media reviews
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Commercial for Dogs
Purina releases an ad designed for pets

Sometimes my dogs look at the television, but I'm not sure if they're actually watching. I haven't seen any connection to a particular image or sound. I think they just notice the movement on the screen and have learned to ignore the noise.

I thought that might change when I heard that Purina released what they're calling the first-ever television commercial designed for both dogs and humans. The goal was to make an advertisement that caught dogs' attention, but didn't detract from the dialogue intended for humans.

The resulting commercial, for their Beneful dog food, features a squeak, a high-frequency tone (that humans can barely hear), and a ping noise. Purina also said that the commercial also features whispering, which they found was successful in gaining dogs' attention, although I didn't hear any whispering in the advertisement.

The commercial was released in Austria and can be viewed below. When I played the commercial, my dogs didn't seem impressed. I didn't even see an ear move towards my computer.

How did your crew react?

News: Guest Posts
Inventing the Perfect Pup Product
Leash inventor featured on Quirky reality show

Have you ever felt like you had a great idea for a million-dollar dog product and all you needed was a little technical—and maybe emotional—support?

Tonight, Sara Carpenter of Richmond Hill, N.Y., finds out if her idea for a soft retractable-leash with a pocket for waste bags is going to have its chance at the big time. She’s one of two inventors featured on the Sept. 6 episode of Quirky (10 pm ET), a Sundance Channel reality series built around a product-development company that brings the inventions of everyday folks to market—with a big dose of public input via social media.

Carpenter is an unemployed single mom, an ex-New York police officer (with the accent to match), who pulled together her idea for the Kosuko leash trying to find something that worked for her and her dog, Pom. I have serious reservations about retractable leashes. At the very least, they encourage bad leash-walking behavior, and at the worst, the extended leads create tangling and strangling risks. Plus, a dog running out the full length of the leash can build momentum that is dangerous for the dog and the walker.

That said, I am impressed with people who take an idea and run with it, especially if the motivation is, at least in part, to make our lives with our dogs better.

It has me thinking though: With so many dog products out there, what still really needs to be improved on? What canine accessory would you like to see the team at Quirky tackle next? An edible Frisbee? A calorie-calculating food dish? A nail clipper that your dog LOVES?


News: Guest Posts
Lone Dog on the Tibetan Plateau
The strange case of the Kailash canines

I recently read a review copy of Tibet: Culture on the Edge by Phil Borges (which will be published by Rizzoli in October). Through otherworldly portraits and measured prose, Borges captures a truly rarified place and people caught in the grip of Chinese expansion and modernization.

It’s a fabulous book, and although not a book about dogs or for dog people per se, there was one photo of a dog that stopped me in my reading. Perched on a riverbank, Merda looks noble and self-contained in a stark valley near Mount Kailash. Her story is equally stark, and I share both here with the permission of Phil Borges Studio.

Phil Borges writes:

My guide told me that Merda’s mother survived a dog massacre carried out by the local authorities. Three years ago the large vultures that are instrumental in Tibetan sky burials mysteriously disappeared from the Mount Kailash area. The monks who perform the sky burial began to rely on dogs to dispose of the deceased’s remains. Having developed a taste for human flesh the dogs became dangerous and actually attacked and killed a pilgrim. Not knowing which dogs were responsible, all dogs in the Kailash area were ordered to be killed. Merda’s mother was shot but survived. Merda faithfully followed us for three days as we walked the Kailash Kora.

Such a striking story, it's almost like a fable, a tale of unintended consequences. We enlist dogs in the activities of our lives (and deaths) in so many different ways, and there they are, always, following us faithfully.

News: Guest Posts
Puppy Mill Exposé on HBO
Madonna of the Mills premieres August 24

Mark your calendar for Wednesday, August 24th so you can watch the HBO documentary, Madonna of the Mills. I was able to preview the film and liked what I saw. The movie documents the passion of Laura Amato (the Madonna) on her forays into Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her sole purpose for traveling into the heart of Amish country is the rescue of puppy mill dogs, specifically those who are “used up” (no longer capable of breeding) and slated to be destroyed.

