TheOtherEndoftheLeash Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals. Fri, 27 Mar 2015 22:40:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Music to a Cat’s Ears Fri, 27 Mar 2015 16:00:55 +0000  sushi at windowA recently published study has shown that cats are attracted to music that was specifically designed for them. This is important work, given all the claims that are made about effect of music “designed for” dogs and cats. Although there are several interesting studies this issue, the studies have traditionally compared different types of musical genres, always with music that was written for people (“classical” versus “rock” for example). There is some music that has been specifically designed for dogs or cats, but its development was not based on an analysis of the animal’s species-specific vocalizations, nor is there robust scientific evidence that it is effective. Indeed, see my post from 2013, in which researcher Kogan found that slow-noted classical music increased the amount of time that kenneled dogs spent sleeping, while “psychoacoustically designed” music, a piano piece specifically designed to calm dogs, resulted in no significant change in behavior compared to no music at all.

Enter scientists Charles Snowdon (a primatologist who has studied animal vocalizations for decades), and musician David Teie. Previously they collaborated on what they like to call “Cotton Top Rock,” or music designed based on the little monkey’s vocalizations and auditory range. They found that, as they suspected, the 250px-Lisztaffe_-_Cottontop_Tamarin_-_Saguinus_oedipusmonkey’s behavior was affected most by music based on their own calls and hearing range. For the current study, Snowdon and Teie enlisted the help of then- undergraduate student Megan Savage, and together they asked if they could create music that was particularly attractive to cats, based on feline vocalizations. Musician Teie created the music, while Snowdon and Savage designed and carried out the research. You can read the abstract here if you’d like.

In this study, forty-seven cats were tested in their own homes. Each heard the music specifically designed for cats and music written for people (balanced for direction, order, etc.). The music for cats turned out to be about two octaves higher than the music made for people, contained “sliding frequencies” often heard in cat vocalizations but not in human music, and a pulse rate related to purring. (Indeed, when you listen to some of the music you can hear purr-like notes in it. You can listen to the music here.) The cats oriented and approached the speakers significantly more often when the “cat music” was playing, and in some cases walked over to the speakers and rubbed against as they would to a familiar friend.

The authors conclude by making the compelling argument that “auditory enrichment” (for example, in Polly fall colors 9-12shelters, vet clinics, or for cats with separation anxiety) must be appropriate for the intended species and thus be based on an analysis of the animal’s own vocalizations. In addition,  one must be aware of the acoustic features that can affect the emotional state of the listener. (Long, continuous notes slow or soothe, while quick, repeated ones end to increase motor activity, true of all or at least most mammals.) They conclude: “It is not sufficient to simply turn on a radio or play some classical music in a laboratory or shelter and assume that acoustic enrichment needs are being met.”

I was especially interested in whether listening to the music tended to calm the cats who heard it. This, after all is what most shelters and owners of anxious cats need. The research scored the initial responses to the music in two categories APPROACH/ORIENT: Look toward, move toward the speaker, rub against the speaker, sniff the speaker and/or purr. AVOIDANT/FEARFUL behaviors included moving away, leaving the room, piloerection, growling, hissing or arching the back. There was no difference in the number of “negative” responses to human or cat music, but a large different in “positive behaviors.” If sleeping when the cats heard the cat music, they woke up. If active, they became calm.

Those findings are replicated in testimonials that have come in from people who have purchased the music from Dr. Teie’s website. Here are two:

I came across an article about the music you created specifically for
cats, which also featured an audio sample. I played this to our formerly
stray cat, who still after living with us for months is too afraid of
being petted. Upon listening to the music she seemed very relaxed all of
a sudden and was gently pawing at the phone, it was very touching to see. KL

My boys were yowling and carousing the other night, and i happened to come upon your sound file. Quieted them right down, and they ended up side by side on the couch! D

I talked to Dr. Snowdon about this study last week (Full disclosure: He is a friend and colleague, and was integral to my own PhD research), and he described to me, testimonials aside,  how important it was to him to keep a “wall” between any commercial applications of the cat music and the research itself. Snowdon & Savage have no connection to any commercial use of the music, and Teie had no input on the study design or analysis of results. Here! Here! to them all for keeping those things separate.

Another interesting result of this research is the response of some in the media about it. (Can you hear me pulling the hair out of my head?)  One reporter said “In what is surely the worst use of science in history, a Wisconsin psychologist has a mission to make mew-sic for cats.” Tempted as I am to say “In what is surely the worst use of a pun in journalistic history…”, but I’ll leave it that the speaker clearly had done little but read a headline and jumped on it like a cat on a laser pointer. My local paper covered the research, and later published a column deriding the University’s foolishness in releasing news about the study when the university is itself under fire from our governor and legislature. Ah, but if I was to criticize someone, it would be the media, for spluttering over the headline and not noticing that 1) the research was done by an Megan Savage, at the time an undergraduate who was getting credit for learning how to do research (knowledge that no doubt helped her get into a PhD program in clinical medicine, 2) the research was funded by a small $1,000 grant from a private organization, and thus no tax payer dollars were used, and 3) this results ARE important, in that it is important to find inexpensive and practical ways to soothe cats in shelters, in veterinary clinics and in homes in which they are stressed for any other reason.

Thus, my request to you all: Hold journalists accountable when they attack something without understanding what it is about. Science seems to be under attack at the moment in the United States, which is not good for anyone of us. We all need to stand up and push back when the media leaps onto something without doing any, uh, actual journalism about the issue.

For me, I’ll be playing it to Nellie and Polly myself out of pure curiosity; I would love to hear about your cat’s reactions if you have a cat at home.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We have a new flock of sheep. At least, it looks that way. They were shorn a few days ago in preparation for lambing (coming up in a few weeks! oh boy!), and not only do they look different to us, but because much of their scent is in their wool, they smell different to one another. I’ve learned to counter that by dousing them with cheap perfume, which cuts down on the aggression I used to see between them right after shearing. I find it fascinating that they don’t recognize each other once they are shorn. Fascinating too is a barn that smells like a whorehouse. I consider it a highlight of spring.

