Being an unequivocal dog person, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the opposing sentiment—that not everybody loves dogs. But this point of view was made abundantly clear this past week as I caught up to the growing opposition to dogs in the San Francisco Bay Area, fueled by rants produced in local media. These claims suggest that the societal scales have tipped too far in favor of dogs and their human companions, and that dogs are pampered and over-indulged. Last week, the very popular call-in public radio show KQED’s “Forum” asked the question “Is the Bay Area Too Dog Friendly?”—the program description didn’t mince words: The Bay Area is known for being a dog-loving region, but has our canine adoration reached an unhealthy level? Dogs now accompany us into grocery stores, cafes, and even offices, but some argue that we’re excessively spoiling our dogs at the expense of others. We discuss whether our region really has a dog-coddling problem. The hour-long program can be heard online.
The show featured a local dog rights and off-leash activist; a representative from the SF Department of Health; and a tech writer from Slate.com whose recent article “No, I Do Not Want to Pet Your Dog” (with the tagline “It’s time to take America back”) inspired the program and blasts the untenable overindulgence of San Francisco dogs and their owners. Many examples of irresponsibility and misbehaving committed by dogs and people were cited—dogs damaging city parks, knocking over joggers while their owners remained unaware and unresponsive; attacking horses on trails, thoughtless, selfish dog owners who mislabel their pets as service dogs to gain unfettered access everywhere, aggressive dogs, untrained dogs, and unwanted invitations “to pet my dog.” The activist on the panel, and many of the dog-loving callers, also tried to add a more reasoned and balanced voice and pointed out all the enormous benefits that dogs bring to the community and individuals but recognized that a “few” bad apples do tend to spoil it for the many. The tech author of the Slate article, Farhad Manjoo, a father of a two-year-old boy and an avowed nondog person—argued that parents like himself “rein in” their children far more often than do dog owners. He fueled the heated discussion that veered to the “dogs are worse than children” comparison, and a debate on which Bay Area parent (canine or human) was more irresponsible. He goes on to lament:
But dog owners? They seem to suffer few qualms about their animals’ behavior. That’s why there are so many dogs running around at the park, jumping up on the bench beside you while you’re trying to read a book, the owner never asking if it’s OK with you. That’s why, when you’re at a café, the dog at the neighboring table feels free to curl up under your seat. That’s why there’s a dog at your office right at this moment and you’re having to pretend that he’s just the cutest.
Read the full article here.
It would be easy to dismiss these claims as the grumbling of a small but vocal anti-dog contingent, but to do so would be ignoring the fact that there do exist some serious issues with dogs in our community, such as uncontrollable dogs and their clueless guardians at parks, and dog walkers with far too many dogs, for examples. These public debates tend to exaggerate but who of us have not seen or been the victim of some incorrigible dog guardian’s behavior. Or witnessed the unsupervised “play” at parks that can cause harm to both dogs and people? As a community that has fought and lobbied to expand our rights and those of our dogs to have access to public and private space—it falls upon dog people to listen to these grievances, reach across the divide and understand the real problems that exist, and do our best to tone down the rancor and to find solutions. Wouldn’t it be a shame to backslide into the “old days” when dogs where an uncommon and unwelcome sight?
The Bay Area has always prided itself on being at the forefront of the “dog-friendly” trend, and, so, perhaps it is among the first communities to suffer the backlash of being “overly-permissive” to dogs. Reading the comments on Forum and Slate, it’s clear that dogs are not every person’s best friend. In fact, popular sentiment that dogs are out of control was running 3 to 1—not an encouraging sign. Is this a concern that is creeping into your community? Do you sense that dogs have worn out their welcome? What can dog people do to stem this outcry?
And imitate novel human actions and store them in memory
Researchers have shown that dogs can indeed not only mimic human actions, but can retain actions in their memory. According to a new study by Claudia Fugazza and Adám Miklósi, from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, this deferred imitation provides the first evidence of dogs' cognitive ability to both encode and recall actions. The research is published in Springer's journal Animal Cognition.
In order to test if dogs possess the cognitive ability of deferred imitation, Fugazza and Miklósi worked with eight pet dogs who had been trained in the “Do as I do method” by their guardians. While dogs are good at relying on human communication cues and learn by watching humans (and other dogs), what this study set out to test was if dogs can perform imitatively not directly after seeing a human do it, but some time after seeing the action.
So they made the dogs wait for short intervals before they were allowed to copy the observed human action. An example of the action done by the human and then performed by the dog was ringing a bell or walking around an object like a bucket.
“The researchers observed whether the dogs were able to imitate human actions after delays ranging from 40 seconds to 10 minutes, during which time the dogs were distracted by being encouraged to take part in other activities. The researchers were looking for evidence of the dogs' ability to encode and recall the demonstrated action after an interval.”
