Which Dogs are Best with Children?

That question was intended to be ironic… and also to hopefully entice those curious internet searching parents to learn just why they should never trust ANY type of dog to be better or worse with children. It is up to them as responsible dog owners to manage dogs who have healthy interactions with their kiddoes. Don’t believe me? Below I will share the scientific fact behind my position.

If you’ve been following along with us for very long, you probably know that we think the folks at  Animal Farm Foundation are just about the best thing since bully sticks and peanut butter kongs… and if you’re new, you can check out some proof of our admiration, here, here and here! The biggest goal of AFF is to spread the knowledge that dogs should be judged based on their individual qualities, as opposed to breed labels or statistics. Their latest infographics (shown and explained below) share the science behind why an individual approach is not only more fair, but actually also more successful!

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(All of the images in this post are courtesy of Animal Farm Foundation.)

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Did you know that while 50 out of 20,000 (0.25%) of a dog’s genes determine physical appearance, those genes are entirely separate from the genes that influence brain development and function? Therefore, it is scientifically proven that there is NO link between appearance and behavior. And yet our politicians continue to make giant, life-changing assumptions based on that less-than-one-percent. Don’t judge my dog by his cover! Just because a dog looks like a pit bull, does not actually confirm that they have any genetic ties to a staffordshire terrier (think boxer x lab, as just one prime example).

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One reason any vet worth their weight in Acana dog food might suggest that a mixed-breed dog has better odds than a purebred of staying healthy for its lifetime, is because in a closed gene pool (see above) all of the genes are concentrated… the good, the bad, and the hairless (sorry, Chinese Cresteds). Did you know that most purebred dogs originated from only a handful of foundation sires and bitches, which was sometimes as few as 5? Talk about inbreeding! A 1994 Time magazine article on the effects of overbreeding reported that as many as 25% of the 20 million purebred dogs in the US are afflicted with a serious genetic problem. In the world of agriculture and animal breeding, this trend of improved health in mixed-breed animals is called hybrid vigor. By mixing two or more separate gene pools, overtime the recessive genes that carry health and other genetic problems are minimized. All of this contributes to the conversation about individualism in dogs, because a physical appearance really can only tell us so much.

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“Wait, so AFF is telling us that identical twins have identical DNA, but even dogs in the same litter have different DNA? Well, I’ve met identical twins whose attitudes and personalities were nothing alike! I guess it would be crazy to assume that dogs who look similar would have similar behavior…”

Even when dogs are 100% purebred, we cannot predict their behavior. Even in the case of cloned pets (genetically identical animals) scientific evaluation of these animals still shows differences in their personalities and behavior. This is because the behavior of all dogs (or any being!) are not just influenced by genetics and breeding, but also by many outside factors including training, management, environment, and socialization.
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Not only does physical appearance have little to do with behavior, but scientific studies from AFF peers have proven that attempts at visual breed identification by animal welfare professionals (vets, scientists, shelter workers) are incorrect more than 75% of the time. Even worse, those incorrect evaluations are not even the same across the board… those assigning the breed titles cannot even agree! This is because our personal experiences play a large role in the comparisons we draw between a dog’s appearance and their breed of origin.

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This is an interesting way to look at it. Tonka is the offspring of two purebred dogs, and the rest of his 12-pup litter looked very similar to my boy. Any guesses as to the parents’ breeds? (Seriously, would love it if you’d guess in the comments below!) Spoiler alert…

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If I had a dollar for every person that literally ARGUED with me that my dog was at least part black lab, I would be able to take more than one reader out to dinner. Nevertheless, the facts remain that Tonka’s father was a brindle boxer (deep chest, athletic body) and his mother was a golden retriever (long snout, expressive almond eyes, floppy ears)… where did the rest of him come from? I’d like to think that much of his behavior comes from a very conscientious upbringing by me, and thanks to the research from Animal Farm Foundation, I can be confident that this may largely be the truth.

Animal Farm Foundation says it best when they say that: “The only way we can accurately determine what a dog’s needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers. In other words, we can’t judge a book by its cover (even if that cover looks like other ones we’ve seen before!)”

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AFF: “Treating all dogs as individuals means that we let go of biased thinking, recognizing each dog for who they really are, not who we assume they are based on looks, labels, or past experiences. In doing so, we set all dogs free of the baggage and consequences caused by our assumptions, prejudices, and discrimination.” Hmmm. That sounds kind of like the way most of us agree we should evaluate the people in our communities. From a genetic standpoint alone, why should dogs be any different?

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So maybe (hopefully!!) you already new and totally agree with all of the facts shared above. But more importantly, do you understand why they are so important?

