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Tag: echo

Much ado about nothing: Audible partners with Millan to launch audio books for dogs

Gotta call bullshit on this one.

Well, maybe “bullshit” is too strong a term. Maybe I should just say, “Give me a break” or “Get real,” while rolling my eyes and wondering what consumers are going to fall for next.

Audible and Cesar Millan have teamed up, offering and promoting a book-of-the-month type program, in which, for $14.95 a month, you can choose audio books to play for your dog while you’re not home.

Of course Audible For Dogs is the same thing as Audible for humans, thereby requiring no investment from Audible, or parent company Amazon, other than what they’re spending on promoting the campaign and the undisclosed amount they’re paying Millan, who reportedly is helping choose the books and making promotional appearances.

If you’re not the sort to buy “Pride and Prejudice” for yourself, you might be willing to buy it for your dog, Audible figures, and play it for him to keep him calm and occupied when you leave the house.

The campaign promotes books the company already offers in audio, featuring them on the Audible For Dogs web page — sometimes classics, sometimes bestsellers, sometimes dog-themed, including several by (you guessed it) Cesar Millan.

It’s all based on a 2015 study performed at Hartpury College in the U.K. that showed that listening to audio books reduced stress in shelter dogs even more than music does.

dogs-with-headphonesFollow-up research was conducted with 100 dog participants through Millan’s Dog Psychology Center, and it found (big surprise) exactly what the company wanted it to find.

Specifically, Millan’s center found that 76% of dog owners who played audio books for their dogs reported an increase in calm, relaxed behavior in their pets over a four-week period.

Audible is already the largest seller of narrated books.

But it has figured out it can sell even more by cashing in on our tendency to pamper our dogs and exploiting the guilt we feel when we leave them alone

As one of the owners involved in Millan’s “follow-up study” explained, she used to feel guilty every time she left her dog, Buddy, at home alone.

In a video interview with Millan, she spoke of the effects the audio book program had on her dog and, more importantly it seems, her.

“I was really surprised at the lack of guilt I found when I was able to do that, it was like leaving him with a friend,” the woman, named Leslie, says. “I could go out with a smile on my face and feel really good about what I was doing for him.”

News flash, Leslie: You could have just left a TV or radio on for him and achieved pretty much the same effect, saving $14.95 a month.

($14.95 is the regular price for an Audible subscription, which comes with one new book a month.)

I’ll admit I leave the TV on for my dog, rescued from a Korean dog farm, in hopes it will keep him calm and help him get used to non-threatening humans.

But would I buy him his own audio book? Absolutely not — unless maybe it was one narrated by the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman, or the calm, sleep-inducing, you-can’t-have-too-much-Xanax voice of Bob Ross, the painter.

(Disclaimer 1: We are not implying Bob Ross uses Xanax. You can have too much Xanax. And so can your dog.)

(Disclaimer 2: I apply this same therapy to myself, seeking out a reassuring voice on TV to fall asleep to. Sixty-three year old’s can’t suck their thumbs. This is why I often go to bed with Bob Newhart.)

Millan suggests choosing a book narrated by a person of the same gender as their dog’s primary master and notes that “it’s the consistency of a tone that allows the dog to stay in that (relaxed) frame of mind.”

He also suggested the books be played at average volume on a listening device such as the Alexa-driven Echo, which Audible’s parent Amazon just so happens to sell.

audiodogsMillan says audio books can help dogs better cope with the separation anxiety many have when left alone, which can result in bad behavior, including barking, destruction and peeing.

He also told USA Today, “I’m always looking for ways where people don’t feel guilty, worried, (or) stressed when they leave their dogs alone.”

Again, none of this is actually groundbreaking.

Most of us likely had already figured out that an audio book — like the television or radio — can keep our dog “company.”

Yet Audible/Amazon still felt the need to appoint a celebrity, create a new niche market, conduct a campaign, issue press releases and have a “launch.”

“While most dog owners will indeed go to great lengths to ensure the happiness of their four-legged family members, you can’t help but approach Audible For Dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism,” wrote USA Today. “So is Audible barking up the wrong tree?”

We’d say yes, unless you’re talking about the money tree.

To its credit, through the end of the year, Audible will donate a dime per download to Long Island’s North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, up to a total donation of $250,000.

Millan also somewhat philanthropically recorded an original audio book for the service called “Cesar Millan’s Guide to Bringing Home a Shelter Dog,” which you can download for free.

Launch titles include Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” performed by Rosamund Pike; Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” performed by Noah; W. Bruce Cameron’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” performed by William Dufris; Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” performed by Christopher Evan Welch; and Maria Goodavage’s “Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes,” performed by Nicole Vilencia.

We laugh at Audible’s effort. And yet, at the same time, we encourage them, if they are going to persist in this, to work some books narrated by Morgan Freeman, Bob Ross and Bob Newhart into the mix.

We’d also suggest some Hans Christian Anderson — specifically, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” because it so perfectly reflects what they are up to: making people think something is there when it’s not.

The only thing there is a desire to sell more books. With fewer humans reading them, maybe Audible felt the need to branch out to other species.

I’d warn you that the day could come — given all the books dogs might be consuming and a decline in our own reading — that dogs could become smarter than us.

But there’s a pretty good chance that day is already here.

You’re the cutest little human I ever did see

SONY DSC

Earlier this week, I asked — only semi-whimsically — if the day might come when dogs start speaking, actually speaking.

I wondered what dogs might say, and whether, once dogs became verbal, we humans would actually listen, as opposed to just giggling and taking video and posting it on YouTube.

