THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE DOG-HUMAN BOND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Did you ever wonder why dogs are the only other mammal that became universally domesticated and now lives with humans as part of their families? Well, there’s a scientific explanation and it’s called Oxytocin. The same chemical that plays a role in mother/infant bonding as well as in altruism and trust, is at work with humans and dogs.

There is a new study that shows for the first time, that there is actual hormonal bonding that goes on between humans and dogs. Dogs are the only other species with whom that occurs, which may explain why dogs are the primary animals that became household pets thousands of years ago.

Apparently, only the wolves who had this chemical bond with humans received care and protection and over time, they evolved into dogs. In exchange, the chemical reaction in humans decreased their anxiety and elicited a maternal bonding style reaction. This, in turn, improved the humans’ health and mental states creating a mutual gain in the evolution of the man/dog connection.

One of the effects of this special connection between our species is that dogs understand us in a way no other animals do. For example, if we point at something, a dog will look where we’re pointing. They intuitively understand that we’re communicating something to them. This may seem minor, but our closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees, do not do that! Another example is that humans and dogs look into each other’s eyes when interacting, which is a sign of understanding and affection. In contrast, wolves see eye contact as a sign of aggression and hostility.

The study involves a small sample but the results were definitive. Thirty pairs of dogs and humans and domesticated wolves with their humans came into a lab and had their urine tested. Then the owners interacted with their pets for thirty minutes, petting them, talking to them and gazing into each other’s eyes.

Me and my dogs

After the interaction, another urine sample was taken. It turns out that mutual gazing had a profound physiological effect on both the dogs and their owners. With the pairs who had spent the most time engaging in eye contact, the dogs experienced a 130% rise in Oxytocin levels and the humans experienced a 300% increase! The wolf-human pairs showed no Oxytocin increase and neither did the dog/owner pairs that had minimal eye contact.

The way Oxytocin works with mothers and infants is that when a mother stares into her baby’s eyes, the baby’s Oxytocin levels rise, which causes the baby to stare back at the mother. This then causes the mother to release more Oxytocin and a positive feedback loop is created.

The same thing occurs with dogs and their humans. This explains why service dogs, companion dogs, and emotional support dogs are so helpful for people with all kinds of issues, illnesses, and disabilities, including autism and PTSD.

As Oxytocin may help explain the domestication process with dogs, it might also explain the dog’s ability to understand pointing.

A while ago, I read another study contrasting dogs’ and wolves’ interactions with humans. The animals were rewarded with food whenever they pushed a lever. Then the lever was nailed down so no matter what the dog did, they no longer got a treat. The wolves continued to hit the lever for long periods of time.

With dogs, after a few unsuccessful tries, they would stop and look up at the nearby humans, asking for help. The dogs understood they couldn’t solve this problem but humans could and would help them deal with the situation.

I’ve always known that petting my dogs and cuddling with them as well as talking to them — even walking them — makes me feel a rush of positive energy and emotions.

When I’m down, I worry that I’m annoying my dogs by showering them with endless loving. I think I always understood that in some way, my affectionate behavior to my dogs is a form of self-medication. I’m sure there are times they’d prefer to be left alone. I also sense they know that part of their mission in life is to be there for me when I need them.

It’s gratifying to me to know that there is a scientific explanation to my crazy, over the top love for my dogs.

I’m an Oxytocin addict!

INGENUITY: PLANNING A TRIP WITH THREE DOGS – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – INGENUITY

We have been blessed with the opportunity to take a real vacation — relatively locally but in a rich and wonderful part of the country.

I have always loved Pennsylvania, especially this area — the foothills of the Poconos.  It would be a real joy to get to know these people personally, too. Online is lovely … but person-to-person can’t is the best.

Garry and I really need a time out. It has been more than three years since the last time we were away for more than a day or two.

The problem is dogs.

We have three. That we have three makes little difference because really, the problem is our two Scottish Terriers, both of whom are now 13 and beginning to show their years. They are small, so they don’t age as fast as bigger dogs, but Bonnie’s eyesight is diminishing and Gibbs is getting a bit deaf. He used to come running for treats as soon as he heard the lid lifted from the treat box. Now, he falls into a sleep so deep it takes several loud calls for him to first wake up and then to realize he’s being called and why.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Duke and Gibbs

Gibbs isn’t the problem. Neither is wacko Duke. Yelling a little louder is not a big deal and Duke has calmed down to a point where while he’s a bit too crazy to take visiting, he’s good around the house. And he’s clean. He has never made a mess in the house from the day we got him.