Here is part of the flock, gathered together not to keep warm (although it got below 12 degrees last night, poor things–they got lots of extra food to provide calories), but to stay away from my scary, big-eyed camera. By the way, the ewe on the front right, Chili, is 100% Katahdin and is a hair sheep. No need to shear her, she’ll shed like a dog all spring.

sheep scrum

And now you know why Spot is named Spot. It’s never clear except right after she has been shorn. And then it is. Ba boom.

spot's spot

]]> 3 All About Dog Poop Mon, 23 Mar 2015 20:14:49 +0000 Because it isn’t necessarily a fun topic, I thought I’d start off with my favorite story about dog poop. Imagine being at a sit-down lunch at two-day seminar I was giving on canine behavior and training. Picture a large room, with 150 people or so, sitting at round tables covered in white table cloths, the food delivered by hotel conference staff. You know the drill. We had finished a good lunch and looked with happy anticipation to what was promised to be a special dessert. Imagine our surprise when we each received a small plate with a perfect replica of dog poop on it. The cook thought it would be just too wonderful to feed us chocolate pudding in the shape of a brown, coiled snake of dog poop. It was impressively realistic. Apparently the chef was shocked that every plate was returned, uneaten. It is perhaps my favorite example of “what were they thinking?” By any chance, were you there? I’d love to hear from you if you were. I don’t remember where it was. Canada? Where ever it happened, it was memorable.

I can’t resist adding that, at the least, we could have gotten a plate of healthy poop, which should have looked like a Tootsie roll, instead of slightly-formed pudding. If by chance you’d like to learn more about healthy poop, check out this brilliant blog on what your cat’s poop is telling you. (Thanks to Julie Hecht for sending it!) The blog is about cats, but it is equally relevant to dogs. Just don’t decide to serve something that looks like it to company. But, on to more important issues:

I was initially inspired to write about dog poop after receiving a question from a friend, whose dog MeMe (photo on the left)  took great pains to scramble up a mound of snow to defecate on top of it. That meant that friend Debbie had to scramble up herself, poop bag in hand, to clean it up. But why was MeMe expending so much energy climbing up a small mountain just to move her bowels? My guess is as good as yours, but I suspect it had to do with scent dispersal. The higher a scent is placed, the better the chance the air flow will disperse it. This is believed to be the reason that male dogs lift their legs, in order to deposit scent as high as possible; not so much to “appear bigger” but to allow the scent to be better dispersed. If you’d like to delve into this topic in more depth, check out a great blog by Koryos on scent marking in dogs, which ends with a good list of studies on scent marking in canids.

TEACHING DOGS TO GO IN ONE SPOT: Speaking of location, for some reason my dogs have been eliminating exclusively in my flower gardens. Not so great healthy when I’ll be spending lots of time digging in the dirt. The only exception to their flower garden preference is the lawn in front of our front door. I didn’t worry about the lawn over the winter, because usually it is covered in snow and the moisture acts to dilute the urine. Not this winter, however, because we have had so little snow, so I now have a front lawn that is more yellow grass than green. I’m not an obsessive lawn caretaker, but I’d still rather not have a polka dot lawn. Here’s what I’ll be doing, which is taking the same advice I have given hundreds of clients about how to teach your dog to pee and poop where you want:

Go outside with a hand full of treats and call your dog to your designated bathroom area. If your dog stares at you (as in “Give me the treat”), just look up and away and walk around the area slowly. Eventually your dog will give up and start to sniff. Continue strolling around slowly until Ginger or Rusty squats or lifts a leg, and give a treat immediately afterward. (Yes, you have to go outside with your dog and go yourself to the area you want your dog to use. Sorry… no standing by the backdoor in your bathrobe.) Continue treating your dog in the preferred area and eventually almost all dogs, by force of habit, will use that area, at least if you go outside with them. (This is why we have slip on boots by the door, and very warm, comfy bathrobes…)

A few caveats however: Most dogs have a preferred type of bathroom. Willie used to prefer bushy or grassy areas, although now that he is older he is more likely to poop in the middle of a trail. (I’ve noticed this pattern with several other dogs, that as they age they are less likely to eliminate away from the traffic pattern. Have you had the same experience?) Other dogs like the wide open spaces–so be thoughtful about what your dog is telling you regarding his or her choice for a bathroom. Also, be aware that dogs identify bathrooms by smell. We identify them by sight… we look for the sign that says “Restroom,” look for the stall, the round white thing, etc.) Dog are looking for the smell of urine or feces, so if you are trying to train your dog to use a new area, you might want to import some grass or soil (or feces) into that area. I’ve suggested that to many a client, and found that it has been helpful in transitioning a dog from the rose garden by the house to the brush at the far side of the garden.

Here, by the way, is a good post from the ASPCA about helping shelter dogs learn or continue good elimination habits while in shelters. Given how many dogs are returned because of house training issues, this is important stuff.

SPRING CLEANING and POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT: Poop had been on my mind in another way when I got Debbie’s query, because it is spring here in the northern climes. Everyone who lives in snow country knows what that means. Dog poop. Lots of it. Everywhere. No matter how much we clean up after our dogs, the reality of life in winter dictates that warm poop melts into snow, and disappears from view in an instant. That means that “spring cleaning” for dog lovers involves a very big bucket and some serious work with a poop scooper. Not a fun job, but someone’s got to do it, right?poop scooper

That reminds me of the importance of using positive reinforcement when dealing with the “gifts” left by dogs in public places. Understandably, people can get upset, even other dog owners, about feces left behind by owners who don’t pick up after their dogs. I well remember a time year ago that a pack of outraged dog owners started a brouhaha about how much feces needed cleaning up in spring in a public dog park. A spring clean up was organized, but the attitude was one of “how could other people be so irresponsible to not clean up after their dogs?” Well, first, as I mentioned, poop is warm and snow is cold, and it takes about a microsecond for the product of your dog’s elimination to disappear from sight. Second, the fact is that *^#! happens and sometimes owners are distracted and don’t notice that their dog has pooped, and others, well, don’t care.

However, rather than expend negative energy on “Ain’t it awful!” (my least favorite conversation abut just about anything), I organized a competition to make poop a high-value resource. Whoever brought in the heaviest bucket during the spring dog park clean up got a prize. A good one. All of a sudden people were racing around saying “Oh look! There’s one!” as if they had found an Easter egg. The next year I told Ian Dunbar about it at an APDT conference, where I was hearing the same “Oh, people are SO AWFUL” energy, and he announced a similar competition. It worked like a charm. Keep that in mind if you live in an area where there have been complaints about dog feces in public areas. Funny how positive reinforcement works on people as well as it does on dogs.

