JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Study looks at human understanding of canine vocalizations.
May 20 2017
I would think our dogs are better at understanding us since they devote so much time to studying our every move... and are much better at picking up on the subtleties we are too busy to notice.
There has been an increasing amount of research in recent years on canines and their ability to understand humans. But relatively little has focused on how well people understand dogs.
Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest set out to study our comprehension of canine language. They chose to focus on growls since they may be the most preserved mode of communication.
According to lead researcher Tamás Faragósays, barks have been the most studied canine vocalization, but have likely changed significantly as dogs were domesticated by humans. However, growls may not have changed much since dogs diverged from wolves.
Tamás' study tested people's understanding of three growl sounds recorded from three scenarios: playing tug of war, resource guarding food, and feeling threatened by a stranger.
Overall humans were pretty good at differentiating growl types, classifying them correctly about 63 percent of the time. Participants identified 81 percent of the play growls correctly, but were less accurate when it came to resource guarding and threatening growls (60 and 50 percent).
Interestingly, listeners rated threatening growls to be more fearful and less aggressive than the resource guarding. Although the threatening and resource guarding growls were similar acoustically, there were distinct differences between all three types.
“We found that playful growl bouts are built up from short, quickly repeated growls, while the aggressive ones were more elongated,” explained Tamás. “The food guarding growls differed from the threatening growls in their formant dispersion, a parameter that gives a size impression of the vocalizing individual for the listeners.”
It may come as no surprise that dog owners were better than non-dog people at correctly identifying a growl's meaning. Though previous research didn't find this same advantage when interpreting barks. Researchers hypothesize that this is because barks are loud and easily heard, while growls are quieter and likely to be heard regularly by only those who spend a lot of time with dogs.
The study also found that women were better at distinguishing between the growls.
“This is a common pattern in emotion recognition studies,” says Tamás. “Probably women are more empathic and sensitive to others’ emotions, and this helps them to better associate the contexts with the emotional content of the growls.”
Tamás' team has also been conducting fMRI scans on humans and canines. They've found that people and dogs process emotional vocalization similarly, suggesting that, among mammals, there are simple rules rooted in biology that define how emotional states get translated into sound structure.
Another interesting similarity we share with our pups!
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Examining genomes uncovered interesting findings.
May 14 2017
A study published last month details one of the most diverse canine genome maps produced to date tracing the relationship between breeds. In examining the genomes of over 1,000 dogs, the map provided insight into two interesting findings.
The first showed that canines bred to perform similar functions, such as dogs from the herding or working groups, don’t necessarily share the same origins.
Herding breeds are my favorite, holding beloved traits like intelligence and agility. So it’s surprising that these dogs may be more different than they seem.
The reason behind this convergence may also be why geneticists had difficulty mapping out herding dog lineages in the past. Study author Elaine Ostranger believes this happened because herding dogs emerged through selective breeding at multiple times in many different places.
“In retrospect, that makes sense,” says Elaine. “What qualities you’d want in a dog that herds bison are different from mountain goats, which are different from sheep, and so on.”
The second finding shed light on an ancient type of dog that may have come to the Americas thousands of years before Christopher Columbus. Researchers have looked for the genetic legacy of these dogs in the DNA of modern American breeds, but have found little evidence until now.
Most of the breeds studied originated in Europe and Asia. But domestic dogs first came to the Americas thousands of years ago, when people crossed the Bering land bridge linking Alaska and Siberia. These “New World dogs” later disappeared when European and Asian dogs arrived in the Americas.
But the way two South American breeds, the Peruvian hairless dog and the xoloitzcuintli, are clustered together on the map suggest they could share genes not found in any of the others. This means those genes could have come from dogs that were present in the Americas pre-Columbus.
“I think our view of the formation of modern dog breeds has historically been one-dimensional,” says Bob Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California. “We didn’t consider that the process has a deep historical legacy.”
Researchers now think that dog breeds underwent two major periods of diversification. Thousands of years ago, dogs were selected for their skills. This changed a few hundred years ago, when animals were bred for physical traits instead.
Bob says that, when it comes to genetics, studying dogs is a unique opportunity since no other animal has had the same level of intense deliberate breeding.
While it’s interesting to learn more about our dogs and where they came from, the scientists had practical reasons for creating this genetic database. They hope that this information can help future studies of canine and human diseases.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Study looks at how household rivalry affects the way dogs think.
May 10 2017
The dynamics in multi-dog households is different in every home, but rarely studied. Most research tests dogs in a laboratory and looks at interactions between animals who don’t know each other. But Canisius College professors Christy Hoffman and Malini Suchak decided to take a different approach in their study on competitiveness and decision making. They visited 37 multi-dog households as part of their latest research.
