10/7/14

Novelty (or Practical Habituation)

I have been thinking a lot of late about novelty in dog training. More technically, I’ve been thinking about habituation (i.e. a type of non-associative learning) and how it works in the ‘real world’ for changing dog behaviour in simple ways.

 

Dogs can habituate to water.

Dogs can habituate to water.

When I was a kid, I grew up with a chow chow called Ted. Ted mostly lived in the backyard, but as a child, I one day decided that Ted was going to get a walk every day. And so I walked him every day for about a month (before moving onto the next project, as kids do). Ted started the month with enthusiastic jumping regarding the prospect of a walk. He also vocalised a little bit. By the end of the month, Ted had the lead put on with no fuss, no jumping, no noise, and soldiered on for the walk.

Sure, I could’ve implemented some kind of training regime. But, in reality, I didn’t. Ted started the month thinking walks were novel, and his behaviour stemmed from this novelty. At the end of the month, he was habituated to the walk. Previously, the outside world meant a lot to him and resulted in him getting aroused. By the end of the month, it meant close to nothing, and his arousal levels were far less.

 

Then there’s our foster dog Bandit. I picked him up from his surrendering family, one hour from my house, and drove him home. He drooled, paced, and stressed the whole way home. On ever subsequent car trip, Bandit’s behaviour got more mild. Recently, I drove him to a boarding facility about 20 minutes away, and he was laying, asleep, by the time we got there. No training went into this. Bandit just ‘got over it’ because he habituated to the car – it became less novel.

 

I find many outside dogs are often ‘over the top’ when they meet people, and I think this is a novelty thing, too. If dogs only see people on an occasional basis (i.e. when you go outside), of course they’re going to be excited to see you! If they were inside and saw you constantly, their responses are going to be more mild. Indeed, with most attention seeking behaviours (e.g. jumping up, head nuzzling, vocalising), these behaviours will decrease if the dog has sufficient attention to start with. If attention is given liberally, the resource becomes less important, and the dog’s behaviour changes.

 

I think the concept of novelty is often overlooked in dog training. Sometimes, dog behaviour will ‘get better’ simply because the novelty of something wears off.

Doing many varied things often can do more than maintaining socialisation – it can reduce novelty and so also decrease undesirable behaviour associated with that novelty.

10/1/14

Labs and Goldens: Goldens get cancer better

ResearchBlogging.org

A recent study, published in July this year, considered desexing in Labradors and Golden Retrievers and the long term health effects. This study doesn’t find anything revolutionary, but adds to the building body of evidence on the health impacts of desexing.

In the US, 83% of dogs are desexed, and often desexing is performed before 6 months of age. The popularity of this elective surgery has increased over the last 30 years. This is in contrast to many European countries, where animals are left intact.

This study considered 1015 Golden Retrievers and 1500 Labrador Retrievers. It used data on all Labs and Goldens admitted to a hospital between 2000 and 2012 (retrospective data). It mirrors a study on Goldens in 2013, and came up with similar results (which makes sense as it used a similar data set).

Dogs in the study were split by breed, then split by neuter status and age of neutering. So in each breed, there is a) desexed at <6 months, b) desexed at 6-11 months, c) desexed at 1 year, d) desexed at 2-8 years, and e) entire. (Dogs desexed at over 8 years were excluded from the study.)

While the study looked at lots of conditions, in particular it considered: hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumor, and mammary cancer. At times, the study lumped together ‘joint disorders’ and ‘cancers’, with the logic: Surely if we want to avoid any and all, not just one type of cancer or one type of joint disorder!

 

goldenphotoblogOn Joint Disorders

In both goldens and labs, the incidence of joint disorders in intact dogs (male and females) was about 5%.

Overall, though, it was found the earlier a dog was desexed, the greater the incidence of joint disorders.

In Labrador Retrievers, neutering at earlier than 6 months doubled (to 12.5% in males) the incidence of one or more joint disorder. Golden Retrievers faired even worse, with the same neuter-group having 4-5 times (27%) the incidence of one or more joint disorder.

Basically, there was a sliding scale: Golden Retriever males/females desexed at 6-11 months had a 14%/13% incidence of joint disorders. Golden Retriever males desexed at 2-8 years had a 10% incidence of joint disorders. While figures for Labrador Retrievers were not as high, they had a similar trend.

