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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Training by Computer
Researchers explore the possibilities of canine-computer interactions.

Anyone who has trained a dog knows the importance of speed and consistency when it comes to rewarding desired behaviors. But we're humans, and we're not perfect. Can a computer make up for our shortcomings?

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a customized suite of technologies that allows a computer to train a dog by responding to their body language.

The team designed a custom harness with built-in sensors that monitor the dog's posture and sends the information wirelessly to a computer. Then an algorithm recognizes a predetermined data pattern (for instance, the dog going from a standing to sitting position) and reinforces correct behavior by releasing dog treats from a nearby dispenser

According to computer science professor David Roberts, the computer is accurate, but it didn't come easily.

One of the challenges the researchers had to work through was the trade off between delivering reinforcement quickly and giving the algorithm enough time to ensure the behavior had been done correctly with 100 percent certainty. If the reinforcement was given immediately, there was a high rate of rewarding the wrong behavior—a dilemma us dog trainers know all too well!

To address this, the researchers worked with 16 volunteers and their dogs to optimize the algorithm, finding the best possible combination of speed and accuracy. The outcome was highly accurate, rewarding the appropriate behavior 96 percent of the time. While expert dog trainers can achieve a near 100 percent accuracy, the computer has a significant edge in time of response. Even an expert human trainer has a lot of variation in this area. The algorithm is incredibly consistent.

The researchers see endless possibilities in the area of animal-computer interaction. The next step in their work is to see how they can combine this technology with human directed training, to make us more efficient, and also apply the algorithm to training service dogs. One day they also want to explore allowing dogs to “use” computers. Imagine if a diabetic alert dog could use a trained behavior to call for help!

A computer will never replace the special bond that develops between person and dog, but it could be a very interesting tool that could help us more effectively train our pups.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mandatory Airport Potty Areas for Dogs
Transportation hubs add pet relief areas ahead of the August deadline.

Thanks to a federal regulation, all airports in the United States that service over 10,000 passengers per year will have a pet relief area in every terminal by this August. Many transportation hubs have added potty spaces in the last few years, but the looming deadline means many shiny new relief areas are popping up all over the country in 2016.

A major upgrade was recently unveiled at my local New York City airport—in John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 4. This building already had a pre-security potty area, but this can be a logistical nightmare for dogs needing to take a quick potty break before a flight takes off. Imagine worrying about whether your pup has time for a last bathroom trip or if you'll get stuck waiting on the security line to get back to the gate. Having an area after security provides huge peace of mind for traveling pet lovers.

The new space, located between the men's and women's bathrooms near Gate B31, is behind a door marked with a pawprint. The relief area features a patch of artificial turf and a little red hydrant, as well as poop bags and a hose to aid in clean up.

Many professionals were consulted in the design, including the Guide Dog Foundation.

With an increase in traveling pets, these post-security relief areas are much needed. I hope that this is a sign that airlines are recognizing the importance of catering to animal lovers and their companions!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs in the Road
Modern Dangers

An adrenaline rush at the movies or on a roller coaster is fun, but not when the cause is seeing a dog dodging traffic. Yesterday, a dog raced across a busy road, right in front of our car, and then perilously close to oncoming traffic. He was running in a zigzag pattern and was clearly not experienced at crossing the street. I honked a few times, hoping to put all other drivers on alert so they could take evasive action to avoid this dog.

Fortunately, the dog made it safely across many lanes of traffic to the other side, but unfortunately, he immediately headed back across the road. There was more honking and braking, some skilled swerving and another blast of adrenaline all around. The dog survived his second crossing with help from a lot of drivers and a bit of luck thrown in. He was then in the grocery store parking that was the scene of his escape, where a woman grabbed his collar and held onto him.

I pulled into this parking lot just in case a spare leash would be helpful.(I usually have one in my car.) I arrived just as the dog’s guardian did, looking incredibly relieved and full of gratitude for the woman who had caught her dog. Thanks to a modern convenience, the dog had been released from the guardian’s car when she accidentally hit the release button for the back hatch instead of the one to unlock the doors. She was just exiting the store when it happened, so she was close enough to the car to activate it, but too far away to stop her dog from leaping out and going on his brief, but dangerous, escapade.

