Archive for July, 2009

What Comes Around

Goes around…


Audie greets Lucy under Clover’s watchful eye.


Are you lookin’ at me?


Later that day – Clover spots an opportunity…


To strike – and defend his Lucy’s honor


Hey – that hurt!

July 23, 2009 at 7:49 pm 2 comments

Feed the Need


Understanding the psychology underlying our pet feeding habits may help us stem the epidemic of pet obesity in America today.

Studies suggest that pets given unrestricted access to nutritionally complete diets will often self-regulate their food intake to maintain a healthy weight. So… if cats and dogs have an innate ability to self-regulate their food intake at healthy levels, why is there an epidemic of pet obesity?

A recent study proposes that in some cases our pets may manipulate us to control the type and quantity of food we offer them. A comment by David Hemming from Hand Picked And Carefully Sorted on this post pointed me to an article by Day, Kergoat and Kotrschal about some interesting factors that affect what we feed our pets. Day et al.’s thesis is unique in that it doesn’t consider our pets’ feeding habits as the result of a simple one-way process. They propose that our pets have the ability to manipulate what, when and how much we feed them.  Like most parts of social relationships – the way pets and pet owners relate to food and feeding rituals isn’t simple. 

The objective of this paper is to review information that may provide a better understanding how owners are influenced by the feeding behaviour of their pets. The thesis of our review is that pets are able to influence both the type and quantity of food offered to them by their owners and that their degree of success will be determined by their owner’s personality and attitudes

It has been demonstrated that strong parallels exist in both animal–animal and infant–human dyads that offer insights into the social control of food intake in the pet–human dyad. In particular, it seems that begging behaviour and finicky eating habits may be powerful tools that pets could use to control ‘when’, ‘what’ and ‘how much’ they are fed. This has been described as a push–pull relationship where the personality of both the neonate and caregiver may exert an influence.

Push-Pull theory relates to a sort of relational inertia. Many problems in our relationships don’t start because we become attracted to new circumstances, they arise because we feel we are being pushed out of a comfortable, familiar situation.  Change is stressful, and when we perceive a potential threat to the status quo, we become insecure and needy. Our needy behavior can then push our partner out of their comfort zone and trigger a cascade of dysfunctional push-pull dynamics in the relationship.

In social alticial species, feeding rituals help establish and maintain social bonds. So when your grandmother urges you to have seconds (or thirds) you stuff yourself, even when you don’t want to.  We give food to those we care about as a show of affection. We accept food offered to acknowledge bonds shared with friends and family.  And while food itself doesn’t create social bonds – it’s an important part of the cement that holds many of them together. A bit of cement that can become unglued when push-pull dynamics arise.

I don’t find it surprising that some dogs elicit their owners’ over-feeding, I want to know why they do it?  Day et al. note in passing that push-pull relationships “may exert an influence” on our pets’ feeding and begging behavior. I suspect that for most obese pets (and their owners) push-pull dynamics are the root of the problem. Dysfunctional relationships feed this unhealthy behavior.

While some pets may be masters of manipulation, we humans certainly can’t lay all – or even most  – of the blame for the obesity epidemic on them. After all, we control the keys to the food cabinet and we’re supposed to be the ones with the big brains. Can we learn to engage those brains before we dispense food on cue?

July 22, 2009 at 5:27 am 4 comments

Because Sometimes…

A dog’s just gotta do what he’s gotta do


From British Pathe. Click for video.

Note that this farm collie, filmed in 1946, looks (and works) more like an English Shepherd than a modern show collie.

July 20, 2009 at 9:20 pm 2 comments

Nobody Argues With Leo

Because when sixteen stone (224 pounds) of dog wants something – he gets it!


Click picture for video.

