Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dog Park Advice

Cheri Lucas, founder and president of Second Chance at Love Humane Society, a no-kill dog rescue in Templeton, California, gives advice on how to have a successful experience at the dog park.

In 1999, Cheri began mentoring under Cesar Millan,
the Dog Whisperer.

She believes that when you take your dog to a dog park or any other setting where there are other dogs, you have a responsibility to make sure he or she practices acceptable social behavior. Yet, dog parks often become a venue for excited, dominant and even aggressive behavior.

The key to having a successful experience at the dog park is for your dog to see you as his pack leader. Asking your dog to behave properly in any setting is futile if you have no position of authority over him.

Assuming you are practicing rules and boundaries with your dog on a regular basis, you may be ready to introduce him to the challenge of a dog park. Keep in mind that the dog park or any other play situation should be seen an as occasional treat for your dog, and should never be a substitute for his routine, structured walk.

It’s natural for your dog to co-exist with other members of his own species. However, a dog park is nothing like a pack in the wild! A dog or wolf pack in their natural state is calm, orderly and balanced. To make your dog park experience more like that of a natural pack, ask your dog to earn everything he gets prior to leaving the house for the park. This will set the stage for good behavior as the activity continues. Does this advice sound similar to raising children?

Since your dog can pick up on subtle cues you’re giving him, as you’re getting ready to leave the house, he may begin to exhibit excited behavior. Ask your dog to sit, wait and proceed calmly through the front door to your car. Challenge your dog one more time by requesting he sit and wait for you to release him into the car.

If you’re driving to the park with someone else, ask him or her to correct your dog if he becomes overly excited again. When you arrive at the park, go through the “sit, wait, release” ritual with him again before allowing him to exit the car.

Ebony, Koda, Ginger, and Brinkley ready to go to the Dog Park!

Rather than entering the park right away, take your dog for a brisk walk for 15 minutes, keeping him right by your side. Keep your demeanor calm, assertive and relaxed during this time.

When you arrive back at the entrance of the park, continue to enter the park with your dog on his leash. Continue your walk making sure not to allow tension on his leash. Once you are confident that your dog’s state of mind is calm and balanced, unsnap his leash and allow him to explore on his own.

Your personal challenge will be to remain relaxed yet vigilant. Remember that just because you may have perfect control of your own dog, others may not have control of theirs. As with children, playing can sometimes turn into fighting if intensity levels are not kept in check.

May your next experience at the dog park be relaxing, rewarding and balanced!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Ebony Meets the Emu

Today I managed to take advantage of the last bit of nice weather before the rains slated for the next few days come to Olympia, Washington.

In order to get more exercise than walking for both my dog, Ebony, and myself, I use my "out of line" skates. There is seldom a day that I do not get asked about these skates.

They are called Landrollers

Today, with our friend, Maxine, we traveled a different section of the Chehalis Western Trail. To my surprise, and Ebony's, there was an emu!

Very slowly, Ebony came to the fence to see what it was. After all, last week when we walked the Capitol neighborhood (my friend still cannot quit laughing), Ebony pointed a large lawn statue of a deer. Ebony was not sure of this creature.

Interesting emu facts:

The Emu is the largest bird native to Australia. It is also the second-largest bird in the world by height, after its ratite (flightless bird) relative, the ostrich. The soft-feathered, brown, flightless birds reach up to 2 metres (6.6 ft) in height. The Emu is common over most of mainland Australia, although it avoids heavily populated areas, dense forest, and arid areas. Emus can travel great distances at a fast, economical trot and, if necessary, can sprint at 50 km/h (31 mph) for some distance at a time. They are opportunistically nomadic and may travel long distances to find food; they feed on a variety of plants and insects, but have been known to go weeks without food. Emus will sit in water and are also able to swim.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Taste Test

Did you know that.....
your dog has no real sense of taste as we know it?

