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Using food to lure your dog into a sit position is one of the first training "tricks" we learn, but how does rewarding a dog actually elicit the desired response?
Humans often use a sort of experimental approach. The sequence might go like this - enter a dark room, flick light switch, room lights. The action of flicking the switch had the desired effect and we usually use the same approach when presented with the same situation, had it not worked we would try another solution. Psychologists, of course have a term for this; it's called "win-stay-lose-shift strategy". If it worked keep doing it , if it didn't, try something else. Is this the strategy that dogs are using when responding to reward based training?
To find out, Molly Byrne, and a team of researchers at the Department of Psychology, Boston College looked at this very question. A group of adult dogs (323) were taught that if they touched an inverted cup they would receive the treat hidden underneath. Next they were presented with two cups located equal distance from the dog and the dog was restricted to selecting only one of the cups per trial. The paper cites previous work by the same team to eliminate olfactory cues. On subsequent runs it was recorded whether they chose the same cup or the other cup and whether the previous run was successful. To eliminate the possibility of previous conditioning, the experiment was repeated with 334 puppies.
Quoting from the study:
Our takeaway from this should be the importance of treating every time when trying to establish a behaviour to avoid the dreaded "lose-shift" side of the equation.
"But Pat, wait" I hear you saying "you always say you are a Balanced Trainer, have you suddenly joined the pure positive crowd."
Not at all. Rewards are useful for establishing a behaviour, but once the desired command is learned and established its time to start phasing out the treats in lieu of praise, occasional treats and discipline. Its like gambling, the gambler is not rewarded every time, but maybe next time. Knowing when and how is where the professional part of professional dog training comes in. What do you think?
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Hard to believe there has been so little research on this crucial topic. Most of what has been written are just theories. Dog behaviourists believe that a dog’s need to perform the bedtime ritual of turning around in circles before lying down is inherited. Their wolf ancestors living in packs do this on a regular basis. The theories speculate a multi purpose of sniffing the air for predators, chasing snakes, bugs and rodents away and trampling down the grass to make a comfortable bed.
There might be a social element to circling, too. Wolves and wild dogs often travel in packs and have strict social hierarchies. When they bed for the night, they sleep in a tight circle to protect each other and stay warm. Circling might be a way of marking one's sleeping space and establishing a spot in the circle, the canine equivalent of calling first bedsies.
My favourite go to guy when researching these articles, Dr. Stanley Coren, in Psychology Today, found a similar dearth of scientific evidence for this behaviour, and so did his own study.
He was going on the theory that the circling was primarily for comfort and so devised an experiment with both a flat mat and a crumpled up shag rug. Each was placed in a 3' x 6' pen and pet dogs were brought in one at a time. The owner and experimenter sat down some distance away and waited until the dog decided to lay down and recorded their behaviour. This was done for 31 dogs in each situation.
The results were quite clear. On the smooth surface only 6 dogs (19%) circled at least once before laying down. On the uneven surface 17 (55%) circled at least once before laying down.
So it seems that comfort is at least one reason for the circling behaviour.
If the behaviour becomes excessive, it could be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder in a small number of dogs.
Maybe us humans, instead of spending large amounts of money on fancy beds could just start trampling down the one we have. Try convincing your partner of this.
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Recognizing one's self in the mirror requires sophisticated cognitive function and a sense of self awareness. Children do not acquire the ability to recognize themselves in the mirror until 18 - 24 months of age. This was demonstrated in experiments involving putting red dots on their faces. Younger babies showed little interest in the facial decorating, however the older kids began touching their own faces indicating that they understood it was their own reflection they were looking at. Similar experiments have been carried out with other primates and even dolphins and magpies showing some degree of self awareness. That is they understood that this is "MY" face, it is part of "ME".
When dogs first encounter a mirror they respond as if it is another dog. You may have seen this yourself when a young dog attempts to play with the reflection as in this video, or take himself as a threat and start growling. Eventually most dogs become habituated to the reflection and just ignore it. So does this mean dogs haven no sense of self awareness and therefore lack consciousness?
These studies all centred on animals whose primary sensory input is vision. Dogs, as we all know, are olfactory centred creatures. University of Colorado biologist Marc Bekoff tried an experiment involving one of dogs' favourite pastimes, sniffing pee. Over the period of five winters, he relocated yellow snow to different locations, including those of his own dog whom he had earlier walked. On the next walk each time as expected his dog would stop and sniff the yellow snow and in most cases pee over top of it. But when he encountered his own relocated yellow snow, would briefly sniff then ignore. Bekoff concluded that we can say that dogs do have some of the same aspects of self-awareness that humans have. Mirror reflections, having no smell, just aren't interesting enough to demonstrate it.
Other experiments have been done to see if dogs understand how mirrors work. Tiffani Howell and Pauleen Bennett of the Anthrozoology Research Group set up an experiment in which one dog owner would direct the dogs attention to the mirror, while another owner holding a toy or treat could only be seen in the mirror. Out of 40 participants only 7 turned to look at the second person. As I recall high school science class, the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection. This probably means as little to Twist as it now does to me, but he never forgets how to sniff out a treat.
