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Dogs and Machine Learning Come Together in an App
Fetch! identifies your pups' breed makeup through new technology.

A few years ago, consumer canine DNA tests became popular among dog lovers curious about their pets' heritage. Through a cheek swab or blood sample, you could see what interesting mix of breeds your rescue pup was made up of. But for many, the novelty didn't warrant the price tag.

Now there's a free, though less scientific, alternative through an app called Fetch! The program was created by Microsoft Garage, a project lab that lets Microsoft employees work on projects not related to their regular job (it's been compared to Google's famous "20% time" initiative).

Using machine learning technology, Fetch! uses a photo database to classify the makeup of a dog. When you take a picture of your pup, it'll tell you the closest percentage of your dog's breed. If your dog is a mix, you can tap the percentage of see the top five potential breeds. My rescue dog, Scuttle, came up as 99% Border Collie, which I think is accurate, but I tried the app with my friends' pups and they came up mostly Basenji and Chihuahua, which I was doubtful about. However, I can see that the accuracy can very depending on the quality of the photo you use.

If you take a non-dog photo, it will say "No dogs found" and offer a guess as to what it is. I tried a photo of my cat and it successfully identified her as a cat. If you use a photo of a person, it will go into Fetch! Fun mode and put cartoon ears on your head and playfully suggest a breed.

Fetch! uses a technology called deep neural networks to identify subtle of differences in images. According to Mitch Goldberg, a development director at Microsoft Research, this is what makes the app successful. You don't train the algorithm on a particular dog breed. In the training process, you give it a number of images and the computer determines what's unique in each of the photos.

Fetch! should improve over time as users leave feedback on the accuracy of the results. Currently the program is available as an iOS app and through a web site.

Whether it's accurate or not, it's certainly a fun program to try with your pups!

6th Annual Puppy Love Poetry Contest
Valentine’s Day 2016

Roses are red, Violets are blue. Write an ode to your dog—we’ve got prizes for you!

We know you love your dog, and what better way to express that love than in verse? Enter The Bark's 6th Annual Puppy Love Poetry Contest. Finish the classic doggerel, “Roses are red, Violets are blue,” with a few lines about your canine Valentine or write your own poem as a comment on our Facebook page or comment below. We’ll have a prize for our favorite, including a selection of treats and goodies and they'll appear in Bark's summer issue!

Multiple entries—and wild creativity—are welcome. The contest ends February 14th 2016 at 11:59 PM PST, so start channeling your inner Shakespeare!

From the Olympic Marathon Trials to Dog Names
Putting a canine spin on anything

No matter what the theme of an event is, there’s a high probability that it will end up being about dogs for me. That was true recently at a going away and good luck party for 15 local runners competing in the US Olympic Marathon Trials this Saturday. Our mountain town—Flagstaff, Arizona—is understandably proud of being the home of some of the world’s best runners, and this night, the focus was on that. We were wishing an elite group of athletes good luck and letting them know that we support them.

For me, though, from the moment a dog was first mentioned, my mind was split between running and canines. Though I was still listening to the runners introduce themselves, offer one random fact we don’t know about them and answer the crowd’s questions, I was also thinking about dog names. That’s because runner Nick Hilton’s random fact was about his dog. His Chocolate Labrador Retriever is named Rad, which is (naturally!) short for a wizard, Radagast the Brown, from Lord of the Rings.

Many other dogs clearly have guardians who are Lord of the Rings fans. Arwen, Bilbo and Gandalf were all popular names at one time. I’ve also met an Aragorn, several Sams inspired by Lord of the Rings, a Frodo, a Pippin, a Tolkien, a Lorien, and a few Shires. I’ve only met the one Rad, though.

Do you know of a dog whose name is Tolkien-inspired? Has your mind ever gone to the dogs when something totally different was going on?

An Unusual Animal Cruelty Charge
A Virginia man faced jail time for failing to bring his dog to the vet.

