Dogs at Work

Puppy Orly and big sister Cali, both golden retrievers, relax on a dog bed
Relaxing on the extra-large dog bed is a favorite office pastime

Should you be able to take your pet dog to work?

My office is as dog-friendly a place as you’ll find anywhere: A huge, overflowing toy box and two comfy dog beds are standard features. The window seat boasts a cozy dog rug. In addition to the chew toys and stuffed toys, two snuffle mats are at the ready, alongside a large container of treats. You get the picture.

Cali, a golden retriever, searches for treats in a blue snuffle matBut my office is the upper floor of my home. I’m the only one who has to like the idea of dogs, dog hair, dog toys underfoot, and the occasional vocal interruption. Well, my teammates are all dog lovers, so when the dogs chime in on a Zoom meeting, no one gets too upset. (And their dogs also participate occasionally.)

Post-pandemic, people are reluctant to return to their offices. Pandemic pets who’ve never been left home alone are part of the reason for many workers.

Since we’re also in the midst of a huge reshuffle of workers, offices that want to be the destination rather than the company everyone’s leaving are considering allowing employees to bring their dogs to work. What could go wrong?

Well, for openers, not all dogs are as easygoing as Cali, who enjoyed the amenities while visiting a friend’s co-working space. Some dogs will bark or whine, or even growl at people who walk by. Others are too energetic. Or attention seeking. Or food seeking (& stealing). The truth is, not all dogs are well-behaved or temperamentally suited to be out in public spaces with strangers and unpredictable sounds, sights, and smells.

Then there are the other workers. I love dogs. A lot. But I also get it that not everyone does (their loss …). And that work is stressful enough without worrying about an unfamiliar dog (or even a familiar one) poking her head under the stall door when you’re enjoying a private moment … or rifling through your trash or shedding on your new wool sweater.

Then there’s the question of which dogs get to come to the office and how many at a time and how often and … the areas of contention multiply rapidly.

I’m definitely not opposed to dog-friendly workplaces, but I think it requires a considerable amount of planning. I have heard too many stories of dog-friendliness gone very wrong when the decision to allow “a dog” in the office was made casually.

Anyhow, appealing as the dog-friendly office may be, I am even more strongly in favor of allowing people to work from home. Many of the types of jobs that enable people to have a dog in their office are the exact jobs that can easily be done remotely. Rather than bribe some people to come back using a reward that will drive other workers away … why not just give everyone more flexibility?

No Breakfast?!

Golden retriever puppy Orly cuddles a black-and-white panda toy
What do you mean I don’t get breakfast?!

Orly had her first real vet experience this week. Not the run-of-the-mill go in, get cookies, get poked with something sharp, get more cookies vet experience. Nope. She was spayed.

Surgery means no breakfast. And it means being left at the vet clinic.

It was not her favorite day.

First, I put her outside and gave Cali breakfast. Orly couldn’t believe it. She rang her bell, asking nicely to be let in. She escalated to batting the door with a paw. Harder and harder. Then whining.

By then, Cali was done eating. Rather than reward the whining, I let Cali go out, then let both girls in a few minutes later.

Orly wasn’t speaking to me at this point, but she agreed to get into the car.

She was happy to be at the vet’s, where she met a very friendly (and very large) Great Pyrenees dog in for a dental cleaning, and weighed in at 43 pounds.

She was a little mystified that no one offered her a cookie, though.

Then, the vet tech took her … and I left. She was very surprised by that, but didn’t have the chance to ask me about it.

When I arrived to pick her up, the vet said that Orly was in the back, cuddling with all the techs. Yes … and interviewing potential moms, I am guessing.

Golden puppy orly wears a dark blue onesieShe got home, had breakfast (and dinner not long after). And put on her surgical suit. No cone for Orly!

She was pretty mellow and cuddly Tuesday — the food was all it took to get back into her good graces — but by Wednesday …

Despite the medications that were supposed to keep her a little lethargic, she wanted to play. I kept her busy with treat toys.

Orly chases an orange treat ballThat worked for a while. Then, luckily, our new sofa cover arrived, and I was able to let dogs into the living room. Orly happily tried out the new sofa cover. Then Cali offered the first lesson on how to keep other dogs off of our sidewalks.

Cali’s method doesn’t really work, but it does involve quite a bit of muttering and grumbling at people walking by …

Several days post-op, Orly is full of energy, in no pain, and really wants to play. I am supposed to keep her quiet and calm for another week. Yeah, right.

