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Tag: behavior

Garmin takes heat for dog-zapping device

Garmin, a company that makes devices that tell us how to get from here to there, has unveiled its latest gadget aimed at “teaching” your dog good behavior — by shocking him when he misbehaves.

The Delta Smart is a small, smartphone-compatible gadget that fits over a dog’s collar, enabling an owner, through an app, to keep track of their dog’s activity levels, and how much barking they are doing while we’re away.

It’s not the first Garmin product for dogs, and not the first to include a shock feature — but it is the first to spark such widespread protest and an online petition asking the company to remove the feature.

The product promises to “reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors” and make your dog a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

It gives dogs warnings by beeping, vibrating or by applying what the company likes to call “static” or “stimulation” — which is a nice way of saying a jolt of electricity.

deltasmartThere are 10 levels at which a dog can be zapped, either by an owner who is present, or remotely.

As the petition points out, it’s not the right way to train a dog:

“For example, a woman wants her dog Bowser to learn to not jump on the couch. Bowser trots into the family room, jumps up on the couch, and climbs into her daughter’s lap — at which point the electric shock hits him. She has now put her child in serious danger.

“Bowser will not associate the act of jumping up on the couch with the pain; he will associate her child with the pain and could very well become aggressive toward her.”

Like all the makers of shock collars, Garmin says the jolt does not hurt the dog.

“What is missing from this argument is the fact that aversive methods only work if they scare and/or hurt the dog. If the zap doesn’t bother the dog, then the dog will not learn. Electric shock collars do hurt and scare dogs. If they didn’t, no one would use them,” says the author of the petition, dog trainer and freelance writer Tracy Krulik.

barklimiter

Garmin’s Bark Limiter

We haven’t seen the CEO of the company try one out (but then again maybe he or she hasn’t misbehaved). To the company’s credit the new device has put some cushioning over the two metal probes that, in earlier versions, stuck into the dog’s neck.

The Delta Smart is basically a combination of a FitBit-like device and the company’s “Bark Limiter,” which has been on the market for a while.

In the ad above, various dogs are shown, each labeled for the kind of bad behavior they engaged in — barking too much at the mailman, shredding the blinds, stealing food off the kitchen counter, knocking over the trash can, chewing up the slippers.

The “dog activity trainer and remote monitor” can correct all those problems — even when you’re not home, the ad says.

It can monitor barking and activity levels while you’re away, and it comes with tags that can be placed on items and in areas you don’t want the dog near that activate warning tones when the dog approaches.

In other words, it is a control freak’s dream — and it’s only $150.

After the video was posted on Facebook, it had nearly 2,800 comments, most of them condemning the product as cruel, and the wrong way to train a dog, according to the Washington Post

On YouTube, the company has disabled public comments on the video — and if you try to leave one, you receive an electrical shock. (OK, we made that last part up.)

You’ve got to wonder, though, technology being what it is, if the day will come when we get shocked for making wrong turns or for not taking enough steps during the day, for failing to do our sit ups or eat our vegetables — and if someday, by a family vote, we can equip a bratty nephew or an annoying uncle with such a device.

For his own good, of course, and just to make him a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

Which motivates more — food or praise?

kadypraise

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.”

ozziefood

(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)

Woof in Advertising: What the dog knows

This new ad campaign for a dog food company in Brazil is neither warm nor fuzzy.

Instead, it’s a little macabre — and aimed at persuading you that you should feed your pooch Special Dog brand dog food because, otherwise, he might share your secrets with the world.

woof in advertisingCreated by Rio agency DM9DDB, it centers around the idea that your dog has gathered a lot of insider information about your lifestyle in the time you’ve spent together.

In the spot above, for example, a Great Dane confronts his owner in bondage gear.

And in the one below, a Pomeranian catches his owner adding some of her deceased husband’s ashes to her tea.

And in what’s probably the most distasteful one of all, a pug becomes even more bug-eyed after he sees his owner sniffing his own fingers after engaging in some groin related couch behavior.

The message is your dog sees all, and knows all, so you better treat him right.

Kinda gross. Kinda funny. Not the kind of information a dog food customer is looking for, but you must admit they kind of stick in your head.

Secret Life of the Human Pups

secret-life-human-pups

All we can learn from dogs, and how, in many ways, we should strive to be more like them, are recurring themes on this website.

But, for the record, this is not what we mean.

A new documentary by Channel 4 in the UK takes a look at the “secretive” world of men who like to dress up as, and play the role of, dogs.

Around 10,000 people follow the pet play craze in the UK, according to “Secret Life of the Human Pups” — in which several members of this “secret” society dress up and strut before the cameras.

Apparently, it’s another one of those secret societies that — judging from some of its related websites, and the public competition it holds every year — really craves attention.

