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Tag: psychology

“A comfort none of us can give him”

lloydJanice Lloyd, the voice of USA Today’s Paw Print Post, wrote a spectacularly moving piece yesterday about her brother’s golden retriever and the dog’s newfound bond with her aging father.

The dog, Lloyd writes, “has adopted my father since last Thursday, giving him a comfort he can find no place else right now.” At 93, she says, her father is showing signs of dementia, and since his wife fell and broke her hip on a recent vacation cruise, leading to a stay in a nursing home, he’s been staying with his son, Lloyd’s brother, in Delaware.

“My dad gets teary at night when he has to leave his bride in the home. He doesn’t understand why he can’t sleep with her. We explain that he can’t stay there. He thinks she seems OK and can go home. The conversation recurs nightly, often more than once.”

Sophie, the nine-year-old golden retriever, “seemed to sense immediately that Dad needed a care taker. She rose to the occasion. She curls up with him on the sofa and puts her head in his lap. My dad rubs her head and smiles at her. My brother says ‘she doesn’t even do that with me …’

“When it’s time for dad to go to bed, she goes downstairs with him and jumps up on the kingsize bed and stays the night,” Lloyd wrote. Her brother says when her father gets up early in the morning for a trip to the bathroom, he tells Sophie to wait for him in bed. When he comes back, he’ll say “Good girl, Sophie. I’m glad you stayed. Let’s go back to sleep. ”

A veteran of World War II, Lloyd’s father visits his wife in the nursing home every day, often falling asleep in a chair as he holds her hand.

Back at his son’s home, Sophie is the comforter.

“When I drove him to my brother’s from the nursing home Sunday night, Sophie ran up to the side of the car where Dad was sitting. She smiled at him. My brother says Goldens smile. Now I believe it. She greeted my Dad when he got out of the car. She never left his side while we watched a little TV before going to bed.”

Sophie, she says, ”offers a comfort none of us can give him.”

(Photo by Janice Lloyd / USA Today)

Dogs aren’t cure-all for loneliness, study says

DSC09243Someday I am going to do a study that shows 62 percent of all studies do little more than confirm what people with a modicum of common sense already know.

Until then, I will dutifully report on them — dog-related ones, anyway.

A new Canadian study, for instance, concludes that dog owners who live alone and have limited human social support are actually just as lonely as their petless peers.

The Carleton University study’s authors, both of whom own dogs, say that pets aren’t people and can’t compensate for a lack of human relationships, the Vancouver Sun reported.

“Pet ownership isn’t the panacea we think it is,” said co-author Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at the Ottawa-based university.  “… The research indicates that pets don’t fill as much of a hole as we might believe they do. If you don’t have human social support already on your side, you’re still going to fall short.”

However, the study acknowledges, dog owners who do have a social life, with human friends, are indeed less lonely than non-dog owners.

Interestingly, that finding didn’t hold true for people with cats.

The part of the study that does seem worthy of study is that dealing with how, among people who live alone and have ”insufficient” social ties, high attachment to a dog or cat can serve to only increase the pet-owner’s likelihood of loneliness and depression.

People with limited community connections, the study shows, were more likely to humanize their dog — and to nurture their relationship with their dog at the expense of their personal lives.  Typically, those people were more depressed, visited the doctor more often and took more medications.

“We all know that pets can be there for us. But if that’s all you have, you run into trouble,” Pychyl said. The study’s authors also acknowledged that, often, dogs can serve as a catalyst for more social interaction.

In other words, dogs aren’t the sole cure for loneliness, but they sure can help — which most of us pretty much already knew.

The Carleton study was published in the journal Anthrozoos.

Inside of a Dog

Your dog licks your face because he loves you, right?

Ah, if it were only that simple.

There are those that will assure you that yes, those licks mean affection — your “fur babies” are showering you with, in addition to a little slobber, love and gratitude.

There are also those more scientific types who will dissect the act so emotionlessly as to leave you never wanting another lick again — or perhaps even another dog, or at least not another dog book.

Thank Dog, then, for Alexandra Horowitz, who in her new book “Inside of a Dog,” manages to  probe doggie behavior  in a manner both scientific and passionate, without stomping on the sanctity of the human-dog bond like it’s a cigarette in need of extinguishing.

The book’s title comes from the Groucho Marx quote:  “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Inside-of-a-Dog-coverWhat makes “Inside of a Dog,” released in September, one of the best dog books of the year is that it’s not too dark to read. Horowitz, a psychology professor, former staff member at The New Yorker, and long-time dog-lover is able — based in equal parts on her scientific research and her own personal experiences as a dog owner — to correct the many misconceptions about dogs without snuffing out the special light we see inside them.

As for those face licks, they have an evolutionary basis — it originally was a way for pups to encourage their moms and dads to regurgitate what they had eaten while hunting, thus sharing their prechewed bounty.

That doesn’t mean your dog is trying to make you puke everytime it licks your face, only that what’s now a ritualized greeting began that way.

The book gets to the root of other canine behaviors, as well, including:

· How dogs tell — and actually smell — time.

· Why it’s been futile leaving your television on for your dog all these years (and why this may be different now).

· How your dog really feels about that raincoat you make him wear.

· Why some dogs joyfully retrieve tossed balls and sticks while others just stare at you like you’re a fool for throwing them.

