Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Small Dog Syndrome Correlated with Owners' Behavior

I have always favored mid-size to large dogs, finding small dogs too frequently to be obsessive barkers and growlers that drag their owners around and have never learned a command. Where I live in Arizona part of the year, I walk my labradoodle several times a day and at least once a week have to hear some idiot say, “Are you walking the dog or is the dog walking you? Hah! Hah!” This joke of a question comes despite the fact that my dog does not tug at the leash and stays at heel. I used to respond with something like, “No, my dog is trained, unlike yours.” At some point I gave up. Most people in my neighborhood are old and have small dogs that they have never attempted to train and which pull so strongly that the “masters” have to lean back as if water skiing in the wake created by the dog’s engine. At some level I knew that the frequently bad behavior of small dogs is not due to their size but rather to their owners.

I had never considered that a study might be designed to confirm that poor obedience and excitability in small dogs results from the behavior of the owners, but a group of mostly Viennese scientists looked at precisely this issue in an article just posted by Applied Animal Behaviour Science (the English spelling of behavior is correct). In fact this is not the first study to consider the behavioral differences between smaller and larger dogs, as one learns from the many papers cited in the article. Previous studies have found that small dogs are more often disobedient and excitable, more impulsive and more likely to bite. Of course the consequences of aggression are generally less dangerous with small dogs, and I have seen people refuse to reproach owners of small dogs, perhaps feeling that complaining about the bite of a dog that is smaller than a cat should not be made into an issue. It has been suggested that the tolerance of aggressive behavior in smaller dogs may have led to spreading predispositions for aggressive behavior in the gene pool of smaller breeds. (Guy, N.C., Luescher, U.A., Dohoo, S.E., Spangler, E., Miller, J.B., Dohoo, I.R., Bate, L.A., 2001. A case series of biting dogs: characteristics of the dogs, their behaviour and their victims. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 74, 43–57.)

Owners of small dogs train them less, at least in my experience. In Phoenix there are a great many small dogs, but the vast majority of dogs at the Phoenix Field and Obedience Club classes on Monday nights in Encanto Park are mid-size to large. It is easier to ignore the bad behavior of smaller dogs, but it may also have something to do with the fact that older owners are less inclined to drive ten to twenty miles for an hour of work with a professional trainer. Older owners may also be less consistent in setting boundaries that the dog is not allowed to cross, and less consistent in the kind of punishment that is used. Inconsistency in use of rewards and punishments has been shown to result in more behavioral problems in dogs.

There are other differences in the behavior of owners of smaller and larger dogs. Smaller dogs are more likely to be allowed on furniture. However, large dogs are more likely to be played with, and to be taken on walks.

The Viennese study involved sending a questionnaire to about 5,000 dog owners in the city. There are over 50,000 dogs registered in the city, and others that are not registered for one reason or another. About 1400 questionnaires were returned but some were rejected for various reasons and 1276 were analyzed. Three quarters of the respondents were women. Any time I have been in an obedience class, the majority of the handlers were women so this does not surprise me.

Dogs were divided between those that were larger than 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds) and those that were smaller. I believe the results would have been more dramatic had the comparison been made between dogs under 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and dogs over, say, 25 kilograms. Smaller dogs were seen by their owners in the study as significantly less obedient than larger dogs. Smaller dogs were reported to act slightly more often in an aggressive or excited way. Smaller dogs were rated significantly more anxious and fearful. As is consistent with my experience, owners of smaller dogs were significantly older than owners of larger dogs. Owners of smaller dogs were somewhat less likely to use punishment. As to consistency of enforcement, 15% of owners of smaller dogs did not adhere to fixed rules, whereas only 7% of owners of larger dogs admitted this about themselves. Owners of smaller dogs more often thought rules were unimportant (43%) compared to owners of larger dogs (29%). Only 41% of owners of smaller dogs sought obedience training, compared to 55% of owners of larger dogs, and owners of smaller dogs engaged in training activities less often even if they tried sometimes.

The authors note that small dog owners, and in particular, toy dog owners may perceive their dogs more as babies and have a less objective view of their behavior. This in turn may lead to more unfavorable owner behaviors. I see it every day. Arnhant, C., Bubna-Littitz, H., Bartels, A., Futschik, A., and Troxler, J. 2010. Behavior of Smaller and Larger Dogs: Effects of Training Methods, Inconsistency of Owner Behavior and Level of Engagement in Activities with the Dog. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 123.

Addendum. My dear friend, Fran Breitkopf, takes issue with this posting, noting that I say that "at some level I knew that the frequently bad behavior of small dogs is not due to their size but to their owners." She points out that "it is at all levels that bad behavior of dogs is due to their owners." This is correct and I apologize for the inference that somehow small dogs have worse behavior than large dogs. I wrote this piece while still in Phoenix (where I spend winters and parts of springs) and it shows. Fran's other comments deserve being produced in full, as follows:

"In the 12 years of formal training and involvement on a more "academic" level, I have not seen a difference in expectations of small dogs, from their owners. They are dogs, with the same needs. They have the same responses to other dogs and people. I have not experienced any difference and have had many assorted sized dogs at the same time. While it is true that the smaller they get the easier it is to physically handle them and the more inclined some owners are baby them, but those owners do the same with their big dogs. I know, we did. The bottom line is that most dog owners or guardians expect their dog to be as well trained and socialized as any larger dog ... just as most parents expect and work with their children so they will be well behaved and properly socialized. Bad or lackadaisical parents have poorly behaved and not socialized children ... and dogs.

