Newsletter September 2016

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 September 2016

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Dirty Habits: Why do Dogs Eat Poop?

puppyWhen you let your dog run around in the backyard, you may be surprised to look out the window and see what he does. Even though Fido might get all the dog food and dog treats he could want inside, you might find him munching on grass, or worse – droppings. What is the reason for this strange behavior, and what should you do if you see your dog ingesting strange items?

The good news is most experts say eating grass is not something you should worry about. In fact, less than 25% of dogs throw up after eating grass despite the fact that they cannot digest it. Dogs will sometimes eat grass as an alternative food source. Grass can improve digestion, treat intestinal worms, or fulfill some unmet nutritional need, such as the need for fiber. However, while possible that your dog is eating grass due to a nutritional deficiency, it is often simply a sign of boredom, especially in puppies and young dogs. For this reason, many veterinarians consider eating grass a normal dog behavior. In one small study 79% of dogs exposed to plants ate them, and of the plants consumed, grass was the most common.

If you suspect your dog is eating grass because he is bored, make sure he is getting enough exercise. You can try playing Frisbee, take long, fast-moving walks, train for agility (see below), or find other activities that you and your dog will enjoy. Switching to a food with more nutritional value and higher fiber could also help eliminate this behavior. Although eating grass itself is not harmful, some herbicides and pesticides used on lawns can be quite harmful for dogs. Additionally, many house and garden plants are toxic to dogs. The ASPCA’s Poison Control page can help you identify toxic or dangerous plants.

You will also be relieved to know that eating feces is usually not a big deal either. 24% of dogs have eaten poop at least once. In fact, dogs were scavengers before they became domesticated - sometimes feeding on the waste of other animals. Additionally, in multi-dog households, there is often a pecking order. Submissive dogs will sometimes naturally eat the poop of the dominant dogs.

Surprisingly, some authors have even suggested that your dog may have learned his strange habit from you! They’ve suggested that when your dog sees you clean up his poop, he may misinterpret what you are doing and try to copy your behavior himself. Additionally, your dog may have copied the behavior after seeing another dog eating feces. If your dog is a puppy, there is no need to worry; puppies explore everything by putting it in their mouths and may well stop this behavior as they get older.

However, there is also a chance that dogs are eating feces because of a problem with their health or nutrition. Some dogs will eat feces when they aren’t absorbing enough nutrients, they have parasites, or they have issues with their pancreas. This behavior can also be caused by a lack of vitamin B. it’s always a good idea to take your dog to the vet to discuss the issue.

So what to do? Some dogs can be trained to stop eating feces. Others may be discouraged by putting additives into their food, such as pumpkin. Or, we might learn to accept this as just another natural behavior and simply allow dogs to be dogs.

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Finding (the real) Dory

Did you enjoy watching Dory in the theaters this summer? Did you impress your friends with cool facts, such as the use of echolocation by belugas, or the presence of three hearts in an octopus? If you’d like to learn more about the animals from this hit sequel, read on!

Dory the Blue Tang
Unlike Dory, most Blue Tangs do not have short-term memory loss. In fact, many of these fish have better memories than you’d expect. Blue Tangs live in coastal waters, coral reefs and inshore rocky or grassy areas anywhere from 6-131 feet deep. Adults are fairly small at about 12 inches long. They sometimes live alone or in pairs, but can be found in groups as large as 10-12, they certainly need more memory skills than Dory if they’re to tell who is who.

Blue Tangs eat algae by ripping it from rocks and coral with their sharp teeth. This helps the health of reefs and prevents algae from overgrowing and suffocating the coral. On reefs, Blue Tangs need good memories to survive, finding narrow holes and crevices where they are protected from predators. 

Nemo and Marlin – Clownfish
Clownfish are small fish that are found in tropical coral reefs, just like Nemo and Marlin. The clownfish is famous for its immunity to the stings of sea anemone. For this reason, they often live around sea anemone for protection from predators. This is why Dory stings herself when trying to enter Nemo and Marlin’s room when they are sleeping in the beginning of the movie, while Nemo and Marlin are fine. Though clownfish were always portrayed onscreen in orange and white markings they can have different colors.

Not surprisingly, pet stores and fish breeders noticed a significant increase in the demand for clownfish after the movie “Finding Nemo. However, many people don’t realize that these animals require more care than the average pet fish.

How to care for clownfish

Hank the East Pacific Red Octopus
Hank is one of the characters that was new to the movie “Finding Dory.” The lovable red octopus helps Dory on her adventure while masking a mysterious past where he lost a tentacle. In real life, the East Pacific Red Octopus, also known as the Ruby Octopus, lives in relatively shallow water; their arms can grow to be about 30-40cm. Like all octopuses, Ruby Octopuses can change color and texture, which is how Hank is able to sneak around the aquarium without getting caught. Ruby Octopuses are considered to be some of the most intelligent invertebrates, well known for their problem solving abilities. Finally, as Dory remembers, Octopuses do have three hearts.

Watch this clever octopus solve a new problem (opening a jar)

Destiny the Whale Shark
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. Despite their confusing name, they are not whales; they are sharks. However, they do have a lot in common with whales and feed more like whales than most typical sharks. Whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet long and weight 20.6 tons. This is about the same size as a school bus! Each whale shark has its own unique pattern of spots, just like human fingerprints. A whale shark’s mouth is about five feet wide, but they do not use teeth to eat; they are filter feeders. The largest shark on earth feeds on some of the smallest organisms in the sea. Whale sharks are often found in tropical waters, and usually travel alone, though they do share feeding grounds with other animals. Whale sharks have tiny eyes in proportion to the rest of their bodies, and scientists are not sure how much they rely on vision; Destiny’s near-sightedness is not too farfetched.