It matters to families and communities…

Regardless of ‘breed’ or ‘type’ of dog, false expectations (positive or negative!) can be dangerous or unfair to the animal, and to the families they love. For example, if we assume that every lab is going to be naturally comfortable around children and have an affinity for water, we might not take the time to set the individual dog up for success through careful introduction and training. This may create a dog that has fear or anxiety issues. You can turn this around in the other direction by recognizing the truth behind confirmation bias… In any situation in life, if we approach with negativity and trepidation, we oftentimes set ourselves up for failure, and unintentionally cause the very events we are anticipating. No breed description should be considered a fool-proof road map of a dog’s preferences, personality, or ability. These qualities are heavily influenced by environment and management. If we approach each dog as an individual, and let the animal tell us more than we assume based on their appearance, we are much more likely to wind up with a dog that is a happy member of our families, and of our society.

It matters to those in the animal welfare industries…

As rescuers, shelter workers, and animal advocates, it is always in our best interest to be as honest as possible with potential adopters, volunteers, and the general public at large. By labeling dogs without factual knowledge of their true backgrounds, we are unintentionally being dishonest, and may be setting the dogs up for failure. Instead of meeting an adopter who wants a Golden Retriever, and providing them with dogs that match that physical description, we need to start advocating for “types” of dog. Maybe to the average dog owner, a Golden Retriever fills them with ideas of a dog who will happily play fetch and join the family on hikes, while snuggling in their childrens’ beds at night. Perhaps your shelter has 3 dogs that match this description, but who may or may not look like a Golden Retriever. In this case, you are providing the family with a variety of dog types, all of whom are more likely to be compatible with their lifestyle long-term, and giving many of your rescue or shelter residents an opportunity at a proper home. At the same time, you are doing your part to not reinforce stereotypes or set up false expectations. No breed description entitles an adopter the guarantee that a dog will act a certain way, or have specific preferences… only each individual dog can tell us that!

Additionally, these preferences, personality traits, and abilities, have a large propensity for change over time. If we assumed that a dog’s genetic composition determines their personality traits (Georgia), we would have never taken the opportunity to improve her associations with other animals… we would have assumed that her preferences were intact and not subject to change. This refutes the common pit bull advocacy statement that ‘it’s all in how they’re raised,‘ because it is in fact, more in how they are managed, that matters most. If we assumed that all dog behaviors were set by their genetics or their early life experiences, we would never give cruelty or neglect victims a chance, and everyone searching for a new family member would be getting their dogs from breeders. And that would be a huge problem!

It matters to politicians and law makers…

Once and for all, it is time to put an end to laws passed on the flawed idea that you can determine how a dog will act based on how they look or their breed label. Rather than punishing all dogs and their owners based on the negative or criminal actions of a few, let’s start legislating and enforcing responsible dog ownership laws for owners of all dog breeds and types. In this way, we hold all owners equally accountable, and thereby truly create safer communities. Dogs should be labeled based on their actions or behavior, not on their breeds or physical traits. No one, human or animal, deserves to be persecuted (or even killed!) based on stereotypes.

The AFM5 Moral of the Story:

The world of animal rescue and advocacy is a huge one, and perhaps because of that, it is constantly evolving. That is a great thing for the animals, because it means that we are always being presented with new tools to improve our understanding, and become more competent at finding homes for unwanted pups, cats, rabbits, horses, etc. We have all been guilty of unintentionally spreading misinformation a time or two. What matters is that you take the time to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, and keep your own missions and morals at the forefront of your mind. Let’s make sure that when we are well-intentioned in advocating for our animals, that we are doing more GOOD than harm.

 

AFF CITATIONS:

The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith

AFF ABSTRACTS:

Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development

(Not So) Expert Advice

Upon the advice from our rescue, A Positive Promise, we made an appointment for Kingston to see the vet on Friday. We wanted to get him up to date on the rest of his vaccines, double check some questionable swelling around his suture site, and discuss with them the options for anti-anxiety medications. Although I hadn’t yet been able to visit the new vet, Foster Dad had taken Kingston there for all of his pre- and post-surgical appointments, and had had positive things to say about the experience and the staff with whom they had interacted.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same when I went along on Friday night. The facility is a 24/7 emergency clinic, so maybe you can blame it on the fact that we were being treated by the overnight staff for the first time, or else were perhaps at the end of someone’s long day, but it was one frustration after another. We were rudely talked down to by the technicians (“I’ve never heard of medicating a dog for anxiety! Why can’t you just train him?” and “If he’s just a foster, the rescue group is not going to want to pay for any unnecessary vaccines like kennel cough or lymes.”)and doctor in more than one instance. Never one to be confrontational, most of their comments I could easily brush off, but the final blow came when the doctor came in to examine Kingston. She knew his history of abuse, as well as his lack of familiarity with veterinary offices until his traumatic and painful recent experiences. Instead of coming in slowly or quietly or even just normally, she came loudly into the room, cloaked in a heavy jacket, and hovered overtop of Kingston. Obviously uncomfortable, he still did not aggress toward her, but simply retreated into the corner near Jonathan and me, and emitted a low growl. Once he stopped growling, J reached over to pet him and to give him some reassurance. The doctor immediately started to belittle Jonathan, telling him in no uncertain terms that the dog needed to be punished for growling, or else we were reinforcing the behavior. UGH! I hope I don’t need to explain to our readers why her position was so wrong archaic, what with all of the new things we know about positive reinforcement and canine behavior. However, just in case, check out this infographic from the ingenious Grisha Stewart.

