“Do As I Do” scores high
A rambunctious five-year-old Labrador Retriever who until a few months ago knew not a word of any language, obeyed no command, charged around the house or zipped through any hole in the fence before one could utter the name he didn’t seem to recognize has become my 91-year-old mother’s great and constant companion. He sits or lies by her when she is sitting or lying down. He moves with her when she goes somewhere with her walker and when she tells him to give her clear passage. He accompanies her when she walks around the pool for exercise. She says, “He is a good boy.” My mother has never trained a dog. She had a nice trained dog once, but she had been trained by someone else and given to her.
But Rocky, as he was named by my mother’s granddaughter, received no formal instruction from any source. He was neutered, which helped slow him down, but more profoundly, he and she opted for companionship and accommodation over ignoring each other. She talks to him constantly, telling him what she wants him to do. If she praises him, she is not effusive. She may occasionally slip him some food when she is cooking, and he will if given a chance steal her breakfast bagel. There is no system to it, but there is consistency.Top of Form
More than a few dog trainers who follow behaviorist principles that require a stimulus, a reward or punishment, for learning to occur would argue that Rocky is untrained—that is that he still will not perform on command the actions demanded of him—except he comes when called. He moves when told. He tells my mother when someone is at the door and stands by her when she opens it, thereby providing at least the illusion of protection. If that is not training, what is it?
My friend and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff (“Animal Emotions”), might call the process dog teaching or dog learning.
It might not be as quick or as systematic as one of the common schools of training, including those that use electric collars and choke chains and those that rely on clickers and food rewards or other positive re-enforcers. But then again the results might be quicker, deeper, and longer lasting.
I have seen no statistics on the numbers of dogs educated in this fashion, but I imagine it is substantial. Essentially it relies on the dog’s innate curiosity, desire to please, and recognized ability to imitate behavior and recognize words and emotions, traits which arguably thousands of years of living with humans have served to enhance. It also requires the human have an interest in being with the dog and interacting with him or her in a meaningful way—what used to be referred to as “quality time” with the hound. Praise and rewards are meted out more according to the person’s nature than any program or schedule. They do not have to involve food. Our Kelpie Katie was unmotivated by food—she would ignore food rewards—but when a tennis ball appeared she went on high alert. Even then the ball was not essential to her learning something.
This intuitive style of dog teaching is not without its intellectual underpinnings thanks initially to Edward Tolman in the first half of the last century. He proposed that learning had intrinsic value and that people and animals could learn in the absence of immediate rewards—latent learning it is called. That idea underpins what is called the social theory of learning, which also views learning as a social endeavor that can involve imitation of behavior that is demonstrated or verbally described.
In an article in the January 28, issue of Applied Animal (Behaviour Science, entitled “Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the “Do as I do” method and the shaping/clicker training method to train dogs,” Claudia Fugazza and Ádám Miklósi of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, look at a canine system of social learning that relies on the dog’s great capacity for imitation called Do As I Do (DAID) compared with clicker training, which relies on the timely delivery of rewards to employ the dog’s associative abilities in shaping its behavior. (The article is only available by subscription, but here is the Abstract.) The clicker becomes a stand-in (secondary re-enforcer) for the actual re-enforcer, usually food. Clicker training is individualized instruction that requires the dog to figure out what earns rewards.
Fugazza, a graduate student in ethology developed Do As I Do in order to study social learning in dogs. To do that she had to develop protocols for teaching them. Judging from its success, it should gain a wide following. In this method, trainers, usually the dog’s primary human companion, use standard reward-based techniques to teach the dog to associate a small number of gestures with the command, “Do It!” The dog is then shown a new task and taught to perform it upon being given that command.
For this study, Fugazza and Miklósi compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks of increasing complexity, from knocking over a glass (simple) to opening or closing a locker or drawer (complex task) to a sequence of actions, like hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a locker and removing a purse (compound). Objects were involved in each task that were not considered part of the family dog’s normal repertoire so that mastery of the task could be construed as learning. In the simple task there was no difference in performance between clicker-trained dogs and Do As I Do dogs, but that changed as the tasks became more difficult. Do As I Do dogs performed noticeably better, with more of them learning the task in the allotted fifteen minutes than clicker-trained dogs.
No one knows how the dogs are making the connections, and in their conclusion Fugazza and Miklósi thought it more important to downplay that result in favor, Miklósi said in an email, of providing trainers with as many methods as possible so they can choose the one best suited to their needs.
That is a tactical decision rather than a scientific one. It is grounded in the recognition that, especially commercial dog trainers and trainers of working and service dogs, like to use what has worked for them in the past with the kind of dog on which it has worked. That is one reason punishment-based forms of dog training persist.
