Dogs Learn to Associate Words with Objects Differently Than Humans Do!

Dogs Learn to Associate Words with Objects Differently Than Humans Do!

Your dog knows the names of his favorite toys and various agility obstacles. But just how does he associate the names with these items?



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Image Credit: Claudia Bensimoun


Although many of us wonder at the way our dogs know which objects to fetch on command, and believe this is evidence that our dogs understand these words in a way similar to our understanding of words, this is not the case. New research demonstrates that our canine companions relate words to objects in a very different way.

One of the more interesting 2012 studies was that from Dr. Emile van der Zee, from the University of Lincoln’s School of Psychology, in the United Kingdom. In this latest research, van der Zee and colleagues worked with Gable, a Border Collie. Earlier research with dogs and children has demonstrated that dogs too can learn to associate words with categories of objects, like a toy. The researchers wanted to find out if a dog’s learning process was similar to that of humans. Prior to his death in 2008, Rico, another Border Collie, was found to have understood more than 200 basic words. There have been many other reports of Border Collies having extensive vocabulary.

In his research, van der Zee compared previous studies from children between the ages of two to three. Toddlers of this age typically learn how to associate words with the shapes of objects. They learn the name of one object, like a ball, and then they identify other objects with similar shapes, sizes, and textures such as “a ball,” rather than only items of the same size and texture. But dogs that are learning to associate words with objects form these associations in different ways than humans do.

What’s not so clear is whether our canine companions understand words in the same way that we all do. “A number of recent studies have suggested that the domestic dogs’ word comprehension is human-like. Arguments have been made to refute this claim but until now there has been no clear empirical evidence to resolve the debate. Our findings bring a fundamental new insight into this discussion and add to our understanding of the cognitive equipment necessary for true human word learning,” says Van der Zee (via Science Daily).

Do Dogs Have a Shape Bias?

Dr. van der Zee and his colleagues worked on four different challenges so as to determine the extent and nature of Gable’s word comprehension. In this study, Gable was presented with a selection of 10 different objects, which were all familiar to him. These objects were placed in an enclosure that Gable could not see and the researchers would then give Gable a verbal command to fetch a particular object out of the ten. The results demonstrated that Gable could easily distinguish between the objects he knew well. But the findings indicate that, when the researchers introduced new words and new objects with different sizes, shapes, and textures, Gable demonstrated the absence of shape bias in all of his choices. Gable made distinctions by object size and then texture. Interestingly enough, object shape did not influence his choices.

Dr. van der Zee and colleagues also created the word “dax.” After teaching Gable the meaning of the word (the name of an object), Gable then ignored the shape of a dax and focused on the size of the dax instead. Researchers did this by creating many objects of various sizes and textures and making up words like dax to describe these objects. Gable generalized the word based on the object size.

The researchers presented Gable with numerous choices so as to test whether “shape bias” is present in dogs. Van der Zee found that after a short training period, Gable had learned to associate the name of an object with its size, and identified other objects of similar size by the same name. Gable had also learned to associate a word with other objects of similar textures, yet not to objects of similar shape after a longer period of exposure to both a name and an object.

Dr. van der Zee found that the mental lexicon (which is the long term mental store that contains sound-to-meaning mappings) appears to be very much different in man than in dogs, both in terms of how it is built, with reference to word knowledge development, and also in how it operates, with reference to word reference quality.

According to van der Zee and colleagues, these results demonstrate that dogs (most definitely Gable) process and associate words with objects in qualitatively different ways than humans do. The researchers think that it may be linked to the differences in how evolutionary history has actually shaped all of human and dog senses of perceiving shape, size, or texture. “Where shape matters for us, size or texture matters more for your dog.

This study shows for the first time that there is a qualitative difference in word comprehension in the dog compared to word comprehension in humans,” says van der Zee(via Science Daily). Dogs will understand the command “Fetch the ball,” yet he will think of that ball in a much different way than we do, when he hears the word ball, says van der Zee. The researchers also found that if Gable was exposed to a certain word for a longer period of time that he would then associate an object’s name with its texture.

Dr. van der Zee adds, “This would suggest that an important factor in the natural structuring of the mental lexicon may be the way in which sensory information is organized in a particular species. The human visual system is tuned to detect object shape for the purpose of object recognition. In our experiments, we excluded Gable using scent cues. It seems that his visual system and sensory cues linked to his mouth region are focused not on shape, but on size and texture. Only future experiments will reveal what role scent plays for the dog in generalizing words. It is only by comparing other species with humans that we can find out more about the neural and genetic foundations of word reference in language.”

