Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How Dogs Process Speech
Study uncovers similarity between the human and canine brain.

I like to think that my dogs can understand what I'm saying. Of course they don't know English, but they've learned to make associations with certain words and cue off of the inflection in my voice. Even if they can't understand everything that comes out of my mouth, my pets can tell the difference between when I'm angry, excited, or sad. In some ways this is similar to communicating with a person who speaks a different language. That comparison may not be that far off as we learn more about how the canine brain translates human speech.

A study published last week found that dogs process words with meaning in a different part of the brain than where they deal with meaningless verbal sounds in which they must look for emotional cues.

Victoria Ratcliffe at the University of Sussex set up an experiment among 250 dogs to explore how they understand and process the different components of our speech. Scientists know that animals show hemispheric bias (which side of the brain is doing the work) in how they translate sounds of their own species, but Victoria wanted to explore if domesticated animals would show hemispheric bias for human sounds.

In the study, speakers were put on either side of the dogs' heads that played the same sound. First Victoria played a voice saying a word that held meaning to the dog (like "come"), then she played around with the speech by removing inflections or replacing the words with meaningless verbal noise. Each time Victoria played a sound, she recorded which way the dogs turned their head.

Although both speakers played the same recording, the dogs consistently turned their heads towards the left or right speaker, depending on the noise. When the pups heard a meaningful word, about 80 percent turned their head to the right (engaging the left hemisphere of their brain). When they heard a meaningless sound (and had to pick up on emotional cues), most dogs turned their head to the left (engaging the right hemisphere of the brain).

Victoria believes that dogs break up speech into two parts: emotional cues and meaning. It then processes these two components on opposite sides of the brain, emotional cues in the right hemisphere and meaning in the left hemisphere--similar to humans!

Neurobiologist, Attila Andics at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, believes that this information could even be used to more efficiently communicate with your dog, targeting emotional noises to the left ear and cues you want the dog to understand clearly to the right ear. This doesn't seem that practical, especially since most words out of your mouth will have both emotion and meaning to the dog, but I would love to see more research in this area so we can uncover information that can help us better communicate with our pets.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Musical Instruments and Dog Breeds
They go together in my mind

At a cello recital a few weeks ago, I just couldn’t get Weimaraners out of my mind. Trying to keep my attention on the music, it occurred to me that it was the music that was conjuring up this breed. For whatever reason, the cello makes me think of these dogs. I’m not even sure whether it is the visual aspect of the instrument matching the dog or something about the sound itself. All I know is that I spent much of the rest of the recital contemplating which breeds are the best matches for various instruments. Some were easy to call to mind, while others took considerable thought.

The upright base was an obvious match for large breeds such as the Great Dane or the Irish Wolfhound. Similarly, the tuba goes easily enough with the English Mastiff and the French Mastiff. On the other extreme, the flute made me think of Pomeranians and Yorkshire Terriers.

At this point, I got stuck. My brain was swirling with dogs and musical instruments without much luck pairing them up in a way that made me feel confident. To proceed, I asked my Facebook friends what dog breeds they associate with various musical instruments. I got the following responses:

Cymbals are adolescent Labrador Retrievers.

Xylophones are Chihuahuas.

Trumpets and French Horns are baying hounds of some sort.

The clarinet is a Jack Russell Terrier.

The bongos are bulldogs.

A piano is a Dalmatian.

I also received some great comments about which instrument went with certain dog breeds. It was then that I realized that I probably should have framed the question that way in the first place. (Dogs first in all things, that’s what I say!) Here are the comments that started with dogs and identified an instrument to go along with them:

Afghan Hounds are harps.

Xolos (Mexican Hairless Dogs) are xylophones.

Chihuahuas are piccolos.

Clumber Spaniels are oboes.

One Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a drummer because of the way his hard tail whacks everything.

Papillons are piccolos.

Miniature Schnauzers are vuvuzelas.

Italian Greyhounds are flutes or piccolos.

Mutts are banjos.

What instrument is a match for your dog? Please identify breed, breeds, or suspected general type of dog. By all means offer your insights if you have my favorite type of dog—the glorious unidentifiable mix!

