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Tag: stress

Dogs like running, therapy dogs make people feel good, and other “oh duh” studies

In my daily perusal of what in the world is going on with dogs, I am constantly amazed at how many studies are done on things we already know — and how quick news organizations are to pounce on those studies and present them as something new.

Take last week’s Washington Post, which tells us in a headline, “Dogs can get a runner’s high, too.”

Pfffft. Dogs invented the runner’s high. We didn’t need a headline to know, least of all one based on a 2012 study.

The article goes on to tell us that running is healthy for dogs and humans, that running “gives dogs an activity and burns energy,” and, of course, that dogs and humans should check with their vets and doctors before beginning an exercise program.

I don’t know how much of this stating of the painfully obvious that goes on today is because we have run out of new things to say, study and report on; or how much is the result of so-called news websites providing dumbed-down “content,” instead of news.

But it seems like everybody — from scientist to journalist — is in repeat mode. Or maybe I’m just old.

SONY DSCAlso making news last week was the “recent finding” that dogs respond best to high-pitched voices.

This, at least, stems from a new study in which scientists at the University of York have shown that using high-pitched baby-talk voices can help us bond with their dogs.

Of course, the study found basically the same thing as others in recent years, including this one from more than a year ago.

Now any scientist will tell you that’s there is value in these studies that tell us what we already know — whether we already know them from common sense, or because of similar earlier studies that found the same thing. It is always good to confirm things

News organizations, on the other hand, will take the findings of any study, hype them up and present them as the most important breaking news of the day — even if they did the same thing last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

They know, even with Google, our collective memory is short, so they trot out the same old pieces regularly — should you let your dog sleep with you, should you let your dog lick you, why do dogs eat grass? — and they either find experts or studies to legitimize them.

Just last week, with the news that Barbra Streisand has two cloned dogs, the topic of dog cloning became instantly hot, and many a news outlet presented the story in a you’re-not-going-to-believe-this, dogs-are-being-CLONED!!! kind of way.

Having written a book on the very topic seven years ago, I was amused how the news was suddenly a revelation again.

I’m sure scientists somewhere are studying how short our memories and attention spans are becoming, and that I’ll be reading about it soon.

Until then, there will be plenty of other scientific “revelations” to keep me busy, like this one — unearthed by hardworking researchers at the University of British Columbia:

Therapy dogs make people feel good.

acetWell, that’s kind of why they have been popping up everywhere in the past 20 years — to do just that.

And what led to those initial revelations, years ago? Studies.

This new one, published in the journal Stress and Health, shows that exposure to therapy dogs helps boost students’ well-being. Researchers interviewed 246 students before and after cuddle and petting sessions with therapy dogs.

Students felt significantly less stressed and more energized after interacting with the dogs, though the happy feelings weren’t necessarily lasting, InsideHigherEd.com reported.

In other words, the feel-good vibe a dog gives you — like a news report, like a scientific study, like many a book — will soon be forgotten.

(Photos by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

The dogs of Amazon: Their numbers keep growing

Just as the number of employees is skyrocketing at Amazon’s Seattle campus, so too are the number of dogs.

Not too long ago, the company boasted that 4,000 dogs were coming to work regularly with employees.

In this recent post on the Amazon blog, it was revealed there are now 6,000 dogs “working” at Amazon’s Seattle campus, which has about 40,000 employees.

Of course not that many show up on campus every day — only about 500 do — but that’s the number of dogs Amazon’s dogs at work program has registered.

For those who do come along, it’s a pretty sweet set up. They have a “doggie deck” with a fake fire hydrant where dogs can run around and burn off energy. They also have “Dogs Only” water fountains, a 1,000-square-foot dog park with rocks and other structures to climb on, poop bag stations, designated dog relief areas, receptionists armed with dog treats, a doggie treat truck called The Seattle Barkery, and regularly scheduled dog events.

Amazon even has it’s own equivalent of a human resources chief for dogs — Lara Hirschfield, the company’s “Woof Pack” manager.

“The dog-friendly policy also contributes to the company’s culture of collaboration.” Hirschfield said in the blog post. “Dogs in the workplace is an unexpected mechanism for connection. I see Amazonians meeting each other in our lobbies or elevators every day because of their dogs.”

