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)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 17th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, box, canines, cognitive, dogs, domesticated, domestication, experiment, manipulate, manipulation, oregon state university, pets, problem solving, sausage, science, scientist, skills, study, wolves
I’m all for dogs on college campuses, and all for campus security.
But news that the governor of Ohio wants every campus in the state to have its own bomb-sniffing dog troubles me — mostly for what it says about our times.
Youngstown State University was presented a bomb-sniffing dog Monday as part of a pilot program that officials eventually hope to expand throughout the state’s public universities, the Associated Press reported.
Bomb sniffing dogs were to be presented at Ohio State University yesterday and at Bowling Green State University today.
Kent State University already has one, and wants to get another.
Ohio’s public safety director, John Born, says it’s all part of Gov. John Kasich’s plans to strengthen school safety for students — from preschool to college age.
Born says the dogs can respond to threats and conduct security sweeps for large-scale events, such as athletic games or visits by dignitaries.
It costs more than $12,700 to buy each animal and pay for initial training and equipment. Ohio Homeland Security is covering the costs with federal grant money.
The universities provide the officers who become the dogs’ full-time handlers.
“There’s just not enough explosives dogs in the state for the need depending on where you are, so this is hopefully the beginning of a more comprehensive effort,” Born said.
Participating universities have to agree that the dogs will be available if there is an off-campus need, such as a threat at a high school.
(Photo: Ohio State University police officer Joanna Shaul and her canine, courtesy of Ohio State University)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 11th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bomb, bombs, campus, canines, college, detecting, dogs, explosive, explosives, governor, john kasich, ohio, pets, police, school, security, sniffing, universities
Tom Cohen has taken some dogs with funny faces and made them funnier.
In “Dogs with Old Man Faces,” released earlier this month, Cohen has gathered photos of elderly dogs and combined them with tag lines reflecting not so much the wisdom that comes with being an old human, but the crankiness, irascibility, aches and fears — our increasing tendency, as we age, to seek out simple pleasures and our decreasing willingness to put up with annoyances.
“Muttley is worried about the future of Medicare,” reads one, next to a photo (at top of this post) of a wrinkled and anxious-looking pug.
“Duster enjoys a good knish,” reads another, accompanied by photo of a pooch whose white eyebrows hang over his eyes.
Each black and white image of an old dog is accompanied by a caption: “Roscoe was one of the original Hells Angels,” reads the one accompanying the shaggy and graying dog shown above.
We learn that “Pedro likes Old Spice and Sinatra,” “Jack enjoys a hot cup of Sanka,” and “Chet is still upset they canceled Matlock.” Geppeto is horrified at how much things cost. Sumo wants those kids off his lawn. Sherman smoked too much pot in the 60’s. Riley can’t wait for tonight’s early bird special. And Pepper has been advised to cut down on salt.
“Dogs with Old Man Faces: Portraits of Crotchety Canines” (published by Running Press, $13.95) isn’t the consumate old dog book — Old Dogs by Gene Weingarten holds that honor, in our view — but it is a fun and lighthearted spin that incorporates photos of salty old dogs with stereotypical (but often true) phrases that you might hear uttered by a senior citizen of the human species.
Cohen, a former stand-up comedian, is a television writer and producer who has won three Emmy Awards and lives in Maryland with his own old dog. He has worked on shows for MTV, Nickelodeon, NBC, History Channel, ABC Family, and most recently, Discovery Channel, serving as executive producer, director, and head writer of the series “Cash Cab.”
Based on a photo we found of him, he doesn’t quite have an old man face yet, but appears to be working on it.
(Photos: From “Dogs with Old Man Faces.” Top photo (Muttley) by Richard Dudley; photo of Roscoe by Tom Cohen)
Posted by John Woestendiek October 21st, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aging, animals, behavior, book, books on dogs, canines, comedian, crotchety, dog books, dogs, dogs with old man faces, elderly, faces, humans, old, old dogs, old man faces, pets, photos, producer, tom cohen, writer
Since January of 2010, Houston police have gunned down 187 dogs, killing 121 of them.
