Monthly Archives: April 2013

  • Show Me the Way:Adventures in Tracking Training

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic

    The task was to teach each dog to touch a glove held in my hand, then to touch the glove on the floor, then to cross the room and touch the glove on the floor. The idea was to teach the dog to indicate when s/he had found the glove (or “article”) when out tracking in the great outdoors. In tracking practice or competition, another person would have left a track with articles (gloves, socks, bandannas, or similar) with their scent for the dog to find along the way. I would be following the dog on a long line, but in a test I wouldn’t know the locations of the articles, so the dog would have to sniff out each article and clearly indicate it to me without backtracking.

    I collected a glove, some treats, and a clicker and started the training with Bandit. First a note about clicker training, which is misunderstood by many. A clicker can be held in one hand and pressed to make a loud, distinct “click”. The point of using it for operative conditioning is to mark the exact time the dog does what you want. A clicker is very useful when the dog is working away from you, and in other situations when you want to mark the exact moment that the correct behavior is offered, even when you’re not able to give the dog a treat immediately. I had already done the groundwork needed for my dogs to associate the clicker with the reward that would soon follow. All three of them know very well that the “click” means a treat is on the way.

    Bandit, who is the oldest of my three dogs and has had the most training in different areas, had the biggest challenge. He needed to unlearn previous habits engrained in his bag of tricks, and he has a great imagination. Surely just going to the glove and touching it wasn’t all that I wanted. I remembered that when we trained in obedience utility exercises years ago, Bandit had learned to retrieve a glove. So he didn’t want to just touch the glove, he wanted to bring it back to me. But out on a track, I wouldn’t want him to turn around, I would want him to indicate the article to me, but continue facing in the right direction to keep following the track. So I decided to click Bandit just as he was about to touch the glove. Huh? He paused to think, and I rewarded him just as he touched the glove. Bingo! Marking the desired behavior at just the right time worked!


    Part of the exercise involved placing the glove on the floor across the room from me and having the dog go over to touch (“indicate”) it. Bandit went over to the glove, touched it, then turned around and sat down. While sitting or lying down to indicate the glove would be good, turning around was a problem that could move Bandit off the track. I realized that now he was offering behavior that he had been trained to do for a “go out”, another utility exercise that he learned a few years ago. So although I will eventually want him to indicate the article properly with me farther away, I moved up behind him and treated him before he had a chance to turn around. Then he was consistently going to the glove, with me quick to follow. Once he touched the glove, I was right there to reward him, to prevent him from turning. We’ll continue working on Bandit indicating the article without turning around as I begin to maintain the distance again.

    Chase got the simple touch part correct before the others because he had just enough experience without too much extraneous training to confuse him. He’s also very intuitive; I think that when I have the right picture in my mind, he reads it. First he reminded me that I hadn’t picked up my dirty socks. He touched the glove and was rewarded, then went over and touched my sock on the floor! He soon realized that he wouldn’t get rewarded for touching just anything on the floor and he went back to consistently touching the glove.


    Cayenne has always seemed developmentally delayed, especially socially. Cay and her littermates were rescued as small pups in the Tennessee wilderness and she didn’t learn all that she needed from her mother. I couldn’t even touch her when she first came here, but she has come a long way in the past few years. Now when I work one-on-one with Cay and minimize distractions, she learns very well and is amazingly bright. She was familiar with the clicker, but hadn’t had as much training as the other two dogs. Still, she responded well. At first I had to put a treat in the glove to get her interested. I sort of tricked her into offering the desired behavior: when she “accidentally” touched the glove, I clicked immediately to reinforce the behavior. She caught on immediately, and being the food-motivated child that she is, she quickly learned to touch the glove for the reward.

    Cay actually achieved the ultimate desired behavior on accident, before the other two dogs. I hadn’t attempted to train it yet, but she did it naturally and I rewarded her. Once she became obsessed with touching the glove, she would lie down next to it. When she did this, I clicked her right away because the next step in teaching article indication was to have the dog sit or lie down by the glove after touching it. Cay responded well and began consistently touching the glove and lying down. I would not have predicted that she would achieve this behavior first, but I know that all three dogs will achieve it with more training.
    Those are some of our adventures in tracking so far. Yes, we’ve done some tracking outside, but as I’m writing this it’s mid-April and we just had another snow and ice storm here in Minnesota. Over the coming months we’ll continue tracking outdoors, and I’ll continue feeding my dogs Omega Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets to keep them healthy and happy and support their endurance. I just hope I can keep up!

