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Tag: behavior

Group seeks to ban shock collars in England

shockThe Dogs Trust has launched a campaign to end the use of shock collars in England.

Calling the collars “unnecessary and cruel,” the organization is working to immediately ban their sale.

It is urging members of the public to tweet their representatives in Parliament using the hashtag #ShockinglyLegal.

As part of the campaign, they also plan to hold a “reception” — how civilized! — at the House of Commons where they will ask members of Parliament to sign a letter to the secretary of state backing the proposal.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is already on board, pledging his support to bring an end to a practice he compared to caning a child, the Daily Mail reported.

The Dogs Trust said it conducted a poll that showed most members of the public knew the collars caused dogs pain. Almost a third wrongly thought that the collars, which can continuously shock a dog for 11 seconds, were already banned. Only about 13 percent said they would ever use them.

“The sad reality is that they are still readily available to buy at the click of a button, the organization said. “These torturous devices can send between 100 to 6000 volts to a dog’s neck, and have the capacity to continuously shock a dog for up to 11 terrifying seconds at a time.”

“It is both unnecessary and cruel to resort to the use of these collars on dogs,” said Rachel Casey, director of canine behavior and research at the Dogs Trust.

“This type of device is not only painful for a dog, it can have a serious negative impact on their mental and physical well-being,” she added. “A dog can’t understand when or why it’s being shocked and this can cause it immense distress, with many dogs exhibiting signs of anxiety and worsened behavior as a result.”

Wales, Quebec and parts of Australia — have banned shock collars. There’s a growing chorus of voices trying to prohibit — or at least regulate — the collars in the United States, as well. While no legislation has been passed on the state level, an ordinance in Alexandria, Va., limits their use on public property.

Why dogs eat poop: A new theory suggests the behavior all goes back to wolves

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If you had to pick the one non-violent behavior that most dismays dog owners, it would likely be when their dog consumes dog poop — be it the dog’s own or some other dog’s.

Most of us can tolerate their incessant licking of their privates. We can laugh off them humping the leg of a house guest. But most humans find their dog gobbling up feces a revolting and inconceivable act, and some — believe it or not — have even cited it as a reason for returning a dog to a shelter.

While traditionally it has been speculated that some dogs (a minority) engage in the practice to make up for some deficiency in their diet, a new paper suggests it may be in their genes, Scientific American reports.

Veterinary researchers at University of California at Davis who surveyed nearly 3,000 dog owners found 16 percent of dogs consume canine feces “frequently,” meaning, in this case, they’ve seen them do it more than six times. In a second survey of just owners of poop-eating dogs, 62% of them were described as eating it daily and 38% weekly.

Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, reviewed the survey results and the scientific literature on poop-eating, most of which he says is speculative and doesn’t provide any sort of definitive answer for the cause of what’s called coprophagy.

The survey showed no link between feces-eating and other compulsive behaviors. Coprophagy wasn’t associated with age, gender, spaying or neutering, age of separation from the mother, ease of house training, or any other behavior problem.

What coprophagic dogs had in common was this: More than 80 percent were reported to favor feces no more than two days old.

To Hart, that suggests that the cause may go back more than 15,000 years and be rooted, like so much else, in wolves. The new study by Hart and others was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Typically, wolves defecate away from their dens, but at times of urgency, they may let loose nearby. When that happens, other wolves commonly gobble it up while it’s fresh, possibly, some scholars believe, to prevent the spread of parasitic infections.

Feces contain intestinal parasite eggs, which, after a couple of days, hatch into infectious larvae.

Wolves, he said, figured out that by eating any fresh poop left near the den they could be spared being infected by parasites.

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

He theorizes that today’s poop-eating dogs still carry around that wolfy instinct, even though the feces of modern-day pets, consuming modern-day dog food, tend to be parasite-free.

Hart noted there is no shortage of explanations for dogs eating poop.

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” he said.

Some believe that stress, or enzyme deficiencies lead to the behavior. Others suspect dogs picked it up as they adapted to scavenging for food sources in human environments. Many dogs will try to eat anything, and poop, from their own or other species, falls into that category.

The study noted that dogs whose owners considered them “greedy eaters,” were far more like to engage in the behavior.

