Here’s another special report from your favorite worry wart.
No sooner do I bemoan one high-tech invention for dog owners than another comes rolling along, equally worth fretting about.
This one is a 3-inch remotely controlled orange ball, with a high-def camera inside, that you can watch and listen to on your cell phone.
Its makers boast it will “usher in the future of human-pet interaction.”
Let’s hope not.
It’s called PlayDate, now in the Indygogoing stage, and like many other contraptions hitting the market, it’s designed to make all the time your dog spends alone more bearable for him, and more entertaining and guilt-free for you.
The problem I have with that, as I’ve stated before, is how it lets dog owners shrug off the responsibility of dog ownership and diminishes the bond between dog and owner.
What I fret about is that the “future of human-pet interactions” could be long-distance, computer-assisted, virtual and heartless — exactly opposite of what dogs need, and exactly opposite of the reasons for having a dog in the first place.
A Manhattan inventor has come up with what the New York Post called “the next big thing for man’s best friend.”
Company co-founder Kevin Li says he got the idea for PlayDate after adopting his Rhodesian ridgeback-Lab mix, Hulk, three years ago.
“Looking at his sad face every time I left for work, I realized he … needed more time with his best friend.”
So Li (and we hope he worked from home at least a little bit) invented a ball for Hulk to play with — one he could control remotely, issue commands through, observe his dog through, and make squeak.
An adjunct computer-science professor at Columbia, Li described the $249 gadget as “Fitbit meets iPhone localization.”
He has already raised more than $200,000 on Indiegogo and has sold out of pre-orders.
With the rechargable ball, a pet owner can watch and listen to their pet, take photos, and record video, all from their iOS or Android device.
A stabilized camera inside provides real-time HD images. And a clear, replaceable outer shell protects the inner workings while allowing the camera — slobber aside — to see out clearly.
There are just three simple steps, its makers say: Download the free app, connect to wi-fi and “usher in the future of human-pet interaction.”
Sorry, but talk like that scares me, as do a few other things.
The shell of the ball is made of a strong, chew-resistant polycarbonate, designed to withstand rambunctious play, according to its makers.
I hope that has been well tested, because I’d prefer not to think about what swallowing a little camera and a lithium polymer battery might do to a dog (or cat).
In the world of pet products, many a toy marketed as indestructible has proved otherwise.
Even PlayDate’s makers are saying that part might take some fine tuning:
“As we put PlayDate’s smart ball in front of more dogs and cats, we may discover the need to make aspects of its design more robust; any pet owner will tell you there’s no such thing as an indestructible toy. We have purposefully designed features like the replaceable outer shell with this in mind. Additional design changes may be required as we perform more testing.”
And what, I wonder, will be the effect of communicating with — and issuing orders to — your dog via an orange ball? Seeing an orange ball wandering around the house on its own, and hearing a disembodied voice come from it would, at the very least, be confusing, I’d think.
I’m all for keeping a dog active, engaged and feeling loved when the owner is away. But it’s a mistake to assume that technology can make up for failing to give your dog adequate attention.
And — needless to say — one shouldn’t get a dog in the first place if one is unwilling or unable to give him or her their time.
Face-time, I mean, with no cameras, or wi-fi, or remote controls involved.
Before we usher human-pet interaction “into the future,” it might be wise to question whether we really need to take that trip.
Didn’t we pretty much have it down just fine already — most of us, anyway?
(Photo: from PlayDate’s website)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 3rd, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attention, babysitter, ball, bond, camera, communication, dog, dogs, dogs and technology, humans, inventions, pet, pet ownership, pets, playdate, products, remote, remote control, responsibility, technology, toy, toys, wi-fi
I have a theory that there are many things dogs would like us to know, and that dogs even give us some hints in hopes of making us see the light, and that we humans, being humans, often just don’t get it.
These videos are a perfect example of what could be one of them:
Dogs left alone in cars — with the windows cracked if they’re lucky — sounding the car horn.
In the one above, posted on YouTube five months ago, an Airedale leans on the car horn for a good long time, while another Airedale waits more patiently in the back seat.
