Good Dog: Studies & Research
A study of the Delboeuf illusion
Visual illusions reveal the inner working of the eyes and of the brain, and when used in comparative studies, they can teach us a lot about the differences and similarities in vision and neurological processing between species. A common research approach involves using illusions that affect perception of size and investigating whether the illusions affect choice. Allowing research subjects to choose between various options can elucidate the illusions’ effects on members of various species.
One such illusion is the Delboeuf illusion, which causes identically sized objects to appear different in size depending on what surrounds them. In the image below with dark circles of identical size, humans (and other primates) tend to overestimate the size of the circle on the left, which is surrounded by a ring that is smaller than the ring around the circle on the right.
In the study, one set of trials tested whether dogs could correctly choose larger portions of food over smaller ones. Dogs were given a choice between two piles of biscuits on plates—one pile of biscuits weighed 18 grams and the other weighed 32 grams. Once dogs chose to go for one plate, the other one was picked up and no longer available. Sometimes both portions of food were on small plates, and sometimes both were on big plates. Each dog was offered this choice multiple times. Pooling the date into one big analysis, dogs consistently chose the bigger pile of biscuits.
In another series of trials, dogs were offered a choice between equal portions of food that were presented on different size plates. The dogs had to choose between 32 grams of food on a large plate and 32 grams of food on a small plate. If dogs are susceptible to the Delboeuf illusion, the expectation is that they would choose the smaller plate even though the quantity of food was identical on both plates. Instead, dogs’ choices were no different than if they picked a plate at random with no reference to its size. They were not significantly more likely to choose the large plate or the small plate, providing evidence that the Delboeuf illusion does not affect dogs the way that it affects humans. Dogs are not fooled by the size of the plate.
We heard about an intriguing (and alarming) Bloomberg story over the weekend on NPR’s Marketplace Money program. When asked about predictions for what the guests are “long or short" on, reporter Gillian White said that she was “long” on the financial sector behind “dog leasing.” She was reporting on a piece from Bloomberg about dubious loan scheme operations, such as leasing a dog. In the Bloomberg piece, “I’m Renting a Dog?” Patrick Clark reports about Wags Lending LLC, a California-based firm, that provides leasing options for people who want to buy expensive pet store dogs.
In one of the examples he cites a couple in San Diego purchased a Golden Retriever pup for $2,400, agreeing to pay for the dog with 34 monthly payments of $165.06, bringing the true cost to be $5,800. As White noted that this kind of “leasing operation, taps into the growing trend of consumers who want things but who don’t necessary want to own things.” Added to that is the wish for instant gratification and the fact that most people don’t take the time to read the fine print on things especially when making emotional purchases, like “buying” a dog. Simple fact, many people just want what they want when they want it. And because these leasing companies aren’t subject to the same kind of regulations as loans or even credit cards are, they are able to charge really high interest rates, which range from about 36 percent to 170 percent on an annualized basis! And if you renege of the payment schedule, they are repossess the dog, that's right, they can take the rental dog back. Bristlecone Holding LLC, the company behind this Wags Lending scheme, leases things like furniture, wedding dresses and hearing aids, and the list is growing—but it all started with the dogs. The mission statement from the aptly named, Dusty Wunderlich the CEO behind these companies notes that he is “living in a Postmodern culture while maintaining my old American West roots and Christian values.” Heavens, we need Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s attention on this one fast. Amazing that they can get away with this. Wunderlich also adds that, “We like niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers.” Such as those who are staring into the eyes of a pet shop puppy, obviously.
The idea behind Wags Lending came about in 2013, and as the Bloomberg article notes, when Wunderlich “recruited a former hedge fund salesman named Kyle Ferguson as co-founder and launched Wags Lending, thinking dog leases would mark just the first step in a vertically integrated pet-financing company that would eventually include food deliveries, chew-toy subscriptions, and veterinary loans. Then their point-of-sale lease financing became a hit, and they decided to double down on it.” So beware if you happen to stumble upon any of their other “too good to be true” plans! We are seeing more and more of these “point-of-sale” options in the pet sector, especially at vet offices.
So the lesson behind this is a simple one, first of all, do NOT ever ever buy dogs at pet stores, there are many reasons, besides shady lending schemes to not buy a pet shop dog, including that most of those dogs are supplied to pet stores come from puppy mills and buying such dogs only supports those horrible businesses. But even more importantly, there are many wonderful dogs at shelters or with rescue groups and every dog that is purchased at a pet store means another dog just might be euthanized to make room for another dog. That constant intake flow has to stop. Again, read the small print and know what you are getting yourself into before signing up for any of these leasing products. See the Bloomberg piece for the whole story.