Dog owners responding to the survey sometimes saw their dogs eating poop, and sometimes just surmised as much, based on “tell-tale breath odor,” or because poop in the house was disappearing before they got around to cleaning it up.

While there are products on the marketplace that claim to correct the problem, most of those do little more than make a dog’s own poop foul tasting, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

A dog owner can try and correct the behavior, clean up immediately after their dogs, and monitor them closely while they are outside, but the bottom line is — disgusting as it may strike us — dining on feces isn’t that surprising given where dogs come from and what they’ve been through.

As Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, noted:

“The niche that dogs occupy is essentially one of making a living on people’s leavings — and that isn’t just our leftovers from dinner, but what we put down the toilet, too,” he said. “So it’s only from our human perspective that coprophagy seems strange.”

Dog park humans: A breed apart

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One of the things that strikes you if you spend any time at a dog park is the amazing diversity you see — in appearances, in personality types, in behavior patterns.

And that’s just among the dog owners.

Just as there is a vast array of breeds and mixes, shapes, sizes and behaviors among dogs, there are certain “types” when it comes to the human denizens of dog parks.

So let’s slap some labels on them, shall we?

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Yes, it is wrong. But as much as we tend to slap labels on dogs, it’s only fair to give humans a turn. All in fun, of course. We’re not criticizing any of them (hardly), just making some observations.

All the characters we are about to describe are fictitious, though based on actual observations over the years at dog parks in well over a dozen cities and towns. If one or more bears a striking resemblance to you, old or new friend, it’s purely coincidental. And any exaggeration or irreverence that follows is purely for the sake of humor.

In other words, don’t get mad at me.

DSC06870leashes1The Dog Talker:
This person is constantly talking to their dog — an ongoing one-way conversation: “C’mon Princess, you should you meet these other dogs over here. Oh look, there’s your little friend Barney. And look at this big boy. Do you like him? I think you like him. He looks a little like your friend Bowser, doesn’t he? Let’s play with him for a while before we go home for dinner …”

Often members of this type are also members of another type, making them doubling annoying. The Baby Talkers: “Yesums you’re a good boy, yes you are, yes you are. Did you step on a burr, oh poor baby, come here, let me see your little pawsie. Awwww, it’s OK little baby. There, there, all better now.”

There is one more sub-category of these talkers, and they are those who actually seem to expect their dog to answer them. They are prone to asking their dogs the same question repeatedly, as if, on the third or fourth asking, the dog is suddenly going to respond with words: “Are you ready to go home for dinner, Fluffy? Hmmmm? Fluffy, you want to go home for dinner? Does Fluffy want dinner? You want to go get dinner, Fluffy?”

The Experts: They can and most assuredly will tell you more than you want to know about training, about breeds, about care, about feeding, about anything. Sometimes they may actually have some expertise. More often, they haven’t a clue. Still, they feel the need to conduct mini-lectures that conclude with something like “And that is why dogs eat grass” or, “That’s how they came to be known as Lhaso Apsos.”

DSC06874leashes1The Device-obsessed: They are the largest, fastest growing group at the dog park, and one of the most dangerous, totally ignoring their dogs as they tap away on their little screens. They really should look up now and then. See your dog? He’s living in the moment. You should try it.

The Social Butterfly: Must meet and engage every dog, and every human, in the park. He or she flits about, asking your dog’s name, your dog’s breed, telling you about his or her dog, remarking on the weather, etc., before moving on to the next dog and person. One of these — they often being the sort that prefers a monologue over actual conversation — recently began talking to me, even though I was on the big dog side of the fence and he was on the small side. Without any response, or any acknowledgement from me, he continued talking, non-stop, to the back of my head, for 30 minutes.

DSC06948leashes1The Loners: They go to remotest corner, avoiding interaction and engaging, most likely, in some fetch — silently, relentlessly, repetitiously, and most often using one of those flinging sticks so their hands don’t get slimy. Both owner and dog, generally something like a German shepherd, seem to tense up if you or your dog approach. Often, the loner person has a loner dog, which brings up a point we’re not addressing here: How a dog’s personality comes to resemble its owners.

