Good Dog: Studies & Research
What you say and how you say it both matter
Humans use both words and the intonation of speech to decipher the meaning of language, and it turns out that our dogs do, too. In a research paper called “Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs” scientists investigated how dogs process the meaning of language. They found that dogs’ brains have even more in common with humans’ brains than previously thought. (It’s not clear when we will collectively stop being surprised by this, but I hope we always remain excited about new evidence to explain why we feel that dogs are kindred spirits.)
In this study, dogs who have been trained to remain still while their brain activity is recorded listened to recordings of their trainers talking. There were four types of recordings: 1) words of praise spoken with intonation typically associated with praise, 2) words of praise spoken with a neutral intonation, 3) neutral words spoken with intonation typically associated with praise, and 4) neutral words spoken with a neutral intonation.
Researchers analyzed the brain activity of the dogs in response to each of the recordings, and came to several conclusions about the way that dogs respond to words and the intonation of human speech. The dogs processed the vocabulary in the left hemisphere of their brains, which is where humans also process the meaning of words. The dogs processed the intonation of the words separately, in a different region of the brain. Just as humans do, dogs processed the intonation of human speech in the right hemisphere of their brain. Dogs also process sounds that convey emotion without words in this same region of the brain’s right hemisphere.
Dogs process both words and the intonation of human speech to decipher meaning. Just as humans do, they process these two aspects of speech separately, then integrate them to determine the full meaning of what was said. Only the praise that was spoken like praise—higher pitched than normal speech and with more variation in pitch—activated the reward centers of dogs’ brains. Though they may understand words of praise said in any manner, it only makes dogs happy to hear us praise them when we do it with proper feeling.
This research does more than reveal yet another similarity in the way that human and dog brains process information. It also suggests that the ability to connect a word to a meaning did not develop with the evolution of spoken language. Rather, it is a more ancient ability that can be made use of in the context of the human-dog relationship to link specific sounds to specific meanings.
The take away messages from this research are that dogs process two parts of spoken language—words and intonation—the same way that humans do and if you want to make your dogs happy, you have to praise them like you mean it!
There’s so much “funny” out there
We are taking care of a puppy whose tag has contact information on one side and says “Have your people call my people” on the other. It so accurately reflects the way many dog lovers view their position in the world—as the dogs’ people.
That tag is not the only amusing dog phrase to catch my attention in recent weeks. While traveling in Sri Lanka this past summer, I saw a bumper sticker proclaiming, “I like big mutts and I cannot lie.” Some of the windows of the vehicle were smeared all over with what I’ve come to learn is called “nose art”. The dog was no Picasso, but he was very productive, having created more art than most dogs ever will.
Most recently, I found myself chuckling over a dog-related saying at a client’s house. She had a prominently displayed wooden sign that read, “You’re not really drinking alone if your dog is home.” Though I myself lack any “wine-appreciation” genes, I knew right away that I would enjoy working with this woman.
Is your home, car or dog adorned with a canine-themed phrase that makes you laugh?
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Detection dogs who didn't make the grade are looking for new homes
It has long been common practice for service dog organizations to adopt out the pups that didn't meet their high standards, but now the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is instituting a similar program to rehome explosives detection dogs.
The TSA is looking for forever homes for the pups who have either retired or didn't make it through their training program. The dogs typically range in age from two to 10 years old and are usually German Shorthaired Pointers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, or Belgian Malinois.
These explosives detection pups will likely be well trained, but will come with unique challenges. As you can imagine, these working dogs need homes that can continue to provide an active lifestyle. In addition, unlike service dog school drop outs, explosives detection pups aren't used to a home environment because the TSA's dogs live in kennels. There is sure to be a considerable adjustment period, so I hope that the TSA plans on providing some support and guidance during the transition.
There's no adoption fee, but all prospective families must fill out an application and be approved. If applicants meet the requirements, photos and information on the available dogs will be sent and the Adoption Coordinator will help match families with the best pup for their home.
If you're interested in adopting an ex-TSA dog, contact the Adoption Coordinator at AdoptaTSAcanine@OLE.tsa.dhs.gov. This seems like a great program to ensure that these hard working pups live out their retirement days with a loving family.
Interactive displays for canines by experiential artist Dominic Wilcox
More Than insurance company commissioned British designer Dominic Wilcox to create a contemporary art exhibit for dogs. It is part of an ongoing effort by the company to improve the physical and mental health of dogs by encouraging people to play with them more.
One goal was the development of an exhibit like those in the best science and children’s museums that stimulate visitors and entice them to interact with the displays. Another part of Wilcox’s assignment was to come up with an exhibit that would fit in at any of the world’s best museums of modern and contemporary art.
