Didja hear the one about the blonde Fox News anchorwoman who took her golden retriever to get an IQ test?
While that has all the ingredients for a pretty good joke, it’s actually the basis of a pretty informative news report, in which Fox 8′s Katie Nordeen brought her dog Louie to Duke University scientist Brian Hare to find out just exactly what type of dog genius he — Louie, not Dr. Hare — is.
Hare, co-author of “The Genius of Dogs,” is the founder of Dognition, a research firm that puts dogs through a series of science-based games designed to assess their personality type — information that Hare says can help dog owners better understand their dogs.
Users of the service (it costs $39) don’t get to bring their dog to Hare, as Nordeen did, but get a “toolkit” and instructions on how to conduct the experiments in their own homes.
The experiments measure five dimensions: cunning, empathy, communication, reasoning and memory, and by virtue of the results, dogs are judged to be one of nine types – Ace, Maverick, Charmer, Socialite, Protodog, Renaissance Dog, Expert, Stargazer, or Einstein.
Customers, after submitting their test results, receive a full report explaining their dog’s type, and how the conclusion was reached.
Louie, for example, was found to be a socialite. (You can read Dognition’s full report on Louie here.)
“… Gracefully interacting and communicating with others requires talent. In Louie’s case, she takes this talent to a whole new level – it is definitely her genius. Although Louie is not as adept at independent problem-solving skills as other dogs, don’t jump to any conclusions about her intelligence. Louie relies on a very specific strategy – using you and other humans in her pack to get what she wants.”
(Yes, they got Louie’s sex wrong in the report, but they are personality experts, not gender experts.)
Cutsomers also have the option of becoming members of Dognition (for an additional $60 for a year, or $5 a month), entitling them to receive tailored training tips and activities and get a discount for testing additional dogs.
Hare says Dognition, established last year, is proving popular, with thousands of users from around the world.
“Everybody wants to understand what’s going on inside of a dog’s head. It has not been hard to get people excited about this.”
After visiting Dognition’s lab in Durham for the FOX8 report, Nordeen continued conducting the experiments at home over the next two weeks. Once submitting her findings, the results were delivered, by email, almost instantly.
Hare says the purpose of Dognition is to enrich people’s relationships with their dogs, but it, like his book, is also aimed at showing the public how truly brilliant dogs are.
“Dogs were thought to be totally unremarkable. There were really no interesting things they could do relative to say dolphins or bonobos, so people were focusing on these other animals,” he said. “But at our feet, literally, were geniuses that had been undiscovered … What makes dogs such geniuses is that, relative to other species, they’re really skilled, really flexible, in understanding what it is we want and what we’re trying to tell them.”
The Dognition tests, in their at-home version, may not be the hardest of science, and their results may not be irrefutable. But given the firm’s stated goals, given the not entirely exorbitant price tag, and given that they’re fun and result in people spending more time with their dogs, I think they have a place in the spectrum of doggie evaluation services.
If people are willing to pay more than $100 to determine what breeds are in their dogs, through DNA testing, $39 doesn’t seem like too much to pay to assess that dog’s personality — and may even provide more telling clues into what makes them tick.
I haven’t run my dog Ace through the online Dognition drill yet, in part because I think his genius is too vast to be measured and could forever skew Dognition’s data base, in part because I already know he’s a charmer, with shades of socialite and Einstein. But Nordeen’s report answered a lot of questions I had about the service, and one of these days, I’ll give it a try.
We’ll close with some bloopers, courtesy of Fox 8, that occured while Nordeen and Louie were taping a promo for the piece — none of which, I’m sure, had anything to do with them being blond:
Posted by jwoestendiek November 11th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: ace, animals, blondes, bloopers, brian hare, Charmer, cognition, communication, cunning, dog personality, dognition, dogs, duke, duke university, Einstein, empathy, experiments, expert, fox 8, fox news, games, genius, iq, katie nordeen, louie, Maverick, media, memory, news, personality, pets, Protodog, reasoning, Renaissance Dog, Socialite, Stargazer, tests, the genius of dogs
Meet GeriJoy. He’s a virtual dog. He’s a talking dog. He’s even described as “a compassionate” dog.
