Monday October 21, 2019
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Teaching animal pets to read: too much evolution?

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pets

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)

Next Story

Dogs can Perform Many Tricks for their Owners, but Best One might be Extending their Life

Kramer's team studied data on 3.8 million patients taken from 10 other studies conducted worldwide over more than 70 years

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Dogs, Tricks, Owners
FILE - A woman transports a Yorkshire Terrier dog in Erfurt, Germany, June 2, 2019. VOA

Dogs can perform many tricks for their owners, but the best one might be extending their life.

“Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause,” said Dr. Caroline Kramer, lead author of a study published Tuesday in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.

Kramer’s team studied data on 3.8 million patients taken from 10 other studies conducted worldwide over more than 70 years. They found a 24% reduction in the risk of death from all causes, and a 31% reduction of death due to cardiovascular problems.

“Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels and better a cholesterol profile in previous reports,”she said.

Dogs, Tricks, Owners
“Our analysis found having a dog is actually protective against dying of any cause,” said Dr. Caroline Kramer, lead author of a study published Tuesday in Circulation. Pixabay

Another study also published Tuesday in the same journal found that dog owners living alone had a 33% better chance of surviving a heart attack than patients living alone without a dog. In stroke patients living alone, the chance of survival increased 27%.

That study was conducted in Sweden between 2001 and 2012 using the country’s National Patient Register.

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“We know that loneliness and social isolation are strong risk factors for premature death, and our hypothesis was that the company of a pet can alleviate that,” said the study’s author Tove Fall, an associate professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden. (VOA)