For home schooling, time, patience, devotion—and a daily reminder of who has the big brain—are the keys to success and those come from discipline we often need more than the dog.
Used with permission of Mark Derr and Psychology Today, see more from Mark Derr’s blog “Dog’s Best Friend.”
Great support or more pain?
“My best support came from my dog,” is a common sentiment among people who have been through a divorce. That’s no surprise given the well-known benefits of dogs. They ease feelings of loneliness, make us feel loved, encourage exercise, promote playfulness and facilitate social interactions. They don’t put pressure on us to cheer up, to get back out there or to stop dressing like a slob. They always seem glad to see us. There are countless ways that they make life better for people in any kind of emotional pain, including those whose marriages have ended.
On the other hand, if your ex gets custody of the dog, the agony of the split may be compounded. Not only is your spouse gone, but so is your dog. When I’ve talked to people who have not gotten custody and miss the dog, sometimes that pain seems more raw and intense than the loss of the human relationship. In some cases, that may be because the relationship with the dog is better and healthier than the marriage ever was, and sometimes the loss of the dog is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Either way, losing one’s dog adds to the pain of divorce.
It takes commitment to help a dog through the changes divorce brings. For some people, the focus on the dog is a helpful distraction, but for others, it’s just one more exhausting challenge. One friend of mine knew that her ex would be the best guardian for the dog because he works from home and runs with the dog every day. In contrast, she works long hours and travels a lot, and exercised the dog only on the weekends. To her credit, she did not fight for custody, although she does have visitation rights. She loves the dog, so in his interest, she agreed to a situation that she knew would be more painful to her, and it has been.
If you’ve gone through a divorce, how did your dog play into the pain and the process of healing?
The Facebook page focuses on finding homes for aging canines
Brandon Stanton runs the quirky blog, Humans of New York, which features photos and stories of interesting New Yorkers. Despite his focus on people, Brandon has sparked a crusade to promote older homeless dogs. While out taking pictures, Brandon ran into a most interesting character--Susie a 13-year old Chihuahua mix that he calls “the greatest dog in New York.” Despite her age, Brandon fell in love and ended up adopting Susie. Brandon says that Susie “looks like a punk rocker, but acts like a nun.”
Older dogs have a hard time finding homes, even though they can be the perfect pet. Many times they're already housebroken, mellower in personality, and past the annoying puppy antics, like teething. Although young pups may win out on the adorable scale, nothing can beat the deep, loving look you get from staring into a senior dog's eyes. Combine that with the appreciation you get from a rescue pup and you have a winning combination!
Inspired by Susie, Brandon's girlfriend, Erin O'Sullivan, recently created Susie's Senior Dogs, a Facebook page dedicated to finding homes for aging pups. In just over a month, 20 dogs have been successfully placed. The first, 13-year old Nina, was adopted in two days! And the reach has been much farther than New York, with 10-year old Max adopted in Virginia Beach and 6-year old Rosco adopted in Oregon.
I hope that Susie's Senior Dogs sparks a movement across the country that helps highlight these often forgotten pups!
Recognizing the problem is the first step
The dog’s left legs were aimed a little bit skyward as he was lying on his right side. Excessive weight prevented them from being in the usual position—resting on the body with the feet on the ground. His guardian said that their veterinarian wants them to work on shedding some of that weight for health reasons, but that he thinks the dog’s size is just fine.
The problem of overweight dogs is certainly not new, but the trend towards lack of concern about dogs who are way too heavy continues to grow. Lately, many of the people I meet whose dogs seem far heavier than they need to be don’t seem to think that their dogs are overweight and need to lose weight. As a society, we seem to have become accustomed to dogs with a rounder shape, and overweight dogs no longer stand out because there are so many of them. Dogs at healthy weights may even look too skinny to people who are used to heftier dogs.
Recently, one woman proudly introduced me to her dogs, both of whom were significantly bigger than dogs who are at their perfect weight. As I began to pet them, she said to me, “Can you believe my vet thinks they are overweight?” Both of these dogs could probably have lost a quarter of their weight and still not been svelte, so yes, I could believe it.
It’s common for people to be advised to put their dogs on a weight reduction program, but many people decline to participate. Some of that may be because of the effort it takes to help out pets lose weight. The careful consideration of food type and amount as well as the attention to extra exercise make weight loss a big project. Another reason may be that people are just not convinced that their dogs needs to be any lighter.
Does your veterinarian’s view of your dog’s weight match with your own view of it?
