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Claudia Kawczynska

Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.

Culture: Reviews
Exploring Dogs’ Cognitive Abilities

How Dogs Love Us
By Gregory Berns
New Harvest

Chaser
By John W. Pilley
Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt

What The Dog Knows
By Cat Warren
Simon & Schuster

Spurred on by the marketplace, publishers are quickly getting up to speed in bringing out meaningful “dog books,” those that go well beyond memoirs of canine misbehavior. We credit Alexandra Horowitz and her bestselling Inside of a Dog for much of this turn toward “smart dog” reads. John Bradshaw, author of Dog Sense, also deserves mention; so far, he’s the only canine scientist to go one-on-one with Stephen Colbert. Here are three new books that deserve a place on both bestseller and every dog lover’s reading lists.

Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University who uses functional MRIs to measure activity in the human brain, had long been a dog-lover, so when his family adopted Callie, a hyperactive Terrier mix, he naturally started to wonder what she might be thinking. This led him to consider how he might apply techniques used in his studies of the human brain to dogs. In the fascinating book How Dogs Love Us, he recounts the methods his team employed, and how their pet dogs made these groundbreaking studies possible.

Training the dogs to maintain a sharp and steady focus as well as enjoy themselves while undergoing this testing was key. An MRI machine requires the subject to remain perfectly still in a tightly enclosed space while being subjected to loud thumping sounds. Luckily, Berns found the perfect training partner in Mark Spivak, who was confident that positive reinforcement and clicker training could shape the dogs’ behavior so that they would freely and voluntarily maintain the required position. As it turned out, Spivak was right.

Initial findings showed evidence that dogs empathize with humans and have a theory of mind, and, by extension, that the idea that you must be your dog’s pack leader is a mistake. As Berns notes, “Callie was a sentient being who understood, at some level, what I was thinking and reciprocated by communicating her thoughts within her behavioral repertoire.” There’s much to learn in this engrossing, must-read book.

Chaser, by John Pilley, is the story of how a man and a very smart, committed Border Collie won what amounts to the canine world’s grand “spelling bee.” Chaser learned to differentiate at least 1,022 words—more than any other animal—most of which were related to toys. Throw in some basic grammar, her ability to categorize her toys by function and shape, and the start of imitative behavior and you have an engrossing and remarkable tale.

The man behind this canine phenom, John Pilley (a professor emeritus of psychology whom Chaser knows as “Pop-Pop”), is himself rather amazing. Pushing 80 when he began Chaser’s lessons, Pilley spent four to five hours a day enriching his new dog’s social and learning experiences. He and co-researcher Dr. Alliston Reid later published their findings in the journal Behavioural Processes and garnered lots of media coverage, so you may be familiar with the narrative's broad strokes. To fill in the details, read this book, which will also give you tips on how to tap into your own dog’s genius.

In What the Dog Knows, Cat Warren explores the science and wonder of working dogs, guided by Solo, her German Shepherd. A “singleton” puppy (the only one in a litter), Solo was a challenge to train, even for someone as experienced as Warren. To harness his energies, she decided to try him at scent work—specifically, cadaver scenting. Her own training for this field was also a challenge, one that at times was more than she thought she could handle.

Initially, Warren interpreted Solo’s high drive and almost complete uncontrollability as “bad dog” behavior. However, she came to learn that he was demonstrating characteristics working-dog trainers value: intense drive and resourcefulness. In her words, “Solo was brutally rebooting my canine worldview.” This is a story of how she discovered what that worldview really is, and how she and Solo not only learned to navigate it but also, to excel at it. Warren teaches science journalism at North Carolina State University and has strong investigative and storytelling skills, which makes the book all that more enthralling and engaging.

All three books offer readers new avenues to learn about the cognitive and emotional lives of their own dogs, and are highly recommended by this reviewer.

Culture: DogPatch
Neuroscientist Gregory Berns Reveals What Dogs Are Thinking
Neuroscientist Gregory Berns adopted Callie, a two-year-old mixed-breed, from a shelter at nine months and trained her to lie still in the scanner and wear ear protection.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with neuroscientist, Gregory Berns, lead researcher in the MRI-based Dog Project at Emory University, and author of the must-read book, How Dogs Love Us. He explains the significance of this research and its importance to dog lovers. His findings have convinced him that dogs are people too and deserving of more rights than what society gives them now. See his reasoning behind this conviction, and how it might change the status of all dogs.

 

 

I am curious about the much-popularized “pack leader” thesis and why your study findings point to it being a mistake. Why is that?
The pack leader idea originated from misunderstanding wolf behavior. Modern wolf research has revealed that the social dynamics of a pack revolve around the parents and that there is not truly an alpha-dog. Of course, dogs are not wolves, and humans aren’t alphas, so the analogy to wolf packs breaks down on several levels. What we are finding in our research is neurobiological evidence of the great social intelligence of dogs– especially their interspecies social intelligence–which is not based on a dominance hierarchy. I think the better analogy is for humans to be like the manager of a team (especially if you live with more than one dog!)

Dogs have great observational skills when it comes to watching us. And there are some who believe that dogs have perfected this when it comes to food, and actually go so far as to contend that dogs “love” us for the food we provide. As Stephen Budiansky says, “they are great con artists.” I take it that you disagree with this, but can you tell us why your research proves otherwise?
This is the primary reason why we are doing MRIs. People can project whatever intentions they want onto a dog, but since dogs can’t speak, it remains a philosophical argument. But with MRI, we can see how specific parts of the dog’s brain responds to things like food and social reward. By comparing the relative amounts of activity, we can deduce how much of the dog’s motivation is due to food and how much is due to the social interaction with a human. We’re finding strong evidence that it is not just about food.

How do you know that dogs, such as your Callie, regard human family members differently from other humans?
Because we are presenting different types of stimuli to them while they are in the MRI. We have measured how their reward systems respond to the smell of different humans and different dogs. We have even measured how their brains respond to pictures of humans and dogs they know. Their brain responses show that they can tell the difference and that they have different emotional responses to these stimuli.

Is there any way to convince other researchers who are employing fMRIs with dogs to only do in the approach you have taken? Do you think it is necessary in science at all to have dogs who have been bred simply for this purpose?
We have raised the bar for treating the dogs as sentient individuals with free will. There are still over 50,000 dogs used in research every year, so it is an uphill battle. Most of these dogs are either bred as “laboratory-dogs” – usually beagles – or are acquired from shelters. I hope that our research will show that dogs have many of the same emotions that we do, and that it will become harder to justify using them as research subjects. An exception, however, is the need for dogs in veterinary research to benefit dogs health – like developing new treatments for canine cancer. It is a complex ethical issue to weigh the potential benefits against the suffering of another dog. Perhaps we should apply the same ethical standards we use in human medical research.

You cast a big vote for the personhood of dogs, can you explain how your research shows that dogs deserve this status?
Dogs are considered property under the law. The MRI data makes it harder to deny that dogs have feelings very much like we do and that they deserve a consideration under the law that treats them as more than a piece of furniture. Some people disagree that experiencing emotions is sufficient, and that they would need some sort of moral compass. I disagree.

Why did you decide to only use positive training techniques with Callie and the other dogs?
Because it is the right thing to do. Besides, if we used aversive techniques, all we would have gotten were fearful dogs in the scanner. Fear trumps all other emotions and cognition.

Where is the Dog Project now? What more do you hope to achieve with it?
It continues to grow. We have 25 community dog-human teams in the project. Half of the dogs are “MRI-certified” and have done several cognitive experiments in the scanner. In addition to smell, we’ve been studying the relative reward-response to owner versus an unfamiliar human versus an inanimate object giving signals, like a computer. This will tell us more precisely how socially attuned the dogs are. We’re also studying the differences between the dogs – why some have greater responses than others. We have several service/therapy dogs on the team, and it is beginning to look like their brains react differently than the other dogs. We also hope to study separation anxiety. So many questions!

If there is only one “take away” readers can take from your work, what would you hope that to be?
Dogs’ brains react in many of the same ways that humans’ brains do. We like many of the same things, and dogs value social bonds just like us. Dogs’ superior social intelligence is what makes them dogs!

News: Editors
Cats Stealing Dog Beds

Just in case you missed the newest youtube sensation of cats who just love to steal or bogart dog beds, and the ingenious maneuvers that dogs go through trying to get their beds back—give this a look. I love it that most of the cats seem nonplus by the "attention" they are getting from their dog pals. Really cool cats.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Howard & Erna Soldan Dog Park
Dog Park Case Studies

Description: This jewel of an Off Leash Area (OLA) comprises 15 acres in a woodland landscape, with open fields, shady trails and a large pond. It opened in September 2007, and is owned by the city of Lansing but maintained cooperatively with the Ingham County Parks Department. The park is enclosed by a six-foot fence, and has permeable, sandy soil and easy access to the pond, which is its central feature.