Bonnie and Gibbs are a different story. Because both of them were trained to go out whenever they wanted to via the doggy door, they don’t tell you when they need to go out. They simply go. They don’t give us any indication of what they want. They are self-trained — which is fine in this house but not so fine in other people’s houses.

Gibbs

We have been trying to find some ingenious way to get Bonnie’s eyes properly taken care of while we are away. Owen will always make sure they are fed, spend at least an hour or so with them to keep them for getting too lonesome … and manage to squeeze two visits a day into their lives (and do Bonnie’s eyes while he is there). This is quite a trick considering he works a lot of hours.

We had been thinking about just taking Bonnie with us. That way, we’d know her eyes were getting the care they need. But if we take her with us, she will have me or Garry up by dawn. She requires an early morning cookie and a trip outside. Then she’ll have me up a couple of hours later again.

She is nearly blind, we would have to keep her on a lead — which she does NOT like because unlike home, she can’t feel her way around the house. In her mind, she has never lived anywhere else. From 9 weeks to thirteen years is a complete life for a dog. She knows every inch of the house, where all the furniture is, even where the step stool she uses to get up on the sofa stands.

In another house, she would need to find everything for the first time. Since she has always felt that leashes were something for Other Dogs, she is unlikely to take kindly to being led around.

First I figured we would take her with us. Now I’m rethinking it. If we are going to get any rest and relaxation, taking her will make that impossible.

Not taking her is also worrisome.

I’ve been trying to figure out some ingenious way of making this work for her and us. I’m coming up empty.

Taking her with us will guarantee her eyes are tended to properly and frequently, but it will enormously limit our freedom. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Damned if we do, damned if we don’t

The only place we could board her — assuming we could afford to do that at all — would be the veterinarian because her eyes need care. Owen will do the best he can, but he does work a full week and there’s only so much we can expect from him.

So here’s where I ask for ideas. No “dog walking” service in Uxbridge and Kaity is finally attending college — a commuter school — so she already has her hands full.

If Bonnie’s eyes were only cleaned and lubricated twice a day instead of three times a day for a week, would that be catastrophic? I know none of the dogs like when we are away, but much as I love them. sometimes we need to be elsewhere and this is one of those times.

Thoughts? Suggestions? I’m not sure there is a right answer, but if anyone has a creative thought, I’m listening!

NO REFEREE? A NEW CONCEPT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Referee

So, it looks like we are going to take a vacation. Nothing we planned and I guess you could describe this as a delightful and completely unexpected gift. We’re going to visit newly made friends in Pennsylvania. Ponds, mountains, lakes … and people to meet and talk to and get to know and hopefully, laugh and enjoy.

The issue has been as it has been most recently, the dogs. Boarding three of them is out of the question, especially since one of them — Bonnie — has lots of special care required. We do it automatically, multiple times a day because she’s our girl and we care for her.

Groomed Bonnie

The two wacko boys — aside from a daily Prozac that goes to the Duke to try and keep him from bouncing off the walls — are easier. They also have rough patches and we are forever the referees between them as Duke is determined to be the Head Dog and Duke, overall, would prefer a nap. Neither of them messes much with Bonnie who is by dint of something in her personality, chief pooch.

Gibbs, Duke, and a window

It occurred to me that by leaving the two boys alone for a week, we might very well come back to find they’d finally made friends. Without a referee, they might just discover they have a lot in common. Mainly, that they are the two boys of the household. Without us here, there’s nothing to fight about because the disputes are always who gets to be the “dog on the sofa that sits between us.” There’s room for both physically, but not mentally or spiritually.

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a really good idea. If we have Bonnie with us, I will worry less and hopefully, relax more. And although she doesn’t see well anymore, maybe a change of scenery will do her good as well as us.

So we are thinking, thinking, thinking.

Portrait of the Duke

Our decision is not final yet, but … I’m thinking that I might say yes. Especially if I can find a lump of money to get her groomed. She is a smelly little heap of grungy dog fur, not necessarily fit for other human contacts.

And maybe, if we aren’t there to try and mediate the two boys, they’ll discover they can enjoy each other. Either that or … well … let’s not think about that.

This will also take me away from blogging for a bit. A week off might be exactly what the doctor ordered. it is what several doctors, a husband, and a lot of friends have suggested.

An intriguing idea, isn’t it?

THE DAWN BREAK IN – Marilyn Armstrong

You think you are safe. secure. In your warm an cozy bed for the night. When you left to go to bed, the dogs were snoring — a good sign. I slide quickly into sleep and don’t wake up until my shoulder falls out of the socket.

I go to the bathroom, find the lidocaine pain patches, remember (this time) to tie my hair back so I don’t glue my hair to my shoulder — which isn’t good for either my hair or my shoulder.

