L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Training & Behavior

Will 'canine disarming' procedure help Cotton, a severely aggressive dog?

Cotton, an American Eskimo dog who underwent an experimental dental procedure

Diane Krieger's dog, Cotton, has a problem: aggression so severe that nothing, including an assist from "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan, seemed to help. Krieger tried a litany of suggestions from experts to help Cotton, a 6-year-old American Eskimo, stop biting -- St. John's wort-type supplements designed to soothe him, desensitization training, a low-protein diet, even pepper spray -- but with little success. 

Faced with few options and desperate to do anything to avoid euthanizing Cotton, Krieger recently turned to a controversial dental procedure termed "canine disarming." The Times followed Cotton as he underwent the procedure and created this informative photo gallery on the subject.

According to Dr. David Nielsen, the South Bay veterinary dentist who performed the procedure on Cotton, disarming is accomplished by "doing a laser vital pulpotomy at the level of the canines. This takes away the slicing, knife effect of the canines and makes them blunt trauma instruments. We also reduce and blunt the incisors, further lessening the bite effect."  

The American Veterinary Medical Assn. opposes disarming on the grounds that it doesn't address underlying behavior issues that cause dogs to bite. The American Veterinary Dental College grudgingly accepts the use of the procedure in "selected cases," The Times reported.

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Cats and string: It's a tangled relationship after all

Kitty2Sorry, cat people. Although your pets of choice are independent, clean and able to use a litter box, dogs have at least one leg-up on them: They're more able to understand the concept of cause-and-effect. Or so says psychology lecturer Britta Osthaus, who recently conducted a study on cats' thought processes using 15 feline subjects.

To test the cats, Osthaus and two graduate students attached treats like fish to pieces of string and hung them below a plastic screen.  (In this way, the cats could see the treats but were unable to reach them.)  Would the cats, she wondered, be able to figure out that they could pull the treats closer to themselves by pulling on the end of the string?

The answer: Sort of.  When the cats were presented with just one "baited" string, they were able to make the connection between string and snack, the Guardian reported.  But when Osthaus and her team made things trickier, the cats were unable to keep up.

To increase the difficulty of the task, the team added "decoy" strings, without treats attached. Now the cats had to choose between two strings, one with and one without a treat, either parallel to each other or crossed.  Faced with two strings, none of the cats were able to consistently choose the one connected to the treat.  (Most of them chose the correct string at least part of the time, but interestingly, one cat chose incorrectly each time he was presented with the crossed-string test.)

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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 42: Doggie "stage moms" write in

Heidi Head ShotThis is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

Last week, "Heidi Chronicles" readers learned about the late Ginger the Wonder Dog, an ordinary house pet who became a working actor under the guidance of Michele Boardman of Mar Vista (and thanks, Michele, for adding your sweet comments about "Ginge"). 

Today, we hear from the stage moms of two other house dogs, one on the East Coast, the other on the West, who like Ginger managed to find some success in the industry. Both of them wrote to me after reading the saga of Heidi's showbiz quest in the print edition of the Times. It's comforting to know that I'm not the only dog parent out there who is certifiably insane.

GabyFirst, meet Gaby (left), a 5 1/2-pound toy poodle owned by Judy Garland of Hermosa Beach ("No, I couldn't name my dog 'Toto,' she says). In my opinion, Gaby is on the fast track to portray Albert Einstein's dog.

 While Gaby's resume (note to self: get Heidi a resume) includes such impressive credentials as two Doritos commercials, appearances on Style Network, Access Hollywood and Animal Planet's "Groomer Has It," Garland describes their Hollywood adventure as "dog eat dog." She says she found most of Gaby's jobs through networking and, surprisingly, www.craigslist.com. She notes that professional union trainers look down on house dogs as "the great unwashed."

"This life of finding work for our cherished four-legged companions is more than difficult and ... quite expensive," she writes. "Plus there is a large demand for owners who look like their pets.... I went to one call and ended up literally cutting my hair to look like my Gaby."

If you still have that photo, Judy, please send. Meanwhile, to see little Gaby at work, check out her gender-bending performance as a "homeless boy dog" on this Pet Spa commercial.