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Certainly we would never want to reward Kingston, or any fearful dog, for being aggressive. However, once he had stopped growling, he had made a great choice in choosing to retreat from whatever was scaring him. Animals have two options when faced with a stressful situation; fight or flight. By choosing to leave the situation, he was making a choice that was blatantly NOT aggressive. Why should he be punished for such a behavior?

Throughout the appointment she continued to speak to us as though we knew nothing about animal behavior, training, or health (hello, I have an Animal Sciences degree thank-you-very-much, as well as a more thorough education in companion animal nutrition than you would have been required to take in veterinary school!)

Thankfully the doctor did eventually pull out some treats (hello, couldn’t this have been one of her first steps?!) and Kingston warmed up to her after a little while, but Jonathan and I were still so rattled. How disconcerting is it when the people we trust to be the ‘experts,’ are really lacking in the knowledge and understanding departments… and even worse, are completely oblivious to the fact that there might be other opinions out there?! I understand that a veterinarian’s job is never easy. Their days are filled with lots of sadness and despair, and I empathize that their occupation is not always a rewarding one. However, it was still so disappointing to feel as though this doctor was taking her frustrations out on us. Have you ever experienced a similar issue? If so, how did you react? What is your advice for us if we are ever again faced with a similar situation?

Poor, sad widdle pibble

Poor, sad widdle pibble

Fostering is Hard

I try to keep things really positive around here, but I have recently realized that in doing so, perhaps I am not always as up front as I could be. I wanted to take a moment to be really, really honest with all of you.

Fostering is hard. While that may not be something I want to share on a regular basis, because I wouldn’t want it to turn anyone away from trying to make a difference, I also don’t think it is something that many are unaware of. One of those things that is often unsaid, yet understood. It is hard to bring a dog who is at its lowest into your home and into your family, fall in love and nourish it back to physical and emotional health, only to have to say goodbye and trust a new family to care for him or her as well as you could.

But there is more to it than that. It is hard to give up date nights week after week, because it would make more sense to allot those funds to a bag of dog food, not to mention that the dogs have been kenneled all day while you’ve been working. It is hard to deal with extra fur and even sometimes ticks and fleas. It is hard to take time off of work to drive to the vet, and set aside time in your evenings for training and communicating with the rescue and prospective adopters. It is hard to see your own dogs upset or sad or even angry to be isolated from you in order for you to spend time with your foster dog. It is hard to have friends or family members or acquaintances ask you if they can adopt the dog, when you know it might not be an ideal fit. It is even harder when people criticize you for not keeping your foster dog, when you know it wouldn’t be ideal for anyone involved. It is hard to disappoint others when you have to cancel plans because you need to make sure your foster dog gets his medications on time. It is hard to feel judged by others for the way you choose to spend your time and money, in the hopes of making a difference. It is hard to balance all the guilt and sadness and anger and other emotions… guilt toward all of the dogs, and deciding which ones get your time and attention, sadness for your foster’s situation, anger toward the person who selfishly put this burden in your life, and everything else that goes along with this job.

It is really hard when you discover that your foster dog has separation anxiety. It is even harder when you see evidence of his tantrums. It is hardest when you imagine what could make a dog panic to the extent that he is so destructive when you leave him for just a few hours.

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But you know what makes all of that not only easier, but actually worth it? When your foster falls into a deep sleep in your arms, and you realize that this is probably the safest he has ever felt. It’s easy when you watch him play with another dog, bouncing and smiling and play-bowing, his antics showing a pup much younger than his age might suggest. It helps when you see the light bulb flicker on during a training session, and you see a glimpse of the perfect family dog he is becoming. It is easier when you see him greet a child, and he becomes a gentle, wiggly thing, giddy at the chance to kiss the fingers of a person right at his own height. When you proudly watch him share his toys with another dog or politely greet a new person, using the skills you’ve shown him. And of course, you can’t help but smile at the simplicity and clarity of it all when you remember that this dog exists, in no small part, simply because you chose to inconvenience your life in exchange for the continuation of his. Not such a hard bargain, if you ask me.