A dog smells rather than tastes. It is possible that dogs gain more information about food from their sense of smell than from taste. This may account for their desire to for indiscriminate chewing or eating.

Dogs use their large tongues to lap up water, but they have few taste buds in comparison to humans, approximately one for every six, most of them clustered around the tip of the tongue. They can detect sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes.

This dog knows what it likes!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dog's Sense of Hearing

This is the fifth in the series of blogs relating to the dog's unique senses. I even included one about their amazing sixth sense. Today, let's talk about the sense of hearing.

My what BIG ears you have!

You must have experienced the result of your dog's super hearing ability. You are sitting in your favorite chair reading or taking a nap, with your faithful pet lying at your feet. It's blissfully quiet – not a sound to be heard. Suddenly your dog leaps to his feet and begins barking loudly, his protective bark, and you run to the window to see who is approaching. But there's no one there. At least not at first. It takes moments before someone actually comes into view and walks by the house or into the yard.

The dog's ability to hear is incredibly acute compared to humans. They can hear sounds over a wider range of frequencies and a greater distance than we can. Also, experiments have shown that a dog can locate the source of a sound in about six-hundredths of a second. Their highly mobile ears capture sounds and funnel them down to the eardrum. You might see your dog cock one ear to capture the initial sound, and then use both ears to catch the maximum number of sound waves. Protection and guard dogs use their sense of hearing, along with their sense of smell, to detect possible intruders, sometimes from great distances.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Honor Earth Day

Did you know that today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day?

It is so important that we dog lovers understand how pet waste impacts our environment and our health.

The cold hard fact is this: dog poop isn't just on our lawns, it's in our drinking water. When pet owners do not pick up their pets' waste, storms wash it into storm drains, which empty out into the nearest waterway. That waste is filled with harmful bacteria and parasites that can make people sick.

At one time, people believed that doggy doo was not a problem. But in reality, dog waste is NOT fertilizer and it is NOT good for our lawns. (It is so acidic that it acts as a poison that will actually "burn" your grass.)

Earth Day was created in 1970 to "inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment." Earth Day is celebrated in spring - a time when dog waste is uncovered by spring thaw - making this the ideal time for us to take a closer look at the environmental effects of dog poop.

If you live in a northern state, dog poop accumulates in your yard all winter long. During the spring thaw, the snow melts away and your yard is filled with dog waste. Bacteria and parasites in that dog waste survive the harshest temperatures because they become dormant during those cold winter months. So when that dog waste thaws, those dangerous parasites and bacteria are unleashed in your back yard where they can cause harm to the environment, your pets and you. Also, as dog waste thaws it draws beetles and other pests. So the sooner you clean it up, the better.

Here's the bottom line. If you've got dog waste in your yard, patio or walkways, you have problems. Cleaning up dog poop is one of those inescapable realities of owning a dog. Nobody LIKES to do it, but it has to be done.

How about this great new invention: Doggie Doo Drain

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Dog's Sense of Sight

Have you ever noticed how your dog acts when you are approaching him from a distance? He sees you immediately, and he stops and stares; but it's obvious that he doesn't know who is coming toward him. You start talking to him, perhaps calling his name, but he is still unsure, although he will act interested. Finally, when you get close enough to him that he picks up your scent, he will run to you happily.

Your dog trusts his sense of sight the least. However, while smell is his most refined sense, sight is his strongest.

Dogs have no good biological reason to identify different colors. Though they can distinguish between certain colors, their color vision is limited and the colors may appear muted to them.

Dogs see more clearly than humans do in dim light. This allows for increased movement definition of prey animals. Although their ability to see detail is limited, they are quite exquisitely sensitive to movement, and are able to pick up even very slight movement of hiding prey. A stationary object may not be noticed from a distance, but the dog will see it as soon as it makes a move.

