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News: Karen B. London
CleverPet Game Console For Dogs
The electronics world loves it, but will the dog world embrace it, too?

At the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) start up competition last week in Las Vegas, a game console for dogs called CleverPet took first place, beating out accessories for virtual reality experiences and a number of smart home products. The prize was a free booth at the evening’s ShowStopper Event, guaranteeing more press for this product.

There are already plenty of digital products for dog guardians, such as pet trackers and health monitors, but this product aims to serve the needs of the dog directly, not the needs of the people. CleverPet is a digital entertainment device that can help dogs who are bored and lack mental stimulation. There are several games available, and they update automatically by Wi-fi. In one game, dogs must remember and correctly respond to patterns of lights and sounds. Puzzles start out simple and progressively get harder. In another game, they must respond to words such as “left” and “right” to hit the correct touch pad. In the squirrel game, the dog must properly respond to catch the squirrel as the light (the squirrel) darts from pad to pad at increasing speeds. In all games, correct responses lead to food rewards. Videos of dogs engaged with the device look promising.

Many people may be put off by the thought of their dogs learning how to respond to this device, but as the inventors point out, it’s not really a new concept. Mice and rats have been asked to perform similar tasks in the interests of scientific research for years. CleverPet is simply bringing this concept directly to consumers for the benefit of our dogs.

The benefits of mental stimulation and the relief of boredom are obvious. Additionally, I think dogs benefit by being successful which makes them feel good. I’m not one to underestimate the advantage of earning food by making choices and being right to dogs’ self esteem and happiness. On the other hand, there could be drawbacks to this product.

It can become a digital pet sitter, meaning that people could use it to keep their dogs busy instead of engaging with them directly. If people find that their dogs are entertained by CleverPet, they could use it as an excuse not to walk them or to play with them. Lack of exercise and a decrease in social interactions can make for less social dogs who are more prone to weight gain. As long as people limit the amount of time that their dogs spend having fun with it, there’s not a problem.

I’m curious about the physiological affects on dogs of this product. Will the lights influence their sleep as screen time does to us? Will they become frustrated if they do not succeed often enough or if the device is turned off? Can dogs become addicted to digital play as so many human gamers have?

Even with the possible drawbacks to having dogs play with CleverPet, I’m enthusiastic about the potential it has to be a positive experience. People can track a dog’s progress, game levels and food intake throughout the day on their phones. They can set CleverPet to be on at only a certain time of day, or turn it on and off remotely.

It’s no surprise to me that this product is already making such a splash in the electronics world. After all, in addition to videos of dogs using CleverPet, the inventors had an exceptionally clever pitch to the judges: “Our users literally have nothing better to do with their time.” (You can argue whether or not that statement is true, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not a good sales pitch.)

CleverPet will be available in April 2016, and like game consoles for people, it’s pricey, going for $269. Are you interested?

News: JoAnna Lou
The Working Pup is New York's State Dog
The Empire State designates a progressive choice as their official dog.
Not many states have an official state dog. Until recently, there were only eleven. But as of December 23rd, New York is joining that small group after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation naming the "working dog" as New York's state canine. While other states are represented by a single breed, the Empire State is celebrating all breeds, from the Belgian Malinois patrolling the streets of Manhattan to the Labrador Retriever helping a visually impaired person cross a busy intersection.

The inspiration for this bill came from Bari, the dog of Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-Staten Island), who is trained as a therapy dog. Together they've worked with preschool autistic children and homeless young adults. Seeing Bari in action, Matthew wanted to sponsor this bill in order to honor pups like Bari.

This wasn't the first time that New York tried to designate a progressive choice as their state pup. In 2011, State Assemblyman Micah Kellner, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, and Senator Joseph Robach co-sponsored a bill to designate "the rescue dog" as the state pup. Although that attempt was unsuccessful, I'm glad my home state finally has its own official canine that also honors the work hard they do for us each day!

 
News: Guest Posts
12 Houseplants That Are Dangerous to Dogs (and Cats!)

This inforgraphic is a good reminder that we should consider our dogs when picking plants for both inside and out. According the ASPCA, their poison control hotline receives around 150,000 calls annually from pet owners needing assistance with possible poison-related emergencies. This inforgraphic is based on a list of toxic plants from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine's most common causes of emergency calls and Texas A&M ’s “Common Poisonous Plants and Plant Parts ”. The infographic gives you a break down of the risks to your dog (and cat!) and warning signs to look out for.

News: Karen B. London
Pet Restraints Don’t Always Work
Let the buyer beware when it comes to car safety

Advice about restraining dogs in cars is everywhere, and for good reason. In the event of an accident or sudden stop, unrestrained pets can become projectiles. That puts them at great risk for serious injury from hitting the inside of the car or flying out of it, perhaps through a window. Others in the car or on the road can also be hurt because of dogs who are not restrained.