275px-Betty-boop-opening-titleEnough about poop, although I have to admit I could go on and on. For example, I was going to title this post “Poop Poop Pe Doo,” but discovered that 1) many others have used that same phrase when writing about dogs and poo, and 2) some of these posts lead to places that, well, we’d all rather not go. But I did find a great Wiki site on Betty Boop, who coined the phrase. You just never know where curiosity is going to take you, do you?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: No poop pick up today, we got 4 or 5 inches of snow last night. It will melt soon and that will mean more mud, but I’m glad to see it. It’s been a dry winter and spring so far, and we need the moisture. Here’s the snow decorating the cedar tree beside the house.

snow on cedars

Tootsie did her Pet Pals shift this weekend at the American Family Children’s Hospital. I wish I could include a photo of the little girl who had Tootsie in her lap, with her head bowed down so that her body was curled around Tootsie. When the shift was over and it was time to leave I could barely get her to let go. It’s bitter sweet indeed to see how needy these children are, and how much having a dog to pet can mean to them. We’re not allowed to take photos in the hospital, but here is Tootsie getting her obligatory bath before her visit. I trained her to stand in the sink with her paws on the divider between the sinks, which she’ll do now without any assist from me so that I can have both hands for bathing her. You can see she’s just gotten a treat. Whee, baths are sort of fun, aren’t they!

Tootsie small bath

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Fish Falling From the Sky Tue, 17 Mar 2015 00:31:46 +0000 [I had planned to write a blog on poop (stay tuned, who could resist the topic?), but am a tad under the weather, so I’m just going to post this for your amusement…

You’ve heard of fish falling from the sky, yes? Apparently it is more common that one might predict. A quick internet search found multiple references to such events, many of them quite credible. They can even fall by the hundreds, as experienced by the residents of a small town in Australia. But I’ve never known anyone who could beat the story of my veterinarian, Dr. John Dally, who lives on the Wisconsin River, and below the flight path of a Bald Eagle flying between her nest to her fishing grounds on a daily basis. Imagine John’s surprise when he went outside early in the morning to pick up a dish pan, and a fish fell out of the sky into the pan he was carrying. Plop. Apparently he had whistled for his dog when he picked up the pan, and it startled an eagle sitting above him into dropping the fish. The fish hit the gutter of the house, bounced onto John’s forehead and into the pan. Apparently John isn’t the only one who has had a fish fall on his head.

Here’s Dr. John, just moments after his most successful fishing trip and after he told his wife what had happened:

john & fish


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: A lovely weekend, including a long dog walk with friends and a fun open house/pot luck at Dr. John’s while he and his wife Anne (both vets bless them) boiled maple sap to make their own maple syrup. Here’s the sap boiling away:

sap boiling


And here are the resident goats. Yup, they really do eat everything, including paper plates with yummy pie filling on them. (Don’t worry, the plate consumption was carefully monitored. Apparently there is such a thing as “too many paper plates,” even if one is a goat.) But hey, I do make good pie. :-)

dally goats

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Fund Raising 2015: Love Song to Lassie Tue, 10 Mar 2015 01:17:41 +0000 French Vanilla. Ice Cream. Summer Day.
Those were the six words I wrote for my Lassie girl, the day she died. That was a little over five years ago, and I still miss her more than I can say. She was pure and simply the sweetest dog I have ever had.
Lassie Best photoShe was Cool Hand Luke’s daughter, and a dog I never expected to have. I had turned down a puppy in return for Luke’s stud service, having more than enough dogs at the time.  Lassie’s breeder brought the litter to Black Earth so that Luke’s many admirers could pick out the puppies they had reserved. “I know you don’t want one, but if you did, which one would you take?” I was asked. “This one,” I said after spending the day with all the puppies, enamored of a small female with a raccoon black patch around her left eye.

A year later, that same dog arrived at the farm at 11 o’clock at night. The home she was in hadn’t worked out; the breeder asked if I would take care of her a few days until a good home was found. I said yes. My husband, Patrick, had just informed me that he was leaving me after 17 years together, and in a moment of stunned grief and desperation, I latched onto Lassie as if she was a lift boat.

She came late in the evening, and all that night I kept my hand resting on her soft, creamy fur. As the dim light of dawn began to creep into the room she and I got up together. I let her out of the house to run up the hill behind the other dogs, knowing she’d follow them into the fenced yard. I don’t know why I called her name as she galloped away–what is the chance she’d listen when I had just gotten her? But as I called she spun around in mid-air and ran back to me, sliding to a stop like a quarter horse at my feet. That afternoon I introduced her to sheep. She did a perfect outrun around to the back of the flock, slowly walked them up to me and lay down, as if she’d had months of training. I called the breeder as soon as I got back to the house. “We’ve found Lassie a home, if you’ll let me keep her.” By the end of the first day we were together, she fell in love with her father Luke, and I fell in love with her.

She died of liver cancer fifteen years later. Ex-husband Patrick and I are now both happily married to other people, and are good friends. He lives just a few miles away, with Lassie’s daughter, the sweet and beautiful Tess. Like her mother, she passed away at the age of sixteen. But it was still too soon. It is almost always too soon, isn’t it?

That is why I am writing this now, because we have a chance to support research that will help many of our dogs live a little longer. I would be grateful, more grateful than I can say, if  you wwould join me in raising  money for one of my favorite causes, the Puppy Up Foundation. It funds research on cancers that affect both people and dogs in hopes that combining expertise and both human and animal medicine will lead to faster cures. Last year the Madison contingent alone (it was then called the 2 Million Dogs campaign), raised a whopping total of $86,000, a national record. Wow. Already some of those funds are supporting research at Princeton University on mammary tumors in people and dogs.