I brush my teeth on the theory that the brush is here, my teeth are here, so why not? I’m 9-months overdue for my six-month checkup, so brushing is a good idea any time of the day or night.

Back at the bed, I rearrange the pillows, raise the bed a bit up top, lower it on the bottom, realize I have to sleep on my back and crawl in so I have my right arm lying on the pillow. Some readjustments are required to get the angle right. I’m just hoping the lidocaine patch kicks in.

Sleep baby sleep …

I drift off to sleep when suddenly … IT’S DUKE, BONNIE, AND GIBBS. They have pushed in the door  All three of them have broken into the bedroom and Duke (the only one with long legs) has leapt onto the bed and is joyously bounding around, licking Garry’s face.

He’s so happy to see us. It’s a reunion! I mean, we’ve been gone for hours and light is peaking over the horizon.

“Get up, get up, the day has begun.” Translation: “BARK, BARK, BARK … BARK, BARK, BARK … ”

Don’t think Bonnie and  Gibbs aren’t being helpful. They can’t jump on the bed, but they can bark and Bonnie enjoys barking. It’s her hobby. Her metier, so to speak.

In motion

Garry garbles “WHAT THE F##$!” which only gets the Duke even more excited.

“Well,” I comment, “This is a new one.” Until this moment, I was sure the doors would hold. Garry grumbles, using language that would make a sailor blush but which doesn’t bother the dogs at all. He shoos the dogs out of the bedroom and takes them to the kitchen where he does the thing that helps. He feeds them.

Diet? You’re kidding, right?

He stumbles back to bed just as I have finally found a position on the pillow that doesn’t hurt nearly as much and probably the lidocaine patch is beginning to do its job. Garry is instantly back in dreamland, his soft snoring witness to it. He can’t hear a thing because all his hearing machinery is stashed for the night.

I can hear. He has silence. I have barking dogs.

“Bark, bark, bark.” That’s Bonnie. I know who it is because they have different voices.

Bonnie has the deepest bark. She’s a solid bass. Small, with considerable power. Gibbs is more of a deep tenor or maybe a light baritone. But The Duke is a high soprano. When he barks, glasses break. Your brain begins a rhythmic vibrato inside your skull.

She stops barking. I listen for a while. When I don’t hear her, I figure (hope, really) that she has decided it’s nap time.  I drift back to sleep.

“BARK, BARK, BARK.”

Gibbs and the Duke

That’s got to be Gibbs. He isn’t the deepest barker, but he is definitely the loudest. He also has a little howl he adds at the end of his barking. It’s sort of his verbal signature.

The Duke, inspired by this, adds a few trilling barks of his own.

Then they are quiet. Again. I don’t trust them, but I am so tired. I fall asleep.

BARK BARK BARK BARK HOWL BARK BARK BARK and the sound of paws and the loud clicking of doggy toenails on the fake wood floor in the hall.

I wake. I listen. I wonder if there’s any point in taking something to help me sleep. Because even if I take something, I can still hear the dogs. I throw an evil glance at Garry who can’t hear anything. He is happy in his silent place.

Finally, I get up, give them another biscuit and explain, in my most dulcet tones, that if they begin to bark again, I will get up and kill them. They grin with joy and dance around me in a circle. Okay, one more treat.

They are so glad I’m up.

I wonder if there’s any point in trying to sleep. My back hurts. My arm is throbbing — and I’m exhausted. I used to be able to stay up late and sleep quickly, but I’m too old for long days with short nights.

I need to get a full night’s sleep.

I go back to bed and drift restlessly for some hours. Eventually, they recommence their barking. Now it’s full daylight. We are SUPPOSED TO BE AWAKE. It’s our job. I wake Garry because he doesn’t get to sleep in while I suffer.

We got up, this time for the day.

After they get their next treat (how many? I have lost count and they don’t count), they sigh with pleasure and go soundly to sleep on the sofa.

Their work is done.

HOUDINI DOG – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom’s brother, Todd, came for a visit with his dog, Houla, a Catahoula Leopard Dog. She’s only fourteen months old so she’s still a puppy, with puppy energy and a puppy’s desire to play constantly with my two, older dogs.

My three-year-old dog, Remy, played with Houla a lot and the two of them chased each other around the yard at top speed. What’s surprising is that my nine-year-old, Lexi, also played with Houla. This is great because it gave my otherwise couch potato dog some exercise. So the three dogs got along fine, unlike Houla’s younger days when we constantly had to intervene to break up overly aggressive or enthusiastic wrestling matches.