The displays in “Play More” are varied and focus on different senses. There are paintings in colors within the dog’s visual spectrum and hanging at just the right height for them to view easily. The Watery Wonder exhibit is a series of fountains in water bowls with the water jetting from one bowl to another. Cruising Canines simulates an open-window car ride by blowing a fan to send the scents of raw meat and old shoes to the dogs seated behind cutouts in a two-dimensional car. Dinnertime Dreams is a 10-foot representation of a dog bowl filled with 1000 balls that each resemble dog kibble. Catch is a video of a Frisbee™ disk bouncing around a screen and consistently held many dogs’ attention.
Two dogs admire “Drumstick Park,” a park scene painted by Robert Nicol and placed at canine eye-level.
“Cruising Canines” simulates an open car window with a giant fan wafting favorite canine scents (raw meat and old shoes) through the air.
A dog is captivated with “Catch,” a multimedia installation that simulates a Frisbee bouncing around a screen.
Dog pals posing with the 10-foot wide “Dinnertime Dreams”—filled with dog food shaped balls.
The exhibit’s designer Dominic Wlicox and friend next to one of the exhibit’s meat-inspired sculptures.
It’s a daunting task to create a series of interactive displays for canines to enjoy that are also contemporary works of art worthy of display in a modern art museum. I think Wilcox succeeded, but you can judge for yourself in this video.
Ever wonder how your dog feels about your musical tastes? To celebrate National Dog Day (Friday, August 26), Deezer, the on-demand digital music streaming service has assembled a couple of playlists that should be enjoyed by the entire pack. Deezer worked with animal behaviorist Dr. David Sands to study how dogs hear and react to different kinds of music based on beats per minute. The results are two playlists that they claim are scientifically proven to help energize or calm your pup. Unlike previous studies of the impact of music on dogs and recommend the classical genre … there’s no Brahms or Mozart in sight. Instead there’s a selection of more contemporary musical styles including Shutdown by Skepta; Sit Still, Look Pretty by Daya plus favorites Hey Ya! by OutKast and Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees for the “happy” playlist. For the “chill” side, Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself; Adele’s Someone Like You and Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Could You Be Loved top the list for a calming vibe.
Not only is it important for dogs to be healthy and happy, but it’s equally important for their people to be as well. When canine guardians are calm and in good spirits, they project the same feeling of happiness onto their dogs. The normal resting heart rate of an average adult is between 60 to 100 beats per minute, but listening to favorite music tracks can raise the heart rate to match the increased heart rate pups experience from the exact same tunes.
“Your overall health and happiness has a huge effect on your canine counterpart,” emphasizes Dr. Sands. “Both humans and dogs are stimulated by the frequency range, pattern and volume of the beats in music. This is why turning on your favorite tunes cannot only positively affect you, but also your dog.” So, take off the headphones and share the music …!
Here are the complete Deezer’s playlists …
Songs to Make Your Pooch Happy
Songs to Chill Your Canine
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Individual variation explains a lot
Dogs are well known to be chowhounds. The idea that they love food more than anything else is practically (excuse the expression) dogma in the fields of canine behavior and dog training. The trouble is, recent research suggests that it is not true for all dogs.
In a study called “Awake Canine fMRI Predicts Dogs’ Preference for Praise Versus Food” scientists investigated whether dogs prefer treats or praise, and whether their choice can be predicted by their brains’ response to both stimuli. In one experiment, they measured the level of activation of the brain’s ventral caudate, an area known to function as a reward center, in response to items that predicted various outcomes. A toy car predicted that verbal praise was coming, a toy horse predicted that food on its way and a hairbrush was associated with nothing. Dogs were trained to make these associations with a series of 40 pairings of each object with what it predicted. The activation of the specific region of the brain was measured with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which is possible because the dogs in the study have all been trained to remain motionless while in the scanner.
The average activation of the reward center of the brain was higher in the food and praise conditions than in the neutral condition, which shows that the dogs did learn the associations between the objects and what the objects predicted. (Each dog’s responses in the brain to seeing the toy horse and NOT receiving the expected praise was also measured.) There were 15 dogs in this experiment, and most of them had a similar response in the reward center to the food or to the praise. Four showed a stronger response to praise and two showed a stronger response to food. The average response to praise and to food did not differ.
In another experiment, dogs were placed in a Y-maze and given the opportunity to choose which arm of the maze to go to. One arm led to a food bowl with treats and the other arm led to the dog’s guardian, who provided petting and praise. Each dog was tested in the Y-maze 20 times. Seven dogs in the study chose the guardian the more times than the food, and seven dogs chose the food more often. One dog chose the guardian and the food an equal number of times.
