Monday, March 7, 2011


Due to a weekend-long celebration of Helpful Buckeye's birthday, this issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats will be structured a bit differently than our normal format.  Hope it goes over OK with our readers....

Nobody (0 out of 22 responses) felt that the proposed Texas law is an appropriate solution to the aggressive dog problem.  Perhaps their lawmakers should reconsider their proposal?  Our readers were pretty evenly divided on the idea of taking an obese pet to a pet obesity clinic for help (1/3-yes, 1/3-no, and 1/3-not sure).  Lastly, nobody out of 24 responses expects to see a law in the USA similar to Shanghai's 1-dog policy.  Be sure to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.  Any responses or questions may be directed to Helpful Buckeye at: .

Getting into this changed format, Helpful Buckeye asks you the question, "Do dogs smell a change?"  What do you see in your own dog...does it seem to know or sense that a change is coming?  According to the folks at Virbac Animal Health (
The jury’s still out on this one. Some schools of thought argue that dogs and cats have some telepathic or extrasensory abilities, which detect change. For example, it’s not uncommon for owners to swear that their pets “know” when they are about to go to the veterinarian. The flip side of the argument says that dogs and cats rely on their super-sniffers - not ESP - to detect change. Unlike people, a dog interprets the world primarily through chemical communication, e.g., odor. The portion of the canine brain dedicated to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than a human’s! When pets seem to have the uncanny ability to “know” when change is coming, they are actually detecting even the slightest shift in molecules of odors their people are putting off. This works for predicting everything from thunderstorms to walks in the park.

 Taking this question one step further, if a dog thinks, "I sniff, therefore I am," are dogs self-conscious...defined as conscious of oneself or one's own being?  Read this enjoyable interview with Robert Krulwick (NPR) for some possible answers:
Can you recognize yourself in a mirror? Of course you can. When you were 9 months old, you couldn't. If your mom had plopped you in front of a mirror, you'd see the baby in front of you, but you wouldn't know that baby was you.  

The science experiment that proves this is elegant and simple. I'm going to show it to you, but before I do, I want to warn you: Some dog lovers think this test is unfair to dogs. But let's do humans first.  If you smear a big, colored mark (using erasable magic marker) on a baby's forehead, little babies don't react. They just gaze at the reflection as if it belonged to some other baby. But when they are around 2 years old, they will look at their reflection and then touch the mark on their face, as if to say, "What's that thing doing on my face?" Proof, psychologists say, that the baby knows that its face and the face in the mirror are one and the same. That's self-recognition.

Who else can do this? Self-recognizers in the animal kingdom are a small, exclusive group. Chimps pass the mirror test. Same for the other great apes, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, but not monkeys. Elephants can.  Amazingly, dolphins do it. Since they don't have hands to point with, a Dutch team placed a mirror in an aquarium pool and watched the dolphin assume and hold poses that almost certainly meant the dolphin was checking the odd marking on her neck. The same dolphin, when unmarked, did not assume those poses.  Magpies do it. (Crows and ravens, the intellectuals of the bird set, surprisingly can't.) Magpies see the mark in the mirror and peck at it with their beak.

There may be other animals on this list, but it doesn't include dogs.  Dogs have been mirror-tested, and dogs don't pass. Because they're not smart enough to recognize themselves in a mirror, the presumption is they can't think of themselves as unique individuals, so they aren't part of the self-conscious elite in the animal kingdom.

Enter, howling, professor emeritus Marc Bekoff of the University of Colorado. Bekoff thinks a test that uses sight to determine self-recognition is unfair to animals that depend on their noses. Dog brains are much better at smelling than ape brains, so Bekoff decided to design a self-recognition test that would make sense to a dog.

'The Yellow Snow Test'

For his subject, Bekoff chose his own dog, Jethro. The plan was to take Jethro for daily winter walks on snowy paths, and every time Jethro stopped to smell another dog's pee, Bekoff would note the location and (out of Jethro's sight) scoop up the sample and redeposit it farther down the path. He called this his "Yellow Snow Test." Snow, he explained, made "pee relocation" easy and portable. "For some reason," he says, "passersby thought I was strange and generally left me alone."  Bekoff then describes what happened next. The key, he said, was to see if Jethro would react differently when, later in the walk, he had a second encounter with not only the other dogs' pee, but (surprise!) his own.

