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Tag: media

Run-on sentience: Are we going way overboard in attributing emotions to dogs?

Lately, it seems, hardly a month goes by without either some viral video or paper-writing scientist suggesting that — contrary to what scientists and the media think we think — dogs feel emotions much like our own, or at least a doggy version of them.

If it’s not a video, like the one above  – which is being described in the news media as a dog not just feeling remorse, but atoning for his misdeed —  it’s a new scientific paper proclaiming, yes, dogs do feel … you name it … joy, fear, anger, guilt, pride, compassion, love, shame.

(If you didn’t already think dogs feel joy, you may not be the world’s most perceptive person.)

(Some, apparently, get so overwhelmed by it that they pass out.)

This month’s emotion? Jealousy.

Dr. Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego — after a study involving dogs, their owners, stuffed animals,  jack-o’-lantern and children’s books – concluded that dogs showed a “primordial” form of jealousy, meaning, I guess, not as evolved, twisted, complex, nasty and, sometimes, fatal as the human form.

According to an article in the New York Times, the dog version of jealousy is “not as complex as the human emotion, but similar in that there is a social triangle and the dog is trying to make sure it, not the rival, receives the attention.”

In the study, as it’s described in a a PLoS One paper co-written by Harris, researchers compared the reactions of dogs when their owners petted and talked to a jack-o’-lantern, read a children’s book aloud, and petted and talked to a stuffed toy dog that barked and whined.

The dogs paid little attention to the jack-o’-lantern or the book. But when dog owners petted and talked to the stuffed dog, their dogs reacted, coming over, pushing their noses into the owner or stuffed dog, sometimes barking, and sniffing the rear end of the stuffed dog.

I’m not sure that’s proof of jealousy — it could just be proof that dogs are smart enough to investigate when humans are trying to dupe them. On top of that, most dogs have experience playing with stuffed toys, as opposed to plastic pumpkins and children’s books. So it’s not too astonishing they would have a more excited reaction to them.

SONY DSCIn that way, the findings of this study aren’t really too surprising, or revealing, but they are indicative, I think, of a trend — in the scientific community, in the news media, and among normal members of society — of seeing dogs more and more as humans.

The “dogs feel jealousy” study, for example — flimsy as its findings sound — was picked up by most major news organizations.

“Study: Jealousy Is So Universal Even Dogs Feel It,” reported the New York Times.

“Study: Dogs Can Feel Jealous, Too,” said a CNN headline.

At least NPR phrased their headline as a question: “Does Your Dog Feel Jealous, Or Is That A Purely Human Flaw?”

These days, the news media doesn’t need a legitimate study to draw sweeping conclusions; a viral video will do.

The video at the top of this post has been shared — if not actually reported on with any depth — on news websites from Alabama to India.

The headlines all presume to know what the beagle is feeling, and some go so far as to explain the goal of his behavior as well: “I’m Sorry! Charlie the guilty dog showers crying baby with gifts to apologize for stealing her toy,” reads the headline in The Daily Mail.

acecouchAmazing the conclusions reporters and headline writers can reach nowadays — and the mind reading they can do — usually without ever stepping away from their computer.

My problem is not with attributing emotions to dogs. I believe they have most of the ones we do, or at least most of the desirable ones. I believe they have other magical gifts and skills we haven’t even begun to figure out. I believe studying what’s going on in their heads is a good thing — at least when it’s done by dog experts. I can even handle a little anthropomorphization; given we’re humans we tend to interpret things in human terms.

What bothers me, for starters, is presenting such findings as new, when dog owners have known most of them all along. Sometimes, it’s as if scientists and the news media are saying, oh wait, we’ve discovered dogs are not unfeeling blobs of fur, after all. Well, duh.

The problem I have is not so much ascribing emotions to dogs as it is the vanity of assuming emotions are something only humans feel.

SONY DSCFeel free, scientists, to study jealousy in dogs. And feel free to study it in humans. And feel free to compare and contrast the two.

And feel free as well, video posters, to share your dog’s interesting and seemingly human-like behavior, and to offer any theories you might have.

But let’s not leap to wild conclusions, based on how things look through our human eyes. Let’s not forget that dogs have had emotions all along. Let’s not assume they are “catching up” with us in terms of their emotions and behaviors. Maybe they’ve been ahead of us all along.