Dog's Life: Humane
A Pit Bull finds her forever home at a New York City firehouse.
Last year New York City animal rescuers Erica Mahnken and Michael Favor got a call about an abandoned Pit Bull in an old crack house. There was no heat or electricity, and the couple who lived there fled after a snowstorm hit. When Erica and Michael found the poor pup, she was malnourished and covered in cigarette burns. A vet later said that the dog was 25 pounds underweight.
Despite being abused, the pup was happy to be found and jumped right into Erica's car.
Unfortunately they didn't have anywhere to keep the dog, so they called some firefighter friends from a Lower East Side FDNY station nicknamed "Fort Pitt." The firefighters agreed to be a temporary foster home.
"As soon as she walked into the firehouse, her tail was wagging, and she was licking and greeting everybody," Erica remembered. "She was super happy. From where she came from, you wouldn't really expect that. You would think that she'd be a little skittish, but she wasn't at all."
After three days the firefighters named the dog Ashley, "Ash" for short, and called Erica to ask if they could adopt her.
“My heart wants to explode,” Erica said. “Everyone’s so quick to judge a dog, especially a dog you don’t know where it came from or what kind of person they are and what kind… It is very satisfying."
Ashley has been enjoying her role as official firehouse dog, hanging out with the crew in the kitchen and riding along with the firefighters on smaller runs. She even has her own spot in the firetruck.
"They walk her about 30 times a day. They bring her on the roof to play. She's constantly in the kitchen watching them eat. She has endless supplies of treats. She has the life over there," describes Erica.
If you're interested in following Ashely's adventures, the firefighters started an Instagram account that has over 19,000 followers.
It sounds like "Fort Pitt" needed some joy in their fire station, which they found in a Pit Bull named Ashley!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
After school program teaches students to prepare pups to help veterans.
Service dogs have the potential to make a significant impact in the lives of veterans, but many can't afford their high price tag. When students from Summit Elementary School in Divide, Colorado learned about this problem, they wanted to help.
"We recognize a large number of veterans in Teller County who would largely benefit from having a service dog to help them," said student Christian Bonnette.
So five kids teamed up with trainer John Franks from the non-profit group Heroes Pack. After school they work with John to teach dogs the skills needed to help people with PTSD or mobility issues. Currently they're working with a dog named Holly who they plan to donate to a local veteran this spring.
It's not cheap to train a service dog. According to student Leah Strawmatt, it takes about 500 hours to train each pup and about $5,000.
In addition to dedicating their time and raising money, the kids are also doing their part to spread the word about the need for service dogs.
Recently they participated in a regional competition called Destination Imagination (the world's largest creative problem solving competition) and won first place. They were also given the Torchbearer Award, for teams whose solutions have extraordinary impact in and beyond their local communities. According to Heroes Pack, the award has never been given out at the regional level. The kids will move on to the state competition next.
This program is a win-win for everyone. In addition to becoming skilled dog trainers, the students are learning valuable life lessons and helping veterans in the community.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Where is your dog allowed to go?
People who say that money is the biggest source of conflict in most marriages are clearly unfamiliar with the clashes over whether or not to let the dogs up on the furniture. These epic battles regularly find their way into my private consultations, where I am repeatedly asked who is right—the person who says dogs should stay on the floor or the one who wants them up on the couch and on the bed. I always handle these mediations with the same four basic steps.
1) I take a deep breath to calm myself for the coming storm. 2) I wish for the umpteenth time that I had a business partner specializing in marital counseling. 3) I explain the factors to consider when making this important decision. 4) I open a discussion with my clients about how these factors relate to their particular situation. So, you might ask, what are those factors?
The main one is personal preference. That is, the answer to the dogs-on-the-furniture question is not absolute and cannot be answered definitively by someone outside of the household. Some people are appalled by the idea of fur and potentially muddy paws making contact with their furniture, and others don’t care at all. Just like with politics, religion and money, there are no right answers that apply to everyone, but life is a little easier and a lot less conflicted if the members of a family agree.
The dog’s needs are also a factor. Dogs who are old, get cold easily, or who have really short coats are often less comfortable on a hard floor, so they may be more persistent about being on the furniture, and it may provide a real benefit to them. Of course, a cozy dog bed, soft blankets or even some towels on the floor may accomplish the same thing. I do feel that it is a great kindness to provide dogs, especially dogs like the ones described above, with a soft, cozy place to relax, and that may or may not involve the furniture. Dogs who are fearful may also be helped by being up on the furniture because that lets them be in close physical contact with you when you are lounging on the couch or drifting off to sleep. It’s true that many people who want their dogs up on the furniture are doing it for themselves at least as much as for the dogs, but dogs’ needs are worthy of consideration.
The dog’s behavior is the piece of this puzzle that allows me the best opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. I don’t buy into the old-fashioned arguments about dogs needing to be on the floor because otherwise they will try to dominate their guardians, causing all sort of horrendous social patterns to ensue. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, that does not mean that dogs’ behavior and manners are irrelevant to the questions of whether or not they should be up on the furniture. Dogs who are pushy can benefit from being required to earn the right to be on the furniture. Those who lack impulse control can learn better self-control by following rules such as staying on the floor despite the temptation of the furniture. Resource-guarding dogs who will defend the bed as they do food, bones or toys are not good candidates for furniture privileges. For dogs with no training who will not move over on the bed when asked to do so or won’t get down off the sofa upon request, it may not be worth the hassle of allowing them on the furniture.
Another avenue I like to pursue with any of my clients who are in the middle of a Great Furniture Negotiation is the possibility of a compromise. Sometimes families decide to let dogs onto only some of the furniture—perhaps just one old couch or chair, or maybe a beanbag. Another option is to cover the furniture so the dogs can enjoy it without ruining it. One common compromise is to allow the dogs up on the furniture only if they are invited, and to require them to get off if you tell them to. This can be combined effectively with the use of covers—invite dogs up whenever the covers are on but not when they have been removed.
When there is conflict, one solution is that the dogs are allowed up on the furniture, but the person who wants them up there is responsible for cleaning the furniture often. Some families have decided to let the dogs up on all the furniture except for the favorite chair of the person opposed. That way, there is always a clean place available for the person who objects to having the dogs up on the furniture. There are families who allow some dogs up on the bed or couch, but not others. Usually the dog with access is older, has better manners or sheds less. Some people are uncomfortable having different rules for different dogs and feel that it is unfair, but the couples who have saved their marriage with this strategy feel that it is worth it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to dogs’ access to the furniture, and sometimes a little negotiating leads to a compromise that makes both members of a couple happy.
There is no right answer and though many people ask me what is “normal” when it comes to dogs being up on the furniture, there is no clear answer to that question. What’s considered normal in this regard is a moving target. Years ago, it was far more common to forbid dogs from being on the couch or the bed than it is now. Then again, it wasn’t so very long ago that it was common to prevent dogs from coming inside the house at all. It was a big change when having indoor dogs became normal. Maybe we are on that same path when it comes to our furniture.
What are your rules (if any) about having dogs on the furniture?
News: Guest Posts
What’s your dog’s name and age? Buffy, 2 years
Adoption Story:Buffy was a picked up as a stray by a small shelter in Texas. Unfortunately, her chances of finding a forever home there were not good. Thankfully, a volunteer pulled Buffy from the shelter be be shipped up north for a better chance at adoption through the group Black Dog Second Chance rescue in New York. But, Buffy had a suprise in store for them! Upon arriving to her foster home, it was discovered that she was pregnant! Her new foster home did not feel up to the task of taking on puppies so she was transfered to one with more experience. Buffy ultimately delivered five puppies but two didn't survive. But this story has a good ending, Buffy and her three healthy pups (Bingo, Bruno, and Brandy) were all adopted into loving homes. Buffy's foster mom fosters through Black Dog Second Chance Rescue where she has fostered 32 dogs, including four pregnant mammas. She loves that dogs are just so happy to be with people and that they love you for how you are. If you're interested in reading more about the benefits of foster homes or are interested in becoming a foster parent to a pup in need read on.
News: Guest Posts
Clients share stories of ridiculous consumption
My appointments with clients tend to follow themes, some of which are predictable. I receive many calls about housetraining after the first big snow of the year, and there’s the digging under the fence problems when the ground thaws in the spring. The start of monsoon season corresponds with the Fourth of July, so that time of year typically brings large numbers of dogs who are afraid of thunder, fireworks and other loud noises.
Sometimes, the trends are less expected. There have been times when my week is full of dogs who are aggressive to other dogs on leash or when a surprising number of appointments involve dogs who fear men with beards. (The past few years with big bushy beards being so fashionable have been a tough time for dogs and for canine behaviorists alike.) I’m not sure why I’ll occasionally work with a cluster of dogs who jump on visitors followed by a series of dogs who guard their toys from other dogs in the house.