The Rescue Hero: The second, if not first, sentence out of this person’s mouth about their own dog is “he/she is a rescue” and it is followed by the dog’s tale of woe in its previous life. His coat was matted, his ribs were visible, he was a bait dog used by dogfighters, he was abandoned and left tethered at a Walmart. Often they weren’t involved in any actual rescue, but merely walked into a shelter and adopted the dog. But that’s OK. It still makes them good people. Just don’t expect sainthood.

The Action Hero: This is the young guy — perhaps an off duty firefighter, or someone who just left rugby practice — who rushes over to fearlessly break up any dogfights.

DSC06981leashes1The Date-seeker: He is there to meet some babes. He will lavish attention on your dog because he thinks you are cute. He seems so nice, but might he be a biter? Exercise some caution before going into a play stance with him.

The Over-protector: These people are constantly coddling and babying their (usually) small dog, hovering nearby and becoming alarmed if play becomes a little rough. At that time, they immediately pick it up, making all the larger dogs want to have at it even more. I’ve seen people show up with their dogs and spend their entire time at the park on a bench with their dog (who might be wearing clothing) on their lap.

DSC06847leashes1The control freak: This person is a strong disciplinarian when it comes to their dog, so strict that their dog is barely able to have any fun. Granted some people use dog parks to train their dogs, but even then said dog should have a little frolic time. It’s not boot camp. Sometimes, they seem to want to discipline everyone else’s dog too: “None of that now. Easy, eeeeeasy now,” they’ll say to other dogs. He or she commonly offers training advice to total strangers.

DSC06849leashes1The Poop-spotter: This person has uncanny peripheral vision — to the point he or she can spot any dog in the act of pooping, even if there are two dogs simultaneously pooping at opposite ends of the park. He or she then promptly informs the owner, “Hey, your dog just pooped, about three yards from the fence, to the left of that fencepost.”

The No Boundaries Dog Owner: These are the owners who clearly believe their dog can do no wrong: These dog owners let their dog get away with pretty much everything — digging, snarling, humping to name a few– issuing few corrections and generally only mild ones. They fail to notice signs that things are getting out of hand until it is too late.

No Boundaries Parents: These are even scarier yet, letting their young children chase strange dogs, run from strange dogs while shrieking, and hug strange dogs. These people might pose a bigger risk than even the Device-obsessed. And if you have a combination of the two, well, that’s a recipe for disaster. Often, with these people, their children listen to them with the same disregard their dogs do. No matter how many times they warn little Tommy to close both the gates when he enters and leaves, little Tommy leaves them wide open.

By now you are asking, well “OK Mr. Holier than Thou, which type are you? Or are we to assume you are perfect?”

Far from it.

DSC06880leashes1I am sometimes “the expert,” but only when an unanswered question is looming, and I am sure of my facts, and I feel the information will make the person I am conveying it to a better dog owner. If, while I am talking, they start yawning, or texting, I will stop.

Sometimes I am “the loner,” sometimes “the social butterfly,” depending on my mood — and my dog’s mood — that day.

Sometimes I’m the rescue hero, not the action hero because generally any fights will be over by the time I’m able to make my way over there on my wobbly legs. I will share the tale of where my dog came from, but generally only when asked and without taking credit for any actual “rescue” when all I really did was adopt him. Still, I’m happy to share, and feel it’s important to share, the story of his Korean past, sad as it was.

I’m not the Date-seeker these days, but I’ll admit that possibility may have been in the back of my head — if not ever actually exercised — in earlier times with earlier dogs. And, hey, it might still be lingering back there to a small degree.

Most often, I’m of the type I haven’t mentioned yet.

The Quiet Observer: This is someone like, say, a semi-retired journalist with time on his hands, skilled in observing human behavior, prone to eavesdropping, able to recognize the subtle differences between us, and aware that — above all else — they are what makes life interesting.

DSC06843leashes1So feel free to disregard all this, and just be yourself. It’s true, I’m far more tolerant with dogs than I am with people. Dogs can jump up on me, they can lick my face, they can sit on my lap. People, these days, get on my nerves much more quickly.

Even so, it’s not my place to tell them how — other than observing proper dog park etiquette — they should act. So I almost always stifle myself from saying anything out loud.

