Sunday, 24 May 2020

Book Review: Wag — The Science of Making Your Dog Happy

Zazie Todd, the author of Wag, The Science of Making Your Dog Happy, has already made many contributions to the world of animal behavior and dog training. She has her own blog (which I never miss), Companion Animal Psychology, and a column in Psychology Today, Fellow Creatures“.
One of the things I like about her work is that she’s a science nerd in the best of ways, and her writings are full of research that is both theoretically interesting and relevant to our daily life with dogs. Just as the subtitle suggests, so is Wag, her new book.
I hereby admit to having read only some of the chapters, the dogs and the Garden-in-May keeping me busier than I would have expected. (Not to mention what I am now calling Covid Brain, a syndrome in which one finds reruns of beloved TV shows endlessly amusing, no matter how many times they’ve been viewed.) But I’ve read enough to recommend this book, because it is chock full of information that fulfills the promise of its subtitle.
The chapter titled “Motivation and Technique” is an excellent example. We learn here, for example, that several studies found that dogs learned no faster or better to a clicker than a spoken word. (In one study the marker word was “Bravo,” which I instantly tagged as a lousy secondary marker, because it’s two syllables with no hard consonant. I use “Good” myself, which is fast and easy for me to say.) Additionally, one study confirmed my intuition that one large handful of treats is no better than one treat, at least, in this study, in terms of the speed of a dog’s recall. I’ve always believed, just intuitively, that a “jackpot” should be many treats given out one after the other, one at a time, rather than one big handful. It’s interesting to have research support what was simply a guess.
And timing? Oh man, we knew that timing is everything, but still . . . Wag cites a study that illustrates that beautifully, done by Dr. Clare Brown, which compared a treat delivered instantly after a behavior, versus after a one-second delay. The dogs were taught to put their heads in one of two boxes, and an infrared beam detected a correct response (slick!). That linked to a computer, which “beeped” to signal the arrival of food. According to Brown, sixty percent of the “instant arrival” dogs learned the task during the time allowed, while only 25% did in the “one second delay” category. That’s an impressive difference.
It may be location, location, location in real estate, but it’s timing, timing, timing in training. If you’ve ever seen Ken Ramirez or Steve Martin of Natural Encounters train, then you know what I’m talking about. In my experience, great timing is one of the hardest things to teach, but focused practice makes a big difference.  Timing would be a great exercise for remote family dog training classes, yes? It wouldn’t need to involve the dog at all, just create a way for people to work on their response time. Could be a fun game for everyone.
I very much enjoyed the discussion of play bow function in Ms. Todd’s chapter, “The Social Dog”. Years ago, ethologist and canine specialist Dr. Mark Becoff hypothesized that play bows function as metacommunication, or a communication about a communication. As in, “Don’t take what I’m about to say seriously,” or, in dog societies, “Don’t take the bite I’m about to give you seriously, I’m just playing”. But several studies suggest otherwise: Play bows were found to occur after both dogs had paused, and appear to function as a solicitation of continuing the play. (Note that Dr. Karen London and I have hypothesized that these pauses are critical to healthy play as a way of avoiding over arousal.)
Play is a topic near and dear to my heart, in part because the co-author of our book Play Together, Stay Together, Karen London, is one of the most constructively playful people I know. Not to mention that playing with my dogs, and watching them play together is one of the greatest joys of my life. And so I was a tad disappointed that there wasn’t more information on play in “The Social Dog” chapter–Understanding dogs with different play styles? Avoiding over arousal in play?–for example. This chapter, feels a bit thin to me, given that the social nature of dogs is at the core of their being, not to mention their happiness.
Wag tries to cover a lot of ground, and because of that, some of the sections are less comprehensive than I would like. However, each chapter cites studies that are both informative and practical. The chapter “Dogs and Their People” summarizes some interesting research on what situations cause a dog to seek out someone new rather than their usual caretaker.  The Chapter “Food and Treats” has some helpful ideas on how to help people stop over feeding their dogs. The chapter “Dogs and Children” has many tidbits of important information, including the fact that there are few studies out there on interactions between children and dogs. Given the high rate of dog bites to young children, this is a surprising lack of attention from researchers.
In summary, Wags contains a lot of interesting information in a highly readable format, and deserves to be on the bookshelf of anyone who loves learning what science can tell us about our remarkable relationship with dogs.

