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Tag: praise

It’s what you say AND how you say it

enik kubinyi

Traditional wisdom holds that it’s not so much what you say to your dog as how you say it that counts — that tone, in other words, is everything.

But scientists in Hungary say dogs may understand more words than we think — and that it takes a combination of positive words and a positive tone for their brains to register a pleasurable reaction.

“Both what we say and how we say it matters to dogs,” said Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.

MRI readings conducted in the study showed the right hemisphere of dogs’ brains react to intonation, while the left hemisphere reacts to the meaning of words — as is the case with humans.

Their paper was published in this week’s issue of the journal Science.

The researchers — using words, positive tones and plenty of treats, we’d imagine — trained dogs to enter a magnetic resonance imaging machine and lie still while the machine recorded their brain activity.

The methods, similar to those being used at Emory University, are allowing scientists to better understand what goes on in the canine brain.

enik kubinyi2A trainer spoke common words of praise used by dog owners, including the Hungarian words for “good boy,” “super” and “well done,” as well as neutral words like “however” and “nevertheless.”

All the words were spoken using both positive tones and neutral tones, according to the New York Times.

Only words of praise spoken in a positive tone provoked significant reactions, making the reward centers in a dog’s brain light up.

The researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest recruited 13 family dogs for the study, and trained them to sit totally still for seven minutes in an fMRI scanner. The dogs were not restrained, and “could leave the scanner at any time,” the authors said.

Using the brain activity images, the researchers saw that the dogs processed the familiar words regardless of intonation, and they did so using the left hemisphere, just like humans. Tone, on the other hand, was analyzed in the auditory regions of the right hemisphere.

Using neutral words in a positive tone, or positive words in a neutral tone, produced little reaction — or at least not one that shows up in MRI machines.

“It shows that for dogs a nice praise can very well work as a reward, but it works best if both words and intonation match,” Andics said. “So dogs not only tell apart what we say and how we say it, but they can also combine the two, for a correct interpretation of what those words really meant.”

(Photos by Enik Kubinya, via New York Times)

Which motivates more — food or praise?

kadypraise

A study at Emory University suggests that dogs aren’t strictly the food-obsessed beasts they’ve traditionally been seen as — and that many, maybe even most, prefer attention and praise over a chewy treat.

While only 13 dogs participated in the study, there were only two of them who — judging from their neural reactions — showed a distinct preference for food over praise.

The study, published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore what kind of rewards canines prefer.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory and lead author of the research.

“Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology. It 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.

Their previous research using the technique identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center and showed that region responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

Phys.org reports that, in the new study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.

The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

Berns says the findings run counter to the old view that dogs “just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it … Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

In another part of the study, dogs were put into a Y-shaped maze in which one path led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner.

The dogs were repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths.

While most dogs alternated between the food and their owner, dogs who showed a greater response to praise in the first part of experiment chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Berns said the study “shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

ozziefood

(Photos: At top, Kady, a Lab-retriever mix in the study who preferred praise from her owner to food; at bottom, Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix who chose food over his owner’s praise / Emory University)

Shut up and pet me: Study says dogs prefer petting over anything you might have to say

SONY DSCLess talk, more petting — that’s what your dog wants, according to a new study.

Based on tests with dozens of dogs — some from homes, some from shelters — researchers found that, when it comes to interacting with humans, dogs seems to prefer physical contact to anything you might have to say, praise included.

One possible exception — verbal pronouncements that dinner, or treats, are about to be served.

Two scientists from the University of Florida, who in a previous study determined dogs prefer eating food to being petted, have published the results of another research project, showing dogs prefer physical contact over verbal praise.

Neither conclusion seems that surprising to me, but one has to bear in mind that scientists prefer having their work published to having their bellies rubbed, dinner at a five-star restaurant or even verbal praise: “Good scientist. Yes! Yes! You’re a very good scientist.”

“I spend half my day talking to my dog,” study co-author Dr. Clive Wynne, who is now professor and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, told The Huffington Post. “She always looks like it’s valuable to her. It’s quite a shock to discover that what we say to dogs doesn’t seem to be rewarding to them after all.”