Cali and Orly, both golden retrievers, stand at a large window

Should Dogs Eat a Vegan Diet?

Golden Cali watches puppy Orly bite an ice cream cone
A decidedly non-vegan treat!

A friend recently shared with me an article about feeding dogs a vegan diet. The article referred to two studies done in the UK with the same lead researcher. The upshot is that these articles say that dogs can live healthy lives on a vegan diet and that they find vegan diets palatable. In fact they claim that “vegan pet foods are generally at least (emphasis added) as palatable to dogs and cats as conventional meat or raw meat diets, and do not compromise their welfare.”

Color me skeptical. But I’m willing to consider the evidence.

Both studies were published by PLoS One (Public Library of Science), which means they are freely available:

The first issue with these studies is evident from their titles: Both are based on an online survey of dog and cat owners. The ‘indicators of health’ paper used a subset of the data used in the palatability study. Using a self-selected group of pet owners answering an online survey is not a scientifically sound method, and there’s no way to know whether the responses are accurate.

The questions are also problematic. To gauge dogs’ health, for example, they asked the owners to give their opinion of their dog’s health — and to also guess what their vet would say about their dog’s overall health … even for dogs whose owners report not having taken them to a vet in over a year (or ever).

There are other issues with the questions, such as the limited response choices for the kind of diet a dog ate — “conventional” meat-based, which covers an enormous variety of foods; raw, which could be homemade or commercial; and vegan, which also could be homemade or commercial — and not accounting for treats. A combination wasn’t an option, but I — and many people I know — feed some raw and some kibble.

Based on their data, though, the authors are certain that they know that dogs both enjoy their vegan diets and are generally perfectly healthy while eating vegan. (I haven’t seen a study on whether the cats on vegan diets were healthy … but it’s trickier with cats.)

I’m still very skeptical.

I actually do think that dogs can be healthy on a vegan diet, but it’s not easy. I think that, for an active dog, it would be challenging to provide sufficient protein from sources that dogs can easily digest without feeding so many carbs that the dog would become obese. (The study authors never actually saw the dogs, so we don’t know if the vegan-fed dogs were healthy weights.)

But what I am really skeptical of is the claim that the dogs (& cats) found the vegan diets “at least” as palatable as a meat-based diet. I simply do not think that dogs (or cats) want to be vegan.

As any trainer knows, some treats are “higher-value” than others.

While each individual dog will have different preferences, the highest-value treats tend to be the ones that are closer to fresh: fresh meat, fresh fish, cheese, even some fresh veggies. A close second is “jerky” type treats — dried meat or fish — or the soft treats. These smell and feel more like meat, and they probably taste more meaty (or fishy). Low-value treats are biscuit-type treats — cookies, kibble, Charlee Bears. These are hard and dry. They’re nicely crunchy, but I doubt they taste like much.

Within my dogs’ varied diet, they have favorite foods. Their behavior is very different when I am preparing them fresh food or mixing in canned sardines with their kibble than if I’m giving them plain kibble.

But they’re golden retrievers, so they greet any and all food eagerly, exhibiting some behaviors described in the study as indicating palatability and enjoyment, such as eating quickly, wagging their tails, and licking the bowl or their lips. Even non-golden-retrievers tend to eat quickly in multi-dog households, so this is not necessarily an indication that the dog likes the food.

Some of the other behaviors listed as indicating palatability are … at best, questionable. They’re also behaviors that I would not tolerate, no matter what they meant. These include vocalizing for food, stealing food, raiding food bins, waking the owner during the night for food, showing aggression around food, or staying near the food bowl. The last two indicate resource guarding, a whole separate problem that has nothing to do with the taste of the food.

The authors also say that the fact that the dogs ate the food they were served means that the food was palatable to them. But it could just mean that the dogs were hungry and knew that they weren’t getting a menu to choose their dinner from.

Or maybe it meant that the dogs were hungry because their vegan or kibble-only diet wasn’t satisfying. How do the authors know that the vocalizing dogs were asking for food? Or for more of the same food? Maybe they were literally crying for better food? And, how many dogs wake their owners up at night because they love their dinner so much they want more? Is that a thing?! Or were these dogs so hungry they couldn’t sleep?! Or they heard a strange noise or they were scared by the thunder or just wanted to cuddle …?

(In case you’re still wondering, I am pretty sure that the the study does not show what the study authors say it does.)

I’m also pretty sure that my dogs don’t want to be vegan.

