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  • If dogs could talk they'd tell us some home truths.

    11 January at 19:25 from atlas

    Pet owners undoubtedly want to do the best for their animal companions, but there is still widespread misapprehension of what their pets are actually thinking and feeling, moment-to-moment. The majority of cat owners believe that their cats can feel pride, but biologists consider this complex emotion to be beyond the capabilities of the feline (or canine) brain. Likewise, it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that a dog is feeling guilty when we discover that it's chewed up the TV remote when our backs were turned, but again, there's no scientific evidence to back this up. When psychologist Alexandra Horowitz tricked owners into believing that their dogs had disobeyed them while they were out of the room, the dogs immediately went into full-blown "guilty" mode; evidently they were reacting to subtle cues in the owners' body-language that informed them that a scolding was imminent.

    Misreading of a dog's feelings and intentions can have serious consequences. Much attention has been given to so-called "dangerous dogs" especially when one attacks an innocent passerby, but what the headlines obscure is that many of the most serious attacks are by family dogs on the children they live with (and few of these involve pit bulls or other banned breeds} have the responsibility to ensure that their dog is trained to behave appropriately around children, and likewise to teach their children the right way to approach a dog.

    From the dog's perspective, the most useful technology might be one that recorded their feelings not when their owners were nearby, but when they weren't.

    Every day, millions of dogs are left alone while their owners go out to work: most of them hate being left alone (and contrary to a common myth, the company of another dog is no substitute). Some bark, some howl, some pace around; some simply lie down and appear to rest, but their skyrocketing stress hormones betray their anxiety. Only those that distract themselves by pawing a hole in the door or burying themselves under the sofa cushions, or lose control of their bladder or bowels, alert their owners to their distress - and even this is often misinterpreted as "boredom" or even "spite". Dogs can be trained to cope with being left alone, but few owners are aware that they can actually do this.  For those dog owners who accept this responsibility, technology that reassured them that they were succeeding would be a boon.

    For those technophiles who desire a mess-free "animal companion", realistic robot pets are probably a better solution than a living, breathing, pooping animal, however technology-equipped. Sony may have pulled the plug on its unprofitable robot dog Paro, however a robotic seal proved highly effective in alleviating anxiety and depression in dementia sufferers - and even at $6,000 each, they're cheaper than a lifetime's bills for a pug.

    Written for The Guardian by John Bradshaw who is an honorary research fellow at Uni of Bristol's vet school.   21 July 2017


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