Deciding when to say goodbye to a beloved pet is never an easy one. When Travis Evans drove to the Stafford Animal Shelter last July to euthanize his family's Labrador Retriever, Buxton, he never imagined that he would be charged with animal cruelty. However, eleven days after Buxton was euthanized, Travis, still grieving, faced a class one misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

The story began in December 2014 when the Evans family noticed a mass on Buxton's front paw. They brought him to a veterinarian who surgically removed the growth, however the procedure revealed that the seven year old pup had terminal cancer. Buxton did pretty well after the surgery until last July when the he had a seizure in the family's kitchen. Travis immediately called their vet office, which was closed, and then local emergency hospital. But by that time Buxton seemed to rebound and was walking around their backyard. Since he seemed to be doing okay, and they already knew about the terminal illness, the family decided not to take Buxton to the emergency vet appointment. But a few days later Buxton collapsed on the floor. Travis then made the decision to euthanize Buxton through the animal shelter.

The animal cruelty case focused on the four day gap between Buxton's first seizure and when Travis brought him in for euthanasia. The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office contends that the family ignored veterinarian recommendations and allowed Buxton to suffer. There's a lot of information missing from this case, so I can see why the charges were later dropped, citing the family wasn't intentionally cruel.

While I understand that the Evans' may have been short on money and felt they already knew Buxton had cancer, but if it were me, I would've brought my dog to the veterinarian immediately following the first seizure. That decision is certainly at the crux of the misdemeanor charge, however it seems like a bit of a slippery slope. The other side of this case is also interesting because the decision of when to euthanize a pet is often a bit subjective. Thinking about one of my past cats, I often think that I let him suffer too long because I didn't want to say goodbye.  

I'm glad that Stafford officials seemto be monitoring potential cruelty so closely, but I can see how these charges could be applied inconstantly. I also fear that this case could discourage people from calling the veterinarian, thinking that it could put them on the radar for a possible charge.

How do you think the Evans' family case should have been handled?

Silver Dog Collar Auctioned

Even if we can’t be there in person to marvel and bid, we love checking out the offerings at the annual Bonhams sale of canine art and artifacts on February 17 in New York. As is customary, there will a trove of historical paintings of pedigreed dogs, many of the hunting variety on display. Though we enjoy these paintings of faithful companions, we find the objects de canine and their fascinating back stories much more to our liking. One such highlight is a Victorian silver collar created in 1883 for a dog named Help. The shaggy black Scotch Collie was trained and handled by John Climpson, a passenger guard on the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. The dog was equipped with a collection box, and traveled extensively throughout Britain and France from 1882 to 1889, raising money for the “Orphans Fund”—a charity that assisted children of railway workers who had died on the job. The tag on his collar was inscribed with a London address where donations would be “thankfully received & duly acknowledged.” His appearances at railwaymen’s meeting, fundraisers and dog show made Help a celebrity, and prompted a legion of charity-collecting dogs. The source of the dog’s name? Here’s a clue: Help’s image appeared on badges with the slogan “Help Our Noble Railway Dog,” with proceed from the sales of the badges going to orphanages. During his lifetime, Help brought in thousands of pounds sterling to aid the Orphans Fund. Upon his death in 1891, at the age of 13, a railway magazine ran a tribute: “No dog probably lived a more useful life the did ‘Help.’” His lovely silver collar and tag is estimated to sell for $2,500 to $3,500.

Antique collars of historical note and belonging to celebrated dogs have become a highly prized collectible in recent years. Bonhams handled the sale in 2010, of a leather-and-brass collar that Charles Dickens used on his dog (shown above), eventually selling for the princely sum of $11,590. A few years later, a brass-and-leather collar from Joe, a sled-dog Husky who died during a 1903 expedition to Antarctica, sold for nearly $12,000 at Bonhams in London. So, hold on to those old dog collars, they may well become a family heirloom one day.

Bonhams “Dogs in Show and Field” auction is scheduled for February 17, 2016 beginning at 10 pm EST. The auction and pre-auction display is held at Bonhams’ New York venue and is available for viewing and bidding online at bonhams.com.

Best Super Bowl Ads 2016
Dogs always rule!

