Mindfulness and your dog

This month we have been thinking about ways we could be more mindful with our dogs. Technology has become so much a part of our lives, that it is hard to switch off. The time we used to spend just walking our dogs in the morning or evening has turned into a multitasking opportunity for checking emails, returning phone calls, and scanning social media, while trying not to trip over the leash.

This month, we wondered if it was time to switch off, and be present, not just in our world, but in our dogs’ world. The wonderful thing about dogs is that they are so naturally mindful. Every walk is a new walk, even if they have been on it a thousand times. Every time you come home is the best time, although you’ve only been gone for eight hours or eight minutes.

If you’re trying to think of some mindful activities, think about playing some Dognition games. Many of you might be stuck halfway, or in between subscription games. Set aside 20 minutes some time this week. Not to get through the profile or catch up to anything – just because your dog will love playing them, and love playing them with you. After all, there are treats involved!

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Do dogs get bored?

By Victoria Stillwell

There is an epidemic sweeping across the nation and it’s having a devastating effect on our dogs’ wellbeing. It’s a disease called boredom and many of our domestic dogs are at risk.

Boredom and inactivity contributes to destructive behaviors such as chewing, house soiling, excessive barking and other anxiety-based behaviors. Dogs that are left alone for long hours on a regular basis cannot be blamed for taking out their boredom and loneliness on the couch. Chewing relieves stress and having nothing to do all day can be very stressful particularly for those breeds that were originally bred to work. Because the domestic dogs’ role has changed to that of family member and companion, trainers like me see too many bored dogs with behavioral issues that are easily solved with a daily schedule of walks and other activities.

Think of it like this. Your dog is a car with a full tank of gas in the morning and it’s your responsibility to make sure that by the end of the day the gas tank is empty. Each dog’s needs are unique but all dogs need daily physical and mental stimulation with plenty of walks, great toys and fun games to play.

A walk not only exercises your dog physically but provides a different environment that challenges and stimulates his senses. Unlike their wild cousins, the domestic dog lives in a sensory deprived environment and walking is the best way to provide the exercise and stimulation he needs by allowing him to experience the world around him while breaking up the monotony of the day. I’m still astounded however, by the number of people I meet who seldom walk their dogs, if at all. Leaving a dog in the back yard all day is not exercise and can become just as boring as an indoor room.

If you stimulate your dog’s senses by allowing her to experience different environments each day and introducing her to new smells, sights, sounds around the neighborhood or at your local park, you’ll be repaid many times with a happy, healthy dog. Walking also relieves human stress and is great way to exercise and socialize with other like-minded people.

If the weather is too hot or cold to be outside you can still play games inside your home such as hide and seek, fetch or tug-of-war. Hide treats around the house and send your dog on a treasure hunt. Vary your dog’s toys by rotating them each day so they remain unique and exciting and get toys that challenge your dog such as treat balls and puzzles.

Dogs do get bored but enriching their lives doesn’t need to take a lot of time. It just means a different approach and an awareness of your dog’s needs. Sharing the responsibility with the whole family ensures your dog never becomes bored and receives the attention and time she deserves.

Posted in The Dognition Experience.

Dog of the month – Riley

Riley was found in New Orleans almost a year after Hurricane Katrina, when many pets were displaced from their homes. When Riley was rescued by her new owner Valerie, she had heartworms and an injured back leg, and would anxiously chew on the corner of her blanket.

However, as she started to feel secure and loved in her new home, she made a full recovery, both physically and emotionally. Then, Valerie took her on the trip of a lifetime, across Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe, and the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado where she is pictured in the photo.

One of Riley’s favorite games is hide and seek. ‘I tell her “count to ten,”and she goes to sit in the bathroom while I hide a toy,’ says Valerie. ‘She gets very excited to come out and search the room for -the- toy, even recognizing it when she sees other toys that are not the hidden target.’

Although it was Valerie who rescued Riley, Valerie says it goes both ways, ‘I am so grateful to have found her’.

Posted in The Dognition Experience.

Dangerous dog breeds

By Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

On Facebook, Irish politician Alan Tobin posted a picture of a ‘dangerous dog breed’ signs that required owners of those breeds to be ‘leashed and muzzled’.

There is absolutely no science to support that one breed is more dangerous than another. Or rather, there is so much noise in the data, that the results are inconclusive. For example, one analysis of 84 dog bites in children found pitbulls were responsible for ‘a notable proportion’ of bites, but this was only 13%. Another found that the top biting culprit was German shepherds, and another was English springer spaniels. In a review of studies from 1971 – 1989 , here is a sample of dogs that were found to be among the ‘top three’ biters: chow chows, collies, German shepherds, mixed breeds, American Staffordshire terriers, cocker spaniels, Saint Bernards, Lhasa apsos, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, poodles, and duck tolling retrievers. The data is all over the place.