The dog’s owner returned to the car and said the two “love going for rides, but apparently they don’t like waiting,” according to the Pennsylvania woman who shot the video.
Here’s another one, from a few years back. This boxer reportedly sounded the horn for 15 minutes while her owner was in an art gallery in Scotland:
Here’s one more, where a barking dog, encouraged by a stranger to honk the horn, complied.
You can find many others on YouTube. Judging from them, the first response of humans — after grabbing some video footage, of course — is to laugh and label it “hilarious.”
Sure it’s funny. But might it be something more? Along the lines of a wake-up call? Along the lines of, “Hey, stupid, don’t leave us closed up in cars for extended periods of time. How much barking and honking will it take for that to sink into your thick human skull?”
If you’re old enough to remember Lassie, the TV show, you’ll recall how hard the collie — aware of some unfolding disaster — had to work to alert humans to the urgency of the situation. She’d bark, go in circles, run a little ahead and look back, clearly saying “hurry, follow me!”
The humans would watch, but precious time was lost, it always seemed, as they absorbed the signal she was sending.
“Wait, look at Lassie,” they’d say. (Long pause.) “I think … could it be …. is she is trying to tell us something?”
And this even though they’d all been through this same drill with her many times before.
We humans can be a little slow to catch on — even when the signs are staring in our faces … or blaring in our ears.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 25th, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, car horns, cars, communication, dog, dogs, honk, honking, horns, humans, lassie, message, parked, parked car, pets, videos
The study goes a step beyond stating the obvious, though, looking at why that is, and why using a dog as date bait — unfair as it may be — works better for men than women.
Titled “The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating,” the study was published this month in the quarterly research journal Anthrozoos.
It surveyed random Match.com users in the United States who included pet information in their dating profiles. More than 1,200 individuals took part.
The study found women put far more stock in a potential mate’s associations with pets — and particularly dogs — than men did.
Women were more than twice as likely as men to say they were attracted to someone because he had a dog. They were also twice as likely to judge a date based on how he interacted with his dog.
Why? The researchers hypothesized that it’s probably based on evolutionary instincts. Women tend to seek a partner who they think will make a responsible parent, while men are more likely to look for … well, we all know what they are looking for.
“Put in terms of evolutionary and life-history theory, females allocate a higher proportion of their reproductive effort to parenting while males expend more energy on mating,” the researchers said.
In other words, a man with a dog is seen as a more nurturing and responsible member of his gender and therefore, the line of thinking goes, will make a better daddy.
While dogs may help draw women to a man, the reverse isn’t quite as true, the researchers found.
When women see a guy with a dog, they see a man who is responsible and wants to settle down, and they are charmed. When men see a woman with a dog, they too see a person who is responsible and wants to settle down, and they — or at least the less evolved among them — get scared. Or so the researchers’ theory goes.
As the study noted, men have caught on to the fact that a dog can improve their odds with the opposite sex. Twice as many men as women admitted they’ve used their dog to lure a potential date.
So who’s to know whether that guy in the park playing with his puppy is a nurturing soul, or simply a con man posing as a nurturing soul, using his dog in the same way he might use Axe for men?
Women. That’s who. And I wish them luck.
(Bulldog wearing the Zelda Chick Magnet Halloween costume, from Baxterboo.com)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 28th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, appeal, behavior, chick magnets, courtship, date bait, dating, dog, dogs, evolution, females, humans, instincts, males, mates, men, partners, pets, sex, social, study, survey, tools, women
Some researchers are suggesting that selfish mama dogs may have played a role in the early domestication of the species by keeping the good food to themselves, as opposed to sharing it with their pups.
As a result, the researchers theorize, pups and young dogs ventured out of the wild and into human communities where they didn’t have to compete as hard for food — at least not with their own mothers.
(Being a cartoonist at heart — albeit one who can’t draw — I am picturing a young pup, sneaking away from the home of his domineering mother with one of those sacks on a stick over his shoulder, muttering to himself, “That bitch. That bitch. That greedy bitch!”)
Sure, there may be some substance to this research, but it mostly makes me laugh.
