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Tag: deception

Britain’s got talent, and some shysters, too

We won’t call it the scandal of the century, or even of the year, but the dog who won “Britain’s Got Talent” didn’t actually perform the tightrope-walking portion of the skit that so delighted viewers and judges.

“Matisse was replaced for the show-stopping tight-rope trick by another dog, which was not mentioned on the show,” the Daily Mail reported yesterday.

o'dwyerdogsThe revelation that Matisse didn’t do all his own stunts (because he has a fear of heights), and that a lookalike stunt dog named Chase was snuck into the act, was first made by the dog’s owner, Jules O’Dwyer, on Britain’s ITV show, “Lorraine.”

Walking the tightrope was the high point of the act, which was built around a story involving some sausages stolen by Matisse from a three-legged dog named Skippy.

O’Dwyer plays the role of a police officer in the act.

Only Matisse, Skippy and O’Dwyer dog took bows on stage after the act, accepting accolades from the judges, some of who were left near tears by the performance.

Matisse was named the winner of the £250,000 prize.

Some viewers expressed outrage on social media about the switch.

“So it turns out the dog on the tightrope was a double for Matisse on #BGT?! Basically conning the public!!! Shameful!” Fiona Fairbairn wrote on Twitter.

An online poll by The Telegraph showed opinion was split on whether the judges and public had been deceived, with 51 percent considering it a scandal and 49 percent saying they saw no problem.

Who’s the fool: Why do we humans persist in our efforts to trick the dog?

SONY DSC

Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.

How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?

For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.

Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.

My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.

With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.

Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.

The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.

When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)

The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.

But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?

Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.

Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.

Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.

“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.

Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.

Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?

Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.

More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.

The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.

Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.

The cull is on in Sochi: Stray dogs are being exterminated by city hosting the Olympics

sochistrays

It’s hardly the first time a city trying to put its best face forward has shown instead how ugly it can be.

Even as the opening ceremony for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is choreographed — with its heartwarming message of peace, love and brotherhood — the city is trying to purge its streets of stray dogs, poisoning, capturing and killing them so it can project a clean, safe and pleasant image.

Despite publicly backing off from plans to do so last year, the city of Sochi has hired a private company to kill as many of its stray dogs as possible before the games, according to an ABC News report, based on an interview with the owner of the company hired to kill the dogs

Alexei Sorokin, while declining to comment on how many strays have been exterminated so far, was more than willing to talk about the dangers they pose:

“Imagine, if during an Olympic games, a ski jumper landed at 130 kilometres an hour and a dog runs into him when he lands. It would be deadly for both a jumper and for the stray dog,” he said.

Yes, the odds for that happening — landing upon a dog upon completion of a ski jump — have got to be pretty high.

It’s not the first time a city has tried to purge its streets of all things unsightly and embarassing before international attention comes its way.

Stray dogs have been rounded up at previous Olympics, and soccer championships. In America, cities hosting political conventions have corraled their homeless to keep them out of the sight of visitors. And before yesterday’s hardly-worth-the-wait Super Bowl, officials in New York and New Jersey sought to crack down on packs of prostitutes they said were streaming into the area for the big event.

All those things cost money, often taxpayer money, so residents end up footing the bill for a city’s superficial makeover — all so a city can deceive the rest of the world for  a week or two.

That’s what it really is, deception — covering up its real face, putting on enough make-up so we can’t see its pimples, disguising, erasing, incarcerating or restricting the movements of those who might embarass it. Instead of addressing real problems, the city spends money on temporarily covering them up.

Then, to justify it all, they have to spin some more, often turning to fear tactics to do so.

The strays in Sochi might bite people, or might have rabies, or might bump into ski jumpers falling from the sky, officials say. So they’re being “culled,” which means killed, but sounds better. The dogs have broken no laws – other than being unwanted and unloved –  but they’re getting the death penalty anyway.

“I am for the right of people to walk the streets without fear of being attacked by packs of dogs … Dogs must be taken off the streets even if that means putting them to sleep,” said Sorokin, who says he is performing a needed public service. He described his company, which generally uses poisons and traps to rid the streets of dogs, as  the largest of its kind in Russia.

What’s really behind such purgings – whether it’s killing stray dogs, rounding up hookers, or cordoning off the homeless – isn’t civic pride. If it were civic pride, we’d be working on fixing the problem. When we’re working only on the appearance, it’s civic vanity.

Just as stray dogs haven’t suddenly become a bigger problem in Sochi, there’s no proof — despite the pronouncements of city and state officials — that prostitution surges to dangerous proportions during Super Bowls.  There might be more arrests during Super Bowls, but there generally are when law enforcement cracks down.

Even an advocate for victims of trafficking noted last week that New York and New Jersey, by cracking down on prostitution during the Super Bowl, weren’t solving any problems — and maybe were even doing a disservice.

“The annual oversimplification of the issue, in which we conflate all prostitution with trafficking, and then imply that arrest equals solution, does a disservice to year-round efforts to genuinely assist survivors of trafficking — with emergency housing, medical care and other crucial services,” Kate Mogulescu, founder and supervising attorney of the Trafficking Victims Advocacy Project at the Legal Aid Society, wrote in last week’s New York Times.

