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Tag: children

Dogs are better at filtering out useless info

While both human children and dogs learn from copying adult humans, dogs are better at spotting the bullshit.

So says (though not in those words) a new study from Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center.

Imitation, in addition to being the sincerest form of flattery, is how we — be we a puppy or a baby — learn. But young humans tend to be more trusting, following adult advice exactly. Dogs are more likely to see a shorter route to accomplishing the goal and opt for it, filtering out unnecessary steps that are just a waste of time.

(Might this explain why dogs don’t watch television all that much, or get on the Internet?)

In the experiment, researchers presented over 40 breeds of dogs with treats hidden inside puzzles.

They showed the dogs the steps necessary to solving the puzzle, but in doing so they included many unnecessary steps.

When the dogs’ turn came to solve the puzzle, they skipped the irrelevant steps that had nothing to do with getting to the treats, showing that dogs are able, or at least more able than human children, to separate bad advice from good advice.

Researchers contrasted their study results with those from a similar study at Yale that examined children, and they found humans relied more on imitation than the dogs. The children, after watching an adult solve the puzzle, tended to duplicate every step — even the unnecessary ones.

The study is similar to one about a decade ago that compared chimpanzees with human puzzle solvers. Chimpanzees, while prone to imitation, were slightly better at discerning the unnecessary steps and avoiding them than humans.

“So this tells us something really important about how humans learn relative to other animals,” said Yale Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos, one of the study’s authors. “We’re really trusting of the information that we get from other individuals – even more trusting than dogs are.”

“And what this means is we have to be really careful about the kinds of information we present ourselves with,” she added. “We’re not going to have the right filter for bad information, so we should stick to looking at information that’s going to be positive, information that’s going to be good.”

Or, as easily duped as our species is, we could just let dogs give us the advice.

Deaf dog helps abused children be heard


A deaf boxer in Florida is helping abused children be heard, by helping them get through the trauma of testifying in court.

Karl, a 5-year-old therapy dog, was born deaf, but that might actually assist him in calmly and quietly performing his duties with the Orange County K-9th Circuit Program.

“He doesn’t hear all the noise,” said Karl’s owner and trainer Joanne Hart-Rittenhouse told News 13. “So he’s not going to react to yelling, banging, all the other things that can happen during a case.”

karl1Children who are testifying at a trial enter the courtroom before the jury is seated, with the dog on a leash. The dog lies at their feet, hidden from the jury’s view, while they testify.

Karl’s presence helps children summon the courage to face the microphone and speak — usually as the accused watches.

“One of the questions a child had asked me, the person who had hurt her that was in the courtroom with her, If he comes over and tries to hurt me, will Karl protect me?’

“I doubt very much that he would do anything,” Hart-Rittenhouse said. “But if that’s what made the child feel better, then absolutely, he’s going to protect you.”

“Most of them won’t testify, won’t go through a deposition, if they don’t have a dog beside them,” she added.

Karl’s owner stays in the courtroom, hearing the testimony that Karl will never hear, and Karl stays available to the children even after the court case is over.

“We’ll be there as long as the child wants Karl to stay in their life,” Hart-Rittenhouse said. “He’s helped a lot of children.”

Karl is one of six therapy dogs providing support through the non-profit Companions for Courage that works in courtrooms and hospitals.

The Ninth Circuit is the first Florida circuit to utilize both pet therapy dog teams and professionally trained handlers.

(Photos: Amanda McKenzie, News 13)

In this program, kids read to shelter dogs to help them (the dogs) become more confident


Programs in which kids read to dogs are nothing new, but the Humane Society of Missouri is putting a new twist on the idea — having children read to shelter dogs to boost the dog’s confidence, as opposed to their own.

In the Shelter Buddies Reading Program, young volunteers — from ages 5-16 — read to shy and withdrawn shelter dogs, helping them grow comfortable with visitors.

As a result, those shy dogs become less likely to cower in the back of their glass-enclosed kennels and more likely to get adopted.

“We saw more and more rescue animals that were shy, fearful, and stressed out in the shelter environment,” JoEllyn Klepacki, the society’s assistant director of education told Today.com. “Unfortunately, these dogs are less likely to get adopted, since they tend to hang back instead of engage when potential adoptees come through.”

bookbuddiesWhile it’s aimed at primarily at helping dogs, the program is benefiting the volunteers as well.

In addition to helping them hone their reading skills, they learn about dogs, and their body language, and how to draw them out of their shells — all with the help of a good book and some treats.

The volunteers go through training sessions (with a parent) to learn how to interact with dogs, and the shelter has a library of about 100 donated books the children can read from, though many choose to bring their own.

