Placebos and Dogs: Really? (Yes!)

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I've always been fascinated by placebos and I never understood why the phrase "the placebo effect" was often spoken with such disdain. Here is a standard definition (from Wikipedia): "A placebo is a simulated or otherwise medically ineffectual treatment for a disease or other medical condition intended to deceive the recipient." Except, it's not necessarily ineffectual, right? That's the point, if you think about it: We know that you can be helped just by the belief that something can help you, and that factor must be eliminating when testing new medications or treatments. Yes, the placebo effect can be a confounding factor when trying to discern if a particular treatment or medication is worthwhile, but isn't it even more remarkable that belief itself can be therapeutic? Study after Read More

When to Intervene in Dog-Dog Interactions

Luke, Indiana & me

This is one of the questions I am most frequently asked, and with good reason. It's a tough one. It's also relevant to my own life right now, after having just introduced a new dog into the household, and having to make split-second decisions several times in the first few weeks. I should say first off that there is no ultimate truth here. No research, no data, just my opinion based on experience with thousands of client dogs and plenty of my own. Certainly there is no dearth of opinions about when to intervene when dogs "get into it," from the extremes of "I never intervene, I just let them work it out" to the opposite attitude of calling a dog off instantly, or correcting her, for a hard eye or a quiet growl. You won't be surprised to learn that I live in the middle ground, not being Read More

The Plot Thickens: Spay Neuter Effects & the Health of Our Dogs

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Many years ago, in the 1980's, I was in Scotland being introduced to a cocktail party full of veterinarians. Imagine my surprise when one of them cornered me, waving his drink and spluttering his words, and began berating American veterinarians for promoting spay/neuters of pet dogs. Several others joined in, and before I knew it I began waving my own drink and spluttering my own words, in defense of my dog's vet, as well as many colleagues and friends. For all I know I threw apple pie in there somewhere. Their point was that it is not good medicine to remove vital organs, which have many functions beyond reproduction, in order to prevent something that may or may not happen (mammary cancer, pyometra for example). That was my first introduction, a long, long time ago, to the fact that Read More

fMRI on Dogs: Too Wonderful!

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When I was doing my PhD research in the 1980's I wanted to see how a dog's brain responded to different types of sounds before and after training. This was in the 1980's, and the only method available for animals was to do Evoked Potential tests, in which simple, tiny electrical sensors were glued to the scalp. This allowed one to measure activity in the brain in an extremely general way: What kind of brain waves does one see in the Temporal versus the Parietal lobe, for example, after hearing or seeing specific stimuli? Evoked Potential tests are logistically easy to do on adults: You shave tiny areas of the scalp, glue on the sensors, and ask the subject to stay still for a set period of time. The research subject mustn't move, because muscles move through electrical stimulation in Read More

New DVD on Animal Assisted Therapy!

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We just released a DVD of the seminar I did in Naples, Florida on Animal Assisted Therapy and Activities, "Lending a Helping Paw." I'm excited about it, because it gives me the opportunity to help individuals and organizations who want to help others. It is an example of an activity we can do with our dogs that is a triple win (for us, our dogs, and people who need some oxytocin and/or physical therapy). Because of that, old social worker that I am, it's near and dear to my heart. Speaking of hearts, and what fills ours with happiness, the question arises about how effective AAT (Animal Assisted Therapy) and AAA (Animal Assisted Activities) really are. I remember a conference put on by the Delta Society many, many years ago that included a controversial study. It showed that, in this Read More