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Julie Hecht

Julie Hecht, MSc, is a PhD student in Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and a science writer. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies.

News: Guest Posts
How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 2

Does it smell weird in here to you?

You know what I’m talking about. That nagging feeling that something smells “different,” but you just can’t put a finger on it. This has been my life for the last three days. Day after day, I’d enter the living room and think, “Did it always smell like that in here? It smells different, right? What is that!?”

On the fourth day, I finally sat down on the couch to read a book. On the coffee table before me sat a bowl of chestnuts. They had yet to be roasted. “Chestnuts don’t have a smell,” I thought. To the right of the chestnuts, the remote. Electronics, also void of smell (although my Game Boy got moldy, and that smelled). Then, I saw it. Next to the remote sat the biggest, most obvious thing on the table, the centerpiece you might say. A large, overripe cantaloupe. It had been there for 6 days and with the radiator pumping out heat (because it is so cold!), the cantaloupe was starting to mush, and that mush was permeating the air and my nostrils. How could I miss it? It was the most prominent thing in the room. Yet day after day, I missed that the gnarly cantaloupe was behind the new stench.

That’s how I feel about dogs. Not that they are starting to smell (although some of them might be), but that despite them being major parts of our lives, we can overlook the important bits.

I left 2013 by posing a question: How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 1. The answer: If judging by smell, you know your dog pretty well. In one study, people could identify the smell of their dog compared to an unknown dog in a “smell test.” I finished Part 1 suggesting that while we might be attuned to some nuanced bits of our dogs — like their smell — we’re not attuned to all parts of them, like behavior. I’ll explain.

Is Snoopy happy?
In a study by Wan et al. (2012), participants watched short video clips of dogs (some of which you can view at Dr. Wan’s website here). They then rated the dog’s emotional state and noted which body parts tipped them off. Because the videos had no sound, participants had to rely on dog behavior to label a dog as, say, fearful or happy. And these videos were not just any videos. They had been pre-screened by dog behavior experts (listed below) whose schooling trains them to look at animal behavior and make science-based assessments. Because Wan and her colleagues wanted to know whether our perception of emotions in dogs is shaped by our experience with dogs, study participants were grouped as having little or no experience with dogs, having lived with a dog at some point, or working with dogs for more or less than ten years.

We know happy! But…
Wan and colleagues found that happy dogs were easiest to identify. Even people with little dog experience could watch a dog frolicking in the snow or rolling joyfully on its back and describe that dog as happy.

But fear was different. Study participants who were dog professionals did a better job identifying fear compared to both dog owners and people with little dog experience. The authors suggest that “professional experience with dogs aids proficiency in interpretations of fearful behavior.” It didn’t matter how many years the dog professionals had spent working with dogs; they had the same proficiency in identifying fear.

So why did dog professionals do so much better in identifying fear? One reason could be that professionals looked at more dog body parts for clues, such as the eyes, ears, mouth and tongue, while non-professionals looked at fewer body parts, focusing primarily on legs, paws and tails. More details in the figure provided by Wan et al. (2012).

The researchers summarize: “The results of the current study are among the first to demonstrate that the perception of an emotion in dogs can be associated with human observers’ level of dog experience.”

While many of us love dogs to pieces (Buzzfeed reminds me of this on a daily basis), noticing and interpreting their subtle behaviors can take practice. That’s okay! Behavior observation can be learned.

Keeping an eye out for fear
Even if you live with the most happy go lucky dog on the planet, fear should still be on your radar, especially if your dog ever interacts with other dogs. Recognizing fear in another dog can help you give that dog space; their owner can take it from there.

What does fear look like? It can include a wide variety of body parts and body postures. Wan and colleagues explain, “…fearful dogs are said to reduce their body size – crouching into a low posture, flattening their ears, and holding their tails in a low position. Shaking, yawning, salivation, freezing, panting, paw-lifting, and vocalizing are examples of other behaviors that have been associated with fear in dogs.”

Maybe, in certain contexts, you notice fearful behaviors in your own dog and want to help decrease it. Like gymnasts, fear is flexible. Just as dogs can sensitize to stimuli, so too can they habituate. With classical- and operant-conditioning techniques, behavior management, and maybe some professional assistance (see below), dogs can have a modified outlook on life. What does a modified outlook look like? Check out Masey’s progress over at Reactive Champion.

Sometimes we just can’t piece it together that the cantaloupe smells. But of course, a trained fruit expert would exclaim, “Julie! Your cantaloupe is rotting.” You see where I’m going with this. Sometimes dogs are fearful, and the clues are right in front of us, like a rotting cantaloupe. Learn to recognize dog fear behavior. This is a blog about dogs after all. Not cantaloupe.

 

Photo: a muddy dog…..is a happy dog via bambe1964; National. Flickr Creative Commons

References & Recommended Reading
Companion Animal Psychology. 2013. Review of Wan et al. (2012). Does Experience Help People Recognize Emotion in Dogs?
Goldman, J. 2012. What Is Classical Conditioning? (And Why Does It Matter?). The Thoughtful Animal
Goldman, J. 2012. What Is Operant Conditioning? (and How Does It Explain Driving Dogs?). The Thoughtful Animal
Thompson, C. Reactive Champion Blog.

This article first appeared on DogSpies, Scientific American. Used with permission.
 

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Great Thinkers on Dogs
Six leading canine researchers talk about their work.
Adám Miklósi & Patricia B. McConnell

I think you would have fun playing Mad Libs with your dog’s life, filling in the blanks to match Siena or Diego’s unique personality and interests. After all, your intimate knowledge of your dog is unparalleled. You know what he thinks of the neighbor’s dog, and whether he prefers balls to sticks or carrots to apples. But our canine experts also know your dog, albeit in a different way. Scholars who focus on canine behavior, cognition and wellbeing, they collectively have more than a century of experience in the fields of veterinary medicine, animal behavior, animal welfare, zoology, anthrozoology and psychology under their belts. Read on to find out what they think about dogs, and what they want you to know.

What common misconceptions do people have about dogs?

McConnell: Often it seems that we get things backwards with dogs. Sometimes it seems like people think of dogs as furry people, when they’re not. The flip side is that there are similarities between dogs and humans, and people need to be compassionate and understanding of what a dog is going through; those are often the times people dismiss the similarities.

For example, dogs need social contact and social approval, and a lot of what they do is motivated by fear. These are all very human ways of being, and I think people forget to extend these attributions to dogs; instead, they ascribe other motivations, like wanting to be dominant or trying to beat the system. On the other hand, dogs can be less like us than people tend to think. We use hugging to communicate love, approval and maybe support, whereas dogs often see that as threatening.

Otto: That dogs are perfectly happy to sit on a couch all the time. I think they learn to adjust to that, but are they reaching their potential? And is the relationship reaching its potential? I love teaching tricks because you can spend five minutes a day with a dog or a cat and do things that stretch their brains and change your relationship. I think that is such an important piece of the relationship, and it’s something we’re not routinely giving our dogs.

McGreevy: That dogs want to please humans—almost as though dogs are hard-wired to makes us happy. This beguiling notion paradoxically excuses all sorts of abuse when people interpret training failures as willful disobedience. Dogs want to have fun with us, for sure, but that doesn’t mean they get their kicks from being slaves to our needs, wants, desires and foibles.

Horowitz: That dogs understand right away what’s going on in a household. In other words, if you say something once, it’s somehow clear to them how they are supposed to behave, what you’d like them to do and how the day is going to go. Dogs are pretty flexible, and they adapt fairly well, but a lot of what we call misbehavior is just lack of mutual understanding: ours of the dog’s needs and abilities and theirs of what we expect of them. I find that a bit disheartening.

