DOG WRITER DOROTHY
Sniffing out the Poop on Canines
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is an award-winning author of nonfiction books for young readers, many of them about canines, both dogs and wolves. Along the way, she’s uncovered lots of information to share, including her own research stories and quality sources for canine information. Enjoy her weekly dog blog covering tales of service dogs, rescue dogs, military dogs, and other beloved dogs.
Have you heard of Eclipse, Seattle’s bus riding dog? My new book, Dog on Board, tells her story. Take a look for book details, and watch the video, from Seattle’s KOMO TV, and this one, from the King County Department of Transportation. You’ll fall in love with her, just as I did when I met Eclipse last year.
Eclipse knows where to get on and where to get off, all by herself, with no help from her proud human companion, Jeff. Eclipse loves going to the dog park to play ball with Jeff and to visit her friends, so if he gets distracted when the bus arrives, Eclipse can just hop on board, get off at the park, and greet her canine friends while she waits for Jeff to catch up.
Because Eclipse has become famous, Jeff now makes sure she doesn’t get ahead of him, so they always travel together now. Once they are at the park, Eclipse is eager to play ball, but she has to drop it for Jeff first!
She also likes to explore her hometown, visiting her favorite sites such as the store, Mud Bay, where she always gets a treat, or Pike Place Market, where she can sniff out treats from the stores. Between stops, Jeff, Eclipse, my husband Greg and I, strolled along Seattle’s streets exploring this delightful city.
You and your kids can follow Eclipse through a busy day in her home town through “Dog on Board The True Story of Eclipse, the Bus-Riding Dog.”
I recently made an appearance at the beautiful new Billings, Montana, public library to talk about the dog books I’ve written for children. The first, “Maggie: A Sheep Dog,” about a sheep guard dog, came out in 1986, and my next book, “Dog on Board: The True Story of Eclipse the Bus Riding Dog” will be published this October. Each of my eight dog books has many stories about how it came to be, so I had fun deciding what to focus on for each book when I gave my presentation.
After I finished my talk, Officer Firebaugh of the Billings Police Department and his police dog Kooko demonstrated how they work together. You can see the cover image for “Dog on Board” on the screen in the background. Everyone loved Officer Firebaugh’s great presentation about the training and work of police dogs, but of course the favorite part came as Kooko enthusiastically demonstrated how he does his job.
Kooko knows how to locate four illegal substances–cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana. When Kooko succeeds in finding one of them, he’s rewarded by getting to play with his toy.
With any working dog, the key to successful training and reliability is for the dog to know it will be rewarded for doing its job. Kooko knows if he finds an illegal drug he’ll be given a chance to play with his toy, a sturdy cylinder that can withstand lots of chewing and rough play. He especially loves it when Officer Firebaugh joins him in play.
Their play can get quite intense–Kooko will hang onto his toy no matter what, even when Officer Firebaugh lifts him off the ground and whirls him around!
Kooko also knows how to chase down and detain a suspect. Training for this work is especially important, since the goal is to stop a suspect from getting away, not hurting him. When a police dog grabs a suspect by the arm to stop him, the dog isn’t being “vicious.” It’s been trained by using a padded arm sleeve, which the dog loves to chew, just like it chews its toy. If the dog obeys the commands during bite training, it’s rewarded by getting the arm sleeve to chew. Once it learns this process, it knows it will get to play with its toy once the suspect is under control.
Even though I’d written about police dogs in my book “Super Sniffers: Dog Detectives on the Job,” I learned some new facts myself from Officer Firebaugh’s presentation. For example, I knew that most of these dogs come from other countries. Their commands are in a language other than English, so the handler needs to learn the proper words to use. I hadn’t realized an advantage of that situation–since the dog doesn’t understand commands in English, such as “Stay” or “Sit” or “Leave it,” a suspect can’t stop the dog from attacking by using these familiar English language commands!
