Bogus Journal Accepts Profanity-Laced Anti-Spam Paper

jilly:

In apology for lack of a post on Wednesday, have this hilarious interlude instead.

Originally posted on Scholarly Open Access:

International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology

One of many low-quality open-access journals.

The International Journal of Advanced Computer Technology has accepted for publication a manuscript that was first written in 2005 to protest spam conference invitations. The paper contains the F-word throughout the manuscript.

View original 258 more words

Chronicles of Athena – 16 Weeks

Our little Athena is reaching the cusp of four months old, and is testing all of her boundaries as only preteens can do. This week she has been showing a distinct predilection for fussiness, eschewing all tuna and cod meals and only deigning to sample her turkey and chicken. Unfortunately, other cats haven’t told her that she’s supposed to disdain the dry food as well, but that she’s still quite happy to eat up.

She’d been very clingy and generally needy towards the start of this week (so much so an internal voice started to wonder if I shouldn’t get her a companion . . . but then I’m really not convinced the space I have is big enough for two, the trials and tribulations of having a pet!), but I wonder how much of this reflects my general excitement as Athena and I will be moving house next month. Time to crack the Feliway out again!

Athena also mightily impressed me in the last few weeks with a few odd little traits. This week I was revisiting one of my favourite topics: the human-animal bond, particularly the mutualism vs social parasite theories. This is one of my favourite lectures and I love giving it, so I cheekily sneaked a modified version into one of our MSc courses.

If, in the terms of mutualism, the human-animal relationship is a beneficial one, we have to wonder how we benefit from feeding, sheltering and loving little the bags of disease and farts that are our pets. Well recently Athena’s been trying to prove why she’s good to keep around.

One of my neighbours has a learning disability and was being taken to the respite care home. I noticed first Athena’s very frazzled attitude, running about from window to window, before I heard the poor man screaming. He was deeply distressed by the move and screaming down in the street below. Athena was fascinated, her fur all on end, her whiskers pricked forward, and generally quite alert, but not distressed. She seemed more intrigued than frightened of what was a very upsetting noise.

This might be explained away by her general good confidence and experience with people, but just a few days prior, my friend Claire was robbed. She came to stay with us for a night and Athena stuck to her like glue, cuddling up to her and purring, not asking to be played with. While she’s very fond of her Aunty Claire, she rarely naps on anyone else’s lap and I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew Claire was upset. Of course, she was mightily perplexed to find Aunty Claire still in the living room the next morning and didn’t quite dare go in by herself. When she did find Aunty Claire on the couch with a duvet it was as if a whole new realm of delight was opened up for her and I think she’d petition for the duvet’s return to the sofa if she thought it would make a difference.

While Poor Aunty Claire probably does not take much solace in my pride for Athena, I’m convinced this is evidence of her ability to adapt her behaviour based on the cues of the people around her. She’s turning into a proper little lady.

Though she still likes to fart in peoples’ faces.

Value

I like when current events in the media combine to illustrate animal welfare in our society. This week’s blog post was impossible to resist.

Recently there was a bit of hubbub over a group of scientists discovering what they described as … a freaking puppy sized spider (emphasis mine, extra Raid cans also mine).

The scientists released a blog and the media picked it up and ran with it (because it was a freaking puppy sized spider. It wasn’t even chihuahua sized, this is a decent sized puppy we’re talking about. No I’m not linking to a picture. Google that yourself. Go on. Type ‘puppy sized spider’ in there. I dare you).

But here comes the twist in the tale (the puppy sized spider tail . . . wait, that doesn’t really work, does it?). Our intrepid scientist started to receive death threats and abused because he collected a specimen. And ‘collected’ in this sense means in the more Victorian sense. There is one less puppy sized spider in the world.

Piotr, for that is our scientist’s name, has written an excellent blog post describing the necessity of biological sampling, and the danger of assuming that any of us lead a guilt free life. I strongly encourage you to read it, but I’ll include this quote:

We kill thousands of organisms without realizing that we do it. Look into the light fixtures of your house or the grill of your car, they are full of dead insects and spiders. 

It is all but impossible to live a life that does not harm animals in some description, and for the most part (legally, and culturally) we often excuse ourselves by protect vertebrates. I’m really fascinated by the outrage that has come up around a spider.

This week, TV presenter Chris Packham penned an open letter to the presenters Ant and Dec asking them to put a stop to the ‘animal abuse’ in their show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’. The show typically features ‘celebrities’ eating live bugs on screen as a challenge, or in one memorable case, a contestant caught, killed and ate a rat. Packham says:

“I can guarantee that some animals are harmed during production, because they are fragile or easily stressed. Or simply killed, as they are in your bushtucker trials.”

Are we heading toward a new age of invertebrate animal protection?

 

I have a visceral reaction to that spider. It makes me feel unwell. Yes, I am an arachnophobe (I’m not fond of any insect really), even the cute ones like the Peacock Spider are only tolerable when they are an image on a screen. When I see a spider the space between my shoulderblades begins to twitch and my heart begins to pump. Fear this, my body tells me, and even when I’m trying to be cool in front of other scientists, I cannot bring myself to approach. I have never held a tarantula, even though I’ve had copious opportunities to do so, because I simply would not be able to control my muscles long enough to do so.

It’s Okay To Be Smart did an interesting vid on this recently, but that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is to discuss whether we, as a society, think it’s acceptable to harm invertebrates.

I have beliefs about the way you should treat animals. This set of beliefs arises from my experiences, my knowledge, my culture and my society. This is my ethical viewpoint. You can explore the most common ethical viewpoints and how you stack up on the excellent Animal Ethics Dilemma website.

My ethical viewpoint has changed over the years, as has yours no doubt. Our ethics can even be formed by different thought processes. Some people will describe their ethics based on how things make them feel. As a utilitarian, I try to remove my feelings from the process of making an ethical judgement (interestingly, a small study of 38 students showed that the way they reacted to images of humans experiencing injustice and unfairness influenced the way their higher-order ‘computational nodes’ of the brain – in essence it was the logical parts of the brain that react in cases of injustice, Yoder & Decety (2014). It would be fascinating to repeat this with other age groups, and with animal scenarios too. The point being that your desire for social justice does not necessarily have to be based on the emotional centres of your brain). Regardless of how your ethical viewpoint was formed, you believe it to be right. When people act against their ethical values, they can be deeply distressed.

Now some people believe you should harm no animal at all. They believe that animals have an absolute value and that we have no right to use them. To live in such a way that upholds the absolute value of all animals is very difficult. The kingdom ‘Animalia’ (the simplest way to define animals, really) encompasses a huge range of beasts: do the sponge and the jellyfish have the same absolute value as the elephant and the tiger? Every time you swat a fly, uproot a worm, or even tell a dog not to eat the cat’s food you could be violating that absolute value.

This is a difficult (though not impossible, see Jainism) way to live. But most people begin to take a more centrist position by believing that animals have an intrinsic value. We must justify their use in some way. Some justifications are easier than others. I always find the fish eating vegetarian to be a fascinating example of this. Many species of fish (which is an arbitrary group of animals anyway) have very sophisticated nervous systems and are capable of pain and suffering. Killing them humanely is difficult and catching them humanely even more so. But for many people, their ethical viewpoint can accept the death of a fish, but abhors the death of a chicken. This often comes from a relational viewpoint, where animals are prized for the way we interact with them. Most people have fewer interactions with a fish than they do a chicken or a cow, and the life of a fish is more unimaginable.

And then on the other side, some people believe that animals have an extrinsic value, that we may use them as we wish.This is more common than you might think. The cat owner who takes his cat to the vets to be euthanased because he no longer wants it is assigning its life extrinsic value. When the owner no longer takes value from the animal, the life becomes disposable.

This scale of values exists in conjunction with the various ethical viewpoints we have. I myself am a utilitarian who believes animals have an intrinsic vale. I use animals. I am also rather broad in my description of animals. For example, I’ll eat any animal so long as I can be satisfied of two questions: “Did the animal have a good quality of life/human death?” and “Will eating this animal negatively impact my health or welfare?” Now that doesn’t mean I question every animal product that passes my lips, I am more than sure I have eaten poor welfare meat (as we discussed in our kosher post), but this ethical standpoint and my view of animals’ values guides my actions.

