Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
December 24 2013
Suleika Jaouad is a 25-year-old woman who has been battling leukemia and chronicling this in a blog, “Life, Interrupted,” for the New York Times. In the most recent installment she introduces her puppy, Oscar. Having been wooed by a therapy dog as she during her first rounds of chemo, she had longed for her own dog. As she writes about the effects of the therapy dog visits:
“For the first time since I had fallen ill, I didn’t feel like I was being treated as if I were made of porcelain. The therapy dog made me feel like a human first, and a cancer patient second.”
She had to wait some time after her bone marrow transplant before the doctors gave her the ok to get a dog, but she finally did. At first little Oscar (a shelter adoptee) was a little more “work” than she had expected—as puppies can be:
“Oscar, unlike my caregivers, doesn’t care that I’m tired, feeling nauseous after my chemotherapy treatments. Every morning between 6 and 7, Oscar scoots over to my side of the bed and begins the process of baptizing me with his tongue until I wake up.”
But it didn’t take long for him to open up new worlds for her and help in her recovery.
“Although I was the one who rescued Oscar from an animal shelter, it has become clear that he’s done most of the rescuing in our relationship. … When we leave my apartment, Oscar bounds ahead of me, tugging at his leash as he guides me toward the dog park. For the first time in a very long time, it’s not the cancer that leads. It’s Oscar.”
Do read her whole column here.
December 7 2013
What is it about some cats and dogs when even the braviest of canines give ground to much smaller kitties protecting their patch—on the top of a staircase, near a doorway, a hallway or just about anywhere where a cat likes to guard? It's amazing how well dogs understand feline body language that cries out "you shall not pass." I guess if helps if have sharp claws with kung fu moves.
If you live with a multispecies family, who rules the roost in your household?
November 29 2013
Just in time for Black Friday weekend shopping, we have lowered prices another 15% on The Bark store!! Be sure to check out our newest products—including customized Bark magazine cover prints and retro Tee shirts. You can also put your dog on the cover of our popular smiling dog book, DogJoy, and stock up on all our books, including the bestseller Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Just use the coupon code “Friends” when you check out, for these big savings. Sale ends midnight Monday. But be sure to check in during December for more sales, and special free giveaways.
November 22 2013
A great story out of the UK about the “Woof to Wash”—a new invention that turns a washing machine into one that can be operated by a dog. It makes it rather simple to train service dogs to help disabled people to do their laundry with it. Dogs unlock the machine using a “pawprint” pad, then they pull a rope to open the door, close it with their noses and then bark to start it going. These dogs can even strip beds and fill laundry baskets, and then load and empty the machine too. Amazing, isn’t it?
Inventor, John Middleton had seen a video from the nonprofit, Support Dogs, showing how a dog can strip a bed and load a washing machine, so he thought that he could go one step further and come up with a “bark-activated” machine itself. So with a team of engineers and with the help of Miele, the home appliance maker, they completed this project in little over two weeks.
Support Dogs has trained service dogs using voice commands and hand signals so they can help their owners fetch post, turn on light switches, open doors, assist in dressing and undressing—and now do a complete laundry cycle
As Rita Howson, its director of operations, hailed the bark-activated washing machine and praised John for coming up with a simplified bespoke machine for their clients.
She said “A normal washing machine can be very challenging so the single programme machine is very helpful.”
November 22 2013
It is difficult to think that today marks the 50th anniversary of the slaying of President John F. Kennedy, but even after all that time I still tear up when I think of him. I was fortunate to have seen candidate Kennedy when he came to Buffalo, my hometown, on a campaign stop. I was a "young" Democrat back then and had volunteered to usher people into the packed auditorium, and was lucky enough to nab an aisle seat so when JFK walked down that aisle, I could see him oh so clearly. But a little more than 1000 days after that day, I was in a college bookstore, and the news was playing on a radio when the report came out about the shooting. I truly remember that feeling of utter helplessness and grief that came over me. I ran out of the bookstore and starting pounding on all the classroom doors, telling everyone the horrible news.
The Kennedy family were big dog lovers, but here is one of our favorite photos of a young Jack in 1937 with his pup, Dunker.
November 16 2013
If this already isn’t the newest viral sensation, it soon will be. Nothing cuter than a young child and pup sleeping together!
Jessica Shyba, mother of three, blogs about her newest “child,” a pup her family adopted from the Santa Cruz SPCA. As she writes:
“Big Bird—as he was named at the shelter—was the shyest of them all to meet us, though he bounded instantly into [my son] Beau's lap as soon as he entered their pen. The look on his little furry face was enough to seal the deal for me, we had met our newest family member."
The pup, who has been renamed Theo, has also become the co-star of an adorable photo series on her Instagram account, and appears to have settled into his new home, especially with Beau, his new naptime companion, quite nicely.
Shyba writes that these naps have turned into "what I can only describe as the most organic and beautiful friendship I have ever witnessed." But her other two children also relish their new bro.
November 16 2013
There is a front page story today in the New York Times about emotional support dogs on planes, and how many people seem to be gaming the system. It is obviously a very touchy subject for dog lovers. But one that needs serious addressing. Should rules regarding emotional support dogs (different from assistance/service dogs for blind or physically disabled people) be re-examined? This article dealt specifically with plane travel, which allows emotional support animals to fly free. Those animals (not just dogs) are not restricted to a crate and are even allowed to sit on their guardian’s lap, unlike other animals who must fit under-the-seat in a carrier, and for which a fee is charged on most airlines.
Robert Farr of the Pacific A.D.A. Center explained that, “The Air Carrier Access Act allowed for emotional support animals to be taken on planes, broadening the American Disabilities Act, which recognized service animals in public places.” Little (or no) proof of their status is required. And as the article points out, there seem to be many who are flaunting the guidelines.
Is this a problem? According to Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, it is becoming a big one.
“I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”
Ms. Davis, who uses a wheelchair, flies about once a month, along with a service dog, for her job as a health and human services consultant.
She goes on to note:
“Honestly, I understand that there’s some value that people need an emotional assistance dog. But I think a lot of this is that people love their dogs and think they feel like if you have your dog, why can’t I have mine?” Airline workers echo Ms. Davis’s view. “It’s out of control,” said an American Airlines flight attendant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.
Not only are there psychotherapists who provide the necessary “prescriptive” paperwork, but online stores that sell service dog vests to anyone. Like one in Southern California who the Times spoke with who is willing to offer certification papers for a one-hour $99 phone/Skype call.
I know a few people without legitimate issues who do this as well, like a couple with two 70 lb. dogs who wear such vests. Their dogs are extremely well trained but, to me, that isn’t the issue. They simply prefer that their dogs fly in the cabin with them and not in the cargo, an understandable sentiment, but one that doesn’t give consideration to other passengers, including those with service animals or those with animal allergies.
The comments to this article are interesting, especially when addressing the needs of those with severe allergies. Unfortunately their rightful concerns could also impact other guide/service animals—with stale cabin air being recycled, it is hard not to take into consideration the pet dander allergy issue. One commenter suggested that those with severe allergies should also be accorded “ADA” status, warranting special consideration too.
But there is also the fact that airlines are charging more and more for things that use to be standard for the cost of a plane tickets, baggage, roomier seating, snacks etc., so it was suggested that if they started to charge for emotional support dogs (like they do with “carry-on” dogs), perhaps they would see a reversal in the popularity of misusing the system. Or as another commenter noted,
“When airlines are able to provide a more humane way for our pets to travel on an airplane, i.e. a secured heated in winter/air conditioned in summer section in the cargo area, where the crates are also secured and not dumped in with luggage, etc., when airlines stop asking vets to sign waivers that say if your pet comes out the other end of the flight like a frozen Popsicle or overheated Pizza Pocket and not breathing, when pets do not escape due to negligence on the part of the airline employees, who are not specifically trained to handle animals, are trained properly to do so and in fact have dedicated jobs for only this function, than I would love to be able to relinquish my beloved dog to the airline and get on the plane! with some level of peace of mind.”
Are there really that many people who are abusing the system who, in turn, are making it more difficult for others to bring their service dogs with them? Perhaps an example of how this might be affecting the attitude of crewmembers too comes from a story reported yesterday in the New York Post about a blind man, Albert Rizzi and his guide dog Doxy, who were booted off a US Airways plane by TSA guards. As the story goes:
“The 9-year-old Lab was under his seat, Rizzi said, but the loving pooch got restless as the plane sat for 90 minutes on the runway before the scheduled hour-long flight at 8:30 p.m.
“My dog had been under the seat for an hour and a half, and he needed to be near me, touch me,” Rizzi told The Post. “This is the relationship between a guide dog and his handler.”
But there is great twist to this story when other passengers voiced their support to Rizzi.
“After he [Rizzi] was removed, people on board began to voice their opinion,” said passenger Carl Beiner, a 43-year-old construction manager. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re 100-percent wrong.’ There was not a single person backing the stewardess. Every single person on that flight was behind the blind guy.”
“When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’ ” Passenger Frank Ohlhorst told Philadelphia TV stations. “The captain came out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”
Obviously, one hopes that is an extreme example on how easy it is to fray nerves while sitting in a plane for hours on a runway, and one that the management of US Airways agrees was a severe overreaction by the crew.
As for the broader issue of support dogs being accorded the same status as guide dogs, and how this leads to misusing the system, is this perhaps an example of a good idea gone bad? Is it time to reexamine the certification process? Is more accountability in order? We would love to get your thoughts.
November 15 2013
How Dogs Love Us
What The Dog Knows
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.
November 15 2013
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?
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?
How do you know that dogs, such as your Callie, regard human family members differently from other humans?
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?
You cast a big vote for the personhood of dogs, can you explain how your research shows that dogs deserve this status?
Why did you decide to only use positive training techniques with Callie and the other dogs?
Where is the Dog Project now? What more do you hope to achieve with it?
If there is only one “take away” readers can take from your work, what would you hope that to be?
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