Not a whole lot of staff supervision is required because the dogs remain in their enclosures — likely for liability and safety reasons — and one parent is required to accompany each child when they come to read.

Even though physical contact is limited, Klepacki believes the program is making a difference.

“These were dogs that before were hiding in the backs of the rooms with their tails tucked. You can see the connection — you can see them responding to those kids.”

Klepacki thinks other shelters could start a similar program at little expense.

“For next to no cost, the payoff is immeasurable.”

(Photos courtesy of the Humane Society of Missouri)

Yes, Luke, there is a Doggy Heaven


The letter was in an envelope addressed to Moe, Doggie Heaven, First Cloud.

Coping with the death of the family beagle, a Norfolk mom encouraged her 3-1/2-year-old son, Luke, to express his feelings in crayon-drawn artworks and letters.

It was Luke’s idea to write to Moe in heaven, and Mary Westbrook said she figured it would be good therapy for her son who, after Moe died at 13, kept asking if and when Moe was coming back.


She’d put each letter, upon completion, in the mailbox, then, after Luke had gone to bed, she’d go out and retrieve them.

But one day she forgot, and the mailman picked it up.

letter“I figured someone would just throw it away once it got to the post office,” Westbrook told the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk.

“It didn’t even have a stamp.”

But last week, a letter from Moe — magically, it seemed — appeared in the Westbrook mailbox:

“I’m in Doggie Heaven,” it said. “I play all day. I am happy. Thank you 4 being my friend.

“I wuv you Luke.”

Postal worker Zina Owens, in her 25 years on the job, had taken the liberty of answering some mail to Santa before, but this was the first time she took on the persona of a deceased family pet, hoping to make a child happy.

Owens, a window clerk, had noticed the letter to Moe on a table at the post office. She opened it and found a card covered in crayon scribbles. With help from the address on the envelope, she was able to read between the lines.


“I felt it in my heart,” she said. “Here was a child who had lost his dog, and any time you love something and it goes away, it hurts.”

So Owens, as Moe, wrote back. Mary Westbrook was touched to find the reassuring letter from Moe in the mailbox and shared it with Luke.

She posted the response on Facebook, saying, “What a beautiful kindness from a stranger.”

Owens says seeing the letter from Luke “made my day … so I wanted to make his. It’s just love, plain and simple.”

“You see so much negativity in the world, so many bad headlines,” she added. “But we’re more than that.”

(Photos: By Bill Tiernan / Virginian-Pilot and courtesy of the Westbrook family)

Dog walker calls police about unleashed kids

This story may sound like it comes out of Bizarro World, but it actually happened in Silver Spring, Md., where a man who was walking his DOG (on a leash) called authorities to report two young, unaccompanied and unsupervised CHILDREN romping freely around a park.

The caller, a Navy corpsman, called the city’s non-emergency line Sunday evening when he saw the two young children walking alone. He followed them, as one might follow a stray dog, providing police with their location.

Officers picked up Rafi Meitiv, 10 and Dvora Meitiv, 6, in a parking lot and turned them over to Children’s Protective Services.

As it turned out, it wasn’t the first time the “stray” children had been picked up. They’ve been sighted as much as a mile away from their home.

Their parents, Danielle and Sasha Meitiv, practice “free-range parenting.” They allow their children to roam the neighborhood on their own because, they say, it instills independence. They’ve defended their parenting style in court at least once before.

Given this website is about dogs, not parenting, we’ll refrain from voicing an opinion on that. But the case does remind me of some of those unaccompanied dogs I used to see at Riverside Park in Baltimore. I’d assume they were lost, wandering strays when in reality they were “self-walkers” — dogs whose owners lived near the park who would let them out the door to take care of business.

They’d head to the park alone, socialize, pee, poop (without a human to clean up after them) and then head home.

How many calls to animal control they, and other unleashed dogs, prompted I don’t know. I admired the independence of those free-range dogs and fretted about their safety at the same time.

But back to those unleashed kids.

Montgomery County police found the brother and sister in a parking lot around 6 p.m. Sunday, less than a quarter mile from their Silver Spring home, and — without calling the parents — turned them over to Children’s Protective Services.

It wasn’t until after 8 p.m. that Children’s Protective Services contacting the Meitivs, who say they had begun to worry when their children didn’t return by 6 p.m. The Meitivs said they had taken the children to the park at around 4 and told them to be home by 6.

Their children were released to them at 10:30 p.m — but not until after the parents agreed to sign an agreement that prohibits them from leaving their children unattended, according to USA Today.

Maryland law prohibits children younger than age 8 from being unattended in a dwelling or car but makes no reference to outdoors. A person must be at least 13 years old to supervise a child younger than 8.

In December, the couple was accused of neglect for allowing the children to walk around their suburban Washington neighborhood unaccompanied by an adult.

