Wednesday 27 November 2013

360 degree appraisal

Crowded train on Sunday evening

By the River Trent

Change at York Station

Street scene in Edinburgh

My performance on my recent and unexpectedly extended trip down south has been appraised from all angles, and found to be 100% satisfactory (see below):

Where's my treat then?

Saturday 23 November 2013

Brian Cox: not cuter than me, surely?

Well it has been quite a week down here in England.

So in an intermission between visiting HGD in hospital, Gail disappeared off to London on business for two days. I went to stay with my cousins, standard poodles Percy and Cocoa in their beautiful Derbyshire farmhouse and I can't pretend it was all bad, even if Percy is a wee bit bossy and I was banned from chasing sheep in the fields nearby.

Really I could have stayed longer. In fact I nearly asked to go back there, when I heard what Gail had to say about her London trip.

I mean I thought she was going down for important meetings, but oh no, she came back babbling like a starstruck schoolgirl.

"Oh Bertie, we had such an exciting meal out on Wednesday night. I went with my colleagues, all geophysicists and engineers, to a Chinese restaurant near Victoria Station and can you believe who was at the table next to us? Brian Cox*, Eric Idle** and James Dyson***, all on the same table! Gosh we were so thrilled. I mean Brian Cox looked and acted exactly like on TV. Even the gestures. I like to think they were planning to write a comic song about quantum energy levels in vacuum cleaners or something. Oh Brian Cox is just so cute and adorable...."

It was a long time before she got around to saying that she'd missed me.

Explanation for readers based outside of the UK:
*Brian Cox: physics professor, presenter of brilliant science programmes on TV, ex-pop star, heart throb!
**Eric Idle: ex Monty Python, of course.
***James Dyson: inventor of the Dyson bagless vacuum cleaner and much else.

PS from Gail: against the odds HGD has rallied, still in hospital but he was sitting up and gave me a big smile when I visited yesterday.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

HGD birthday report

Well I am happy to report that HGD remembered how to smile for the camera on his 92nd birthday.
Human Granny and I supervise the present opening
Human Grandad and son Max enjoy a birthday beer
But sad to report that he took a bad turn later in the day, and is now in hospital and very poorly indeed.

Big paws crossed for HGD.

Monday 18 November 2013

Something new every journey..

 Enjoying a wee break by Edinburgh Castle, en route to Nottingham.

Such fun!

Oh gosh I do love travelling by train. You never know what is going to happen, and which lovely people you are going to meet.

Oh and by the way, I know that in the past there have been some adventures that Gail has - wrongly in my view - classified as misdemeanours, but these days I have learned that it all goes better if I concentrate more on the happy smiles and less on the barking and the escapology. So it was on Friday.

At Edinburgh, a lively group of young men came and sat just along the carriage from us. You could see they were well organised.

"Right, poker players round one table, drinkers round the other" said their top dog chappie as they were forcing their bags precariously into the overhead luggage space.

Although I did later notice that in fact they all were making use of the crate of beer they'd brought along.

Now look at me here!

Oh I can't tell you how grown up and, well, masculine I felt when I was invited to join the poker party.

But Gail says I shall have to work on my 'poker face'. And tail.


PS I know you all want to hear about HGD. Well he is 'semi-settled' in his new home, and still gives Gail a HUGE smile whenever he sees her. I am going to be allowed to visit later today. Yippee! 

Friday 15 November 2013

Is this a good thing?

Really, I am in two minds about these photos from Gail's workplace.

Should I be pleased that employees are reminded of their bouncing pups when taking a 'comfort break'?

Or insulted at the use to which I fear such a fine product is put? 

After all, I do not wipe my bottom on images of humans….

PS Gail and I are going down to Nottingham for a few days 'cos on Monday it's HGD's 92nd birthday. Oh I am so looking forward to the train ride! And of course to seeing HGD. 

