Friday Faves January 15, 2016

Highlighting Misleading Headlines

Humans seem want to know two things about their pets: WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? and DOES (S)HE UNDERSTAND ME? This desperation leads to endless click-bait about what exactly is going on in our fuzzy friends' minds.

What is my cat thinking?

A new device (that has no peer-reviewed testing that I can find) - basically a fancy collar that measures activity - claims to tell you if your cat is playful (OK, that I believe), or happy or annoyed.  The collar will measure heart rate and temperature (how accurately?), but consumers should know that we have no accepted measures of "happiness" or "annoyance" in pets. I feel pretty confident in saying this collar cannot tell you what your cat is thinking. BUYER BEWARE!

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Can your dog read your mind?

A new study has led to headlines screaming:

Dogs can tell when you're happy or sad, study finds

Dogs really can read your emotions, new study shows

Woof! Dogs really can tell how their owners are feeling, new study shows

Dogs can read human emotions, study finds

A more accurate description would be, in a testing environment, a dog responds differently when the tone of a voice (happy or angry) does not match a photograph of expressions (happy or angry - not sure how sad made its way into the headlines). I hope someone else will do a more in-depth analysis of this study! Regardless, the moral of the story is to be sure to go beyond the headlines and read things with a critical (and open!) mind before assuming your dogs knows what you're thinking.

These headlines are potentially dangerous because they contribute to anthropomorphism and assumptions that are not grounded in behavior or science! People may become angry or frustrated that their dog doesn't know what they are thinking WHEN SCIENCE SAYS THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO! Or assume their dog KNOWS they are angry and thus should change their behavior. Being able to detect a mismatch between voices and body language or expression does not mean that a dog can sense all emotional states in humans, change their own behavior accordingly, or even recognize much beyond the mismatch.

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Grieving kangaroo actually just looking for some sex

This week, news of a grieving kangaroo holding his dying mate in his arms went viral.

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Except OOPS! Turns out that "grieving" male turned out to likely be responsible for the female's death, and was probably trying to mate with her, not mourning her.

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