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"C'mon get off the couch it's time for my supper." We have all seen or heard of stories about dogs knowing when the school bus is due, or when it's time for their daily walk, but obviously they do not understand clock time in the same way that we do. So how do they understand the passage of time? There has been surprisingly little research into this fascinating topic.
Without clocks even we do not have a very good sense of time. If we are engaged in some activity we are interested in, time seems to fly by, while on the other hand if we are stuck with some mundane task we abhor, it seems to take forever. But that forever is related to a clock. If we didn't have a clock we would not have any idea how long each of these events actually took. So how can dogs know when they spend most of their time sleeping?
I think we need to distinguish between two aspects of time, time of day and duration of events.
Knowing when the school bus is due requires dogs to know the time of day. There are several theories about how they do this.
Dogs, like most mammals, have a circadian rhythm, an internal sense that tells them when to sleep or when to be active. Perhaps it’s their bodies, not their minds, that can detect roughly what time it is. So if in the mid-afternoon your dog is used to getting her food, her body gets hungry around this time each day.
Another theory expands on dog's amazing ability to pick up on external cues and associate them with another event. For example maybe you start getting dinner ready just before the school bus arrives or another bus passes every day just before the kids get home.
There have been studies on how dogs perceive duration of events, specifically how they greet you when you have been gone for a period of time.
We have all seen that they don't get too excited when we come back from getting the mail but on the other hand if we have been gone for more than two hours we get quite a happy greeting. One researcher attributes this to their well know sense of smell. The longer you have been gone, the more your scent in the house diminishes. They tested this by leaving the owners' scent around the house and evaluate the return greeting after various lengths of time. The dogs did not respond the same as long as the scent was present.
At any rate there does not seem any need to purchase a Rolex for Fido just yet.
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We've all heard stories of dogs finding their way home, sometimes from hundreds of kilometres (click here to read some). But how do they do it? Many animals and even insects have been shown to be able to navigate with the help of the earth's magnetic field, an ability known as magnetoreception.
What seems like a rather odd study in 2013, published in Frontiers in Zoology, researchers tried to prove that dogs have this ability by recording their alignment when they were pooping or peeing or just marking territory. They measured the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs of 37 breeds during defecation (1,893 observations) and urination (5,582 observations) over a two-year period. They were able to conclude from this data that dogs preferred to excrete with the body being aligned along the North–South axis under calm magnetic field conditions. (the correlation was extinguished when the magnetic field was unstable). Beyond mapping where your dog poops, this study did establish that dogs are capable of magnetoreception.
The actual mechanism of magnetoreception in dogs was discovered in a 2016 study. Cryptochromes are a protein involved in the circadian rhythms of plants and animals, and possibly also in the sensing of magnetic fields in a number of species. Cryptochrome 1a is located in photoreceptors in birds' eyes and is activated by the magnetic field. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt have detected cryptochrome 1a in photoreceptors in several mammalian species including dogs.
In a further test in 2018 to prove that dogs have this ability, dogs were trained to locate a simple bar magnet. After removing confounding factors of site and smell, 13 of 16 dogs were able to locate a magnet with no other clues than the magnetic field.
Finally a new study released earlier this month used hunting dogs to find out if they are using their magnetorecption capability to find their way back to their owners after a hunting run.
Between September 2014 and December 2017, the study team equipped 27 hunting dogs of 10 different breeds, with GPS trackers. These dogs were allowed to roam in forested areas away from buildings, roads and powerlines. Dogs ran individually and returned on their own. Trips took between 30 and 90 minutes. Owners hid close to the location where the dog was released. The GPS data, from a total of 622 excursions in 62 different locations in the Czech Republic, were then compiled and analyzed.
Most of the dogs simply followed their own scent back, a method know as tracking. However in 233 cases, the dogs took a novel route back, a method known as scouting. Interestingly, the scouting dogs began their trip back with a run in the north/south direction, regardless of the direction of the trip. This "compass run" was surmised to be instrumental in orienting the dogs to the magnetic field and the direction home.
The scouting dogs returned faster to their owners than the dogs using the tracking method, in which they just came back the same way they went out.
So looks like not only will Lassie find her way home by herself, she will also poop in the north/south direction while doing it.
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When I was a kid I couldn't wait to tune into Lassie every Sunday (in glorious black and white) to find out what trouble Timmy would get himself into and how Lassie would rescue him. Would your dog rescue you if you fell into a well? We have all seen stories in the news of heroic dogs saving their humans.
Many involve waking the sleeping family while a fire rages in the home, but this is not all that remarkable since there are stories of even cats doing the same thing. It could be more a case of self preservation than benevolent heroism, especially if cats do it.
The Purina Animal Hall of Fame has many stories of animal heroism such as the story of Shelby, a 14 year old shepherd cross who fought off a black bear with cubs to protect her family who encountered them while out for a walk near their home in Sault Ste. Marie. Shelby went through 4 months of surgeries and recovery but her owners credits her with saving their lives.