I like to hide from my dog and watch what she does when I am no longer in her sight. Of course, she finds me by smell, but it is fun to watch her.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Nose Knows

The first thing your dog does when you walk in the door is sniff your legs. Dogs gather a lot of information from a quick sniff of their environment – both physical and emotional details. He smells where you've been and even how the experience affected you. Dogs sniff each other and each others' secretions constantly, monitoring various physiological and emotional changes on an ongoing basis.

Dogs live in a world of odors. Their sense of smell is their most refined sense; in fact, it is so refined a bloodhound can identify scales of skin shed by humans three days previously.

They can also detect drugs in hidden in body cavities, can sniff out rats, termites, bombs, missing persons, bodies drowned or buried in snow or rubble, and even the presence of melanoma cancer. Their noses are about as sensitive as our eyes.

The Facts:

The scrolled, scent membrane inside a dog's nose is about four times greater in area than the equivalent smell organ in humans. In the dog's nose, there are over 200 million scent receptors in the nasal folds compared to our 5 million.

Moisture on the nose helps to capture scent and transmit it onto odor-sensitive nasal membranes, which cover the nose's wafer-thin turbinate bones. These bones comprise of convoluted folds, ensuring that the tiniest amount of scent is captured within them.

Next time you take your dog for a walk, watch his/her nose at work.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sense of Touch Important To Dogs

It has been documented that infants require touch to thrive.

With dogs, touch is the first sense they develop and it remains a powerfully important sense throughout the dog's life. Mothers begin touching newborn puppies almost immediately after birth by licking and nuzzling. Touch-sensitive hairs called vibrissae, which are capable of sensing airflow, develop above the eyes, on the muzzle, and below the jaws. The entire body, including the paws, is covered with touch-sensitive nerve endings. The physical sense of touch is very sensitive, although dogs do have a high threshold of pain.

Body sensitivity varies among dogs, but most enjoy being stroked around the head, chest and back. The most sensitive nerve endings are along the spine and towards the tail, and dogs show great enthusiasm in pats or extended rolls and slides on the grass.

Have you pet your dog today?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Dogs Predict The Future?

Are dogs clairvoyant? Although we may like to think they have some extra special sensory powers above and beyond the normal five senses, the facts speak against this. Dogs,however, have exceptionally acute senses. They can often pick up on physical events much more acutely than us. This gift appears to be extrasensory perception, but there is no reason to credit dogs with more than super-sensitivity of the five senses they already possess.

Predicting Storms

Many thunderstorm-phobic dogs become agitated, or even overly anxious, some time before a storm actually arrives.

For example, they may start to pace and pant on a perfectly clear, sunny day an hour or more before their owners notice darkening skies and realize that a storm is in the offing. Storm-sensitive dogs probably realize early that a storm is brewing because they hear it, smell it, perhaps even feel it, a long time before we know that there's anything going on.

Unlike humans, dogs can hear in the ultrasound frequency range, and can hear dog whistles that are silent to us. It is possible that thunderstorms are associated with sounds in the ultrasound range – as well as the characteristic low rumblings that probably include infrasounds – and that dogs detect these sounds from a distance while we hear nothing at all.

Another possibility is that dogs may smell storms coming. Dogs' noses are so sensitive that they can detect concentrations of chemicals in the low parts-per-million range. In fact, dogs' noses are said to be more sensitive than a mass spectrometer. Lightning ionizes air with the formation of ozone – which has a characteristic metallic smell. Perhaps dogs detect this odor, or some other odor associated with the storm, while we remain oblivious to it.

Finally, it is possible that dogs can detect the vibrations caused by thunder through their feet in much the same way that Native Americans employed to detect herds or other tribes moving around in the distance. They would put an ear to the ground to hear distant rumblings; it is not inconceivable that dogs are able to pick up vibrations through their feet and possibly their limbs.

It goes without saying that the composite of darkening skies, certain cloud patterns, rain in the distance, and wind noise, could easily be interpreted by a dog as indicating an encroaching storm. That's not so difficult to imagine as observant humans can also draw such conclusions.