The study lasted five winters. ("This was a labor of love," he says.) Bekoff timed the sniffs and discovered "that Jethro spent less time sniffing his own urine than that of other males or females," suggesting that Jethro recognized himself when encountering his own yellow deposits.

Does this amount to a test of true self-recognition?

Well, not exactly. Recognizing yourself in a mirror seems more telling than smelling traces of yourself in the snow. Bekoff cautiously describes his finding as evidence that dogs have a "sense of mine-ness", that they know this pee belongs to them.

Stanley Coren, in his popular book How Dogs Think, Understanding the Canine Mind, wonders whether "mine-ness" equals a "sense of I-ness (as when Tarzan is saying 'Me Tarzan. You Jane.')" He doesn't think so.

"The experimental test for that quality of self-awareness in dogs does not yet seem to have been worked out," he says.

Dogs will have to wait till someone invents a better test before scientists can declare them self-conscious. Not that they seem all that bothered. Maybe they've achieved a higher level of consciousness already.

To view the related videos and photos for this interview, go to:

Since Virbac Animal Health is providing interesting answers to some dog owners' questions, let's let them step in with another topic. 

Do Dogs Like to Wear Clothes?

The answer may very well be yes. Since pets have become accustomed to living in controlled, cozy environments (just like us) they may need a little padding when going outside. Many veterinarians suggest extra protection for dogs living in cold climates especially those with shorter hair coats. (Even tough breeds like Boxers and Bull Terriers!) Small and toy breeds like Chihuahuas, Dachshunds and Toy Poodles are very vulnerable to the cold. Clothing that helps the pet be more visible in the dark is also a wise choice in canine couture. Of course, the most important thing to consider is comfort and safety. The clothing shouldn’t restrict the pet’s movement in any way. It shouldn’t be too tight or too loose or it may snag on something. If a dog seems to enjoy it and there is no safety risk, playing dress up is perfectly fine.

If your dog likes to wear clothes (as opposed to you dressing your dog in clothes), read Nicole Fasolino from
Strolling through New York City in the winter is something like watching a doggie fashion show. It's common for me to feel extreme jealousy over a sweater worn by a pug or boots on a malt-i-poo, leaving me to wonder, does that come in my size? Sadly, the answer is no. But my fur-covered child (and yours) is truly in luck. Here are 10 cozy and fashionable sweaters you'll be lusting to borrow during this winter that doesn't seem to want to end.

Helpful Buckeye favors the argyle sweater and hat combo.

OK, that's enough for this week.  In next week's issue, we'll be discussing the topics of:
  • dogs eating just about anything,
  • increasing expenses related to having a pet,
  • and how pets relate to their toys and their owners.

Both Ohio State and Pitt had big wins this weekend, giving each of them their conference regular season championship.  Later this week, the conference tournaments will be played as sort of a final preparation for the NCAA Tournament...otherwise known as March Madness.

The San Antonio Spurs still have the best record in the NBA, even with Tony Parker out with an injury.

The LA Dodgers have begun their spring training schedule of games, hoping to play better this year....


OK, Desperado began the long celebratory weekend by making Helpful Buckeye's favorite cake Friday morning.  I'm not a big pastry eater, but this cake is an exception.  Fortunately, the bike riding is still going strong! 

Then, on Saturday, one of my 2 favorite Cowpokes (the masculine half) and Desperado took the other favorite Cowpoke (the feminine half) and Helpful Buckeye on a surprise drive for a delicious lunch for our shared birthday, followed by a tour of experimental, self-contained community in central Arizona.  What a fun day!  More bike riding necessary....
Today, Sunday, the actual day we were celebrating, Desperado and Helpful Buckeye drove down to Phoenix (Paradise Valley) for the Jazz Brunch at Lon's at the Hermosa Inn.  Another fun day...and beautiful weather!  Much more bike riding to come....

Whether dogs can "smell" change or whether dogs are self-conscious, they are for sure very special to all of us, as this recently received e-mail reminds us:

If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment ,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without alcohol,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,

.....Then You Are Probably The Family Dog!

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

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