There are no breed or size restrictions.

The policy reflects the company’s belief that pets at work can reduce stress, increase productivity, improve morale, expedite social interaction, improve job satisfaction and provide companionship. A few moments relaxing with a dog, can improve concentration on the job afterwards.

The dog friendly policy dates back to a pup named Rufus, a Welsh corgi who belonged to Amazon’s former editor-in-chief and principal engineer. Rufus came to work every day, and employees would even use Rufus’ paw to click a computer mouse when launching early pages on Amazon. Rufus died in 2009, and a building on the Amazon campus is named after him.

You can see more of the dogs of Amazon here.

A lap that’s always there for your lap dog

lap dogA Reddit user has come up with a pretty brilliant idea for dogs who get a little anxious when their human isn’t home.

The man, who posts under the name Unoiseau, constructed an artificial lap for his lap dog.

Normally, we’d say he should have gotten a patent before he shared it with the world, but it looks like a project that anyone with an extra pair of jeans could easily accomplish at home.

The inventor didn’t specify what he stuffed the jeans with, but it seems some dirty clothes that smell like you would do the trick.

Your dog might not be convinced it’s really you, but because it looks and smells like you — or at least part of you — he might find it a comforting and reassuring place to curl up.

Unoiseau stuffed the jeans, and crossed the legs to create a pocket for his dog to lay in. The dog isn’t “totally convinced with the makeshift lap I made for him,” the dog owner said, and he looks a little confused when he’s sitting in the lap and looking at his owner across the room at the same time.

But Unoiseau is hoping the artificial lap will keep his dog from experiencing separation anxiety when he’s not there.

The Reddit post has attracted more than 15,000 upvotes and made it to front page of the site.

(Photo: Posted to Reddit by Unoiseau)

ZenCrate: Company offers what they say is a soothing shelter for dogs during storms

Does your dog need a ZenCrate?

Do you?

A Florida company has begun manufacturing of a $500 “smart” crate that doubles as a piece of furniture and offers your dog solace during storms.

The “anti-anxiety dog crate” features noise-muting walls, subtle lighting, and soothing music that is activated by a sensor whenever the dog enters.

zencrateThe crate has a camera and WiFi connectivity so owners can get live updates. Other than that, it’s a remarkably simple concept that combines elements of the Thundershirt, Temple Grandin’s cow-hugging contraption, and the sensory deprivation tank.

The crate doesn’t put the squeeze on dogs, but it is close enough quarters that they feel protected, which is almost as good as a hug.

If they could make them a little bigger, I might want one for myself. Throw in a bottle of wine and it would be a great place for a date, or to crawl into every time North Korea threatens to send a missile our way, or Donald Trump … opens his mouth.

All it would need for human applications is a little more womb … I mean room.

The ZenCrate is the size of an end table and is designed like an animal’s den. It has no door, so dogs can enter and leave as they please.

chargerzencrateThe inspiration for the crate was Charger, a yellow lab whose hopes of becoming a seeing eye dog were derailed due to his fear of thunder.

The dog’s trainer, Jonathan Azevedo, ended up adopting him, and Charger’s fear of storms led Azevedo to bring some engineering-type friends together to make the ZenCrate a reality.

The company is cranking out 30 crates a day to catch up to the 700 pre-orders made before manufacturing even started.

“It really took us by storm,” Azevedo told Fox13 in Tampa. “That’s why we are working around the clock, the lights are on almost 18 hours a day, seven days a week.”

On the down side, the company will not allow the crates to be returned because of their “personal nature.”

Even more annoying, the crate’s “brain” will also send you an email every time your dog enters the crate — a feature we hope is easily deactivated.

(Photos: From ZenCrate.com)

Much ado about nothing: Audible partners with Millan to launch audio books for dogs

Gotta call bullshit on this one.

Well, maybe “bullshit” is too strong a term. Maybe I should just say, “Give me a break” or “Get real,” while rolling my eyes and wondering what consumers are going to fall for next.

Audible and Cesar Millan have teamed up, offering and promoting a book-of-the-month type program, in which, for $14.95 a month, you can choose audio books to play for your dog while you’re not home.

