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Would you let a drone walk your dog?

We report often on dog-related technology here on ohmidog! — both that which is budding and that which has found its way to the marketplace — and a good 90 percent of the time we have nothing positive to say about it.

Including this time.

A drone that walks your dog? No. No. And no.

This is just one man’s experiment, but let’s hope it doesn’t catch on.

Here’s the thing about dog-centered technology: It’s usually not centered on dogs at all.

Instead, it is aimed at making the lives of dog owners easier. Generally, it is something that relieves dog owners of responsibility, allowing them to both spend less time with their dog and feel less guilty about it.

Like machines that, on a programmed schedule or through remote operation, can dispense a treat to your dog while you’re away.

Or a machine that will play fetch with your dog while you’re away, or just too tired to go to all that effort.

And all those other contraptions, apps and gizmos that allow you to cut down on face to face time with your dog, thereby eroding the one thing that counts — the bond between the two of you.

Those devices aren’t really making it any easier for you to live your life. Your dog, on the other hand, is.

The video above shows Lucy, a golden retriever from Connecticut, being walked by a drone.

Jeff Myers, the mind behind this video, said he wanted to show it could be done — always a dangerous reason to do something, especially when it’s the sole reason.

Myers lives in New York City, and he borrowed his mother’s dog for the experiment, in which dog is leashed to drone and drone is controlled by an app.

It’s just a concept Myers says.

So too, at one point, was dog cloning. Those concepts — good or bad — have a way of turning into business enterprises once the realization that there could be profits kicks in.

This NPR report about the dog walking drone and other technological developments for dogs, concluded, “The future is here and it’s pretty darn cute.”

Pretty darn cute?

Yeah, right up there with using your car to walk your dog:

Dog rescues hummingbird? All it takes is faith, trust and a little pixie dust

Ed Gernon never suspected the German shepherd mix he adopted last year would be featured in one of those inter-species friendship videos.

Rex left the shelter with a reputation. He “fought other dogs and killed cats,” Gernon said. “He was dangerous. He was an animal that had learned to live on the streets and to survive on his own hunting ability, I guess.”

So Gernon was surprised when, a month after he took Rex home, the dog paused when he came across what Gernon thought was a dead hummingbird.

“He suddenly stopped and he would not move,” Gernon CBS Los Angeles. “I mean it’s tiny and it’s dead as far as I’m concerned. It’s covered in ants. It’s got no feathers.”

Given his dog’s seeming concern for the bird, Gernon checked it more closely, saw it was still alive, took it home, cleaned it up, and it has been living inside his home ever since.

And it even drinks out of Rex’s water bowl.

hummingbirdGernon describes it as living “with Tinkerbell,” even the the bird now goes by the name Hummer.

Gernon initially had to hand feed the bird a special formula every 15 minutes.

“You find yourself doing stuff you never thought in a million years you would do,” he said.

“It was this little creature. This fragile creature that the whole world wanted to kill and he was trying to protect her so I thought I’d go the distance,” Gernon said.

“I rescue this dog. He rescues the bird. The bird rescues all of us in a weird sense and it’s just a miracle,” Gernon said.

After living with the bird for a year, Gernon says it’s probably time for her to be free, and he’s started leaving the doors and windows of his home open, in case Hummer wants to go back out in the world.

So far, she hasn’t.

In Spain, owners who don’t pick up after dogs may end up cleaning the streets

madridpoop

Dog owners whose pets soil the streets of Madrid could soon find themselves cleaning those streets.

City officials unveiled their “shock plan” this week, saying those who do not clean up after their dogs in the Spanish capital will have to either pay a fines up to $1,700 — or go to work as street cleaners.

Municipal police will test the scheme in the two city districts where un-scooped dog poop seems to be the biggest problem, according to The Guardian.

Madrid and other Spanish cities have been cracking down on scofflaws for years now.

Last year the city of Tarragona announced it would use DNA analysis of dog droppings to track down owners who fail to clean up after them.

El Vendrell, a small town of 36,000 people in northeastern Spain, has tried setting up a canine toilet along one of its main thoroughfares.

And in the town of Brunete a few years ago, volunteers who spotted scofflaws struck up friendly conversations with them, obtaining enough information for city officials to identify them and send them a package marked “Lost Property.” Inside, they would find … you guessed it.

Madrid has launched repeated public awareness campaigns over the years, aimed at getting a handle on the problem, and it has distributed millions of free poop bags.

But, “there is still excrement in the streets, parks and other places,” the city said. Under the new plan, dog owners will have only one way of avoiding the hefty fine — by performing street cleaning duties for a few days.

The number of hours they are required to put in would be based on the size of the fine, the city says.

(Photo: TNT Magazine via The Guardian)

Have you hugged your dog today?

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We’re not recommending you do, and we’re not recommending you don’t. We’re only taking a quick look at the subject because, pure and innocent an act as hugging your dog might seem, it is not without controversy.

Stanley Coren, author of many dog books, stirred up a little of it in his column this month for Psychology Today, citing “new data” that shows getting hugged raises the stress and anxiety levels of dogs, and the possibilities of someone getting bitten.