  • Vitamin C

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    Previously, we have discussed two important fat soluble vitamins which serve an important anti-oxidant function in the horse, vitamin A and E.  We will continue to discuss anti-oxidants as we transition to the water soluble vitamins essential to the health and well-being of the horse.  As humans, we are probably very familiar with vitamin C or ascorbic acid/ascorbate, as it is a commonly supplemented vitamin.  After all, who hasn’t reached for an orange in order to get their share of this important vitamin (Despite the fact there are many more nutrionally dense sources of vitamin C!)?  People often turn to vitamin C during times of stress or illness, especially the common cold, to try and fight off pathogens.  But what does vitamin C do in the horse, and should you be supplementing it?

    Typically, most individuals are familiar with vitamin C’s role as an anti-oxidant, but it also serves as a co-factor for a host of enzymes.  Specifically, vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, which appears throughout the body in connective tissue of tendons, ligaments, blood vessels etc.  Vitamin C also is necessary for the synthesis of carnitine (the molecule which allows fatty acids to be transferred into the mitochondria for oxidation) as well as tyrosine and other neurotransmitters.  Vitamin C supplementation, along with other anti-oxidants, has actually been shown to improve cognitive disfunction in aging dogs.

    Vitamin C is synthesized in horses, but not in man, guinea pigs or a variety of other species.  Therefore in humans, vitamin C is a dietary necessity, but it is not required  in the diet of the average horse.  The horse is capable of converting glucose through a variety of enzymatic reactions into ascorbic acid. This synthesis is adequate in most scenarios.  So when might vitamin C be beneficial to the horse?   Presumably when there is a need for greater amounts of anti-oxidants in the body.
    We have discussed the role of anti-oxidants before.  The body uses oxygen as the final electron acceptor in the electron transport chain during the capture of energy in the form of ATP.  Normally this process produces a harmless, and even useful byproduct – water.  However, a small proportion of these reactions does not go according to plan, but instead creates a harmful molecules known as reactive oxygen species or ROS.  In actuality, the formation of free radicals is a normal part of metabolism and serves as cell signaling systems.  In fact, the creation of free radicals stimulates the adaptive response seen with athletic training.  Therefore, we should not aim to eliminate their presence entirely.  However, in excess, these free radicals can do immense damage to the body as they damage DNA, cell membranes etc.  Reactive oxygen species have been implicated in carcinogenesis, aging, cognitive function etc.  Ascorbate aids in the anti-oxidant cascade by regenerating the reduced form of vitamin E and other anti-oxidants.

    Horses which are intensely exercised will naturally produce a greater number of reactive oxygen species due to the increased rate of metabolism.  It is not uncommon for those individuals involved in more strenuous equine sports (endurance rides, three day eventing etc.) to routinely supplement their horses with anti-oxidants.  In studies which have examined the use of vitamin C in horses, there appears to be a difference in response relative to the intensity of the work being performed.  In polo ponies, plasma ascorbic acid was higher in ponies which were considered to be more intensely working than the lighter worked ponies, despite both groups receiving supplemental vitamin C.  Similarly, endurance horses supplemented with vitamin C had a higher plasma ascorbic acid level at the beginning of the race compared to the control horses, but the difference between plasma vitamin C levels  between the two groups grew smaller throughout the race.   The unsupplemented horses actually increased their plasma ascorbic acid levels throughout the race, presumably through the mobilization of body stores.  This differed in previous studies which showed a decrease in plasma ascorbic acid in more intensely worked horses.  This drop in ascorbic acid has also been reported in heavily raced sled dogs. Thus it may be the level of exercise which is important. Certainly this makes sense as the level of effort increases, the metabolic rate must increase and the greater percentage of ROS will be produced.   Although lacking in concrete data, it appears that additional vitamin C may be beneficial for heavily exercised horses.

