Hey, Mom! The Explanation.

Here's the permanent dedicated link to my first Hey, Mom! post and the explanation of the feature it contains.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #467 - How to talk to and hug dogs

Hey, Mom! Talking to My Mother #467 - How to talk to and hug dogs

Hi Mom,

You were always a cat person, but you took to Satchel very well when you first met her, and Satchel seemed to really love you and your wheelchair, which she thought was interesting.

Here's two articles about dogs that are "reposted with permission" (more or less).

The first article deals with an issue that those who own pets know well: it's tone and energy rather than words that trigger responses with pets. Satchel and Vespers both get freaked out when I get angry at anything, whether it's at them or not is unimportant. I try not to get angry that often, certainly not at them, but sometimes, these feelings are unavoidable.

However, as the article illustrates, animals, especially dogs, also hear meanings in words. Satchel knows these words well: walk, treat, food, breakfast, dinner, go, do it, chickens, camp, and Camp Fido. Okay, two are phrases, but she has a good vocabulary, and those are just representative of the language of which I know she has mastery.

I try to always talk to her in "the voice," so she associates a certain tone with good things for her. Then again, I often voice what I believe she is thinking. In this house we talk to the dog, about the dog, and for the dog. It's an important part of our daily lexicon. We also refer to Satchel as "her" all the time, even when the pronoun "she" would actually be correct.

As for the other article, Stanley Coren received a lot of blow back online for his studies and drawing conclusions that we should not hug our dogs. My experience is that Satchel likes cuddling some of the time and she likes hugs some of the time. It's a better experience for her when it's her idea. But then, I also have to wonder about the benefits to us. We like to hug her. Granted, we do not enclose her in full body hugs as often as a comforting arm around her or a cupping of her snout and some kisses, we do embrace her often. We feel that not only does she like the affection but that she thrives on it. Certainly, I could embrace her too much or squeeze too hard. Certainly, I have seen the "signs of distress" looks from her when I am being too needy or suffocating, but I have also seen her lean into me, put her paw on me to ask for more affection, and smile as a result of hugs and kisses. It may be an overreaction to conclude that we should never hug our dogs, but maybe we should take the dog's feelings into account more often than we do.

In any case, despite another day of re-post, there's some original content. Satchel has changed my life for the better. She's a great joy in our lives.

AND I just tested my theory. I hugged her and she leaned into the hug. She wanted the hug. I don't think Coren's study is conclusive or universal.

Reposted with permission. See Link in title for original article.

With Dogs, It’s What You Say — and How You Say It


Dogs that were trained to enter an M.R.I. machine for the research. CreditEnik Kubinyi

Who’s a good dog?
Well, that depends on whom you’re asking, of course. But new research suggests that the next time you look at your pup, whether Maltese or mastiff, you might want to choose your words carefully.
“Both what we say and how we say it matters to dogs,” said Attila Andics, a research fellow at Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest.
Dr. Andics, who studies language and behavior in dogs and humans, along with Adam Miklosi and several other colleagues, reported in a paper to be published in this week’s issue of the journal Science that different parts of dogs’ brains respond to the meaning of a word, and to how the word is said, much as human brains do.


A dog waiting for its brain activity to be measured in a magnetic resonance imaging machine for research reported in the journal Science. CreditEnik Kubinyi

As with people’s brains, parts of dogs’ left hemisphere react to meaning and parts of the right hemisphere to intonation — the emotional content of a sound. And, perhaps most interesting to dog owners, only a word of praise said in a positive tone really made the reward system of a dog’s brain light up.
The experiment itself was something of an achievement. Dr. Andics and his colleagues trained dogs to enter a magnetic resonance imaging machine and lie in a harness while the machine recorded their brain activity.
A trainer spoke words in Hungarian — common words of praise used by dog owners like “good boy,” “super” and “well done.” The trainer also tried neutral words like “however” and “nevertheless.” Both the praise words and neutral words were offered in positive and neutral tones.


The research found that different parts of dogs’ brains respond to the meaning of a word and to how the word is said, much as human brains do. CreditVilja and Vanda Molnár

The positive words spoken in a positive tone prompted strong activity in the brain’s reward centers. All the other conditions resulted in significantly less action, and all at the same level.

