Do Dogs Know Other Dogs Are Dogs
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.
Why Dogs Don't Get Father's Day Cards
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.
Conservation Using Scent Detection Dogs
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
What's the Big Deal About Fetching
How come some dogs will drive you crazy to play fetch, while others just don't get it (pun intended). We all know it has to do with breeding, but even within breeds we do see variation in this drive. I can anecdotally testify to the differences between breeds. Years ago when our kennel was dedicated to dog sledding and Siberian Huskies, my main interest was still obedience. As you know, retrieving is involved at the higher levels of obedience. Well Maddie, being a sled dog, could never see the point of retrieving, and it took me several years to get her to the level my retrievers are at, at 8 weeks of age.
So as we suspected it probably has to do with breeding, but a recent study has found that there may be an element of retrieving innate in all breeds.
Christina Hansen-Wheat of Stockholm University, Sweden is interested in how domestication affects animal behaviour, and to that end raises litters of both dog and wolf pups. In one test, a ball is thrown across the room and the pups reaction is documented. It was expected that the wolf pups would show no interest in chasing balls, and indeed this was the case in two of the three wolf litters. However, to their surprise, in the third litter several individuals not only chased the ball but returned it to an unfamiliar person. Although unexpected, in retrospect, Hansen-Wheat surmises that it makes sense.
"Wolf puppies showing human-directed behavior could have had a selective advantage in early stages of dog domestication," she says. In other words perhaps a willingness to retrieve led to domestication.
Dr. Stanley Coren talks about three different types of intelligence in dogs:
For retrieving breeds on the other hand the activity of retrieving is innately rewarding. If you like playing football, you play football even if you don’t get paid to do it. It just feels good to do it. The same is true for dogs.
The one thing common to almost all dogs is their compulsion to bond with their humans. If throwing a ball is how we spend time with our dogs, then it makes sense that they are going to drive us nuts wanting to fetch.
Why do Dogs Yawn
Is she really that tired? Bored maybe? Turns out that yawns are another canine body language device that is often translated incorrectly by us humans. Yawns can have a variety of meanings, but to be interpreted correctly, the context of the situation is all important. So what is she tying to tell you:
References: Stanley Coren, Psychology Today, April 25, 2012
Deanna deBara, rover.com, Dog Yawning Decoded
Katie Findlay, Why do Dogs Yawn, akc.org, June 15, 2017
Genetics and Dog Ownership
Why do we love our dogs so much? Could it be that we are slaves to our genetic makeup? I can think of several owners of multiple dogs that would embrace this argument, so lets take a look at a study out of Sweden that asked this very question.
Why Sweden? Sweden has a huge registry of twin siblings both identical and fraternal. Identical twins share 100% of their genes, while fraternal twins share 50% genetic makeup. Since twins are raised in the same environment, they offer a perfect laboratory for investigating nature vs nurture studies. Twins share the same environment, so if a trait is genetic, identical twins will look more like each other in that trait than fraternal twins do.
The study found that if one identical female twin owned a dog, there was a 40 percent likelihood that her twin would, too, compared with a 25 percent likelihood with fraternal females.
When an identical male twin owned a dog, there was a 29 percent likelihood that his twin did, compared with only an 18 percent likelihood for fraternal males.
Crunching the numbers further showed that genetic pre-disposition for dog ownership was 51% in men and 57% in women.
Dogs themselves are complicit in this strategy by being so darned lovable. So when you are questioned about the number of dogs in your life, now you can explain that it can't be helped, its just in your genes.
Isn't that cute, you may hear as the puppy chews on your hand. Well guess what... not everyone finds it that cute and if not mitigated early, could become dangerous.
Puppies learn about biting and nipping as they play with their litter mates. Their litter mates also teach each other how far they can go with this by yelping when it hurts which startles the culprit into letting go.
