there is quite a bit of unsolicited attention.  The worst of this attention is having long discussions with store and restaurant owners.  Some are not knowledgeable about the laws on service dogs.  In some cases you will have to educate them, before you can sit down and eat.  This can take time and some conversations will even get heated.  Again, this in new territory for many people.  Also, people are seeing a dog where they do not usually see a dog.  They are attracted to the dog, they want to pet the dog, and talk about the dog.  I had an experience recently at a state park where stangers were wanting to stop us and take pictures of my puppy, and talk about her and her breed.  It was like walking a celebrity.  This is actually indirect attention.  They are paying attention to the dog and this can be used as a way to talk to people and have something to talk about, or it can be stressful for both the dog and the person.


There are laws dealing with service dogs, and although they may seem vague as to what qualifies as a service dog. However, one thing is not vague; who’s responsibility it is when something goes wrong.  A well trained dog is not likely to bite someone, or cause any problems.  A dog that is not fully trained can bite, or even lie down in the wrong spot and trip someone.  In a lawsuit happy society, a lawsuit can be extremely stressful.  It is recommended that the dog is trained properly, and fully, with the help of a licensed trainer.

Now, onto the “pros”.  To start, the dog is a comfort to the person.  When it is hard to deal with everyday stress, a dog can help the person get through everyday situations.  Especially if this dog goes everywhere the person does.  Comfort dogs do not qualify as service dogs, but a service dog can be a comfort as well as a service dog.

The dog can also be a distraction.  Anxiety and panic tends to increase as the person gets caught in their own thoughts.  The dog can help the person stay grounded in the present with the dog.  The dog can be trained to be an even greater distraction.  They can be trained to lick the person’s face, or inform them that they need to go to the bathroom, so the person is forced to deal with everyday situations and not spiral into a panic attack.  The dog can also be trained to retrieve medications, or pull the person to a calm, safe area.  The dog can be used as an excuse to leave a situation, when the person says they need to tend to the dog’s needs.

Service dogs can be a great addition to therapy.  Adding the uncondtional love and comfort of a dog can speed up recovery.  These were some considerations to think about before making an informed decision about getting a service dog.  Discussing it with a doctor and a therapist is preferrable. I, personally, have made the choice to raise a service dog from a puppy and I am loving every minute I spend with her.

By Sandi Tester

Most people are familiar with the roles of guide dogs (aka Seeing Eye dogs) and Hearing Dogs. However, there are many other types of assistance dogs out there, including medical alert dogs, psychiatric service dogs, therapy dogs, mobility assistance dogs and autism assistance dogs.

All types are essential to their handlers and are much more than clever pets. Therefore it is important that you do not approach an assistance dog who is working or in training, as to do so may distract the dog. This will, at best, be an inconvenience and, at worst, could put the handler in real danger.

Unfortunately at the present time, there are no charities registered with Assistance Dogs UK that train psychiatric service dogs. This is a real shame as these dogs can have a significant and positive impact on the lives of people with mental health problems, problems which are equally as debilitating as any physical impairment. For now, therapy dogs and untrained pets fill the gap. Read more here

One last thing- under the Equality Act 2010, it is against the law in the UK to refuse entry to a public place to someone with a registered Assistance Dog.

Hope you’ve learnt something new today! Remember to visit again tomorrow as there will be another guest post to look forward to.

Picture from The Guardian

A very warm welcome to the new year, and to AT’s first ever themed week! This week will be all about the varied and essential work of assistance dogs in human society. To kick start the week, ASPCA award winning author Beth Finke has kindly offered to guest post for Animal Translation. She’ll be talking about her seeing eye dog ‘Hanni’, you can read more about Beth and Hanni on her Safe and Sound blog. Enjoy!

In the Fall of 2007 Hanni led me to the Union League Club of Chicago to meet with a Women’s book club. Well, I say she led me there, but to be honest, when I asked her to turn at the front door she sped right by. The Union League Club is a swanky private club right in the heart of Chicago’s downtown financial district. Members meet there to “socialize and enjoy fine food and impeccable service.” No wonder Hanni raced passed the front door – she couldn’t believe we’d been invited!

When I felt we’d gone too far, I turned Hanni around and pointed in the general direction of the entryway. I could tell from the reluctant pull of the harness that she still wasn’t so sure. We were at the right place, though. Some members of the book club are also members of the Union League Club, and they were kind enough to invite Hanni and me to join them as a guest author. The club had read my memoir, “Long Time, No See.” We talked about how I decided to write that first book of mine and what all has happened to me since University of Illinois Press published it in 2003. Of course I managed to get a plug in for my children’s book “Hanni and Beth: Safe & sound”Image as well. When it was time for us to leave, some book club members asked, “Where’s Hanni?” . I pointed under the table – Hanni had curled up and fallen asleep down there. She was so quiet and still, they hadn’t realized she was with me! BUT THANK GOD SHE WAS.

When we left the Union League Club and headed east on Jackson, we approached a side street. Hanni stopped, of course. Traffic was rushing by at our parallel, cuing me that it was safe to cross. “Forward!” I commanded. Hanni looked both ways, and judging it safe, she pulled me forward. But then all of a sudden she jumped back. I followed her lead and heard the rush of a car literally inches in front of us. Hanni had seen the car turning right off the busy street. I hadn’t. She saved my life. I felt someone rush by us, then heard shouting down the side street. My heart was racing, but training at the Seeing Eye told me what to do next. “Walk backwards! Get on the sidewalk before you praise her!” I heard my trainer from years ago calling out in my head. We had practiced this very thing during training – staff members would drive Seeing Eye vans around town while we were out with our dogs, the van drivers would make quick turns and dart in front of us on purpose so we would feel how the dogs reacted.

Back on the sidewalk, I got on all fours to hug Hanni. I was afraid from what had happened, of course. But even more, I was afraid that the near miss could scare Hanni from wanting to work again. I pet Hanni. I hugged her. I reassured her. People who’d seen what happened called out from across the street to make sure I was okay. I called out a “yes!” and just then a man bent down and patted me ever so slightly on the shoulder. “You alright, miss?” he asked. He was out of breath, panting. “I work at the Union League Club, I saw the whole thing.” It was a cab that had sped around the corner, he explained. The driver hadn’t even slowed down to make the turn. We stood up; I patted down my skirt and tried to regain my composure. Suddenly I realized. The sweet man panting beside me, worrying if Hanni and I were alright – he was the one I’d felt rush past while I was reassuring Hanni. “Was that you shouting?” I asked. “Yeah, I was trying to catch him,” the doorman said. “Sure you’re alright?” He asked. This kind of caring, coming from a complete stranger, made me feel better. I was sure, I told him. Hanni was alright, too. She stopped at every curb after that, and we proceeded with caution. But as always, we made it home. Safe & Sound.

Maui Turtles


So, as you might have guessed from the leaking of marine life into my pet science blog, I have a great interest in all things under the sea. This blog has some beautiful photos, I especially like the humpback whale pictures.

Douglas J. Hoffman Photography

One of the things I love about diving in Hawaii are Green Sea Turtles.  The are so graceful and majestic.

Se more turtle photographs here/



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The 2nd of January kick starts Assistance Dogs Week, a week of posts celebrating the invaluable role of the assistance dog in society. Of particular interest are the guest posts we have planned, I won’t give to much away at this stage, but if you can’t wait, why not check out the following blogs:

Training a Service Dog

Safe and Sound

If there is anything relevant that you would be particularly interested in reading, or you are interested in guest posting an article, don’t hesitate to get in touch!