So do our dogs really want to rescue us? A team from the Arizona State University devised some experiments to study this question. They built a box large enough to hold a human, with a easy to open sliding door. Next the dog owners were hidden in the box and instructed to call for help. They were coached on this so that it sounded authentic, and were not to call the dogs name. Disappointingly, only about 33% of dogs came to the rescue. So does this mean 67% of dogs are uncaring wimps? The testers tried another test by dropping food treats in the box and seeing how many of the dogs were able to retrieve the treat. Turns out it was the same percentage as the rescue dogs. The researchers concluded that the dogs would rescue their owners if they new how to do it.
So maybe we should send our animal companions on an outward bound course so they could fashion a rope from a vine to save us from drowning, in the mean time take care not to fall in any open wells.
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We recently had a boarder in the kennel with a two word name (Harry Potter) which made me wonder what kind of names are more effective for communication. Veterinary behaviourists have shown that a dog's name is more of a cue than a personal identifier. They respond to their name because something happens after they hear it. The theory is that unlike human's response to "I am my name", dogs respond simply because something good is going to happen when they hear their name.
That being said there have been studies into the types of sounds that elicit better responses. One study showed that four short notes were more effective at eliciting a come response and increasing motor activity levels than one longer continuous note. So that choosing a name that can be adapted to different tones can work well. Two syllable names work well for this. For instance, "Glorrr-yyy" may be more effective than single syllable "Spot" for recall.
On the other hand, other studies show that dogs respond quicker to short choppy sounds with a hard consonant.
There are lots of practical considerations, such as avoiding similar sounding names in multiple dog households. Avoid names that sound like commands you may want to use later. Our 13 year old grand-daughter learned this when she was trying to teach "over" to her Golden Retriever Clover.
Naming your dog with a person's name may get you some strange looks at the dog park when you call "Steve Come".
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When I started to research this topic for Science Sunday, I expected to find some evolutionary advantage to blue eyes in northern climates since blue eyes are mostly associated with Siberian Huskies. In humans, blue eyes co-evolved with light skin and blonde hair in northern regions then spread through Europe. In humans lighter skin allows for better synthesis of vitamin D from the sun. This was an advantage in northern regions where sunlight levels are lower. The process works like this: the oil in our skin reacts with sunlight to produce vitamin D which is then absorbed through the skin into the blood stream. In equatorial climates, the sun is intense enough for this process to work even in darker skinned individuals. Dogs produce the same oil on their skin but any vitamin D that is produced is absorbed into their fur. This works okay for cats who spend a lot of time licking their fur, but dogs must get most of their vitamin D from their diet. This was traditionally from meat but more now from manufactured dog food supplemented with vitamin D. So blue eyes did not confer the same evolutionary advantage to dogs as it did to humans.
They did not inherit blue eyes from their predecessor, the wolf, since no wolf species have blue eyes.
A genetic study released in October 2018 looked for the genetic markers associated with eye colour. The study, by Embark Veterinary, looked at the genome of 6000 dogs and compared some 200,000 genetic markers. The team found a mutation on chromosome 19 that was strongly correlated with subjects reported to have blue eyes. The gene, called ALX4, has not been associated with eye colour in humans or mice, meaning that the mutation is completely new to researchers.
So we now know where blue eyes come from, but we don't know why. Siberians are not the only breed to sport blue eyes. Other breeds include:
The answer to the prevalence of blue eyes may be more mundane than evolutionary advantage. John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin-Madison speaking about the prevalence of blue eyes in humans said “This gene does something good for people. It makes them have more kids.” So just as blonde haired blue eyed humans breed more often the evidence suggests that blue eyes in dogs was also selected for simply because of their piercing allure.
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Whether or when to neuter dogs and bitches has been on ongoing matter of controversy for as long as the procedures have existed. Given that in the majority of cases whether to neuter is obvious, we will turn our attention to when. Much of the controversy is anecdotal and not based on scientific fact. Others are well documented such as certain cancers and joint disorders.
A 2013 study into Golden Retrievers by the University of California, turned the world of veterinary medicine on its head concerning early spaying and neutering. Early sterilization prevented many issues, according to the study, but also appeared to increase the risk of other diseases, such as cranial cruciate ligament rupture, hemangiosarcoma, mast cell tumors, lymphosarcoma, and hip dysplasia. The study concluded that more studies on the link between sterilization age, breed and the onset of certain diseases also are needed.
Well now those studies have been done. A new study, also from University of California, carried out over 10 years involved 35 different dog breeds. From the thousands of dogs examined every year at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, the researchers examined 15 years of data to determine whether neutering, the age of neutering, or differences in sex when neutered affect certain cancers and joint disorders across breeds.
Perhaps as may be expected, joint problems were more related to body size than neutering. That being said, there were some surprising statistics emerged in some breeds. For example, the incidents of cancer in small breeds was found to be low whether neutered or not EXCEPT in Boston terrier and the shih tzu. In those two breeds, there was a significant increase in cancers with neutering. Below is a table copied from the study outlining the recommended age to neuter for the breeds studied. The column in the table labelled "CHOICE" indicates the age of neutering did have any effect on disease. There was also a comprehensive breed by breed description in the study which you can see HERE scroll about 1/4 way down for the breed specific descriptions.