News: Editors
Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular
With Dogs Galore + Hilary Swank, Jane Lynch and many more stars
Hilay Swank, Miley Cyrus, Channing Tatum, Queen Latifah

There is a must-watch TV telethon on Thanksgiving night for all dog lovers. We urge you to tune into the history-making Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, a first-of-its kind program that features rescue dogs, and only rescue dogs. The show came out of the remarkable efforts of co-producers, Hilary Swank and Michael Levitt, both of whom are big-time advocates for dog rescue/adoption. The show will be cohosted by Hilary Swank and Jane Lynch, and feature a cast of leading Hollywood celebrities, including Channing Tatum, Miley Cyrus, Queen Latifah, Betty White, and so many more.

The idea behind the program is the need to bring the plight of rescue dogs to center stage. It’s amazing, but sadly true, that many Americans still do not understand that millions of dogs are needlessly killed annually in this country, or that others are languishing in overcrowded shelters waiting, and waiting for their forever homes. This program wants to convince people that dogs must be saved and that the perfect dog is waiting for you at your local rescue group or area shelter. From purebreds to one-of-a-kind mixed breeds, there is a rescue dog there for you and your family.

The show will also be a celebration of the human-dog connection and, as Hilary explained, “it will be a joyful family show with a lot of fun and lots of dogs, with best tricks, best howlers, celebrity lookalikes, best viral dog video, plus celebrating the people who have done good work to help dogs and organizations that are doing good things and sharing all those stories.” It’s great that they’ll be featuring the heroes on the front lines of animal rescue, those rescue organizations that work tirelessly to save lives, such as Beagle Freedom Project (featured in Bark’s fall issue) This remarkable show will celebrate not just the rescuers, but also, the dogs themselves, from mixed breeds to purebreds, from youngsters to seniors and those with special needs, highlighting their uplifting, life-affirming stories. This makes for perfect viewing for the whole family.

On Tuesday, Hilary Swank was interviewed by Ryan Seacrest on his very popular iHeart radio show , she explained to the listeners, as she did in our winter issue, the problems faced by dogs in shelters and how grateful they are to their rescuers, she explained how tirelessly rescue groups work to care for dogs and connect them to forever homes, and she also gave The Bark a big shout out. She told Ryan that while she has been on the covers of Vogue and Vanity Fair, it was more important to her, and a bigger honor, to be featured, with her dear dogs, Rumi and Kai, on the cover of The Bark!

We were thrilled by her words but we’ll be even more thrilled if you tune into Fox’s Cause for Paws: An All-Star Dog Spectacular, 8 to 10 pm (7 pm Central time) on Thursday, Thanksgiving night on your local Fox station—tuning in is very important because a large viewership will give networks the green light for further rescue advocacy programming. And, as executive producer Michael Levitt notes, “This is our big opportunity to change the misperception of shelter animals and show the world that rescuing a dog is always the way to go.”

I hope you will be moved to donate to the cause and open your hearts to adopt a rescue dog or help in any way you can. This is a cause where every person can make an important difference. So remember: adopt, foster or donate, and most importantly, spread the word. Join Swank, Levitt and your local rescue communities in saving the lives of animals and enriching your own as well.

For Q&A with HIlary Swank, see here

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trekking to a New Beginning
Stray pup's feat of endurance earns him a spot on a Swedish adventure racing team.
Team Peak Performance, made up of four Swedish athletes, were on a break last week before the final two stages of the 430-mile Adventure Racing World Championship in Ecuador. Mikael Lindnord, the group's captain, was eating his lunch when a scruffy stray dog started begging for a snack. Mikael couldn't resist throwing the sad looking pup a meatball, but little did he know that the tiny morsel would represent the beginning of an unlikely friendship.

The Adventure Racing World Championship is no ordinary race, making this story even more incredible. It's an extreme sport that combines non-stop hiking, trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, and navigation for up to 10 days.


The next stage of Team Peak Performance's journey was to complete a steep and muddy 20-mile trek through the Amazon rainforest. To their surprise, the dog followed them through treacherous terrain. So the team named the persistent pup Arthur (after the legendary King) and began sharing their meals (a significant sacrifice since competitors carefully plan the food they carry during the calorie intensive race). They could tell the dog was exhausted, but Arthur was determined to stay with his new friends.

After they completed the hike, the race was down to the final leg--a 36-mile kayak trip. Organizers warned the team that taking Arthur in a kayak posed a safety risk, to both the dog and people, so the plan was to leave him behind. But when Team Peak Performance launched their kayaks, Arthur swam out to follow them, desperately trying to keep up. Mikael knew there was only one thing to do. He pulled Arthur into his kayak, prompting cheers from spectators.