These significant results will allow for the awareness of the absence of shape bias in dogs, thus suggesting changes to dog training programs for all dogs, including working dogs and assistance animals. For more information, please visit USDAA.


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Copyright © 2015 by Claudia Bensimoun




Do Dogs Engage in Riskier Behavior When Their Self-Control is Depleted? Dogs Are Just Like Humans!

Do Dogs Engage in Riskier Behavior When Their Self-Control is Depleted? Dogs Are Just Like Humans!



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Image Credit: Claudia Bensimoun

The fun and playful nature of dogs can lead to mischievous behavior. Often we are faced with a destructive scene of mischief; or we catch our dogs when they are up to no good, catching them in the act. This wayward behavior can try our patience, yet according to Dr.Holly Miller, PhD, from the University of Lille, Nord de France and her colleagues, these sometimes mischievous dogs have simply ‘run out ‘ of self-control, just like humans do. Yes, similar to humans, dogs engage in some risky behaviors when their self-control is depleted, which could put them in danger.


Self-control research has shown that a person that is mentally exhausted is more likely to take risks and make impulsive decisions, more so than someone that is mentally refreshed. People exert self-control to avoid danger. When self-control is not used in certain situations and people behave impulsively, they are more prone to accidents. Miller wanted to find out if the same holds true for our canine companions. Her work is the first that proves that ‘ self-control’ depletion also has the same behavioral impact on dogs. When a dog is too tired to think straight, they are more likely to put themselves in situations that may cause physical harm.

To do this, Miller and her colleagues had ten family-owned dogs; 4 males and 6 females, visit her lab for two different test sessions. They ranged from 12 to 120 months of age. These dogs would begin by approaching a friendly caged dog, and had also been trained to maintain an out-of-sight sit –stay for 10 minutes. The dogs had also been trained to remain calm and relaxed inside a cage for as long as six hours.


A bath mat was placed on the floor in front of an empty dog cage, which was 1.2 m long and 0.9 m in height. A ProSelect exercise pen surrounded this. The dogs sat on this mat during the self-control manipulation exercise. The same mat was placed inside a second dog cage of different measurements this time.(0.9 m long x 0.6 m wide x 0.7 in height.)This was at the same location during the control condition. A mirror was placed strategically on the wall so that the experimenter could watch the dogs from outside the room through a small opening in the door. To increase the difficulty of the self-control depletion phase, the electronic Zhu Zhu hamster was placed inside an Adventure Ball and was activated inside the room during the self-control depletion phase.

When the dogs completed the sit-stay session, they were individually brought into a room with a cage. To prevent any injury, the pen that was placed around the cage provided an additional distance of 0.3 m between the aggressive dog and the subject dog. The room, which was 3.9 m long and 3.8 m wide, had demarcated Scotch masking tape line marking zones. Inside this cage was a territorial 11-year old female Bull Terrier that growled, snarled and barked. They spent a total of 4 –minutes in this room, yet could escape to another room if they wanted to. Approaching the aggressive dog was the natural response for these dogs, yet it was also the riskier choice.

Miller and her colleagues recorded the dog’s actions for the 4-minutes, particularly taking note of where the dogs spent most of their time. A dog that selected to approach the aggressive dog was judged as being impulsive, and those that kept away were judged as being more wary. Although our canine companions are predisposed to sniffing and exploring, this was considered the riskier option. Research in 2011 demonstrated that closer proximity to a confined aggressive dog, despite it’s confinement, is associated with a greater risk to an aggressive encounter.(American Veterinary Medical Association, 2011)

Impulsive Canines

Miller’s results, which were published in the Journal of Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, present a marked difference between an exhausted dog and one that was mentally alert- 59% compared to 42%. The present research “provides evidence that the phenomenon of self-control depletion, once believed to be uniquely human, can be found in dogs. Using work in animals may provide a greater insight into the physiological and neurobiological processes that affect self-control,” says Miller. There are many occasions when a dog’s need to avoid danger is paired with a natural tendency to approach. Animals often override their natural impulse to approach so that they can remain safe, yet when dogs have limited self-control resources, they may make more impulsive decisions that will put them in danger, explains Miller. For example, when confined dogs are approached by children or the mailman, dog bites can occur. Miller explains that dogs do have the tendency to snap at kids because their willpower may have reached a limit after listening to screaming kids all day. This possibly explains the 4.5 million dog bites in the US each year. Dogs too need a break!