Well, the Super Bowl was nearly ruined for me this year. No, I’m not a Carolina Panthers fan, so the fact that they lost is not my issue (although I do feel for them.) The real problem is that there were no Budweiser puppies this year in the commercials. Those ads are always my favorites, and I missed them.

Perhaps I should consider myself lucky, though, because there were some dog commercials that I really loved. I think my favorite was the one featuring Dachshunds. The “Wiener Stampede” shows dogs dressed in hot dog costumes running towards Heinz condiments as we hear the lyric, “I can’t live if living is without you.”

I know it has been criticized for implying that we are going to eat dogs, but I didn’t take it that way. I loved seeing the dogs running, especially because they looked so healthy and energetic. The puppy was beyond adorable, and when one of the dogs runs by looking straight at us, it’s hard to resist. The reunion with the people and the dogs showed real love and joy. In other words, this commercial had a lot of what I look for in canine Super Bowl ads.

I also liked the commercial with dogs trying to outsmart the manager at a grocery store to get themselves some Doritos in “Doritos Dogs.” Though the dogs were tongue flicking and seemed a little anxious, which was unfortunate, I did like the theme of very different dogs working as a team to accomplish their goal.

I’m including in my canine commercial picks Honda’s ad, “A New Truck to Love” even though the sheep are arguably the true stars, singing Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Since the Border Collie makes several appearances and does some great voice work, I still consider it a dog commercial, and a charming one at that.

Did you have a favorite canine Super Bowl commercial this year, even without an appearance by the Budweiser puppies?

Mutts Comics "Shelter Stories" Series Feb 6
Mesilla's Story

Fans of MUTTS comics eagerly look forward to cartoonist Patrick McDonnell's annual "Shelter Stories." For his latest installment, the week's worth of strips were inspired by his visits to New York City’s only public, open-admissions animal shelter—Animal Care Centers of NYC. McDonnell is a longtime supporter of humane causes and looks forward each year to creating tales that move people to support their local shelters. Today’s comic Mesilla's shelter experience.

Patrick McDonnell was filmed during his time at ACC and will be featured in the national PBS series, Shelter Me. The Shelter Me TV series was created by filmmaker Steven Latham and episode six with McDonnell, “Shelter Me: Hearts and Paws,” will air in May.

Reissued online by special permission of King Features Syndicate.

Cop Investigates and Leaves with a New Puppy
A Florida police officer adopts a dog after responding to a call at a local shelter.

There have been many altercations between dogs and police officers in the news lately, but not all of them are negative. Last month Officer Marcus Montgomery, of the Fort Walton Beach Police Department in Florida, responded to a routine call at the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and ended up leaving with a new furry family member!

While conducting his investigation, Officer Montgomery spotted a puppy who had been abandoned the night before. He jokingly said, "don't bring him in here or else I will take him home right now." But before he knew it, he was holding the pup who proceeded to lick his nose. Officer Montgomery couldn't say no to the convincing puppy that he later named Kylo.

Kylo was left in a box behind the shelter overnight, during freezing cold weather. Now the lucky pup joins the Montgomery family's Pit Bull Terrier, Vader. Kylo also continues the tradition of Star Wars themed names.

Officer Montgomery hopes that Kylo's story will inspire others to visit their local animal shelters to give these abandoned dogs a new lease on life.

Presidential Candidates and Their Dogs
How much do pets matter to voters?

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “You can criticize, me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog.” His little dog was a Scottish Terrier named Fala, and what came to be known as the “Fala Speech” is thought to have helped him secure re-election for a fourth term. His defense of the dog did wonders for FDR’s image.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s image was also affected by his dogs. Pictures of him holding his Beagles, Him and Her, up by their ears upset many citizens. Though the resulting scandal may not have had major effects on his presidency, many people forever thought his treatment of his pets showed his true character, and not in a good way.

Warren Harding certainly treated his Airedale, Laddie Boy, with high esteem. Harding gave his dog a hand-carved chair to sit on during high-level meetings, like a true member of his cabinet. He also celebrated Laddie Boy’s birthday with a party at the White House that included the neighborhood dogs and a birthday cake made from dog biscuits.