From British Pathe via our friends at PetConnection

July 20, 2009 at 1:09 am Leave a comment

Brilliant use of Indirect Pressure

This week Newsweek reported on activist Bill Smith’s campaign to end the suffering of dogs kept in squalid conditions by high volume breeders in Pennsylvania.  Smith noticed that some of the farms that produce large numbers of dogs also produce organic dairy products.  And he recognized that affluent consumers would be horrified to discover that their organic milk and yogurt were produced at the same places that kept dogs in terrible conditions.

Smith found that one mill—B&R Puppies, which had been cited by authorities as recently as a year ago for housing dogs in squalid cages and failing to vaccinate them—was also supplying milk to Horizon Organics. Horizon is a major presence in markets like Whole Foods, where animal welfare is paramount.

This is where Newsweek reporter Suzanne Smalley got involved.  Smalley contacted Horizon and Whole Foods and told them that she would be publishing a piece revealing that their organic milk came from a farmer who had been cited for mistreating dogs.

Smith demanded that Whole Foods send several hundred vendors a letter warning of repercussions for inhumane dog breeding. In mid-May, the grocery chain issued a stern request that ven-dors “not supply any products to our stores that have been sourced from farmers…who breed or raise dogs inhumanely.” Smith says the Whole Foods letter was a “huge step” forward because “consumers have always had the power to close these facilities.”

Horizon sent an inspector to B&R the next day and found dogs living in filth. The company suspended the farmer, John Stoltzfus, who has since dismantled his dog-breeding operation, according to Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture records. That allowed him to resume supplying Horizon, which he began doing earlier this month.

I applaud the efforts of Smith, Smalley and the folks at Whole Foods.  This sounds like a win-win-win-win-win situation but… I’d like to know what happened to Stolzfus’ dogs.  Were they shot or drowned like barn rats euthanized?  Sold to another high volume breeder rehomed?  Or just dumped by the roadside set free?  The New Jersey Companion Animal Protection Society’s website notes that late last week farm owner John Stoltzfus told NEWSWEEK he’d already found new homes for the dogs, but no details are provided.

Stoltzfus’ dogs deserve a chance at a better life and I really hope they find their way to loving homes.

July 16, 2009 at 2:04 am 5 comments

Vague Scientist

“Ever tried to impress your friends with half remembered science stuff you’ve read in the newspaper? In Vague Scientist you’ll all the latest developments handily explained in the confused, conversational way in which you’ll inevitably end up regurgitating them down the pub.”


Now we know where main stream media hacks get their science fix!

From Coelacanth Diaires – click for big.  Be sure to click the link and scroll down – there’s some great stuff there.

July 16, 2009 at 1:24 am 2 comments

Cats as Masters of Negative Reinforcement

I’m not a cat person. I’ve owned several cats — and even liked a few of them, but for the most part cats just strike me as terribly annoying creatures. Now research from the Centre for Mammal Vocal Communication Research validates my suspicion. ScienceBlog reports:

The rather crafty felines motivate people to fill their food dishes by sending something of a mixed signal: an urgent cry or meowing sound embedded within an otherwise pleasant purr. The result is a call that humans generally find annoyingly difficult to ignore.

“The embedding of a cry within a call that we normally associate with contentment is quite a subtle means of eliciting a response,” said Karen McComb of the University of Sussex. “Solicitation purring is probably more acceptable to humans than overt meowing, which is likely to get cats ejected from the bedroom.” She suggests that this form of cat communication sends a subliminal sort of message, tapping into an inherent sensitivity that humans and other mammals have to cues relevant in the context of nurturing their offspring.

In a nutshell McComb is saying that cats employ a calculating form of negative reinforcement to train humans. They repeat an annoying sound that we find it difficult to ignore until we feed them, pet them, let them in/out or otherwise bend to their will.  This represents a classic – and highly effective – form of negative reinforcement training.

Negative reinforcement is a tool vilified – and misunderstood – by many dog trainers. According to Negative Reinforcement University:

The concept of Negative Reinforcement is difficult to teach and learn because of the word negative. Negative Reinforcement is often confused with Punishment. They are very different, however.