Of course Audible For Dogs is the same thing as Audible for humans, thereby requiring no investment from Audible, or parent company Amazon, other than what they’re spending on promoting the campaign and the undisclosed amount they’re paying Millan, who reportedly is helping choose the books and making promotional appearances.

If you’re not the sort to buy “Pride and Prejudice” for yourself, you might be willing to buy it for your dog, Audible figures, and play it for him to keep him calm and occupied when you leave the house.

The campaign promotes books the company already offers in audio, featuring them on the Audible For Dogs web page — sometimes classics, sometimes bestsellers, sometimes dog-themed, including several by (you guessed it) Cesar Millan.

It’s all based on a 2015 study performed at Hartpury College in the U.K. that showed that listening to audio books reduced stress in shelter dogs even more than music does.

dogs-with-headphonesFollow-up research was conducted with 100 dog participants through Millan’s Dog Psychology Center, and it found (big surprise) exactly what the company wanted it to find.

Specifically, Millan’s center found that 76% of dog owners who played audio books for their dogs reported an increase in calm, relaxed behavior in their pets over a four-week period.

Audible is already the largest seller of narrated books.

But it has figured out it can sell even more by cashing in on our tendency to pamper our dogs and exploiting the guilt we feel when we leave them alone

As one of the owners involved in Millan’s “follow-up study” explained, she used to feel guilty every time she left her dog, Buddy, at home alone.

In a video interview with Millan, she spoke of the effects the audio book program had on her dog and, more importantly it seems, her.

“I was really surprised at the lack of guilt I found when I was able to do that, it was like leaving him with a friend,” the woman, named Leslie, says. “I could go out with a smile on my face and feel really good about what I was doing for him.”

News flash, Leslie: You could have just left a TV or radio on for him and achieved pretty much the same effect, saving $14.95 a month.

($14.95 is the regular price for an Audible subscription, which comes with one new book a month.)

I’ll admit I leave the TV on for my dog, rescued from a Korean dog farm, in hopes it will keep him calm and help him get used to non-threatening humans.

But would I buy him his own audio book? Absolutely not — unless maybe it was one narrated by the soothing voice of Morgan Freeman, or the calm, sleep-inducing, you-can’t-have-too-much-Xanax voice of Bob Ross, the painter.

(Disclaimer 1: We are not implying Bob Ross uses Xanax. You can have too much Xanax. And so can your dog.)

(Disclaimer 2: I apply this same therapy to myself, seeking out a reassuring voice on TV to fall asleep to. Sixty-three year old’s can’t suck their thumbs. This is why I often go to bed with Bob Newhart.)

Millan suggests choosing a book narrated by a person of the same gender as their dog’s primary master and notes that “it’s the consistency of a tone that allows the dog to stay in that (relaxed) frame of mind.”

He also suggested the books be played at average volume on a listening device such as the Alexa-driven Echo, which Audible’s parent Amazon just so happens to sell.

audiodogsMillan says audio books can help dogs better cope with the separation anxiety many have when left alone, which can result in bad behavior, including barking, destruction and peeing.

He also told USA Today, “I’m always looking for ways where people don’t feel guilty, worried, (or) stressed when they leave their dogs alone.”

Again, none of this is actually groundbreaking.

Most of us likely had already figured out that an audio book — like the television or radio — can keep our dog “company.”

Yet Audible/Amazon still felt the need to appoint a celebrity, create a new niche market, conduct a campaign, issue press releases and have a “launch.”

“While most dog owners will indeed go to great lengths to ensure the happiness of their four-legged family members, you can’t help but approach Audible For Dogs with a healthy dose of skepticism,” wrote USA Today. “So is Audible barking up the wrong tree?”

We’d say yes, unless you’re talking about the money tree.

To its credit, through the end of the year, Audible will donate a dime per download to Long Island’s North Shore Animal League America, the world’s largest no-kill rescue and adoption organization, up to a total donation of $250,000.

Millan also somewhat philanthropically recorded an original audio book for the service called “Cesar Millan’s Guide to Bringing Home a Shelter Dog,” which you can download for free.

