Should Dogs Have Legal Rights?

In 2011, Bob and Elizabeth Monyak took their dogs, Lola and Callie, to an Atlanta pet kennel. During the dogs’ stay, kennel staff mixed up the animals’ medications, which landed Lola in the hospital with acute kidney failure. She died nine months later.

The Monyaks sued, but under the law, dogs are considered property, and the kennel claimed that Lola had “no fair market value” because she was a rescue dog that was adopted for free. The Monyaks’ case eventually made its way to the state Supreme Court, and this month, in a unanimous decision, the court ruled that a jury can decide the monetary value of a pet — not the market.

Ultimately, Lola was still considered property in the eyes of the law; however, by acknowledging that a treasured pet is worth more than simply what was paid for it, this case joins a host of others that reflect a significant change in how American society regards man’s best friend.

Why should dogs have rights?

While you won’t find mention of dogs’ rights in the Bill of Rights, to some degree, dogs do have rights under American law. “The last couple of decades, there have been a lot of laws that target cats and dogs specifically and give them what a lot of lawyers would consider rights, whether it’s the right to be free of cruelty, the right to be rescued from a natural disaster or the right to have their interests be considered in a courtroom,” journalist David Grimm told National Geographic.

Still, according to law, dogs are property, making them no legally different from furniture or other items in your home. However, experts say decisions like that in the Monyak case are changing this. After all, this certainly wasn’t the first time a court weighed a dog’s value, as well as its right to life. When a Texas dog was wrongfully euthanized in 2012, the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled “the special value of man’s best friend should be protected” and effectively gave dogs increased legal status by acknowledging pets are more than simply property.

Rulings like this seem to reflect our sentiment. According to a Harris poll, 95 percent of Americans consider their pets to be members of the family. Nearly half of those polled purchase birthday presents for their pets, and three in 10 frequently cook for the animals that share their homes just like they do for family.

“As pets have become family in our homes,” writes Grimm in his book, “Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs,” “they’ve also become family in the eyes of the law.”

But it’s not just our affection for man’s best friend that’s led to companion animals’ growing legal recognition. In recent years, research has revealed dogs aren’t that different from us. They not only have the capacity for emotion, but they also have the ability to read our emotions.

“Science has demonstrated that the mind of a dog is roughly equivalent to that of a human child two to three years of age,” writes dog expert and neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren. “Like a toddler, the dog has all of the basic emotions: fear, anger, joy, disgust, surprise and love.”

And in 2013, after two years of studying MRI scans of dogs, Emory scientist Gregory Berns concluded, “dogs are people too.”

Even Pope Francis has weighed in on the sentience of animals like dogs, noting “every act of cruelty towards any creature is contrary to human dignity” and that one day we will see animals in heaven because “paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

This growing body of scientific evidence, combined with a compassionate understanding of the bond between human and companion animal, has led to changes in how our legal system operates. For example, it’s becoming more common for pet owners to sue for mental suffering and loss of companionship when a dog or cat is killed, and judges have even started taking the best interests of pets into account during custody cases.

What if man’s best friend had the same rights as man?

In 2014, French parliament reclassified animals as “living beings” instead of simply property. Last year, New Zealand passed the Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, acknowledging that animals are sentient beings just like humans. And in December, Quebec granted animals the same rights as children under its laws.

With so many countries recognizing a new legal status for animals, especially pets, it seems only natural others would follow suit. But not everyone wants the law to look upon man’s best friend differently, and one of the biggest opponents to it here in the U.S. is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

It’s understandably beneficial to veterinarians that we treat our pets like children. After all, if you think of your dog as a member of the family, you’re likely willing to spend a great deal of money to keep that family member healthy.

However, organizations like the AVMA are concerned that if the law recognizes pets as family members, then veterinarians could easily be sued for malpractice. In other words, a dog that’s legally worth only its adoption costs is much less risky to operate on.

