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Archive for 'Muttsblog'

Which motivates more — food or praise?

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A study at Emory University suggests that dogs aren’t strictly the food-obsessed beasts they’ve traditionally been seen as — and that many, maybe even most, prefer attention and praise over a chewy treat.

While only 13 dogs participated in the study, there were only two of them who — judging from their neural reactions — showed a distinct preference for food over praise.

The study, published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore what kind of rewards canines prefer.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory and lead author of the research.

“Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology. It was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.

Their previous research using the technique identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center and showed that region responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

Phys.org reports that, in the new study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.

The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

Berns says the findings run counter to the old view that dogs “just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it … Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

In another part of the study, dogs were put into a Y-shaped maze in which one path led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner.

The dogs were repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths.

While most dogs alternated between the food and their owner, dogs who showed a greater response to praise in the first part of experiment chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Berns said the study “shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

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(Photos: At top, Kady, a Lab-retriever mix in the study who preferred praise from her owner to food; at bottom, Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix who chose food over his owner’s praise / Emory University)

North Korea urging citizens to eat dog meat

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The consumption of dog meat may be slowly going out of style in South Korea, but its neighbor to the north is encouraging it.

North Korea’s government since late June has been urging citizens to eat more dog meat, or as leader Kim Jong-un has labeled it, “superfood.”

Media outlets in the country have produced multiple stories this summer about the health benefits of dishes made with dog meat — some of which have even touted the culinary benefits of beating dogs to death before butchering them.

According to the Korea Times in South Korea, the broadcasts have touted dog meat as “stamina food” and “the finest medicine” — especially during the summer.

“There’s an old saying that even a slice of dangogi can be good medicine during the dog days,” reported the Tongil Voice, a North Korean radio broadcast. “Dangogi is the finest of all medicines, especially during the dog days when the weather is scorching.”

The Korean Central Broadcasting Station (KCBS), also a radio network, introduced culinary competitions in Pyongyang last month in which contestants made stew, broiled dishes and other recipes using dog meat.

DPRK Today, a propaganda outlet on YouTube, proclaimed in June that dog meat has more vitamins than chicken, pork, beef and duck and is also good for the intestines and stomach.

It also said a dog should be beaten to death before it is butchered for better taste.

Some observers believe Kim is preparing citizens for hard times ahead. On top of a heat wave that has forced the government to close some businesses, recent reductions in the state-controlled handouts have “severely threatened” much of the nation from getting enough to eat, according to an Amnesty International report.

Technology run amok … Yuk!

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Nature tends to run its own course, just as technology that attempts to control nature tends to run its.

The results, when unforeseen possibilities are thrown into the mix, aren’t always pretty.

The depiction above is by one Jesse Newton, showing what happened on a recent night when nature ran its course, via his dog Evie, and then his trusty Roomba, programmed to clean up all the hair Evie sheds, ran its.

That zig-zagging, curly-cued brown trail recreates the stained path the Roomba left in the Newton’s living room in Arkansas after rolling through a pile of Evie’s poop.

evieEvie is house-broken — programmed, if you will, to take care of those things when the Newton family lets her out each night before bed.

But on this night, somebody forgot to do that.

As everyone slept — Jesse, wife Kelly and son Evan — the robot vacuum did what it is programmed to do every night between midnight and 1:30 a.m.: Roll all across every inch of the living room floor sucking up any debris in its path.

The results were disastrous, Jesse noted in a now-viral Facebook post that warns other Roomba/dog owners of a possibility they might not have envisioned:

“… Poop over every conceivable surface within its reach, resulting in a home that closely resembles a Jackson Pollock poop painting. It will be on your floorboards. It will be on your furniture legs. It will be on your carpets. It will be on your rugs. It will be on your kids’ toy boxes. If it’s near the floor, it will have poop on it. Those awesome wheels, which have a checkered surface for better traction, left 25-foot poop trails all over the house.”

What had happened during the night came to his attention when his young son traipsed through the living room and crawled into bed with him the next morning.

newtonsJesse — and he deserves husband of the year honors for this — let his wife continue sleeping.

He gave his son a bath and put him back to bed, then he spent the next three hours cleaning, including shampooing the carpet.

Kelly Newton says she awoke to the smell of “every cleaning product we own” and knew “something epic had taken place.”

