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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

ABC Action News I-Team Investigation
Pet Sitters ... Do they keep their promises?

VALRICO, Florida
After being contacted by a local pet owner, Joey Trowbridge, the ABC Action News I-Team recently conducted a hidden camera investigation into several local pet sitters. The purpose was to find out if in-home pet sitters actually watch their charges for as long as they promise and attest ... to this end, participating pet owners set up 30-minute visits with local pet sitters. Results were aired on last Thursday night's 11pm ABC Action News. Miss Trowbridge, owner of three cats and a long time client of "Wags and Wiggles" contacted the I-Team after her security camera revealed she had not been receiving the pet setting services for which she had contracted ... that is, the pet sitter had left sooner than the agreed upon 30-minute visits. Her security camera tapes revealed visits of fifteen, six and four minutes. ST. PETE BEACH, Florida As part of the I-Team investigation, Mary Alexander contacted and hired "Give Me Your Paw Pet Services" for two days to watch her two dogs ... the first day, the visit lasted but ten minutes, the next day, eight! Danged if I don't find myself disillusioned, disappointed, disturbed, distressed, and disgusted ... outraged is a better word! The very essence of pet sitting goes beyond that of the usual business relationship ... love is involved! Our view is that it is demanded of us as professional pet sitters that we provide two basic services ... love to the pets, and peace of mind to the owners! Indeed, any professional sitter who doesn't passionately love animals is in the wrong business! That clients always be properly advised of what transpires during pet sitting visits is a tenet of all professional pet sitting organizations to which we all are honor bound to adhere. Unfortunately, the video makes it shockingly clear that the cited pet sitters failed in that duty and flagrantly abused the trust placed in them by the client and presumably by their employer as well. Such inexcusable conduct is obviously unprofessional and cannot under any circumstance be tolerated or condoned! Indeed it is despicable and disgraceful ... damning of the professional pet sitting industry to which Penelop's Petstop proudly belongs! However, we all know that calling oneself a professional does not a true professional make. Professional misconduct and abuse know no favorites ... they can be found in every industry throughout the land. We know too that a few rotten apples can make entire barrel appear rotten when it is not. Admittedly, utilizing independent contractors can offer some advantages to both company and client, but without proper checks, balances, and well conceived, properly executed procedures to replace the "Meet and Greet" mechanism of those who do not, these advantages are certainly outweighed. Perhaps that should have been the focus of the investigation ... perhaps.
For those of us involved in providing pet services ... the I-Team investigation and video hopefully serve good purpose by serving as a reminder of the potential abuses that can be inflicted as a result of incompetence and exploitation by some when opportunities present themselves. We must be ever mindful of the great trust being placed in us ... and of our responsibilities to our clients and ourselves. Let us all be dedicated to the eradication of abuse and to our own self improvement. The thought is not a new one ... the techniques should best be situation specific but something as simple as a short "How are we doing? ... How can we server you better?" satisfaction survey is often used ... it's good marketing too! For those of not involved in providing pet services, specifically pet owners currently using pet sitting services ... and those possibly considering so doing ... the investigation and video also increase awareness of the potential abuses. That is to say, it underscores the importance of carefully selecting the pet service provider.
pollcat"What's most important to you in selecting a pet sitter?"
As earlier said, our view is that as professional pet sitters, we provide two basic services ... love to the pets, and peace of mind to the owners! Our slogan "Your Pets are Our Passion" is meant to convey our heartfelt dedication to providing both services ... that is, to love and care for your pets as if they were our own, giving due attention to your preferences and the dictates of your circumstance.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Family Dog

Could you feel the emotion in Miss Laura's post on the documentary she saw on Nova, called "Dogs Decoded ... the study was aimed at showing how dogs are not just "tamed wild animals", but rather they have evolved over time with the skill to communicate with humans on an emotional level. In their evolution they have developed the use of complex language to display emotions..

Dogs Decoded
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

A dog that can identify 25 things from pictures is amazing and enough to get most anyone who loves animals excited! It did me!

Chaser - World's Smartest DogWOW!!! What about "Chaser" ... the dog with a vocabulary of over 1,000 words ... truly remarkable!!

However, what really got my attention and piqued my interest was that last part ... about how smart dogs are. Well, the first part too ... while Dr. John Dolittle actually proved all that close to 200 years ago, I find it exciting that these scientists are now attempting to validate and expand upon his research!

We both love animals as I'm sure do most of you ... if you don't, you're probably in the wrong place! They are Laura'a greatest passion ...that's why she started her professional pet sitting service Penelop's Petstop, Inc ... and the reason for Penelop's Place.