Two snorkelers swim with a feeding whale shark

Bailey the Beluga Whale
Just like Bailey, real Beluga whales use echolocation. The rounded structure on the tip of a Beluga whale’s head, that Destiny mocks is a vitally important organ called the melon. The melon is composed of lipids and is more flexible than that of other whale species. In fact, it is likely that the melon facilitates sound production; it changes shape while the whale is producing sounds. This is why Bailey’s echolocation seems to come from the lump on his head. It may look silly, but it’s very useful! Unlike Destiny, Beluga whales are actually the smallest whales on the planet. They often live in the Arctic Ocean and migrate south when the water starts to get too cold.

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Canine Olympics - Agility Training in Dogs


Is there any way you could simultaneously solve your dog’s behavior problems, allow him to get exercise, improve off-leash reliability, build a strong bond, and have fun all at the same time? You bet - through agility training. Agility training is all about building a common language between dog and trainer, and it teaches you to use your body language to communicate with your pet. Furthermore, agility exercises train your dog’s mind, as well as his body. Instead of bringing your dog home after a walk, only to find he still has pent up energy, try agility training for a full body workout.

But what exactly is agility training? It consists of an obstacle course that a handler must direct his or her dog through. Most courses consist of 12-18 obstacles, ranging from tunnels and jumps to weave poles and giant ramps. These obstacles are collectively known as the contacts.  The competition is called the trial, during which the human cannot touch the dog. The dog/owner team must rely on body language, and sometimes vocal cues, to get through the course.


 Watch Tex win the 2015 Masters Agility Championship

How did agility training get started? The first widely documented appearance of dog agility was at the Crufts Dog Show in 1978. John Varley was asked to come up with entertainment for the audience that could be offered between the obedience and conformation competitions. He asked dog trainer Peter Meanwell for assistance, and they presented a large course resembling something from the equestrian world to demonstrate dogs’ natural speed and agility. Many obstacles that are still used in agility courses today made appearances at the show. For example, the Over and Under, Tyre Hoop, Weaving Flags, and Canvas Tunnel all made their debuts. After that, agility training took off, and became more widespread as a sport and activity.

The North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC), American Kennel Club (AKC), and United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) are the most common agility organizations in the United States. Each one has its own set of rules and specific style. For example, the NADAC focuses on speed, whereas the USDAA focuses on more technically challenging obstacles. Agility handlers come in all shapes and sizes, from elementary age children to retired adults. There is no ideal handler. Handling can be a great way to get you into shape, but you don’t have to start out as an athlete by any means.

The same goes for your dog. Though certain breeds may be more naturally inclined, any type of dog can learn agility training - they don’t have to be an expert to run a course. Herding breeds like border collies often excel at agility. However, mixed breeds can run well too; most organizations will allow any breed to run in agility courses. Keep in mind, however, agility is not for puppies and very young dogs. Until they are adults, their bones are not fully developed and jumping can cause damage to their joints.

One of the leading causes of behavioral problems in dogs is boredom. If dogs have nothing to do, they will create their own projects, such as a ripping a garden to shreds or moving the insides of your couch to the floor. Agility training can serve as a form of occupational therapy, giving your dog the “job” he needs to stay satisfied. Give it a try to improve his health, his obedience, and your relationship together.

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Birds with Backpacks

If you’ve visited any city for more than two minutes, you have likely encountered the infamous “rats with wings” that most people denounce as pests and nuisances. However, you may be surprised to learn that pigeons are not native to North America, they are originally from Europe. Early settlers introduced them to this part of the world; needless to say they made themselves at home. In fact, pigeons nest and roost not only in city parks, but also on high window ledges, bridges and barns. Pigeons have been bred for centuries and are considered semi-domesticated. As you can observe, pigeons are not shy like most birds, and will approach people for food. They have a grey coloring, but many have beautiful shiny feathers on their necks that can appear purple and green. Although many people enjoy feeding pigeons, this practice has been banned in many cities in both Europe and America because of the damage to buildings and monuments that is caused by pigeon droppings. Of course, there is also concern over the spread of disease.

Pigeons can create problems, but they can also be very useful. Homing pigeons are well known for their ability to find their way back home from long distances and at high speed. After being moved large distances they are able to return to their original location within hours. You may be surprised to learn that pigeons are even being used to to improve air quality in the city of London through a program called Pigeon Air Patrol. The pigeons used in this patrol are racing pigeons. They monitor the air of London by flying around with tiny backpacks strapped to their backs, which evaluate how toxic the air is. Pigeon Air Patrol lasts only three days; pigeons then return to their "civilian" lives.

Watch birds with backpacks fight pollution

The wild birds from which pigeons descended are now rare, and mainly found in the Mediterranean region, a great contraction of their original range. But while their range may have contracted, it seems their numbers have not. Today, it is estimated that there are anywhere between 17 to 28 million pigeons in Europe alone. Though you may be fed up with pigeons, it is said that being pooped on by a pigeon is good luck - if you don’t get upset!

Pigeons also compete in the sport of pigeon racing. These pigeons are specially trained, and return to their homes from a carefully measured distance after being released. A specific breed of pigeon, the Racing Homer, have been bred for this sport. Competing Racing Homers are trained and conditioned for races that vary from 100 to 1000 kilometers. Races can be won and lost by seconds, so many measuring devices have been developed. Bet you never thought that pest on the sidewalk was such a capable athlete!

You might also be surprised to know that pigeons are the oldest domesticated bird. Pigeon posts have been established all over the world, and while mainly used by the military, some are still in use today, allowing pigeons to dutifully carry messages back and forth. It was only after this initial use of pigeons that people began to domesticate and keep parrots and other birds. So if you have a pet bird – thank a pigeon for paving the way!

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