The researchers conducted experiments with feral dogs in India, then theorized that ancestral dogs thousands of years ago must have behaved the same way.
First, they offered low-quality biscuits to mother dogs, and the mother dogs tended to share those with their pups, with no conflicts arising.
Then they brought out the good stuff. Protein-rich meat seemed to make the mother dogs forget their motherly ways, growling at their pups to keep them away, and even grabbing meat from the mouths of their puppies.
The authors, Anindita Bhadra and Manabi Paul of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, say ancestral dogs, once they reached 8 or 9 weeks old, became able to clearly distinguish between protein rich food sources and the un-nourishing filler their mothers were trying to pass off on them.
At that point, the researchers theorize, many young ancestral dogs would set out for farming communities where they had access to what humans threw away. There is evidence also that the earliest farmers fed these dogs, making life among humans even more appealing.
The theory, outlined in the journal Royal Society Open Science, could help to explain the origins of dog domestication and how some ancestral dogs so willingly elected to live with people instead of with their own kind, Discovery reports.
“Ancestral dogs” is kind of a safe term scientists use — just in case dogs didn’t evolve from wolves, but from some other species.
As for why ancestral dog moms turned so selfish when a good cut of meat became available, Bhadra said, “We feel that the mothers just tend to grab the best resources when available.”
Ancestral mother dogs are not available to respond to those charges, so I will speak for them:
“Hey, you think it’s easy giving birth to 14 kids at once, and then raising them? Alone?
“Yeah, where IS dad? Good question. Haven’t seen him since he knocked me up.
“So, yes, I get a little anxious, a little snippy. But I’ve got to feed the whole lot of them, and protect them. It’s not like I can walk into the Food Lion and get all I need. You have no idea how tired I am. And yes, I get hungry, too. If I am not nourished, how do you expect me to nourish all of them? Go research that, why don’t you?”
(Photo: From Lovethesepics.com)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 9th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ancestral dogs, animals, dog, dogs, domesticated, domestication, feeding, food, greedy, humans, mothers, pets, puppies, pups, research, science, selfish, study, wolf, wolves
Whether its lowering our blood pressure, upping our oxytocin (that hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy), or keeping us sane (no small task), you can bet there’s a study underway at some university somewhere seeking to unravel — and dryly present to us — more hard evidence of yet another previously mysterious way that dogs enhance our well-being.
Given that, it’s a nice change of pace to plunge into a more anecdotal account — one that looks at the near magical mental health benefits one woman reaped through her dog, and does so with candor and humor, as opposed to sappiness.
“Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself” is a book that shows, far better than any scientific study, just how valuable — no, make that priceless — the human-dog bond is.
The memoir spans a year in the life of the author, Julie Barton, starting when, just one year out of college and living in Manhattan, she had what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”
A barely coherent phone call from her kitchen floor brought her mother racing to her side from Ohio to take her home.
Barton was diagnosed with major depression — one that didn’t seem to lift, despite the best efforts of family, doctors, therapists and the pharmaceutical industry. She spent entire days in bed, refusing to get up.
Around the same time doctors started her on Zoloft, Barton told her mother she’d like to get a dog. Her mother thought that was a great idea. A few weeks later, they were bringing home a golden retriever pup. Barton named him Bunker.
On that first night, Bunker started whimpering in his crate, and Barton crawled inside with him:
“It occurred to me as I gently stroked his side that this was the first time in recent memory that I was reassuring another living thing. And, miraculously, I knew in that moment that I was more than capable of caring for him. I felt enormously driven to create a space for Bunker that felt safe, free of all worry, fear and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had a purpose.”
Barton’s depression didn’t lift overnight; it never does. But, as the artfully written story unravels, Bunker gives Barton the confidence she needs to start a new life on her own in Seattle.
The are plenty of bumps ahead, and more than a few tests, but, given we’re recommending you read it for yourself, we won’t divulge them here.
Or you can wait for the next scientific study that comes along, proclaiming — in heartless, soulless prose — to prove one way or another what we already know:
Dogs are good for the heart and soul.