Also, when a hospital records that the dog who bit a child was a certain breed, they rely on the report of the victim, parents, or a witness. No one does a DNA test to make sure. For instance, any dog with short hair, medium build and a broad face might be called a pitbull. And Scott and Fuller found that sometimes dogs end up looking nothing like either parent. When they crossed basenjis and cocker spaniels, most of the puppies were unidentifiable except they were about medium build with splotchy coats. This means that looks can be deceiving. A dog that looks nothing like a pitbull may have pitbull genes, while a dog that looks like a pitbull is nothing of the sort.

Imposing a ban on a breed of dog creates a false sense of security and persecutes a breed that is probably not even responsible for most of the injuries.

While we are not sure about breed differences when it comes to aggression, what science can tell us is that 70% of bites happen to children under the age of 10. Over 60% of the children bitten are boys, and 87% are white. Children are most frequently bitten (61% of the time) when they come in contact with the dog’s food or possessions. The children will usually be injured in the head and neck area, 55% to the cheek and lips with the average length of the wound being three inches. Most breeds are large dogs and male dogs are more likely to bite than female dogs. Two thirds of the dogs who bite children have never before bitten a child and between 25% – 33% of the dogs who bit were the family dog.

So in conclusion, the breed most likely to be involved in a serious dog related injury is a child, usually a white male under the age of 10, with a large male dog living in the family home.

This post was adapted from the New York Times Bestseller ‘The Genius of Dogs’

Further reading:

Monroy, A., et al., Head and neck dog bites in children. Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, 2009. 140(3): p. 354.

Brogan, T.V., et al., Severe dog bites in children. Pediatrics, 1995. 96(5): p. 947.

Reisner, I.R., F.S. Shofer, and M.L. Nance, Behavioral assessment of child-directed canine aggression. Injury Prevention, 2007. 13(5): p. 348.

Overall, K.L. and M. Love, Dog bites to humans–demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2001. 218(12): p. 1923

Posted in The Dognition Experience.

Dog genius

Dogs are with us so often that it is easy to forget how remarkable they are. Introducing some dogs reminds us of the incredible potential of our best friends.

By the time Chaser was three years old, she knew the names of over a thousand objects. The only reason she stopped learning was because her owner, John, ran out of toys! Some dogs can learn a word after they have heard it only once. They can also learn a new word even if they have not heard it before– by matching a new word with a new object. This is called fast mapping and it is how children can learn words at an astonishing rate.


Philip is a Hungarian assistance dog whose owner is in a wheelchair. Philip can pick up keys, fetch a cell phone, turn lights on and off, and pull items from supermarket shelves and put them in a basket. However, his special ability is something that surprised scientists – Philip can imitate. If you do something on two legs, Philip will copy you on four legs. Philip can twirl around, jump in the air, and even take a bow. Before Philip, scientist thought that only people could imitate. Philip is even more impressive because not only can he copy you, he has to map your actions onto his own doggy body plan. Now that’s a clever dog.


One day Daisy kept lunging at her owner Claire’s chest. Another owner might have ignored it, but Claire was a scientist who had worked with assistance dogs for 20 years. When Claire investigated, she found a lump. The tumor was early stage, deep in her breast. If Daisy had not alerted Claire, the tumor would have been advanced by the time Claire had found it herself. Daisy has gone on to detect 550 cases of cancer and has been awarded the Blue Cross Medal for her work. Dogs have been trained to detect dozens of different types of cancer, including bladder, colon, prostate, kidney, melanomas. No one knows how dogs do it, but one idea is that they can smell the odor tumors produce. Dogs can sniff out cancer at stage zero, and they are usually more than 95% correct – better than some lab tests.

Kayley is gifted. She wrote her first novel when she was 12 and composes her own music. Kayley also has a severe form of Tourettes that causes uncontrolled ‘tics’, which used to get so bad that her legs would collapse while she was crossing the road. In middle school, Kayley was confined to a wheelchair. Help arrived in the form of a dog called Mack. When Kayley feels a tic coming, she simply leans against Mack, and the tic stops. Or Mack will lie across her lap, and tics that used to last for hours will pass in seconds. Kayley is no longer in a wheelchair and can ride a horse and drive a car. She is now in college, studying to be a neuroscientist. Dogs can help children with all sorts of disabilities. Children with autism talk and sleep better when a dog is with them, and having a dog cuts their stress hormone cortisol by half. Dogs can tell parents of children with epilepsy when their child is about to have a seizure. The power dogs have on children can be so great that even having a dog to pet in hospital can be more effective than pain relieving drugs.

Posted in The Dognition Experience.