We can co-opt this strategy by yelping "OW" when the puppy nips at us and withdrawing momentarily from the play session. Make sure the puppy is releasing and do not pull your hand away while she has hold of it, this could trigger the chase or tug instinct, which is opposite to what we are looking for. The goal here is to teach the puppy that gentle play continues; rough play stops.
Another strategy is to redirect the chewing or nipping to a chew or tug toy. The tug toy option allows the play session to continue without any skin being broken. Be careful that this does not get too aggressive though, it is an ideal time to teach "leave it" or "give" which can prevent problems later on.
Herding puppies tend to be "ankle biters". To mitigate ankle biting stop moving, when the puppy stops biting offer him an alternative toy as above. Treats are another option but use soft treats that can be an instant gratification, a biscuit or something similar take a few minutes to be consumed and the puppy will have forgotten why she got it.
Puppies and dogs for that matter do not understand "maybe" or "sometimes" . You must be consistent with this and all training for that matter.
What are Tails For?
Tails are indispensable for canine activities. Even such mundane functions as balance and motion are facilitated by the often mocked canine appendage. Watch how a dog uses it's tail for balance, like a tight rope walker's pole, when navigating a narrow path. Dogs bred for running have long narrow tails used to aid in making high speed turns. In such cases the front legs are thrown into the turn, but the back legs continue in the original direction. To counteract that, the tail is pointed into the turn.
Beyond physics though, the tail is an extremely important communication tool in several ways.
A wagging tail causes muscles to contract which causes the anal glands located under the tail to release a scent unique to each dog. A dominant dog carries it's tail high and wags to spread the scent, whereas a less dominant dog keeps his tail low, covering the anal glands.
Newborn puppies pretty much spend all their time eating and sleeping and have no need for communication and therefore do not wag their tails. By thirty days of age about half of all puppies are tail wagging and the behavior is usually fully established by around forty-nine days of age. They have learned that they can communicate intentions to litter mates with their tails and avoid conflicts or to possibly instigate one.
The tail's position, specifically the height at which it is held, can be considered a sort of emotional meter. A middle height suggests the dog is relaxed. If the tail is held horizontally, the dog is attentive and alert. As the tail position moves farther up, it is a sign the dog is becoming more threatening.
As the tail position drops lower, it is a sign that the dog is becoming more submissive, is worried, or feels poorly. The extreme expression is the tail tucked under the body, which is a sign of fear.
Other common tail movements:
● A slight wag, with each swing of only small breadth, is usually seen during greetings as a tentative, "Hello there," or a hopeful "I'm here."
● A broad wag is friendly: "I am not challenging or threatening you." This can also mean: "I'm pleased." This is the closest to the popular concept of the happiness wag, especially if the tail seems to drag the hips with it.
● A slow wag with the tail at half-mast is less social than most other tail signals. Generally speaking, slow wags with the tail in neither a particularly dominant (high) nor a submissive (low) position are signs of insecurity.
● Tiny, high-speed movements that give the impression of the tail vibrating are signs the dog is about to do something, usually run or fight. If the tail is held high while vibrating, it is most likely an active threat.
Recent studies have found a right/left bias in tail wagging indicate state of mind. In humans, the left brain is associated with positive feelings, like love, a sense of attachment, a feeling of safety and calm, whereas the right brain is associated with fear and depression and behaviours that require energy such as fleeing or fighting.
Since the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, it follows that the happy, positive feelings of the left brain would bias the tail wagging to the right (dog's right).
So what happens with dogs who are appendagely challenged? Anecdotally, it was reported a dog which had always formed playful relationships at a local dog park was assessed very differently after an accident which required amputation of her tail.
To study this Dr. Stanley Coren conducted an experiment involving 431 dogs and found that of the encounters involving aggressive elements, the majority involved dogs with docked tails. However there may be a confounding element here in that dogs with docked tails are often more aggressive breeds to begin with. Researchers at the University of Victoria carried this one step further by building a robot Labrador Retriever with a replaceable long and short tail.
