News: Karen B. London
Familiarity affects their generosity
Do dogs act in a way that offers no benefit to themselves, but helps out other dogs? A new study called Familiarity affects other-regarding preferences in pet dogs addresses this question. The term “other-regarding” comes from the field of economics. Actions based only on the material benefit to oneself are called “self-regarding.” Actions that take into account the effects on other individuals are called other-regarding, and are often based on kindness or a sense of fairness.
In the experiment, researchers investigated dogs’ willingness to give food to other dogs. Donor dogs had the opportunity to move a tray that put food within the reach of a receiver dog or to move an empty tray instead. The donors did not receive food or any other tangible reward for giving food to the receiver. The major finding of the study was that dogs were more likely to give food to dogs that they know—their friends—than unfamiliar dogs.
The reason this is so interesting is that most research into this sort of social behavior has been conducted on primates. Little is known about cooperation and other prosocial behavior in other groups. Dogs are an obvious choice for such a study because they are social. Social animals often behave in altruistic ways, perhaps because of the possibility of a potential future benefit. In other words, evolution may have led to kindness towards others because of the benefits to individuals of trading acts of giving over the long term. That could explain why donating food to friends was more common. Those are the individuals who are most likely to be in a position to return the favor another time, making it a good investment for the donor dogs.
News: Karen B. London
Recent research contradicts prevailing wisdom
It’s hard to make sense of the great number of contradictory studies about the effect of black coat color on the time it takes for shelter dogs to be adopted and the likelihood of them being euthanized. There have been many studies suggesting that having a black coat is bad news for shelter dogs, and some suggesting that black fur is not important in these ways.
It continues to be reported in the media that it is hard to adopt out black dogs, and many spokespeople for shelters and rescues discuss this at length. Yet, the data are not consistent across studies. One study called Investigating the role of coat colour, age, sex, and breed on outcomes for dogs at two animal shelters in the United States that came out recently in the journal Animal Welfare is one of the studies I take the most seriously. The researchers conclude that while age, sex and breed affect adoptability and likelihood of euthanasia, having a black coat color does not.
There are a number of reasons why I think highly of this research. It includes data from over 16,000 dogs from two shelters during a four-year period, which is longer and larger than most studies of its kind. One shelter chooses which dogs it admits and one has an open admission policy, meaning that it takes in any dog that arrives at its doors with no selection based on age, appearance, medical issues or behavior. The data include how long each dog was available for adoption, and whether or not the dog was eventually adopted, was euthanized or died in the shelter. Some studies have included the time that dogs were held for various reasons but not available for adoption, which could introduce biases against black dogs. It looked at euthanasia rates as well as the number of dogs of different colors that entered each shelter. It considered breed, age and size as well as coat color.
It may sound like an obvious way to conduct research, but this study looked at actual data from shelters instead of considering opinions on black dogs in interviews. The difficulty of adopting black dogs that is commonly reported in the media is often based on a study that interviewed people working in shelters and rescues. A majority of the people in that study reported that large black dogs were more difficult to place than other dogs. This is problematic because of the opinion aspect of the study and because of the lumping of size and coat color.
Despite the mixed findings across studies about the adoptability of black dogs, it is no surprise that there is a perception of bias. A number of studies have shown that people have a negative view of black dogs, considering them less agreeable, less conscientious and less emotionally stable than dogs of other colors. Perhaps more alarming, another study found that people selected large black dogs as representative examples of dangerous and aggressive animals. In support of negative views of black dogs, another study found that people were more likely to change their path in response to a black dog than in response to a pale dog, regardless of size. Not surprisingly, there are contradictory studies in this area, too. For example, one study found that people considered black poodles friendlier than white poodles.
Overall, this recent study concluded that the dogs who were more likely to be euthanized than expected if such decisions were random were dogs that were 10-12 years old, male dogs, members of bully breeds, and brindle dogs. The length of time a dog had to wait to be adopted was also affected by many factors. The dogs who were adopted most quickly were females, young dogs, yellow, grey or black dogs, and terriers or toy breeds.
There are so many factors that can influence intake and euthanasia decisions by shelter staff and adoption choices by guardians. The idea that black dogs are difficult to adopt, though the data have been so variable on this point, may actually influence people into adopting a black dog. Many adopters prioritize choosing a dog who may not otherwise find a home, and this may mean that such people are gravitating towards black dogs.
