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Tag: box

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)

What Ace got for Christmas: A BarkBox

barkbox 022

Not since a cooler full of Omaha steaks showed up on our doorstep last Christmas has Ace been so excited about a box.

He gets highly curious about any package that to the house — be it a suitcase or paper bag — but when I brought a BarkBox inside with the rest of the mail, just before Christmas, he went bonkers, and he seemed to know it was intended for him.

It was a gift from his dachshund friends, Frank and Bogey, and their owner Faren, and while I fully intended to enforce the do-not-open-until-Christmas rule … well, it didn’t work out that way.

Given how much most of us spoil our dogs, BarkBox was a pretty smart idea — intended to get us, and our dogs, hooked on receiving a monthly box of treats, toys and goodies.

barkbox 052It’s similar in concept to those wine-of-the-month, cheese-of-the-month, you-name-it-of-the-month clubs you can subscribe to online.

Then you start receiving a monthly sampling of items you might or might not like.

Dogs being far less picky, BarkBox might be an even smarter idea.

It was started by three New Yorkers — Henrik Werdelin, Matt Meeker and Carly Strife, who were trying to come up with a way dog owners (or dog parents, to use the term they prefer) could delight their dogs on a regular basis.

“There’s a difference between a dog owner and a dog parent,” Werdelin told New York magazine. “Dog parents are people who really love their dogs. Unfortunately, there aren’t many places they can go to find new ways to delight their dog. BarkBox is full of those things.”

The items change monthly, and subscribers can choose one-month ($29), three-month ($24  per month), or six-month ($19 a month) plans. The company donates a portion of profits to animal shelters.

According to the BarkBox website, plans automatically renew, unless you cancel.

(I’ve never liked that kind of marketing — not since, as a teenager, I ended up in debt and with a bunch of albums I didn’t want thanks to a record-of-the-month club that refused to stop sending them until I informed them in writing that I had died.)

The genius of BarkBox is that — unlike humans who get an unrequested Perry Como album — dogs aren’t likely to turn their noses up at anything included in their packages.

Ace loved everything his contained — four types of treats and a floppy turkey toy made of cotton, jute and rope.

Once he got hold of a beef bladder chew from Barkworthies, there was no letting go — though I did put the rest of the treats aside for later.

barkbox 068

It was a lovely and thoughtful gift, and hopefully a one-time one. I’d hate to think the gift giver might, through automatic renewal, be sending Ace a monthly box of treats for the rest of her life, or worse yet, that I might be held accountable for covering that expense.

If that happens, they can expect to be paid off with lightly-used Olivia Newton-John albums.

My life in a box

It occured to me, when I heaved open the heavy metal door to the storage unit that has held most of my possessions for the past eight months — unveiling disarray, peppered with mouse poop – that what was revealed wasn’t just a metaphor for my life.

It was my life — up to now — in a box.

Virtually all my worldly possessions, except my dog — and, though he’s worldly, I don’t really possess him — are in there.

Cash value? Not much. Emotional value? Depends on which box you open. Overall importance? Given the fact that I didn’t miss any of it in eight months, next to nothing.

But when I moved out of my house in Baltimore to hit the road with my dog last May, I packed it all, and hauled it all, and stacked it all and secured it all with big strong lock.

Because, for me to be truly liberated, all my stuff had to be incarcerated.

We in the free world are slaves to our stuff. We are slaves to our jobs, which allow us to get more stuff. We are slaves to our mortgages, and utility bills, and the Internet and other technology we grow to depend on. Most of all, we are slaves to health insurance.

That, maybe more than anything — especially for those 40 and above — is why we stay in jobs we hate. Sometimes we hate them so much it makes us physically sick — especially when our workload quadruples so that stockholders can get a second yacht. But that’s OK because we have health insurance.

I gave up my regular job — with a salary and health insurance — more than two years ago at the age of 55. It was scary then. It’s scary now.

Unable to afford both health insurance and housing, I’ve opted to go with an alternative health plan whose protocol will be followed in the event of serious illness. It’s known as CIACAD (Crawl Into A Corner And Die.)

For my dental plan, I’ve chosen LTARAFO (Let Them All Rot And Fall Out).

For vision — it being more important than to me than life or chewing — I’ll likely pay my own way, as opposed to going with SAGAMG (Shutup And Get A Magnifying Glass).

