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Oh snap! Dog and turtle play some soccer

This mostly friendly game of soccer between a dog and a turtle gets a little rough at times — but then so does human soccer.

Valeria D’Innocenzo Carlantoni in Civitavechia, Italy, a small town near Rome, posted the video of her dog and an unusually speedy turtle on her Facebook page.

At the very end of it, the turtle, after having the ball taken away, appears to snap at the dog’s hind leg.

Where have we seen that before?

Making friends doesn’t always come easily

Hang around long enough — whether you’re a YouTube video or a Labrador retriever — and you might find some love.

This video of a yellow Lab persistently trying to gain the attention of a three-year-old boy with Down syndrome, was posted on YouTube in June 2012, but only recently has its popularity soared,  topping 4 million views.

Ana Marta Vegas says her son, Hernan, usually avoids any kind of physical contact.

In this video, shot by his family, you can see the boy, after grabbing the dog’s paw, continuously backing off and at times seeming to push her away.

But the Lab is calmly persistent — nuzzling, licking, nibbling, pawing and inching ever closer to the boy.

At one point, she sits and gently puts her paw on his shoulder.

Eventually, nearly four minutes into the video, Hernan responds and gives the dog, named Himalaya, what appears to be a hug.

Sochi’s strays: Heck with the gold; here’s to bringing home some dogs

jacobellisAt least two Olympic athletes from the U.S. are reportedly planning to bring home stray dogs from the streets of Sochi — and that has prompted another chorus of grumbling from the “they-care-more-about-dogs-than-people” crowd.

You know the type — they assume that if you show compassion for dogs, you must have none for people, and they think that is some kind of disorder, and that they must inform the world about it

The truth is, people with compassion for dogs usually have more empathy for people too, and often dogs are the ones that taught them that.

Yet, to read recent pieces like this one in The Guardian, and this one in Slate – or at least their headlines —  the writers make is sound like it’s an either/or proposition: One who rescues dogs must not give a whit about humans.

You might look at Gus Kenworthy, the skier who’s bringing home four stray pups and their mother from Sochi, or Lindsey Jacobellis, the snowboarder who’s bringing a street mutt back to the U.S., and see people doing something heroic, good and noble.

But some people — and they’re not all journalists, more often they are nameless Internet commenters — have an innate need to find, or manufacture, a downside, and broadcast it, portraying an act of kindness toward a dog as proof that the world’s priorities have gone topsy-turvy.

kenworthySo Kenworthy is bringing home five dogs, they’d say, what’s he doing about human rights issues in Russia?

It’s true that there are plenty of those in need of attention. It’s true there are people who find dogs easier to love, and easier to help, than humans. It’s true, too, there are millions of homeless dogs right here in America.

But where does one person get the right to question and critique another person’s charitable acts — to whom they should give, exactly what they should save or rescue, and where they should do it?

I may lack the appropriate Olympic fervor, but I am far more impressed by an athlete bringing home a stray dog than I am by how fast he or she can slide down a snowy hill; and I think the dogs will bring them, in the long run, far more joy (though fewer commercial endorsements)  than a medal.

The athletes aren’t there to rescue dogs, and they aren’t there to solve human rights problems. Any action they might take regarding one or the other is bonus to be appreciated, as opposed to grounds for criticism.

Yet, a headline in Slate asks the question,  ”Why are Olympians putting puppies before people in Sochi?

(Maybe because the athletes aren’t finding people starving and sleeping in alleys, and couldn’t bring them home even if they wanted. Maybe because it’s easier to toss a dog a sandwich than it is to end government oppression. Maybe it’s because they know the city of Sochi has a contract out on strays, and a company is exterminating them.)

Josh Levin, Slate’s executive editor, wrote that, while he finds puppy-saving commendable, there are far bigger issues in Russia in need of addressing, such as:

“…the country’s 2013 passage of anti-gay propaganda laws, as well as a number of other disturbing transgressions: the fact that more than 50 journalists have been murdered in Russia in the last 22 years; that Sochi’s venues were built by more than 70,000 migrant laborers who toiled ceaselessly in violation of Russian law …”

I’m not sure your average bobsledder is equipped to single-handedly rectify issues like that — at least not during the couple of weeks he’s visiting.

