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Humans May Have Turned Dogs Into Bad Problem-Solvers

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Bad news for man's best friend: they're not as smart as they used to be. According to findings published in the most recent issue of Biology Letters, domesticated dogs may have become bad problem-solvers as a consequence of their happy cohabitation with people. In our quest to create perfectly loyal, perfectly tame companions, we may unwittingly have bred the smarts right out of them.

Previous studies have indicated that domesticated dogs and the wolves they evolved from exhibit radically different approaches to tough obstacles. When presented with an impenetrable box of food, both dogs and wolves tested naturally made an initial attempt to get at its tantalizing contents. It wasn't until a few minutes had passed that the two groups' behavior diverged. While the wolves persisted in scrabbling away at the box, unable or unwilling to admit the futility of their attacks, the dogs quickly sat back and looked to the nearest human. Such behavior could be interpreted as a marker of higher intelligence, in that the dogs were both able to recognize when a task was insurmountable and clever enough to seek assistance from a more capable body. The researchers appraised this "looking behavior" as an indicator of domesticated dogs' ability to communicate effectively with humans. However, the very same act might also indicate a readiness to give up too quickly when the going gets tough.

Researcher Monique Udell, assistant professor of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University, wanted to determine whether or not this human-dependent behavior persisted even when the dogs should have been able to solve their problems on their own. She rigged up a plastic container containing some tempting sausage bits, which should have been accessible with enough pawing, biting, and determination. In addition to two groups of pet dogs and human-friendly (relatively speaking) wolves, Udell also tested a group of shelter dogs: Canis lupus familiaris like the pet dogs, but wary of human contact like the wolves.

Each group had three chances to get into the box: first alone in the room with nothing but their animal wits, then in the presence of a familiar human, and finally with verbal encouragement from their human. In the absence of humans, not a single pet dog managed to get into the box, though one shelter dog and nearly all the wolves did. Once their owners made an appearance, the pets performed nearly as poorly— in contrast to the eight of ten wolves who enjoyed their sausage treat, just one pet dog did. All the dogs, pet and shelter alike, gave up much more quickly than the wolves, looking to their respective humans instead of continuing to struggle. When those same humans finally provided verbal, if not physical, assistance, four of nine shelter dogs and one of eight pet dogs finally succeeded. Even those who didn't at least spent more time trying than they had in other trials.

Udell calls the domesticated dogs' readiness to seek help rather than attack the problem "a conditioned inhibition of problem-solving behavior." In other words, humans have spoiled dogs. Rather than fending for themselves, as wolves do, dogs have become secure in the belief that there will always be a human to help.

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]

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Animals
Goodbye Fido, Hello Finn: The Most Popular Dog Names of 2017
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What’s in a name? If you’re a dog, a clue into your pet parents’ favorite movies, television shows, and musicians, apparently. Rover.com, the country’s largest online network of dog walkers and pet sitters, has just revealed the most popular dog names of the year. While the majority of those names follow (human) baby-naming trends—11 of the top 20 names are also among the top 100 baby names—pop culture also plays a big part in the moniker pet parents bestow upon their four-legged furballs. How else would one explain the increasing popularity of names like Barb and Eleven, or Khaleesi, Arya, and Sansa?

There was an uptick in ‘90s nostalgia this year, too; Nirvana saw a 171 percent increase in popularity while Daria grew by 104 percent. Star Wars-inspired names have been a thing for 40 years now, but saw a 70 percent increase in 2017, with Finn being the most popular name from a galaxy far, far away.

So just how unique is your dog’s handle? Well, if his or her name is Max or Bella, not very. Read on to find out more, or visit Rover.com to discover the 100 most popular pooch names of 2017.

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Smart Shopping
11 Brilliant Gifts for Your Dog
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Don’t limit your shopping list to your human loved ones this holiday season. Here are some gifts that will keep your dog feeling clean, comfortable, and entertained into the new year.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. BLUE VELVET COAT; $44-$49

Blue velvet pet coat.
Up Country

Winter is a prime fashion opportunity for pets. This velveteen coat will keep your dog toasty outdoors, while also allowing them to look stylish. The interior is lined with silk and the collar is trimmed with faux fur to provide luxurious comfort. Whether you’re dressing a chihuahua or a German shepherd, the coat comes in whatever size you need.

