Good Dog: Studies & Research
Study looks at human understanding of canine vocalizations.
I would think our dogs are better at understanding us since they devote so much time to studying our every move... and are much better at picking up on the subtleties we are too busy to notice.
There has been an increasing amount of research in recent years on canines and their ability to understand humans. But relatively little has focused on how well people understand dogs.
Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest set out to study our comprehension of canine language. They chose to focus on growls since they may be the most preserved mode of communication.
According to lead researcher Tamás Faragósays, barks have been the most studied canine vocalization, but have likely changed significantly as dogs were domesticated by humans. However, growls may not have changed much since dogs diverged from wolves.
Tamás' study tested people's understanding of three growl sounds recorded from three scenarios: playing tug of war, resource guarding food, and feeling threatened by a stranger.
Overall humans were pretty good at differentiating growl types, classifying them correctly about 63 percent of the time. Participants identified 81 percent of the play growls correctly, but were less accurate when it came to resource guarding and threatening growls (60 and 50 percent).
Interestingly, listeners rated threatening growls to be more fearful and less aggressive than the resource guarding. Although the threatening and resource guarding growls were similar acoustically, there were distinct differences between all three types.
“We found that playful growl bouts are built up from short, quickly repeated growls, while the aggressive ones were more elongated,” explained Tamás. “The food guarding growls differed from the threatening growls in their formant dispersion, a parameter that gives a size impression of the vocalizing individual for the listeners.”
It may come as no surprise that dog owners were better than non-dog people at correctly identifying a growl's meaning. Though previous research didn't find this same advantage when interpreting barks. Researchers hypothesize that this is because barks are loud and easily heard, while growls are quieter and likely to be heard regularly by only those who spend a lot of time with dogs.
The study also found that women were better at distinguishing between the growls.
“This is a common pattern in emotion recognition studies,” says Tamás. “Probably women are more empathic and sensitive to others’ emotions, and this helps them to better associate the contexts with the emotional content of the growls.”
Tamás' team has also been conducting fMRI scans on humans and canines. They've found that people and dogs process emotional vocalization similarly, suggesting that, among mammals, there are simple rules rooted in biology that define how emotional states get translated into sound structure.
Another interesting similarity we share with our pups!
News: Guest Posts
Dog's name and age: Huey, 6 years old
At the shelter when he was surrendered, Huey's person-to-be was instantly smitten with the one-year-old pup. She rocketed out the door to go home to talk to family about the potential adoption. Everyone agreed right away but by that time the shelter had closed. First thing the next morning, she raced back to the shelter to secure the adoption. She found another couple was at the shelter for the same reason. After a cordial, but spirited discussion, the shelter manager ruled in her favor. There were handshakes all around. Huey has had a huge impact on many people since then!
More about Huey:
Huey goes by the nicknames "Chick Magnet" and "Pumpkin".
He was named after a well known 80's band Huey Lewis and the News.
He's the middle dog in his family.
News: Guest Posts
Husky’s future home to be decided by the courts
Microchipping dogs is a great tool for reuniting people and dogs, but only if people do the responsible thing and check dogs that they find for the presence of a chip. That didn’t happen in the case of a Husky who is now at the center of a lawsuit to decide who gets to keep the dog.
In 2010, Michael Gehrke bought the dog who he named Mya. She lived on his 10-acre property with his horses and two other dogs. Mya was best buddies with one of them, Rex, and the pair had two litters of puppies together. In 2013, she wandered off and Gehrke’s attempts to find her by posting signs and visiting the local shelter were unsuccessful.
Mya had walked to the local elementary school. Instead of checking her for a microchip or attempting to find her family through any other channels, a staff member at the school passed her on to her son’s friend, Ashlee Anderson. Anderson had just moved from the town where Gehrke and Mya lived to a town 200 miles away, and was in the market for a dog.
