Author Archives: heidi

The Neurological Benefits of Counter Conditioning Leash Reactive Dogs

Counterconditioning and desensitizing dogs when on leash also has neurological benefits © Can Stock Photo/Amaviael

Counterconditioning and desensitizing dogs when on leash also has neurological benefits © Can Stock Photo/Amaviael

Creating new and better associations for dogs on leash when exposed to fearful/stressful stimuli is crucial, as it is better for all involved for the dog to be less stressed and less fearful. The goal is potentially a positive association is created, or at least less stress. When this can be achieved via counter conditioning and desensitizing dogs to these intrinsic stimuli, and many times they can be, then life is better for the humans and the dogs that have stress when on leash. This is something that, among dog trainers knowledgeable in the ways of DS/CC, is widely known.

What is less known, is how the process of counter conditioning affects the neurological processing that leads to behavioral and emotional changes, be they towards the dog feeling less fear and stress, or perhaps a positive conditioned emotional response. This blog will discuss the topic of the neurological benefits that accompany counter conditioning and desensitizing dogs when on leash.

It will also ask questions along the way and at the end. Please, anyone in the neuroscience community that may read this blog, I would greatly appreciate any insights and or answers you can supply. If there are additions, subtractions, clarifications, links, etc…all can be added or subtracted to have this blog be as accurate as it can, please let me know. Thank you. Let’s begin.

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Talking to Dogs

Koala, a black Labrador, rests on her hammock-style dog bed
Photo by Deni Elliott

A newly published study finds that dogs pay attention to both the way we talk to them and to what we say. Alex Benjamin and Katie Slocombe’s ‘Who’s a good boy?!’ Dogs prefer naturalistic dog‑directed speech looked at what they term “dog-directed speech,” or DDS, which is similar in tone and affect to baby talk. Their canine test subjects were all adult dog guests of a boarding kennel whose humans gave permission for their participation.

An earlier study had played recorded human voices using baby talk and regular speech. The content of the speech was supposedly of interest to dogs: greetings and expressions of “good boy!” and “come here!” Puppies in this study showed greater interest than adult dogs. The earlier study had serious flaws, though, primarily that the dogs heard the voices while alone in a room. It’s not surprising that adult dogs didn’t respond to a disembodied “come here” or praise.

Benjamin and Slocombe’s study is far more respectful of canine intelligence. While they also used recorded speech, so that all dogs got the same stimuli, a matching researcher (gender-wise) was in the room and the dogs were able to approach and interact with the human. In the first experiment, the stimuli were:

  • DDS (higher pitched, more emotional speech) with dog-directed content
  • Human-directed speech with human-directed content (assumed to be uninteresting to dogs)

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Animal Abuse Harms People Too

If you are reading this blog then I may safely assume you are an animal lover, but sometimes love is not enough. Sometimes advocacy through direction action is required.

I post this as an urgent call to action to help pass animal abuse legislation which Humane Society of the United States (Wisconsin) state director Melissa Tedrowe declared in her testimony to be a “gold standard” law. Current law has significant loopholes, as I heard Senator Wanggaard declare in a Senate hearing.

Advocates for the humane treatment of animals (Photo: HSUS)
Advocates for the humane treatment of animals (Photo: HSUS)

For the past few weeks I have supported HSUS as they moved companion bills through the Assembly and Senate hearings, greatly strengthening Wisconsin animal abuse law.

I testified at both hearings along with numerous other citizens and the bills passed with bipartisan unanimous support. Now they sit in the office of majority leader Senator Fitzgerald. The legislative session ends in two days and if this bill is not on the schedule by Tuesday, March 20…it will die.

If this bill dies, so may countless animals and human beings.

You see, there is a link between animal abuse and human violence. I know this as I have been researching the subject for an upcoming BARKS From the Guild article and the evidence is very clear. Those who begin by abusing, torturing and killing animals too often end up doing the same to children, spouses, engaging in mass shootings and serial murder.

The massacre at Columbine high school was a catalyst for what is now a perpetual stream of school shootings across the United States. The Columbine murderers first engaged in the abuse and murder of wild and domestic animals.

In Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Jeffrey Dahmer first abused and killed animals, before he began a killing spree at age 18, consuming his many victims.

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Thunderphobia in Dogs

Thunderphobia is the fear of thunderstorms and it can be severe enough to make a dog’s life miserable.  It may be more common than you know.

At least 20% of dogs suffer noise phobias including thunderphobia, according to ethologist Dr. Karolina Westlund, Ph.D.  There are about 80,000,000 dogs in the United States and if 20% suffer thunderphobia the scale of the problem is enormous.

It may be even greater, as Zazie Todd, Ph.D. wrote in Companion Animal Psychology in 2013.

“Dogs that responded badly to fireworks tended to also react to thunder and gunshots. They were also more likely to be older. Dogs that responded to thunder were more likely to be owned by males (although this may be a response bias), would also react to fireworks, gunshots and loud noises on TV, and tended to be afraid of traffic. Dogs that were afraid of gunshots tended to also react to fireworks and cars back-firing, and were more likely to be male and older.”

Thunderstorms worried Jake
Thunderstorms worried Jake

Of the five Labradors I lived with, Jake suffered thunderphobia from the day we adopted him at 18 months of age.  He fell into the 20% category of unlucky dogs.

It changed our life in that we had to become proactive pet guardians and change our own behavior in order to get him through storms.  He was also fearful of distant fireworks and low flying planes.  The noisy world was an unpredictable and scary place for poor Jake.

That was years before I knew anything about training and behavior but we took him to the basement to avoid the flashes of lightning and played music to mask the thunder, playing games with him to keep him in a happy state of mind until the storm passed.

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Goodbye Food Allergies, Hello Play Training!

Angelica Steinker was interviewed for a cutting edge new product that offers hope for allergies.

“This is Power, a seven-year-old purebred Border Collie who up until recently has continuously suffered from both environmental and food allergies. As a result, he would experience rapid weight loss and frequent vomiting. A friend of mine found out about AnimalBiome’s unique therapies.”

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