Category: Pets


ivan pavlov

Science’s Santa Claus, Ivan Pavlov

by chelsea schuyler

PAVLOV – NOT THE FRIENDLY (science) GIANT?

What (we think) Pavlov taught us: ring a bell before feeding time, and a dog will learn to associate the bell with food, and salivate just at the ring of it.

Wait, we can trigger automatic reflexes with mere association? Epic! This concept of ‘classical conditioning’ has led to treatments of phobias as well as effective marketing.

pavlov experiment

DIY dog drool

We love Pavlov because this experiment sounds like a nice, friendly one you could do at home with full PETA approval.

Even the apparatus just involves loose rope to hold the dog at a wooden structure, and a little test tube attached to the jowls to catch and measure the saliva. Kinda neat.

pavlov dog

Taxidermy dog of Pavlov with test tube accessory. Because nothing is sacred

However, there are two things wrong with the previous impressions:

  1. Pavlov may or may not have even used a bell.
  2. Pavlov was not kind to animals

Oh, and

  1. Americans are not kind to babies.

That third one is a bonus misassumption that I bet you didn’t even know you were assuming! Allow me to explain:

NERD DEBATES – DEFINE ‘BELL’

The best part of science is the nerd arguments among researchers – the red rage of their faces when debating whether T. Rex was a scavenger, or whether Neanderthals bred with humans – it’s the best part of any documentary.

spock

I fail to comprehend your indignation

yosemite sam

OOO!! that rackin’ frackin’…

The Spockian part of their conscience tells them to calm the F down and be presentable as a logical scientist, while the Yosemite Sam part is OOOOoooo!!! bursting with the Bunsen burner flames of the years of research at stake from this varmint!!

I’m not sure it got quite to this level, but in 1994, yet another mostly useless debate began about whether the famed Russian scientist in fact used a bell.

First guy: there’s no evidence he did
Second guy: yeah, it was the reporters misled us
Third: No, here are three instance that specifically say ‘bell’ in Pavlov’s writings
Fourth (or back to first? I’m lost now): but maybe ‘bell’ refers to an electronic sound?

…until even I was like OH MY GOD it’s so not the point! The only thing at stake is whether the joke “Does Pavlov ring a bell?” even works anymore.

WHAT PAVLOV ACTUALLY USED

michael jackson

Annie was in fact ‘okay’ according to science dogs

Whatever, regardless, Pavlov didn’t use bells often – what’s actually more interesting is what he did use, which includes a buzzer, a harmonium, a metronome, and electric shock.

And it didn’t just stop at one sound. For example, in one trial he only fed the dogs when the metronome was at 60 beats per minute. 120 beats per minute, no chow for you.

Interestingly, the dogs subsequently became more discerning, only salivating at the speed of say, the classic Michael Jackson original “Smooth Criminal”, while dry-mouthed at the spastic Alien Ant Farm version.

NOBEL PRIZE IGNORES BELLS, PRAISES TORTURE

Pavlov did win a Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine but not for his (non)bell experiments. It was actually for researching the digestive system of mammals, via dogs.

Horrifyingly, this involved surgically removing their esophagus and adding a tube so that the food would just fall right back into the bowl. Pavlov would measure the gastric juices that the stomach (from another tube) makes when expecting to get humanely treated, I mean, fed.

Meanwhile, another tube was inserted into the stomach so the gastric juices could be collected and measured. …And then sold as a treatment for dyspepsia – digestive trouble. Let the irony sink in there for a minute.

pavlov dogs

Pepto bismol factory of old

This was a good side business – some dogs could reportedly drop a thousand cubic centimeters of gastric goodness a day! (Which is like a quart, but sounds way impressive to Americans cuz of the word ‘thousand’ and because metric jargon is inconceivable to us. “This lettuce is five thousand cents per kilogram – it’s an outrage!”)

I guess we didn’t really know anything about digestion, so, this was epic.