They found that when the robot was placed in a dog park with the long tail wagging, other dogs approached in a friendly playful manner, however when its tail was held upright and was motionless (a dominant threat signal) the other dogs avoided it. This is what would be expected if it were a real dog. The tail was then replaced with the short tail and all dogs avoided it whether the tail was wagging or not.
So it looks like dogs depend on their tails for a variety of functions which makes one wonder why evolution left us humans without one.
New Study Shows More than 70% of Dogs show Anxiety
A new study from Finland looked at behavioural traits among 13,715 dogs representing 264 breeds. This study was carried out using surveys filled out by owners. The researchers asked the dogs’ owners to fill in questionnaires surveying behaviours that related to seven anxiety-related traits.
These were noise sensitivity, general fear, fear of surfaces, impassivity or lack of attention, compulsive behaviours, aggression, and behaviours relating to separation anxiety.
By looking at the survey data, the investigators found that 72.5% of the dogs expressed anxiety-like behaviours.
Surprisingly, noise sensitivity was most prevalent, affecting 32% of all the dogs in the study. Among noise-sensitive dogs, the most common fear was that of sounds associated with fireworks which I would assume is similar to gunshots.
General fearfulness affected 29% of the dogs in the study. “Specifically, 17% of dogs showed fear of other dogs, 15% fear of strangers, and 11% fear of novel situations,” the authors write.
This is the most troublesome trait, since it often leads to unpredictable behaviours such as aggression. In fact the study related the found traits to particular behaviours, which they termed co-morbidity and found that fear and aggression were strongly co-related. I think most dog trainers would have predicted this result, since it is one of the most common problems we encounter.
In our experience the best mitigation of fear/aggression is basic obedience training. One anecdotal case was documented in a post from Dog Training
"I was walking my dog reactive pup on a paved trail this morning. I was giving a little free rein on a six foot leash and she was on my right side. Out of nowhere a woman open her back door to let out her chocolate lab. Also to our right. He came charging and barking down a set of stairs and across the yard to the fence. Only an alleyway separated us. You know how fast it can happen. Before i even had a chance to react, Zoe went into a left side heel and looked straight up at me."
The author attributed this outcome to basic obedience training as we have also seen in many cases.
Interestingly the study related some of the behavioural traits to breeds as shown in these charts.
The study (and larger versions of the charts) can be found at https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-59837-z#Fig2
Dogs and COVID-19
Coronavirus is a large family of viruses which are generally species specific. Coronaviruses in humans cause one third of what is generally diagnosed as common cold and upper respiratory infections. Rarely species specific coronaviruses will jump the species barrier and infect humans. This is what happened with SARS, MERS and is suspected in the current COVID-19 outbreak.
Dogs can contract certain types of coronaviruses, such as the canine respiratory coronavirus which is responsible for 9.8% of cases generally known as kennel cough (Wikipedia article Kennel Cough). These types of the virus do not affect humans.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) said that infectious disease experts and multiple international and domestic human and animal health organizations, all agree there is no evidence at this point to indicate that pets become ill with COVID-19 or that they spread it to other animals, including people.
That being said, there have been two cases of dogs testing positive for the COVID-19 virus, both from the same residence in Hong Kong. Neither of these animals showed any symptoms of the virus and are believed to have been infected by their owner who did have the disease.
Veterinary diagnostic company IDEXX laboratories report they have tested thousands of dogs and cats and have not found a single case of COVID-19.
The American Veterinary Medical Association Chief Veterinary Officer Gail Golab says, “We’re not overly concerned about people contracting COVID-19 through contact with dogs and cats.” And there’s science behind that: “The virus survives best on smooth surfaces, such as counter tops and doorknobs,” Golab says. “Porous materials, such as pet fur, tend to absorb and trap pathogens, making it harder to contract them through touch.”