Natural Disasters

It has been fairly well established that some dogs seem to be able to detect earthquakes before they actually occur. Though some say that this early warning precedes even seismographic evidence of a quake, this is hard to believe. But dogs may feel the ground trembling before a person can sense the vibrations through their feet and/or so-called proprioceptors in their joints.

Owners Coming Home

Some dogs can hear, see, and perhaps feel the return of their owner's return before other members of the household. They may pick up on the characteristic sound of their owner's car before it is even on the same street; they may see their owner at a distance even in dim light; or they may feel vibrations of a vehicle before it actually comes into view. All this is quite plausible, and at least one of these cues must provide early warning of an owner's return. But one scientist, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, thinks that dogs are telepathic and can become aware of their owners' intention to return even at a great distance. Studies in the British Journal of Psychology have refuted Dr. Sheldrake's claims, suggesting that the results of his case studies were probably an artifact of the methodology.

One of the reasons that dogs detect things so much better than humans is that they have superior sensory ability and they use their senses better and are more attuned to their environment. Dogs' sharp senses and excellent powers of observation and deduction must have had survival value for their ancestors in the wild. Now they seem little more than a curiosity, a conversation piece.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Two Tennis Ball Dog

Meet Brinkley
a two year old Golden Retriever
who is happiest with two balls in his mouth.

Need I say more?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Youngest Veterinarian

Courtney, who lives in Washington, says she has loved animals since “the day I was born.” She decided she wanted to be a vet when she was seven. “I was fascinated when we took our animals to the vet. I would be in the waiting room and I would see the vet take the animal behind the door, and then when he came back he was better. It was like magic. So I started asking lots of questions.”

Her mother said that she had been bothering the Vet since she was about seven, and began volunteering at age ten. According to Washington State law she must be twelve to volunteer without a parent present.

At age ten, Courtney completed an online course and was certified as a veterinary assistant. It is an online course and they mail you all your books. For her 'Field Practices,' she had to work in a sterile environment and practice with the Vet. Once the course studies were done, she had to take tests online and those were graded.

Courtney Oliver has already passed her first exams on her route to becoming a vet and plans to start taking college courses this year.

She is practicing at South Bay Veterinary Hospital in Olympia, Washington, and Dr. Michelle Shoemaker has been Courtney's mentor. This is our Vet and I hope to meet Courtney someday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

If Your Dog Could Talk

Do you ever wonder what your dog would say if he could talk? Do you ever wonder what’s on his mind when he looks up at you with that plaintive expression and those big, warm, brown eyes?

You could be in for a surprise. I am going to guess you would find out that it is you who needs the training more than your dog! We humans do a lot of things that leave dogs puzzled.

According to Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, treating your dog like a child is one way to wreck your relationship.

We all know those houses, right? The ones with the framed pictures of Spot all over the walls. His name embroidered on all of his pillows and emblazoned on toys of every kind, scattered from kitchen to bedroom to bath. Spot's owner never stops obsessing over him as though he were a one-year-old. You can see how the human starts to get confused sometimes and starts thinking that Spot is a child — but of course Spot is under no illusions at all. He is a dog, and he wants to behave like a dog — that is in his DNA. Like all dogs, he wants to run, he loves to chase things, and he wants to use his nose to track. Your “baby” is also a pack animal and needs the structure and discipline in his life to feel fulfilled and not become frustrated.

There is nothing wrong with showing your dog love, but remember,Cesar recommends: first exercise, then discipline, and finally affection.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Is Your Dog Fat?

Diet and nutritional status are crucial to your dog's general health. Unfortunately, many pets are overweight – much like their owners. And – like their owners – pets are not as healthy when they are carrying too much weight. Chubby dogs often suffer from arthritis and heart disease. If you are concerned that your pet is overweight, here are some ways you can evaluate your pet's body condition.

Body fat. Stand behind him and place your thumbs on the spine midway down the back. Fan out your fingers and spread them over the ribs. With your thumbs lightly pressing on the spine and fingers on the ribs, slide your hands gently up and down.

