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Tag: media

John Oliver dogs the Supreme Court

Not since they started playing poker — at least on canvas — have dogs been presented as ridiculously and imaginatively as they are in this bit of cable television comedy.

Generally, dogs who are depicted as talking, or otherwise behaving as humans, fail to rise to the level of art, or even comedy, in my view. On top of never being too funny, the humanizing of dogs makes me wince. They’re perfect as they are; why drag them down to our species’ level?

But, in light of the point it makes, we’ll cut John Oliver some slack. Noting that cameras aren’t allowed in the U.S. Supreme Court, and that those courtroom artist renderings don’t make for riveting drama, Oliver suggested on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight” that dogs be used to act out the audio — the audio, unlike the video, being public.

“Cameras aren’t allowed in the Supreme Court, so most coverage of our most important cases looks like garbage. We fixed that problem with real animals and fake paws. Feel free to take our footage.”

In addition to what was aired on the show, he provided some stock dog video so that viewers can create their own dog-ified Supreme Court re-enactments. You can find that footage on YouTube. You can find some viewer submissions through #realanimalsfakepaws.

Oliver suggested broadcast news organizations use the animal footage with actual Supreme Court audio, instead of the boring still illustrations that they currently depend on. Doing so, he says, might get Americans more interested in what’s transpiring in the highest court in the land.

The sketch features dogs as the nine justices. That’s a bulldog as Antonin Scalia and a glasses-wearing Chihuahua providing the voice of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There’s also a duck as an assistant, and a chicken as a stenographer. The sketch uses audio from an actual Supreme Court session (dealing with Holt vs. Hobbs, a case that questions whether prisons can force Muslim prisoners to trim their beards).

It’s unlikely the comedic barb will lead to any change in the stuffy and camera-shy court’s refusal to allow its proceedings to be televised. And if anybody took the issue to court, guess where it would eventually end up?

Even if the Supreme Court did go fully public, and became a TV show, I suspect it would only take one or two viewings of SCOTUS Live — or whatever it would be called — to turn most viewers off. In truth, most of us don’t want to watch the Supreme Court on TV, we just want to have that right.

More likely, after watching the dry and dusty judges making dry and dusty arguments, we’d all be saying, “Bring back the doggie version!”

Woof in Advertising: KLM search dog is fake

A beagle named Sherlock, in the employ of KLM airlines, is recovering and returning items lost by travelers  at an Amsterdam Airport — or so this video would have you believe.

But — no shit, Sherlock — the beagle is bogus.

Once again, advertising geniuses have duped the public, and the media, via the Internet.

I’m sure those geniuses don’t see it that way — just creative license, they’d say — but the story of the little beagle reuniting passengers with their lost items is a tall tale, aimed at giving you a warm and fuzzy feeling when it comes to KLM.

Earlier this week the Dutch airline posted the video on YouTube.

Three days later it had 3 million views. New outlets were writing about the amazing pooch who, through his powers of scent, was reuniting travelers with their lost items.

wia

A day or two later, they were writing about him again — once they realized it was, if not an out and out hoax, a creative stretching of the truth.

The video posted on YouTube carried this description: “KLM’s dedicated Lost & Found team at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is on a mission to reunite lost items as soon as possible with their legitimate owner. From a teddy bear found by the cabin crew to a laptop left in the lounge. Locating the owners can sometimes be a challenge, so special forces have been hired…”

KLM managed to reach millions with the bogus beagle story, virtually for free — even before it appeared as a paid advertisement.

The advertising agency explained their creative process as follows:

“We were told that the members of KLM’s Lost & Found team sometimes track down passengers before they even realize they’ve lost something,” “We feel they are a bit like detectives. So to illustrate that KLM goes above and beyond for their passengers, we decided to involve a search dog.”

On one hand, you’ve got to admire their ability to get so much ink — I mean so many hits — without spending a dime.

On the other hand, should we really trust a company that’s pulling the wool, or in this case fur, over our eyes?

(Woof in Advertising is an occasional feature on ohmidog! that looks at how dogs are used in advertising. For more Woof in Advertising posts, click here.)

 

Woof in Advertising: Friends are waiting

Budweiser’s new public service message encouraging responsible drinking lets a dog make the point:

“Next time you go out, be sure to make a plan to get home safely, because friends are waiting.”

Sure, they could have used a worried spouse, or a cute child, but somehow a dog drives the point home even better. Nobody waits for you like a dog does, and no one seems happier to see you come through the front door.

By using a dog, and making the ad’s ending happy, this public service message avoids becoming heavy-handed, sanctimonious, preachy and blatantly tear-jerking (unlike some of those PSA’s animal welfare organizations produce).

That, and being so on point, are what make it so effective.

In a decade of writing about dogs, and their people, I’ve had many people tell me how their dogs have changed their lives, and made their lives worth living. Some go so far to say their dog helped them move out of a criminal lifestyle or kept them from committing suicide. Dogs give us a reason to live, and a reason to live responsibly.

Dogs make us do the right thing.

Beer does the opposite.

WIAGiven alcohol is a factor in nearly a third of all traffic related deaths, there will be those who see some hypocrisy in a company simultaneously bombarding us with beer ads and telling us to drink responsibly.

Some accused the company of just that last week, when Anheuser-Busch, the official sponsor of the NFL season, issued its statement expressing concern about domestic abuse among NFL players, given alcohol and substance abuse play a role in nearly two out of three domestic violence cases, according to some studies.

“We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season,” Anheuser-Busch said in the statement — not directly threatening to end its $194 million relationship with the NFL, but, between the lines, raising that possibility. “We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and code.”

Both the domestic abuse statement and the responsible drinking PSA came out last week. The latter was posted on YouTube Friday.

Maybe Anheuser-Busch is becoming more socially conscious, or maybe it’s just buffing up its image.

Some may think Anheuser-Busch, both with its domestic violence statement and its responsible drinking PSA, is getting on a high horse it has no right to mount (Clydesdale, maybe?).

“How crazy is this?” Jon Stewart noted last week on The Daily Show. “A company that sells alcohol is the moral touchstone of the NFL.”

That’s one way to look at it:  A beer company shouldn’t try to set our moral compass — and has no right to do so.

One could also say — given the social problems its products tend to spawn and exacerbate —  that a beer company has every duty to take such actions, and produce such ads.

In any event, we’re glad they  made this one, and we hope to see it on television at least as often as we do the Clydesdales.

(Woof in Advertising is an occasional feature on ohmidog! that looks at how dogs are used in advertising. For more Woof in Advertising posts, click here.)

Poop & Pooches: A magazine for dog haters

beleites

It began as a joke, and maybe sorta still is, but there’s now a real magazine in Germany devoted to dog haters.

Started by a frustrated freelance journalist who was bitten by a spitz as child, “Kot & Köter,” which translates to “Poop & Pooches” in English, has just produced its second issue.

It’s 48 pages long and include articles about how excessive and obsessive we humans can get when it comes to our dogs’ deaths, and their wardrobes; three poems devoted to the evils of dog poop; and a piece of fiction about a serial dog murderer.

“There are two types of people in Germany,”the magazine’s founder and editor, Wulf Beleites, tells the Wall Street Journal. “One type loves dogs. Another type doesn’t. These are my readers.”

As Beleites tells it, the idea started as a joke, way back in 1992, when he and three fellow journalists were sitting at a pub trying to think up absurd titles for magazines. As a joke, he trademarked the name “Kot & Köter,” and later a friend who publishes a newsletter of trademarked and copyrighted names available for purchase slipped the title into a listing.

A newspaper reporter spotted the unusual magazine title and published an article about it. After that, Beleites was interviewed on the radio and, in the ensuing 6 years, 18 more times by media outlets who didn’t realize his magazine didn’t exist. Beleites would go on air and talk about the downside of dogs — from barking and biting to smelling and shedding.

For some of the appearances, he was paid. At some of them, he was booed.

kotkoterThis year, Beleites — 67 and struggling to make a living as a freelance journalist — resuscitated the joke, only this time for real.

The new magazine is described as “satirical.” It pokes fun at how dog-crazy many of us become. But it’s a little mean and hateful as well.

The first issue came out in July, after Beleites launched an online fundraising campaign.

Poop & Pooches joins the ranks of at least a dozen magazines for dog lovers in Germany,  including Modern Dog, City Dog, Dog Avenue, Woof and SitzPlatzFuss, (which translates to SitStayHeel).

The first issue featured an article about Hitler and his dog; another looked at “slutty poodles.”

Beleites says he gets a lot of  hate mail, and angry phone calls, and he was chased out of a doggie boutique (by a human) when he stopped by in an effort to get it to sell his publication.

(Top photo: Associated Press)

Woof in Advertising: The cat did it

This isn’t a new ad from Pepsi, but it’s a memorable one — and a reminder to all those who own both a cat and a dog that, when anything mysteriously goes awry at home, it’s always the cat’s fault.

Yes, no doubt about it, clearly the cat’s fault.

(Woof in Advertising is an occasional feature on ohmidog! that looks at how dogs are used in marketing. To see more Woof in Advertising posts, click here)

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

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