I’m certain that there will be more research about the dogs that adopters choose, so we are sure to learn more about the effect of various factors on both adoption and euthanasia.
News: JoAnna Lou
A Thai man could face 37 years in prison for a sarcastic comment about the king's beloved pup.
Earlier this week, Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged in Thai military court for making a sarcastic internet post about the king's dog. His social media comments, which also include insults about the king and allegations of military corruption, could earn him 37 years in prison.
The royal pup in question is Tongdaeng, or Copper, who is somewhat of a celebrity in Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej rescued Tongdaeng from an alley and later wrote a best-selling book about her. Thai news media use the polite word "khun" to refer to Tongdaeng, which roughly translates to ma'am.
From a cultural perspective, it's certainly interesting to see the king's pet receive similar protection as the humans in the family. The law technically applies to anyone who specifically defames the king, the queen, the heir apparent or the regent. However, the rule has gotten somewhat out of hand lately.
According to Thanakorn's lawyer, Anon Numpa, the boundaries of what has been considered lèse-majesté (royal insults) has expanded drastically. Last year Thai military seized power in a coup and has since cracked down on challenges to its power, detaining journalists, academics, politicians and students for “attitude adjustment” sessions at military camps.
The list of people who have been investigated include a prominent scholar accused of insulting a king who died 400 years ago and an American ambassador who gave a speech to foreign correspondents praising the current king, but criticizing the lengthy prison sentences from lèse-majesté charges.
It will be interesting to see the outcome of these cases, and the implication for social media and other avenues of speech and communication in Thailand.
News: Karen B. London
Dogs can sure get into them!
Though I could never match a veterinarian for tales of seasonal paraphernalia that has been ingested, when it comes to other aspects of dogs interacting with December’s décor, I have heard more stories of trouble than most people ever will. In other words, if you name something that people have in their homes to help celebrate the holidays, I’m likely to remember a story in which a dog messed with that item.
I hear tales of Christmas trees that have been knocked over and peed on. I have a vivid image of a black dog running through the neighborhood streaming tinsel all over the place. His guardian is convinced that this shiny decoration saved his life by reflecting the headlights of the car whose driver swerved just in time to miss him.
A friend told me that one year they had a white Christmas despite living in Southern California. Her dog had toppled a 10-pound bag of flour off the counter and played in it until the whole downstairs would have made Bing Crosby proud.
I know of a dog who decorated almost the entire set of holiday cards with muddy footprints. The family sent them out anyway, with a note that this year the dog had signed them. Another dog messed with the holiday mailing by somehow getting a large number of postage stamps stuck in his fur and on his face. Festive!
Dogs eating holiday meals is nothing new, so the stories of dogs sampling the potluck dish meant for a party or helping themselves to an entire turkey or ham are almost cliché. Perhaps dogs consider themselves the head of quality control and feel the need to perform a taste test. More worrisome are the many dogs who have needed medical attention after consuming fudge or other foods that can be dangerous for them.
Many families have been saved the hassle of unwrapping packages by dogs who took it upon themselves to dive into the gifts under the tree. Some dogs get into the wrapping paper before it even meets up with the gifts, apparently considering rolls of paper great toys, or maybe just really stiff toilet paper. (We all know how many dogs adore unrolling toilet paper!)
Just last year, I saw a Facebook post about a dog running down the block with a wreath around his neck. The guardian who wrote about it said she always had dogs who enjoyed decorations. A previous dog of hers had been lucky to escape injury after trying to play tug of war with a strand of lights that sparked when they were yanked from the outlet.
A client once had to reschedule an appointment because her dog was too busy dealing with digestive issues after swallowing a sequined top and part of one shoe that went with a favorite party outfit. Luckily, surgery was not required, but it was still a rough (and messy) day or two for everyone involved.
Chanukah candles knocked over may not be as common as upended Christmas trees, but I assume this is because only a small percentage of us are celebrating in this way. I use my Grandma’s Menorah, which is nowhere near stable enough to be anywhere that a dog can reach it. I know that because one year we had a little accident with the candles on a low table and a large dog with a wagging tail giving us a small heart attack. (They were not lit yet, thankfully.)
