Saturday, March 26, 2011

My two cents on the "Guilty Dog" video, higher-order emotions and anthropomorphism

Let's face it: We love dogs.

Sharing our lives with dogs has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, and by and large that's been a good thing for them. Better treatment of canines, our better understanding of the species as a whole and by the sum of its parts by experts, better health care and more has been helpful.

The area of canine cognition has grown vigorously, which is also important for more reasons than I can count.

As dogs have been brought into our lives in a more inclusive capacity, the whole dynamic of their behavior has changed. Dogs have had to evolve quickly. We expect more out of them - sometimes too much - and in order for them to exist in a more civilized way so that they can be with us inside our homes, the need for us as humans to learn to modify their natural instincts and behaviors has become a necessity.

An unfortunate side effect of this change has been the anthropomorphism of animals as a whole.

Ask anyone who lives with pets how they perceive the animals' behavior, emotions and perceptions, and you'll get a wide range of answers.

That's not surprising, quite honestly. Considering all of the influences, like books, blogs, TV personalities, and sometimes very unqualified people that are out there telling dog owners what dogs think and feel, it happens a lot. Combine that with the preconceived notions that we have to draw from on our own personal experiences as humans, and people not knowing how to choose a dog trainer or behaviorist (if and when it's needed), and it's usually a recipe for disaster for canines.
flickr photo courtesy of Emery_Way

I see many things in any given week that leave me with raised eyebrows as far as what pet owners say or do to with regard to the behavior of four-legged members of our world.

This past week was no exception. Surely you've seen the video of the "guilty" yellow lab circulating all over the internet, by now.

After seeing it myself last weekend, I was immediately incensed by the assertion that this pooch was somehow feeling guilty about getting into a package of cat treats. By mid-week, the video went viral.

Why do I feel this way? This video - and the circulation that it's gotten - along with the hordes of others like it on the internet give the wrong message. Good Morning America decided to do a segment on it as well, albeit tongue-in-cheek.

The video of the pooch conveyed anxiety and nervousness. Guilt? Not likely. Guilt is part of the human condition. A higher-order emotion.

It's difficult for most not to be anthropomorphic with dogs especially, but It's puzzling why we continue to place human emotions on canines to this degree. The practice leads people off track, especially where serious behavior problems are concerned.

Before we can help unfold a dog into the unique creatures that they are, we need to understand them on a level that is appropriate - not one that is tainted by our preconceived notions due to our human experiences.

Let's leave the postulating about dog behavior to animal behaviorists and ethologists, shall we? Dogs might be better served if we spend more time trying to understand higher-order emotions where they truly reside: In humans.

Read more on the topic of "dog guilt" and higher-order emotions by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for and frequently writes about dogs. She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dog walking is serious business - are children up for the task?

         flickr photo courtesy of A Gude

I saw a blog over the weekend that caught my attention, and for good reason: A town in Virginia is proposing a law that would require only competent, responsible adults to walk dogs.
The article spawned a lot of controversy, and I think that the notion of creating a law is an interesting one.

Frequently in my travels with dog walking, I am presented with an all-too-common situation where my charge and I encounter another dog accompanied an apt human on the other end of the leash. Many people are mindful about the dog in their possession: Are they calm, and able to pass by another dog without issue, or does being faced with the prospect of passing another dog on the sidewalk pose a problem?

Most people who are aware that their dog isn't so good at dealing with others will usually move to the side or in some cases or change their course. I've done it myself - usually with a nod or a verbal confirmation. Walking in downtown areas or on tight trails is cause for an extra amount of awareness and care when you've got a dog alongside of you.

While I rarely encounter an issue that's too dicey, there is one scenario that I find to be deeply troubling.

Thursday, I was walking a large dog who was quite docile.The weather was exquisite, and that prompted a lot of people to get out and walk their dogs, resulting in a lot more foot traffic than we usually encounter. I was thrilled to see so many people out and about with their pets, but what troubled me was the number of children who were walking dogs while unattended by adults.

Now, before you get all up in arms, I think it's great - necessary even - that kids are exposed to the responsibility of walking a dog on a leash, learning how to control a dog safely and understanding the gravity of the task.

That day, I encountered an alarming number of children who were clearly too small and physically unable to control the dog in their possession - and/or trying to multi-task. In the latter case, I witnessed two children on three-wheeled scooters, trying to manage their dogs on leashes, all the while the dogs and their leashes were getting tangled around the scooters and the children's legs.