"We really wanted to look at the impact of the relationship between the dogs on their behavior,” explained Malini. “Doing that in a setting natural to the dogs, with dogs they already know, is really important.”
To get a measure of how competitive dogs were within each household, their owners were asked to fill out a survey called the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ). Low or high rivalry is determined by the frequency of aggressive behavior displayed towards the other dogs, particularly around desired resources like food.
The next part of the study looked at the dogs’ decision making around eating food or following one of their housemates. At each house, a research assistant placed two plates of food in front of two dogs. One pup was allowed to approach the plates and eat the food from one before being walked out of the room. Then the second dog was then allowed to make a choice. If the pup followed the first dog, he arrived at an empty plate. If he didn’t follow, he went straight to the remaining plate with the food.
The researchers found that the less competitive dogs were more likely to follow their housemate out of the room, but only when they had to make an immediate decision. Extra time changed the outcome.
"Low and high rivalry dogs only differed in the choices they made when there was no delay," Christy says. "When they had to wait five seconds before making their choice, all dogs tended to go directly to the full plate.”
The professors think that less competitive dogs have a knee jerk reaction to follow their housemates, but when forced to wait, took time to think about the situation and ultimately went for the food.
Christy and Malini also did a variation of the experiment where the first dog was replaced by a person. The results were similar, with less competitive dogs following the human demonstrator over the food when they had to make an immediate choice.
They believe this has to do with the personality of less competitive pups since the characteristic extended beyond their relationship with other dogs. It seems that competitive pups are more likely to think for themselves and less likely to blindly follow, but they hope to do more research to further explore the findings.
How do you think this plays out with your pups?
Dog's Life: Humane
Mumbai photographers promote homeless pets with creative pictures.
May 6 2017
There are a lot of potential pet owners in the world, but some need a little inspiration to choose adoption. To give them a little nudge, photographer Amol Jadhav and art director Pranav Bhide teamed up to create a powerful campaign. They wanted to to spread awareness about adoption and promote a local Mumbai rescue group’s adoption event. Not only did they create beautiful works of art, their efforts were effective!
Using clever lighting and framing techniques, the creative duo made a series of optical illusion portraits that contain two images in one. The artists arranged their portrait subjects to create an animal shape in the negative space between the two figures. Everything came together when they turned on a super bright backlight and placed gentle fill light in the front. The photos were tagged with the campaign’s motto, “There’s always room for more. Adopt.”
Amol and Pranav’s message was heard loud and clear. This year’s event attendance was up by 150% and led to 42 adoptions.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pub Dog may be the most dog friendly restaurant in the country.
April 28 2017
The warm weather marks the return of countless outdoor activities you can do with your dog. And that includes enjoying a good meal together. As we get closer to summer, I’m looking forward to being able to dine outside with my pups again. It’s something I miss when it gets cold and also makes road tripping with your pets a lot easier.
A new Colorado Springs restaurant aims to solve this dilemma and easily wins most pet friendly eatery in the process.
Pub Dog is the first restaurant in Colorado where it’s legal to dine indoors with your dog, meaning you and your pup can share a meal year round. To get around health codes, owner Tara Downs designed the space to have two separate dining rooms. The south side welcomes dogs and opens into a patio with a 3,000 square-foot fenced in grassy area. Dogs can play here off leash while their human counterparts order food from a self-serve window.
The north side is a a traditional restaurant with full service dining and a bar. Only humans and service dogs are allowed in this area.
Pub Dog was the brain child of Tara who worked with her family to bring the idea to life. Tara knew if they could only find a way to work with health codes, they could fill a need for year round dog friendly dining.
After years of planning and construction, Pub Dog opened last week to over 270 visitors in their first day. The idea has really taken off, with people already asking about franchise information.
Pub Dog’s indoor/outdoor space looks like such a fun place for both dogs and animal lovers to socialize. I also see a lot of potential for community events like classes and adoption rallies. It looks like my pups and I are going to have to take a road trip to Colorado Springs!
Wellness: Health Care
A Utah veterinarian reflects on the changing industry and lessons learned.
April 26 2017
If you were an animal lover as a kid, everyone probably told you that you should grow up to be a veterinarian. Working with animals is rewarding, but people seldom talk about the challenges. When New York Magazine interviewed Dr. Jesse Terry, a small animal surgeon in Utah, it gave an interesting peek into the changing veterinary field and lessons learned over the course of his career.
About 80 to 90 percent of Jesse's patients are dogs. Specialists like himself are becoming more common as dogs are increasingly treated as valued family members. Jesse performs a wide range of operations from neurological surgeries to heart operations.