While not a training manual, it’s a book every dog trainer should read, and perhaps every dog owner who wants to truly understand not just what their pet means to them, but what their pet means.

The book goes into how dogs see, smell and hear the world, what their barks mean, what their tail wags mean. And it avoids the common oversimplifications associated with seeing dogs solely in terms of human behavior, or seeing them solely as modern-day wolves.

Horowitz, and the book, show some appreciation and understanding of the evolutions that have taken place, and continue to — the evolution of dogs, the evolution of humans, and the evolution of the bond between the two.

(Learn more about the latest dog books at ohmidog’s book page, Good Dog Reads.)

Bark 1: Babies know when a bark is angry

byubabybark

New research shows babies have a handle on the meaning of different dog barks – despite little or no previous exposure to dogs.

Infants just 6 months old can match the sounds of an angry snarl and a friendly bark to photos of dogs displaying threatening and welcoming body language, according to researchers at Brigham Young University.

“Emotion is one of the first things babies pick up on in their social world,” said BYU psychology professor Ross Flom, lead author of the study. Flom and two BYU students report their findings in the journal Developmental Psychology.

The new findings come on the heels of a study from the same  lab showing that infants can detect mood swings in Beethoven’s music.

“We chose dogs because they are highly communicative creatures both in their posture and the nature of their bark,” Flom said.

In the experiment, the babies first saw two different pictures of the same dog, one in an aggressive posture and the other in a friendly stance. Then the researchers played – in random order – sound clips of a friendly and an aggressive dog bark.

Harvard is looking for a few smart dogs

To better understand the human mind, scientists ar Harvard University are looking to dogs.

Through a newly established Canine Cognition Lab, researchers hope to learn whether domestication has led to dogs that think and act more like their masters, or whether that’s all in our heads.

“Here’s this species we live with. Everyone has their views about how smart they are. No doubt we are overinterpreting – and in some cases underinterpreting,” said Marc Hauser, a Harvard professor who has long studied cognition in cottontop tamarin monkeys and who heads the new lab. “To what extent is an animal that’s really been bred to be with humans capable of some of the same psychological mechanisms?”

Hauser is recruiting both purebreds and mutts and running them through simple tests aimed at determining, for example, whether they understand such abstract concepts as “same,” according to a recent Boston Globe article.

The new Harvard lab represents a turnaround in the scientific community, which has long looked primarily toward chimps for clues to human behavior.

“Psychologists have been ignoring animals that were sleeping quietly at their feet while they were doing work on rats and pigeons,” said Clive Wynne, a psychology professor at the University of Florida who also studies pets. “Darwin wrote about his dog … We couldn’t bring ourselves to take them seriously.”

In one of the tests at Harvard, researchers tried to determine whether dogs can use pictures as signs to figure out which bucket contains food. They presented Celia, a German shepherd, with a choice between a bucket marked with a picture of steak and one marked with a pair of pliers. Celia picked the steak.

Katie Levesque, Celia’s owner, said she tries to give her dog challenging tasks at home but was surprised that her dog picked pictures of food three times, also choosing a hot dog over a hammer, and three biscuits over one.

“I was kind of laughing,” said Levesque, who sat in a corner of the room with Celia at her feet during the experiment. Owners can also watch their dogs from behind a one-way mirror. Only about 20 dogs have been tested, so it’s too early to draw conclusions about dogs’ comprehension of pictures.

The Canine Cognition Lab is recruiting dogs. Check its website for more information.

Study: Dogs closer to humans than chimps

Chimps may share more of our genes, but dogs have lived with us for so long – in our houses, on our beds (and, of course, sneaking out for late night poker games) – they may evolved into a better model for understanding human social behavior, according to a new study.

In terms of cooperation, attachment to people, their ability to imitate and their understanding of human communication (verbally and non-verbally) dogs have become not just man’s best friend, but, socially, his closest counterpart in the animal kingdom, according to a paper accepted for publication in the journal Advances in the Study of Behavior.

They might even be thinking more like us, too. the Discovery Channel’s Jennifer Viegas reports.

Researchers believe adapting to the same living conditions may have resulted in the similarities. “That shared environment has led to the emergence of functionally shared behavioral features in dogs and humans and, in some cases, functionally analogous underlying cognitive skills” lead author Jozsef Topal explained to Discovery News.

(Digression: While I couldn’t agree more with that — to the extent I understand it — I don’t agree with what Topal says it should lead to:  dogs serving as the “new chimpanzees” in psychological studies. In fact, I’m not much on the chimps being used, either, or poor college students, at least when such experimentation gets into using drugs, scalpels and electrical implements. )

The study by Topal and his team at the Institute for Psychology at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences found that dogs kept as pets can be regarded in many respects as “infants in canine clothing,” and that many dog-owner relationships mirror human parental bonds with children.

In one of many recent studies conducted by the team, Topal and his colleagues taught both a 16-month-old human child and mature dogs to repeat multiple demonstrated actions on verbal command — “Do it!,” shouted in Hungarian.

The actions included turning around in circles, vocalizing, jumping up, jumping over a horizontal rod, putting an object into a container, carrying an object to the owner or parent, according to the study.

While I don’t find that all that amazing, it is fascinating to think about how dogs, the longer they live with humans and the closer our relationships become, might continue to evolve in the household. I’m guessing there are already some homes that tune into TV shows they think the dog will like. How much longer until the dog controls the remote?

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