The relative value of praise versus food in the first experiment was highly predictive of the choices that dogs made in the Y-maze experiment. Dogs whose ventral caudate showed a strong response to praise were more likely to choose their guardian over food but dogs who did not show such a strong response to praise relative to food were more likely to head for the food when given a choice.
Regrettably, the results of this study have erroneously been reported in many places as proof that dogs prefer praise and belly rubs to treats, and suggested that using treats in training is therefore unnecessary. It has been written in many places discussing this study that 13 of 15 dogs prefer praise to food, and that’s not correct. What the researchers actually wrote is that in 13 of the 15 dogs, the ventral caudate showed either roughly equal activation to food and to praise or greater activation to praise than to food.
It’s quite interesting that roughly half of the dogs chose their guardian over food. For those dogs, social interaction such as praise and belly rubs may be more effective than treats in training. However, caution is important when acting on the findings in this study because the research may overestimate the response of dogs to their guardians relative to food in situations outside the laboratory setting.
The lab may have been stressful, causing a bias in dogs towards an increased interest in their guardians when compared with food. They may have been seeking comfort from their guardians in a way that they might not be during typical training situations. The scientists do point out that these dogs have been trained to stay still in the scanner and that the lab is a familiar environment. That does not mean the dogs are as comfortable as they are at home or in other areas such as on neighborhood walks, at the park or at the training center where they attend classes. It’s important to know what dogs choose in the actual training setting before changing what reinforcement to use based on lab research.
Additionally, although dogs may value social connections over food when the social interaction is with their guardian, not all training occurs between guardian and pet. I do a lot of training with dogs who I adore, but I don’t share quite the same bond with them as they do with their own guardian. So, just because dogs may prefer affection from their guardian over food does not mean that they prefer affection from just anyone over food. Finally, in many training scenarios, dogs receive praise in addition to food during training, and that may be more effective than either one alone.
Many people swear that their dogs prefer praise and petting to treats, and others are just as certain that food wins out every time with their dogs. Perhaps the most important lesson from this study is that individual variation in preferences is huge. If you feel strongly about what matters most to dogs, there’s a good chance you’re right—when it comes to your dog, anyway.
Do you think your dog would go for food or for praise and affection if given the choice?
News: Guest Posts
Pups as a Work Perk
For dog lovers, being able to bring our pups to work is a huge perk. Most companies don't allow pets in the office, but that is slowly changing. According to the Society of Human Resource Management, seven percent of employers now allow pets to come to work—up from five percent five years ago.
Many companies see this as a way to help with retention and work-life balance at no extra cost. It's often people's favorite perk.
At North Carolina based Replacements Ltd, there are about 30 animals that join their 400 workers on a regular basis. Their policy is probably one of the most liberal—the office has even been visited by a duck, potbellied pig, and possum. Public Relations manager, Lisa Conklin, even hopes to bring in her horse, Azim, one day.
The pets have always been on their best behavior. Although on a number of occasions the human employees have broken the fine dining dishes that Replacements sells, no one can remember an animal ever being responsible for an incident before.
Bringing our pets to work is a fun perk, but it has tangible benefits as well.
In 2012, Virginia Commonwealth University professor Randolph Barker led research that measured levels of cortisol in workers' systems. His team found that people whose animals came to work saw a decrease in stress throughout the day, while those who didn't have a pet saw their cortisol increase. Randolph says that pet friendly companies typically report more coworker cooperation and interaction as well.
But there are some challenges with having a liberal pet policy. Not all animals like being in an office environment and it's up to the individual employee to make the best decision for their pet. There are also other considerations for organizations, such as allergies and finding a building that is pet friendly.
However, provided that a company can make it work logistically, the benefits seem immeasurable!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Important enough to be a featured story
I’ve been a dog trainer long enough (almost 20 years) to see a massive change in the perception of the field. It used to be considered more a hobby than a job, even though many of us were already making a living doing it full time. I remember someone once telling me that it was “almost as though you have a real career”. Now, dog training is recognized as serious business and as a valuable contribution to society. In fact, it’s so legit that the CIA discussed its top 10 dog training tips in a featured article alongside articles such as “The Korean War Controversy: An Intelligence Success or Failure?” and “The Spymaster’s Toolkit”.
What’s even more exciting to me than seeing how seriously the CIA takes its dog training is realizing that the CIA’s Top 10 Dog Training Tips are absolutely spot on. The first tip is “Make it fun” and the last one is “Always end on a positive”. Everything in between is just as likely to make your typical dog trainer nod, smile or click. Dogs who work for the CIA begin their training as part of civilian training programs such as Guide Dogs for the Blind or programs in which inmates in jail train puppies in basic skills.