History: What’s unusual about this park is how it started. According to Ellen Sullivan, past president of the Friends of Greater Lansing Dog Parks (Friends), the idea came from thenparks department director Murdock Jemerson. After attending a recreation conference in early 2001 at which dog parks were a hot topic, he tested community interest for them in Lansing. The possibility was eagerly greeted by local dog lovers, and more than 100 people attended the first meeting. It received overwhelming support, and volunteer committees were quickly formed; a more formal Friends group came soon after. It took six years to bring the park into existence.

Financing: To help raise the $100,000 needed for the park’s development, the Friends group established itself as a 501c(3) nonprofit. Extremely well organized, the group developed annual strategic plans and was able to raise significant capital through many inventive fundraising approaches— among them, offering naming rights to the individual or business making the most substantial donation. Those rights went to a local store, Soldan’s Feed and Pet Supplies, which pledged $50,000. Other donors and sponsors came in at various levels, and their names are enshrined on the park’s sponsor board.

Hurdle: Getting the city council to change the ordinance that required dogs to be on-leash in city parks. According to Sullivan, “that took over a year in itself.” Ultimately, the law was amended to permit dogs to be off-leash in designated dog parks. Neighbors also mounted roadblocks. When the park first opened it had 17.5 acres, but after a few complaints, it was downsized to 15, sacrificing a full loop trail and a small-dog area.

Stand-out Feature: In 2010, Soldan adopted a fee-based use system, an approach that many communities, especially in the wake of the recession, have considered but few have implemented. Income from this system has helped defray operational costs such as the purchase of poop bags and portable restrooms, and routine park maintenance. To receive the electronic pass card, owners must provide proof that their dogs are current on their rabies vaccination and are licensed; they are also required to verify that they have read the park’s rules and will abide by them. The annual “key fob” fee is $30, or $15 for students, seniors, military and service-dog owners.

Rules & Regs: Park manager Brian Collins told us that, as is common with many OLAs, “Once the park was established, the Friends group became less involved in the day-to-day operations.” However, the original volunteer community built a strong foundation and provided useful guidelines and rules that are still in use. In fact, their “Getting Ready for the Dog Park” handout—covering (among other things) where to play fetch and cautions against crowding around entrance areas—is one of the most thorough instructional guides we have seen.

What’s Next: Under discussion are improvements such as a ramp for water-loving dogs, a bridge or “floating walkway” to create a loop within the park, trail lighting and paving. Carole Living, long-time park user and supporter, believes that this park “is a place where dogs can run free, swim all they want, investigate all the exotic scents and just be a natural dog. It enriches all our lives.” She also thinks a new user campaign to spread the word should be considered; Lansing is a college town with a high population turnover, and reminders that Soldan Dog Park beckons are needed!

If you would like to recommend a dog park, write to editor@thebark.com and use “dog park” in the subject line.

News: Editors
Autumn Dogs: Loving the Leaves

You have to look really close but you'll see a little head in this pile of fall leaves. Isn't it great when dogs invent games for themselves? For the sheer joy of watching them play, you have to watch this video of a Husky who loves her leaf heap. Would love to see your "autumn dogs" at play too.

 

News: Editors
National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month

In honor of National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month the good people at The Humane Society of the U.S., Maddie’s Fund, HALO, Purely for Pets and the Ad Council (the country’s largest producer of public service advertising) have produced an online video series,  “Meet My Shelter Pet,” to inspire shelter dog adoptions. These charming videos are part of their larger campaign to change people’s perceptions of shelter animals, and ultimately increase adoptions across the country.

Their series leads off, appropriately, with none other than Late Night with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer, with his daughter Victoria talking about their amazing four adopted dogs.

Would love to hear from you why you picked your shelter dog, and what encouraging words you would give to someone thinking of adopting a shelter dog. It really is up to all of us to get the word out!