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Most human parents are all to familiar with adolescent angst. Surly, uncommunicative, moody, argumentative and flippant, all the touchstone behaviours we fondly remember (or look forward to) from adolescence. But do dogs experience similar behavioural stages? A new study published by the Royal Society looked into just this.
The researchers started with three proven aspects of human adolescence:
To study the behavioural changes during the adolescent period, the team followed a group of guide dog puppies (German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers plus mixes of these breeds) over the first year of their life. They wanted to see whether the dog-owner relationship would parallel the parent-child relationship in humans.
The study was carried out partially by questionnaire by both the carer and the trainer on 285 subjects and by behavioural tests on 69 of the same group of guide dog trainees. Data was collected when the dogs were 5 months of age (which should be preadolescent), 8 months of age (which should be right in the middle of the "teenage" puberty phase) and 12 months of age (which should be pretty much at the end of the adolescent phase for most of the dogs). ( see last week's Science Sunday on ageing in dogs)
The first question concerning onset of puberty and secure attachments to their carer was answered using 70 bitches from the study since puberty onset is obvious in females at first estrus.
The attachment to carer was scored on compressive questions about attachment behaviours and separation anxiety and even adjusted for confounding behaviours such as general anxiety. Attachment and attention seeking was positively correlated with the age at which bitches had their first estrus compared with their breed mean. Bitches that displayed more attachment and attention seeking behaviour at 5 months of age entered puberty earlier, exactly as in humans.
The second question concerning increased conflict behaviour toward the carer was evaluated with 96 of the subject dogs (41 M: 52 F) in a simple behavioural test. All dogs had mastered the sit command by 5 months of age, and were tested at 5 months (pre-puberty), 8 months (adolescence), and 12 months (post adolescence). The results were clear, the adolescents resisted commands from the carer, but not from a stranger (the trainer in this case). Again this was analogous to behaviour in adolescent humans.
The third question "heightened conflict behaviour when carer attachments are less secure",
was addressed through the questionnaires. Mirroring the transitory adolescent-phase of conflict was a phase of higher scores for Separation-Related Behaviour towards the carer. Scores for Separation-Related Behaviour were 36% higher at adolescence (8 months) than pre-adolescence (5 months) and post-adolescence (12 months). The higher Separation-Related scores at 8 months co-related with lower Trainability Scores with respect to their carers. Scores of Attachment and Attention Seeking did not change with age, but they were correlated with Trainability Scores at 8 months of age only.
Another consideration when attempting to train through adolescence is the canine fear periods. The second fear period occurs between six to fourteen months, co-relating with adolescence. Care must be taken not to cause deep seated fears which are very difficult to overcome during this period.
So it seems that adolescence in dogs is not unlike human teenagers but thankfully doesn't last as long.
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Multiply by seven is the conventional wisdom. But this formula appears to be roughly based on the average dog lifespan of 10 years and an average human lifespan of 70 years (worldwide average), giving a ratio of 7 to 1. No one knows where the dog years rule came from, though virtually all dog owners know it. According to that popular myth, every year a dog spends on the planet is equivalent to seven years for a human. So if a dog lives to be 15 years old, she's actually 105 in human years. Researchers and others who have simply taken the time to think about the ratio have recognized that it's illogical for decades. It is obvious to dog owners that puppies age much quicker than human infants in the early years at least.
New research from the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego looked at molecular changes over time of 105 Labrador Retrievers. They studied epigentic changes in gene expression over time. This is the same phenomena that causes humans to show aging even though their DNA has not been modified, genes are expressed differently as we age, for example with facial wrinkles. To understand how dogs age, the researchers looked at a phenomenon called DNA methylation. As mammals get older, their DNA picks up methyl groups that "stick" to their DNA. While these groups don’t change the DNA itself, they attach to the genetic molecule and can turn certain genes on or off. This process occurs in humans in a linear progression, but the researchers found a none linear relationships in the rate in the subject Labs. The formula they came up with is:
[human_age = 16*ln(dog_age) + 31]
the ln() function refers to the base of natural logarithms and occurs in many mathematical interpretations of natural phenomena. The formula produced the following curve:
This is not surprising to most dog owners as we have seen our puppies mature quickly during the early years then more slowly later on. The researchers acknowledge the limitations of the study being restricted to just one breed, but other studies have related age to size by apparent maturity. These results are shown in the following table;
It seems that more research is required here since the above chart disagrees substantially with the epigentic study. For example the apparent maturity chart shows 4 dog years to be equivalent to 32 human years for all body types whereas the epigentic study indicates 4 years is equivalent to 52 years, at least in Labrador Retrievers. Because the slower ageing rate after maturity indicated in the epigentic study, the two methods are equal by about 11 dog years.