In other words, “good boy” said in a neutral tone and “however” said in a positive or neutral tone all got the same response.
What does it all mean? For dog owners, Dr. Andics said, the findings mean that the dogs are paying attention to meaning, and that you should, too.

That doesn’t mean a dog won’t wag its tail and look happy when you say, “You stinky mess” in a happy voice. But the dog is looking at your body language and your eyes, and perhaps starting to infer that “stinky mess” is a word of praise.


Anna Gabor speaking to a dog as part of the research. CreditVilja and Vanda Molnár

In terms of evolution of language, the results suggest that the capacity to process meaning and emotion in different parts of the brain and tie them together is not uniquely human. This ability had already evolved in non-primates long before humans began to talk.

Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University who was not involved in the study, said he thought the experiment was well done and suggested that specialization of right and left hemispheres in processing information began to evolve well before human language. But, he said, it was still possible that dogs had independently evolved a similar brain organization.

Dr. Hare, who studies both dogs and primates, and specializes in cognitive neuroscience and evolution, also pointed out that the dogs could leave the experiment at any time. He wrote in an email, “They were volunteers as much as is possible with animals.” Primates, he said, cannot be trained to undergo MRI scans willingly.

Reposted with permission. See Link in title for original article.

The Data Says "Don't Hug the Dog!"

New data shows that hugging your dog raises its stress and anxiety levels.

Posted Apr 13, 2016

I had brought my dogs to be part of a "Doggy De-Stress Day" on the campus of a local university. These are becoming more common for many colleges in North America and usually take place during midterm exam or final exam periods. The way it works is that dogs (often therapy dogs, but sometimes just well-behaved pets) are brought to campus and students get a chance to pet and interact with the dogs. The rationale here is that during exam periods stress levels run high in the student population, and there is ample evidence that shows that dogs can reduce stress levels. (Click here for more about that). So this seems like a simple method of making students feel a bit less hassled before and between their tests.

At one point during the event a diminutive woman came over to my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever puppy and gave him a hug. At the time, he was about six months old, and, like most puppies, relatively tolerant of any form of interaction. Nonetheless, in response to the girl's hug he turned his head to break off eye contact, his ears slicked down, and gave a small stress yawn. I leaned over and said to her: "You really shouldn't hug a dog. They don't like it and it raises their stress level."
The girl looked at me with an expression of disbelief and said, "I'm studying developmental psychology and there's lots of evidence which says that hugging is important and pleasant. When a mother hugs her child the child gets a surge of the hormone oxytocin and so does the mother, and that hormone is associated with loving and bonding. There is evidence that says that if parents don't hug and touch their child a lot, that child can grow up to be emotionally stunted. So how can you tell me that hugging isn't good for dogs, especially for a puppy?"
The real answer to her question is, of course, that dogs are not human children. Dogs are technically cursorial animals, which is a term that indicates that they are designed for swift running. That implies that in times of stress or threat the first line of defense that a dog uses is not his teeth, but rather his ability to run away. Behaviorists believe that depriving a dog of that course of action by immobilizing him with a hug can increase his stress level and, if the dog's anxiety becomes significantly intense, he may bite. For that reason, certain websites, which try to educate children and parents in order to reduce the incidence of dog bites (such as Doggone Safe), make a point about teaching children that they should not hug dogs. Furthermore, a few years back when a children's book entitled "Smooch Your Pooch" recommended that kids hug and kiss their dog anytime and anywhere, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) felt that it was necessary for them to release an official statement that strongly advised parents to avoid purchasing the book, since "this information can cause children to be bitten."
Given how widely accepted the idea is that hugging is not something that dogs like, and that hugging a dog may be associated with increasing the likelihood of a dog bite, I was surprised that a search of the scientific literature produced very little experimental evidence to support that belief. I did find two articles that showed that getting bitten on the face was much more likely if you were hugging or kissing a dog. However, the authors of both studies seemed to suggest that the proximity of the person's face to the dog's mouth was the most important factor, rather than something like the hug itself. For that reason, I decided to collect some data on this issue.
The signs of stress and anxiety in dogs are well established, and are easily observable, at least by trained individuals. Obviously at the high-end of stress, we have dogs who bare their teeth. But, there are subtler indicators. The most common sign of anxiety is when the dog turns his head away from whatever is bothering or worrying him, sometimes also closing his eyes, at least partially. Alternatively, dogs will often show what is commonly called a "half-moon eye" or "whale eye” which is where you can see the white portion of the eyes at the corner or the rim. One common visible sign of stress or anxiety is when the dog's ears are lowered or slicked against the side of his head. Lip licking or licking a person's face can also be signs of anxiety, as can yawning or raising one paw. These signs and other similar ones should be easy to detect in stressed dogs. All that I needed then to conduct the research was a source of photographic material showing people hugging their dogs.
Fortunately for me, the Internet abounds with photographs of people and their pets. If you put the search terms "hug dog" or "love dog" into something like Google Image Search, or Flickr, you will get a virtually infinite scroll of pictures of people and their children hugging their pet dogs. I decided to look at a random sample of 250 such pictures. I used a variety of criteria to try to keep the data as clean and precise as possible. I only used photos where the dog's face was clearly visible. I also eliminated situations where one might expect the dog's stress level to rise because of factors other than being hugged (such as when someone lifts a large dog off the ground while hugging them). Each picture received one of three possible scores:

