Monthly Archives: February 2020

Warning Signs Before Starting Canine Massage Therapy

When you contact a massage practitioner about your dog, one of the first questions she should ask you is whether and when your dog has been seen by your veterinarian. Be wary of any practitioner who would work on your animal with an illness or injury if you haven’t at least tried to get a medical diagnosis. Because of massage’s powerful pain-relieving effects, doing massage first could delay important medical treatment.

Another thing to watch closely is how the practitioner interacts with your animal. Any attempt to forcibly restrain the dog is a red flag. Massage works closely with the parasympathetic nervous system – the opposite of fight or flight – and anything that counters that relaxation effect will undermine results. Be proactive, and end any session if you feel the practitioner isn’t respecting your dog.

One of my instructors, Lisa Ruthig, told me about a dog she worked on who was prone to behaving aggressively when her neck was touched. The dog had been diagnosed with intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and was in serious pain. Lisa learned that the dog had been muzzled and forced to endure deep-tissue neck massage from another practitioner.  

Lisa used behavioral desensitization coupled with massage to the rest of the body to overcome the dog’s fear. In the end, the dog didn’t need deep tissue massage to relax her tight neck – and deep masssage is contraindicated with IVDD! Instead, Lisa used light massage and myofascial release, which the dog happily accepted. Giving dogs some choice and control over a session is the most humane, fastest way to build a bond of trust and allow the necessary work. 

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Behavior Chains – Untangling the Confusion

Behavior chains seem pretty straightforward: it’s when an animal does a series of behaviors in a row, like links in a chain, ending in a reinforcer. Yet, behavior chains aren’t that simple!

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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog

It’s no secret that exercising your dog can lead to a happier and healthier pup – not to mention a quieter house and a happier you. The complication is that exercising your dog takes time and sometimes we struggle to find time to exercise ourselves. However, without safe and effective exercise, your dog can gain weight, risk costly injury, and tear apart the house in response to pent up energy. Consider how you exercise your dog now: perhaps you play tug with your Chihuahua in the living room, jog or play fetch with your active retriever, or ask your senior mixed breed to sit in the kitchen — all of these activities can exercise your dog both physically and mentally. Let’s further explore how you can make the most of your time with your dog while safely and effectively gaining the benefits of exercise.

Here are three secrets to safely and effectively exercising your dog through activities and games that you probably already play.

1. Discuss with your veterinarian

Before beginning any exercise (even training class!), it’s important to get a full health check with your local veterinarian. Let your vet know which activities you are thinking about pursuing, and ask which activities would be most appropriate for your dog’s age, musculoskeletal structure, and preferences. Remember, just like with children, jumping from high places or playing on hard surfaces can be detrimental to joints. Be sure to ask how long the activities should last, how intense they should be, and about any necessary equipment or weather precautions. Just because your dog wants to fetch constantly, doesn’t necessarily mean that this high impact, sustained exercise is healthy. Describe the activity and environment to your vet in detail, and be sure to get clearance before enjoying with your pup.

2. Explore variation

After speaking with your veterinarian about appropriate activities for your dog, plan to vary the types of activities each day. If your veterinarian approved some shorter distance jogs for your pup, perhaps the next day you could spread his food in the backyard as a scavenger hunt. Varying high intensity with low intensity workouts is just as stimulating for your pup, and the variation will keep him engaged. You can also vary exercises within the activity itself. For example, if you frequently throw a ball or disc for your dog until she lies down and pants, consider asking for tricks between different types of throws. By varying distances and body movements you can help your dog regulate her arousal and stay safe.

3. Remember warms up & cool down

Before beginning any activity, it’s important to set up your dog for success. Dogs have the same basic musculoskeletal components as people, and therefore they can sustain similar injuries from rigorous use or clumsy accidents. However, dogs are more athletic compared to humans (even your couch potato probably has a higher VO2max than you!), and they can exert a lot of energy at playtime. It’s important to warm up and cool down your dog’s muscles before use. Consider the type of exercise and what body parts are involved, and plan for a warm up. For example, if you’re about to open the back door for your dog to dash out with his powerful hind legs, take a couple walking laps around the living room first. Ask for a few repetitions of sit and put a treat in front of his nose to lure him in a few circles before opening the door. Much like a short jog, squats, and plyometrics before a sprint, these exercises can help protect your dog’s soft tissue before dashing off. The easiest part is that the same exercises can be performed in reverse for a quick cool down.