It would probably be far in the future when that happens — and only assuming we humans can keep the planet together that long.

But it’s not too early to start thinking about it, at least semi-whimsically, including the very real possibility that — given dogs tend to reflect us more and more as time goes by — they could end up talking to us as we’ve been talking to them all these years.

And wouldn’t that be awful?

These, as I see it, are the two worst-case scenarios:

One, they will be bossy-assed nags, telling us, far more often than necessary, what to do: “No!” “Stop that!” “Leave it!” Hush!” “Get down!” “Sit!”  “Stay!”

Two, they will be sappy, high-pitched baby talkers: “You’re such a cute human. Yes, you are! You’re the cutest little mushy face human in the world, with your mushy-mush-mush little face. It’s the mushiest little face I ever did see. Yes it is! You’re a good little human. Aren’t you? Yes! Yee-ess! Yes you are!”

Those, while annoying extremes, are highly common approaches when it comes to how we humans speak to our dogs.

Some of us are order-dispensing dictators who only talk to our dogs when issuing commands.

Some of us are babblers, spewing a non-stop stream of syrupy praise and meaningless drivel.

A lot of us are both, myself included, especially in the privacy of my home. Sometimes, I have to stop myself from saying things like “Who’s the handsomest dog in the land?  Who’s a big boy? Who’s a genius? Ace is. Yes, Acey is.”

Sometimes, I realize several days have gone by when the only words I’ve voiced to Ace are orders, at which point I lapse into baby talk to make up for it.

He is probably convinced I am passive-aggressive, if not bi-polar.

horowitzThere are, thankfully, some in-betweens when it comes to talking to one’s dog, and one of our favorite dog writers — by which we mean a human who writes about dogs — took a look at some of those variations in an essay posted recently on TheDodo.com, a website that looks at how we can better understand animals and improve our relationships with them.

Alexandra Horowitz is the author of “Inside of a Dog” and runs the the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. She has spent 15 years studying what dogs might be trying to say to us, but recently she did some cursory research into what we say to them.

“… (O)ver the last months I have been doing some top-secret quasi-science. That is, I’ve been gathering data in my neighborhood in New York City by eavesdropping on the things people say to their dogs. Humans are a species which anthropomorphizes dogs to incredible degrees (as can be attested to by anyone who has seen a pug forced to dress like Winston Churchill). Sure, we know they aren’t really small, furry people (well, most of us seem to know this), but great numbers of people would willingly attest to their dogs being “their children” — or at least claim to think of them as members of their family. But do we really treat them like little people? I figured that some clue to that would come in how we speak to them.”

Horowitz  did some eavesdropping on people out with their dogs in public, making notes of the one-sided conversations she overheard at parks and on sidewalks.

“And, oh, there were many utterances: on every walk I’ve taken in the last months, on a commute, to the store, or out with my own pups, I encountered people with dogs. Some pass silently, but many are in apparent constant dialogue with the pup at the end of the leash. What the dog-talk I’ve gathered shows is not how much we talk to dogs, nor the percentage of people who do so talk, but the kinds of things we say to dogs.”

She wrote that, based on what she heard, how we talk to dogs falls into five categories:

1. The “Almost Realistic,” or talking to a dog as if he mostly understands what you are saying (with grown-up words, but not words so big he needs a dictionary),  as in “Do you want another treat?” (The question that never needs asking.)

2. “Momentarily Confusing Dog With A 2-Year-Old Kid,” as in “Who wants a treatie-weetie? Who does? Who? Who?” (For some reason, no matter how old dogs get, many of us keep talking to them this way, probably because it makes their tails wag.)

3. “Assuming Extravagant Powers Of Understanding:” This is another one I engage in simply because you never know how much they might be taking in: “C’mon Ace, we’re going to stop at the drug store, visit grandma, and go to the park. The duration of the last stop might be limited, because Doppler radar says a storm might be approaching the area.

4. “Totally Inexplicable:” The example Horowitz cites is “Be a man.” (That’s a phrase that bugs me almost as much as “man up” and, worse yet, “grow a pair.” I think a man is the last thing a dog should want to be, and for man to tell a dog to “grow a pair” is just too full of irony to even comment on. I have no problem, however, with “Grow a pear,” and consider it to be legitimate advice.)

5. “Ongoing (One-way) Conversation:” These are those non-stop talkers who conduct a monologue as they walk through the park with their dogs, as in, “Let’s go down the hill and see if your friend Max is there. It would be nice to see Max, wouldn’t it? Remember the time you and Max went swimming? What fun you had. Speaking of fun, do you want to play some tug of war when we get back home? Oh look, there’s Max!”

As Horowitz notes, all of us dog-talkers, and especially that last group, are really talking to ourselves, providing an ongoing narrative of what we are doing and what’s going on in our heads. We are thinking out loud, and our dogs are the victims/beneficiaries of that.

“We talk to dogs not as if they are people, but as if they are the invisible person inside of our own heads. Our remarks to them are our thoughts, articulated… Many of our thoughts while we walk our dogs are not so profound, but they are a running commentary on our days, which serves to lend meaning to ordinary activities …”

(Sounds kind of like Facebook, doesn’t it?)

As with that earlier post that got me started talking about dog talking, this one reminds me of a song, too. I used it in a video I made for a photo exhibit about Baltimore dogs a few years back. The song is called “Talkin’ to the Dog.”

(Top photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!; photo of Horowitz by Vegar Abelsnes)