This year the goal for the Madison walk is $100,000 and how sweet that would be if we made it! Jim and I walked as part of the Pet Pals team and I’m blushingly proud to say that because of your support, I was the individual top fund raiser in the city. I’ll go for the same goal for all of us for this year, and am hoping that together, we can again raise over $3,000. If you’re in the Madison area, come join us on the walk on May 3rd.  It is a hoot and a half. But here’s where you add your own donation if you can. Either way, we’d all love to read any memorial you’d like to add about your own special dog. Oh how I wish that they lived longer…

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Sunny, and most importantly, temperatures well above freezing! Actually in the 40’s. Whooo Hooo! Yesterday I felt hot outside with just my spring jacket on. For those of you who don’t live in the frozen north, know that the concept of “hot” has been an unfamiliar one around these parts. And there’s more: Mud! Never have brown and muddy paws looked so good.

Now we hear there’s even warmer weather coming this week. Temps in the high 50’s? I can’t even imagine. Bring out the swimsuits. (Well, maybe not. Let’s just say that brutally cold weather does not facilitate successful weight loss.) It’s still icy and snowy in spots, and we’ll get lots of cold and snow to come in the next six weeks, but we are loving it now. Hard to imagine that there will be bulbs coming up in a month. And lambs! Lady Godiva, Lady Baa Baa, Pepper and Cupcake (also known as “Honey Boo Boo Ewe” — another unsuccessful weight loss program) are scheduled to lamb in mid-April. I have to go to Washington DC for a speech in mid-April, hope Jim doesn’t end up being the one doing all the lambing work. Cross your hooves for us…

Sunday morning 4 BCs and 3 people took a glorious early spring walk on a trail a few miles from the farm. Here are friend Donna, Jim and some of the BC’s tromping up a steep hill and enjoying the warm weather.

Ice Age Trail 3-15


And here’s Maggie girl practicing her driving Sunday afternoon under the blue sky and cotton clouds. Luke’s headstone is on the left; it says “That’ll Do, Luke, That’ll Do.” Lassie is buried to his right, beside him. I always envision that their spirits are still there, watching over us all from their favorite place on the farm. Rest in peace my friends, I still love you both more than I can say.

M drives early spring


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When Is It Time to Put Down a Dog Who is Aggressive to People? Tue, 03 Mar 2015 01:51:28 +0000 If there is anything harder than euthanizing a beloved dog for serious behavioral problems, I don’t know what it is. And yet, sometimes, that is an option that dog owners have to consider. These were some of the hardest cases I worked with when I was seeing clients full time. I would drive home, sick at heart, and wonder why the hell I hadn’t found an easier way to make a living. Often I’d run into people who would say “Oh! What a wonderful job you have!”, no doubt envisioning me spending my days running through fields of daisies with Golden Retriever puppies.

aggressivedogAs hard as it is to talk to clients about whether to put down an aggressive dog, it is nothing compared to what the owners are going through. Euthanizing a physically healthy dog, one who is joyful and loving part of the time, is surely the hardest thing a dog lover has to face. My intention here is to help people considering the option of whether to put down a dog who is seriously aggressive, in hopes that I can provide some guidance. I’ll get the conversation started, but I greatly value the input of you as a reader, if you have any to share. Let me start by asking that we agree on a definition of “canine aggression.” For the sake of our discussion, let’s define aggression as an action in which a person is either injured or at clear risk of being injured by a dog. We all know that a great deal of what is labeled as “aggression” is defensive behavior, but for the sake of our discussion, let’s focus on consequences, and not what we think is the dog’s intent.

First and Foremost: It is No One’s Decision But Your Own: This is both a blessing and a curse. Clients often asked me “What would you do if it was your dog?” I can never answer that question, because I’m not the one who will have to lie in bed at night thinking about what has happened. What I can do is start by sympathizing, and saying that I am so, so sorry that anyone is in the position of having to consider putting down a physically healthy dog because of a serious behavioral problem. It is exhausting, heartbreaking and terrifying. When I talk to people in this situation I emphasize how important it is to be kind and compassionate toward themselves, as if they were facing a serious illness. Their brain thinks they are. I ask them to surround themselves with good friends who are truly supportive, and to shake off any harsh judgements or unhelpful advice as best they can.

Usually conversations about serious behavioral problems include three primary options for dealing with all serious behavioral problems: 1) Keep the dog and work with a trainer or behaviorist to mitigate or manage the problem, 2) re-home the dog if it can be done safely and responsibly, and 3) euthanize the dog. Needless to say, option three should only be considered if options one and two are not viable. But how do you consider if they are or are not? Here are criteria that I suggest everyone consider:

1. Risk Assessment: No one begins a conversation about whether their dog should be put down for aggressive behavior if there haven’t been several incidents (or one horrifically serious one). And every dog owner has to know that if “it,” the aggression, happened once, it might happen again. That is true even if the dog is carefully managed and the owners work hard on a treatment plan. The question is, what is “it”? What are the consequences if “it” happens again? I was once called by a public health employee about a case in which a dog had damaged someone’s face so badly it required 400+ stitches to repair. The dog had then been given away to someone else, and ended up mutilating a child’s face, arm and shoulder. Would it be possible, I was asked, to work with the dog and make it safe? Yes, perhaps… anything is possible. But there is always a risk that it might happen again, and in this case, “it” was a horrific injury to an innocent person. Who would be willing to risk that kind of damage to another person. Of course, a seriously dangerous dog could live in a cage with extremely limited social contact, but that brings up the issue of quality of life (which I’ll discuss later on in this piece).

On the other hand, if “it” happening again means that your dog has growled at someone, then you might be in a very different conversation. Growls and snaps to people aren’t acceptable either, but just because a dog growls at the delivery man when she’s ten months old doesn’t mean she is going to be a dangerous dog. There are lots of dogs who can be turned around, or at least managed, as long as the owners acknowledge that the behavior needs addressing, and can find good advice about how to do so.

Thus, anyone in a conversation about euthanizing an “aggressive” dog has got to ask themselves two risk-related questions: First, if the injury was to another person, what risk does your dog pose to others? How would you feel if your dog put someone in the hospital? Second, what are the consequences to you?  What is your legal risk if there is another incident? Are you willing to lose your home owner’s insurance? Defend yourself in a lawsuit? If the bite was to you, can you spend a year healing your hand from a bad bite that keeps you from writing, or playing the violin as a musician? In addition, and essentially, everyone has a different tolerance for risk. Can you live in health knowing that your dog might badly injure someone if you forget to lock a door? Some people are fine with a background level of risk, and in addition have little trouble following a rigid routine to keep things safe. Others aren’t. Owners have to ask themselves which category they fall into.