And let’s not be so surprised — given the centuries man has been choreographing their evolution, and the half century or so they’ve been mostly living inside with us — that they’re picking up some of our habits, good and bad.

While we’re at it, let’s let dogs remain, at least in part, dogs.

Let’s keep in mind, during all this, what we can learn from them. Are dogs lagging behind us, in terms of developing a sense of jealousy, or are they exhibiting a purer form of what we homo sapiens have taken to ridiculous extremes?

And let’s at least keep our minds open to the possibility that, when it comes to what dog and man can learn from each other,  we may not always be the teachers, or the role models, in that equation.

(Photos: Ace in Monterey, California, at home on the couch, and with a panhandler in Portland, Maine; by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

When the Most Valuable Player is a dog

hankdog

It’s a wonderful story — what the Milwaukee Brewers did for Hank.

By taking in the stray dog that wandered into their spring training camp in Arizona, and bringing him back with them to Milwaukee, they assured the little bichon frise mix of having food, shelter, medical care and the love of not just a whole team, but hordes of fans.

hankapWhich brings us to part two of the story — what Hank is doing for the Milwaukee Brewers.

As anyone who has rescued a dog knows, you generally get far more out of the deal than you put in.

That’s quickly becoming the case with the Brewers — a team whose fans didn’t have too much to cheer about last season, in terms of wins, attendance, or highly adored superstar players, like the great Hank Aaron, after whom Hank the dog was named.

The summer of 2013 saw the Brewer’s biggest star, Ryan Braun, the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, suspended for most of the season for using performance-enhancing drugs.

hankmerchHank, we’re certain, won’t fall into that trap. And already he has given fans something to feel good about, judging from the turnout at a Hank “meet and greet.” Hundreds lined up to say hello to Hank, or pick up a souvenir from the Brewer’s new line of Hank merchandise.

The Brewers front office is making the most of the fluffy little mutt. As team spokesman Tyler Barnes noted, one couldn’t have dreamed up a more effective publicity stunt.

“I wish I was smart enough to have thought of this as a stunt,” he said at a recent event held to introduce Hank to Brewers fans. Hundreds lined up to meet the dog in the stadium gift shop.

“The Brewers have promised not to exploit Hank, though they didn’t say anything about making a few bucks along the way,” wrote Journal Sentinel sports columnist Jim Stingl. “You know a bobblehead is in his future.”

Some readers of the paper are saying enough with all the Hank coverage:

“Still with these DOG STORIES,” bemoaned one reader. “It’s sad I know more about the happenings of a dog that is a ‘Stray’ then I do of the Brewers and how their Spring Training went. This Dog got more coverage, and still is, then the actual team. And I applaud the Brewers for their great marketing tactic while removing the spotlight from the status of the team and cloud of Braun. Can the Newspaper please report about Baseball and not a dog, millions of dogs everywhere are offended they are not getting the same treatment, and once someone or something is offended things must change.”

We don’t entirely follow the logic toward the end of that reader comment — especially the part about millions of offended dogs. Dogs aren’t spotlight-seekers. That’s just humans.

But the newspaper did, for some reason, feel the need to say, in a blog post, that it might not be reporting on every single thing that happens in Hank’s everyday, non-official, non-Brewer related life:

“That everyday life doesn’t generate stories every day. We’ll have Hank Watch updates when events happen — but there will be days when they don’t,” the post read.

Meanwhile, Hank is living his new everyday life at the home of Marti Wronski, vice president and general counsel for the Brewers, and how often he’ll be making appearances in the stadium is still being figured out.

Wronski said that while ”we’re giving Hank a home … it’s very clear this dog is the fans’ dog.”

hank crowdHank flew to Milwaukee earlier this month on a chartered flight with Brewers executives, and several hundred fans showed up to greet him at the airport, including the mayor of Milwaukee, bearing peanut butter treats, according to the Brewers.

Hank merchandise went on sale last week, including T-shirts, buttons and pennants.

The team is giving a portion of proceeds from those sales to the Wisconsin Humane Society,

(Photos: Hank dozes off during his meet and greet at Miller Park; by Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Hank in Arizona, by Morry Gash / Associated Press; fans line up to meet Hank at Milwaukee’s Miller Park, by Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Woof in Advertising: Maddie

This is a sweet little commercial for Chevrolet — quite reminiscent of one for Subaru — that follows, though in reverse, a young woman’s bond with her dog.

The tagline: Chevrolet, “a best friend for life’s journey.”

We’d hope, for your sake, your car isn’t your best friend.

Cars and dogs do have some things in common — the high cost of keeping them running, the constant feeding, the licensing requirements, and the fact that they are nearly always at our side. And they do both produce some exhaust.

But, otherwise, there’s really no comparison.

The dog loves you unconditionally. The car has air conditioning. Your dog will offer up a soft and furry paw. Your car is a metal hunk that will tell you to put your seat belt on. Your dog has a soul. Your car has a transmission.

Nevertheless, in our ongoing monitoring of the use of dogs in advertising, we’ve noticed automobile companies seem to be trying harder and harder to get you to think of your car as a dog — loyal, dependable, always there.

They’d like you to have that same powerful bond with their brand of automobiles in the hopes that, when you have to put the old Chevrolet down, you’ll go out and get another one of the same breed.

This ad — though it wasn’t the winner — was one of 72 submissions in the Chevrolet Mofilm Short Film Program. The program allows filmmakers from around the world to submit a short movie, with the winner’s ad being aired during the Oscars.

To see some of our other Woof in Advertising posts, click here.

Woof in Advertising: The Scent

Sure, a $50,000 sport utility vehicle can help you find women.

But not as good as a dog can.

In this Range Rover ad, an unnaturally handsome man finds a scarf, lets his dog sniff it, then follows in his Baroque — through winding streets, around various urban obstacles and even down some stairs — as the dog tracks down the owner.

The carmaker says the ad showcases the “contemporary design and extraordinary versatility” of the Range Rover Baroque, but we think the dog wins out, at least in the latter category.

The commercial, entitled “The Scent,” was filmed in Girona and Barcelona, and its tagline is, “Cut a path through civilization.”

Not to give away the ending, but the dog finds the scarf’s owner, and, miracle of miracles, it’s an unnaturally  beautiful woman.

We think the ad would have been better if it were a wrinkly, 99-year-old great grandma, who was missing her babushka. Or better yet, if the camera showed the dog running toward a beautiful young woman, then past her to deliver the scarf back to the great grandma.

While some of its models have shrunk, the Range Rover still has a bit of an image as a big, road-hogging, view-blocking gas guzzler (though the Baroque averages 23 miles per gallon and is much less offensive than, say, a Humvee).

Given that image, the ad could have used a little more humor, a little less hubris – of the “I-can-drive-my-big-imposing-car-anywhere-I-want” category.

Needless to say, don’t try this at home, whether home is Barcelona or Brooklyn. Roving the range is one thing; roving urban sidewalks and steps quite another.

One must be careful not to mow down pedestrians when cutting a path through civilization, which, by the way, already provides us with paths for cars.

They’re called roads.

Tweeting wolf: Olympian’s video of “wolf” in the hallway was Jimmy Kimmel hoax

With help from an Olympic luger, Twitter and a dog who is at least part wolf, Jimmy Kimmel has once again put one over on the news media.

Then again, fooling the news media has a very low degree of difficulty these days.

Kimmel conspired with 21-year-old luger Kate Hansen, under whose name the video was posted on Twitter and elsewhere.

“I’m pretty sure this is a wolf wandering my hall in Sochi,” she said in a comment accompanying the video on YouTube.

Pretty much every major news outlet quickly picked up the story Thursday, echoing the Olympian’s cry of wolf, and apparently forgetting the entire moral of that fable.

USA Today was among those setting the record straight today — generally in a humorous vein that didn’t focus on how any laziness on the media’s part might have contributed to being duped.

Hansen, who finished competing Feb. 11 and is staying at the Olympic village, tweeted the video with the hashtag #sochiproblems and #sochifail. The hashtag was commonly used by visitors to Sochi for complaints surrounding the Games, including some about stray dogs.

Kimmel came clean last night, revealing the set created in the studio to resemble the dormitory corridor, and the wolf-dog, named Rugby.

Hansen appeared, via Skype, on the show as well, and said she has experienced some repercussions for the role she played.

Woof in Advertising: Meet the Barkleys

What can sell cars even better than a cute dog?

How about an entire family of them?

Subaru — the automobile company that has long embraced, catered to and capitalized on canines in its commercials – has released a new series of ads that follows the travels of a family of four retrievers. 

And while it’s just in time for the Super Bowl, you probably won’t see the ads during the big game. Once again, Subaru is opting to be a Puppy Bowl sponsor instead.