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An unlikely candidate for 'world's meanest dog': The English cocker spaniel?

English cocker spaniel The seemingly sweet-natured English cocker spaniel may be the world's most aggressive dog breed, according to a new study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

For the study, researchers at Spain's School of Veterinary Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona crunched data related to more than 1,000 dog aggression cases logged at an area veterinary teaching hospital during the period of 1998-2006. 

Of those cases, English cockers ranked the worst, followed by Rottweilers, boxers, Yorkshire terriers and German shepherd dogs.  Discovery News has the details:

Probing the data further, [the study's lead author, Marta Amat] and her team discovered that English cocker spaniels were more likely than other dogs to act aggressively toward their owners as well as unfamiliar people. In contrast, dogs with reported behavior problems from other breeds tended to act aggressively toward other dogs. Among the English cocker spaniels, golden varieties and males were found to be the most hostile. ...

In terms of coat color, Amat explained that the coat pigment melanin shares a common biochemical pathway with dopamine and other brain chemicals involved in the control of aggressive behavior.

The results of the study mirror the findings of an earlier research team, also from Spain, conducted by scientists at the University of Cordoba.  That study also found that male and golden-colored English cockers had a higher incidence of aggressive behavior than females or English cockers with other coat colors.

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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 41: Ginger the Wonder Dog

Heidi Head Shot This is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

By chance, I've discovered something about "The Heidi Chronicles": When I mention the name of a celebrity, the chapter tends to get picked up by more blogs and websites than when I don't. 

To that end, I'd like to mention just a handful of the major luminaries who have not met, or perhaps even heard of, Heidi: Miley Cyrus, Kris Allen, Paris Hilton, Sean Penn, Conan O'Brien, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Octomom, Miss California and all of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Ginger logo There is, however, a lesser-known star that Heidi and I almost met, and regret having missed: Ginger the Wonder Dog.

From the first day of Heidi's studio training with Sue DiSesso of Animal Actors 4 Hire, we heard about Sue's former client, Ginger, a cute Red Merle Australian shepherd owned by Michele Boardman of Mar Vista. Like me, Michele is a regular person who decided to see if her pet could make it in Hollywood. And Ginger did, becoming one of the few privately owned dogs to work consistently in the biz, appearing on "Murphy Brown," "Seinfeld" and in variety shows and commercials. Ginger died in January, at age 15.

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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 37: 'Frasier's' Moose: 'An actor, not a dog'

Heidi Head Shot This is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

Though you may not believe it, I don't devote all of my time to Heidi's career. In my dual identity as an arts writer for Calendar, I recently had the pleasure of interviewing actor John Mahoney about his role in the Conor McPherson play "The Seafarer," which opens Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse.

We talked about the theat-ah -- about the joys of live performance and playing King Lear. But amid all this heady discussion, I couldn't resist asking Mahoney about one of TV's most famous dogs: Moose,  the Jack Russell terrier who played Eddie on the long-running sitcom "Frasier." Moose portrayed Eddie -- who belonged to Mahoney's character, retired cop Marty Crane -- for the first eight of the show's 11 seasons, and was replaced by his lookalike son, Enzo, for the final three.

What he said gave me paws -- I mean, pause -- about breaking Heidi into Hollywood.

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WebClawer: Cesar Millan's advice to the Obamas, Puppy Bowl announcer Harry Kalas dies, U.K. cat chooses vegetarian diet

Cesar Millan at Dog Whisperer headquarters From Bo the First Dog to an unusual U.K. cat, animals are making headlines all over the world today.  These are a few of the stories that grabbed our attention:

-- Dog Whisperer (and new U.S. citizen) Cesar Millan has some words of wisdom for the Obama family as they get settled with their new Portuguese water dog puppy, Bo.  "The best piece of advice I can give the Obama family is wisdom passed down from my grandfather: Never work against Mother Nature," Millan said. "Fulfill your dog's inborn needs -- exercise, discipline, affection, in that order -- and you will have the foundation for a balanced human-canine relationship."  Millan also singled out Malia Obama, saying he was "impressed to hear [she] had done her research in advance."  (People Pets)

-- Sportscaster Harry Kalas died today at age 73.  Kalas was undoubtedly best known as the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies; he also narrated NFL films and radio broadcasts.  But animal lovers may be more familiar with his work on another "sporting" event: Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl.  "Players come and go, but 'Outta here!' -- that's forever," said Scott Franzke, a Phillies radio broadcaster.  (L.A. Times)

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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 33: an entourage of one

HeidiThis is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

Every now and then, I troll the Internet to see whether starlet Heidi has gotten any more Web-famous since I last checked; usually, she hasn't.

