The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Dog behavior in the news

Two articles came out today about dogs. The first, in the New York Times, explores how dogs became so indiscriminately friendly:

In the early 2000s, when Dr. [Clive] Wynne began research on dogs, one of his experiments was a follow-up on the work of Dr. [Brian] Hare who had concluded that dogs were better than wolves or other animals at following human directions. In particular, dogs followed human pointing better than other animals. Dr. Wynne and Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University, expected to confirm Dr. Hare’s findings.

The wolves they chose to work with were hand-raised and socialized at Wolf Park, in Lafayette, Ind. Dr. Wynne said he found the wolves were as good at following human pointing as the best pet dogs.

Dr. Hare and his colleagues responded by questioning whether the experiments were really comparable, maintaining that dogs have an innate ability to follow human pointing without the special attention the wolves were given. The debate continues.

The second part of Dr. Wynne’s argument has to do with how social dogs are. There is no question that they bond with people in a way that other canines do not. Dr. Wynne recounted an experiment showing that as long as puppies spend 90 minutes a day, for one week, with a human any time before they are 14 weeks old, they will become socialized and comfortable with humans.

The Washington Post reported on economics research that put the economic value of a dog at about $10,000:

For the study, the authors asked nearly 5,000 dog owners about their willingness to pay for a hypothetical vaccine that would reduce their dog’s risk of death from a particular canine virus from 12 percent to 2 percent in a given year.

Rather than simply ask, “How much would you be willing to pay” for such a vaccine, respondents were given specific price points, ranging from $5 to $3,000, and asked if they whether they would be willing to pay that amount.

The end result: a distribution of nearly 5,000 responses that allowed the researchers to identify an average acceptable price point of somewhere between $500 and $900. That’s the cost, in other words, of a 10 percentage point mortality reduction for a dog.

The study's authors intended the $10,000 figure as an approximation. I can tell you, however, that in the year from April 2018 to March 2019, my dog cost considerably more than $10,000. (I'll have the exact figure this weekend.)

Backfield in motion

That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.

Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:

  • Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
  • Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
  • That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
  • Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
  • An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
  • Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
  • The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.

Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.

Lunchtime must-reads

Just a few today:

That's all for this afternoon. Check back tomorrow to see if Israel has a government, if Saudi Arabia decides to take its $67 bn defense budget out for a spin, or if President Trump succeeds in putting homeless people in concentration camps.

Parker update

The old dog had a semi-annual vet visit yesterday. He's now had all his shots, including the 3-year rabies booster, which twinged a little because of the high probability that he'll never have another one. That said, he's as healthy as a 13-year-old dog can be.

So while he may never need another rabies booster, he's probably going to live long enough to get one.

Frank Bruni's timely column yesterday

I don't know that Frank Bruni reads The Daily Parker, but his column yesterday made for a nice coincidence with my post earlier today:

My interactions in Central Park are partly about having a dog but just as much about what the dog encourages, even compels: spending time in public spaces that are open to everyone and well situated and appealing enough to guarantee that people from all walks of life cross paths.

And we need dogs, or at least we’re better off with them. They yank us outside of our narrowest selves. They force us to engage. In a perfect world, we’d do that on our own, but in this one, Regan plants herself squarely in front of a Central Park sprinkler, opens her jaws wide, treats the spray as an unusually emphatic water fountain and attracts an eclectic cluster of admirers who then fall easily into chitchat — about the cooling weather, the blooming skyline, new movies, old routines — that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise. We walk away feeling a little less isolated, a little less disconnected. I know I do.

Parker has certainly done the same for me that Regan has done for Bruni. And here's to a few more years with him.

Home safely

This morning, as Parker and I went for our pre-breakfast walk, we encountered this fluffy girl trotting down the street with no humans in sight:

We manage to corral her in a neighbor's yard, while I posted on Facebook and called animal control. She seemed healthy, well-fed, and accustomed to people and other dogs (though really scared and disoriented). Unfortunately she didn't have a name tag or a phone number.

Happy ending, though. After about 45 minutes her owners came by. They'd been canvassing the neighborhood for her. Apparently she jumped out of the car (saw a squirrel, maybe?) and then couldn't figure out where to go.

So, dog and family were reunited:

Her name is Ella, she's 2, and she's home.

The evolution of puppy-dog eyes

No, literally:

You know that face your dog makes, the one that’s a little bit quizzical, maybe a bit sad, a bit anticipatory, with the eyebrows slanted? Sometimes you think it says, “Don’t be sad. I can help.” Other times it quite clearly asks, “No salami for me?”

Scientists have not yet been able to translate the look, but they have given it a very serious label: “AU101: inner eyebrow raise.” And a team of evolutionary psychologists and anatomists reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that dogs make this face more often and way more intensely than wolves. In fact dogs, but not wolves, have a specific muscle that helps raise those brows.

The scientists hypothesize that humans have unconsciously favored eyebrow-raising dogs during fairly recent selective breeding. Dr. Burrows said that one tantalizing hint that could lead to future study was that one of the dogs, a Siberian husky, was more like the wolves and did not have the levator anguli oculi medialis.

I had a conversation the other day with a scientist (not a biologist, however) about when natural selection ended and breeding began for dogs. We didn't have any conclusions but we hypothesized it might be as recently as 8,000 years before present or as long ago as 40,000 YBP. This article suggests that it may be both, depending on the breed.

Big milestone today

Is it that I set a new personal record for steps, getting over 15,000 every day for the last 11? Nope.

Is it that, for only the second time in three years, I got enough sleep four nights in a row? Nope.

Is it that Parker turns 13 today? Yup.

And just check out his fashionable birthday present:

For comparison, here he is 10 years ago:

Not Norway's best export

Due to climate change and gentrification, rat sightings in North America have gone up:

New York has always been forced to coexist with the four-legged vermin, but the infestation has expanded exponentially in recent years, spreading to just about every corner of the city.

Rat sightings reported to the city’s 311 hotline have soared nearly 38 percent, to 17,353 last year from 12,617 in 2014, according to an analysis of city data by OpenTheBooks.com, a nonprofit watchdog group, and The New York Times. In the same period, the number of times that city health inspections found active signs of rats nearly doubled.

Milder winters — the result of climate change — make it easier for rats to survive and reproduce. And New York’s growing population and thriving tourism has brought more trash for rats to feed on.

Chicago — crowned the nation’s rat capital in one study — has more than doubled its work crews dedicated to rats, who set out poison and fill in burrows in parks, alleys and backyards. It also passed ordinances requiring developers and contractors to have a rat-control plan before demolishing buildings or breaking ground on new projects.

Yah, thanks for that "rat capital" thing, New York Times.

Rats don't bother me, despite their urine often containing deadly bacteria. They clean up after us, feed crows and coyotes, and spread disease less than other local rodents. (Rabbits have made Parker sick a lot more often than rats.) And squirrels? Just ask a moose.