  1. One could judge that the dog was showing one or more signs of stress or anxiety;
  2. One could judge that the dog appeared to be relaxed and at ease;
  3. One could decide that the dog's response was ambiguous or neutral. Two examples of dogs that scored as being stressed while they were in the process of being hugged appear below.
Modified from a Humane Society of Greater Rochester photo, Creative Commons License
Source: Modified from a Humane Society of Greater Rochester photo, Creative Commons License
Modified from a Peter Kemmer photo, Creative Commons License
Source: Modified from a Peter Kemmer photo, Creative Commons License

I can summarize the data quite simply by saying that the results indicated that the Internet contains many pictures of happy people hugging what appear to be unhappy dogs. In all, 81.6% of the photographs researchers scored showed dogs who were giving off at least one sign of discomfort, stress, or anxiety. Only 7.6% of the photographs could rate as showing dogs that were comfortable with being hugged. The remaining 10.8% of the dogs either were showing neutral or ambiguous responses to this form of physical contact.

I suppose that one aspect of the data that struck me as interesting comes from the fact that the photographs that I used were obviously posts by individuals who wanted to show how much they cared for and shared a bond with their pet. This means that the people who were doing the Internet posting probably chose photos in which they felt that both the person and the dog looked happiest. Nonetheless, around 82% of the photographs show unhappy dogs receiving hugs from their owners or children. This seems consistent with other research which suggests that people, especially children, seem to have difficulty reading signs of stress and anxiety based upon their dogs' facial expressions. (Click here for more about that.) Much more relevant for the current question is the fact that this data clearly shows that while a few dogs may like being hugged, more than four out of five dogs find this human expression of affection to be unpleasant and/or anxiety arousing.
The clear recommendation to come out of this research is to save your hugs for your two-footed family members and lovers. It is clearly better from the dog's point of view if you express your fondness for your pet with a pat, a kind word, and maybe a treat.

Reflect and connect.

Have someone give you a kiss, and tell you that I love you.

I miss you so very much, Mom.

Talk to you tomorrow, Mom.


- Days ago = 469 days ago

- Bloggery committed by chris tower - 1610.16 - 10:10

NOTE on time: When I post late, I had been posting at 7:10 a.m. because Google is on Pacific Time, and so this is really 10:10 EDT. However, it still shows up on the blog in Pacific time. So, I am going to start posting at 10:10 a.m. Pacific time, intending this to be 10:10 Eastern time. I know this only matters to me, and to you, Mom. But I am not going back and changing all the 7:10 a.m. times. But I will run this note for a while. Mom, you know that I am posting at 10:10 a.m. often because this is the time of your death.
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