Streaming Now: Dogs on the Silver Screen

A tan dog and black and white puppy sit with Istanbul's skyline in the background
Movie poster for Stray

I recently watched not one but two new documentaries focused on dogs. Both are available to stream.

We Don’t Deserve Dogs

We Don’t Deserve Dogs highlights the human-dog relationship by profiling dog people around the world. It offers a fascinating glimpse at dogs and their humans in Uganda, Nepal, Peru … and several other countries where, it turns out, people fuss and fawn over and spoil their dogs as much as we Americans do.

I was ready to love this film until we got to a segment near the end which, to be fair, the Bark review linked above warns about. It addresses the dog meat trade in Vietnam.

From reading the Bark review, I was expecting it. But I was unprepared for how long and how graphic it was. This segment ruined the movie for me. Bark says it starts at about an hour and seven minutes in; if you watch, I recommend stopping the movie at that point.

Stray

Stray, the second documentary, offers a dog’s-eye view of life on the streets in Istanbul, a city known for its huge population of stray dogs and for laws protecting them. (There are even special vending machines to feed them!)

Following Zeytin, a beautiful mixed-breed, as she goes about her life is fascinating. There’s not really a story and no dialogue. Some overheard conversations provide the only human interaction in the film.

Zeytin has a pack of canine buddies whom she hangs out with, plays and fights with, and finds food with.

She also seems to have a community of humans she’s in regular contact with. Among this group are a group of young men, refugees from Syria, also living on the streets in Istanbul. The film is a subtle commentary on the experience and treatment of both the dogs and the humans.

The real story of the movie, though, emerged when I watched two short films bundled with Stray. Interviews featuring the filmmaker, Elizabeth Lo, these extras brought out Lo’s view of dogs and the cultural differences she saw while researching and making Stray.

It’s the difference between seeing dogs as needing to be owned and “protected” by humans and seeing dogs as independent beings, capable and deserving of the opportunity to live life on their own terms.

 

How Clean Are Dogs’ Paws?

a dog paw and two human hands connect
My paws are clean. Are yours?

A common objection heard from people who dislike (or fear) dogs and don’t want to allow dogs to enter their space is that dogs are dirty.

In response to too-frequent denials of access to assistance dog teams, some researchers in The Netherlands decided to check into this contention. “The main argument for denial of access is that dogs compromise hygiene with their presence, which could cause a health hazard. Meanwhile, people are allowed to walk into and out of public places freely,” they wrote.

They recruited volunteers — 25 assistance dog teams and 25 pet dog / human pairs. The volunteer dogs and humans took 15-30 minute walks together, then allowed the researchers to collect samples from their paws and the soles of their shoes (respectively). The researchers tested the samples for Enterobacteriaceae (a common cause of hospital infections), Clostridium difficile, and other bacteria.

And guess what?

The dogs’ feet showed significantly less bacterial contamination than the people’s shoes. “The general hygiene of dog paws is better than that of shoe soles,” the report concludes. They speculate that dogs’ habit of grooming themselves, including their feet, could be the reason — even people who remove their shoes before going into their own homes rarely clean the soles of their shoes. Dog saliva contains high levels of “antimicrobial substances,” the study says.

In addition, some people routinely clean their dogs’ paws upon returning home. I do that if we’ve been walking where people have used snow-melt chemicals or lawn “greening” chemicals or if Cali is excessively wet and muddy.

To be fair, dirty paws are not the only reason that people think that dogs will bring dirt into their houses or businesses. I haven’t found a study that compares the amount of biological ick (yup, that’s the scientific term) humans shed vs. dogs but … I suspect that goldens and labs would not come out on top. Then there are the drooly breeds … Let’s quit while we’re ahead.

Dogs Are in Sync with Their People

Cali, a golden retriever, wears a cowboy hat, red bandana, and a huge smile

Stay calm. I’ve got this.

Way back when I first started learning about dogs and dog training, I learned something cool: Dogs synchronize with their people. This synchronization is more pronounced in dog-human pairs with a strong bond; the New York Times recently described dogs syncing with their human families’ children.

This is a great illustration of the strong connections that dogs develop with all members of their human family — not only the adult who feeds or walks them or, to dust off an old and thoroughly debunked concept, the “alpha” in the family.

The dogs might synchronize physically, facing the way we do or adapting their gait and speed to sync with ours or sitting when we do. The internet is full of adorable videos of dogs syncing with or mimicking their humans’ yoga poses.

They also sync with our emotions. The closer the relationship, the more the dog is likely to synchronize with the person (or the person with the dog!).

