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Good Dog: Studies & Research
Studying Human Relationship with Dogs Through “The Walk”
A different perspective than most canine research

A recent research paper “(Just) a walk with the dog? Animal geographies and negotiating walking spaces” is based on the premise that the walk is an interesting event for studying the human-canine bond. The general conclusions of the study were that the personalities of both human and dog influence the walk, and that the walk is a part of life which involved power negotiations between the dog and the human. It also reports that according those interviewed for the study, people want their dogs to enjoy getting to “be a dog” by running free on walks.

This research is so different than most other research on dogs and dog behavior, and at least part of the reason is that the background of the researchers is completely different. They are not ethologists, animal behaviorists or psychologists, which are the scientists that publish the majority of studies on canine behavior. The lead author of the paper, Thomas Fletcher, is a specialist in the sociology of sports and leisure with special interest in race, ethnicity, diversity, social identities and heritage. The second author on the paper, Louise Platt specializes in festival and event management with an interest in cultural identity and constraints of social norms.

The research and its conclusions seem pretty simple for anyone familiar with dogs and what we have learned about them and our relationship with them over the past few decades. What interests me about the study is that it reveals a perspective on dogs that will be unfamiliar to many in the dog world. The article indicates that the researchers hold an antiquated view of the relationship between dogs and humans, stating that “the walk reflects the historical social order of human domination and animal submission,” going on to point out that the walk “allows humans and dogs to negotiate their power within the relationship” and that “Rather than there being a one-way flow of power where the human is dominant, the dog walk is where humans and dogs negotiate power within their relationship.”

The study consisted of 10 interviews with dog guardians about their dog walking experiences. From these meager data, the researchers made their conclusions, most of which are already known. (For example, “The data reveal that humans walk their dogs in large part because they feel a deep-rooted emotional bond with them and hold a strong sense of obligation to ensure they stay fit and healthy. Perhaps more interestingly, humans also walk their dogs because they believe their dogs have fun and are able to be more ‘dog-like’ while out on a walk” and “The walk was seen as an invaluable opportunity for dogs ‘to be dogs’. There was widespread belief that dogs are happiest when out in the open, and it is here that they are able to best demonstrate their ‘dog-ness’.”)

My initial response to this study was negative because of the small sample size, the rather obvious conclusions and the out-of-date perspective on the relationship between our two species. But my second impulse was to value the fact that the researchers were investigating dog and human interactions from a field that has largely ignored animals and their role in human lives until all too recently. They clearly plan to do more research, based on their statement that “Moving forward, we would like to see research taking place that can capture the ‘beastly’ nature of animals, allowing them to act without human interference.” Becoming more familiar with previous research about dogs and understanding our strong evolutionary history will hopefully guide their future research, allowing them to make worthwhile contributions in the future.

Though I was not impressed by the research or its conclusions, some of the quotes from the transcripts of the interviews are quite relatable, and will likely resonate with many dog lovers. I especially loved this comment: “One of the biggest joys for us is when one of us stands at one part of the field and the other; and he just runs. And we’ve managed to time him. He does 30 miles an hour.  And he looks like a cheetah, he looks like a wild animal.  And it just makes your heart, I mean, I feel a physical change in my body when I watch him run, which has never been created by anything else, really.”

News: Editors
Mary Tyler Moore: A Loss for Fans and Animals

Television fans (and working women in particular) are mourning the passing of actress Mary Tyler Moore. She is the rare individual who not only entertained but inspired generations with her characters’ independence, smarts and spunk. The actress will also be missed by her beloved animals—the menagerie of cats and dogs she shared her home with, and the legions of animals saved through Broadway Barks, the animal rescue event/organization she founded in New York with her friend Bernadette Peters. The star-studded event benefits New York City animal shelters and adoption agencies, while educating New Yorkers on the plight of the thousands of homeless dogs and cats in the metropolitan area. In July, Broadway Barks celebrated its 18th annual fundraiser, contributing to 27 organizations and adopting out over 200 animals. The event and organization will continue as a living testament to the love and spirit of Mary Tyler Moore, actress, producer, philanthropist and activist.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
How to Keep Pets Comfortable at Home
Comfy rooms for dogs

There’s a briskness in the air. That means it’s time to cozy up your home for the pets. Sure, the human household members are important, but we can’t deny our furry housemates those same creature comforts we enjoy. Here are some ideas for getting your pets’ hangouts and bedding ready for the cooler temperatures in ways that are attractive to humans.