  Mikael told Public Radio International, "You can't reject a dog that put in so much energy into you. It felt like he was one of the team members, and we didn't want to let him down."

However, it wasn't always easy to kayak with Arthur. The pup kept jumping into the river to chase fish, requiring Mikael to repeatedly stop to pull Arthur back on board.  But they managed to finish the race together.

This story really shows the strength of the human-canine bond, even between those who just met. Arthur wasn't the ideal teammate, he slowed the guys down and took their valuable resources. But the group was committed to matching Arthur's amazing friendship and loyalty. When they were all shivering on the river, Mikael took off his own Gore-Tex jacket to keep Arthur warm. When the guys opened cans of food, they took one bite and gave the rest to the exhausted pup. And while the relationship initially started over a bite of food, Arthur surely stayed with the group for more than just meals.

  After Team Peak Performance finished the race, Mikael took Arthur to the vet to help him recover from the ordeal. Then the tough little pup began the next leg of his adventure--Mikael adopted Arthur and brought him back to Sweden. Once Arthur clears quarantine, he'll get to travel to his new home with Mikael.

Team Peak Performance may not have won the Championship, but they're certainly winners in our eyes!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mornings With Puppies
Advice for navigating this stage of life

I was woken up this morning at 4:45 a.m. by a puppy who needed to go out. The high-pitched sounds indicating her distress were impossible to ignore, and both my husband and I shot awake with uncharacteristic haste. The puppy took care of business immediately when I took her outside, and then came back in to finish the night.

I’m convinced she was ready to start the day, but we are having no part of teaching her that she can wake us up to play or to feed her breakfast whenever the mood strikes her. (I’m concerned enough about teaching her that whining and yelping will make us get out of bed, but since she really had to go and we are still working on house training, I’m choosing to let that go for now.)

It’s a tricky balance with puppies to take them out in the morning when they need to eliminate without teaching them that they control when the fun begins each day. Here are some guidelines for navigating this challenging stage.

1. DO take them out when they need to go, no matter how early it is. Housetraining should definitely be the top priority, which means that your sleep, regrettably, is a distant second.

>2. If possible, DO take your puppy out before she is frantic. The sooner you respond to her cues that she is ready to eliminate, the less you risk teaching her that screeching is the way to get you out of bed. (This morning, we failed to do this, but we had success on other days.)

3. Do NOT make the outing fun. If it is exciting in any way, you will increase her motivation to act like a rooster and crow at first light. That is not good for you or your relationship with your best-friend-in-training. Be dull and matter-of-fact. Leave your personality in bed where it belongs at this early hour. Keep your dog on leash so she can’t frolic joyfully all over the yard and have fun while you try to collect her again. Use treats to reinforce her for urinating or defecating outside to keep housetraining moving along, but don’t have a party over it. If your puppy really wants to go outside to potty, the relief of emptying her bladder along with a good treat is enough. (If you are having serious trouble with housetraining and your puppy rarely eliminates outside, then you should make a really big deal of her success. For the typical puppy who does get this right most mornings, you can be low key about it).

4. Do NOT do anything but take your puppy outside for a bathroom break. The day has not begun yet, so don’t be tempted to feed the puppy or play with her. That just makes the puppy more eager for you to haul yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour. Once she goes, wait a minute or two before you bring her back to her bed or crate. The brief wait prevents you from accidentally teaching her that urinating or defecating results in you bringing her back inside immediately. Dogs who learn this tend to hold it as long as they can until they are ready to return to the house. That may not be such a big deal with a puppy-sized bladder, but once she’s older, you may end up staying outside far too long in freezing weather or when you’re going to be late to work.

One of the biggest challenges in raising a young puppy is dealing with those early wake ups. It’s an important training period because you are working on both housetraining and morning etiquette. In other words, you are teaching your puppy that you only get up for a potty break, and that nothing really fun happens until you (not the puppy!) are ready to face the day.

If you are currently in the stage of puppy raising that involves early mornings, I wish you longer nights in the not-too-distant future and a well-behaved dog for years to come!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Emotional Contagion
Dogs affected by state of their guardians

Emotional contagion is the trigger of an emotional response due to perceiving a similar emotional state in another individual. Emotional contagion has been studied extensively in birds, primates and dogs, among other animals. It is generally more pronounced between individuals who know each other than between strangers.

Emotional contagion occur between dogs and people. There is evidence that dogs are sensitive to their guardians’ emotions and that dogs’ behavior is influenced by the emotional expression of those guardians. It has been suggested that dogs have “affective empathy” towards people. That is, dogs can actually feel the emotional experiences of humans, including stress.