Negative Reinforcement strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behavior.

Punishment, on the other hand, weakens a behavior because a negative condition is introduced or experienced as a consequence of the behavior.

Animals have an innate understaing of negative reinforcement. They use it with each other all the time to establish and protect territory, maintain individual space, protect food resources and to teach their young.  Negative reinforcement teaches your dog to lay in the shade instead of the sun on a hot day. And if you’re luck, it’s the tool your puppy’s mother and littermates used to teach him bite inhibition. Animals are masters in the subtle, effective use of negative reinforcement – and cats are obviously no exception.

“We found that the crucial factor determining the urgency and pleasantness ratings that purrs received was an unusual high-frequency element — reminiscent of a cry or meow — embedded within the naturally low-pitched purr,” McComb said. “Human participants in our experiments judged purrs with high levels of this element to be particularly urgent and unpleasant.” When the team re-synthesised the recorded purrs to remove the embedded cry, leaving all else unchanged, the urgency ratings for those calls decreased significantly.

The key to cats’ success in training humans is their ability to combine high and low frequency tones together in a way that annoys us just enough to want to make it go away – but not quite to much that we want to make them go away.

July 14, 2009 at 7:14 pm 4 comments

Two Wrongs Lead to Confusion on Rights


This week the LaCrosse Tribune reported a story of dog ownership – and respect for life – that went terribly wrong.  Unfortunately the guilty parties will likely come out of it with everything but their dignity intact while the victim – an innocent dog – paid the ultimate price.

The attorney who is representing the La Crescent, Minnesota couple who admit they poisoned a neighbor’s dog is arguing that their right to do so is protected under the 14th Amendment.

If the law allows farmers to kill dogs that threaten their livestock, does that right apply to city dwellers when a dog poops on their lawn and barks at their kids?

That’s the argument posed by the attorney for a La Crescent couple charged with poisoning their next-door neighbors’ pet.

Tim Guth has asked a judge to dismiss animal cruelty charges against Scott and Tammy Bailey on the grounds their prosecution violates the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Because Minnesota law allows people to kill dogs to protect livestock, Guth contends the Baileys should not be held liable for killing a dog that defecated in their yard, growled at them and ate their food.

I can, to some degree, understand the Bailey’s frustration.  When we lived in rural Wisconsin my neighbors’  free range dogs peed in my garage, crapped in my garden, attacked my puppy, whined incessantly at my door when my girl was in heat and snapped and lunged at me – all while I was in the “safety” of my own yard.  Calling and showing up on at my neighbors’ (as in more than one neighbor) doorsteps to complain got me little more than confused blank looks and sincere assurances that “He’s never been a problem before.”

Speaking of blank looks:

The Blanks and a police officer answered questions from attorneys Wednesday at a hearing in Houston County District Court.

Both Blanks denied hearing complaints about Sadie.

Emma Blank, who works with special needs children at La Crescent Elementary, told of how Sadie was gentle with children and would come across the alley to play with students at recess.

Judge James Fabian asked how the dog was able to come when called.

Blank replied Sadie was free to roam but was trained to stay on the family’s deck. (bold mine)

Right, and I’m Queen of freakin’ England.

Newsflash – the only dog that is going to stay on a deck, by itself, all day long, when the only people around are the really interesting distractions that exist only in the world off the deck – is either a very ill dog or – maybe – one that is contained by an invisible fence.  A healthy, happy, normal dog has far better things to do than lounge around by himself on a deck all day.  Especially when the neighbors are serving steak.

As maddeningly annoying as it may be, the Blank’s brazenly irresponsible  management of their dog in no way excuses  the Bailey’s conduct.  Shooting a dog in the act of worrying livestock or attacking a pet or person is an act committed in the immediate defense of person or living property.  And – it’s a duty that no good farmer looks forward to.  Poisoning a dog because his owners let him run loose to steal your steaks and crap all over your yard is not an act of self defense – it’s just cold, pointless, premeditated cowardice.