Snack Time

 Miller also concludes in a study with Roy Baumeister, social psychologist, Florida State University, that by providing dogs and humans with a boost of glucose, this would eliminate the negative effects of prior exertion of self-control on persistence. These findings provide the first evidence that self-control relies on the same limited energy resources among humans and nonhumans. It’s recommended that giving a small snack could boost the willpower needed. A sugary drink for both our canine companions and ourselves provides the brain with fuel that it needs to harness unwanted behavior. “I thought that it was just a matter of glucose depletion-purely physiological, “ says Miller. “They were very skeptical, especially when I wanted to study the depletion effects of glucose in dogs.” Miller agrees with Baumeister that a resource does fuel the process of self-control. In this study, trained dogs had to sit and stay for 10-minutes, while another group sat comfortably in a cage, sitting and staying, but not being asked to do so. There was no self-control needed for this group. Both dogs then had to solve a puzzle following the “ sit-and stay “group. The caged dogs that were not forced to control themselves in any way tended to work on the puzzle twice as long as the “sit-and stay” group. “A sense of self doesn’t really matter here, “Miller said. “Dogs don’t have a sense of self, or an ideal self, as far as we know. Doing this type of experiment with dogs allows us to explain the results in a less complicated way, “says Miller.

To test the glucose effects on self-control, the dogs were given either a glucose drink or a placebo.( a sweet-tasting liquid with no glucose);the dogs then worked through the puzzle. The dogs that were on the glucose drink did this for a longer period of time and with increased energy. Miller concludes:” My results prove that yes, self- control does correspond with diet. There’s a reason that you should eat healthy foods that provide longer lasting sources of glucose. Your brain stays strong, and your resistance/self-control stays high. Foods like carrots and lean proteins take longer to break down, so they provide glucose for a longer period of time.”

For more information, visit USDAA.


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Copyright ©2015 by Claudia Bensimoun






Generalize or Personalize? Do Dogs Transfer an Acquired Rule to Novel Situations and Persons?

Generalize or Personalize – Do Dogs Transfer an Acquired Rule to Novel Situations and Persons?

 Claudia Bensimoun

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Dogs have always been great at understanding communicative signals given by trainers, handlers and their owners. When we think about all the different ways that dogs work with us, and how they have become such an important part of our lives, understanding human hand signals shouldn’t be a problem for our canines.

As reported in Plos-One, Dr. Juliane Kaminski and Dr. Michael Tomasello compared information about the pathways through which information is internalized in both dogs and infants. The researchers described learning as a “ generalization of the originally acquired information to novel situations, new objects, new contexts and new places.” They compared how long infants took to begin learning how to copy instrumental acts, which was as young as nine months old. By the time a child is 2-to-3 years of age, they’ll understand a new game by normative means.

New research by Dr.Kaminksi and Tomasello questioned how dogs understood rules and the manner they did so. Would this be in a similar manner to human infants-episodic information which only exists in the immediate situation-now or generally, or as normative knowledge? In this study, Dr.Kaminski and Dr. Tomasello researched whether dogs would disregard a cue not to take the treat (1) when the communicator of the ban was present, (2) after a brief absence of the ban communicator, and (3) in the presence of a new person. Not surprisingly, it was found that our canine companions tended to retrieve the banned treat more often when the communicator left the room even for a brief moment, and even when a new person entered the room, than when the communicator stayed in the room.

These results suggest that our dogs “forget” a rule when the immediate person that gives the cue goes away, and demonstrates the importance of the presence of a demonstrator in modulating a dog’s response. These studies by Dr. Kaminski also demonstrate how a dog’s behavior will change according to the attentional state or mood of the person. . “ Dogs apparently did not perceive what they witnessed during demonstrations as being universally applicable. The authors concluded that dogs associate a given piece of information with the person who communicated it,” via Plos-One.

According to Kaminski and Tomasello, “dogs and other animals learn new things by observation and association, nonetheless are able to apply a communicative transmission pathway to transfer a bit of episodic information, which is relevant and important to the current situation.” via Plos-One. This new study by Dr.Kaminski and Tomasello examines how much our canine companions are capable of rule-mediated learning, which predicts a similar performance in different settings, permitting dogs to understand a certain piece of information as a usual norm, and therefore as everyday norms. A similar study done by Dr. Ashton and Dr. Lillo at the University of Leicester can be found at:

How The Study Was Done

In Kaminski and Tomasello’s research that was done in Germany, owners and their dogs attended as volunteers for the study. 39 pet dogs of all different ages and breeds were among those studied with ages ranging from 8 months to 13 years. Testing was done at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. The testing room had a video camera and necessary equipment, which included a Plexiglas wall of 120 cm in height. From this, the dogs were able to observe everything. The Plexiglas wall had a door, which could be opened remotely.

