CLOSE

Fuzzy Math: How Do “Dog Years” Work?

My next-door neighbors have a little terrier named Melvin (not pictured). My old neighbor had a very big Bernese mountain dog (also not pictured). I didn’t know its name, and usually just referred to it as The Big Dog or The Beast. Ten Melvins, soaking wet and carrying a few dollars in change in their mouths, would probably weigh about the same as The Big Dog. The Big Dog could probably eat all ten of those Melvins, and the change, and still be hungry.

In other words, no two dog breeds are created equal, even if all dogs go to heaven. They come in different shapes and sizes. They reach maturity at different ages and time takes its toll on their bodies differently. On average, smaller dogs like Melvin have longer lifespans (14-16 years) than big ones (12-13 years), which have longer lifespans than certain “giant breeds” like the Bernese (7-10 years).

Age is an important piece of social information and can tell you a number of things about a person. Since dogs are social creatures and are part of many of our social circles, it’s nice to have that information about them, too. With the way different breeds mature and age at different rates, though, things can get confusing. A five-year-old terrier isn’t at the same point in its life as a five-year-old Great Dane. In fact, the two dogs are pretty much at opposite ends of their lifespans.

To work around this snag, people have long followed the rule that “dog year” is equal to seven human years and multiplying a dog’s age by seven gives you its age in the context of the human lifespan. The x7 trick is easy enough to do, but it’s no more helpful than just giving the dog’s age in dog years.

A five-year-old terrier and a five-year-old Great Dane are not only unlike each other in age, neither is similar to a 35-year-old human.

The dog year to human year conversion is especially inaccurate with very young dogs. A dog that’s one year old would be seven years old in human years. Most dog breeds are sexually mature and fully capable of reproducing when they’re one year old, while most seven-year-old humans are not. One just wants a puppy, but the other can make puppies.

Crafting a simple, proportional relationship between Rover’s age and yours might seem convenient, but it’s not doing anyone good. While no one formula for dog-to-human age conversion is scientifically agreed on, we can at least say that there are some better alternatives to multiplying by seven.

New Math

The folks at The Dog Guide suggest that when we think about “dog years,” we have to consider the breed and calculate accordingly. Across the board, they say, you can consider the first year of a dog’s life as equivalent to 15 or so human years. By that time, dogs and humans are approaching their adult size and have reached sexual maturity. On their 2nd birthday, you should add about 3-8 more years to your dogs “human age,” depending on size, and value each dog year as being worth 4-5 human years from that point on.

Stanley Coren, psychologist and author of How Dogs Think, The Pawprints of History and other dog books, uses a similar system. The way he sees it, one-year-old dogs and two-year-old dogs are like 16-year-old people and 24-year-old people, respectively, regardless of breed. For the next three years, each birthday tacks on five human years, and from age five and beyond, everything depends heavily on the dog’s size. Coren suggests adding four years of human life to the age of small dogs after age 5, and six years for large breeds.

When you’re crunching these numbers for your own dog, you should also keep in mind individual characteristics like weight, diet, exercise and veterinary care. If you have a terrier that weighs the same as a Bernese mountain dog, it’s a safe bet that the little porker’s lifespan is going to be decreased. If you keep your dog healthy, lean and on a quality diet, though, then they’ll skew a little younger in human years when the conversion system provides a little wiggle room.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
This Just In
What Pet Owners Need to Know About the Latest Dog Food Recall
iStock
iStock

A major food brand has announced a voluntary recall that concerns anyone feeding commercial pet food to their dog. As CBS News reports, dog meal and snack varieties from four brands have been tainted with pentobarbital, a chemical used in euthanasia drugs.

The compromised brands, all owned by the food company J.M. Smucker, include Kibbles 'N Bits, Gravy Train, Ol' Roy, and Skippy. Smucker has narrowed down the pentobarbital contamination to a single ingredient from a single supplier used at one of their manufacturing plants.

The pentobarbital was found in very low amounts where present and is "unlikely to pose a health risk to pets," the FDA said in a statement (any level of pentobarbital found in pet food, no matter how small, is enough to get a product pulled from shelves). Though the FDA notes that the risk to pets is low, it does warn of a few symptoms to look out for, including, "drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nausea, nystagmus (eyes moving back and forth in a jerky manner) and inability to stand." The agency says that pet owners who think their animal may be sick from eating the tainted food should head to the vet.

After making sure your dog is well, toss any of the recalled pet food you still have at home so it doesn't end up in a dog bowl by mistake. Here's the full list of products to look out for.

  • Gravy Train with T-Bone Flavor Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910052541
  • Gravy Train with Beef Strips, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 791052542
  • Gravy Train with Lamb & Rice Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910052543
  • Gravy Train with Chicken Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910034418
  • Gravy Train with Beef Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910034417
  • Gravy Train with Chicken Chunks, 22-ounce can, UPC 7910051645
  • Gravy Train with Beef Chunks, 22-ounce can, UPC 7910051647
  • Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910034417
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits 12-can Variety Pack – Chef’s Choice American Grill Burger Dinner with Real Bacon & Cheese Bits in
  • Gravy, Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey Bacon & Vegetables in Gravy, 12 pack of 13.2-ounce cans, UPC 7910010377, 7910010378
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits 12-Can Variety Pack – Chef’s Choice Bistro Hearty Cuts with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy, Chef’s Choice Homestyle Meatballs & Pasta Dinner with Real Beef in Tomato Sauce, 12 pack of 13.2-ounce cans, UPC 7910010382, 7910048367, 7910010378
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits 12-Can Variety Pack – Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy, Chef’s Choice American Grill Burger Dinner with Real Bacon & Cheese Bits in Gravy, Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetables in Gravy, 12 pack of 13.2-ounce cans, UPC 7910010380, 7910010377, 7910010375
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetables in Gravy, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910010375
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey, Bacon & Vegetables in Gravy, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910010378
  • Kibbles ‘N Bits Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910010380
  • Ol’ Roy Strips Turkey Bacon, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 8113117570
  • Skippy Premium Chunks in Gravy Chunky Stew, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 79100502469
  • Skippy Premium Chunks in Gravy with Beef, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910050250
  • Skippy Premium Strips in Gravy with Beef, 13.2-ounce can, UPC 7910050245

[h/t CBS News]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
arrow
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios