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Tag: manipulation

Why dogs are smarter than wolves


An Oregon State University scientist’s study, published yesterday, is drawing a lot of attention for concluding (as scientific studies often do) the obvious:

The longer dogs live with us, the more dependent they become on us, and, as a result, their problem solving and survival skills aren’t what they were back when they were wolves.

Not to sound stupid, but duh.

This, friends, is evolution. Just as our ancestors could once shred apart a mastodon leg without using an electric carving knife, the ancestors of dogs — i.e. wolves — did, and do, what they have to do to survive.

But to say dogs are “dumbing down” as a result of the cushy life we are affording them, well that’s just a little narrow-minded.

I prefer to think of it as their skills taking a new direction.

Do we say children are becoming more “stupid” because they can’t use a manual typewriter or blacksmith tools?

Of course the scientist and author of this study didn’t use the word “stupid” — only headline writers do that.

More “dim” is how the Smithsonian put it. “Stupid” and “lazy thinkers” is what the Daily Mail called them. “Poor problem solvers” was the phrase of choice for Discover magazine. “Rubbish at solving problems,” reported the International Business Times.

Kinda makes you think the dog world could use a public relations pro at least as adept as the one who garnered the author of this study so much press.

Up to now, canine cognition studies have mostly marveled at how dogs have learned to interact with humans — and cited that as proof of how incredibly smart they are.

This new study, and some earlier ones, however, are portraying how much dogs are relying on humans as an example of how we are “dumbing them down.”

Yes, dogs are growing ever more dependent on humans. Just as humans are growing ever more dependent on computers. Who does that make stupider? Or is “more stupid” the righter way of saying that?

The study at issue is by Monique A.R. Udell, an assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University. In it, she compared the problem solving skills of dogs and wolves.

Ten pet dogs and ten wolves were presented with a solvable puzzle. Sausage was placed inside a sealed plastic tub with a hard to open lid. Just one of the dogs was able to open the tub, while eight of the wolves were.

Dogs often gave up more quickly, and turned to their human masters for guidance, often with that cute head tilt they use to manipulate us. (It’s only fair after the thousands of years we’ve been manipulating them, starting with their domestication.)

The wolves, meanwhile, sought out no such help, and spent more time trying to get in the box. It should be noted they also spent more time trying to get into an impossible to open box.

How smart is that?

Udell believes depending on humans for help is not necessarily a cognitive asset. She calls the response a “conditioned inhibition of problem-solving behavior.”

Udell’s findings were published yesterday in the journal Biology Letters.

So, no, I don’t buy that a wolf being able to open a box, or spending more time on the task, is proof they are any smarter. They use their paws and claws and teeth, and perhaps some brute force — but they don’t take a second to consider other alternatives.

Dogs on the other hand, have an entire arsenal — from head tilt to sympathy-invoking whimper, from batting their big eyes at us to licking our hands as if to say, “If you love me, you will help me with this.” To me, that’s proof dogs are smarter.

After all, which is more easy to manipulate, a can of Spam or a human being?

(Cartoon by Charles Barsotti / The New Yorker)

Time to leave? Bella doesn’t think so

Surely you can relate to what Bella, the German shepherd featured in this video, is going through.

Think about that beach vacation you didn’t want to come to an end, or your toddler’s hissy fit when the time came to leave Chuck E. Cheese, or those potato chips you always need one more of.

Sometimes, when something just feels so good, or is so much fun, stopping, packing up and going home is just unthinkable.

Such, seemingly is the case with Bella, who, when informed that her lake visit was over, whined, moaned and carried on in a way that made it clear that — despite what her owner was telling her — it wasn’t quite time to leave.

In posting the video on YouTube, her caretaker noted that, after her performance, Bella got to play in the lake a little longer.

“No dogs’ hearts were actually broken in the making of this video,” she added.

Two days ago, she posted another comment on YouTube, alluding to all the negative comments the video has received about her “ill-trained” dog.

“I thought it was funny. I didn’t realize at the time that half of the world’s population would know her better than I do based on a 2 min video. The true story is she has severe HD and we take her swimming in the pond just about everyday for therapy (it’s good for her hip, and helps burn all of her puppy energy).

“… She’s perfectly trained and I do know this isn’t appropriate behavior. I have found people nor animals are 100% perfect all of the time. You can tell from the tone of my voice that I’m not serious and she knew it as well. That’s why she pushed the limits and I allowed her to do so. It was fun banter back and forth between her, my daughter and I.

“Even after explaining ALL of this, there are going to be a million “dog whisperers” that still know her better than me. I posted this video 5 months ago, not thinking it would ever go viral. Based on the negativity of people that cannot see this for what it was — just a funny video of a dog — makes me wish at times that I had never posted it in the first place.”

Not to read too much into it, and even though it was all in the spirit of playfulness, it still makes me wonder: As dogs become more like humans, are they getting better at manipulating us?

And, given how much we’ve manipulated them, is that only fair?

And, as for all those nasty “expert” commenters who can’t tear themselves away from negatively pontificating on the Internet — because to them it’s just too much fun — I suggest they go jump in a lake.

Reporter probes what’s inside dog mouths

You’d think Brian Andrews, as an investigative reporter at CBS News in Miami, would have plenty of legitimate and important issues to pursue — given all the land-raping, government corruption, injustice, drugs and sleaze the state of Florida has to offer.

Instead, he took his investigative skills inside a dog’s mouth. And he discovered there were germs in there.

News flash? Not exactly. We present it here not because it’s breaking news, but because it’s a good example of broken news — the kind of dopey reports that are increasingly common these days as TV news outfits, like newspapers, and websites, opt for quick and easy, crowd-scaring or crowd-pleasing, stories, then do their best to hype, tease and sensationalize them.

