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Tag: humanizing

Talk the dog: Humanizing our pets

There are two main reasons I’m against humanizing our pets.

One, it’s messing with nature — dogs (ideal beasts, in my view) should stay dogs.

Two, portraying them as humans, giving them human attributes, or using them as our puppets, implies our species is superior, and worth imitating. Oftentimes, from what I’ve seen of it, it’s not. We’re are way too far from perfect to appoint ourselves role models for the animal kingdom.

I get slightly peeved when I see technology being used to make dogs more human — especially when, because we deem it cute and entertaining, we put our words in their mouths.

So, immensely popular as it is, I’m less than smitten with My Talking Pet, an app that allows us to take a photo of our cat or dog, record an audio message, and get a video of our pet — animated so that mouth, nose and eyebrows move as the pet appears to talk.

From the samples I’ve seen, the words we put in the mouths of dogs are only further proof that we’re not the intellectually superior species we think we are.

“People are obsessed with it,” said Iain Baird, who developed the app with his former school buddy, Peter Worth. “I think it’s really struck a chord with how close people are with their pets.”

The concept, he told Fortune.com, came while he and some friends were in a London pub talking about a YouTube video featuring a “talking dog” that had gone viral. They decided to come up with an app that would make it easy for any pet owner make their dog “talk,” and it hit the iTunes market in early 2013.

It wasn’t until after the app was featured on the “Ellen” show that it really took off.

Last October, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” praised the app while on the show. In the weeks that followed it became the most downloaded paid app in the Apple iTunes store.

Worth and Baird say their company, WOBA Media,  began thinking even bigger after that — including offering a “devil mode,” which adds glowing red eyes to the pet, and “angel mode,” in which the pet appears under a halo.

Taken alone, “My Talking Pet” is  just a little harmless fun — as is dressing the dog up for Halloween, treating the dog like a spoiled grandchild, or calling them “fur babies”.

The dangers come when our seeing them as humans sabotages our attempts at training, when we start assigning dogs human emotions they don’t have, and holding them to human expectations.

We should be close to our pets. We should see them as family members — only canine ones. To manipulate them, to turn them into something else (humans, or angels, or devils), to put words into their mouths, all takes away from appreciating them for what they are.

Just something to keep in mind as technology marches on — often making bigger inroads than we originally anticipated.

How long will it be, for example, before cutting edge, 21st Century technology, like that used in “My Talking Pet”  is turned around on us, and the app takes on a mind of its own, and our pets are giving us their unsolicited opinions on the best brand of dog food, cereal or car to buy?

That could never happen, could it?

And now we bring you … DogTV

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

As of this week, we can add one more item to the growing list of once uniquely human things that we have, with mostly good intentions, bestowed/inflicted upon dogs.

Dogs now have their own television station.

DogTV, which debuted yesterday, features short clips of canines romping and playing. It airs 24 hours a day, and is designed to keep your dog company, providing him with relaxation and stimulation when no one is home. It costs $4.99 a month and is available on DirecTV.

Now they, too, can be couch potatoes — just like us.

Maybe that’s what we want — for our dogs to be human. Maybe we just assume, given their willingness to please, that if we like something, they’re going to love it, when in fact the reason they love it is because we’re doing it. Maybe we just like free, or $4.99 a month, babysitting.

Whatever the case, we keep passing on or making available to them our curious and not entirely healthy habits, quirks, trendy “must haves” and addictions — be they pharmaceuticals, beauty contests, bling, funny haircuts, halloween costumes, spa services, day care, neuroses, high tech health care no one can afford, or gourmet food.

We seem to  keep trying — consciously or not – to make dogs more like us, when the actual truth of the matter (and the secret of life) is that we should be more like them.

(Maybe, if we watch DogTV, we can learn how.)

dogremoteOn human TV Wednesday night, NBC ran this feature on DogTV, introduced by Brian Williams, who closely resembles a Bassett hound, and reported by Kevin Tibbles, who dutifully includes about every canine-related pun there is.

As Tibbles notes, pets are a $55 billion industry in America, and the nation’s 78 million dogs could make for a lot of viewers. That, even though dogs don’t have disposable income, could prove lucrative.

DogTV bills itself as ”the perfect babysitter for dogs who have to stay home alone.”

Therein lies the problem.

Dogs don’t want electronic babysitters. Dogs want to be out in the real dirt, bug, critter and scent-filled world. We do, too, though often we don’t realize it, mainly because we get so caught up in and numbed by TV, video games, Facebook and the like.