Another misconception is the alpha dog concept. For some reason, the concept of the hierarchy of the pack was a compelling idea that stuck and was popularized. It’s not only really damaging and simplifying, it’s wrong by analogy.

Miklósi: That the dog is a wolf and also that the dog is a child. I like to say that dogs are dogs, and that’s the most difficult way to try and conceptualize dogs!

Bradshaw: That dogs are reconstructed wolves. I keep coming across journalists who interview me and still believe the old stuff about keeping a dog in its place—that the dog wants to dominate you and take over your house. They’ve read this stuff, taken it in and believe it to be true. Ultimately, it’s bad for dogs. When I speak with people, they seem interested to learn that the UK military trains dogs, whether patrol or sniffer dogs, with play as the reward; punishment-based training has been phased out. When people hear that marines know they can train a dog better by playing a game than by hitting, they take note.

What’s your framework for thinking about the dog?

Horowitz: My consideration of the dog is for his umwelt—his perspective. I’m interested in the way the story of domestication and selective breeding combines with the dog’s particular sensory and cognitive abilities to produce the behaviors we see. I’m particularly interested in how we easily interpret those behaviors from an anthropocentric standpoint. Behaviors almost always look different when interpreted from an evolutionary and cognitive standpoint.

Miklósi: When thinking about any species other than ourselves—whether dog, fish or mice—we always have a third-person view. With this in mind, we view the animal based on how it fits into its niche. In our case, the dog’s niche isn’t a rain forest or an ocean but rather, the environment offered by humans. Even if dogs are feral, they are not in the middle of the forest; dogs remain close to humans.

From there, we think about how dogs achieve and maintain relationships with humans. I think this is what makes dogs unique compared to other animals—their relationship with humans is very special.

Bradshaw: I first think about the dog as an emotional animal for whom the primary motivation is to attach to humans. Somehow, through the course of domestication, we have built this into the vast majority of dogs.

The second framework is the dog’s olfactory sense, which we make use of and often take for granted. Dogs’ subjective world is defined, to a large extent, by smell rather than by what something looks like, which is how we define our world. Everybody knows that there are so many uses for the dog’s nose—that when you put your luggage on the conveyer belt in the airport, a dog might sniff it before it’s loaded on the plane—but we don’t readily incorporate their olfaction into our everyday lives with them.

McGreevy: I think of the normal dog as a social athlete and a fun-loving opportunist.

McConnell: Instead of talking about the dog, I find myself wanting to talk about a dog. Dogs are enormously variable, and I see so much frustration and so much suffering because people expect their dog to be one way and the dog behaves in another way.

Just as people are individuals, dogs are individuals. I think it’s critical we understand that we’re not looking at a Golden Retriever or a Border Collie— although I don’t want to dismiss breedrelated traits—but that we’re looking at Frank or Willie or Spot or Martha.

What contributions to the field of dog science are you most proud of?

Bradshaw: When my colleagues and I at Bristol first started exploring separation disorders in dogs, they were thought to be rare—some kind of pathology. All the work we’ve done finds that separation disorders in dogs are not pathologies; they can be a reflection of something normal in dog behavior, which is attachment to people.

Also, my colleagues and I have done a lot of work for sniffer-dog welfare, improving not only the way that detection dogs operate in the field but also the way they are looked after, so they are not just efficient dogs but are happy dogs as well.

McGreevy: My contributions primarily relate to my team’s discoveries in dog behavior, physiology and welfare. We’ve shown how left- and righthandedness in dogs affect a dog’s ability to guide the visually impaired, how dogs’ retinae and brains depend on their skull shapes, and how many breeds’ body shapes predispose them to hip dysplasia. We’ve also developed and validated a scoring system for doggy dementia. On an international level, I helped tackle inherited disorders in dogs—the most preventable form of cruelty—by establishing national surveillance systems, such as VetCompass in the UK and Australia, for veterinarians to report inherited disorders.

Otto: I’m most proud of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the research to come. The center evolved out of my work following the health and behavior of the dogs who assisted after 9/11. It’s quite a landmark study; we are now in the 12th year of monitoring and evaluating the health and behavior of these dogs, and we are also working with a human psychologist to explore the ongoing relationship between the dogs and their handlers. This is the foundation for so much more research in the future.

Horowitz: I think that through our research, and the ideas that I developed in Inside of a Dog, I reminded people of the huge interest in understanding the dog’s point of view. In other words, looking at dog behavior from the dog’s side as opposed to from an owner’s perspective or the perspective of a comparative psychologist, who is interested primarily in mapping nonhuman animals to human animals.

So I think for many people, I helped re-spark the interest in the dog qua dog, and I’m very pleased and happy about that.

McConnell: I would say it’s my focus on the natural history of both humans as primates and dogs as canines, and using these evolutionary heritages to explain and enhance our interactions. My two favorite species have always been people and dogs, and I’m as fascinated by our own behavior as I am of canine behavior.

What needs more research or remains unresolved about the dog?

Otto: I have a sense that working dogs, dogs with a purpose and dogs who have things to do live longer and happier lives. Many pet dogs are frustrated, bored, inactive and fat; it kind of amazes me that a lot of dogs’ lives don’t even meet the environmental- stimulation standards required for rodents living in research labs. We need to think about how stimulation, or the lack thereof, affects dogs’ quality of life.

Miklósi: A better understanding of what makes for good social relationships between dogs and humans, particularly cooperation. For example, “working together” might be quite selfish for dogs in that they are working for a reward, like play or food. Alternatively, research could investigate whether cooperation can be organized such that dogs are cooperating for the sake it.

McGreevy: What I call “dogmanship”— the science of how the best dog folk interact with their dogs. I’m also interested in understanding how our behavior frustrates and confuses our dogs.

McConnell: We still need lots of research on communication: how dogs interpret our behavior, how we interpret their behavior and how accurate our perceptions and interpretations really are. I think that’s most important for companion dogs. Nutrition, diet, physiology and behavior need to be researched as well. I think there is so much in these areas that we haven’t explored yet and need to. Also, research could look specifically at aggression and investigate precipitating factors, putting it all on the table: nature, nurture, genetics, physiology and diet, experience, and learning.

Bradshaw: The whole area of the dog’s olfactory abilities is waiting to be properly understood. We use those abilities, but I don’t think we fully understand them. We know very little about the dog’s vomeronasal organ, and we don’t even agree as scientists on when dogs are using it. I don’t know what the implications of this knowledge would be for companion dogs, but sometimes the most exciting findings arise when doing research for the sake of it; practical value is a byproduct.

What do you wish the average dog owner knew about dogs?

Miklósi: You get out what you put in. If you want a dog as a social partner, that doesn’t mean lying in bed together and watching TV, but going out together actively. That could include learning, teaching, talking or solving problems together. I wish people understood that if they do this, they both would have happier lives.

A great example is olfaction. People think that dogs have fantastic abilities when it comes to smell, but that’s an oversimplification. Dogs have a fantastic potential for smelling, but if the dog spends its whole life in an apartment and never uses its nose, then I would assume that dog would have poor smelling abilities.

The same goes for social interactions. If the dog has no experience meeting other dogs or people, or has never had a task, then that dog will not function properly. And I think this is also a welfare issue. In some cases, street dogs who are rescued and taken to Western countries are worse off because they are alone, have no experiences and sleep all day.

Otto: Dogs are smart and their brains need exercise as much as their bodies. People get that they need to take their dog for a walk, but they don’t always think about needing to exercise the dog’s brain.