“The veterinarians are in a very tricky situation,” Grimm said. “They benefit when we consider our pets members of the family, but they are also starting to see the other side of that, too. When we view our pets like children, we sue like they are children when things go wrong.”

There are also concerns that by recognizing pets as humans under the law, pet owners themselves could lose rights. Critics say granting animals such legal status could lead to arguments that dogs can’t be spayed or neutered against their will, for example. Other say that taking such a step could spawn a great deal of frivolous and expensive litigation, as well as a slippery slope that could lead to the end of hunting and breeding.

“As farfetched as some of this stuff may sound, we’re on this dramatic trajectory, and it’s really unclear where we’re going,” Grimm said. “There are a lot of unintended consequences to treating pets as people.”

How To Protect Your Dog’s Paws From The Hot Florida Summer Pavement

Imagine walking down the sidewalk barefoot on a blistering hot day. You’d be in agony after a few seconds.

That’s how your dog likely feels when you head out for a stroll in the heat of the day. Pet owners often overlook how painful hot pavement can be for their four-legged companions. Here are some tips for protecting those paws when it’s hot outside:

Adjust your walk schedule

Avoid the middle of the day and take your walks in the early morning or evening hours suggests the Humane Society of the United States. That’s when the pavement isn’t so hot.

Get off the concrete

Have your dog walk in the grass or dirt instead of the sidewalk or other hot surfaces. Those surfaces are much cooler, and there’s a much lower chance the dog’s pads will get burned.

Try it for yourself

Before you bring your dog outside, test to see how hot the concrete or blacktop is. Press the back of your hand against the concrete for seven to 10 seconds to see if it will be comfortable for your dog to walk on. If it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws, says the Humane Society of Charlotte.

Cover up

Consider protective booties or paw wax, which creates a barrier against the elements. They will create a protective layer between your dog’s feet and hot surfaces.

Build up calluses

Walk your dog on concrete during the cooler part of the day to help build up calluses on the pads of her feet, suggests the Oregon Humane Society.

Be careful at the beach, too

Sand can get as hot as pavement. Use the hand test in this setting as well before taking your pet out to the beach. Your dog’s paw pads may be more sensitive after being in the water, so pay special attention to her feet if she’s just been swimming or splashing around.

What to look for

If you’ve been out with your dog on a hot day, it’s a good idea to check their feet for any problems. Here are signs of possible burned paw pads:

  • limping or refusing to keep walking
  • licking or chewing at feet
  • pads that are darker in color than normal
  • blisters or redness on the feet
  • missing part of paw pad

If you think your dog might have burned her paw pads, here’s what to do:

  • Carry your dog to a grassy, cool area.
  • Immediately rinse with cool water.
  • Apply a gentle antibacterial cream or liquid.
  • Keep your pet from licking her paws.
  • If burns are minor, apply an antibacterial ointment and loosely bandage.
  • For serious burns, see your vet to prevent infection.

Even Some Peanut Butters Could Be Poisonous for Your Dog, FDA Warns

Chocolate and grapes are definitive “no’s” on the list of snacks your pooch can enjoy. But less suspecting food items, like certain brands of nut butter, are not safe for your four-legged pal either, according to a consumer update recently published by the Food and Drug Administration.

Some nut butters contain an ingredient called xylitol, a sugar alcohol that is slightly less caloric than real sugar and is present in a number of human foods. Snacks like sugarless gum, breath mints, chewable vitamins and even toothpaste often contain the ingredient, so these are particularly important to keep out of reach. Nut butter brands including Krush NutritionNuts ‘n More and P-28 contain the dog-unsafe sweetener.

“If you’re concerned about your dog eating a food or product with xylitol in it, check the label of ingredients,” Martine Hartogensis, a veterinarian at FDA, said. “If it does, indeed, say that it contains xylitol, make sure your pet can’t get to it.”

Xylitol is absorbed into dogs’ bloodstream at an extremely fast rate, and may increase the release of insulin from their pancreas, which could be deadly for your pet.