It's frightening to watch a child, 8 to 10 years of age, heading in your direction, with both hands tightly, furiously clutching the leash, on the cusp of literally being dragged down the street by an enormous dog who has no leash manners - another scene that availed itself that day.

Those instances are examples of why I posit that supervision should take place until a child is able to handle the responsibility on their own - meaning that they can handle it physically, emotionally and intellectually.

It's a lot of responsibility being on the other end of the leash. A lot can happen, and in many cases, much of it isn't within your control - but how you react to a situation is.

Can a child handle that responsibility? What are your thoughts? Please, take the poll and leave your comments below.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for and a professional pet sitter and dog walker. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures around Washtenaw County on Twitter. She welcomes your contact via email.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Product Review: IQ Treat Ball by Ourpets

Last week I posted this photo on Facebook and made a comment about the super cool dog "toy" pictured in it.

There was an enthusiastic response to my post; the most common was "What is that called?"

A simplistic idea, an equally simple yet ingenious design, the IQ Treat Ball gets dogs interested and keeps them moving. Foraging toys are not a new concept; several companies make them and they are a great way to give dogs a little something extra to do.

Foraging toys can be used as an outlet for fun to dispense treats, or as a way to feed your pooch (as one of my clients does, and their dog prefers it.)

In the wild, dogs had to hunt, catch and kill their food. Now, typically they just get a bowl of kibble plunked down in front of them. While many people argue that dogs are so far removed from living in the wild, and that the way that we deal with them today is perfectly healthy, a  lot of folks - including myself - beg to differ. 

The problem is, dogs are the fastest evolving species on the planet. They have had to be because of human intervention. What we may see as progress, comes at a price for many breeds, especially. Dogs still have their instincts and those need to be fostered. Foraging toys are a way to help satisfy that.

The IQ Treat Ball allows dog owners to stuff a few treats inside the entirely hand-washable plastic ball, and let dogs have a little fun. Powered by your dogs interest and activity, the ball -which comes in a 3" or 5" size - has a flat stopper/insert in the middle that has a hole that allows the treats to trickle out fast or more slowly, so that you can adjust the level of difficulty.

Simply unscrew the two halves of the toy, drop some kibble or treats in, replace the insert, set the dispensing hole size, put the toy back together, scootch it across the floor and watch your furry friend go!

One of our dogs loves foraging toys, the other, not so much. That being said, I think that it's certainly worth a go for any dog. In my opinion, the more variety, the better and honing in on what your dogs get in to for fun, stimulation and using their problem-solving skills and senses is key.   

But since the Ourpets IQ Treat Ball has a great design, a low price point (starting at $10) and is durable (too difficult for most dogs to pick up and chew) it's a great product to introduce your four-legged companion in using a foraging toy. 

I recommend, as always, that this and all toys like it be used by pets while they are under supervision of a responsible human, for safety's sake.

For more information and to find out where to purchase, click here to go to the Ourpets website

Lorrie Shaw is a professional pet sitter and dog walker and is also lead pets blogger on, where she has previously made recommendations on pet products. Follow her writing and other pet related adventures on Twitter or contact her via email.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Detroit Dog Rescue makes plea to The Ellen Show

Monica Martino set out to create a reality show, and as an Emmy-nominated producer, she has a knack for getting people's attention. But instead of creating just another reality show, Martino had a purpose in mind: To highlight the plight of the homeless dogs in Detroit from a unique vantage point - the dogs themselves.

Its no secret that the city has suffered it's share of unwarranted setbacks and beat-downs, and so many people have suffered as a result of economic strife at the hands of greed and mismanagement. It's a great city, and great people, but the resources are limited. Those who suffer immensely, with absolutely no way to change their situation, are the homeless, abandoned and neglected pets.

In the end, the City of Detroit shot the idea down, and Martino and her partner in the project, Hush, whose real name is Dan Carlisle, were at as loss for what to do since the project couldn't go forward.

Out of the duo's despair came the idea to stay and help by creating what came to be known as Detroit Dog Rescue. Their mission: To involve and edify the community about the plight of homeless dogs, and to get canines rescued and placed into loving homes.

The non-profit has a big task ahead of them. By some estimates, there are 50,000 homeless dogs in the city alone, with very few animal control officers to put a dent in the problem. DDR, knowing the size of the task, has made a plea to help raise money and awareness to none other than all-around champion to companion animals, Ellen DeGeneres to get some help with getting the word out about their cause. 