Laura is an intriguing main character. Her composure remains completely passive as she interacts with puppy mill breeders. She is therefore allowed access into the kennels and, on occasion the camera is allowed to follow. When this happens, what we see is predictably gruesome. One wonders how Laura can remain so emotionally detached while in the midst of such inhumanity. Clearly, she understands that such passivity is required if she is to accomplish the task at hand, namely the rescue of innocent victims, one at a time. The movie credits state that Laura has rescued more than two thousand dogs.

For those who are familiar with puppy mills, there’s really nothing new revealed here. The kennel conditions are beyond horrific, the dogs are physically and psychologically traumatized beings, it is clear that legislation is needed to make things better, and there are some happy endings thanks to generous, kind-hearted, patient people.

One could argue that, through her actions, the Madonna is enabling puppy mills to thrive. It wasn’t clear to me if Laura actually purchases the dogs she rescues. What was clear was that that none of her actions would deter the puppy mill trade. Laura is clearly a prisoner of her passion. One senses she would give up anything and everything in her life before surrendering her rescue missions. In a brief moment of emotional vulnerability she talks about the enormity of the puppy mill situation while seemingly trying to convince herself that by rescuing one dog at a time, she is making a difference.

Whether or not you agree with what Laura is doing, the beauty of this documentary is that it will educate the public about puppy mills. Someone contemplating purchasing a pup from a pet store just might be dissuaded from doing so after watching this movie. By the way, I wish the movie had more strongly emphasized that pups purchased online (site and sight unseen) are also likely to be puppy mill progeny. Nonetheless, kudos to those responsible for making this documentary. Have a look and tell me what you think. Have you already heard more than enough about puppy mills or do you think there's room for more? By the way, you may want to have a box of Kleenex close at hand, and perhaps something to soothe your nerves while viewing the graphic scenes.

Here's the trailer:

Madonna of the Mills Trailer from Umbrella Girl Media on Vimeo.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Favorite Summer Movie Gets a Lot Right
Animal accuracy in Hollywood a rare treat

It’s always fun to scoff at Hollywood’s attempts to be scientifically correct, and the opportunities come up so often that resisting the urge to poke fun is usually futile. That’s why it was such a surprise to catch Disney getting so much right in the animated movie Bolt. If you're looking for a good kid-friendly summer rental that gets a suprising amount of canine behavior right, here's a good choice.

There were three particularly charming scenes that are spot-on. In one scene, the dog Bolt plays with another dog, and the behavior patterns that he exhibits are accurate. He and his playmate both perform play bows at the start of play. This behavior pattern consists of putting their elbows on the ground while leaving their back end up. As is often the case in real life, the dogs look at each other with the classic mammalian play face of an open mouth and a relaxed face. They wag their tails, too, which is also commonly seen when dogs perform play bows. Then, after the first set of play bows, there is a pause before a game of chase begins, then another break in the play before it gets going again. The behavior sequence is a textbook example of play between unfamiliar dogs, especially in regards to the presence of so many play bows.

Another scene shows Bolt as a puppy completely obsessed with a squeaky carrot toy. He squeaks it repeatedly, and also pounces on it, grabs it, and shakes it, just as many real-life toy-motivated dogs do. His behavior reveals the same big-footed, clumsy goofiness so typical in real-life young dogs. This toy remains a favorite of his for years, which is also remarkably common in the real world.

The third refreshingly accurate scene in Bolt involves a street-wise cat named Mittens teaching the sheltered Bolt how to beg for food from people. Mittens is very specific and quite savvy about how to look as dear as possible in order to get humans to relinquish their food. Mittens’ instructions to Bolt include cocking his head, opening his eyes wider as he tilts his head forward, putting one ear up and one ear down, whimpering, and lifting his paw. The visuals of Bolt performing each step according to the cat’s instructions make for a hilarious montage as Bolt’s body postures and facial expressions combine in ever more effective ways for getting people to say, “Awww” and surrendering their food. In another toast to the reality of life, when this scrawny cat attempts the exact same behaviors to beg for food, the people tell her to scram or slam the door on her. Cats are generally less effective at getting people to give them food. It seems no animal can churn up humans’ sympathetic giving natures like the dog.

