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So the Kids Want a Dog for Christmas. Is Adopting One a Good Idea?
By Sharon Elber
You may have heard that giving a pet for Christmas is just a bad idea. Although many people believe this myth, according to the ASPCA, 86 percent of adopted pets given as gifts stay in their new homes. These success rates are actually slightly higher than average adoption/rehoming rates. So, if done well, giving an adopted pet as a Christmas gift can work out.
However, to increase the odds that you will find a good fit for your family and will be ready for the challenges of pet adoption during a busy time of year for many, consider the following tips before you sign the dotted line and commit to opening your home to an adopted dog this holiday season.
1. The right fit is more important than the right time.
One mistake to avoid when deciding to rescue a dog over the holidays is to force the timing while compromising on the right fit for your lifestyle. Important considerations like breed mix and/or personality type can be neglected as families rush to adopt and make a selection from the limited options available at that specific time.
The holidays are a busy time for animal shelters which can cause the selection of dogs to wane in the weeks leading up to Christmas in particular. It is a mistake to adopt a dog simply to check the box. Instead, carefully consider your family's lifestyle and work with a shelter and/or foster and breed rescue groups in your area to find a canine companion with the right personality, exercise needs and training requirements for your family.
Consider offering an "Adopt a Dog" coupon if you can't find the right fit in time for the big day. This will give your children the excitement of knowing a new furry addition to the family is on the way, while also offering the benefit of getting them involved in the selection process. Dog toys in advance of your new dog's arrival also make great stocking stuffers.
2. Make sure to budget for post adoption expenses.
The adoption fee often covers the cost of any vaccinations and/or spay/neutering that your rescued dog has already had prior to adoption. However, it is important to schedule a vet visit within a few weeks of your adoption, make sure your new family member is up to date on vaccines, and cover the initial cost of monthly medications such as heartworm and flea/tick prevention. These costs can easily mount to $300 or more, so be sure your post-holiday budget has room for these costs.
In addition, you will have food, toys and bedding costs that always spike when adopting a new dog. Allow for these costs as well or incorporate them into your other gift purchases this year.
3. Build a holiday schedule that accounts for the needs of your new pet.
Rehoming is generally a stressful time for animals in the rescue system. Often unsure if they have found a permanent home or just another temporary location, dogs can be prone to developing anxiety issues if transitions are not handled with care.
If you have holiday travel plans, it might be better to wait until the new year to adopt. Bringing a dog home only to drop them off at the kennel a few days later is not the best idea for your new pet. Instead, plan a "staycation" if you adopt a dog this holiday season and make sure to schedule time for dog-focused events such as extra walks, training sessions and fun games like fetch and tug.
4. Get the kids involved in the care of your new pet.
Depending on your child's age, taking on some level of responsibility for the care and training of the new member of your family is critical. This helps them to learn valuable lessons about caring for animals, responsibility, as well as offering a chance to build a human/animal bond built on trust and respect.
For example, children ages 3 - 5 years old can assist with daily care routines such as feeding, checking water and walking your dog. Older children can participate in training sessions and take on more responsibilities like joining in on puppy classes. Dogs need daily exercise and mental stimulation, so consider creating a responsibility calendar for kids so everyone in the household has a part in caring for your pet.
5. Look beyond the shelter for adoptable dogs.
Finally, if you visit the shelter and don't find the dog you are looking for, do some research to locate other adoption options in your community. For example, there are many breed rescue organizations devoted to saving particular dog breeds from kill shelters, puppy mills and abandonment. In addition, many communities have networks of volunteers devoted to fostering dogs until they find their forever homes that you may find on social networks or by a basic internet search.
One big advantage of going through these volunteer organizations before adopting a dog for Christmas is that they have direct experience living with the dog in a home setting. This means they can speak honestly and knowledgeably about any special needs, compatibility with other pets in the household, or suitability for your family's lifestyle, dog friendly amenities (such as a fenced yard), and dog ownership experience.
Giving your kids an adopted dog at Christmastime is about more than watching their faces light up with joy when they receive their new pet. With a little planning and consideration, you can make sure your adopted dog is a good fit for your family so that the joy your new pet bring extends way beyond the holiday season.
Sharon Elber is a professional dog trainer and a writer at WileyPup, a website that provides information about canine health, nutrition, breeds, training and products.
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In a pilot study at the University of Helsinki, dogs trained as medical diagnostic assistants were taught to recognize the previously unknown odor signature of the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus. And they learned with astonishing success: After only a few weeks, the first dogs were able to accurately distinguish urine samples from COVID-19 patients from urine samples of healthy individuals.
Important Findings for Other Teams<p>The very rapid and promising findings from Finland are also important for other research teams, such as those in Great Britain and France, who are training sniffer dogs to detect COVID-19.</p><p>Fellow researchers from the <a href="http://assistenzhunde-zentrum.de/index.php/news/covid-19-hunde" target="_blank">German Assistance Dog Center (TARSQ)</a> have also benefited from the Finnish results.</p><p>"No one could tell us with certainty whether training with the aggressive virus is <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/dutch-house-pets-test-positive-for-coronavirus/a-53460111" target="_blank">dangerous or not for humans and dogs</a>. We wanted to gather more information first before we started training because the German virologists advised us against it — after all, so little is known about the virus so far," explains Luca Barrett from TARSQ.</p>
Where Does the Characteristic Smell Come From?<p>It is still unclear which substances in urine produce the apparently characteristic COVID-19 odor. Since SARS-CoV-2 not only attacks the lungs, but also causes damage to blood vessels, kidneys and other organs, it is assumed that the patients' urine odor also changes. This is something which the dogs, with their highly sensitive olfactory organs, notice immediately.</p><p>Certain diseases appear to have a specific olfactory signature that trained dogs can sniff out with amazing accuracy, Barrett says.</p><p>"According to one study, dogs can detect breast cancer with a 93% probability, for example. And lung cancer with a 97% probability," she says.</p><p>But dogs can also identify skin cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer or prostate cancer very reliably, according to Barrett. "The hit rate, which was not so good in the early days of training, has risen enormously in recent years," she says.</p>
Hit Rate Decisive<p>Besides cancer, the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dog-makes-1-million-drug-bust/a-53433307" target="_blank">dogs</a> can also detect Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's sufferers smell different even years before they have the disease. "That's how we came up with the idea of training dogs as an early warning system for Parkinson's," Barrett says.</p><p>Dogs are also trained to detect malaria, but the hit rate is not yet satisfactory, she says. So far, the dogs recognize seven out of 10 infected persons, which is not enough.</p><p>A high hit rate is, of course, also absolutely necessary when training for the aggressive SARS-CoV-2 pathogen, according to Barret. "We hope that the hit rate for the coronavirus is significantly higher in the fully trained dogs; after all, it would be very dangerous if COVID-19 were not detected," she says</p>
Trained Tracking Dogs<p>Dogs' ability to smell is about a million times better than that of humans. Humans have about 5 million olfactory cells, compared with 125 million for dachshunds and 220 million for sheepdogs.</p><p>Dogs also inhale up to 300 times per minute in short breaths, meaning that their olfactory cells are constantly supplied with new odor particles. In addition, dogs' noses differentiate between right and left. This spatial sense of smell allows the animals to follow a trail more easily.</p><p>During the training sessions, the dogs — mostly Labrador retrievers or retrievers in general, but also cocker spaniels or sheepdog breeds — are each trained for one scent. That can be the smell of a drug or an explosive, or, as here, the olfactory signature of a specific disease.This means that one dog cannot recognize several types of cancer.</p><p>The animals are trained with containers holding samples of breath or sweat, for example. As soon as they have identified the smell they are looking for, the dogs hear a click and get a treat. They are reliably trained for the one smell on this reward principle.</p>
Great Potential, Great Skepticism<p>Drug and explosive detection dogs have been used for some time. But trained medical scent detection dogs are also now working in hospitals. For example, they sniff the bodies of patients with suspected skin cancer to try and detect the disease — only with the patients' consent, of course. So these skilled snufflers are helping doctors in diagnosing diseases and detecting them early on.</p><p>However, so far there are only very few medical detection dogs. The dog owners almost always work voluntarily and the trained sniffer dogs live in normal households. There is great skepticism, especially among traditional doctors and health insurance companies, even though the first indications given by the dog have to be followed by further medical tests anyway and a lot of time and costs could be saved by early cancer detection.</p>
Possible Coronavirus Applications<p>If the findings from Finland are confirmed, the sniffer dogs with their extremely sensitive sense of smell could prove to be a great help in the fight against the new coronavirus.</p><p>Luca Barrett from TARSQ can easily picture coronavirus sniffer dogs being used in situations where there is a high risk of infection. For example, people attending football matches and other major events could be checked before they are admitted.</p><p>The dogs could also be employed at airports to scan people entering a country. "When the dogs go down the queue, they can detect if someone is healthy and can enter the country. But if a person smells of COVID-19, the handler could send that person to a coronavirus testing center instead," Barrett says. That is because a second test is still needed to confirm the dog's initial sniff detection.</p><p><span></span>Barrett says dogs could also be used to search for the virus on surfaces. For example, before passengers board an aircraft, a four-legged friend could first check whether the machine is free from SARS-CoV-2. Similar measures are planned for doctors' surgeries, aged care homes or nursing homes that have had to be evacuated because of COVID-19 cases. Before these are used again, a sniffer dog could check whether the environment is "clean."</p>
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