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Tag: children

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!)

Two new studies show dogs can protect children from allergies, eczema

SONY DSC Even before your human baby is born, having a dog in the house can protect him or her against developing allergic eczema.

According to a study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting, babies born in a home with a dog during pregnancy receive protection from allergic eczema, at least in their early years.

The study was one on two presented at the conference in Boston dealing with protections dogs provide to children with allergies — even allergies to dogs.

In the second study, researchers examined the effects of two different types of dog exposure on children with asthma in Baltimore, according to Medical News Today.

The first type was the protein, or allergen, that affects children who are allergic to dogs. The second type were elements, such as bacteria, that a dog might carry.

The researchers concluded that exposure to the elements that dogs carry may have a protective effect against asthma symptoms. But exposure to the allergen may result in more asthma symptoms among urban children with dog allergy.

“Among urban children with asthma who were allergic to dogs, spending time with a dog might be associated with two different effects,” says Po-Yang Tsou, MD, MPH, lead author. “There seems to be a protective effect on asthma of non-allergen dog-associated exposures, and a harmful effect of allergen exposure.”

In the first study, led by ACAAI member Dr. Gagandeep Cheema, researchers investigated how exposure to dogs before birth influenced the risk of childhood eczema.

Eczema is a condition characterized by rashes and patches of dry, itchy skin, most commonly on the hands, feet, face, elbows and knees.

While the causes of eczema remain unclear, it is believed to arise when the immune system overreacts in response to certain allergens or irritants.

“Although eczema is commonly found in infants, many people don’t know there is a progression from eczema to food allergies to nasal allergies and asthma,” Cheema said in a press release. “We wanted to know if there was a protective effect in having a dog that slowed down that progress.”

“We found a mother’s exposure to dogs before the birth of a child is significantly associated with lower risk of eczema by age 2 years, but this protective effect goes down at age 10,” says allergist Edward M. Zoratti, MD, ACAAI member and a study co-author.

(A girl and her dog in Baltimore, by John Woestendiek)

Ruh-roh: Scooby-Doo dog treats end up on the human cookie aisle in Australia

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You’d think that — even on the cookie aisle — a mother would think twice before tossing a bag of Scooby Snacks into her grocery cart for the kids.

You’d think that the picture of the famous cartoon dog on the package, and the words “pet food only,” would have given her a clue.

You’d think that, as she loaded the bone-shaped treats into her children’s lunch boxes, she’d realize something was amiss.

But it wasn’t until the kids got home from school and told her they didn’t like the new “choc friendly carob” treats — “yuck, they are disgusting,” they said — that she gave the package a closer look.

That’s when she finally saw they were not only labeled as dog treats but that they promoted “skin and coat health.”

“On closer inspection they are DOG treats,” Tania Toomey, of Sydney, Australia, admitted on Facebook. “It does say that it is pet food only – human friendly but not recommended!”

But she added, “BE CAREFUL the store is very disorganised … Terrible and disgraceful, not to mention dangerous!” she wrote on the store’s Facebook page.

Before we pounce too hard on grocery store management — or the stoner stock boy we imagine was behind the error — consider this.

There are Scooby Snacks for dogs AND Scooby treats for humans, not too mention some other slang applications of the term to describe — Zoinks! — certain illicit drugs.

keeblerscoobygrahamKeebler, a Kellogg’s company, makes bone-shaped Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Sticks for humans, and they come in a box with Scooby pictured on the front.

Betty Crocker, a General Mills company, offers Scooby-Doo Fruit Flavored Snacks — for humans. They come in a box with a big picture of Scooby on the front.

Del Monte makes a version of its dog treat Snausages that goes under the name Scooby Snacks.

Confused? As a rule, if something is called Scooby Snacks (without the “doo”) it is probably a dog snack. If the full name of the dog is used — both the the “Scooby” and the “Doo” — it is likely a human snack, even if it is shaped like a bone and has a large picture of a dog on the box.

Still confused? Well, we all are, but do be careful when asking for Scooby Snacks, because the phrase can also apply to Valium, Vicodin, Quaaludes, and hash or marijuana brownies, according to Urban Dictionary.

Scooby Snacks, in the cartoon show, were consumed by dog and human alike. Some of the show’s cult members/fans are convinced they were actually (well, as “actually” as things can get in a cartoon) weed or hash brownies.

They seemed to be a common solution to many of the problems Scooby and the gang came across. They made everything work out — or at least kept Shaggy and Scooby on an even keel.

We should point out here that dog treats of any type aren’t generally harmful to children or other humans, and that until the makers of rat poisons start appropriating Scooby’s name and image, we are probably safe.

Since the story of the Sydney mom hit social media, many others have admitted to accidentally consuming the dog treats — in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

A father-of-two from the northern beaches in Sydney bought the dog treats for his young boys. He told news.com.au that the dog treats were incorrectly placed in the snack aisle of his local Woolworth’s and he grabbed them quickly without looking at the packet.

groceryaisleAnother posted a photo of Scooby Snacks for dogs clearly pictured next to packets of human snacks in a grocery store.

Woolworths initially stated that the pet food product was only stocked in the pet food aisle.

Then, store officials admitted that a mix-up had occurred and apologized for it.

Comments from social media users indicate that Scooby-labeled snacks have created confusion among many customers and at more than a few stores.

And in their comments, as always, they’re feeling free to pass judgment.

Some social media users have defended the mother as a victim of grocery store error.

Some have pointed out the product is clearly marked as a dog treat and say the mother should have been a little more alert.

Others have inquired as to whether her children have taken to digging in the back yard or scratching behind their ears.

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

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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

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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

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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.

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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.

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“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)