News and insights from special guests—from experts to enthusiasts.
Jill Breitner is a dog trainer with a mission: to make us aware of how dogs communicate by showing us how to “read” them. She developed her Dog Decoder app to do just that.
A helpful and handy primer on canine body language, it demonstrates the ways dogs let us know they’re scared, excited, cautious, willing and so forth. As Breitner explains, “If we understood what dogs try so hard to tell us, there would be fewer people bitten and fewer dogs ending up in shelters.” The app highlights 60 different poses/situations; each one (“butt sniff,” for example) comes with a helpful description that points out some common misconceptions, or the circumstances in which a dog will exhibit it.
A great tool for newbie dog people and those of us who need to brush up on dog talk. dogdecoder.com
“Do As I Do” scores high
A rambunctious five-year-old Labrador Retriever who until a few months ago knew not a word of any language, obeyed no command, charged around the house or zipped through any hole in the fence before one could utter the name he didn’t seem to recognize has become my 91-year-old mother’s great and constant companion. He sits or lies by her when she is sitting or lying down. He moves with her when she goes somewhere with her walker and when she tells him to give her clear passage. He accompanies her when she walks around the pool for exercise. She says, “He is a good boy.” My mother has never trained a dog. She had a nice trained dog once, but she had been trained by someone else and given to her.
But Rocky, as he was named by my mother’s granddaughter, received no formal instruction from any source. He was neutered, which helped slow him down, but more profoundly, he and she opted for companionship and accommodation over ignoring each other. She talks to him constantly, telling him what she wants him to do. If she praises him, she is not effusive. She may occasionally slip him some food when she is cooking, and he will if given a chance steal her breakfast bagel. There is no system to it, but there is consistency.Top of Form
More than a few dog trainers who follow behaviorist principles that require a stimulus, a reward or punishment, for learning to occur would argue that Rocky is untrained—that is that he still will not perform on command the actions demanded of him—except he comes when called. He moves when told. He tells my mother when someone is at the door and stands by her when she opens it, thereby providing at least the illusion of protection. If that is not training, what is it?
My friend and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff (“Animal Emotions”), might call the process dog teaching or dog learning.
It might not be as quick or as systematic as one of the common schools of training, including those that use electric collars and choke chains and those that rely on clickers and food rewards or other positive re-enforcers. But then again the results might be quicker, deeper, and longer lasting.
I have seen no statistics on the numbers of dogs educated in this fashion, but I imagine it is substantial. Essentially it relies on the dog’s innate curiosity, desire to please, and recognized ability to imitate behavior and recognize words and emotions, traits which arguably thousands of years of living with humans have served to enhance. It also requires the human have an interest in being with the dog and interacting with him or her in a meaningful way—what used to be referred to as “quality time” with the hound. Praise and rewards are meted out more according to the person’s nature than any program or schedule. They do not have to involve food. Our Kelpie Katie was unmotivated by food—she would ignore food rewards—but when a tennis ball appeared she went on high alert. Even then the ball was not essential to her learning something.
This intuitive style of dog teaching is not without its intellectual underpinnings thanks initially to Edward Tolman in the first half of the last century. He proposed that learning had intrinsic value and that people and animals could learn in the absence of immediate rewards—latent learning it is called. That idea underpins what is called the social theory of learning, which also views learning as a social endeavor that can involve imitation of behavior that is demonstrated or verbally described.
In an article in the January 28, issue of Applied Animal (Behaviour Science, entitled “Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the “Do as I do” method and the shaping/clicker training method to train dogs,” Claudia Fugazza and Ádám Miklósi of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, look at a canine system of social learning that relies on the dog’s great capacity for imitation called Do As I Do (DAID) compared with clicker training, which relies on the timely delivery of rewards to employ the dog’s associative abilities in shaping its behavior. (The article is only available by subscription, but here is the Abstract.) The clicker becomes a stand-in (secondary re-enforcer) for the actual re-enforcer, usually food. Clicker training is individualized instruction that requires the dog to figure out what earns rewards.