Last time I checked acts of cowardice were not among those protected by our Constitution.

When I was faced with a deluge of obnoxious canine invaders owned by irresponsible dolts I didn’t load my gun or serve  antifreeze appetizers.  I’m not capable of shooting or poisoning innocent dogs and I wasn’t prepared for the kind of range war that would break out if I persisted in complaining or, worse yet, started calling the sheriff (we had no animal control) every time an infraction occurred. After considering our options husband and I elected to suck it up and build a fence – ’cause you see – two wrongs really don’t make a right.

July 12, 2009 at 1:57 am 4 comments

Bulldog Mauls Orangutan

And I am overwhelmed by the unspeakable horribleness adorableness of it all

Hat tip to the most excellent One Bark at a Time

July 10, 2009 at 8:28 pm 1 comment


Comments on this post on Tamara Follett’s program of blatant self-promotion Canine-Threat Assessment Guide over at YesBiscuit  annoyed me enough that I felt I had to write this post.  Dangerous dogs aren’t born – they’re created by ignorant and / or inattentive owners.  We don’t need a system to assess the potential danger a dog poses to society- we need one that puts responsibility squarely where it’s needed – on the shoulders of dog owners.

Dog Owner Threat Assessment Guide (DO-TAG)
Categorization of Dog Owners by Risk Factors

The goal of this draft guide is to provide a free, easy-to-use tool for authorities to employ in assessing a given dog owner’s risk  to his dog and the public.  The guide could allow local authorities to identify potentially problematic dog owners with regard to their real or potential threat so that limited resources can be focused on those dog owners most likely to have unplanned litters, encourage aggressive behavior in their dogs, let them run at large or otherwise engage in potentially dangerous and/or antisocial behaviors.

As one small step toward this goal I have created this draft assessment guide that lets you determine the level of threat you pose to society as a dog owner.  The test not only places risk where it belongs, but it also allows your score to change over time.  Answer each question honestly, sum up the points and see what kind of risk you present to society.

1. When you call your dog does he:
  I would never let my dog off leash!  7
  Only come if you have cheese or other treats in your hand? 5
  Come unless he’s distracted? 3
  Come as long as there are no large distractions like animals or people present? 2
  Turn and come even if he’s at a full run after a critter. -5
2. When you are gone your dog is:
  Running loose – he needs his freedom1!* 10
  Chained up out front to scare off intruders. 12
  Chained or on a tie-out in an area where people pass by. 8
  Loose in an area contained by an invisible fence. 8
  Loose in a fenced yard with people and dogs in adjacent areas. 6
  In a secure kennel in a quiet area. 1
  Loose in my house where he doesn’t get in trouble. 0
  Crated in my house because he needs more training. 0
  Crated in my house because he’s destructive and can’t be trained. 6
3. When you walk your dog on leash:
  I don’t have time to walk my dog, he gets plenty of exercise playing in the yard. 10
  I have to do it at a time when no one is around because of his aggression. 10
  He constantly drags me down the street no matter what I do. 8
  I let him run loose to check out the neighborhood. 9
  He’s good except when other people and dogs walk past. 3
  He walks politely by my side even around distractions. 0
  I don’t need the leash, he’ll heel around distractions without it. -2
4. When you groom your dog:
  I have to muzzle him to touch parts of his body. 8
  My dog doesn’t need any grooming. 10
  I have to take him to a vet or groomer, I’m afraid to groom him. 9
  He doesn’t like it but he puts up with it. 2
  He enjoys grooming! 0
5. When your dog misbehaves:
  I lose my temper.  The little b*$+d does it just to annoy me. 10
  I get frustrated because it happens so often. 6
  I sometimes ignore him because I’m busy. 8
  I usually discover what he’s done after the fact. 8
  I ignore it and hope the behavior will self-extinguish. 8
  I scold or correct him then move on. 5
  I correct the behavior then praise him for stopping or changing the behavior 1
  I look forward to it as a training opportunity. 0
  My darling little snookums never misbehaves! 15
6. Your dog is:
  The victim of terrible abuse and will to be treated with kid gloves forever. 10
  My perfect baby. 10
  Just a dog. 5
  A dog with a dog’s needs and desires. 0
7. When children are around:
  I leave my dog alone with them. He’s perfectly safe. 10
  I lock my dog up. He hates kids. 7
  I watch the dog. 4
  I always keep an eye on the dog and the kids. 0
  My dog has never been around children. 8
8. I have two or more dogs because:
  I don’t have time to entertain one. This way they entertain each other when I’m busy. 10
  I only have one dog because I don’t have time, space or money for more. 0
  I only have one dog because my dog hates other dogs. 8
  I have the time, energy, space, money and other resources I need to enjoy them all. 0
  I know I can take better care of them than anyone else.** 20
9. Your dog was:
  Spayed or neutered at your request at less than six months of age. 2
  Spayed or neutered at your request at more than six months of age. 0
  Spayed or neutered before you got it. 0
  Intact because he / she has papers. 8
  Intact because he / she would feel bad without all his / her parts. 7
  Intact because health and temperament tests show he / she is an excellent example of the breed. 0
  Intact because the breeder wants a puppy back from him / her. 8
  Intact because you’re too busy, broke or disorganized to deal with it. 10
  Spayed or neutered for health reasons (this includes not being a great representative of his/her breed). 0
10. Your dog obeys commands like sit, down and stay:
  My dog doesn’t need training. 10
  Only if I have treats in my hand. 8
  Only if there are no distractions around. 8
  When there are few distractions. 5
  As long as there aren’t big distractions around. 3
  Even around large distractions like other animals and people. 0

