Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

FRIDAY CATBLOGGING....On the left we have Domino amongst the light and shadow. On the right, Inkblot gets rewarded for his fine work supervising Marian's gardening. As well he should, since a recent study shows that he and Domino are helping to protect us from heart attacks and strokes:

The study, by researchers at the University of Minnesota, found that feline-less people were 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those with cats.

Yet dog owners had the same rate as non-owners. "No protective effect of dogs as domestic pets was observed," said the study, presented Thursday at the International Stroke Conference in New Orleans.

Dr. Adnan Qureshi, a stroke expert at the university, said he decided to raise the question because other studies have suggested pets can help reduce stress. He and his team analyzed a group of 4,435 people who had answered questionnaires about pet ownership and other risk factors.

But the cat-dog differential came as a surprise. "We don't understand this," he said, but "it's probably not a coincidence."

Asked if he owns a cat, Qureshi replied: "No. Maybe I should get one, though."

And if you don't have a cat, you should at least drop by here once a week for Friday catblogging. It might help and it can't hurt.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (92)

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Comments

I feel better already, but then again I have my own 2 kitties at home.

Posted by: Tang on February 22, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

undoubtedly friday cat blogging helps to reduce the high blood pressure brought on by reading troll comments throughout the week

Posted by: mudwall jackson on February 22, 2008 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

Pretty cats, and awesome article. I will have to tell my cat thank you the next time he wakes me up before I want to get up.
Okay, you need to answer this article here http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/21/world/europe/21britain.html?em&ex=1203829200&en=4080ecd5da2fc01c&ei=5087%0A

I depend on you for things like this.
Thanks.

Posted by: Scu on February 22, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

I am an ailurophile, but I live in an apartment building that permits no pets whatsoever. So seeing the Friday catblogging is a godsend to me.

Posted by: Paul on February 22, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Beautiful cat pictures, as always. I'm working at home today, so my own Shadow is near. But where will all your amateur film critics go now?

Posted by: thersites on February 22, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Awful early on a Friday for catblogging. Get tired of people in comments spanking you for your take on McCain/Iserman?

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on February 22, 2008 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

I'd postulate it's nothing to do with dogs, it's to do with the types of personalities who like to own dogs vs "cat-people"....

Just a hunch but my bet is the dog owner is more likely to be an authoritarian-type personality, more subject to type-A stress and so on.

So just making them get a cat won't change any of that...except to reduce the cat's success rate at
protection!

....now off to pet my half-Siamese, Bugsy...

Posted by: Sarah on February 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Turns out that it only helps if you let the cats jump up on your kitchen counters.

Posted by: jerry on February 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure Dr. Qureshi is a secret pootie sympathizer, which would explain the skewed results of his study. Us dog owners wouldn't have as many heart attacks if we weren't always chasing the pooties out of our yards!

partial snark

Posted by: Ed in Montana on February 22, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Turns out that cat owners are so used to being snubbed and seeing the cat's mystic eye, it's little button, that they are more accustomed to taking life's little humiliations in stride than dog owners. Dog owners know they have a sweet and loyal co-relationship with their charges, and so accordingly, the dog owners are more protective and more beset with strife and anxiety when something happens that may injure their ability to take care of their loved ones.

Posted by: jerry on February 22, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

For awhile it has looked like the increase in allergies and asthma might be related to more people living separate from domestic animals.

I hadn't heard this cat thing before. Oh well, I hope with three dogs, a cat, a bird, a fish and a horse we are pretty well covered.

Despite all the whining from the kids my wife absolutely refuses to do the rodent or reptile thing.

Posted by: Tripp on February 22, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Why might dogs not have a protective effect? Sarah may have hit on one reason, but there is a lot of overhead associated with a dog:
barking (neighbors complain)
big icky piles to pick up (especially if the neighbors complain about the ones on their lawns)
having to pay a lot of attention to the dog (you can ignore a cat, but a dog NEEDS to be loved)(except you can't ignore my cat, unfortunately)
the dog's need for exercise regardless of how you feel
if you have a dog, you have to worry about it biting people unexpectedly. Cats always have a good reason for biting

Posted by: Carol on February 22, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin-
that's a really beautiful picture of Domino.
E

Posted by: sedentary barbarian on February 22, 2008 at 3:46 PM | PERMALINK

Really? Less stress? Really, really?
Currently, and through no fault of the humans allowed in the house, there are six cats chez nous, every one of whom feels strongly that this is five cats too many.