Xylitol poisoning may first induce vomiting in dogs, and may be followed by lowered activity, weakness, lack of coordination and seizures. If your dog is showing symptoms, or if you think your dog has ingested the ingredient, the FDA advises you to take the dog to the vet or an animal hospital immediately.

Even xylitol-free peanut butter can be risky, depending on how the dog eats it. Spoon-feeding can be dangerous because your pup may be so enthusiastic about the treat, they might swallow the utensil whole.

Sharing is sweet, but make sure to do so with caution.

The Fresh Food Movement Isn’t Just for People Anymore

For the past few years, I’ve been on a mission to get processed foods out of my house, and our fridge is generally loaded up with fruits and veggies. If we don’t make it from scratch, we don’t eat it — and that means everything from pizza crust and tortillas to soups and pasta dishes. We’re not perfect and there are lots of exceptions, but for the most part, I think we do a good job of eating fresh, healthy, homemade food as often as possible.

That’s why I am so embarrassed to admit that it never crossed my mind that my dogs and cats should be eating fresh food too. We have two dogs and two cats — all rescues — and they are as much a part of my family as any of the two-legged critters sitting at the kitchen table. I always thought I was doing a good job by feeding my pets the top quality food recommended by my vet, and they gobbled it up like champs. But at the end of the day, it’s still processed food. I wanted to learn more about what making food for my pets would mean.

First, as with any big change in your pet’s routine, consult your veterinarian. A raw food diet, in particular, can be risky since it involves handling and eating raw meat, which may be contaminated with bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. Both the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) caution against feeding animals a raw diet. “One study in 2008 found that when 166 frozen raw food products sold in Canadian stores were randomly tested, about 20 percent were positive for salmonella,” the New York Times reports.

And while homemade pet food may be less risky, it’s not without danger. According to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), “The main drawback to preparing diets at home is that unless following properly formulated recipes, it is easy to create nutrient deficiencies or excesses that could cause illness in your pet.”

In fact, in 2013, researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine studied more than 200 dog food recipes from 34 different places (pet care books, veterinary textbooks and websites) and found 95 percent were not well balanced. Nutritional deficiencies can cause immune system problems, fatty liver and musculoskeletal issues, according to U.C. Davis.

With that research in mind, I decided to ask some folks who’ve made the switch to homemade pet food.

Jodi Chick, the blogger behind Kol’s Notes, a blog that focuses on DIY dog treats and recipes, had only been a dog owner a few weeks when the big pet food recall of 2007 hit. Chick remembers noticing that every brand of pet food in her house was on the recall list. “The next few years were a journey of discovery as I promised my well-loved, sassy rescue dog that I could and would feed him better, and that we would figure out how to manage his serious food allergies without steroids or Benadryl,” Chick told me. After settling on a diet of home-cooked and raw foods, Chick said “I’ve seen such a remarkable change in his health and today, he’s a different dog.”

This kind of health overhaul was a common theme in conversations with the dozens of people that I talked to about fresh food for pets. Mark Webb, the editor at CentralParkPaws.net, started his dog, Lady, on a diet of chicken, rice and beans as an alternative to the expensive medical procedures Lady’s vet recommended. “You can tell her mood has improved exponentially, she’s up and walking, and it’s like she’s only 7 years old again! She’s 12 now,” Webb explained.

Fresh food for pets is not a new idea, but it is an idea that is catching on as more people realize they can get and make healthy food for their pets. A number of new businesses, including Real Pet Food, Darwin’s Natural Pet Products and The Farmer’s Dog now offer the same kind of subscription-based fresh food delivery services that have made businesses like Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh so popular for the human set. Just Food For Dogs also offers delivery, but if you’re lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, you can stop by one of their four dog food restaurants to pick up a fresh order of macaroni and cheese or turkey and rice for your pooch.