McGreevy: Most dogs are better communicators than most people. They are our guides; if we want to master dogmanship, we need to know how to read them. Horowitz: The dog deserves a lot more attention and scrutiny by owners and researchers alike. Particularly, attention to what life is like for this animal who has so cooperatively waltzed into our homes. McConnell: As social animals, one of the things we share with dogs is the duality of wanting to be connected to a group and also wanting to be individuals who can pursue their own desires and wishes as best they can. I think the more we can see dogs in this light, the more respectful we will be of dogs— and they of us. I think we’d get along better, and we’d see fewer behavior problems.

News: Guest Posts
How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 1

Your knowledge of your dog is unparalleled: You, not I, know whether she sleeps in the same spot all night or instead has a migratory sleep pattern. You know her affinity for trash, or lack thereof. And telling me her breed, age or name won’t give me access to those intimate details. They are for you to know, and for me to, well, not know.

Recently, researchers at The Queen’s University of Belfast found that our knowledge of dogs extends beyond what we see. Deborah Wells and Peter Hepper of the Canine Behaviour Center in the School of Psychology “examined the ability of humans to identify individual dogs by smell.” (An alternate title could have been, “Turning the Tables: Dogs Aren’t the Only Ones Who Can Sniff”).

In the study, dog owners smelled two blankets — one that had been infused with the individual odor of their dog, and one that had the smell of an unfamiliar dog. In case you ever want to try this at home, to infuse a dog’s smell in a blanket, the researchers placed the blanket in the dog’s bed for three nights with nothing else in there. Dog owners were blindfolded and then smelled the two blankets. The blindfold prevented owners from noticing, for example, that the blanket was covered with their dog’s hair (if anyone out there has figured out a way not to be covered in dog hair, contact me at @dogspies).

So what happened in the sniff test? Owners rocked! Without the help of visual cues, 88.5% were able to accurately say which blanket smelled like their dog (23 out of 26 owners).

While we don’t ordinarily think of ourselves as a species who pays much attention to smell, when it comes to those we care about, our nose knows more than we think it knows. Back in the 1980s, researchers learned that mothers who’ve just given birth can identify a t-shirt impregnated with the smell of their newborn. As children age, both mothers and fathers can identify their child’s smell when given the “smell this t-shirt” test.  Now we can add our dogs to this list. (If you live with a college-aged male, you might want to avoid the “smell this t-shirt” test.)

I wanted to say goodbye to 2013 with this study because it’s a reminder of how tuned in we can be to our dogs. We rightly allude to dogs as “man’s best friend” and many proclaim to be members of “nations of dog lovers.”

But at the same time, we often get dogs wrong. We think we have a solid understanding of who dogs are and what makes them tick, but animal behavior and cognition research continues to reveal there’s more of a disconnect than we may realize. We make human-based assumptions, rely on old theories and frequently don’t look at actual dog behavior.

Here at Dog Spies, we’ll ring in 2014 with How Well Do You Know Your Dog?: Part 2. I’m on a continual quest to see the dogs right in front of me on their terms, not mine. I hope you’ll join me!

———-

Photo: Girl Smelling Marigolds via moodboard. Flickr Creative Commons.

References
Kaitz et al. 1987. Mothers’ recognition of their newborns by olfactory cues. Developmental Psychobiology 20, 587-591.

Porter & Moore. 1981. Human kin recognition by olfactory cues. Physiology and Behaviour 27, 493- 495.

Porter et al. 1983. Maternal recognition of neonates through olfactory cues. Physiology and Behaviour 30, 151-154.

Wells & Hepper. 2000. The discrimination of dog odours by humans. Perception 29, 111-115.

 

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.

News: Guest Posts
Dog Drinking: An Acrobatic Tongue Act

If you live with a dog, then you are familiar with this sound.

Unlike barks, growls and howls — dog sounds that easily take center stage — a dog lapping up water is background, white noise. Dog drinking attracts little attention until you unexpectedly step in a puddle of slopped-over water while wearing socks.

A closer look reveals there is nothing commonplace about how dogs drink. Instead, to ingest liquids, the tongue seems to perform almost acrobatic feats. Slow-motion footage of dogs lapping up water shows that the tongue curls backward to create a spoon shape. The below video from of The Secret Life of Dogs, a Nat Geo WILD special that premiered Sunday, August 25, hints at the intricacies of how dogs drink.

 

From the above clip, it could appear that by curling the tongue backward and filling the spoon-shaped tongue with water, dogs drink by scooping, or spooning, liquids into their mouths. But a paper published by Crompton and Musinsky in Biology Letters in 2011, finds there is more to the story.

While dog tongues do assume a spoon-shaped position while drinking, much of that liquid falls out. Using high-speed and x-ray video recordings of a dog lapping up a colored liquid, instead of clear water, the researchers could see that the tip of the dog’s tongue was actually drawing a column of water up into the mouth, and this column of water is what dogs are drinking. This observation is difficult to make from slow-motion videos of dogs drinking clear liquids like water. By taking x-ray video of a dog drinking a dark liquid, in this case a mixture of milk and barium, Crompton and Musinsky could see that dogs draw up liquid by the tip of the tongue, and the tongue then traps previously lapped water onto the roof of the mouth so the dog can bring more water in without losing what it already has.

Ultimately, the researchers found that dogs use the same drinking technique as cats. This might be surprising because dogs make such a mess while drinking, and cats seem to emulate the daintiness of royalty, but dog tongues dive deeper into liquids thereby giving off more spray.

The researchers concluded that dogs and cats share the same basic mechanism for drinking: “adhesion of liquid to the tongue rather than ‘scooping’ by the tongue.” I’ll drink to that.

 

Additional Reading and References

Crompton and Musinsky. 2011. How Dogs Lap: Ingestion and Intraoral Transport in Canis familiaris. Biology Letters 7, 882–884.
Reis et al. 2010. How Cats Lap: Water Uptake by Felis catus. Science 330 1231–1234.
Young. Dogs Do Drink Like Cats After All. Not Exactly Rocket Science. May 24, 2011.

About the Author

Julie Hecht, MSc, is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She writes a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Dog Spies at Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies | DogSpies.com

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.

News: Guest Posts
What Do You Hear in These Dog Sounds?
All barks are not alike

AS YOU PROBABLY KNOW, your dog’s voice is not like a Bret Michaels concert, pumping out a shower of meaningless noise. Although your dog’s vocalizations might be unwelcome at times, those sounds carry way more information and meaning than any of the former frontman’s power ballads can ever hope to do. Well, maybe not as much as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”

In recent years, many studies have investigated the noises made by companion dogs. Now, you (yes, YOU!) can help researchers in a new study where participants listen to and rate different vocalizations. But first, what have we learned about dog vocalizations so far?

Time to Be All Ears

One major finding: dogs bark differently in different contexts, and it’s possible to tell the difference. Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, found that “disturbance barks” (e.g., barks in response to a stranger ringing the doorbell) sound different from “isolation barks” (when a dog is separated from an owner) as well as barks emitted during play. In each context, barks have specific acoustic parameters: where disturbance barks are “relatively low-pitched, harsh barks with little variation in pitch or loudness,” isolation barks are “higher pitched, more tonal and more frequency-modulated than the disturbance barks,” and play barks are “similar to the isolation barks except that they usually occurred in clusters rather than singly” (Yin, 2010 Blog Post). Instead of seeing barks as meaningless noise, pay attention. Banjo might be yipping because he’s alone, or he may have noticed that someone uninvited is climbing in through your second floor window.

Dog barks are full of information, but what about growls? Anna Taylor and colleagues at the University of Sussex studied growling and found that, unlike barks, many acoustic properties of growls recorded in a play and aggressive context did not differ. But aggressive growls were longer than play growls, and play growls had a shorter pause between growls.

