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My dog smells stress (and it’s coming from my gadgets)

What my dog taught me about my bad technology habits

Just like every other obsessive dog owner on the planet, I believe my dog, Saggio, might be the greatest canine to ever walk the earth. He’s friendly and obedient. He performs a plethora of tricks. He protects the house from Jehovah’s Witnesses, and lets me know every single time a robin has the gall to land on our driveway. He also, apparently, has the ability to peer directly into my subconscious mind – a skill that has had an unexpected effect on my gadget usage.

The first clues of Saggio’s mind reading ability appeared one lazy Sunday evening, as I lounged on the couch, reading a book. Content with his marrow bone chew, Saggio laid sprawled on the living room floor, happily gnawing away.

The difference between spending an hour browsing Twitter and an hour reading Fitzgerald couldn’t have been more noticeable.

A few minutes after I picked up my iPhone, however, his entire mood changed. He let out an irritated yelp, dropped his bone, and attempted to force the phone from my hand.

“Hey, get out of here, Saggio!” I said. “What’s your deal?” He refused to relent, slapping his paw on my knee and nudging my phone with his snout. Okay, I thought, he just wants some attention. But pets didn’t cut it, nor did his ball. He didn’t need to use the bathroom, and he had plenty of food and water.

Confused and frustrated about his irritating outburst, I sat back down, and picked up my book again. Saggio let out a sigh, and returned to his bone, completely at peace with the world.

After that night, my fiancé, Jennifer, and I began closely watching Saggio’s behavior. Our early working hypothesis was that Saggio is simply a spoiled attention whore. We soon found, however, that books, newspapers, and magazines (yes, we still read those) had zero effect on the way Saggio behaved. But the moment either of us picked up a smartphone or laptop, he quickly switched from serene pooch to royal pain in the tail.

Saggio, heavily Instagrammed

If attention was his only goal, why the difference in behavior between us reading books and playing Angry Birds?

To answer this question – in a completely anecdotal, unscientific way – we delved into the kinds of information dogs can gather that we humans often overlook. In addition to sniffing out the drugs you hid in your dirty underwear, some dogs have the ability to perceive a staggering amount of information about us. For example, did you know dogs can detect when a person is about to have a seizure? How about dogs that unlock a person from a Parkinson’s Disease-inflicted full-body freeze? Some miraculous mongrels can even smell cancer

Saggio can’t do any of that. He can’t even ride a skateboard properly. But we remained convinced that he was using his mysterious powers of dogness to tell us something. We just needed to figure out what that something was.

In addition to sniffing out the drugs you hid in your dirty underwear, some dogs have the ability to perceive a staggering amount of information about us.

Our answer arrived after reading about service dogs that treat sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. While neither of us suffered from this serious debilitating infliction, we perked up upon learning that these highly trained animals could sense when their owners were having anxiety, and would butt in to help snap them out of it. The behavior sounded strikingly similar to Saggio’s distracting efforts.

We quickly shifted our observations from Saggio to ourselves, which led us to discover what I’ll call High Technology Stress Disorder (HTSD) – a mild (completely invented?) psychological ailment that causes a person’s blood pressure to rise simply by coming in contact with a gadget. Saggio, we realized, was trying to tell us we were stressed out by our smartphones.

Once we admitted this to ourselves, the symptoms appeared clear as day: Mindlessly tapping away on our phones inevitably led to a feeling of unease with the world, the kind you get after pounding a Red Bull. Reading, on the other hand, relaxed us, and made us happy. The difference between spending an hour browsing Twitter and an hour reading Fitzgerald couldn’t have been more noticeable. But it took a creature with smarts of a 2-year-old for us to notice.

Have any of you experienced anything like this? I’d love to hear your stories.

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