The last few weeks have involved a larger-than-usual proportion of dogs who have eaten ridiculous things. In each case, I was working with the dog because of an unrelated behavioral problem, but in the course of talking about the dog’s background, the clients shared a story about something that the dog had eaten. (All of the dogs were fine whether veterinary care was needed or not.)
One dog helped herself to a tube of lipstick. She ate most of it, but still managed to use a significant portion of it to decorate the walls, rugs and floor of the house. Rather than become upset, the people actually decided that the light pink color was just the right shade for their new nursery, and they had already gotten paint samples to match.
Another dog had gone into the yard and dug up the family’s recently departed pet hamster. The members of this family were similarly good sports, remembering to be grateful that it had happened while their kids were at preschool so that they were not traumatized by one of their pets exhuming and eating another one.
The most surprising story of what a dog had eaten was not told to me on purpose, but came up when a client and I were walking his dog to help her learn to be calm when she saw other dogs. When I saw that her poop was neon yellow, it begged an explanation. The man sheepishly told me that she had eaten a large number of paintballs. Concerned about the toxicity of paintballs, I urged him to call his veterinarian immediately, which he did. After treatment, the dog was fine, and (in case you were wondering) I have recovered from the shock of the highlighter-colored poop.
Over the years, clients have shared many stories of what their dogs have consumed. There are the usual suspects—tampons, an entire stick of butter, socks, rocks, golf balls, forks, spoons, remote controls, cell phones. And, of course, I really do know many dogs who have eaten the kids’ homework.
Has your dog eaten anything bordering on the ridiculous?
Dog's Life: Humane
U.K. veterinarian quits her job to help street dogs in Sri Lanka.
Three years ago veterinarian Janey Lowes was vacationing in Sri Lanka when she was struck by the many street dogs that were in horrible shape. Some had been hit by cars, or deliberately hurt by knives or boiling water. Others suffered from untreated health issues, such as ticks and mange. It's estimated that there are three million dogs roaming the streets of Sri Lanka. Sixty percent don't make it past puppyhood.
Janey couldn't bear to ignore these dogs, so she quit her job at a British veterinary practice to dedicate herself full time to the homeless pups of the southern Dikwella District.
“There are no vets in place to treat these street animals,” she explained. “I feel like all of these dogs are my dogs and I’m the only one to look after them.”
Janey started out tending to these pups on the street with very little equipment. She would stay for months in Sri Lanka, only returning to the U.K. to earn enough money to go back. Since then Janey started We Care, a non-profit with a small team working with her in Sri Lanka. They're currently working on opening a clinic.
The charity has three main goals: treating sick and injured animals, training and educating the local population, and CNVR (catch-neuter-vaccinate-release). Unlike humane organizations in the States, We Care doesn't focus on adoption, since it's not in the Sri Lanka culture. But that doesn't mean they're not making a difference. Since Janey began working in Dikwella, dogs with mange made up 40 percent of the canine population, now it's less than five percent.
"We make a point of returning dogs back to the street. They're missing health care, missing affection, but not freedom. It's the hardest thing I've ever had to do, but it give me the most amazing sense of fulfillment, enjoyment, satisfaction. I love it."
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Save your sanity and your decorating budget by choosing materials and surfaces that can stand up to the test.
It’s a common situation for pet owners and parents alike: You buy a brand-new couch thinking you’ve purchased a truly indestructible piece of furniture, only to watch it be destroyed within a matter of months by your pet or child. It’s enough to make you feel like you’ll never be able to rectify your love for your family members, furry or not, with your yearning to create a beautiful home. Not to mention the pain it inflicts on your bank account.
There are a few simple things animal lovers can do to keep pets from damaging their homes. Accidents aside, most scratches and bite marks happen because of boredom. Scratching posts, chew toys, basic pet training and plenty of outdoor playtime will go a long way toward keeping your pet happy and your furnishings unscathed. Most dog trainers also recommend creating a comfortable enclosure for young pups, because this helps with house training and keeps them from chewing on dangerous objects.
Still, a surprising amount of damage can occur whenever you turn your back for a few seconds. With that in mind, here are 10 tips for selecting finishes that survive pet- and child-related wear and tear.
Love it: Leather
Accidents and spills wipe up with ease on the only furniture material that looks better with wear. But while leather is great for homes with dogs and children, cat lovers may want to avoid it, as there’s no way to repair a shredded leather couch.
If leather isn’t in your budget, consider microsuede. This ingenious, durable fabric wipes clean with a damp cloth, so you can easily deal with even the muddiest paws.