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States says "At this time, there is no evidence that companion animals, can spread COVID-19 or that they might be a source of infection in the United States." But there is always a chance and we don't know to much about the virus yet, so just make sure you are watching that your dog isn't coughing more then normal or have a fever. Our dogs, as always, are a source of comfort and calm for us and especially in this stressful time. So at this time there is no need to practice physical distancing from our dogs, unless you yourself are infected and need to protect your dog.
References: American Kennel Club, Can Dogs Get Coronavirus, posted March 20, 2020
Centers for Disease Control, Animals and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), updated March 16, 2020
MarketWatch, Second Dog Tests Positive for Coronavirus as owners warned not to abandon pets, March 21, 2020
WebMD, What are common symptoms of coronavirus,
January 22, 2020
Wikipedia, article Kennel Cough
Kids and Dog Training
So it looks like the kids are going to be home from school for a few weeks. What better chance to get them involved in dog training. This can be a good experience for both the kids and the dog. Kids learn lessons in communication, patience and more importantly in today's world, empathy. The dog will learn that you are not the only person she is required to listen to. Many of the world's best dog trainers began in this way as children (me included) and developed their skills and love of training over a lifetime of interaction with dogs.
To begin set both the child and dog up for success. Start with something the dog already knows such as the sit. This may seem redundant, but what we are trying to do is get the child and dog working together. Begin by having the child lure the dog into the sit position just as you taught him originally. Keep this training time fun for both and always offer a lot of encouragement and praise for both dog and kid.
A fun game to play with more than one kid can really help strengthen the dogs recall. Have the children in different rooms with treats in their pocket. One kid will tell the dog to come, and when she finds him will sit just as in a normal recall and will be treated. The second child will then call him and so on. As the dog starts to understand the kids can hide in more challenging locations. The dog is learning to think and the kids are having a fun game and learning the basics of obedience.
Dogs, especially puppies often jump up on kids, or even adults. The kids can learn to correct this by turning their back on the dog until he stops, turn back and get him to sit and treat. Also, by having your kids teach this technique to guests, they will see how challenging it is to convince other people to follow directions.
Since kids can sometimes be unpredictable and inconsistent, you may want to consider having them use different words for the basic commands. If the dog becomes confused about the meaning of a word it can be difficult to retrain it. It has been suggested to have kids use words like "here" rather than "come" so that if the child confuses the dog, you will still have your come command.
Teach your child to be patient and never loose their temper with the dog. This will be a valuable skill for both dog training and life in general.
Have fun and keep heading Duenorth, the right direction to a well trained dog.
"Roses are grey, violets are a different shade of grey, let's go chase cars.", this old joke by Bo Burnham perpetuates the myth that dogs are totally colour blind, they're not.
Animals including humans have light receptors in the back of the retina called cones. Humans have three distinct types of cones each of which is tuned to a different frequency of light. In our case, with our some 6 million cones in each eye, we can detect frequencies in the blue, green and red range, giving us the vibrant view we have of the world.
Dogs have far fewer cones and only two types, those for blue and green, and are lacking any detector for red. This results in a different perception of the colour spectrum than humans as seen in this chart. So that bright red ball we just thru for our ball crazy friend will be seen as the greyish green at the top of the chart, almost camouflaged on the yellow grass in the middle of the chart. Even at that, the much lower density of cones renders the colours much less vibrant so buddy's bright red ball may be almost invisible.
However, we don't need to feel to bad for them, since what they lack in colour perception they make up for in low light acuity. Another structure around the outside of the retina, called rods, are sensitive to low light levels but not colour. The ratio of rods to cones is about 2.5 times higher for dogs than humans, meaning they can detect objects in low light much better than humans. Another adaptation contributing to low light acuity is the larger pupil, allowing more light to reach the retina.
