Archive for March, 2010
I suppose you’re wondering why I just posted two different pictures of Audie with a shoe in his mouth. Audie’s shoe fetish is old news here and I’ve got more interesting things to feature in a photo essay.
The thing is – only one of these is a photo of Audie. The other is a photo his littermate brother Cap, who belongs to my friend Faye (she’s an excellent dog trainer by the way). The boys look a lot alike. So much so that when we had both of them at a training seminar when they were about four months old – Faye, Zip and I spent the entire day doing double-takes.
Having Cap and Audie in the same place really messed with Zip’s head. When Cap and Faye walked into the room, Zip’s eyes bulged out and she stared at Cap with the kind of focused, intent energy that only working kelpies and psychopaths can muster. Then, ever so slowly, she turned her head to where Audie was sitting – then stared at him the same way. The utter wrongness of there being two Audies in the universe fried several circuits in Zip’s brain that morning.
By lunch she’d recovered her composure enough to play hall monitor. Note how she keeps her back to the wrongness of the evil Audie But Not Audie Thing on her left.
The boys actually looked more alike in person than they do in this photo. Cap has more bone, Audie is a little taller. The white socks on their feet are mirror images as are their blazes. Audie has a white spot on the back of his neck, Cap doesn’t.
And they have very different personalities – Audie is as outgoing as a well-bred golden retriever while Cap has a more typically reserved English shepherd temperament. And, as Faye likes to point out – Cap is the cute one.
Comparing notes, Faye and I discovered that both the boys like to grab a shoe to carry around when they greet the people they love. The resemblance between our puppelgangers is more than fur deep.
Audie has learned how to match items on command.
The ability to categorize, to sort things out based on the kinds of features they share, is fundamental to perception, learning, and judgment. The ability to sort things into various mental categories allows animals to store perceptual and conceptual information in an efficient and adaptive way. Without the ability to categorize, every object and every event would be perceived as unique and it would be impossible for animals to generalize and learn.
Scientists are also drawn to dogs because of their unique history growing up in the same environment as people, and they hope to learn whether domestication has led to dogs that think and act more like their masters – or whether we just think they have human traits.
“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?”
Can dogs understand such abstract concepts as “same,” for example? Or, can dogs be patient? To answer such canine conundrums, Hauser is recruiting both purebreds and mutts and running them through simple tests. In return, they earn tasty treats.
Based on a few decades of experience I’ll vouch for the fact that dogs (like kids) can most certainly learn to be patient. I’m also convinced now that dogs – at least some of them - are capable of understanding the concept of sameness. In fact, for a while now I’ve been working on teaching young Audie to demonstrate that he can do it.
The video below is a brief demonstration of his skills in this area.
*&%$ sound didn’t come though. Oh well.
The only hep I give him is the cue ‘other one’ and praise and petting when he comes back with the correct item. The first item is a roll of purple vetwrap; the second one is a plastic kennel cup; the third is a work glove; the fourth a plastic bottle full of water; and the fifth one – when he starts to get bored and needs a bit of help – is a metal spoon. Bad trainer. I should have used that in the second or third rep because it’s not his favorite thing to pick up. The big correction he gets for making a mistake that last time is me laughing and calling him a goon, then telling him to try again. He gets it right on the second try.
As you can see, Audie is consistently able to correctly identify which item in a small group is the ‘same’ as the one I’m holding.
I couldn’t find detailed information on the studies being done at Harvard but based on the blurb posted at Boston.com it appears that researchers are taking green dogs and testing them to see if they naturally and intuitively grasp the idea of sameness as it applies to how abstract symbols and photos can represent real world objects. If this is really how they’re going about it then I think they need a sharp smack on the bottom with a newspaper.
Given the fact that human beings spend years of time teaching basic concepts like ‘same’ and ‘different’ to our own children, it makes no sense to expect a naïve dog to understand abstract symbolism at the first go.
