Tina Turner, Ricky Martin and Jimmy Buffett aren’t the only ones hitting the road to appear in summer concerts. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists are also making an all-out effort to sing their own lyrics for the benefit of ordinary pet owners. Behaviorists from all around the United States converge for their usually elite scientific American Behavior Society Annual Meetings at Zoo Atlanta, August 5-10. This time around, they’re determined to sing tunes all pet owners can relate to.
The lyrics are easy to understand, according to the meeting’s program director John Wright, professor of psychology at Mercer University, Macon, Ga.. “We’re taking the psycho-babble out of our songs, and separating fact from fiction,” he says.
Wright points out that what happened when the family dog piddled on the rug in the 1985 movie “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” was fiction. To solve the problem, a pet psychologist was hired. The pet shrink – a term most behaviorists don’t especially care for – had a “talk” with the dog. The pooch supposedly claimed he wasn’t being hugged enough. “That’s the wackiest portrayal of who we are – but that isn’t too far off what the public thinks. We’re here to set the record straight, and hopefully save lives of pets. More pets are given up to shelters for behavior problems than any other reason,” says Wright.
Most of these meetings are for behaviorists to discuss findings of their research in scientific lingo. However, there will be one psychobabble-free session on Saturday, August 5, 12:30-3:30 p.m., and it’s open to the public at no extra charge with zoo admission, $13 ($10 for seniors, zoo members free). Zoo Atlanta is in Grant Park, 800 Cherokee Avenue SE (enter on Cherokee Avenue). Parking is free. For more information, call 404-624-5600.
Here’s a round up of some tunes the behaviorists will be belting out:
– Suzanne Hetts and Dan Estep: “Understanding Your Cat: Fluffy Really Isn’t From Another Planet – She Only Acts That Way.”
Are cats from Venus and dogs from Mars? “We easily understand the signals dogs send us, but cats talk in another language,” says Hetts, who is the author of “Pet Behavior Protocols” (AAHA Press, Lakewood, Colo., 1999; $76) and co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, Denver, Colo. “Walk into a room, and a dog wags that tail, gets into your face with a big lick on the nose,” she says. “You’d have to be pretty naive not to get that this dog is happy to see you. Now, walk into a room, and the cat simply walks up to you and proceeds to sit next to you. Many people may barely notice. In truth, this cat may be as happy to see you as that dog with the wagging tail, but the cat’s signals are far more subtle.”
– John Wright: “The Dog’s Place in the Family: Climbing the Ladder to Alpha, or Just Another Noodle in Your Alphabet Soup.”
“Dogs are not young wolves or mini-wolves, and the training techniques that treat dogs as wolves do more harm than good,” says Wright. Despite what many popular authors have suggested, most dogs don’t yearn to run their owners’ household. “Dogs don’t have motivation to pay the mortgage,” he says. “Most dogs are altered, so they don’t seek to breed, and they have plenty of food. Why expend the energy to be top dog? Wolves might (yearn to be top dog), but domestic dogs are a long, long way from acting like wild canids.” Wright, author of “The Dog Who Would Be King,” (Rodale Press, Emmaus PA, 1999; $18.95) says, “The truth is, the vast majority of dogs don’t want to be king.”
– Stephen Zawistowski: “Pets and People: Making A Match That Makes It”
Zawistowski, science advisor at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City, says an increasing number of people are choosing birds, reptiles, amphibians and hedgehogs as pets. “If you choose an iguana or macaw, for example, you’re bringing the personality of a wild animal into your home,” says Zawistowski. He says as many as 75 percent of all animals relinquished to shelters are given up because people made a poor choice, probably an impulse buy. You can’t make a match unless you understand what you’re about to get into. A green iguana, for example, can grow to be 5 or 6-feet and macaw can live 65 years. “When it comes to reptiles, birds, and these other wild pets, do your homework first so you know what you’re about to deal with. “Or better off- get a Guinea pig. I gave a Guinea pig to my wife as a wedding gift – very romantic.” It must work. After 21 years, Zawistowski is still married.
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