 

However there is an element of the ‘relational’ ethical viewpoint for me. I don’t have good relationships with invertebrates, and I don’t have the same emotional reaction to their injury that I do to a vertebrate’s injury. With that being said, we describe invertebrate harm as ‘cruel’ and ‘worrying’ in several cultural contexts. Imagine the cat playing with the spider, batting it from paw to paw, tearing it limb from limb. We frequently stop our cats from doing this, in part because we are disgusted, but in part because we recognise that must be an unpleasant experience for the spider. Cats are cruel and toy with their prey (probably because they don’t recognise their prey as sentient, but with cats you never know . . .)

And then there is the case of the little boy burning ants. It’s a short hand we use for unthinking cruelty in our media, or to indicate that a character will go on to become cruel. And yet invertebrate experimentation like this is a common experience for many of growing up.

 

What is the difference, ethically speaking, in killing a spider for entertainment (I’m a Celebrity) and killing a spider for science (the puppy sized specimen). In  both cases, a spider dies, surely the ethical line is one drawn in the sand?

Well, no, I don’t think so. It’s often tempting to write off ethics as nebulous and personal, but there are many, many reasons to support both the collection of the puppy sized spider and the banning of invertebrate eating on I’m a Celebrity…

  • The ‘greater good’ of media vs science. How much does the entertainment of seeing people eat spiders benefit society?  Not a huge amount, the trials could be replaced by something equally disgusting and memorable (smelly tofu springs to mind, indeed what one of the previous winners of I’m a Celebrity ate as a vegetarian). Indeed you could argue that the destruction of animals for entertainment is an overall negative for our society, as Packham outlines.
  • By contrast, the ‘greater good’ we get from understanding the physiology of the Goliath spider is a scientific contribution to  our understanding of the world. I prize knowledge over entertainment.
  • Which brings me on to volume – the number of spiders which die for this scientific need is less than the number which die or are fatally injured for this case of entertainment.
  • And this brings me to the method – the method of killing on I’m a Celebrity is one which we might reasonably consider to be a high-stress environment, even for what we know of spider perception. Whereas we  might expect the passionate scientist to have a calmer, more human approach.

At the end of the day, if you feel animals have an extrinsic value, neither of these spider deaths will upset you. If you feel they have absolute value, both these deaths will upset you.

But most of us lie in the middle zone, where intrinsic value must meet the benefit our society gets from either entertainment or knowledge. And it is here that the great ethical debates come in.

Regardless, threatening the scientist is not going to help anyone.

Chronicles of Athena – 15 Weeks

I was very insistent this week that I write my own blog post. After all, who knows what I do better than me? My human put up a bit of a resistance, but I won. Of course.

This week I want to talk to you about my favourite games. I have lots of them. I think its good to split them into categories (I was reading an article about how to blog and it said that humans have short attention spans, they need things broken into lists. And titles that will make them think). So, without further ado . . .

You Won’t Believe These Five Games I Play With My Human

Games To Play Without Your Human

Sometimes your human abandons you. To be honest, I usually spend this time sleeping, but sometimes there will be a seagull outside or a strange human will push something through the door - this is a good opportunity to mention one of the best games you can play without your human: Attack the Carpet.

Beside the door in my home there are lots of stray threads and even a little hole in the carpet. When your human is not around you can attack these threads and pull them up. I like to take them into the kitchen where they slide around the slidey floor and I can roll about on them.

It’s very important you don’t play Attack the Carpet in front of your human as she’ll get very worked up about the whole thing (their egos are fragile and they must not think you have fun without them). My human starts getting very focussed on the litterbox when I play this game, so you do need to be aware of these strange little side effects.

 

Another great game to play by yourself is Climb the Bathtub. This is an excellent test of your climbing skills, and you lose a bunch of points if you fall off into the bath (you’ll also probably get a bit wet and need to clean yourself for a while, but the challenge is part of the fun). I try to make it from the top of the litter box, around the bottles, over the narrow bit, and onto the windowsill without falling. Sometimes I can even knock every bottle off. It’s good fun, and your human will set it up for you to play the next day too.