In normal dogs there is a thin layer of fat. You can feel the ribs easily, although you won't see them. If your dog is overweight, you will not be able to readily feel the ribs, and the tissue over the ribs may feel smooth and wavy.

Appearance. Normal dogs have an hourglass appearance. Fat dogs have abdomens protruding from the sides, as well as enlarged fatty areas on either side of the tail base and over the hips. A fatty area may also be present on the neck and front of the chest. When obese dogs walk, they may have a classic waddle.

If you feel that your dog is obese, contact your veterinarian. Tests may need to be performed to eliminate underlying disease as a cause of the obesity. In addition, your veterinarian can help you improve your dog's body condition and overall health.

Counter Surfing

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why Water Bottles?

Why do dogs love to chew on empty water bottles? It's the crunching sound. It can give people goose bumps but dogs just love it!

Whether they are given the empty bottle as a toy or they fish it out of the recycling bin, puppies and adult dogs alike seem to love these crinkly, crunchy "toys". Filled with water or kibble, pre-crunched or just as they are, plastic bottles are a big hit.

Here's the good news. Water bottles are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to replace (no trips to the pet store required!), making them a necessity for many dog owners. I've known several dogs whose owners tried giving their dogs bones, stuffed toys and balls only to have their pets come back time and time again to play with the water bottle.

Now, here's the bad news. Water bottles aren't always safe for dogs to play with - but they can be. All you have to do is take a few precautions.

Before giving a water bottle to your dog, always remove the cap and label as well as the small plastic ring which secures the cap. A pair of small scissors can be used to snip off the latter if you cannot easily remove it on your own. As with any dog toy, it is important to supervise play and regularly inspect water bottles for damage to avoid the ingestion of plastic or damage from sharp edges. When the plastic breaks down, the sharp edges can cut your dog's mouth.

Several dog toy companies have taken note of the growing water bottle craze and incorporated water bottles into their products.

Check out the Crunchy Monkey.

Ebony likes these Bottle Crunchers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dog Breeds For People Who Have Allergies

For many people, dogs are loyal companions and considered a member of the family. For them, life without a dog is meaningless. But what do you do if your love for dogs and your allergies do not mix?

Allergies are associated with the dander produced by the dog and not the dog himself nor the dog hair. Dander is the dry skin that flakes off, floats through the air and induces the classics signs of allergy. There is no breed that is 100% allergy free as they all produce dander, even the hairless breeds such as the Chinese Crested or the rare Xoloitzcuintli.

Thankfully, for all those dog-loving but allergic people, there are a few dog breeds that don't develop as much dander as others and subsequently are less likely to induce sneezing, wheezing and watery eyes.

The American Kennel Club (AKC ®), largest registry of purebred dogs in the world, developed a list of breeds they believe are associated with less dander. They include:

Bedlington Terrier. With the look of a lamb, this terrier is a wonderful companion. Most often seen with a blue haircoat, this breed sheds little, resulting in less dander and easier breathing for the allergy sufferer.

Bichon Frise. The bichon is not only a great lapdog, but the curly-coated white breed produces little dander, making the dog a wonderful companion for people with allergies. To keep him looking great, the bichon needs periodic trips to the groomer.

Chinese Crested. This breed is slowly gaining popularity. Not completely bald, the Chinese crested has some puffs of hair on the head and may have a very spotted skin. Despite his weird appearance, the Chinese crested is a great family pet.

Irish Water Spaniel. Even though he may look like the clown of the spaniel family, the Irish water spaniel is the tallest spaniel and a great water dog. The coat of the Irish water spaniel is his most distinguishing characteristic.

Kerry Blue Terrier. The hair coat of the Kerry blue is silky soft and dense. The coat can be curly or wavy but should not be wiry or harsh. The Kerry blue does require frequent grooming

Maltese. As the name suggests, the small Maltese originated on the island of Malta, in the Mediterranean. This diminutive breed looks fragile but is quite resilient. The long flowing white coat needs daily care but sheds little and produces small amounts of dander.