For one part of the study researchers observed 42 dogs as they interacted one at a time with two people in a room. One person petted the dog, while the other praised the dog verbally. The researchers measured how much time the dog chose to spend interacting with each person.

Next,  72 dogs were, one at a time, placed in a room with just one person and their behavior was observed as the person spent time petting or praising the dog, or not interacting at all.

Dogs showed the most interest in people who were petting them, while they seemed to show no more interest in spoken praise than in having no interaction with the human at all, according to the study, published in the journal Behavioural Processes.

“I was surprised that when only one alternative was available, dogs still did not engage with the human for vocal praise,” said study co-author Dr. Erica Feuerbacher, now assistant professor of anthrozoology at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. She conducted the research while earning her doctorate degree at the University of Florida.

The scientists say dogs never seem to tire of getting petted, and they note that previous studies have shown a dog being stroked, like the human who is stroking him, reaps some health benefits, including a lowering of heart rate and blood pressure.

We won’t go so far as to suggest dogs realize that petting is a more honest form of interaction; that words can be less sincere, or even deceptive; or that words can even be annoying — like when they go on too long, are ridiculously repetitious, or they’re uttered in that high-pitched baby talk tone some of us use when talking to our pets.

But we won’t rule it out, either.

For his part, researcher Wynne says that, even if his own dog doesn’t fully appreciate all he verbally passes on to her, he’ll probably keep talking to her anyway.  “I just recognize better that I’m doing it more for my benefit than for hers,” he said.

(Photo: Ace seeking some physical contact in Kanab, Utah / by John Woestendiek) 

Maniacs, monkeys and the Motel 6

 

In a way, this might not be the best time to sing the praises of Motel 6 — it being in the news now for leaving the light on for one Jared Lee Loughner.

Authorities say the Tucson man rented a room from America’s most affordable motel chain to plot the final steps of the horrific shooting spree that left six dead and 14 wounded, including U.S. Rep Gabrielle Giffords.

In another way, though, there’s probably no better time to stand up for a dependable, if imperfect, friend than when that friend is being tarnished with the broad brush of guilt by association.

A recent Washington Post story started out this way: “Room 411, a king-bed single in a dark and grimy Motel 6 near the railroad tracks on the western edge of Tucson, served as the staging ground for Jared Loughner’s series of pre-dawn errands before last Saturday’s shooting spree outside a suburban supermarket here.”

Pretty good writing, and — assuming it was really “dark and grimy” — nothing wrong with it, unless you’re Motel 6, in which case you find yourself, through no fault of your own, in the thick of a dark and grimy story you’d rather have no part of.

So I’m here — even though it has always been Tom Bodett’s job — to speak up for Motel 6, a topic on which I consider myself an authority. What makes me such an expert?

In the last eight months, my dog and I have stayed in Motel 6’s in Biloxi, Mississippi; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana;  Flagstaff, Holbrook, Yuma and Tucson, Arizona; Tucumcari and Albuquerque, New Mexico;  Oklahoma City and Midwest City, Oklahoma; Lewisville, Dallas, Hunstville and Houston, Texas; Greensboro, Statesville and Raleigh, North Carolina; Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.; New Cumberland, Pennsylvania; Niantic, Connecticut; Portland and Bangor, Maine; Syracuse, New York; Brattleboro, Vermont; Fargo, North Dakota; Billings and Butte, Montana; Spokane and Kirkland, Washington; Coos Bay, Oregon; Ukiah, Monterey, San Bernadino and Bakersfield, California; and Russellville, Arkansas.

Seventy nights in all.

Crime struck only twice, and only in the most minor of ways, both times in Texas when ohmidog! door magnets were removed from my Jeep — one in Lewisville, one in Huntsville. Then again, with a 130-pound dog at your side, folks tend to not mess with you.