 

Games To Play With Your Human

Of course most things are better when your human is home. I’ve been training mine very intensely and she’s got lots of tricks. For example, there’s a game I call ‘Chasey Twix Wrapper‘ where she will throw one of my toys across the room as many times as you like. The danger with Chasey Twix Wrapper is that the human will not give up, even when the game is clearly over. Some people say you should accept your humans limitations, but I think that’s quite narrow minded. With appropriate training, all humans can be taught to play properly. When they continue to play when the game is stopped, simply sit down and watch them. Sometimes they might try playing the game by themselves, but they usually give up.

Now one of the best games ever is ‘Duvet Monster‘. This is a game that humans play in the bedroom. You have to protect them from the thing that lives under the duvet. Sometimes humans can get quite agitated so you have to remind them its just a game, they get scared very easily when you do your biggest, best pounces on the monsters.

 

And finally the best game to play with your human, well I think we can all guess, it’s a classic after all – ‘Climby Legs‘. This is still the classic game that will have you bouncing about and your human jumping around with excitement. I like to pounce from a high up place and try and catch my human’s shoulders or her chest, but we’re particularly skilled. I’d always advise you to start small, use your claws on their legs at first, but really, the possibilities are endless.

 

 

It’s really time to play I think . . .

The STEM Pipe

Our wonderful and talented communications officer, Sarah, has been working hard to promote the image of women in the STEM fields. We’ve been going round schools and encouraging people to ask us about our Women In Science posters at all of our events, and at our Barony College open day she really outdid herself with our ‘Women in STEM’ fields stall. We had a ‘dress the scientist’ event, which was a huge amount of fun, two jars of couscous (well, one jar, one bucket) representing the difference in the numbers of female and male professors in the UK, and a ‘vote’ on what words accurately described scientists.

What does a scientist wear anyway?

What does a scientist wear anyway?

 

The irony is, I’d recently applied for a communication job myself (working with the STEM fields but out of research), and I’d been tempted by another industry R & D job. While this economic climate makes applying for jobs an exercise in cover letter writing days, it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that I might leak from the STEM pipeline.

So while I had lots of little girls announcing they wanted to put a labcoat in the dressing up box alongside their princess outfits (I particularly loved the girls who picked up my high heels and paired that with the labcoat to be a ‘fashion scientist‘) I was also answering the questions from the mums and dads: why do women leave STEM?

I can’t speak for all women, but I can tell you what tempts me to apply for these other jobs:

  1. Money. I have a good wage right now, and postdocs are paid well in general, but industry pays us really well. Now I did apply for a communications job a few years ago where they said I was asking for too much money, but that was more of an indication to me about the way they treated their employees. STEM graduates are worth paying for, even in this economic climate, and what’s more, that money often comes with a permanent contract . . .
  2. Permanency. I’ve no real right to complain about this as I have been very lucky. My bosses have kept me around and that wasn’t easy. But I think this one is particularly hard for the women who have never left academia. We’ve thought our entire lives in 2, 3, 4 year blocks of time, and there’s no sign of that changing any time soon.
  3. Skills. I think I’m really good at science communication. I love doing it. A science communication job would be really enjoyable. I’ve developed a lot of skills in STEM, and some of them I want to make more use of.
  4. Opportunity. This might be more specific to the animal welfare field, but there is so little funding and so many research ideas that it feels like I’d have more luck trying to get funding from a raffle prize sometimes. It would be nice not to have to fight every single day.
  5. Values. In the last few years I have realised my core values can be satisfied without world domination – I mean I would still like to dominate the world, but in the every day, there are other things I enjoy doing. Perhaps, whisper it, my career isn’t the most important thing in my life any more.
  6. Satisfaction. What, recently, has given me the most satisfaction in my work? Is it the constant criticism and destruction of the scientific process?

Of course there is also a multitude of reasons for loving my work in the STEM fields, and I don’t expect I’ll be leaving any time soon, but it’s important to recognise that women don’t leave STEM to have babies. Academia is, in many ways, a friendly environment for that. We leave for a whole host of reasons.

What did the kids and parents think about scientists? Well, we were most often described with the words smart and silly, with interesting following along behind. Great news I think – science is fun, and I really hope girls and boys can recognise that.