So, it seems from these results, the longer a dog is left entire, the healthier their joints.

 

On Cancers

While males in both breeds got off lightly when it came to neutering and cancer, and female Labradors were not much different, female Golden Retrievers drew the short straw.

There seems to be a ‘protective effect’ from gonadal hormones against cancers, especially in female golden retrievers.

The results reveal that neutering through 8 years of age [in female golden retrievers] increases the risk of acquiring at least one of the cancers at a level 3-4 times that of leaving the female dog intact.

Mast cell tumours didn’t occur in entire Golden Retriever bitches, but occurred at a rate of 6% in neutered bitches. Other cancers (lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumours, and hemangiosarcoma), in Golden Retrievers, also occurred more frequently in spayed than entire bitches.

Mammary cancers were only seen in Golden Retriever bitches (not in Labradors). 1.4% of intact female goldens were diagnosed with mammary cancer. If the bitch was neutered between 2-8 years, the incidence was increased to 2%.

 

Pyometra!

Exclamation because I haven’t seen consideration given to pyo’ before in one of these studies. A good start!

In Golden Retrievers, the incidence of pyometra in intact females was 1.8%.

In Labrador Retrievers, the incidence of pyometra in intact females was <4%.

 

Conclusions

It’s interesting that, while the Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever are similar in looks, function, and size, it’s interesting that they have such a marked difference in terms of their incidence of joint disorders and cancers.

For example, Goldens neutered at <6 months had a 20-27% incidence of joint disorders, while Labradors neutered at <6 months had a 11-12% incidence.

…for both breeds, neutering at the standard <6mo. period markedly and significantly increased the occurrence of joint disorders, although the increase was worse in the Golden than the Labrador.

Again, it’s important to recognise this is only part of a growing body of research looking at the long-term implications of desexing. We have had studies before that have suggested:

  • Desexed Golden Retrievers are two times more likely to experience joint disorders, and three times more likely to experience cancers, than their entire counterparts. (link)
  • In Vizslas, there is a higher incidence of cancer (mainly lymphosarcoma, hemangisoarcoma, and mast cell tumours) in desexed dogs than those intact. (link)
  • Osteosarcoma is two times more common in neutered dogs relative to intact dogs.
  • In Rottweilers, osteosarcoma was 3-4 times more likely to occur in rotties desexed before 1 year of age.
  • Cardiac and splenic hemangiosarcoma has a four and two times (respectively) greater incidence in spayed than intact females.
  • There is a higher incidence of lymphosarcoma in neutered females than intact.
  • Prostate cancer is four times more common in neutered males as intact males.
  • Cutaneous mast cell tumours are four times greater in incidence in spayed females than intact females.

One of the big arguments for desexing bitches is the fear of pyometra and mammary cancer in bitches. This study adds to growing evidence that mammary cancer isn’t as prolific as first thought. If you have an entire golden retriever bitch, your likelihood of experiencing mammary cancer or pyometra is 2.2%. If you have an entire labrador retriever bitch, your likelihood of experiencing mammary cancer or pyometra is less than 4%.

While many of the studies mentioned above are to do with cancers, there is evidence regarding the impacts of desexing on joints as well.

“The effects of neutering in the first year of a dog’s life, especially in larger breeds, undoubtedly reflects the vulnerability joints to delayed closure of long-bone growth plates from gonadal hormone removal”

Studies like this have implications for studies of cancers over all. It is useful for us to examine what dog breeds have which types of cancer, for future research purposes.

This study did not look at cognitive decline accelerated by neutering, but acknowledges that there is some evidence for this and it is a field for further study.

 

The Study:
Hart, B., Hart, L., Thigpen, A., & Willits, N. (2014). Long-Term Health Effects of Neutering Dogs: Comparison of Labrador Retrievers with Golden Retrievers PLoS ONE, 9 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102241

 

Further reading: 
Potential Risks of Neutering and Age at Neutering for Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers

09/17/14

The Week in Tweets – 17th September 2014

The ‘Week in Tweets’ is name in the optimism that I will post a Twitter round up on a weekly basis. This time it was a bit longer than a week… It’s basically my ‘recommended reading’ list. A lot of reading to do, so get ready!

First, Clover performing a dancing demo at the Royal Adelaide Royal Show! She later went on to compete with this routine, and got a pass and first in her class!