Dogs in the CIA aim to do what other members of this agency try to do—keep people safe—though their specific job is primarily sniffing out explosives. In addition to that detection work, dogs may be involved in apprehending suspects and educating the public. The K-9 program at the CIA emphasizes training as well as lots of exercise and plenty of time to play.
It was news to me that the CIA’s methods of developing great working dogs combine consistent and positive training with making sure the dogs have happy, balanced lives. Did you already know this?
News: Guest Posts
9/11 SAR Dogs honored with commemorative statue
The service dogs that responded to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks have not been forgotten. However, monuments to their service are few compared to those devoted to two legged responders. On Wednesday August 17, New Jersey officials gathered at the Essex County Eagle Rock September 11th Memorial in West Orange to do their part to change that. They dedicated a new commemorative statue honoring the Search and Rescue Dogs of 9/11.
The four-foot tall bronze dog sits atop a 12-inch slab of granite, and weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. It was designed by Oregon artist, Jay Warren and paid for by corporate donations. The West Orange 9/11 Memorial opened in 2002, almost exactly one year after the attacks. The park overlooks Manhattan across the water. Citizens once gathered there, helplessly witnessing the chaos at Ground Zero.
In September 2001, countless heroes emerged from obscurity to aid their country in its time of need. Men and women of law enforcement and fire rescue courageously faced the devastation alongside everyday citizens. The new West Orange monument stands as a reminder that not all 9/11 heroes were human.
Roughly 350 Search and Rescue Dogs worked tirelessly in the tragic aftermath searching for survivors; and after, searching for human remains. Sifting through the jagged rubble and blinded by smoke and debris, the dogs battled exhaustion and emotional distress.
After hours of searching and finding no one alive, some handlers would ask for a volunteer to hide amidst the rubble to be “located”, helping to raise the dogs’ spirits. Even when the search mission became one of recovery instead of rescue, the dogs carried on diligently, providing what little peace they could for the families of the victims.
In a press release for the commemoration of the new statue, Newark Public Safety Director, Anthony Ambrose said:
"Search dogs covered 16 acres of land at Ground Zero covered with metal and debris, and went where humans could not go. This is a fitting way to remember how many families gained some sort of closure because of the work by dogs."
The presence of the dogs at the recovery sites had an even greater impact than many may realize. Dutch photographer, Charlotte Dumas is the author of the 2011 book, Retrieved featuring the stories and portraits of 9/11 canines. She interviewed Denise Corliss, handler of famous 9/11 FEMA Search Dog, Bretagne. Dumas recounted an emotional narrative from her time with Corliss to Daily Mail UK:
“She told me a touching story of one fireman who was there in the rubble, and how taken he was with Bretagne who comforted him as he sat down to catch his breath. Years later at a Remembrance Ceremony, the same fireman recognized Bretagne and her handler and they had a touching reunion. It developed that even though the dogs couldn't find people still alive, they could provide comfort for the brave firemen and rescue workers of the emergency services.”
Most Search and Rescue Dogs are trained by non-government organizations. Often their handlers are civilians as well. Many of the teams that responded to Ground Zero did so on a volunteer basis, simply because their country needed them. Now these pups are getting the recognition they deserve from the folks in Essex County, NJ.
To learn more about search and rescue dogs and the brave men and women who train them and act as their handlers, visit searchdogfoundation.org or disasterdog.org.
Dog's Life: Humane
Shelter volunteer treats dogs to an outing and a Starbucks snack.
There are many "secret" items on Starbucks' menu, including one for dogs called the puppuccino. Now I don't drink coffee, but I have a friend who regularly takes her pup with her to Starbucks and orders a puppuccino along with her regular drink. The item is just a small cup filled with whipped cream, but dogs love it! In Washington, a few lucky shelter pups are being treated to puppuccinos while they wait for their forever homes.
Kitsap Humane Society volunteer Molly Clark had been taking rescue dogs on her local Starbucks visits for some time, but recently it has become an official program. As part of Puppuccino Pals, Molly takes one lucky pup each Tuesday to get a puppuccino. The local Starbucks pitches in by posting signs telling customers about the dog of the week to pique the interest of potential adopters. Molly also posts photos of the outings on the shelter's Instagram account.
"The dogs love the shelter breaks, and they adore the puppuccinos," says Kimberly Cizek Allen, events and outreach assistant coordinator at the Kitsap Humane Society. "You can see it in their little eyes as they lick the whipped cream out of the cup."
Not all dogs love an outing to Starbucks, so Molly will sometimes bring a puppuccino back and treat a pup to whipped cream and some time in the quiet room or play yard. This is such a fun collaboration between a shelter and their local Starbucks.
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