Poodle. The standard, miniature and toy poodle make excellent pets. These dogs crave human companionship and, for the allergy sufferer, produce little dander. The breed does require attentive grooming to keep his coat in tip-top shape.

Portuguese Water Dog. Bred to help the fishermen of Portugal, this breed is as happy on land as he is in the water. Another dog that produces little dander and doesn't shed much, the Portuguese water dog is a faithful and active companion.

Schnauzer. (Miniature, Standard or Giant) The most common coat color is salt and pepper but black is also available. In order to keep their coat clean and tangle free, frequent grooming and clipping is necessary.

Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier. A medium sized terrier, the wheaten seems to love life and human companionship. The color is any shade of wheaten. The soft coated wheaten has a soft wavy hair coat in any shade of wheaten.

Xoloitzcuintli or Mexican Hairless. Comes in 3 sizes and in two varieties: hairless and coated. The colors are: black, bronze and grey.

Thinking of bringing a pet into your home? If you are unsure as to whether your family members have allergies, have them spend time in the home of pet-owning friends before bringing home a dog or cat. "If a family member does in fact have allergies, it doesn't necessarily mean you cannot have a pet," says Dr. Hansen. "If you suspect that you or a member of your family has allergies, take them to a specialist who will determine the exact cause of your symptoms and help alleviate your symptoms." Medications and immunotherapy (de-sensitizing shots) can often allow you and your companion animal to remain together happily ever after.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Can Dogs Tell If We Are
Stressed, Depressed, or Overjoyed?

Being that April is National Stress Awareness Month I have been posting blogs regarding stress and health this week.

Here is another in the series.

You get angry at your dog and he gives you the classic hangdog, guilty look. He knows you're mad. So does that mean your dog can sense your emotions? The answer is not as clear. Your reaction made it clear you – the pack leader – are upset, and your dog is desperate to appease you (he probably doesn't know or care why you're angry).

But what if you're stressed or sad about something else, not involving your dog? He may sense something is wrong, but again, may not know why.

Examples of dogs sensing our emotions:

Almost every dog owner has found out that when they are really sad, their dog acts differently toward them. He may approach them with a concerned look and, quite out of character, hunker down next to them, presumably to provide some support. It is as if they are saying, "I know there's something wrong, I don't know what but I'm here for you anyway."

Fear-aggressive dogs are more often aggressive to people who fear them. By observation, they pick up from a person's demeanor that they are not comfortable and capitalize on their weakness. Perhaps it is because the person has a pained expression; perhaps because the person is a little tenuous; or perhaps the dog reads fear from the large diameter of the person's pupils. For whatever reason, under-confident dogs "know" when a person is afraid of them and will move forward on them, perhaps to attack.

Top trainer William (Bill) Campbell is well known for his "jolly routine" approach to treating fear in dogs. Most people think that this involves being jolly with your dog, but actually that's not so. The real jolly routine means that all the people in the house should behave in a happy, jolly manner with each other. The dog, sensing their apparent happiness, figures out that nothing bad is going to happen and relaxes. The fact that the technique works is testimony to the fact that dogs are influenced by our emotions and behavior. When we're "up," they're "up."

Many dogs slink away and hide or sulk when their human "parents" argue. A major fight between adults really seems to take its toll on some dogs who seem to know that there's trouble afoot. The appearance of the dog's behavior is as if he understands discord and does not want to be around it.

If an owner comes home and finds their home trashed by their dog, the guilty party will often be found hiding, perhaps with a hangdog look. Owners believe their dog is feeling guilty about what he has done and I tend to agree. If you accept the guilt explanation, you must also accept that the dog is projecting your feelings of disappointment or anger. Hard line behaviorists naturally would disagree with this interpretation, preferring to believe that the dog simply associates his owner, the damage, and his own presence with past punishment and acts submissively. This would be all fair and well, but there are dogs that have never been punished who still act in this way. Sure, their owners may have been disappointed and disheartened by the damage, but that's about it. The dogs must have read this disappointment because they sure weren't responding to punishment of any form.