Fugazza, a graduate student in ethology developed Do As I Do in order to study social learning in dogs. To do that she had to develop protocols for teaching them. Judging from its success, it should gain a wide following. In this method, trainers, usually the dog’s primary human companion, use standard reward-based techniques to teach the dog to associate a small number of gestures with the command, “Do It!” The dog is then shown a new task and taught to perform it upon being given that command.
For this study, Fugazza and Miklósi compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks of increasing complexity, from knocking over a glass (simple) to opening or closing a locker or drawer (complex task) to a sequence of actions, like hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a locker and removing a purse (compound). Objects were involved in each task that were not considered part of the family dog’s normal repertoire so that mastery of the task could be construed as learning. In the simple task there was no difference in performance between clicker-trained dogs and Do As I Do dogs, but that changed as the tasks became more difficult. Do As I Do dogs performed noticeably better, with more of them learning the task in the allotted fifteen minutes than clicker-trained dogs.
No one knows how the dogs are making the connections, and in their conclusion Fugazza and Miklósi thought it more important to downplay that result in favor, Miklósi said in an email, of providing trainers with as many methods as possible so they can choose the one best suited to their needs.
That is a tactical decision rather than a scientific one. It is grounded in the recognition that, especially commercial dog trainers and trainers of working and service dogs, like to use what has worked for them in the past with the kind of dog on which it has worked. That is one reason punishment-based forms of dog training persist.
For home schooling, time, patience, devotion—and a daily reminder of who has the big brain—are the keys to success and those come from discipline we often need more than the dog.
Used with permission of Mark Derr and Psychology Today, see more from Mark Derr’s blog “Dog’s Best Friend.”
This past weekend, I attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. A conference described as “4 Days, 2,000 People, 1 Question: How Can We Live With Wisdom, Awareness and Compassion in the Digital Age?”
The answer is simple. Dogs.
That sounds like a biased answer coming from the president of Humane Society Silicon Valley. Except it didn’t come from me.
During the opening session, Wisdom 2.0 founder Soren Gordhamer highlighted how individual attendees answered the question, “What Most Inspires You?” When the words ‘my dog’ popped up on the big screen, more than a few knowing chuckles came from the audience.
And the evidence kept mounting.
· Facebook Director of Engineering, Arturo Behar, launched his presentation of ‘Putting Wisdom into Practice’ by showing a picture of Churro, his Siberian Husky puppy. The 2,000 people in attendance responded with a collective ‘Awwwww.’
· Instagram Director of Product, Peter Deng, discussed ‘Applied Mindfulness’ and said, “If you want to insert mindfulness into your busy life, the best way to start the day is with a cute dog.”
· Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wanted to deliver more happiness to employees at the new Zappos campus. He solicited employees for their input during construction. Some asked for an onsite gym, others an onsite library, some even requested an onsite pub. But the biggest request, by far, was onsite Doggy Daycare.
· Google VP of People, Karen May, interviewed Eckhart Tolle, one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time. May originally met Tolle a few years ago when seated next to him at a dinner. She figured that since Tolle is so spiritually lofty, he couldn’t possibly carry a technology device like the rest of us. And then he whipped out his iPhone to show her a picture of his dog. “That’s when I knew he was human,” she said.
Tolle continued to discuss why being overly absorbed in our minds keeps us from enjoying life. We get so wrapped up in our thoughts that we miss the moment. He warned that if we allow our connection to technology to take over, we could become completely disconnected to the life within us and around us. If we keep our minds so preoccupied with the next email, the next text, the next Facebook post, we will never be present for one another nor ourselves.
That would be such a tragedy! Because being present is a wonderful gift. When we give pure attention without any intention, it creates true relationship because intuitively, we know that we are not being judged. That’s where dogs (and cats) come into the picture. Tolle also talked about why so many of us love animals, and how it’s not necessarily the reason most of us think—the unconditional love they provide. When you look into the eyes of a dog or cat, you feel really alert. For a moment, it frees you from your mind. You not only sense the beingness; you recognize it. The real reason we love dogs and cats is that we love the consciousness that shines through. And when we acknowledge that consciousness, it arises in us.