    Exercise is not the only form of stress which horses may experience.  Plasma vitamin C levels have been seen to be lower in horses following surgeries, traumatic wounds, strangles and episodes of exercised induced pulmonary hemorrhage.  Horses with recurrent airway obstruction also have had lower plasma ascorbic acid levels, and supplementation appears to be helpful in creating better exercise tolerance and reduced airway inflammation.  Supplementation of vitamin C also appears to help aged horses enhance their immune system and improves their response to vaccinations.  Horses do appear to tolerate large doses of vitamin C quite well, horses received 20 g /d of ascorbic acid for 8 months with no measureable negative response.  However, it has been shown that horses decrease their own natural synthesis of vitamin C when supplemented.  Therefore, when the supplement is removed, horses will have a lower plasma concentration of vitamin C compared to normal.  Therefore, prolonged supplementation may be ill advised.  Overall, like all vitamins previously discussed, supplementation of vitamin C should not be done without careful consideration of whether or not the horse would truly benefit from supplementation.

  • On the Right Track

    Written By Jenny Pavlovic

    “The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
    ~ Eden Philpotts

    Have you ever gotten down on the floor on all fours to view the world the way your dog sees it? While you might get a better idea of what your dog sees from that vantage point, your dog isn’t really looking as much as she is smelling, or “viewing” the world through her nose.

    You know what I mean if your dog has ever obsessed about a piece of kibble that rolled under the stove, or a crumb that dropped between the sofa cushions. You didn’t even know it was there, but your dog stood vigil and pawed or whined until you fished the tiny tidbit out. Or even worse, your dog scratched relentlessly at the stove or the sofa, trying to fish the morsel out herself. Cattle dogs are notorious for their persistence. My dog Bandit is no exception when he’s trying to rescue a stray crumb.

    A dog’s sense of smell is up to 10 million times more sensitive than a human’s. Dogs have 25 to 60 times the number of scent glands that humans have, and more brain space dedicated to their noses. They can smell in parts per trillion, which is like detecting one drop of water out of 20 Olympic swimming pools. It’s no wonder that dogs are following their noses!

     

    The Bark magazine has published fun nose games that you can play with your dog, which are especially useful on days when you’re housebound: http://www.thebark.com/content/k9-nose-work-1. Dog lovers may also train their dogs to follow a scent to compete in tracking events. Of course, dogs already know how to follow scents with their noses, but the object of these events is for the dog and person to work as a team. The dog must follow the scent track that the person has asked the dog to follow, and not get sidetracked by a deer or rabbit that crossed the trail.

     

    It’s interesting to see a dog follow a track laid by a person on snow. While it’s easy for a person to focus on the footprints in the snow, the dog will follow the scent, not the footprints that are much more obvious to those of us who dominantly use our vision. The footprint trail is easier for us to “see” on snow in winter, but the dog doesn’t perceive, or “see”, it that way and still relies on her nose.

    Dogs are known for their ability to track down a suspect, find a missing person in the wilderness, detect drugs and bombs, sniff out termites and bedbugs, and even foretell when a person will have a seizure. Researchers have worked to develop electronic noses, or “E-noses”, to mimic how a dog uses its scent receptors to smell. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, designed a sensor that uses mechanical engineering and chemistry principles to reproduce the canine scent receptors. The sensor feeds information into a computer database, which identifies the molecule that was captured. This device was designed to have the same level of sensitivity as a dog’s nose and was developed to be consistent even when a dog might get tired or distracted. Still, dog noses are the gold standard.

    Some of the most inspirational work employing dog noses is in the early detection of cancer. You may recognize animal behaviorist and dog trainer Dina Zaphiris from Animal Planet or the Bonnie Hunt Show. But did you know that her research has shown that dogs are 98% accurate at predicting early stage cancer? Dina’s website, www.dogsdetectcancer.org, references studies on canine olfactory detection of bladder, lung, breast, prostate, ovarian, and colorectal cancers (http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/category/studies).

    Dina works at the InSitu Foundation, the only early detection non-profit group backed by the National Institutes of Health. InSitu’s mission is to save lives with the early detection of cancer through Canine Scent Detection. InSitu trains dogs to detect cancer in humans at its earliest stages, identifying and treating cancer before it becomes life-threatening. Published reports have documented that dogs can detect (sniff) cancer in people at an accuracy rate of 98%, which is more accurate than present day cancer-detection diagnostic medical equipment. Dogs can detect cancer much earlier than modern day machines, thus allowing preventative measures to be applied earlier in a patient’s life. InSitu develops groundbreaking canine techniques in early detection that will lead to saving lives.