Still, the vast majority of folks who feed their pets fresh food simply make their own food at home, either doubling up their own recipes or making large batches of pet food over the weekends. (For example, holistic veterinarian Dr. Judy Morgan and dog trainer Tonya Wilhelm recently released the book, “What’s For Dinner, Dexter?” with loads of home-cooked meal recipes for dogs.)

It may take a little adjustment, but finding fresh, healthy food for your pets is easier — and cheaper — than you might think. And if fresh-is-best for your two-legged family members, isn’t it time your four-legged friends made the switch, too?

Florida is Measuring Its Invasive Python Problem by the Ton

Over the last few decades, Florida’s invasive Burmese python problem has grown at a startling rate. The pythons, released either by accident or on purpose, have gained a foothold in the state and researchers are scrambling to find ways to minimize the damage they’re causing.

In its native range in Southeast Asia, the future of the species is questionable. The IUCN lists it as vulnerable to extinction. Yet in Florida, the non-native snakes are flourishing and causing the population of many native species, from birds to mammals, to plummet.

A study published last year by scientists from the University of Florida, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed that pythons devoured 77 percent of the marsh rabbits tracked by the researchers. It was proof positive that the dramatic decline in marsh rabbits is due to the presence of invasive pythons. Researchers also suspect pythons are behind a decrease in deer populations.

Not only are the pythons responsible for decimating prey populations, but they’re also outcompeting native predator species. The effect the snakes have on the ecological balance of Florida’s wilderness can’t really be understated, and it’s a growing problem.

“Recent research has suggested that the predation pressure exerted by these pythons is unsustainable and causing big declines in native mammal populations. I see these declines in native animals as the biggest problem caused by the Burmese pythons,” Dr. David Steen of Auburn University told MNN.

As part of the response to the problem, researchers launched the Python Challenge. The event both raises public awareness about the problem and also gives researchers a chance to learn about the species.

This year, a Python Challenge in Collier County collected more than 2,000 pounds of snakes in three months in just that county. One of the snakes was a male measuring 16 feet long and weighing 140 pounds, which set a new state record for size. The researchers participating in the challenge — including Ian Bartoszek from Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Paul Andreadis from Denison University, and staff from the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and the United States Geological Survey — used a strategy that is not only clever for catching more snakes but also revealed previously unknown behavior.

Fitting male pythons with radio trackers, the researchers essentially turned them into “snitch snakes” that they could follow during the breeding season.

“Pythons, and snakes in general, are very hard to find because they are highly camouflaged and don’t need to move around as much as warm-blooded animals,” explains Steen. “So, by following one snake during the breeding season it is likely that you’ll be able to come across many others that you never would have found otherwise.”

And the researchers certainly did. They could track the males to females, and they note that finding a pregnant female before she lays eggs can help make at least a dent in the year’s population of pythons.

“It’s not like I’m waving a flag and declaring victory. But we’ve removed over 2,000 pounds of snakes from a fairly localized area,” Bartoszek told the Miami Herald. “Through active searching and radio telemetry, one little snake busted up multiple breeding aggregations.”

Though the strategy may not signal the end of the python problem, it does signal progress.

Steen echoes this: “I do not think that we currently have the knowledge or the technology to eradicate pythons from Florida. But, this is an area of active research; what if someone were to develop a trap that uses chemical signaling? That could potentially be the trick to making a dent in their numbers.”

Can the Zika Virus Affect Pets?

The once-obscure Zika virus is now making daily headlines as it surfaces in more countries and health officials rush to make recommendations to keep it from spreading.

We know the virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes. Only about one in five people infected with Zika virus will get sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and even then the symptoms are usually mild. However, the disease has been linked to serious birth defects and other major health problems. We know it is of most concern to pregnant women and there is at least one case of it being spread by sexual contact.

But we don’t know if our pets are at risk.

“I think unless you’re talking about pet monkeys, which should be extremely rare cases, as far as dogs and cats, I don’t know of any information or scientific studies on that topic,” says Chris Barker, a researcher in the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at the University of California, Davis. Barker studies the epidemiology of mosquito-transmitted diseases.