The documentary — sensationalistic as it is, albeit in a properly restrained British kind of way — isn’t unearthing any new ground.

Furries — people who dress up and behave as animals — have been around for decades, and the only new twist we can see is a trend towards preferring latex over fur costumes.

Participants, as always, range from those who enjoy a playful escape from reality to those who truly wish to be another species, from those seeking to shock and grab attention to those who are probably in need of some mental health counseling.

Anonymous sex, as always, while not what it’s entirely about, remains a strong component — at least for some participants.

The director of the documentary, Guy Simmonds told Newsweek he began pursuing the project after he “stumbled across some pictures [of human dogs] on the Internet.”

“… The more we researched it, the more surprised I was to learn how large the community was in the U.K. They’ve got their own social networking sites, events and competitions.”

The documentary aired Wednesday night.

Simmonds says puppy players (generally men) come from all walks of life: “We’ve come across librarians, security guards, even CEOs of huge corporations who wanted to remain anonymous. There are gay, straight, transsexual, asexual pups.”

One 42-year-old man described the appeal of pretending to be a pup this way:

“Life is getting more hectic nowadays, so much pressure on work and life. Some people drink, there’s drugs… You’ve got to be civilized in our society. When you’re in puppy mode, all that goes away. We don’t care about money; we don’t care about what job you’ve got, or the bigger car.”

For other people, role-playing as a dog can be a way of dealing with social anxiety, deep-rooted childhood issues or chronic medical conditions.

London-based psychotherapist Wendy Bristow says it is not uncommon for those who have experienced childhood trauma to seek comfort in forms of escapism. She points to cases of paraphilic infantilism, in which adults seek comfort by putting on diapers and regressing back to being a baby.

By taking on the role of something in need of nurturing — be it puppy or baby — they may be attempting to make up for a lack of it in their pasts.

“The technical term is displacement,” she said. “They’re doing an activity that gets them comfort, but they’re not expected to relate back apart from being grateful.”

Whatever the case, it seems there is one thing that both dogs and men who dress up as dogs are probably seeking more than anything else — attention.

Program works with Amish in southern Indiana to improve breeding conditions

odonamish

While Amish breeders are notorious for running puppy mills, some of those in southern Indiana are working with Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science to improve their breeding practices and, in the process, their reputations.

“It was time that we as breeders recognize that there are professionals out there that can help us and we need to involve them in our businesses,” said Levi Graber, a member of Odon’s Amish community who helps several breeders in the area.

Though the Amish aren’t known for reaching out, or letting people in, Graber contacted the university a few years ago about improving Amish-run breeding operations in the region. That led to a pilot program in which the operations are reviewed, and suggestions are made on how to improve them.

Already, those behind the program say, they’ve found that improving conditions and practices at the kennels leads to happier, healthier, better behaved dogs.

Under the program, which is open to non-Amish breeders as well, a set of voluntary standards will be created for breeders to follow, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier.

“Many folks hear about breeding and animal welfare and they don’t know what (breeders) actually do. They just want to put them out of business,” said Purdue’s Candace Croney, director of the animal welfare center.

Most dogs she and her team of researchers have observed have been in good physical health, Croney said, but some had room for improvement in their behavior. Some facilities’ dogs were loud and dogs became over-excited when they saw people, which Croney said indicated they weren’t used to seeing people often.

The research team advised those breeders to make sure something positive happens for the dogs, such as receiving a treat, every time someone comes into the kennel area. They also suggested letting the dogs out in the yard daily to exercise and socialize.

The changes made a big impact, Croney said. Over four months, the dogs in the kennel with the most behavioral issues became calmer when they saw people, and they physically looked better.

“We’ve seen a very positive impact on some of the things she recommends,” Graber said. “I’ve seen more contented, happy dogs.”

Once the trial program is complete, a third party will audit the breeders’ practices, Croney said.

Breeders who qualify will receive a certification that she said goes beyond the standards mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which cover areas such as housing, sanitation, food, water and protection against extreme weather and temperatures.

Graber said the community feels fortunate to work with Purdue and emphasized that the breeders don’t want to sell puppies that disappoint anyone.

Not all Amish-run breeding operations are like those that end up on the news, noted Dale Blier, who works for Blue Ribbon Vet & Supply in Odon and sells supplies to many breeders in town.

“The majority of dog breeders in Indiana treat their dogs the same way they treat making furniture: They want to be the best at it they can,” he said.

(Photo: A child sits with puppies at a breeding operation in Odon that’s working with Purdue’s Center for Animal Welfare Science program; by Levi Graber)

Not just any dog can be a bar dog

acebar


There’s nothing, in my view, that can make a neighborhood bar more homey than having its own dog.