 

 

Tweet of the Week

ThatMutt made a post called “Is it okay to love a pet that hasn’t been abused?“. It’s a great commentary on some of the frustrations I feel working in rescue. I post a 9 year old dog (great mellow older girl!) to have comments along the lines of ‘Who could dump a dog after 9 years of love?’ – not focussed on finding her a great new home. While this article doesn’t go into it, I also get frustrated where people describe behaviours from their pet and conclude that this is because of abuse or neglect (hot tip: it’s probably lack of socialisation). So this post is my tweet of the week this week.

 

Dog Science

This article was close to being my tweet of the week too: Genome of longest-living cancer: 11,000-year-old living dog cancer reveals its origin, evolution. Mostly because I have an uncanny interest in canine venereal disease.

From Stanley Coren (Psychology Today): Is a dog’s head shape related to his intelligence?

From RetrieverMan: The first dogs were derived from ancient European wolves.

Acculturation – perception of breed differences in behavior of the dog.

Dogs recognize familiar faces from images.

From DogZombie: The star coat pattern in foxes: what does it have to do with tameness?

 

Animal Rescue, Rehoming, and Sheltering

This one, from Wisconsin Watchdog, was also a close runner for Tweet of the Week: What MIGHT you accomplish if you let go of your fears? This article challenges groups hesitant to adopt out pets because of what might happen – and therefore prevent animals from going to new homes.

From Saving Pets: For those new to animal shelter reform.

Backyard Breeding is the Blight of the Horse Industry.

From Companion Animal Psychology: The street dogs of Bangkok.

From Border-Wars: Killing for a Myth.

Abandoned dog with crooked legs get second chance to walk again.

Brent from the KC Dog Blog: On imagery, adoption events and celebrating success.

Putting our best face forward.

 

Dog Training and Behaviour

From K9Pro: 10 Reasons to Crate Train Your Dog.

From Denise Fenzi: How to get a recall.

What is my dog trying to tell me?

 

Fun Dog Stuff

Run Walter Run! (video)

Norwegian association of the blind – could have been worse (video)

The Diagram of Dogs

The day ‘dog vomit’ slime mold invaded my front yard.

The Writer’s Dog: Brooks’ Books – Dogs to the rescue and giveaway.

 

Other Dog Stuff

Coyote vs greyhound: One man’s sport.

Experiment for treats (for dogs with dietary restrictions).

Fatal crash (for humans and canines) at Lake Boga.

Poor Shaggy didn’t turn out as expected.

Guide to buying a dog ethically.

Take it all off!

Campaspe Working Dogs.

 

Cat Stuff

Kitty Cams – What ARE our cats doing outside?

GoPro: Fireman Saves Kitten.

Raglan cat killings ‘annihilate’ local birdlife.

From SavingPets: Good one #WACatLaws!

 

Other Animal Stuff

A slaughterhouse nightmare: Psychological harm suffered by slaughterhouse employees and the possibility of redress through…

Heredity: Crash Course Biology #9

Behind the scenes of the red crab migration – Christmas Island 2012.

 

Personal Stuff – Dogs on Instagram

Couldn’t have a smaller couch.

It’s (almost) show time.

Rue tired after a day at the Royal.

Landy, if you’re hot, maybe don’t lay in the sun?

My Clover Bean.

Keira. 9 years old and available for adoption.

How many wrinkles can you count?

Had to buy this stupid card because it has a border terrier on it.

 

Personal Stuff – Non Doggy! (ish)

Tegan and Jesse’s Wedding.

RA&HS Archives at the AdelaideRoyal Show.

Australian Red Cross Centenary event!

09/6/14

The SA Story (Again)

selectcommitteesa

After hearing the ‘results’ of the Select Committee on Companion Animal Welfare in SA, I was hugely disappointed in the process and the recommendations. However, I was pleased to hear nothing further about it (it came out July last year!).

Until now.

A few articles (one | two | three) have come out quoting Ian Hunter (politician), Tammy Franks (politician), Tim Vasuedeva (RSPCA CEO), Steven Marshall (politician), and Jay Weatherill (politician).

The hot ideas are compulsory desexing (or just desexing puppies in pet shops), a code of practice, and a breeder licensing scheme, with some extra legislation thrown in for good measure. It’s not a surprise that this is mostly bad news, considering the spurious nature of the original Select Committee report.