Having a Pit Bull Makes Renting Challenging
Last week Shirley Zindler wrote about homeless people and their dogs, the hard life they lead and the difficult choices they have to make. It made me think of a family in Walnut Creek, California—Carol and Peter Devia and their two sons Leandro and Christoffer—who made the choice to live out of their car rather than give up their pups, Camilla and Rocco.
Last year Carol and Peter were fired from their jobs and evicted from their apartment. With their savings dwindling rapidly, they couldn't find a place to live with both of their dogs. While landlords had no problem with Camilla, a Labrador mix, they balked when they met Rocco, a Pit Bull.
Carol says that people keep advising her to give up Rocco, but that is something they could never do. They've had both dogs since they were puppies, with Rocco sleeping next to them every night.
Rocco wasn't always a saint, but from the beginning you can see that the Devias are completely committed to their dogs. After Rocco bit a Dachshund who stuck his nose in the family's yard, the Devias started taking Rocco to classes at BAD RAP, a Pit Bull advocacy organization, which transformed his behavior.
Finding affordable dog friendly housing can be difficult, but it's particularly challenging with a Bully breed. Pit Bulls are most likely to be turned away by landlords, which means they're often the first ones left behind at the animal shelter.
Donna Reynolds, the director of BAD RAP, says that the organization gets countless inquiries from people wanting to rehome their Pit Bull because they can't find housing. Donna advises families to ask friends help, post ads on Craigslist, and to seek help from rescue organizations. She also recommends getting an insurance policy on the dog, so any liability doesn't fall to the landlord, although that hasn't helped Rocco's case.
For now the Devias are making the best of their situation, cooking meals with a Crock-Pot that plugs into the car and driving to the local park to exercise the dogs. The good news is that Carol and Peter are now employed, so they're hopeful they'll be able to find housing soon.
Have you experienced breed discrimination when looking for a rental?
Packs of the pint sizes pups are chasing kids and overwhelming Animal Control
Recently Chihuahuas terrorizing an Arizona neighborhood have been making the news, in part because it sounds so unbelievable. Pit Bulls frequently get a bad reputation, but this situation shows that any dog can be dangerous, often due to human irresponsibility.
In the Phoenix, Ariz. neighborhood of Maryvale, Chihuahuas are reportedly traveling in groups of 10-15, chasing children, bicycles, and cars. Last year the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control received 6,000 calls about Chihuahuas from the Maryvale neighborhood alone. Animal Control has been urging residents to call if they see the strays and has offered to neuter any Chihuahua for free.
Abandoned Chihuahuas have long been a problem at California animal shelters as well. As a New Yorker, it can be hard to believe since small breeds are often the first to be adopted. But that's how Project Flying Chihuahua came about transporting the tiny pups by the plane load from the West to the East Coast.
Hearing about the Chihuahuas make me particularly sad because of how they were objectified as accessories in the early 2000's (influenced perhaps unintentionally by Paris Hilton and films like Legally Blonde). I hope that the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control's neuter efforts are successful, but responsible pet ownership is ultimately the root cause of the overpopulation problem. We must get the word out that animals are not disposable!
Have you heard about the couple in Northern California who were out walking their dog on their property and stumbled upon the greatest treasure of rare gold coins ever found in the U.S? It was buried in eight old tin cans, under an old tree. It’s a great story and evidence that dog walking is definitely worth its weight in gold. The coins, all 1,427 of them, date from 1847 to 1894, the height of the Gold Rush, and have initially been appraised at being worth $10 million. One $20 gold coin, minted in 1866 before the slogan “In God We Trust” appeared on coins, is so rare that by itself could fetch $1 million. The couple, and their pooch, wisely wish to remain anonymous and have lived in this rural area of California’s Gold Country for several years. They did say that this treasure means that now they can keep their property, the man adding, “Like a lot of people lately, we’ve had some financial trials, I feel extreme gratitude that we can keep our beloved property.” The couple also noted that they want to donate some of the proceeds to the homeless and hungry in their area.
What treasures or special finds has your dog sniffed out?
For more news on this story.
Strong opinions sometimes change
We saw a couple on the trails last weekend with two small dogs, and though one was on the ground, the woman was carrying the other one. My husband and I glanced at each other in silent understanding. We had just been talking earlier that day about how odd it seems to us to carry dogs when out on a walk. The benefits of walking dogs include giving them exercise and the chance to explore the environment. Dogs who are in our arms miss out on both of these.
One of the dogs was running along experiencing these benefits and my kids asked if they could pet her, which was fun for all. During the course of our interaction, we asked the dogs’ names and ages, and were surprised to learn that the dog being carried was 17 years old. The couple told us that she just couldn’t walk all those miles anymore, but that she did love to come along and walk a little bit along the way.