Subaru’s ”Meet the Barkleys” campaign consists of four 30-second spots in which the canine family experience some mini-dramas. In this one, dad ends up in the doghouse for  appearing a little too interested in an attractive female pedestrian.

In the ads, the dogs aren’t just along for the ride, they’re in charge, and on their own. Dad drives. Mom navigates. And they youngest offspring — just a pup — sits in his child seat.

Produced by Carmichael Lynch and director Brian Lee Hughes of Skunk, the ads are enhanced with CGI, but the dogs are real, and Subaru offers a website where you can learn more about them.

WIAAuggie, who plays the role of dad, is a 5-year-old golden retriever from a small town in Canada, with several movie, television and commercials among his credits.

Stevie, a 4-year-old female yellow Lab, plays the mom, and lives with Auggie in real life as well. She was rescued from an animal shelter in Pasadena and started training as an actor just six months ago.

Playing the role of little brother is Sebastian, a 12-week-old (at the time of filming) golden retriever from Moorpark, California.

From the same California breeder came Sadie, six-months-old, a golden retriever who plays the role of the daughter, and who, in another one of the ads, raises dad’s suspicion when she lingers a little too long in the car when her date brings her home.

While that’s one of  two ads that shows the dog family acting out distinctively human type dramas, the other two show their doggie side — as in going ballistic at the sight of a mail truck. Then there’s what happens when the family takes a break from their road trip to stop at a convenience store:

Puparazzi: Celebrity’s dogs are fair game

finn seyfried

Are members of the paparazzi shifting their focus?

These days they seem to be shooting lower — if indeed it’s possible for them to go any lower — and focusing more and more on celebrity dogs.

It’s ridiculous, but understandable: Dogs, unlike celebrities, have to go out. Dogs, unlike celebrities, don’t object to photos being taken of them in an ungroomed state. Dogs, unlike celebrities, don’t file lawsuits.

But the even bigger reason is this: Dogs are more instinctual and spontaneous than most humans, and thus are more likely to do something outrageous — or at least something that the photographer sees as outrageous.

That, when you come right down to it, is what a paparazzo is after.

So when Amanda Seyfried’s dog, Finn, appeared to be humping another dog at the park, the image was captured and published on numerous tabloid websites (and now, for scholarly discussion purposes, on this one.)

On TMZ.com, the photo was under the headline: “AMANDA SEYFRIED’S DOG RAPES OTHER DOG.”

(Maybe dogs should file lawsuits.)

When a dog humps another dog, it’s generally not news, just as it’s generally not news — not even tabloid news — when a dog poops, pees, drools or scratches him or herself.

True enough, Anne Hathaway made the news (or at least the Huffington Post) when her dog pooped — but that was because the actress promptly packed up the poopage and placed it on the windshield of the car belonging to the photographer who was following her and Esmerelda as they went for what was supposed to be a leisurely walk.

Hathaway may have felt she’d gotten vengeance, but she actually fell straight into the trap.

A celebrity doing something outlandish makes for a much better photo than a celebrity just walking down the street.

That’s the biggest reason celebrities are stalked with cameras — either because they have just done something outrageous or embarassing, or in hopes they will, once spotting the photographer, do something outrageous or embarassing.

I, for the record, have great respect for photographers. Some of my best friends are photographers. But photographers whose sole purpose is to track down, follow and provoke celebrities are even worse than humping dogs. They are annoyances, hard to shake off and best avoided, getting their kicks, and paychecks, by exploiting other people’s fame and America’s seemingly incurable addiction to celebrity.

As the paparazzi becomes more puparazzi (or pawparazzi, your choice), a celebrity’s dog, it seems, is falling under the same category as a celebrity’s unfashionable sweat pants, overflowing bikini/Speedo, or botched plastic surgery — fair game.

And while I have no major problem with them aiming their cameras at celebrity dogs out in public, the photographers and those who publish their images ought to keep in mind that, when it comes to dogs, pooping, peeing and humping are mostly natural behaviors that – while maybe one requires some slight correcting — don’t call for felony charges or 30 days in rehab.

One of the foibles of humans is that we like to build people up and then see them get knocked down — enjoying both their rise to glory and their fall from it.

We do it all the time with members of our own species, and especially with celebrities.

Let’s not do it to our dogs.

(Photo: SplashNewsOnline.com)

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