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Tag: signals

Getting to (sniff, sniff) know you

Humans need a play stance.

I came to this conclusion yesterday — adding yet another item to the list of things dogs do better than us – as Ace and I arrived for the first time at the only dog park in Winston-Salem proper (and Winston-Salem is pretty proper).

Being new and mostly friendless in the town in which we’ve decided to temporarily base ourselves, we left our quarters in the basement of a mansion and, for a little socialization, headed a couple miles down the road to Washington Park, where dogs can run and play in a fenced-in area.

Of course, Ace hardly romped at all. It being a new scene for him, his first priority was to give all things a good sniffing  – other dogs included. But, on this day, he was more the sniffee than the sniffer.

The second I closed the gate behind us, five other dogs — realizing there was a new face — bounded over for a whiff, following so close behind his rear end that, when he stopped abruptly … well you know the rest.

Butts aside, it’s an intriguing thing to watch, this seeming welcome, and one I noticed often back at Ace’s old park in Baltimore. When a first-timer arrives, all the other dogs come over to give the new guy a sniff. To view that as an act of kindness is, of course, anthropomorphic. But still it’s kind of sweet.

This weekend, Ace — though he was used to being the dean of his old park — was the new kid on the block.

He courteously sniffed those who sniffed him, but was more interested in checking out the space, the water bowl and the humans than in playing with the other dogs. We’d been there a full hour before he even chased another dog — all of whom were playing energetically with each other.

Dee Dee, a beagle, and Bailey, a whippet mix, (both pictured atop this post) had great play stances and used them often: Butts pointed skyward, front legs stretched all the way out, heads lowered. It, in the canine world, is a universal signal, a way of saying “You don’t need to be afraid of me, this is all in good fun, it’s playtime, let’s go.”

I can think of no counterpart when it comes to human body language — no gesture or stance we have that is as easily noticeable and understood. The handshake? No, that’s just standard procedure, basic manners. Perhaps the one that came closest was the peace sign.

Rather than having a universal play stance, we resort to words, which often only make things more confusing. We try to make sense of subtle body language and interpret what we think are queues, neither of which we’re that good at, either.

All that could be resolved if we only had a human play stance — a position we could place our bodies in that signifies we’re open to getting to know a fellow human.

We’ve got the war stance down. We all know the fighting stance, or at least enough to put our dukes up. But there’s no simple gesture or motion we humans can make — at least not without possibility of criminal charges or restraining orders – that sends a signal that peace, harmony and fun are ahead.

We can’t, without repercussions, do the butt-sniffing thing. We can’t, of course, go around peeing on each other’s pee. 

But why can’t we come up with a play stance — one that says I’m open to getting to know you better, and perhaps even frolicking a bit?

Because that would be too easy for a species as complex as ours? Too honest? Too direct?

It was easier when we were children. A simple ”Wanna play?” sufficed. Somehow, on the way to becoming adults, we started opting instead for far less direct, far stupider comments, like “Do you come here often?” and “What’s your sign?”

Adopting a play stance for the human race, at this point – with all that we have evolved, with how sophisticated and suspicious and manipulative we as a society have become — would be difficult. It might be too late.

Two thumbs up and a grin? Standing with arms outstretched, knees bent, while waving people toward you? Most anything I can come up to signal you are accepting new people into your life would have the exact opposite effect, and send them running.

In the final analysis, being human, maybe we’re stuck with words, and small talk, and being less straightforward, sincere and, quite likely, pure of heart and motive than dogs.

Ace will make friends his way, and I will make friends mine (which is most often with his help). But between him and my conversational skills, I’ll be fine. And by the way, do you come here often?

Arizona town ponders debarking the dog park

dog silencerOn its website, the city of Chandler, Arizona — perhaps best known for its annual ostrich festival – refers to its four dog parks as “bark parks.”

Cute, huh?

What’s slightly less cute is that the city was, in light of complaints, on the verge of installing high frequency devices at one of them — Shawnee Bark Park  – that would send out painful and irritating signals if any dog barked while in its confines.

That’s right: “Welcome to the Bark Park, no barking allowed.”

Dog parks are where dogs socialize. Barking is how dogs communicate. To zap any dog that barks runs counter to the very purpose of dog parks — places where dogs can be dogs.

To try to end barking at a dog park is just dopey. It makes about as much sense as the city of Chandler saying, “Be sure to also visit our lovely municipal pools (no swimming is permitted) and golf courses (golfing is strictly prohibited).

Nevertheless, Chandler was poised to become the first city in the nation to discourage dog barking in a public dog park with the installation of high-frequency-sound devices that only canines can hear, the Arizona Republic reports.