Bolt is no nature documentary. As in most animated films, the animals talk and plot elaborate schemes, and display all the other human-inspired behavior you’d expect from an action flick. Nonetheless, when the animals were being true to their species, all I could think was, “Kudos to Hollywood for this rare and unexpected accuracy!”

News: Guest Posts
“Wilfred”—If Dogs Could Talk

Over the years I’ve imagined up a full and complex human life for my dog. There is something about his personality that screams socially awkward 45-year-old still living at home with Mom. I can’t help it and it cracks me up, so needless to say, I was pretty excited when a friend told me about FX’s newest series, Wilfred.

Wilfred is about a troubled young man, Ryan (played by Elijah Wood of The Lord of the Rings fame) who forms a friendship with his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Sounds like the makings of a nice little show, right? Wrong. You see, while everyone else sees Wilfred as just a normal dog, Ryan sees a marijuana-smoking, Matt Damon-loving, tell-it-like-it-is Australian man dressed up in a dingy dog suit.

Wilfred, played by the hilarious Jason Gann, waltzes into Ryan’s life the morning after Ryan hits rock bottom, and immediately Wilfred begins pushing Ryan to step outside of himself with that special brand of in-your-face honesty that dogs have. Wilfred challenges Ryan to change, and Ryan does.

The humor is lowbrow (think The Hangover), so if that is not your cup of tea then Wilfred may not be the show for you. But, if you can see through the pot smoke and beyond the crass jokes, then you’ll catch a glimpse of something that all dog owners can relate to – dogs make people better.

I guarantee, after the episode is over, you’ll look over to your own best friend in a dog suit, give him a hug and wonder what he has to say about all of this.

Wilfred premiers tonight at 10 pm on FX.

News: Guest Posts
Google Android Still Offering Repackaged Dog Fighting App
Dog fighting is not a game

If you love dogs, this photo* is especially hard to look at. Imagine if this was your dog. For Pit Bull lovers, when we see these images—the brutal consequences of dog fighting—we can't help but imagine our dog in that victim's place. Why was that dog's life defined by cruelty, pain and suffering when my dog's life is spent being loved, pampered and spoiled? The difference is education.


This is why I'm asking Google Android to stop offering the KG Dogfighting app, which promotes and glorifies this inhumane, illegal activity. (This is a repackaged version of Dog Wars, which we thought had been pulled from the market a couple weeks ago.) Dog fighting is not a game. It has real-life consequences not only for the dogs, but for the children and innocent bystanders who witness the fights or horrific results. If a new generation learns to dismiss the worth of all living creatures, including themselves, there are no winners, virtual or otherwise. Game over.


*Editor's note: Originally, Julia included an image of a seriously wounded fighting dog, which we felt was too graphic for the Bark blog. She wanted to post the photo because it communicated the horror of dog fighting in stark, indisputable terms. She has a good point but we felt the image was too shocking for an unprepared reader of the blog. We agreed, instead, to show Hector, one of the beautiful but scarred dogs rescued from Michael Vick's compound in 2007. I add this note, because I don't want to change her words but felt the need to explain why the post and the image don't exactly sync.

News: Guest Posts
Cute Animal Overload
Cuteroulette.com is the most adorablest time-waster in the world

Buckle your sweet-belts, everybody. Cuteroulette.com is here to sweep you into a fluffy vortex of adorable-ness.

