Bubba for President

My name is Bubba, and I approved this message.
My name is Bubba, and I approved this message.

I spent some time recently with a wonderful dog, Bubba. The first time we got to hang out was right after a particularly vulgar Republican presidential debate, and the contrast got me thinking about how this dog (and many, many other dogs) embody traits I’d like to see in a presidential candidate but that are sadly lacking in the current Republican contenders.

Some background: Bubba is the spokesdog for a local rescue organization, the Petaluma branch of Marley’s Mutts. He experienced some of the worst abuse that anyone can imagine. Actually, it’s worse than I could have imagined before reading his case file. The amazing Sacramento DA who put Bubba’s tormentor in prison, will be Skyping in to my dog law class, so I had to read the entire file.

I generally don’t give my students “trigger warnings,” but before posting these documents, I not only warned them, I put little Adobe sticky notes in the PDF to flag particularly graphic sections. It was that bad. I won’t go into details here, except to point out that Bubba’s missing eye is the result of repeated injuries caused by the monster who abused him.

So why does Bubba trump any current candidate in the Republican field?

He’s not angry or vindictive. He’s suffered real injury, unlike many Tea Partiers or angry primary voters. Rather than seek a scapegoat or, say, hold all white men responsible, he has forgiven all humans. He loves everyone. He eagerly approached every new person who entered the fundraiser where I was visiting with him. His tail was always wagging, his face openly welcoming and friendly. He was gentle with small children. He appropriately introduced himself to and played with a 4-month-old Rottie puppy who stopped by, and he was equally friendly with the several other dogs there.

He’s goal-oriented, too. When he detected a whiff of potential treats emanating, say, from my pocket, he focused on me like a laser, using the mind meld that Jana has perfected over the years. “Feed me a Charlee Bear. Feed me a Charlee Bear.” It worked. He also mind-melded the server, who brought him at least six cookies, and that was just what I saw. Nothing gets past this dog; he carefully checked all newcomers for the scent of treats. He just might be a Labrador wearing  a very convincing disguise.

Bubba doesn’t back down in the face of an army. When he met my class of 20 students a week later, he sized up the challenge, then gave each one a warm greeting — and the sniff test. He very quickly figured out that the little black pouches many students had contained treats, and he went to work. The students never stood a chance. Bubba probably didn’t need dinner that night.

What else does candidate Bubba have to offer? I’m not sure what his health care plan includes beyond “kisses to make it better,” but the price sure beats my current insurance, and it is a treatment with a long track record of success. His education platform emphasizes motivation and rewards. And, though we didn’t discuss specific issues, his domestic and foreign relations approach heavily focuses on interspecies cooperation, collaboration, and peacemaking; he disdains the threats, calls for attacks, and shunning of those who are different that are so much a part of the current campaign.

In all, he’s an admirable candidate. He’s overcome a difficult past, shows intelligence and integrity, and has a demonstrated ability to cross the (species) aisle and negotiate favorable deals. Bubba has my vote!

Born to Ride

The happy person driving down the road while his buddy rides along, head hanging out the window, ears flapping in the wind, is an iconic image for dog lovers. That’s why it was so exciting when Beau, my aunt’s new dog, jumped into the car with no help — and with great enthusiasm — recently. He had surgery on both knees before my aunt adopted him from a boxer rescue group, and his hind legs are still shaky.

We were even more thrilled when he jumped onto the back seat from the foot space. He wanted to sit next to me, which was gratifying. But I’m no longer visiting, and he’s still getting up onto the seat. He seems enthusiastic about going for rides and is equally thrilled with the adventures in store when the car arrives at its destination. He’s been on walks in different places and helped drop off the recycling once. Now that Beau is willing to get onto the seat, we’re wondering what kind of rider Beau will be. Is he the head-hanging-out-the-window type? Not all dogs are.

Cali’s riding style is to sit up and look out the window, watching everything that goes by. When she realizes we’re going someplace familiar and fun — her sister’s house, for example, or the dog beach — she gets really excited and starts pacing and sometimes squealing. For this reason as well as for general safety, I usually seatbelt her (and the other dogs) when we’re off on a car adventure. Cali gets the window seat on the passenger side of the car; if she were sitting behind me, I’d have to contend with more than her vocalizations: She likes to lean over the shoulder of whoever is sitting in front and nuzzle that person’s neck — and drool on her shoulder.

Ory and Jana in carAlberta gets the middle because she likes to poke her head between the front seats and say hi to the driver and passenger. For a petite Lab, Alberta has a surprisingly heavy head. It can be hard to get into the storage console when she’s in the car, using it as a pillow. And forget about using that console as an arm rest.

Jana is the most mellow rider in the family. She curls up and snoozes. Sometimes she cuddles with Alberta. Several years ago, when Oriel was still with us, Jana and Ory spent most of a cross-country drive snuggled up together in the back seat.  On a recent trip to Yellowstone, we did get Jana to sit up and take notice, but only when the bison came right up to the car.

Fortunately, all of our dogs love car rides. But some poor dogs are scared or get carsick. For them, a car ride is worse than a nail trim! Whether Beau hangs his head out the window, drools on his driver, or just sits there and smiles, I wish him many miles of enjoyment in the car.

What Is Dognition?

Jana dognition
In last week’s post, If Cali Were Brian Hare’s Dog…, I mentioned Dognition. What is it?
First: full disclosure. Jana and I were among the beta testers of the site, for which we received no pay, but Jana did receive the bandanna she’s shown wearing above. This is not a paid post or advertisement. It is my opinion, based on my experience with the site.
Brian Hare, whom I wrote about last week, is the co-founder and chief science officer. Dognition is a site that studies canine cognition through a series of games and experiments that site members do with their dogs, at home. The Dognition team includes some innovative canine cognition researchers. It is a clever way to gather a huge amount of information about a large variety of dogs. It’s also (usually) fun.
The initial set of games and exercises creates a “profile” of your dog. There are nine profile types, ranging from the “Ace,” a problem-solver with strong communication skills, to the “Protodog,” who, according to the brief description on the site, is “reminiscent of the first dogs that began their relationship with early mankind.” I am guessing that that’s a nice way of saying “can’t follow human gestures.” The writers on the site excel at couching bad news (“your dog flunked this test”) in very positive terms.
Renaissance DogJana is a Renaissance dog, good at a little bit of everything. I never finished the profile exercises for Cali, though.
The reasons are, I think, the site’s biggest drawback: Nearly all of the games require two people, and they are very hard to do alone. The site steps you through each set of exercises, and you have to enter information about your dog’s response before getting the next prompt. Another drawback (especially for multiple dog households) is that the exercises are repetitive.
I get it. They want data that they can use. They usually have a baseline exercise, which you do a few times, then the real one, which might have a few variations. For example, you might put a treat under a cup while showing the dog where it is. Then you might introduce a second cup, but still show the dog where the treat is. Then you might pretend to put treats under both cups but point to the right cup. Then you have someone hold the dog where she can’t see you and you hide the treat and point to the correct cup … you get the picture. You do each step three to five times. Jana can lose patience. When I am testing one dog, the other rapidly loses patience as she waits (and waits, and waits) for her turn. And I don’t have a second person here to cover Jana’s eyes or whatever else is needed.
So, those problems aside, I have learned a lot from Dognition. The site includes lots of articles and information on canine cognition. They do a good job of explaining the science behind the games and the profiles. And they send occasional tips, games, and suggestions that can be done by one person. I’ve gotten some great ideas for games to play with Jana and Cali and experiments to do with my students and their dogs. And I enjoyed finding watching Jana’s progress through the exercises. I’m curious about how much usable data the Dognition team has gathered and how they are using it.