Although interesting, all this is really academic since dogs generally have regular checkups and dog owners are very attuned to their pets well being.
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Four legs, a tail, must be a dog. No wait maybe it's a cat or ferret. Dogs do not seem to have any problem recognizing members of their own species, notwithstanding the myriad of shapes and sizes that they come in. We know dogs are renowned for their olfactory competence, so is that how they do it? Anecdotal experience suggest that they have already made the species identification before the serious butt sniffing begins. So what cues are they using to identify a stranger as a dog or not a dog. For that matter how do we do it? Small children can discern between a dog and a cat even among broad morphological samples. What differentiates "catness" from "dogness". So are dogs able recognize their con-specifics solely by sight?
A team of researchers based in France took on this question, publishing their findings in Animal Cognition in 2013. Nine dogs were used in the study, a Lab, a Border Collie and seven mixed breeds, all living in homes and normally trained as pet dogs.
The dogs first went through a training phase where they were shown two pictures, one of a dog (always the same dog) the other screen was either all black, all blue, or had a picture of a cow’s face. The dogs were rewarded for selecting the picture of the dog by approaching the screen. All nine subjects learned to do this in three sessions.
Then came the test. Dogs were presented with a wide variety of never-before-seen dog faces paired against never-before-seen non-dog faces. As before, dogs had to approach the dog image and avoid the non-dog image to get a treat. The none dog faces included a wide variety of domestic and wild animals and even humans. All nine dogs in the study were able to group all the dog images, regardless of breed, into into a single category despite the diversity of breeds. We still do not know how they do this, that is to say what is the "dogness" of a dog that makes it recognizable by dogs or humans.
Recent developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have brought computers to a similar place in recognition. As I understand it (which is not very well), convolutional neural networks are shown huge samples of dog pictures tagged as dogs. The AI system learns to identify dogs from this process, the accuracy dependent on the size of the sample. Interestingly again, we do not understand what the system is identifying to discern "dogness" . Even more impressive these systems can now identify dog breeds.
So whether its dogs, computers or kids there's something about dogs that render them recognizable.
Boarding clients dropping their dog off often tell us that "he doesn't like men", explaining they believe he was abused by a man in a previous home. But I always wonder if the dog is just afraid of strangers in general without regard to gender.
Can dogs even discriminate between human genders? A 2014 study devised an experiment to determine just that. Fifty-one dogs were played a prerecorded male or female voice in the presence of a man and a woman. The responses were scored as correct or incorrect from both the direction of the first look and the total gaze duration towards each person after the voice presentation. The interesting element from this study was that dogs raised in a single person home identified male or female incorrectly 71% of the time, while those in homes with at least one male and one female were correct 80% of the time. So that it seems that dogs raised only by females may not understand what a male human is.
Anecdotally, in our experience people reporting this problem generally have rescue dogs often with unknown background. A 2009 study in the state of Michigan found that 92% of dog rescue organizations are staffed by female volunteers. This preponderance of women may exacerbate the problem of the dog not being able to identify a male.
But why should men be so scary. It may come down to the Ying and Yang of gender difference. Men, generally, are bigger, louder, more assertive and forward than women. In extreme cases even people can identify when an assertive male walks into a room, its' reasonable to assume that dogs will clue into this in even less extreme cases.
So the solution, as with many canine behaviour problems is socialization. Pups need to be gently introduced to every type of situation possible, especially during their "fear periods".
Dogs go through two periods when bad experiences can be imprinted for life. The first is actually two periods, the first at five weeks, when pups demonstrate a strong fear response toward loud noises and novel stimuli, then again at seven to twelve weeks, the puppy is very sensitive to traumatic experiences, and a single scary event may be enough to traumatize the puppy and have life-long effects on his future behaviours. In our own breeding program we begin to introduce novel odours just a few days after birth, and in the puppy pen present every possible type of surface and toy.
The second fear period occurs between six to fourteen months. In the wild, dogs at this age are allowed to go on hunts with the rest of the pack, and it may be a survival strategy for them to learn to respond fearfully to the unfamiliar.
There are undoubtedly cases where a fear of men was caused by abuse, but it is more likely that fear of men, or anything else was a result of incomplete socialization at critical periods in the young dog's life.
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It is pretty obvious and well known that dogs bond with their human families, but do they sense any kinship with their actual parents?
Domestic dogs share most of their genetic makeup with wolves, and the familial bonds in the wolf population are well documented. Contrary to popular belief, wolf packs are generally made up of families. The male and female bond for life and raise litters together with the male sharing in the workload. For example, the male Gray Wolf is typically extremely faithful to his mate and will bring her food her after she gives birth so that she can focus on the newborn litter. Father wolves are also very protective of their pups, guarding them from danger at all costs. And they are responsible for teaching the young cubs important survival skills, such as hunting.
As usual when humans get involved things get messed up. Pups are generally weaned at eight weeks of age and sent to their new homes. The father, if even present, has little of no contact with the pups. So is there any familial recognition at all?
Several interesting studies were carried out by Peter Hepper, from the School of Psychology at Queens University of Belfast, Northern Ireland. In one experiment, two bitches of the same age and breed were placed in enclosures at each end of a room, one of the bitches being the mother of a litter. A puppy would enter at one end of the room and the experimenter recorded which of the areas he went to first and how long he spent attending to the dog in that place. The results were unequivocal with 84% of pups choosing their mother. The experiment was repeated with litter mates as the target. Pups from their own litter were placed in one location and those of another litter at another, and again when a pup was brought in, they chose their own litter mates 67% of the time. The mechanism of identification was identified by Hepper as scent by replacing the actual target animals with their scent (towels on which either the bitch or the litter had laid). The results were almost identical with the previous experiments with 82% showing a preference for their mothers scent to some other bitch and 70% choosing the towel impregnated with their litter mate's scent over that of another litter.
Hepper repeated part of the experiment with dogs of two years age who were separated from their mothers at eight weeks. First the mothers were given the choice between fabric impregnated with the odour of their two year old offspring and another with the odour of some other dog of the same age and breed. The mothers clearly recognized their offspring's scent 78% of the time.
The experiment was then reversed to see if the offspring could recognize their mother's scent and again the results were unequivocal with the mother's scent chosen 76% of the time.
So, its clear that their is a lingering familial recognition between mothers and offspring, but not so much with the father. Male dogs generally greet their offspring in the same way that they would greet any other dog. Once the pups grow, he may indeed play with them, but that interest isn't much different from the interest in other non-related pups. Having a father-and-son relationship doesn't necessarily mean an absence of altercations or violence; paternal attacks on pups are unfortunately not unheard of.
So, sorry Twist nothing in the mail for you on Father's Day.
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Invasive species, poaching, monitoring rare species, the list of conservation functions in which dogs can contribute is long and growing. Dogs have long been used to detect many types of contraband in controlled environments, however performing these tasks in the field present a whole new array of challenges. For example dogs used to detect zebra muscles on recreational watercraft may require a whole different set of characteristics than his counterpart employed in preventing poaching through detection of guns and ammunition before animals are poached. Conservation detection now encompasses an array of activities, including detection of live wildlife, carcass detection for birds and bats around wind turbines, and detection of scats, pathogens, and other biological materials. Several reports indicate that, in many cases, Conservation Detection Dogs (CDDs) are more efficient than several other survey methods in detecting the presence/absence, and relative abundance, of plants and wildlife.
Notwithstanding the prevalence and importance of CDDs, there is little information with respect to the selection training and handling of dogs across various functions. CDD performance may be impacted by many factors. For example, environmental terrain/vegetation density, specific search target, and whether the target is terrestrial, arboreal, or marine.
Having said that, there have been studies by individual organisations in the selection and training of CDDs. Obviously olfactory competence will be a consideration in any discipline. While one might presume that a number of odour receptor cells above some theoretical threshold level is required, many other traits also determine success. In this respect, it is instructive to consider the type of scent being detected. In scent detection work there are three search types that a dog can perform: air-scenting, in which the nose of the dog is held in the air “sniffing” to catch scent on the wind; tracking, where the nose is held close to the ground, following the scent and direction of the target; and, trailing, in which dogs use a combination of air-scenting and tracking techniques. While Bloodhounds possess the largest number of odour receptor cells, other factors make them less suitable for conservation detection tasks. For example, pugs appear capable of performing scent detection tasks to a similar standard to German Shepherd Dogs, however are unable to maintain body temperature in extreme environments. Similarly giant breeds such as Great Danes large size may make it difficult for them to cool down when working in strenuous environmental conditions or hot weather. Available studies show a strong trend toward using working and sporting dog breeds for conservation work.
Most dogs possess the olfactory competence to perform the work, however the more important factor is the individuals temperament. Studies have identified seven psychological factors to be considered:
The handler is as important in the enterprise as the selection of the dog. The handler requires the same endurance and dedication as the dog and the rapport between them must promote the success of the endeavour.
Although there has been little cross functional literature on CDD selection, the search and rescue community has developed an evaluation protocol known as the Brownell–Marsolais scale. This scale reportedly allows one to measure pack, food, and play drives, as well as motivation and nerve strength, in scent detection dog candidates. The text of this treatise can be found at here . Skip to page 4 for the meat of the report.
Could Dogs be Used to Detect COVID19
The source of these various scents in now known to be Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC's. These VOC's are exchanged from the blood to exhaled air in the alveolar portion of the lungs. The exhaled air will have a proportion of the VOC's in relation to the concentration in the blood. This is the method used for blood alcohol testing in law enforcement. Building a machine that can detect a particular VOC at concentration as small as one part in a trillion is a challenging enterprise to say the least. However, such a task is unnecessary since we already have an ideal detector that's willing to work for as little as a pat on the head.