To be fair, I am strongly in favor of a vegan diet. I am not vegan, but I inch closer to that ideal all the time. I also agree with the authors’ statements about the unsustainability of the way we feed pets. The whole food animal industry is unsustainable (and, I believe, problematic in so, so many ways).

Cali's pawprint looks like a smiley face
Cali’s pawprint; she’s a very happy girl

So, finally, we get to the real dilemma: Should I work toward my dogs’ happiness by feeding them a diet they enjoy and thrive on? Or should I follow the study authors’ ideals, which I share, of seeking a more sustainable option?

Cali and Orly vote for happiness.

News Flash: Not All Golden Retrievers Retrieve!

Golden retrievers Cali and Orly stand on grass, surrounded by tennis balls
WHAT are we supposed to do with these?

Reporters at two of my favorite media outlets, the Washington Post and NPR, seemed surprised by results of a study released this week that discovered that the behavior and personality traits of individual dogs are highly variable — and can’t always be predicted by breed.

Both stories homed in on the fact that — get ready — not all retrievers actually retrieve! Shocking, right?

Not to a person who lives with two steadfastly non-retrieving goldens!

I immediately turned to Cali and Orly, closely related goldens, and said, “They’re talking about you.” They both love to chase tennis balls … but bring them back? Not so much. Several of Orly’s siblings are avid retrievers, though, so it’s not even possible to predict by litter.

The study concluded that “behavioral characteristics ascribed to modern breeds are polygenic, environmentally influenced, and found, at varying prevalence, in all breeds.” In simple English, that means dogs are dogs. Common dog behaviors can be found in any dog, regardless of breed or breed mix.

In truth, some traits are far more prevalent in specific breeds, as the combination of genes that influences some behaviors (think herding or, er, retrieving) are closely linked to physical traits that breeders have sought and shaped over generations of that breed. But there are no guarantees.

In addition to genetic influence, a dog’s environment has a lot to do with behavior. For some traits, the study said, “breed is almost uninformative.” The example cited in the study, a trait that is enormously influenced by environment and early experience, is “how easily a dog is provoked by frightening or uncomfortable stimuli” — that is, reactivity to other dogs, strangers, noises, or other unusual and unpredictable things.

I attribute Orly’s high levels of confidence and curiosity about everything, as well as her unabashed adoration of any human or canine she encounters, to the combination of her great breeding and exemplary early-puppyhood experience.

When I worked with service dog puppies, I found that puppies who lacked extensive early socialization and encounters with all kinds of people, animals, noises, smells, sights, and places rarely succeeded; they lacked the confidence to go into any and every situation where they could be called on to accompany their partners. Even organizations that carefully breed potential guide and service dogs find that, despite strong genetics and comprehensive early puppyhood programs, some dogs don’t make it. Again, no guarantees.

What the study does show, though, is that stereotypes are unreliable indicators of dog behavior and we should look at dogs as the unique individuals they are!

 

Koala’s Day Off

Black Lab Koala runs with a red and white fabric frisbee on grass
Girls just wanna have fun sometimes!

Sometimes, a girl needs a day off.

Koala let her boss know that a couple of weeks ago. It was a Saturday, and they were going for a walk. A nice leisure activity — for the human. But Deni wanted Koala to guide. To work. After a long week filled with lots of work.

Koala wanted a day off. She wanted to wander and sniff and run on the grass (and maybe go into the water…?) … not work.

Koala is pretty clear in communicating what she wants (or doesn’t want) to do. If she doesn’t want to work — and, this is critical, she knows that her work is not essential — she slows down, gives Deni that look, and indicates that she’d rather head toward the grassy park or lie down than put on her harness.

She does have a strong work ethic, and if Deni and Koala are in any kind of situation where Deni needs Koala to work, Koala excels.

But, more and more, she has days when she’d really rather not (I can relate!). She might be dreaming about retirement, though she’s still a relatively young 7-and-a-half years old.

Or, she might be reading up on the Great Resignation / Great Reshuffle. And, like millions of other American workers, she might be re-thinking her work-life balance. I’m guessing that Koala has realized that there’s too much work and not enough life in that mix.

A friend asked me not long ago when I get a full day off — not only off from my job, but free of all types of work, errands, obligations, and other have-tos. I rarely do — and Koala is likely in the same boat.

The great thing about giving Koala (or any dog) a “day off” — a fun day — is that it feels like a day off for the human(s) too: I’m getting ready for a visit to the dog beach with Koala, as I am taking (most of) a day off following a busy work week at a Florida conference. I think it will do both of us a lot of good!