I used shoes to introduce Audie to the idea of sameness. The OddMan has a thing for shoes. He loves to carry them around the house and has a rather inconvenient habit of leaving them in odd places. Shoes come in pairs so I started by showing him a pair of matching shoes, handing one to him to hold (i.e. fetch), then taking it from him, pointing to the matching shoe and telling him ‘fetch, get the other one’. The main tools I used were a trained retrieve, directional cues and overlaying.
After showing Audie this just a few times he seemed to grasp the idea that when I held up a shoe and said “other one” I wanted him to pick up the matching one and hand it to me.
From there we added distance to the game. Instead of asking him to hand me a shoe right at my feet, I put the matching one a few feet away. Bit by bit I increased distance – then we added difficulty. Starting with them up close, I put two different shoes next to each other and asked him to get ‘the other one.’ I had to coach him a bit at first, but he picked up this idea pretty quickly too. Once he did, we put distance and difficulty together – and I had a dog who would go find me the matching shoe I wanted on command. Gloves and slippers were an easy step from there.
It took a bit longer to teach him that the concept also applied items like tools, water bottles, metal spoons etc., but as you can see in the video, he certainly appears to understand the idea now. Audie still isn’t very good at matching items when he’s distracted, and he seems to get bored with the exercise fairly quickly (typically after 3 to 5 repetitions).
Instead of expecting a young, naïve dog to intuitively grasp the idea of ‘sameness’ I used a step by step process to teach him what it meant. And I think that I got pretty amazing results.
No more pumpkin on store shelves (we still have plenty in the freezer)
A forest of ginormous dog sculptures – WANT, WANT, WANT!
This report from WRCB Chattanooga brings us the amazing story of a dog that attacked a police car.While the officer was trolling for speeders, Winston decided to have a go at his cruiser. As the dog attacked the tires and bumper of the car, the police officer hit him with pepper spray and even tased him. Nonplussed, Winston simply pulled the electrodes out and went on with his ‘work’.
Here’s another view of the attack:
A few things stood out to me. First, notice how the officer moves his cruiser slowly back and forth as Winston tugs on his bumper. About 0:45 seconds into the video, another officer tells the driver “Keep your car still man.” I’m not sure if he was worried other guy is going to run over the dogs over or if he has realized that the back and forth action of the other car is just egging the dog on, but I like this guy’s instincts a lot better than the other fellow’s.
Dog training 101 – when a dog is pulling or tugging on something you don’t want him to – DO NOT PULL BACK. When you pull back you’re playing the dog’s game and engaging his oppositional reflexes. Engaging in a series of interactions where you pull, then stop and then pull again is an even worse idea. In effect, the police officer was playing a rousing game of tug of war with a very driven dog and letting him win.
Also, shocking a dog who has little or not prior training and is fully engaged in attacking or tugging on something without giving the dog direction on what to do at the same time often gives on the result apparently seen here: it just makes the dog go at it with more gusto.
This was probably the most fun Winston (who has a thing for power equipment anyway) has had in months.
Notice that at about 1:15 a siren temporarily stops the dog. If the tug toy car was put into park and both cars let their sirens blare, they may have been able to stop the game.
At about 2:00 dog pulls the shell of the bumper completely off and struts away with his prize. The officer almost escapes at this point, but because he does it cautiously, the dog gets a chance to go after his tires.
The first time I saw a clip of this episode I assumed the dogs were running loose. I was wrong, the dogs escaped from the welding shop where they’re kept. I’m glad that was the case. And while the officer involved didn’t act like an experienced dog trainer, I am completely and utterly thrilled that he and his fellow officers reacted with restraint so that Winston and his canine buddies weren’t shot. I’m also relieved to hear that animal control has no plans to euthanize him.
The Calgary Herald reports that Winston has been placed on probation and ordered to complete obedience training. I strongly recommend that his owners also invest in a more secure fencing option.
His owners said they had no clue why he went wild that day, chewing through two fences and attacking four cars.
He’d never shown any aggression before that day, owner Nancy Emerling told the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
Here’s your clue: A wonderful, strong, smart, high-energy dog with a history of going after lawn equipment and hasn’t received enough mental and physical exercise – or proper training – was left unsupervised in an inadequately fenced area, got bored, found a way to escape and discovered a ‘buddy’ who played a wonderful, rousing game of tug of war with him. Fortunately, his buddy didn’t run Winston over or shoot him.
I hope Winston has the same kind of luck with his owner’s new training program…
I LOL’d when I found this video because I sang my own version of this song to the pack this morning. Be happy I posted the video. My voice is not this good and you do not want to see me in skimpy lingerie…
This sweet and deceptively simple little film was created by Omni Productions back in 2004. The film was produced for The Joy of 8, a celebration of the restraints of shooting on Super 8mm film format. It was reportedly produced on a five pound budget.
Each filmmaker was limited to shooting a single fifty foot / 3 minute cartridge, edited sequentially in camera that could be screened alongside a separate audio soundtrack as a coherent film. The filmmakers didn’t see the finished product until the night it was screened. Incredible.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced it will increase restrictions on topically flea and tick products because they recently documented “a significant increase” in the number of cats and dogs suffering adverse reactions to these products. Dermal, gastrointestinal and neurological effects were the reactions most commonly reported.
Over the last five years, the deaths of at least 1,600 pets related to topical flea and tick treatments were reported to the EPA. Because this was a dramatic increase in such events, the EPA recently conducted an intensive review of these products.
The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) and Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) collaborated with EPA. The combined group studied incidents involving cats and dogs, looked at active and inert ingredients and evaluated product labeling. Data was collected from the manufacturers (or registrants) and other available sources.
The evaluation was somewhat problematic because each company collected different data on adverse reactions and information reported by pet owners was sometimes inconsistent. Incidents that weren’t included in the EPA’s evaluation were those from products without EPA registration numbers (I assume these are herbal products, but I’m not sure about this); those from other countries; reports that were considered to be ambiguous; those that involved other pesticides or drugs (because the reaction couldn’t be definitively tied to the product); and incidents that involved multiple animals (because many of these included ambiguous data).
EPA stated that their evaluation indicated that additional restrictions should be applied to these products, though they didn’t provide much information on what these restrictions might be and they didn’t state whether restrictions will apply to over-the-counter products, prescription products or both.
They reported that small breed dogs were affected more often than medium and large breed dogs. This effect was especially pronounced in products containing cyphenothrin (the active ingredient in TriForce, Sentry Pro and Sargeants Gold) and permethrin (the active ingredient in K9 Advantix, Bio-Spot On and Vectra3D ).
They noted that thinner skin and a larger skin area to body volume in small dogs may be a factor in these reactions. However, EPA also stated that dosage ranges for many products appear to be too broadly defined on the lower end of the scale. They noted that pet owners who overestimate their dog’s weight and subsequently overdose their dogs may also be a factor. Attempts to save money by purchasing large doses to split between small dogs were believed to cause some problems as well. EPA emphasized the importance of following the manufacturer’s directions carefully, as misapplication may have been related to many incidents.
I was frustrated to see that while the EPA stated that they believe that the “inert” ingredients in these products are an important factor in adverse reactions – they aren’t discussed in the report because most of them are proprietary ingredients.
It was also disappointing to see that the EPA stated that the data currently required to assess the safety of these products don’t provide an adequate picture of the potential risks they pose to pets and pet owners. Apparently we should be a bit more cynical about the trust we put in the agency to protect us from chemical hazards.
Because most reactions occurred in dogs that were less than three years old, EPA encouraged pet owners to monitor their pets carefully for adverse reactions the first time a product is used. This is likely a factor, but I wonder if the fact that there are more young than old dogs and the strong possibility that young dogs are more often out in places where they’re exposed to pests and are therefore get treated more often, may be important too.
EPA notes that “a comparison of the absolute numbers of incidents among the different spot-on products in this report are not appropriate.” Ironically, they do not provide information on the number of incidents for each product – so I guess we just won’t worry about that (after all, we don’t want to stress out manufacturers). Problems in direct comparison include the fact that some products are used more frequently than others; some products have different market niches (which may affect usage and reporting); the relative ease of product use may affect incidents; data were collected and recorded by different entities; negative publicity about a product can have an effect on reporting; and as noted above, some incidents were not evaluated. While these are valid points I think that the consumer’s right to see this data outweighs the potential harm to manufacturers and vendors.
I couldn’t review the data but EPA noted that deaths and adverse incidents were reported for all the products included in the study.
In the end, the EPA recommended that pet owners get a veterinarian’s advice before using any product — especially if you are treating a weak, geriatric, sick, pregnant or nursing pet; a pet that is on prescription medication; or a pet that has previously had a reaction to similar products.
The agency is inviting public comment on how to implement new measures to safeguard our pets from these products. A Federal Register notice announcing the opening of a docket was published on March 19, 2010. The docket number is EPA-HQ-OPP-2010-0229. Go here to comment.
Tips for safe use of topical flea and tick treatments
Weigh your pet before applying any treatment. Especially if you have a small dog. Overdosing is preventable!
Keep records of the products you use and the dates you treat your pet. This helps prevent over-dosing and can also be helpful information to your vet (and the reporting agency) in the event of an adverse reaction.
Read the label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Pay attention to prohibitions against using a product on weak, elderly, sick, pregnant, or nursing pets. Follow all age restrictions. Only use a product on the species it is listed for (i.e. don’t put a product made for dogs on your cat and vice-versa).
Don’t put a product on your pet right before you leave for work or at bedtime – especially if this is the first time you’ve used this product on your pet or if the pet has had adverse reactions to products before. Keep an eye on your pet for a few hours so you can catch an adverse reaction quickly if it happens.
Keep the package the product came in. Don’t throw it out after you use it. Lot numbers and other product data are vital information if your pet has an adverse reaction.
Consult your veterinarian before using any product on a weak, elderly, sick, pregnant, or nursing pet; on a pet that has had adverse reactions to flea and tick products; or a pet that is on a prescription medication.
If your pet has an adverse reaction – call your vet immediately. If your regular clinic is closed, call an emergency clinic or the Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435. Have the product information ready and keep your pet in a quiet area where you can watch him.
Reporting adverse reactions
EPA recommends that veterinarians use the National Pesticide Information Center’s Veterinary Pesticide Adverse Effects Reporting portal to report incidents. This page is ONLY accessible by vet clinic staff. Please encourage your vet to use this service.
You can report adverse reactions to the company that manufactured the product. When you do, they are required to report it to the EPA. You should be able to find contact information on the product package.
You can also report adverse reactions to the EPA via their “ask a question” page. To do this go to the Pesticides Frequent Questions Web page and select “flea and tick” in the drop-down box. Then click on the “ask a question” tab and use the fields there to submit information on the product and reaction instead of asking a question.
A article recently published by William Marshall, Herman Hazewinkel, Dermot Mullen, Geert De Meyer, Katrien Baert and Stuart Carmichael (Marshall et al) in Veterinary Research Communications provides us with the not-so-startling news that weight loss causes a significant decrease in lameness in dogs suffering from osteoarthritis and other orthopedic problems.
Obesity and osteoarthritis are two of the most common health problems in dogs. The literature indicates that 20% of dogs suffer from osteoarthritis and 24–41% of all dogs are clinically obese. Marshall et al’s goal was to provide subjective and objective measures of the effect of weight loss alone on lameness in obese dogs with osteoarthritis.
Fourteen adult dogs of various large, medium and small breeds with clinical signs of lameness were included in the study. Intact and neutered dogs of both sexes participated, and all the dogs included in the study were clinically obese. The dogs ranged in age from 10 months to 13 years.
By the end of the 18-week study period the dogs had lost an average of almost 9% of their initial body weight and 82% of them showed decreased evidence of lameness.
Surprising news? Hardly. In a time when prescription diet pills for dogs are hot sellers, the idea that excess weight exacerbates joint problems is hardly controversial. The more interesting (and depressing) part of the story is the small number of dog owners that participated in the study. As Marshall et al. put it: “Stimulating and maintaining client interest in canine weight loss programs can be challenging and this hindered recruitment of cases.”
Fat is the new norm. I’m disturbed by the number of people who tell me they think my dogs are too thin. Apparently they’ve gotten so used to seeing fat dogs that a lean, fit dog looks weirdly out of place.
It’s a common misconception. A recent study conducted by Pfizer Animal Health found that while veterinarians believe that 47% of their canine patients are overweight or obese — only 17% of dog owners agree with them. Deep in denial, pet owners argue that their dog is big-boned, that he’s solid, and that he can’t possibly be fat because they feed him exactly what it says to on the package. Or they say that it isn’t a problem because the dog is only a few pounds overweight. While being ten pounds overweight may not be a problem for you or your Saint Bernard – that same ten pounds represents 20% of a 50 pound dog’s weight and 50% of a 20 pound dog’s weight. That’s the difference between a healthy weight and morbid obesity!
Adding to the problem is that fact that veterinarians aren’t always comfortable telling people that their dogs are fat. Some pet owners feel insulted when they’re told that their pet is overweight and when the owner is obese too, discussing a weight problem can be uncomfortable for both parties. A recent study published by Nijland et al. that found a strong correlation between the body mass index of dog and its owner indicates that this is often the case.
So now there is some scientific basis to the old saying that “if your dog is fat, you aren’t getting enough exercise!”
Released just last week, Nintendo’s Pokewalker is a stopwatch-sized motion detector compatible with Pokeman HeartGold and SoulSilver that lets players get their Pokémon fix even when they’re away from their Nintendo console.
Pokewalker follows on the heels of Nintendo’s Personal Trainer Walking which was marketed primarily to adults who wanted motivation to exercise.
A player can transfer any Pokémon from a game to the Pokéwalker and walk it through virtual routes as he walks around in real life. When he walks, a player earns Watts that he can use to encounter and catch wild Pokémon, search for hidden items or unlock new routes. Nintendo says the device is designed to give players added incentive to keep their Pokémon with them wherever they go. As an (apparently) unintended side-effect, the device may also encourage sedentary geek children to get more exercise.
According to The Times, if you buy your child a Pokewalker:
You may also notice some unusual activity, such as increased running around or a sudden willingness to take the dog for a walk. That’s because the devices allow you to pull your little Pocket Monsters (or Pokémon) from the game and strengthen them with real-world movements, at home or at school. Watch out, teachers.
How did we get to a place where the soulless animation on a brightly-colored video game accessory provides more motivation for our children to get out and move than the living, breathing, feeling, under-exercised, under-stimulated dog sitting at their feet?
Stories of “clever” animals that can spell, write and do math have amazed and delighted us for more than a century. These stories capture our attention because we have an odd tendency to be most impressed by animals when they seem to be able to mimic human activities.
A classic example of this phenomenon is Clever Hans, a horse who appeared to be able respond correctly to questions involving mathematical calculations and other advanced cognitive tasks by tapping his hoof. Hans was a sensation. People flocked to see the horse that could think like a man.
Of course now we know that Hans wasn’t spelling, doing mathematical calculations or telling time — he was responding to incredibly subtle physical cues picked up from his handler. And while some may be disappointed by this I think that the skills of clever animals like Hans are truly astonishing. They’re just not astonishing in the way many of us hoped they would be.
The riddle of Clever Hans was solved by Oskar Pfungst who, unlike everyone else who studied the horse, focused on the handler instead of the horse. Pfungst didn’t assume that the key to the phenomenon was how Hans learned the answers to the questions – he wanted to know how the horse was able to give the right answers.
As Oskar Pfungst demonstrates, we learn a lot more about what goes on inside the minds of animals when we focus on seeing them as they are instead of imagining them as we’d like them to be.
And while stories of ‘clever’ animals still make the news, real insights on animal cognition are being discovered by mathematicians following in the footsteps of Oskar Pfungst.
Case in point: Dr.Timothy Pennings and his Corgie mix Elvis. Pennings noticed that when they played fetch together at the beach Elvis consistently chose a very efficient path to retrieve the ball. Pennings’ curiosity was piqued so he and his students developed an experiment to test whether Elvis was choosing an optimal path. Mathematically speaking, the optimal path is the route that allows Elvis to minimize his travel time through various media that affect his speed in different ways.
Following this work, Pennings published the article “Do Dogs Know Calculus“. In the article he discussed Elvis’ intuitive ability to solve a classic optimization problem – without doing calculus. The world of mathematics is apparently almost as competitive as the world of dogs, and Penning’s article was soon rebutted by Peruchet and Gallego’s 2006 article “Do Dogs Know Related Rates Rather Than Optimization“. in which they demonstrated that a female Labrador named Salsa also seemed to choose an optimal path when retrieving in water.
Peruchet and Gallego postulated that instead of intuitively choosing an optimal path, Salsas’ performance was based on her ability to detect transient changes in the distance to an object (in this case, the ball) combined with an awareness of the relative speeds of running and swimming.
In 2007 Pennings and co-author Roland Minton responded in “Do Dogs Know Bifurcations?” Bifurcation theory is the mathematical study of how systems change as some parameter of the system is changed. It is typically applied to dynamical systems. A bifurcation happens when a small, incremental change made to the system causes a sudden change in its behavior. In biology it is used to study things like population dynamics and predator-prey relations.
According to the Roanoke College news page:
The experiment so interested Minton that he used it as a problem for his calculus textbook and soon e-mailed Dr. Tim Pennings, quickly forming a unique friendship sown entirely through electronic communication. Minton says they were “having a lot of fun topping each other” with various calculus equations that revolved around Elvis’ innate bifurcation point. Minton and Pennings became so enthralled with the subject that Dr. Pennings suggested Minton write his own article about their findings. Minton, however, felt that it wouldn’t have been right to take the credit, so they collaborated on the article, “Do Dogs Know Bifurcations?” instead, combining Minton’s ideas with Pennings’ and Elvis’ findings.
[...] Pennings’ findings show that when he mathematically calculated the optimal path of Elvis’ route, he arrived at an estimation that was very close to Elvis’ own bifurcation point. This indicates that Elvis may in fact have the ability to problem solve.
Minton says the experiment and the application of Elvis’ actions to calculus provide an excellent visualization for the teaching of calculus and is also an entry into finding out how dogs (and possibly humans) problem solve. Pennings continued the experiment, and instead of standing on the shore, he and Elvis began in the water, and he found once again that Elvis innately found the most efficient path to the stick. This experiment cemented his belief that Elvis has the ability to think ahead when solving a problem.
Pennings and Minton reported that Elvis had repudiated Peruchet and Gallego by introducing bifurcation into his strategy. They proposed that Elvis uses a small set of rules to find an optimal path to a ball thrown into the lake. If the ball is close, he just swims straight to it. If the ball is farther away then he gets out of the water and solves the shore to ball problem. Since this set of rules described Elvis’ behavior accurately, the remaining question was whether he knew how to bifurcate at the optimal point.
They returned to the lake to collect more data and discovered that Elvis’s bifurcation distance was consistently somewhat farther down the beach than the optimum point. From this they concluded that “Elvis knows bifurcations qualitatively, but not quantitatively” (a result that may be comforting to many frustrated calculus students).
Pennings, Minton, Peruchet and Gallego studied something dogs do well.They used a tongue-in-cheek approach (dogs do calculus!) to poke fun at each other and get attention for their work – but they also made of a point of stating that these clever dogs functioned as inspiration for the human mathematicians who did the real calculating.
In focusing on something dogs do well (choose an optimal path) instead of how they might mimic our behavior (doing calculus), these mathematicians were able to provide evidence that dogs use executive functions to solve complex problems much as we do. In a related bit of mathematical grooviness, they also discovered a nifty pictorial proof for the relationship between the geometric and arithmetic means of two numbers
Hope College has awarded Elvis an honorary degree. He is not, however, allowed to teach classes.