 2. Do you have the resources required to a) manage the dog so that everyone stays safe, and b) work on a treatment plan? Loving a dog is not the same as having the knowledge or logistical ability to treat a serious behavioral problem. Love, I’m afraid, is not always “all you need.” I have seen innumerable clients who loved their dog, but who simply didn’t have the emotional or logistical ability to manage and treat a serious aggression problem. As much as I want to help save as many dogs as I can (my training business was named “Dog’s Best Friend” after all), I feel tremendous empathy for people who, through no fault of their own, simply can’t cope anymore. Perhaps they have been living in fear of their dog for years and are emotionally exhausted. I saw hundreds of people in that category: women who were terrified that their dog would turn on them with no warning, as it had in the past; men who lived in fear that their dog would bite another neighbor and the lawsuit would destroy a lifetime of hard work. It is easy for some to dismiss such people, and argue that they themselves would never give up on a dog, no matter what the dog had done. But be careful of making judgments here: I have seen people whose lives were almost destroyed because of an aggressive dog. People who hadn’t had company for over a decade and whose marriages were on the rocks (or over) because of it. A woman whose dog stalked her through the house and held her hostage in the upstairs bedroom at midnight while I and a colleague drove up outside to capture the dog and save her. One of my clients stitched up a long, serious bite wound in fear that getting medical care would force her to consider not keeping her dog.

3.  Can the dog be re-homed? Aggression is often context specific, and if it is triggered by predictable, and manageable stimuli, then the dog might indeed be able to be re-homed. Perhaps the dog is only dangerous around children, and the current owner has three young ones. A home might be found that doesn’t include children. BUT… and this is crucial: Just because the new owners don’t have young children doesn’t mean the dog won’t be exposed to them. What about neighborhood walks? What about visiting grandchildren? This scenario can work, I’ve seen it work many a time, but the new owners absolutely have to be clear that no, just because the dog seems so sweet to them doesn’t mean it will be equally sweet to children. The new owners must understand that the dog has to learn to go into a crate, in a closed room, if kids come to visit. Perhaps the dog only goes outside into the backyard instead of being leash-walked in a neighborhood with children. All these details depend on the facts of the case, but what never varies is that responsible re-homing is dependent upon the risk assessment discussed above, and an objective, clear-eyed evaluation of what is required to keep people safe around the dog.

Free to a good home in the country? Oh, how often I have heard that. Yes, it is true that some dogs do much better outside of a neighborhood or city environment. I have had numerous cases of dogs who thrived in a different setting than the one in which the aggression occurred. However,  you must keep this in mind: People who live in the country are not hermits. We have visitors of all age, shapes and sizes. We have delivery men who pull up in noisy trucks and leave as soon as the dog barks, often more than city dwellers. We have hay delivered, the LP tank filled, and the meter read. We have feral cats and wanderings dogs who show up when you least expect them and have no time to cope. Thus, yes, there are some cases in which dogs can be safe and happy in a rural setting instead of an urban or suburban one. But it is not a panacea, and the details of the case are crucial to making it work, or not.

Is there another home out there? This can be the heart breaker. Just because it is possible for a dog to be rehabilitated in a specific type of environment doesn’t mean that it is available. How many people can cope with a dog who has a history of serious aggression to people? How many prospective owners have the skills and a life that makes it possible for them to do so? Finances must also be considered. Any aggressive dog should have extensive veterinary work to ensure that illness or pain isn’t causing the behavior. In addition, working with a trainer or behaviorist can be expensive. There are indeed people who are able and qualified to take on a dangerous dog–some of whom read this blog, bless them. I have taken on a few dogs in my own home myself. But there simply aren’t enough people out there who are willing and able to take on an aggressive dog, and the number of dogs who need a new home far, far out number the homes available to them.

4. Quality of life for the dog. What about the dog? I’ve worked with dogs so fearful of ___  (fill in the blanks) that they were clearly suffering for much of their life. What of the dog whose only joy in life is going to the dog park, but is dangerous around any and all strangers? What of the dogs who have unpredictable aggressive episodes that may or may not be reflective of some kind of untreatable electrical storm in their brain? The question about quality of life for dogs with serious behavioral problems is just as important as it is for dogs with physical problems. (See here for a great blog about when to put down a sick or old dog.) This is another question that only the owners can answer, but in this case it is important to get an objective opinion. I’d advise someone who comes into your home and observes the dog there. Behavior at home isn’t always obvious when a dog is outside of the house, so try to have your friends or a behaviorist, veterinarian or trainer help you here.

I want to circle back to where I started: Yes, of course, there are people who have dogs euthanized with less thought and consideration than we would like. But there are many loving, responsible dog owners who have had to face this soul-scorching decision who have agonized over it. They deserve our sympathy. No one makes this more clear than my friend and colleague Phyllis D, who wrote about the difficult decision to put her dog down because of its aggressive behavior. She still gets comments about it, as do I in a post I wrote titled Love, Guilt and Putting a Dog Down. If you have anything to add that you think might help someone in this position, I’d be grateful if you added in your comment. If you are or have had to face this decision, I am so sorry. Know that no matter how smart and hard-working and dedicated and dog-loving and responsible we humans are, we can’t always fix everything. A tough thing for us all to accept. While you try to do so, take care of yourself.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: A much happier place than the conversation above! We are beyond sick of winter here, but take our joys when we can. This weekend Willie and Maggie got to play with Max, a new friend to Maggie and an old one to Willie, although we lost touch for a few years with the owners. Max is a six-year old Border Collie who is equally squishy and sweet to people and dogs alike. He loves to play “race horse,” Willie and Maggie’s favorite game, and we got to watch the three dogs run and run and run in huge, yard-gulping circles around the fields.

run w max 1Willie and Max also love to play in a way that Maggie doesn’t: Both of the boys think it is great fun to lunge toward the other to stop their forward progress. “Ha! Smashed you in the face! Isn’t that fun?” I consider it a highly inappropriate play behavior from Willie, and was interested when Max did it back to him.

run w max 2

Hmmm, I thought, how will Willie feel about being on the receiving end? I watched it happen with a bit of concern, but Willie appeared to be thrilled that yet another dog knew how to play the best game ever! Maggie response was along the lines of: “Well, if you’re going to play like that I’ll just stay over here.” Thus, all three dogs run and run and run, but you can see from the photos that Willie and Max are the primary play partners, and Maggie is the third dog out. Exactly as she wants it!