You’ve likely met the bar dog. Though not a breed, he or she has particular characteristics: A laid back, borderline lazy demeanor; a 100 percent friendly disposition; a tendency to be large and situate him or herself in such a way to block the maximum amount of traffic.

The bar dog happily greets customers, but does not jump on them. The bar dog lusts after what you might be eating, but does not snatch it out of your hand. The bar dog is sociable, generally well behaved and not the least bit hyperactive. He goes with the flow.

My dog Ace (on the left in the picture above, taken at a bar in North Carolina) served as a surrogate bar dog for a while at a corner bar in Baltimore. (Bar dogs must also love bars, and Ace, being a reflection of his owner, does.)

At the Idle Hour in South Baltimore, Ace unofficially filled in after the owner’s dog, Higgins — now there was a bar dog — passed away.

Ace, it seemed, was born to be a bar dog. At the Idle Hour, there was no one he didn’t want to meet and greet and spend a while sitting next to, but he wasn’t prone to jumping up, or licking faces — unless such action was requested.

Not every dog has what it takes to be a bar dog.

vaughnThe jury is still out, for instance — literally and figuratively — on Vaughn, a hyperactive Doberman who frequents two Washington, D.C., bars operated by his owner.

Mark Thorp, who owns Vaughn — and who owns Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street and Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg Road –says his dog is big, and active, and harmless.

But two customers have sued Thorp, claiming otherwise.

Kathleen Moran says she was sitting on a couch at Jimmy Valentine’s one night in July 2015 when Vaughn bit her face, causing “gashes to the outside of her eye, cheek, and lip.”

In an earlier lawsuit, a customer at Little Miss Whiskey’s claimed Vaughn bit her face.

Thorp said both the lawsuits and other legal troubles stem for an ongoing neighborhood feud.

Thorp was arrested in February of 2015 on drug and animal cruelty charges — both of which he claimed were trumped up charges he thinks stem from his beef with a neighborhood official he successfully sued for libel for remarks she made about one of his establishments.

It’s a long, involved story that’s not too related to our point, but you can find a synopsis in the Washingtonian.

Numerous legal matters are still pending, but Thorp, who temporarily lost custody of Vaughn, now has him back.

And, legal issues aside, maybe it would best to not allow him to freely roam the bars — at least not until he becomes better schooled in how to be a bar dog.

A bar dog, like a bartender, should be compassionate, calm, patient and mellow. He must show up when you want him to. And go away when you want him to.

Unleashing just any dog in just any bar is a mistake — and one that might come with costs.

Ace never had a problem — or caused any, at least that I’m aware of — at the Idle Hour. A lot of that was because it was among, since puppyhood, his top three places to be.

When, years later, I did a little bartending myself, and brought him along to the golf club where I worked, his behavior was always exemplary.

So, yes, I’m all for bar dogs. They can make a place seem like home. They can make a laid back bar even more laid back. They can promote bonding and conversation and help lower an entire room’s blood pressure.

But they should be chosen carefully, have the right personality, and be able to stay within certain boundaries.

Then and only then can they do what they were meant to do — make us all chill out, get along, and not sue each other.

(Photos: Top photo, Ace and friends at Recreation Billiards in Winston-Salem; bottom photo of Vaughn from his Twitter page)

New gel promises to make the 4th of July a less anxiety-filled time for dogs

sileo

A new medication that claims to soothe dogs who are frightened by loud noises, such as fireworks and thunderstorms, will be available to veterinarians in the U.S. within a week — in plenty of time to help make the 4th of July less traumatic.

Sileo (not a very serious sounding name, is it?) comes in a gel form and is the first prescription medicine for treating anxiety over loud noises in canines– a widespread problem that leads to property destruction, running away and life-threatening injuries.

Its U.S. maker, Zoetis of Florham Park, New Jersey, says Sileo (pronounced SILL-lee-oh) works by blocking norepinephrine, a brain chemical similar to adrenaline that pumps up anxiety.

It is applied to a dog’s gums via a pre-filled, needle-less syringe.

Zoetis says the medication will give owners of the estimated third of the 70 million dogs in the U.S. who have problems with loud noises an alternative to human anti-anxiety pills, like Xanax, that sedate dogs for many hours.

Sileo takes effect within 30 minutes to an hour.

The pre-filled applicator costs $30, and contains enough for two doses for a dog of 80 to 100 pounds, four doses for a 40-pound dog, or six doses for a small dog.

Dogs can be re-dosed every two hours, up to five times during each noise event, Zoetis said in a press release.

Zoetis has exclusive rights to distribute Sileo in the U.S. under an agreement with the medication’s developer, Orion Corp. of Finland.

In testing on 182 pet beagles conducted on New Year’s Eve, 75 percent of their owners rated its effect good or excellent. Side effects were rare and minor, the company says.

(Photo: Provided by Zoetis)