Launch titles include Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” performed by Rosamund Pike; Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” performed by Noah; W. Bruce Cameron’s “A Dog’s Purpose,” performed by William Dufris; Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” performed by Christopher Evan Welch; and Maria Goodavage’s “Soldier Dogs: The Untold Story of America’s Canine Heroes,” performed by Nicole Vilencia.

We laugh at Audible’s effort. And yet, at the same time, we encourage them, if they are going to persist in this, to work some books narrated by Morgan Freeman, Bob Ross and Bob Newhart into the mix.

We’d also suggest some Hans Christian Anderson — specifically, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” because it so perfectly reflects what they are up to: making people think something is there when it’s not.

The only thing there is a desire to sell more books. With fewer humans reading them, maybe Audible felt the need to branch out to other species.

I’d warn you that the day could come — given all the books dogs might be consuming and a decline in our own reading — that dogs could become smarter than us.

But there’s a pretty good chance that day is already here.

Nervous dog owners = nervous dogs

nervousdogs

Leave it to scientists to confirm what we already know, and to do so using words we don’t begin to understand.

Case in point: Nervous dogs often have nervous owners. This is not to say a nervous dog can’t have a cool as a cucumber (coolus cucumberus) owner. Nor is it to say some highly twitchy (humanus nervosa) folks can’t have calm dogs.

Only that, as anyone who visits a dog park knows, nervous owners tend to have nervous dog at the end of the leash.

The new study buttresses the concept that our dogs tend to take on our personalities, and that tension — while it may not actually “flow down the leash” — is picked up on by our dogs, and often reflected in their own behavior.

It looks at the chemistry behind that.

The study at the University of Vienna — published in the journal PLOS One “investigated dyadic psychobiological factors influencing intra-individual cortisol variability in response to different challenging situations by testing 132 owners and their dogs in a laboratory setting.”

You might understand that, or, you (like me) might not know spit — or that cortisol levels can be measured through it.

In the study, the researchers measured the levels of cortisol — and the variability of those levels — in the saliva of dogs and owners put through stressful situations.

In addition, they assessed the personality of both dog and human participants — ranging from highly sensitive and neurotic to secure and self confident.

“We calculated the individual coefficient of variance of cortisol (iCV = sd/mean*100) over the different test situations as a parameter representing individual variability of cortisol concentration,” the study’s authors wrote. “We hypothesized that high cortisol variability indicates efficient and adaptive coping and a balanced individual and dyadic social performance.”

For a more reader-friendly account of the study, check out Stanley Coren’s Psychology Today blog:

“You can think of people who are high in neuroticism as being sensitive and nervous while people who score low in neuroticism are secure and confident. In this study, the dog owners who scored high in neuroticism had dogs with low variability in their cortisol. This suggests that dogs with highly neurotic owners are less able to deal with pressure and stress.”

“Conversely, dog owners who were more laid back and agreeable had calmer dogs. Those folks have greater variability in their cortisol response, suggesting that they are better able to cope with situations involving tension and strain.”

The study says the male dogs of female owners often have less variability in their cortisol responses and are often generally less sociable and less relaxed than male dogs belonging to male owners.

(That’s the study saying that females generally score higher on measures of anxiety and neuroticism — not me. I would be way too nervous to say that.)

“Owners behave differently because they are pessimistic or neurotic, and perhaps dogs read the emotions of their owners and think the world is more dangerous — so they are more reactive to it,” the study says. “It looks like people who are pessimistic have dogs which are worse at coping with stress than others.”

Of course, where a dog was before ending up with its owner can play a pretty big role, too.

I, for example, am the cool as a cucumber owner of a nervous dog. He came from a farm in Korea where he was being raised to become meat. That would tend to instill some nervousness in anyone.

Three months after being adopted by me, he still gets pretty nervous — around large groups, when hearing loud noises. I don’t know about his cortisol levels, but at these times he whimpers, sheds profusely — is there such a thing as projectile shedding? — and pees in inappropriate places, such as on my leg.

He is making great strides in every way, but Jinjja still needs to chill, and get less worked up by new situations.

Of all the factors that shape our dogs — genetics, environment, owners — time (and its cousin, patience) may be the most important ones of all.

So my game plan is to provide him with plenty of both, expose him to new settings and situations, and show him that not all the world is a dangerous place — all while being a mellow role model.

In other words, impossible as it might be, I’m going to have to become EVEN cooler.

AHA concludes no animals were harmed in the making of “A Dog’s Purpose”

dogspurp

As expected, the American Humane Association announced that an investigation into the treatment of a dog on the set of “A Dog’s Purpose” confirmed that — like their seal of approval says — no animals were harmed during the making of the movie.

The AHA said the investigation was conducted by a “respected animal cruelty expert,” who concluded that an edited video given to the website TMZ “mischaracterized” the events on the set.

“The decisions by the individual or individuals who captured and deliberately edited the footage, and then waited longer than 15 months to release the manipulated video only days before the movie’s premiere, raise serious questions about their motives and ethics,” the AHA said in a statement.

hercThe AHA (almost as an aside) did admit that Hercules, the German shepherd performing the stunt in question, showed signs of stress that should have been recognized earlier, and efforts to get the dog into the water should have been “gentler.”

Apparently it has no plans to further pursue that piece of the controversy — the one that initially led one actor and the executive producer to say the dog did not appear to have been handled correctly.

The video that aired on TMZ was actually two videos, shot on different days and spliced together in editing — the result of which was misleading, the AHA says, because it makes it appear the dog, after resisting going in the water and becoming stressed, was made to go back into the water.

“The first video scene was stopped after the dog showed signs of stress. The dog was not forced to swim in the water at any time,” the organization said.

While acknowledging attempts to get the dog in the water might have gone on too long, and been a little heavy handed, the investigation didn’t deem that “harmful” to the dog.

The dog resisted going into the pool after the location where he was to enter it had changed.

As for the second part of the video — showing the dog going under the churning water before someone on the set yells “cut it” — the AHA said:

“Handlers immediately assisted the dog out of the water, at which point he was placed in a warming tent and received an examination that found no signs of stress. Eyewitnesses report that the dog wanted to go back in the water. Still, out of an abundance of caution, American Humane stopped filming of any more scenes with the dog.”

The findings of the investigation come as no surprise, given AHA CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert said last week, in a piece she wrote for Variety, that the video was “misleading” and “edited” and reflected no wrongdoing on anyone’s part.

It seemed an unusual statement for the head of the watchdog group to be making, especially before the investigation was completed. While the video’s release was clearly timed to hurt the movie — or at least bring those who provided it to TMZ a maximum payoff — Ganzert’s piece was clearly timed to help the movie.

Ganzert’s piece focused more on the leaking of the video — 15 months after it was shot and in the week before the movie’s release — than on what it showed. She focused primarily on PETA, which called for a boycott of the film based on the video.

In its statement on the results of the investigation, AHA again spends at least as much time bashing PETA as it does on the handler’s questionable efforts to get the dog into the pool, as shown in the video, or whether the monitors they assigned to the film stopped those efforts soon enough.

“It is disappointing that the public was misled by a manufactured controversy promoted by a radical organization like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals with a mission to remove animals from films and other parts of our lives,” Dr. Kwane Stewart, the veterinarian who heads American Humane’s ‘No Animals Were Harmed’ program is quoted as saying in the statement.

“We are the first to address and fight cruelty and abuse, and no such things happened on the set of ‘A Dog Purpose,'” he added.

PETA didn’t leak the video, but it did call for a boycott of the movie after it aired on TMZ, which has not said how much they paid for it, or who provided it.

In a report on the investigation’s findings, TMZ said that the AHA statement “virtually ignores criticism from the movie’s Exec Producer that they were asleep at the wheel.”

Producer Gavin Polone, while bad-mouthing PETA as well, said shortly after the video’s release that its first scene clearly showed an over-stressed dog, and that the AHA monitor on set should have stopped the stunt immediately.

Actor Josh Gad, who supplies the voice of the dogs featured in the movie, also said the video was disturbing and the scene should have been stopped as soon as the dog showed resistance to getting in the water.

(Our earlier reports on “A Dog’s Purpose” can be found here.)