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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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Study Shows That Dogs Born in Summers Are More Likely to Suffer From Heart Disease

Owing to higher level of outdoor air pollution during summers, dogs born during this time are more likely to be at higher risk of heart disease, according to a study.

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Dog's hormone oxytocin sensitivity study. Pixabay

Owing to higher level of outdoor air pollution during summers, dogs born during this time are more likely to be at higher risk of heart disease, according to a study.

For both dogs and humans, outside air pollution during pregnancy and at the time of birth appears to play a role in later development of heart disease.

 

Man's best friend
Dogs are among the most popular domestic animals. Wikimedia

 

Overall, dogs have a 0.3 to 2 per cent risk of developing heart disease depending on breed, but among those that are genetically predisposed to the heart disease, the birth month difference in risk was found to be marginal.

However, breeds not genetically predisposed to the disease, such as Norfolk terrier, Berger Picard, American Staffordshire terrier, English toy spaniel, Bouvier des flandres, Border terrier and Havanese were also found to be at highest risk.

This suggests that the effect supports an environmental mechanism, the researchers said, in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also supports earlier findings in humans pointing to the role of early gestational exposure to fine air particulates and increased risk of heart disease later in life.

 

People raised in cities without pets at risk from mental illness
People raised in cities without pets at risk from mental illness. Pixabay

“It’s important to study dogs because the canine heart is a remarkably similar model to the human cardiovascular system,” said Mary Regina Boland, Assistant Professor at the University of Pennsylvania in the US.

“Also, humans and dogs share their lives together and are exposed to similar environmental effects, so seeing this birth season-cardiovascular disease relationship in both species illuminates mechanisms behind this birth-season disease relationship,” Boland added.

Because dogs’ pregnancies are shorter than humans (lasting only 2 months), pollution as a possible mechanism is still thought to be through the mother’s inhalation of air pollution effecting the uterine environment, which in turn affects the developing cardiovascular system of the baby or puppy, the study showed.

For the new study, the team examined 129,778 canines encompassing 253 different breeds.

Also Read: Study Shows, Dogs of 8 Weeks of Age are Found Most Attractive by Humans

The research team found that risk climbs to the greatest level in dogs born in July, who have a 74 per cent greater risk of heart disease than would typically be expected. (IANS)