Much literal caterwauling about the situation. All cats seem to like, or at least tolerate, all humans. It's the other cats they can't stand.

Posted by: clio on February 22, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Correlation is not causation.

Posted by: joel hanes on February 22, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

As the bumper sticker says, "Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am." Dog owners are thus constantly having to try to live up to their pets' unrealistically high expectations. As a cat person, I don't experience this sort of pressure. ;o)

Posted by: genome on February 22, 2008 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

Pssst, Socratic Gadfly: It's I-s-e-m-a-n and P-a-x-s-o-n.

Posted by: Mrs. LaPlanta on February 22, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

It's the purring - very good at lowering the blood pressure.

Posted by: ET on February 22, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

the dog's need for exercise regardless of how you feel

...which results in dog owners getting more automatic exercise (unless they're just opening the door and letting the pooch out). That's a good thing.

Posted by: shortstop on February 22, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Cat people have more character than dog people.

Robert Deniro in "Meet the Family"

Posted by: Michael on February 22, 2008 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Happy Friday Kevin! Love the sunny photos of the kids...we're up to our butts in snow here in CT!

Posted by: greynoldsct00 on February 22, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

In fact I'd even venture that giving dog-people a cat might increase their stress...at least the ones that truly are authoritarian in personality-type....after all the cat is not going to do what they want, or be subservient, or like them no matter how they behave.

Guessing that might be an added stressor to those types!

Posted by: Sarah on February 22, 2008 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

The dog vs. cat health benefit is very strange, don't you think, since most (not all) dog owners take their dogs for a walk at least once a day, hence adding exercise to the other benefits one enjoys from having a pet. I think this research result needs further analysis before I'll be willing to believe the conclusions of the cat vs. dog results.

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

My theory is that if you're not annoyed by cats, there probably isn't that much in the world that does annoy you. Less experienced stress all around.

Posted by: Scott Herbst on February 22, 2008 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

The only way I can think this might be true is that I physically HATE cats. It makes me crazy to think about their feline diseases and bird-killing ways. Naturally, I own a dog. Maybe I'm hurting the old ticker by getting so wound up about cats...

Posted by: Nate on February 22, 2008 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Is that a garden claw that Marion is using to scratch Inkblot with?

Is that appropriate for the Supreme Leader of the Drum House?

Posted by: optical weenie on February 22, 2008 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

My beloved tabby of sixteen+ years went to live with the Great Feline Spirit about eighteen months past, and since then all of my pet contact has with a very sweet lab-mix belonging to one of my housemates. I love the dog, but it's just not quite the same. Maybe it's the purring -- there's really something about purring -- or the sort of langorous motions of a cat, but having a cat for a pet is different. Perhaps they'll find that cats prevent heart and strokes, but that dogs prevent lethargy or spontaneous comas or something.

Posted by: Bob on February 22, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

OH, PICTURES AGAIN!
Thank you thank you thank you.

I have missed them the past two vlogging weeks.

:)

Posted by: Zit on February 22, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

I don't buy it for a second. This is anti-dog propaganda paid for by the powerful Washington cat lobby.

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on February 22, 2008 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Scott what do you find annoying about cats?

Posted by: Sarah on February 22, 2008 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Friday is great. I actually called in sick today. Called the boss and said I couldn't come in because I had a hole in my soul.

Posted by: Pat on February 22, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

My theory is that if you're not annoyed by cats, there probably isn't that much in the world that does annoy you. Less experienced stress all around.

LOL. I have never found a single cat to be annoying. A certain type of cat owner, on the other hand...insufferable.

Posted by: shortstop on February 22, 2008 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Sarah,

We sure weren't the authoritarians in the relationships we formed with our two dogs. Both of them had us wrapped around their 'paws' and would only follow orders (considered by them as 'requests') when they felt like it. I really dislike the current brand of dog training that emphasizes the human becoming the 'alpha' in relationship to their dog(s). I sure don't want an obedient, servile animal as a pet. There has to be a balance somewhere in between the two extremes of wildness and complete servility.
Btw, we also have had cats as companions along with the dog(s). I guess I'm just a 'dog person' but I simply don't form the intense emotional bond with cats that I do with dogs. Our last dog died of old-age 5 years ago and I still grieve for him everyday. I'm waiting for the grief to lessen before we adopt another dog, but darn it, it's just not going away.

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yes certainly there's plenty of non-auths owning dogs nepeta! As you say, you don't want servitude from your pet. FOlks that do, however, I doubt would pick a cat to own!...

And still interested in what folks find annoying about cats...