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Butchers shop versus 'the light'

I couldn't help but notice, last weekend over in Torridon, that Gail was taking rather a lot of photographs and most of them did not include me.

In response to my quizzical (and slightly offended) look, she said this:

"Oh but Bertie isn't it all so magical? The snow on the mountain tops and rich late autumn colours aglow in our ever changing gentle northern light."

All well and good, I thought, but what about material for my blog?

And then I reminded her of the fine photo she had taken en route to Torridon, and that magical places come in many different guises…

Sunday 10 November 2013

Carry on wagging - a letter to the editor of Current Biology

Dear Sir,

Re: the recent 'Tail Wagging' paper 

As the recognised scientific advisor to 'Blogville' (the well known international community of dog bloggers), I, wire-haired fox terrier Bouncing Bertie Boffin, wish to respond to the paper by Siniscalchi et al,   (on the topic of interpretation of tail wagging in my 'conspecifics') with some general comments and a report on my own related studies. 

In case you doubt my credentials as a researcher, I would refer you to this page on my blog, which contains links to my many past pronouncements on a wide range of scientific subjects.

My latest investigations were prompted by a degree of cynicism regarding the basic assumption in the Siniscalchi paper, namely, that there is an asymmetry in tail wags of us dogs, with a bias to the right when we are happy, and to the left when anxious and apprehensive. 

So, using the power of the internet, I 'crowd-sourced' my own dataset by asking my dog blogging colleagues to supply me with results of their own tail wagging experiments. Note that my investigation, which includes data from the UK, the USA, Canada, France, Australia and Switzerland, turned out to be considerably more wide ranging that Dr Siniscalchi's study, limited as it was, I understand, to dogs resident in Italy. 

The experimental method and the raw data collected can be found in my previous post 'On tail wagging and the scientific method'.

My findings are shown in the following graph.

So to summarise: in a study population n=21, not a single dog, of any age, breed, gender or geographic location, exhibited the predicted rightwards bias to their tail wag on being offered a treat. 

Now far be it for me to question the good intentions of the Dr Siniscalchi and his colleagues. I have no doubt that they approached this topic aiming for the utmost scientific rigour. However, I would have to query whether any of those tasked by your esteemed journal with peer reviewing this research were at all familiar with dog behaviour. Surely, they should have realised that a simplistic classification of a dog's tail wag as either leftward, rightward or symmetrical is a woefully inadequate system, ignoring, for example, the following types of 'wag' (all either mentioned by my study population or practiced by myself): the propellor, the random thrash, the coffee table clearer, the vertical shake, the 'vibrator', the whole body twist, the tail tucked under, etc. etc. 

My owner, herself a scientist of sorts, has warned me that human researchers can be a touchy lot, and not all have a sense of humour…. To reassure any delicate egos that my only concern is the furtherance of high quality experimental science, I, along with my dog blogging colleagues, would like to put ourselves at the disposal of Dr Siniscalchi's group for any follow-up studies they have in mind. In exchange for travel expenses to Italy, comfortable accommodation, a plentiful supply of treats for us dogs and wine for our humans*, we shall I'm sure be happy to wag our tails for as long and in whatsoever direction as is required for the expansion of knowledge…

Yours most sincerely, 

Bouncing Bertie Boffin. 

*I am indebted to my friend Wyatt for this excellent suggestion.

Thursday 7 November 2013

On tail wagging and the scientific method

Great news folks! I am aware that things have been rather quiet lately on the Bouncing Bertie Boffin front. Well, fret not. The drought is over.

As an enthusiastic tail wagger myself, (see Waggly Wednesday) you can imagine how excited I was to learn that some chappies in Italy have published a scientific paper* on the topic of dog tail wagging and left/right asymmetries.

Yes of course this is a subject worthy of serious study. I mean not every one can be focussed on curing cancer or solving global warming can they?

Apparently it is already known - at least to a select group of researchers in Italy - that we pups are supposed to wag our tails to the right when we are happy and relaxed, like when our owner approaches with treats, and to the left when apprehensive.