With this technology so commonplace, precautions against the dangers it presents to our dogs are in order. Securing our dogs with crates or barriers is an obvious option for avoiding this kind of trouble. There are so many arguments in favor of having our dogs in crates when they are in the car, and this is just another one.

The guardian of this dog was horrified about his near disaster, and will certainly have nightmares. (I probably will, too!) Even though her dog rides in the crate, she had let him out for a little more freedom while shopping, not considering the potential risk her new car posed.

Has an accidental hatch opening ever given your dog an unplanned adventure?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Who Stole the Cookie?
A stressful situation for dogs

A canine whodunit is the set-up for this video. It’s not a murder mystery and there’s no butler, but still the crime must be solved. When two dogs are asked who took the cookie off the counter, one dog reaches out and puts his paw on the other dog. The gesture clearly says, “She did it.” I do like the use of a single behavior as the basis for an elaborate joke, and the idea is unquestionably adorable. Though it’s easy to have a little chuckle about it, it’s also easy to feel concern because both of these dogs show signs of stress.

The dogs appear to have quite a bit of training, and are probably on stays. The dog on our left is presumably responding to a visual cue to bop the other dog with his paw, though it is supposed to look like he is answering the speaker’s question about who is the cookie-taking culprit.

Neither of the dogs looks comfortable as both exhibit signs of anxiety. There are a lot of tongue flicks, constant worried expressions, multiple stress yawns, slightly cowering postures, and the closed-mouth look of dogs who are not relaxed. It may be that the dogs are stressed by the anticipation of the bop by one dog to the other. Neither dog seems too happy about it. The dog who paws at the other dog tongue flicks before or during every repetition of this action, and the dog on the receiving end often does the same afterwards.

Another possibility is that the camera is stressing them out, which is really common in dogs. Either way, although both dogs are obedient and the basic idea behind the skit is amusing, the emotional state of the dogs ruins it a bit for me.

Dog's Life: Travel
Swedish Restaurants Add Canine Menu
The Avenyfamiljen group creates special entrees for their furry customers.
Now that it's spring time in New York, I know I'll be seeing many dogs sitting by their families on outdoor restaurant patios. When I go with one of my pups, I'll give them a few bites from my dish or a roll from the bread basket. Many eateries welcome pets here, but only a few offer items specifically for them.

Several countries outside of the United States allow restaurants to be even more pet friendly, letting them welcome dogs inside. The law in Sweden has allowed eateries to choose if they'd like to welcome dogs since they joined the European Union in 1995. Avenyfamiljen, a restaurant group in Gothenburg, Sweden, has taken advantage of that law for a long time now, believing that it's natural to have dogs around and adds to the atmosphere of the space. But they've recently decided to take it to the next level by giving furry guests their very own menu.

Avenyfamiljen's assistant manager, Tobias Hamberg, says that bringing your dog to a restaurant in Sweden can still be a controversial matter. "Most people appreciate if the dog gets a bowl of water or simply an entrance." Avenyfamiljen wanted their restaurants to be even more dog friendly by creating a special canine menu. Dogs can choose from main courses such as beef and cod.

For those of you who won't be getting to Sweden anytime soon with your pups, Taverna Averna, one of Avenyfamiljen's restaurants, has offered the following recipe for you to recreate their menu at home:

Mix the following ingredients and garnish with chopped nettles. 

  • 1/3 parts raw game chopped into small pieces
  • 1/3 parts grated vegetables (carrots, parsnip, turnip, cabbage, etc.)
  • 1/3 parts boiled rice

Enjoy!

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Putting Words in Dogs’ Mouths
Technology facilitates communication

What if dogs could talk? Specifically, what if service dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs could talk? Associate Professor Melody Moore Jackson at Georgia Tech, and a team that includes Professor Thad Starner, Research Scientist Clint Zeagler, and Jackson’s Border Collie Sky, are developing technology that allows dogs to say anything we give them the capability of saying. They’ve called their project FIDO, which is short for “Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations.”

They developed a vest with sensors on it that dogs can activate to communicate. The vest can play a message or send a text to a smart phone. From a training perspective, it’s a basic system—dogs are trained to hit specific sensors in response to certain cues. So, if asked which toy a person is holding, the dog can hit a sensor that plays a message that says, “That is the Frisbee®” or “That is the ball.” That is a cool trick, but the real genius of this vest is the variety of messages dogs can send.