The Experiment

 As reported in Plos-One, 2 plastic dishes were placed diagonally from each on the floor. One was placed 120 cm and the other 350 cm from the Plexiglas door. After luring the dogs, the experimenter positioned herself behind the closest dish, while the dogs stayed behind the Plexiglass.


 Dogs were all pre-trained and knew how to walk through the Plexiglas door. They also were familiar with the 4 locations from where food could be obtained. During the baiting or luring sessions, the dogs began this by starting on the left-hand side, and the experimenter stood in front of the dog showing the treat. She would then walk to the left hand side and stand behind another dish while calling out to the dog using the word “Watch.”

The experimenter would then move her gaze from the dog to the dish in which she placed the treat. She then would walk to the right hand side and do this all over again. The second experimenter changed tactics and baited dogs at both dishes before leaving the room without giving any feedback to the dogs. In this case the dog was free to choose any treat from either of the two plates, without having any human interference. The dog would then choose a plate, and was then brought back through the Plexiglass. There were also demonstration trials in which experimenters stood behind the dishes thus claiming ownership. In this case the experimenter would ban the dog from taking the treat by verbal using communication . When the dog chose the other dish that had no experimenter hovering over it, there was no cueing or interference that took place.


 Testing results demonstrated that the dogs in most cases would be affected by the positioning of the experimenter. Dogs were also much more likely not to choose when the experimenter stayed in the room, than when the experimenter switched. As reported in Plos-One, dogs were also less likely not to choose when the experimenter left and returned, than when she stayed.


 While the sex of a dog showed no effect on whether it would disobey, the age of a dog had an effect. Older dogs were more prone to choosing the forbidden dish.

Placement of Dishes

Dogs also tended to go for the dishes on the right hand side more often, than those placed on the left-hand side.

 According to Plos-One, both Kaminski and Tomasello had given the dogs a command, and wanted to test how prone the dogs were to disobeying that command, when they were near the person giving it. They tested this in two situations.


  • After an interruption of the testing situation
  • In the presence of a new person


They found that when a preferred choice was prohibited, dogs tended not to disobey that rule, if the experimenter stayed in the room near the dog. They also found that when the experimenters switched rooms, that dogs then disobeyed so much more.

“Dogs therefore do generalize what they have learned during demonstrations to some extent to the new situation or person.” via Plos-One. “Our results show that dogs revoked a rule as soon as the communicator was temporarily absent and inattentive. They only anchored it to the communicator after extensive repetitions. It remains unclear whether an interruption made the dogs regard the rule about not taking the nearby dish as invalid, or whether they misinterpreted the posture of the returning person behind the dish as local enhancement, and therefore a new imperative upon which to act.”

Kaminski and Tomasello discuss an earlier study, which demonstrates that dogs regard a rule as being valid, when in the presence of the person giving that rule. Nonetheless, dogs do not generalize that rule to new people that they meet. Kaminski and Tomasello disagree with these findings. “ We conclude that dogs are not able to learn through communicating rules. This is different from young infants, who readily conceive communicated information as conventional and transferable to new contexts and persons, which can be derived from the fact that they correct others who apply an approach that differs from the convention.” via Plos-One.

They also added that a study by Aston and De Lillo suggested that dogs can understand communicated information and rule mediated learning in a spatial search task, but that this did not replace associatively learned knowledge. For more on this article, visit: USDAA


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Woofs & Wags!

Copyright © 2015 by Claudia Bensimoun








New Study Finds Environmental Factors Can Affect The Incidence of Hip Dysplasia

New Study Finds Environmental Factors Can Affect The Incidence of Hip Dysplasia

Claudia Bensimoun

A study by Norwegian researcher Dr. Randy Krontveit at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science indicates that conditions in early puppyhood can affect the appearance or severity of hip dysplasia in genetically predisposed dogs.



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Image Credit: Claudia Bensimoun


Hip dysplasia (HD) in dogs is affected to a larger degree than previously believed by the environment in which puppies grow up. It is particularly during the period from birth to three months that various environmental factors appear to influence the development of this disease. During the puppy stage, preventive measures can therefore be recommended with a view to giving dogs disposed to the condition a better quality of life.

There’s probably no better subject on evidence-based dog health care than the benefits and risks of early-age preventive measures for hip dysplasia. Because hip dysplasia is a hereditary developmental disease in which the hip joint fails to develop properly, determining both the genetic and environmental factors would help eliminate the disease through informed breeding and training practices.