They set her down and as she moved, I could see how ancient she was. She walked slowly, stiffly and with disjointed movements, but sniffed the ground, wagged her tail and seemed quite content with her surroundings. She was old, but happy.
As they walked away up the path, the three-year old dog raced back and forth covering twice as much distance as the people. Their old dog followed behind, in no particular hurry, and I felt sorry for her. My first thought was that they should pick the poor dear up so she didn’t have to endure the discomfort of being on those geriatric legs. Then, I felt an urge to laugh at my response. These poor people—I was literally judging them coming and going! (Shame on me.)
Of course, mostly I was impressed that they had a 17-year old dog and that they were still taking her out on walks. It was crazy of me to object to that dog being carried or to having a chance to walk for a bit. They were clearly taking fine care of her and making sure she’s living the good life right up to the end.
Do you have an elderly dog who is small enough to be carried on walks, at least part of the time?
Technology and human kindness saved the day
I just learned about three inspirational rescue organizations in Southern California: StartRescue.org, that offers transport for dogs from shelters in LA to other areas, HopeForPaws.org and TheDogRescuers.com. They all had a hand in a heartwarming rescue about Rosie the stray Pit Bull and her 5 pups, and how these organizations made it possible for all of the dogs to find loving families. The first video, in a series, shows Rosie’s “capture” and how using an iPhone and an amazing amount of kindness and patience, helped, in more than one, to save the day for her and her pups. There are a few other videos that follow, the pups growing up, how one overcomes what seems like an insurmountable obstacle, and a joyous family reunion with mom and the “kids.” All the videos are accompanied by music, so you might want to mute the sound if viewing while at work!
See how they are all getting on now:
Family Reunion http://youtu.be/bNQTBnHDHWY
Rosie with her new family http://youtu.be/krPA8OIG1Wo
Snow days bring alternative ways to burn off canine energy
Thanks to the now infamous Polar Vortex, the North East has been getting hit with endless amounts of snow this winter. The weather means shoveling heavy snow, scraping ice, and for dog families, finding creative ways to exercise the pups. Many of my friends have been lamenting that their back yards are too icy to let the dogs play outside, so they've been opting for creative ways to keep busy inside the house--shaping new tricks, buying tasty chew bones, and playing with brain teaser toys.
My Border Collie, Scuttle, and I have been taking advantage of the conditions by going snowshoeing in upstate New York, where the snow has not iced over. Trekking through white powder is a great workout and heading to the trails in the winter means less crowds. By the time we get home, I've got a passed out puppy on my hands (success!).
Some of my friends in New England and Canada skijor with their pups on cross country skis. I tried my own made up version, snowboardjoring, which ended with me on the ground and my Sheltie, Nemo, jumping on top of me. Although we didn't go anywhere, we both had lots of fun! For those less athletically inclined, I've also seen children sledding with their pups on board this winter.
If you embark on an outdoor excursion with your dog, remember to bring food, water, an extra jacket (for warmth), and booties (for a ripped paw pad), in addition to your own gear. It's important to be prepared to spend more time outside than you planned, in case you get lost or someone gets injured. This is essential in the winter.
What are you doing to keep your pups busy on snow days?
The similarities are considerable
If you’ve always thought that you and your dogs understand one another’s emotions, you increasingly have scientific evidence supporting your views. The use of MRIs allowed researchers to demonstrate that the brains of both dogs and people have a similar response to human voices, crying and laughter, among many other sounds. Researchers conclude that the brains of both dogs and people have similar reactions to the emotional cues in many sounds.
Eleven dogs and 22 people were subjected to the same MRI scans during which they had to remain still for up to 8 minutes while exposed to various sounds. (A lot of training went in to teaching dogs to remain motionless during the scans.) The study is called “Voice-Sensitive Regions in the Dog and Human Brain Are Revealed by Comparative fMRI” (only the abstract is available online) and it was published last week in the journal Current Biology. It is the first study to use this technique to compare the brain of humans to a non-primate animal species.
Over 200 different sounds were played to each participant in the study over a number of sessions. There were sounds such as whistles and car noises as well as dog vocalizations and human sounds. The responses to human sounds in both people and dogs occurred in similar regions of the brain. This study is the first time such a similarity to humans has been shown in an animal species that is NOT a primate. Both the people and the dogs also reacted in similar regions of the brain to emotional canine vocalizations such as whimpering and intense barking.
Along with the similarities, there were also differences in responses between the two species. Humans were better at distinguishing between the sounds of the environment and vocalizations than dogs were. Additionally, both species responded more strongly to vocalizations of their own species.