Some naughty dogs do not appreciate their owners hugging or kissing each other. They seem to know that the people concerned are experiencing some pleasure and they want to be part of it. So, they try to leverage themselves into the situation by shoving, pushing, pawing, and jumping. This behavior looks like jealousy but many mainstream behaviorists disagree, preferring explanations like possessiveness, which sounds very similar to jealousy to me, or conflict-induced behavior, because the dog "cannot predict what will happen next."

Examples of dogs seemingly picking up on our emotions are endless but still the scientific proof is not there. The case against animals having the ability to glean our mood and mindset is based on lack of evidence to the effect that it happens rather than conclusive evidence to the contrary.

From an evolutionary point of view, it would be very strange if dogs did not have the ability to sense mood and that it suddenly occurred for the first and only time in the human animal. It would also not make sense to have a pack animal like a dog not realize when he was getting into trouble with another dog or when his behavior was having the desired effect. If dogs feel what we feel, then they would be happy when we're happy, sad when we're sad, and on the lookout (or hiding) when we're angry. All of the above appears to hold true.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dogs Can Help Lower Blood Pressure

Because April is National Stress Awareness Month I have been posting blogs regarding stress and health.

Here is another in the series.

In a recent study, Allen, a researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that stockbrokers with hypertension who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did their non-pet-owning counterparts.

Allen and her colleagues conducted a study of 48 male and female stockbrokers who were being treated with medication to control high blood pressure. All earned more than $200,000 a year, had lived alone for at least the last 5 years and had highly stressful jobs.

Before the study began, researchers asked the participants to quickly count backward by 17 or try arguing their way out of a shoplifting charge.

During these exercises, blood pressure levels reached an average peak way above normal – even above what doctors generally consider "high" blood pressure.

Drug Prescribed at Start of Study

At the start of the study, the brokers were prescribed the anti-hypertension drug, lisinopril. Half of the participants were randomly selected to also get a dog or cat as a house pet. Six months later, Allen and her colleagues conducted tests in the participants' homes to measure changes in blood pressure. They found that stress-induced blood pressure continued to rise in the brokers without pets.

The brokers who owned pets also had stress-related rises in blood pressure, but these rises were only half as high as those seen in the petless group. The pet-owning brokers had average systolic pressures (the first number in a blood pressure reading) that fell within the normal healthy range. Stress-related peaks in diastolic pressure (the second number in a reading) were also reduced.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that while the drug lisinopril helped lower resting blood pressures, pet ownership is better at helping to control stress-induced peaks in blood pressure.

Following the study, many of the participants who did not have pets decided to acquire them, Allen said. "When we told the group that didn't have pets about the findings, many went out and got them," she said. "This study shows that if you have high blood pressure, a pet is very good for you when you're under stress, and pet ownership is especially good for you if you have a limited support system."

Allen is not certain exactly what happens physiologically. "There are lots of theories, but we honestly don't know why pets lower blood pressure," she said. "We suspect that having someone on your side - someone you can always count on that is non-judgmental - psychologically creates a beneficial atmosphere."

Friday, April 2, 2010

Dogs Can Help Us Deal with Stress

April is National Stress Awareness Month. I believe stress has always been around but it is somehow different now than it was years ago. Life moves at a faster pace. Adults and children are more aware. Many diseases are linked to "stress" and stress has been shown to shorten life expectancy.

Dogs can help up deal with stress.

Most dog owners would agree: On days when you feel depressed, hopeless, down, lonely, sad, discouraged, or just have the "blahs," spending time with a friendly dog can be a real pick-me-up.