But even on regular work days, I think we all need to build in some fun time for ourselves and our dogs, especially the ones with demanding careers. If Koala gets more time to run and play, will she return to work with more pep and enthusiasm? It’s worth finding out.

 

Happy Spring from The Thinking Dog

Orly and Cali, both golden retrievers, sit and wait for their dinner
Orly & Cali practice self-restraint, waiting quietly while I fix their dinner.

The Thinking Dog is off this week. The human is traveling for a work conference (& a lovely seder dinner with her mom in North Carolina). The Thinking Dogs themselves are home with dog sitters.

This is a first-time event for Orly — both being left(!) and having a sitter. Cali has stayed with sitters before, but it has been a long time.

We’re using Trusted Housesitters for the first time, based on recommendations from two trusted friends who house-sit through this organization and who have both cared for Thinking Dogs in the past (Cali and Jana).

Both girls took to the the sitters immediately, cuddling, telling them secrets, going on walks, and encouraging them to play. I liked them too. I’ll give a full report in a future post.

Meanwhile, I wanted to share this silly article from the New York Times: If Dogs Played Wordle.

Naturally, the only one who succeeds is … the golden retriever.

I hope that you had or are having a wonderful Passover, Easter, or other spring holiday!

 

Orly Has Serious FOMO

Golden puppy sniffs spice jars on a pull-out shelf
Orly investigates the spice rack

Orly never wants to be left out of anything. Her FOMO — fear of missing out — is extreme; she’s a true adolescent of this digital age, even without any social media accounts (that I know of …).

She has to meet everyone we pass on a walk, canine and human alike. She’s fascinated with children. She must explore every inch of everyplace.

I’m balancing teaching her manners, like greeting new friends without mauling them, with wanting to encourage safe exploration.

At home, she pokes her nose into everything. No corner of the back yard has escaped her explorations, which unfortunately include lots of digging. Inside too, she’s curious. She’s only allowed into the living room with adult human supervision, and she’s very curious about this forbidden room.

Even the very familiar kitchen offers exploration opportunities any time I open a cupboard or drawer. I’m constantly warning her to move her nose before I close anything, racing to get the trash bag out of the bin before her nose goes in, and tripping over her when she sidles over to watch and sniff what I am doing.

Her favorite is the pull-out spice rack. She’d spend hours with her head buried in its many scents if I would let her.

I love that she’s so curious about the world. I love even more that she’s investigating and learning using only her nose. Not once has this young puppy, who’s been teething for weeks, ever chewed on furniture, kitchen items, or any of my belongings. She does chew sticks and pounce on leaves outside (and there’s the digging …). And of course she has many, many toys.

Stinky Dogs

Golden Cali and Lab Koala sniff deeply at the grass and leaves
Cali and Koala explore the neighborhood with their sensitive noses

When I last took Cali to the groomer, I noticed a row of bottles of dog perfume near the checkout. Clients could choose a scent and spray their dogs when they picked up their clean and trimmed pups.

Eeewww, I thought, that’s a terrible idea.

Then I saw an article about “the best” dog perfumes. Promoting them to cover “wet dog” smell.

We need to be clear on why this is a terrible idea.

Dogs’ sense of smell is hundreds to thousands of times more powerful and sensitive than humans’. If you spray something on your dog in a significant enough quantity that you can smell it from any distance at all, even snuggling distance, your poor dog is being overwhelmed by the scent.

That’s bad enough if it’s a scent that dogs like, such as, say, dead fish or fresh deer droppings. But a fake chemical scent intended to smell like, who knows, a floral bouquet or clean linen (whatever that smells like) or mangoes … just no.

The dog’s primary and preferred method of exploring the world is scent. This is how dogs recognize friends, potential friends, and for dogs other than Cali and Orly (for whom there are only those two categories) potential foes; it’s how they decide where to lead me on our smell walks and which disgusting (oops, I meant delightful) dead things to roll in at the dog beach.

I’ve always thought that the reason nearly all dogs race outside to roll in the grass (if you’re lucky) immediately after a bath is that they are trying to get rid of the scent of the shampoo. I look for unscented dog shampoos — and rinse really, really well. I think dog shampoos should smell like freshly cut grass or sea breezes… or nothing. Cali would choose other scents, I am sure.

Adding a sweet, fruity, floral, or other scent — “sugarcane island” and “cookie crush” are real options — on top of that is torture for the dog. It overwhelms her sensitive nose and interferes with her most basic means of experiencing the world. Like the annoying tag jingle, she can’t escape it. And it’s completely unnecessary: Your clean dog smells great just as she is — once her fur is dry, that is!