Altogether, I think I enjoyed watching Kooko and his handler and hearing about their work as much as everyone else in the audience! I can never get enough of learning about and watching canines perform the many jobs they do for us.
As I scanned the shelves of old books from our family’s collection in my brother’s study, I spotted “The Fireside Book of Dog Stories.” I had vague memories of it from childhood and was in the mood for reading shorter pieces about dogs, so I borrowed it. Turns out this collection is interesting for a number of reasons, not just because of the subject matter but also because of it as a representative of its times.
About the Appearance of Books in Wartime
A recent ruling by the War Production Board has curtailed the use of paper by book publishers in 1943.
In line with this ruling and in order to conserve materials and manpower, we are cooperating by:
- Using lighter-weight paper which reduces the bulk of our books substantially.
- Printing books with smaller margins and with more words to each page. Result: fewer pages per book. Slimmer and smaller books will save paper and plate metal and labor. We are sure that readers will understand the publishers’ desire to co-operate as fully as possible with the objectives of the War Production Board and our government.
The message on the back of the jacket also caught my attention because of my interest in Military Working Dogs:
A Message To America’s Dog-Owners
TOTAL WAR has made it necessary to call to the colors many of the nation’s dogs. Thousands of dogs, donated by patriotic men, women, and children and trained for special duties with the Armed Forces, are serving on all fronts as well as standing guard against saboteurs at home.
The message goes on to readers to “speed news of this need to every corner of the land” and describes the types of dogs needed–large breeds, “not gun-shy, not storm-shy” and refers readers to contact Dogs for Defense in New York City to register a dog for duty.
In my book, “Dogs on Duty: Soldiers’ Best Friends on the Battlefield and Beyond,” I write about the war dogs of WWII and the important jobs they took on. Here’s a poster used to convince people to donate their beloved family pets to the cause.
The American Kennel Club website can be a great resource for dog lovers. If you’re like me, you mainly think of the club in terms of dog shows and breed requirements, but the site offers so much more than information about shows and pedigree registration.
Here’s a sample of the American Kennel Club website homepage. The image and information there changes over time, but the buttons along the top remain the same. If you click on the “Breeds” tab, it can help you match up your preferences in size, coat type, behavior, and more with the appropriate AKC recognized breeds. Clicking on the “Breed Selector” button and answering the 6 questions about your lifestyle will give you a list of suggested breeds. But the questions don’t involve important factors such as the size of the dog or coat type, except as regards shedding.
The “You vs. Breed” button didn’t work for me, and it requires that you connect to the AKC through Facebook.
“Compare Breeds” is a very useful function. You can see images of three breeds at a time plus a list of traits such as size, coat type, exercise need, and barking level. If the breed sounds right for you, you can then find a list of breeders, a pdf on how to pick a puppy, or download for the breed standard pdf.
Under the “Owners” tab you’ll find a link to enroll a mixed breed dog as an AKC Canine Partner so that it can compete in Agility, Obedience, and other categories in dog shows. This area of the site also features links to stories about the feats and adventures of some mixed breed dogs.
Also under “Owners” is information about the valuable Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program, which makes behavior classes available that allow a dog to be certified “CGC,” a designation that’s useful in participating in certain activities. Local AKC chapters may offer CGC classes and/or testing to award the designation to your dog. A dog doesn’t have to belong to a recognized breed to become a CGC.
Click on “Events” and you’ll find much more than the usual show events–I’d never heard of “Earthdog” or “Lure Coursing” for example.
The “Learn” tab has many links from “Preventative Health” to “Why Does My Dog?” The AKC Gazette feature articles about dogs in a variety of topics.
So even if you are averse to official dog breeds and dog “beauty contests,” if you’re in the mood to noodle around the internet and find useful canine information, good dog stories, and adorable dog photos, take a look at the American Kennel Club site.
I recently finished reading Fifteen Dogs, by Canadian author André Alexis. This thoughtful book uses dogs given ‘human intelligence’ to explore questions of thought, feeling, life and death, and other aspects of what it means to be human or canine. I would recommend it to all philosophically inclined readers, not just for dog lovers.