While growls are thought to be associated with aggression, remember they can also appear during play, so consider growling in a larger context. Additionally, if you come across a situation where growling could be associated with aggression, don’t freak out. Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA and author of The Dog Trainer on Quick and Dirty Tips, reminds: if you punish a dog for growling, you are essentially punishing a dog for giving a warning. Growling is a form of communication related to emotional or inner states in a particular context. If you want to decrease growling, think about what’s prompting the growling. The growling itself is not a problem.

Many high-profile dog vocalization studies were developed by Péter Pongrácz, Csaba Molnár and Tamás Faragó of the Family Dog Project at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. In one notable study, dogs were placed in a room with a bone, and researchers played a recording of one of three growls from a different dog. Dogs responded to the “this is my food” growl by backing away from the bone, and dogs for the most part ignored the “go away stranger” and the play growl because those growls were not relevant to the bone. All growls are not the same, and dogs know it. So let’s try to get on the same page as them.

While we are learning about the noises coming from dogs’ mouths, we still have a way to go. I recently spoke with Monique Udell, an Assistant Professor at Oregon State University and a canine researcher, for an article on dog vocalizations for The Bark magazine (view article here). As Udell pointed out, “Vocal behavior in other species has received a lot of detailed attention. In birds, we’ve looked down to the note sequence and explored tiny variations. Vocalizations are such a prominent feature of dogs, and there is a lot to learn.”

Listen! You Can Help!

Now, back to what YOU can do to advance the science of vocalizations from the comfort of your couch. Tamás Faragó, now a postdoctoral researcher with the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, is exploring how humans perceive emotions in vocalizations. The study asks human subjects (like you!) to listen to and rate different vocalizations on a chart based on how aroused you think the vocalization is and whether you think it’s positive or negative. I promise you will not hear a single note of “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.” Okay, only if you want to. The whole survey takes about a half hour, and as you go along, you’ll you get the swing of it. Check out the details below to participate.

You Can Participate in a Study of the Emotional Content of Sounds

Participants: Anybody in any country

Time commitment: Approximately 30 minutes

Project type: Listen to and rate different sounds

Project needs: Computer with headphones or decent quality speakers

Survey website: http://www.inflab.bme.hu/~viktor/soundrating/index.html

So don’t just stand there. Listen!

Additional Reading

Hecht, J. Dog Speak: The Sounds of Dogs. The Bark Magazine.

Nova. The Meaning of Dog Barks.

Yin, S. Barking Dogs: Noise or Communication? Dr. Yin’s Animal Behavior and Medicine Blog. Monday, November 15th, 2010.

References

Taylor et al. 2009. Context-related variation in the vocal growling behaviour of the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Ethology, 115, 905–915.

Faragó et al. 2010. ‘The bone is mine’: affective and referential aspects of dog growls. Animal Behaviour, 79, 917–925.

Yin and McCowan. 2004. Barking in domestic dogs: context specificity and individual identification. Animal Behaviour, 68, 343–355.

 

About the Author

Julie Hecht, MSc, is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She writes a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Dog Spies at Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies | DogSpies.com

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.

 

 

 

 

News: Guest Posts
How to Teach Language to Your Dog

AFTER A LONG DAY of being a dog, no dog in existence has ever curled up on a comfy couch to settle in with a good book. Dogs just don’t roll like that. But that shouldn’t imply that human words don’t or can’t have meaning for dogs.

Chaser, a Border Collie from South Carolina, first entered the news in 2011 when a Behavioral Processes paper reported she had learned and retained the distinct names of over 1,000 objects. But that’s not all. When tested on the ability to associate a novel word with an unfamiliar item, she could do that, too. She also learned that different objects fell into different categories: certain things are general “toys,” while others are the more specific “Frisbees” and, of course, there are many, many exciting “balls.” She differentiates between object labels and action commands, interpreting “fetch sock” as two separate words, not as the single phrase “fetchsock.”

Fast forward two years. Chaser and her owner and trainer Dr. John Pilley, an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College, appeared again in a scientific journal. This time, the study highlighted Chaser’s attention to the syntactical relationships between words, for example, differentiating “to ball take Frisbee” from “to Frisbee take ball.”

I’ve been keeping an eye on Chaser, and I’ve been keeping an eye on Rico, Sofia, Bailey, Paddy and Betsy, all companion dogs whose way with human language has been reported in scientific journals. Most media reports tend to focus on outcomes: what these dogs can — or can’t — do with our words. But I think these reports are missing the point. Learning the names of over 1,000 words doesn’t just happen overnight. What does the behind-the-scenes learning and training look like? How did Chaser develop this intimate relationship with human language?

Recently, I had the pleasure of making Chaser and John Pilley’s acquaintance when they visited New York City for their forthcoming book, Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words, out 10.29.13 (Facebook/Twitter). I sat down with Pilley to discuss Chaser’s initial training and learning and to pose questions offered up by readers of Dog Spies (Twitter /Facebook) and Do You Believe in Dog? (Twitter /Facebook). Pilley did most of the talking, and Chaser contributed too, periodically bringing me a Frisbee and sticks of various sizes to throw. As Pilley says, “Learning builds on learning,” so here’s what I learned from our conversation about the early building blocks of Chaser’s education:

Chaser is known for her extensive vocabulary. Can you walk us through how she came to learn the names of over 1,000 different objects?

Because learning depends upon learning, it helped to have her first learn certain simple behaviors, most of which were obedience behaviors like sit, stand, stay, and drop. She also learned herding commands like ‘way to me,’ ‘come by,‘ ‘there,’ ‘freeze,’ ‘walk,’ ‘go out,’ and ‘crawl’ among others. I used positive reinforcement, and in the beginning, I used food when she came to me. I gradually phased out the food.

When I started teaching the name of objects, I said, ‘Watch Pop Pop’ and would show her the object and say, ‘This is Frisbee,’ and I would hide the object just two feet away, so at that point, it wasn’t really hidden. When she went looking for it, I would keep saying, ‘Find Frisbee, find Frisbee,’ and when she mouthed it I would say, ‘Good dog! Good dog!’ Then we made it more difficult, and I would really hide it out of her sight.

That was the procedure. A couple of times a day, I would play with her with that object for five minutes or so. No other objects would be on the floor, and we would play with that object, and I would profusely repeat the name of that object between 20-40 times in each session. ‘Find Santa Claus, Find Santa Claus,’ and then, ‘Good dog! Good dog!’ when she mouthed it. That was the first step in teaching her the names of proper nouns.

After the first object was taught, it was set aside, and we worked on another one. She always learned one object at a time, a successive method of teaching. Before Chaser, we had tried a simultaneous method of teaching with other dogs [presenting two objects at a time], and that didn’t work.

As Chaser learned the names of different objects, how did you test what Chaser was learning? Did you have a way to assess her initial and long-term memory?

After a few weeks, it was time to test Chaser. The criteria for learning was that she had to successfully select a particular object out of 8 other objects. My criteria was not just that one test. We replicated it at least 8 times, and the items surrounding the object of interest would be different from what she had seen in earlier presentations. She had to be successful in each of those independent sessions 8 times in a row. If she was successful on the first 6 but missed on the 7th, I stopped the testing and put the object aside and worked with it some more.Then I would start the testing some more.

In addition to testing her initial learning of objects, each month we tested her memory on all of the objects that she had learned up to that point. We did it in sets of 20. I put 20 objects on the floor, using only objects which she had shown initial learning, and we asked Chaser to retrieve each of the 20 objects. Over the course of 3 years of teaching, Chaser was successful in retrieving 90% of the objects correctly. Most of the time she retrieved 100% of the objects and other times 95%, but it never got below 90%. If she was not successful, I put that object aside for additional training. The reason we tested her each month was we wanted to make sure that she was not learning new objects to replace an old object. We wanted to be sure that there was complete retention in the long term.

How about grammar? What were the general training and testing procedures?

Chaser initially learned actions independent of specific objects. I might be holding a piece of food, and I would say, ‘Take.’ Over time, she learned the three commands, ‘take,’ ‘paw,’ and ‘nose’ and they were later applied to different objects. The first step in grammar is two elements like, ‘Take Lamb,’ and Chaser demonstrated that each word had an independent meaning. I like to say that learning builds on learning. Not until she learned the two elements should she learn three elements. When she heard the phrase, ‘Take ball to Frisbee,’ she was successful three fourths of the time. But she seemed to act on the last thing she heard, so we changed the expression to ‘To ball take Frisbee.’ We also tested the inverse, ‘To Frisbee take ball.’ This work tests her syntax, her understanding of the rule. When we invert it, we’re demonstrating semantics, that she actually understands each of those components of the sentence and the different meanings of the words.

Can you talk about the use of play in Chaser’s learning and training?

Tension, fear and anxiety inhibit creative learning, and play and tension are incompatible. During play, creative learning can take place. If you are going for complex learning, you are not going to get any learning with tension and anxiety; I’ve learned that in over 30 years of teaching. One of the things that runs throughout the entire book, Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words, is that play is one of the secrets of Chaser’s learning.

Most people don’t explicitly teach their dog words, yet they think that the dog understands many words. Do you think this assumption could ever be problematic?

As long as this doesn’t result in some kind of negative response like criticism or punishing the dog, it could be innocuous. It could have a negative impact on the dog if someone thinks a dog should know a word or phrase and holds it against the dog if he doesn’t seem to be performing. The best and simplest assumption is that if a dog is not emitting a behavior, then the dog might not understand.

Does knowing words and syntax help Chaser have a “happier” life with humans?

I think when you have more understanding, there is better communication and thereby more happiness.

What do you hope people take away from Chaser’s story?

The big thing is that Chaser is not special, and that anybody’s dog is smarter than he or she thinks. I’m hoping people will work with their dogs, of course teaching them words, but also getting to know their dogs. Find out what makes your dog happy, and give your dog opportunities to explore its interests.

 

Related Reading

Hecht, J. 2012. Say What? Do Dogs Understand Our Words? The Bark Magazine

Goldman, J. Monday Pets: How Do Dogs Learn New Words? Scientific American. May 10, 2010

Pilley, J.W. with Hilary Hinzmann. Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. October 2013 Release

References

Pilley, J.W., and A.K. Reid. 2011. Border collie comprehends object names as verbal referents. Behavioural Processes 86: 184–195.

Pilley, J.W. 2013. Border collie comprehends sentences containing a prepositional object, verb and direct object. Learning and Motivation. Published online May 13, 2013.

 

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.

News: Guest Posts
Make Sense of Scents
How to make your dog happy

I have good news for all of us who don't look like Ryan Gosling or Gisele Bundchen: your dog doesn't care. Dogs are much more interested in our smells than our looks. Just watch a dog with his head out a car window-nose forging ahead. Wind brings innumerable scent molecules directly to the dog's face, which in the dog's world, makes for a pretty good day. * You might look like a one-eyed pig, but to your dog, it's your bouquet that makes you beautiful.

 

A Beautiful Sight to Sniff

Unlike us humans who preoccupy ourselves with visual landscapes, dogs smell their vistas. Maybe you've had the experience of walking a dog when all of a sudden the dog gets hooked on something. Even though that something is completely out of range and invisible to you, the dog's behavior indicates, “What I'm checking out is really interesting. We are not going anywhere, buster.”

To get inside your dog's world, you need to pick his brain-and his nose. Dogs have much more nose than us humans. Their extensive olfactory epithelium allows them to trap and assess odor molecules at concentrations of up to parts per trillion, while we are more in the range of parts per million. Yep. I said trillion. Their noses are about a million times more sensitive than our noses. Often, our brains can't register what they whiff.

On top of that, dogs' noses come equipped with a vomeronasal organ (unfortunately, it's not a musical instrument). The vomeronasal organ has tons of receptor cells that take sniffing to the next level. It is thought to be important in detecting species-specific information such as pheromones. While our understanding of dog olfaction still has a long way to go, we do know that yes, your dog is getting quality information from that other dog's behind, face and urine.

Smell Games

If you're starting to look at your dog as one big nose, you're in good company. Many of the folks working with dogs or researching dog behavior and cognition remind dog owners that smelly (or smelling) experiences are integral to a dog's “good life.” In the spirit of picking your dog's nose, here are four ways to give your dog the gift of smell:

1. Take your dog on smell walks

In Inside of A Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz recommends accompanying dogs on smell walks. She explains:

“[Dog]-walks are often not done with the dog's sake in mind, but strangely playing out a very human definition of a walk. We want to make good time; to keep a brisk pace; to get to the post office and back.”

Dogs don't care about “making time.” While walking with the dog's nose in mind might alter total distance traveled, you and Bucky can bond over quality olfactory experiences. In a smell walk, Bucky might sniff as he likes, choose the direction of the walk or linger to get to the bottom of a particular smell. What else might you provide on a smell walk?

2. Consider smelling sports

Taking a cue from drug sniffing dogs, K9 Nose Work has recently become a formalized fun activity and a favorite of many companion dogs and owners alike.

You don't have to turn your dog into a narc to get into smelling sports. It's about “getting your dog excited about using his nose to seek out a favorite toy or treat reward hidden in one of several boxes.” (K9 Nose Work)

The game can then be expanded to include entire rooms, exterior areas and even vehicles. Of course, scent work can be conducted in less formalized ways. Don't be afraid to get creative with smelling sports. One man's narc is another man's truffle pig.

3. Make up your own smell(y) games

Have you ever put your dog's olfaction to the test? After being out of the country for a year, my friend and I wanted to see whether her dog would remember me. Our sneaky setup was unscientific and simple: Millie and her owner would walk down the street, and I would walk past them, coming up from behind and not interacting in any way, to see whether Millie paid me any mind. As I walked past, Millie turned toward what could have just been another stranger in NYC, and gave one of those glorious welcomes that says, in not so many words, “YOU ARE HERE! YOU ARE HERE! IT'S YOU!! YAYAYAYAYAY!!”

It's possible this is more of a game for my friend and me than Millie. Still, it's a reminder to us humans—who often need reminders—that the nose is a great way to connect with a dog.

4. Make your reunion smelly

Try making “smell” a priority when greeting dogs. While most people don't overtly sniff and greet, we need to keep in mind that Scruffy's schnozzle is her window to the world. You want to keep that window wide open, not close it.

It goes back to our different biologies. When we people walk into a party, most of us look around, see who's there and then make the next move (either toward a friend or toward the bar). For dogs, “looking around the room” is easier done with the help of olfactory investigation because visual cues could be misleading. Who hasn't been confused when meeting a friend with a new haircut/glasses/facial hair/gorilla suit?

With dogs and their wonderful snouts, they don't have to worry about mistaken identities. Sight can be confusing, but a smell check can set things straight! That's the way you'd do it too, if your nose were a million times more powerful than it is.

Take a look at a reunion between a dog and a member of U.S. military returning from deployment:

 
When the dog initially sees the owner, we don't see a “YOU ARE HERE!! EXCELLENT!” response. With only visual cues readily available, the dog doesn't seem to “see” his owner. Instead, the dog shows:
- Tail low and tucked
- Low posture
- Moving toward yet away
- Barks more in line with “stranger” than “happy”

The owner then provides the dog a hand for sniffing, and after olfactory investigation, the dog shows a proper display of, “IT'S YOU!! IT'S YOU!! YAYAYAYA!”