Posted by John Woestendiek August 24th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, benefits, bond, book, books, books on dogs, bunker, dog books, dog medicine, golden retriever, health, humans, julie barton, memoir, mental health, nurture, nurturin, pets, reading, rescue, science, studies, thinkpiece publishing
If you’re wondering how your dog is able to magically sense when you are sad, take a look in the mirror.
(And quit moping, you might be bringing your dog down.)
A new study suggests dogs have a specialized region in their brains for processing faces, and that face-reading region in the temporal cortex may help explain how they’ve become so adept at reading human social cues — a skill that up to now has, at least in the eyes of scientists, only been well-documented in humans and other primates.
Dogs have “neural machinery” that has been “hard-wired through cognitive evolution,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and the senior author of the study.
Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best friend.
The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.
In previous research, the Dog Project identified a region of the canine brain that served as a reward center, and showed that region was responsible for a dog’s brain responding more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.
In the current study, the researchers focused on how dogs respond to faces versus everyday objects, reports Phys.org.
“Dogs are obviously highly social animals,” Berns says, “so it makes sense that they would respond to faces. We wanted to know whether that response is learned or innate.”
The answer appears to be it’s a little of both — it was there to begin with, but has been honed over centuries of socializing with humans.
The study involved dogs viewing both static images and video images on a screen while undergoing an MRI.
Since dogs do not normally interact with two-dimensional images, they had to undergo training to learn to pay attention to the screen. Only six of the eight dogs enrolled in the study were able to hold a gaze for at least 30 seconds on each of the images, but for each of those six a region in their temporal lobe responded significantly more to movies of human faces.
The researchers have dubbed the canine face-processing region they identified the dog face area, or DFA.
(We assume they came up with that using that area of the human brain that is not too imaginative and wants to give everything an acronym.)
A previous study, decades ago, using electrophysiology, found sheep had facial recognition skills, but only a few face-selective cells were identified, as opposed to an entire region of the cortex, said Daniel Dilks, an Emory assistant professor of psychology and author of the study.
Humans, by the way, have at least three face processing regions in the brain.
“Dogs have been cohabitating with humans for longer than any other animal,” Dilks said. “They are incredibly social, not just with other members of their pack, but across species. Understanding more about canine cognition and perception may tell us more about social cognition and perception in general.”
(Photo courtesy of Gregory Berns, Emory University)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 4th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cognition, daniel dilks, dog, dog project, dogs, emory, emory university, faces, fmri, gregory berns, humans, mood, moods, mri, pets, psychology, read, recognition, recognize, response, social cues, the dog project
You can’t say Bible-quoting conservatives didn’t warn us.
Let members of the same sex get married, they said, and it will open the door to even unholier unions.
Now comes word from Metro that a woman in the Nederlands plans to marry her dog.
Dominique Lesbirel, 41, says she might not do it immediately, because she wants to be sure that she’s not acting out of grief.
You see, her husband, Doerack, just died. He had kidney failure.
Oh, and he was a cat.
Lesbirel married Doerack eight years ago, conducting the ceremony herself, based on the authority she thinks she holds from getting ordained online.
She says she regularly officiates weddings between people with their pets — but not before doing some research and making sure they truly love, respect and are committed to each other. Also, she says, she wouldn’t marry anyone to a lion or tiger.
A Metro online poll shows only 8 percent of us would marry our pet.
Lesbirel, whose services are explained on her website, says some people have accused her of animal cruelty and promoting bestialty, which is “certainly not the case.”
“I would never condone such terrible acts of cruelty to animals. My site is all about making a commitment to pets to show your dedication to them and promise that you will always look after them.”
“We’d be lost without those happy little faces at our windows, so I’ll do anything I can to remind people to treat animals with love, kindness and respect.”
That, she says, is why she will someday soon tie the knot with her dog, Travis.
“He has given me so much happiness and unconditional love. I just want to celebrate that bond.”
(Photo:PA Real Life, via Metro)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 21st, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, cat, cats, dog, dogs, dominique lesbirel, humans, inter-species, marriage, marry, marrying, morality, pet, pets, travis, uk, values, wedding