Despite my positive feelings about the book, I find problems with Alexis’s take on “dog.” His version of “dog” feels more like “wolf” to me–his dogs, with a couple of major exceptions, mostly have neutral or negative feelings toward humans, tolerating people because they offer food, shelter, and protection, making them convenient companions, rather than beloved family or friends. Just one of these modified canines develops a truly deep bonding with a human.
The chief mental/emotional difference between wolves and dogs is that dogs look to humans for relationship as much as or more than they look to one another, while wolves, even when hand-raised by people, rarely see humans as potential partners. This isn’t just an opinion; scientists study these differences as well. For example, given a difficult food-finding task, wolves focus on the challenge and work to solve it on their own, while dogs will literally ‘look to’ a nearby human for help if it can’t figure the problem out quickly.
As far as ‘feelings’ go, scientific studies show that when people pet dogs, the concentration of oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” in the blood increases in both the dog and the person. This creates positive emotions in the human, which suggests that the dog also feels positively about the experience. Recent studies using functional MRI, show that the same parts of a dog’s brain light up upon seeing their “person” as light up in people who anticipate a positive experience.
Most of Alexis’s dogs also seem to lack positive emotional connection to one another. There’s respect and fear, but few examples of love among the canines, who are more than willing to bite and even kill one another, including pack mates, without compunction. Again, with a couple of exceptions, each animal evaluates situations almost purely from its own point of view, how it can take advantage, maintain its status, and stay strong and safe.
That said, I did enjoy how his dogs view the world through their sort of hybrid dog/human mentality, providing quirky takes on dog and human motivation and feeling. There’s much food for thought here.
“Do As I Do” dog training, developed by animal behavior scientist Claudia Fugazza (Shown above with one of her dogs), fascinated me when I visited the Family Dog Project in Budapest recently. During this process, the dog learns to copy the moves of the trainer. With the dog sitting in front of her, the trainer twirls around and then jumps up and down. Then, upon the command “Do it!,” the dog twirls, then jumps up. The trainer might get the dog’s attention, then walk over to a box, climb on top and return. Again, upon the command “Do it!” the dog copies and hurries back for its reward. There wasn’t a dog in training at the time I visited, but I watched videos of dogs copying what the trainer just did after being told to “Do it.”
Some years ago, I followed some puppies in their initial learning about becoming service dogs, resulting in my book, “The Right Dog for the Job: Irah’s Path from Service Dog to Guide Dog.”
Service dogs often need to master tasks that don’t come naturally, so it can take a lot of time to get them to understand what was being asked. For example, training the puppies to push the handicapped button to open a door began by rewarding the puppy for putting its paw on a coffee can lid that hid a treat. The handicapped symbol was painted on the lid. The puppies were rewarded when they pawed at the lid, so they gradually learned they should poke that symbol when asked. The learning then had to be translated to an actual handicapped door opener in a building.
With Do As I Do training, the dog can learn a complex series of acts just by watching the trainer demonstrate, copying the action, and receiving a reward. The trainer then attaches the action to a command, and the dog is all set. Hours of work can be bypassed using this technique, especially when teaching actions that don’t come naturally to dogs.
Take a look at Claudia’s book, “Do As I Do: Using Social Learning to Train Dogs,” which comes with a helpful DVD.
Service dogs at the seminar
I really enjoyed the broadcast on research at the Family Dog Project in Budapest. In addition to onsite attendees, hundreds of viewers attended from around the world. A dozen presenters gave summaries of their recently published research. The seminar was divided into sections, beginning with What dog-machine interaction tells us about dogs’ social skills. Here, researchers discussed topics such as using a remote controlled car as a social partner that could help direct dogs to goals such as food. Then came Mechanisms of social behavior, with various topics icluding some effects of oxytocin on dogs. Finally came The Human dog relationship, the longest and most varied of the topics. Each topic ended with a roundtable discussion among the presenters in that section.