Of two common mosquito species that spread Zika — Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus — the former prefers biting humans and the latter has a broader palate. CDC researcher Roberto Barrera found that up to 20 percent of bites from the Aedes aegypti mosquito in several rural communities in Puerto Rico were on dogs.

“Certainly there’s the potential for a pet to become infected,” says Barker. “What we don’t know is what that means for the health of the animal.”

If a dog or cat were to become infected, we also don’t know if they could spread the virus to humans.

“What would ultimately matter in terms of whether a pet would play a role in transmission is how much virus would be in the animals’ blood,” Barker says.

Although there have been no cases of Zika being transmitted via mosquito in the United States, the mosquitoes that are capable of transmitting the virus do live in the U.S. So one of the best ways to protect people (and pets) from possible infection is to practice good mosquito control on your property.

“Encourage people to limit mosquito production from their own backyards, and they should encourage their neighbors to do the same. That’s one of the best measures we can take,” says Barker. “Where we do have the mosquitoes, we want to do everything we can to minimize the mosquitoes and limit the transmission risk.”

A New Study Shows Dogs Really Can Tell How Their Owners Are Feeling

Can dogs tell when we are happy, sad or angry? As a dog owner, I feel confident not only that I can tell what kind of emotional state my pets are in, but also that they respond to my emotions. Yet as a hard-headed scientist, I try to take a more rational and pragmatic view. These personal observations seem more likely to result from my desire for a good relationship with my dogs.

The problem is that studying emotional interpretations and responses across two interacting species is very difficult. For one thing, you can’t ask a dog how it’s feeling. So while many people can describe how their dogs respond to their emotional states – typically in ways we humans consider appropriate and perhaps even desirable – scientific evidence and explanation for this ability has mostly been elusive.

However, a new study, published in the journal Biology Letters, suggests that dogs really can recognize emotions in both humans and other dogs using visual and audio cues. Scientists have already documented chimpanzees’ and Rhesus macaques’ ability to identify emotional states among their own kind. But this is the first study to demonstrate that any animal can tell how members of another species are feeling.

What we did know already was that dogs can discriminate between different human facial expressions and sounds associated with specific emotional states. By investigating the time dogs spent gazing at images of people and dogs paired with specific sounds, the new study attempted to explore whether dogs could recognise entire emotional states. Each image was paired with an emotional sound that either matched or did not match the facial expression in the picture. Where dogs gazed longer at images with matching sounds, this was interpreted as an ability to put the two things together and identify the emotional state.

One key element of the study was that the dogs did not have prior training or familiarization with the task, suggesting an intrinsic ability to recognize emotions. But, interestingly, the study dogs did have a more significant response to conspecific (dog) stimuli than to heterospecific (human) stimuli.

It’s well understood that dogs are supremely good at reading and responding to human body language and possible intent (just ask anyone who has picked up a dog lead or dog bowl in front of their pet). Dogs can also demonstrate strong behavioral attachments to owners and react differently in cognitive tests based on the presence and behavior of the owner. This suggests that dogs have evolved the ability to use their human companions as social support systems in unfamiliar situations. So the ability to identify human emotional cues would be a significant addition to this skill.

However, dogs are also likely to have learned that if they respond to their owners’ sounds and facial expressions they will be treated in a certain way. The classic example is of a dog that has disobeyed an order displaying what appears to be a “guilty face”, as a way of appeasing its owner when scolded. How much this learned behavior plays a role in dogs’ responses to human emotions is, I suspect, something that we can’t fully determine, although the study goes some way to acknowledge canine abilities in this area.

Humans and dogs have lived and evolved together for at least 15,000 years and probably much longer. Given this, and the close bond that many people have with their dogs, it may not come as any surprise that dogs appear to have developed this skill in recognising human emotions.