Fugazza described how one of the tests was carried out: “The owner, Valentina, made her dog, Adila, stay and pay attention to her, always in the same starting position. Three randomly chosen objects were set down, each at the same distance from Adila. When Adila was in position, Valentina demonstrated an object-related action, like ringing a bell with her hand.
“Then Valentina and Adila took a break and went behind a screen that was used to hide the objects, so that Adila could not keep her mind on the demonstration by looking at the object. During the break, Valentina and Adila either played with a ball or practiced a different training activity, for example, Valentina asked Adila to lie down. Or they both relaxed on the lawn and Adila was free to do whatever she wanted—sniff around, bark at people passing by, and so on.
“When the break was over, Valentina walked with her dog back to the original starting position and gave the command 'Do it!'. In a control condition, the ‘Do it!’ command was given by someone other than the owner, who did not know what action had previously been demonstrated by the owner. After the 'Do it!' command, Adila typically performed the action that was previously demonstrated.”
It is remarkable that the dogs were able to do this. But the length of time varied—with an action familiar to the dog, delays were as long as ten minutes. If the action/task was novel and the the dogs had not be exposed to it before, they were still able to perform it after a delay of one minute.
“The authors conclude: "The ability to encode and recall an action after a delay implies that the dogs have a mental representation of the human demonstration. In addition, the ability to imitate a novel action after a delay without previous practice suggests the presence of a specific type of long-term memory in dogs. This would be so-called ‘declarative memory,’ which refers to memories which can be consciously recalled, such as facts or knowledge."
To view more demonstration on the "Do as I do" method, see this, and the following demonstrations.
Fugazza C & Miklósi A (2013). Deferred imitation and declarative memory in domestic dogs. Animal Cognition; DOI 10.1007/s10071-013-0656-5
Mosaïcultures Internationales 2013
An amazing exhibit of Mosaiculture, including this living sculpture of Hachiko, the Loyal Dog, can be found at Montreal Botanical Garden this summer. I saw this article on Houzz, where it was noted that:
It's not an invasion from the zoo — it's mosaiculture, a type of horticultural art as wild as it sounds. Mosaiculture designers install carefully selected and pruned plants onto two- and three-dimensional designs, creating massive and surprisingly realistic living sculptures. In this exhibit visitors walk along a 2-kilometer (1¼-mile) path to see the work of 50 participants from more than 20 countries. Each designer worked with a set plant catalog to sculpt something from his or her country's culture.
Living Sculptures Delight at the Montreal Botanical Garden */ Architecture, interior design, and more ∨
Home improvement can start with something as minor as installing track lighting or a unique ceiling fan.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Jim Buck preferred dogs to office work
Best known for his dog walking business that cared for up to 150 dogs a day, Jim Buck is considered the first professional dog walker in New York City. (In New York, they often refer to him as the first professional dog walker, but as a person who lives elsewhere, I can’t help but notice how often “first” and “first in New York” are used synonymously. For example, his obituary says, “Mr. Buck . . . is widely described as the first person to professionalize dog walking in New York City and, by extension, the United States.”)
Buck came from a wealthy family, but chose a path different than most. He dropped out of college and chose to walk dogs rather than work at an electronics company, as he did for a while. He said he preferred walking his own dogs and other people’s dogs to suiting up and going to the office.
He was a tall, thin man, often described with a comparison to slender breeds of dogs such as the sight hounds. He was also an original thinker, realizing that there was a business opportunity in providing dog walking services to people working long days in the city. His business, Jim Buck’s School for Dogs, employed dozens of people to help him walk client’s dogs. When he started, his was the only such business in New York City, though now there are huge numbers of them.
Among the stories about Buck and his business is the tale that he used to test potential employees by having them walk an Otterhound nicknamed both Oliver the Artful and Oliver the Awful. Oliver regularly entered phone booths and refused to come out. Buck wanted people who would solve the problem by gently coaxing him out rather than attempting to use force. He claims to have preferred to hire women because he thought they were generally more compassionate to dogs who misbehaved.
It was a different era, and Buck dressed well, as was typical at that time. He wore through his fancy shoes every two weeks, employing the services of a cobbler to repair his shoes regularly. He could easily afford his expensive clothes and shoes because his income as a dog walker was around five times that of the average American and he made more through his business than he ever did at his office job.
Jim Buck retired about 10 years ago and died at the age of 81 on July 4, 2013.
Bazz, wearing his new bee-proof working gear, is Australia’s first apiary dog. Beekeeper Josh Kennett devised this suit so that his Lab, and working partner, Bazz could help sniff out a virulent bee disease, the American foulbrood.
Dogs can’t get near a hive of bees without being aggressively chased away. So Kennett got the idea to train Bazz from his American counterparts but in the U.S. the colder temperatures negate the need for protection.
“Their winters are far colder than ours, with snow over the top of beehives. We don't have that situation here in South Australia.
“So I’ve tried to develop a suit the dog can wear and hopefully avoid being stung.”
He also said that he tried a variety of prototypes because he wanted a suit that “doesn’t restrict him too much,” so had to do a lot of trial and error, especially with the head part.
After a long training period that was started by a professional detection dog trainer, and refined by Kennett to get Bazz used to the suit and to the hives, the beekeeper team is now ready to go
“We’ve now proven the concept, he can find the infected hives.
“To fully cover a dog up and expect it to do the same thing, it takes time to change how he behaves and to get used to that suit.”
Source: ABC Australia
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The silverware question
A friend stopped by while I was preparing a Kong to put in the freezer for later. After stuffing in some treats, some kibble, a biscuit and the canned food to hold it all together once it was frozen, I cued Super Bee to wave. When she lifted her paw properly in response, I held out the spoon I had used to scoop the wet food in and she began licking it. She looked so dear to me as she daintily (there’s no other word for it!) used her tongue to remove what was stuck to the spoon.
Still smiling at the sight of her lovely face, I looked up at my friend, whose face looked significantly less lovely at that moment. It had a look that combined horror and disgust. She asked me, “Is that a spoon you plan to use to eat?”
“Yes, after it goes through the dishwasher,” I answered. She still looked aghast, so I added, “We wash all of our silverware after anybody uses it. Then it’s clean so we can use it again.” This made such sense to me that I felt silly saying it, but obviously my friend found it troubling.
She went on to tell me that most people with dogs or cats would never share their spoons with each other. She said she didn’t mean to make me feel bad, but that what I was doing seemed really gross and didn’t I agree? I did not agree so her speech didn’t make me feel bad, but it did surprise me.
I don’t want to use a spoon after my kids (or any other humans) have used it without washing it first, but then I treat it as clean and ready to go, and I feel the same way about spoons that dogs have used.
Are your dogs ever allowed to lick your silverware?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine "foster parent" inspires people to help out a family in need
When seven-year old David Mbogo and six-year old Mary Wanjiku were abandoned by their drug-addicted mother in Dagoretti, Kenya, they were taken in by their grandmother. Unfortunately she is often busy tending to the five other grandchildren that live with them and trying to make money to support the family.
Enter canine "foster parent" Oscar. Two years ago, the lovable mutt started caring for the two siblings and have now developed a regular routine. At 6 a.m. Oscar waits for the kids to get ready for school and escorts them to the compound. Then he waits for class to end and walks them back home. The lovable mutt has even rescued the kids on many occasions when they got lost.
David and Mary's grandmother has been dealing with a number of problems, including a leaking house and finding the money for warm clothes, food, and school fees. She has a very limited income selling cabbages. Her daily pay averages 200 Kenyan Shillings ($3) and school costs 2,400 Kenyan Shillings ($30) per term. Fortunately, since Oscar's story has gone viral, the pup has inspired many people to send donations for the kids.
Everyone knows that there are families struggling to make ends meet, but it's easy to forget. In this case it's interesting to see how a common love of dogs moved people all over the world to learn more about this family and to send support. It's also cool to see the how fundamental and universal the human-canine bond is. No matter where you are you can find people developing deep relationships with dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Survey helps determine when to make the most difficult of decisions
Deciding when to euthanize a sick pet is one of the hardest decisions that we have to make. When my cat of 18 years became seriously ill, my family was too emotional to make objective decisions. In hindsight, I think we waited too long to put him to sleep, but we wanted to make sure that we tried everything to extend his life.Now a new survey, developed by researchers at Michigan State University, may help us make clear decisions in these stressful situations. The pilot version of their questionnaire was created to help assess the quality of life of dogs undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. In their study, families completed a questionnaire at the time of diagnosis comparing the dog's current behavior with their typical behavior six months prior. Follow-up surveys were filled out three and six weeks later to document changes in behavior as the pups underwent chemotherapy. The veterinarians also filled out shorter questionnaires based on their observations. The separate surveys aimed to balance the more subjective, but complete view of the people who live with the dogs (since they see the day-to-day behavior changes) and the objective, scientific view of the veterinarians. The researchers found that family and veterinarian responses were fairly well-matched, showing that the questionnaire can be a helpful way to find common ground for treatment decisions. The answers were particularly aligned on three questions involving changes in the dogs' play behavior, clinical signs of disease, and perceived canine happiness. Agreement on those questions led researchers to use them as effective indicators of quality of life that could be used in animal cancer clinics. Now the team is planning a follow-up study with hundreds of dogs and their families so that the survey can be adapted to a wider range of illnesses. This tool could potentially help countless stressed families make educated decisions for their pets.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The biter's suffering continued
There was a lot of blood, which is typical for bites to the ears. The little white dog who was bitten was sitting calmly in her guardians lap while her injury was attended to. Despite having been surprised by a totally uncalled for bite as she entered the backyard to join the party, she was doing okay. She was clearly hurt, but this stable dog was accepting the loving comfort of her guardian and didn’t seem as upset as one might expect.