Then there are the documented health benefits of pet ownership. Many studies have proven the link between a healthier, longer life and pet ownership. Though the studies have largely focused on the effects of dogs and cats, other species provide benefits as well. Keeping a pet can give you a sense of purpose and the feeling of being needed, a feeling that is especially important for people who live alone.

Coming home to your family, whether you have one pet or many, gives you something to look forward to.

"Watching your pet's silly antics can make you laugh and help relieve stress," says David Frei, spokesperson for the Delta Society, a nonprofit organization interested in relationships between people and animals. "Pets take away the tension that's in your daily life, whether it's for work or family-related problems. When you see a dog looking at you with his big, brown adoring eyes, that brings a certain relaxation to people."

Pets Decrease Feelings of Loneliness

Pets decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation, explains Alan Beck, Ph.D., director of the Center for Human-Animal Bond at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. "A pet is someone to share your life with," he says. "There's a lot of people in this world who live alone. As a society, many of us live in apartments in big cities. We may not know our neighbors. We may be separated geographically from our extended families. Maybe we're divorced or widowed and live alone. For people in these circumstance, pets can help fill the 'people void' in their lives."

Many people relax by watching their fish as they swim serenely around a scenic aquarium. The multicolored hues can be mesmerizing and has a soothing effect. The same is true with a bird, reptile or amphibian.

Psychologist Judith Siegel, a professor of public health at UCLA, conducted a 1999 study showing how pets help one group of people in particular fight depression: male AIDS patients. "Pet ownership among men who have AIDS provides a certain level of companionship that helps them cope better with the stresses of their lives," Siegel says.

Dr. Siegel says her study, one of the largest ever undertaken on pet ownership and depression, shows "there really is something psychologically beneficial about owning and caring for a pet." The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets and have few close confidants, she adds.

"Pet ownership is not necessarily a substitute for human support," Dr. Siegel says, "but it's another way to express and receive love." And that may be just what it necessary to make a difficult situation a little more bearable.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Do Pets Get Stressed?

April is National Stress Awareness Month. I believe stress has always been around but it is somehow different now than it was years ago. Life moves at a faster pace. Adults and children are more aware. Many diseases are linked to "stress" and stress has been shown to shorten life expectancy.

So what about our pets? Do pets get stressed out, too?

YES! Stress affects pets, too.

Some pets are more stressed out than others - sort of like people. Different pets have different stress levels and, like us, they all handle stress in different ways. You can put two people in a similar situation - say a fender bender - the accident may send one of them over the edge while the other takes it as just another bump in the road.

Dogs are like that, too.

Some dogs are just innately "wound up" and very vulnerable to stress. Some are very in tune with their people. For these pets, our stress also stresses them out. Our pets pick up on our emotions and react to the chaos in our lives. When we're tense, they're tense.

So, how can we help our pets "distress"?

Interestingly, research shows that some music can actually soothe pets (just like music soothes people). Studies prove that music helps relax our pets and researchers have even pinpointed some very specific characteristics in the music that work best.

Some pet owners feel guilty about leaving their dog home alone so they leave the TV or radio on to keep the dog company. But studies show that this actually does more harm than good. Leaving the TV or radio on will certainly create "noise," but it won't necessarily create a relaxed environment for your dog. It can actually CREATE stress for our pets due to the drastic changes in programming content, volume level and the random mix of musical styles.

Dogs prefer classical music. Dogs will actually bark less - especially when they listen to the music of Bach. Classical harp music has been shown to help alleviate stress and heal sickness in cats, dogs, chimpanzees and other animals.

In recent pet anxiety studies, house pets responded favorably to classical music under stress-inducing situations, often slipping into a very serene and peaceful state of mind after only a few minutes of listening. Certain instruments and sounds were more effective than others. For the music to actually calm our pets, it must create a consistently smooth, soothing dynamic from start to finish. That means there should be no abrupt changes in tempo, volume or rhythm. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case with radio broadcasts.