Why It’s Not OK When My Puppy Jumps on You

Orly and Cali, both golden retrievers, sit and wait for their dinner
Orly & Cali practice self-restraint, waiting quietly while I fix their dinner.

I’m working on teaching Orly good manners and self-restraint, difficult concepts for a 5-month-old, insanely friendly and curious puppy.

On walks, and (very frustratingly) at puppy playtimes, she’s eager to meet people, any people. She shares this trait with Cali. And, being an ill-mannered puppy, she expresses her enthusiasm in part by jumping on them.

Cali was never a huge jumper, and when she was little, I was working at a dog school where everyone enforced the no-attention-if-you’re-jumping rule. So teaching this to her was fairly easy.

Orly is not Cali.

Orly loves jumping on people. And, while most of the people we encounter on walks and who ask to pet the puppy are polite and wait, as asked, until Orly sits, there are always exceptions. Same at puppy class: Most of the people ask her to sit or ignore her when she jumps.

Most.

There are always the ones who cheerfully assure me that “it’s OK,” or they “don’t mind.” As they pet her, tell her how cute and good she is, all while she’s jumping on them.

I want to growl at them, “It’s not about you.”

Instead, I muster my most patient, polite self and say, “I’m trying really hard to teach her not to jump. When she gets attention for jumping, that teaches her that jumping is allowed.”

That’s a basic summary. Here’s more of an explanation.

Puppies learn patterns. They also love being petted and praised and given treats. When they see a pattern of do y action; get rewarded with food, pets, and affection, they will keep repeating y action. That’s as true if y is jumping on a person as it is if y is sitting politely.

I want y to be sitting politely.

What Orly learns each time someone pets her when she jumps is that y can be either.

And, because she’s a 5-month-old puppy with poor impulse control and because she’s out of her mind with excitement over the prospect of meeting a new person, jumping is very likely to happen. Sitting quietly takes some thought — unless and until sitting quietly becomes deeply fixed in her mind as the one and only way to get to meet new people. (That’s what dog trainers call a “default behavior,” the behavior that the dog does by default, without having to think about it.)

Why do I care so much about this?

Well, the people who “don’t mind” that she jumps tend to be young or young-ish, able-bodied adults. Puppy Orly is unlikely to knock them over or injure them. And they’re out for a walk or at a puppy class, probably not wearing their best clothes.

Once she’s learned from you that it’s OK to meet people by jumping, though, she’s going to use that approach with anyone she feels like meeting, and that’s a problem.

What if they are 3 or 5 or 85 years old? Or unsteady on their feet? Or afraid of dogs? Or wearing nice clothes because they’re going to an important meeting or a nice dinner? What if, once she learns it’s OK, she keeps doing it in a few weeks or months when she reaches her full size and 55-65-pound weight?

Orly could hurt someone by knocking them over or scratching them. She could cause damage. Or she could simply frighten or bother someone who, whether they like dogs or hate them, doesn’t want to be jumped on.

So, to all of you well-intentioned, dog-loving people who “don’t mind” when  my puppy jumps on you, it’s not about you or about this one time. It’s about not building the pattern — the pattern where she understands that it’s fine to jump on people.

It’s about not undermining my efforts — and other puppy owners’ similar efforts — to raise our puppies to be dogs who are a pleasure to live with, to walk, and to introduce to people. People just like you who want to meet every puppy they see — without getting mauled. Please help us by waiting until the puppy sits to pet the puppy.

 

A Sign of Spring

Two clear signs of early spring in my neighborhood are long lines at the Big Dipper, our local ice cream stand, and weather warm enough for me to consider a visit with the girls.

A recent Saturday with sunny, mid-50s weather was just the opportunity for Orly’s first Big Dipper outing — and Cali’s first visit since her early December birthday.

After a very long walk, the four of us — I had a friend lined up, as extra hands would definitely be needed — headed down the street.

The line was long. Friend settled in at a table with both dogs, and I stood in line. Cali, as is her style, lost patience after a few minutes and kept straining toward the order window. Orly people- and dog-watched and waited, not sure what to expect but quite sure she would love it.

Our turn arrived. I returned to the table bearing small scoops of huckleberry ice cream for the humans and dog cones (always vanilla) for the girls.

Orly could not believe her luck!

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Cali downed her cone in seconds, also typical for her. Orly licked, bit, licked, bit — unsure of how to process this wonderful new treat. Cali stood by impatiently, not understanding how it could take a dog so long to eat a bit of ice cream.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day.