A teaching tool

When I was learning to teach dogs new verbal cues and associate them with behaviors, I learned to use this. For instance, we’d say “down” is a deep, calm voice. And “let’s go” in an energetic and upbeat way. This was meant to encourage the dog to synchronize with the emotion and energy level we were conveying to strengthen the association of the action with the word.

This feels a little manipulative (because it is), but it works for teaching. It’s also a good thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to understand — or change — your dog’s behavior.

Cali can be unpredictable when we encounter other dogs on our walks. She’s nearly always happy to see and even meet dogs who are smaller than she is. She’s usually eager to say hello to other goldens, and most Labs. She’s nervous about other dogs who are her size or larger, and there are some breeds (yes, Cal is a doggy racist …) that she dislikes on sight, chief among them any sort of doodle.

So, naturally, when I see someone walking toward us with a friendly, enormous doodle straining to say hello, I feel anxious.

While my reaction came from multiple experiences with Cali’s negative reactions, it is now feeding or even causing her to become anxious — and react to the dog with an even more extreme amount of grumbling and even growling. Cali!

That’s because she is synchronizing with my negative emotions.

On the other hand, if I notice the dreaded doodle when we’re far enough apart, and I stay calm, soothing Cali with “you’re fine, let’s just keep going,” as we pass, leaving plenty of space between the dogs, she might give them a look or mutter under her breath, but she won’t pull or growl.

Cali is a natural

Cali uses this principle to help out her best friend, Maisy. Maisy is a lot more anxious about other dogs than Cali — any and all other dogs. And some people too.

But Cali loves meeting new people. She’s convinced Maisy to say hello to families, kids, and even unfamiliar men! Maisy’s reaction to other dogs is a lot calmer when she’s with Cali too — as long as Cali (and I) stay calm — and make it possible for her to stay a comfortable distance from the other dogs.

The trick, of course, is seeing the other people and dogs first. If we’re surprised by someone coming around a corner, the dogs’ reaction is much faster than mine and things can quickly go south. Even then though, the solution lies in projecting calm as we walk away — not always easy to do.

I’m not suggesting that staying calm will magically cure your anxious dog, but it’s a nice trick to have up your sleeve. Deepening our ability to stay calm in unpredictable circumstances is beneficial to us as well as to our dogs! The best part is that the synchronization thing is circular. Your dog syncs with you more as your bond deepens. And the more in sync you are, the closer your relationship will become.

News from the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study

Golden retriever Cali wears her yellow Morris Foundation study bandana, with drawings of golden retrievers all over itCali, along with her brothers Sailor and Pirate, is part of an elite group of golden retrievers: They are members of the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, a project of the Morris Animal Foundation.

The study is in its ninth year and has shared some of what researchers have learned.

Of 3,044 goldens, aged six months to two years, who enrolled in the study between August 2012 and March 2015, 78% are still in the study and fully compliant. Goldens are much better behaved than humans in long-term studies!

In addition, 99 dogs have dropped out of the study (they didn’t say why) and, sadly, 240 have died. Of those, 60% have died of cancer, mostly hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.

Studying cancer was the first and is the primary objective of the study, which looks at the dogs’ genetics, exposure and “lifestyle,” — everything from their diet to the amount and types of exercise they engage in.

Researchers, with “21,100 dog years of data” (I don’t know what that means but it sounds like a lot) are also looking at:

  • Possible links between spay/neuter age and obesity
  • Developing an early blood test for lymphoma in dogs
  • Diet and microbiome health
  • Impact of inbreeding on litter size and adult dog size

… and so much more.

Morris Animal Foundation is enrolling “golden oldies,” golden retrievers aged 12 or older who have never had cancer for a companion study. They will compare genetics of these healthy dogs with the genetics of study dogs who had cancer, in hopes of identifying potential genetic risk factors. If you are a human lucky enough to be owned by an elderly, cancer-free golden, please consider participating.

Dog Photos Are Good For You. Really.

Golden retriever Cali rests her head on my knee to tell my it is time to stop working

It’s official. Science has demonstrated that looking at pictures of dogs increases your sense of well-being.

It’s funny how often science simply confirms what we dog lovers already know, have always known, and use daily to our benefit. Think about it — if looking at a picture of a dog makes you feel good, how much better do you feel when you look at, or cuddle your actual dog. Bonus points if you have multiple dogs.

The study may have stacked the deck a wee bit, though. Participants were put into one of three groups. They all answered questions about how they were feeling, then they looked at different online content. One lucky group looked at pictures of dogs. Another looked at popular funny posts. The unluckiest group spent the time reading tweets in (then-president) Trump’s official feed.

