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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
Strut Your Mutt — A Cause to Walk For
Strut Your Mutt

Good things can happen when people join together and walk for a cause. Like moving towards a no-kill nation. Like educating the public about the root causes of homeless pets. Like helping fund those organizations on the frontlines of animal rescue and adoption. Last year, nearly 11,000 people nationwide took part in Best Friends Animal Society’s Strut Your Mutt events. Together, these two- and four-legged walkers helped save the lives of pets in shelters all across the country, earning nearly $1.3 million for homeless pets and 180 animal welfare groups who serve them.

Every day, more than 9,000 pets are killed in America's shelters simply because they don't have a home—that number should be zero, and it can be. Best Friends Animal Society and local animal rescue organizations and shelters (No More Homeless Pets Network partners) have joined together to reach that goal. The donations raised through Strut Your Mutt will be used to fund lifesaving adoption programs and spay/neuter services, which will ultimately impact the number of pets entering and leaving shelters. This year’s events, expanded to include 11 cities, kicked off this past weekend in Kanab, Utah, the home base for Best Friends. We encourage everybody to join — as a participant walking with a favorite pooch or as a donor or sponsor. The bar has been set high, organizers hope to raise $2 million to assist pet shelters across the country — and help us move closer to ending the killing of dogs and cats in America's shelters.

Strut Your Mutt Events 2013

Kanab, UT – Aug. 31
Jacksonville – Sept. 7
Los Angeles – Sept. 15
Baltimore/DC – Sept. 21
Houston – Sept. 21
Salt Lake City – Sept. 21
San Francisco – Sept. 21
Austin – Sept. 28
New York – Sept. 28
Portland – Sept. 28
St. Louis – Sept. 28

No Strut in your area? No problem! Join Strut Across America, the virtual Strut Your Mutt open to anyone anywhere! For more information go to: strutyourmutt.org/BarkBlog

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Second Largest Dog-Fighting Raid
Animal and government organizations team up to put an end to a dog-fighting ring

Cracking down on dog-fighting is difficult due to the secretive nature of the "sport" and the money at stake. Since it's usually tied to other criminal activity, people are often reluctant to pass on information to authorities.  

Given the challenges, I'm happy to report that after a three year investigation, a power team of animal and government organizations came together to successfully pull off the second largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history on Friday.

It was a team effort by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office, and local law enforcement.

When people think about dog fighting, many think of a small operation in a dark alley. But this dog-fighting ring stretched from Alabama into Georgia and Texas. It was not uncommon for bets to reach $200,000 on a single fight. There was a lot on the line and it took a long, well planned mission to put an end to the illegal activities.

Rescuers found 367 dogs along with guns, narcotics, and training supplies. 114 pups alone were saved from a single yard where they were left tethered in 90-degree weather without food or water. To give you an idea of the "medical care" these dogs received, there were several staple guns uncovered that, believe it or not, were used to seal wounds received from fighting. 

The dogs have already begun to work with behaviorists on the long path to adoption. But the rehabilitation process will be well worth it. Former fighting dogs have went on to become therapy dogs, law enforcement partners, and beloved family pets.

Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting investigations for HSUS, expects this raid to have a significant effect on large scale dog-fighting operations. Lets hope this is a big step towards ending this cruel "sport."

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Theater and Humane Society Collaboration
Raising money searching for a dog star

Bark! The Musical has been a success any way you measure it. It has been nominated for many awards, its critical reception has been favorable and it has been a financial victory for those associated with it. The show tells the story of six dogs spending a typical day at Deena’s Doggie Day Care. The dogs are all unique personalities ranging from a puppy who wants to bark like a big dog and a rapping mutt who loves to dress as a chihuahua.

At a typical show, there is information about animals available for adoption outside the theater. Rescue groups and humane societies set up booths in the lobby with photographs of local dogs who need homes. Many happy adoptions have resulted from these efforts.

Since its Los Angeles premiere in 2004, the show has helped raised over a quarter or a million dollars for animal charities of various kinds. Everywhere the show has been staged, the tradition of fundraising for animals has continued. The show will be appearing in South Dakota this fall and their work to raise money for dogs began long before opening night.

Their fundraiser is in the form of a photo contest for local dogs. For a fee, people can have their dogs professionally photographed. One of the dogs who is photographed will be chosen to appear on the promotional poster for the production. All of the money raised in the “auditions” to be the face of the show will be donated to the Siouxland Humane Society.

If you’ve seen Bark! The Musical, please share your thoughts about it.

News: Guest Posts
Bringing Home Your Rescue Dog

Every time I bring a new dog into my home, I realize I go through the same emotions: excitement, expectation, love, fear, confusion and eventually calm. It is a rollercoaster made more difficult by the fact I tend to bring home shelter dogs that often turn out to be not quite the dogs I thought they were. Few things are more rewarding than being able to adopt a rescue dog; though they often do come with some unique challenges.  Their lives have been turned upside-down, they are scared and are often coming out of a situation that was intimidating and uncomfortable. When you bring them home, be prepared for the transition period. It can take rescue dogs days to months to realize they are in a safe and loving environment. After working through it myself and talking numerous clients through adventures with new dogs over the years, the following are some lessons learned.

