Commentaries

End of the Year Thoughts While Bathing Dogs

Normally I find I can keep the dogs reasonably clean with routine brushing, but the day we stepped outside and the scent of skunk hung so heavily in the air that I could almost see it, I knew they would need a bath before the holidays. Just walking through that skunk-scented cloud instantly tipped their coats from acceptably dog-scented to a scent that would cause me find some reason to move in the opposite direction any time they approached. Although I’m sure neither of them agreed, the dye (or should I say “scent?”) was cast. Come hell or high

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The Reality of Behavioral Pain

In a recent study reported in ScienceDaily, a trio of psychologists (Naomi I. Eisenberger, Matthew D. Lieberman, and Kipling D.Williams) discovered that the brain responds the same way to social isolation as it does to physical pain. Given the part of the brain involved and role the response to physical pain plays in animal survival, it seems reasonable to speculate that behavioral pain plays a critical role in domestic animals, too. Briefly, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to monitor the brain activity of a group of college students who participated in a game called Cyberball which

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Puppy Play Groups, Doggy Daycare and Dog Parks: The Best of Canine Times or the Worst?

Until about 5-10 years ago, the idea of socializing a pup referred to accustoming that animal to a variety of different people under different circumstances. We wanted to do this because domestic dogs live in a human world and those who get along well with people fare better than those who don’t. However, in the past decade or so, there has a been a shift in emphasis from socializing dogs and people to socializing dogs and other dogs. I suspect multiple reasons have contributed to the shift. Almost certainly guilt plays a role. As human lifestyles have become more

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Multidisciplinary Meetings and the Human-Animal Bond

Last month I was privileged to attend and present at the annual meeting of my most favorite organization, the International Society of Anthrozoology (ISAZ). Naturally any organization that devotes itself to the human-animal bond appeals to me. However, ISAZ embodies the added dimension of being multidisciplinary, an orientation that also perfectly reflects the multifaceted nature of the bond. This month I’m going to indulge myself and reflect on the value of this approach because I believe it should be the rule rather than the exception if we seek to gain meaningful knowledge about anything, but especially the human-animal bond.

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Human Relationships, Pets, and the Human-Companion Animal Bond

When my son Jeremy married in July, our family gained not only a wonderful daughter-in-law, Melissa, but also her delightful cat, Lena. When Jeremy’s brother Dan married Ellen, we gained a dog named Spike. For as often as such human-animal mergers occur, the roles our animals play in those relationships normally don’t gain a lot of attention unless problems arise. When problems do arise, the animal or his or her behavior often becomes the target of any blame. However more often than not, when problems arise, they arise because of a lack of understanding of the human-animal bond as

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Advanced Directives (“Living Wills”) for Pets

Several years ago I formulated my advanced directives describing my wishes for my care should I become incapable of making those choices on my own. I did this because I saw the confusion and heartache that arise when loved ones become incapacitated and did not want to impose that on my family and friends. Around that same time I was working on Preparing for the Loss of Your Pet  (now available in an updated version, The Veterinarian’s Guide to Pet Loss )and realized that writing advanced directives for our pets made good sense, too. However, while I devoted a whole

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The Human-Animal Bond and Addiction

Is the human-animal bond addictive? The first time that question popped into my mind years ago, I immediately wanted to dismiss it with a definitive, “No!” Like so many animal lovers, I wanted to believe that nothing but good could come from our positive feelings about animals and theirs about us. However as the years filled with interactions with both pets and their owners mount up, I’ve had to accept the possibility that the bond does have its dark side and that such an addiction could be one of them. Even more disconcerting, I’ve had to accept that while

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Patterns in Animal Behavior and the Human-Animal Bond

Of all the seasons, I don’t think any reminds me more than spring of the role patterns play in nature. The second week of May, the hummingbirds return and if I don’t have their feeder ready for them, they will hover outside my window and chitter angrily at me. If I continue to miss the point, they will dive-bomb me as I leave the house. Patterns also characterize our interactions with companion animals. As with our interactions with wild animals, sometimes these enhance and other times these undermine those animals’ well-being. And this, in turn, may enhance or undermine

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The Human-Animal Bond, Birds, and Spring

Spring arrived the third week in March in my narrow New Hampshire river valley, signaling the end of a winter that began mid-October and seemed like it would never end. In retrospect I can recall all the signs of impending spring, but that rush of springness that suddenly occurs when nature reaches the seasonal tipping point invariably takes me by surprise. How, I wonder, do those who pay no attention to the natural world around them survive? Don’t they feel a tremendous sense of loss or at least some sense of emptiness in their lives? Possible answers to those

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Fighting, Football, and Animal Behavior

Given the current political penchant for touting war in this country, it’s difficult not to think about what animal behavior can teach us about fighting as a viable response to a real or imagined threat. Even those with only limited knowledge of animal behavior know that evolution rewards those species and individuals who get the job done using the least amount of energy: How does fighting to gain or hold on to resources rank as a valid survival strategy in terms of conservation of energy? A major up-front energy-saver takes the form of the majority of fighting being done

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