*     If you live in a rural area and the dog is a livestock guard dog give yourself one point, not ten.
**  If this is really how you feel, get help. You may be a hoarder.

If your scored:

75 or more points – You are a Potentially Lethal Dog Owner.  Unless you change your ways there is a significant probability that your dog will injure someone seriously or meet an untimely death himself because of your misbehavior. You have no business owning a dog of any kind.

50 to 75 points –  You are a Dangerous Dog Owner.  Your neighbors probably hate you – and your dog.  People walk on the other side of the street to avoid you. There is a significant possibility that your dog will injure a person or another dog.  Please get help!

40 to 50 points –  You are a Problem Dog Owner.  Everyone knows your dog – for all the wrong reasons.  The police know where you live because of neighborhood complaints.  The vet only pretends he’s happy when you come in.  Some people avoid visiting you because they don’t want to deal with your dog.  While he may never bite anyone, your dog runs a significant risk of being euthanized or rehomed for ‘his’ misbehavior.

30 to 40 points –  You are an Annoying Dog Owner.  Your neighbor likes you but sometimes secretly wishes you’d move away. Your kid’s friends don’t want to play with the dog.  And the dog probably spends a lot of its time either being ignored or coddled (or – worse yet, dealing with the confusion of alternating bouts of each).  Your vet likes you, but would give you a much less than glowing referral as a foster home.

20 to 30 points – You are a Reasonable Dog Owner.  Your dog is rarely annoying and his behavior is getting better instead of worse.  People are nearly always glad to see your dog and if they aren’t, he doesn’t bother them.  Your vet would give you a good referral if a breeder or rescue group called.

Less than 20 points – You are an Excellent Dog Owner.  Even if he started out with issues, you have a great dog. Friends and neighbors ask you for dog training advice. 

This guide is a draft.  You are free to copy, use, abuse, insult, change, throw out or otherwise adapt it any way you want.  If you’ve got suggestions, post them as comments here.  I’ll take the ones I think are best (hey – this is my blog) and post an update.

July 9, 2009 at 7:10 pm 22 comments

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July 2009