To determine whether you should let your dog lick your face, Andrews, a member of the station’s “special projects” team, gathered saliva samples from dogs in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and sent them to a lab to be tested, as part of the station’s continuing series called “How Dirty Is It?”

He was trying to determine if the adage nobody believes in the first place — the one about a dog’s mouth being a pristinely clean place — was really true.

We all know, or should, that there are going to be germs in a dog’s mouth, based simply on the sort of things that go in there. We also know, or should, that there are also plenty of germs in our own.

Upon completion of the doggy saliva tests, Nova Southeastern University microbiologist Dr. Julie Torruellas-Garcia concluded, “There was quite a bit of bacteria that grew from the dogs’ mouths.”

Based on the cultures grown in the lab from the samples, she said, there was “evidence of Nyceria, which is linked to STDs, pneumonia and plaque.”

“While our testing did not reveal the presence of any e-coli or bacteria that could cause a staph infection, Dr. Torruellas-Garcia and her students found globs of other microbes,” the news report said.

“You may want to think twice,” the report reads, “before you and your dog exchange siliva.” (We’re pretty sure they meant saliva.)

After raising fears about mouth to mouth contact with dogs, Andrews, in a complete turnaround, goes on to present a veterinarian who said kissing your dog isn’t all that dangerous. West Palm Beach Veterinarian Ken Simmons said any bacteria in a dog’s mouth doesn’t stay there for long.

“In the end, the testing didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary,” the story reports.

So the point of it all was …?

Yes, the canine mouth, like the human mouth, is a breeding ground for germs. (Perhaps a more interesting story approach would have been if Andrews swabbed inside his own mouth, and compared the germs he might be carrying behind his own well-flossed grill with those of dogs.)

And, yes, dogs can pass on illnesses to us, and vice versa.

But spare us the scare tactics, news guys. Stop wasting our time by telling us the obvious, because, obviously, we already know that. And don’t bad-mouth dogs, no matter how bad their mouths are.

Roscoe’s ruse: Trading up to turkey

I finally got my Thanksgiving dinner, and while I didn’t bite the hand that fed me, Ace did bite the head of the dog belonging to the man who fed us.

My brother and his partner, James, knowing my travels had precluded me from enjoying a turkey dinner, invited us to come over Sunday for one, with all the fixings.

James, a master chef, put out quite a spread — numerous appetizers, turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, yams, all followed by pumpkin cake.

During the preparation, Ace — having learned from previous experiences — was at his side every moment, followed every dish to the table, and as we ate, sat down and waited hopefully that a bite or two might be passed his way. Roscoe, too, approached the table from time to time, but didn’t seem obsessive about it, like Ace.

Though about the same age, they are two very different dogs, I’ve noticed in the time we’ve shared over the past months. Roscoe is the more goofy and dog-like of the two, more prone to barking, more likely to slather your face with kisses. Where Ace seems to have a desire to be a human, Roscoe seems perfectly content with his dog-ness. Where Ace seems to think “if I behave well, I will be rewarded,” Roscoe’s attitude is more “to heck with that stuff.”

I’d always considered Ace the smarter of the two. But now I’m not so sure. At dinner, Ace would sit and stare at whoever was chewing. He does that, almost as if watching a tennis match. He will sit and stare as long as a person is chewing, and even after that, probably until whatever is being masticated has cleared the esophagus. Then he’ll stare until every last plate is cleared, and loaded in the dishwasher, and the kitchen light goes off. Hope springs eternal.

Roscoe uses a different strategy.

He’s prone — not just during meals, but anytime — to grabbing household items with his mouth and not letting go. During my last visit, it was my underwear (not while I was wearing them). Sometimes it’s a pillow from the bed, or a pillow from the couch, or a camera bag, or a pair of socks.

He doesn’t destroy the item. Rather he just walks around with it dangling from his mouth, wagging his tail and absolutely refusing to let go until he gets a better offer — i.e. a treat.

At our belated Thanksgiving dinner, Roscoe grabbed a cloth napkin off the table, then paraded around, as if he wanted everybody to see. Not until some turkey was offered did he relinquish it.

This, while maybe not a perfect example of how humans should train their dogs, is a perfect example of how dogs train their humans. I think if we ever caught on, and tallied up how much our dogs manage to manipulate us, we’d be shocked. Fortunately, most of us are too busy to do that, and go on thinking we’re smarter than our dogs.

After dinner, we watched some TV — perhaps the only thing that manipulates us more than our dogs. If you need more proof that our dogs are smarter than us, ask yourself this question. When was the last time your dog tuned in to “Glee?”

After that, I was full, sleepy and gleeful enough to accept an offer to stay the night. Ace slept at my side until James woke up, at which point, I can only assume, he resumed his I-must-follow-this-man-everywhere-he-goes routine.

I was awakened by the sound of fighting dogs, then the sound of screaming humans, after a second or two of which all was quiet. Ace came back and took his place by my couch, and I went back to sleep.

It wasn’t until I really woke up, a couple of hours later, that I noticed Roscoe had a red mark on his head, and the side of his face. Ace, meanwhile, showed no signs of injuries.

Apparently, while James was in the bathroom, both dogs decided to join him there, and in those close quarters decided the room wasn’t big enough for the both of them. Their rare spat, seemingly, wasn’t over turkey, but attention.

Once it was over they were back to their normally peacefully coexisting selves. Roscoe, despite a slightly punctured head, seemed sad to see Ace leave.

Evidence of yet one more thing at which dogs just might be better than us — forgiveness.