Still another adaptation, called the tapetum is a reflective layer behind the retina which reflects light back into the rods and cones. This is what causes animals eyes to shine in the dark when illuminated (this is different from red eye in flash photos of humans which happens because the iris cannot close quick enough to filter the light and we see the reflection of the blood rich retina). Humans do not have a tapetum.
So it turns out dogs do see colours, although not as vibrantly nor as many hues as we do but have built in night vision.
References: Are Dogs Colorblind? Elizabeth Palermo
Live Science June 27, 2014
Can Dogs See Colors, Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
Psychology Today, Oct 20 2008
Do Dogs Actually Use Color Vision?Stanley Coren PhD., DSc, FRSC
Psychology Today, July 22, 2013
Doggone: Your Best Friend Is Red-Green Colorblind,Laura Geggel
Live Science Nov 8, 2017
Do we really need the "Stay" command
So you've taught sit, down and maybe even place. Do you really need "stay" to get her to keep doing what you just told them to do? Each command needs to have an end point. In the case of the "sit", do we mean the command is finished when her butt hits the ground and now she can decide what's next unless we follow with a stay? Many trainers feel the stay is unnecessary since when you taught sit, it should mean sit and keep doing it until I tell you otherwise. The otherwise could be another command such as "come" or "down" or whatever. Even the "stay" needs an end point, but often we just leave him there until he decides what's next. If stay is used it needs to be reinforced until the handler decides its done. On the other hand you can have the same result by just reinforcing the original command of "sit" or "down" or whatever it was until the finish.
Another way to indicate the finish is the "break" or "free" marker. This means we are done and you can do what you like. But it can also be used as the reinforcement for other commands. Teaching "break" with a reward such as food or play gives you another tool to reinforce other commands and this is how you do it.
Suppose we are teaching sit and you have the behaviour and have named it. Now stop feeding at the command but wait a few seconds then give "free" signal and treat. Now keep extending that time until the dog learns " holy cow I've got to keep doing this until she releases me or I don't get paid".
This is maybe a subtle difference from stay but interesting concept. Let us know what you think.
Puppy Dog Eyes
Ahh. So cute. We've all seen those "puppy dog eyes" and usually with the same reaction. But why do dogs give us this endearing gaze?
Studies have shown that eye contact is an important aspect of human bonding and is associated with increased levels of oxytocin, the feel good hormone.
In a study documented in Live Science, researchers found elevated levels of oxytocin in both humans and dogs after they spent some time just gazing at each other.
It has been well documented that dogs as we know them evolved from more social wolves hanging around human encampments and scrounging for food.
So have dogs actually developed this trait as a way of weaseling more food from us?
Since dogs do not generally use eye contact in intra-species communication, the same study surmised that this endearing trait developed strictly to communicate with humans.
Indeed, in a study documented in Current Biology, a group of wolves that had been socialized to humans were unable to locate food treats pointed out by the humans by either touching or pointing to the same degree of success as dogs. In a second part of the same study the animals were given an insolvable task such as getting to food in a jar. The wolves in this case would eventually give up and leave, however the dogs, presented with the same dilemma, tended to turn to the humans for help, engaging eye contact.
This behavioral development actually led to a physical evolutionary development in the facial muscles of dogs. The excellent PBS program Nova looked into this and documented studies showing that wolves lack two sets of facial muscles required to manipulate the facial expression we know as puppy dog eyes. One set of these muscles is used to lift the eyebrows up, while the other, pulls to the outside resulting in the wide, expressive eyes that remind us of human babies, or a person on the verge of tears, generally resulting in an emotive response from the subject human.
As a sort of "missing link" in this evolutionary development, Nova reported that one species, the Siberian Husky, has only one set of these muscles, the ones used to pull the eyebrows up. This is because Siberian Husky's are more like their distant relative the wolves and have only developed one set of these muscles. So are our four legged friends master manipulators or just making use of an evolutionary response taught by eliciting a beneficial response from us. Either way those puppy dog eyes seem to benefit both species.