If only the dog who had bitten her had been in such good shape, psychologically speaking, but he was a mess. He had no physical injury, but he was traumatized. He is a fearful dog who had been overwhelmed by the party long before another dog—his biggest fear—had shown up. I had been watching him uneasily for a little while before the incident and had told my kids to stay away from him. I had no way of knowing that he would end up biting, but I could see that he was scared, which put me on red alert because I know that’s the cause of so much aggression.
I didn’t see the bite happen, but I heard a ruckus, and hoped that it was just noise and nothing worse. We were attending an event where we knew almost nobody and in the introductions, I had mentioned that I work with dogs and specialize in aggression. After the bite, the guardian of the dog who had bitten called me over with the plea, “I need you!” Luckily, the dogs had already been separated, which is the only thing that went as I would have advised all day.
The guardian of the dog who had bitten asked me, “What should I do?” and I told her that the kindest thing she could do for her dog was to get him out of this situation. We agreed that he was very afraid, which is why he had bitten, and she told me that he can’t tolerate other dogs at all, but that he had been letting people at the party pet him, which was big progress. The dog may not have behaved aggressively to people petting him, but he was tongue flicking, tucking his tail, trying to move away from them, and his pupils were dilated. He wasn’t just nervous—he was terrified.
The woman did not want to leave the party and said so. I urged her to go home and let her dog escape a situation in which he was clearly miserable, but she didn’t want to go, and stayed there with that poor scared dog for hours. I felt so bad for him and wished that I could have persuaded her to take him home.
I also wish that I could have been more proactive about preventing the bite in the first place. Long before the bite, I thought it would have been a good idea to take the dog home, but if I told people to take their dogs home every time I saw them in situations that seemed beyond what they could handle, I would say it so often I would make the boy who cried wolf seem uncommunicative. It’s not advice that most people want, and I don’t give it in settings when I am not working unless I am asked. And even in this serious case with a bite involved, I was asked and that advice was not followed. The few other times that something bad has happened and I’ve advised people to get the dog out of the situation, they did, so this guardian’s decision to stay was exceptional.
It’s no fun to leave a social event or even to leave your dog behind and attend on your own, but so often these actions are in the best interests of the dog. I feel so bad for both dogs, and I also feel bad that I wasn’t able to lessen the suffering.
Sometimes our dogs communicate with us on levels that are surprising and revelatory. A case in point, having three dogs means that when I work from home, I’m kept busy doing door duty for them—they constantly ask to go out into the backyard, and a few minutes later, after they erupt into a chorus of “chase the squirrel,” I need get them back inside. There they’ll settle down for a few minutes, but then their asking to go out begins anew. Lola, our seven-year-old Pointer, takes her duties on squirrel-patrol very seriously. The two smaller dogs support her cause and cheer her on with a cacophony of barking, whining and high-pitched baying.
One day last week, I finally had it (as I’m sure the neighbors had as well) and decided that the dogs had to stay inside if I were to do any work. Charlie, our newest family member, is a gem of a Terrier boy and if he isn’t already glued to my side, he has spot-on recall, so he came in first. Kit, our Kentucky coy-girl, takes more coaxing but rattling a bag of treats did the trick. Lola is another story, she gets totally transfixed staring up at the taunting-bushy tails, who inspire her to run circles around the trees up on her back legs, like a crazed circus dog. This resulted in a sweaty and not-so merry chase as I tried to grab hold of her. But I finally got her, so in she went too.
I sat down to my computer, and within a few minutes, Lola walked up and looked at me motioning to the back door. I told her, no way am I going to let you out again, but she did this a few more times, even using her chin to gently tap on my hand. But I held firm, and ignored her pleas. A few minutes passed and I decided to go into the office after all, and take the dogs with me, so I called to them to get leashed-up.
But loyal Charlie was missing, and once again, Lola looked at me, and ran to the back door. I then heard a little whimper, and opened the door to find that Charlie had been locked out and was softly crying to come in. His cries were so muted, that I hadn’t heard him, although big sister Lola had. Now that the door was opened, I thought that Lola would bolt out, but instead she and Charlie did a merry little dance, greeting each other as if they had been parted for hours (and not the few minutes it was). I thought that was so touching, and so telling too. All along Lola was signaling not that she wanted out but that Charlie was stranded—but I didn’t have the good sense to figure this out.
It was an eye-opener to me, marking a “Lassie” moment for Lola. It was the first time—or the first time that I “got” it—that she was trying to cue me not for herself but for someone else. Could this be an altruistic act? What do you think, have your dogs done something similar?
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