About the first thing you saw when you walked in our door was ... "We share a passion to find all there is to find ... information and stories! Penelop's Place will be devoted to obtaining and sharing information and stories from those involved with animals" ... that certainly includes ethologists and their research ... surely it will be one of our best sources of both useful information and great stories! . We think that most animal lovers, and most especially pet owners, will agree that such research is important and the information they provide is very useful ... everybody benefits from increased understanding ... the pets, pet owners ... and yes, society!

Of course, our Miss Laura has an especial interest in such things ... so naturally she finds it interesting and exciting! More than that, being involved in professional pet sitting ... she considers it her duty to those entrusting their pets to her care, that she and everyone involved, be well informed ... "know all there is to know" ... about pets ... how they think and communicate ... how and why they react the way they do in different situations.

It's vital that she be knowledgeable and well informed about such things in her other animal related activities too, especially when she's involved in animal rescue efforts where the animals are scared ... oft times in life threatening situations ... vital to her well being and to theirs!

It's a challenge trying to find things she hasn't already seen or read ... but it's fun too! I've already learned a lot myself and we both hope our presenting this type of information here in Penelop's Place proves entertaining and informative for everyone!

For those who may be thinking ... "I don't need to know how cameras work in order to go down to Walgreens or K-Mart, buy a Kodak disposable and start taking some pretty good pictures. I just just point and click! ... and I can love and care for my 'Old Blue' just fine thank you, without knowing how he thinks ... I already know he's smart ... and he'll love me all the same, whether I do or I don't!

Well, you got me there ... couldn't agree with you more! Of course, if you're like most who don't know much about cameras ... you'll take some pretty bad ones too.

Now what would 'Old Blue' think if you took some bad pictures of him? That's right ... you haven't a clue since you don't know how he thinks or communicates ... or how he would react ... admit it! He just might run away ... or get mad and bite off a piece of your ear!

Either way, I wouldn't chance it ... 'Old Blue' is a good dog and deserves the best ... love, care, understanding ... and yes, pictures too! Truth is, the more you know about your camera and how it works, the better chance you have of taking good pictures of 'Old Blue' ... and, the more you know about him and how he thinks ... how he communicates with you and with other animals ... how and why he reacts the way he does in different situations ... well, the more you know, the better chance you'll have of truly understanding him and taking better care of him. You can bet the ranch ... the happier 'Old Blue' is, the happier you'll be!

Family Dog Project Banner
Vilmos Csányi I missed the documentary but did find something on the Hungarian "Family Dog Project" established in 1994 by Professor Emeritus Vilmos Csányi together with Antal Dóka, Ádám Miklósi, and József Topál at the Department of Ethology at the Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. Evidently it was the first research group dedicated to investigate "the evolutionary and ethological foundations of dog-human relationship".... whatever that is.

I guess it would help to know what ethologists are ... Noah says "ethology" is the scientific and objective study of animal behavior, especially under natural conditions.

My experience with college researchers is that they all use big words and go about trying to prove things we already know from our own experiences and common sense. Let's see if this group is different, especially with regard to their use of two-dollar words ... and will perhaps they'll unlock some doors and "reveal" some stuff that will help us better understand that curious animal we call the "family dog."

I have a hunch these folks are the real deal ... like Coca Cola, a refreshing pause. The "Family Dog" project is now close to 20 years old and best I can tell, they're still well at it! Don't know, but it wouldn't surprise me none if their work hasn't inspired or facilitated some of the other research going on today.

These guys believe that dogs have evolved to survive in our environment and want to show the contribution of both humans and dogs to this long-standing partnership ... quite an undertaking! The scope of their study isn't limited to the mental abilities of dogs but covers all aspects of human and dog behavior that have strengthened this bond between man and his best friend.

Their major topics of interest include ... Acoustic Communication, Attachment and Social Relationships, Personality, Social and Physical Cognition, Social Learning, Visual Communication and Wolf-Dog Comparisons.

Concluding that dogs probably have to rely on sophisticated social abilities in order to get along in their relationships, they stress the need for scientific research into the cognitive mechanisms that may operate in the dogs’ mind. No two-dollar words there ...

Personally, I would have thought that we would know all about dogs by now ... Wikipedia says that our family dog, a domesticated form of the gray wolf, is about 15,000 years old ... not expected to be on the endangered list any time soon either, with over 400 million around today.

They assume that human preference for certain acoustic aspects of dog vocalization played a key role in the selection process associated with the evolution of dog barking ... and call for a more experiment-oriented approach in the study of dog vocalization that could shed light on the possible communicative function of these acoustic signals.

According to them, dogs have a rich vocal repertoire, including not only barking, but also other types of vocalizations.

Recent studies indicate that our social and communicative influence on our pets modifies their ability to process environmental cues. As anticipated, It seems that their preference for our choices and actions may well inhibit their ability to react optimally to challenges in the environment. Thinking BogIt appears dogs are no different from people ... after getting used to our doing all the thinking for them, they have difficulty doing it for themselves! Seriously, it's hard to expect a dog to have well developed hunting skills when his food usually comes from a can or out of a sack!