Although hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition, a recent doctoral research study by Krontveit examined the role that environmental factors played in its development. Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease that occurs in other species. Dogs are not born with hip dysplasia, nonetheless some genetically predisposed puppies can develop varying degrees of hip dysplasia .The severity of hip dysplasia has an effect on when the dogs show symptoms of this disease and on how long they tend to live for.

Any dog can develop hip dysplasia, but the condition is most common in large dogs such as Newfoundlands, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Saint Bernard’s and German Shepherd dogs. Previous studies have indicated that rapid growth in a puppy and a high body weight were factors that increased the likelihood of developing hip dysplasia.

Another factor that may influence the development of hip dysplasia in dogs is exercise. Many breeders will advise against exercising a pup to prevent the development of orthopedic conditions. Nonetheless, veterinarians believe that gentle low impact exercise can be beneficial for pups, but that all forced exercise beyond what a puppy would normally do should be avoided. Veterinarians maintain that running should be avoided until a puppy is physically mature, and that puppies should stay away from high impact sports such as jumping/agility. Both of these activities are believed to be traumatic on a puppy’s immature joints.

It turns out that Randi Krontveit’s research indicates that rapid growth and high body weight in the first year of the pup’s life did not result in an increased risk of hip dysplasia. The study finds that the breed with the slowest growth rate-the Newfoundland-had the highest incidence of hip dysplasia.(36%)The Irish Wolfhound had the lowest incidence of hip dysplasia(10%), yet the highest growth rate.

Puppies live together with their mother at the breeder’s for the first eight weeks of their life.Dr.Krontveit found several factors related to the living conditions at the breeder’s were shown to have an influence on the incidence of hip dysplasia. The study suggests that puppies born in the spring or summer and at breeders, who lived on a farm or small holding, had a lower risk of developing hip dysplasia. Then, after about eight weeks, the puppies began a new life with their owners. Through observations, Krontveit confirmed that the opportunity to exercise daily in parks up until the age of three months reduced the risk of hip dysplasia. Whereas the daily use of steps during the same period increased the risk of hip dysplasia. The study reveals that daily exercise outdoors in gently undulating terrain up until the age of three months gives a good prognosis when it comes to preventing hip dysplasia.

Five hundred privately owned dogs participated in this study. The four breeds included were the Newfoundland, the Labrador Retriever, the Leonberger and the Irish Wolfhound. The dogs involved in the research were registered by means of questionnaires that were completed by the breeder and the new owner, as well as by examinations filled out by the veterinarians.

For this study, Krontveit researchers followed up on the dogs until they reached 10 years of age. Researchers found that dogs that were seriously affected with hip dysplasia were euthanized earlier than dogs that had a milder form of hip dysplasia. Newfoundlands and Leonbergers tended to suffer from the more serious forms of hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia did not have such a large effect on the longevity of Labrador Retrievers or Irish Wolfhounds. Krontveit found that serious and moderate degrees of hip dysplasia increased the risk of all hip dysplasia symptoms such as limping and hip pain and that these symptoms occurred the earliest in the Newfoundlands.Labrador Retrievers was the breed in which symptoms appeared much later on in life.

Through observations, Krontveit confirmed that varied exercise had a positive effect and dogs that exercised on a daily basis on a leash, as well as running free in different types of terrain were free of symptoms longer than the dogs that were less active.

She adds that canine hip dysplasia in its most serious forms can be prevented, and that the life quality of dogs improves if preventative measures related to early canine life is introduced.

To obtain more information about this research, please visit: USDAA.

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Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

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Animals. (PETA

As a concerned consumer it’s necessary to study the product labels and confirm that nothing was made in China. China law requires that all products sold in China have to be tested on animals. “In the U.S., tests on animals are permitted, but not required, for cosmetics,” says Nordstrom.To further complicate an already tricky labeling debate, if a product is selling in China like many of the larger cosmetic brands, you will know that your product has been tested on animals. People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),The Humane Society of the United States ,(HSUS) and the National Anti-Vivisection Society, (NAVS) all have an updated list of cruelty-free products. An easy way to spot these products is to look for the Leaping Bunny logo. For more information please visit:

Over the years consumers have gradually migrated towards cruelty-free cosmetics. We’re starting to see a more humane approach to buying cosmetics. Peggy Cunniff, Executive Director of the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) explains that “at first glance, it seems like an easy choice: buy only cruelty-free cosmetics. But this issue is complex and nuanced. Does it automatically make the companies who continue to rely on toxicity testing using animals the “bad guys”? It’s complicated, and your readers deserve the whole story. Some of these companies are responsible for investing millions of dollars in in the development of sophisticated alternative methods that are replacing the use of animals in cosmetics testing and are now being used in other industries.