But every once in a while, one of the Heidi Chronicles chapters will turn up on various dog-related websites.  Several dog health sites picked up on the installment discussing Heidi's occasional acupuncture treatments for hip and elbow dysplasia, typical joint problems for large breed dogs.  Another handful of Hollywood websites were interested in our observations on whether the threat of a screen actors' strike might affect dog actors too.

And one plug for a Utah orthodontist -- who apparently treats humans -- ended up in the "comments" section on a "Heidi" chapter about the "snarl device," a little gizmo that can be placed in a dog's mouth to bare the teeth and create the illusion of anger, apparently because I described the thing as looking like a child's retainer. No word as to whether the dog connection resulted in increased business for Dr. Jamey C. Watson.

I particularly enjoyed the acupuncture mention on the website Dog Tails: Dog News From Around the Globe, which gives Heidi a certain showbiz panache by referring to her as the "German Shepherd Celebrity Dog."

Still, the reason I know Heidi is famous, or at least getting there, is that she has an entourage.

Her name is Layla.

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The Heidi Chronicles Chapter 32: Smelling a rat in Hollywood

HeidiThis is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

As Heidi is discovering, breaking into show business can't always be as glamorous as her recent visit to Jim Henson Studios or landing a walk-on in "Annie" at the Kodak Theatre. Sometimes -- and, some might argue, most of the time -- Hollywood is just about rats.

While she usually a perfectly behaved darling, Heidi has a problem with distractions, particularly small animals such as squirrels, or not-quite-so-small animals, such as the skunk she went after two days before her stage debut at the Kodak.  "Stay" means nothing to her when something fast and furry has entered the picture.

HeidiA stage or screen dog must learn to ignore distractions, however attractive.  So to her most recent training session, Heidi's trainer, Sue DiSesso, brought along Sweetie, an affectionate six-month old gray rat, so we could train Heidi not to chase her like a living chew toy.

Who knows what that dog is sniffing at on her walks when she dives her nose into the ivy or stares up the trunk of a palm tree, but to the best of my knowledge, Sweetie was the first rat Heidi had ever met on a professional basis.

In fact, the closest Heidi had come to a Hollywood rat was her recent encounter with the Mouse, the industry insider's name for the Walt Disney Co. As Heidi's fans may recall, Heidi was invited -- sort of -- to a screening of "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" on the Disney studio lot in Burbank. While waiting for the show to start, she took an unauthorized stroll through the lobby of the Animation Building, where she had her picture taken -- sort of -- with the world's most famous rodent, Mickey (this photo probably ensures that Heidi will not be invited back).

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The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 30: Dog star hounded by playwright

HeidiThis is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Times staff writer Diane Haithman. And this is her “head shot”: That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

It has come to my attention that not everyone is as pleased by Heidi's show business success as I am.

I've failed to prepare Heidi for this sorry aspect of the entertainment industry. Along with training our girl to sit, stay and speak, I should have warned her about the many sharks she will encounter, flashing their fins in that murky sea called Hollywood. They are predatory creatures, blindly following show biz' 10th Commandment: Thou shalt not get ahead before I do, especially if thou happeneth to be a dog.

That rule also extends to the theater community, where devoted people spend more time making less money than they might in Hollywood. I was dining recently with playwright Susan Rubin, artistic director of Indecent Exposure Theater Company, when I casually mentioned that Heidi was making her stage debut at the Kodak Theatre, in "Annie" -- you know, that really big theater built especially to accomodate Heidi's very good friends Dustin, Meryl, Angelina and Denzel at the Academy Awards.

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