One such detector was a beagle named Cliff. When super-bugs became an issue, hospitals were especially susceptible to Clostridium difficile (known as C. difficile). Cliff was trained to identify C. difficile from stool samples as a proof of concept, then was retired. Two years later Cliff was brought out of retirement when an outbreak occurred in a large hospital. Without any refresher retraining, he was put to work again. In the end, the little Beagle screened 371 patients. The dog correctly identified 12 out of 14 patients with C. difficile infections (a sensitivity of 86 percent) and 346 out of 357 infection free patients (a specificity of 97 percent).
Recent studies reported in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science found that the VOC's from different species of rhinovirus (common cold) were different enough to allow for detection and discrimination between them by specially trained dogs. So now, several institutions are racing to isolate the VOC's unique to COVID19 and to train dogs to identify them. One such study is ongoing at London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LHTSM) .
“It’s very early stages,” says James Logan, head of LSHTM’s Department of Disease Control. “We know diseases have odours — including respiratory diseases such as influenza — and that those odours are in fact quite distinct. There is a very, very good chance that Covid-19 has a specific odour, and if it does I am really confident that the dogs would be able to learn that smell and detect it.”
The actual source of the detectable scents created by diseases and viruses has not been determined, but Logan’s team believe they may be connected to the oxidative stress caused by infections.
Although we may not know the mechanism, we have successfully been able to train dogs in the past to identify several human maladies. Given previous successes with detection dogs the outlook seems promising. This will give authorities a real time detection protocol which can be rolled out quickly and greatly increase the ability to do the tests in the numbers required for safely re-opening at a very low cost and in real time.
Dog Owners Suck at Measuring Kibble
,"That looks about right. Oh maybe a little bit more." This is how many owners feed their dogs. Add to that all the little unscheduled treats and found food throughout the day and its no wonder that we have an obesity epidemic among our pet dogs (not to mention in humans too).
But how much is too much? The right amount is as much an art as a science and is dependent on many other factors than just size.
The correct meal size depends on factors like:
In general, dogs who are at a healthy weight:
That all being said, we come back to the subject of this post, that people are really bad at measuring out kibble. A recent study at the University of Guelph found that owners were often inaccurate, ranging from a 48 percent underestimation to a 152 percent overestimation, depending on the device they used and the amount they tried to portion out. The amounts measured were less accurate when measuring out small amounts from a larger measuring cup. This could have a devastating effect for smaller breeds where just a few kibbles could make up a large proportion of the overall portions.
So try to ignore those big sad "I'm still hungry" eyes and use the proper measures when feeding.
Can Dogs Do Math?
Math problem for Fido: if you have three bones and Mrs. Jones takes one away, how many fingers will she have left?
Well actually dogs and many other animals are capable of solving simple math and not just through trick cues from their owners. Some of the first research into canine numeracy turned out to be flawed.
The dogs were presented with two choices of a large or smaller ball of hamburg and it was found that they had no preference as to size. This research was flawed in that it was discovered that the placement of the food was uncontrolled and the dogs were actually choosing the closest, perhaps demonstrating some distance measuring skills. With that discrepancy accounted for it was found that the dogs can easily compare size and choose the larger helping demonstrating quantitative comparison skills.
Another related task is to estimate the number of things in a group, or at least compare the number of things in two groups. This is known as the approximate number system and humans do quite well at it. For instance most of us can estimate which crowd has the most people (with the exception of Donald Trump estimating inauguration crowd sizes). Dogs can also estimate which pile of kibble has the most pieces in it. This has been formalized in the laboratory by training dogs to select a computer screen which has the most dots to receive a reward, proving that dogs do understand the approximate number system in making quantity comparisons.
Studies with human infants have found that there is an innate ability to do simple mathematics. The babies were shown a toy or something of interest, and then a screen was placed in front of it. The researcher would then place another item behind the screen and the screen would be lifted. In some cases the researcher would secretly remove one of the items before the reveal. In cases where the number of items revealed was unexpected, the subject baby would spend much more time staring at it. This suggests that infants have made the mental calculation and are now surprised to find that the number of items they are seeing is different than what they expected. The same study has been done with dogs using treats to hide behind the screen and the results were the same as with the infant studies. The dogs demonstrated the surprise reaction even when finding three treats when they were expecting two.
The understanding of numeracy was further formalized by dogs trained to be still in functional MRI (fMRI) machine. The subjects were shown a screen with dots that varied quickly while in the fMRI and they found that the variance in the number of dots on the screen stimulated similar areas of the brain as in humans.
“These findings support our understanding of the Approximate Number System; previously, these effects had only been demonstrated behaviorally in dogs, so this is an important contribution to our understanding of canine cognition,” says Krista Macpherson, a canine cognition researcher at Western University in London, Canada.
Many of us have seen this numerical ability in our own dogs, for example in retriever trials when a multiple retrieve is called for the dog must not only remember the approximate location but the number of retrieves. Flock guardians must also be able to at least estimate the size of the flock.
So all that being said, I see no reason why Twist should not have my tax return finished by the due date.
Do Dogs Really Love Us
So there she is lying at your feet gazing expectantly at your face. Yes I love you too you are thinking, but is she really feeling affection for you or is she just hungry.