Later, Jesse disassembled the Roomba, cleaning its parts and reassembling it, only to find it didn’t work anymore.

Jesse said he called the store where he had purchased the $400 robot, Hammacher Schlemmer, and it promised to replace it.

I’ve railed before about rushing into new technologies that promise to give us control over nature, wrote a whole book on it, in fact. Those pushing such innovations and rushing them onto the market — most often for the profit they might lead to — often don’t take the time to envision all the little things, and big things, that could go wrong.

That haste can lead to far worse things than a stinky mess and a three-hour clean-up.

We can laugh at this one, as Jesse Newton has admirably managed to do.

But, beneath all the mess, there’s a moral to the story — one that, as we turn to robots for more than vacuuming our floors, we might want to slow down and figure out.

(Photos: Jesse Newton / Facebook)

Woman and dog rescued as car goes under

A woman and her dog were pulled from their car Saturday, seconds after it disappeared under rising floodwaters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The car was about two-thirds submerged when some men on a boat pulled up, with video camera rolling.

She can be heard asking for help as the convertible sinks beneath the water.

“Oh my God, I’m drowning,” she says.

The men tried first to break a window as the Miata sank, then managed to pierce the convertible top and rip it open enough to pull the woman out just after the car submerged, according to the video that aired on WAFB

Immediately upon surfacing, the woman told the man who pulled her out to get her dog.

“Get my dog. Get my dog. Get my (expletive) dog.”

When he hesitated, she dove under the water.

“I’ll go down,” the woman said before diving and bobbing quickly back up, empty handed.

“I can’t get your dog,” the man in the water says after reaching under the water and into the car several times.

As he dives under one more time, one of the men on the boat says, “Maybe she’s gone.”

“No, she better not be,” says the woman.

Just then, the man in the water pops back up, with the dog in his arms.

“I got your dog.”

All three swam to the safety of the boat.

KHOU reported that the boat was being used to give a reporter a tour of the areas affected by the flooding, and that it was shot by WAFB reporter Robbie Reynold.

The man who jumped into the water and pulled the woman and dog from the car was identified as David Phung.

Is the quality of dog semen declining? And are contaminants in dog food to blame?


Researchers at the University of Nottingham say they’ve documented a serious decline in the fertility of male dogs — and suggest that dog food or environmental causes may be to blame.

In a study spanning 26 years, researchers tracked the sperm motility levels of five different breeds — Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, curly coat retrievers, border collies and German shepherds.

They took samples from between 42 and 97 dogs each year, according to the study, published in Scientific Reports.

Between 1988 and 1998, the team recorded a 2.5 percent decline in the amount of motile sperm per year. Between 2002 and 2014, this trend continued at a rate of 1.2 percent each year.

The researchers also found that male pups produced by dogs with declining sperm quality had an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, a condition where one or both of the testicles don’t descend properly.

The study suggests that the sperm quality may have been impacted by contaminants in dog food.

“We looked at other factors which may also play a part, for example, some genetic conditions do have an impact on fertility,” said Dr Richard Lea, leader of the study. “However, we discounted that because 26 years is simply too rapid a decline to be associated with a genetic problem.”

Dogs used for the study were all bred, raised and trained as service animals for disabled people at an unidentified center in England, according to the New York Times.

The scientists said that in addition to collecting samples throughout the study, they examined the testicles collected from dogs that had undergone castration.

Both showed environmental contaminants in high enough concentrations to affect sperm motility. These same chemicals were also discovered in various commercially available dog foods.

The researchers say the findings raise the question of whether a reported decline in human semen quality over the last 70 years could also be a result of environmental factors.

(Photos: Roscoe, a yellow Lab who was not involved in the study, and has no interest in the results, by John Woestendiek)

Woman’s complaint leads to policy change

An animal control officer in Durham declined to free a dog from a hot parked car for about two hours Saturday, despite the pleas of the woman who reported the situation.

As temperatures inside the car climbed to 117 degrees, Jennifer Miller urged the officer to take action, angrily posted pictures on her Facebook page, and pushed ice cubes through the cracked window of the car to the panting pit bull inside.

Miller, of Danville, Virginia, had called animal control Saturday afternoon after seeing the dog in the car, parked at The Streets of Southpoint Mall.