The problem is that Houla discovered a way to get out of our fenced in backyard. We have a tall, reinforced fence covering a large area around two sides of our house. Our dogs have not breached the perimeter for years. Remy found a hole in the fence when we first adopted her but has not found another way out since we plugged that hole. Apparently, she just wasn’t looking.

Houla six months ago

One day we realized that Houla was not in the room with us and we went looking for her. She wasn’t downstairs and she wasn’t upstairs so we went out to the backyard and called her. She instantly appeared, happily wagging her tail at us, from the outside of the fence. We brought her back inside and in short order, she was out again.

Houla outside, looking for trouble

We had to figure out how she was getting out so we all took turns watching her when she went out. After a very short time, she made a beeline to a spot in the fence and started digging and prodding the fence with her nose. Houla had found a small area of fencing that had a hole on the inside, which Houla made bigger. Then she managed to pull on the fence with her teeth and dislodge it from the ground so she could wiggle under it and out the other side.

Houla in a rare quiet moment

This was the beginning of a two-day battle of wits and wills between Tom and Houla. Tom started by putting logs up against the loose part of the fence, but Houla just pushed them aside and escaped under the fence again. Tom then put a large garbage can on the outside of the fence and rocks and more logs on the inside. No problem for Houla.

Tom’s early attempt to stop Houla from getting out

Tom was frustrated and kept piling more things on the trouble spot. Each time he was sure that he had come up with something that Houla couldn’t possibly get around. His confidence was adorable, but he was always wrong. He even used stakes to keep the fence attached to the ground – to no avail.

Another cute photo of Houla as a younger puppy

To add to the problem, when Houla got out, she found a large mud hole to splash in and kept reappearing wet and dirty at the outside of the fence. We had to hose her down and dry her off before I would let her back into the house.

Houla with Todd

Now things got serious – except that I kept laughing at Tom each time he’d get outsmarted by a dog. But we couldn’t all leave the house at the same time because while Houla was adept at getting out, she couldn’t get back in and we didn’t want her wandering out to the road or getting lost in the woods.

Finally, Tom pulled out all the stops. He put a heavy bucket of salt from the winter on the outside of the hole and blocked the inside with an even heavier metal ramp that we use to get the dogs on and off our boat. Success! Houla has gone outside and poked around her escape route but has not managed to get through again.

Tom finally managed to plug the hole in the fence

Crisis averted! Tom is vindicated! For now.

REMEMBER WHAT? – Marilyn Armstrong

Every night, I fill up my cup, grab my bag o’ medications, pet the puppies, and hike the hallway to the bedroom at the other end of the house.

After arriving, I put the bag where it belongs. Adjust the bed to its TV viewing angle. Turn on the television for Garry. He watches with headphones while I read or listen to an audiobook. I fire up my blue-tooth speaker. I put my medications into a cup which is really the lid from a medicine bottle. Convenient and it keeps little round pills from rolling off the table.

I never remember everything. Typically, I forget to turn off the fan in the living room or in winter, turn down the thermostat. I sit on the edge of the bed trying to remember what I should have done but didn’t.

“Ah,” I think. “Thermostat.” I go back to the living room. Turn down the temperature. Pet the dogs. Assure them they are not getting another biscuit no matter how cute they are.

Back down the hall. Brush teeth. Sit on the edge of the bed. Oh, right. Need to refill antihistamine bottle. It’s empty. Back to the kitchen where the big bottle is stored. Fending off the dogs, I limp back to the bedroom. And get the nagging feeling I’ve forgotten something else.

Ah, that’s right. I left an extra light on in the living room. Up the hall to the living room. Turn off light. I am currently embattled with the electric company about my bill. I pet the dogs again, which with three dogs always involves some kind of weird arrangement of arms and hands. Then, it’s back to the bedroom.

Garry shows up, having done whatever it is he does for however long he does it in the bathroom. I recently relocated all of our copies of National Geographics and The New Yorker to a shelf in the bathroom. Right in front of the toilet. I suppose I have only myself to blame.

He settles into watching highlights of a Sox game, followed by a movie or three. I turn on my audiobook.

An hour later, I’ve got a headache. I’m not sleepy. Everything hurts. Why are my medications not working? There’s nothing more I can take. Panic sets in.

Which is when I realize all the pills are still in the cup. Where I put them. Like two hours ago. With all the walking up and down the hallway, I never got around to taking them which explains why they aren’t working.

I laugh. Garry takes off his headphones long enough for me to explain why. I got to the punchline, he looks at me and says: “You didn’t take them?” He Laughs — and puts the headphones back.

As our memory — collectively and individually — gets less dependable, we have substituted routines, calendars, and Google. If we do everything the same way at the same time every day, we’re less likely to forget. Or fail to remember if we did it today or yesterday. If that fails, there’s Google.

