Monday, March 28, 2016

Kids Riding Dogs: Rode-uh-oh....

There are a lot of videos of kids riding dogs in the wilds of the Internet. So many that if I wanted to comment on them all, it would be a full-time job - at least for the six hours I would last before tearing all my own hair out and running naked into the forest. 

To preserve the already fragile remnants of my sanity, then, I’ve taken one compilation video as a representative sample of all the videos of kids sitting on the backs of dogs in the known universe. 

This video is a reference guide of ways a dog can tell you it’s not feeling happy. Look at the fourth dog in the video, between 0:36 and 0:57. He’s pretty much the poster child for politely requesting you get the hell off. We see lip licking, “whale eye”, tight lips, yawning, looking at the handler, briefly licking the child - all classic stress signals in dogs. This handy poster by artist Lili Chin handily doubles as a Stressed Dog Bingo card. Unfortunately, the only prize is a bite in the face….

Physically, dogs have not evolved to cope with downwards pressure on their backs. Their muscles aren’t capable of withstanding the force of a giggling, wiggling, bouncing child; it can cause muscle pulls and tearing, leading to pain. Do this enough times, and you’ll give the dog back problems. It will be in constant pain. Try to sit a kid on a dog that you don’t know is in pain, and well, I’m sure you can guess how that might end up.  

If there’s an instance of a human sitting astride a canine that isn’t covered in this video, it doesn’t matter. All possible dog-riding permutations are entirely, 100%, a Very Bad Idea. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Ducklings: The Ugly Truth

Recently, The Dodo published an article about a pair of littermates who “love” a pair of ducklings.

(Ah, the Dodo. Remember when they used to be cool?)

The first video is supposed to show one of the dogs being “protective” of the ducklings:

Is that happening? Nope. The dog is staying very still, ears back, brows furrowed, sometimes looking away. These aren’t behaviors we’d expect to see in resource guarding; they’re more like avoidance behaviors. The dog looks like he’s been put in a down-stay and instructed to leave the ducklings alone. He’s not doing anything that would suggest guarding - he’s not really doing much of anything at all. 

The second video is supposed to be “playing”:

What about this video looks like play? None. The dog is just lying there, on his side, motionless. Even when the ducks are pulling at his ear, this dog might as well be comatose. If the dog were playing, we’d expect to see play bows, sniffing, nudging - we’d expect to see something, at least! This behavior looks like two cues - “settle” and “leave it”. 

Clearly, these dogs are very well-trained. It’s not easy to resist something so deliciously bite-sized. And, they might be having a good time practicing impulse control - hopefully there’s a reward in it for them when the filming is over. But these videos are not evidence of a warm and fuzzy bond with their new adopted family members. 

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Real Howler

Here’s a husky supposedly “comforting” a squalling baby.

Does the dog look particularly concerned about the baby’s wellbeing? Nope. He’s making a noise because the baby is making a noise, and that’s what huskies do. 

Northern breeds like huskies often find themselves howling when they hear other howl-like noises - anything from pianos to fire trucks can set them off. It’s an example of social facilitation. If there’s a more obnoxious howling noise than a baby crying, I haven’t heard it yet. 

Why did the baby stop crying? No idea. Could be related to the strange new noise the husky is making, or it could be because it’s been crying for a while and nobody seems to be doing anything. We just don’t know. What we do know is that dogs don’t really give a crap about babies. 

Original video post:

Strictly Baby Dog Whisperer

This baby is being touted as the "next Dog Whisperer" for his intuitive grasp of canine communication. 

While she's probably more effective than the actual dog whisperer (and certainly less dangerous), this isn’t baby’s first steps to global dog training stardom because Wicket the puppy has no idea what’s going on. 

These behaviors - bowing, high-pitched barking, the fast wagging tail, and the little forward and backward bounces - suggest that the little puppy is conflicted. It’s excited about the gurgling, weird-smelling blob over there, but also kind of scared of it. Is it scary, or fun? Is it a toy? 

Puppies often act this way around strange objects. There’s a risk that the excitement can turn into anxiety, which is why it’s important to introduce them to lots of new things in a fun, positive way. 

The baby, as far as I can tell, is just making baby noises. Babies do that, apparently. Sophie may be trying to communicate with the dog, but maybe not. Either way, this isn’t a conversation, it’s two monologues happening at the same time. Perhaps Sophie and Wicket can look forward to careers in politics…

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Lobster Thermidorable

Here’s a well-known video. The GSD’s owners claim that their dog is being “protective” over the lobster “because she’s never had puppies of her own”. 

This is, frankly, nuts. Lobsters don’t smell like puppies. Lobsters smell like food. Dogs don’t spontaneously adopt food items as surrogate babies. What’s going on here is resource guarding. 

Everybody in the room wants to eat this poor lobster. Possession is 100% of the law in a dog’s mind, and this dog is 100% invested in keeping the tasty lobster to herself. She’s worried about it being taken from her, so she’s communicating to the other dogs that if they try any funny business, there will be consequences. 

Resource guarding is a potentially dangerous behavior that needs to be addressed with management and humane training, because other dogs and people in the house could get hurt. 

Worse still, it’s likely the lobster is having a pretty bad time itself. They do feel pain, and being outside its natural environment and subject to the dog’s “mothering” is probably pretty unpleasant. 

So it’s not just mistaken, it’s dangerous and cruel to shellfish. A triple whammy of nope.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

They See Me Rollin'

Oakland the dog is supposed to be learning how to cartwheel with his little friend: 

If this were true, it would be a charming example of social learning - something we know dogs are capable of. Dogs do imitate each other, and they can learn to imitate humans, too. 

However, dogs don't need to learn to roll over. It's instinctive, a fixed pattern. If anything they need to learn that it's not okay to roll in everything! Oakland isn’t “learning to cartwheel”, he’s doing what comes naturally. 

I suspect that the dog is uncomfortable in his shirt, and is rolling over at random. Some dogs are confused by tight shirts, and end up rolling around on the floor. 

Here’s my shelter dog friend Cheechoo doing something similar with his Thundershirt:

If anyone’s being cued in this video, it’s the kid, not the dog!