During our 22,000 miles of travels, I poked a lot of fun at the chain, with its bare bones ambience, and near total lack of amentities. They’re not always in the greatest of neighborhoods. Their pools aren’t always pristine, or even open, or even there anymore. There are no “continental” breakfasts, or in-room coffee makers at the Motel 6. You can walk to the lobby and serve yourself some, but it’s in tiny Sytrofoam cups that are empty by the time you get back to your room.

The quality varies widely from motel to motel, and the only consistency, chain-wide, is in the spartan furnishings and the tacky polyester bedspread. You get a small bar of Motel 6 soap, a couple of plastic disposable cups and, if you’re lucky, an ice bucket. I’ve gotten rooms without chairs, without hot water and, several times, with remote controls from which the batteries had been removed.

If there is a step that can be taken to conserve costs, Motel 6 has taken it.

And yet, as basic and humdrum as staying at the Motel 6 became for me (and maybe Ace, too), while there were nights I thought checking into another of its lookalike rooms would send me over the brink, I love Motel 6 — for two reasons.

It is consistently dog friendly, with no fees for pets and no restrictions on size or breeds. Most of the motel staff we encountered — with the exception of one employee who shrieked and ran away when encountering Ace — seem to like dogs. There were so many times that desk clerks passed him treats over the counter that Ace now jumps up and puts his front paws on any counter he encounters.

And it is consistently cheap — almost always under $50, often under $40, sometimes under $30.

On our trip, Motel 6 served as a huge comfort to me. Not the rooms, necessarily, but knowing it was there, in most towns, to take me in when others would turn me away because of my dog, or charge pet fees that nearly doubled the cost of a room, or just plain charge too much for our budget.

More important, it’s there for the growing masses who — foreclosed upon, laid off, or otherwise caught up in some bad luck — can get out of the cold for less than the cost of a tank of gasoline.

In a way, by not catering to the more upscale crowd, Motel 6 provides a public service — especially during the down economy. We met more than a few people who, with nowhere else to go, were calling their motel room home for now.

That Motel 6’s are more likely to be the scene of crime or other malfeasance is to be expected — in the same way poor neighborhoods have more problems than rich ones. People with criminal records and drug histories, people who are economically desperate or just plain desperate, end up there more often than, say, the Hilton.

Motel 6 deserves no blame or ridicule in connection with the shooting spree in Tucson. (Let’s save that for Sportsman’s Warehouse, where Loughner bought his Glock, and the Arizona lawmakers who have worked to make gunslinging so easy achievable in that state.)

I did a Google news search on Motel 6 earlier this week, and found most of the stories that popped up were, as I expected, about crimes: a man found bound and gagged inside a Motel 6 in Utah, an attempted robbery at a Motel 6 in Kansas, a man and woman arrested for using their Motel 6 room to print counterfeit money with an inkjet printer, a couple arrested with  2,000 illegally obtained pain and anti-anxiety pills at a Motel 6 in Alabama, a woman arrested on a prostitution charge after allegedly propositioning a plainclothes officer to join her in her Motel 6 room in Iowa.

One of the few non-crime stories that mentioned Motel 6 was about a colony of wild vervet monkeys, some of whom have chosen to live behind a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, Florida.

Nobody’s sure how the monkeys ended up in South Florida. Some say they are descendants of those used in a Tarzan episode once filmed there; some believe they are descendants of monkeys bred for research that helped lead to a cure for polio.

In any case, at least two of the monkeys live behind the Dania Beach Motel 6, where motel visitors look forward to watching them come out each afternoon. I’m guessing the monkeys find the Motel 6 guests equally entertaining.

What’s great about Motel 6 is its total lack of snobbiness. Desk clerks don’t look down their noses at you, or crinkle it up when you have a dog along. If you have credit card or cash, you’re in, which is as it should be.

It’s not a motel’s job — at least one at the bargain basement level — to monitor or screen its customers.

For business that are selling guns, as opposed to a night on a mattress, there is more of an obligation to screen customers, or at least there should be, in my view.

Motels 6’s don’t kill people. Guns do. Any monkey knows that.