Harry S Truman made a major PR mistake when he regifted a Cocker Spaniel he received for Christmas. He gave the dog, Feller, to the White House physician, though the dog became more popularly known as the Unwanted Dog. It’s ironic that Truman did not accept this gift, as he is considered the source of the quote, “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”

Early on in our history, presidents may not have been concerned about how their dogs influenced people’s view of them. That could explain how President Washington was able to name his dogs Tipsy and Drunkard, for example. That surely would not fly in today’s political climate.

Today, we scrutinize everything about our politicians, including their dogs, and that extends to candidates as well. It’s important to know not just who will replace Obama, but who will follow in the footsteps of Bo and Sunny.

Mutts Comics "Shelter Stories" Series Feb 5
Sweetness' Story

Fans of MUTTS comics eagerly look forward to cartoonist Patrick McDonnell's annual "Shelter Stories." For his latest installment, the week's worth of strips were inspired by his visits to New York City’s only public, open-admissions animal shelter—Animal Care Centers of NYC. McDonnell is a longtime supporter of humane causes and looks forward each year to creating tales that move people to support their local shelters. Today’s comic shows Sweetness' adoption experience.

Patrick McDonnell was filmed during his time at ACC and will be featured in the national PBS series, Shelter Me. The Shelter Me TV series was created by filmmaker Steven Latham and episode six with McDonnell, “Shelter Me: Hearts and Paws,” will air in May.

Reissued online by special permission of King Features Syndicate

Dog Escapes Kennel to Comfort Stray Puppies
The maternal instinct is strong in humans and canines.

Last month Karen London wrote about the importance of maternal care on puppies' development. Young dogs whose mothers interacted with with them a lot were more socially and physically engaged than those with less involved moms. Maternal instinct is clearly important for canines, and that extends to "adopted" puppies.

A stray dog in Canada had such strong maternal instincts that she broke out of her kennel to comfort a litter of puppies.

It all started at Barkers Pet Motel and Grooming in Alberta Canada which fosters many dogs while they wait to be adopted. Maggie, a dog whose own litter had already been adopted, heard another litter of abandoned puppies whimpering in the middle of their first night in the facility.

When motel owner Sandy Aldred checked the surveillance camera, she saw that Maggie had somehow broke out of her kennel and was laying in front of the puppies' enclosure.  So Sandy went to the kennel and let Maggie into the puppies' enclosure. The next morning, Maggie was still cuddled up with the puppies. Sandy's son, Alex, believes that Maggie needed the frightened puppies as much as they needed her.

The little ones are around ten weeks old and are still looking for homes through Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS).

According to AARCS worker Deanna Thompson, it's not the first time they've seen this instinct at play. They've even seen male dogs console crying puppies to make sure they feel safe.

Just another way we humans share similar qualities to canines.

Mutts Comics "Shelter Stories" Series Feb 4
Ralphy's Tale

Fans of MUTTS comics eagerly look forward to cartoonist Patrick McDonnell's annual "Shelter Stories." For his latest installment, the week's worth of strips were inspired by his visits to New York City’s only public, open-admissions animal shelter—Animal Care Centers of NYC. McDonnell is a longtime supporter of humane causes and looks forward each year to creating tales that move people to support their local shelters. Today’s comic shows lost dog Ralphy’s experience.

Patrick McDonnell was filmed during his time at ACC and will be featured in the national PBS series, Shelter Me. The Shelter Me TV series was created by filmmaker Steven Latham and episode six with McDonnell, “Shelter Me: Hearts and Paws,” will air in May.

Reissued online by special permission of King Features Syndicate.

Mutts Comics "Shelter Stories" Series Feb 3
Bes' Story

Fans of MUTTS comics eagerly look forward to cartoonist Patrick McDonnell's annual "Shelter Stories." For his latest installment, the week's worth of strips were inspired by his visits to New York City’s only public, open-admissions animal shelter—Animal Care Centers of NYC. McDonnell is a longtime supporter of humane causes and looks forward each year to creating tales that move people to support their local shelters. Today’s comic shows Bes the bunny's adoption experience.