Using these three secrets, you can safely and effectively exercise your dog in the same amount of time and help you and your pup enjoy the benefits. Through warms ups/cool downs and varying your dog’s activities you can tire your pup out in no time at all. Talking to your veterinarian about the type, duration, and intensity of activity can also tailor the exercise to your dog and avoid costly injury. 

Many caretakers believe that their dog needs to sprint in order to get tired, when in reality sniffing, training, or a combination can be just as taxing. Check out the table below for more ideas! Challenge yourself this week to change one thing about your dog’s exercise routine, and see if you enjoy a calmer, healthier dog!




Warm up/cool down

Hide a treat/toy in the house

High/low places, obstacles, multiple rooms

Walk laps, sits, crawls

Sniffy walk

Hide treats, change route

Walk laps, sits


Side to side, stop/go, 2 tugs

Jog laps, play bow, weight shift


Short/long distances, walking breaks, sit/down/spin/beg/back

Jog laps, downs, circles


Walk/run, canicross, sniff breaks

Sniff, walk laps, sits



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Episode 807 – Puppies!

Puppies! Victoria tells Holly about a client’s fearful Malinois mother and new litter of puppies she’s working with. The ladies discuss one of the most-asked questions from listeners: What’s the best way to acclimate a new puppy to a household? Whether or not to comfort a crying puppy, top tips for puppy housetraining, how long it takes for puppies to adjust to a new home, and more. Also, Victoria shares details about her latest book, The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Puppy.

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Counter-Conditioning and Desensitization (CC&D)

Counter-conditioning and desensitization (CC&D) involves changing your dog’s association with an aversive or arousing stimulus – in this case, another animal – from negative to positive. 

The easiest way to give most dogs a positive association with something is with very high-value, really yummy treats. I like to use chicken – frozen strips (thawed), canned, baked, or boiled, since most dogs love chicken and it’s a nutritious, low-fat food. 

Here’s how you would use the CC&D process to change your dog’s association with an animal he found aversive or arousing. Make sure the other animal is in a cage, crate, or on a leash, so you can control his movement. 

Let’s imagine that we are working with a dog and a cat in a carrier. 

1. Determine the distance at which your leashed dog can be alert and even wary in the presence of the cat but not extremely fearful or aroused. This is called the “threshold distance.” 

2. With you holding your dog’s leash, have a helper present the cat in the carrier at your dog’s threshold distance. The instant your dog sees the cat, start feeding bits of chicken to your dog. Pause, let him look at the cat again, feed him again. Repeat as long as the cat is present.

3. Continue alternating the pausing and feeding bits of chicken to your dog. After several seconds, have your helper remove the cat. As soon as the cat is out of your dog’s view, stop feeding him the treats.

4. Keep repeating steps 1 through 3 until the presentation/appearance of the cat at your dog’s original threshold distance consistently causes your dog to look at you with a happy smile and a “Yay! Where’s my chicken?” expression. This is what we call a conditioned emotional response (CER); your dog’s association with the cat at his original threshold distance (let’s call it “X”) is now positive instead of negative.

5. In the next few steps, you need to increase different aspects of the intensity of the stimulus, making sure to get and/or maintain the desired CER from the dog at decreasing distances. What?! How do you increase the intensity of a cat?

For a dog who is aroused by the sight of a cat, the least intense presentation of a cat is what you’ve been using so far: a single cat in a carrier. To increase how stimulated your dog is by the cat, you might open and close the door of the cat’s carrier, so your dog can see the cat more clearly. You could also bring in another cat in another carrier. If your cat is confident and won’t immediately try to leave the scene, you could let her out of the carrier – or, to take this to a stimulating extreme, have your helper invite the cat to play with a toy. Each of these things will be a more intense stimulus for your dog.

Back at your dog’s original threshold distance, start increasing the intensity of one aspect of the cat’s presentation while you decrease the distance between your dog and cat in small increments. Achieve the desired CER (with a happy “Where’s my chicken?” expression) at each distance, until your dog is calm very near the cat, perhaps even sniffing or targeting (touching with his nose on cue) the cat’s carrier. Then move away from the cat. 

If your dog starts to get overstimulated, fixated on the cat, not taking your treats (or taking them with a “hard” mouth), you are moving too fast. Increase the distance between the cat and the dog, and/or decrease the intensity of the cat (back into the carrier!). 