I need to check into all these health insurance reforms, but my guess is whatever Obama-care benefits might apply to me probably, with my luck, are scheduled to kick in the day after I die.

But this post isn’t about death. It’s about life, and how we choose to live it — and how that, for most of us, is in a really big box, divided up into smaller boxes, some with plumbing and appliances, and all, of course, filled with stuff.

All my stuff, when it wasn’t scattered from room to room, fit nicely into a one-car-garage-sized storage compartment.

I started off loading it in a very organized manner, but running out of time, sped up to the point that much of it isn’t organized at all. Some boxes are labeled; others are mysteries. There are many boxes that say books, but there are only four or five books I need right now, and going through 20 boxes to find them – all of course trapped back at the very rear of the unit — would be a real time absorber.

So how is my storage unit a metaphor for my life?

First, it’s in disarray. I’m guessing an x-ray of my brain would look a lot like the inside of my storage unit. My stuff is not organized, not immediately locatable. My stuff is in limbo. My stuff, like me, has no idea where it will be a year from now.

There are some treasures in there. A baseball with Willie Mays’ autograph; photos of my son arriving from Korea; the goofy white cap I had to wear at my first job, selling burgers; my Pulitzer Prize (it’s just a sheet of paper); yellowed newspaper stories written nearly 35-plus years ago.

There are four or five boxes of strictly sentimental value. They contain memories. But I don’t remember where they are.

The stuff I need — certain books, forks, long underwear — are all buried somewhere at the back of the unit. The stuff I have no use for right now – my bicycle, golf clubs, tennis rackets — are all right at the front.

Part of me thinks it would be nice to have a place of my own, where I could unpack my stuff and organize it and live amongst it. Part of me thinks that would again make me a slave to my stuff, and all those previously mentioned other things that tie us down.

Here is what I am wondering — after the eight months Ace and I lived in a boat, trailer, tent, my car, cheap motel rooms, and the homes of friends and strangers as we traversed the U.S.:

Is what’s stuffed in that big metal box my life? Or, is my life over there, down that road winding into the horizon?

Do we treasure our past and present to the point that we shortchange our future? Is it possible, for those eking out an existence — as opposed to rolling in money — to have both security and adventure? Is it possible to properly nourish relationships with friends and family — in more than a superficial Facebook kind of way — without living right where they live?

In a way, it should be less complicated for me, having no “partner,” except for my big fuzzy one; having not just an empty nest, but no nest at all.

I should be able to figure this out.

If you’re wondering who that woman is in the back of the storage unit, that’s my beer sign lady — a cardboard cut-out, who, like much of my furniture, I rescued from a Dumpster. I picked her up last winter, but, in the months that followed, found her a bit one-dimensional and not at all good at conversation.

When I moved my stuff into storage, I assigned her the task of watching over it all.

She did a lousy job.

Somehow, all my (mostly) neatly stacked boxes started leaning, and teetering, and falling. She did nothing, and apparently wasn’t much help in scaring visiting mice away.

I think, when I finally do locate myself, I will get rid of her.

The bigger decision, though, is where I belong — warmly ensconced in a home of my own, or among the realm of vagabonds, like those RV nomads who kept their wanderlust in check until retirement kicked in and have been happily rolling along ever since?

When the road calls again, and I’m sure it will, will I answer?

You can’t do this with

The days of dogs bringing in the newspaper might be numbered — for reasons that have nothing at all to do with dogs — but until then there are those, like Nariz, who are eager to deliver.

Nariz, whose name comes from the Spanish word for nose, belongs to Deb and Roger Pyle, who get their local newspaper delivered to their home in Astoria, Oregon. Every afternoon, Nariz sticks her nose into the Pyles’ newspaper box, pulls out The Daily Astorian and delivers it to her waiting owners in exchange for a cookie, reports — who else — The Daily Astorian.

“We didn’t train her. She just likes to do stuff for us,” Deb Pyle explained.

The Pyles’ adopted the dog from the Clatsop County Animal Shelter when she was 10 months old.

“There was one day when she was acting like she wanted a job so I walked her out to the paper and put it in her mouth and then we walked back to the house together,” Deb Pyle said. Next, Roger Pyle taught Nariz how to put her head in the newspaper box and remove the paper herself.

After that, Nariz expanded into mail delivery. “The mailman has learned that he can hand it over to her and she’ll bring it to us,” Deb Pyle said.