And we become present.
Which brings me back to the original question asked by the conference description. How do we live with wisdom, compassion, and awareness in the digital age? From the sessions I’ve highlighted, I think it’s fair to say, that for many people, having animals in our lives is part of the answer.
And I couldn’t agree more! Animals, for those of us who resonate with them, are an entry point to living in the moment. And in the face of technology and the multitude of devices that are constantly pulling us out of the present—and out of our lives—dogs (and cats) are one of the few ways we can easily be pulled back in.
We are impressed and amused by the lengths this pup goes to convince his unwitting new pal to share his bag of chips. We have no trouble seeing any one of Bark dogs going to similar extents to "share" a snack.
Pub Dogs was written and animated by Ant Blades of London's Bird Box Studios. Check out the Bird Box Studio YouTube channel for more of Blade's delightful shorts.
There are claw marks on every door in the house. The deep grooves etched in the living room windowsills were there when we moved in seven years ago. My husband said he imagined the dog of the previous homeowners eagerly welcoming them home by tap-dancing on the glass. Rather than caulk over the marks or replace the window frames, we let them be, expecting our own pack to add their signatures.
When we pull up in the driveway, we listen for the distinctive, joyous barks. They’re home, they’re home! Jolie the Dalmatian, usually so dainty and gentle, pops up in the window to perform her welcome home song and dance, as if it were a stage and she had just downed Red Bull in her dressing room. Ginger Peach the Dutch Shepherd joins the show, paws braced against the windowsill as she emphatically tosses her head back with each staccato note.
We never see Darby the Queen, our eldest Dalmatian, but there is no mistaking her growly trills. They start low and grumbly, deep in her chest, then scale a full octave as the notes flow from her throat and escape her clenched embouchure, cheeks puffing out like little bagpipes.
The poor Border Collie, Magnum, and cats Cricket and Bruiser Bear, take cover, unsure of their place in the chorus. Or perhaps they’re overcome by stage fright. Housebound, they reluctantly serve as captive audience to this musical spectacular.
I wonder how our little Zoo Baby will respond when his dad comes home from work and the show begins. Will he be like my friend’s two-year-old grandson, who happily barks at the window alongside his canine co-stars when she arrives? He goes so far as to giddily lick her face, perfectly mimicking the enthusiastic greetings of the pack.
Or will the explosion of energy overwhelm him? Will he seek comfort from me, clambering into my lap with his hands over his ears? Or will he bound off stage to his room, finding solace with the quivering cats and Border Collie?
Perhaps he will do as his mama does and smile at the happy chaos.
Read Zoo Baby: Part 1
This video is the story of Rufo, a pit bull mix who, though loving and sweet, could not get adopted. He was deposited at a muncipal shelter at age one. For the next six years he lived in a cage twenty two hours a day.
Now adopted and one of our Smiling Dogs in our new issue. Rufo has many reasons to be smiling now.
As my Twitter bio says, I’m interested in your dog’s urine. I’m not kidding around here. For a recent Animal Behavior class, I buddied up with a doggie daycare and followed dogs on their afternoon walks. Yes. I was that person walking around NYC with a hand held camera, trailing dogs and video taping them as they peed.
This wasn’t a hypothesis testing experiment, I was simply trying to gauge what parts of urination were easily measured in a naturalistic context. I checked out things like urination duration, urine placement, leg position, leg height, tail position and post-pee scratching. If another dog was present, I got to see whether there was any over-marking (peeing on another dog’s pee) or adjacent marking (peeing nearby). I was just measuring stuff as you often do when starting to investigate why animals do what they do.