Get your house ready. Pick up all the things you love most and put them away in a safe place for a few months. This will set you and your new dog up for success. You don't know if you are getting a dog that loves to chew, and often you may not know until they truly get comfortable. Keep your clothes, shoes and other cherished items off the floor and out of reach.

Use a crate. Even if you work from home, eventually there will come a time when you need to leave your new dog home alone. Crate training your new dog is one of the best ways to ensure that upon your return, the house will be intact and your pup will be safe.

Buy different types of toys. There are many different toys available to add entertainment and stimulation into dogs’ lives. Stock up on safe toys for your new dog to chew that can stand up to intense chewing. You also may want to try stuffed animals, squeaky toys or interactive dog toys. Be sure to keep a close eye on your dog whenever you introduce new toys. Determine if the toy is right for your dog before leaving him unattended.  No toy is indestructible!

Remember, your new dog is adjusting to a major life change and is bound to be a bit unnerved. There are also many things you can avoid doing in an effort to make his transition easier. 

Don't plan on running out to the closest dog park or dog daycare the week you bring him home.  Realize that your dog needs time to adjust and you need time to learn what your new dog likes and wants. Give yourselves a month together to explore his personality so you can find situations that will work best for your dog.

Try to plan on having your dog in your home for at least a month before taking any trips that will call for him to be boarded. If you know you have a big trip in the works, wait until after the trip to look for your new family member. This will allow you and him time to bond and learn to trust one another.

Realize that your dog is likely to change a lot over those first few months after you bring him home. As dogs get more comfortable in an environment their true selves start to shine thru. Take the changes as they come and remember that this is their way of showing that they know they are home to stay!

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Kim Hormby provides strategic consulting services for pet business owners interested in improving or starting a pet-related organization. She is also the owner and founder of Stay Pet Hotel, a boutique hotel for dogs in Portland, Oregon.

 

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
High Tech App for Lost Pets
Finding Rover uses facial-recognition technology to reunite lost dogs

Imagine being able to take a photo of a stray dog and instantly finding the person looking for him--without even leaving the spot where you took the picture.

A new free app called Finding Rover promises to do just that through facial-recognition technology and a growing profile database. John Polimento was inspired to create Finding Rover after a lost dog poster brought back memories of how distressed his family was when their own pup was missing.  

John teamed up with software developers at the University of Utah to create an algorithm called Pet Match. The program uses machine learning and computer vision to detect a dog's unique differentiating features, such as eye shape and fur color. Because of their fur, it's much harder to apply facial-recognition technology to canines than humans.

Once you submit a photo of your dog, their profile is added to the database and can be matched with pictures of lost pups. The better the photo, the more accurate the results. John claims that with a good picture, your dog will come up 95 percent of the time out of 100 dogs of the same breed.

The app has features to help capture searchable images, such as a bark noise to get dogs to look at the phone's camera and movable circles to focus the eye and nose data search points. It took me a few tries to get a decent picture!

If you find a lost dog, you can still take a picture at a distance and search for matches, it just won't be as precise. You can also view all missing and found pets in your area by list or map. In just a few weeks Finding Rover has already helped several pups find their way back home.

Finding Rover has great potential to help reunite pups with their families. The app makes it quick and easy to search for potential matches, hopefully encouraging more people to report stray pets. I can see this revolutionizing how animals are found, as long as enough people create profiles for the database to be valuable. Right now there doesn't seem to be much activity in my area.

Believe it or not, a version for cats is in the works and should be available in about six months!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog’s Blood Saves Cat’s Life
Procedure necessary after ingesting rat poison

Rory the cat can claim that dogs are his best friend, too, or at least that one particular dog is. When Rory was in dire need of a blood transfusion, Macy the Labrador retriever was rushed to the vet to donate and that saved Rory’s life.

Rory the cat had consumed rat poison and his life was at risk. Due to bad luck, Rory had eaten the poison too late in the day on Friday for the lab to be able to determine the type of blood needed to ensure a match. The wrong type of blood could cause Rory to die, but the veterinarian treating Rory found out that there was a chance of saving Rory if he was given a transfusion of canine blood.

Rory’s guardian contacted Macy’s guardian, who is a good friend, and that’s how Macy came to be the life-saving blood donor. The procedure was not without risk. The canine blood could have killed Rory, but he certainly would have died without it. Cat’s antibodies don’t react to canine blood at first exposure, which is why the blood transfusion worked. The transfusion gave Rory enough time to replace the red blood cells he needed to recover. He’s doing well and Macy is just fine, too.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Indirectly Help Cheetahs
Livestock guardian pups protect endangered cats by driving them away
Livestock guardian dogs have long been used to protect farm animals--and even penguins!-- from dangerous predators. In Namibia, Africa, Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and Kangals watch over flocks of goats and sheep, but also indirectly help the endangered cheetah.   Over 95 percent of Namibia's cheetahs live on livestock farmland due to environmental pressures. Although the big cats are a protected species in this country, farmers are allowed to kill any threat to their animals.    In the 1980's alone 10,000 cheetahs (the current total worldwide population) were killed or moved off farms. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) believes that most of the killings were by farmers.    In response, CCF started the Livestock Guarding Dogs Program to provide Anatolian Shepherd Dogs and Kangals to protect sheep and goats, while easing the conflict between farmers and cheetahs. The Livestock Guarding Dogs Program has resulted in an 80 to 100 percent decrease in livestock losses and less retaliation against cheetahs.   In the last 19 years, around 450 dogs have been placed with farmers. Cheetah numbers hit a low of 2,500 in 1986, but has since reached about 3,000 in Namibia, the largest remaining wild cheetah population in the world. Now there is a waiting list for the dogs and the program has expanded to other countries. Unfortunately cheetahs still face threats on game ranches and cattle farms where the dogs are not suited.   The livestock guardian dogs do their job with little violence. They're not trained to chase or attack and instead use barking and posture to scare predators away.  Cheetahs are not normally aggressive and will usually quickly retreat from a noisy dog.   The Livestock Guarding Dog Program is such a creative way to protect an endangered species. If you'd like to help out, visit the CCF web site to sponsor a dog. The program costs over $40,000 a year to breed and care for the pups. 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Obama Opposes Breed-Specific Legislation
White House releases official statement

“We don’t support breed-specific legislation.” So begins an official statement from the White House. Breed-specific legislation includes any law or regulation that restricts which dogs people can have based on their breed. The most common breed to be banned is the pit bull. The statement goes on to mention research showing that breed-specific legislation is essentially ineffective at preventing dog bites and injuries, and that it is a waste of the public’s resources. The official statement is presumably a response to an online petition that requests a ban at the federal level on laws that target dogs based on their breed.

It has not been possible to determine accurately bite rates by breeds, and in the absence of reliable data, perceptions are often skewed towards whatever is reported in the media rather than the actual number of bites. At various times, certain breeds have had serious PR problems, and it changes over the years. Decades ago it was rottweilers and doberman pinschers who seemed to face the most discrimination. Now it’s pit bulls who are most often assumed by many to be dangerous just because of what they look like, and not based on any information about specific individuals and their behavior.

The statement from the White House supports the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that in order to improve public safety, we are better off with a community-based approach to dog bite prevention. The laws about dangerous dogs that deal with individuals who have a history of aggressive behavior are far more sensible than bans on entire breeds of dogs. Dogs vary greatly in their behavior and that variation is substantial within all breeds.

Our society has come a long way in stopping discrimination against people based on appearance, origin and who they are related to. It’s encouraging that we are moving in that direction when it comes to dogs, too. I’m so pleased about this big step towards eliminating discriminatory legislation. What’s your take on it?

Dog's Life: Humane
Give a Shelter Dog the Life They Deserve.

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wallace the Pit Bull today.  Wallace was a former shelter dog who had “issues” and spent a long time in a kennel. Thankfully a shelter volunteer and his wife took a chance on Wallace and adopted the problem dog. They spent a great deal of time working with him and he later became a champion Frisbee dog, winning many competitions and becoming an ambassador for Pit Bulls. A delightful book was written about Wallace’s transformation from unwanted dog to adored champion (Wallace. By Jim Gorant). Wallace passed away at a great old age, comforted by those who loved him, after a long and happy life.

As I walked through the shelter today I was struck, as I always am, by the number of wonderful dogs waiting hopefully behind the chain link. Many of them stare eagerly as I walk by, wagging their tails harder and harder the closer I get. Some are terrified and huddle at the back of the kennel, glancing at me furtively. A few are quite aggressive but most of them respond to a kind word and the offer of a cookie. The only difference between most of these dogs and Wallace is a person. One person willing to do whatever it takes to give that dog the life he or she deserves.

Shelter dogs are not flawed or bad. They just need someone to teach them how to behave and to manage them in such a way that they are set up to win. Most dogs will become a problem if allowed to roam or bark incessantly. I recently had a case involving an adolescent Great Pyrenees who barked day and night in the owner’s backyard until the neighbors complained. On investigating, I learned that the owners liked the dog but didn’t understand a dogs needs. The pup had food, water and shelter but they didn’t ever take him out of the yard. He didn’t come in the house, didn’t go for walks or have any kind of enrichment in his life. This puppy wasn’t a bad dog; he was just desperate for company. The owners surrendered the puppy to the shelter and he was adopted soon after. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful puppy leave with an adoptive family who understood his need for companionship, direction and exercise.

How I wish that every dog had the chance for a life like Wallace had. It wasn’t always easy, but Wallace’s family did whatever it took to help Wallace succeed.

I would love to hear from readers that were able to turn a “problem” dog into a happy pet. Tell me about your dog and how you did it.

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