It is impossible to say from this study whether these vocal regions of the brain evolved in a more ancient lineage than was previously thought or whether the dogs have evolved this similarity during the period of domestication as a mechanism to allow better communication and understanding between dogs and people.
Future studies that investigate brains of additional species may be able to determine the reason for the similarity between dogs and people. These scientists next plan to study the response of dog brains to human language, which was not a part of this study.
The other day Dexter, an adorable Jack Russell Terrier, had the chance to meet up with Micah, a 14-year-old Husky who he grew up with. Dexter’s new mom, Jody, took these charming photos of their joyous reunion. Almost two years ago their first mom, Carol, had died unexpectedly, and the dogs had been separated. We, and other friends of Carol’s, had a hand in finding a new home for Dexter while Micah went to live with a Husky-loving family.
While Micah might have slowed down some, Jody tells us that he howled and romped with his terrier pal who was simply ecstatic about seeing him. The little dog definitely grew attached to the much larger Huskies, and loves running up to greet the ones he sees at the dog park, but he simply adores his Micah, as these photos demonstrate. It was great that Jody was able to track down Micah’s family and arrange for their reunion.
We’re looking forward to our Wire-haired Pointer, Lola, seeing her brother Jack this July. Both dogs, as pups, were found roaming and fending for themselves in the Sierra foothills area of Northern California, and were rescued by a wonderful pointer rescue person. We adopted Lola from her posting on Petfinder.com, while Jack was adopted by a couple living in Utah, who are planning a visit to our area this summer! We can’t wait to see if Jack and Lola, who are now 8-years-old, will recognize each other. We certainly hope they do. And even if they don’t, we are thrilled about being able to meet Jack and his people.
Has your dog ever had the chance for a similar reunion with a dog friend or sibling/parent from the past? Would love to hear how that went!
We've all seen them, the transient with the loaded backpack thumbing a ride with a cardboard sign or hanging out at the park and sleeping in cars with all their worldly belongings. Many of these people have dogs and in some cases are even homeless because of their dogs. People who have lost their homes or are unable to find pet friendly rentals are often forced to choose between giving up their beloved pet and homelessness.
As an animal control officer I've dealt with more than my share of homeless peoples dogs. In some cases these dogs lead a better life than dogs whose owners have plenty of money but no time for them. Other times the owner's lifestyle results in harm to the dog. I've been called to pick up homeless peoples dogs after the owners arrest, illness or death. Sometimes the owners are unable to provide veterinary care or other needs and we try to help them out. We do low-cost or even no-cost spay/neuter surgeries and vaccines whenever possible.
In many cases the dog is a homeless persons only friend and protector in a scary world. I was once called to check on a dog barking and howling beside a freeway overpass. I found a tent tucked back in the bushes and when I approached a black and white Pit Bull began barking at me. I didn't see anyone nearby and the dog was tethered to the tent stake. He retreated inside the tent as I came closer and I peered inside as he growled a warning. The tent was spotless clean and judging from the articles inside I guessed that the resident was a woman. The dog was in excellent weight and condition and wearing a coat. His reaction to my intrusion was appropriate given the circumstances. I posted a notice on the tent and left the dog where he was. The owner later called and confirmed that she had just been out looking for a job and was back with her dog.
I was once flagged down by a man walking with a darling older yellow Lab. He was disabled and had recently lost his job and his home. He was unwilling to go to a shelter because dog weren't allowed but the colder weather had his dog suffering outdoors too. After a brief discussion I agreed to house his dog at the shelter for a period of time while he explored his options. He had tears in his eyes as he lifted his beloved companion into my truck. I promised to take good care of her and drove away with a lump in my throat.
The dog was given a cushy bed on a heated floor in the kennels and I tried to spend a few minutes with her whenever possible. I wondered if she would ever be able to go home. We could have found a home for her, she was darling girl, but I know she would be happiest with her person. The man kept in touch and after nearly a month he found a place to live where he could have her. It was wonderful to see the reunion when he came for her.
There is a well known homeless character in my area who hangs out in the town square with his dog. He's older and wears layers of bright colored clothing with bits of yarn, feathers and other prizes tucked into it. The dog is an obese white mixed breed and he refuses to put a collar on her but leads her with a strip of rags around her waist. I stopped to talk to him one day and asked him how long he had lived like this. He turned his wrinkled face toward me and said “since I dodged the Viet Nam draft.” He then went on to tell me that he loved his life. He nodded toward the dog and said “I've got her, clothes on my back and enough to eat. What more do I need?” And I believe he meant it too.
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