Stress has an interesting influence on memory in both humans and non-humans. The effect of stress on memory follows an inverted U-shaped curve. This means that as stress goes up to moderate levels, tasks that rely on memory improve, but as stress increases further, memory tasks are impaired.

In the recent study Emotional contagion in dogs as measured by change in cognitive task performance published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, researchers investigated the role of stress and emotional contagion between dogs and people on performance in memory-related tasks.

Each dog was randomly assigned to one of three groups—stressed guardian, non-stressed guardian or stressed dog. The direct manipulation of canine stress levels allowed researchers to compare whether stress by emotional contagion had a similar affect as direct stress on the dogs’ performances. Dogs’ stress levels were increased by briefly separating them from their guardians.

Researchers experimentally manipulated the anxiety levels of people and then recorded their responses to a word list memory task. Stress levels were manipulated by giving the person mainly positive or mostly negative feedback during the experiment. Researchers recorded changes in dogs’ responses to memory tasks after guardians were stressed or not stressed as well as after directly manipulating dogs’ stress levels.

Stressed guardians performed better in the memory task than non-stressed guardians. Dogs improved their performance on memory tasks after they were stressed and after their guardians were stressed. Dogs in the non-stressed guardian group showed no such improvement. This study shows that guardian anxiety affects by and has a positive affect on dogs’ ability to perform well on a memory-related task.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mayor for a Day
Frida the Chihuahua mix takes over San Francisco's City Hall.
San Francisco, a city where fur kids outnumber the human kids, had a very special honorary mayor last Tuesday. Frida, a Chihuahua mix, took office for the day, having attained her position through a winning $5,000 donation bid made by her human, Dean Clark, at the Animal Care and Control Department's gala fundraiser in September.

On Tuesday, Frida toured City Hall and other city landmarks before attending a Board of Supervisors meeting in the afternoon, where her human counterpart, Mayor Ed Lee, paid respects to her in his opening remarks and Supervisor Scott Wiener read her a commendation for service. The day concluded with a press conference on the steps of City Hall where Frida was asked about her ties to Governor Jerry Brown's Corgi, Sutter, and her plans for the future. Dean graciously answered on her behalf. Then the event ended with a "retirement package" full of toys, a bed, and other goodies.

Frida is no stranger to the limelight. She rides each year in the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade to promote rescue pups and is an active member of the San Francisco Chihuahua Meetup Group at Stern Grove Dog Park.

Dean, the head of a pet advocacy organization called For the Love of Dog USA, adopted Frida several years ago and calls her the "best I've ever had." He describes Frida as laid back and very smart. The Chihuahua mix was found nursing two puppies under a log in Nevada and was rescued by the ASPCA.

Mirian Saez, acting director of Animal Care and Control, said that it was fun to see Frida at City Hall, but it was also a great way to bring attention to the great work that the organization does. According to Mirian, the department cares for about 10,000 animals per year and has a live release rate of upwards of 85 percent (adoptions, outgoing transfers, and return to guardian), a number that is particularly impressive given they're San Francisco's only open door animal shelter.

It was certainly cool to see Frida show how awesome rescue pups can be, and I hope that future politicians are inspired to be as pro-dog as she is!


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Woman’s Dogs Kill Beagle
Now she’s suing the dead dog’s guardians

Emerald White’s four dogs entered her neighbor’s yard and killed a 10-year old Beagle named Bailey, and now she’s suing Bailey’s guardians for a million dollars in damages. Though my legal knowledge is minimal and my information about this case is limited to what appeared in a newspaper article about it, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this doesn’t seem right.

Apparently, the owner of the four dogs who attacked Bailey is claiming that she was injured when she went into the yard to collect her dogs. She says that she was bitten as well as scratched and requires ongoing medical care for her injuries. She also asserts that her pain and suffering are an issue because she is dealing with anxiety and fear as a result of being “unexpectedly and viciously attacked.” Her legal documents refer to an “unprovoked attack” but I don’t know which dog or dogs she says attacked her. Part of her claim is that Bailey’s family did not have their dog in a secure enclosure. There is some suggestion that the families talked about repairing the fence prior to this incident, with Bailey’s family pointing out that White had not responded to requests to fix her part of it.