6. Return to your dog’s original threshold distance and increase the intensity of the cat in some different way, gradually decreasing the distance between your dog and the cat and attaining the desired CER along the way, until your dog is delighted to have the cat in relatively close proximity. A loose cat, a playing cat, a meowing cat, two cats . . . Keep working until your dog maintains his relaxed, happy, “Where’s my chicken?” look throughout each of these cat presentations, even at a close range to the cat. He should now think of the cat as a very good thing – a reliable predictor of very yummy treats.

7. If appropriate, you can gradually work up to actual interaction with the cat or cats at this stage. If not appropriate, don’t! Don’t push your dog “over threshold” – the point at which the cat (or other animal) is too exciting for him and he loses his composure. The rule for effective CC&D is “Go slow – and then slow down!”

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Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

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Porn-Sniffing K9’s? Growing Demand for Electronic-Storage Detection Dogs

Humans have trained dogs to use their amazing noses to identify all kinds of things – explosives, illegal drugs, bedbugs, cancer, even ancient burial sites. But did you know that dogs can help police sniff out evidence against child pornographers?

It’s true! In 2015, after a lengthy investigation, the home of Subway franchise spokesman Jared Fogle was raided by FBI agents with the help of a black Labrador Retriever named Bear. At Fogle’s home, Bear indicated three finds by sitting in front of their locations, then pointing with his nose to each scent source. One of Bear’s finds was an incriminating thumb drive missed by human searchers containing evidence that helped send Fogle to jail.

For the record, electronic-storage detection dogs (ESD K9s) have no knowledge of the content stored on the devices they seek. They are often called porn-sniffing dogs because those who treasure illicit images usually save them on electronic-storage devices that are small and easy to hide. 


In 2011 Jack Hubball, Ph.D., a chemist at the Connecticut Scientific Sciences Forensic Laboratory, discovered that electronic storage devices carry unique scents in their circuit board components, such as triphenylphosphine oxide (TPPO), which dogs can detect. Armed with that chemical key, Connecticut State Police began training Thoreau and Selma, dogs who were too active to complete their training at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in New York. 

The officers started with large amounts of the chemical and gradually reduced its quantity, placing devices containing the odor in different boxes and eventually in different rooms. After five weeks of odor detection training and six weeks of training with his new handler, Thoreau, a yellow Lab, was given to the Rhode Island State Police. On his first official search, he discovered a thumb drive containing child pornography in a tin box inside a cabinet. 

Selma, a black Lab, worked with the Connecticut State Police Computer Crimes Unit, where she uncovered devices in recycling bins, vents, and radiators while working on child pornography, homicide, parolee compliance, and computer hacking cases. 

With those successes, an entirely new type of law-enforcement career for dogs was established.


Bear, the dog who helped make the case against Jared Fogle, started life as a pet dog in a family who loved him – but who couldn’t prevent him from jumping on counter tops and eating everything he could reach. When he was 2 years old (the age at which many out-of-control dogs are surrendered to shelters), his owners offered him to Todd Jordan, an Indiana firefighter who trained dogs for arson investigations.

Today, Bear lives and works with his Seattle Police Department Detective partner.

Instead of training Bear to detect fire accelerants, though, Jordan chose to help friends on the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task force, who were frustrated at not being able to find thumb drives and microSD cards when searching the homes of child pornographers. Inspired by the electronic-storage device detection dogs Thoreau and Selma, Jordan focused on developing Bear’s ability to detect tiny digital storage devices – th ekind that might be hidden in wall cracks, clothing, ceiling tiles, radios, closets, books, boxes, furniture, dirty laundry, or garbage.

Most search and rescue (SAR) dogs are rewarded with toys that satisfy their prey drive, but food was Bear’s favorite reward, and he was highly motivated. Jordan started training Bear in his own garage, hiding USB drives for Bear to find, and eventually began working with task force agents. Soon Bear and Jordan began accompanying detectives on warrant searches, where Bear found thumb drives missed by human searchers.

A few months after Bear’s successful search at Fogle’s home, he helped police gather evidence that led to the arrest of Marvin Sharp, a USA Gymnastics coach charged with possessing child pornography; Bear found microSD cards hidden inside Sharp’s gun safe. 

In 2015, Seattle Police Department Detective Ian Polhemus, an eight-year member of the ICAC task force, went to Indiana to learn how to work with ESD K9s. Jordan matched Detective Polhemus with Bear, and not long after, sent Bear to live and work with Polhemus in Seattle. The new partners began sniffing out electronic evidence of crimes almost immediately. In one case, investigators completed their search of a suspect’s home and then Polhemus brought in Bear for another search. In just a few minutes, Bear located five devices, some of which contained child exploitation material, that the initial search team had missed.