Naturally, one would think that products that claim to protect pets in the event of a car accident would protect pets in the event of a car accident. Sadly, this is not always true. Many pet restraint products do not perform well in crash tests, but these products are unregulated because pet products are not considered consumer products. That means that promises on the packaging and in ads are not to be trusted.

In one report, 25 of 29 pet restraint products failed crash tests at the very modest speed of 30 miles per hour, and that included at least one crate. It’s up to each of us to find out as much information as possible about the products that do actually work and buy accordingly to protect our pets.

If you’ve been in an accident with a dog who was restrained, did the product perform as promised?

News: JoAnna Lou
A Times Square Performance for Dogs
Laurie Anderson performs a music show designed for canines.
Last night hundreds of people and dogs braved the 17 degree weather to attend a special performance in Times Square. Unlike the many other artists who have visited New York City, this concert, performed by Laurie Anderson, was designed specifically for dogs. The musician-performance artist played low-frequency music for the pups, while their humans listened along on wireless headphones.

The event took place at 11:30 p.m. as part of the Times Square Alliance's Midnight Moment series, which features billboards transformed into digital art pieces. For Laurie's event, the screens featured a three-minute clip of her Oscar shortlisted documentary, Heart of a Dog, a film that reflects on life and death, particularly through the loss of her dog, Lolabelle, and the passage through bardo, the Tibetan concept of transitioning into the afterlife.

Performing for dogs has long been a dream for Laurie. She tells the story of being backstage with cellist Yo-Yo Ma eight years ago. Laurie turned to him and said, "I have this fantasy where I look out, and the whole audience is dogs." He replied, "Are you kidding? I have the same fantasy." And it certainly took a unique person to make that vision a reality. Yoko Ono said that a silent concert for dogs is something "only Laurie can get away with."

But the late night performance wasn't Laurie's first canine gig.  In 2010, she held a concert for hundreds of pups outside the Sydney Opera House, with music also emitted at a low frequency. Laurie describes seeing the dogs' reactions, barking along, as one of the happiest moments of her life.

  Hopefully there are plans for more canine concerts in the future! To check out last night's performance, visit this web page for videos and more photos.
News: Karen B. London
Carrie Fisher’s Dog Gary
French Bulldog steals the show

For many people this week marks the end of the holiday season. Others consider the past few weeks the beginning of the season of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which means that we are still in it. People in the latter category may have noticed that Carrie Fisher’s dog Gary is the darling of the Star Wars’ publicity blitz. Fisher has brought her best friend to many interviews, premieres and media events. Like his entertaining guardian, he does not disappoint. This interview with Carrie Fisher is a lot of fun, even if Gary does take a snooze in the middle of it.

Fisher is talented and funny, but what I like most about her is how much she loves her dog. She is clearly charmed by Gary and wants to spend a lot of her time with him. He is definitely relaxed during interviews, although not everything about the Star Wars world is as pleasing to him. For example, Fisher reports that he found the movie a bit too loud. Also, he is a bit unsure about BB-8, as you can see in the following clip, in which he barks and tongue flicks, but also offers what looks like a play bow.

Even if Gary does have to deal with the occasional droid, I think he is living the good life, thanks to Carrie Fisher!

News: JoAnna Lou
Prosociality in Canines
Dogs may show co-species cooperation in a similar way as humans and primates.
Many scientists consider cooperation to be a unique aspect of human cognition and culture. Voluntary actions that benefit others, also known as prosocial behavior, had only been previously observed in humans and primates. But new research suggests that canines are also capable of prosocial behavior.

Researchers at the University of Vienna were interested in studying prosociality and dogs because of their high level of sociability and the presence of cooperative behaviors in puppy rearing, joint territorial defense, and group hunting. Also, since domestic dogs have been selected for social skills, that could also make them more likely to show pro-social behaviors.

In this study, dogs had the choice to pull one of two levers. One delivered a tray of food to a second dog and the other delivered an empty tray. The experiment was run with both strange and familiar pups (from the same household). As a control, the researchers also performed the test where the the receiver dogs were too far away to actually access the food or the receiver enclosure was empty.

The scientists found that the dogs were more likely to pull the lever for the food tray when they were paired with a familiar receiver. The dogs pulled the lever less when the receivers were too far away to access the food and they hardly ever pulled the empty tray.

According to lead researcher Friederike Ranger, this prosociality between dogs has never been experimentally demonstrated before. The team was most interested in how the degree of familiarity among the dogs influenced the behavior.

I'm curious to know how my dogs would respond to this experiment. If it were a decision between giving a treat or getting a treat, I know they would be much more selfish! What do you think your pups would do?