>Clients have shared stories of dogs terrified by the inflatable Santa and reindeer in the yard, and of the occasional fight between the canine residents and these giant, air-filled seasonal visitors. Just as scary for quite a few dogs is the experience of having a Santa hat slip over the eyes. A dog who can’t see because of a wardrobe malfunction and is running around in a panic is a threat to himself and others.
Along with the difficulties already mentioned, there are more dogs than you can shake a stick at who have eaten the cookies intended for Santa.
How has your dog interacted with the holiday accoutrements in a way that you wish had never happened?
News: JoAnna Lou
Cornell hopes the 'test tube' pups will lead to advances in protecting endangered species and eliminating genetic diseases.
A litter of adorable puppies born at Cornell University this year represent not only a scientific achievement, but hope for protecting endangered species and eliminating genetic diseases. These pups were the first to be brought into this world by in vitro fertilization.
As part of the study, researchers transferred nineteen embryos to the host female dog, who later gave birth to seven healthy puppies, two from a Beagle mother and a Cocker Spaniel father, and five from two Beagle couples. For successful in vitro fertilization, researchers must fertilize a mature egg with a sperm in a lab, to produce an embryo. Then they have to return the embryo to a host female at the right time in her reproductive cycle, which only occurs once or twice a year.
The researchers encountered numerous challenges along the way, such as getting the timing right for collecting the mature eggs, simulating what the female tract does naturally to prepare sperm for fertilization, and properly freezing the embryos. They eventually achieved success with fertilization rates of 80 to 90 percent.
According to Cornell professor, Alex Travis, scientists have been trying to do in vitro fertilization in a dog since the mid-1970s, but all attempts have been unsuccessful. They hope that this study will lead to advances in conserving the genetics of endangered species, using in vitro to introduce certain genes back into the gene pool of captive populations, and even preserving rare breeds of show and working dogs.
The researchers also hope that one day in vitro, combined with with new genome editing techniques, could allow them to remove genetic diseases and traits from embryos, eliminating heritable diseases. Dogs share more than 350 similar genetic disorders and traits with humans, almost twice the number as any other species, so it makes the work in this area doubly compelling.
It will be interesting to see what developments come from this work, and the ethical implications. While in vitro is used by zoos and conservation organizations to increase birth rates in captive animals, it's not exactly clear how it can be used to conserve the genetics of endangered species in their natural habitat. It sounds great that this technique could be used to preserve rare dog breeds, but it also has the potential to be abused. This also raises a larger ethical question of how the "host dog" is chosen and used. If a breeder repeatedly uses in vitro, could certain dogs become perpetual surrogates, similar to female breeding pups in puppy mills?
I'm happy to see that Cornell achieved this breakthrough, several decades in the making, but I hope that the dog world treads carefully as it navagtes how this technique is used.
News: Karen B. London
The pros and cons of this exchange
In theory, the exchanges possible with the Bark’N’Borrow app make a lot of sense. People who are unable to have their own dog can spend time with someone else’s dog. People whose dogs need some company or exercise can loan them out. Dogs can also be loaned out as a kindness to people who need some canine comfort. Members of this community who care for dogs are either borrowers who spend time with a dog for free, or professional dog sitters who charge for their services.
Though it’s a lovely idea, I have concerns, and they extend beyond the worry about the occasional bad person out there. Of course, the idea that sinister people could be involved and be cruel to dogs or not return them is frightening, but it’s not the only source of potential trouble.
Even kind people with good intentions could cause harm to a dog. The alarming questions that come to my mind are many. Will people keep the dog on leash where safe and appropriate? Is their house set up to protect a dog from electrical wires, poisonous foods and other dangers? Will everyone be as gentle with the dog as they should be? Will they pull hard on the leash or react harshly if a communication error or other confusion is interpreted as disobedience? Will the dog be nervous or scared in unfamiliar surroundings? Do the people borrowing dogs know anything about canine behavior or how to interact with dogs?
I know that a lot of people are members of this community and many positive exchanges have taken place. Still, I think to loan your dog out to a stranger involves taking a big chance. Sure, many times things work out fine, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t risky. That everything often works out does not speak to the dangers of this system. Similarly, people sometimes drive themselves safely home while drunk or ride a motorcycle without a helmet and have no problem, but that does not provide proof that these actions are wise or reasonable.