AMERICA JUMPS ON THE TORTURE TRAIN

Okay, so Ivan “Dr. Moreau” Pavlov removed parts of dogs to catch the fluids at every part of the digestive system. Many dogs didn’t survive the surgeries let alone enjoy being Dr. Suessian machines behind curtains, but don’t give all the heinousness credit to the Russians.

frog

Frogs everywhere however, would like to thank Pavlov for his subject choices

First of all, Pavlov was kind of anti-Russian. He called Marx a fool, wrote to Stalin that he was “ashamed to be called a Russian”, and said publicly “For the kind of social experiment that [Russia is] making, I would not sacrifice a frog’s hind legs!” to which his dog subjects were moderately offended.

Anyway, while Russia was removing any non-red citizens, America took Pavlov’s dog torture and brought it to the next level: babies and Santa Claus.

THE LITTLE ALBERT EXPERIMENT

John B Watson

American Horror story, John B Watson

Arguably (always arguably!) the greatest and most deplorable application of Pavlovian concepts was carried out by oft-cited American psychologist John B. Watson. In his famous ‘Little Albert’ experiment, he wished to show that he could turn what is naturally pleasant to all human children, furry things, into terrifying realizations of our nightmares.

He took a nine month old infant, and first simply allowed him to interact with a monkey, a rat, a rabbit, a dog, fur coats, etc. The child was happy and unphased.

Then Watson paired the items/animals with the deafening sound of a hammer hitting a steel bar behind from where the child could see. After doing this, well, more than once and therefore, a horrendous number of times over days, the child burst into tears at the mere sight of the fur of any his former plush pals.

john b watson and little alfred

dear god people

INCLUDING (and it doesn’t get better than this) Dr. Watson himself in a crude Santa mask with all the poofy white fur attached, on his hands and knees getting right up into the kid’s grill. Science!

P.S. The idea that Santa Claus produces an innately friendly response has been disproved by decades of photographic evidence of screaming children in shopping centers. Let alone an aggressive man-stranger with a mask a 4yr old could have glued together more tastefully.

THE PSYCHOLOGY TRAIN WRECK CONTINUES

But be comforted baby Albert, in a mere 54 years, they’ll make the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects. Oh, and sorry that Dr. Watson didn’t desensitize you. Why?

Rosalie Rayner

Rosalie ‘is this tainted?’ Rayner, who is: “unanimously in favor of breaking the mother attachment as early as possible”

Because he was fired. Not because of child abuse, no, but for having an affair with his grad student assistant, Rosalie Rayner, who later died young from eating tainted fruit. Because Watson, I guess, just wasn’t tainted enough.

But she managed to co-author the book Psychological Care of Infant and Child, in which she tells mothers thatWhen you are tempted to pet your child remember that mother love is a dangerous instrument.”

And because the fun never stops, she and Dr. Watson’s two children both suffered depression and  attempted suicide, with one saying that their upbringing “eroded [their] ability to deal effectively with human emotion.” You think?

DEBATE! WHERE’S ALBERT TODAY?

Little Albert

Have you seen me? I’m likely in therapy and frantically scrambling away from malls around Christmas time…

But why focus on the horrors of our past ideas of child-rearing when there’s a pointless debate to be had? Decades later some scientists dutifully wondered, where’s Albert now?

Some say that he was Douglas Merrite who was sadly sick with neurological problems (not divulged by Dr. Watson, and therefore totally disqualifying any results humanity can scrape from this disaster) who, also, died 5 years later.

But wait no – that kid would have been vastly underweight and clearly from the video (shown below!) he is not. So maybe it’s Albert Barger who reportedly disliked animals, especially dogs, and died 10 years ago! Let’s speculate with creepy, old timey video (Santa footage at 3:10)!

Photos are public domain except:
Pavlov drawing: photo by Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0
Taxidermy dog: photo by Rklawton, CC BY-SA 3.0
Spock: photo by e_chaya,  CC BY 2.0
Yosemite Sam: photo by Mark Anderson, CC BY 2.0
Five dogs: photo by Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0

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Myths!

of which this is obviously not one

of which this is obviously not one

by chelsea schuyler

I think it’s high time I discussed some nature-related myths. I feel like while I often suspect a myth, I have no idea what the actual truth is. Here are 5 debunked myths, in order of relevancy.

