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Therapeutic Trees
Another health bonus from walking your dog

The New York Times had an interesting article about studies examining the health benefits of nature. Researchers have found that spending time in places with trees aplenty, such as parks and forests, is good for us and has a positive affect on our immune functions. Seems as if stress reduction is one factor that the scientists attribute to phytnocides, the “airborne chemicals that plants emit to protect them from rotting insects.”  The Japanese have taken this to heart and even partake in a practice called “forest bathing.” 

 

As The Times notes, “the scientists found that being among plants produced lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, and lower blood pressure, among other things.” So for all of you who walk your dogs in the woods, not only are you doing the right thing by providing sensory stimulation and exercise for them but you too get a healthy boost from the trees!

 

News: Karen B. London
Getting a Leg Up
Three-legged dogs inform robot design

Many three-legged dogs walk and run quite well, and people who build robots want to know how. They want to model robots on dogs who are missing limbs so that in the event of damage, these robots will still be capable of moving. It makes sense to be prepared for the unexpected, and studying the way dogs move may make it possible.

  By comparing the gaits of dogs with three legs to those of the typical four-legged dogs, these researchers are analyzing the adjustments of dogs who are missing a limb. Interestingly, dogs who are missing a hind leg show very little change in the way they move each foreleg. In contrast, those individuals who lost a front leg showed quite a big change in how the remaining limbs moved. It seems that losing a forelimb requires much more compensation by the other legs to coordinate movement with each other.   I remember a client from many years ago who had several happy, active three-legged Rottweilers and only one with the normal number of legs. As he liked to say, “I’ve got four dogs, 13 legs, and a whole mess of trouble.” Have you known a three-legged dog that could still walk, run and play?   Check out this story on three-legged dogs that originally appeared in The Bark Issue 37, July/August 2006.

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Dating with Dogs
One in 14 people have used their pet to attract a mate

Dogs are social by nature, so it’s no surprise that our pets help us make connections with our fellow humans. Dog parks and pet lover dating web sites have become popular places to meet new friends and even spark romantic relationships.

Recently statistics web site, the Book of Odds, calculated the chances that a person has ever used his or her pet to attract a new mate as one in 14.29.

This tactic must be a fairly successful one. If I walk down the streets of Manhattan by myself, no one so much as glances in my direction as they rush to their destinations. When I take my dog for a walk, hardly anyone passes without stopping to give him a pat on the head or, at the very least, smile in our direction.

And I’m not the only one who feels this way. An American Kennel Club (AKC) survey of dog owners found that 46 percent of women said that they would stop to chat with anyone accompanied by a cute puppy.

Meeting a fellow dog lover means you already have something in common. I’ve met some of my closest friends through our pets.

Who have you met through your dogs?

News: Guest Posts
Thumbs Down on Store-bought Dogs
New poll finds Americans prefer shelters to stores

Good news for shelter dogs and cats: More than half of pet owners to respond to an Associated Press-Petside.com poll said “they would get their next dog or cat from a shelter, nearly seven times the number who said they would buy their next pet from a store.” About a quarter said they would seek out a breeder for their next pet.

  The telephone poll conducted April 7-12, 2010, with 1,112 pet owners nationwide revealed that shelters are seen by many as a better option for healthy pets and as a necessary response to overpopulation and euthanasia. I was most surprised—and heartened—by the finding that “…more than four in 10 said they thought store pets could have hidden medical or psychological problems. That’s significantly more than those who expressed the same concerns about pets from animal shelters or breeders.”   Interestingly, people under 30 were more likely to buy a pet from a store than older respondents, which signals to me that education efforts about pet stores and puppy mills needs to zero in on a younger audience.

 

News: Karen B. London
Only the Good Die Young
Science doesn't back that up

According to a recent study, The Pace of Life Under Artificial Selection: Personality, Energy Expenditure, and Longevity Are Correlated in Domestic Dogs, there is a link between personality, metabolic rate, and life history traits. Researcher Vincent Careau and his colleagues conclude that dogs of obedient, docile and shy breeds live longer than breeds that are more typically bold or disobedient. They also found that aggressive breeds have higher energetic needs than breeds who are not typically aggressive. It is well known that large dogs don’t tend to live as long as small dogs. This study corrected for size and found that personality is related to canine life span without allowing size to confound their conclusions.

  Some specifics of the study’s findings are that both the German Shepherd and the Bichon live a long time for their size, and that Labradors and Newfoundlands burn less energy for their weight than other breeds. On the other end, Fox Terriers, Great Danes, Beagles and Pomeranians had short life spans relative to their size. The basic idea is that dogs who expend a lot of energy and don’t live that long are consistent with a pace-of-life syndrome that goes with a “live fast, die young” model. It has been used to explain varying life spans of a number of species.   The scientists who conducted this study assert that these results could be a result of either humans selecting for particular combinations of traits, but they believe another possibility is more likely: They think that these correlations probably arose from inadvertent correlations of these traits with the trait humans were truly selecting for—personality.   Many people will no doubt find this study fascinating, but there are already critics who view dogs as an unusual case in that the smaller breeds tend to live longer whereas in other animals, the longest-lived animals tend to be bigger. I myself am curious about how the breeds were categorized as bold, obedient, docile, aggressive etc. What do you think about this study?
News: JoAnna Lou
Collaborate for a Cure
New study aims to use doggy DNA to understand cancer.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Van Andel Research Institute, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and Michigan State University, have created the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium to better understand cancer in dogs and humans. 

The research features an unprecedented collaboration of veterinarians, scientists, research institutes, government entities, and corporations to accelerate the development of a cure.

By using the DNA in canine saliva, blood, and tumor samples, the scientists hope to better understand the genetic causes of cancer that will lead to treatment for both humans and canines. Having access to canine samples will allow researchers to study diseases, like sarcomas, where the scarcity of human samples makes it difficult to study.

The Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium will be funded by a 2-year, $4.3 million federal stimulus grant and an additional $1 million provided by PetSmart and Hill’s Pet Nutrition. The research is also endorsed by the American Kennel Club and the Morris Animal Foundation

In addition to cancer, TGen and VARI eventually will study neurological and behavioral disorders as well as hearing loss and other debilitative conditions.

In a world where one of three dogs, one of two men, and two of three women will be affected by cancer, it’s important to pool our resources to finally beat this horrible disease.

News: Karen B. London
Visual Versus Vocal Cues
Dogs watch us and we talk to them

There’s a little list in my mind of information that dog trainers know and that they wish everyone knew. At the top of that list is the fact that dogs primarily communicate with visual signals whereas humans most often express themselves vocally. This difference explains so much of the confusion between our otherwise largely compatible species.

 

Dogs often pick up on visual cues that we use, inadvertently or not, when training them. So, if during training, we use a hand gesture while saying "sit," most dogs will learn that the hand gesture means to put their bottom on the ground long before they figure out that the word "Sit" means to do the same thing.

 

Research has shown that dogs learn visual signals faster than vocal signals. Therefore, it is most likely that if your dog is sitting when presented with both cues, he already knows the visual cue on its own. To check for sure, you can experiment by giving just the visual cue and see if your dog sits.

 

We often think our dogs are responding to what we are saying, but often they are actually responding to what we are doing. Dogs are watching us and we are talking to them. Dogs can't figure out what their humans are trying to convey and we can't figure out why our dogs aren't listening.

 

Simply being aware of this difference between dogs and people helps avoid the problems that often result. For more information, check out this short article I wrote for my local paper about visual versus vocal cues.

News: Guest Posts
Cats 1, Dogs 0
Study links asthma risk to dogs, not cats

I feel like I have a built-in radar for dog versus cat stories. Or rather, I’m sort of a magnet for them. I know it drives some Bark readers crazy—those who don’t feel a need to make comparisons and think I should stop feeding the feud. Well, if you are such a high-minded egalitarian read no further. If you’re with me (and keeping score), add a hash mark to the “Cat’s rule” side of the ledger.

 

A recent study, led by Dr. Chris Carlsten of Vancouver General Hospital in British Columbia, Canada, revealed a three-fold increase in the risk of asthma for children who were exposed to high levels of dog allergen. According to Carlsten, the culprit may be high levels of endotoxin on dogs, a microorganism known to cause inflammation in the lungs. Meanwhile, neither cat nor dust-mite exposure seemed to increase a child’s asthma risk. I wonder if parents who read the study will opt for cats when Susie and Jimmy start begging for a pet? (A big meow to our friends over at PawNation for this story.)

News: Karen B. London
Decoding Dog Growls
Each kind contains specific information

Dogs growl in different contexts—when guarding something of value, when threatened by a stranger and during play. These growls can sound remarkably similar to the novice human ear, but a new study in the journal Animal Behavior suuggests that the meanings of these growls are very different to dogs.

  Scientists in Hungary recorded growls by dogs in different situations and analyzed the structure of the calls. The growls recorded during play were very different than the other two calls in that they were shorter and higher in pitch.   In an experiment that was also a part of their study, they allowed a dog to approach a high quality food item (a cooked meaty bone) when alone in a room. Then, they piped in the recorded sound of either a growl made when a dog was threatened by a stranger or a growl made by a dog guarding a bone. They tested 41 dogs in this way and found that dogs were significantly more likely to back away from the bone when they heard the bone-guarding growl than when they heard the threatened-by-a-stranger growl.   Dogs have a huge range of vocalizations and yet much remains to be learned about the differences in meanings and structure of their acoustic communication. This study is one step towards a fuller understanding of the vocal repertoire of dogs.

 

News: Karen B. London
Lost Wallets
Can your dog’s photo help?

According to a psychology study by Richard Wiseman in Edinburgh, Scotland, the likelihood that your lost wallet will be returned to you is influenced by the photos in it. The highest percentage of wallets were returned when there was a baby picture inside (88 percent), but the next most effective photo was one of a dog at 53 percent. A family portrait prompted a 48% return rate while wallets with photos of an elderly couple were only returned 28 percent of the time. Only 20 percent of wallets without photos but containing a charity receipt were returned, and 15 percent of those without a photo or a receipt were turned in. So, that photo of your dog may be great insurance against the loss of a wallet, though a baby picture is even better.

  The scientist who conducted the study says the results suggest that people are naturally compassionate and want to protect vulnerable babies. So, what do you think? Do puppies make people react in the same way as babies but perhaps not as intensely? Do puppies cause the same strong reaction as babies in some people but not others? Or is the reaction a different, though also caring response? What else could explain what the researchers found?

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