How smart they are and how they communicate ... with us, and with each other ... piques my interest.
... Bob

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Cognitive Powers Of Dogs - still a mystery

Family Dog Project Banner
Barking Although barking is one of the most conspicuous features of dog behavior, it's received very little attention from ethologists ... emerging new research has indicated the dog's barking is more sophisticated than perhaps imagined, featuring wide ranges of acoustic parameters like frequency, tonality and rhythmicity.

This research showed barking to be strongly context dependent and informative, at least for humans. At the same time, there is still little evidence supporting complex barking communication among dogs. That's not to suggest that they don't talk among themselves ... ours do, that's for sure ... it's just that we don't yet know much about it.

I can just hear old John Dolittle now ... "I told you so!"

Two DogsMore recently, they began investigating the role of growls in "dog-dog" communication", especially regarding the possible referential content of these signals. In this case, referentiality, one of their two-dollar words, means that the signal contains information about both the dog’s emotional state and its environment ... Growling Doggrowl ... "I'm scared ... the old man is drunk again and throwing rocks at me!"

This suggests to me that perhaps growls rather than barks may hold the better keys to understanding dog communications. The researchers seem to agree, noting that dogs emit growls in various social contexts, both in agonistic and non-agonistic situations, making them suitable subjects for this kind of research.

The attention of humans ... "the direction in which we're looking – our head orientation" ... has an important effect on the dogs’ behavior. Dogs take human attention into account when they retrieve objects or respond to commands ... they can also figure out whether a command was intended to them or somebody else.

They are also very good at performing rituals and following simple rules ... they seem to easily become engaged in “hide and seek” type games and will look for the object, even when nothing has actually been hidden, something we've all observed in our pets ... and some of us in our children too..

While it's common knowledge that the family dog's behavior reflects its environment and treatment it receives, there may be more to it than what we might imagine.

It's noted that human behavior often serves as sort of a "blueprint" followed by the dogs. The researchers observed that sometimes a pointless short detour by the owner during the daily walk gets included in the dog's own routine. Is that a scientific way of saying that our pets are mimics? Perhaps it more than that ... growl ... "I figure that if you do it, it must be the thing to do ... so now I do it too" ... perhaps.

Our pets are our childrenThat many of us think of our pets as our children may be more than just an expression of loving and sentimental attachment!

They tell us than in certain situations dogs can take into account what the their owner knows or doesn't know.

Still unwilling to concede that our pets can read our minds, the researchers say that they do this by observing some minute visible differences in their owners’ behavior rather than being able to think about the thoughts of the person.

More specifically, their study results show for example, that ... like 3 year old children, adult pet dogs were able to provide missing information that their owners didn't possess. Whether the dogs used ‘mind reading’ or solved the task by some ‘insightful’ learning about observable behavioral cues of their owners is not clear. However, the results do support the claim that dogs are able to provide humans with information that helps them in obtaining a goal ... that is, dogs rely on human behavioral cues ... body language indicating the lack of certain ‘knowledge’ ... and attempt to help.

Well, I do remember "Blackie" bringing Daddy his bedroom slippers when he couldn't find them, more than once ... and when my son was but three, my sapphire ring mysteriously disappeared. I thought I had left it on the bedroom night stand ... misplaced, stolen ... I had no idea. My son joined in the search and I offered him a reward if he found it. He never said anything ... but repeatedly went into the bathroom and stared down into the toilet bowl. No, we never found it ... but we knew where it was!

Are dogs good students?

Dog and V-Shaped FenceThe evidence supports our intuition ... in several experiments the researchers found that dogs learn easily from humans in many tasks, like detouring a V-shaped fence ... opening a problem box, or operating a two-action device. Doggie see, doggie do ... but more than just following the human actions provided as examples and accepting it as the thing to do because we humans do it, they show an ability for generalization and applying what they learn to other situations.

In a word, the studies demonstrated that dogs are able to use social information provided by humans in problem solving situations. Also shown was that dogs can use socially provided information to overcome previously learned routines that have become corrupted, causing behavioral problems ... encouraging news for some of us!

As might be expected, they found that untrained, inexperienced dogs learn a detour task faster if they can observe a demonstrator making the detour. Perhaps lesser known than their human counterparts are the trained dog demonstrators ... yes, dogs that are trained to teach other dogs. Imagine that ... they were also used for tasks where the researchers expected dogs to learn from each other's behavioral example.

The results show that other factors, like social rank, can influence the dogs’ performance in social learning tasks. High ranked (dominant) dogs learned more easily from a human demonstrator, while lower ranked, subordinate dogs learned much more effectively from a dog demonstrator.