He was developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be an interactive companion for older people with dementia or memory problems, serving to provide what his makers call “continual stimulation.”
But there’s something about GeriJoy, noble as the idea may be, that I find a little bit patronizing, a little bit insulting, and highly phony. His creation also seems an awfully circuitous and robotic route to take to provide a virtual experience with an animated creature when the real thing is so abundantly available.
Clearly, I’m cynical, or at least wary, when it comes to technology — and perhaps more. It was only yesterday, after all, that I cruelly bashed soft and fuzzy stuffed animals.
Despite that, techno-wizards keep trying, intent, it seems, on trying to capture a no-shed, no-drool, no bark, no worries version of dog — be it stuffed, virtual, or mechanical — and then convince you that their inanimate, or animated, object will love you unconditionally forever.
The truth is, close as they might come — and cloning probably comes closest — they never will. Ha ha. Take that.
If GeriJoy, the virtual dog, is making some old person happy, even if it’s a delusional kind of happy, we’re all for it. If it’s being used as a substitute for human attention, we’re not. With all the growth in and demands on senior services and facilities for the elderly, there’s a tendency to look for quick and easy shortcuts, when the keys to doing job right are already obvious — caring staff, ample staff, staff with hearts.
And maybe some dogs — real dogs.
What I’d rather see is not a nursing home where dozens of residents are lined up in wheelchairs, stroking animated images on their hand held devices, but one that’s taking advantage of programs — or even creating some — in which dog ownership among residents is encouraged, and assistance with those dogs is provided; ones where dogs live under communal ownership, or short of that, therapy dogs visit regularly; one that’s investing in building a qualified and caring staff, as opposed to investing in devices that substitute for real human, or dog, contact.
Here’s how the GeriJoy website touts the product: “Have an older loved one who is lonely and suffers from dementia or geriatric depression? GeriJoy can help. We provide talking pets that are intelligent, compassionate, and available 24/7 to talk about anything, including photos and updates from family.”
The virtual dog can be displayed on a computer or other Internet-connected device. The virtual dog, the website claims, ”provides all the availability and unconditional love of an adorable pet, combined with the ability to talk with true intelligence and compassion … It’s as if it lives inside a picture frame, so you get the benefits of pet therapy without any smells, allergies, cleaning up, bites, or food and veterinary bills.”
The virtual dog can provide around the clock stimulation, his developers say, and, in the video snippet above, GeriJoy certainly sounds stimulating, or stimulated, almost orgasmically so. “Oh, you’re so good,” GeriJoy coos as an elderly man strokes the image on the screen.
We’re not sure if that’s what GeriJoy told the Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Healthy Aging Forum this month when he appeared before it. He’ll also be on exhibit at the AARP Health Innovation@50+ Tech Expo on May 31 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, according to the AARP blog.
To get GeriJoy, one must subscribe, and pay from $99 to $129 a month. The hardware costs up to $349 for the most sophisticated, Internet-connected version.
GeriJoy was co-founded by Victor Wang, a former Canadian Army officer who did research on human-machine interaction for NASA while at MIT. He says he was inspired to develop the virtual dog by his grandmother in Taiwan, who became depressed while she was living alone.
Wang says GeriJoy can even serve as a watchdog. In one case, a user’s human caregiver was being verbally abusive, and GeriJoy “contacted the user’s daughter to let her know about it.”
“Whatever your loved one wants to know, the companion can find out and report back,” the website says. “It can send and receive messages and photos between you and your loved one, also via the Internet. All this is done through the intuitive metaphor of a talking dog. Your loved one doesn’t even need to know what a computer is.”
We don’t care if the day comes when a virtual dog can cook dinner, push a wheelchair, administer medications or help you understand your health insurance.
A real dog is better — even with his shedding and drooling. Real dogs bring one into, and keep one in, the moment. Real dogs can help you keep a grip on reality, as opposed to pulling you into fantasy land. And real dogs offer a true form of love and validation — even if they can’t say, at least with words, “Oh, you are so good.”