I’m not the only researcher interested in your dog’s urine. Patricia Yang and colleagues at The Georgia Institute of Technology have a similar interest in measuring things that might seem odd to measure. They’ve submitted the abstract The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet to the Annual Fluid Dynamics Conference held by the American Physical Society in late November.
Using “high-speed videography” and “flow-rate measurement” they investigated independent urination styles, such as the dripping of small mammals and the “jetting” of large mammals. New Scientist interviewed Yang (and Discover has a piece out as well), and the coverage touches on urethra length, gravitational pull and the number of seconds it takes to empty bladders. I eagerly await how the published study links Newtonian physics to urine!
Truth be told, maybe I wanted to write this post so I could write “jetting” of large mammals, and show this video. Also, I want to go on vacation with these people*:
But as you’ve seen, urine does not begin and end with the jetting of large mammals. Dog urination is pretty awesome and a number of researchers are holding a figurative magnifying glass up to it (and you can too!). Some dogs let it all out at once — although, I’m pretty sure that’s not called “jetting”) — while others let a little out at a time. And then of course, there’s how they do it.
A recent study by Wirant and McGuire (2004) found that female Jack Russell Terriers assumed a number of urination positions, including the squat-raise (most common), squat, arch-raise, combination and handstand. They found that females“used the squat-raise and arch-raise postures more when off their home area then when on their home area.” If dog urination has a social function, it might make sense to present your urine in different ways depending on where you are and who you are encountering, don’t you think?
Here’s what you can do: When you’re out walking your dog, pay attention to their urine. Do they assume a different position if you take them to an area where they’ve never been or go infrequently? Or do they pull out the same tricks no matter where they are?
Leave your urine reports below, and share early and often. My business is urine, and it can be yours too.
Photo: Flickr Nature’s Fire Hydrant via Mike Finkelstein Creative Commons
Pham et al. 2013. The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet. Bulletin of the American Physical Society. 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics.
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted
At her intake at a shelter in April 2012, Bean was a pup with a familiar profile: a Pit Bull whose family could no longer care for her. But it wasn’t long before someone at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California did notice something unusual about her.
It was her lack of “boing,” says staff member Finnegan Dowling. “No Pit Bull puppy should be that mellow.”
Bean also had a stiff walk. When she was excited, she hopped like a bunny. They took her for x-rays, but even sedation didn’t relax her joints enough to get pictures, Dowling says, and the vet referred her to UC Davis for an MRI scan.
There, Dr. Karen Vernau, chief of the Neurology and Neurosurgery Service at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, discovered that her hip joints were improperly formed. Bean’s determined spirit wasn’t lost on Vernau, but her chances of adoption seemed slim.
The five month old pup was suffering from muscular dystrophy, a progressive and currently incurable disease that would affect many parts of her body.
According to notes in Bean’s file at the Humane Society, she was scheduled for a procedure at Davis on May 25. By the 29th, she was diagnosed with myopathy, a neurological condition. But somewhere in between those dates, Dowling says, Dr. Vernau’s relationship with her patient “went from obligation to affection.”
Vernau and her family decided to adopt Bean. As the vet told a reporter, “We didn’t intend to go down this path with her, but she just sucked us in.”
This happy ending was only the beginning of Bean’s harrowing medical story.
Gradually, things got worse. Surgery to correct her hips was followed by relief—then new problems. A massive hernia called for another surgery. Her swallowing improved, but the muscles in her esophagus were failing and there were bouts of vomiting so intense she would sometimes choke and pass out. Bean grew thinner as she struggled with aspiration (food getting into her respiratory tract when eating), which caused pneumonia.
Her vets sought help from colleagues in human medicine, a multidisciplinary approach the university encourages through its “One Health Initiative.” They included Dr. Stan Marks, a gastrointestinal specialist, and Dr. Peter Belafsky, an expert in human swallowing and airway disorders, and others.
With help from the biomedical engineering department, Bean had been fitted with a feeding tube that allowed her to eat several times per day. It worked beautifully, according to Dr. Marks.
