Monday, July 16, 2012

For The Dogs

I have been putting together a playlist of songs about and for dogs –– about dogs, because the songs feature real dogs, not “hound dog” metaphors for human behaviors; and for dogs, in that Science now documents the likelihood that dogs enjoy music. (See Discovery News, The Huffington Post, Modern Dog, Psychology Today; also, Through A Dog’s Ear for information on CDs for dogs.)

This likelihood should not be surprising.  Dogs are sensitive to sound, howling at sirens and thunder, responding to whistles, barking at sonic intensities of humans (agitated talking, loud retorts, fireworks). Such sensitivity is variable, showing up in some dogs and breeds more than others.  Some of this variability is genetic, some is learned, and some a function of individual temperament or specific situation.  There has long been knowledge about canine anxieties to certain noises, and perhaps it was a matter of time before researchers began cataloguing musical sounds to which dogs were either drawn or averse.  (See msnbc. comCanine Behavioral Genetics Project.)

But why stop with music? Dogs seem to enjoy TV as well, although Science does raise questions about the physics of canine optics; that is, questions as to what it is that dogs are actually looking at when they watch TV.  (See The Naked Scientists, Psychology Today, Four Legs Good; and then this, DOGTV, a subscription television channel for dogs.)

So maybe there is some canine ambiguity here.  Still, whatever it is these dogs are watching, you get the feeling that something is going on.

And here is another thing.  It is possible that some dogs do more than just watch TV, they’re watching too much, becoming glued to the tube.  They are aided in this by their humans, who believe that TV watching provides pleasurable stimulation or alleviates separation anxiety.

But there can be a downside:

     "I think a lot of this is to make us feel better as opposed
     to making the pet happier,” said Dr. Ann E. Hohenhaus,
     a staff veterinarian for the Animal Medical Center in
     Manhattan.  “Your pet needs adequate exercise and an
     interesting environment. You cannot just put on the TV
     and hope your dog is going to get better.”
     (Douglas Quenqua, “Should Your Dog Be Watching TV,”
     New York Times, 4-25-2012)

And then the website pinpoints a particular gap in TV-watching dogs’ sensory environment.  An article by Aimee Amodio asserts that the problem with “vegging out and watching TV for hours” is that dogs’ sense of smell is not being engaged.

Now this is a fertile idea: olfactory torpor.  And while Amodio's article does not elaborate it, the idea bears intriguing implications: whether dogs’ sense of smell might atrophy given prolonged television watching, whether the sense of taste might be concomitantly compromised, whether inactivity would promote weight gain, muscle loss, lassitude; also, whether certain breeds are at greater risk, and whether conditions in the home and legacy of early puppyhood are precipitating factors –– whether, in sum, a relaxing pastime might under certain circumstances slide into dependency.

There would be corollary implications for treatment: wellness and lifestyle regimens geared to prevention; institutional management (warnings, interventions, penalties) for dogs already afflicted; pharmaceutical treatments; a continuum of therapies spanning behavioral, problem-centered approaches to relational approaches focused on the human-dog bond.  (By “relational” I mean an approach less instrumental, less means to an end, and more an outgrowth of knowledge-based attunement with your dog.  For an example of such knowledge-based attunement, see Harvard University Gazette.  It profiles MIT professor Bruce Blumberg, PhD, and describes his Harvard extension course, “The Cognitive Dog, Savant or Slacker?” (Then click here for an overview of human-like social skills in dogs.)

Finally as regards treatment, there is this –– that in time we might see the emergence of self-help groups.  Of all treatments, these would be best insofar as dogs themselves could take charge of their illness (“Hi, my name is Rufus and I’m a TV-holic”).

Regardless of treatment modality, the therapeutic goals with TV–dependent dogs would be the same: abstinence, amelioration of olfactory and perhaps gustatory deficits, and restoration of vigor and physical activity.

It seems I have emphasized dogs’ TV watching in a post that began with their music listening.  This is partly because the two experiences overlap, given that music permeates television via songs, jingles, background tracks, so that dogs are often watching and listening at the same time.  But mostly I have stressed TV watching because of the worrisome possibility that dogs’ music listening could lead to the same sensory deficits experienced by TV-holic dogs.  Meaning: over-involvement in the auditory sphere might predispose to music dependency, including the under-utilization of other senses, lethargy, and passivity which characterize TV-holic dogs.  

There is much to consider here, but while we do that (or even instead of doing that) let’s get comfy and listen to some music:

1. “My Old Dog, Fred” (2009),
Jeff Daniels (Yes, that Jeff Daniels).
2. “Southern Maryland River”
(1978), Tom and Mark Wisner:
You might hike the volume for this song, which is about a dog named Man and his owner, Jake.
The third verse describes their
 through the winter night
 in the tempo of the poems they write
 that are spoken in those flowin'
 native sounds.

3. “How Come My Bulldog Don’t Bark” (1966), Howard Tate
4. “Lucky Dog” (2009), David Maguire
5. “Feed Jake” (2007), Stear: a cover of a 1991 song by Pirates of the Mississippi.
6. "Half A Life Without A Dog" (1997), The Red Clay Ramblers: One of the Ramblers, Chris Frank, is webmaster of a very fine folk music website  The song's lyrics, by Jack Herrick and Bland Simpson, are Homeric (for a dog song), with drama, narrative, local color, politics, fate.  Click here for a YouTube photo-montage of "Half A Life Without A Dog.”  Created by Chris Frank, the video contains a
remarkable juxtaposition of Cher with an Afghan dog.
7. “Shambala” (1973), Three Dog Night:  A song having absolutely nothing to do with dogs, but my layout editor, Todd, is adamant that it belongs here.
8. “An Old Dog’s Song” (2004), Kirk Olsen: from a children’s album, but with crossover appeal for grownups.
9. “Old Dog Blue” (1928), Jim Jackson: A 1928 version by Jackson, this venerable song about a beloved coonhound was old then.  The last line pictures Blue up in heaven: he is treeing a possum in Noah's Ark.
10. “Old Blue” (1961), Joan Baez: the first version I knew.
11. “Old Blue” (1963), Ian & Sylvia: also great.
12. “Old Blue” (1980), Dave Van Ronk: also great.
13. “Old Dog” (1977), Mike Aldridge & Old Dog: My favorite dog song, from an out-of-print vinyl album on Flying Fish Records; Phil Rosenthal does the vocal.


Unknown said...

This is a really informative article. I would have to agree that dogs require holistic stimulation and not just focusing on the visual. I am one of those pet parents who leave the TV on to keep them entertained and I really learned a lot from this. I also found this supplementary article worth the read:

brittanymlemay said...

Thank you so much Love your blog.. best dog for scared child

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