Posted by jwoestendiek May 24th, 2013 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: aarp, aging, animals, animated, app, assisted living, computer, dementia, dog, dogs, elderly, gerijoy, health, image, internet, memory, mit, nursing homes, pets, talking, technology, unconditional love, virtual, virtual dog
John Steinbeck and I — in addition to traveling with our dogs, being about the same age when we set forth on our journeys, having the same first names, and a lot of the same letters in our last ones — share something else as well.
I have trysted with her three times — as a reporter in the early 1990′s, as a visiting professor in 2007, and as whatever it is I am now. She’s as beautiful and inviting as she was the first time we met — and, I’m sure, as she was 50 years ago, when she seduced John Steinbeck.
“I am in love with Montana,” Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley. It was his first trip to the state. “For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”
He babbled on, as people in love do: “…the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda … the calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had got into the inhabitants … the towns were places to live in rather than nervous hives. People had time to pause in their occupations to undertake the passing art of neighborliness.”
“Of all the states it is my favorite and my love.”
Steinbeck — apparently getting into being “out west” — stopped in Billings and bought a cowboy hat. In Butte, he bought a rifle. He dipped down into Yellowstone National Park, but after seeing Charley’s reaction to bears that approached his car — “He became a primitive killer lusting for the blood of his enemy” — he turned around and spent night in Livingston.
Ace and I stopped in Billings, in Bozeman, in Butte, and have arrived in Missoula — with no new hats and no sidearms. I am considering investing in a pair of gloves though. Winter is clearly on the way. People are stacking their wood, squirrels are hoarding their nuts, and the sky is taking on that steelier glow it does here in winter.
Once again, the return to a place I briefly called home has triggered memories. The closer I got to Missoula — winding through the hills alongside the Clark Fork River — the more of them resurfaced, leading me to wonder how I could have temporarily misplaced them, especially those that were only three years old.
I guess, they go into deep storage, like the earliest nuts the squirrels gather — pushed to the back to make room for new ones. But I don’t think I get a vote in the matter; it just happens. Returning to a place seems to make them accessible again; I can — with a little help from a familiar sight, sound, or smell — pull them out of the disorganized file cabinet that is my mind, open them up and say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that now.”
It could be something as simple as the lay of the land — they way grassy golden hills climb up into the big blue sky, a sharp curve in crystal clear river, the golden outline of Tamaracks among evergreen. Just seeing the general scale and expanse of it all triggers Montana memories — even memories that have nothing to do with the scale and expanse of it all.
Nearing Missoula — and (after North Dakota turned bleak) getting to experience fall all over again — I was surprised how the yellows were popping on the trees, and by how many things were popping into my head.
Some of them were from nearly 20 years ago — visiting the Unabomber’s former, still forlorn, shack in the woods; hanging out in radon mines, where people soak in radioactivity to heal what ails them; documenting the influx of celebrities to the state, which back then were becoming as common, and unloved, as deer.
Some of them — memories, I mean, not celebrities — were only three years old, and less dusty: long hikes in the mountains; the little house we rented, dubbed the “shack-teau,” while I was a visiting journalism professor at the University of Montana; the peaceful (mostly) campus; my earnest (mostly) students; and how we chased the muck train — as it began transferring mining waste that had collected in the river outside Missoula 100 miles back east to a little town called Opportunity — for our class project.
Memories that had faded like ghost signs kept returning — of fellow professors; of time spent at the student newspaper, The Kaimin; of a party, or two, or three, or four; and how I didn’t (really, really didn’t) want to leave when the semester was over. Because I flat out loved it.
And therein — on top of returning to a place, seeing and smelling it — is one of the keys to recalling times past, at least for me. Your brain alone can’t always take you back there; sometimes, it needs an assist from the heart.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 4th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, billings, bozeman, butte, charley, john steinbeck, journalism, love, love affair, memory, missoula, montana, nostalgia, pets, recollections, road trip, senses, steinbeck, students, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, travels with charley, triggers, university of montana
What weary motorist couldn’t use a jolting cup of Joe, a $5 footlong and a peek into the life, times and works of a long dead novelist?