Leave it: Hide rugs
Not only can spills and pet stains permanently mar it, but some dogs have trouble distinguishing a hide rug from their rawhide chew. It’s also a no-no in high-traffic areas, as the hair thins with wear.
Photo by Ana Williamson Architect - Search contemporary landscape design ideas
Love it: Concrete paving
Available in just about every size and at many price points, pavers are a great way to create a playspace for kids and pets that always looks neat. Set them flush so kids can enjoy bikes and push toys, or leave a gap of a few inches and add plantings, as in this photo, to create a greener look.
Just be sure to ask your installer about sealing. Pavers can become stained by dirt and standing water over time.
Leave it: Gravel
Unless you’d like to embark upon a second career as a gravel sweeper, this is one to avoid. While gravel certainly goes a long way toward forgoing a pet-stained lawn, even larger pebbles can get kicked up during playtime, dinging your doors, getting caught in the slats of your deck and getting caught in paws and shoes, which inevitably leads to damage to indoor flooring.
Photo by Samuel Design Group - Search contemporary kitchen design ideas
Love it: Ceasarstone
This gorgeous quartz countertop has the look and feel of granite without the worry of chipping and scratching, making it perfect for junior sous chefs. Waterfall-edge details are also great in areas that need to be protected against particularly rambunctious pups or aggressive chewers.
Leave it: Hardwood
I know, I know. This is a tough one. But with pets and kids, you’re almost guaranteed to have to resand hardwood floors at some point.
If hardwood floors are a must in your home, be sure to keep your dog’s nails short and to clean up spilled liquids and pet accidents promptly. This can go a long way toward extending your hardwood floor’s longevity.
Photo by Paul Davis Architects - Browse modern deck ideas
Love it: Ornamental grass
Hardy grasses are a great way to incorporate greenery without worrying about Fido staining it or digging it up. And as a bonus, you’ll never spend another Saturday mowing the lawn.
Looking for a more traditional alternative? Wide-leaved fescue and rye hold up better to traffic and are more resistant to the chemicals in dog urine that can cause spotting.
Leave it: Cedar decking
While it can be absolutely stunning, cedar can be easily marred by dog nails, snow shovels and active children.
Photo by Chicago Green Design Inc. - Browse traditional landscape ideas
Love it: Faux turf
Gone are the days when installing synthetic grass meant transforming your lawn into something resembling a hokey mini golf course. The new turfs are more realistic and just as durable.
This homeowner made the synthetic grass look even more realistic by keeping the turf area small and breaking it up with other finishes.
Leave it: Microtopped concrete
The luster and depth of a concrete microtopping is surely covetable, but it’s not great in houses with big dogs or rambunctious children. Daily traffic can create deep scratches that aren’t erased by the regular resealing this finish requires.
A breathtakingly honest memoir
The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog is everything you expect from well-known canine behaviorist and best-selling/award-winning author Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D., but it is also so much more. What you presume would be included is indeed there—insights about dogs from science as well as from her own experiences, research into the physiology of behavior and personal stories. If you love learning about dogs through McConnell’s combination of science and tales from real life, you will love this book, and yet this is more than a book about dogs.
It’s a breathtakingly honest memoir from a woman whose upbeat personality, intelligence, success and sense of humor have largely hidden the pain and darkness in her life from others. It takes bravery to share such deeply personal and traumatic details from her life. Readers, even those who know McConnell’s work well, will be struck by how vulnerable she makes herself and how personal this book is. They will learn how much she had to overcome to become the successful person she has long been and to find the happiness that is a far more recent accomplishment.
It’s artfully written, showing her maturity as an author, and true to form, it shows how intricately her life and well-being are intertwined with the dogs in her life. The fear and anxiety she has struggled with for much of her life actually became worse when her Border Collie Will entered her life. His fear and reactivity created all sorts of problems, including exacerbating her own struggles to overcome multiple traumas. She was forced to deal with not just his issues, but her own as well, and the book is the story of how they both moved forward towards happiness, joy and love. Their journey together has had many setbacks, has required a seemingly endless reservoir of hard work and patience, and will never truly be over.
The beauty and power of the book come from the way McConnell weaves her own narrative into that of dogs in general and her dog Will in particular. It is a compelling story that’s both hopeful and sad, as well as gut-wrenching and inspiring. The Education of Will offers insight and understanding into struggles with true terror, guilt, shame and fear, allowing readers to empathize with such experiences and to understand them better. Though it is a serious book about a serious topic, the warmth and humor in McConnell’s writing make it as enjoyable to read as it is riveting.
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