When a small child it is chasing my dog, screaming and trying to grab him, I will warn them out loud, “Hey, you might not want to do that.” But I try to not let negative vibes into my head, and try even harder not to let them out of my mouth.

But that said, Tommy, close the damn gates.

(Photos by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

The dog park is working wonders for Jinjja

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Jinjja’s transition from a dog destined for the butcher block to a trusting family pet continues to slowly but steadily move ahead — sometimes, so gradually that major breakthroughs probably go unnoticed, even by an observer as astute as I.

(“Stop observing me so astutely,” he’d probably say if he could talk. “And check that grammar. You’re nowhere near as astute as you think you are.”)

journeyAt the dog park, he still gets a little bit growly (but not aggressive) when dogs larger than he approach him too rambunctiously. He still spends some of the time going to a remote corner by himself.

But gradually (like everything else with this dog) he is coming to frolic with other dogs in the park, to approach a select few people and sometimes (with females of the human species) even let them pet him.

And last week, for the first time, he went a little farther than chasing and running with other dogs. He full on played with one, with hardly any of the growliness, with actual body contact, as in nearly wrestling, for at least a full minute.

DSC06712Her name is Moro, a Siberian Husky pup who is about Jinjja’s size — though that will change quickly.

With dogs smaller than he, Jinjja exhibits none of the growly behavior. And with Moro, for some reason, he was enamored — enamored like he is with any new dog entering the park. But this time, it lasted a while. He followed her everywhere she went.

DSC06747In addition to being the right size, Moro was the right temperament for him. She didn’t charge in and get in his face, didn’t attempt immediate wrestling. Instead she scurried under the bench for humans and observed what was going on, coming out after she felt comfortable, and taking her time getting to know other dogs.

She’s also soft and fluffy as a powder puff, and sweet smelling, though I’m guessing neither of those things matter to Jinjja.

In any event, it was the first time I’d seen him go into a play stance while off the leash — and proceed to play.

I’d have to say the dog park may be responsible for the biggest strides he has made in terms of socialization since he was rescued from a farm in South Korea where he was being raised as a farm animal to be slaughtered for his meat.

DSC06773We started going right after I was recovered enough from a surgery to check out the new dog park that opened just down the road — actually a little before it opened.

We go nearly every day now.

Jinjja, while he has grown totally comfortable with me, remains skittish around most people. Maybe upon a third meeting, maybe after you’d given him a treat or two, he’ll let you pet him, but he generally avoids the touch of humans until he gets to know them.

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Moro’s owner was an exception to that rule. She seems to hold a special appeal to Jinjja. He’ll approach her far quicker than any other human in the park, and make it clear he wants to be petted. Maybe it’s because he has met her three times now, or because she smells like Moro, or because she smells like other dogs from working at a doggie day care. Or maybe she just has a way with dogs.

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Connections like that — new dogs, new humans — go a long way in helping Jinjja with his transition.

His stay with another family during my hospitalization and recovery also led to improvements in his sociability. After living for two months with three other humans and two other dogs, I noticed a big change in him he came back home.

Last week there was a second breakthrough as well: Jinjja let my brother, who has known him for almost a year now, reach out and pet him, which is generally followed by “please, scratch away, especially right here in the butt region, which I will now shove toward you.”

He has never growled at humans, but he does generally growl, and raise his hackles, when a new dog, or even a large familiar one, attempts to play with him.

I’m not sure of the best way, training-wise, to address that, and I guess it’s more a matter of more time with more company. We hope to get back into the training class we had to drop out of due to illness.

But overall, his growliness has gone way down. (Unlike mine, which remains about the same.)

DSC06800A few days ago, Jinjja even met another Korean dog at the park — or at least one whose owner suspects he came from there. Toby, who he got from a shelter, appears to be a Sapsaree, a breed produced primarily if not exclusively in South Korea. (And yes, though he was way bigger, with waaaaay more hair, they got along fine.)

With Jinjja, the biggest factor of all, I suspect, has been simple time —
time spent being treated like a normal dog, as opposed to crated or chained as he was at the farm in Korea.

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It’s all about earning his trust, and sometimes he makes you work very hard for it.