Exit 127 in Sauk Centre spills you onto Main Street — and it’s not just any Main Street. It’s THE Main Street.
The Sinclair Lewis book of that name, published in 1920, was — though labeled fiction — based on small town life in Sauk Centre, renamed, to protect the not so innocent, ”Gopher Prairie” in the book.
A biting satire that exposed the hypocrisy of small town life — showed that, in fact, it was not as carefree, pure and idyllic as it was often portrayed and perceived — the book was denounced by the town, many of whose residents saw themselves and their indiscretions show up within its pages.
With time, though, and in light of the phenomenal success of “Main Street,” not to mention the Nobel Prize for literature Lewis won in 1930, Sauk Centre decided to make the most of its newfound fame.
Since 1930, its population has tripled — it’s up to about 4,000 now — but much of it is unchanged since 1960, when John Steinbeck, a fan and acquaintance of Lewis’, stopped by while crossing the country with his poodle for the book, “Travels with Charley.”
- Steinbeck read “Main Street” in high school and, late in Lewis’ life, Steinbeck would meet him. They’d get together for coffee at the Algonquin in New York. Lewis, an alcoholic, died in 1951 in Rome, at age 65, and his cremated remains were shipped back to Sauk Centre and buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
By 1960, Steinbeck noted, Sauk Centre had realized that, whatever embarassment Lewis had caused, he was their claim to fame.
“I don’t know whether or not it’s true, but I’ve heard he died alone. And now he’s good for the town. Brings in some tourists. He’s a good writer now,” Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charley.”
Another 40 years after that, parks, streets, campgrounds and more in Sauk Centre bear his name. His boyhood home is a tourist attraction (though closed in the winter). There’s an annual Sinclair Lewis festival, and it seems like every other business uses ”Main Street” in its name.
The 21 white pages in the Sauk Centre phone book list a Main Street Real Estate, Main Street Theater, Main Street Cafe, Main Street Chiropractic Center, Main Street Coffee Company, Main Street Photo and more.
Ace and I checked into the Gopher Prairie Motel, operated by Wayne and JoAnn Thorson. They’ve had the motel since 1976, and in 1979 renamed it after the fictional town in “Main Street.”
It was part homage to the book — no one perturbed by its original publication is alive anymore, Thorson noted.
Originally, when he and his wife took it over in 1976, it was the Starlight Motel, one of many Starlight — or Star-Lite — motels in the 1970s, none of which were connected to each other in any way. But when a guest told Thorson she almost didn’t stop there because of a bad experience at another “Starlight,” he decided it was time to change names. So he grabbed one out of fiction.
We willingly coughed up the $5 pet fee and, as directed, refrained from relieving ourselves in the grassy front lawn. The next morning I stopped for breakfast at the Ding Dong Cafe on Elm Street (using a two dollars off coupon from the motel).
There, the world’s most attentive waitress filled my coffee cup nearly every time I took a sip. The only other customers were seven men sat at a long table, alternating between talking politics and playing Yahtzee. The quintessential small town, judging from the quick glance we had, remains one.
We cruised by the high school, and saw that, as we’d heard, the football team is called the “Mainstreeters.” Supposedly, opposing teams gave them that nickname, and they later officially adopted it as their own.
Then I popped into the Sinclair Lewis Interpretive Center, located at the end of the I-94 exit ramp. There, in addition to restrooms and the Chamber of Commerce, there’s an exhibit on Lewis in the back room, featuring old photos and handwritten outlines, maps and character lists.
Because of its valuable, close-to-the-interstate location, there has been talk of closing or relocating the Interpretive Center. The City Council has voted to sell the property, but no buyers have come forward.
At Greenwood Cemetery, Lewis’ cremated remains are buried next to the graves of his father and mother. His gravestone says:
1885 — 1951
Author of “Main Street”
Posted by jwoestendiek October 27th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, author, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, fiction, gopher prairie, john steinbeck, legacy, literature, main street, mainstreeters, memory, minnesota, non-ficition, novels, pets, reputation, road trip, sauk centre, sinclair lewis, small town, tourism, travel, travels with ace, travels with charley
Ace remembers the park he used to play in, the places he liked to poop, the street he used to live on, the people who gave him treats. Ace remembers which rowhouse windows cats lived behind, which dogs once snapped at him, where his favorite bar is, who’s a friend, who’s a foe and, most of all, how to get a handout.