This ability is likely to have been very important in helping dogs become accepted by humans and integrate into our society and culture, bringing enormous benefits on both sides. Dogs are likely to receive greater care from their human companions if their bond is enhanced by the dogs’ apparent empathy. The humans, meanwhile, receive unconditional companionship and emotional validation from their canine counterpart. Undoubtedly, this study further adds to our understanding and appreciation of the cognitive abilities of “man’s best friend” and highlights the mutually beneficial relationships we often have with dogs.

Children With Pets Have Less Anxiety

Children who grow up with pets reap a variety of benefits. Studies show they have reduced rates of allergies and asthma, and they’re more compassionate and emotionally intelligent. And recently, researchers discovered yet another benefit to having pets in the home: They may reduce childhood anxiety.

During an 18-month study in upstate New York, researchers from the Basset Medical Center, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Dartmouth Medical School analyzed 643 children to determine whether dog ownership affected certain aspects of kids’ health. Participating parents answered a series of questions about their children’s mental health, physical activity, body mass index, screen time and pet ownership, and researchers analyzed the data.

They found that while BMI, physical activity and screen time didn’t differ among children with or without dogs, those with dogs scored lower on clinical measures of anxiety. Twenty-one percent of kids without dogs met the clinical threshold to be screened for anxiety and other disorders compared with 12 percent of children with pet dogs.

When asked what kind of anxiety their children displayed, parents detailed several types that researchers say dogs can help alleviate.

“Significant differences between groups were found for the separation anxiety component (‘My child is afraid to be alone in the house’) and social anxiety component (‘My child is shy’) favoring pet ownership,” the study authors wrote in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

PHOTO FUN: 16 unlikely animal friendships

What is it about dogs that helps reduce childhood anxiety?

According to Dr. Anna Gadomski, one of the study authors, a pet dog can serve as an icebreaker and stimulate conversation, which helps relieve anxiety. Pets also provide comfort and companionship, which can be especially beneficial for children.

“From a mental health standpoint, children aged 7 to 8 often ranked pets higher than humans as providers of comfort and self-esteem and as confidants,” the authors wrote. “Animal-assisted therapy with dogs affects children’s mental health and developmental disorders by reducing anxiety and arousal or enhancing attachment. Because dogs follow human communicative cues, they may be particularly effective agents for children’s emotional development.”

But are dogs the only pets that can provide such benefits?

Gadomski says not necessarily, noting that her team looked at dogs simply because there’s already so much research on man’s best friend.

“It doesn’t mean that cats can’t do the same thing,” she told NBC News.

So if you’re a parent, here’s the bottom line: Your kid’s argument to get a puppy just got a whole lot stronger.

Is Your Dog a Playground Bully?

You’re at the park with your dog as he finds another four-legged buddy to play with. The two dogs seem to be having fun, but something feels amiss. Your dog is extra rambunctious and is really pushing the other dog around. Maybe the other dog is handling your dog’s overly rough-and-tumble attitude with patience. Or perhaps the other dog begins to hide behind or between his owner’s legs, looking for a break from your bossy dog.

Been in this situation? You just might have a bully on your hands.

Bullying behavior is a bigger problem than simply having a rude dog. In the immediate situation, it can lead to an attack or a fight, and in the long run it can cause the dog’s unappreciative play partner to become fear-aggressive, thinking all dogs are bullies. That’s why it’s important to stop bullying behavior the second you see it and train your dog to play appropriately.

Signs of bullying behavior include:

  • Being overly demanding about getting a toy, attention from people, or other resources
  • Continually standing over or pinning another dog to the ground
  • Ignoring signals from a play partner that the play is too rough or unwanted
  • An escalating intensity when the other dog pushes back or tries to leave

If you have a dog that behaves like a bully on the playground, there are steps you can take to fix the situation, which will benefit both your dog an all the other dogs he wants to play with.

What causes bullying behavior?