IMG_2398We love you, Kingston! No matter how much fluffing you scatter around our house. ❤

 

Adventures with Kingston

While I was working out in the cold and mucking horse stalls this weekend (can you tell how badly I felt for myself?) Kingston and Foster Dad got to enjoy a Man Date. A local student was completing her senior project, in which she held a benefit truck show to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House charities. Of course, J couldn’t ignore an opportunity to have some fun with his truck while raising money to help those in need, so after spending approximately 16 hours washing, waxing, and polishing his truck, he set out early Saturday with a raffle basket in the back and Kingston as his copilot.

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While the truck may not have won top honors, Kingston was definitely the crowd favorite. J said there was a steady stream of people throughout the entire day, waiting patiently to meet our little royal dude. Apparently he was friendly with all he met, but most especially the littlest visitors… it was clear that kids were his favorite, by his wiggle-squiggling anytime he saw a little one!

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Conveniently, the truck show was located right near Butler Veterinary Associates, the clinic that performed Kingston’s surgery. Saturday was the 10 day mark since his procedure had been performed, and so it was time to take out the sutures. Kingston is doing well, but some swelling at the location of the pin suggests that we need to do a better job of helping him to lay low.

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Thanks for all of the well-wishes and continued support. We feel so lucky to have been able to be a part of Kingston’s road to recovery and happily-ever-after, but we could not have done it without all of you.

Friends Helping Friends: Amelie

Our friend Josh from That Touch of Pit has saved the lives of over 55 dogs (and two cats!) in the past year and five months. While all of those pups hold a special place in his heart, he has recently rescued a new dog that needs our help more than any others have before.

Meet Amelie.

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This sweetheart is a one year old pittie pup who was found tied up to a bench in a park just a few blocks from their local public shelter in NYC, unable to walk and crying in pain. The shelter contacted Josh asking if That Touch of Pit might be able to take her, as she could not get the necessary care there. Without hesitating, Josh and his partner Jennifer agreed and rushed her to our emergency vet. The initial diagnosis is that something fractured one of the vertebrae in her neck very severely. She has lost all ability to stand, sit, walk or even use her legs at all. Total paralysis. Heartbreaking? Yes. But what is amazing, is that she has sensation, so the doctors are hopeful that she can recover.

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Amelie’s medical bills alone (this wont include any recovery efforts like physical & water therapy, food, and other necessary supplies) are approximately $7,000. So That Touch of Pit has set up a youcaring fundraiser to help raise some money to cover the exorbitant cost. Here is the link:

 As you can see by the photos, Amelie is a really sweet dog who absolutely deserves a second shot at life. Even just a few dollars can help Josh & Jennifer make that a possibility. We all know that her life is worth skipping a cup of coffee this morning!
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And if you are looking for a way to give back to Amelie, while also having a chance at securing some cool stuff, our friends at Our Waldo Bungie are hosting an awesome giveaway for anyone that donates over $15. Head over there to check it out!
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When the Fosters are Away…

The foster puppy plays!

Some of you may know that we traveled out of town over the weekend. I know what you’re thinking… how could you leave that adorable little injured pup, fresh off the surgery table? Please understand that we had paid for the trip months prior, and couldn’t get our fees back if we cancelled (trust me, I tried!) In spite of all of that, I was still planning to cancel the trip in favor of nursing Kingston back to health, much to Foster Dad’s (understandable) chagrin.

Believe it or not, our marriage is still intact all thanks to a friend of mine (I hope I am accurately conveying the sarcasm!) In all seriousness, my friend N. totally saved the day. Did I mention that she is a vet? So of course, she is about the only person I felt comfortable caring for Kingston so soon after his surgery. Did I also mention that she is due to have her first baby in a mere 6 weeks? Now is the part where I mention what a saint she also is. THANK YOU N!!!

Here are a few adorable pictures from their weekend together. My only requirement for leaving the state was knowing that I could have constant contact which would verify his progress. Thank goodness for iPhones 🙂

Helping Nadine and her husband prepare their nursery for the impending human-puppy arrival!

Helping N and her husband prepare the nursery for the impending human-puppy arrival!

Enjoying some light exercise

Enjoying some light exercise

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As much as we appreciated their caring for Kingston, it was also invaluable to get another perspective on his personality. We got rave reviews of his behavior all weekend, as he met cats, other dogs, and lots of new people. Even with all of the changes soon to come in their lives, they seriously considered bringing little Kingston into their home on a more permanent basis… he is that awesome, friends!