by Sue Halpern
Last night our twelve-year-old dog got into the trash. We came home from dinner out and the trash can had been tipped over and a week’s detritus was strewn across the kitchen. Pransky, the offender in question, had her tail firmly between her legs and was looking nervous and, possibly, guilty. If I had taken a picture, she now might be featured on the wonderfully inculpatory Dog Shaming blog. Instead, she is sleeping on the couch, all trespasses forgiven.
The question of whether dogs feel guilty, or just look guilty, has been long debated, and the jury remains out. Still, as Professor Marc Bekoff has written “there’s not reason why dogs cannot. And there’s solid, biological/evolutionary reasons to assume dogs can and do.” Of course, there are solid, biological/evolutionary reasons for dogs to raid the trash, too. So much of what we, humans, consider to be “bad” behavior in dogs, is behavior that comes with strong instinctive ties. The term “house breaking” offers a good clue to the power dynamic of domestication. Think about those collars that emit “ultrasonic sounds” to dogs that bark. Or the ones that zap them with a jolt of electricity if they jump. A barking dog! Can you imagine that?
There must be a better way.
Enter, pigs. Or, more accurately, the pig pheromone androstenone, which is secreted by male pigs when female pigs are in heat. Apparently, what turns on female pigs, turns off dogs of either sex. By chance, Texas Tech professor John McGlone happened to have some in his house, a house that also happened to be home to a yappy Cairn Terrier. And then, magic!
So, he gave one little spritz to his dog, Toto, and immediately the dog stopped barking. Right on the spot. ‘It was completely serendipitous,” said McGlone, who works in the Animal and Food Sciences department of the College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences. “One of the most difficult problems is that dogs bark a lot, and it’s one of the top reasons they are given back to shelters or pounds.”
Suddenly, an idea was born. After extensive testing and publishing of the results, and with funding help from Sergeant’s pet care products, Stop That was developed and hit store shelves under the Sentry pet products name about a year ago. It has been met with tremendous success by pet owners who were on their last legs in trying to curtail bad behavior in dogs.
“My dogs were instantly focused and silenced with one spritz,” said one product reviewer on Amazon.com. “It’s changed my life.”
With that, a new term was coined, interone, which McGlone and his colleagues define as a product that is a “pheromone in one species and has a behavioral effect in another species, but we do not know if it is a pheromone (naturally produced) in the other species.”
And what if that other species is…us? According to The Long Term Ecological Network website, humans are also susceptible to the charms of androstenone, which in the UK has been marketed as a porcine aphrodisiac called Boar Mate since 1972.
At Guy’s Hospital in London scientists sprayed chairs in the visiting room randomly with Boar Mate, and when women arrived for treatment they chose those chairs over others. The active ingredient in the pig perfume is androstenone, and other British tests show that men with high levels of this chemical (measured in urine samples) tend to be married, father more children and occupy positions of power in industry. (Aggressive young criminals also have an excess of androstenone.)
Bad dogs to bad boys, and it gives new meaning to “male chauvinist pig,” too.
(Photo of a wild boar from Getty)