Does this video surprise you? And just as important, do you give your dog opportunities for olfactory exploration during greetings?

Sniff Time

There are things out there in the world that you might not notice and can't understand but that your dog is very in tune with and would like a closer look (oh please!). And these things have nothing to do with whether you are Ryan Gosling (but if you are Ryan Gosling, feel free to give me a call).

Photo: Dog smelling sunflowers by Dylan, used under Creative Commons license

References Horowitz. 2009. Inside of a Dog What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. Scribner Wells & Hepper. 2003. Directional tracking in the domestic dog, Canis familiaris. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 84, 297-305.

* Wind can play a part in scent detection. A recent paper exploring directional tracking in dogs notes that the researchers laid trails at a “ninety degree angle to the direction of the oncoming wind to reduce the possibility of the dogs using airborne scent to determine directionality.” It's easier to attend to a scent if airborne scent molecules are flying directly into your face, like a car ride.

About the Author
Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She writes a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Dogs Spies at Facebook and Twitter @DogSpies.

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog’s Personalitites
Studies now suggest that personality in non-human animals can be measured and evaluated, just as in humans.

All dogs are the same. really. Look at an evolutionary tree and you’ll find all domestic dogs, clustered together in one spot. But that can’t be the entire story. When asked, Rachel Licker of Lawrenceville, N.J., describes Piper, her “Basset Hound on stilts,” as incredibly goofy, communicative, playful and quick to overwhelm. According to Mary de Vachon of Nice, France, Ria, her Sheltie, is gentle and loving, content and confident, extremely shy, and above all else, a mademoiselle.

While all dogs might fit in the same spot on the tree of life, each has his or her own unique personality. Just as one person might greet you with a cautious wave or a coy smile, another will come barreling into your life doling out hugs and kisses. Dogs are the same, in that each is different.

WHAT IS PERSONALITY?
While the name Pavlov usually brings to mind bells and salivating dogs, early in his studies Pavlov and his students noticed that dogs differed from one another. Some tended to be nervous and sensitive, some were active and lively, and some were quiet and steady. Like Rachel and Mary reflecting on Piper and Ria, Pavlov and his team were describing dogs’ personalities. The concept of personality can be used to convey that individuals differ in how they perceive and interact with the world around them.

Additionally, the word describes an individual’s usual pattern of behavior, characteristics that are relatively stable over time and across situations. Say a snowman with stick arms that wave in the wind appears on the front lawn after a snowstorm. Some dogs would walk by as though Frosty had always been there. Others might play-bow and dance joyfully in front of their new friend, while a few are sure to freeze, tuck and retreat.

If those same dogs then confront other novel situations—balloons in a tree, a parade, clowns jumping out of a car, you name it—those who perceived Frosty as no bother would probably continue to be indifferent, while those who equated Frosty with Satan would also be likely to associate other odd events with the underworld. Although it does not imply that an individual will respond the same exact way every time (dogs are not robots, after all), the term “personality” denotes an individual’s usual perceptions or interactions.

Thinking about personality gets tricky very quickly because there is no universal definition. Some fields distinguish between personality and temperament, while others use the terms interchangeably. As Samuel Gosling, PhD, a personality and social psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, explains, “Temperament is the basic, biologically inherited tendencies of an individual, and personality is the result of the interaction between temperament and the environment.” That distinction is common in human psychology but is not always made in animal fields. But, as Gosling adds, “since adult animals are a combination of biologically inherited tendencies as well as individual experiences, it seems to me misleading to call that temperament. In humans, we would call that personality, so why not in other animals?”

Making a distinction between temperament and personality could enable researchers to explore whether certain traits are more stable over time than others. For example, a recent analysis surveying a number of studies found that in puppies, aggression and submissiveness were most consistent, while responsiveness to training, sociability and fearfulness were least consistent.

Understanding the relationship between early-life temperaments and later-in-life personalities could be paramount for real-world issues, such as selecting dogs for work or companionship. For working dogs, Gosling and his team advise the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on how to measure personality-trait consistency in order to improve the selection and training of working detector dogs.

Back home, you might think you have a handle on who your puppy Wizzer is, but what you’re seeing might or might not relate to Wizzer’s adult personality. (So even if Wizzer starts out apprehensive about the vacuum cleaner, there’s hope for improvement, and you can help him.)

At the same time, many shy away from using the term when it comes to non-human animals, sometimes because they’re uneasy about the “A” word: anthropomorphism. To avoid linking dogs and personhood so explicitly, scientists use alternative descriptors such as “behavioral types,” “behavioral syndromes” and “coping styles.” Regardless of the word employed, when the definitions are compared, they tend to describe the same basic phenomenon: consistent, individual differences in behavioral tendencies over time and across situations.

Much of the initial pushback against the term “personality” has dissipated because studies now suggest that personality in non-human animals can be measured and evaluated, just as in humans. (Relatively speaking, this field is in its infancy, and techniques and methodologies continue to evolve, so stay tuned.)

HOW IS PERSONALITY EVALUATED?
While human personality is often assessed by questionnaires, dogs are less adept with that format, tending to provide insufficient responses (mostly, slobber and paw prints). But their inability to hold a pen does not exclude them from questionnaire-based personality assessments; humans complete questionnaires on dogs’ behalf. The method is reliable because independent observers—in this case, dog owners and other humans who know the dog— generally concur in their descriptions of a dog’s personality. This type of consistency is a hallmark of human personality research and lends credibility to the approach. And, even better, similar ratings provided by observers over time further substantiate the utility of particular questionnaires.

Questionnaires, however, are not bulletproof. Gosling notes that questionnaires “don’t rule out the possibility that ratings are based on some stereotype, say a physical stereotype, like ‘bigger animals are more aggressive.’ You could still get those biases.” Dogs’ physical appearances are emotion points for humans and make them susceptible to attributions and judgments that might have no bearing on the personality of individuals. For example, the Papillon breed standard specifies that these small dogs are to be “happy, alert and friendly,” and their physical appearance easily promotes this perception of an overall perkiness. But on an individual basis, just like other dogs, Papillons can be shy (or downright neurotic).

Even taking into account the risk of stereotyping, questionnaires provide meaningful information about canine personality. When comparing questionnaire ratings with separate behaviorobservation assessments, a strong link has been found. So if a dog is judged on a questionnaire to be highly timid, independent observers will generally also describe the dog’s behavior in terms consistent with shyness.

Since people are rarely shy about discussing their dogs, collecting data via questionnaires can be incredibly fruitful. The Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), developed by James Serpell, PhD, and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, is a widely used assessment of dog behavioral characteristics (available for public use). The 101 questions gather insights into dogs by asking owners to use a five-point scale to describe how their dog would likely react in a variety of different situations, such as anxiety or fear in heavy traffic or when examined by a veterinarian; excited when the doorbell rings or when visitors arrive; and of course, likely to chase cats if given the opportunity.

A recent study of former breeding dogs from commercial breeding operations— commonly referred to as “puppy mills”—relied on the C-BARQ to evaluate the dispositions of these dogs once they’re out in the world. Overall, they were found to be more fearful and nervous than typical pet dogs, particularly regarding strangers and stairs, and many were sensitive about being touched. Despite having lived for years in their adoptive households, many of these dogs still displayed persistent fear and anxiety, which is exactly the type of long-term rather than short-term tendencies that investigations of personality aim to reveal.