So we’re spending lots more dog park time, and more me getting on the floor time (arduous task though it is) for that is when he really warms up.

And, dare I say it, he is, if not on the verge, at least getting very close to being a regular old happy go lucky dog.

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(Photos: By John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

Lost in translation: In shedding their wolfish past, dogs lost ability to cooperate

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There’s one thing that wolves are still way better at than their domesticated descendants (aka dogs) — cooperating with their own kind.

Domestication may have led to canines becoming more skilled at cooperating, manipulating and melting the hearts of people, but they lost something in the transition.

While they’ll still run together, play together and display other pack-like tendencies, dogs are less likely than wolves to work together as a team to accomplish a goal, says a new study.

To provide a human equivalent, wolves will work together like a team of Navy Seals, while dogs are more like, well, Congress.

Sarah Marshall-Pescini, from the University of Vienna, has found that dogs lag far behind wolves when it comes to accomplishing a task that requires them to cooperate.

She conducted a simple series of experiments in which dogs have to pull on two pieces of rope to bring a piece of distant tray of food within reach. While the dogs almost always failed, the wolves, working together, frequently succeeded.

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“The idea is that we’ve changed their psychology to make them into super-cooperative beings,” says Marshall-Pescini. But that’s only true for their relationships with humans, she added.

By domesticating dogs, humans ruined the pack instinct that makes wolves such great hunters and survivors.

“They adapted to the niche we provided for them and it changed their sociality,” Marshall-Pescini says.

That applies even to dogs living in the wild. They mostly keep to themselves, scavenging alone on human garbage. When they do form packs, they are usually small and loose-knit.

By contrast, wolves live in extremely tight-knit family groups. They rely on their pack-mates to bring down large prey, and they work together to rear each other’s pups.

Fifteen wolves and 15 dogs currently live in Vienna’s Wolf-Science Center, a facility established to look at the differences between wolves and dogs “in as fair a way as possible,” says Marshall-Pescini.

“They’re raised in exactly the same way, with a lot of human contact. This allows us to test a lot of different things without the confounding variables of wolves not being used to humans and pet dogs being super-used to humans.”

In the experiment, a string was threaded through rings on a tray of food on a side of a cage the animals could not access.

If one animal grabs an end of the string and pulls, it just comes out of the rings. If two animals pull on the two ends together, the tray slides close enough for them to eat the food.

All in all, the dog teams did terribly. Just one out of eight pairs managed to pull the tray across, and only once out of dozens of trials. By contrast, five out of seven wolf pairs succeeded, on anywhere between 3 and 56 percent of their attempts.

As The Atlantic explained it in an excellent summary of the study:

“It’s not that the dogs were uninterested: They explored the strings as frequently as the wolves did. But the wolves would explore the apparatus together — biting, pawing, scratching, and eventually pulling on it. The dogs did not. They tolerated each other’s presence, but they were much less likely to engage with the task at the same time, which is why they almost never succeeded.”

“The dogs are really trying to avoid conflict over what they see as a resource,” said Marshall-Pescini. “This is what we found in food-sharing studies, where the dominant animal would take the food and the subordinate wouldn’t even try to approach. With wolves, there’s a lot of arguing and it sounds aggressive, but they end up sharing. They have really different strategies in situations of potential conflict. [With the dogs], you see that if you avoid the other individual, you avoid conflict, but you can’t cooperate either.”

(Bottom photo: Wolf Science Center/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Eclipse or not, dogs know better than to look at the sun; so why don’t we?

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Most experts agree there is not much danger of your dog going blind from looking at the sun during today’s “Great American Eclipse.”

Dogs, they say, know better than to look at the sun — during the eclipse or any other time.

Humans, from all indications, do not.

We just HAVE to see it during an eclipse — live, as it happens. Even though we get darkness every night, experiencing it during the day, and observing the source of the phenomenon, qualifies to many as a must-see event.

True, this is the first total solar eclipse view-able in the U.S. since 1979. True, it’s the first whose path will run from one coast to the other since 1918. True, it is considered “spectacular,” even though it lacks any sort of booms or grand finale.

Sure, we could wait and watch it on TV again and again and again and again. But, for us humans, that won’t do. We want to have been there, in the “path of totality,” as if it were Woodstock or something.

