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Tag: emotions

Loyalty: That “human” emotion that dogs have become way better at than us

The true meaning of loyalty, like the true meaning of Christmas, often goes overlooked.

Leave it to a Ukranian dog named Panda to show us the epitome of the former here in the season of the latter.

After his friend Lucy was apparently injured when hit by a train, Panda reportedly spent two days at her side — on the tracks — as more oncoming trains passed over the two of them.

pandalucy2The man who took the video above, Denis Malafeyev, was apparently part of a group from the village of Tseglovka that went to rescue the dogs.

Malafeyev said as they approached the dogs, an oncoming train came into view, and he recorded it as it passed over the dogs.

“I saw a train approaching – and felt sick,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

“The male dog heard the sound of the approaching train, came close to the female dog and laid down next to her. Both of them pushed their heads towards the ground, and let the train pass.”

pandalucy1After that, the dogs were rescued, treated for injuries and returned to their owner. Lucy had severe bruises, but no fractures.

Local media in Uzhgorod published news reports about the dogs, and tabloids in the UK picked up the story, pulling out their adjectives lists to describe the “spine-tingling” but also “heartwarming” video and recounting the “harrowing” ordeal of the “terrified” dogs who faced “certain” death in the “bitter” cold.

If ever there was a dog story that didn’t need to be injected with hyperbole, this was it. But stories in the Daily Mail, The Sun and others are all oozing with it, and both overdo it a bit in describing what’s going on in the dog’s heads with human emotions.

“Loyalty” is the only one I would find acceptable, because even though there are human versions of it, I’m pretty sure dogs invented it.

(Photos: Facebook)

The nose knows but the ears tell

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Many of us may be most familiar with infrared thermography from its least valuable (I’d argue) use — ghost hunting.

It serves many far more sophisticated purposes, though, than providing fodder for those shaky-camera paranormal TV shows — from assessing medical conditions to military reconnaissance, from finding missing children to sensing mood changes in humans.

And, no big surprise, dogs.

In the latest post on Dog Spies, her blog on Scientific American, Julie Hecht recounted a recent study at the Animal Behavior, Cognition and Welfare Research Group at the University of Lincoln in the UK.

Researchers found, through infrared thermography, that the ear temperature of dogs decreased (turning blue on the camera) when they were isolated, and warmed backed up (turning red) when they reunited with people.

It’s similar to findings in studies of human stress levels — except in humans it’s the nose, instead of the ears, that is the most common giveaway.

As Hecht explained, infrared thermography picks up changes in surface temperature. When frightened, stressed or placed in unfamiliar surroundings, blood rushes away from your extremities, in dogs and humans. They get cooler as your core gets warmer and ready to react to whatever threat may be ahead.

The tip of a scared person’s nose gets cooler in such situations, just as rat paws and tails have been shown to do in experiments. In rabbits and sheep, the ears are the most obvious indicator.

Stefanie Riemer and colleagues placed dogs for brief periods in an isolated and novel environment. As the researchers expected, thermographic images of the dogs in isolation showed their ear temperature increasing, then rising when they were reunited with people.

The study appears in the current issue of Physiology & Behavior.

Six dogs were included in the study, and several were found to be unsuitable for study because their fur was too dense to get a good reading.

It seems like a technology that could be put to good use when it comes to studying dogs, and in learning more about those with behavioral issues and what triggers them.

That seems to me a better pursuit than chasing ghosts who aren’t really bothering anybody. Non-invasive, physically, as it is, even infrared photography has the potential for being cruel.

In a study in Italy two years ago, 20 bank tellers who had been robbed at gunpoint were shown a series of faces — happy, neutral, angry, etc. On the fifth face, the researchers exposed them to a loud and unexpected blast, and recorded, thermographically, how the blood left the noses and face.

Half of the tellers had already been diagnosed with PTSD.

Whether the researchers ended up giving PTSD to the other half is not addressed in the study.

(Photo: S. Riemer / Physiology & Behavior)

That moment the treat is on its way

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A German photographer is capturing the rapture of dogs who know a treat is on the way.

Manuela Kulpa, a renowned animal photographer who lives near Cologne, Germany, focuses in this series on the faces of dogs as they prepare to catch a treat.

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Capturing the joyful anticipation of that drool-filled moment can take as many as 80 tries, she told The Mirror.

The dogs she worked with, almost all rescues, included a flat-coated retriever, French bulldog and Bernese mountain dog, a dachshund mix, a munsterlander, a pit bull terrier and a Jack Russell terrier.

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Kulpa, 46, is a self-employed IT programmer and consultant. She and her husband Stefan, also a photographer, have their own dog, a golden retriever called Dobby, as well as three cats.