I had hoped to get some photos of the wild turkeys that have been all over the fields lately, no doubt coming out of the woods in search of new food sources. But of course, when I had my camera the turkeys were no where to be seen, but when I went in search of them I ran across a huge group of Canada Geese settled on a field. Lovely animals (although pests in some contexts).

Can you see from these photos how very black, white and brown our world is right now? And why we are all so starved for color? Will we see tiny green shoots in a month or so? Oh, how beautiful that will be. It’s hard to imagine how sweet a quarter inch of green can be until you’ve lived through five months of black and white.

Canada Geese 3-15

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Winter Through the Lens Mon, 23 Feb 2015 20:21:20 +0000 Just a few photos today. I’ve recently returned from San Antonio, celebrating my amazing sister Dr. Wendy Barker, at the Festschrift put on in her honor by her colleagues at the University of Texas, San Antonio. She is the real writer in the family, and I wish that each of you could have been there to listen to her read some of her poems. I don’t think anyone moved the entire time that she was reading her poems; the entire room was enthralled. Engrossed. Captivated. It was a highlight of my life to listen to her colleagues and students acknowledge her contributions to creative writing. Her book, Nothing Between Us: The Berkley Years, is beyond brilliant. Yes, I know, she’s my sister, but seriously, she’s really, really good. And how fun is this: My other sister, Liza, is writing her own memoir right now. My new book (also a memoir) is with my agent, and going out for review to some other readers before we put it out to the publishing world. (Please cross all paws for me.) I wish our father, who loved books and writing, could see his three daughters now.

Here’s from a walk that Willie, Maggie and Nellie and I just took. We are just thawing out; it’s all of 8 degrees right now–a far sight warmer than the 15 degrees below zero of this morning.

N W run down hill full 2-15

N W run down hill 2-15

nellie snow 2

nellie back leg snow

Stay warm!

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How Do Dogs Interpret Human Facial Expressions? Mon, 16 Feb 2015 21:04:31 +0000 What ever is a dog to make of a human smile? Or a frown for that matter? On the one hand, it seems to me to be trivial for a dog to distinguish between obviously different expressions on the face of a human. Dogs, after all, are highly visual and the preponderence of their social communication is based on visual signals. But here’s the question I’ve always wondered about: What signals from our faces are salient to dogs?

T W Smile smallMy experience has suggested that dogs are exceptionally good at noticing (and interpreting) the following, whether done by a person or another dog: a still body versus a relaxed one, a hard, direct stare versus a soft or indirect gaze, and a loose, relaxed, open-mouth face versus one that has a tightly closed mouth. These are, obviously, signals that appear to be highly salient in canine communication, and my impression is that they transfer from one species to another. However, what of the signals that we humans consciously focus on, like smiles and frowns? Do dogs pay as much attention to them as we do? If so, what aspects of those expressions are salient? Members of both species may be aware of the difference between a look of mild irritation versus extreme anger, but we might be cuing on different things. Could we be focusing on the position of one’s eyebrows while dogs are primarily focused on the stiffness of the head and neck?

We know that people all over the world both express emotions on their faces in similar ways and also interpret them in the same way, no matter what their culture, native country or language group. (See the work of Paul Ekman, who has done over 30 years of research on the universality of human facial expressions, and helped me with my book For the Love of the Dog when I was writing about that issue.)

But we don’t know that much yet about how dogs interpret them. I’ve thought about this issue for years, (see my blog of 2010 on a related study) and so was especially interested in a study making the rounds late last week in Current Biology. Titled “Dogs Can Discriminate Emotional Expressions of Human Faces,” the study by Müller et. al. asked not just if the dogs could discriminate between “happy” faces and “angry” faces, but also if they could generalize what they’d seen from one part of the face to the other.

 Here’s a summary of their study, taken from the study’s abstract:

“After learning to discriminate between happy and angry human faces in 15 picture pairs, whereby for one group only the upper halves of the faces were shown and for the other group only the lower halves of the faces were shown, dogs were tested with four types of probe trials: (1) the same half of the faces as in the training but of novel faces, (2) the other half of the faces used in training, (3) the other half of novel faces, and (4) the left half of the faces used in training. We found that dogs for which the happy faces were rewarded learned the discrimination more quickly than dogs for which the angry faces were rewarded. This would be predicted if the dogs recognized an angry face as an aversive stimulus. Furthermore, the dogs performed significantly above chance level in all four probe conditions and thus transferred the training contingency to novel stimuli that shared with the training set only the emotional expression as a distinguishing feature. We conclude that the dogs used their memories of real emotional human faces to accomplish the discrimination task.”

There’s lots of interesting information here, which makes the study far more interesting than one that just shows dogs can tell the difference between an angry face and a happy face.  Note that the dogs were initially only shown the lower or upper half of the face (from photos on a computer screen) and could 1) generalize its visual features to the face of another person and 2) could generalize from the upper half of the face to the lower half. This is especially important, because it implies that dogs were learning more than a simple visual cue, and matching the emotion expressed by the bottom half of the face (with a big smile for example) to the upper half of the face, with open eyes and relaxed eyebrows. Especially interesting was the result that dogs learned the discrimination more quickly if they were rewarded for cuing on the “happy” face. We have to be careful about interpreting that result, but the author’s suggestion that the dogs recognized the angry faces as aversive is reasonable.

The author’s conclude by asking whether the dog’s abilities shown in the study were based on the dog’s experience as individuals, on selection pressures over time to select for dogs able to better interpret the expressions of humans, whether this ability is simply hard wired into many species of mammals and dogs happen to be one of them. (I would add that all three could potentially  be occurring simultaneously.) I’m happy to say that the last few years have seen a flurry of studies related to visual communication between people and dogs. The research ranges from a study in Argentina by Jakovcevic et. al. that looked at whether breed affected how long dogs would look at their owner’s face without reinforcement (Retrievers did longer than Poodles or German shepherds), to one by Turcsán and colleagues at the Miklosi lab in Hungary, which found that if an owner had a happy expression while handling an object their dog was more likely to retrieve it.