Any dog owner can tell you that they respond to human affection. Several scientists such as Dr. Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and the author of “What It’s Like to Be a Dog” have managed to train dogs to remain perfectly still while in a functional MRI. What Dr. Berns and others have found is that the canine pleasure centres respond at least as much, and in 20% of cases more to praise and affection as they do to food. So OK, dogs respond to affection, but do they actually have feelings of affection themselves.
Researchers long ago identified the hormone oxytocin as the mediating chemical in human bonding. When humans hug or gaze into each others eyes, they each experience increased levels of the hormone. A 2015 study in Japan found dogs and humans were engaging in cross-species gaze-mediated bonding using this same oxytocin system. That is to say both the dogs and humans experienced elevated levels of oxytocin when gazing at each other. As we learned in Science Sunday a few weeks ago about " puppy dog eyes", wolves will not engage humans with eye contact and so do not bond with humans the way dogs do.
In the field of genetic research studies looked at the phenomenon of hypersocialbility in humans, a malady know as Williams syndrome. UCLA geneticist Bridgett vonHoldt discovered in 2009: Dogs have a mutation in the same gene responsible for Williams syndrome in humans. Dogs, like humans with Williams syndrome show a desire to form close connections with those around them and the Williams syndrome gene mutation may be partially responsible.
Numerous studies have equated canine development to that of an approximately 2 year old child. So do infants experience affection? The capacity for emotions in humans develops throughout early development. In the chart below we see that since canines and humans develop at about the same rate up to about 2.5 years, love and affection is the last emotion to develop in dogs.
So do they really love us? What ever love is, our dogs at least appear to exhibit it so lets just take it at face value.
Effects of Separation Anxiety
We hear the term all the time, but what exactly is it? A new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science in January, suggests that separation anxiety is not so much a diagnosis as it is a syndrome that may have several underlying causes. The team, led by scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK, identified four main forms of distress for dogs when separated from their owners. These include a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom. If not properly diagnosed and treated, separation anxiety can actually affect the health of your dog.
A comprehensive study by Nancy Dreschel of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Pennsylvania State University used a survey of 721 pet owners who had recently lost their dog. The study was comprehensive in it's detail with 99 questions asked. One of the questions was about how well behaved the dogs were during their lifetime. It has been reported in other research that the more anxious and fearful dogs are the more likely their owners are to describe the dogs as "not well-behaved", so a question like this will tend to reflect on the dog's general emotional state rather than its obedience. The co-relation between "well behaved" and longevity was significant and the author speculated "Well-behaved dogs may live longer because they may be under less stress, living in a more harmonious household."
Another part of the study centered on fear of strangers. Fear of strangers is considered to be a general indication of fear and anxiety and the co-relation to longevity was again significant. Incidentally this same study found that un-neutered dogs had a 2.3 year shorter lifespan than their neutered counterparts.
Dr. Dreschel summarizes her work by saying, "It was hypothesized that stress caused by living with anxiety or fearfulness has deleterious effects on health and lifespan in canines. The ﬁndings indicate that fear, speciﬁcally the fear of strangers, is related to shortened lifespan."
Now with everyone soon going back to work after the COVID19 lock down, out dogs may be wondering why they have suddenly been abandoned. The website petsecure.com suggests the following strategies to mitigate the anxiety of you again leaving them alone:
Create a safe haven space. Allow for quiet time apart during the day where you detach physically. You may crate your dog, use a mat across the room, or even sit on the opposite end of the couch.
Use your dog’s senses to promote relaxation and comfort. Set up a white noise machine or play classical, reggae, or soft rock music. Spritz her safe haven space with synthetic canine pheromones or pet-safe lavender essential oils. Offer special treats at times of the day when you would normally leave the house.
Desensitize your dog to typical departure cues at non-routine times of the day. Pick up your keys then go fold laundry. Put on your shoes and go to the bathroom. Leave through the front door and come right back through the back door. Over time, the cues become less predictable and less likely to trigger anxiety.
Incorporate independence-building games like hide and seek with favourite toys placed throughout the house. Try wrapping a toy stuffed with a favourite treat into an old towel; knot the towel loosely and see how long it takes your dog to unwrap his present. Use a snuffle mat to hide treats. Scatter a few loose treats in different rooms, so your dog has to work to sniff them out. Always monitor dogs who would rather eat toys than play with them.
Ask your dog to sit or lie down at her safe haven space. Make sure she watches you as you leave the room to set up the different toys and treats, then let her wait (as long as she can without punishing her!). Your goal is to build a little impatience here; she will WANT to leave you so that she can go and find her rewards.
In my own experience I have found that well trained obedience dogs are more confidant and well adjusted and therefore have fewer problems adjusting to new situations.
Dr. Colleen Fisher, HOW TO HELP YOUR PET AVOID SEPARATION ANXIETY AFTER COVID-19 Petsecure.com, April 2, 2020
Dreschel, N.A. The effects of fear and anxiety on health and lifespan in pet dogs. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 125 (2010): 157-162.
Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC, Fear and Anxiety Affect the Health and Life Span of Dogs, Psychology Today, July 29, 2015