“There are certain prerequisites that have to be fulfilled for us to capture these images,” she said, “things like the dog must follow the sit and stay commands and must be able to or at least try to catch treats from the photographer.

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“We have to sit very close in front of the dog, throw the treat and then try to synchronise the treat catching with the triggering of the camera.

“I love the dogs’ expressions,” she added. “They remind us with their cheerfulness how important it is to enjoy the moment.”

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You can find some of her other dog photos here, and more of her animal photos on the website ISO.500px.com

Do we really want to read our dogs’ minds?

Devices claiming to translate what your dog is thinking into human words have been popping up on the Internet for a good five years now, and some of the more gullible among us have bought them — and even contributed to campaigns to bring them to market.

There’s No More Woof an electronic device — still in the testing stages, of course — that Swedish scientists say will be able to analyze dogs’ brain waves and translate their thoughts into rudimentary English.

There’s the slightly more real but far more rudimentary Bow-Lingual, which claims to be able to translate your dog’s barks into emotions, currently unavailable on Amazon.com

There are apps — real and prank ones — that offer dog-to-human translations, virtually all of which have disclaimers saying that they should be used primarily for entertainment purposes.

And there are legitimate research projects underway around the world, with real scientists and animal behaviorists seeking to determine and give voice to what is going on in the heads of dogs.

But wait a minute. Do we really want to know?

As this bit of satire shows, we might not like the result.

It was produced by Los Angeles-based Rogue Kite Productions, an independent film company created by writer/producer/director Michelle Boley and camera operator/editor Taylor Gill, who pursue projects of their liking when not doing their day jobs.

Their spoof depicts a speech articulating device much like one a group in Sweden claims to actually be working on.

No More Woof aims to “break the language barrier between animals and humans,” the Sweden-based Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery (NSID) says on its Indiegogo page.

NSID says the device records electroencephalogram (EEG) readings from a dog that are then analyzed by a Raspberry Pi microcomputer and translated, through a small speaker, into simple phrases like, “I’m hungry,” or “Who is that person?”

Popular Science declared the project almost certainly bogus — and yet money keeps pouring in from donors.

The No More Woof indiegogo page says more than $22,000 has been contributed to the project.

Not to cast aspersions on the Swedish group’s attempt to move technology ahead, but I think Rogue Kite Productions could put that money to better use.

Study: Dogs trust us less when we’re angry

How quickly your dog responds to you has a lot to do with the look on your face and the tone of your voice, according to a study at Brigham Young University.

Your dog may not respond more quickly if you use a positive tone, but he’s likely to respond much more slowly if you’re using a negative one, according to the study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Brigham Young psychology professor Ross Flom and his research team conducted two experiments examining how dogs reacted to both positive and negative emotions.

“We know that dogs are sensitive to our emotional cues,” Flom said, “but we wanted to know: do they use these emotional cues?” he said.

The experiments measured how quickly dogs responded to an adult’s pointing gesture.

Some of the adults exhibited positive behaviors while making the gestures, such as smiling and speaking in a pleasant tone; others exhibited negative behaviors, such as frowning, furrowing their brow or speaking harshly.

As most dog owners could have predicted, the negative behaviors made dogs a little less cooperative and slow to react — proving yet again (as we also already know) you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

(Has anyone actually done a study on that?)

While dogs who sensed the pointing adults were angry reacted more slowly, dogs whose pointing adults reflected a positive attitude didn’t react any more speedily than those in a control group.

We can only assume those in the control group were issued orders by adults whose faces were expressionless and who spoke like Ben Stein.

Flom concluded that dogs use our tone and emotion to determine how fast to follow an order — or, to put it more scientifically …

“Together these results suggest that the addition of affective information does not significantly increase or decrease dogs’ point-following behavior. Rather these results demonstrate that the presence or absence of affective expressions influences a dog’s exploratory behavior and the presence or absence of reward affects whether they will follow an unfamiliar adult’s attention-directing gesture.”

Apparently, random human strangers were doing the gesturing in the study, as opposed to the owners of the dogs involved.

That, we suspect, would have made a big difference in a dog’s level of trust and eagerness to respond.

That dogs will take off and explore a new area or object based on a stranger’s request shows that dogs generally trust humans.

That dogs — or any animals for that matter — are slow to react to one who appears angry is really no big surprise, either.

That’s generally true in the human arena as well, with the exception of those being yelled at by drill sergeants, prison guards or junior high gym coaches.

Have you hugged your dog today?