As a result of these studies, the researchers concluded that dogs seem to have a special kind of receptivity to behavior cues of human teaching ... resulting in the efficient transfer of information, even when its content is cognitively ’unclear’, arbitrary and without any perceivable adaptive value. I don't know ... maybe it's related to the dog's desire to please ... or again ...growl ... "I figure that if you do it, it must be the thing to do ... so now I do it too".

African Wild Dog Dogs need to know something about the physical laws of their environment. In the wild order to find food, catch a prey, defend a territory or make a burrow, ... wolves and other animals too. Our pets need to know something of those laws as well, same but different.

Dogs are able to trace and follow objects both visually and on the basis of smell. It is assumed that such tasks can only be accomplished if the dog is able to build and retain a “mental image” of the object. Such skill is often referred to by scientists as “object permanence” ... whatever it's called, it's amazing, and obviously something especially useful to the wolf, the dog and other animals when they hunt for rapidly moving prey on a complex terrain. We see it in our pets when playing games of "fetch" or "hide and seek" ... again ... same, but different.

Domestication is thought to have had a definite negative or inhibiting influence an animal's physical cognition skills ... for many reasons, including an increased dependance on their owners. For example, pet dogs living in the city don't seem to be very skilled in relatively simple detour tasks. They need about 5-6 trials to learn how to get a piece of food from behind a 10 foot long fence. In the wild, survival demands better performance ... if you don't get it right the first time, you may not get a second chance!

Importantly, these city dwelling canine pets also seem to have difficulty transferring their knowledge about the detours to other similar situations While these test results were consistent, the impact of the dog's “puppyhood” and later general experience on its skill in "getting around" is still unclear.

Pointing GestureChanging gears, we know that pointing gestures play a great role in our effectively communicating with each other ... as well as our pets. Our pointing gestures take many forms and are so ingrained into our everyday life that we use them, almost without even realizing it . Many independent studies have well established that dogs comprehend the human pointing gesture and the "Family Dog" project researchers showed that dogs are able to rely on more subtle human visual cues like head turning, nodding or bowing. That may seem insignificant but it represented somewhat of a breakthrough!

Indeed, dogs seem to regard the pointing gesture as being a communicative act ... in the experimental setting they tended to choose the bowl pointed at by the human even when their own sight and smell told them otherwise ... Dumb dogs!

As noted, the study showed that dogs readily comprehend different forms of human pointing ... that the skill is easily and quickly mastered. More specifically, they found that although dogs respond well to many different pointing gestures, they perform poorly in the case of gestures when, from their point of view, the pointing arm and hand stays within the silhouette of the body ... leading to the conclusion that the protrusion of a body part from the torso provides the key feature of the signal to the dog.

In a recent related study, they found that making the gesture visually more conspicuous could have an enhancing effect in cases where the gesture does not stick out from the body torso.

Mama often said that "turn about is fair play" ... there are also indications that dogs have a strong propensity to initialize communicative interactions with us by using visual and sometimes also acoustic signals functionally similar to the ones we use. Several studies have shown that dogs also “point” to humans, ... when facing an situation they themselves cannot solve, they'll use attention-getting behavior. For example, after looking at the owner, dogs engage in gaze alternation between the location of the target object and the owner.

A similar phenomenon was observed in a separate experiment, in which dogs, after having learned how to solve a task, were prevented from getting to the target object the same way as they had been taught. We would cry "Unfair!" and stage a protest ... but dogs don't belong to powerful unions. Characteristically, after a few attempts most dogs stopped trying and looked at their owner. According to the results of these studies, gaze alternation is a typical sign of dogs’ “pointing behavior”, and it proved to be also very effective in the sense that humans are able to extract information about the actual location of something that the dog wants to obtain. Same, not even different!

The Family Dog Project researchers concluded and provided evidence that during the domestication process, man's selection based on two genetic influence factors ... visual cooperation and focused attention ... have led independently to increased comprehension of human communicational cues in dogs.

Personally, I think they did more than that ... they provided strong evidence that our family dog has far greater cognition powers and communication capabilities than we can imagine ... doggoned if they didn't!!

Well, there you have it ... proof positive that dogs are smart! I know, I know, that's just my opinion ... you're entitled to yours! However, before going public with your sentiments ... just remember that there is strong evidence that our pets, like our children, tend to don the mantel of their owners, almost mirror images sometimes ... doggoned if they aren't!!

PuppydogAs with the wolf, there is a wealth of interesting anecdotes relating to the remarkable cognition powers and communication capabilities of man's best buddy ...
Puppydogmy guess is that everyone who has ever had a family dog has more than one!

Another guess what ain't no guess is that everybody would love to read them!!

We certainly would ... that's for sure! We truly hope that you'll share yours with us ... that's from the heart! Like Miss Laura says, "Your Pets Are Our Passion!"