The Bark’N’Borrow FAQs has the following to say about safety:
“Is Bark’N’Borrow Safe?
DEFINITELY! Our aim at Bark’N’Borrow is to provide the safest experience possible to all our members and their dogs. Every person who joins our pack has had our trustworthy team review and verify their profile. We pride ourselves in being thorough and are dedicated to only offering the best of the best. For extra protection, and in case of emergencies, we also provide 24/7 customer support.”
I’m just not convinced that having a team “review and verify” a profile constitutes sufficient safeguards for the dogs against criminal, negligent or simply thoughtless behavior. Clearly, a lot of people disagree with me because this app is popular. If you are a fan of Bark’N’Borrow, let me know what I am missing and how it’s worked out for you. If you would not consider participating in this community, let me know why not.
News: JoAnna Lou
Tennessee's online database goes live on January 1st.
Over the past few years, several states have tried unsuccessfully to pass bills creating a registry for animal abusers. These states include Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. While this type of database has been established on the local level, such as the one New York City suburb Suffolk County put in place back in 2010, there are none on the state level.
That will all change on January 1st when Tennessee's online database goes live. Earlier this year, the Animal Abuser Registration Act was signed by Governor Bill Haslam and tasks the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with posting a list of individuals convicted of aggravated animal cruelty, felony animal fighting, bestiality, and cruelty to animals. The database will be accessible to the public and will help breeders and animal shelters vet potential buyers and adopters.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Darren Jernigan, says that Tennessee was able to pass the legislation because it was limited in scope and didn't put any financial burden on taxpayers. For instance, the unsuccessful bill in New York also required all convicted animal abusers to undergo psychiatric evaluation and banned the person from ever owning a pet again.
But that doesn't mean Tennessee's bill breezed through. The legislation was tweaked for three years before bipartisan consensus could be reached. For now the registry only includes individuals convicted of felonies, but Rep. Jernigan hopes that one day it will also include those convicted of animal abuse-related misdemeanors as well.
Convicted animal abusers' information will remain on the registry for two years following a first offense and five years following a second offense. It will take awhile for names to start appearing on the list since it won't contain retroactive information. Only individuals convicted of crimes after January 1, 2016 will appear on the list.
I hope that other states will follow Tennessee's lead and put similar registries in place. In addition to helping shelters and breeders, it also sends a strong message that the government takes animal abuse seriously.
News: Karen B. London
Do dogs prevent anxiety?
Kids who are asking their parents for a puppy this season have a convincing new argument to try. A recent study ("Pet Dogs and Children’s Health: Opportunities for Chronic Disease Prevention?”) reports that kids who live with a dog are less likely to be anxious than their peers living in homes without dogs. Researchers evaluated 643 children for signs of anxiety. They found that only 12 percent of kids who have dogs met the clinical criteria that would prompt health care professionals to further screen for anxiety. This was in contrast to 21 percent of kids without dogs who met those criteria.
Despite the way this study has been reported in the media, the authors of this study do not claim that there is a causal relationship between having a dog and lower levels of anxiety in children. Sure, if you are reading this, you are all but certainly a dog lover and inclined to see the benefits of being with dogs. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to back you up if this where you stand. Being with dogs can lower levels of cortisol (which is associated with stress), decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and increase levels of oxytocin (which is associated with social bonding.)
The study highlights the correlation between living with a dog and a lower likelihood of anxiety in children, but makes no claims about why the association exists. It is entirely possible, for example, that people who are less anxious by nature are more likely to have dogs, and their children just happen to share a lower likelihood of anxiety. Or perhaps people with children tend to get dogs only when their lives are not too stressful, which means that the people with and without dogs vary in their anxiety levels for reasons that are not related to having dogs.
It seems highly possible that living with a dog lowers the risk of anxiety in children, perhaps by alleviating loneliness and separation anxiety or by facilitating social interactions. Still, it’s important to understand that the links found in this study do not show the presence of the dog to be the key factor.
While I would not recommend that anyone rush out to acquire a dog for the sole purpose of lowering their children’s chances of developing anxiety, kids might try to convince you to do exactly that. They may have a point.
News: JoAnna Lou
The Dog Parker lets people run errands with their pets.