Build them their own nook. Cutouts like this circular one make the pet part of the decor. While cats may split from the family fun, dogs usually prefer to lie right in the heart of it. Encourage Buddy to not be a tripping hazard, especially in the kitchen, where it can be a serious hazard. Instead, give him a safer hangout all his own from which he can monitor the action. Wherever you find the space for such a pet nook, fill it with plush materials that can be washed easily and often.

 

Photo by Busby Cabinets - Browse traditional laundry room ideas

 

Create a cave. Dogs generally crave a cave-like bed (when they aren't sprawled out in everyone's way). This undercounter crate provides that same atmosphere. A fitted cozy inside offers added warmth on frigid nights.

 

Photo by Brenda Olde - Browse eclectic living room photos

 

Instead of trying to hide the kennel, turn it into furniture. This dog's kennel acts as a table base that sits smack dab between his esteemed pack leaders' chairs.

 

Photo by Vanni Archive/Architectural Photography - Discover traditional living room design ideas

 

Give them matching furniture. Not into showing off the kennel? Create an elegant bed that resembles the rest of the room's decor. Find pet furniture or pillows that share similar properties with other facets of the room, such as color, finish, shape or texture. This dog bed blends in nicely with the living room, thanks to its library-like qualities.

 

Photo by Landing Design - Look for traditional living room design inspiration

 

This little Brussels Griffon gets to make himself at home on a loveseat under his portrait when he's not hanging out in his own room. With something like this, just make sure guests know not to sit in the no-human zone. If there is no delineation between pet and people furniture, lining furniture with stylish throws offers extra cush to cushions while keeping fur off them. Just make sure your throws (and any nearby pillows) are as washable as they are attractive.

 

Photo by A+B KASHA Designs - Search modern bedroom design ideas

 

Keeping Things Clean and Other Considerations Washability.

Washability is an important factor for any fabric that your pet sleeps on, especially during the rainy season, when muddy paws are a constant.

This guy's easy; he doesn't need his own bed. He'd much rather sleep in between his human companions. Good thing the comforter washes well.

Time apart at night. Just because your pets want to sleep next to you doesn't mean there's room for everybody. If you enjoy having your love bugs close to you at night, consider offering them a bench at the foot of the bed as their own. This way they can still see and hear you without sandbagging your feet.

Style. For larger breeds or multiple pets who enjoy one another's company at night, choose a bed that complements your own. There are no rules about what a pet's bed should look like. As long as the bed is comfortable for the animal, take liberties to make its design work with your room.

 

Photo by COOK ARCHITECTURAL Design Studio - Browse traditional kitchen ideas

 

Color. It's believed that animals can't see color like we humans can. But that doesn't mean their bedding can't offer color in abundance to please our tastes. Pet pillows and upholstered cushions can be opportunities to add shots of seasonal color or pull from the existing room palette.

 

Photo by Scheer & Co. Interior Design - More home design ideas

 

Outdoor shelter. Not all pets are allowed — or wish — to sleep indoors. It's especially important to make sure they're sheltered from the elements. This customized wine barrel is a stylish covered bed that doubles as a planter box.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Who’s the Real Winner?
Dog makes the most of opportunity

Coming when called and ignoring anything interesting along the way is a challenge for dogs. Two dogs in this video succeed, running right to their guardians even though there are so many exciting distractions. The third dog? Well, he has a glorious time even if he doesn’t do what his guardian wanted.

It’s fair to say that he needs more training to fully master the task. Dogs who succeed with this much temptation have likely had extensive training in similar situations, although the occasional dog is so gifted at recalls that this task is not as challenging as for the rest of the dogs on the planet. For the sweet dog in this video who is clearly not one of those “gifted at recalls” dogs, the incident in the video is a huge training setback. Potentially, it was an opportunity to learn that ignoring all the goodies and going directly to his guardian is the way to “win” because he gets to play or receive something of great value. Instead, he learned that there is a lot of great stuff to be had along the route and that being a “stop and smell the roses” kind of guy is a great strategy for getting the most out of life.

I find it endearing that nobody becomes upset with the dog. His guardian simply goes closer to him with a toy to influence his behavior so that he does (eventually) come to her. Everyone remains cheerful despite the dog’s epic failure, and nobody is more delighted than the dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Heartwarming Story of a Deaf Shelter Pup and His Soulmate
A girl and her pup share a disability and, more importantly, a special bond.
In case you're in need of an uplifting video, check out the story of Julia and Walter who are now celebrating their first amazing year together. Walter, a mixed breed puppy born with hearing loss, was at a California shelter when a girl came in with with her mother to look for a furry addition to the family. The girl, Julia, was also born deaf, just like Walter.