One of his most common procedures is related to Dachshunds and their propensity for herniated discs. It's so common that the surgery was a weekly occurrence during his residency. Yet no mater how many times you do it, working around the spinal cord is always a little scary. A mistake could cause permanent paralysis. As Jesse says, there are no guarantees, not in life or in dog surgery. While dogs can live a good life in a wheelchair, not all people can handle a paralyzed pup. But when the procedure goes well, and you can decompress the spinal cord in time, it can make a significant difference in the dog's life.
He's learned a few interesting lessons:
A Large Part of the Job is Educating People. "As a vet, you’re the advocate for that animal, and you’re the one who really needs to make sure, if you’re going to go through major surgery, that you’re maximizing that animal’s chances for a successful outcome." Jesse says he often wishes that he could cut to the chase and talk directly to the dogs. I've heard more than a few people share that sentiment!
Don't Prejudge People. Jesse remembers assuming a young man in his late teens or early 20's wouldn't be able to afford an expensive surgery, but it turns out he didn't bat an eye over the several thousand dollar estimate. Meanwhile, Jesse encountered people driving expensive cars who would balk at paying $100 for an x-ray.
Make Peace Before You Pet's Surgery. Sometimes an operation will uncover a situation worse than initially thought, like a cancer that has spread too far. It surfaces a difficult debate whether or not to wake the animal up to allow the family to say goodbye. Jesse prefers not to since the dogs have a lot of drugs in their system, just went through surgery, and would be woken up only to be euthanized right after. But some people feel they need the closure.
It's Not Easy Being a Vet. No matter how good you are, it's inevitable that you'll have to euthanize beloved pets, sometimes even several in one shift. "I think to be a good surgeon, you have to have at least a little bit of disconnect. If you can’t turn that off, it adds to your anxiety, and that can impact your job," says Jesse.
The Rewards Are Worth It. "I realized that I felt most fulfilled when I was doing surgery," explains Jesse. "I loved the speed, the adrenaline rush, if you will." There's nothing like helping a dog to walk again after months of pain and stumbling, or reuniting a pup on the mend with their family.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Outdoor trials are a unique way to enjoy the warm weather with you pup.
April 25 2017
Last week I wrote about getting your pup in shape for summer fun, which focused a lot of hiking and long walks. The spring also marks the start of another activity I love—outdoor dog sport trials. It’s such a fun way to enjoy the warm weather while bonding with your pup and meeting fellow dog lovers.
If you’re interested in trying a new sport, start by searching for your local dog training club by looking online, asking around at the park, or getting recommendations from your veterinarian or groomer.
There are also clubs that focus on one dog sport, often affiliated with national organizations. Their web sites often list local clubs and chapters that can connect you with beginner classes. You can also search to find trials, tournaments, and events in your area to get a better idea of what the sport is all about.
Here are some web sites to get you started.
Dog sports are a great way to enjoy the outdoors in a unique way. The time I spend with my dogs training for agility or rally obedience is really special. It’s unlike any other activity we do together.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tips for preparing your pup for summer activities.
April 17 2017
On the first warm day post-winter, I took my older dog, Nemo, on a walk up a local bike path. After months of inactivity indoors, walking three miles was a bit ambitious and Nemo slowed down considerably towards the end of our outing. In my eagerness to make the most of our first break from the cold, I didn't listen to my own advice on easing our pets into an active lifestyle. Now that spring is finally here, it's important to get your pets ready for the adventures that come with warmer weather, whether that be a long walk, a hike up a mountain, or playing fetch outside. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare your dogs.
Activity LevelThis may seem like an obvious one, but sometimes we need a reminder to work our dogs up to more intense activities! Start with a shorter walk and gradually do longer distances and difficulties. For a hike this will mean researching the elevation and terrain for challenges like rock scrambling.
As you're increasing the activity level, make sure you observe your dog to make sure they're comfortable. Even if the temperature doesn't feel too hot, dogs don't perspire or cool down as efficiently as we do. Be aware of the signs of overhearing, which includes heavy and rapid panting, a bright red tongue, thick drooling and saliva, lack of coordination, disorientation, or collapse. Dogs exhibiting these symptoms must be cooled down (you can use a hose or a even a stream, if you're out hiking) immediately taken to a veterinarian. Read this article for more information on canine heat stroke.
Another consideration as you walk around the neighborhood is to be mindful of hot pavement on your pup's paws. When it's warm outside, feel the sidewalk or street with your hand and watch for limping.
TrainingAs you participate in more outdoor activities, it's important to dust off your dog's recall skills and leash manners. If your pup will be off leash, you need to be confident that they'll come back when called, especially in front of wildlife. If you're keeping your dog on leash, learning not to pull on their leash is an essential skill for safety. When hiking there are many times when pulling can throw you off balance in dangerous areas, such as on steep descents and narrow ledges. Practicing these skills before you head out will make your trips more enjoyable and safe. More on trail etiquette here.