News: Editors
2015: The Bark’s Year in Review

As the year comes to a close, we look back at some of the ideas in dogdom that caught our attention. The world is forever changing with new health and science discoveries, advances in technology, and evolving ideas that impact our communities and relationship with animals. One thing remains constant though, the comforting companionship of our dogs and the bond we share … thankfully, some things never change.

Considering the big themes that had us talking (and writing) about in 2015, two topics rose to the top and suggest important shifts in thinking. The first combines new findings that tie together nutrition, health and science—nutrigenomics or the study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients. Canine nutrigenomics is further evidence that good nutrition matters, and our conversation with leading researcher and author W. Jean Dodds, DVM, explains why. Dodds and Diana Leverdure also explored the importance of “brain food” or good nutrition for senior dogs. The microbiome ecology found in our dogs’ gut may prove the pathway to better health (and behavior). Bark contributing editor Jane Brackman, PhD, investigated these microscopic worlds with fascinating results. Scientific research and popular theory (gutbliss) are creating a new awareness of the importance a healthy gut to a dog’s well-being.

As dog lovers, we’ve always known that dogs enrich our lives in countless ways. New research continues to build that case empirically, none more important than a special report from Harvard Medical School. Get Healthy, Get a Dog is the first publication to compile hundreds of research studies from around the world that document the physical and psychological benefits of dog ownership. Taken together, these studies provide the most complete picture yet of the many ways in which dogs enrich human life: from lower cholesterol and improved cardiovascular health to weight loss, companionship, defense against depression and longer lifespans. Twig Mowatt delved into this landmark report and its importance.

The second big idea gleaned from 2015: If dogs are proving good for us, they can be particularly beneficial to children. A recent study reports that kids who live with a dog are less likely to be anxious than their peers living in homes without dogs. Other studies show that children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. Innovative education programs like Mutt-i-grees curriculum are testing the many ways in which dogs can aid in learning. 

Space does not allow us to list every worthy book, film and exhibit from the past year (and there were many), but we would like to note these special, memorable works:

George the Dog, John the Artist: A Rescue Story by John Dolan

The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks

Heart of a Dog, a film by Laurie Anderson

Rescue Road by Peter Zheutlin

News: JoAnna Lou
Can Dogs Improve Your Sleep?
Studies are conflicted on the benefit or disadvantage of sharing a bed with pets.
Many animal lovers sleep with their dogs by their side despite the fact that past studies have found the habit may not be healthy. One 2011 study claimed that allowing pets in bed could put people at risk for certain diseases, such as meningitis or parasites. A 2014 Mayo Clinic study found that more than half of the patients at their Center for Sleep Medicine were people who claimed that their pets disrupted their sleep.

However, a new survey from the Mayo Clinic indicates that there are at least a few benefits to our furry sleep buddies. In a sampling of 150 sleep center patients, 56 percent of the pet households (about half of the 150 surveyed) allowed their pets to sleep with them at night. Of the co-sleepers, 41 percent reported that their pet ether did not disrupt their sleep or actually helped improve sleep by providing warmth, contentment, or relaxation. Only 20% said that their pets had a negative effect on their sleep. Some also noted that having their dog in bed made them feel a sense of companionship when sleeping alone due to a lack of partner or a travelling partner.

These benefits probably come as no surprise to pet lovers, but it's nice to have some positive studies added to the literature.  

Does your dog disrupt your sleep at night?

   
News: JoAnna Lou
Toxic Christmas Ornaments
A homemade salt dough ornament causes neurological damage.
When I was a kid, each Christmas we would make homemade ornaments made of salt dough. We'd use cookie cutters to create star and tree shapes, paint them red and green, and bake them in the oven to harden. It's a simple craft that remains popular with families today.

But it turns out that these ornaments are potentially dangerous, a lesson that a Pennsylvania family learned the hard way. Earlier this month the Pospisil family's dog, Lexi, snuck downstairs before everyone was awake and ate one of the salt dough ornaments on the Christmas tree. The couple had made them earlier in the season with their daughter, Alice.

The two year old pup was okay at first, but later started shaking uncontrollably and foaming at the mouth. The Pospisils immediately brought Lexi to the veterinarian, but it was too late. The high salt content of the ornament caused irreversible neurological damage and raised Lexi's body temperature to a dangerous 107 degrees. The poor pup had to be euthanized.

Heartbroken, the Pospisils took to Facebook to share their story and warn others about the danger of salt dough ornaments. So far their post has been shared over 80,000 times.

Some of my salt dough ornaments are well over 20 years old and are quite sentimental. Fortunately, we keep our Christmas tree behind an exercise pen, safe from the dogs and cat. However, I did move the salt dough ornaments to spots high up on the tree just in case. And for future crafts, I plan on switching to a clay recipe without salt.

Do you have salt dough ornaments on your tree?

 

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