But do we really need questionnaires when a dog’s actual behavior is right in front of us? Of course, it’s easy to watch a dog and write down how he or she reacts to various stimuli, but that’s not necessarily enough. While it is plausible to observe dog behavior in myriad situations by simply waiting for different scenarios—such as flashing lights and loud sirens—to present themselves, test batteries, which are designed to investigate whether various stimuli and situations elicit particular responses, are more common. For example, the Dog Mentality Assessment (DMA) is a behavior test originating in Sweden that requires dogs to respond to, among other things, novel people, furry objects, loud noises, the potential for play and people dressed up like ghosts (yep, ghosts).

The researchers boiled down dogs’ behavioral responses into five personality dimensions: sociability, playfulness, chase-proneness, aggressiveness, and curiosity/fearfulness. Comparing the results from the DMA test battery with the C-BARQ assessment showed broad agreement between the two.

You can think of these personality dimensions as the canine equivalent of the classic human “Big Five” personality models: extroversion (sociable and outgoing), agreeableness (trustworthy and straightforward), neuroticism (anxious, irritable and shy), openness (curious, imaginative and excitable) and conscientiousness (efficient, thorough and not lazy). Research groups continue to flesh out the various personality dimensions found in dogs; recently, the Anthrozoology Research Group in Australia generated a slightly different list of attributes, one that included extroversion, neuroticism, motivation, training focus and amicability.

As you might imagine, it’s not easy to summarize and sort all of a dog’s behaviors into a small number of buckets, so there is much left to learn in this area. One hot topic that warrants more research is the possible relationships between different traits. For example, are individuals who are more bold also more sociable and playful with strangers? Or is it more challenging to find links between traits? While boldness and aggression correlate in some species, researchers have not found that to be true for dogs. Dogs who were bolder were not necessarily more aggressive. The possibilities for this area of research are virtually endless.

WHO WILL MY DOG BE?
At any given moment, chances are that a Beagle’s nose will be pressed to the ground while an Afghan Hound will be striking a pose on the couch. But personality encompasses both genetically selected attributes as well as individual life experiences. For that reason, there is no oneto- one relationship between personality characteristics and breed; personalities can vary within a particular breed based on the experiences of individual dogs. In fact, in the recent book, Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, anthrozoologist John Bradshaw comments that even in Scott and Fuller’s seminal research on dog behavior and genetics, “breed turned out to be less relevant to personality than had been expected at the outset.” The bottom line is that breed characteristics are certainly relevant to who a dog is, but they are not the be-all and end-all when it comes to personality.

The short answer to “Who will my dog be?” is “Wait and see.” Current research finds that puppy tests have low predictive value for later-in-life behavior. On the other hand, personalities examined in older dogs do display more stability over time. Krista Macpherson, a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario who studies cognitive abilities in domestic dogs, reminds us that at the time of testing, puppies have had minimal interaction with the outside world, apart from their conspecifics. “At eight weeks, they are not that developed cognitively, and there are a lot of experiences yet to be had,” she observes. Researchers at the Clever Dog Lab (part of Austria’s University of Vienna) are currently investigating whether early temperament tests are predictive of behavioral tendencies in an older dog. By testing dogs at a range of ages, they will be able to explore the predictive value of early-life temperament tests.

At the end of the day, Jules Winnfield, the gangster from Pulp Fiction, gets it right: “A dog’s got personality, and personality goes a long way.” Rachel Licker, who lives with Piper, reminds us exactly why personality is so important. “I hope people really enjoy their dogs being more than just amicable, and give their dogs more leeway to be multi-dimensional beings. I think they might enjoy their dogs more, and I think it would create more space for the dog and owner to be happy together.”

News: Guest Posts
You're Invited to a Canine Science conference
June 28 to 30—streaming live

SPARCS is a unique venture organized by Prescott Breeden and Patti Howard of The Pawsitive Packleader, Seattle Dog Training. From June 28-30, 2013, anyone in the world can see some of the leading canine science researchers in action—either in a conference hall in Redmond, WA, or streaming live to your living room.

SPARCS is short for the Society for the Promotion of Applied Research in Canine Science, which aptly summarizes the goals of the conference: (1) to promote research and education in canine science, and (2) to provide a platform for leading minds in canine science to present, discuss and debate modern behavior science.

Canine Science? Explain

If the phrase “Canine Science” gives you pause, I assure you it does not imply that dogs are meeting in the park to discuss the current issues of the day, such as:

- Owner Responses to Half Eaten Sandwiches: A Review

- Why Does the Cat Run Around at Night?: A Roundtable Discussion

- Where Are They Taking Our Poo?

Canine Science, generally speaking, is research devoted to the biology, ecology, behavior and cognition of dogs, wolves and related canids. It is a catch-all phrase that highlights the surge of research into canine minds and experiences. My article in The Bark, Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind, describes this field in more detail. SPARCS brings together the following leading researchers to discuss their inquiry into the dog for a general audience:

Marc Bekoff is a long-time researcher and writer of more than 500 scientific and popular essays. In a book store? Check out one of his twenty-two books, including Minding Animals and the children’s book Animals at Play: Rules of the Game. He regularly updates a Psychology Today Blog, Animal Emotions: Do animals think and feel?

- Bekoff on dogs and their urine: Observations of scent-marking and discriminating self from others by a domestic dog (Canis familiaris): tales of displaced yellow snow.

- Bekoff on play: Social play and play-soliciting by infant canids.

Ray Coppinger has published over fifty papers on dog research. His favorite publication, however, is the book Fishing Dogs, a humorous and iconoclastic look at dogs, fishermen and professors. His book, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior & Evolution, is a classic text in the field.

- Coppinger on different behavioral sequences between dogs: Degree of behavioral neoteny differentiates canid polymorphs.

- Coppinger on improving assistance dog training programs: Observations on assistance dog training and use.

Michael W. Fox wears many hats. He is a veterinarian with a Ph.D. in medicine, and he also holds a degree in animal behavior (ethology). His career encompasses extensive research into dog behavior and development as well as holistic and integrative veterinary medicine. He encourages veterinary institutions to incorporate animal behavior and welfare science into their curricula.

- I covered Fox’s 1963 paper, Developmental Abnormalities of the Canine Skull in the Dog Spies post, Where Should Dogs Put Their Tongues?

- Fox on dog development during the first month of life: The postnatal development of neocortical neurons in the dog.

Alexandra Horowitz’s current research at the Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College investigates animal communication and attention, dog olfaction, inter-species play behavior, theory of mind and anthropomorphisms.* She writes regularly for The New York Times, and her best-selling book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, is essential.

- Horowitz on attention during dog-dog play: Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play.

- Horowitz on the “guilty look” in dogs: Disambiguating the “guilty look”: Salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour.

Kathryn Lord received her PhD in organismic and evolutionary biology, which of course means she studies wolf pups. Her research focuses on the evolution and development of dog and wolf behavior.

- Lord on sensory development of wolves and dogs: A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris).

- Lord on the meaning of dog barks: Barking and mobbing.

Adam Miklósi leads the Family Dog Project at the Department of Ethology at  Eötvös

Loránd University in Budapest, where I had the pleasure of conducting my Masters research (covered on SciAm by Jason Goldman of The Thoughtful Animal). In the last 15 years, the Family Dog Project research group has published over 100 scientific papers and organized the inaugural Canine Science Forum in 2008. His book, Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition is required reading in canine ethology.

- Miklósi on the building blocks of meaningful social interactions: On the utilization of social animals as a model for social robotics.

- Miklósi on other species’ use of human communicative gestures: A comparative analysis of animals’ understanding of the human pointing gesture.

Monique Udell has worked with a variety of species such as wild cats, megachiropteran bats, coyotes, foxes, mice, non-human primates and a range of companion animals including dogs, cats, and ferrets. She has a special interest in how the cognition and behavior of domestic dogs and wolves can be altered by lifetime experience.

- Udell on dog sensitivity to human behaviors: What did domestication do to dogs? A new account of dogs’ sensitivity to human actions.

  • Udell on perspective-taking in dogs: Can your dog read your mind? Understanding the causes of canine perspective taking.

Before Clive Wynne found a way to combine a childhood fascination with dogs with his day job as a psychology professor, he studied the behavior of animals ranging from pigeons to dunnarts (a mouse-sized marsupial) at universities in Britain, Germany, the USA, and Australia. Now head of the Canine Cognition and Behavior Laboratory, he is full of tales of everything from the tame foxes of Siberia to the dogs of the Moscow subway.

- Wynne on anthropomorphism: What are animals? Why anthropomorphism is still not a scientific approach to behavior.

- Wynne on the relationship between companion dogs and children: The other side of the bond: Domestic dogs’ human-like behaviors.

 

So, What’s This Conference About?

The SPARCS conference investigates dogs from three angles: “Origins in the Wild,” “Social Behavior and Emotions” and finally “Cognition and Development.”

Origins in the wild

“It is widely accepted that dogs are descended from wolves, but that is about the only uncontroversial fact about the origins of dogs…. I have come to a new proposal for the origin of dogs.” Clive Wynne

“In my presentation I shall talk about the emotional lives of nonhuman animals (animals) – beastly passions – and how they very much care about how we treat them.” Marc Bekoff

“The modern wolf and the modern dog diverged into their present forms, sometime, somewhere, and somehow. We should discuss those when, where, and how questions.” Ray Coppinger

Social Behavior and Emotions

“I shall also talk about why play has evolved – what it is “good for” and why it is very important that we come to terms with the details of what animals do when they play.” Marc Bekoff

“So the basic question is: What makes a dog skillful for living in the anthropogenic [human] environment, and whether we can claim that there is a parallel between some of the behavioral skills of dogs and those of humans?” Ádám Miklósi

“Dogs are socially and emotionally promiscuous and, given the right conditions, can form attachments to members of many other species.” Clive Wynne

Cognition and Development

“How the dog’s brain and behavior develop is integral to our understanding of critical and sensitive periods in helping facilitate a strong social bond and in enhance learning/trainability, emotional stability and stress & disease resistance.” Michael W. Fox

“[W]e must be careful not to forget the true diversity of the domestic dog population, or assume that the sum is more representative than its parts. Indeed, it is at the fringes of the species where we often discover examples of amazing cognitive feats, or hidden canine capacities unveiled by unique environmental or experiential contexts.” Monique Udell

“First, I aim to highlight and examine the attributions we unthinkingly make to dogs. Second, I use findings about the biology and cognition of dogs to create a better picture of the dog’s experience: the umwelt, or point of view.” Alexandra Horowitz

What About My Living Room?

Because SPARCS aims to make continuing education accessible, the conference will be broadcast live and free of charge: “As long as you have a computer, a tablet, or a smartphone, everyone will be able to watch our broadcast from anywhere in the world.”**

SPARCS plans to be a yearly conference, so keep it on your radar!

SPARCS Information

Ticket, Live Stream and Schedule

on Social Media

SPARCS on Facebook

SPARCS on Twitter

SPARCS #sparcs2013

 

All photos courtesy of SPARCS

 

  • I manage the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College, Columbia University. If you live in NYC, we are always looking for more dogs and their people to join our studies! Sign up here, and we’ll be in touch!

 

** SPARCS adds, “Donations are absolutely optional however graciously appreciated.  If you watched our event online and enjoyed it, consider donating to SPARCS.”

 

Related:

Dog Smart: Exploring the Canine Mind at The Bark

Talking dogs: Welcome to the 3rd Canine Science Forum at Dog Spies

Inside the 3rd Canine Science Forum at Dog Spies

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.

 

About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She wriites a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.

 

News: Guest Posts
The data is in: Adopt this dog

Erica Feuerbacher smiles when she talks, and why shouldn’t she? As a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida with the Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab, she spends a lot of time with dogs (or at least dogs in the form of data). Through her research, she meets many, many, many dogs, some of whom live in animal shelters. This is the story of her latest research and a special subject named Raleigh.

What do you want from me?

Feuerbacher’s research investigates dog preference for different types of human social interactions, or simply put: What do dogs want from us, and under what conditions do they want it? For example, your dog might happily hang out with someone doling out hotdogs, but is your dog also likely to spend time with someone offering petting only and no hotdogs?

In Feuerbacher’s latest study, shelter dogs and owned dogs were put to the test to see whether they chose petting or food. Because dogs, being dogs, often prefer food when readily available, the researchers ran an experiment with multiple sessions where food became more and more scarce.

Feuerbacher wondered, “If food’s not available, will dogs shift their preference to the person who’s offering petting, hang out with nobody at all or continue to hang out with the person who had been giving out food but has stopped?”

During a 1-minute pre-exposure period, dogs learned that one experimenter gave out food while another gave out petting. Then, dogs had 5 minutes to spend time with whomever they chose, and they could move back and forth freely.

Petting or Food?

Many shelter dogs and all owned dogs had an initial preference for the person giving out food. But in sessions where food was not available, many shelter dogs spent time with the person offering petting. When food again became available, dogs almost always went back to the person with food.

Some of the shelter dogs initially showed a preference for the person doing the petting, not the person giving out food (although, eventually, they all opted for food). As you might imagine, dogs in animal shelters are frequently deprived of human interaction, so it isn’t all that surprising that shelter dogs would opt to spend time with people when given the chance. Alternatively, owned dogs initially went for the food person and stayed with the food person, even when food became more scarce. Owned dogs have ready access to petting from their loving owners (raise your hand if you are petting a dog right now), but food is not always available.

Raleigh

Raleigh, a mutt who had been picked up as a stray, was game for any interaction with humans. As the graph shows, when food was available (triangle), Raleigh was all over it, but when food stopped, Raleigh was all about the petting (circle) — he was quick to say, “bye bye food person,” and “hello petting person!” And when food came back into circulation, he was more than happy to accept.

“He’s a food type of guy, but he’s also a petting type of guy” Feuerbacher explains. In the session where dogs were exposed to continuous petting but food was doled out at 15-second intervals, Raleigh approached the food person. He waited about 8 seconds, and when he didn’t receive any food, he then went to the petting person, where he remained for the rest of the session. His social behavior was much more extensive than a lot of dogs.”

When the study ended, Feuerbacher kept an eye on Raleigh at the animal shelter. When he still hadn’t been adopted after 2 months, Raleigh joined the ranks as a foster dog in Feuerbacher’s home, where he now spends his time with three other dogs doing doggie things like waiting for food, snuggling on the couch and frolicking with his foster siblings. But he is also waiting for a home.

Adopt Raleigh

Raleigh is available for adoption through Phoenix Animal Rescue in Gainesville, Florida.

Raleigh, of course, has a Facebook page.

You can meet Raleigh this Saturday, May 18, 2013 at PetsMart in Gainesville, Florida.

Feuerbacher has good reason to smile when she talks about Raleigh: “I liked that he liked food because that helps with training. But I also liked that when food wasn’t available, he was really social. Everything he did was gentle. I just thought he was a really neat dog.”

 

Reference

Feuerbacher, E. N. & Wynne, C. D. L. Dogs’ preference for different types of human social interaction in a concurrent choice test. (In prep)

 

Images copyright E. Feuerbacher

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.

 

About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She wriites a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.

 

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