GroomingThere is also some grooming maintenance that will help prevent potential problems. Remember to keep your dog's nails short to avoid snagging or breaking and to trim fur around their paws. If you have a dog with long hair, they may need fur pulled away from their face with a hair tie or clip so it doesn't impede their vision. They may also benefit from clipped fur for the summer heat. However, it's important to never shave your dog completely as this will remove their sunburn protection and temperature regulation abilities.
Enjoy the warm weather and stay safe!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The city is starting a six month pilot to try and reduce attacks.
April 15 2017
Many communities struggle with issues like breed specific legislation as they try to navigate dog bites and potential lawsuits. How they deal with these challenges can be frustrating for dog lovers because it often results in a knee jerk reaction, like cities that ban bully breeds or apartments that turn away dogs over a certain weight. None of these restrictions get at the root cause of the problem they're trying to solve. I feel strongly that education around training and socialization is the key, not a blanket ban.
Eugene, Oregon has taken a particularly aggressive approach. After several dog attacks, the city made the decision to ban dogs in the twelve block downtown area for the next six months. This pilot program excludes police dogs, dogs whose owners live or work in the area, and trained service dogs.
The ban came into effect this week and starts with a $100 base citation, which a judge can increase to $250 in court. For the first few weeks, violators will get by with a warning.
Eugene certainly has a problem, residents have been complaining about aggressive dogs and one woman's dog was even killed in one of the attacks. But not everyone agrees that this is the right solution.
Isaiah Boise, who works downtown, says there are many challenges in Eugene but thinks the city could come up with a better approach. "It seems like we need better job training skills, more services and less policing, maybe a cross between the both," Isaiah said. "Maybe more community outreach as opposed to just bans and enforcement."
Imagine if Eugene chose to permit dogs based on good behavior versus banning on bad behavior. They could allow pups that passed a certain level of basic training, whether it be completing a manners class at a local dog training club or passing the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Not only would it improve the behavior of visiting dogs, but it would create greater awareness around training and developing a bond with your pup.
It's also fundamentally wrong to discriminate.
Councilor Emily Semple voted against the ban, citing that "we don't ban a whole class (of people) just because something bad happens." She also believes that it is unfair for homeless people who live in the area and rely on their dogs for companionship and protection.
Eugene's ban will expire in November, but can be extended if the city council thinks it's making the area safer. Hopefully they'll consider an alternative solution.
What would you propose Eugene do to make their downtown area safe for people and dogs?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Study looks at how time away can benefit homeless pups.
April 10 2017
Animal shelters are stressful places for homeless pets. While classical music and thoughtfully designed spaces can help, nothing can completely make it a comfortable environment. This can affect adopters who can have a hard time predicting how the behavior they see at the shelter may look like at home.
Lisa Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Arizona State University's Canine Science Collaboratory, has embarked on research that explores how we can reduce stress and increase adoption success. Lisa acknowledges that one challenge for shelters is bringing out an animal's true behavior in a stressful environment that looks nothing like home.
As a first step, Lisa wanted to look at the sleepover program at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill shelter in the country. About 1,600 dogs and cats live there, and it's become a popular vacation destination for pet lovers. One volunteer program lets visitors take a dog back to their hotel room for the night.
The pilot study set out to see how these sleepovers affected stress levels.
Lisa measured cortisol levels, a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress, at three time points: at the shelter pre-sleepover, during the sleepover, and back at the shelter post-sleepover. She also took a behavioral snapshot of each dog, answering questions such as, What's he like on a leash?, What's he like when he sees another dog?, and What's he like when you come into his kennel?
The impact was measurable. The dogs' cortisol levels were significantly reduced after one night.
"We're trying to get more at the dog's welfare, how they're feeling on a larger timescale, not just 10 or 15 minutes," explained Lisa. "When we saw the cortisol had significantly reduced on just one overnight, that was pretty exciting. We didn't imagine that one night out would make a difference."
Lowered stress levels could allow the dogs to behave more naturally, giving people a better view of their true personality. They also discovered another potential factor into shelter pets' welfare.
Anecdotally, people who participated in the sleepover program reported that after the dog settled down, they would often immediately go for a long sleep. This could be an important finding.
"Getting good, uninterrupted sleep could be one mechanism by which we're seeing this reduction in cortisol," says Lisa. "The dogs are getting a good night's sleep, something they can't get at the shelter because they have a lot of noisy neighbors."
Lisa has been working on this study in collaboration with a researcher at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They were recently awarded a grant to carry out this study at four more shelters with a two-day sample instead of the one-day Lisa did at Best Friends.
I look forward to seeing more developments and would be interested in seeing the long term effects of getting away from the animal shelter, even if it's just for a few hours. While most organizations wouldn't be able to implement a sleepover program like Best Friends, most shelters do have volunteers who can take the dogs out for a long walk or day trip.
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