“When I first held Julia, since she couldn’t really hear my voice she would smell my neck,” her mother Chrissy says. “When I first held Walter, he did almost the same exact thing. I remember just looking at him and I knew he was meant to be ours.”

Julia and Walter have since developed an incredible relationship and understanding of each other. Each day Walter waits for Julia to finish her homework, and then they go out and play. Julia has even taught Walter words in sign language, such as sit, food, and water.

Chrissy says that Julia has learned a whole other kind of love. “I never let her feel any different because of her hearing loss and it’s amazing how she is doing the same with Walter."

Watching the video, you can see the sheer joy that Julia and Walter bring each other. It's such a heart warming example of the human canine bond. The Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA in California put this clip together to capture Julia and Walter's special relationship and hope that it will inspire others to look for their soul mate at their local animal shelter.

“Hopefully our story will encourage others to adopt and love their pets a little more," explains Chrissy. "These two are my loves and they have taught me that love defines all.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Random Act of Heroism
A man runs into a burning house to save a stranger's dog.

Early Saturday morning, Michael Petenaude was driving back from a friend’s house in Dracut, Mass. when he spotted a house on fire. It didn't look like help was on the way, so Michael called 911 and got out of the car to assess the situation. As he approached the home, Michael saw an elderly woman running down the driveway with a dog in her arms. Her other pup was still inside.

Without a second thought, Michael immediately ran in the house, pulling his sweatshirt over his face to get through the thick back smoke. Michael was afraid, it was hard to breathe and there were bright orange flames were everywhere, but he persisted.

As if the situation wasn't challenging enough, the frightened Yorkie kept darting away when Michael came near. Finally he followed the dog into another room, closer to the flames, and grabbed the pup so they could both escape to safety.

Although Michael put his life on the line for a stranger's dog, he would do it again in a heartbeat. 

“When you put it that way, it sounds a little crazy," admits Michael. "But if you see a 76-year-old lady with just her two dogs, it's like her kids almost. If my dogs were in here, I'd want somebody to grab them."

The 20-year old is thinking of becoming a firefighter one day and has already proven he has the bravery needed for the job. There's no doubt that Michael is a hero in the eyes of one grateful woman and her two pups.

Elaine Buote had lived in that house for over 60 years, since she was 10, but she's just glad that her dogs are safe, thanks to Michael. What an inspiring act of selflessness!

Dog's Life: Humane
A Dog’s Purpose
Training of dogs for movie under scrutiny

The movie “A Dog’s Purpose” is suffering what can only be called a PR disaster after footage has surfaced showing unacceptable treatment of one of the dogs during filming. In response to the treatment of the dog, many people have vowed to boycott the film, which will be released next week.

In the clip that is causing the controversy, a German Shepherd is being forced into turbulent water to film a scene in which the dog rescues a child from drowning. The dog is being physically pushed into the water despite clearly resisting, and even climbing back out using the side of the pool and the trainer as footholds. The dog looks panicked, and is making obvious efforts to avoid being tossed in the water, even clawing at the edge. You can hear someone say, “Don’t worry, it’s warm water at least,” and “He ain’t gonna calm down till he goes in the water” and “You just gotta throw him in,” all of which show complete disregard to the well-being of the dog, who is truly terrified. At one point, you hear someone say, “I think he wants to go in,” which is clearly wishful thinking. The next thing you hear is the more truthful, “He wants to get away! Just throw him in,” which is exactly what happens, to the chagrin of most viewers. Once he is in, he goes under, and it turns frantic on set. You can hear someone yelling, “Cut it, cut it!” and people are running towards the submerged dog.

The one bright spot in this clip is the boy in the water, who about halfway through is calling out cheerily, “Here boy, here boy” at which point the dog looks calmer and more relaxed than at any other point in the 60 seconds of footage. Additionally, it is this child who rushed first and fastest to the dog when he is submerged. I don’t see evidence that the filmmakers are concerned enough about the safety and feelings of the dog, but the child actor is, and I give him credit for that.

The American Humane Association (AHA) is responsible for the No Animals Were Harmed program, which is supposed to insure the well-being of animal actors on set. However, they have a history of ignoring poor treatment of animals during moviemaking. In response to this recent controversy, the AHA has suspended the safety representative who was on set that day and say they will investigate the incident.

The behavior of entering turbulent water in the chaotic situation associated with making a film needed to be approached step-by-step so that the dog was trained to do this ahead of filming. It would take a lot of work and a considerable amount of time to help almost any dog feel comfortable in this situation, and based on this clip, that investment was not made, and it is the dog who suffered. Another option if a dog is unable to handle the scene without distress would be to use a stunt double—a dog who is more comfortable with water.