    At Dina’s website, Australian Shepherd Stewie demonstrates her technique for detecting cancer among healthy and disease controls (http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/video). And if you scroll down to the short and very compelling video at the bottom of this page, http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/, you will learn what drives Dina and Stewie to do this work. Dina’s mother discovered her cancer too late, and cancer took her before she was ready.

    We have all been affected by cancer in one form or another. At the InSitu Foundation, dogs and people work together to master new early detection techniques to save lives. To contact the InSitu Foundation, learn more about early detection of cancer, and support their efforts to provide Canine Scent Detection for early cancer screening, go to http://www.dogsdetectcancer.org/contact/.

    The next time your dog obsesses over a piece of kibble that rolled under the stove, be grateful for the power of that amazing nose, and think about how our dogs perceive the world differently.

    With the arrival of spring, most of us are more active with our dogs. I’ll be out tracking and herding with my guys. Omega Fields Canine Shine and Omega Nuggets help me keep them in top condition.

  • Vitamin K

    Written By Dr. Kris Hiney

    This month we will wrap up our discussion of the fat soluble vitamins with a vitamin that is not discussed all that often in regards to horses, vitamin K.  Vitamin K is actually a family of fat soluble vitamins from both plant and animal origins. Vitamin K in the diet occurs in the form of phylloquinone,  which is found in plants.  Phylloquinone can be converted to menaquinone via intestinal bacteria, or by other tissues within the animal.  Menaquinone is the active form of the vitamin for animals.  Most people recognize vitamin K’s role in blood clotting, but it is also a part of bone metabolism, vascular health, and even brain metabolism.

    Vitamin K acts to cause the carboxylation of glutamate (an amino acid) in proteins.  This carboxylation reaction allows proteins to bind to Ca.  This is a key part of the cascade of events which occur during blood clotting.  Vitamin K deficiency is typically seen as a decreased ability to clot blood, or internal hemorrhaging.  Vitamin K is also important for the action of osteocalcin, which is a hormone needed for bone metabolism.  It is thought that supplementing vitamin K may help with osteoporosis in the elderly. Luckily in horses, deficiencies of vitamin K from consuming a nutritionally inadequate diet have not been reported.  The amount of phylloquinones present in green forages combined with the menaquinone production in the body leave little reason for supplementation.  If supplementation is desired, both phylloquinones and menaquinones have wide safety margins.  However, menadione has been linked with toxicity issues when given at manufacturer’s recommendations.  Typically vitamin K would only need to be administered to horse’s if they are on a therapeutic regimen of warfarin, an anti-clotting drug.

    However, it is possible for horses to become vitamin K deficient by consuming substances which interfere with vitamin K.  Dicoumarol is a substance which is an antagonist of vitamin K, and blocks the blood clotting cascade.   Coumarin is the original chemical which is converted to dicoumarol by fungi. Clovers naturally contain a high content of coumarin, which in and of itself has no ability to affect coagulation. It is only through the action of fungi which transforms coumarin to dicourmarol.  Thus, moldy sweet clover hays are to be avoided.  Unfortunately the mold may not always be visually detectable.  Luckily, this syndrome, often referred to as sweet clover poisoning, rarely occurs on pasture.  It is important when creating clover hay that adequate drying time is achieved, which decreases the likelihood of molding.  However, this is often difficult when drying clovers due to their coarser stem.  Crimping may help decrease drying time and help to avoid molding.  Large round bales, especially the outer layer of hay, tend to be much higher in mold content.  Overall, sweet clover poisoning is seen much more commonly in cattle than it is in horses, but is not unheard of.  Unfortunately, as dicoumarol poisoning results in internal bleeding, it is often hard to detect in animal which has been exposed.  Stiffness of gait may be an indicator due to bleeding within the muscle.  Unfortunately it is often death that results in diagnosis.  As it is almost impossible to determine visually if sweet clover hay contains dicoumarol it is often recommended to be avoided.  If not, sweet clover hay can be fed intermittently with a high quality alfalfa which is high in vitamin K.   Feeding sweet clover hay for a period of no more than 7-10 days is recommended. No animals which may soon undergo surgery or parturition should be given sweet clover hay for the period of four weeks prior.  Overall, it may just be easier to forego sweet clover hay altogether.

    Next month we will begin discussion of the many water soluble vitamins, their functions, and requirements by the horse.

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