(Vervet photo by Joe Rimkus Jr. / Miami Herald)

Nils Lofgren’s riff on Michael Vick

Perturbed by the praise Michael Vick has been receiving for his performance on the field, guitarist Nils Lofgren has written an open letter to sports reporters, arguing Vick doesn’t deserve all the cheerleading, an MVP award, or even a place in the NFL.

“I am so disheartened and disappointed by your collective, lopsided praise of Michael Vick due to his recent spectacular on-field performance,” Logfren, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, begins.

“I support his right to earn a living. But, while I can’t fault him for taking great advantage of the opportunities afforded him by playing in the NFL, I feel he does not deserve that lofty a place in our society and culture. However repentant he may be, he committed acts whose vileness will resonate down the years. When you do what Vick did, a second chance should never include the rare gift of an NFL career and the potential bounty it offers.

“Shame on the NFL for not banning him permanently.”

Apparently the letter was prompted by a comment made by Jemele Hill on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters,” that if Josh Hamilton could win one of baseball’s MVP awards after recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, why couldn’t Vick win the award in the NFL?

“Well, for one thing, Hamilton has neither tortured dozens of dogs nor murdered defenseless animals,” Lofgren wrote. ” … In Vick’s case, I believe his second chance should certainly allow him to be free and to love and raise his family. I think he should make speeches about the error of his ways and help animal groups. I understand that he is doing some of these things and I applaud that. He’s also admitted to being haunted by his dogfighting days. That growth is welcome and necessary, but comes too late for me and those dogs.

Vick, formerly quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, was convicted on dogfighting charges and served nearly two years in prison. After his release he was signed last year by the Philadelphia Eagles.

“How can we justify this saga to our children?” Lofgren asked in the letter. ” …Well kids, although doing those things is wrong, two years after you admit to doing them the NFL will let you have a job that may lead to an MVP award and many millions of dollars in a new contract.

Lofgren added, “…(T)he cynic in me thinks maybe if Vick were a third-string lineman, the NFL would have set an example and banned him for life. Maybe many of the other significant charges Vick was facing wouldn’t have gone away if he didn’t have the prestige of being an NFL quarterback who can afford high-priced lawyers to wrangle pleas and deals.

“For the NFL to be that forgiving of evil, vicious behavior is a terribly inappropriate act of forgiveness and has brought a sick, sad, dirty feeling to many of us fans who have loved the game for so long.

“And to you reporters, whom I enjoy and respect, the sentiments in this letter are suspiciously absent in your hundreds of hours of Vick coverage … Just because the NFL lost its spine and common sense on this matter doesn’t mean you reporters have to get in line and go along.”

AKC offers praise, advice for Obamas

 

The American Kennel Club has — no surprise here — congratulated the Obama family on the anticipated arrival of their purebred 6-month-old Portuguese water dog, Bo.

And they’ve filled us in on his pedigree as well: the dog’s official name is Amigo’s New Hope, and he was bred by Art and Martha Stern, long-time breeders who reside near Dallas.

Bo is indeed a littermate of Senator Ted Kennedy’s pup Cappy, the AKC confirms.

The organization believes the dog will not only leave “a good mark” on the Obamas (but preferably no stains) and will “shine a spotlight on dogs and the importance of responsible dog ownership around the world.”

“With one of the American Kennel Club’s primary missions being the encouragement of responsible dog ownership, we are delighted with the wonderful example you have already set in researching the right breed for your family and obtaining a dog through a reputable breeder who is a member of the AKC parent club, The Portugese Water Dog Club of America,” said AKC President and CEO Dennis Sprung in a letter to the Obama family today.

Of the breed, the AKC says PWDs possess a lot of energy, and a predictable temperament. They are loyal and loving companions, but require daily vigorous exercise. Historically, the breed spent most of its day swimming, assisting its fisherman owner by retrieving broken nets, diving for fish and delivering messages between ships.

Although currently only the 64th most popular breed in the United States according to 2008 AKC registration statistics, the Portuguese Water Dog’s popularity is likely to rise due to its appointment as First Pup.