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Tag: training

Who’s the fool: Why do we humans persist in our efforts to trick the dog?

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Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.

How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?

For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.

Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.

My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.

With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.

Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.

The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.

When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)

The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.

But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?

Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.

Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.

Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.

“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.

Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.

Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?

Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.

More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.

The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.

Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.

Inmates + dogs = a second chance times 2

A new documentary takes an inside look at the kind of “win-win-win” program I think should exist in every state, if not every prison.

“Dogs on the Inside” follows the relationships between abused stray dogs and inmates at a Massachusetts prison who are training and caring for them, getting them prepared to be put up for adoption.

dogsoninsideUnder a program called “Don’t Throw Us Away,” shelter and rescued dogs from the southeastern U.S. are sent to the North Central Correctional Institution at Gardner, where a group of inmate trainers work to regain their trust and, in the process, get some lessons in resilience and empathy.

The program benefits dogs and inmates. The third winner? Society — the one to which those inmates eventually are returning.

It’s similar to programs in other states we’ve written about before, including Philadelphia’s New Leash on Life, and, in North Carolina, a program with the same name, operated by the Forsyth County Humane Society.

insideGiven we’re a country with more two million inmates incarcerated, given six to eight million dogs and cats enter shelters each year, and given most of both spend that time unloved and idle, getting them together — given the benefits that can follow — makes good sense

Dogs on the Inside” follows the relationships between neglected and abused stray dogs and prison inmates in Gardner, Mass., as they “work together for a second chance at a better life: a forever home for the dogs and a positive life outside prison for the inmates.”

“Connected by their troubled pasts, the dogs learn to have faith in people again while the inmates are reminded of their own humanity and capacity for love and empathy,” the filmmakers say.

Directed by Brean Cunningham and Douglas Seirup, the film shows “the timeless connection between man and dog, showing the resiliency of a dogs’ trust and the generosity of the human spirit in the unlikeliest of places … In the seemingly dark recesses of a prison, a spark of light emerges that is a reminder of the wonderful and timeless connection that exists between dog and man.”

(Photos: Courtesy of “Dogs on the Inside”)

Stumped: How I turned my dog into a decorative lawn ornament

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It has been a year now since Ace and I moved into a little house in Bethania, North Carolina, and we’ve made a home improvement or two – even though we just rent.

One issue I hadn’t figured out though was what to do with the big tree stump in the front yard – which many might view as an eyesore.

Two years ago the whole property was an eyesore. The house was heavily damaged by a fire – a fire that, I’m told, killed two or three of the dogs that lived with the person who rented it then.

The little white house on Main Street sat vacant – amid a neighborhood of historic, pre-Revolutionary, mostly meticulously kept homes in Bethania, a community settled by Moravians in 1759.

It was purchased and renovated by the man who’s now my landlord, and since I moved in – and without spending too much of my own money – I’ve tried to make some little improvements here and there to the grounds.

As for the tree stump, I contemplated hollowing out the center and turning it into a decorative planter, but that would be a lot of work.

I thought about putting a plaque across it, the sort that a lot of the truly historic homes in town have. Mine’s just 1940s vintage, though.

I considered carving a Moravian star – sort of the town symbol – on the top of the stump. But that would be a lot of work, too.

For a good long while, I was stumped. Then it came to me. Rather than cover it up, I should use the big ol’ stump as a focal point – as the foundation, or pedestal, if you will,  for some artwork.

And that’s how my dog became a decorative lawn ornament.

You know those big mansions you sometimes see – the ones with big cement lions on either side of the driveway? I’m not sure what message those big cement lions are supposed to send – other than “Yes, I’m rich enough to afford big cement lions.” Or maybe, “Enter at your own risk; this area patrolled by big cement lions.”

Having no big  cement lions myself, and having a pedestal on only one side of my driveway, I decided upon a variation of that theme, and called upon my big ol’ dog.

It took only a day to teach him, with help from treats, to “Get on the stump,” and then sit still, and then stay there when I walk away.

(Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks, and even learn some your old self.)

Now, I can sit up on the front porch and command him to get on the stump, and then watch as people in cars whizzing past my otherwise nondescript house do double takes and point.

(Just as a reminder the speed limit is 35 in front of my house.)

Being a living lawn ornament, and given he has come to expect some treatage for getting on the stump, he’s not entirely motionless. If you watch carefully you can see the flow of drool that often cascades from his mouth while he’s up there, knowing that, in exchange for his toil, there’s a treat in his near future.

He’ll sit there for 10 minutes or more, though I usually don’t make him stay that long.

Of all the yard improvements I’ve made – flower boxes and flower beds and distributing pine needles to cover up the weeds on the front bank that’s too steep for me to mow – I think the Ace lawn ornament is by far my biggest achievement.

He is after all, the finest work of art I own, and I like to think – whether he’s up on his tree stump pedestal or just hanging out in the yard – he makes the bucolic little town of Bethania even more beautiful.

(Photo and video by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

 

If this doesn’t make you happy, nothing will

… And for even more happiness, watch it in full screen.

Dashboard cam captures officer’s fatal shooting of an Idaho family’s dog

As a family in southern Idaho celebrated their son’s 9th birthday inside, a police officer pulled in front of their house, warned two unleashed and barking dogs to get away, then shot one of them, fearing it was going to attack him – all as his dashboard cam recorded the scene.

Warning: The video is disturbing and contains some profanity.

As the police car’s windshield wipers slap away, the officer can be heard telling the dogs to “get back … move!” as he gets out of his car. He can be seen kicking at one dog, then pointing his gun at him — as if a dog would understand that warning.

Then, almost casually it appears, he shoots the dog in the front yard before heading to the family’s front door, while telling dispatchers over the radio, in case they received reports of shots being fired, that it was him: ”I just shot the dog.”

In the four minutes that follow he can be heard, but not seen, informing the dog’s owner what happened — mostly by screaming at him:

“Is this your dog? … I just shot your dog because it tried to bite me. Okay? I come here for a f—ing call and it tried to bite me.”

It happened Saturday, when Filer police officer Tarek Hassani arrived to check on a complaint of dogs running at large. The dashboard video was obtained Monday by the Times-News in southern Idaho.

Rick Clubb said his son’s birthday party was wrapping up about 5:30 p.m. when the 7-year-old black Labrador retriever, named Hooch, was shot outside his home.

Clubb said he suffers Parkinson’s disease, and Hooch, who did not survive, was his trained service animal.

Clubb was he plans to fight the ticket Hassani issued him for an unleashed dog. He added, “He didn’t have to pull out his .45 and shoot my dog. It was right outside my son’s bedroom. What if it had ricocheted through the window?”

Filer Police Chief Tim Reeves said Hassani said that the officer had no choice but to shoot the Lab because it was behaving aggressively.

Clearly, Filer police could use some training on how to deal with dogs, other than using lethal force.

Judging from the one-sided conversation Hassani had with Clubb, they could use some training in being civil as well.

“It’s aggressing me. its’ growling at me,” Hassani can be heard telling Clubb minutes after the shooting. ” … I’m not going to get bit. The last time I got bit I ended up in the ER and I ended up with stitches in my hand … Your dog aggresses me … all of it’s teeth are showing, aggressing me, what am I supposed to think? I yelled at it, I even kicked it a couple of times to get it away from me. It kept charging toward me so I shot it … I love dogs, but I’m not going to be bit again.”

“Is he dead?” Clubb finally asks.

“I think so, yes,” Hassani says.

What part of “no” don’t you understand?

You know how frustrated you get when you have to tell your dog something over and over again?

Come here. Come HERE. Listen to me. Get over here right now. Don’t make me say it again. COME HERE!

In this video, the shoe is sort of on the other paw.

John Ventresco, of New Hampshire, is trying to persuade his 11-month-old husky, Blaze, to get into her crate.

Not only does Blaze physically (but peacefully) resist, refusing to budge, but she says what sounds like “no” — 30 times by my count, at least 10 of those quite clearly:

“Noooooo!”

Posted on YouTube just two weeks ago, the video is approaching 5 million views, meaning a lot of people are getting a chuckle, and learning how not to train a dog, and debating whether Ventresco — as gentle and good-humored as his urging is — is going to get bitten one of these days, and, if so, will he have deserved it.

Eventually one of them will have the other properly trained, I’m just not sure if it will be Ventresco or Blaze. Right now, it appears to be a draw.

The bigger question it raises, to me, anyway, is whether the day will come when dogs really do talk. I predict it will — that they will someday talk, on their own, without the aid of implants, headsets, devices that monitor their brain waves and apps that translate what they’re thinking into words.

Several projects are underway that do just that — because we humans want to know what’s going on in their heads, and we want to know now, and somebody somewhere thinks it might make some money.

We’ll take advantage of technology to bring that about and get it on the market as soon as possible, rather than wait a few hundred or thousand more years when, I’d venture, dogs will have evolved to the point that they’re talking on their own anyway.

It’s only natural for that to happen, with them living so closely to us, observing us around the clock,  and watching too much TV. They will continue to pick up our skills – learning to operate a remote control, warming up some chicken nuggets, uttering words, then entire phrases.

Mark my words. By the year 2525 (and that’s just a wild guess), dogs will be saying “yes” and “no,” and more:

Feed me.

I want to go outside for a while.

But wait, there’s more. Details at 11. Ohmigod, they killed Kenny. Live from New York, it’s Saturday night.

Put me in that damn crate again and, I swear,  I’m going to call my attorney.

They may never have as sophisticated a vocabulary as us, may never be as erudite, snotty, self-promoting and adept at making barbed comments as us. But the day will come that they use words.

The question is not whether dogs will someday learn to talk. It’s whether, when they do, we’ll listen.

We already stink at that — in terms of listening to our fellow humans, and in terms of hearing what our dogs are silently saying. We’re so dependent on words we don’t hone our wordless communication skills, even though that mode is often more honest and meaningful.

My fear is that, through continued domicile-sharing with humans, dogs are going to learn to talk, but also – like Blaze, like Ventresco — not to listen.

It all brings to mind some lyrics from a song that has nothing to do with dogs — Don McLean’s “Vincent.” When you think about it, the misunderstood artist and modern day dog have much in common. We wonder what they’re trying to say, fail to see their brilliance, and don’t appreciate them fully until they’re gone.

Instead, often, we taunt, ridicule and shame them.

How much shorter might Van Gogh’s career have been, how many appendages might he have lopped off,  were he around in the Internet age, reading nasty comments from people about his paintings?

How much quicker might the civil rights movement have progressed if people had shut up and listened to Martin Luther King, Jr., the first time?

Are we getting any better at listening, or quicker to turn a deaf ear?

As the song “Vincent” says:

They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

Let’s give it a listen.

Rollie’s death still echoing in Carson City

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Two months after being put down, a little shih tzu named Rollie is still causing big problems for – and leading to some positive changes in — Carson City, Nevada.

On July 25, Jeraldine Archuleta’s lost dog was picked up and brought into Carson City Animal Services.

The next day, Archuleta tried to retrieve the dog but was told she needed to pay $100 within 72 hours.

Archuleta couldn’t come up with the money, and her requests for more time were denied. Rollie was euthanized by the shelter five days later.

The heartbroken pet owner wrote a letter to the editor about the incident to the  Nevada Appeal, and its publishing prompting widespread public outrage. Last month, Gail Radtke, the manager of Carson City Animal Services, was fired. A health inspector was put in charge of the facility temporarily, and a second health department staff member was assigned to monitor front desk personnel.

All shelter staff are undergong new training, and policies are being reviewed as the city tries to ”refocus the directions and goals” of the department, it said in a press release.

This week, city supervisors voted to pay Archuleta $41,500 to settle a lawsuit she filed over Rollie’s euthanasia, according to the Reno Gazette Journal

Meanwhile another lawsuit is pending against the city, filed by Radtke, who says she was defamed and unfairly ousted from her job because of public outrage over Rollie’s death.

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