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Tag: trend

Run-on sentience: Are we going way overboard in attributing emotions to dogs?

Lately, it seems, hardly a month goes by without either some viral video or paper-writing scientist suggesting that — contrary to what scientists and the media think we think — dogs feel emotions much like our own, or at least a doggy version of them.

If it’s not a video, like the one above  – which is being described in the news media as a dog not just feeling remorse, but atoning for his misdeed —  it’s a new scientific paper proclaiming, yes, dogs do feel … you name it … joy, fear, anger, guilt, pride, compassion, love, shame.

(If you didn’t already think dogs feel joy, you may not be the world’s most perceptive person.)

(Some, apparently, get so overwhelmed by it that they pass out.)

This month’s emotion? Jealousy.

Dr. Christine Harris, a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego — after a study involving dogs, their owners, stuffed animals,  jack-o’-lantern and children’s books – concluded that dogs showed a “primordial” form of jealousy, meaning, I guess, not as evolved, twisted, complex, nasty and, sometimes, fatal as the human form.

According to an article in the New York Times, the dog version of jealousy is “not as complex as the human emotion, but similar in that there is a social triangle and the dog is trying to make sure it, not the rival, receives the attention.”

In the study, as it’s described in a a PLoS One paper co-written by Harris, researchers compared the reactions of dogs when their owners petted and talked to a jack-o’-lantern, read a children’s book aloud, and petted and talked to a stuffed toy dog that barked and whined.

The dogs paid little attention to the jack-o’-lantern or the book. But when dog owners petted and talked to the stuffed dog, their dogs reacted, coming over, pushing their noses into the owner or stuffed dog, sometimes barking, and sniffing the rear end of the stuffed dog.

I’m not sure that’s proof of jealousy — it could just be proof that dogs are smart enough to investigate when humans are trying to dupe them. On top of that, most dogs have experience playing with stuffed toys, as opposed to plastic pumpkins and children’s books. So it’s not too astonishing they would have a more excited reaction to them.

SONY DSCIn that way, the findings of this study aren’t really too surprising, or revealing, but they are indicative, I think, of a trend — in the scientific community, in the news media, and among normal members of society — of seeing dogs more and more as humans.

The “dogs feel jealousy” study, for example — flimsy as its findings sound — was picked up by most major news organizations.

“Study: Jealousy Is So Universal Even Dogs Feel It,” reported the New York Times.

“Study: Dogs Can Feel Jealous, Too,” said a CNN headline.

At least NPR phrased their headline as a question: “Does Your Dog Feel Jealous, Or Is That A Purely Human Flaw?”

These days, the news media doesn’t need a legitimate study to draw sweeping conclusions; a viral video will do.

The video at the top of this post has been shared — if not actually reported on with any depth — on news websites from Alabama to India.

The headlines all presume to know what the beagle is feeling, and some go so far as to explain the goal of his behavior as well: “I’m Sorry! Charlie the guilty dog showers crying baby with gifts to apologize for stealing her toy,” reads the headline in The Daily Mail.

acecouchAmazing the conclusions reporters and headline writers can reach nowadays — and the mind reading they can do — usually without ever stepping away from their computer.

My problem is not with attributing emotions to dogs. I believe they have most of the ones we do, or at least most of the desirable ones. I believe they have other magical gifts and skills we haven’t even begun to figure out. I believe studying what’s going on in their heads is a good thing — at least when it’s done by dog experts. I can even handle a little anthropomorphization; given we’re humans we tend to interpret things in human terms.

What bothers me, for starters, is presenting such findings as new, when dog owners have known most of them all along. Sometimes, it’s as if scientists and the news media are saying, oh wait, we’ve discovered dogs are not unfeeling blobs of fur, after all. Well, duh.

The problem I have is not so much ascribing emotions to dogs as it is the vanity of assuming emotions are something only humans feel.

SONY DSCFeel free, scientists, to study jealousy in dogs. And feel free to study it in humans. And feel free to compare and contrast the two.

And feel free as well, video posters, to share your dog’s interesting and seemingly human-like behavior, and to offer any theories you might have.

But let’s not leap to wild conclusions, based on how things look through our human eyes. Let’s not forget that dogs have had emotions all along. Let’s not assume they are “catching up” with us in terms of their emotions and behaviors. Maybe they’ve been ahead of us all along.

And let’s not be so surprised — given the centuries man has been choreographing their evolution, and the half century or so they’ve been mostly living inside with us — that they’re picking up some of our habits, good and bad.

While we’re at it, let’s let dogs remain, at least in part, dogs.

Let’s keep in mind, during all this, what we can learn from them. Are dogs lagging behind us, in terms of developing a sense of jealousy, or are they exhibiting a purer form of what we homo sapiens have taken to ridiculous extremes?

And let’s at least keep our minds open to the possibility that, when it comes to what dog and man can learn from each other,  we may not always be the teachers, or the role models, in that equation.

(Photos: Ace in Monterey, California, at home on the couch, and with a panhandler in Portland, Maine; by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

Iran cleric discourages dogs as pets

Dogs are “unclean” and should not be kept as pets, a senior Iranian cleric has decreed.

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued the fatwa, or religious ruling, to send a message that the trend toward “western-style” pet ownership must stop, Reuters reported.

Dogs are considered “unclean” under Islam and have traditionally not been kept as pets — although there are signs that is changing.

“Friendship with dogs is a blind imitation of the West,” the cleric was quoted as saying in Javan daily. “There are lots of people in the West who love their dogs more than their wives and children.”

Guard dogs and sheep dogs are considered acceptable under Islamic law but Iranians who carry dogs in their cars or take them to public parks can be stopped by police and fined.

The Koran does not explicitly prohibit contact with dogs, Shirazi said, but Islamic tradition showed it to be so. “We have lots of narrations in Islam that say dogs are unclean.”

Tibetan mastiffs all the rage in China

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China’s hottest dog won’t fit in your lap, drools copiously and was once banned by the Communist party.

With pet ownership booming in China, the must-have dog for the ultra-rich is the Tibetan mastiff — a breed the Communist Party once deemed bourgeois, the Associated Press reports.

How much times have changed was evident at the 6th annual China Tibetan Mastiff Expo this past weekend, where hundreds of the massive dogs were on hand, parading down catwalks like fashion models and strutting their high-priced stuff.

Some carried the names of wealthy Americans like “Warren Buffett,” while others were called “God,” ”Prince,” and “King”  – the latter so prized that one breeding session with him costs $40,000.

“I used to invest in German shepherds, but Tibetan mastiffs are what’s hot right now,” said King’s owner, Sui Huizheng, a businessman who has about 20 of the dogs.

Breeders in China say adult Tibetan mastiffs sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and can even go for more than $100,000.

One of them sold for more than half a million dollars last year to a woman in northern China who then sent 30 black Mercedes-Benz and other luxury cars to fetch the dog from the airport, according to a report in the state-run China Daily.

Tibetan mastiffs, most recognizable by their mane-like hair, can grow to 180 pounds.

After splurging on real estate in Australia, American thoroughbreds and European designer fashions, China’s rich see the Tibetan mastiffs as a new status symbol, the Associated Press reported, and among the must-haves for rich men in northeast China, the official Xinhua News Agency recently said, are a young beautiful wife, a Lamborghini and a Tibetan mastiff, “the bigger and more ferocious the better.”

(Photo: A Tibetan mastiff in South Korea — one who happens to be a clone. By John Woestendiek /ohmidog!)

The most common (and wacky) pet names

Petfinder.com has announced its annual ranking of the 10 most popular names for adoptable pets in 2009.

For the third year in a row, “Buddy” and “Max” came in at first and second for dogs, with “Lucy” and “Smokey” topping the list of cat names.

While many of the most common names have remained consistent year-to-year, there was one new name turning up on the list for both cats and dogs – “Bella.”

The top 10 dog names were: 1. Buddy; 2. Max; 3. Daisy; 4. Lucy; 5. Charlie; 6.  Bella; 7. Molly; 8. Jack; 9. Sadie; 10. Lady.

The top 10 cat names: 1. Lucy; 2. Smokey; 3. Midnight; 4. Bella; 5. Molly; 6. Daisy; 7. Oreo; 8. Shadow; 9. Charlie; 10. Angel.

Petfinder.com is also sharing its favorite quirky and unusual names of the year, selected from more than 170 submissions received via Facebook and Twitter.  Here are their favorites:

Shyanne Thailand Moo Goo Guy Pan, Mr. Tomfoolery Scardeycat Eliot, Rusty Buckets, KeelHaul, Too Fancy for You, Angry Donut, Maple Syrup, Hoseclamp, Prince Xavier Binxley, Hoku-ho’okele-wa’a.

“While funny names are always a big hit, we are also seeing a trend of pet parents giving their furry friends middle names, such as ‘Sunshine Ray,’ ‘Roxanna Bobanna Little’ and ‘Madison Wisconsin,’ suggesting that these animals are more like family members than family pets,” said Betsy Saul, the co-founder of Petfinder.com.

Petfinder.com is an online, searchable database of animals that need permanent homes, compiled from 12,900 animal shelters and adoption organizations across the USA, Canada and Mexico.

The revolution has not been televised

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The Christian Science Monitor recently took a look — a far deeper one than newspapers usually do — at the rising status of dogs in America, and concluded that there’s more behind the trend than a handful of wacky, dog-coddling pet owners.

It’s actually a huge story — one that’s been roundly missed because it has been a gradual shift, a slow evolution, and because the news media tend to be unable to look at dogs as serious subject matter. Instead it gives any pet story the cutesy pie treatment, complete with overused puns and chuckling anchorpeople.

The Christian Science Monitor story, by Stephanie Hanes, a former Baltimore Sun reporter, avoids that trap, and makes an effort to look at the reasons behind the dog’s rise from backyard denizen to full-fledged family member. It opens at Wagtime, the D.C. doggie day care center where around 60 canines show up each day, and whose owner is so busy she’s thinking about starting a waiting list for the full-time, $900-a-month slots.

“For many in the dog world, Schreiber explains, pet day care is no more of a luxury than preschool. Buying high-end dog food feels no more frivolous than serving organic fruits and vegetables; Prozac for the pup no more outrageous than Ritalin for the teenager.”

Wagtime, and all the other lengths Americans are going to for their pets, represent “a widespread cultural trend, a phenomenon that could easily be called America’s pet revolution,” the article says.

The revolution is bolstered by the country’s exploding pet population, which has increased threefold since the 1960s, according to some estimates, and pet industry sales that have grown to $46 billion this year from $17 billion in 1994, according to the American Pet Products Association.

But, the story adds, “… it is the dog that has nuzzled his way to the forefront of our pet revolution. Love him or hate him, Fido is changing American society – in ways municipal and medical, emotional and economic, social and scientific – as never before.

Read more »

Portuguese water dogs are not for everybody

With its selection as First Dog triggering the most publicity the Portuguese water dog has had since its introduction into the U.S. in the late 1960s, the Portuguese Water Dog Club has issued a press release urging the public to be cautious before jumping on any trend that might develop.

“While the PWD is a wonderful family pet, we want to use the increased interest in the breed as an opportunity to educate people about it,” said Stu Freeman, President of the Portuguese Water Dog Club of America (PWDCA). “We encourage those who may consider adding a Portuguese Water Dog to their lives to do the proper research to ensure that this breed fits their lifestyle.”

“PWDs are classified as working dogs. That means they enjoy being given jobs to do where they can display their intelligence, strength and stamina. Like all dogs, PWDs need positive training and socialization.”

“The best thing about the breed is its versatility,” said Jean Hassebroek, corresponding secretary of the PWDCA. “PWDs have been full-time sheep herders, R.E.A.D. therapy dogs and we even had a FEMA hero. But, they can also be champion couch potatoes, content to just hang out.”

Because PWDs form a strong bond with their families, they don’t do well when left alone for long periods or when boarded in kennels. PWDs enjoy participating in activities with their family such as youth soccer, baseball and basketball games, picnics, hiking, and especially any outing that involves water.

They do well in homes with children, the club warned, but it’s possible a PWD could mistake a small child for a littermate and play too hard. In general, small children should never be left unsupervised with a dog of any breed.

For more information on Portuguese Water Dogs, visit the PWDCA website.

(Photo: Drawing courtesy of Portuguese Water Dog Club)

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