A photographer takes expressive portraits of dogs that show they have as much personality as any human

There's a reason dog adoptions have spiked during the pandemic. Their unconditional love and companionship provides profound comfort during stressful times.
Photographer Elke Vogelsang knows this firsthand. Her love of pet portraiture started as a creative outlet in the midst of difficult struggles, and grew into her passion. She now has over 150,000 Instagram followers and has collaborated with pet companies such as Pedigree and Fluff & Tuff.
Vogelsang spoke to Insider via email about her work and revealed how she captures her playful portraits.

During a stressful time in her life, photographer Elke Vogelsang found comfort in her dogs, three Spanish rescue mutts named Noodles, Scout, and Ioli.

Elke Vogelsang StinkinCute
"Stinkin' Cute." 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
Vogelsang and her husband cared for his mother when she was diagnosed with dementia. Two years later, her husband was hospitalized for a severe brain hemorrhage due to a ruptured aneurysm.

"I decided to start the project, despite my husband being in hospital, or rather because of it," she said.

Elke Vogelsang Scout_SundayMood
"Sunday Mood" featuring Scout. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"I wanted to try to keep up a bit of normality and have something like a visual diary for my husband of that time while he was in an induced coma, and later on had no short-term memory at all for months," she said. "Often, my dogs found themselves in front of my camera which, alongside my photography, were a welcome distraction."

By the time Vogelsang's husband made a full recovery, photography had become her passion.

Elke Vogelsang Noodles_ImDownHere
"I'm Down Here" featuring Noodles. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
She often features her own dogs in her work, like Noodles, pictured, but she also hires other dogs or photographs rescue dogs looking for homes.

She tailors her portraits to the temperament of each dog she works with.

Elke Vogelsang Noodles_LateForNetflixEvening
"Late For Netflix Evening" featuring Noodles. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"Each and every one of them has its own personality," she said. "With every individual you meet you'll learn a new trick. The energetic terrier might need action to really enjoy the session, while the sensitive sighthound might prefer a very calm environment and some super treats."

She coaxes the dogs into making surprised faces with a variety of tools.

Elke Vogelsang Socke_OhThatCorgiSmile
"Oh That Corgi Smile" featuring Socke. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"I'm never afraid of making a fool of myself in order to get a surprised or interested look from a dog," she said. "I do animal noises, whisper, squeak, whatever surprising sound I may come up with. ... If the dog is too cool for this, I also have a variety of different sound-makers, which might cause a cute head tilt even from the most relaxed senior dog."

Vogelsang says the key to capturing the perfect pet photo is "patience, trust, repetition, and lots and lots of bribery."

Elke Vogelsang Ernie_OnADietCaughtEatingPeanutButter_CUTO
"On A Diet Caught Eating Peanut Butter" featuring Ernie. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"Most dogs would do anything for treats," she said.

"Every session is funny or emotional in some way, as dogs are natural comedians and mood-lifters," she said.

Elke Vogelsang Django_ThatwonkyHorizon
"That Wonky Horizon" featuring Django. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"Often it's the little things that make you laugh and adore dogs even more," she said.

As more and more people turn to pets for company and comfort during the pandemic, Vogelsang hopes her photos capture their humor and companionship.

Elke Vogelsang FluffAndTuff_PileOfToys
"Fluff and Tuff Pile of Toys." 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"My own three mutts are my joy, recreation, and constant source of laughter," she said. "They comforted me during those stressful months. I can't put into words how much they mean to me, so I guess trying to express this in pictures is only natural."