At the same time, however, they may be developing new products with new or reformulated ingredients or have expansive product lines that include more than cosmetics. These non-cosmetic products may be required to produce safety assurances from traditional animal testing by regulatory agencies. And companies that manufacture or market their products overseas may be required to submit them to animal testing. But smart corporations recognize that people prefer cruelty-free products and have responded to consumer pressure with a significant effort in the development, validation and implementation of innovative alternative methods that are replacing animal testing. These companies recognize that animal tests are costly, time-consuming and at risk of producing misleading results due to important differences between the animal test subjects and humans.”

“The Leaping Bunny is a certification program for personal care and household product companies. It is supported by a coalition of animal advocacy organizations, including NAVS, to provide consumers with information that confirms whether a company is cruelty-free,” explains Peggy Cunniff, Executive Director of the National Anti-Vivisection Society.(NAVS) For more information visit : or You can also contact the company and ask them a few questions such as if they are owned by a parent brand.

All consumers need to become more aware of which products they use on themselves. “Look at your products and see if the brands are listed on the Leaping Bunny. We need to pay attention to the label. For example if you see “not tested on animals” it doesn’t mean that it’s cruelty-free. It might just mean that the company didn’t test the finished product but they might have tested the ingredients. Not all companies licensed the Leaping Bunny logo, so really the best way to know if your products are cruelty-free is to look at the Leaping Bunny list,” explains Pascaline Clerc, PhD, Senior Director, Policy and Advocacy, Animal Research Issues.

We should also turn our attention to what happens to animals that are victims of cosmetic testing. Clerc explains the testing process which was instituted in the 1940s in response to serious injuries suffered by people who were exposed to unsafe beauty products. “ In the Draize eye and skin irritancy tests, chemicals are dropped into the eyes or rubbed into the abraded skin of animals, usually immobilized rabbits. The level of toxicity is determined by how serious the eye or skin have been damaged. In the LD50 tests, animals are forced to eat or inhale various concentrations of a substance to determine how much it takes to kill half of the animals.( hence the name LD50, which stands for lethal dose in 50% of the animals.) While refinements and efforts to reduce the number of animals used in these experiments have been instituted over the years, the suffering of animals and inadequacies of these test methods remain.” Cunniff also adds that today there are many innovative in vitro tests (tests that are conducted without the need for a living organism) for eye irritation, skin irritation, skin sensitization, genetic toxicity, and photo toxicity that have replaced the primitive Draize and LD50 tests and are not only more humane, but are better methods for determining product safety.

To most people, the term “cruelty-free” refers to cosmetics and products that have not been tested on animals. “The European Union, India, Israel and Norway have passed laws banning the testing of cosmetics on all animals. Sao Paolo, Brazil also passed a ban and South Korea has announced that they will be phasing out animal testing of all cosmetics over the next few years. Australia, New Zealand and Brazil also considered the passage of animal testing bans for cosmetics, but the measures did not pass. In the United States, California and New Jersey have bans in place for testing cosmetics on animals, but that does not affect the sale of cosmetics from other states. The U.S. Congress also considered, but did not pass, the Humane Cosmetics Act last year.The National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS) is supporting its reintroduction in 2015,” adds Cunniff.

“Though we’ve made huge progress on ending cosmetic tests on animals, hundreds of thousands of animals every year around the world are still being poisoned and killed in outdated tests on everything from deodorant to window cleaner. These animals spent their lives in small cages, live in constant fear and suffer through painful experiments without anesthesia. Rats, mice, guinea pigs and rabbits are forced to swallow or inhale massive quantities of test substances or endure the pain of having chemicals applied to their sensitive eyes and skin-even though the results of animal tests are often unreliable or not applicable to humans, and there are more modern non-animal safety testing methods, such as computer models and cell and tissue cultures,” explains Nordstrom. “Dogs are no longer used in product testing for cosmetics and personal care products,” adds Nordstrom who is a fan of all cruelty-free brands, personally enjoys Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics lotions because their products are 100% cruelty-free and vegan. She also enjoys LUSH and The Body Shop for body lotions and gels. Nordstrom suggests looking out for PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies that makes shopping for cruelty-free products easy.” For more information visit:

“Through our Beauty Without Bunnies program, PETA certifies companies that manufacture and /or distribute cruelty-free cosmetics, personal- care, and household products. Companies may be certified under two separate designations: The “cruelty-free” certification is for companies that have signed our statement of assurance verifying that their ingredients, formulations, and finished products are never, and will never be, tested on animals by anyone anywhere in the world. The other certification, “ cruelty-free and vegan,” is for cruelty-free companies whose product lines are also completely free of animal-derived ingredients,” says Nordstrom.