“Over-stimulation often leads to bossy behavior,” says Erin Kramer, an expert dog trainer who specializes in rehabilitating fearful, anxious and aggressive dogs. “This means that as the energy level rises, such as during chasing games, tug of war, or even just enthusiastic wrestling, dogs often become too stimulated and start to ignore signals from other dogs that they are playing too rough or that their interaction is not welcome. Dogs also feed off of each others’ energy, so a group of playing dogs can escalate into over stimulation and bullying behavior faster than a dog would with just one play partner.”

Kramer adds that simply watching how another dog is responding to your dog can tell you if your dog is being a bully. “If the other dogs are attempting to move and stay away, overly submitting by rolling on their backs, or are showing signs of stress or avoidance, that is a good indication your dog may be getting too rough.”

If you aren’t certain if your dog is bullying or if that’s just the play style of the two dogs, Kramer suggests getting a hold of your dog and seeing what happens when you make him take a break from play. If the other dog runs to your dog for more, then the two are getting along fine. But if the other dog maintains space, then the other dog is likely not really enjoying your dog’s rough play behavior and your dog needs to tone it down.

What to do if your dog is the bully

The old advice of letting dogs “work it out themselves” is the source of many problematic behaviors that can take years of training to overcome. Bullies will simply get better at bullying, and the dogs being picked on will likely develop increasingly intense fears about your dog and other dogs. Humans need to step in immediately to break up play that isn’t fun for both dogs, and prevent a bad situation — and bad behavior — from getting worse.

Once you’ve identified that your dog is being unappreciatively assertive with other dogs, it’s important to interrupt the behavior in the moment, then begin training to end the behavior in the long run.

In the moment, call your dog away and have him sit or lie down until he calms down. This can take a long time for a dog easily aroused in a dog park. Your dog is not calm until he can look away from other dogs playing, focus on you and exhibit relaxed body language. If after several minutes, your dog can’t seem to take his eyes off the other dogs and just wants to dive back in, then it’s time to leave the play area as it’s likely your dog won’t be able to tone down his play style.

The next thing is to begin setting your dog up for successful play sessions in such a way that you can easily step in to interrupt bullying behavior the moment it happens.

“If your dog does not have the advanced obedience it takes to perform an off leash ‘come’ out of play — and let’s face it, that’s a really challenging time to respond — then you need to set up your dog to deal with their bullying issues,” advises Kramer. “Have the dog wear a long leash, select a small play area where it’s easy to get control, and practice your obedience training so you are prepared to handle your dog correctly.”

During play, look for the timing of your dog’s bullying behavior and see if there are patterns. Kramer notes to watch if it’s a certain type of play partner, such as a high-energy or confident dog, that brings out the bully in your dog, or perhaps it’s simply that your dog bullies more when he hasn’t had as much exercise or training practice.

“If you can find a pattern to what creates or worsens their bullying behavior, then you can take steps to reduce it from happening and set them up for success by choosing more appropriate play partners or getting them increased exercise before play,” says Kramer.

Taking steps to train your dog to end bullying behavior is important, and Atlanta Humane Society has a great article outlining one way to interrupt and retrain your dog to end bullying over the course of many weeks. In addition to solid training addressing bullying during play, it’s important to have other tools to help your dog take the lessons beyond the dog park.

One lesson that Kramer notes is essential for pushy dogs is concept “Nothing In Life Is Free.” Teach your dog that he only gets the rewards he wants most in life when he thinks about what his human wants. Your dog will then continually check in with you, so he can earn what he wants.

“Demanding dogs are often dogs who need to know, ‘what’s in it for me?'” says Kramer. “Start making an asset list of all the things your dog sees as valuable. Remember that there are things that should go on the list outside of just treats and toys such as going through the front door, playing with friends, greeting strangers, even tummy rubs and snuggle time. Instead of giving away all those valuable rewards, ask your dog to earn them by performing commands like sit, down, stay, come, or doing a trick. Your dog will still get access to all of the things he likes, but he’ll have to earn those things from humans and in doing so, he’ll learn that pushy behavior doesn’t get rewarded. Once they learn this skill, they will be less bully-ish in general, and much more willing to listen to people when you need to get their attention.”