In 2017, the dog (who Anderson calls Sitka) wandered off again and was picked up by animal control. Because she wasn’t wearing any tags, the animal control officer checked her for a microchip, which identified her as Gehrke’s dog Mya. Gehrke assumed that since she was traced to him, and he showed all his vet records and photos of Mya as a puppy, that he would get his dog back, but that is not what happened.
Instead, the animal control officer returned the dog to Anderson. Her rationale was that there was no evidence of a crime and that her job is not to act as a judge but to get dogs off the streets and back to a safe home. Gehrke has filed a lawsuit in order to require that Anderson return the dog.
Anderson offered to pay Gehrke $1,200 (his original purchase price for Mya) to keep the dog, but he informed her that he is not interested in the money. So Anderson has responded by hiring attorneys to argue her case so she can keep Sitka.
A judge will hear the case on June 2, 2017. Both people clearly love this dog, so whatever happens, she will end up in a loving home. However, one of the people—Gehrke or Anderson—will be saddened by a legal decision that means they must live without her. All of this mess, including the impending heartbreak for a person who loves this dog, could have been avoided if Mya had been checked for a microchip the first time she wandered off.
Who do you think should end up with the dog?
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Our good friend, vet nutritionist, Donna Raditic, DVM, and her colleagues over at CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) are devoted to do research into the best ways to provide nutritious, healthy meals to our pets. Their next round of study involves investigating the possible drawbacks to feeding dogs solely with high heat processed, commercial foods. All the various aspects that are involved in manufacturing pet food are important: such as, ingredients, recipes, sourcing, the manufacturing plant and equipment, even the lining of food bags and cans, but CANWI now is going to be looking at the actual chemical reactions that take place when food is processed at high temperatures (which is the case in most commercial diets).
As Dr. Donna told us, “It is known that heat treatment of foods can cause a reaction between the proteins and sugars called the Maillard reaction which results in the formation of what is termed dietary Advanced Glycation End- Products or AGEs.” She further explains that:
Other “Studies have shown that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with age-related diseases in humans, rats, and dogs including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, renal disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers.”
So they are undertaking an independent study, not funded by the pet food industry (that is usually where food studies are performed). Their study will compare the levels of AGEs in processed and fresh food pet diets and evaluate the influence of feeding differing intakes of dietary AGEs. Preliminary data suggests some pet foods may contain over 122 time the AGEs found in processed human foods! Now imagine this is at every meal, on every day for the life of our dogs. It is so easy and convenient, and true that most of our dogs eat processed pet diets for their entire life.
The study will involve a team of veterinary nutritionists, food scientists and one of the most prestigious Veterinary Colleges in the country. And as Joe Bartges, DVM of the University of Georgia notes, “The study will also serve as the foundation for more research to help us identify and improve pet nutrition. It is an exciting and novel approach to the role of nutrition in the health of dogs and cats.”
We too are excited that this kind of study is being investigated from outside the pet food industry and by a team of dedicated (dog-loving) researchers. To get their study underway, they are reaching out to animal lovers during the week of 5/21 to 5/28 for a fundraiser drive seeking contributions (no amount is too small), so they can undertake the next phase of this critical research.
You can do to www.companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org for more information and to donate, or check CANWI on Facebook too.
[What We Are Reading]
There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:
“… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”
And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”
And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.
Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.
And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”
She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:
“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"
Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.
What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Examining genomes uncovered interesting findings.
A study published last month details one of the most diverse canine genome maps produced to date tracing the relationship between breeds. In examining the genomes of over 1,000 dogs, the map provided insight into two interesting findings.
The first showed that canines bred to perform similar functions, such as dogs from the herding or working groups, don’t necessarily share the same origins.
Herding breeds are my favorite, holding beloved traits like intelligence and agility. So it’s surprising that these dogs may be more different than they seem.
The reason behind this convergence may also be why geneticists had difficulty mapping out herding dog lineages in the past. Study author Elaine Ostranger believes this happened because herding dogs emerged through selective breeding at multiple times in many different places.
