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50 Things Turning 50 This Year

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Getty / Thinkstock / Wikipedia

Back in January, we looked at 30 things turning 30 this year. Now let's see who's joining the half-century club in 2014.

1. Jeopardy!

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The quiz show, originally hosted by the late Art Fleming, seems to have been going forever. Not quite … but close enough. It's still beloved today, despite being cancelled three times in the past.

2. Buffalo wings

These spicy chicken wings were invented by Teresa Bellissimo, co-owner of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. Her husband later said that she devised the now-famous hot sauce and cooking technique in desperation after the restaurant was sent an over-supply of chicken wings.

3. Hess Truck

HessToyTruck.com

This annual holiday toy and promotional device was first released in 1964. The original truck cost $1.29 at Hess filling stations and had an operable water hose. Recent incarnations have included helicopters and planes, and are promoted with holiday television commercials that feature a teeth-grindingly catchy jingle. See, it's in your head already.

4. “Smoking may be harmful”

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Surgeon General Luther Leonidas Terry released Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States, a landmark report detailing the risks of cigarette smoking. The tobacco industry was none too pleased.

5. The British Invasion

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This was when America finally met the Beatles. The Fab Four took the states by storm, famously driving audiences wild on The Ed Sullivan Show and landing six number one songs on the U.S. singles charts. Other British bands followed, including a fairly new group called the Rolling Stones (who had their first UK number one single with “Little Red Rooster”). The so-called “British Invasion” had begun.

6. The Ford Mustang

The first of the “pony cars,” the 1965 Mustang (introduced in April 1964, and so nicknamed the “1964½” model by aficionados) was Ford’s most successful launch since the Model A in 1927.

7. Sandra Bullock

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The Oscar-winning star is one of many celebrities and notables to turn 50 this year—along with Jeff Bezos, Juliette Binoche, Dan Brown, Nicolas Cage, Courteney Cox, Russell Crowe, Matt Dillon, Christopher Eccleston, Janeane Garofalo, Melinda Gates, Diana Krall, Courtney Love, Rob Lowe, Elle Macpherson, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, and Joss Whedon.

8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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Roald Dahl's classic children's tale about a poor boy's tour through an eccentric candy maker's magical factory was published in the U.S. 50 years ago. It initially received mixed reviews but its popularity prevailed, leading to multiple movie adaptations and a real-life Wonka candy company.

9. Plasma display screens

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Though the cathode-ray screen would still be the most common TV screen for a few decades, the plasma display panel of today’s flat-screen televisions was invented in July 1964 at the University of Illinois.

10. Liquid crystal display

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LCD screens also turn 50 this year. Stable liquid crystals were invented some years earlier by a Scotsman, Professor George Gray, but Princeton scientist George H. Heilmeier discovered the dynamic scattering mode (DSM) in 1964, leading to the first working liquid crystal displays. Thanks to smartphones and tablets, there are now more LCD screens in the world than people.

11. Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

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Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film about nuclear war starred Peter Sellers in three roles and proved that anything, no matter how terrifying or depressing, can be fodder for comedy.

12. Daredevil

Stan Lee and his cohorts at Marvel Comics were on a roll in the early '60s, having introduced numerous popular superheroes (from the Fantastic Four to Iron Man) over the past three years. In April 1964 they introduced Daredevil, an athletic, blind superhero, whose other senses were superhumanly enhanced. The year also saw the introduction of Hawkeye and Black Widow—best known from The Avengers—who both started as villains.

13. Draft-Card Burning

Berkeley Library

There had been smaller protests in England and Australia, but nothing like the scene in New York on May 2, when 1000 students marched from Times Square to the United Nations to protest the escalation of the Vietnam War. Ten days later, 12 students in New York burned their draft cards as a form of protest. This was done by others throughout the conflict, often leading to prosecution and prison time.

14. The Underdog Show

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Underdog (and his mild-mannered secret identity, Shoeshine Boy) was created in 1959 as a breakfast cereal mascot for General Mills. Though little more than a canine copy of Superman, he was popular enough to inspire a cartoon series that would last for nine years.

15. The 8-track cartridge

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This magnetic audio-tape system was the most popular non-vinyl music medium from the mid-1960s (outselling the less compact, less convenient reel-to-reel tape recorders) to the early 1980s, when compact cassettes took over.

16. Jonny Quest

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The animated adventure series started in 1964 as a short-lived prime-time show before it was revived three years later on CBS's Saturday afternoons. In the first season, Jonny and his gang come across a werewolf, a gung-ho general, an invisible giant, and plenty of dinosaurs.