You can also implement a “no reward marker” or NRM, which works in the same way as clicker training, but rather than the marker indicating that a reward is coming, the marker indicates a loss of something is coming. Pat Miller writes in Whole Dog Journal, “My preferred NRM, the one I teach and use if/when necessary, is the word ‘Oops!’ [which] simply means, ‘Make another behavior choice or there will be an immediate loss of good stuff.’ An NRM is to be delivered in a non-punitive tone of voice … Timing is just as important with your NRM as it is with your reward marker. You’ll use it the instant your dog’s bully behavior appears, and if the bullying continues for more than a second or two more, grasp his leash … and remove him from play. Don’t repeat the NRM. Give him at least 20 seconds to calm down, more if he needs it, then release him to go play again.”

What to do if your dog is being bullied

You may have an issue with a bullying dog, but it isn’t your dog causing the strife. It’s just as important to step in to interrupt your dog getting picked on. Again, letting dogs “work it out themselves” leads to significant behavioral problems, including a bullied dog becoming excessively fearful or reactive to other dogs because of the bad experience of being bullied.

“This mindset is just much too risky!” says Kramer. “We the humans very often do not know the social skill level of the other dogs involved nor can we successfully know exactly how stressed or scared our own dog is in that situation. I would much rather a dog learn that his humans step in when he is showing signs of discomfort rather than him learning he is forced to defend himself, and that being fear-aggressive is a good strategy to keep himself safe.”

If you see that your dog is getting picked on or is uncomfortable in a play situation, calmly but confidently step in. You can leash your dog and leave, or step between your dog and the other dog to break up play. Staying calm but assertive is key, since your reaction sends a message to your dog. Screaming and yelling at the dogs to break it up tells your dog that this is a scary situation, where as firmly stepping in lets your dog knows that what happened was uncomfortable but nothing to be scared about.

“By demonstrating to your dog that you are responsible and actively engaged in keeping them safe, they will gain confidence in handling tricky social situations and will be less fearful and reactive when negative experiences arise,” says Kramer.

“As a trainer who does a lot of aggression rehabilitation work with dogs who have been bullied or attacked by other dogs, there is a particular joy I get in watching fearful dogs learn that they are no longer responsible for protecting themselves, and that I as their human handler will observe the body language messages they send me and will then take the steps needed to alleviate their discomfort. There is a bond that comes with such a system of partnership that makes a dog a more confident, social, and happy being. Allowing your dog to bully or be bullied means that you are undermining that system, and teaching your dog that they are on their own in learning how to make successful social decisions. With just a bit of observation, intervention and repetition you can help your dog learn the boundaries of positive social interaction and you will not only have a dog who is a better playmate, you will also have a stronger relationship altogether.”

Portraits of Disabled Animals Highlight the Beauty of Their Imperfections

Photographer Alex Cearns can see the beauty in all different types of animals and reveals this in her Perfect Imperfection series. Cearns has focused her lens on creatures who’ve faced various obstacles in their lives due to their physical disabilities. This includes birds with missing eyes, three-legged dogs, and cats who are completely blind. “One of my most passionate aims as an animal photographer is to capture the adorable subtleties that make all creatures precious and unique,” the artist told Bored Panda. “I love every animal I have the privilege of photographing, but those perceived as ‘different’ hold a special place in my heart.”

While these animals are physically impaired, that doesn’t make them any less beautiful. They are examples of strength and demonstrate that perseverance can conquer any challenge. Cearns realizes this and that’s what makes her images as impactful as they are. “Most animals with ‘afflictions’ don’t dwell on them,” the thoughtful photographer explains. “They adapt to their bodies without complaint and they survive with determination. They push on, always, wanting to be included and involved in everything as much as they can, and as much as an able bodied pet does.” The artist’s images aren’t only visually stunning, they also serve as inspiration for anyone who’s in the midst of a difficult situation.

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