In February, Children’s Protective Services found the Meitivs responsible for “unsubstantiated” child neglect, but the couple has appealed that decision.

Despicable Santa: A Santa in Mission Viejo turns away autistic girl and service dog


A Southern California shopping mall has apologized to the family of a young girl with autism after she and her service dog were turned away by a Santa who was either allergic to the dog, afraid of the dog, or just a most unjolly sort.

The Santa on duty during the incident at The Shops at Mission Viejo was fired, as was at least one elf, and the mall has invited both the girl and her dog back to visit with a more compassionate Santa.

The girl, Abcde (pronounced Ab-Suh-Dee) Santos, had waited in line for half an hour with her service dog Pup-Cake.  But before Abcde could take a seat on Santa’s lap,  she was turned away, apparently because the man playing Saint Nick was not a fan of Pup-Cake, a pit bull, ABC7 reported.

pupcakeFamily friend Julie Miller says Pup-Cake is a specially trained service animal that accompanies Abcde everywhere she goes.

“The dog is not a breed when it is a service animal,” Miller told ABC. “A service animal is a highly trained companion to an individual and the breed is secondary. The Americans with Disabilities Act gives an individual with a disability the right to have their companion and service animal with them to do the job that they’re trained to do.”

Friend say Abcde, rather than wanting to tell Santa what she wanted for Christmas, had hoped to ask him what he was wishing for this year.

Miller said even though Abcde was turned away by Santa and associates, the fact that she patiently waited 30 minutes to see him was something to celebrate.

“Any person who has a child on the spectrum would look at that and think ‘Wow,'” she said

Abcde’s mother wrote about the incident in a Facebook post. She said after Santa refused to meet with the girl and dog, the family offered to take Pup-Cake outside. They were told the visit would still not be allowed because Santa had dog allergies.

Miller said the shopping center responded quickly once they were told what happened.

“We do not condone the behavior displayed by Santa and have worked with our partners at Noerr, the company that hires our Santas, to replace this Santa with one that is more compassionate to our guests’ needs,” The Shops at Mission Viejo wrote on its Facebook page. “We look forward to welcoming back the Santos family and Pup-Cake for a special Santa experience.”

Noerr’s CEO also posted a statement to the mall’s Facebook page:

“For 26 years, The Noerr Programs has devoted itself to sharing the heart of Santa through the creation of magical Christmas experiences for all children and their families. The entire team at The Noerr Programs sincerely apologizes for any distress caused by this situation, and truly regrets the incident. We have reached out to the girl’s family, in an effort to extend a private Santa visit with complimentary photos of both the child and her service dog.”

Whether that happier ending will come to pass is questionable.

Abcde is still upset by what happened. “Right now Abcde does not want anything to do with anything Christmas,” the family said in a statement.

“The family is working on reigniting that hope she had; if and when it happens she will visit Santa at The Shops. She will have her 30 seconds with Santa so she can ask him what he wants for Christmas. If she wants to. Not until then.”

(Photos: Facebook)

Creator of “Where’s Spot?” dies at 86

hillEric Hill, whose children’s books about a mischievous dog named Spot sold more than 60 million copies, died last Friday at his home in central California.

Hill, whose first book, “Where’s Spot?” was published in 1980, passed away after a short illness, according to Adele Minchin, a spokeswoman for his publisher, Penguin Children’s Group.

The book told the story of Spot’s mother, Sally, as she searched for him around the house, finding a hippo, a lion and other creatures along the way.

Hill was born in England. His career as an illustrator began when he became an errand boy at an illustration studio during World War II, which led to a position at an advertising agency, according to the Associated Press

While freelancing as a creative marketing designer in the late 1970s, he drew a picture of a puppy using his now-famous flap innovation, which fascinated his 3-year-old son, Christopher.

He was so pleased with his son’s reaction to his work that he invented a story to go along with it, which, eventually, became the highly successful “Spot the Dog.”


That came after countless rejections from publishers who were wary of  his use of paper flaps to hide parts of his illustrations — such as a flap in the shape of a door that is lifted to reveal a grizzly bear.

“Familiar as we are today with a children’s book market where flaps, pop-ups and all kinds of novelty and interactivity are taken for granted, it is hard to recall what an extraordinarily innovative concept this was in the late 1970s,” Minchin said in a statement.

“At that time, Eric’s idea was so different that it took a long while before anyone was brave enough to consider publishing his first book about Spot,” she said.

“Where’s Spot?” was followed by “Spot’s First Walk,” “Spot Goes to the Beach” and many others.

Hill, who moved with his family to the United States in the 1980s, is survived by his wife, Gillian; his son, Christopher; and his daughter, Jane.