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Teaching animal pets to read: too much evolution?

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By Nury Vittachi

New Delhi: Who thought pets could read? No one. But this dog has learned to read. Fernie, a two-year-old labrador from the UK, can read four words and is working on another 20, says his owner, a teacher.

I was impressed, as I well remember the difficulty I once had trying to teach a two-year-old human not to throw herself off a balcony.

All parents know that children get furiously angry if we stop them doing things like climbing into lion enclosures, drinking poison, eating mystery brown objects off the forest floor and the like. The basic toddler philosophy is: “I wonder what (insert lethal activity here) feels like? Let’s find out.”

(I suspect there’s also a subconscious undercurrent of “Time for a quick round of Make Dad Panic.”)

Parenting books say “they grow out of it”. They don’t say that they grow right back into it as teenagers, who have the exact same philosophy, but with more expensive dangers. (“I wonder what would happen if we mixed every chemical in the school lab?”)

The obvious solution is to teach children the way we teach dogs. “Sit.” (Child sits.) “Who’s a good boy?” (Adult pats head and presents tiny morsel of food.) “Study! Pass exams! (Child studies and passes exams.) “Who’s a good boy?” (Adult pats head and presents another tiny morsel of food.) and so on and so forth.

What if your child can’t talk yet? You can still teach it, thanks to scientists in Taiwan who have just invented an Infant Cries Translator app. You download the app and stick your phone near your baby’s mouth. Wah wah waahhhhh is translated on the screen into clear, adult-readable terms such as: “I wish to have an additional beverage, carer.”

This reminded me of my first daughter, who had advanced verbal skills and actually spoke like that from about 18 months old: “Convey me to the potty immediately, carer, or you and your so-called Persian rug will live to regret it.”

Happy memories. But I was brought back on topic by a colleague from the US who says TV shows in her home country feature a dog called Willow who can read. Clearly this is the trend.

I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that teaching animals to read is a good thing. Life is grim enough without coming home to be greeted by my dog saying things like: “What do you think of Schopenhauer’s second volume of essays? Good grief, you haven’t read it, have you?”

The fact is reading gives humans an evolutionary advantage that we should not share with less-evolved creatures such as dogs, cats, amoeba, Donald Trump fans and the like.

But I must admit I was curious. So I handed my newspaper to my dog. She stared at the front page picture (a politician of course) and then tilted her head to one side, apparently having the same gyroscopic thing in her brain that smartphones have. Then she took a step forwards and peed on it. That was probably a rather insightful thing to do. I wish I’d thought of it.

If dogs do learn to read, let’s limit them to books about their kind: White Fang, 101 Dalmatians, and Marley and Me are probably the three most famous. Do NOT give them Cujo. (IANS)

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Tips To Keep Pets Warm in Winter

Khushboo Katyal, dog expert and founder of brand CosmoPawliton-Be Pet Smart, and Achal Gupta, pet expert and founder of Jeffurry's: The Pet Resort, have suggested tips on how to keep your pets warm this winter

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People raised in cities without pets at risk from mental illness
Simple ways to keep pets warm in winter. Pixabay

It is very important to keep your four-legged friends warm when the mercury dips as they can fall ill. Keep their bedding dry and stimulate fur growth to keep them warm during the harsh winter season, say experts.

Khushboo Katyal, dog expert and founder of brand CosmoPawliton-Be Pet Smart, and Achal Gupta, pet expert and founder of Jeffurry’s: The Pet Resort, have suggested tips on how to keep your pets warm this winter.

* Dry bedding: No one likes a cold floor. A small bed and pillow or blanket should be all what a pet needs to keep warm during cold winter nights. Give them options as well. They may prefer to switch sleeping spots to be warmer or cooler depending on the indoor temperature.

* Clothing: Use pet clothing options. Puppies are less cold tolerant because they have less muscle and fat mass than the adult dogs. Muscle and fat increase their metabolism and keeps them warm. Puppy coats won’t be as thick or long to offer protection. Little pups have less body mass to generate natural heat, too, and often benefit from a doggy sweater especially when they must do outdoor bathroom duty.

Pet selfie. Image source Pet360.com

* Let that fur grow: Let the pups adjust gradually to outdoor chills. That stimulates their fur to grow thicker. Indoor pets won’t be as well equipped to spend time outside, so be aware and bring them back inside after only short trips to the bathroom and back.

* Protect skin and paws: Checking the paws of your pets in frequent intervals for any signs of cold-weather injury or damage like cracked paw pads or bleeding is very important. These injury can cause immense pain and your pets will be unable to walk.

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* Try understanding problems: Try understanding what the problem is if your pet is behaving unusual. If the pet is shivering, whining, seems week or starts looking for warm places to burrow, get them back inside quickly because they are showing signs of hypothermia. If you suspect your pet has hypothermia or any other worry, consult your veterinarian.

* Avoid giving cold water or food: This is an important practice. Only give room water and warm food to your pets. Cold water and food during the harsh winter can make them fall sick and catch a cold. (IANS)