Food for thought, yes? I anticipate that some will read this about this study and think “Well, what a waste of money! Of course we know that!” But actually, we don’t. I’d argue that this is exactly the kind of study we need to do, examining what we think might be true with what really is true. So kudos to Müller et. al. for doing this well-designed study. Can you see me smiling?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Brrrrrr. It’s really, really cold out here. (May I mention, however, that I’m grateful we haven’t had 6 feet of snow in a few weeks like New England? I’d love to hear from any of you slammed by snow. How are you doing?!) Saturday’s high here in Wisconsin was about 6 Farenheit at the farm, but the problem was the wind. It was strong enough that you just couldn’t stay warm, no matter how bundled up you were. At least, I couldn’t, so much of the day was spent inside. All the dogs are learning new tricks, including “Find and nose-touch a white square any where in the room” (Willie), “Roll over” (Maggie), “Spin on a verbal cue only” (Tootsie). Nothing especially creative, but still fun. I’d say after a few sessions that the only thing warm on the farm was the clicker, which always sees a lot of use from me when it’s crazy cold outside.

No wind today, so even though it’s cold you just need the right clothes to be comfortable outside. (You know that saying? There’s no bad weather, just bad clothes? I’m in agreement, except when it’s windy.) The BCs and I took a nice long walk in the woods just now, me armed with my camera and the lesson from my Contemplative  Photography class to see the world in a new way. Here’s what I came up with:

bark 2-2015

Oak leaves 2-2015

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A Valentine to Our Dogs Mon, 09 Feb 2015 17:12:24 +0000 I know, it’s mushy, but I don’t care. Here is a Valentine to each of my dogs, followed, I hope, by lots and lots from you to your own dogs. Every morning, I will read them while drinking my tea. Tootsie and Maggie will be cuddled with me on the couch and Willie will warm my feet. I will read your Valentines and smile and laugh and get soggy eyes more often than I want to admit.

(I write more about love and dogs in The Other End of the Leash and For the Love of A Dog, but here are my Valentines to the dogs I have now:)


willnose09 Willie, with thanks to Elizabeth Barret Browning:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, except when you slam into me on your way to the barn. I love thee to the level of everyday’s Most quiet need, except when you won’t stop dropping a toy in my lap when I’m tired in the evening. But ah, Willie, my joyful, fearful Willie, my Silly Billy Willie Boy, I do not know how I could love you more.


To Tootsie, with thanks to George (Lord) Byron: Tootsie hot 10-8

She walks in Beauty, like the night…; And all that’s best of the food in the refrigerator elicits sweet moans of desire from her. Her thoughts are never serenely expressed, but pure, how dear their dwelling-place. And on that cheek, so soft, so calm, yet eloquent, I stroke her soft fur as she lies on my chest every evening. You, who soothe the souls of distressed children and exhausted parents with every visit to the children’s hospital. My Tootie-Toot, a heart whose love is innocent, that is my Tootsie, my tiny, whiny, sleepy, docile, car-ride-loving Tootsie roll. I am so lucky that you are in my life.



Maggie on lap To Maggie, with thanks to William Shakespeare:

Haply I think on thee—and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love rememb’red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to remember how you ate the chocolate frosting off the New Year’s Day cake I made, and how you are still learning to stay off of the counters and that Tootsie doesn’t want to play no matter how many times she cowers when you paw at her and that you are not as comfortable meeting dogs  as I wish you were. But ah then, you leap beside me onto the couch and swivel your hips and bend your back so that you melt against me, belly soft and open, forelegs cocked and turn your head to look at me with soft, glowing eyes, and I remember again how good you are with Willie and at working the sheep and I go all gooey inside and thank the world that you, my Maggie, my Maglet, my Maglite, are my dog, and my heart sings because of it.


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Yesterday friend Kim came over with her young Tibetan Terrier, Finch, who played beautifully with Willie and Maggie and is perhaps the most photogenic dog I’ve seen in ages. Thanks Kim and Finch, what fun!

Finch Forward 1 2015


On Sunday, Jim did his magic in the kitchen and made his famous “Christmas Cookies” for Valentine’s Day. Here are some for you, with love from us both. May your week be full of love. And cookies.

Valentine Cookies 2015




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Placebos and Dogs: Really? (Yes!) Mon, 02 Feb 2015 20:22:01 +0000 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 study has shown that the mind-body connection is alive and well, illustrated by this experiment which found that a placebo was more effective at alleviating symptoms of Parkinson’s when patients were told they were being given a “more expensive” drug than the previous one they had been taking.

We are starting to understand more about the mechanisms of placebos: That they can create measurable changes in brain function and physiology based either on classical conditioning and/or what’s called the “expectancy effect,” both of which might be “in your head,” but only because your brain has changed its physiology and function in real and quantifiable ways. There’s tons of information out there on the placebo effect, but here’s a review article I thought was balanced and interesting. There are also a multitude of books written about the placebo effect; I’d love to hear if any readers have read them.)

But placebos and dogs? Ha! Surely no dog leaves the vet’s office in the belief that the hard, lump thing slid down her throat is going to make her better. But a recent study from Hungary (see abstract here) found that dogs do respond to what is sometimes called “contextual healing” and the type of placebo effect based on classical conditioning (more on that soon). In summary, dogs were briefly left alone in an unfamiliar room, and at one point, a stranger entered and spent a few minutes with the dog. The dog’s behavior, especially distress-related behavior at the doorways after the owner left, was first recorded to establish a baseline. Then some dogs were given a sedative 30 minutes before entering the room, while the control group were given a vitamin. Once the sedative took effect, the same order of “owner leaves, stranger enters” occurred. This procedure was repeated a third time, but in this trial, no dogs were given a sedative, and all dogs were given the vitamin. As expected, the dogs receiving a sedative were less distressed when their owners left (at least, their distress-related behavior decreased: We should all note that those aren’t necessarily the same things, right?).

The interesting result of the study is that the dogs who were sedated with a sedative were equally quiet when given the vitamin pill the next go round. That effect doesn’t appear to be one of habituation, because the control group, the dogs given only vitamins both times, showed more distressed behavior the third time around, not less. In other words, once the dog’s brain and body had learned to associate feeling (or behaving?) more relaxed after being given a pill that calmed them, the dogs had the same response to any pill given in the same context, even though it was a simple vitamin, not a sedative. This result could be taken as evidence of classical conditioning (UCS = a sedative, CS = being given a pill) and contextual healing (“any pill works in this room in this context”).