A stray, hungry dog, on the other hand, is something a single person can do something about — whether it’s tossing him something to eat, or slaloming through enough red tape to bring him back to their home country.

So we say “Go Team!”  

And good luck with those athletic events as well.

(Photo’s: Jacobellis with the dog she befriended in Sochi; Kenworthy with the four pups he plans to bring home /Twitter)

You’re the cutest little human I ever did see

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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)

What part of “no” don’t you understand?

You know how frustrated you get when you have to tell your dog something over and over again?

Come here. Come HERE. Listen to me. Get over here right now. Don’t make me say it again. COME HERE!

In this video, the shoe is sort of on the other paw.

John Ventresco, of New Hampshire, is trying to persuade his 11-month-old husky, Blaze, to get into her crate.

Not only does Blaze physically (but peacefully) resist, refusing to budge, but she says what sounds like “no” — 30 times by my count, at least 10 of those quite clearly:

“Noooooo!”

Posted on YouTube just two weeks ago, the video is approaching 5 million views, meaning a lot of people are getting a chuckle, and learning how not to train a dog, and debating whether Ventresco — as gentle and good-humored as his urging is — is going to get bitten one of these days, and, if so, will he have deserved it.

Eventually one of them will have the other properly trained, I’m just not sure if it will be Ventresco or Blaze. Right now, it appears to be a draw.

The bigger question it raises, to me, anyway, is whether the day will come when dogs really do talk. I predict it will — that they will someday talk, on their own, without the aid of implants, headsets, devices that monitor their brain waves and apps that translate what they’re thinking into words.

Several projects are underway that do just that — because we humans want to know what’s going on in their heads, and we want to know now, and somebody somewhere thinks it might make some money.

We’ll take advantage of technology to bring that about and get it on the market as soon as possible, rather than wait a few hundred or thousand more years when, I’d venture, dogs will have evolved to the point that they’re talking on their own anyway.

It’s only natural for that to happen, with them living so closely to us, observing us around the clock,  and watching too much TV. They will continue to pick up our skills – learning to operate a remote control, warming up some chicken nuggets, uttering words, then entire phrases.

Mark my words. By the year 2525 (and that’s just a wild guess), dogs will be saying “yes” and “no,” and more:

Feed me.

I want to go outside for a while.

But wait, there’s more. Details at 11. Ohmigod, they killed Kenny. Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.

Put me in that damn crate again and, I swear,  I’m going to call my attorney.

They may never have as sophisticated a vocabulary as us, may never be as erudite, snotty, self-promoting and adept at making barbed comments as us. But the day will come that they use words.

The question is not whether dogs will someday learn to talk. It’s whether, when they do, we’ll listen.

We already stink at that — in terms of listening to our fellow humans, and in terms of hearing what our dogs are silently saying. We’re so dependent on words we don’t hone our wordless communication skills, even though that mode is often more honest and meaningful.

My fear is that, through continued domicile-sharing with humans, dogs are going to learn to talk, but also – like Blaze, like Ventresco — not to listen.

It all brings to mind some lyrics from a song that has nothing to do with dogs — Don McLean’s “Vincent.” When you think about it, the misunderstood artist and modern day dog have much in common. We wonder what they’re trying to say, fail to see their brilliance, and don’t appreciate them fully until they’re gone.

Instead, often, we taunt, ridicule and shame them.

How much shorter might Van Gogh’s career have been, how many appendages might he have lopped off,  were he around in the Internet age, reading nasty comments from people about his paintings?

How much quicker might the civil rights movement have progressed if people had shut up and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., the first time?

Are we getting any better at listening, or quicker to turn a deaf ear?

As the song “Vincent” says:

They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

Let’s give it a listen.

Why beagles will one day rule the world

The reason dogs are still around — and probably will still be when we’re not — is their uncanny ability to adapt.

Since wolves were first domesticated, becoming dogs, they’ve been on a continuous learning curve, learning how to live alongside man, and taking advantage of everything from his good nature to his furniture to his kitchen appliances.

Perhaps no breed is more adept at working these angles than beagles. They are master escape artists, wily hunters and accomplished problem solvers whose cuteness and charm trumps those occasions when they are — dare we say it — pains in the ass.