But it didn’t stop the vomiting.
Since the vomiting put her life at risk, Belafsky concluded that they would have to stop it by removing her larynx.
Belafsky, who performed the second documented human larynx transplant, knew how profoundly such problems affect a person’s quality of life. And it was clearly true for Bean.
Her surgery, which lasted more than three hours, was the first ever canine laryngectomy. The procedure is typically used to treat human cancer. According to Belafsky, the separation of her breathing and swallowing tubes will prevent food from getting into her lungs when she eats or vomits.
The lessons learned in Bean’s treatment will impact human care, and vice versa, Belafsky said in a press conference after the surgery. Belafsky hopes she will inspire human patients who have also lost their voice and now breathe through a hole in their neck. She may just get a guest membership in the “Lost Cords Club” for people who have had a laryngectomy.
After all, Bean is only two years old, but has slept out more than 100 rounds of anesthesia and undergone eight surgeries and countless other procedures. Her “can’t do list” is long. Can’t bark, breathe or swallow normally. Forget gobbling down a treat, and she can’t swim without drowning due to the tracheostomy tube.
But the list of things she once endured, the choking and pneumonia, has been tossed.
Now when she accompanies Vernau to the hospital, she serves as ambassador and teacher, allowing students to experience canine tube feeding.
At home, Bean is learning new ways to enjoy life, which still holds plenty of the good old stuff – balls to chew, cushy beds, and a loving family that includes two other dogs.
Watch this video about Bean's surgery and recovery.
Does it smell weird in here to you?
You know what I’m talking about. That nagging feeling that something smells “different,” but you just can’t put a finger on it. This has been my life for the last three days. Day after day, I’d enter the living room and think, “Did it always smell like that in here? It smells different, right? What is that!?”
On the fourth day, I finally sat down on the couch to read a book. On the coffee table before me sat a bowl of chestnuts. They had yet to be roasted. “Chestnuts don’t have a smell,” I thought. To the right of the chestnuts, the remote. Electronics, also void of smell (although my Game Boy got moldy, and that smelled). Then, I saw it. Next to the remote sat the biggest, most obvious thing on the table, the centerpiece you might say. A large, overripe cantaloupe. It had been there for 6 days and with the radiator pumping out heat (because it is so cold!), the cantaloupe was starting to mush, and that mush was permeating the air and my nostrils. How could I miss it? It was the most prominent thing in the room. Yet day after day, I missed that the gnarly cantaloupe was behind the new stench.
That’s how I feel about dogs. Not that they are starting to smell (although some of them might be), but that despite them being major parts of our lives, we can overlook the important bits.
I left 2013 by posing a question: How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 1. The answer: If judging by smell, you know your dog pretty well. In one study, people could identify the smell of their dog compared to an unknown dog in a “smell test.” I finished Part 1 suggesting that while we might be attuned to some nuanced bits of our dogs — like their smell — we’re not attuned to all parts of them, like behavior. I’ll explain.
Is Snoopy happy?
We know happy! But…
But fear was different. Study participants who were dog professionals did a better job identifying fear compared to both dog owners and people with little dog experience. The authors suggest that “professional experience with dogs aids proficiency in interpretations of fearful behavior.” It didn’t matter how many years the dog professionals had spent working with dogs; they had the same proficiency in identifying fear.
So why did dog professionals do so much better in identifying fear? One reason could be that professionals looked at more dog body parts for clues, such as the eyes, ears, mouth and tongue, while non-professionals looked at fewer body parts, focusing primarily on legs, paws and tails. More details in the figure provided by Wan et al. (2012).
The researchers summarize: “The results of the current study are among the first to demonstrate that the perception of an emotion in dogs can be associated with human observers’ level of dog experience.”
While many of us love dogs to pieces (Buzzfeed reminds me of this on a daily basis), noticing and interpreting their subtle behaviors can take practice. That’s okay! Behavior observation can be learned.