They then answered the questions again. All three groups had significant changes in their feelings of well-being. The Trump tweet group felt worse — even the people in the group who were Trump supporters felt worse. The funny post people felt a little better. But the lucky dog people — well, you know what I am going to say.

Enough chatter. Just look at some dog pictures. Here are a few to get you started. You’re welcome.

Cali’s Pronouns Are She, Her, Hers

Cali holds a toy that looks like a "banned" sign
Don’t call me “it.”

It’s long past time to consider our dogs, and of course all other sentient creatures, as living beings. Not as “it”s.

A letter signed by dozens of animal rights and animal welfare luminaries was recently the subject of a radio op-ed by NPR’s Scott Simon. The letter asks the AP, the Associated Press, to change its style and use the correct gendered pronouns when referring to animals — and the nonbinary “they” in other instances. The current AP style for animals is “Do not apply a personal pronoun to an animal unless its sex has been established or the animal has a name.”

The letter states, “This is too limiting to writers as well as fellow nonhuman animals, most of whom are discussed abstractly and thus their sex is not established.We pay respect to humans whose sex is indeterminate or gender fluid by using he/she or the non-binary term they. That same courtesy should be extended to all animals, as they are gendered beings.”

As a writer and editor, I work for several organizations that use AP style. I work with it every day. I also read a lot of news media from outlets that use AP style.

Simon’s op-ed supports this change and calls attention to how much of life we share. Indeed. If the role of pets in getting us through the pandemic doesn’t show that, I don’t know what would.

I can think of numerous compelling arguments for recognizing nonhuman animals’ dignity and worth with pronouns that don’t objectify them. Starting with their obvious vitality, consciousness, intelligence, empathy … and other traits too numerous to mention that set dogs, cats, birds, and thousands of other species apart from toasters, shoes, or cardboard boxes. They are not “things.” They are beings.

It’s also more accurate. Accurately labeling living beings is low-hanging fruit in media organizations’ efforts to regain trust and build up their credibility.

Treating nonhumans as things and describing them that way makes it easier to justify mistreatment of them. We don’t have to acknowledge their suffering if they are seen as equivalent to inanimate objects.

Organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund, whose head signed the letter, have spent years fighting for legal rights for nonhuman animals, for giving legal weight to treating them differently from other property owned and used by humans. Cleaning up our language is an obvious place to start.

Language is powerful. Propagandists, politicians, and marketers have long known that. And language evolves. Simon describes how our use of pronouns has changed, from wide use of a supposedly generic “he” to more inclusive pronouns that fully recognize humans all along the gender spectrum. Marketers and advertisers increasingly (and gratingly) use “who” when talking about corporations. Using “who” rather than “that” for a living, breathing sentient being surely makes more sense than that!

Cali would like everyone to know that her pronouns are she, her, hers. She is not an it or a that. She’s also a huge fan of Scott Simon and NPR. And she really, really hopes that the dogs hold on to their title by winning pet wars on Montana Public Radio’s spring pledge drive next week.

 

A Secret Weapon in the 2021 Brackets?

An empty NCAA bracket form

Is your dog into sports?

One lucky dog owner had help — or a secret weapon? — when completing their NCAA basketball brackets this year: The family dog.

Apparently, with a lot of time on their paws, Satchel, the dog, took to chasing basketball statistics. And came up with a winning bracket. Satchel’s owner filled out the bracket (following careful instructions, no doubt) to prioritize teams with canine mascots (Go Huskies!). Those with non-canine non-human animal mascots came next.

As a person who rarely (OK, never) watches TV sports, if I were to fill out a bracket, I would have done exactly what Satchel did. I mean really, how else would you choose?

Besides, Satchel is hardly the first non-human to excel at sports betting. Remember Paul, the octopus who correctly predicted the outcome in a majority of Euro 2008 and all World Cup 2010 football (soccer to Americans) matches? Paul is probably the only octopus with a biography on Wikipedia, too …).

Satchel and Paul are joined in sports betting prowess by Cruz, a parrot who correctly bet on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win this year’s Super Bowl. (Cruz was alone in the Washington Post roundup of animal predictions; the unnamed tortoise, dolphin, sand cat, and panda all chose Kansas City.) Jane the river otter, a Tampa resident, and fellow local Buffett (a manatee) also loyally — and accurately — picked the Bucs. Their friend Nick, a dolphin, unfortunately chose the Chiefs, ending his yearlong winning streak.

So, next time you need some assistance with your sports predictions, just check with your dog. Whatever you do, don’t ask the dolphin.

What Happens When a Service Dog Retires?

Yellow Lab Ryan and Black lab Koala relax in a play tunnel
Ryan, left, and Koala, enjoyed a short vacation in Florida just before Ryan’s 2020 retirement.

When a service or guide dog is no longer able or willing to work, what happens?

Many of them stay with their families, living a life of leisure, enjoying many belly rubs, and watching some young whippersnapper do “their” job. Poorly, of course.

But not all people who partner with service or guide dogs can keep their retired partners. There are many reasons for this: Some are elderly folks or people who live on a very tight budget, and they simply cannot care for a second dog. Some are busy professionals who travel frequently and feel that they owe their retired dog a better life than frequent stays at a kennel and long, lonely days while they — and the new dog — head to work. Sometimes a guide or service dog retires because their partner dies or becomes seriously ill.

Whatever the reason, the guide or service dog’s partner or family often looks for a retirement home for the dog. Often extended family eagerly step up: Deni’s first guide, Oriel, spent a couple of years with family in Indiana before moving to Florida to live with us. Alberta, who retired young due to an eye tumor, lives with Deni’s nephew & family, including her new charge — a human puppy!

If family placement is not an option, many guide dog partners ask dog-savvy friends and acquaintances; I was a finalist in the retirement-home search for a Guiding Eyes dog recently, but the dog opted to stay closer to her partner rather than move to Montana (her loss …).

When neither of those options works out, guide and service dog schools generally place the dog with someone on their extensive waiting lists. These are usually volunteers, donors, puppy raisers (perhaps even that dog’s puppy raisers!), or others with ties to the school.

The dogs never end up panhandling for cookies or living under a bridge somewhere.

Celebrate K9 Veterans!

statues of 4 dogs and a soldier at the military dog national monument
Military Working Dog Teams National Monument

A reader let me know that National K9 Veterans Day was on March 13.

The U.S. has had canine service members since 1942. Our brave canine service members sniff out explosive devices, patrol, serve as guards, track people, and do so much more. They also provide companionship and comfort to human service members serving in difficult situations.

Other canines serve veterans as service dogs, including supporting veterans with PTSD and helping them adjust to civilian life. While these dogs are not actually K9 veterans, they deserve a mention for their service as well!

A local K9 veteran, Sergeant Bozo, began his service at Fort Missoula as a young puppy. At the age of 4, Bozo was promoted to the rank of honorary master sergeant and joined the Fourth Infantry. After Sergeant Bozo’s tragic death, he received loving tributes from newspapers all over Montana. He was buried with full military honors, it’s said, possibly in the military cemetery at Fort Missoula (though that was against the rules and has never been confirmed). His footprints and name are scratched into a cement marker on the site of the old post, though, and local lore holds that he was buried there. And the Sergeant Bozo Memorial Dog Park is located nearby, in a large park now located adjacent to the historic fort. Cali and her friends honor Sergeant Bozo’s memory with frequent walks there.

The Military Working Dog Teams National Monument in Lackland, Texas, honor all U.S. military dogs. And military dog heroes are honored with monuments across the country, from New York to California, and there’s even one on Guam. If there’s no monument you can visit, consider honoring military K9s — veterans and active duty service members — with a donation to an organization that sends care packages to canine teams, trains service dogs for veterans, or helps K9 veterans find loving retirement homes.

 

Silence, Please

Profile of Cali, a golden retriever, and her silicone-wrapped tagThe Whole Dog Journal recently ran an article about everyday things that irritate dogs. I was pleased to see one of my pet peeves on the list: Jangling tags.

The constant jangling of dog tags is annoying. It’s annoying to me, and I can get away from it. Imagine how the dog feels?

I’ve used many tricks over time to eliminate the jingle-jangle:

  • Silicone or neoprene cover for one or more tags
  • Silicone edging on the tag
  • Rubber band to hold the tags together
  • Stick-on dots to separate the tags

The little covers or edging — you can order tags with the edging or buy little slip-on silicone frames for common tag sizes and shapes — are the most effective, but any of those solutions will reduce the noise. You can also now buy silicone dog tags! Next time Cali loses her tags, I’ll replace it with one of those!

Reducing the number of tags helps too, of course. Cali wears an ID tag with her phone number and her Montana dog license (she’s very proud of that one!). And that’s it.

The noise can be problematic in unanticipated ways: The WDJ article describes a dog who refused to eat because the noise of the tags banging into his metal dish was so unnerving.

It’s an easy fix. To find out other irritants you can eliminate from your dog’s life, read the Whole Dog Journal article (regular readers should all be subscribers by now; it’s the best $20 you’ll ever spend on your dog!).