Patrick McDonnell was filmed during his time at ACC and will be featured in the national PBS series, Shelter Me. The Shelter Me TV series was created by filmmaker Steven Latham and episode six with McDonnell, “Shelter Me: Hearts and Paws,” will air in May.

Reissued online by special permission of King Features Syndicate.

Household Additions
A new dog can affect the behavior of other dogs

Maggie’s “Drop It” used to be perfect, making games of fetch effortless from the human side of things. However, today she was hesitant to let go of the tennis ball. Instead of putting it at my feet instantly, it look her anywhere from five to 30 seconds to release it, and sometimes she grabbed for it when she had just put it down. I wasn’t thrilled to see this change in her behavior, but neither was I surprised. A new puppy had just joined the family, and that can have all sorts of effects on other dogs’ behavior.

The decline in Maggie’s “Drop It” skill was the most obvious change. It interested me because the puppy showed no interest in the ball while Maggie was playing with it or at any other time, and Maggie was resistant to “Drop It” whether the puppy was present during the play session or not. I suspect this was not about having to compete with a new puppy for the ball, but rather about Maggie’s emotional reaction to sharing her home with another dog.

Just because the human members of a household are excited about a new addition to the family doesn’t mean that the dogs who already live there are on board. Changes can be upsetting, and dogs are often taken by surprise when a new dog appears . . . and then stays. Unlike people, they are not part of the decision-making process, and don’t have the benefit of knowing a dog is joining them and preparing themselves ahead of time. It can be hard to predict how a new dog will affect other dogs, but it seems there’s always something that changes when the family goes up a canine in number.

When a puppy is added to a family with a middle-aged or older dog, it’s my experience that two results are the most likely. One is that the older dog becomes more playful, lively and generally younger in outlook and behavior. The other result is the exact opposite—that the older dog becomes crankier and more sullen. It seem that sometimes a puppy breathes new life into an older dog, and sometimes a puppy makes an older dog seem a bit more geriatric when he wasn’t like that before.

Even when it isn’t so dramatic, there are often interesting changes in behavior by the dogs already in the household when a new dog joins. Over the years, I’ve observed dogs act a little differently when a new dog comes to stay. Besides becoming more possessive over toys and chews, I’ve seen dogs become more playful with people or less playful with people. I’ve noticed that some dogs bark much more, whether or not the new dog is prone to vocalizing. It’s common for a dog to become much more affectionate, and especially to be extra snuggly in bed or on the couch. Some dogs seem to go on high alert, and others eat much faster. Some become maternal (or paternal) either with the new dog or towards fleece toys. Some adjust their sleep patterns, and others choose different places to rest.

How did your dog’s behavior change when a new dog joined the family?

Mutts Comics "Shelter Stories" Series Feb 2
Wysteria's Tale

Fans of MUTTS comics eagerly look forward to cartoonist Patrick McDonnell's annual "Shelter Stories." For his latest installment, the week's worth of strips were inspired by his visits to New York City’s only public, open-admissions animal shelter—Animal Care Centers of NYC. McDonnell is a longtime supporter of humane causes and looks forward each year to creating tales that move people to support their local shelters. Today’s comic shows Wysteria’s shelter experience.

Patrick McDonnell was filmed during his time at ACC and will be featured in the national PBS series, Shelter Me. The Shelter Me TV series was created by filmmaker Steven Latham and episode six with McDonnell, “Shelter Me: Hearts and Paws,” will air in May.

Reissued online by special permission of King Features Syndicate.

Editors

Shirley Zindler

Karen B. London

JoAnna Lou

Editors

Karen B. London

Editors

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou

Karen B. London

Karen B. London

Guest Posts

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou

Karen B. London

Karen B. London

Shirley Zindler

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou

Karen B. London

Karen B. London

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou

Editors

Editors

JoAnna Lou

Karen B. London

JoAnna Lou

Editors

JoAnna Lou