Keeping an eye out for fear
What does fear look like? It can include a wide variety of body parts and body postures. Wan and colleagues explain, “…fearful dogs are said to reduce their body size – crouching into a low posture, flattening their ears, and holding their tails in a low position. Shaking, yawning, salivation, freezing, panting, paw-lifting, and vocalizing are examples of other behaviors that have been associated with fear in dogs.”
Maybe, in certain contexts, you notice fearful behaviors in your own dog and want to help decrease it. Like gymnasts, fear is flexible. Just as dogs can sensitize to stimuli, so too can they habituate. With classical- and operant-conditioning techniques, behavior management, and maybe some professional assistance (see below), dogs can have a modified outlook on life. What does a modified outlook look like? Check out Masey’s progress over at Reactive Champion.
Sometimes we just can’t piece it together that the cantaloupe smells. But of course, a trained fruit expert would exclaim, “Julie! Your cantaloupe is rotting.” You see where I’m going with this. Sometimes dogs are fearful, and the clues are right in front of us, like a rotting cantaloupe. Learn to recognize dog fear behavior. This is a blog about dogs after all. Not cantaloupe.
Photo: a muddy dog…..is a happy dog via bambe1964; National. Flickr Creative Commons
References & Recommended Reading
This article first appeared on DogSpies, Scientific American. Used with permission.
The NYPD will take over animal cruelty cases in NYC.
The ASPCA has spent the last 147 years advocating for animals, finding homes for pets, providing medical care, and enforcing anti-cruelty laws. In 1866, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh convinced state lawmakers to enact the nation's first anti-cruelty law. The organization then served as the primary law enforcement agency for animal abuse and neglect in New York City, a role that was the first of its kind in the nation. Decades later, the division was even featured on the Animal Planet reality television show, Animal Precinct.
However, all that has changed with the appointment of the new ASPCA president, Matthew Bershadker. Matthew, who previously led the organization's anti-cruelty department, has shifted law enforcement responsibilities to the New York Police Department, saying that they are better staffed to handle the workload.
The NYPD started working on a subset of animal abuse complaints in September as part of a pilot program. Then in December, the ASPCA laid off most of its 17 remaining law enforcement agents in preparation for a full transfer of responsibilities. The ASPCA will support the NYPD by aiding case prosecution, increasing veterinary forensics work, training officers and assistant district attorneys, and handling confiscated animals. A new ward at the ASPCA Animal Hospital has been created specifically for pets brought in by the NYPD.
Some have praised the change, saying that the ASPCA's small enforcement staff can't handle the volume of abuse reports. Over the past few years, the division has handled about 4,000 investigations annually, resulting in about one arrest per week. Reports made through a dedicated hotline soared from 2008 to 2011 when Animal Precinct was on the air.
However, others, including some of the dismissed agents, are concerned that animal abuse cases will be given a lower priority by officers dealing with a full case load of human crimes.
"If they think they can just give this to regular police officers and have them handle it, they're crazy," said David Favre, an expert on animal law at the Michigan State University. "It's hard work. It's different work. It's important work. And it's sad that the ASPCA isn't doing it anymore."
There's no question that the NYPD has the manpower to handle the job (34,000+ officers versus 17), but that is only if they have the right training and a mandate from the top to make the cases a priority. In 2011, the ASPCA found that while nearly all law enforcement officers (in a nationwide study) feel they should play a role in enforcing animal cruelty law, only 41 percent say they know the relevant laws in their area and just 30 percent say they know the penalties.
The NYPD does seem to be putting in the right steps to reverse those numbers. A dedicated staff of two, 25-year NYPD veteran George Kline, and former Bronx County assistant district attorney Elizabeth Brandler, will be providing support to the NYPD relating to anti-cruelty law enforcement. George will coordinate training for all eight NYPD patrol boroughs and district attorneys and Elizabeth will provide criminal law expertise to assist in case prosecution.
I hope that this shift in responsibilities is successful and creates a standard for how law enforcement is trained on anti-cruelty practices.
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