 

News: Editors
Making a Case for Dogs’ Personhood

In a recent  New York Times, Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist and the author of the excellent new book, How Dogs Love Us, writes an intriguing and engrossing editorial, “Dogs Are People, Too” (which was the top “emailed” article in the NYT the day it came out!).  Berns and his team at Emory University have been testing dogs, the first of which was Berns’ own rescue dog, Callie, using functional MRIs to measure their brain activity, hoping to decode the canine brain. Unlike other researchers at other universities, the Emory Dog Project was the first to do this and the only ones who perform their research with not only volunteer dogs, but also by following a humane protocol that included  “only positive training methods. No sedation. No restraints. If the dogs didn’t want to be in the M.R.I. scanner, they could leave. Same as any human volunteer.”  Other researchers also use “purpose-bred” Beagles, an abhorrent practice.

What they discovered was rather amazing. As I noted in the book review in Bark’s Winter issue, “Initial findings showed evidence that dogs empathize with humans and have a theory of mind, and by extension, that the idea that you must be a dog’s pack leader is a mistake.”

In his commentary Berns notes, “Although we are just beginning to answer basic questions about the canine brain, we cannot ignore the striking similarity between dogs and humans in both the structure and function of a key brain region: the caudate nucleus.”

In making his case for the “personhood” of dogs Berns explains that, “The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child. And this ability suggests a rethinking of how we treat dogs.” And that we can’t hide from the evidence shown in the MRIs, dogs, and other animals (like primates) do have emotional lives, just like us. In his book he describes that the defining traits of dogs is their interspecies social intelligence, “an ability to intuit what humans and other animal are thinking,” and furthermore that, “ Dogs’ great social intelligence means that they probably also have a high capacity for empathy. More than intuiting what we think, dogs may also feel what we feel.”

It is then perfectly understandable that he makes the case for granting dogs personhood, as he wrote in the Times piece, “ If we … granted dogs rights of personhood, they would be afforded additional protection against exploitation. Puppy mills, laboratory dogs and dog racing would be banned for violating the basic right of self-determination of a person.”

Read the whole article here, and watch this video and we would love to know your thoughts too. Gregory Berns’ post on Psychology Today,  is also of interest.

Dog's Life: Travel
Superior Autumn
Revisiting Minnesota’s Highway 61.
Tamarac Lake in the Chippewa National Forest

Lake Superior, northernmost of the Great Lakes, is the largest body of freshwater in the world. While its Minnesota North Shore beckons adventure-seekers and their dogs year-round, fall is a particularly spectacular time to visit. Rocky cliffs, cobblestone beaches, rolling hills, spectacular waterfalls and ridges covered in boreal forest make it a perfect spot for leaf-peeping and dog fun.

DULUTH
Birthplace of Bob Dylan and runner-up in Outside magazine’s “World’s Best Adventure Hub” contest, Duluth puts on quite a show in autumn. The best way to see its hardwood-forest sparkle is to take a drive along the Skyline Parkway Scenic Byway and revel in the multicolored vistas. Crossing the parkway, the 298-mile-long Superior Hiking Trail and shorter city trails provide ample opportunities to explore nature with your dog. (Trail maps are available from the Superior Hiking Trail Association.)

Lake Superior Magazine’s list of premium parkway overlooks includes Bardon’s Peak, Thompson Hill, Enger Tower and Hawk Ridge. Local dog lovers point out that the area’s many cross-country-ski trails are also great places to walk your well-behaved dog off-leash before winter blows in. For more dog-pal diversions, visit the city-owned dog park at Keene Creek Park or take an urban stroll on the Lakewalk pathway along the shore of Lake Superior. On Lakewalk, dogs need to be on-leash, and you’ll fi nd fountains with pup-level faucets. The city’s Canal Park also has much to offer in the way of shopping and local fl avor. Cathy Kates, one of Duluth’s self-proclaimed “dog fanatics,” tells us that some restaurants—including Green Mill, Caribou, Little Angie’s and Bellisio’s—accommodate diners and their canine companions on the patio.

Pet-friendly accommodations include the historic Fitger’s Inn, a former brewery now a luxury lakefront hotel (happily, when it comes to canine guests, they don’t impose size restrictions or additional fees). As you explore the Fitger’s Brewery Complex mall, keep an eye out for A Place for Fido, which caters to active, outdoorsy dogs. Shop owner Jamie Parent tells us that dogs are allowed in all the shops, not just hers. Pick up some “made in Minnesota” Sojos-brand food and treats at Jamie’s place for your drive up the coast.

NORTH SHORE SCENIC DRIVE
“Scenic” certainly seems to be the operative word in this part of the country. The tour continues northward on what was once called U.S. Hwy 61 (inspiration for Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited”) but is now known as the North Shore Scenic Drive. This 154-mile- long route hugs the lake on one side and is bordered by the Sawtooth Mountain Range, with its thousands of acres of pine, aspen and birch, on the other. Just outside Duluth, stop off at the New Scenic Café and sample delicious bakery items on the dog-friendly patio, or get a farm-fresh lunch to go.