For example, a service dog for a hearing-impaired person might hit a sensor in response to an alarm that sends a text saying, “I heard the alarm,” and a different sensor in response to the doorbell so that the message reads, “I heard the doorbell.” Many hearing impaired dogs lead their person to the source of a sound, such as a crying baby. This vest adds to the benefits of a service dog because it would also allow a person to be notified of a sound that is not reachable, such as a tornado siren. Just like distinguishing between the ball and the Frisbee®, telling these sounds apart is a type of discrimination task, and is the basis for many of the ways that this vest can be used.

For example, detection dogs are usually trained to bark if they find what they are looking for, perhaps a drug or an explosive. Although dogs are often trained to search for multiple types of drugs or explosives, they are limited in their ability to communicate the details of their finds to their handlers. It can make a big difference to everyone’s safety if the dog can let a handler know that the bomb is a stable type or an unstable one that needs careful handling. This vest can allow a dog to share more specific information.

This group developed a vest that allows a dog who has found anyone trapped after a natural disaster to activate a sensor with a message for that person to hear. The message lets the trapped individual know that help is on the way. Work is underway to develop a vest that allows a dog to activate a sensor that sends GPS coordinates to a handler. This allows the handler to join the dog, who does not have to leave the person who has been found. That could be lifesaving for a child who is hiding or for a person who is unable to move for whatever reason.

Similar technology could benefit people with any number of health problems. Imagine that a person with epilepsy has a seizure and the service dog has been trained to activate a sensor in response to that situation. The activation of the sensor would result in a call to 911 and also send a message to a family member. The message would include GPS coordinates and say, “My person had a seizure and 911 has been contacted.”

The possibilities of this technology are limitless. A dog could be trained to hit a sensor in response to someone saying, “Get help.” When that sensor is hit, a recording plays so anyone nearby hears, “My owner needs your attention. Please follow me.” This technology is very exciting because it allows dogs to communicate specific helpful information to people. The beauty of the design is that it is relatively easy to teach dogs with a solid base of training to activate sensors in response to specific cues. These vests represent a wonderful blending of solid dog training with new technology to increase the ability of dogs and people to accomplish a variety of tasks together.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Love, Loss and the Gift of Old Dogs
Dillon abandoned dog
Its been a rough few months around here with a great deal of loss. I remember in January and February sitting with the dogs one evening after work and knowing that 4 of them were likely not going to be around much longer. Three of the four were past ten with a variety of age related issues. Tyra was the youngest at only about 6 but Great Danes have one of the shortest lifespans of any breed and she suffered from wobblers disease and other serious issues common in the breed.    The first to go was our dear old German shepherd Dillon who we took in with another dog, Molly, when their home burned in the Valley fires. Dillon was old and frail when he came to us. He was in liver failure, heartworm positive and had advanced hip dysplasia. He had 5 good months with us before his issues took a toll and we had to say good bye.  Exactly one week later, 13 year old blind pit bull Patty had declined to the point we couldn’t keep her comfortable and our hearts broke again. Patty came to us at age eleven as part of a felony cruelty case and we had 2 ½ wonderful years with her. Patty was perfection in dog form. She had a gentleness, presence and wisdom I had rarely seen even with 30 plus years of working with dogs.       I was feeling incredibly fragile when Paul and I got home from the vet after letting Patty go. Two dogs in one week was heartbreaking and overwhelming. We walked in the door and our sweet Tyra was down and in distress. She had been failing for months and in fact several times it had seemed as if she would be the first to go. Tyra had wobblers disease, common in Great Danes and we had been having to help her up for months. She had nerve damage, intermittent incontinence, weakness and other ongoing  issues. I was usually able to help Tyra get up but at 120 pounds it wasn’t easy and that time I couldn’t get her up at all. After trying several times with no success I knelt beside her and took her big beautiful head in my hands.  I knew it wasn’t fair but I couldn’t help it. I’ve never been one to prolong the inevitable for my own needs but I was crushed with sadness and I struggled to breathe as I looked into her sweet brown eyes. “Sweetheart, I can’t do this. Please give me more time. You have to hold on a little longer for me. Just a week,” I begged her. ”Please, I just need a week to pull myself together”. We held each others gaze for a moment and then with Paul’s help we were able to get her up and moving.      Tyra actually rallied for several months and it was a daily struggle but she still had a lot of joy in that time. We monitored her quality of life on a daily and often hourly basis, constantly weighing her comfort and happiness against the inevitable. We kept in touch with her vet, tried acupuncture, pain meds, anti-inflammatorys and more. In the past week it finally came to the point that her bad days outweighed the good and we knew we had to let her go. The vet came to the house and she slipped away in her own bed surrounded by those who loved her.    The pain is still sharp and raw and the tears are quick to spill but that is the price of love. The greater the love, the greater the pain. And dogs are so worth it. So incredibly, amazingly worth it. I could have easily spared myself the agony of loss by just not taking them in. But how much richer my life was by knowing them. How sweet was the time I spent with them. And not only did they bring such precious love and joy to my life but what would have happened to them had I not taken them? Certainly there are worse things than a humane end in the arms of caring shelter staff, but how much better to be embraced by someone who loves you deeply and fully. Every dog deserves to take that last breath in the arms of someone who loves them so much that the tears flow but the sobs are held back until the last heartbeat to spare them the worry of seeing your grief.   
News: Editors
Off-Leash Recreation is Being Threatened
Lola at Crissy Field, GGNRA

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is proposing a roughly 90 percent reduction in its off-leash space. And we have only until May 25 to comment on this draconian proposal.

The GGNRA oversees more than 80,000 acres of the Northern California coastline, and of this, dogs have only been allowed on approximately 1 percent. Their proposed new Dog Management Plan will reduce that smidgen by 90 percent, which is a significant hit.

Although a unit of the Dept. of the Interior’s National Park Service, GGNRA is in a decidedly different category than the more traditional parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite. From its inception in 1972, it has been charged with balancing habitat protection with recreational activities that predated its creation: “To provide for the maintenance of needed recreational open space.” Foremost among those activities was (and is) off-leash dog-walking. One of the groundbreaking 1970s “parks for the people,” GGNRA serves a densely populated metropolitan area and is an invaluable resource for locals and visitors alike, providing access to outdoor recreation for millions of people each year.

For many of us, especially women and seniors, off-leash recreation with our dogs is our only form of exercise. We don’t kayak, bike, run or cross-train. What we do—from time immemorial, it seems—is simply walk with our unfettered dogs, enjoying the regenerative benefits of spending time outside. We also acknowledge that a balance needs to be met with respect to other park users and the natural resources that we all value.

But we believe that an acceptable balance was not adequately taken into consideration during GGNRA’s rule-making deliberations. Rather, opinions and desires expressed by special-interest groups such as the Sierra Club and Audubon Society and prominent donors held greater sway than those of local elected officials and the many thousands of off-leash advocates (and other park users) they represent. And because this is thought to be a precedent setting judgment, it can (and will) be used against off-leash activity is other areas throughout the country.

During two recent public meetings held by the GGNRA and chaired by park superintendent, Christine Lernertz, in response to questions about how they regard the opposition from the vast majority of residents, local elected officials and humane organizations, Lernertz brushed those questions off and referred to GGNRA's “national” status, meaning they are a park for the whole nation. (She did though reference their concern about tourists from other countries, and what would they feel about seeing dogs on beaches.) So if indeed the GGNRA is a national resource for all of us, they need to hear from all of us from both inside and outside the area.

Your comments are needed now and due before May 25:

What do I say in my comment?

·    See talking points and sample comments here, or here or see the one below.

·    Consider making the point, in your own words. If you are outside the Bay Area, tell them where you are located and how important the issue of off leash recreation is to you, especially in public land owned by the federal government. Your voice matters too.

How do I submit my comment?

  • Go to https://www.regulations.gov, type 1024-AE16 in the search box, and press Enter.
  • Click the Comment Now! box on the results page.
  • Click the Commenter's Checklist link to view a PDF with commenting guidelines and tips.
  • Enter your comment and other required information in the form provided.
  • General Sample Comment Letter

    “I am writing to voice my opposition to the highly restrictive proposed rule for dog management at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). It was established by Congress as a national recreation are—not a national park. Banning dog walking recreation from nearly all of the GGNRA is a violation of public trust and the unit’s enabling legislation.