Their unconditional love continues to inspire her to work.

Elke Vogelsang Scout_WhyTheBubbleFace
"Why The Bubble Face?" featuring Scout. 
Courtesy of Elke Vogelsang
"Dogs give you all their attention," she said. "They can make the shyest people feel better about themselves. They are family members you love to have around and never get into trouble with, as they are unpretentious and forgiving.  They don't judge and take you as you are."



  • 180g soft butter
  • 125g caster (super fine) sugar
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • a pinch of salt


  • 180g butter
  • 100g golden or corn syrup
  • 375g icing sugar
  • 6 tsp ground ginger
  • 50g chopped crystallised ginger, or pistachio nuts to sprinkle on top


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350Fan/Gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of a 9x13inch (24x34cm) baking tin.
  2. To make the base, cream together the soft butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix the flour, baking powder, ground ginger and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter/sugar, mixing gently until you have a dough.
  3. Press the dough into the tin, levelling it out as evenly as possible using a spatula. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until the shortbread is light golden. The centre will seem a little soft but will firm up on cooling. Set aside to cool.
  4. To make the topping, place the butter and golden syrup in a large pan and melt over a low heat. Sift the icing sugar and ground ginger into the pan and keeping the heat as low as possible, whisk until the mixture is really smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk again until the mixture thickens slightly.
  5. Pour the topping over the base and spread out evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle over the crystallised ginger or pistachio nuts and leave to set for 1-2 hours before cutting into bars.

Pam Ayres

Anyone remember the poetress Pam Ayres? Well, she's 73 and still going strong. This is her latest ode to coronavirus...
I'm normally a social girl
I love to meet my mates
But lately with the virus here
We can't go out the gates.
You see, we are the 'oldies' now
We need to stay inside
If they haven't seen us for a while
They'll think we've upped and died.
They'll never know the things we did
Before we got this old
There wasn't any Facebook
So not everything was told.
We may seem sweet old ladies
Who would never be uncouth
But we grew up in the 60s -
If you only knew the truth!
There was sex and drugs and rock 'n roll
The pill and miniskirts
We smoked, we drank, we partied
And were quite outrageous flirts.
Then we settled down, got married
And turned into someone's mum,
Somebody's wife, then nana,
Who on earth did we become?
We didn't mind the change of pace
Because our lives were full
But to bury us before we're dead
Is like a red rag to a bull!
So here you find me stuck inside
For four weeks, maybe more
I finally found myself again
Then I had to close the door!
It didn’t really bother me
I'd while away the hour
I'd bake for all the family
But I've got no flaming flour!
Now Netflix is just wonderful
I like a gutsy thriller
I'm swooning over Idris
Or some random sexy killer.
At least I've got a stash of booze
For when I'm being idle
There's wine and whiskey, even gin
If I'm feeling suicidal!
So let's all drink to lockdown
To recovery and health
And hope this awful virus
Doesn't decimate our wealth.
We'll all get through the crisis
And be back to join our mates
Just hoping I'm not far too wide
To fit through the flaming gates!