Check out this video plea:

Lorrie Shaw is a pets blogger and professional pet sitter/dog walker in the Ann Arbor area. Follow her daily pet adventures on Twitter or shoot her an email.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Canine brucellosis confirmed in six Michigan counties, and the possible culprit

Brucellosis is a venereal disease that you hear about typically with regard to breeding canines, but a Michigan State University veterinarian and researcher has stern news: Not so fast.

In light of an outbreak that has affected six counties and is suspected in another ten - Missaukee, Osceola, Wexford, Grand Traverse, Ottawa, and Macolm - Cheri Johnson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM warns people not to discount the fact that the highly transmissible disease is spread simply through breeding. 
flickr photo courtesy of Acme Canine

Any dog owner will tell you that dogs frequently poke their noses in all sorts of places. They have a habit of eating gross stuff and licking things that they shouldn't. By and large, it's not an issue. 

Brucella, as the bacterial disease is referred to, is present in the bodily fluids of infected vertebrates - in higher concentrations in the semen, urogenital secretions, fetal membranes - but can also be found in urine and saliva.

There's no reason for the average pet owner to get all up-in-arms. It's a pretty safe bet that your typical pooch isn't going to be infected with the disease via casual contact.

In fact, humans rarely pick up the strain of brucella that canines get, B. canis, but you can transmit it to other dogs. Good hygiene is a must, of course, if you have contact with bodily fluids, regardless (remember the "happy birthday rule", though).

If you are considering breeding your dog, here's some food for thought: It's a good idea to have your dog tested, and insist that the owner of your dog's mate produce documentation of a clean bill of health. Since brucella can be hard to detect, and  it's so slow growing, blood tests that are typically done may not give the correct result and the disease could still be present - so proceed with caution.

Brucella is treated with antibiotics, but it's not a foolproof solution; the bacteria are hearty, and great at hiding out in the host cells.

Johnson notes another issue that can be a problem however, for a wider demographic of dog owners. "To avoid euthanasia, well-intended but misguided rescue organizations in Michigan have rescued dogs from infected kennels and adopted them out as pets to unsuspecting owners, whose veterinarians will be equally unsuspecting."

This may or may not be a contributing factor to the diseases' re-emergence, but it does highlight the need for education about transmissible disease for rescues and for those who prefer to adopt from them. This statement in no way demonizes rescues or the work that they do, but if they are conducting themselves in a questionable manner, then that poses a problem.

The bacteria is slow-growing and is masterful at hiding out in the urinary and reproductive tract. Infected pets typically look and seem healthy, and while that's the case, the disease can cause long-term damage to your pet, like inflammation in the spleen, liver, discs in the spine and kidneys. Inflammation in the joints can occur, as well.

Read more here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and professional pet sitter and dog walker in the Ann Arbor area. Follow her daily adventures on Twitter or email her directly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Humane Society of Huron Valley launches cruelty investigation after discovery of two tortured dogs in Chelsea

Humane Society of Huron Valley Lead Cruelty Investigator Matt Schaecher is warning Chelsea residents to keep an eye on their pets after two dogs were found tortured.

The dogs, owned by two different neighbors, were outside playing in the morning, and discovered missing. Found eight hours apart on the same day - severely injured - they were rushed to the Humane Society of Huron Valley Veterinary Clinic after being picked up by the Humane Society of Huron Valley Rescue Department.

Both dogs had to be humanely euthanized due to the extent of their injuries.

Necropsy results from Michigan State University show that wounds were intentionally inflicted with a hatchet while the dogs were bound.

“This is a very heinous case of animal cruelty and we want to make sure that the community is aware that dogs running loose may be in extra danger. We have no reasonable explanation for what happened to these dogs. For their sake, and that of the safety of the community, we will do everything in our power to find this person and bring them to justice,” said Schaecher. “That is why we are asking that anyone with information to please come forward.”

A $500 reward is being offered by the Humane Society of Huron Valley for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for the assault near I-94 and Pierce Road in Chelsea. The anonymous tip line is (734) 661-3551.

Read the full release here .