Here are some tidbits of what I learned:
Dogs can figure out that a small robot is providing information on how to find something important such as food. What matters to the dog is what the “social agent” does, not what it looks like. If researchers can get dogs to accept robots as social agents, complicating human factors such as unconscious clues given to the dog or feelings the dog may have about that particular person could be eliminated from much research on canine intelligence and behavior.
Research indicates that when a person points to an object to alert a dog, the dog interprets the pointing to indicate the location pointed to, rather than the object in that location.
When tested to determine whether a dog uses sight or scent to find its special person in a room, the dog first uses its eyes to search, then uses its nose up close.
I just found out about this exciting event coming up on Nov 7 online. It’s a free event with talks by researchers on dog behavior at the Family Dog Project in Budapest. I visited the lab and heard from some of the researchers and am planning to post a blog about it, but this free event should be very interesting to anyone who loves dogs and wants to know more about their behavior and our relationship with them:
During my European trip I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Clever Dog Lab in Vienna, where scientists are studying different fascinating aspects of dog intelligence, brain function, and behavior. The dogs used in the experiments are family pets from Vienna and the surrounding area whose owners have signed up to be included in the studies. The dogs enjoy coming to the lab as they get a lot of positive attention, have fun, and eat treats.
The lab studies many aspects of dog behavior, including various aspects of problem solving. Lead investigator Dr. Ludwig Huber greeted our little group of curious dog lovers–me, husband Greg, and friends Linda and Annick, very warmly. He is clearly proud of his lab, the researchers, and the dogs. The lab has some very sophisticated equipment, including projection and sound playing systems, an eye tracker that can record exactly where on a screen the dog is looking, and touch screens that record the touches of doggy noses on the screen images.
When we arrived, a dog named Clio was learning how to use her nose to get treats from an automated feeding system.
Each cavity in the circle contains a small dog treat. Clio has to choose between the two images on the touch screen. When Clio noses the correct image, the feeder drops a treat down into a container on her right. We watch her at work–it’s amazing how fast she pokes her nose, then turns to her right to gobble down the treat and gets right back to work. Sometimes the correct image is on the right, sometimes the left, but she knows which one to poke and makes very few mistakes. Her nose touches are recorded automatically so that researchers know how often she’s right and wrong; no one needs to watch what’s going on.
Lola is working with an even fancier set of equipment. It’s designed to track where a dog’s eyes are looking when images are projected onto a screen.
Lola has learned to hop up to the metal frame and rest her muzzle on the padded head rest and keep her head still. To the right you can see the infrared camera that accurately traces just where Lola is looking at on the screen you see in the second photo. By recording where the dog is looking on the screen, the scientists can tell what draws their attention and make conclusions about what could be going on in the dog’s mind.
By using family pets for its research, the lab has access to a list of thousands of dogs whose owners have registered with the lab, different breeds and ages of dogs, different temperaments, and so on. The owners, scientists, and especially the dogs all enjoy the work and the humans at least take pride in making important contributions to science. The dogs enjoy the attention, the different activities, and most of all, the treats.
Our first stop in Europe was Nuremberg, Germany, infamous as a Nazi center of activity and for the trials of Nazi war criminals, but a lovely city to visit today. We happened to visit at the opening of the Nuremberg International Human Rights Film Festival. This city is using its dark past as a tool to promote peace and human equality in the world. Not only does it host the festival, German school children all visit the city during their education so they can learn first hand about the Nazi era. A street below the main city square was lined with rows of luncheon tables that stretched on for several blocks awaiting the arrival of festival attendees from all over the world.
The main town square was full of booths and strolling visitors. You could buy just about anything, from food to clothing and more.
Many Nuremberg dogs shared the square with their people. When I asked to take a photo, the people would smile, happy that I found their pets appealing.
I wondered about how these supreme sniffers could stand the tempting aromas coming from the stands offering what we Americans might call “dogs” in a variety of types. Of course I had to try some, and they were delicious.