I do often leave my TV on for my dog Ace when I leave the house, even though he’s never shown a great deal of interest in it. His ears will perk up when he hears a dog whining or barking on television, and he’ll watch for maybe 10 seconds or so before moving on to more important things, like sleep.

I, on the other hand, who grew up being babysat by TV, will stay up past bedtime and sit riveted for 60 minutes watching a “Law & Order” episode I previously viewed less than a month ago.

Who, I ask you, is the superior being?

“For those of us who suffer the guilt of leaving a dog alone for hours each day, the prospect of forking out five bucks a month to allay our dogs’ separation anxiety might sound attractive. It’s certainly cheaper than hiring a daily dog walker,” Ryan Vogt writes in Slate.  ”There’s only one problem: It won’t work. ”

Vogt goes on to explain that dogs “see the world at a faster frame rate than humans do …  Humans’ flicker fusion rate is about 50-60 Hz, meaning we see the world in 50 to 60 images per second. For dogs, that rate is closer to 70-80 Hz… To them, it looks like a slideshow powered by a dim strobe light.”

I don’t begin to understand that (probably because I’ve watched too much TV), but the article goes on to quote some experts, including Alexandra Horowitz. She explains that, in addition to the “frame rate” differences, the fact that no smells come out of the television keeps dogs from getting too interested. “Dogs are not primarily visual … and what interests them is typically smell first, sight second.”

In other words, they know it’s not real.

I don’t have a problem with DogTV existing — just with the possibility it could be overused by busy dog owners. There are better ways to keep you dog occupied during the day, even when you’re not home. And too much TV – be it forensic drama, cooking shows, or even just watching dogs romp — can’t be good for anyone, two or four-legged.

What we fail to realize as we continue to work the wild out of dogs, continue to make them more human, is that dogs don’t need vicarious thrills.

That’s just us.

Stay at home, mom

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Yesterday, I came across the website Momlogic, by virtue of an article appearing therein that triggered my special Internet alarm that goes off when somebody, somewhere is verbally bashing dogs.

The article was headlined Your Dog Grosses Me Out.

In it, Jennifer Ginsberg — a Los Angeles mother, writer, addiction specialist and producer of the website angstmom – recounts a dinner party experience in which she encountered not one, but two dogs, who were not only inside the house, but behaved, well, like dogs.

“If you choose to cohabit with dogs, then how about putting them outside for meals and parties? I know that you consider them to be a part of the family, but they are animals, not people, and it is not acceptable for them to infringe on the comfort of your guests.”

She continues: “It is freaking annoying when I sit down on your fur-covered sofa with a plate of food and your dog stands one inch from me, panting his nasty doggy breath and whimpering as he begs for my crudites. My 2-year-old daughter didn’t enjoy when Shlomo sucked on her toes while she was eating birthday cake, either!

“Humanizing animals is a glaring example of our society’s broken moral compass. It’s easier for some people to feel frothy emotion about the imagined plight of an animal over actual human suffering. It’s also simpler to have a relationship with a pet than a person — there aren’t any real emotional requirements, and you get to feel loved unconditionally for no good reason.

“If these self-proclaimed dog lovers really cared about animals, perhaps they would strive to meet their genuine needs, rather than attempt to turn their dogs into submissive love slaves. These poor dogs are tools for people to get their narcissistic needs met, while they deserve to be respected for the animals they are. The truth is, dogs don’t belong in houses — their natural habitat is outdoors — and they certainly don’t belong at a party with young children running around.”

I’m guessing Ginsburg won’t have to worry about being invited back to a party at that dog-contaminated house again. What’s puzzling, though, is why she went to the party in the first place, given her feelings (or lack thereof) about dogs, and given she admits to knowing there’d be at least one there: “I knew that I would have to deal with Shlomo, their big, stinky dog.”

From time to time, I see a similar sort of behavior at the park: The person with an unsocialized and leashed dog, though plenty of alternate routes are available, opts to walk him right through the middle of 20 unleashed ones, then complains when their dog is approached by one of them. Some people just seem to thrive on confrontation.

While it’s true that wolves, from which dogs evolved, may not “belong in houses,” neither do apes, from which we evolved into the ruling, supremely intelligent, somewhat bossy species we have become.

Given her field of expertise, you’d think Ginsburg would at least be a little more understanding about the plight of the dog-addicted.

Meanwhile, I have only this advice for the next time she’s invited to a party where there might be a danger of her comfort being infringed upon by her gracious host’s lowly dogs:

Stay at home, mom.