And last year alone, law enforcement officers in Houston and Harris County shot more dogs than New York City police officers shot in 2010 and 2011 combined.
All of those shooting were deemed by police to have been justified, but it’s not too hard to find families that disgree with that.
The KHOU 11 News I-Team did, and its report this week is more evidence that, across the country, requiring police to be trained in dealing with dogs could save dogs, and their families, a lot of pain.
Colorado passed a law requiring that, and it was signed by the governor this week.
The KHOU report, when it looked at the police-involved dog shootings for all of Harris County found at least 228 dogs had been shot by officers and deputies since 2010, 142 of them fatally.
“If the dog turns and comes at a citizen, or the deputy, they have all right to use lethal force,” explained Dpt. Thomas Gilliland of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Records show Harris County deputies shot 38 canines in the last three-and-a-half years.
When asked if all those shootings were justified, Gilliland said: “The justification is, in that matter, and at that moment the deputy had to choose the decision to use lethal force against that animal.”
Sgt. Joseph Guerra, who works as a cruelty investigator for the Houston Humane Society, said it teaches some officers how to safety interact with threatening dogs. But the training isn’t mandated for all officers.
“A lot of times, officers are not sent to training to get that type of certification to feel comfortable enough to deal with these animals,” he said. “We need to get those officers involved in some mandated training in how to defend before going to deadly force.”
The Arlington and Fort Worth Police Departments started mandatory dog training for officers last fall, and state lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the training for officers across Texas.
Posted by John Woestendiek May 17th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: aggressive, animals, arlington, behavior, canines, colorado, dangerous, deputies, dogs, fatal, fort worth, harris county, houston, interact, killed, law enforcement, new york, officers, pets, police, police shooting dogs, shoot, shot, texas, threatening, training
Given the endlessly rising popularity of dogs, and our increasing emotional attachment to them, medical researchers who use them for experiments can expect stronger and growing opposition to the practice from the public, a leading expert in canine-human interaction told a conference at Johns Hopkins University this week.
James Serpell, director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, was the keynote speaker at a conference sponsored by the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The 30-year-old, non–profit center promotes humane science by supporting the creation, development and use of alternatives to animals in research, product safety testing, and education. It seeks ways to replace animals with non-animal methods, reduce the numbers of animals necessary, or refine methods to make them less painful or stressful to the animals involved
Serpell and other speakers both pointed out that after decades of declining, the use of dogs in medical research has increased in the last couple of years.
U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show that the number of dogs used in medical research and testing dropped from 200,000 in 1973 to 66,000 in 2007, said Tanya Burkholder, chief of the Small Animal Section at the National Institutes of Health. Now, she said, the number has risen to about 75,000 a year.
Much of the increase is likely a result of advancements in, and the promise of, gene therapy.
Dogs have always been a valuable research model for scientists, going as far back as Aristotle’s day. Their size, physiology and cooperative behavior have made them convenient models for scientists, who, like Pavlov’s dog, grew conditioned to using them in experiments.
While public opposition to subjecting dogs to medical experiments resulted in the practice dwindling in recent decades, the use of dogs has crept up again in the last two years due to advances in molecular biology, genetics and the sequencing of the canine genome.
Because dogs get about 220 of the same inherited diseases and disorders that humans do — including Alzheimer’s, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia and retinal degeneration – medical researchers are able to study the underlying genetic defects and, through dogs, seek cures.
This means dogs are being bred to be born with the diseases in colonies at U.S. universities and research institutes and, in the case of South Korea, cloned to be born with the diseases.
No one at the conference went so far as to suggest a halt to using dogs in research, but Serpell warned that the practice does come with risks, and a price.
Dogs evoke protective and nurturing instincts in people, and those have grown stronger as the dog-human relationship has evolved — to the point that dogs are viewed more as family members than family pets. Public opposition to the laboratory use of dogs has continually grown in the last few decades.