If you’re considering shopping for cruelty-free brands like LUSH, The Body Shop, EcoLips, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetic lotions and Blisomma Cosmetics which are the perfect examples of a cruelty-free line, be sure you thoroughly educate yourself on what makes a product cruelty-free. “There is a lot of confusion over terms like “cruelty-free,” “ not tested on animals,” “earth-friendly,” “all natural ” and others because there is no legally recognized definition for these terms.Your best confirmation is to go to the NAVS cruelty-free product guide,” explains Cunniff. For more information, visit

At this point you may be asking yourself- given the fact that many cosmetic products do need to be tested without the use of animals- how do cosmetic companies test a product?

Nordstrom explains that “the best way to determine the safety of a cosmetic product or ingredient is through sophisticated non-animal test methods, not through outdated, unreliable, and cruel tests on animals. Non-animal methods usually take less time to complete than the crude, archaic animal tests that they replace. In addition, they usually cost only a fraction of what animal tests cost and are not affected by species differences that make applying test results to humans difficult or impossible. Effective, affordable, and humane non-animal test methods include in vitro-test tube and computer modeling techniques as well as studies with human volunteers.”

Cruelty-free products like Blissoma and Lush are committed to making sure that no new animal testing is used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or suppliers.

“All Blissoma products are 100% natural and vegetarian, with most products certified vegan. Blissoma controls all aspects of their products’ production. These products are certified cruelty free by the Coalition for Consumer Information on cosmetics and the Blissoma’s ‘Solutions” skincare line earned the “Leaping-Bunny” Logo,” says Julie Longyear, herbal chemist and Founder.

“Consumers have an abundance of products from which to choose from that do not test their products or ingredients on animals and that have assurances from their suppliers that their ingredients have not been tested on animals,” adds Cunniff. She adds that many of the companies that NAVS have identified as cruelty-free already have an inventory of chemicals that are already recognized as safe and don’t need to do any further safety testing. These companies have made it a priority to refrain from animal testing and, in some cases, animal-derived ingredients, in the development, manufacturing and distribution of their products as a core policy.

What’s important is that we all understand the importance of supporting only cruelty-free products. In 2014, thanks to the hard work done by the Humane Society International, India has now implemented a testing and import ban. Today there are more than 1.7 billion people who can buy cruelty-free products from any stores. “The NAVS has invested in the development and implementation of alternative methods that replace the use of animals while working to advance greater respect, compassion and justice for animals. In the United States, some products are actually required by law to be tested on animals. Many of these fall under the purview of the Environmental Protection Act (EPA), for example, and are required to undergo animal testing before being made available. Included in this category would be cleaning products or products that are intended to kill something-such as an anti-fungal, a pesticide, or even flea and tick medicine,” explains Cunniff.

The reality is that when most people become aware of what cruelty-free really means, they’ll be motivated to encourage everyone else to follow suit. Taking a fresh look at where our cosmetics come from, and how they are made, could mean the difference between saving a furry friend, and keeping all our animals free of pain and suffering.

As Clerc says “ I think that we need to teach our kids about treating animals with kindness and respect. The HSUS has a special magazine “Kind News” dedicated to children which tells them stories about animals and the issues that they face and are subject to in our society.” For more information visit:

For more on this article, please visit: Fido Friendly

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Woofs & Wags!


Copyright © 2015 Claudia Bensimoun



Dogs Take on War With Rhino Poachers in Africa

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More than 1000 rhinos were illegally massacred in South Africa in 2014. ‘Triple-role’ sniffer dogs that are trained as anti-poaching dogs, together with their handlers, who are often wildlife conservationists, are trying to save some of the world’s most endangered species at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. The increasing demand in Asia for rhino horn and elephant tusks are responsible for these massacres.



Image Credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Richard Vigne

In Kenya, thanks to White Paw Limited and the deployment of wildlife sniffer dogs, approximately 35 animals were lost last year, or 3% of the population. “We have done quite well to curb poaching, but it has come at a huge cost in terms of manpower and resources. Kenya has also been really successful at curbing poaching of elephants, and is leading the way in Africa on this,” explains Richard Vigne, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. Today Ol Pejeta Conservancy strives to protect all endangered species in Kenya. Situated between the foothills of the Aberdares and the magnificent snow-capped Mount Kenya, this non-profit wildlife conservancy supports endangered species, tourism and community outreach. It is now the largest Black Rhino sanctuary in East Africa, and is also home to southern white rhino’s, and the critically endangered northern white rhino.

Meet Richard Vigne and Daryll Pleasants! White Paw Limited, a UK based company owned by Daryll Pleasance, whose goal is to develop ‘triple role dogs’ and ultimately put an end to poaching. Vigne adds, “These are animals with a variety of skills. Dogs are actually a new area for conservationists such as myself. We believe that properly trained and deployed dogs can act as a significant deterrent to poachers, as well as helping us to cut the costs of enforcing the security needed to protect rhinos and elephants across this part of Kenya.”

“Dogs are trained under the supervision of White Paw Limited, a UK based company owned by Daryll Pleasance. We aim to develop so-called ‘triple role dogs’ -these are animals with a variety of skills including trackers, search (ivory, rhino horn, ammunition, explosives,) patrol and assault,” explains Pleasance. The Black Rhino is extremely endangered, and conservationists are doing all they can to protect these ‘valuable’ animals from extinction.

Kenya and South Africa have enthusiastically embraced sniffer dogs for increased security against poachers. These anti-poaching dogs together with the rangers are putting their lives on the line, covering an area of 360 square kilometers, where organized crime syndicates are using military equipment, and taking rhino and elephant poaching to a whole new level.

“This is a crisis that is driven primarily by demand for rhino horn and elephant ivory from the Far East. Despite the fact that it is made up of keratin, the same substance that makes up our finger nails, and has no medicinal properties whatsoever, rhino horn is used in traditional medicines to “cure” all sorts of ailments including fever, headaches and hangovers. The use of rhino horn in Vietnam, which is now the largest consumer of this commodity in the world, is seen as a status symbol that is used to seal business deals. Ivory by contrast is used mainly for the emerging middle class. As a result of demand for horn and ivory increasing so much in recent years, their market value now exceeds that of gold and cocaine. It is this price that is driving poor people in Africa and other parts of the world to poach elephants and rhinos,” explains Vigne.


Image Credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Richard Vigne & Daryll Pleasants

A typical day for these dogs means going out each day for exercise and training. “Increasingly we are using them on anti-poaching operations both during the day and at night.” These brave anti- poaching dogs are fed with top of the range, expensive dog food imported form the UK. They also get meat and milk. Most of the dogs are approaching two years of age, with the exception of their original dog, Tarzan who is approximately five years old. Training starts when these pups are six months old. Pleasance adds that using dogs to fight the illegal rhino horn and elephant ivory trade is a new area for conservationists like himself. “We believe that properly trained and deployed dogs can act as a significant deterrent to poachers, as well as helping to cut costs of enforcing the security needed to protect the rhinos and elephants across Kenya.”

Some countries are seeing their elephant populations being reduced by as much as 50% in the last three years. Vigne explains that saving our wildlife worldwide will depend on our ability to curb demand in the Far East. “ Without that this war will continue and it will be lost in many countries across the African continent. Already some countries are seeing their elephant populations being reduced by as much as 50% in the last three years. The northern white rhino, of which Ol Pejeta holds the last remaining three potentially reproductive individuals, is on the point of extinction.”


Image Credit: Ol Pejeta Conservancy

To learn more about the best places to stay in Kenya, please visit:

Ol Pejeta needs your support done via Tusk Trust. To learn more about how you can support wildlife conservation, visit:

White Paw Training

 White Paw Dog Training in partnership with Ol Pejeta has developed ‘triple role dogs’ whose main role is to seek out a poaching scene rapidly, and then begin tracking the poachers. These dogs are able to disarm the poachers by attacking the arm that holds the weapon. All the dogs are capable of operating in the darkness, and one trained dog is able to do the work of a 70-person search team. Darryl Pleasants of White Paw Training works together with Ol Pejeta in their fight against poaching. This ten-year plan aims to provide the entire northern Kenya with trained handlers and dogs.

“I recognize every dog as an individual with individual needs. By following a tailored program my aim is simple: To gain results through kindness and a clear understanding of a dogs thinking and background whilst giving you as an owner the lifelong skills needed to affect positive change.” For more on this article, visit: Fido Friendly.

Daryll Pleasants

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Woofs & Wags!


Copyright © 2015 Claudia Bensimoun



Korea’s Dog Meat Trade

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Woofs & Wags!