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Tag: behavior

Revenge? Hardly. Karma? Definitely!

The video above is pretty cute, but on top of making us chuckle it’s a pretty good example of what’s wrong with the news media these days.

Well, make that at least three things that are wrong with the news media these days.

First, the news organizations that have featured it on their websites in the last week almost all make you watch 30 seconds to a minute of advertising before seeing the 38-second video.

Second, the video was posted on the Internet more than two years ago, which hardly rates as news — even under today’s definition.

Third, and most annoying, almost every single news site that has picked up the old video (from characterizes the dog’s actions as “revenge.”

That’s anthropomorphic, and just plain wrong.

Clearly, the little girl is poking the resting dog with her feet. Quite possibly, the dog got annoyed and adjusted his position.

But we highly doubt the dog is exacting “revenge” on the girl. True, we can’t read the mind of a dog, either — much less that of a dog in a video — but the far more likely explanation is that the dog is trying to create a cooler and more comfortable spot to rest in., when it published the video, described it as showing a dog getting “revenge” on the girl “by throwing sand in her face” and “making her crawl away in fear.”

Apparently, they didn’t watch enough of it to see the little girl laughing about it all.

But what’s far lazier is how, two years later, mostly-reputable news websites such as The Telegraph, ABC News, AOL and the Orlando Sentinel have all featured the video this month under a “dog gets revenge” headline. Of all the news organizations we found carrying the video, only KOMO in Seattle didn’t characterize the dog’s actions as revenge.

Are we nitpicking, or do readers/viewers deserve something better than old, innacurate, repackaged “news” when the only thing new about it is the length of the ad we have to watch before seeing it?

Are we going to accept that, or should we kick a little sand in their faces?

Why dogs are smarter than wolves


An Oregon State University scientist’s study, published yesterday, is drawing a lot of attention for concluding (as scientific studies often do) the obvious:

The longer dogs live with us, the more dependent they become on us, and, as a result, their problem solving and survival skills aren’t what they were back when they were wolves.

Not to sound stupid, but duh.

This, friends, is evolution. Just as our ancestors could once shred apart a mastodon leg without using an electric carving knife, the ancestors of dogs — i.e. wolves — did, and do, what they have to do to survive.

But to say dogs are “dumbing down” as a result of the cushy life we are affording them, well that’s just a little narrow-minded.

I prefer to think of it as their skills taking a new direction.

Do we say children are becoming more “stupid” because they can’t use a manual typewriter or blacksmith tools?

Of course the scientist and author of this study didn’t use the word “stupid” — only headline writers do that.

More “dim” is how the Smithsonian put it. “Stupid” and “lazy thinkers” is what the Daily Mail called them. “Poor problem solvers” was the phrase of choice for Discover magazine. “Rubbish at solving problems,” reported the International Business Times.

Kinda makes you think the dog world could use a public relations pro at least as adept as the one who garnered the author of this study so much press.

Up to now, canine cognition studies have mostly marveled at how dogs have learned to interact with humans — and cited that as proof of how incredibly smart they are.

This new study, and some earlier ones, however, are portraying how much dogs are relying on humans as an example of how we are “dumbing them down.”

Yes, dogs are growing ever more dependent on humans. Just as humans are growing ever more dependent on computers. Who does that make stupider? Or is “more stupid” the righter way of saying that?

The study at issue is by Monique A.R. Udell, an assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University. In it, she compared the problem solving skills of dogs and wolves.

Ten pet dogs and ten wolves were presented with a solvable puzzle. Sausage was placed inside a sealed plastic tub with a hard to open lid. Just one of the dogs was able to open the tub, while eight of the wolves were.

Dogs often gave up more quickly, and turned to their human masters for guidance, often with that cute head tilt they use to manipulate us. (It’s only fair after the thousands of years we’ve been manipulating them, starting with their domestication.)

The wolves, meanwhile, sought out no such help, and spent more time trying to get in the box. It should be noted they also spent more time trying to get into an impossible to open box.

How smart is that?

Udell believes depending on humans for help is not necessarily a cognitive asset. She calls the response a “conditioned inhibition of problem-solving behavior.”

Udell’s findings were published yesterday in the journal Biology Letters.

So, no, I don’t buy that a wolf being able to open a box, or spending more time on the task, is proof they are any smarter. They use their paws and claws and teeth, and perhaps some brute force — but they don’t take a second to consider other alternatives.

Dogs on the other hand, have an entire arsenal — from head tilt to sympathy-invoking whimper, from batting their big eyes at us to licking our hands as if to say, “If you love me, you will help me with this.” To me, that’s proof dogs are smarter.

After all, which is more easy to manipulate, a can of Spam or a human being?

(Cartoon by Charles Barsotti / The New Yorker)

Sandra Bullock sure knows how to pick ‘em

bullockWe’re not much for celebrity worship — believing as we do that dogs are far more worthy of such adoration — but we do from time to time, on slow news days, check to see the latest movie star gossip, especially when it involves dogs.

So we were chagrined to learn that the lovely and talented Academy-Award-winning actress Sandra Bullock, who divorced her philandering husband Jesse James in 2010, has now taken up with what we think may be another loser.

We base that theory on one act alone — but one that may speak volumes.

In 2012, Radar Online reports, Bryan Randall, who Bullock has been seeing for about two months, smeared dog feces over a neighbor’s door.

Sane, even-tempered, non-bullies don’t engage in that kind of behavior.