The officer who arrived checked the car, stuck a probe inside to take the temperature, but declined to take any action to remove the dog.

Instead, Miller said, he sat in his air conditioned vehicle and waited for the owners to return.

Miller, who serves on the board of a wildlife rehab center and volunteers with a humane society, said the dog, about six months old, was showing signs of heat stroke, but the animal control officer seemed unswayed by her opinion.

“He (the dog) was panting. His gums had actually already started to turn white,” she said. “It looked like he was kind of foaming at the mouth, that really thick saliva. And he was unsteady.”

The owners of the car, which had Maryland license plates, finally showed up about 4 p.m. The officer filed no charges, but told them to take the dog to a vet to be checked out.

Miller wasn’t satisfied with that ending. She continued to complain about how the incident was handled — and it paid off.

On Monday evening, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office announced a change in policy concerning animals left in vehicles.

Officers will no longer have to wait for animals to show signs of distress.

Under the revised policy, deputies will document the interior and exterior temperatures of a vehicle at least twice, and the deputy will use his or her discretion in determining whether the animal should be removed from the vehicle.

The new policy also allows deputies to decide whether to return the pet to its owner or pursue criminal charges after taking the animal to the local shelter.

“The Durham County Sheriff’s Office appreciates and listens to feedback from concerned citizens,” said the statement from the sheriff’s office statement.

Miller, despite winning a victory of sorts, sounds like she continues to be disturbed by it all.

“It is very clear that they could have charged this person. They did not have to wait two hours to get the dog out,” Miller told ABC11. “But the officers were not listening. They were very rude and belligerent. And it was very sad the dog suffered for two hours at least.”

Numbers of dogs in the workplace is rising

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Thanks to the millennials, the percentage of American workplaces allowing dogs is increasing — up to 8 percent, from 5 percent five years ago.

NPR reported on the phenomena yesterday, citing examples of how employers — in an attempt to lure new employees by providing them with a low-cost benefit — are opening their doors to dogs.

Millennials (born between 1982 and 2004) are expected to make up half the work force by 2020, and they are expected to surpass baby boomers as the largest pet-owning generation around that same time.

Millennials tend to look at their pets “as practice families or substitute families and seem to be more verbal in their wants and needs for their pet and for making sure their pet is well tended and well cared for,” Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association, told CNBC, which reported on the increasing numbers of dogs in the workplace last fall.

“Employers are starting to realize that having a millennial bring … a pet to work, you wind up getting a more focused employee, you get someone more comfortable at the office and a person willing to work longer hours,” Vetere added.

Some companies, CNBC reported, go to greater lengths than others to make those dogs feel welcome, offering play areas, free pet training, pet walkers, pet health insurance, offsite pet sitters and grooming services.

More than 2,000 dogs are brought in by employees regularly to Amazon’s main campus in Seattle, where about 25,000 employees work. The company provides doggy treats at all of its reception desks and each of the nearly 30 buildings on the campus has spaces for pet exercise.

replacementsxThe NPR report focused on Replacements, that dog-friendly North Carolina china warehouse we told you about back in April.

It has about 400 employees, and about 30 animals who come to work with them regularly.

“… The interesting thing is that we have never had a pet break anything here,” said public relations manager Lisa Conklin. “We’ve had people, myself included, who have broken a number of these delicate pieces. But we have never to our knowledge had a pet break anything.”

Conklin says the pets-at-work policy costs the company nothing, and staff often say it’s their favorite perk.

On top of boosting morale and productivity, as studies have shown it does, it lets workers feel they are achieving a work-life balance — something a lot of baby boomers I know weren’t the best at.

Having a successful dogs-in-the-workplace program requires some planning, and some patience, and some resourcefulness, say those who have instituted them.

The NPR story cited the case of Buchanan Public Relations, a company located outside Philadelphia, where Lacey, a Rottweiler mix, was regularly being terrorized by Romeo, a toy poodle with “a bit of a Napoleon complex.”

Company owner Anne Buchanan — instead of reneging on the pets-at-work policy — hired a dog trainer who managed to restore workplace harmony.

(Photos: At top, Ginger, an English bulldog, at work with owner, Will Pisnieski, at Authentic Entertainment in Burbank, Calif., by Grant Hindsley / AP; bottom photo, Charlie rides along with employee Kim Headen at Replacements, by Peter Taylor / AP)