They are pushing back the frontiers of science. But forget about space travel, clever robots, and cures for deadly diseases.
This time, behavioral scientists have added their expertise to a new UK television network – DogTV. Have you ever tried watching it with your pets?
It offers programs to stimulate or relax a dog. They even use special color contrasts because dogs have red-green color blindness.
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The idea is that people can leave the television on when they are at work or in the store. The animals can then allay their anxieties by looking at the images.
We all know animals who find it difficult to fend for themselves at home. According to DogTV, one in six dogs suffers from overt separation anxiety. Others will chew on furniture, refuse to eat, or bark excessively.
But are TV programs really the answer? Are we going to see Shih Tzus watching seaside specialties or golden retrievers tapping into ball games?
DogTV – dubbed “HBO for Dogs” – is available online and through smart TVs, Android and Apple devices. It includes shows such as The Dog Chef, Paws For Love, Things We Woof About, The Adoption Show, and Meet The Breed.
Certainly, some programs are aimed at humans who live with dogs. But most camera angles and audio frequencies are designed for viewers on all fours.
This is the latest in a series of brainwaves marketed for the needs of pets.
Take the Classic FM show on Bonfire Night, which featured an evening of music to help dogs deal with the bangs and flashes of fireworks.
And last week I read an article about the DogPhone, a device created by Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a lecturer at the University of Glasgow.
There are several products that allow people to contact their dogs at work. But so far none of them have allowed the dog to initiate the video call.
Ilyena hid an accelerometer in a ball. When a dog shakes the ball, it displays a video conference screen. She tested it with her own dog Zack.
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“He would call me and I would say a few words to him and hang up. But if I was busy it wasn’t always so pleasant, ”she said.
Other drawbacks include the propensity to make tramp calls.
All of these technical innovations have a wider meaning. They are linked to a growing branch of academia devoted to dog research.
In Hungary, for example, scientists from Eotvos Lorand University studied canine linguistics. They discovered that dogs understand more than just “sit” and “stay” commands.
Dogs segment speech the same way human infants understand words. They use the auditory cortex part of their brain to do these complex calculations.
Don’t take my word for it. Read the Academic Journal of Canine Science.
A quick glance at some of the subjects shows that researchers are studying all kinds of canine phenomena.
One academic article is titled “Animal Morality: What It Means and Why It Matters.” And another is called ‘Dog’s voice: a memoir’.
There are also topics related to canine anatomy, influential figures in dog training and the science of canine cognition.
Universities don’t just study dogs. They prepare students for careers involving working with dogs.
At the University Center Reaseheath – a partnership between South Cheshire’s Reaseheath College and the University of Chester – you can earn a dog-related degree. Students can earn a basic degree first and then complete it up to a BSc.
Course topics cover canine welfare, clinical behavior, and “ethical issues” associated with domestic dogs. Students also acquire training in business development so that they can work in the dog industry.
Relevant jobs may include becoming professional dog trainers, dog sitters or walkers, or specializing in the rehabilitation of rescue dogs.
The next logical step is to offer diplomas to dogs. I can see the potential now.
Log on to DogTV for Open University style tutorials. It gives new meaning to dogs with owners.
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