Find It: Up Country

2. FALL LEAF DOG TREATS; $2

Dog treats shaped like leaves.
Woofables

Dogs enjoy seasonal treats just as much as the rest of us. Each of these gourmet dog biscuits is shaped into a colorful maple leaf with a white paw print stamped on the front. The ingredients, which include whole wheat flour, honey, oats, and carob icing, are just as wholesome as what you’d find in human health food.

Find It: Woofables

3. MALIN + GOETZ DOG SHAMPOO; $28

Dog shampoo.
Amazon

Make bath time a more pleasant experience for both you and your dog with a 16-ounce bottle of this hydrating shampoo. Blended with natural botanicals and amino acids, it washes away dirt without making skin feel dry or irritated. It leaves your dog’s fur looking as soft and shiny as a trip to the groomers would.

Find It: Amazon

4. FRESH PATCH; $19

Patch of grass in a cardboard box.
Amazon

House training a pet is hard—as is taking them out to pee in the middle of a snow storm. If your dog needs to relieve themselves inside, the Fresh Patch is your best option. The disposable cardboard container is filled with real hydroponically-grown grass, allowing your dog to pee indoors without associating the act with your floor or carpet. It's a great alternative for puppies who aren’t housebroken or owners who aren’t able to keep up with their pet’s pee schedule.

Find It: Amazon

5. NITE DAWG LED COLLAR COVER; $12

Dog wearing an illuminated collar.
Nite Ize

A safe pet is a happy pet. Strap these flexible, LED strips onto your dog’s regular collar before taking them for a walk or letting them outside at night. The glowing red light around their neck lets you keep an eye on them in case they stray too far.

Find It: Nite Ize

6. RAD DOG FOOD TRAVEL BAG; $35

Bag for dog treats.
Rad Dog

With this bag, you’ll have no excuse not to take your pet on vacation with you next year. The lightweight Cordura and nylon container consists of one main compartment for storing dry dog food and a smaller one for holding your dog’s accessories. Take up to 6 pounds of kibble with you on your next getaway.

Find It: Rad Dog

7. THE ODIN DOG TREAT PUZZLE TOY; $23

Geometric dog toy.
Amazon

Dogs can get a lot of use out of a good puzzle. This geometric toy comes in two colors, gray and pink, and can hold up to 1 cup of dog treats. As your pet kicks, nudges, and chews the object in an effort to access the food inside, you can finally take the opportunity to sit back and relax.

Find It: Amazon

8. RAD DOG COLLAPSIBLE POCKET BOWL; $12

Hand holding folded dog bowl.
Rad Dog

When taking your dog for a jog or hike, every ounce you carry can slow you down. Keep your load as light as possible with this collapsible dog bowl. The waterproof nylon container weighs less than an ounce and folds down to the size of a camera battery. Whenever you want to give your dog food or water on the go, the pocket bowl makes it easy.

Find It: Rad Dog

9. BARKBAR DRY SHAMPOO FOR DOGS; $10

Dry shampoo for dogs.
PetSmart

If there’s one thing dogs hate about grooming, it’s getting into the bathtub. With this dry shampoo you can get your pet clean without getting them wet. The lemon drop-scented formula refreshes your dog’s fur while eliminating nasty odors and adding a boost of moisture.

Find It: PetSmart

10. HARRY BARKER CREST PLAY BALLS; $3 EACH

Bucket of dog balls.
Amazon

It’s hard to beat the classics, so why not add another ball to your dog’s collection this holiday? These red tennis-style balls come emblazoned with the crest of Harry Barker, a brand known for its luxury pet products.

Find It: Amazon

11. RUFF WEAR FLOAT COAT; $80

Life vest for dogs.
Amazon

Every dog deserves to have fun in the water no matter the level of their swimming skills. Bring your dog to a lake, pool, or beach, strap them into this buoyant foam life vest, and watch them doggy-paddle to their heart’s content. The float coat comes in three colors, blue, red, and yellow, and sizes to fit extra-small to extra-large dogs.

Find It: Amazon

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