“In retrospect, that makes sense,” says Elaine. “What qualities you’d want in a dog that herds bison are different from mountain goats, which are different from sheep, and so on.”
The second finding shed light on an ancient type of dog that may have come to the Americas thousands of years before Christopher Columbus. Researchers have looked for the genetic legacy of these dogs in the DNA of modern American breeds, but have found little evidence until now.
Most of the breeds studied originated in Europe and Asia. But domestic dogs first came to the Americas thousands of years ago, when people crossed the Bering land bridge linking Alaska and Siberia. These “New World dogs” later disappeared when European and Asian dogs arrived in the Americas.
But the way two South American breeds, the Peruvian hairless dog and the xoloitzcuintli, are clustered together on the map suggest they could share genes not found in any of the others. This means those genes could have come from dogs that were present in the Americas pre-Columbus.
“I think our view of the formation of modern dog breeds has historically been one-dimensional,” says Bob Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California. “We didn’t consider that the process has a deep historical legacy.”
Researchers now think that dog breeds underwent two major periods of diversification. Thousands of years ago, dogs were selected for their skills. This changed a few hundred years ago, when animals were bred for physical traits instead.
Bob says that, when it comes to genetics, studying dogs is a unique opportunity since no other animal has had the same level of intense deliberate breeding.
While it’s interesting to learn more about our dogs and where they came from, the scientists had practical reasons for creating this genetic database. They hope that this information can help future studies of canine and human diseases.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does this song describe your life?
This song captures elements of the experience of dog guardianship, and is striking a cord with women who identify as Dog Moms. The chorus of this new anthem goes like this:
If you’re a dog mom, put your hands up, this song’s for all the ladies who provide for their pup
When you’re a dog mom, it’s just what you do, ‘Cuz they say you’re not my baby, but I know it ain’t true
It’s hard to choose the best lines, but here are my top contenders:
Never leave the house without a lint roller, Hell yeah I got a geriatric pug in this stroller
Fall asleep to the sound of you licking your parts, But you wake us both up ‘cuz you’re scared of your farts
His Instagram is poppin’, I don’t mean maybe, He gets more likes than my sister’s baby
Not everyone is comfortable with the term “Dog Mom” but a lot of women wear it with pride. They consider this video hilarious and hilariously accurate. Do you?
News: Guest Posts
The importance of evaluating the responses
Kids are taught to ask permission before petting a dog with some variation of “May I please meet your dog?” This simple question has the potential to avoid unpleasant interactions, but only if kids are taught how to interpret the possible answers, especially those that are nuanced. The answer might be a simple, “Yes.” It could also be a straightforward “No” for any number of reasons: it’s not safe to pet the dog, the dog will feel uncomfortable if the child attempts to interact, or even that someone is on a tight schedule and doesn’t have time for a meet-and-greet. The person may also seem hesitant but not actually say no, or give an answer that conveys serious concern.
The clear “Yes” answers are easy to figure out. It’s common for people to reply to a request to meet a dog with some variant of “Sure, she loves people!” “He would love that!” or “Absolutely, thanks for asking!” In that case, there is a good chance that the person expects a positive interaction between a child and a dog. They might be wrong, but there’s no sense of worry or concern being expressed, which is encouraging, and it makes sense for kids to approach the dog.
Similarly, a definite “No” from the person is also clear. If a person declines the request, kids should respect that and not approach the dog. Common ways that people prevent an interaction are by saying, “I’m sorry, but she doesn’t like kids,” “She’s too shy, it will upset her,” or “I think not because everything scares her.” They might even say, “No, because she’ll try to bite you.” People who answer in this general way know that the dog can’t handle it and that it would be a mistake to let a child meet the dog.