Smart and silly? Better than boring!

Smart and silly? Better than boring!

Chronicles of Athena – 14 Weeks

Not to brag, but I’m writing this post sprawled out of the sofa, with a nice coffee, some freshly baked pumpkin spice cookies, a cosy blanket and a purring kitten, with the tv on and the last of the day’s sun shining in the window. It feels all very domesticated and wonderful.

But you didn’t come here to hear about my amazing ability to take recipes from the internet and cook them, even with a kitten hanging onto my apron strings (literally). You come to hear about Athena’s development.

Well this week we had our second round of vaccinations and our microchipping, neither of which we were too pleased about, but both of which mean I can take her out with her harness like we’ve been practicing to do. I’m not sure what she’ll make of it. Most challenges in Athena’s life can be overcome with a cuddle and a game with Mr Ducky, which is how I’ve been conditioning her to tolerate the harness. But she’s also a stubborn lady and if she takes it in her head to freak out about the outside world, she won’t calm down until she’s been able to get a nice quiet cuddle somewhere safe. We shall see. I was thinking at one point that if she responds well to the harness training I might volunteer us for working in a Pets As Therapy capacity, but I’m not sure if she’d like it to be honest. She does find meeting new people to be intimidating, although she’ll happily cuddle them after getting to know them. Again, we shall see.

Athena is also, as Freud might say, orally fixated. She loves to chew, taste and just occasionally nibble bits and pieces here and there. I’ve heard professional trainers say you should never allow a young animal to use its teeth with humans at all, because they should never view it as acceptable. I personally believe that cats and dogs are clever enough to learn what gentle play is. Mouth-orientated play is an important behaviour for both species, and I’ve regularly been amazed at how great some animals are at regulating their play with different kinds of people. My childhood dog, for example, was nothing but gentle with me, but much more rough and tumble with my dad. As I got older, he changed his playstyle with me, while still remaining gentle with my younger sister. Our dogs and cats, I’m sure, know what ‘appropriate’ play is.

Athena is testing me though. She loves to bite things. Be it Mr Ducky, Mr Imp, Mr Cat or Ms Cow (Ms Cow is a particular favourite of hers as she can fasten her teeth around Ms Cow’s neck and gut the holstein with her back paws. It is truly disturbing and makes me think that in a few years time when we live somewhere she might be allowed to go outside she’ll be fitted with a truly massive bell). She likes to bite people too, and so I’ve become very strict with her lately and refused to engage whenever she uses her teeth on me.

Thankfully this is working. Much to my amusement, when Aunty Claire and Aunty Suzanne visited on Tuesday night for an impromptu gin session, Athena was quite cautious about how she played with their fingers, even sometimes checking with me in a way that looked like she was expecting a telling off for being too rough.

Asides from charming delivery men who come to the door, Athena has spent most of this week causing trouble and climbing onto things she shouldn’t. Essentially, all is as it should be.

Cultural Biases: The Good Adopter

Something that has come up in a few of our lectures and in one of our Google HangOuts from the MOOC has been the idea that some people who adopt animals from shelters are motivated by the need to adopt, or save, rather than to buy.

While there’s been plenty of research on why animals get relinquished to shelters, why adoptions fail, and how humans bond with pets, there hasn’t been a great deal looking at why some of us are strongly motivated to adopt an animal. I’ll put my cards on the table, I’m very strongly motivated to adopt an animal. In fact, I felt slightly guilty for adopting Athena, a kitten, as she was a very beautiful and desireable kitten who would undoubtedly have got a home without me. There was some part of me which felt like I should adopt the animal that was less likely to be adopted. (I tell that little part of me that even beautiful, clever, charismatic kittens like Athena can come to grief, and that with me she will have the best possible life I can give her or any animal. Also she’s mine now and you can’t have her back).

I wanted to think more deeply on this, what motivates us adopters? I started with my own thought processes, and this level of introspection may reveal a little too much about myself . . . For me there’s a pride to be found in not taking the easy route. I also have some misplaced reverse snobbery, where I view buying an animal as somehow bourgeois. This is undoubtedly to do with my own values, which are definitely to the left of centre. I believe in taking care of those less fortunate than yourself. This is what underpins my belief in animal welfare, ultimately, that I have a responsibility to those under my care. So is it any wonder that it comes across in my personal attitudes towards my companion animals?

