Welcome back to Science Sunday
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.
Welcome Back to Science Sunday
"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.
Welcome Back to Science Sunday
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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
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.
Why do dogs scratch the ground after peeing
Divots all over the lawn, gravel flying all over. Someone just had a pee. But why do dogs need to scratch the ground after peeing? Actually, only around 10 percent of dogs do it," said Rosie Bescoby, a clinical animal behaviorist with the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors in the United Kingdom and she says that it appears to occur equally in males and females, although it was observed that males that do it, do it more frequently than the females that do it, which may be why most people think it is a male thing.
A 2004 paper studied 12 female Jack Russels, 6 spayed and 6 intact and watched their urinary behaviors. They observed that these dogs were more likely to urinate more frequently and aim their urine at objects when away from home in comparison to when they were walked close to home and concluded that scent marking was an important function of urination, especially away from home area. Male dogs have also been observed to raise their legs more frequently to urinate when in the presence of another dog. We can corroborate this from observations in our boarding kennel where all the dogs are away from home and around strange dogs.
But still why the scratching? Most studies conclude that, given the marking functions explained above, the scratching is just a method of distributing that scent over wider territory. In addition, dogs have sweat glands in their paw pads and by scratching at the ground they are also adding that additional scent to the already lovely odour.
Most studies also hypothesize that the marks left on the ground contribute a visual component
to the marking function of the behaviour for passers by. Scientists who study this sort of thing call this a composite signal.
At any rate, ground scratching is not a behaviour we need to discourage, just stand clear when the dirt starts flying. Have fun and keep heading Duenorth, the right direction to a well trained dog.
Physiology Today, Ground Scratching by Dogs: Scent, Sight, and Ecstasy, Mark Bekoff PhD March 03, 2019
Eileen and dogs, Ground Scratching: Why Does My Dog Do It? Eileen Anderson, December 02, 2014
Live Science, Why do dogs scratch the ground after they pee? Emma Bryce, August 04 2018.
PetMD, 12 Dog Peeing Positions and What They Mean. Jennifer Coates DVM
Can Dogs feel guilty?
You’ve come home to find the counter cleared off and the empty bread bag on the floor with Fido nearby, head down eyes averted looking guilty as hell. But does she really feel guilt.
Seventy-four percent of dog owners believe that their dogs experience guilt. It sure looks like guilt. Psychologists label feelings like happiness and fear as primary emotions, that is a direct response to external events, and there is plenty of evidence of these emotions in dogs. But emotions like jealousy, pride, and guilt are termed secondary emotions and are feelings about feelings. There has been little evidence of secondary emotions in animal cognition literature.
That does not mean that dogs do not experience guilt but perhaps that hang dog look is really something else. Charles Darwin observed that the types of behaviours associated with guilt - keeping one's head down, and averting one's gaze - are also seen in other social non-human primate species. These behaviours have been interpreted as a means to mitigate retaliation for transgressions in social groups and as such are more pragmatic than emotion based. Indeed, anecdotally pet owners report that they chastise their pets less harshly when these displays of apparent guilt for transgressions are displayed. Is Fido, then, attempting to lessen the anticipated reprimand rather than actually feeling guilt?
A group of canine cognition researchers from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, created an experiment to find out. Sixty-four dogs were selected and a normal greeting behaviour was established for each. Then the dogs were presented with an opportunity to misbehave when left alone in a room (stealing food from a table) and the greeting behaviour when their owners returned was recorded for both those that had misbehaved and those that had not. Keep in mind that they were all aware of the possibility that they may be in trouble.
The two groups were equally likely to display guilt type behaviours whether they had transgressed or not.
It seems like the guilt type behaviours are a means of mitigating an anticipated punishment and probably not an emotional response.
Reference: Scientific American By Jason G. Goldman on May 31, 2012
Business Insider: Dogs don't experience guilt. Ben Gilbert
The Dodo: Think Your Dog Has A "Guilty" Look? Think Again. Julie Hecht
Welcome to our new feature where each Sunday we will delve into the world of science as related to dogs. These posts will be our crude interpretation of recent scientific studies in the canine world. Today's topic:
Early Exposure to pets effect on mental health
It has been well know (to some) that some psychiatric disorders may be linked to environmental exposure to immune system disrupters in early life.
Dr Robert Yolken of Johns Hopkins Children's Center conducted a study investigating the relationship between exposure to a household pet cat or dog during the first 12 years of life and a later diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
The study found a statistically significant decrease in the prevalence of schizophrenia in those exposed to a dog early in life. Yolken found as much as 24% fewer schizophrenia diagnosis among those brought up with pet dogs before their 13th birthday.
Yolken did not find any such relationship between exposure to dogs and bi-polar disorder. More significantly, he found no significant relationship between exposure to cats and either schizophrenia or bi-polar, however there was a slight increase in risk of developing either disorder for those who were first in contact with cats between the ages of 9 and 12.
Multiple epidemiological studies conducted since 1953 have shown there also is a statistical connection between a person exposed to the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and an increased risk of developing schizophrenia. Toxoplasmosis, is a condition in which cats are the primary hosts of a parasite transmitted to humans.
Some of our own thoughts on this are: