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Thursday, November 18

Next to God, humankind's best friend -- but what about a TSA airport scanner's? And more about Putin and the sheepdog puppy.

I should have stuck with "Koni," the spelling I first used for the name of Putin's Labrador. The spelling is the right one according to the Russian Federation's website, which also explains how the dog came to be named. So I don't know how the Moscow Times picked up "Connie." (See below)
I don't think so lol

Whoops! Two corrections to yesterday's post on the Vladimir Putin-Karakachan sheepdog story: The puppy is a male, and at least according to the Moscow Times the name of Putin's black Labrador is "Connie," not "Koni." The Times has a wonderfully sour-grapes take (with accompanying cartoon, above) on the excitement about the puppy and Putin's call to Russians to help him pick a name for the puppy:
... The puppy was carried in by a vast entourage and seemed to take to his new master, giving Putin a lick on the cheek.

Some pointed out that the sad-eyed puppy with adorable white socks will later morph into an enormous shaggy guard dog. Putin’s Labrador Connie, graying now, may not know what has hit her. She was shown lying on the sofa as Putin and his wife Lyudmila were filmed taking part in the census in a horribly awkward stunt. Putin joked that Connie was his “first wife” and certainly showed her more affection, giving her a rub as she laid on her back with her paws in the air. But then Labradors like everyone.

Rights activists complained that to leave a name suggestion on Putin’s web site you had to fill in your entire contact details, presumably to crack down on the saboteurs who tried to submit puns in paw taste or brought up poisoned umbrellas. So far bloggers have been taking it all a bit too seriously, suggesting that the poor puppy should be called “kickback” or “power vertical.”
"Poor" puppy?

From a CNN report today:
Inside the science of how dogs think
Duke University's Canine Cognition Center in Durham, North Carolina, is one of the few labs in the country focused on how dogs think.

"We're excited about describing the psychology of our dogs," says professor Brian Hare, the lab's director. "Different dogs solve different problems differently. And what we want to understand is: What is it that either makes dogs remarkable as a species or what is it that constrains the ability of dogs to solve problems?"

To test the dogs' ability, Hare and a team of graduate students put dogs through a variety of games similar to those you might play with young children.

"We don't want to look at cute pet tricks. What we want to know is, what does the dog understand about its world?" Hare said.

Hare has been analyzing our four-legged friends for about 15 years. He says dogs have figured out how to read human behavior and human gestures better than any other species has, even chimpanzees.

"The way they think about their world is that people are superimportant and they can solve almost any problem if they rely on people," says Hare.

Children start relying on adults' gestures when they're about a year old. That's about the same age that dogs start to recognize and rely on humans, too, Hare says.
The professor says even though domestication has made dogs smarter, they are not perfect. Still, they're so smart, he says, that they can understand the principle of connectivity.

"They know they're connected on a leash and [dogs reason] 'Well, now I have to listen, because if I don't do what you say you can stop me. Where if I'm ... not on a leash, well, yeah, I know the command but I don't have to listen to you now,'" explains Hare.

And just like children, dogs also understand that if you turn your back, they can misbehave, especially after their owners have told them not to do something.

"Your dog takes the food you just told it not to take, and you're really upset because your dog disobeyed you, and you think that your dog is not obedient. Well, no, no, no, your dog was obedient but it realized that it could get away with it," says Hare.

At the end of the day, dogs may rely on humans, but they also use their skills to manipulate their owners and the world they live in. And even though dog owners like to think they're in command, the professor says it may actually be Fido who is really in charge.
Breaking News! Uppity responds to the CNN report: "My dog manipulate me? Naaaaaaaah. I walk in the pouring rain in a soaked hoodie, holding an umbrella over her. Nahhhhhhhh."

But then again, next to God, dogs are humankind's best friend. And while I rarely like to quote him I think it was Gandhi who said that one can judge a nation by how its people treat their animals. One thing is certain; there is no better judge of a person's character than how he treats a dog. Another certainty, from an October 22 Popsci report:
... After six years and nearly $19 billion in spending, the Pentagon task force assigned to create better ways to detect bombs has revealed their findings: The best bomb detector is -- a dog.

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, or JIEDDO (the Pentagon should really take a page from DARPA and make catchier acronyms) has been working on this problem for years, but it's only getting more serious. There have been more roadside bombs in Afghanistan in the first eight months of this year than in the same period in 2009, so the work JIEDDO is doing is under extra scrutiny.

That made it even more embarrassing when the director of the organization told a conference yesterday that "Dogs are the best detectors."

As it turns out, the most sophisticated detectors JIEDDO could come up with tend to locate only 50% of IEDs in Afghanistan and Iraq. When soldiers are accompanied by bomb-sniffing dogs, that number goes up to 80%. ...
Actually, the Army man in charge of defeating roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, said that the most effective bomb detector is "two men and a dog."

Oates's statement might apply in even greater measure to detecting bomb-wearing humans. Dogs sense much more than the odor from bomb chemicals when they sniff a person; they can arrive at a judgment that they've encountered suspicious behavior. I think they're able to clearly communicate their judgment to an observant human companion.

To those who say that much 'suspicious behavior' is often a simple fear of dogs -- I think dogs, at least mature ones, can sense the difference between fear of them and fear or hatred of their human companion.

In any event the evidence is now clear that dogs working in tandem with humans make the best bomb detectors. So why is the TSA continuing to invest more in very expensive and highly controversial full-body scanner technology?

Some light might be shed on this question by noting that politically-connected lobbies and individuals pushed the scanners in the wake of the Underwear Bomber's attempted attack on Christmas Day last year.

(Reportedly George Soros sold his 11,300 shares in Rapiscan the day after the San Francisco Examiner's muckraking report named him as one of the company's investors.)

Perhaps a way airline passengers could legally avoid the scanners and the equally controversial 'intimate' body pat down in U.S. airports would be to wave a copy of the JIEDDO research findings at the airport and demand to be checked out by a dog. Would that work?

Belgian Shepherd Malinois on duty

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