 

Compulsory Desexing

The articles seem to be looking at both compulsory desexing, and compulsory desexing of all dogs sold in pet shops. The narrator in the first article describes the community as ‘divided’.

 

Compulsory Desexing of Petshop Puppies

Tammy Franks, in particular, supports the suggestion that all puppies from pet shops should be desexed.

Tim Vasudeva, from the RSPCA, says, “We’ve been desexing puppies between 3-4 months for years and years and we haven’t had any problems.”

The first article claims that the government will look at compulsory desexing of dogs sold in pet shop in light of a Select Committee’s report. While the report made many poor recommendations, desexing of dogs in pet shops before sale was not one of them! False reporting!

The problem with this is: We are desexing very young puppies and there is evidence that there are harms associated with desexing when it is done at a young age. These harms go beyond anaesthetic risks and immediate recovery (which is what Tim is referring to) and is more about long term acquisition of health problems including cancer. (You can read a recent study on golden retrievers, or a recent study on vizslas to learn more about this.)

Further, what is the point of this suggested legislation? Why should all puppies be desexed before sale? Especially because of the long term health risks?

If you wanted to get me on side with this suggestion, I would be more inclined to support the sterilisation of puppies before sale (including tubal ligation and vasectomies, that aren’t known to have these long-term health outcomes). However, I’d still be asking what the point of this was – surely there’s bigger issues for us to be dealing with.

 

Compulsory Desexing of Everything

Tim Vasudeva, from the RSPCA, says that the AVA’s research shows that desexed dogs are 2.6 times less likely to bite. This is not true: the AVA refers to others’ research, using 23 year old data, which suggests desexed dogs are 2.6 times less likely to bite.

Tim Vasudeva spoke about how desexing could be beneficial – in reducing wandering and hormone-driven behaviours and said “At the very least I don’t think can hurt”. While there is actually a study that indicates that this is the case, it is one old study. Anecdotally, I know of plenty of people who have non-humpy non-pissing non-wandering dogs that are entire.

Ian Hunter says that “In the ACT, desexing is compulsory and has led to a 47% decrease in dog attacks. It’s also reduced the number of unwanted dogs being euthanised.” Despite a lot of research on my part, I couldn’t find any evidence that this is the case. Any clues on this appreciated! While there might be a correlation (I stress might), this doesn’t indicate a causation.

 

Code of Practice

All three articles talk about the government introducing a Code of Practice to target puppy farms and makes sure dogs are kept and born into healthy and humane conditions.

But a Code of Practice will affect everyone, not just puppy farms! Such codes produced around Australia have pretty much banned dogs from being kept inside or on grass. Are puppy farms defined as those with lots of dogs? Those breeding many litters? Those producing many puppies? Anyone that breeds full stop? A ‘puppy farm’ is hard to define, and so Codes of Practice affect everyone instead.

Further, dogs already have to be kept in a humane way! The Animal Welfare Acts and similar legislation across Australia requires it. Anyone who is allowing their dogs to get matted, or not have water, or have medical treatments denied, is guilty of an offence. We can get puppy farmers for that! Code of Practice not required!

 

Licensing Scheme

I was excited in article two where there was the suggestion that there would be no licensing scheme… Then article three suggested there would be. I’ve repeatedly made arguments against breeder licensing (the most elaborate being here), but basically:

1) Breeder licensing hasn’t been shown to do much (like the Gold Coast scheme) – it doesn’t reduce pound intakes for sure. And puppy farmers don’t make a habit of signing up.

2) Why would we introduce a new license scheme, when the Animal Welfare Acts are not currently enforced?

3) How do we ensure that responsible and ethical home ‘hobby breeders’ are not discouraged from breeding wonderful pets?

4) Often, breeder licensing excludes ‘backyard breeders’, ‘working dog breeders’, and greyhound breeders. These breeders produce a lot of dogs and dogs that are, seemingly, more likely to end up in the pound system.

 

Other Matters

Tammy Franks wants shelters to reveal euthanasia rates publicly. I think this is great if shelters were to have such transparency.

Article two and three suggest that mandatory microchipping will come in, and be compulsory (presumably, hopefully, compulsory before sale). While I have no qualms with microchipping being mandatory, I look forward to the phone line that allows me to report in those selling animals without microchips illegally. I don’t look forward to my expensive phone bills from making such reports. What I’m saying is: I have no confidence that this legislation will be adequately enforced.