Randall reportedly had become irate with a neighbor for allowing his dog to poop in front of his building.

That neighbor, John Stacer, said that shortly after his dog did his business, Randall approached him.

“He was videotaping me and said, ‘pick up your dog’s shit, asshole.’”

Stacer had no desire to argue or tangle with the hunky model and photographer.

randall“He is a big guy and I was scared to go any closer so I called my dog back toward me and took him upstairs.”

Stacer said he planned to go back outside later and clean up the mess, but before he got a chance his girlfriend came home and noticed dog feces spread on the door.

He cleaned up the mess in his doorway, and his girlfriend sent Randall a message telling him such behavior was unacceptable.

Randall responded with a message telling her “10 days from now this will play out differently … He will see another side as soon as my kid is out of state.”

Stacer sought and was granted a temporary restraining order against Randall.

Radar Online says it “obtained disturbing court documents” describing the whole incident. (It is good to know they have Sandra’s best interests at heart.)

Bullock, while she may have a preference for bad boys, is known as quite the dog lover, and has adopted some special need pets, including a three-legged dog, and a two-legged one.

How endangered is that doggy on a rooftop?


They get about five calls a day at the Farm and Garden Store in Forest Grove, Oregon, about the dog on the roof.

But rest assured, store employees say, he’s not going to jump.

Bojo, a white American bulldog, lives above the store with his, and its, owner, Dennis Crowell.

Crowell commonly leaves a sliding door to the roof open, and Bojo regularly ventures out there — all the way to the edge so he can keep an eye on his owner and anything else he deems worth watching.

Whenever Crowell goes out on an errand, Bojo assumes the position, dutifully awaiting his return.

It’s all cool, store employees say, but those unfamiliar with Bojo’s habits don’t know that.

So hardly a day goes by that the store, or the fire department, or the police department, doesn’t get a call from someone concerned that the dog is in danger, the News-Times reports.

bojo2“Everybody thinks he is going to jump because he always sits at the edge,” said store manager Jesse Wong. “That’s why I think people freak out about it.”

“I don’t think he’ll jump down from there. I’ve been here since he was a puppy, and I think he’s 4 or 5 years old now.”

When Bojo is not on the roof, he can be seen roaming the store, which also has a mural of his likeness on its front wall.

(Photos by Travis Loose / News-Times)

Why some dogs chase their tails


Why do some dogs seem so obsessed with chasing their tails?

Researchers at Bristol University in the UK have entered the second phase of a study aimed at finding the answer.

Scientists from the two-year “Bristol Spinning Dog Project” will visit the homes of the 50 non-spinning dogs to collect urine samples and cheek swabs, and complete training tasks aimed at assessing the pet’s personality and ability to learn, The Independent reports.

In the first phase of the study, the researchers examined spinning dogs, delving into everything from their DNA to their environments to their personalities.

After examining dogs that chase their tails, the researchers will use the non-spinners to act as a control group.

Tail-chasing, while the topic of many a YouTube video, is likely something we shouldn’t be laughing about — out loud or otherwise — at least in those cases where the behavior is obsessive.

The researchers say reasons for the behavior aren’t fully understood — some spinning dogs may be merely seeking attention or expressing a desire to play, but spinning frequently or while alone could be a sign of frustration or a more serious disorder.

“There isn’t much information in the research literature about why dogs spin,” said Beth Loftus, one of the lead researchers. “We think this behavior develops because of personality and genetics, as well as the environment during a dog’s first 16 weeks and learning throughout life. But we don’t really know what it means for dogs’ welfare.”

“We hope to be able to identify dogs that are starting to spin and stop it from developing to the point where they are doing it almost to the complete exclusion of other, more normal types of behavior,” she added.

The research is being funded by the Dogs Trust charity.

(Photo : Flickr Commons / Tim Mowrer)

Who’s the fool: Why do we humans persist in our efforts to trick the dog?


Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.

How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?

For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.

Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.

My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.

With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.

Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.

The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.

When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)

The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.

But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?

Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.

Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.

Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.

“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.

Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.

Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?

Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.

More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.

The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.

Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.

Deeming its behavior aggressive, Texas man shoots pit bull three times at dog park


A man who shot a pit bull he thought was behaving too roughly with his dog at a Texas dog park was briefly detained but released by Harris County sheriff’s deputies.

Deputies were called to the Bay Area Dog Park in Pasadena Sunday after the pit bull, named Dieisel, was shot — reportedly three times.

The man said he was defending himself and his dog, but witnesses interviewed by news organizations afterwards said the pit bull was only playing roughly with the man’s dog and at no point seemed aggressive.

The two-year-old pit bull was taken to a veterinary hospital, where, due to the severity of his injuries — a shattered front leg and two bullet wounds to the back —  he was put down, Click2Houston reported.

The man told investigators the pit bull was trying to attack his dog, and he was afraid it would turn on him. Witnesses said he kicked the pit bull first, then drew his weapon, firing at least three times.

“His dog was not in danger… He was not in danger,” one witness said. “I don’t understand how they are not pressing charges. I witnessed everything. No one was in danger.”

“I just can’t believe somebody would do that when the dog wasn’t even being aggressive,” said another.

The man, who authorities declined to identify, told others at the dog park that he had a concealed carry permit for the weapon, witnesses said.

Deputies initially placed him handcuffs, witnesses said, but he was later freed.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office said reports saying it was declining to prosecute the man were incorrect, and that detectives have been asked to investigate the case.

(Photo: KPRC in Houston)

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