On your way to Tofte and Lutsen, you’ll travel through the Superior National Forest, known for its 1-millionacre Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and more than 386 miles of trails winding their way through a truly breathtaking landscape. Stay in one of the dog-friendly rooms at the lakeside Bluefin Bay Resort in Tofte, or go on to neighboring Lutsen and the Cascade Lodge—log cabins and miles of wild, scenic and accessible shoreline surrounded by one of Minnesota’s finest parks, Cascade River State Park.

GRAND MARAIS
It’s a short drive from Lutsen to the quaint harbor village of Grand Marais, where you and your co-pilot can enjoy delicious seasonal dishes at the dog-friendly Pie Place Café. Owner Mary Lear, a die-hard dog lover, welcomes canine guests to the café’s patio area with water and homemade treats; according to Lear, local dog-folk favorites include Artist Point and the breakwater/lighthouse area, as well as a new dog park along the Gunflint Trail. Want to linger a while? The Harbor Inn has several pet-friendly rooms facing the lake.

If a sense of adventure calls, head into the Northwoods for a stay at the Gunflint Lodge on the shores of one of the area’s numerous lakes—Minnesota is, after all, known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes! The resort was started by a mother/daughter duo, and has been operated by the same family for three generations. Their dog-lover weekends, which are offered throughout the year, include activities and seminars on dog massage, training, communication and pet health. Autumn’s Woofta Ufta and Waggalot weekends are great hits.

HIGH FALLS
Another must-see is Grand Portage State Park on the Grand Portage [Chippewa Band] Reservation. Roughly 36 miles north of Grand Marais on the U.S./Canada border, it features the state’s highest waterfall, the aptly named High Falls. The rushing waters plummet 120 feet into the Pigeon River, and the vistas are equally stunning. The easy, one-half-mile trail to the overlook area is a truly memorable way to cap off “everything down Highway 61.”

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: How Dogs Love Us
Exploring Smart Dogs

Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University who uses functional MRIs to measure activity in the human brain, had long been a dog-lover, so when his family adopted Callie, a hyperactive Terrier mix, he naturally started to wonder what she might be thinking. This led him to consider how he might apply techniques used in his studies of the human brain to dogs. In the fascinating book How Dogs Love Us, he recounts the methods his team employed, and how their pet dogs made these groundbreaking studies possible.

Training the dogs to maintain a sharp and steady focus as well as enjoy themselves while undergoing this testing was key. An MRI machine requires the subject to remain perfectly still in a tightly enclosed space while being subjected to loud thumping sounds. Luckily, Berns found the perfect training partner in Mark Spivak, who was confident that positive reinforcement and clicker training could shape the dogs’ behavior so that they would freely and voluntarily maintain the required position. As it turned out, Spivak was right. Initial findings showed evidence that dogs empathize with humans and have a theory of mind, and, by extension, that the idea that you must be your dog’s pack leader is a mistake. As Berns notes, “Callie was a sentient being who understood, at some level, what I was thinking and reciprocated by communicating her thoughts within her behavioral repertoire.”

There’s much to learn in this engrossing read.

 

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: What The Dog Knows
Exploring Smart Dogs
What Dog Knows

In What the Dog Knows, Cat Warren explores the science and wonder of working dogs, guided by Solo, her German Shepherd. A “singleton” puppy (the only one in a litter), Solo was a challenge to train, even for someone as experienced as Warren. To harness his energies, she decided to try him at scent work—specifically, cadaver scenting. Her own training for this field was also a challenge, one that at times was more than she thought she could handle.

Initially, Warren interpreted Solo’s high drive and almost complete uncontrollability as “bad dog” behavior. However, she came to learn that he was demonstrating characteristics working- dog trainers value: intense drive and resourcefulness. In her words, “Solo was brutally rebooting my canine worldview.” This is a story of how she discovered what that worldview really is, and how she and Solo not only learned to navigate it but also, to excel at it. Warren teaches science journalism at North Carolina State University and has strong investigative and storytelling skills, which makes the book all the more enthralling and engaging.

This book offers new avenues to learn about the cognitive and emotional lives of one’s own dogs, and is highly recommended by this reviewer.

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