But now, just as complaints about barking led the city to purchase four Dog Silencer Pros, complaints about the devices being inhumane, especially when applied to large groups of dogs, are keeping them from being used.

The city is reviewing its plan after complaints from the Arizona Humane Society, dog owners and others who say the devices, for one thing, would result in all dogs being punished for the act of one. The devices are triggered by barking within 75 feet, and send a high frequency signal out 300 feet.

That would seem to mean every time  a barking dog receives an irritating  jolt to his ears for barking, 10 or 15 other non-barking ones could recieve one as well — and have no idea why.

Kimberly Searles, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Humane Society, noted the Dog Silencer “does have the potential to negatively affect dogs who are not barking, in that it can make them not want to go to the dog park if doing so is going to hurt their ears.”

The city bought four of the devices from the Medford, Ore.-based Good Life LLC for $360 after a local committee was unable to come up with a solution to noise complaints from neighbors of the park.

A Good Life spokesman told the Republic that his company has had no feedback from users about negative effects on non-barking dogs. Chandler was the first client to buy them for use in a dog park, the spokesman said.

(Photo: The Dog Silencer Pro from Good Life)

Lack of arms doesn’t deter dog trainer

You might think former Marylander Donna Rock would be at a disadvantage when it comes to dog obedience competitions — given as the dogs are required to follow non-verbal signals, and given Donna has no arms.

Yet Donna and her 8-year-old Doberman Pinscher, Annie, have won numerous obedience and agility titles, including the prestigious Obedience Trial Championship (OTCH) and the crown jewel in agility, the Master Agility Championship (MACH).

Donna, who now lives in Lacombe, Louisiana, was born without arms. She originally purchased Annie to be her companion and to train for obedience competition, but the two developed such a bond that Annie became her service dog, assisting her with everyday activities.

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit, Donna lost her home, belongings, and even her job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. When she was temporarily reassigned to work in Washington, Annie went with her helping her in the subways, and on escalators.

Annie was a 2008 winner of an American Kennel Club Award for Canine Excellence (ACE), winning the exemplary companion dog category. The awards commemorate loyal, hard-working dogs that have made significant contributions to their community.

Annie is only the second Doberman pinscher in the nation to be named an American Kennel Club champion in both agility and obedience training.

Donna, over nine years of training the dog, created her own method of non-verbal signals, using her feet and legs, shoulder and head to communicate. While she can accomplish most things with her feet, from turning on faucets to feeding the dog, Annie helps her with the few things can’t do for herself.

Donna is shown working with Annie in the video above, from about five years ago. To see a newer video, check out this report from WWL-TV in Lousiana.

Annie is now retired from competition, and Donna is training a year and half old border collie named Roller, running him through the agility course, teaching him the same foot and leg commands, and showing him what his job will be.

“He’s got some awful big paws to fill,” Donna said.

Improving cat-dog relations

Finally, the pressing matter of peace between cats and dogs is getting some much needed study.

New research at Tel Aviv University, called the first of its kind, suggests a cat and dog are more likely to get along well if the cat is introduced to the family first, and if both cat and dog are still young.

Ideally,  the cat should be less than six months old, and the dog less than a year, the research concludes.

Two-thirds of the homes surveyed reported a positive relationship between their cat and dog. About a fourth said indifference best described the relationship, and 10 percent experienced fighting and aggression.

The study found that cats and dogs are getting better at communicating with each other.

“We found that cats and dogs are learning how to talk each other’s language. It was a surprise that cats can learn how to talk ‘dog’ and vice versa,” observed Joseph Terkel of TAU of the university’s department of zoology.

After interviewing almost 200 pet owners who own both a cat and a dog, then videotaping and analyzing these animals’ behavior, TAU researchers concluded that cats and dogs can cohabit happily if certain conditions are met.

Cats and dogs traditionally may not have been able to read each other’s body cues. Cats tend to lash their tails about when mad, while dogs growl and arch their backs. A cat purrs when happy, while a dog wags its tail. A cat’s averted head signals aggression, while in a dog the same head position signals submission.

What’s especially interesting, in Terkel’s view, is that both cats and dogs have appeared to grow beyond their instincts. They can learn to read each other’s body signals. Once familiar with each others’ presence and body language, cats and dogs can play together, greet each other nose-to-nose, and enjoy sleeping together on the couch. They can easily share the same water bowl and in some cases groom each other.

“”If cats and dogs can learn to get along,” concluded Terkel, “surely people have a good chance.”