Interestingly, one article says that there will be a “requirement for pets to only be bought from registered breeders”. That would be interesting! No more RSPCA, AWL, rescue group sales. No more guide dog and assistant dog groups selling unsuitable animals. Does that mean private rehomings are no longer legal? Surely this must be some kind of error in reporting.

And still there’s continued bleating about a cooling off period, under the guise that it would “reduce impulse buying and cut the number of pets being abandoned or surrendered”. There is no evidence that this is the case! Firstly, it does not seem that pets acquired impulsively are at any greater risk of being surrendered than pets acquired with a lot of thought. Secondly, there is no evidence that a cooling off period would reduce abandonment of pets. I don’t know how this even gets attention!

 

How unfortunate that the Select Committee’s recommendations are now gaining media attention and potentially some momentum in SA.

I spent a great many hours researching and writing my 20 page submission to the Committee. When the Committee published its findings and suggestions, I was so angry that the recommendations made were based on an emotive community rather than evidence and science.

I had been peacefully thinking that the Select Committee was just a little media stunt, and that it was going to disappear. These recent media reports and troubling and upsetting.

It’s concerning that the Government is prepared to invest resources into plans with no evidence that they will have any impact on animal welfare.

It is just as concerning that the community is lapping it up.

 

Further reading:

Public Misconceptions

Is desexing a cult?

Companion Animal Taskforce in NSW – Feedback

09/3/14

A Link Between Desexing and Reactivity

ResearchBlogging.orgWhile desexing bitches is a common surgery, I was pleased to see Kim et al. take note that “the side effects of the operation, particularly any changes in behaviour, have been quantified in only few studies”.

That is to say, despite us commissioning vets to take the ovaries and uterus out of a great many bitches, we don’t really have much research about it. It’s a pretty scary state of play.

This particular study took 14 healthy German Shepherd bitches, between 5 and 10 months old. Half of these dogs were spayed, and the other half left entire. (The bitches were assigned to each group randomly, except for litter sisters, which were assigned opposite groups.)

After the spay, and having been given 4-5 months to recover from the surgery, the bitches were filmed in their kennel as a stranger and a dog approached. This footage was then scored based on how reactive the bitch was. A score of ’3′ indicated severe reactivity, and a score of ’0′ indicated no reactivity. The scorer was unaware of whether the bitch was spayed or not.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Willis.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Willis.

The reactivity of each bitch was recorded several times, and the reactivity of each bitch declined over the study. It’s likely that the bitches habituated to the novel stimuli. However, despite this affect, bitches in the ovary-hysterectomy group scored higher throughout the study.

Before generalising these results, there are some matters to consider:

  • Reactivity was only measured in a kennel setting, and how these dogs react in the ‘real world’ may be different. We can’t suppose that our pet dogs are going to respond in the same way as kennel dogs.
     
  • The reactivity of these dogs was not measured at the start of the study. While it is unlikely, perhaps more reactive dogs happened to fall into the treatment group by chance. Without a ‘before desexing’ score, we cannot be sure of this.
     
  • The authors make note that these results are for German Shepherd bitches aged 5-10 months old. We can’t assume dogs of all breeds and ages would respond this way to spays.
     
  • Further, the bitches in this study are working lined German Shepherds, which may be more reactive than the typical pet dog.

 

However, this study notes that other studies on bitch spays have shown that as a group spayed bitches are:

  • More likely to gain weight
  • More aggressive than prior to spay (if they were aggressive prior to spay)
  • More active
  • More likely to have urinary incontinence
  • More likely to be reactive after surgery

 

The authors recommend:

[V]eterinary practitioners should inform owners that a bitch may become more reactive after spaying either because they have lost the calming effects of progesterone or because elevated gonadotropins stimulate release of adrenal androgens.

 
Source:
Kim HH, Yeon SC, Houpt KA, Lee HC, Chang HH, & Lee HJ (2006). Effects of ovariohysterectomy on reactivity in German Shepherd dogs. Veterinary journal (London, England : 1997), 172 (1), 154-9 PMID: 16772140

Further reading:
Desexing: It’s bad for Vizslas too
Is desexing a cult?
Desexed dogs – 2.6 times less likely to bite!
Why would you NOT desex your dog??
Golden Retrievers: Cancer if you do, cancer if you don’t