Some people who have been hugging their dogs for years (and insist their dogs enjoy the affection) found his conclusions laughable, labeled him a party-pooping old fuddy duddy, and said his research techniques were anything but scientific.

We’d agree only with that last part — because Coren’s “new data” was gathered by looking at 250 random photos on the Internet of people hugging dogs.

“I can summarize the data quite simply by saying that the results indicated that the Internet contains many pictures of happy people hugging what appear to be unhappy dogs,” he wrote.

“In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.

doghug1Those signs of stress or discomfort include baring of teeth, lowered ears, a dog turning his head away, and a dog who either closes his eyes or shows what is called “half-moon eye” or “whale eye.”

That’s when you can see the white portion of the eyes.

Here’s the problem, though — or one of them, anyway. How does Coren, or anybody else, know that the dogs pictured are stressing out because of the hug. Couldn’t it also be a reaction to WHO is hugging them? Or a reaction to the camera?

The simple fact is some dogs like being hugged, some tolerate it, and others don’t like it at all.

For the latter group, it might be the amount of pressure applied during a hug that they are reacting to — enough to make them feel restrained. It might be that hugs tend to be spontaneous and come out of nowhere.

Then, too, mood could be a factor. Sometimes dogs, and humans, feel like being hugged and sometimes they don’t.

There are just too many variables to make a sweeping conclusion — especially when it’s all based on what photos turn up in your Internet search and your subjective interpretation of those photos.

doghug3Reading a dog’s emotions is tricky enough when you are face to face with one. Doing it from a photo is even more problematic. What for example is this dog thinking?

Hard to read emotions through that many wrinkles, but he seems to be digging it.

We’d agree with the experts who say hugging a dog you don’t know or have just met is not a good idea — and that children should be taught that early on.

But beyond that, we’d be hesitant to put the kibosh on dog hugging altogether, especially when it’s based on Flickr’ed or Facebook’ed photos posted by dog owners wanting to show how much they love their dogs — whether their dogs like it or not.

In this writer’s life, he has been creeped out by some hugs, tolerated others, found some both warm and comforting, and gotten truly enthused by a few.

Probably, some old photos exist of him showing half moon eyes while being squeezed by his big sister.

Does that mean he doesn’t like hugs?

Of course not. He just prefers to make the decision on a case by case basis. Dogs should have that freedom, too.

Why bark when you can honk?

I have a theory that there are many things dogs would like us to know, and that dogs even give us some hints in hopes of making us see the light, and that we humans, being humans, often just don’t get it.

These videos are a perfect example of what could be one of them:

Dogs left alone in cars — with the windows cracked if they’re lucky — sounding the car horn.

In the one above, posted on YouTube five months ago, an Airedale leans on the car horn for a good long time, while another Airedale waits more patiently in the back seat.

The dog’s owner returned to the car and said the two “love going for rides, but apparently they don’t like waiting,” according to the Pennsylvania woman who shot the video.

Here’s another one, from a few years back. This boxer reportedly sounded the horn for 15 minutes while her owner was in an art gallery in Scotland:

Here’s one more, where a barking dog, encouraged by a stranger to honk the horn, complied.

You can find many others on YouTube. Judging from them, the first response of humans — after grabbing some video footage, of course — is to laugh and label it “hilarious.”

Sure it’s funny. But might it be something more? Along the lines of a wake-up call? Along the lines of, “Hey, stupid, don’t leave us closed up in cars for extended periods of time. How much barking and honking will it take for that to sink into your thick human skull?”

If you’re old enough to remember Lassie, the TV show, you’ll recall how hard the collie — aware of some unfolding disaster — had to work to alert humans to the urgency of the situation. She’d bark, go in circles, run a little ahead and look back, clearly saying “hurry, follow me!”

The humans would watch, but precious time was lost, it always seemed, as they absorbed the signal she was sending.

“Wait, look at Lassie,” they’d say. (Long pause.) “I think … could it be …. is she is trying to tell us something?”

And this even though they’d all been through this same drill with her many times before.

We humans can be a little slow to catch on — even when the signs are staring in our faces … or blaring in our ears.

Questions swirling about VA’s ongoing, slow-moving study of psychiatric service dogs

It has been more than five years since Congress approved a $12 million Veterans Administration study into whether veterans with PTSD can benefit from psychiatric service dogs.

Since then hundreds of veterans with PTSD have been learning first hand of those benefits — but either on their own dime, or with help from nonprofit agencies.

Meanwhile, the study hasn’t gotten too far. It has been suspended twice, and reinstated twice, moving along at a snail’s pace. Or what some might call the VA’s pace.

There are even those, such as Rick Yount, executive director of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection, who have questioned whether the study had been set up to fail so that the VA wouldn’t have to pick up expenses for psychiatric service dogs, as it does for service dogs helping veterans with physical disabilities.

The VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, Michael Fallon, called that insinuation “ludicrous.”

