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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Barks and recreation

Super-slow-motion video helps crack the canine communications code

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Snapple, an Australian shepherd (l), does a

BLOOMBERG THE WASHINGTON POSTEnlarge Image

Snapple, an Australian shepherd (l), does a "play bow" during play with a terrier mix at a dog park in Arlington, Va. In the new book Citizen Canine, author David Grimm writes about research by Marc Bekoff at the University of Colorado. who studies dog play and what It can reveal.

A shaggy brown terrier approaches a large chocolate Labrador in a city park. When the terrier gets close, he adopts a yoga-like pose, crouching on his forepaws and hiking his butt into the air. The Lab gives an excited bark, and soon the two dogs are somersaulting and tugging on each other's ears. Then the terrier takes off and the Lab gives chase, his tail wagging wildly. When the two meet once more, the whole thing begins again.

Watch a couple of dogs play, and you'll probably see seemingly random gestures, lots of frenetic activity and a whole lot of energy being expended. But decades of research suggest that beneath this apparently frivolous fun lies a hidden language of honesty and deceit, empathy and perhaps even a humanlike morality.

Take those two dogs. That yoga-like pose is known as a "play bow," and in the language of play it's one of the most commonly used phrases. It's an instigation and a clarification, a warning and an apology. Dogs often adopt this stance as an invitation to play right before they lunge at another dog; they also bow before they nip ("I'm going to bite you, but I'm just fooling around") or after some particularly aggressive roughhousing ("Sorry I knocked you over; I didn't mean it.").

All this suggests dogs have a kind of moral code -- one long hidden to humans until a cognitive ethologist named Marc Bekoff began to crack it.

A wiry 68-year-old with reddish-grey hair tied back in a long ponytail, Bekoff is a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he taught for 32 years. He began studying animal behaviour in the early 1970s, spending four years videotaping groups of dogs, wolves and coyotes in large enclosures and slowly playing back the tapes, jotting down every nip, yip and lick. "Twenty minutes of film could take a week to analyze," he says.

The data revealed insights into how the animals maintained their tight social bonds -- by grooming each other, for example. But what changed Bekoff's life was watching them play. The wolves would chase each other, run, jump and roll over for seemingly no other reason than to have fun.

Few people had studied animal play, but Bekoff was intrigued. "Play is a major expenditure of energy, and it can be dangerous," he says. "You can twist a shoulder or break a leg, and it can increase your chances of being preyed upon. So why do they do it? It has to feel good."

When Bekoff began looking at videos of dogs romping in super-slow motion, he began to realize there was more going on in the canine mind than science had acknowledged. He noticed the "play bow," for example.

What's more, he found canines "role-reverse" or "self-handicap" during play. When a big dog played with a smaller one, for example, the big dog often rolled on her back to give the smaller dog an advantage, and she allowed the other dog to jump on her far more often than she jumped on him.

Bekoff also spotted a number of other blink-and-you'd-miss-them behaviours, such as a sudden shift in the eyes -- a squint that can mean "you're playing too rough" -- and a particular wag of the tail that says, "I'm open to be approached." Humping a playmate during a romp, meanwhile, was often an invitation to nearby dogs to come join the fun.

Such signals are important during play; without them, a giddy tussle can quickly turn into a vicious fight.

In the wild, coyotes ostracize pack members that don't play by the rules. Something similar happens in dog parks: If three dogs are playing and one bites or tackles too hard, the other two are likely to give him the cold shoulder and stop playing with him, Bekoff says. Such behaviour, he says, suggests dogs are capable of morality, a mindset once thought to be uniquely human.

Even morality hints at something deeper, however. To enforce moral conduct, dogs must be able to experience a spectrum of emotions, from joy to indignation, guilt to jealousy. They must also be able to read these emotions in others, distinguishing accident from intent, honesty from deceit.

Scientists have found that dogs trained to shake hands with humans will stop shaking if they notice they aren't being rewarded for the trick although a nearby dog is -- a sign, the researchers suggested, that dogs can sense inequity.

Other studies have revealed that dogs yawn when they see humans yawning and that they nuzzle and lick people who are crying; scientists consider both behaviours displays of empathy, a rarely documented trait in the animal kingdom.

Bekoff's recent work suggests another remarkable canine skill: the ability to know what another animal is thinking -- a "theory of mind."

Dogs seem to display a rudimentary form of this skill during play. He has noticed, for example, one dog won't begin trying to play with another dog until he has her attention. To get her to notice, he may nip the other dog or run into her field of view. That, Bekoff says, shows the one wanting to play knows she's not paying attention to him. Though this may seem like a simple skill, it's incredibly important to our species. Without it, we can have a hard time learning or interacting with the world around us.

Interestingly, dogs even outsmart chimpanzees on some theory-of-mind tests. When a researcher points at one of two cups, for example, dogs almost always run to the cup that is pointed to, a sign that they have intuited what the scientist was thinking -- i.e., that the researcher was trying to show the dog something. Chimps, by contrast, have no idea what we mean when we point at something.

"Dogs have an amazing relationship with us, and Marc (Bekoff) has done a beautiful job helping us understand them," says Brian Hare, a biological anthropologist at Duke University and one of the world's foremost experts on canine cognition. "Play gives us a peek inside their heads and helps us understand how they became the species they are today."

Hare, one of the first scientists to show dogs could understand human pointing while chimpanzees could not, says Bekoff's studies add a new dimension to the canine personality: Dogs aren't just smart, they're also emotionally complex. "That's why we can have such a deep relationship with them," says Hare.

"When we study play in dogs," Bekoff says, "we study ourselves."