Created by New York City design firm Hard Candy Shell, the site brings together a random assortment of “squee!”-inducing YouTube videos. Simply keep clicking the “Next Cuteness” arrow to up your dosage of incredibly precious creatures doing precious little things.   Some of the videos are old chestnuts, like “Puppy Howl” and “Surprised Kitty,” but new friends are in store, too. The videos aren’t relegated to the usual domestic pets, so you may find yourself unexpectedly charmed by a pair of fennec foxes, or suddenly soothed by the sight of a sleeping tiger kitten.   Of course, there are plenty of pups in the feed to keep us dog-people interested. Beware of the “Pug Massage” video, or one of a gangly Great Dane puppy and his perplexing tortoise pal. They’ll make even the most jaded cute-seeker melt like a cheap chocolate Easter bunny.   The most dangerous thing about Cuteroulette? The parade of related videos that appear at the bottom of each clip as it ends. Before you know it, you could find yourself watching 10 baby-and-doggie vids, disappearing into the black hole of “Awwwww.” (Or, like me, end up following the call of the wolf video for 20 minutes.)   Just remember: All productivity will be temporarily terminated upon visiting Cuteroulette. But if you’re having a bad day, there may be nothing better. Watch, you'll see:

News: Editors
New Film Realistically Portrays How We Live with Dogs
Charming Jack Russell shares the screen with Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer

Escaping the office mid-week to sit in a movie theater and watch a film—what a rare treat! Claudia and I did just that one week ago, for a special screening of a new film Beginners, written and directed by Mike Mills, and starring Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent. This gem of a film opens the San Francisco International Film Festival tonight, before its commercial release in early June.

  The fact that a charming little dog, a Jack Russell Terrier named Arthur, appears in nearly every scene is the reason why Bark was invited to the screening. The film is not about Arthur or dogs specifically, but people who love and live with a dog. The dog is not there for laughs or a plot device, he simply is an important part of the characters’ lives, and this natural portrayal is rare among films.   McGregor plays the son, and Plummer, the father with Laurent the son’s love interest. Beginners is an intimate, understated story of self-discovery, life, love and death … and Arthur the dog (performed by Cosmo) is omnipresent for it all. His is a sweet, affectionate performance—coaxed by Mathilde De Cagny, the trainer who gave us that other thespian JRT, Eddie of “Fraser” fame.   Claudia and I loved Beginners, it is one of the most honest and joyous films you’ll see, but also one of the quietest and most restrained. Oh yes, and thought provoking.   We have the good fortune of interviewing the Mike Mills and Ewan McGregor on Friday, and we’ll be sharing our conversation with you in our summer issue.   Check out the film’s trailer, and get a taste of their magic:

News: Guest Posts
Does Your Home Need a Harvey?
Pup makes a convincing case for adoption in UK ad

Think your dog is well-trained? Meet Harvey, and reconsider. This freckled shelter pup performs a dazzling array of helpful household tricks, from shining (and not eating) shoes to picking the kids up at school—as he persuasively argues in this TV commercial, “Every home needs a Harvey.”

Since the ad first aired in the United Kingdom last fall, it’s racked up more than 1 million views on YouTube, and Harvey’s achieved canine celebrity in his homeland. He’s got his own Facebook page, a slew of “behind the scenes” extras and lots of incredibly cute pics for his fans to download. (The commercial is for UK advertising organization Thinkbox, which helps promote TV as a marketing medium.)   Offscreen, Harvey answers to a different name: Sykes. His real-life job as a pup-performer brings him plenty of work, including major film productions like Sweeney Todd, Prince of Persia and the latest Pirates of the Caribbean. In an article in The Guardian, Sykes comes across as refreshingly down-to-earth and charming, greeting the reporter at the door and showing off a sampling of the tricks he performed in his star-making commercial.   Sykes has a special connection to his Harvey character, too: He was once a stray. A friend of his future owner, Gill Raddings, was joined by Sykes while out on a walk. Raddings adopted Sykes after his original owner couldn’t be found, and she added him to her pack of acting animals.   Thinkbox’s “Harvey” commercial is currently getting a second blast of airplay across the pond, to the joy of his 12,000-plus Facebook fans. This time around, maybe he’ll make some new friends here in the States, and convince more people about the joys of adopting a shelter dog.