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We’re not recommending you do, and we’re not recommending you don’t. We’re only taking a quick look at the subject because, pure and innocent an act as hugging your dog might seem, it is not without controversy.

Stanley Coren, author of many dog books, stirred up a little of it in his column this month for Psychology Today, citing “new data” that shows getting hugged raises the stress and anxiety levels of dogs, and the possibilities of someone getting bitten.

Some people who have been hugging their dogs for years (and insist their dogs enjoy the affection) found his conclusions laughable, labeled him a party-pooping old fuddy duddy, and said his research techniques were anything but scientific.

We’d agree only with that last part — because Coren’s “new data” was gathered by looking at 250 random photos on the Internet of people hugging dogs.

“I can summarize the data quite simply by saying that the results indicated that the Internet contains many pictures of happy people hugging what appear to be unhappy dogs,” he wrote.

“In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.

doghug1Those signs of stress or discomfort include baring of teeth, lowered ears, a dog turning his head away, and a dog who either closes his eyes or shows what is called “half-moon eye” or “whale eye.”

That’s when you can see the white portion of the eyes.

Here’s the problem, though — or one of them, anyway. How does Coren, or anybody else, know that the dogs pictured are stressing out because of the hug. Couldn’t it also be a reaction to WHO is hugging them? Or a reaction to the camera?

The simple fact is some dogs like being hugged, some tolerate it, and others don’t like it at all.

For the latter group, it might be the amount of pressure applied during a hug that they are reacting to — enough to make them feel restrained. It might be that hugs tend to be spontaneous and come out of nowhere.

Then, too, mood could be a factor. Sometimes dogs, and humans, feel like being hugged and sometimes they don’t.

There are just too many variables to make a sweeping conclusion — especially when it’s all based on what photos turn up in your Internet search and your subjective interpretation of those photos.

doghug3Reading a dog’s emotions is tricky enough when you are face to face with one. Doing it from a photo is even more problematic. What for example is this dog thinking?

Hard to read emotions through that many wrinkles, but he seems to be digging it.

We’d agree with the experts who say hugging a dog you don’t know or have just met is not a good idea — and that children should be taught that early on.

But beyond that, we’d be hesitant to put the kibosh on dog hugging altogether, especially when it’s based on Flickr’ed or Facebook’ed photos posted by dog owners wanting to show how much they love their dogs — whether their dogs like it or not.

In this writer’s life, he has been creeped out by some hugs, tolerated others, found some both warm and comforting, and gotten truly enthused by a few.

Probably, some old photos exist of him showing half moon eyes while being squeezed by his big sister.

Does that mean he doesn’t like hugs?

Of course not. He just prefers to make the decision on a case by case basis. Dogs should have that freedom, too.

Adele? This dog seems to really feel her

Cruelty to animals? You be the judge.

The dog in the video above is listening to Adele’s hit single, “Hello.”

He or she isn’t restrained, so we won’t say he or she is being forced to listen to the song. He or she appears free to leave the room, just as we are free to turn off the radio, or the Adele television ad, or the Adele TV show appearance.

Adele is not inescapable, though it sometimes seems that way.

A woman named Jillian Caspers posted the video of she and her dog sharing some Adele time — though it has been removed from some media outlets after complaints of copyright infringement by SME Entertainment Group.

(Don’t be surprised if it disappears from here as well. It’s not that Adele and her representatives are worried about us drowning in her music — a distinct possibility — they just want to make sure they get paid for it.)

We reproduce the video here not to step on Adele’s toes, but for a scholarly examination of the dog’s reaction to this particular song, which is also known to result in serious and heartfelt pangs of emotion in humans.

But is that what the dog is experiencing? Or is it just hurting his or her ears? Note how he or she howls most loudly during the high-pitched chorus.

It’s always a mistake to pretend we understand what a dog is feeling. And while conjecture about it is not necessarily a bad thing — it shows some sensitivity on our part — it often fails to get us anywhere as well.

And yet we can’t help but wonder.

Is the dog’s wailing a result of Adele’s vocal style hurting his or her ears? Or is he or she moved by the song’s oh-so-drippy emotion? We don’t think he or she is picking up on any sadness from the owner, as she is laughing her head off about it all.

It’s doubtful, too, that the dog is understanding the insipid lyrics.

The truth is — and it rips our heart in two to say this — we will never know.

Are the plaintive and nostalgic tones of Adele’s voice enough to send the dog on an emotional roller coaster ride. Is the dog having the equivalent of what we humans would call “a good cry.”

Or are the whines simply his or her way of saying, “Please spare me from another second of this.”

(All profits from this blog post will be sent to SME Entertainment Group)