17. Moon photos

Four years after President Kennedy put the plan in motion for humans to visit the moon, the U.S. satellite Ranger 7 captured the first pictures of the moon’s surface taken by a spacecraft.

18. “You Really Got Me” 

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The third single (and first major hit) by the Kinks is famous for its sharp opening guitar riff. Chances are you're grunting it right now.

19. The Addams Family

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The legendary sitcom, based on the family featured in the macabre New Yorker cartoons of Charles Addams, was never a major ratings hit, but it won a huge cult following. Addams, with his warped sense of humor, would probably like the idea that the series was “cursed”—most of the cast was dead within 20 years. John Astin, who played the ever-smiling Gomez, and Felix Silla, who starred as Cousin Itt, are the only adult cast members still alive.

20. The Munsters

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Which macabre family sitcom came first: The Munsters or The Addams Family? The competing shows were both in production at the same time, so their respective networks rushed them to broadcast. The Addams Family premiered on ABC on September 18 while The Munsters followed on September 24. Though it was beaten by a week, The Munsters had slightly better ratings. It also lasted 70 episodes—six more than The Addams Family.

21. G.I. Joe

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Hasbro launched the first “action figures,” a line of four World War II-themed G.I. Joe dolls—one for each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

22. Permanent press

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This wrinkle-free treatment, a godsend to snappy dressers, was invented by chemist Ruth Rogan Benerito, who died in October last year, aged 97.

23. Carbon dioxide laser

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One of the earliest gas lasers, and still one of the most useful, was invented in 1964 by C. Kumar N. Patel of Bell Labs. Carbon dioxide lasers are used for cutting, welding, and in medical procedures.

24. U.S. State Lottery

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Sweepstake tickets for the first state lottery went on sale in New Hampshire in 1964.

25. The Good Friday Earthquake

U.S. Geological Survey

This tragedy devastated south-central Alaska on March 27, 1964, and had a magnitude of 9.2 (the second largest recorded in history). The earthquake caused 143 deaths, some from landslides and tsunamis. The disaster literally changed the landscape of Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

26. Gilligan’s Island

This kitschy series lasted 98 episodes, spun off into telemovies and two animated series, and has become pop culture canon. According to one far-out (and fun) theory, the seven stranded castaways represent the Seven Deadly Sins: The Skipper (wrath or gluttony), the millionaire (greed), his wife (sloth), the movie star (lust), the Professor (pride) and Mary Ann (envy). And Gilligan? Well, he always wore a red top, so he is cast as the devil.

27. Zambia

The southern African country became independent on October 24, and prime minister Kenneth Kaunda became its first president—a position he would keep for 27 years until he was forced out after some unpopular policies (such as his plan to give a quarter of the nation’s land to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, so that the Maharishi could create “heaven on Earth”).

28. Lenny Bruce's prosecution

From a previous arrest in San Francisco, via Wikimedia Commons

After finishing one of his classic, raunchy sets at Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested by undercover detectives for obscenity. The trial that followed was a landmark in the battle for free speech, and Bruce was found guilty. He died during the appeals process and was pardoned posthumously in 2003 by New York Governor George Pataki.

29. Hello, Dolly!

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The musical debuted on Broadway on January 16, 1964 and starred Carol Channing in the title role. Dolly! went on to sweep the Tonys and won a record ten awards.

30. Nelson Mandela’s prison sentence

The Guardian

South Africa’s Nelson Mandela began his lengthy jail sentence at Robben Island in 1964. He was eventually released in 1990 and in 1994 was elected to lead the nation that had placed him in a eight-by-seven-foot cell three decades prior. 

31. Bewitched

The long-running sitcom about the domestic life of a witch and her mortal husband began in September. It would last 254 episodes.

32. Italy asks how to stop the Tower of Pisa from leaning

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In February 1964, the Italian government officially asked other countries if they could help out with the Tower of Pisa's little leaning problem. The centuries-old structure had veered 17 feet past its base and was in danger of toppling over for good. Engineers bored holes in the ground around it, used lead counterweights, and did everything else they could think of. Today, a soil eradication process has helped to stabilize it, hopefully for at least the next 200 to 300 years.

33. Comics conventions

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Well before the crowded extravaganzas of San Diego Comic Con, the first comics convention was a low-key Monday afternoon event in New York City, organized by Bernie Bubnis. Called "Tri-State Con," this meeting of fans and artists set the groundwork for the massive events of today.

34. Flipper

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Based on a 1963 film, Flipper added a bottle-nosed dolphin to the ranks of TV’s animal heroes.