Unfortunately, there are two general categories of answers that can be ambiguous, and too few children have been taught to understand them. The first set of such answers is generally positive with mild reservations. These usually indicate that the people are not concerned about their dog being aggressive, but they feel embarrassed about some aspect of their dog. These replies are along the lines of, “Okay, but she’s very excitable,” or “Yes, but she may jump on you.” Sometimes people just offer a warning that is not behavioral, such as “If you don’t mind getting a lot of fur on you!” In most cases, these responses are not deal breakers for a meeting, but it does depend on the size of the child as well as the size and enthusiasm level of the dog. If the person expresses that their dog is unruly or shedding, it’s okay to answer, “I don’t mind dog hair,” or “I don’t think jumping up will put a dark blot on her character!” as long as the dog is not so powerful or out of control that someone could get knocked over. This requires a judgment call, and the most conservative approach is for kids not to meet dogs after such replies. At the very least, kids should proceed with caution.
Another set of answers can be more worrisome, and kids need to learn that they should not pet a dog if the people say things along the lines of, “That would probably be okay,” or “Well, she’s shy, but we can see how she does,” or “If she’ll let you. I’m not sure because sometimes she can’t handle it.” All of these replies show that a person is in the hope-and-fear zone. (“I hope it will be okay, but I fear that it will not be.”) There is a great risk that the interaction could be troubling for the child or the dog. Kids should be taught that the correct action upon hearing such remarks is not to approach the dog. A simple, “Oh, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to upset her, but thanks anyway,” is a good phrase to teach kids for such situations.
There are endless possible answers when a child asks, “May I please meet your dog?” The “Yes” and the “No” replies are easy to understand. The former tells you it’s likely to be a positive interaction and the latter lets you know that the person knows the dog can’t handle it and has clearly said so. It’s those intermediate answers that require more careful interpretation. I’m always in favor of avoiding risks and erring on the side of caution when it comes to meeting dogs whose people seem hesitant about having anyone—especially a child—approach. If the answer gives any hint that it might not go well or might distress the dog, it’s best to decline.
Of course, all of this general advice assumes that people have the right read on their dog, and that is not always the case. They may think the dog loves all people, even when the dog’s body language reveals that the dog is terrified and wants a child to go away. That’s why it’s still important for kids to learn how to tell that a dog is behaving in a fearful and/or threatening way. The people’s responses to a request to meet a dog are only one stream of information we can use to decide whether to approach a dog. Still, there’s often a lot of truth in what they say, which is why children should be taught to evaluate those responses and act accordingly.
News: Guest Posts
Dog's name and age: Mojo, 7 years Adoption Story: Mojo was found in New Orleans in the Faubourg Marigny area of town. A Dogs of the 9th Ward rescuer found him cut up and afraid and thankfully took him in. She nursed him back to health and when I saw his before and after shots, I cried. My husband after looking at the photos thought he had a lot of mojo (charisma) and the rest is history. He is the best snuggling dog ever. More Mojo: Mojo loves to catch sticks at his favorite beach and sun on the porch. He is so loyal and affectionate. He really lets you know how much he loves you with a slurpy kiss, lying on top of you while watching TV and just by always being by your side.
Premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17 2017, 9:30 pm
Downward Dog will be the newest entry into must-view TV when it premiers on ABC next Wednesday, May 17. The unconventional comedy centers around Martin, a soulful mutt, whose person, a millennial named Nan, struggles to find her way in relationships, work and life in the modern age. Through it all, they have each other—their day-to-day trials commented on philosophically by Martin. You see, Martin talks … to the camera, as a device to share his inner thoughts. And before you cringe at the memory of Mr. Ed (the talking horse), this show ensues broad comedy aiming instead for a satisfying mix of smart and sweet. It succeeds due to the clever writing (Samm Hodges, who is also the voice of Martin) and fine performances from Allison Tolman (recently seen in Fargo) as Nan and Ned, an endearing rescue dog, as Martin. We caught up with Hodges and Tolman after a recent screening.
Bark: Congratulations on a wonderful show—are you longtime animal lovers?
Hodges: I was always around dogs growing up, my mom was always bringing home mutts who had ran away—we had a menagerie of dogs around the house. Currently, I don’t have a dog but look forward to getting into a routine and adding one to our family.
Tolman: I have a cat and it’s really hard for me to be away from her. I take my cat with me when I am filming whenever possible. I grew up with dogs and a houseful of animals, my mom has always been very into animal rescue, so we had lots of rescue dogs and cats at home — she couldn’t be more pleased with my involvement with this project!
Bark: Can you talk about the concept of the show, and Ned’s communication to viewers.
Hodges: Martin is not actually a talking dog. In our rules, it’s more a conceit to give us access into the thoughts of the character. So much humor associated with animals is goofy and detached from reality — this was a way to keep the world real and treat the canine character with some seriousness and gravitas. It’s hard to do that when you have a dog talking because then he’s no longer a dog. So all the time that Martin is not talking to the camera, he’s acting 100% like a normal dog, it allows us to honor the reality of what dogs are.
What we have in common with dogs is that as people we don’t make logical decisions, we react to environments, and later justify our actions, so in that way, I think Martin is very human in that sense. He’s an animal who is completely controlled by his instincts and later has to deal with the consequences.
Allison: The first episode reflects the lead character’s dilemma of the push-pull of her personal and professional life and the effect it has on her dog. It was important to tie those two things together in the first episode, and say these things are inextricably linked. The writers did a great job constructing the episodes so that big things happen in Nan’s life that mirror the small things that happen in Martin’s life that he thinks are huge.
Hodges: We all struggle with self-love, it’s something that Nan’s character wrestles with. There is something genuine about how a dog just accepts you as you are. The personal growth of Nan’s character throughout the season is learning how to accept who we are and in the process make us more loving of others.
Tolman: That is the very best part of loving an animal — having this other creature who thinks you are the moon and the stars, it’s so powerful.
Bark: Tell us about Ned, the dog who plays Martin.
Hodges: Ned is a rescue from Paws Chicago, he had been at the shelter for a long time. He’s the kind of dog that people often don’t adopt. He wasn’t a puppy, he wasn’t a pure breed. We found his photograph and thought his eyes were so emotive, I just immediately wanted to write for him. We rescued him and the trainers had about six weeks to evaluate and work with him. They are amazing and it’s been remarkable to watch Ned heal from a fairly traumatic life over the past year. It’s been an amazing transformation.
Tolman: From my experience with my mother working in animal rescue — what made him less adoptable for many people, made him perfect for us and this role. Ned is kind of a somber and a serious dog, not excitable, not a tail wagger. He’s not motivated by praise, he’s very much his own man. When you go to the shelter to find your dog, you want the one who is effusive in his love for you. And Ned’s not really like that, you really have to earn it.
Hodges: This impacts the writing as well … you’d write a script where the dog is supposed to look scared, and you film it and the dog doesn’t look scared at all — so you go and rewrite the plot around whatever the dog’s face is doing that day.
Tolman: The character who Martin is has been shaped by the kind of dog Ned is and that is charming. This is who Ned is. I hope that this will really speak to pet owners, because most people don’t have the kind of dog who appear in dog food commercials in their home — they have dogs who are temperamental or a little bratty or pout, and that’s who this dog is.
Hodges: The whole show thematically is about a mutt in the back yard in a regular neighborhood of Pittsburg who is asking if he matters. When you look at a dog in a shelter that nobody wants and say that this dog matters—we are turning our lens on a relationship which up until now has been thought of as too small or too incidental to focus on. This relationship between this woman and this dog does actually matter, and suggest how we all matter.
Bark: That’s a very existential storyline.
Tolman: That’s right, It’s palatable because it comes from this dog, and never seems preachy or too heady, it makes you think about these things and also makes you smile. It’s a very sweet, sweet show.
Hodges: Plus, there are poop jokes!
Downward Dog premiers on ABC, Wednesday, May 17, 9:30 pm, then moves to Tuesday nights 8–8:30 pm beginning May 23.
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