What’s your take on the treatment of the dog during the filming of this scene?

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Love is the Cause of Scrambled Names
So, obviously the dog is included!

We all know that there’s a special place in our hearts for our dogs, but it turns out that there’s a special place in our brains for them, too. It’s right in the same spot where our minds keep track of everyone else in the family, according to a study about accidentally calling someone by the wrong name. When a parent says, “Sadie! Max! Zoe! I mean, Jack!” sometimes, the dog’s name shows up in the string of names as we search our files, so to speak, to find the right name. (Apparently, this kind of name soup is epic among parents—no surprise there.)

In the paper, “All my children: The roles of semantic category and phonetic similarity in the misnaming of familiar individuals” in the journal Memory & Cognition, cognitive scientists found that this analogy of “searching your files” is a good way to think about the scrambled name phenomenon. Mixing up friends’ or family members’ names is a very common “cognitive glitch” as people in the field say. It is not caused by a bad memory or by aging processes that affect brain functioning. It’s simply a result of the way our brains categorize those we love.

When your brain is attempting to retrieve a name so that you can say it, it’s likely that another name in the same group will come to your lips instead of the one you meant to say. That’s because in order to find the name you’re looking for, you are essentially opening and flipping through the whole set of names in that group, which includes all beloved family members. That explains why so many of us have not only been called by our brother’s name or by our sister’s name, but by the dog’s name as well. Our brains, just like our hearts, file our dogs as loved and cherished family members.

The scientists who conducted this study reported that we are far more likely to throw the dog’s name into the mix than the cat’s name, or the hamster’s name, or any other animal’s name. It also showed that the category in which the person belongs (family, close friends, etc.) was far more influential in causing a mix-up than any phonetic similarity between names.

Isn’t it great to know that when you call others by the wrong name, it’s evidence of your love for them all?

Dog's Life: Humane
Musical Treat at a Florida Shelter
A cellist gives homeless pets a private concert.

Animal shelters can be a stressful environment, but recently the dogs at Florida’s Humane Society of Sarasota County (HSSC) were treated to a special musical break.

While Natalie Helm, Principal Cellist with the Sarasota Orchestra, was visiting her local shelter, she came up with the idea to perform for the animals.

“I know it’s very cliché, but music is a language that everyone appreciates and understands,” she explained. Natalie felt it was a way she could use her talent to make a different in the lives of these animals. She was right.

“I could really sense they were enjoying it,” remembers Natalie. “There was a great feeling of peacefulness that spread quickly through the kennels.”

Classical music has many benefits for both humans and animals, and has long been used as a tool to calm animals in shelters. Studies have shown that dogs’ stress levels decrease after music is played in their kennels. HSSC plays music in the shelter, but nothing can come close a live performance. Fortunately Natalie plans to continue playing for the animals on a regular basis.

I hope this story inspires other musicians to consider volunteering at their local animal shelter. It’s a special gift that can give the animals a moment of calm amid a time of transition and stress.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Dog-Directed Speech
Puppies are most responsive to this type of talk

Baby talk may make grown-ups sound ridiculous to many people, but that doesn’t take away from its value. Extensive research has shown that human infants are better able to learn language when we talk to them using higher pitches and at a slower speed than when we talk to other adults. This style of communication is called “infant-directed speech”, and it’s natural for many folks to slip into it when addressing young individuals, especially those who are not yet verbal.

A new study called “Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?” suggests that the same principle may be operating when humans speak to dogs—another of our social partners who don’t fully understand our language. People tend to talk to their dogs in a way that is similar to the way they address children. There may be value in this “dog-directed speech” as well.

This study investigated the behavior of two species, and reported a major finding about each of them. On the human side, only women were studied, and researchers found that they used dog-directed speech with dogs of all ages, but used higher pitches when they were talking to puppies than when addressing fully grown dogs. For the canines, this worked out well based on their age-related responses to the way we talk to them. Adult dogs were equally responsive to normal speech and dogs-directed speech. Puppies, however, became more engaged when addressed with dog-directed speech than when the women spoke to them as they normally talk. Specifically, it was the higher pitch in the dog-directed speech that influenced how attentive puppies were.

There are many questions that flow naturally from this study and its intriguing results. Do men talk to their dogs with higher-pitched, slower speech patterns, and does the age of the dog influence the degree to which they do it? Do dogs who look more juvenile because of larger eyes, shorter muzzles and bigger heads elicit dog-directed speech more than dogs who have a more mature look? Does dog-directed speech facilitate language learning in dogs as it does in human babies?

Do you talk to your dog using a different speaking style than the one you use for adult humans?

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