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.

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Between 3 weeks and 14 weeks, your puppy is learning all about the world, and the experiences it has at this time will shape what it considers to be normal. For example, a puppy born into an apartment in New York will become quickly habituated to traffic noise, but will probably be terrified if it ever meets a sheep.

Using this knowledge, puppy owners and breeders can minimise the risk of phobias in their dog in later life. A good technique is to write a list of things you will expect the puppy to live with when it matures. Examples are vacuum cleaners, prams, loud bangs, trains, other puppies/dogs/animals, wearing a collar, people- and the list goes on! Remember to introduce these things in a gradual and positive manner, so that the puppy doesn’t learn to become frightened of them.

Rescue/older dog? Don’t worry, you can still habituate the dog to things, but it will be a longer process, especially if your dog has learned a fear response!

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Looking for something a bit different to do with your dog this year? Dogs for the Disabled are offering insiders tips on trick training this christmas. Check it out at www.wagntrain.com

Picture from dogsforthediabled.org

Horse Vices?

15/12/11

The ‘vices’ I’ll be discussing today are of the equine kind. Specifically, wood chewing, wind sucking, wood licking etc. These are sometimes known as ‘equine oral sterrotypies’. They develop as a means to an end. And here’s news, that end isn’t to reduce boredom.

Those of you that read ‘Something to Digest‘ will know that horses naturally graze most of the day. Their stomachs secrete acid in a continuous fashion, but saliva is only secreted in response to chewing. In this way, the pH in the stomach of a horse at grass is kept under control by the buffering and flushing action of the saliva.

The problem comes when we cut down on the forage portion of the horses diet in favour of concentrates. The acidity in the stomach rises as it is not being capped by saliva production, which is presumably quite uncomfortable and can eventually lead to stomach ulcers.

And so the horse learns these ‘vices’ to reduce its discomfort, as it can mimic the effect of chewing grass on non edible substrates. Over time they become habit, and can be seen in a horse that has been out at grass for some time, but has been fed a high concentrate diet in the past.

So why don’t synthetic pheromones work all the time? We can only speculate, little independent research has been conducted on their efficacy.

Problem 1 : the synthetic products do not mimic the animal’s individual scent that is deposited in conjunction with the pheromone mark. A little like if I was to write in your diary- the handwriting would be different and you would be confused as to why the entries were there.

Problem 2 : the animal may become more fearful as you disrupt its emotional navigation system.

Unfortunately synthetic pheromones are marketed as a ‘fix all’ for behavioural problems. They are used by well meaning owners indiscriminately.

Extra note: The picture demonstrates the flehmen response, performed by all animals that are capable of actively processing pheromonal information. It functions to draw air over the vomeronasal or ‘jacobson’s’ organ, located between the oral and nasal cavities.

Coco and Friends

15/12/11

Coco is a friend’s horse- she is very inquisitive and playful, a great animal to film!

Wander over to youtube using this link: http://youtu.be/St44sLzbwE4 and let me know what you think!

Hidden Meanings

15/12/11

Sometimes, things can get a bit too much for a puppy. In this picture, Shadow has taken refuge from all the ‘love’ under a parked car. Providing your puppy, or dog, with a place to hide will make him feel safer. It is particularly important if you have children, as a time-out area can prevent puppy frustration when the children’s enthusiasm inevitably surpasses the puppy’s. Having their own place is also helpful to combat phobias, giving your dog some control by allowing him to escape if it all gets too much. So consider making your puppy’s bed/crate/stable a puppy-only-zone and save yourself the hassle of digging your dog out from his DIY hiding spot!

Too fantastic not to share! I have wracked my brain but can find no functional purpose for this behaviour, except of course ‘because it’s fun!’. Brilliant.

AnimalWise

I’ve always found friendly interactions between animals of different species to be oddly reassuring. After all, the world can’t be all that bad a place if two animals, separated by differing genetic backgrounds and behavioral imperatives, can find a way to reach across the biological divide and share something, something joyful and positive.

Because of this, I’m an absolute sucker for all of those YouTube videos of cats curling up with mice, horses who befriend sheep, elephants and dogs who are inseparable, and the like. You know the ones I mean.

Many times, though, these are artificial pairings that spring up after we humans have altered the environment, habituating or even confining the animals with one another. While these human-influenced relationships can be incredibly heartwarming, it somehow seems even more magical when animals forge connections across species boundaries in the wild, in their native habitats and without any human intervention.

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Pheromones

15/12/11

Ever wondered why your cat rubs his head against objects/people? Scratches some places but not others? Urine sprays in certain places? Cats ‘see’ their world as a myriad of scent marks. They use them to define territory, mark objects/places they like, and remind themselves where bad things happen, amongst other things. These scent marks contain pheromones, which is why some companies have produced products that contain synthetic pheromones as tools to modify an animals behaviour.

Do you know of any problems associated with using these products? Answers to come!