As a result, traffic jams were reported throughout the weekend as thrill-seekers traveled to points along the 70-mile wide, coast-to-coast path of the eclipse.

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Long lines continued to form to get eclipse glasses that may or may not be legit. Tiny towns have been inundated with more eclipse followers than there are restaurants or toilets for. Motels along the route are filling up, despite jacked up prices, and property owners are happily gouging travelers as well for space to sleep or view the eclipse.

It will be like one big coast to coast party, and therein lies a big hunk of its appeal, to both science nerds and non-science nerds.

But that appeal doesn’t extend to dogs.

Dogs — just as they don’t smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, or spend hours tanning — don’t stare into the sun, eclipsed or not.

(Even so, most experts recommend playing it safe and keeping pets inside when the eclipse’s path passes through your area.)

To help us survive the event, the news media is offering plenty of tips — albeit not the most obvious one — on keeping our human eyes safe.

Eclipse sunglasses are a must, we’re told. They are also pretty much sold out, we’re told. Many of those being marketed don’t actually offer the recommended amount of protection.

Creating a pinhole viewer from a cardboard box, as I believe I learned to do in junior high school, is also suggested. Now, as then, it seems a lot of work to see what is basically just a shadow of one orb passing in front of another.

I’m pretty sure schools were teaching us about pinhole cameras and eclipses before they ever started telling us the facts about sex — safe or otherwise. As a result, many of us were left with the misconception that there were two activities that could lead to blindness, three if you count running with scissors.

Now, we’re being told to bring protection if we’re going to go out and view the eclipse.

Sex and eclipse-viewing may have some things in common. Both seem prompted by some strong and mystical urge. Both, if not practiced safely, can be risky behaviors. Both seem to be opportunities most people don’t want to miss.

But they are as different as night and day. Eclipses, in my experience, occur far more often. Pinholes are suggested for one, and can be disastrous in the other. Which one people will drive a greater distance for … well I don’t think any studies have been done on that.

Still, common sense requires me to point out, the safest route when it comes to eclipse viewing is to show a little of the smarts dogs have and not look directly at the sun, with or without special glasses, today or any other day.

That’s right, abstain.

Humans being humans, and myself included, that’s not likely to happen.

ZenCrate: Company offers what they say is a soothing shelter for dogs during storms

Does your dog need a ZenCrate?

Do you?

A Florida company has begun manufacturing of a $500 “smart” crate that doubles as a piece of furniture and offers your dog solace during storms.

The “anti-anxiety dog crate” features noise-muting walls, subtle lighting, and soothing music that is activated by a sensor whenever the dog enters.

zencrateThe crate has a camera and WiFi connectivity so owners can get live updates. Other than that, it’s a remarkably simple concept that combines elements of the Thundershirt, Temple Grandin’s cow-hugging contraption, and the sensory deprivation tank.

The crate doesn’t put the squeeze on dogs, but it is close enough quarters that they feel protected, which is almost as good as a hug.

If they could make them a little bigger, I might want one for myself. Throw in a bottle of wine and it would be a great place for a date, or to crawl into every time North Korea threatens to send a missile our way, or Donald Trump … opens his mouth.

All it would need for human applications is a little more womb … I mean room.

The ZenCrate is the size of an end table and is designed like an animal’s den. It has no door, so dogs can enter and leave as they please.

chargerzencrateThe inspiration for the crate was Charger, a yellow lab whose hopes of becoming a seeing eye dog were derailed due to his fear of thunder.

The dog’s trainer, Jonathan Azevedo, ended up adopting him, and Charger’s fear of storms led Azevedo to bring some engineering-type friends together to make the ZenCrate a reality.

The company is cranking out 30 crates a day to catch up to the 700 pre-orders made before manufacturing even started.

“It really took us by storm,” Azevedo told Fox13 in Tampa. “That’s why we are working around the clock, the lights are on almost 18 hours a day, seven days a week.”

On the down side, the company will not allow the crates to be returned because of their “personal nature.”

Even more annoying, the crate’s “brain” will also send you an email every time your dog enters the crate — a feature we hope is easily deactivated.

(Photos: From ZenCrate.com)