Posted by: Sarah on February 22, 2008 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Cats always have a good reason for biting

Not always. I knew a cat whose favorite thing to do was to sit on a windowsill next to a fire escape and wail piteously at anyone going past, till they took pity and tried to pet the cat. The cat then did its best to take a piece out of them. Saw the cat do this on multiple occasions.

Posted by: jimBOB on February 22, 2008 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

...not a fan of the cat blogging...STUPID! Cats are pussys!

Posted by: Whatever??? on February 22, 2008 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Asked if he owns a cat, Qureshi replied: "No. Maybe I should get one, though."

What is wrong with this statement?

Could it be that to own a cat, one must have the correct level of self-divorcing servitude, or at least be able to achieve it by feline training. Alas, can the average research scientist be able to align their egos to the appropriate level of debasement and the accompanying acknowledgement of which side of the slave/master role one has assumed when one becomes a cat-owner?

The issue of just anyone being a cat owner is paws for thought.

Posted by: Zit on February 22, 2008 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Cats always have a good reason for biting"

Maybe the cat has a reason but I sure can't fathom it. Anyone with a tortoiseshell here? I guess we really have a 'deranged' one. We adopted her as a kitten and she has lived with us for 14 years now. We can only 'pet' the top of her head or the top of her back or else she'll bite or scratch us. We can't hold her at all. She sleeps in our bed, usually close to my feet, and if I accidentally bump her with a foot during the night, she bites through all the blankets and bites my foot at which point I awake with a scream which wakens everyone else up in the household. Crazy.

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

I really dislike the current brand of dog training that emphasizes the human becoming the 'alpha' in relationship to their dog(s). I sure don't want an obedient, servile animal as a pet. There has to be a balance somewhere in between the two extremes of wildness and complete servility.

There are alphas and then there are alphas. Dogs aren't like cats; they're pack animals who do seek out a hierarchy because this is what they have in nature. Unless they're strong natural dominants themselves, they don't much care where they are in the hierarchy. They just want to know.

When you have a small or fairly submissive dog, or if you live in the middle of the country, you may be able to get away without training it (and all training is, in the end, establishing the human as alpha). When you have a large, strong or very dominant dog, however, you need to establish some boundaries.

Our current dog is a big, energetic, friendly, affectionate mutt whose strains of hound, retriever and...hell, I admit we aren't really sure...mean that without training she'd be going berserk killing squirrels, chasing garbage trucks and knocking over little children while expressing her love. She also has a very high-school- girl tendency to get snippy with other large female dogs. If she weren't trained--if I couldn't count on her to see me as the alpha in situations of danger or dangerously high exuberance--she would be something of a menace to the neighborhood. Indoors, she doesn't get too many commands from us, just a whole lot of hugs, skritches and thrown balls, but that's because we've also taught her not to beg at the table or jump up on visitors.

We live in the middle of a big city, so she sees a lot of people every day, and it's really important to us that our dog be as good a neighbor as we try to be. That doesn't make her subservient or us power trippers.

Posted by: shortstop on February 22, 2008 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Protection? The article just says cat owners are less likely to die of heart disease. Could just be that cat owners are more likely to die of other things...like from cats sucking their souls from their bodies as they sleep?!?!?!!!!

Hey, I'm just saying...

Posted by: Jon Marcus on February 22, 2008 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding SMU and the George W. Bush Presidential Library:

SMU was already a right-wing school. Now it'll be forever known as that garbage school with the bullshit presidential library.

Posted by: Anon on February 22, 2008 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop,

Basically I agree with what you say. There have to be 'bounds' on behavior, both for people and their pets. My dog was also a large black lab/husky mix and obviously couldn't be left free to roam the neighborhood (as dogs back in my childhood were allowed to roam the countryside in OH - I still yearn for that environment for my dog friends though). I actually have very little info on the 'alpha' sort of training going on these days except to note that I don't like what I've seen, it being much too heavy-handed for my taste, and that I much prefer the old style 'reward and praise' kind of training which has always worked quite well in my experience.

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

nepeta - two thoughts re: your tortie:

(1) Torties are notorious in the veterinary world for being, um, unreasonable.

(2) Some (perhaps many) cats have what has been referred to as "feline hyperesthesia syndrome" - they simply can only stand so much touching. One vet that I know of thinks that the majority of cats in his practice have this. Iirc, he thinks this is a viral syndrome. So there may be a good reason after all.

Posted by: ixnay on February 22, 2008 at 6:09 PM | PERMALINK

Cat owners?? Cats don't have owners, they have staff.