"Most people that I know with large dogs allow them to be on their furniture and handle their dogs as members of their families, rather than distancing themselves from them. The general feeling, among the people I know, is that whether their dog is small or large they are thought of, trained and expected to be socially responsible animals.

"Most dogs are blank pages when we get them or, if rescued, they have had bad experiences. Their permanent owners have taken on the responsibility of their guardians/parents/trainers....whatever you want to call it. Some owners succeed and some fail, just as some parents do. Parenting is parenting. The dog is a projection of them and the quality of the job they have done raising the dog.

"We have finally begun to understand that canine behavior is interwoven with our behavior, expectations, and ability to communicate. We finally understand that there rarely is a bad dog or breed. We finally understand that the environment that the dog is raised in is key to its behavior. I think that the study you found leans more to old fashioned, out of date thinking. Much the way the old fashioned trainers are still dragging their dogs around and lifting their dogs off the ground, trying to train them."

Friday, March 5, 2010

Types of Detection Dogs--How Many Can You Name?

When I began working on Service and Therapy Dogs in American Society, I was soon struck by the proliferation of service dog types, including the fairly recent category of hypoglycemia alert dogs and the still anecdotal migraine-alert dog category. This is nothing compared to the list of scenting dogs that were assembled by a group of chemists in 2004. They came up with 30 scent detection dog categories. Some of these categories probably only represent a few dozen dogs, but many of them are essential to law enforcement and are found throughout the world. The categories are:

1. Abalone (endangered mollusk poaching) detector dog
2. Agricultural product (importation) detector dog
3. Arson (accelerant) detector dog
4. Brown tree snake (pest species) detector dog
5. Airport/runway detector dog
6. Cadaver (human remains) detector dog
7. Chemical weapon detector dog
8. Citrus canker detector dog
9. Concealed person detector dog
10. Currency detector dog
11. Drug (narcotic) detector dog
12. Explosives (bomb) detector dog
13. Gas leak detector dog
14. Gold ore detector dog
15. Gun/ammunition detector dog
16. GYPSY moth larvae detector dog
17. Land mine trip wire detector dog
18. Melanoma detector dog
19. Missing person detector dog
20. Rotten power pole detector dog
21. Scent line-up detector dog
22. Screw worm detector dog
23. Seal detector dog
24. Search and rescue (warm blood) detector dog
25. Syringe needle (dried blood) detector dog
26. Termite detector dog
27. Tracking (fleeing suspect) detector dog
28. Truffles detector dog
29. Water search detector dog
30. Wildlife detector dog

The list was compiled for an article in the Journal of Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. Lorenzo, N., Wan, T.L., Harper, R.J., Hsu, Y.L., Chow, M., Rose, S., and Furton, K.G. (2004). Laboratory and Field Experiments Used to Identify Canis lupus var. familiaris Active Odor Signature Chemicals from Drugs, Explosives, and Humans. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 376: 1212-1224.

For more on the use of detection dogs in conservation projects, see Brown, C., Stafford, K., and Fordham, R. (2006). The Use of Scent-Detection Dogs. Irish Veterinary Journal, 59(2), 97-104. dogs have been used to find dead bats at wind farms. Arnett, E.B. (2006). A Preliminary Evaluation on the Use of Dogs to Recover Bat Fatalities at Wind Energy Facilities. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 34(5), 1440-1445. They have also been trained to detect microbial growth in buildings, which can cause respiratory and other symptoms in occupants. Kauhanen, E., Harri, M., Nevalainen, A., and Nevalainen, T. (2002). Validity of Detection of Microbial Growth in Buildings by Trained Dogs. Environmental International, 28, 153-7. A master's thesis filed with South Dakota State University studied dogs trained to find ferrets. The thesis was adapted into an article Reindl, S.A. et al. (2006). Efficacy of Scent Dogs in Detecting Black-Footed Ferrets at a Reintroduction Site in South Dakota. USDA National Wildlife Research Center Staff Publications; Kerley, L.L. and Salkina, G.P. (2006). Using Scent-Matching Dogs to Identify Individual Amur Tigers from Scats. Journal of Wildlife Management, 71(4), 1349-1356 (a unique study in that the dogs were not trained just to recognize tigers, but also to identify individual tigers).

In the Federal Register of October 2, 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service reported that dogs had been used in an attempt to identify and locate potential natural roosts of the bonneted bat in Florida. 78 Fed. Reg. 61004 (October 2, 2013), at 61007 and 61018.  The dogs were obtained from Auburn University's EcoDogs