“When the discussion is dominated by fear-mongering, we fail to meaningfully address the actual causes of human trafficking. Remove the guise of ‘preventing’ human trafficking, and we are left with a cautionary tale of how efforts to clean up the town for a media event rely on criminalizing people, with long-lasting implications for those who are then trapped in the criminal justice system.”

There are better ways to fight crime, conquer homelessness and combat stray dog problems — none of which are quick fixes, none of which are simply cosmetic, all of which involve, as a first step, getting past the mindset expressed by Sorokin in Soshi.

“Let’s call things by their real name,” he said. “These dogs are biological trash.”

(Photo: A stray dog and its puppy outside Sochi; by Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press)

Atlanta TV news “investigates” HSUS

The news report above is one that critics of the Humane Society of the United States want you to see — so much so that they’ve launched a campaign to get it placed on as many websites as possible.

It appears here not as part of that campaign, and not because it’s good investigative reporting — actually it’s pretty shoddy. But since critics are characterizing the “bombshell” video’s removal from both the WSB-TV Channel 2 news website and YouTube as part of some nefarious, freedom-of-speech-infringing conspiracy, we thought we’d post it here.

That way you can see for yourself there’s not much to it. The Humane Society of the United States operates independently of local shelters that have “humane society” in their names. Some members of the public don’t know that. The report asks the question, is the HSUS deceiving people when it seeks donations to do its national level work — primarily lobbying, enforcement of animal cruelty laws and public education?

If HSUS said it was regularly funding local shelters, yes, it would be. But it doesn’t say that, and the kind of work they do (not to mention better investigative reporting than some local TV stations) is posted for everyone to see on the HSUS website.

The Atlanta TV station says it called 20 area shelters and found none of them received funding from the HSUS. That, and finding HSUS critics to interview, appears to be the extent of the investigation. Could the HSUS help local shelters more? Sure. Is it their mission? No. It’s not the umbrella organization for local humane societies, just as the the ASPCA is not the provider for local SPCAs.

The YouTube version of the report is no longer available due to a copyright claim by WSB-TV, an ABC affiliate.

Maker of Vick dog chew toy sued by Florida

The maker of the Michael Vick chew toy for dogs — or one of them, anyway — has been sued by the state attorney general’s office, which alleges the company claimed animal charities would benefit from the toy’s sale, but never donated a cent.

Attorney General Bill McCollum filed a lawsuit alleging toy seller Jaime Salcedo and his Jacksonville, Florida, company, Showbiz Promotions LLC, misled consumers with claims that proceeds from the dog toys would go to animal shelters

The company also produced a doll modeled after Caylee Anthony, a 2-year-old Florida girl whose mother is awaiting trial on charges of murdering her and hiding her body in the woods. The company said profits from the sale of the dolls would benefit the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

McCollum said the company donated only $10 to the children’s group and none to animal shelters, according to a Reuters report

“Any company that intentionally misleads innocent consumers to believe they are contributing to worthy charitable causes is absolutely reprehensible,” McCollum said in a news release. “It is disgusting that a company would exploit a tragic situation for personal gain.”

He said the state began investigating the Internet sales company last year after receiving more than 200 complaints about the dog chew toys.

Showbiz Promotions suspended sales of the Caylee doll in January because of public outrage. 

When I last wrote about the toy, two companies were making them — the guys who came up with the idea had split up and gone their separate, but similar ways. Darren Usher was producing what he called The Official Michael Vick Dog Chew Toy, while Salcedo operated Vickdogchewtoy.com.

Here’s the ad still running on the latter website:

Dogsitter’s deceit exposed

When a British kennel operator found a visiting border collie dead, she panicked, buried his carcass in a nearby field and called his owner to say the dog had run away.

Jessica Valpied, 24, owner of 24-7 Petcare in Guernsey, apparently feared the death of a client’s dog would ruin her business and reputation: She won the National Pet sitter of the Year Award at Crufts in 2006.

Valpied was fined £400 by magistrates — an outrageously light punishment according to the dog’s owner, Michael Van den Bossche, who left the dog at the kennel when he went on a vacation in France.

Valpied reported the ‘missing’ pet to the Guernsey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and even orchestrated a high-profile publicity campaign to find him. She swore her employees to secrecy, and told them to pretend to search for the dog by walking around the area, calling the animal’s name, and whistling for it, according to an article in The Telegraph.

Van den Bossche, 45, who specializes in obesity surgery, also put up posters, made appeals on the radio, and placed an advertisement in a local newspaper.

But Valpied’s deception was uncovered when two junior members of her staff told their parents, who contacted police. The dog was apparently killed at the kennel by two other dogs who entered his pen.

Valpied said she claimed the dog, named Arte, had run away because she did not want her staff to get into trouble or for the killer dogs to be put down.

“It was a cruel and evil thing to do,” said Van den Bossche. “”This sort of thing should never happen again. We have been told lies and stories have been concocted. To lie to that extent is just awful.”

Valpied was awarded the Crufts honour in 2006 by beating 2,600 entrants who provide sitting, feeding, grooming and walking services for dogs and other pets.

Her website reads, in part: “The welfare of animals is always paramount in my life and goes far beyond the boundaries of business.”