35. Mary Poppins

British musical star Julie Andrews had played Eliza Doolittle to acclaim in countless theater performances of My Fair Lady. Her reward: she was replaced in the movie version by Audrey Hepburn, a more marketable star who didn’t even do her own singing. As a consolation, Disney cast Andrews in the title role in their film adaptation of Mary Poppins.

36. The Jackson 5

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Fronted by 5-year-old Michael Jackson, this quintet from Gary, Indiana would eventually sell 150 million records worldwide (which is a pittance, of course, compared to Michael’s solo sales). 

37. Lucky Charms

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General Mills launched this sugary cereal in 1964 and introduced kids to Lucky, the hyperactive and paranoid leprechaun mascot with a persecution complex.

38. The Houston Astros

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Houston's ball club was only three years old when it changed its name from the Houston Colt .45s to the Astros in December 1964. The switch came after they moved from Colt Stadium to the city's new, massive domed park (soon dubbed The Astrodome).

39. Goldfinger

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The third Bond movie is, according to many, the best of the lot. Its most famous scene, in which poor Jill Masterson’s gold-painted corpse lay in bed, made Shirley Eaton one of the most memorable Bond girls despite her very small role. It also led to the urban legend that the actress died of asphyxiation because of the full body paint. Not true—and not even plausible.

40. BASIC

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Gen-X kids studying computers in 1980s high schools learned this early computer language, just as everyone a decade later would be learning HTML. It lived up to its name, both in ease of use and limits of capacity, but it taught computer lingo to a generation. BASIC was invented in 1964 by John George Kemeny and Tom Kurtz.

41. Sri Chinmoy in America

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Brought up in a Bengali ashram, the poet, essayist, songwriter, musician, artist, and fitness guru arrived in the U.S. on April 13. By 1970, at the invitation of Secretary General U Thant, he had a regular gig holding meditations for diplomats and staff at the United Nations.

42. The Moog synthesizer

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Dr. Robert Moog made his first synthesizers in 1964. They wouldn’t win attention as hit-making instruments until the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and Wendy Carlos’ 1968 album Switched-On Bach.

43. Ali versus Liston

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Cassius Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) proved that he wasn’t just a braggart when he pulled off one of the sport’s great upsets, beating the favored Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight championship of the world.

44. After the Fall

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On January 23, Arthur Miller's play After the Fall debuted off-Broadway. Starring Barbara Loden and Jason Robards, Jr., the play was a semi-autobiographical account of Miller's life with late ex-wife Marilyn Monroe, who had died in 1962. Not only did pulling from his own life with Monroe prove controversial, but reviews were not good: New Republic's Robert Brustein said that the play was "a three and one half hour breach of taste, a confessional autobiography of embarrassing explicitness ... there is a misogynistic strain in the play which the author does not seem to recognize. ... He has created a shameless piece of tabloid gossip, an act of exhibitionism which makes us all voyeurs ... a wretched piece of dramatic writing."

45. Satellites broadcasting live TV to the U.S.

A later-generation Syncom satellite, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tokyo Olympics were broadcast live on American shores with the help of Syncom 3, a telecommunications satellite that was launched in 1964. It was the first ever geostationary communication satellite, meaning it stayed in orbit at a point above earth as it rotated with our planet.

46. “Daisy”

One of the most famous television ads in American history shows a little girl in a daisy field, pulling petals from a stem. Soon after she counts “ten,” there is a terrifying mushroom cloud and the final message: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” It was shown only once as a paid ad (during an NBC movie on September 7), allowing controversy and workplace discussion to do the rest. Johnson was comfortably elected.

47. A Fistful of Dollars

The first of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone's "spaghetti westerns” was released in November. Producers had sought veteran star Henry Fonda to play The Man With No Name, but he was too expensive.

48. The Wizard of Id

Johnny Hart and Brant Parker introduced the short and petulant King of Id, his court wizard, the wizard’s fearsome wife Blanche, the luckless Sir Rodney and a host of other characters in 1964. Though both creators died in 2007, the comic strip—set in a pseudo-medieval kingdom of dragons and fair maidens—still reflects modern society and current affairs.

49. The Warren Report

Chief Justice Earl Warren had a distinguished career, but he is perhaps best remembered as chair of a commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. The 880-page report, concluding that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, is one of the most controversial documents in U.S. political history.

50. The U.S. Civil Rights Act

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Completing the work begun by his predecessor, President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in July to end racial discrimination in employment, places of public accommodation, union membership, and federally funded programs. “Let us close the springs of racial poison,” said Johnson. It was the most far-reaching set of civil rights laws in American history.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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