Bear trains every day, Detective Polhemus explained in a 2018 KIRO Seattle radio interview. “Because he’s a food-reward dog, he’s highly motivated. So what that means is the only time he eats is when he’s working,” says Polhemus. Bear is fed three cups of food throughout the day, whether he’s working on a case or practicing.

“I’ve got three training boxes with holes in them and only one of them has a device in it that he should indicate on,” Polhemus says. “When he gets to the box that has a device in it, Bear is a passive indicator, which means he’ll sit. I’ll give him a supplemental command and then he’ll shove his nose in the hole and his tail will wag and he’ll sit there and hold his nose in the hole until I reward him with food.” 


Illinois State Attorney Michael Nerheim became interested in ESD K9s when he learned about Bear’s success. “We were seeing a trend here where child pornographers, rather than downloading evidence onto a computer, would download evidence onto a removable device and then hide that device in their house,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 2018. 

Subsequently, today, there are at least two ESDs trained by Todd Jordan working in Illinois. These dogs, named Browser and Cache, now work for the Lake and Will County attorney’s offices, respectively. Child exploitation cases are their main tasks, but the dogs can help with any crime that involves computers or computer records.

“Browser has assisted on dozens of search warrants,” says his handler, Carol Gudbrandsen, a cybercrimes analyst. “He routinely performs searches in the jails and has been performing sweeps with the Lake County Probation Department when they do home visits on their sex offenders. Browser and I also do presentations in the schools in Lake County, speaking on internet safety and cyberbullying to students, staff, and parents. When I bring Browser into these situations, he instantly grabs the attention of our audience, and our presentations have become even more effective.”


To date, Todd Jordan has trained 30 ESDs and nearly two dozen accelerant-detection dogs at his business, Jordan Detection K9. Jordan adapts his training methods for dogs who are ball- or toy-driven, but his primary focus is passive-response (indicating by sitting quietly), food-reward training. 

“Our canines are hand-picked, based on their willingness to please and their willingness to work,” he explains at his company’s website, “Most are second-career dogs. We also work closely with several Labrador rescues in order to give good dogs a chance at a fulfilling life. 

“We select dogs with high energy and hunt drives. Many of the dogs have failed guide-dog or service-dog school because they may chase after small animals or bark at other animals or other people while working. Although those are instances where a canine would not be good for a person with special needs, they are still great for what we do.”


Some trainers of law-enforcement dogs use only toys and play as training reinforcers, and worry that using food for rewards opens the way for an abuse of the system, so to speak: that someone could use food to distract a law-enforcement sniffing dog. The human partners of dogs like Thoreau, Selma, Bear, Browser, and Cache beg to differ.

“I had prior canine handling experience with ball- and toy-driven dogs, and had no experience with food-driven canines,” says Special Agent Owen Peña at the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General. “Todd made a believer out of me for the advantages of using a food-driven canine for this type of work and breaking me of my old toy/ball-driven habits. With the canine being food-driven, I feel there is a better bond and connection that I and my family have with our canine, Joey. Now Joey is part of my family and he just happens to have a job.” 

Special Agent Joey, of the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, is another alumnus of Jordan Detection K9’s.

Like other electronic-storage detection dogs, Joey works with just one handler, food is an integral part of his daily practice, and he is well fed in the process. Because the dogs eat only when they find a device, their handlers run trainings every day to keep their skills sharp.

Do they actually offer false indications just so they can steal food? In 2016 Special Agent Jeffrey Calandra of the FBI’s Newark, N.J., Field Office started working with Iris, a black Lab, in cases involving organized crime, drug gangs, and cybercrimes including child pornography. In one search, FBI agents were confident that there was nothing left to find in a room with a desk, but Iris alerted to something in its top drawer. Calandra opened the drawer and didn’t see any evidence. When he said, “Show me,” Iris pushed her nose onto a pad of sticky notes. 

Calandra assumed that Iris was faking her response so she could steal food, but when he pulled her away from the desk drawer, she pulled back. This time she picked up the pad of sticky notes with her mouth and flipped it over, causing a microSD card to fall out.

“She was correct and I was wrong,” said Calandra. “Either the individual was concealing it, or it got stuck in the pad and you just couldn’t see it. That’s why the dogs are so good.” False positives are not usually a problem, he added, explaining that he’s more concerned about the dog missing something, though he says that hasn’t happened yet.


At the Connecticut State Police Forensic Laboratory, Jack Hubbell hopes to identify the lowest detectable scent levels of TPPO, measuring not only part-per-million levels but part-per-billion levels. The dogs’ noses are that impressive, he says, and they consistently out-perform any odor-detecting devices invented by humans. 

As far as the dogs are concerned, finding evidence that helps police and the ICAC task force is a series of fun games and all in a day’s work. 

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Volunteering: When it’s Time to Get Back to Work

Anyone who has ever volunteered in animal rescue can relate: You vow to take a break. Maybe your circumstances have changed in a way that makes it more difficult for you to foster or spend time at the shelter; maybe you are just burned out.

But it’s been months and months since you’ve helped transport an adopted pup to a distant new home or driven hours to transport a dog away from a shelter that had given him all the time they could afford and toward a rescue group that would give him all the time he needed to find a new owner. You can’t remember the last time you brought a donation of canned food or cases of paper towels to the shelter. But eventually, something draws you back in. 

Years ago, I volunteered to be my local shelter’s volunteer coordinator in an effort to try to find more people who would commit to coming to the shelter to wash dogs and help them get outside to soak up some sunshine and attention. I recruited a few good folks over the course of a few years, but eventually gave up that role in favor of fostering needy adolescent dogs and large litters of puppies. I found it disheartening to spend lots of time showing people around the shelter, trying to find something that they would like to do (and were capable of doing), only to have them disappear after just a few volunteer sessions.

Helping the dogs directly was far more rewarding for me—even when that was just helping the shelter staff do laundry, picking up poop in the outdoor runs, or washing dog bowls. Oh, and I write and produce the shelter’s newsletter, which is one of its major fundraising tools.

Volunteer Burnout

A deep dive into helping animals in my community following the devastating Camp Fire in November 2018, pardon the expression, really did burn me out. I did as much volunteering in the emergency animal shelter as I could, and, with the fire still burning, took on the fostering of a litter of sick, starving, mange-covered puppies who were brought into my own city’s shelter; otherwise, given the effect the area-wide emergency was having on our already beleaguered shelter, they would have been euthanized. Two of the seven puppies died, which was really devastating to me. Previously, in all my fostering, I had never lost a puppy, and I’ve fostered some very sick pups.

The rest pulled through, though one developed an eye condition that— despite intense treatment and many visits to a prestigious university veterinary hospital’s ophthalmology department (and my learning to spell ophthalmology without even thinking about it)—ultimately resulted in the loss of the eye. This pup, Odin, very nearly became my third dog, when, out of nowhere, a perfect home for him materialized.

That was SEVEN full months ago.

Easing Back into Volunteering

The mom and her 10 healthy pups that my friend is fostering now; I’ll play a supportive role (and sneak in some puppy-enjoyment time). Photo courtesy of Nancy Kerns

So, I guess I was overdue. A trip to the shelter to drop off towels and blankets led to a discussion with a shelter employee about volunteers. Which led to a discussion with a friend who has been volunteering there for years about restarting a volunteer training program. Which led to a meeting with the shelter manager about her needs and wants, which led to her expressing that she had to develop more foster providers. Just that morning, she was trying to find a place for a mama dog with 10 4-week-old puppies, which led to an animal control officer arriving at my house a few hours later with the mom and pups.

I actually am not well set up (yet) for fostering puppies at my “new” house. In this case, I only facilitated the transfer of the canine family from the treatment room at the shelter to a friend’s house. This friend is all set up for containing and caring for a large litter and their mom but didn’t know I had volunteered her for duty until she got home from work that afternoon. (She had just told me, days prior, that she couldn’t wait to foster again! Little did she know, puppies were just around the corner!)

I stepped up as a short-term, intermediate foster spot so we could get the family out of the shelter before the little ones were exposed to the ubiquitous, airborne kennel cough pathogens. As it was, setting up a temporary place for them to be in my office took a few hours of rearranging things (as well as my baby chickens, who were already camped out in a dog crate in my office) and then an inordinate amount of laundry afterward!

My friend lives only a mile from me; I can go to her house daily for the next few weeks to provide a mid-day cleaning and feeding and get a little “fix” of that famous puppy breath. And I’m exchanging emails with my other friend about what we can cook up to bring some more helpers into the mix. It’s time to get back to helping.

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New test identifies poisonous mushrooms

A simple, portable test can detect the deadliest of the mushroom poisons in minutes, researchers say. Eating toxic mushrooms causes more than 100 deaths a year, globally, and leaves thousands of people in need of urgent medical assistance. Amanitin is the class of mushroom toxins that cause the most serious issues.

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