Myth #1: LEMMINGS COMMIT MASS SUICIDE

leapin' lemmings (screen shot from "White Wilderness)

leapin’ lemmings (screen shot from “White Wilderness”)

That lemmings follow each other over cliffs to their deaths has been a myth since the 1500s. Shockingly, they don’t. What does happen is about every four years certain lemming populations explode. Predators flock in for the buffet until numbers go back down again. This isn’t like a slight increase either, this is a boom of cicada-like proportions. Snowy owl parents have been known to bring back 50 lemmings a DAY to feed their young during these times. Anyway, numbers plummet, the now fat predators leave, and the few surviving lemmings start the whole cycle again.

During the boom, populations do expand, and lemmings have been known to attempt river crossings where many may drown. But it would be like saying that the wildebeest in the Great Migration commit mass suicide crossing the river cuz some get eaten by crocodiles. Stuff just dies when trying to do stuff.

White_WildernessWhat’s REALLY interesting about this is that the lemming myth was strengthened in the 1950s when Disney made a “documentary” called “White Wilderness,” in which lemmings are shown leaping off of cliffs into the ocean (clip here). The narrator doesn’t call it suicide, but implies that they are taken by a sort of “frenzy” that nature uses to control their numbers.

shocked Eskimo child never intended for this to happen to Lui and Lois Lemming

shocked Eskimo child never intended for this to happen

But in the 1980s a Canadian show called “Cruel Camera” reported that clever angles were used to obscure lemmings being actually herded off a cliff into the water (actually a river, not the ocean) using a lazy susan-like device. The species used weren’t even native to the area, and were asserted to have been purchased from local Eskimo children.

"Lemmings." Game of lies.

Game of lies.

In 2003, the Disney spokeswoman did not deny these claims, ”We have done extensive research into what happened more than 40 years ago,” she said, ”but have been unable to determine exactly what techniques were used in producing ‘White Wilderness.’ The standards and techniques were certainly different then than they are now.”

Well that’s true. But Disney is not alone. Video game “Lemmings” used pixelated images to further perpetuate the myth. Can nothing be trusted?

jack
Myth #2: DOG YEARS

A common myth (whose origin is so elusive it appears to be genetically instinctive since the 1960s) is that a year in a dog’s life is equivalent to 7 human years. To be fair, this is sort of barely true ish. It’s an extreme average (though 6 years might be a more accurate inaccuracy). But really the first two years of the dog and size of the dog changes this number substantially.

Small dogs live longer than large dogs, but reach sexual maturity faster. So, weirdly, a smaller dog is “older” in its first two years and “younger” at five. This is a unique phenomenon, and may be because no other animal has as much size diversity within its own species (i.e no other animal has been so jovially messed with by humans).

nnnnoooo.

nnnooooo.

Scientists speculate that if we made a 20lb cow (Hey China, do us a favor?) we would see the same aging discrepancy compared to the 2000lb ones.

Yeah whatever, so how old is my dog? You can enter your dog’s breed and age in the BBC dog calculator, or refer to this chart:


For first two years

  • 12.5 years per human year for small dogs
  • 10.5 years per human year for medium-sized dogs
  • 9 years per human year for large dogs

For years 3+:

  • Small:
    Dachshund (Miniature) 4.32,
    Border Terrier 4.47,
    Lhasa Apso 4.49,
    Shih Tzu 4.78,
    Whippet Medium 5.30,
    Chihuahua 4.87,
    West Highland White Terrier 4.96,
    Beagle 5.20,
    Miniature Schnauzer 5.46,
    Spaniel (Cocker) 5.55,
    Cavalier King Charles 5.77,
    Pug 5.95,
    French Bulldog 7.65
  • chow chow panda

    chow chow pandas change nothing

    Medium:
    Spaniel 5.46,
    Retriever (Labrador) 5.74,
    Golden Retriever 5.74,
    Staffordshire Bull Terrier 5.33,
    Bulldog 13.42

  • Large:
    German Shepherd 7.84,
    Boxer 8.90

NOTE: dying your dog to look like a Panda will not increase its life expectancy.

Erwin Schrodinger. Not helpful.

Erwin Schrodinger. Not helpful.

By the way, somehow the dog years formula has transferred over to cats. I really wanted to give a chart for that too, but unfortunately I could find no reputable sources, and I tried medium hard! Everyone is using a chart that says the first year equals 15 human years, and then you basically add 4 years for each year after that. But again, couldn’t find a scientific source for this. Because scientists hate cats.

brains! the organ that let you believe in lemming suicide

Brains!  The  organ  that  let  you  believe  in lemming  suicide

Myth #3: WE ONLY USE 10% OF OUR BRAINS

I kinda think most people have figured out that this is a dumb. Turns out there are times like when we’re resting that we may only be using 10% of our brain, but “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain,” says John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic. So if you trust the folks who specialize in egg-based condiments, and I know I do, it’s definitely a myth.

Neurologists-- Real experts.  Real Mayo.

Neurologists–    Real experts.    Real Mayo.

If you’re just fond of 10 percents of things, only 10% of the brain is made up of neurons, the cells that fire and do stuff and make us layfolk nod because we’ve definitely heard that word before. The other 90% are glial cells, which are the mechanics/handymen/storage units that maintain the neurons, but we’re a little peach fuzzy on them. So really, we only understand 10% of our brains, and even that is probably an overestimation.

Myth #4: NASA’S SPACE PEN

How could I have doubted you??

How could I have doubted you??

This is one of my favorite myths, that NASA spent millions of dollars engineering a pen that would work in space when Russia solved the same problem by using a pencil. I bought into this one for awhile, until one day I used 3% of my brain to think: NASA got rovers to Mars, should I really believe they sank to such duh-itude over writing tools?

Of course no. Both NASA and Russian cosmonauts used pencils originally.  NASA was guilty of buying mechanical pencils at 130 dollars a pop in 1965, provoking outrage in Congress and the public at the time, forcing NASA to go back to common-man, back-to-school-sales pencils.

But then in 1967, the Apollo 1 test run went horribly wrong. A wire sparked and caused a fire, aided by a pure Oxygen atmosphere and multiple flammable materials within the shuttle.  Three astronauts were tragically killed.

This may or may not be why I doubted you...

This may have been why I doubted you…

NASA then changed their shuttles to be a tad less of a fire waiting to happen. They reduced the Oxygen in the atmosphere to 34% instead of 100%, and they removed velcro and other flammable materials from the interior. But pencils were a problem because of the flammable wood and the graphite bits that could be inhaled by astronauts or infiltrate equipment.

fisher price shuttle of death

Not to be confused with Fisher Price’s shuttle of death

Meanwhile, Paul Fisher of Fisher Pen Co. decided to invest his own money (about 1 million) to design a pen that was pressure-based instead of gravity-based, and would work from -50F to 400F (though the blue ink will turn green when too hot, which is cool. Moral = blue pens are superior to black because NASA). Both Russia and NASA buy these pens for a few dollars each (bulk price). There, everyone wins.  So get off their backs, you don’t know.space pen case

Mini-Myth #5:
HUMANS ARE (insert number here)%  WATER

Another victim of over-averaging and people’s inability to remember statistics (guilty). I had to add this one because it was bothering me hearing anything from 40 – 95% water (95, really? come on people).

USGS. Taking a break from predicting devastating earthquakes to settle your inane curiousity

USGS. Taking a break from predicting devastating earthquakes to settle your inane curiosity

According to the US Geological Survey, babies are 78% water, male adults 60%, and female adults 55% (because fat cells have less water in them and women have more fat cells than men). Also subject to the physical fitness of the person, age, and other factors, and no one really cares cuz even cavemen knew water’s important and don’t remind us of how we’re never drinking enough of it.