And now we have this this new study, in which the (human) authors claim to have demonstrated, by measuring changes in heart rate, that us pups can read the messages implicit in the asymmetric tail movements of our fellow dogs.

Yes really. 


I hope you have spotted a degree of cynicism in the wording of my description of this research. 

Scientists are taught to be sceptical and always to rigorously and critically examine the evidence and I think that such an approach is appropriate here.  

I mean, so many questions immediately spring to mind don't they?
  • These dogs in the study, were they all Italian? If so, might there be an element of learned behaviour, what with living amongst a population of humans known to be such enthusiastic gesticulators?
  • What about yours truly? I tell you, all week since she read the paper, Gail has been carefully studying slow motion videos of me excitedly waving my not inconsiderable tail and as yet has failed to detect a bias to either left or right.
  • Should we be concerned about in-breeding in this particular research community, having noted that fully 50% of the papers cited in this new study are written or co-written by one of its authors?
  • Can we treat seriously a paper when, in the discussion section, it refers to work investigating dogs' responses to the tail-wagging of a life sized robotic dog replica? I kid you not. 
Well fellow canines, you will be thrilled to learn that together we can surely surmount the shortcomings of this research and make a significant contribution to science. 

All you need is a bag of treats (to induce an appropriate amount of happy tail wagging, obviously) and an observant human. 

Oh and you might like to remind your human that sound science requires an experiment to be repeated many times over, so they will need a BIG bag of treats.

Please report your results (left wag, right wag, or no bias either way) as comments on this post, and feel free to add any supplementary information you think might be relevant.

A full analysis of the data provided will be published on this blog in due course.

*Siniscalchi et al., Seeing Left- or Right-Asymmetric Tail Wagging Produces Different EmotionalResponses in Dogs, Current Biology (2013), 

Tuesday 5 November 2013

A faux pas at the Vynor Dog Agility Show

Can you tell that I am feeling embarrassed here?

Really, sometimes one can't take one's owner anywhere. 

You want me to explain?

At agility contests, border collies predominate. You get a fair smattering of German shepherds, spaniels, Jack Russells and poodles.

We have never yet seen another wire haired fox terrier, but on Saturday, at a show near Ellon, we ran into this fellow in the car park, and Gail wondered about his origins.

So the conversation between the humans went as follows:

Gail (thinking to be polite): Oh you have a lovely dog. What breed is he? Or is he a mixture perhaps. (Oh no….)
Other lady: He's a schnauzer (you could hear her mentally adding OBVIOUSLY).
Gail: Oh, so a very pale schnauzer then?
Other lady: (sounding as frosty as the weather) No, he's a white schnauzer.
Gail: How interesting, I didn't know schnauzers came in white. (Why not keep digging Gail?)
Other lady: Well, actually, white schnauzers are a very well known breed on the Continent, and increasingly so here. Actually, this one is has a seven generation pedigree, and he has been accepted into the World Championships. We are hoping that Crufts will soon be including white schnauzers as a breed, they really are widely recognized in most parts these days, actually….

At this point I decided it would be prudent to create a distraction so I started barking and tugging at the lead and Gail, gratefully I think, made her excuses and ended the 'conversation'.

I shall leave you with some images of the agility event, and also a very short video of the opening and closing moments of my final run. I would have preferred to include the much longer version of my entire performance, but Gail said that would be even more embarrassing than her encounter with the very pale white schnauzer owner.
Wendy and Earla, in rosette winning form
Earla won one of these, but I didn't 
Mo, Jo and Gypsy, enjoying the action
Full speed ahead for Bethany and wee Pippa
Yours truly, raring to go

Saturday 2 November 2013

A bit parky in the Park this morning

Sunrise in Duthie Park and the first frost of the season. 
So pretty. The perfect way to start the day.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Isn't Gail lucky to have me? 
Saturday morning lie-ins are greatly over-rated after all.