Hawker Siddeley now British Aerospace in Broughton on my doorstep


XV148 was flown from Broughton to Woodford by Hawker Siddeley chief test pilot John Cunningham, with Avro's chief test pilot Jimmy Harrison as co-pilot, one navigator, two flight engineers and two observers.
The British government announced the conception of the Nimrod - 'The Mighty Hunter' from various religious mythology - in 1965 as the world's first land-based, pure jet, long range maritime reconaissance, anti-submarine and search and resuce aircraft.
The aircraft was originally a civil de Havilland Comet 4C airframe (c/n 06477), the final Comet airframe on the production line.
The decision was taken to use the well proven Comet airframe to replace the Avro Shackleton and convert the last two unsold Comets into the main Nimrod development prototypes.
XV148 was the aerodynamic prototype, having what would become Nimrod's customary 'bath-tub bubble' skirt structure of the unpressurised weapons bay and large nose radome, along with modified wing centre section and enlarged air intakes to accomodate the Nimrod's Rolls-Royce Spey 250 engines. It was also fitted with the Nimrod's navigation and attack systems. Nimrod fuselages are 6 feet shorter than a Comet 4C and this alteration reduces the aircraft's directional stability, therefore the dorsal fin was enlarged in June 1967.
The aircraft undertook extensive flight trials at Woodford, along with airframe and engine development work. It was used by the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment for assessment trials at RAF Boscombe Down during 1968 until being returned to Woodford for futher development work by HS. 1969-70 it was prepared for missile testing work and then from 1970-72 it conducted AS12 & SSII trials from Woodford and Boscombe Down. In 1972 XV148 participated in Searchwater development work and was then allocated to the Radar Research Establishment at RAF Pershore in 1975 for avionics and weapons sytems research. It was moved to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Bedford in 1977 and was finally retired in 1982, with its final flight being to Woodford for structural stress and fatigue testing. As part of this testing the nose and tail sections were removed and the remainder of the fuselage and wings were used as a ground fatigue test specimen to determine the fatigue consumption of the type, allowing any problems to be discovered quickly before they became widespread.
In 1999 the airframe was scrapped. Most of it including the bare nose section was acquired privately from BAE systems and moved to Guildford for long term restoration.
As of 2015 the nose section was basically complete barring some cosmetic elements.
It's sister XV147 was 75 percent complete as a Comet 4C when Nimrod development began and was consequently still fitted with the Comet's Rolls-Royce Avon engines. XV147 was flown to Woodford as a Comet 4C in 1965 for conversion and was used for sytems development but was not aerodynamically representative of the production Nimrod. It took its maiden flight as a Nimrod prototype two months later on 31 July 1967.
Production of the Nimrod continued at Broughton, with wing centre sections, fuselage sections and outer wings being built until 1970 & transported to Woodford for final assembly.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Yotam Ottolenghi's Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake

Ottolenghi's simple yet irresistible Blueberry, Almond and Lemon Cake is an easy bake that won't fail to impress. With fresh fruity flavours, this classic loaf cake is the perfect accompaniment to your afternoon tea.


For all the tins, trays and moulds that can be used to great effect in baking, there’s nothing quite like a simple loaf cake to reassure one that all is okay with the world. This is timeless, easy and also keeps well, for 3 days, stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
 Serves 8


150gunsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
190gcaster sugar
2lemons: finely grate the zest to get 2 tsp, then juice to get 2 tbsp
1 tspvanilla extract
3large eggs, beaten
90gself-raising flour, sifted
⅛ tspsalt
110gground almonds
70gicing sugar

Essential kit

You will need: a loaf tin (11 x 21cm) and a free-standing food mixer.


1. Preheat the oven to 180°C fan. Grease and line a loaf tin 11 x 21cm, and set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and vanilla in the bowl of a free-standing food mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on a high speed for 3–4 minutes, until light, then lower the speed to medium. Add the eggs, in small additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl. The mix may split a little, but don’t worry: it’ll come back together. Add the flour, salt and almonds in three additions. Finally, fold in 150g of blueberries, by hand, and pour into the prepared loaf tin.
3. Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle the remaining 50g of blueberries over the top of the cake. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes, until the cake is golden-brown but still uncooked. Cover loosely with tin foil and continue to bake for 25–30 minutes, until risen and cooked. Test by inserting a knife into the middle: it’s ready if it comes out clean. Remove from the oven and set aside, in its tin, to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
4. Meanwhile, make the icing. Put the remaining tablespoon of lemon juice into a bowl with the icing sugar and whisk until smooth. Pour over the cake and gently spread out: the blueberries on the top of the cake will bleed into the icing a little, but don’t worry: this will add to the look.