This was a difficult subject to research and after some fruitless scholar searches, I changed tact. Forget animals. Why do some people adopt children?

Deiner et al (1998) looked at why some families choose to adopt special needs children. Interestingly 96% of their 56 families reported having a religious affiliation (this seems high to me, but I wonder if it is for American audiences?) 41% considered themselves to be active in their faith. The majority of the families who had adopted a special needs child (70%) had become aware of the child through fostering them or through the fostering system. Through making an emotional bond with the child, they had then made the decision to adopt. Interestingly, these families perceived themselves to be a closer, more cohesive unit than the average family. I found this particularly interesting as previous (unpublished) work of mine shows that successful animal adoptions often have the owner perceiving the adopted animals as ‘grateful’ and speak of the strong bond between them.

Of course, another reason that people adopt children is because of infertility (Hollingsworth, 2008), although this study also picked up on whether religion was perceived as important by the adopter encouraging the adopter to adopt. Religious conviction was also noted by Glidden (1984).

I’ve often joked that politics is a religion, and my beliefs about my moral conduct are a strong part of my own being, though I’m by no means religious. While I don’t ever see myself adopting a child, perhaps because as a biologist I have a strong desire to have a blood bond with my offspring, does my need to adopt animals come from my cultural upbringing?

While my (and by extension, other peoples’) motivations for adopting are interesting, when it comes to animal welfare we must ask: how does this affect the animal’s life?

Many people can have unreasonable expectations of their pets – I mentioned a few paragraphs up that some owners expect their pets to be grateful for their new home, to be able to compare their previous life with their current life and then understand their owner is the cause of that. Those are some mental leaps animals can’t make.

My unpublished pet obituary project, stuck languishing in the hell of ‘I did this too long ago and lost the original data’, was unique because it looked at successful human-animal bonds. We have lots of research on when human-animal bonds fail. For example, we know that lack of obedience classes, lack of veterinary care, lack of neutering, cheap purchase price and lack of knowledge surrounding care needs are all risk factors for giving up a dog (Patronek et al 1996a). We know there are similar risk factors for cats, but also the weird counter finding that cats adopted as strays/adopted with minimal planning are less likely to be given up (Patronek et al, 1996b). That last point makes you think about owner expectations, doesn’t it? But we don’t really know what makes a human-animal relationship likely to work.

Prior knowledge of how to look after animals certainly helps. Having the right animal for your lifestyle. Much as I love them, I wouldn’t work well with a border collie. From my unpublished work, the only thing I could really say that was indicative of the successful outcome of the bond was that the animal was readily spoken of as being part of the family, and assigned a familial role (for example, though I hate myself for it, I can’t help but call myself ‘mummy’ to Athena. The infantalisation/maternalisation of the human-animal bond in late twenties women is perhaps a subject for another day).

Marston & Bennett (2003) reviewed dog adoptions with a view of trying  to understand why some adoptions work. They bring up a point I’m very interested in, as a photographer, that we compose familiar animals in our shots in the same way we would a human, but not necessarily other animals. They also talk about the many positive aspects of owning a pet, which I’ve already spoken about, but they note that there is a huge need to characterise adopters in more detail. Kidd et al (1992) is one of the few papers looking at it and they conclude that realistic expectations are one of the best ways to have a successful relationship.

This phrase pops up again and again. But how realistic are the expectations of the chronic adopter? And the question nobody has really answered: how do these expectations really affect the animal?

Chronicles of Athena – Thirteen Weeks

Athena likes to play on my laptop, and my phone, resetting things and sending strange, garbled messages to all and sundry. The internet really is full of cats, it seems. So if you are a cat and you want to be informed of new FluffySciences posts, you’re in luck, because we now have a facebook page here!

As a student of kitten development in the last couple of weeks, I have a handy quiz to help you decide if you are in fact a cat on the internet.

 

Are fridges…

A) Dangerous, cold boxes holding stuff that could poison kittens or suffocate them?