    These significant restrictions to dog walking are being proposed without any evidence that dog walking is causing actual impacts to GGNRA’s natural resources or visitor experience.

    I am especially opposed to the provision that would give GGNRA’s superintendent a blank check to ban dogs without any sort of public input process and before any impacts from dogs occur.

    I strongly urge the National Park Service to rethink its proposed rule for dog walking at GGNRA. Please take into account the input and concerns of the thousands of people in this country that are opposing this plan.”

    Also see:

    http://www.saveourrecreation.com/resources/

    http://www.saveoffleash.com/

    https://youtu.be/ZUe1fdoo_Ek

     

     

     

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Dogs and Senior Adults
    Study shows the importance of the human canine bond.

    Dog lovers well know the importance of the human canine bond, but continued studies in this area are important for providing data that supports pet friendly privileges and legislation.

    Researchers at the University of Missouri recently completed a study that showed evidence for the association between dog walking and physical health in senior adults by analyzing data from the National Institute on Aging and the Social Security Administration's Health and Retirement. The research included data about human-animal interactions, physical activity, frequency of doctor visits, and health outcomes.

    They found that dog ownership and walking were related to increases in physical health. The researchers also looked at how strong the bond was between people and their pups. Those with stronger bonds were more likely to walk their dogs, and spend more time doing so, than those with weaker bonds. Pet walking provided a means to socialize with other people as well.

    Rebecca Johnson, a professor and director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at MU believes that “these results can provide the basis for medical professionals to recommend pet ownership for older adults and can be translated into reduced health care expenditures for the aging population.”

    Having known more than a couple people who have struggled to find or maintain housing because of their beloved pets, I know this struggle can be even more challenging for older adults who may have less options. I hope that this study will encourage more apartments and retirement communities to adopt pet friendly policies. 

    Good Dog: Behavior & Training
    Teach Your Dog to Ride a Skateboard
    Skateboarding must be taught step-by-step

    Nobody has entered my house this week without being told, “Hey, come take a look at this!” I have then showed them this video of Bamboo the skateboarding dog.

    Most of the viewers asked, “How do you train your dog to ride a skateboard?” Doing it step-by-step is the key to success, as it is with all training tasks. Here are the steps I would suggest for teaching a dog to ride a skateboard.

    1. Help your dog to be comfortable on the board. This step is critical and I recommend doing it slowly. Rushing it will slow down your eventual success. Start by reinforcing the dog for putting one paw and then two on the board while it is secured with a piece of wood or with your foot acting as a brake. If the board is adjustable, start with the board tightened so it can’t rock back and forth.

    2. Get your dog used to being on the board while it is moving, starting with just a few inches and then a little bit more at a time. Only allow the board to move slowly. Ideally, you should take advantage of opportunities to reinforce the dog for having all four paws on the skateboard and for letting it move with one paw hopping along behind.

    3. Reinforce your dog for pushing the board with one or both back paws. These pushes are a critical piece of having a dog propel the skateboard for any distance rather than just passively riding a board you have set in motion.

    4. Gradually increase the speed and the distance that the dog covers before reinforcing him. Some dogs may not enjoy the increased speed or riding it for a longer period of time. Stay within your dog’s comfort zone.

    5. Loosen the skateboard in stages so that it rocks back and forth (necessary for steering) and go through the entire process with the board at each one of these settings. You can then reinforce the dog for steering, which is accomplished by shifting his weight to one side or the other as he rides.

    The dog in this video is very experienced and highly skilled, but few dogs will attain that level of success at skateboarding. Always keep in mind what your dog can comfortably do so that you don’t put him in a situation that is over his head. Stick to smooth surfaces, keep him away from roads and other dangers, and don’t send him down a hill of any kind, no matter how mild, until he is ready.

    Just as in people, some dogs are athletic, fearless and adventurous enough that skateboarding comes fairly naturally to them. Other dogs may never reach true proficiency at it, but might enjoy doing it very slowly for brief periods. There are also dogs who are clearly not suited to this activity, and if that’s the case for your dog, there’s no need to even consider attempting to teach him to ride.

    Do you have any interest in teaching your dog to ride a skateboard?

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