In New York City, I often see dogs tied to lampposts or parking meters while their human counterparts run in a store to buy milk or pick up laundry. Even though these trips are usually quick, it's not safe to leave pets outside like that. They could be stolen, eat something toxic, or escape, among other possible scenarios. Now there's finally an alternative to leaving your dog at home, although it does comes with its challenges. Brooklyn resident Chelsea Brownridge decided to create a solution to the city petlover's dilemma, a dog house called the Dog Parker. Chelsea was inspired to create the Dog Parker after she had to leave her pup Winston at home while she and her friends took a long walk to Prospect Park. Unfortunately he couldn't join them because the group planned to stop for breakfast along the way. Chelsea was determined to find a way for dogs like Winston to wait safely outside of the restaurant while the humans ate. The first two units are being tested in front of a retail store and coffee shop in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. The Dog Parker is insulated to avoid temperature swings, while a solar powered fan provides air circulation. Users can track the inside temperature through the Dog Parker app. On days when the inside temperature goes below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the units will be shut down and unavailable for use. Users have to show proof of vaccination when they apply for the membership card that provides access to the Dog Parkers. Members are then charged 20 cents a minute ($12 per hour). There is a three hour limit per 12 hour time period to avoid anyone leaving their dog in a unit too long. If anyone leaves their pet beyond the maximum stay, a Dog Parker employee will pick up the dog and bring them to a boarding facility. Although the units are cleaned every other day (or more often on an as-needed basis), I could see cleanliness or the spread of germs to be a potential challenge. In a busy neighborhood, countless pets could have contact with a Dog Parker in any given weekend. But my concerns are more on the usage of the units, which is largely up to members. For running quickly into a store or two, the Dog Parker does fill a niche in an urban area where most people walk to do their shopping. But for longer outings, like eating at a restaurant, it's probably best to keep your dog at home. The maximum stay, three hours, seems like a long time to keep your pet in a box on the sidewalk. Dog Parker recognizes that not all pets will do well in their units, but the responsibility is on members to make the right judgement call. I also hope that users will see the importance of gradually introducing the Dog Parker to their pets. It can be scary to be left in an unfamiliar place, with people, and potentially their pups, walking by and peering in. Chelsea plans to have 100 Dog Parkers across Brooklyn by next spring, and eventually wants to expand throughout New York City and to other areas of the country.
News: Karen B. London
It explains the behavior of Costa Rican dogs
During a recent field trip to Costa Rica, I was as interested as my students in Ceiba trees, toucans, sloths and tree frogs, along with so many other organisms we were able to see in the tropical rain forest. When I was in town, though, my focus shifted to the local dogs.
One aspect of their behavior repeatedly caught my attention. Over and over, I saw dogs waiting just outside the doors of local businesses. Whether it was a bakery, restaurant, butcher’s shop or hair salon, dogs did not go inside. These were all stray dogs, many in need of food, but they did not charge through the doorway no matter what tempting goodies were inside. They exhibited impressively polite behavior, which is easy enough to explain.
The reason that these dogs never went inside businesses is that the behavior of the people in those businesses has consistently been favorable when the dogs stay outside and not so favorable if they attempt to enter. As soon as these dogs are old enough to wander through town, they have multiple experiences with people shooing them out of stores if they enter, and also have repeated experiences with receiving food if they wait outside. The dogs learn that waiting outside is a good strategy and that barging into a store is a bad strategy. Because the culture so strongly opposes having stray dogs enter stores, the dogs get consistent messages about what to do. The dogs are so well trained, if you want to look at it that way, because of the consistency of the responses to their behavior. There are no mixed messages.
There’s a lesson here for all of us about being consistent with our training. This sounds obvious and is well known, but even a rare departure from consistency can mess up an otherwise excellent training program. There is a huge difference between never permitting your dog to jump up on you, beg at the table or join you on the couch and almost never allowing these behaviors to happen. The difference lets your dog question whether each occasion is one of the exceptions and keeps hope alive. It can make them seem quite pushy when they are really only unsure about what the rules are.
When we are completely consistent with our dogs, training goes more smoothly and there are fewer problems. The Costa Rican people I observed simply never allow dogs to enter their stores, and the dogs learn that the only way to get food from the people is to wait patiently at the door. It’s a successful system for members of both species.
In what ways are you completely consistent with your dog, to the benefit of your training?
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