B) Fantastic forbidden boxes of mystery to climb into at every opportunity?

 

Is the toilet?

A) A dangerous, slipper bowl of water that might also sometimes have bleach in it?

B) Curious, forbidden bowl of water that you one day intend to thoroughly investigate?

 

Is bedtime?

A) One of the best times of the day where we lie quietly underneath the covers, maybe watching a YouTube video, staying nice and calm?

B) Extra playtime to bite at the creatures that live underneath the duvet (under-duvet explorations have only found feet so far but hope springs eternal)?

 

Is morning times?

A) A time when we have begun to rely on kitten to wake us up?

B) An excellent time to lull humans back to sleep with purrs and cuddles until she is late for work?

 

Is fish?

A) Really quite yummy and one of the best foods?

B) An abomination unto Bastet and we’d rather eat dry food than cod or tuna flavoured kitten food.

 

Are laptops?

A) Enjoyable devices to allow us to work, blog and internet?

B) Somewhat uncomfortable beds we will lie on regardless?

 

Are phones?

A) Wonderful little mini laptops that mean we can check our emails before getting out bed?

B) Chew toys?

 

Is Brussells pate?

A) Human food, get the hell away from my toast.

B) Wonderful ambrosia of the gods that must be tasted at all cost?

 

If you answered mostly or all Bs, you may in fact be a cat. Get off your owners laptop. You’re not helping.

 

Punishment is Dangerous

Last week I spoke about punishment as a training aid, and denounced the way some people say you should never punish when training.

But it’s very important to recognise that punishment is very dangerous and should be used sparingly.

I really wanted to put this in the last week’s post, but it was getting long enough. So I saved the rest in a draft which WordPress promptly went and lost. Harrumph. It’s difficult enough writing blog posts with Little Miss Princess Paws wanting constant dominion over my hands. (We are still at war over whether the laptop keyboard is a suitable place to sit).

I had written a post about dog aggression and how punishment can be dangerous when used to treat dog aggression, but now I’m faced afresh with a blank page, I think we’ll take a different tact.

Last week we talked about some of the punishments I’ve used for Athena, namely the chilli powder on the cables as positive punishment to stop her from chewing on the wires. I mentioned that the positive punishment wasn’t perceived as coming from me.

This is what I want to talk about today – the effect positive punishment has on the human-animal bond. Positive punishment is aversive, that is to say it presents the animal with a stimulus that it finds unpleasant. If the source of that stimulus is its owner, it can start to associate its owner with the unpleasant stimulus.

Inappropriate dog behaviours such as aggression to people, aggression to dogs, excessive fear and excessive excitement have been significantly associated with owners who use punishment to train their dogs (Hiby et al, 2004). Now this is a survey of owners and doesn’t distinguish between positive and negative punishment in its results. It is by no means saying that punishment causes these behavioural problems in dogs, but that owners who use mainly punishment to train their dogs report more behavioural problems. I find it particularly interesting that separation anxiety was linked with the frequency of punishment-based training methods.

Another survey of dog owners (Herron et al, 2009) asked the owners what kind of punishment they used when trying to modify the dog’s behaviour. The kinds of positive punishment used were:

  • Striking or kicking the dog
  • ‘Growl’ at the dog
  • Force the dog to release something from its mouth
  • The godawful ‘alpha roll’ (adjective mine)
  • Stare dog down
  • ‘Dominance down’
  • The ‘grab and shake’ dog.

Now depending on how you do it ‘growl’ at dog and ‘stare dog down’ are not much different than how I signal to an animal that I’m unhappy. Just like I would a child, when an animal is doing something I’m unhappy about my body language changes, I focus on them, and my expression becomes ‘arch’ or angry. This is simply human body language and works remarkably well with both pre-verbal children and animals. It’s held for a very short period and is followed by verbal cues that the individual’s in trouble if it’s not immediately heeded. (Though note it’s not immediately clear how these were defined in the survey or by the respondents).

Some of these other punishments, such as the ‘alpha roll’, have been taken down before. I was first introduced to this technique via the BBC show Dog Borstal and trainer Mic Martin. He used it sparingly, but I remember thinking at the time the show was quick to glamorise and sensationalise the technique. And I don’t think on this blog I need to go into the whole ‘dominance training techniques’ any more.

But the point is that at least 25% of the dogs which received these punishments then went on to show aggression to their owners.

Positive punishment, particularly those which involve you threatening an animal, or posing an animal a threat, present a challenge to the animal. It needs to have the cognitive ability to figure out how to remove that challenge. The idea behind positive punishment is that the challenge will be removed when you stop showing the behaviour you’re showing, but if you threaten too much, you may well provoke another behaviour in response. After all, what human relationship would remain cordial if you started to behave aggressively? After all, much of these positive punishment methods, particularly those detailed in Herron et al, are definitely aggressive.

Used inappropriately, punishment is ineffective, if not downright dangerous. The punishment should be something the animal can control (i.e. Athena can control whether or not to eat the chilli coated wire) and it should not make the animal face some kind of conflict.

In some ways this kind of punishment is a self-fulfilling prophesy. Most normal people don’t go straight to the ‘alpha roll’ for things like stealing a biscuit or chewing on the furniture. A simple ‘no’ or a diversion is usually used. But these more extreme punishments seem more suitable for more dangerous behaviour, things like aggression or serious destruction. But what is it that’s causing these behaviours? Aggression usually comes from an animal feeling challenged by its environment. Aggression is, after all, a tool used for the animal to get its way. Some animals go for that tool more often than others.

When you present this kind of animal with another challenge (from a place where it should feel safe and secure, no less), is it any wonder it uses its favourite tool to try and respond to that challenge?

So yes, positive punishment works when it’s used appropriately, but the inappropriate uses of positive punishment are rife. My handy guide for the non professional?

  • Make sure the animal has choice in experiencing the positive punishment.
  • Make sure the positive punishment isn’t exacerbating the problem (don’t fight aggression with aggression).
  • Never use positive punishment on its own.
  • Make sure that the positive punishment is IMMEDIATELY removed the moment the animal ceases the undesired behaviour.

Punishment can work, but only when used properly.

Chronicles of Athena – Twelve Weeks

I don’t know how to say this in a not-bragging way, but I think I got one of the clever ones. It’s not necessarily a good thing (unless, like me, you place an unreasonable amount of value in cleverness). At three months old Athena is very proud to have invented several different games such as the ‘I bring you this toy, you throw it over there so I can hunt it, then I’ll bring it back to you to throw it again’ (she’s working on the name). She’s figured out that my phone is a touch screen and will do stuff when she plays with it, but the laptop needs to be pawed at to do stuff (and she’s also figured out that she’s not allowed to paw at the laptop and there are specific places she can walk where I will tolerate her).

These last two I rationalise as there being limited interactivity on a phone (the only thing you can touch is the touch screen after all), and the laptop keyboard as being more tactile and pleasing to play with than the laptop screen. I’m not sure how she invented fetch.

The flip side is how easily she gets bored. I have to regularly rotate her toys to keep her interested in them, otherwise she turns to playing with the loose threads in the carpets and the curtains. She’s also extremely quick to pick up on routines which means she knows what I do when I’m about to leave the house. Thankfully she’s also developing more of an independent streak and so when I leave she doesn’t spend the day curled up in her safe place. The whole flat is now her safe place and even when the evil monster Vacooooom comes out she’s more likely to go sit at the window than hide under the telly.

This week has been a real joy – even though I was plagued with migraines, Athena has been so happy and affectionate. While I was lying on the sofa, trying to keep the light from my eyes, she was playing games underneath the blanket, bringing me Mr Ducky in the hope it might tempt me to play, and generally trying to figure out why I wasn’t behaving like she expected me to. It’s been lovely to see her exploring how to interact with me, and other humans, what she expects from us.

I was baking a cake earlier and she was genuinely irritated that I wasn’t paying attention to her. Little things like this we need to work on.

But that being said, she does purr so loudly when she’s cuddled.

There's nothing Athena loves more than a good cuddle - excpet for maybe a cuddle and a head scratch

There’s nothing Athena loves more than a good cuddle – excpet for maybe a cuddle and a head scratch