Posted by: Judy in Ohio on February 22, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, the two theories cited above sound right:
(1) different types of people own cats vs. dogs (though a good study would try to control for as much as possible)
(2) dogs aren't stress-reducing.

Posted by: luci on February 22, 2008 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

OH, PICTURES AGAIN!
Thank you thank you thank you.

Yes, the still pictures are better than video IMO. I like the contrast between these two especially. The formal (nearly B&W) on the left of Domino against the colorful and sunny one on the right of Inkblot. Ah, looks like Spring!

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on February 22, 2008 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's the purring - very good at lowering the blood pressure.

My thought as well.

Posted by: lux on February 22, 2008 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, the correlation will be ruined now. Since it is a correaltion and not likely a cause. That is, the characteristics that attract one to cats as pets reduce heart risks.

Now folks will get cats to try to lower their risk and the correlation will be deminished...

Posted by: George on February 22, 2008 at 7:26 PM | PERMALINK

I click and click and the cats don't move ... I thought Friday Cat Vlogging was the way of the future?

Posted by: Warren Terra on February 22, 2008 at 7:32 PM | PERMALINK

Shortstop, I once had a cat who decided she was the alpha cat, and it wasn't pleasant. I didn't understand what the story was until I had a dog and learned about the whole alpha concept. I just thought she was mean and kind of crazy. I wouldn't let that happen again and it doesn't make me a control freak.

Posted by: Emma Anne on February 22, 2008 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

(2) Some (perhaps many) cats have what has been referred to as "feline hyperesthesia syndrome" - they simply can only stand so much touching. One vet that I know of thinks that the majority of cats in his practice have this. Iirc, he thinks this is a viral syndrome. So there may be a good reason after all.

I don't think it's limited to some or even many. I'm not aware of any cat that will not bite when overstimulated. There may be some cats that will seek avoidance when becoming overstimulated and so are interpreted as "non-biters", but I think the biting thing is basic cat hardware. We all know from personal experience that at least 90% of cats will bite you if you try to rub or scratch their bellies...that's definitely more than "many". Here's some things I've noticed that are strange about it though: usually the cat won't bite a stranger, it will instead choose avoidance; you pretty much always have a warning (tail starts switching, ears go slightly back...something) but once it gets to a certain point of overstimulation, the cat is determined to bite you, even if you remove your hands and it has to come after you; typically the cat doesn't bite that hard - it hurts, but it doesn't break the skin, suggesting they are aware of what they're doing but unable to stop themselves from doing it; and once they've succeeded in biting you, they calm down.

Very odd creatures, they are. I can't imagine not having one around.

Posted by: Jennifer on February 22, 2008 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

I actually have very little info on the 'alpha' sort of training going on these days except to note that I don't like what I've seen, it being much too heavy-handed for my taste, and that I much prefer the old style 'reward and praise' kind of training which has always worked quite well in my experience.

We're on the same page. I have no idea what "alpha training" is--all my dog training consists of positive reinforcement, or reward and praise as you call it. When I refer to humans being as alphas it simply means that we are the boundary setters, a little higher on the totem pole in the pack hierarchy.

Posted by: shortstop on February 22, 2008 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

I click and click and the cats don't move

Me too. I got so aggravated I damn near had a stroke!

Posted by: thersites on February 22, 2008 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

ixnay,

Thanks for the info on hyperesthesia. I'll check it out. Btw, the only person my tortie has injured seriously is her vet. She got a good bite in on his thumb which got infected and caused him quite a bit of trouble for at least two months. After his initial reaction of shouting four-letter words, he gave us a nice apology stating that he should have been more careful, particularly after our dire warnings. Now whenever we visit his office we are greeted with the vet and assistants wearing elbow-length leather gloves. She's a very small cat and they're all armed to meet a full-sized tiger. I think she has quite a reputation in that office now.

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop,

I'm glad we agree. I've done a little googling to see what I could find out about 'alpha' training. As I thought, there is a lot of physical and psychological 'dominance' exerted by the owner towards the dog, e.g., the 'alpha roll-over' and other physically confining sorts of maneuvers. Very, very bad. See:

Alpha-Roll Training Can Cause Serious Problems

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 8:57 PM | PERMALINK

You know, the original article has a better photo than the SacBee (though nothing to compare with yours).

Posted by: idlemind on February 22, 2008 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

>sually the cat won't bite a stranger, it will instead choose avoidance;

That's because a stranger might be another cat's property, and property rights are to be respected.

> but once it gets to a certain point of overstimulation, the cat is determined to bite you, even if you remove your hands and it has to come after you...and once they've succeeded in biting you, they calm down.

Yes, they have a good grasp of the importance of consistency during animal training. No exceptions can be allowed, or the behavior problem might become a habit.

>but it doesn't break the skin, suggesting they are aware of what they're doing

Limits in punishment are also important, or the human could be mis-trained to avoid its cat, rather than simply learn the intended lesson about boundaries.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on February 22, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

All this dog trashin..you asked for this! Maybe people do better with cats because are they less labor intensive, less needy, less affectionate(is that the same thing?), less volatile. There is no denying people are more like dogs. What does that say about us social animals?

Nothin like a little trollin about cats to round out the week.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O/F in 08! on February 22, 2008 at 11:00 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's the toxoplasmosis.

Posted by: Nat on February 22, 2008 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

I would imagine a fish aquarium would produce about the same results.

Posted by: Jet on February 22, 2008 at 11:40 PM | PERMALINK

Leno said in his monologue something like: People with cats know that they have to take better care of themselves because in an emergency the cat sure won't help them.

Posted by: natural cynic on February 23, 2008 at 4:44 AM | PERMALINK

Still pictures this week, Kevin? Where are the movies? Inkblot and Domino demand movies!

Posted by: pol on February 23, 2008 at 8:04 AM | PERMALINK

It's the extra exercise cat owners get lugging around cat litter, and taking the used stuff to the garbage.

Posted by: sal on February 23, 2008 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Basically I agree with what you say. There have to be 'bounds' on behavior, both for people and their pets. My dog was also a large black lab/husky mix and obviously couldn't be left free to roam the neighborhood (as dogs back in my childhood were allowed to roam the countryside in OH - I still yearn for that environment for my dog friends though). I actually have very little info on the 'alpha' sort of training going on these days except to note that I don't like what I've seen, it being much too heavy-handed for my taste, and that I much prefer the old style 'reward and praise' kind of training which has always worked quite well in my experience.

Posted by: nepeta on February 22, 2008 at 6:02 PM

In fact, it's dominance-style training that's "old style", to some degree dressed up in new language, but not much changed from what was prevalent sixty-seventy years ago. It's positive reinforcement training ("reward and praise") that's modern, new style, the cutting edge latest thing in training. It developed out of the training techniques used on sea mammals, who are a bit too big and powerful to safely use older methods on.

Which is not to say there weren't some people doing positive reinforcement training earlier; my family discovered it by trial and error forty years ago, when we had a border collie with a submissive-urnination problem. It was so obviously not a house-training problem, but rather something she didn't have control over, that happened when she was scolded or expected to cope with too much excitement--we had to find what worked, and what worked was rewarding her when she did something right, managing her introductions to new people so that she didn't get over-stimulated, confidence-building exercises (teaching fun tricks!:) ), etc.

But that was in direct contradiction to the prevalent mode of dog training at the time.

Cesar Millan and the Monks of New Skete are simply the best-known and most prominent of the current "traditional" trainers.

Posted by: Lis on February 23, 2008 at 8:07 AM | PERMALINK

Dr Qureshi is a "stroke expert". Quite.

Posted by: James Wimberley on February 23, 2008 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting stuff, Lis.

Posted by: shortstop on February 23, 2008 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

The difference is obvious: Cats purr. Dogs bark.

Jake Page, author of Dogs: A Natural History and the forthcoming Cats HEar With Their Feet

Posted by: jakep page on February 23, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Lis,

I think positive reinforcement vs. dominance approaches to training have probably coexisted ever since dogs started living with humans. I got my 'first' dog, a German shepherd, at the age of 5 in 1952. My parents approach was always one of positive reinforcement, although my memory tells me that almost no training was needed in the first place. He was never 'tied' outside but kept within our yard's boundaries on his own. Needless to say, this is one of the hardest things to get a dog to do. Perhaps my dad simply called him back to the yard a few times and he "understood." The people who enjoy dominance or even cruelty towards their dogs simply don't deserve them. It's very close to child abuse and as devastating.

Posted by: nepeta on February 23, 2008 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

It generally seems to me that well "trained" suburban dogs are pretty rare. It basically takes a lot of time and a lot of intuition. Most commonly dogs are either out of control or overly submissive because of intermittent and unproductive interactions.

I don't really see how you can really train a dog by positive reinforcement alone. They have to recognize (and care) when you are disappointed or have fears for their safety. Firm but gentle verbal commands intermixed with 90% positive and engaging interaction is a generally a pretty good mix.

As we get animals from the pound most of the struggles have to do with fears and impulses they developed during abuse. You have to expect that you might never get them comfortable around crowds or children or other dogs. If you want to see improvement it takes a lot of work, support, and protection.

Posted by: B on February 23, 2008 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

B,

Agreed with what you say. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a firm 'no.' The idea, though, is that after the dog corrects his/her behavior, then praise should follow immediately. In fact, it would probably be impossible for us humans not to use the 'no' word since we use it with our children and just about anyone else we have contact with. I'm surprised you find most suburban dogs not well-trained. I agree that they wouldn't win any prizes in an obedience trial, but for the most part the dogs I meet are mostly nonaggressive and friendly, with a few shy or cautious personalities thrown in. Pretty much like the gamut of people I meet. (:

Posted by: nepeta on February 23, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

I don't really see how you can really train a dog by positive reinforcement alone. They have to recognize (and care) when you are disappointed or have fears for their safety. Firm but gentle verbal commands intermixed with 90% positive and engaging interaction is a generally a pretty good mix.

Well, it's clear I'm not going to win any awards for recognizing and properly naming formal differences in schools of thought re dog training. I wasn't suggesting that positive reinforcement training is about not correcting your dog nor about failing to give her firm but gentle commands--as you say, that has to be part of it. The dog is not going to comply with your instructions when they differ with her preferences if she doesn't recognize your disappointment or fear for her safety expressed as your authority (and sorry if that word offends some folks' sensibilities, but if you believe that dog-people relationships are wholly democratic or wholly collaborative, you don't understand pack behavior and you probably have a poorly behaved dog who bugs or frightens people).

We just don't do the wrestling/physical domination thing with ours--don't like it and suspect it's counterproductive. Verbal/hand signal training that relies heavily on praise and rewards for compliance has always worked for us.

intermittent and unproductive interactions.

Consistency's the bug. It can be really hard to force oneself to be consistent, especially when one's in the mood to just let it go. We all struggle with that, I think, just as parents of small children do.

Posted by: shortstop on February 23, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe I'm biased by my own universe. I guess the typical things I see are dogs that can't walk on a leash, won't come when you call them, can't be kept from jumping on visitors, and generally have a few negative traits like sneaking food off the table when you aren't looking or peeing on beds when they're upset. Basically happy overgrown puppies who've learned a few tricks for manipulating they're owners. A lot of time I see dogs specifically rewarded for bad behavior (i.e. bribed with food when they refuse to come back inside or to stop some other behavior). That's not a good type of positive reinforcement.

Posted by: B on February 23, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

no real disagreements here.

I just don't fall into a all negative or all positive reinforcement camp. I think that it's perfectly alright to have an overgrown puppy in some environments as long as your happy with it. In others the owner needs to have pretty complete control and a very good understanding. You get the latter through a lot of interaction -- not through wrestling or dominance.

Posted by: B on February 23, 2008 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

A challenge no honorable cat could refuse.

Posted by: Mike on February 23, 2008 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

My cats are indoor cats. I lost a cat to the local coyote who roams around the neighborhood. I still am in pain when I think about it a year later. My cats know how to calm me down. Boots,part Seal Siamese, the boy, jumps on the bed, purring, and wants to be petted. On the sofa, he wants to lay on my shoulder like a 14 lb.baby, like he did when he was small. The baby girl, Ling Ling,pure Blue Point, sticks her nose in my face, when I am in bed, to be petted. No stomach petting for her either, she bites. It is an instinct to protect their selves from death by a bite on their belly from a predator.
They KNOW commands like no, get down, outside? (on the balcony)time for bed, meow meow, for special canned cat food, just like a dog. They love me so much that it hurts. Boots sleeps on my wet towels on the floor. He rules the house! Dogs are fine but trouble. You can't leave a dog home alone for any length of time. Cats live a long time too! I would have a dog too if I could, but no dogs, allowed here where I live. Viva la felines!

Posted by: can'tlivew/ocats on February 23, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I don't have access to the study, so I don't have enough information, but maybe the cat owners have a healthier diet, are vegetarian, etc. while dog owners (being more conventional) eat a conventional American diet with a lot of meat and dairy? Unless they've controlled for the owners' diets, of course.

Posted by: sara on February 23, 2008 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

I'll mention this to my 87-year-old mother, who has a cat (and every now and then wanted to get rid of him, though I think she's only kidding).

Posted by: Vincent on February 23, 2008 at 7:17 PM | PERMALINK

Responding to several different people here:

I think positive reinforcement vs. dominance approaches to training have probably coexisted ever since dogs started living with humans.

As a practical matter of how individual people and families trained their own dogs, yes, sure. As a matter for formal ideas about dog training, no. Variations on dominance/punishment-based training were the dominant philosophy for a long time, the thing you'd find if you picked up a book on training your dog or went to a professional trainer. Positive reinforcement as a formal approach rather than a pragmatic one is relatively new.

I don't really see how you can really train a dog by positive reinforcement alone. They have to recognize (and care) when you are disappointed or have fears for their safety. Firm but gentle verbal commands intermixed with 90% positive and engaging interaction is a generally a pretty good mix.

Have a dog who submissive-pees at the smallest sign of disapproval, and you learn, real fast, to use almost exclusively positive-reinforcement. Praise, petting, treats, toys, games--all preferred methods. Negative reinforcement in the form of no attention for unwanted behaviors. No leash jerks or choke collars. A mild "ah-ah" to let her know she hadn't figured out the desired behavior yet, when teaching a new one. In matters of immediate safety for her or others, a loud, firm, "No!", but only for safety reasons.

We had marvelously well-behaved dog, a fact readily acknowledged by all the people who thought our training methods were really dumb.

The dog is not going to comply with your instructions when they differ with her preferences if she doesn't recognize your disappointment or fear for her safety expressed as your authority (and sorry if that word offends some folks' sensibilities, but if you believe that dog-people relationships are wholly democratic or wholly collaborative, you don't understand pack behavior and you probably have a poorly behaved dog who bugs or frightens people).

I've never found it necessary to make any of my dogs fear for their safety from me, in order to get good behavior. When I get a fearful reaction from a dog, I consider that I have screwed up, really badly. My dog and my cats know that I'm the alpha in my household; they don't fear me. They know I control the Good Stuff For Dogs and Cats, and they can get that stuff if they behave appropriately. Their minds are occupied finding ways to get me to dispense Good Stuff.

Posted by: Lis on February 23, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

After a two-year mourning period for my beloved kitty who died in my arms at age 15, I finally adopted a young cat last month. Beautiful, silky black Siamese mix with a white heart on her chest. I'm a bit sleep deprived, because of course she always wants to play at 4am, but my baseline mood has gone way up. It's such a delight even just watching her, and now that she's settled down enough we have our morning cuddles before I get up--such a nice way to start the day. She even likes to have her tummy stroked--at least a little bit until she bites. But she's good about being gentle with her teeth and claws. Not like my last kitty, who was an evil beast, but a loving one.

Posted by: Jess on February 23, 2008 at 9:49 PM | PERMALINK

I've never found it necessary to make any of my dogs fear for their safety from me, in order to get good behavior. When I get a fearful reaction from a dog, I consider that I have screwed up, really badly. My dog and my cats know that I'm the alpha in my household; they don't fear me.

No, NO, you misunderstand. I DO NOT ever seek to make ANY dog afraid of me, and like you, would consider that I'd messed up seriously if one responded to me that way. What B actually said, and I was echoing, is that positive reinforcement alone is not adequate for situations which you're afraid for your dog's safety and quick correction is needed (i.e., because you need to stop her running into the street, running up to play with that dog you know is dangerously aggressive, etc.).

Sometimes that's simple use of the word "no"; sometimes it's the "uh uh" comment, which my dog is especially responsive to; sometimes it's just speaking another command ("leave it," "come," etc.) in a firm but calm voice. As I was saying, I don't consider these what nepeta was calling "alpha" training, but part of an overwhelmingly positive-reinforcement based training.

Posted by: shortstop on February 23, 2008 at 10:02 PM | PERMALINK

This is where I went wrong: I was quoting B on humans expressing their own disappointment/fear, but the addition of a word would have helped: The dog is not going to comply with your instructions when they differ with her preferences if she doesn't recognize your disappointment or your fear for her safety expressed as your authority....

Jeez, you can't imagine how appalled I am by the idea that I'd want a dog to be afraid of me! If you knew me and dogs...

Posted by: shortstop on February 23, 2008 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

Lis,

And I'm sure your 'Good Stuff' includes all the 'Best Stuff' like playing, chatting, going for walks, sharing an ice cream cone (you first, of course - grin), etc.

An interesting story...the dog I still grieve for actually bit both me and my husband when he was around two years old. (Neutering which, alas, we'd delayed and switching from monthly to daily heart-worm meds seemed to calm the aggressiveness, which actually appeared to be semi-psychotic episodes which would last only a period of minutes). Nevertheless, we had a young daughter and my mother insisted on our getting 'training' for Smokey. I learned a few tricks of the trade from this trainer. For exuberant jumping the trainer simply put his hands above his head and the jumping stopped. Unfortunately, each person the dog meets pretty much has to be told to do this until the dog catches on to the fact that his jumping in greeting isn't appreciated much by anyone and then the behavior changes on its own. Another amazing thing was that the trainer got Smokey to sit and stay, on the very first try, simply by raising his hand in a sort of upward gesture while calmly but firmly saying 'sit,' then 'stay' as he walked away. To make a long story short, Smokey got an 'A' for the course but my husband and I got an 'F' because we weren't willing to do the lessons that required us to make Smokey 'stay' in a corner of the room apart from us for an hour or more and other sorts of 'super-control' type training. As I said upthread, despite not being the best-trained dog in the world, we loved every minute of our time with this wonderful dog, and I still think that part of that enjoyment was that he, in his own way, brought us closer to his point of view on lots of occasions rather than us bringing him to ours.

Posted by: nepeta on February 23, 2008 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

shortstop,

I understood what you meant. Otherwise I would have given you a good nip (gr)!

Posted by: nepeta on February 23, 2008 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

(Just an observation: anyone who can flame/whine a kitty thread is just behind contempt. Shaddap, already.)

And for those of us who love cats, but are currently catless - God love ya. In more ways than one.

Posted by: T4TN on February 23, 2008 at 10:28 PM | PERMALINK

This is where I went wrong: I was quoting B on humans expressing their own disappointment/fear, but the addition of a word would have helped: The dog is not going to comply with your instructions when they differ with her preferences if she doesn't recognize your disappointment or your fear for her safety expressed as your authority....

Jeez, you can't imagine how appalled I am by the idea that I'd want a dog to be afraid of me! If you knew me and dogs...

Posted by: shortstop on February 23, 2008 at 10:07 PM

We would seem to be in total agreement then.:) (How did that happen...?) Sorry for the misunderstanding!

And I'm sure your 'Good Stuff' includes all the 'Best Stuff' like playing, chatting, going for walks, sharing an ice cream cone (you first, of course - grin), etc.

Posted by: nepeta on February 23, 2008 at 10:09 PM

Hey, I tried buying her a small dish of her own, but even the kiddie size turned out to be huge, so what can you do? I am forced to share... :)

Li

Posted by: Lis on February 24, 2008 at 8:40 AM | PERMALINK

Did someone already link to this:
http://www.theonion.com/content/news/kitchen_floor_conflict_intensifies
Pretty hilarious,
Clara

Posted by: Clara on February 24, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

I am not a dog person but I learned an awful lot watching dvd episodes of Cesar Millan's tv show. That man is very impressive. And I think no reasonable person would deny, after watching CM in action, that there are circumstances under which it is necessary and desirable to assert physical dominance over a dog. The main point being that these are relatively rare cases.

The other point Cesar makes is that exercise is by far the most important aspect of good dog ownership. Discipline is next, affection comes after that.

And, frankly, I prefer cats.

Posted by: mattski on February 24, 2008 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

A "stroke expert"? How much damn expertise do you need to pet a cat?

Posted by: Mooser on February 24, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

A "stroke expert"? How much damn expertise do you need to pet a cat?

Posted by: Mooser on February 24, 2008 at 1:43 PM

Your cat has filed a complaint, Mooser, and wants you sent to stroking re-education camp.

Posted by: Lis on February 24, 2008 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

Clara - that Onion piece was very funny and a decent analogy to us humans too. Thanks.

Posted by: nepeta on February 24, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

I got a 404 error on the link, so I don't know whether the original report covers this or not. But isn't it odd that the article only speaks of cause of death, not life expectancy?

Stop for a second and think. Wouldn't you get the same headline if cat owners tend to die young because cats give you cancer?

Posted by: nicteis on February 25, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

For Friday catblogging, lots of stuff about dogs. I love both -- have 2 old dogs and one young cat. My sweet 16 year old (approximately -- she was a stray) Cloudy-girl had to be put down last September. But anyway, I have met many many cats that seem to like having their tummies rubbed, as long as they can control the duration of rub time. The main thing I want to say though is that I love Friday catblogging, and both Domino and Inkblot are wonderful beautiful felines.

Posted by: Gael on February 28, 2008 at 11:03 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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