So, yeah. We have an apparently-innate tendency to anthopomorphize all kinds of things (just for fun, run an image search with the keywords “faces on inanimate objects”). And while Huckleberry Hound, Snoopy, Scooby-Doo, and dozens of other anthropomorphic dogs might be fun ways to poke humor at certain types of human characteristics, but they do nothing to help scientists understand real dogs.
The right chemistry
The human tendency to anthropomorphize may be hard to control for, but blood chemistry is entirely another matter, when we ask, “could it be love?”
Science doesn’t stand still, so there’s updated information to add. That (and the chance to share links to sources) is why I decided to expand on my August post with this series.
If only dogs could talk!
I am certainly not the only person who’s ever wished her dog could talk. They usually manage to express themselves clearly enough to tell us when they’re hungry or want to go out, but I sometimes would swear they’re just as frustrated as we are.
We need a for-real “Dr. Dolittleinterface” of some sort! And it’s possible we may be getting closer to one, but more on that in a bit.
Chaser understood more than 1,000 nouns and could correctly follow verbal commands using different verbs and objects, but I haven’t found any evidence online that she could respond to written symbols. That doesn’t mean, however that a dog can’t do that.
We’re still not quite ready to swear in a K9 officer to testify . . . or are we?
The decision to give my fictional XK9s a vocalizer has its roots in both wish-fulfillment and the potential I see in contemporary adaptive and communication technology. But another inspiration was an overheard comment from a police commander that for well or ill a K9 can’t testify in court. No, we haven’t quite come that far.
No, K9 Azor didn’t have much to say, after all. But we can’t really know what he’d have said, if he’d been trained on a sound board like Stella’s. Imagine a K9 trained on one that said things such as “suspect,” “drugs,” or “explosives.”
Stay tuned. At the rate things are going, real-live XK9s may come sooner than we think!
Have you ever wondered how much your dog knows? Does she really understand your facial expressions and gestures? Is his behavior mostly instinct and the impulse of the moment, or is it rooted in more complex thought processes?
So dogs and humans have had a pretty long time to get used to each other. How much have we “rubbed off on each other”? Some researchers say quite a lot! Neither humans nor dogs would be what we are today, without each other.
Believe it or not, this reflects sophisticated dog cognition. Along with the “pointing tests,” it shows that that dogs have a “theory of mind. That’s the ability to intuit how others see the world and even, to some extent, know what they’re thinking,” according to studies done by Duke University researchers.
Dogs may not be as smart as humans (yet), but their cognitive capabilities run deeper than many people imagine. We’ll look at more aspects of this next week, in my mid-week post.
Till then, I’d be fascinated to learn your thoughts on this post, and read any stories about super-smart dogs you have known, if you’d care to share them in the comments section.
And it underwent lots and lots (and lots and lots) of revisions. As far as the comments from my various critique resources have been going, it apparently continues to improve. I recently sent it off for what I hope is a final round of critiques. Considering the sequel’s now almost finished, I’m hopeful I can offer more substantive updates here soon.
When placed up there next to some of the other massive issues (yesterday I was talking about global food security, for example), the blessing of having a companion animal in one’s home at first doesn’t seem to be in exactly the same league.
It’s a really incomplete picture to leave out cats, horses/donkeys/mules, cattle/oxen/water buffaloes, sheep, goats, swine, chickens and other poultry, rabbits, guinea pigs, camels, and llamas, though. Indeed, without mice, rats, and other animals, our medical history also would have progressed much differently.
But this post is particularly concerned with companion animals–the very dearest pets, the ones we invite into our homes, and often consider to be members of the family. Readers of this series with exceptionally good memories will recall from the latter paragraphs of Monday’s post that I do consider ours to be family members.
I can personally attest to the importance of companion animals for meeting people and staving off loneliness (yes, that’s me in the photo above, with my current dog Jake). The very best way to meet people in our neighborhood is to take the dog out for a walk.
As to staving off loneliness? My dearly-loved Chihuahua-MinPin mix (who stayed right beside me through three successive bouts of pneumonia one horrible winter, and who still is featured in my Facebook profile pic) died the Christmas before both of my kids moved away to college and took all the other resident animals with them. With my Beloved working extremely long hours, if I hadn’t gotten my little Iggy-girl Brenna that following November I think I’d have gone into an even deeper depression from sheer loneliness.
My daughter spent more than a year, living mostly–except for her animals–alone in California, doing hard, undervalued work as a caregiver to an elderly relative. She did make friends, but her animals helped keep her sane. They still do, even as she faces new challenges.
I also can attest to the beneficial effects of companion animals on children. In my family’s case, two Border Collies and a Bernese Mountain Dog-shepherd mix helped my Beloved and me rear our kids, assisted by several cats and an assortment of gerbils and hooded rats (at our church, my daughter became known as the “gerbil-whisperer” for good reason!).
My Images of Interest this month spotlight creative and unconventional approaches to teaching that have been gaining traction in schools, libraries, and other places devoted to teaching–including our own homes, if we share them with children.
By now, the science is pretty well settled: reading to a calm, accepting dog (or other animal) really does help children learn to read better. Here’s a video that covers most of the important things about kids reading to dogs.
But now for a little something different: how about a dog who inspires children to read–by reading, himself?
Meet Fernie, whose owner Nik Gardner (headmaster of the school where Fernie works) chose him for his temperament, and taught him not only to be a literacy-support therapy dog, but to respond without verbal cues to commands that are printed on flash cards. He’d learned to read four different commands (“Sit,” “Down,” “Roll Over,” and “Spin”) when they were featured in TheTelegraphin February 2016, but Gardner vowed then to teach him more.
Regular readers of this blog will remember I’ve featured literacy dogs before. Just sayin’–they do their work well. You’ll probably see them featured here again!
This week’s “making a positive difference” (perhaps I should say a “Pawsitive” difference) Image of Interest is drawn from a video. Anyone who has followed this blog for a while has undoubtedly picked up on my love and respect for service animals of all types, but this week’s image is important to me for several reasons.
First, I have a family member whose certified Emotional Support dog has recently become a crucial part of winning her battle with addiction. Second, this week has been especially tough for several of my friends as a mutual acquaintance has gone into Hospice care for the final stage of her life.
Does your pet have the makings of a good therapy animal? Purebred or rescue, critters with the right temperament can make an incredible difference. I hope you’ll find inspiration in this video, which features the work of several different therapy dogs, including Lanie, who’s featured in our photo above.
The other day I came upon what I think is a wonderful story from the Denver, Colorado area. I’ve shared stories about a variety of service dogs on this blog, but this is the first “facility dog” I’ve encountered.
This is one way that Pella helps comfort child witnesses, out of sight of the jury.
This program in Colorado was born of the persistent vision and efforts of criminal investigator Amber Urban, who got the idea from the Courthouse Dogs program in Seattle, WA. Over time, the Arapahoe County Courthouse has become one of several courthouses and child-services facilties where Pella and others like her are now accepted.
Pella helps children feel more empowered during what can be an extremely stressful interview or turn on the witness stand. The interviewers make a point of letting the child decide if Pella should be there or not (giving him or her a bit of control, in what is almost guaranteed to be a frightening, out-of-control experience).