HSHV handles investigations of cruelty and neglect in the area, and works with law enforcement when necessary to prosecute offenders. In many cases, the public-at-large is integral in alerting authorities to the mistreatment of animals. Click here for additional information about what Michigan law defines as cruelty or abuse.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Follow her on Twitter or contact her via e-mail

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Trying to treat a sick feline can be difficult, but there are rules of thumb that you can follow to help

Having a sick pet is hard. They cant speak, can't convey what is wrong exactly and can be uncooperative when trying to medicate or getting them to eat. This is compounded when it's a feline - times ten!
flickr photo courtesy of lunachrome

Chronic illness can be especially challenging, especially when kidney disease or other serious disease has taken hold. Eating can be a hurdle, as can oral medications. There are a lot of treatments and medications that can help sick kitties, but if they won't take them, what good are they, right? 

What do you do, as a pet owner if a cat is just too disagreeable? Is there a time to say "when"? 

Dr. Jess Franklin of Ann Arbor Animal Hospital came up with the Sick Cats Bill of Rights to help cat owners get as better handle on this topic. Click here to read more. 

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and a professional dog walker and pet sitter serving the Ann Arbor area. Follow her writing and pet adventures on Twitter @psa2 or send her an e-mail. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

With video: More male cats are southpaws, but this kitten uses every one

In a study done by researchers from Belfast University, there is a clear preference of female cats in using their right paw for most activities.

And, depending on a tasks' complexity in both sexes, cats will use either their right or left paws, which shows that the feline brain has specialized areas.

Try watching your furry friend the next time he or she is trying to retrieve a piece of errant kibble from under a large object — which paw do the cat use? How about when you are playing a game with them using a suspended cat toy?

In the following video, you'll see that none of that matters though, as this kitten uses every paw. It's sure to brighten up any dreary day.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Follow her daily writing and dog walking adventures on Twitter @psa2, and contact her via e-mail.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pit stop - Culture - Detroit Metro Times

Pit stop - Culture - Detroit Metro Times

You say tomato, I say tomahto: Animal behaviorists and dog trainers - is there a difference?

One topic that I frequently find myself troubled by is the training of canines.

As someone who works with dogs every day, I see all sorts of living arrangements, behaviors (some quite normal, some not-so-normal) and approaches (again, some good, some downright horrible) in finding a happy medium in co-existing with dogs.

I can see that the main problem with dogs today, isn't with dogs - it's with people... they're the root of the issue. It's always been the case, but now, it's amped up.

With today's way of living, which in my opinion is for some dogs nothing short of chaotic and counterproductive to the nature of dogs, it's no wonder that dogs can't settle down or walk on a leash when they do get to go out for a walk, behave, not chew things and forget what they've been taught.

We've asked a lot of canines. Too much. In fact, because of humans, dogs have had to be the fastest evolving and adapting species in the world.
flickr photo courtesy of markles55

Many times, people find that their dogs do indeed have behavioral issues that they don't feel comfortable trying to correct on their own, and with all of the problems that some dog owners are seeing, the need for outside help has increased. And, it's not surprising that there are as many choices for training your pooch as there are jellybeans in the proverbial jellybean jar.

We live in a fast-food society that thrives on instant gratification. People love a quick-fix. And they love watching troubled dogs transformed into sweet, obedient pooches right before their eyes on TV. I assure you, there is no shortcut to helping your dog understand reasonable expectations in behavior.

There are really great professionals out there who can help humans get the most out of their relationships with their dogs. And the there's the not-so-great ones, just like in any other field. And others, well, they just blur the line as far as what their qualifications are.

The difficult thing, I think for pet owners, is that they feel inept in the first place. So, when someone reaches out for help with their dog, I think it's fair to assume that they feel like they are dealing with very capable professionals who understand their own limits and the limits of the dog that they are working with.

I see many instances of training and behavior modification techniques employed by trainers that are dangerous, like the "alpha roll", or where dogs are treated harshly. These sort of things don't help progress the goal of good behavior, and in many cases put the human in danger of getting bitten. The American Veterinary Scoiety of Animal Behavior offers their position on dominance and dominance theory here.

Sadly, the field of dog training and dog behavior is not regulated by federal or state laws, so pet owners are on their own if they need to consult someone besides their veterinarian for help. For that reason, I think it's important for dog owners to do their homework, and put in an effort into checking out the qualifications of their trainer or behaviorist as they do a lot of other important things. Read more here for resources on selecting a trainer, and here to learn more about certification designations.

On a final note, there seems to be a very blurry line with regard to what a trainer is - and what a behaviorist is. With so many people out there jumping on the dog training bandwagon, it's hard to know who is who. Click here to read an article on the topic by

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, MI. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures on Twitter or contact her via email.