 

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2014 D10

THE MARCH 4 1966 BLIZZARD

The Day Winnipeg was Paralysed

by George Siamandas
I remember that storm--
If you are over 40 and have lived in Winnipeg your whole life you likely remember the Blizzard of 1966. It occurred on Mar 4, aFriday and it shut down Winnipeg like it had never been shut down before. The buses stopped running. Snowmobiles took nurses and doctors to work and thousands of people were stuck downtown and slept overnight at Eatons and the Bay.

The winter of early 1966 was the third coldest year of the century, with 1950 and 1917 even colder. January 1966 tied January 1875 for the coldest month since records were kept at Red River . In February 1966 Winnipeg reached -49 the lowest February temperature ever recorded and the second coldest day ever. Winnipeg did not see the temperature go above zero for 90 days. But the year till then was without much snow.

Snow started to fall after midnight on Thursday and despite the heavy snow, on Friday morning March 4, people still went to work. But by mid morning the streets were impassable. The buses were called in by 11:00 am. and would not return to the streets till the next Saturday morning. Schools closed for the Friday and the following Monday as did stores, restaurants and theatres. The big storm piled up 14.6 inches and was driven by winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour. This was the worst winter storm since March 1902. Eight foot high drifts were reported in the new suburb of Westwood. After the cleanup the plows created 12 foot high walls of snow along Ness Ave. Hundreds of cars were reported stranded on the Transcanada Highway . The Grain Exchange did not open for the first time in its 61 year history.

WINNIPEG COPES
Mayor Juba was awakened by a CJOB reporter and told of the blizzard. He was able to make his way to City Hall in his big Cadillac where he set up an emergency headquarters. By afternoon city hall itself had become a shelter for people that could not make their way home. Chief George Blow urged people to stay off the streets
Snowmobiles were given to the police. Volunteers operated snowmobiles to take people to hospital and to deliver drugs to patients. CB radios were used for the first time to create an emergency communications network. Ken Dunston was CBC radio's man that morning and the station became part of the emergency civil defense network. Unable to get home, CBC staff stayed at the Mall hotel for the night.

STRANDED
The buses were pulled off the streets. Soon those that could not walk home were stuck wherever they were. Thousands of people were stranded at City Hall and at Stores like Eatons and the Bay. And 1600 people were reported stranded at Eatons and the Bay. Eatons looked after 700 of its own staff and 400 customers. The women slept on the 9th floor and the men on the 7th. Fifty hockey players from Winnipeg neighbourhoods were stuck in Lorrette.

POLICE DELIVER NORTH END BABY
Two policemen delivered a baby in the North End. How did they get there? With their own front end loader leading the path. Constables Mills and Const Martin both described as "family men" took instruction from a doctor over the phone and helped mother Mrs Herbstreit with the delivery of her baby boy. An emergency call found a doctor located four streets away who went over finding mother and child to be just fine.


THE AFTERMATH
Only two deaths were attributed to the blizzard. But 14 had died in Minnesota and the Dakotas . Police Chief George Blow said that he was happy that the crooks had stayed home. And of course there was the $1 million cleanup and finding help to pay for it.

WAS THERE A FLOOD?
Fortunately flooding was minor but the trees were two weeks later to leaf out and Winnipeg experienced a later spring. The snow was gone by early April, but there was another big snow, (8.7 "), in April and the snow did not melt till May 5th. For many that spring, it seemed summer would never come.

THE WORST IN WINNIPEG HISTORY?
Actually the 1997 blizzard saw more snow fall 43.2 cm Vs 38.1 cm. Other big snowfalls occurred in 1874 with 16.1 inches and 1893 with 14.8.

 

How a dog wags its tail may say a lot -- to other dogs

Dogs
Is that pooch a lefty or a righty? The direction its tag wags has plenty of meaning, a new study has found.

Tail wagging could convey more meaning among dogs than previously thought.

Dogs have different emotional responses to their peers depending on the direction of a tail-wag, a new study found. Seeing a fellow dog swing its tail to the right keeps canines relaxed, while a wag to the left side of the dog's body seems to induce stress, the researchers say.

For their study, a group of researchers recruited 43 pet dogs of variousbreeds. The animals were outfitted with a vest that monitored their heart rates, and they were shown videos of other dogs either wagging their tails to the left or to the right. [7 Surprising Health Benefits of Dog Ownership]

The pets that watched left-side tail wagging behaved more anxiously and their heart rate sped up, the researchers said, while the dogs that watched one of their peers wag their tail to the right stayed cool; they even began to approach the dog on the screen, suggesting they saw the right-side wagging as a signal of companionship, the researchers said.

But right-left tail wags may not be a form of secret dog language, the researchers say. They think the direction of tail wagging — and other dogs' responses to it — could arise from automatic responses rooted in thedifferent hemispheres of the canine brain.

Just like the left and right sides of the brain in humans are thought to control different emotions and behaviors, the direction of wagging might match hemispheric activation, explained study researcher Giorgio Vallortigara of the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences of the University of Trento in Italy.

"In other words, a dog looking to a dog wagging with a bias to the right side — and thus showing left-hemisphere activation as if it was experiencing some sort of positive/approach response — would also produce relaxed responses," Vallortigara said in a statement.

"In contrast, a dog looking to a dog wagging with a bias to the left — and thus showing right-hemisphere activation as if it was experiencing some sort of negative/withdrawal response — would also produce anxious and targeting responses as well as increased cardiac frequency," Vallortigara added. "That is amazing, I think."

Vallortigara and colleagues say understanding these responses could help improve dog welfare, and perhaps even help develop new strategies to keep them calm at the vet.

The research was detailed Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

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