Well, that’s all the myths there are. Everything else is true.  Drink water!

Cubed.

what was the goal here?

by chelsea schuyler

You may think poodle-squaring is funny.  And it is. It’s hilarious. Way to think inside the box. But why stop the humiliation at hair cutting?

Hair dyeing, now that’s where it’s at. I’ve seen a couple of dyed dogs in the pet store. They were both pink, and it just looked bad. It was frizzy, unnatural, and clashed with everything around, like a high schooler who dyes their hair matte black and wears yellow T-shirts.

But oh does it not stop there. Behold:

       

I know right?   China is all over this fad. Their pet stores are cheating, they’re dyeing tuxedo kittens to look like seal points so they can charge more, but they’re being hospitalized and stuff cuz they’re too little to handle the dyes and blah blah depressing. But the vets are getting all up in dey grill so hopefully all will be well eventually.

The latest craze is wild animals, which I can’t help but find much less obnoxious. I’m sure it’s an illusion, but it feels like a small step away from dogs as a fashion accessory, and is what people really want when they buy a real tiger. All the novelty and show-off factor without the huge, the urine spraying, and the killing of small children.

chow pandas. okay, clever. um, tiger stalking in background.

Actual chow chow

Raphael, a Chinese pet store’s ninja turtle dog

The best part of these websites are the comments, which switch reliably from OMG, How Cute! to You People Are Sick! and back again. With the occasional sprinkling of Dogs are beautiful by nature, and we’re stripping them of their dignity.

Dignity, hah! If we wanted them to keep their dignity we wouldn’t have turned them into shivering, bug-eyed, cowering rat stencils.  Dogs threw dignity to the wolves when they decided to hang with us. If Lhasa Apsos and Bichon Frises held on to dignity they would be eternally depressed to look like a cloud that stuck its tongue in the toaster in the first place, but they are totally happy, dofusey creatures and we love them for it. No, a poodle don’t know a panda from a poop.

what’s next…

But I do happen to be against dyeing, only because even if the dyes aren’t toxic or burning, the process takes hours, and I can’t imagine most dogs enjoying that. Dyeing cats, that’s just criminal. They don’t live for our approval like dogs, and they lick themselves clean for chemical’s sakes!

That’s all folks.  Fetch carefully.

by chelsea schuyler

Once again, it’s all about space.  Space cats.  Thunder cats had it all wrong (but oh so right, …I digress).

So I was thinking the other day, I says to myself I says: “how could purring possibly have evolved? What would have selected for such a complicated, albeit endearing, form of expression?” And self was all:

Yes, cats use purring to express contentment, but  it turns out that cats purr during births, injuries, and severe distress as well as when blissed out.

PURR!!

Not just domestic cats purr by the way, any feline that doesn’t roar can purr. Cheetahs, cougars, ocelots, servals, and caracals can all do it, and some have evolved it independently. So what’s the big advantage?

Meanwhile, IN SPACE, astronauts muse that though they have the coolest job, they suffer a high price, mainly, bone density loss. And vomit that floats around. Anyway, because Neil Armstrong, et al have no gravity to demand simple resistance exercises like standing and walking, their muscles fall to disuse and bone density decreases. They’ve made specialized exercise machines, but i guess they aren’t working so well.  What To Do?

plus healing superpowers

Meanwhile, IN CATS, we’re noticing how ridiculously well cats heal themselves. Over 90% of 132 cats survived 5.5 story falls from apartments (point 5? damn you mezzanine!). Skin grafts and surgery recovery are extremely successful and speedy. Cats are healthier than dogs, they never seem to suffer from dysplasia or luxating patellas or other bone badnesses (bad to the). (Granted humans have been more obsessive about selecting for horrendous skeletal structures in dogs, see bulldogs, dachshunds, german shepherds, etc but even so, the statistics are impressive.) Why they so lucky?

Enter the scientists! Specifically Dr. Clinton Rubin, who put it together that healing and bone mass are both stimulated by vibration, and what do you know, purring in cats happens to fall within 25-140 Hz (Hz = Hertz = cycles per second) which is proven to be physically therapeutic. Most cat species have the perfect harmonics in their purr to contribute to pain relief and tendon repair.

But how do you prove that it’s the purring specifically helping the cats out? You can’t take the purr out of the cat to see what happens cuz it’s all related to the diaphragm n stuff, and the trauma to the animal would automatically disqualify your observations.  and reserve your spot in hell.

Enter the…chickens?  Apparently you don’t take the purr away, you give it to something else.  Dr. Rubin stuck a bunch of chickens on a vibration plate for 20 minutes and then measured their bone strength.

yes! though a turkey stands in for a chicken, this is actually Dr. Rubin. you have no idea how excited I was to find this picture. I think i just anabolized 2% more bone density

Yep. Science ladies and gentlemen. Best. Subject. Ever. I wish someone would explain to me why chickens were the obvious choice for this exercise, though the hilarity of chickens bouncing around like popcorn in a box cannot be denied. (Of course the vibrations weren’t that strong, barely even visible).

10 minutes a day

And I don’t see how a plate is more accurate than strapping a cat to each chicken, but I suppose they knew what they were doing.

The experiment was repeated on rabbits (um, thank you, way more sense. Low to the ground, quiet, sane, mammals) and their bone strength increased 20%.

only rats. not a far cry really...

Then the rats came in, and things got really creative. They had three groups.  Group 1 was prevented from using their back legs during the day. (i’m picturing those paralyzed dogs they attach little wheelchairs to. I so hope that’s how they did it, I would totally take a picture and put it on facebook)

Group 2 the same, except for 10 minutes each day they were allowed to walk around normally. Group 3 same, except they had 10 minutes of vibration therapy instead of exercise.  Results?

Group 1 (no nuthin never) – 91% bone formation loss.
Group 2 (10 min  exercise) – 62% bone formation loss.
Group 3 (10 min good vibrations)– almost no loss whatsoever.

Remember these? Actually making you big boned! The irony!

This is all still controversial (you say one thing about chickens on vibrators and astronauts get all raised-eyebrow), but it could be that we can save those poor orphaned astronauts from breaking their legs upon re-entry to Earth by applying purr technology. And you thought it was just a small step for man….Sources: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast02nov_1/
http://www.fasebj.org/content/15/12/2225.full
http://www.animalvoice.com/catpur.htm
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr
http://www.suite101.com/content/purring-helps-with-healing-a58330

Remember Nature's version? Best to forget...

by chelsea schuyler

Weren’t you just thinking, I mean just thinking:  If only there were a hideous, mangled, deformed train wreck that i couldn’t help but stare at due to it’s purely horrifying example of Nature gone wrong,  but in dog form.

Talk.  About.  Coincidence.   Because it has come to my attention that there exists an annual ugliest dog competition, which of course occurs in California, the only place where the truly artificially hideous are called beautiful.  This is one of those blogs where the pictures speak for themselves.   Not that that saves you from my rambling.

it's come to this. Winner 2003-2005

This is Sam.  Sam is a purebred hairless Chinese Crested dog, which is supposed to look like this: which really isn’t saying much and could stand on it’s own as a disturbing example of a creature whose ancestor stands shamed.

Not surprisingly, after Sam died and became ineligible to compete, every subsequent winner was also a Chinese Crested.  Except for last year, when a Chihuahua broke the trend for having freaky bent front legs.

Winners receive 1000 dollars, if you can believe that.  So if you have an abomination of inbreeding, illness, and disfigurement, simply fill out the entry form, of which the very first rule reads: ” 1) Entrants must bring their own pooper-scooper and water dish.”  Yes, in bold, in that order.  Only by numbers 3 and 5 do we get to trivial details like no inhumane treatment or communicable diseases allowed in the show.  Witness:

The World’s Ugliest Dog Contest is held at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California every summer.  This year will be it’s 23rd sad sad state of affairs.  Woof.

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