This one found a way to get chicken nuggets out of a toaster oven on the kitchen counter.

And his owner caught her in the act.

After Lucy came under suspicion for the disappearance of a roast that had been cooking in the oven, her owner set up a hidden camera. It caught Lucy as she nudged a chair next to the counter, jumped up on said counter, opened the toaster oven, removed some chicken nuggets, and enjoyed a snack.

 ”A few weeks before she took a roast out of the oven that had been cooking for a few hours … So I set her up. I put some nuggets in the oven… Pressed record and left,” her owner, Rodd Scheinerman, said on his YouTube post. “This was 7 minutes into the video.”

We present this as proof positive that dogs just keep getting more clever while we humans … well, I’ll refrain from badmouthing an entire species.

But given Lucy’s kitchen skills, and the possibility she could be injured, we think her owner might want to consider limiting her access to the room when he’s not there and the oven is on, maybe with a dog-proof barricade.

A very dog-proof barricade.

Dung shui: Do dogs line up with the earth’s axis to do their business?

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I’ve often wondered why my dog Ace circles before he poops. He’ll go into a semi-squat, then, like a lazy Susan, make two or three revolutions before unloading.

Could it be he has an “inner compass” and is getting himself in line with the earth’s axis?

A new study suggests that canines line up along magnetic field lines to do their business. How they do that remains a mystery; why they do that perhaps an even bigger one.

Maybe they know something we don’t — we being so far removed from the natural world that we mindlessly let our toilets dictate the direction we face while defecating.

Who knows how much better off our digestive health might be, how much better aligned our chakras might be, if we all voided while facing directly north or south?

Whether there are benefits to parallel pooping — for humans or dogs — are not matters the Czech and German researchers addressed in their paper, recently published in Frontiers in Zoology.

Instead, the research focused on whether dogs – like cattle, deer and foxes – line up parallel to the earth’s axis when they defecate.

Over a two-year period, the researchers observed 70 dogs, of 37 different breeds, as they went on outings, and duly logged each urination (5,582) and defecation (1,893), as well as the direction the dogs were facing while doing the deed.

They say the results lend credence to the suggestion that dogs and other animals have some sort of internal mechanism that helps guide them in matters of pooping, and likely much more — at least when the earth’s magnetic field is stable.

The earth’s magnetic field is stable is only about 20 percent of the time during daylight, they note. But when looking only at those periods, dogs off leash seemed to prefer to poop with their bodies oriented along the north-south axis, the study said — facing either directly north or south. As for peeing, female dogs did that while aligned with the north-south axis, while male dogs preferred a northwest heading.

The researchers say that if dogs are capable of “magnetoreception,” it would open “totally new horizons for magnetobiological research.”

As for why the dogs do it in the first place, the authors said, “An answer may lie in the biological meaning of the behavior: If dogs would use a visual … magnetic map to aid general orientation in space, as has been proposed for rodents, they might have the need to center/calibrate the map now and then with regard to landmarks or a magnetic reference …We might think of this the same way as a human is stopping during a hike to read a map.”

In other words, maybe dogs use pooping as an opportunity to take stock, get their bearings, plot their next step and better understand their place in the universe.

Humans sometimes do that on the toilet, too, I’d venture, especially when they run out of magazines to read.

And while most humans don’t put much thought into what direction they’re facing during the act, or whether they’re aligned with the earth’s axis, there are  some who advise taking that under consideration.

In a cursory — highly cursory — search of the Internet, we found a website called Vaastu NaresH, which suggests a water closet that faces north or south will lead to increased health and happiness. Another feng shui-related website advised one’s entire bathroom face north — not so much to align with the earth’s axis, but because that’s where the malevolent spirits are.

(I’m not sure the malevolent spirits appreciate being honored that way, whether they might prefer that you, instead of offering a full view, shut the door and turn on the exhaust fan. Then again, they are malevolent.)

As for dogs, I’ve never noticed any consistent alignment when it comes to defecating. My dog Ace seems to be an omni-directional pooper, basing his stance on whether the sun is in his eyes, whether there’s something interesting to watch off in the distance in some particular direction, how urgent the situation is, or simply what point he’s at in his urgent and dervish-like pre-poop spin when nature finally calls.

Then again, what do I know? My toilet faces southeast.

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