I’ve skimmed over some of the details of the study for the sake of brevity, but here it is if you have access to it: “Conditioned placebo effect in dogs decreases separation related behaviours.” Sümegi, Gácsi, Topál, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 159 (2014), 90-98.

Of course, the question is, what does this mean for our dogs? I’m not sure that anyone has a definitive answer to this question, any more than we do in human medicine. But at least, it means that details matter. Here is a direct quote from the article itself about possible applications:

“Severe cases of separation anxiety often require the use of medications in addition to a behaviour modification programme. Once the desired effect is achieved, the dose of the medicine may be gradually reduced and finally merely the procedure can maintain the effect. However, so far the administration method of the medicine has not been considered as important. Our results suggest that applying a specific regimen, that is, administrating the medicine always with the same environmental cues, for example with the same specific food type and with a set ritual, the real medicine can later be effectively replaced by placebo. As the anxiety relieving effect of placebo conditioning in dogs is of great applied importance, more research is needed to get a better perspective on the most efficient aspects of the treatment and the situational context that contributes to the manifestation of the placebo effect.”

Interesting stuff, yes? And of course, what effect might our beliefs about a medication have on our dogs? I find it hard to imagine that, at least sometimes, in some contexts, our own expectations have an effect on our dogs too. What do you think?

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: It was ten below this morning when we woke up, after 24 hours of snow and wind. There are many downsides to our recent blast of winter weather: The snow is now too deep to work the dogs on sheep (darn!) and ten below is just too cold for me to enjoy being outside. But there is a part of me that smiles when I look out the window at the white all around me. In spite of all the problems it brings, snow is just fun. Most dogs seem to think so too: Check out the blog that Julie Hecht wrote asking why dogs seem to love new snow so much.

Here are some photos I just took in celebration of snow. These red and blue “stakes” are the legs of an upside table. Who’d know under all the snow?

table legs barn 2-2015


These rounds are from some Poplar trees we had taken down because they were leaning over the barn. Better to take them down on purpose than to wait for them to crash onto the barn or fence. They are nowhere near as large as they look in this photo! I rather liked Spot, Freckles and Cupcake observing in the background.

logs sheep 1-2015


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New Directions in Canine Behavior: Open Access til Feb 6, 2015 Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:37:14 +0000 One of the challenges for those interested in dog behavior is keeping up with current research. Access to journal articles can require prohibitively expensive subscriptions or membership in a research institution with an extensive library system. That’s why open access journals, like Plos One are so valuable, and why I’m grateful to Monique Udell, the editor of a special issue of Behavioural Processes, New Directions in Canine Behavior, (Vol 110, Pages 1-132.) for providing open access to the issue until February 6th, 2015.

By clicking on the link above, you can read articles as varied J. Hecht’s and E. Spice Rice’s discussion on the benefits and challenges of citizen science as it relates to canine behavior, to what personality dimensions “puppy tests” actually measure, to whether rolling over in play is “defensive” or “offensive.”

This is a treasure trove of information, with free access to all seventeen articles in the entire issue until February 6th of this year. If you are like me, and don’t have time to read them all on line between now and February 6th, you can print out the pdf and read it when you can get around to it. One article that I have read already is Hecht and Spice Rice’s article on citizen science, which is an important contribution to the field, given the popularity of some popular products labeled as citizen science. It is true that citizen science presents great opportunities, but it is also rife with potential pit falls, and the authors do an excellent job distinguishing between the two.

The article by Norman et. al. about rolling over in play is also worth your attention. They argue that rolling over allows a dog to either avoid a bite to the neck, or puts it in a position to play bite the other dog’s neck. On some occasions a roll over was used as a play solicitation gesture, but never did they see any evidence that rolling onto the back was a sign of “submission,” as is often claimed. There is so much more: an article by Berns about an fMRI study of “canine brain responses to unfamiliar human and dog,self regulatory depletion behavior in dogs and what can turn it around by Miller et. al. and lots more great stuff to read and ponder.

I hope you get a chance to look at the articles. I’d love to hear which ones are of most interest to you. I’ll never get to all of them before Feb 6th, but my printer will be very busy between now and then.

MEANWHILE, back on the farm: A wonderful weekend of fun with dogs and food. I went on a cooking jag and spent hours happily chopping, braising and baking in the kitchen: I made Cock-a-Leekie Chicken Pie on Thursday night (chicken, leeks and prunes in a savory pie crust), Chicken Bone Broth on Saturday morning, the filling for Boef Bourguignon Pie Saturday night, Gaucamole Dip Saturday morning and the final version of the Boef Bourguignon Pie for Sunday dinner, and Madeleines for dessert Sunday night. (Thanks to good friends Peter and Deb for helping us eat it up.) The dogs and cats thought it was great too; many of the meals resulted in virtual pounds of meat scraps for them.

Apologies to readers: I took no photos, but refer you to the magazine Bon Appetit, which I’m holding responsible for the five pounds that I really, really need to get rid of. I know, I know… but who can diet in the middle of winter when your body is yelling at you to put on fat to protect from the cold, and your subscription to Bon Appetit seduces you with all these great recipes? I am clearly but a helpless victim here.

Thank heavens for the dogs, who got us out of the farmhouse on two long, lovely walks in the woods, and to the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison with Tootsie as a member of the Pet Pals therapy dogs group. Usually there are three dogs of varying sizes, but Saturday was “lap dog” day, with Shanti, Honey and Tootsie providing lots of oxytocin to patients, family and friends during what otherwise is a stressful time. No photos are allowed with the patients, but Visit Captain Lori kindly agreed to hold onto all the dogs before we went up so that we owners could take photos. You’ll note that every dog is looking at its owner intently. Potential translation: “Why are you over there, when I’m over here?”

Pet Pals Dogs 1-2015


I put this photo of tulips on my home computer to counter the boring brown and grey colors of January, and thought it would be nice to share with you all the happiness that flowers can bring. It’s hard to imagine that there will be color like this is the backyard in just a few months, but Jim and I planted over 200 new bulbs, so in four months or so (argh, that long?!) we will be able to take photos like this again.

tulips 5-13


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