Researchers need to be cognizant not just of society’s strong feelings about dogs, but also about dog’s strong feelings for humans, Serpell said. “Many dogs undergo severe distress when contact with a human is limited or thwarted. We don’t give that regard sufficient credence,” he said.
The stronger attachment to dogs is in part due to breeders focusing on creating animals for purposes of human companionship, unlike in the past when they were bred for the work they could do. Serpell noted that baby-like features, for one thing, appeal to humans.
Showing photos of dogs, Serpell pointed to one and said, “This animal looks like it was invented by Walt Disney.”
Our attraction to dogs stems too from the fact that they make eye contact with humans more than any other species, and studies have shown that petting, or even looking, at a dog increases our levels of oxytocin.
“These dogs are turning us on by looking at us,” he said.
Our evolving closeness to dogs has implications for the laboratory, he noted, and perhaps all of society.
Serpell pointed to commentator Tucker Carlson’s recent statement that dogs are the social equals of humans, and that therefore Micheal Vick should have been executed for killing them.
“Lots of people feel the same way,” he said.
Posted by John Woestendiek January 13th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: beagle, caat, canines, center for alternatives to animal testing, cures, disease, dog, dog lovers, dogs, experiments, genes, genetics, humane, james serpell, johns hopkins university, laboratory, love, medcial, medical, opposition, oxytocin, pain, pavlov, products, research, rising, school, stature, status, stress, tests, therapy, treatment, university of pennsylvania, veterinary
A new study confirms the notion that self-control is a limited resource, one that can and does get depleted — in humans and dogs.
And glucose, the study says, is one solution to helping us — whatever our species — stay on task, Miller-McCune magazine reports on its health blog.
The University of Kentucky study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, says the same mechanism that regulates human self-control also operates in canines.
A research team led by psychologist Holly Miller conducted two experiments with canines, observing how much persistence they exhibited when given a task.
In the first, 13 dogs were separated into pairs based on their training history. One from each pair was cued to sit and stay by its owner for 10 minutes, with the command being repeated as necessary. The other was simply kept in a quiet room for that same amount of time.
Afterward, each dog was given a Tug-a-Jug toy, a clear cylinder containing treats that can be accessed via a hole at one end — if the dog manipulates it properly. Each toy contained half a hot dog, too large to fit through the hole.
The dogs that had exercised self-control by sitting in place for 10 minutes gave up and discarded the toy more quickly than the others.
In a second experiment, 22 dogs repeated the first experiment with an additional component: Half the dogs were given a glucose drink prior to grappling with the toy, and half were given a sugar-free beverage.
“Dogs given a glucose drink persisted in interacting with the toy whether or not they had had to exert self-control prior to the test,” the researchers report, adding the glucose apparently replenished the animal’s capacity to keep at the task.
Previous research has shown glucose has a similar effect on humans.
“People can control their own behavior,” Miller said. “When they fail, it is not because they are terrible or weak; it is because they are depleted … If they want better self-control, they can build it. They can encourage their bodies to store more self-control fuel via exercise.”
Posted by John Woestendiek March 18th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, canines, depleted, dogs, exercise, experiment, glucose, holly miller, humans, news, persistence, pets, replenished, research, science, self control, study, tasks, university of kentucky, willpower
Some of the country’s most athletic dogs competed at the National Finals of the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge at Purina Farms near St. Louis over the weekend.
More than 30 canine athletes jumped, vaulted and dove their way into the records books as they competed in Olympic style events, including agility, Jack Russell hurdle racing, 60 weave pole, freestyle flying disc and the crowd favorite, dog diving.
Among those taking part was Olympian Greg Louganis, who competed with his dog, Dobby, in the small dog agility event.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 14th, 2009 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: agility, canines, challenge, dobby, dog, dog diving, dogs, events, flying disc, greg louganis, hurdle racing, incredible, jack russell, purina, st. louis, weave pole