Google is not useful for remembering if I have a doctor’s appointment or whether or not I called in that prescription, but it’s great for all the other trivia of life. All the missing words, titles of books, movies, TV shows, actors, historical events, kinds of dogs.

Actually, I use posts the same way. I may not remember whatever it is, but the odds are pretty good I wrote it down in a post. If I could only remember the title of the post!

The other evening, we were watching a show that included a dog. Garry assumes I know every dog breed at a glance. He’s right, usually. I know the breeds, but these days, I may not remember its name. I will usually remember the group — guarding, herding, hunting, hound, terrier, non-sporting (“other”), toy. If I remember that, I can go to the AKC site, find the group, scroll the list and find the dog.

Recently, they’ve changed the AKC website, so it’s not as easy as it used to be to find simple information. In fact, the whole AKC site seems to be a place to sell puppies — something I find more than a little suspicious.

I knew the dog that Garry was asking about was the same kind of pooch as the dog Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) had on his show. The dog’s name was Eddy. I remembered that. No problem. The breed name was on the edge of my brain, but not coming into focus. I gave up and Googled it.

Search for: “Breed of dog on Frasier TV show.” Except I couldn’t remember the name of the TV show. First I had to find the name of the show.

Search for: “long-running comedy on TV about a psychiatrist.” Up popped Frasier. Phew. I could have also found it by looking up that other long-running comedy, “Cheers,” in which Frasier first appeared, but I couldn’t remember its name, either.

One of these days, I’m going to have to Google my own name. I hope I find it.

DOG TRAINING CLASSES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My daughter, Sarah, is involved with a dog rescue group in LA called Angel City Pit Bulls. A rescue group is different from a shelter in many ways. A shelter is often a city or local entity that keeps a, usually large, number of abandoned dogs in cages awaiting adoption. Many euthanize animals when they run out of space or if a dog seems “unadoptable” for a variety of reasons, including medical reasons.

Rescue groups pull dogs from shelters and put them in either foster homes or brick and mortar facilities with much nicer ‘rooms’ for the dogs. There are a manageable number of dogs and each dog gets more human attention and training than shelter dogs can get.

A rescue utilizes mostly volunteers to do their work, which includes taking dogs to vet appointments, supporting the foster families and helping them whenever needed, as well as socializing the rescue dogs as much as possible. Rescues pay for all the dogs’ shots and spaying and neutering, and all medical care that the dog may need before they are ready for adoption.

Rescues make an effort to get their dogs used to dealing with people and other dogs. They learn which dogs are good with kids and which may not be so good with cats.

This helps with the primary job of the rescue group – matching a dog to an appropriate family. Rescues are much more particular than shelters in vetting their potential adopters because they want to find a ‘good fit’ between the animal and its new home. They want to minimize the number of ‘returns’ as much as possible, although this does still happen.

Angel City started offering free dog training classes a few years ago and my daughter assists the trainer in these classes. Today they offer three different classes on six consecutive Saturday mornings.

I visited Sarah in LA for a week and I went with her to her Saturday classes. It was great fun watching the interactions between the owners, the trainers, and the dogs. The first class is open to the community but most of the students are recent Angel City adopters and their new dogs.

It’s a Movement Class, which works on leash skills for both the dogs and their masters. Walking on a leash without pulling or getting distracted by other people or dogs, is not as easy as it sounds. Dog and human have to work together and at first, this process involves lots of treats. The dog should eventually learn to walk by the owner’s side when the owner is walking, and stop and sit when the owner stops. That’s a goal I have never reached with my two current dogs.

The second class works on Owner Focus and attempts to establish a relationship where the dog looks to the human for direction – what should I or shouldn’t I be doing now? The trainer teaches basic commands, like sit and down and works with owners to keep their pets focused on them and not the other dogs or the environment. This again involves lots of treats.

The third class is just for current Angel City fosters and residents. Volunteers commit to taking one dog through the six-week class, which will help the dog get adopted because basic training and social skills are a big selling point for potential adoptive families.

Sarah with a new student

One dog in this class had a unique story – he had just been rescued off the street two weeks earlier by a wonderful family. This dog, who was one or two years old, was still decompressing from his life on the streets and needed a lot of patience and TLC. His new owner was great with him and was committed to giving him a good life in a loving home.

I’m very proud of my daughter for devoting her time and energy to such a good cause. Her example has stimulated me to try to get one of my dogs certified as a therapy dog. I did this with one of my other dogs, many years ago and it was a gratifying experience. The dog loved it and the seniors at the senior center I lit up when they said, “me and my dog.”

I can’t wait to do this again!