And yet, during the past five years, the study has gone anything but smoothly.

ptsd2The study began in late 2011, with three nonprofits contracted to provide up to 200 service dogs for veterans, who would be compared against a control group that did not receive dogs.

The VA cut off two of the three dog vendors following biting incidents involving participants’ children. Only 17 dogs had been placed with veterans when the final contract was terminated in August 2012 amid allegations of lax veterinary care and placement of dogs “with known aggressive behavior,” according to VA records.

Meanwhile, questions have arisen about how the dogs that have been placed are being trained, and whether the tasks they are learning to perform benefit a veteran with PTSD or only reinforce their paranoia, according to the Associated Press.

Specifically, the dogs are being trained to do things like sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, or protecting the veteran by “blocking.”

“Isn’t that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That’s supporting paranoid, pathological thinking,” said Meg Daley Olmert, chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection and author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.

Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for other veterans, believes the dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.

ptsdThe VA’s training protocol “reinforces the cognitive distortions that accompany PTSD,” said Robert Koffman, a retired Navy psychiatrist and chief medical officer for the organization.

Between the questionable training protocol, all the studies delays (only about 40 dogs have been placed with veterans), and the VA’s ongoing contention that the benefits for service dogs for PTSD sufferers has not been proven, some wonder how objective the study is going to be.

Not everyone is willing to wait for the study to run its course.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA’s budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn’t worked.

At a hearing before a Congressional committee last week, Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical officer Fallon, repeated that “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”

But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs, including allowing them to elminate their use of medications, handle anxiety better, and reduce suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.

“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.

(Photo: Army veteran Joe Aguirre with his service dog Munger; by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

A bull in a china shop? How about a boxer?

Harvey-carries-umbrella-for-owner-Sara-Vestal-on-a-rainy-day_28129

The first time I saw the sign outside a giant warehouse off Interstate 40/85 in Greensboro — a place called Replacements, Ltd. — I chuckled and wished I had my camera.

On the sign, the company was proclaiming its dog friendliness.

What does Replacements sell?

China and crystal.

SideOrder0427A0041398358804The phrase “bull in a china shop” came to mind, followed by the phrase “you break it, you buy it.”

But I never took that picture, and — not being the type of person to replace china, or own it — I never dropped in to investigate.

Now, sparked by a story in the latest issue of All Animals, I’ve done a little research, learning (contrary to my assumption) that Replacements allows more than little dogs toted in customer’s handbags, that from 20 to 30 employees regularly bring dogs of all sizes to work with them (including one with a boxer), and that the company’s owner (a dachshund man) is also a pretty interesting guy.

(And maybe, too, that china isn’t as boring as I always thought.)

There’s a captivating story in the spring issue of Oxford American, that relates the company’s history and profiles its owner, Bob Page, who openly lobbied for the legalization of same-sex marriage in North Carolina, and whose company has established itself as gay friendly, pet friendly and family friendly.

Page, a native North Carolinian who grew up on a tobacco farm in Rockingham County, developed a passion for plates, and pursued it, according to the magazine.

When Page was growing up in rural North Carolina, he didn’t know anyone who was openly gay. He endured the hardship of being different in a small town, and the pain stayed with him: after he was drafted into the Army, he considered suicide. By the time he became an auditor for the state in the late 1970s, he was miserable in his job. He spent weekends junking around flea markets and trolling for collectibles, and he found that he looked forward to this hobby far more than he enjoyed going to work. He said, “My love of flea markets and the fact that I hated my job were the two things that compelled me to start Replacements.”

Today, the warehouse is the size of eight football fields, has a full-time staff of 400 workers, grosses $80 million a year, and dogs can commonly be seen alongside employees in their cubicles.

The company’s dog friendliness also caught the eye of the Humane Society of the United States, which publishes All Animals magazine.

fordThe magazine reports that Replacements has had a pets in the workplace program for more than 20 years.

It started when Page brought his own dachshunds into the office, enjoyed it and realized employees might like to bring their dogs to work, too.

The effects have been highly positive, the company says, improving job satisfaction and job performance, helping employees form stronger bonds and increasing cooperation.

Four years ago, Ford welcomed a husband and wife research team from Virginia Commonwealth University to spend a week at Replacements to conduct a study about dogs in the workplace.

Business professor Randolph T. Barker and his wife Susan, a professor of psychiatry, divided the 90 participants into three groups: those who had dogs and brought them to work, those who had dogs but didn’t bring them to work, and those who didn’t have dog.

replacementsMeasuring the amounts of cortisol in participants’ saliva at specific moments throughout the day, they found that dogs in the workplace make people — no matter which group they are in — happier.

Sure, it was another one of those studies that tells dog lovers what they already know, but it lends even more credence to the question:

If a china shop can be dog-friendly, can’t every workplace be?

(Photos: At top, a boxer named Harvey accompanies an employee on her way outside, courtesy of Replacements, Ltd.; bottom photo, Charlie rides along with employee Kim Headen as she works in the warehouse, by Peter Taylor/AP Images for The HSUS.; other photos courtesy of Replacements, Ltd.)