Watching him back in the old neighborhood, after a three month absence, I was impressed with just how much he remembered — from the moment we returned to Riverside Park and he ran up to Stan, the biscuit man, recognizing him even though Stan was in a new motorized chair.
When he saw one morning, from across the street, his friend Lori in the park, walking her dogs Chi Chi, Lola and Vinnie Barbarino (a foster), he bolted. Of course, she, too, had been a frequent treat provider — so much so that Ace’s ears would always perk up when he heard Chi Chi barking in the distance.
Nearly all dogs remember where they’ve gotten handouts — that’s pretty much how dogs became dogs in the first place, scavenging the outskirts of villages as wolves, then befriending residents who would throw them some leftovers.
I don’t think a dog’s memory is entirely food-based, or even entirely scent-based. I think dogs tend to recognize a good, kind soul when they meet one, and that somehow they register that information in their memory banks. That said, I think that the largest part of it is food and scent-based, and is instinctual, which is maybe why they remember better than we do, or at least I do.
Pehaps if I ran into an old friend in the park, and was struggling to remember his or her name, I would be better able to do so if I knew a free dinner would be involved. When one’s survival depends on it, one is willing to put more energy into being sociable.
I know that has been the case with me, on this journey. One can’t be a guest in someone’s home and then keep to oneself. One can’t just eat and run. One can’t just sleep and blog. That just wouldn’t be right. As our travels continue later this week, and we start month four, on the road, on a shoestring, after our layover in Baltimore, I would be well-served to keep that in mind — to, once again, be a little more like Ace, who once wandered Baltimore’s streets as a stray.
It’s not feigning love to get a treat (or a meal, or a bed, or an RV); it’s not purely reward-based affection, it’s more a case of loving both the person and the treat. That’s how I like to see it: “I am so happy to see you again, and thrilled just to be petted by you, but if perchance you have a treat in your pocket, that’s good, too.”
Wolves could have gotten their leftovers and ran; instead, they ended up bonding with humans and becoming dogs — not purely because it would mean more treats, but because, I like to think, the two species saw something in each other.
Just as wolves would return to where they’d gotten handouts, Ace made his rounds last week in the old neighborhood. At the park, he’d run up to anyone who had ever given him a treat, poking his nose in their pocket or purse to remind them in case they’d forgotten. Ace paused for a longtime when we passed Bill’s Lighthouse, a restaurant near my former home where a man name Jack — once Ace poked his head in the door and made his presence known — used to always come out and him bring a treat. Across the street, at Leon’s, Ace — as he only rarely does — went into overpower-the-master mode and dragged me inside.
He must have known that Donna, one of the bartenders, was there. Every day, before we left the neighborhood, she would see him coming, take a break and feed him a Slim Jim, unwrapping it, and breaking it into small pieces. I’m not saying eating Slim Jims improve memory, but they sure did in Ace’s case.
Another block down, on my old street, I let go of the leash and let Ace run up to the door of his old house. He stood there waiting to get in, and when that didn’t work he went and stood at the door of the neighbor’s — waiting, waiting and waiting.
He fully remembered which dogs in the park were his friends, and avoided the ones he had always avoided. He remember what games he played with whom — with Cooper, it was biting her back legs; with Darcy, it was biting her front paws and taking her entire head into his mouth.
Walking down the sidewalk, Ace remembered every rowhouse in whose front window he had ever seen a cat, and paused to look inside — again, not because he likes to eat cats, but because he loves them. He can stare at them for hours, he’ll play and cuddle with those who permit it, and just maybe, late at night, when nobody’s looking, he’ll go and eat their food.
We are scavengers at heart, my dog and me.
Posted by jwoestendiek September 16th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, ace does america, animals, baltimore, behavior, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, domestication, evolution, food, handouts, humans, instincts, love, memory, ohmidog!, pets, road trip, scavenging, species, survival, travels with ace, treats, wolves