The Beagle’s family chose not to sue the woman whose dogs killed their dog, because it would not bring Bailey back. They also felt that the legal response of declaring the other dogs dangerous was appropriate, and were comfortable with the obligations placed on White because of that designation.

I’m heartbroken for Bailey’s family and can only imagine how unfair it feels to be sued on top of suffering the loss of their dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ebola Guidelines for Pets
AVMA releases quarantine recommendations for animals.
Nina Pham is reunited with Bentley after his quarantine.
When Bentley, the dog of Ebola patient and nurse Nina Pham, was released from quarantine a few weeks ago, it was a success for handling pets humanely during a crisis situation. Particularly in contrast to Spain's euthanasia of Excalibur, a dog exposed to the virus last month.

The two dogs, Bentley and Excalibur, led the American Veterinary Medical Association to work with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Agriculture on official guidelines for pets and Ebola. The outcome was released this week.

The recommendation is for pets to be moved out of the residence of anyone being monitored for the virus before symptoms start. However, if these preventative measures aren't taken, animals who have been in close contact with Ebola-infected people need to be quarantined for 21 days. If at any time the pet tests positive for the virus, the animal should be euthanized and the body incinerated. Maybe one day we'll have a cure, but for now this seems like a fair process until we have a better understanding of the disease.

The AVMA guidelines also contain recommendations both for containing the virus (e.g., handlers must wear special protective equipment, animals should receive a new crate and collar when they leave to be transported to quarantine) and for protecting the pet (e.g., the quarantine facility should be up to a certain standard, the food provided should be the same brand and type the pet is used to eating).

According to the CDC, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola, or being able to spread the virus to people or other animals. This statement does seem to contradict previously published research that showed dogs can carry Ebola. It's certainly clear that we don't completely understand how Ebola affects animals. Putting exposed dogs in quarantine gives our pets a fighting chance, but also allows scientists to learn more about the virus. Hopefully one day they'll know how to treat animals that test positive for Ebola so they won't need to automatically euthanize.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
If Only I Could Tell Them
What I want to say to dogs

“We’re just going back in so I can get tissues, and then we will go on the walk.” That’s what I wanted to tell Marley after we went outside and came back inside two seconds later. With a terrible cold, I did not want to head out for an hour with nothing but my sleeve to help me out. Marley came in and out with me agreeably enough, but I so wish I could have told him why his walk was delayed.

If I could talk to dogs—really talk to dogs!—I would want to say so much to them in tremendous detail. Sure, we can communicate in many ways, but I still crave the fuller communication that comes from speaking the same language. Here is what I most find myself wanting to say to dogs:

I love you! Yes, I think they feel my love, and I have many ways to show them that I love them, but it would be glorious to say those simple words and have them simply understood.

I’ll be back in a minute (or 5 minutes or 30 minutes or much later today.) Sure, dogs can recognize patterns and probably have a sense of whether it’s a long absence when I’m dressed for work and head out through the garage to leave by car or a short one when I walk outside with no shoes on because I’m just going to get the mail. Still, it would be so appealing to be able to communicate more specifically and have them understand that. Then, they could be happy about the short absences and ready for a snooze with the long ones.

I know this hurts now, but it’s to make you feel better later. NO matter how gentle we are with our dogs and how carefully we tend to them, sometimes things are uncomfortable for them. Whether it is removing a thorn or a tick, or a serious medical procedure, we don’t have a way to tell our dogs that this is for their own good. Many dogs lovingly accept what we do to them because of their trust in us, but wouldn’t it be nice to able to tell them that we are doing this to relieve their pain, not to cause it?

I agree with you—that dog is a nuisance. I do my best to protect dogs from other dogs, whether I’m talking about serious aggression or simply poor social skills. Yet, occasionally, every dog has an encounter with a dog who is not overly kind. I would love to be able to tell dogs that I agree with them when it’s clear they don’t think much of a particular dog or even think that other dog is rude or obnoxious.

Of course, we do communicate a lot with our dogs through our daily interactions and all of our training, so our dogs often do have an understanding of our plans, intentions and emotions. They often know what the future holds based on previous experiences and patterns. Still, there’s no denying that we lose some detail and subtlety because we are members of different species.

Most of all, it would be wonderful to be able to tell dogs how much better they have made our lives and how much happier we are because of them. We can show them great loving kindness and hope they get the message, but it would be so amazing to express these important sentiments and know our dogs understood them fully.

What do you wish you could tell your dog directly, in simple English (or your native language if it’s not English) if you had that capability.