Good Dog: Studies & Research
Empathy affects how we read canine facial expressions.
Empathy is our ability to understand and be sensitive to the feelings of others. But does this extend to how we interact with our pets? Researchers at the University of Helsinki and Aalto University set out to explore how empathy and other psychological factors affect the way we perceive both dogs and other humans.
Based on previous research, the scientists knew that people with higher emotional empathy evaluated other people's expressions more quickly, accurately, and often more intensely. Their study was the first to show that human empathy affects how we perceive our pups.
In their experiment, participants were shown images of human and canine faces, and as a control, inanimate objects and abstract pixel images. They were instructed to estimate how the target in each image was feeling.
The study found that empathy speeds up and intensifies the assessment of canine facial expressions, though the accuracy of those assessments is unreliable.
Miiamaaria Kujala, one of the postdoctoral researchers, said it's possible that empathetic people actually over-interpret the expressions of dogs.
The researchers also looked at another characteristic--experience with dog training. While empathy affected assessments of canine facial expressions more than previous dog experience, earlier studies showed that past training experience increased in importance when interpreting the dog's body language as a whole.
That makes sense given how much time dog trainers spend on learning to understand canine body language.
Expression type also made a difference. The researchers found that people assessed happy human faces more intensely than happy canine faces--and the opposite was true when looking at threatening faces. The team believes this may be due to the tendency to perceive faces of your own species as generally more pleasant. They also found that people experienced in dog training estimated the happy expressions of dogs as happier than others did.
So it seems that our empathy does extend to how we perceive our pups, and our experience with training deepens how we understand them.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A boy and dog bond over a rare ailment.
Three years ago kindergartener Carter Blanchard was diagnosed with a rare skin condition that developed white patches around his eyes. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to come to terms with his transforming face under the scrutiny of his classmates.
“The first thing he’d tell me when he got in the car,” remembers Carter’s mom, Stephanie Adock, “is that he hated his face and the way he looked.”
Now eight years old, Carter is comfortable in his own skin, thanks in part to a dog from Oregon.
Soon after Carter’s diagnosis, Stephanie was browsing Facebook when she saw a photo of a dog named Rowdy who also had white patches around his eyes. The 13-year old pup gained a worldwide social media following because of the unique look.
It turns out Rowdy had vitiligo, the same skin condition as Carter. The disorder is a result of destroyed pigment cells in the skin, but the cause isn’t known.
Carter started watching videos of Rowdy online, which totally changed his outlook.
“Carter used to be very upset but now he is proud that he was chosen to have vitiligo and wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Stephanie. “He thinks that everyone else’s skin is boring.”
Stephanie reached out to Rowdy’s owner, Niki Umbenhower, and they kept in touch for the last few years. Since they lived so far away, Stephanie didn’t think Carter would ever see Rowdy in person. But when a local television station featured their friendship, an anonymous viewer donated $5,000 to fly Carter and his mom from Arkansas to Oregon so they could finally meet Rowdy.
The bond was instantaneous.
“When we walked in I didn’t feel like we were walking in for the very first time, they were family already,” said Stephanie. “You could tell Rowdy knew something was going on and felt the energy of the room.”
Carter spent the first two hours petting Rowdy, and then Rowdy settled down next to Carter as he played with Legos.
Dogs teach us so much and one of those lessons is the power of being nonjudgemental. There’s so much we can learn from Rowdy and Carter’s friendship. Sometimes our pups just know exactly what we need!
News: Guest Posts
Dog's name and age: David, 9 years Adoption Story: David's pregnant mother was abandoned when her humans moved away from their home in Talking Rock, GA. Thankfully, the nextdoor neighbor noticed and was able to foster mother and all her pups (including David) until ready for adoption. After a successful foster, David was put up for adoption and found his forever home. David's Interests: He loves to bask in the sun at Altoon Pass after a good hike and swim. He enjoys being outside with his humans on hikes and visiting grandma at a nearby retirement community.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It’s extremely contagious behavior
Dogs frequently join in when they hear other dogs howl, and even in response to wolves doing it. In this clip from the movie Zootopia, the filmmakers nailed the contagious nature of this canine behavior for comic effect.
In the next video, a dog in front of a television that is playing this movie clip begins to vocalize in response to the realistic howling. The additional howling by the German Shepherd enhances the movie soundtrack considerably. Please note another amusing feature in the video. I refer to the large number of toys on the chair and the massive collection of bones and chews that are piled in the corner. I’m sure this décor is familiar to many of us!
All around the world, dogs are howling, and we know that this behavior is contagious. Please let me know if your dog responds to the howling in Zootopia!
News: Guest Posts
Playing in a Brooklyn park turned to heartbreak when Laura Stephen’s dog Ziggy was shot twice, and killed by NYPD officers. Ziggy a rescued mixed breed was playing off leash in the Saratoga Park in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday as they did every evening. Two officers entered the park, Stephen explained to news outlets that one asked her to leash her dog, and when she called Ziggy he turned towards her and an NYPD officer pulled out his gun and fired two shots. The officer claims that Ziggy lunged at him, and so feeling threatened, he shot the dog. Stephen says Ziggy never lunged, and was more than 10 feet away from the officer on his way back to her when shot. Neighbors told news outlets that Ziggy was very friendly and never aggressive.
Stephen didn’t have her wallet or phone so borrowed another parkgoers phone to call her son. When her son arrived with her belongings he rushed to his mother and her dog but was thrown against a tree, and arrested by NYPD officers for disorderly conduct. Meanwhile Ziggy was bleeding surrounded by 30-40 police officers who arrived on the scene. Stephen used snow and her coat to try and stop the bleeding from the gunshot wounds.
Police on the scene Sunday night (via gothamist.com)
An hour after being shot NYPD transported Stephen and Ziggy to an emergency veterinary hospital. Despite receiving a blood transfusion Ziggy died. NYPD officials arrived at the veterinary clinic and issued a criminal summons to Stephen for having her dog off leash.
Read more at the Observer, a group of neighbors also started a GoFundMe to help Stephen cover Ziggy’s funeral expenses.
News: Guest Posts
It turned out to be a costly mistake
You don’t need to be a vengeful person to feel great satisfaction about the consequences faced by an Illinois man who used his drone to tease his neighbor’s dog repeatedly. The man flew the drone past the shared eight-foot privacy fence and then close enough to nearly hit the dog. The dog became stressed out by it, especially after many experiences with the man making it dive low to a position just over the dog’s head, pulling out of the dive and then circling around and performing the same maneuver multiple times.
The dog’s guardian said that for many months after getting the drone, this neighbor “insisted on flying like the biggest jerk possible” and the description is apt. In addition to going after the dog over and over, he would position his drone right in front of other people’s houses, including at their windows, and also race cars down the road.
Though the dog’s guardian asked him not to fly it into his yard, explaining that it was scaring the dog, the neighbor’s only response was to tell him to go away and to laugh at him. Though the guardian contacted the police, they were unable or unwilling to do more than ask the man not to fly over his neighbor’s house and yard. The situation might never have been resolved if the dog hadn’t taken matters into his own mouth.
One day, when the drone was buzzing over his head, the dog (a 70-pound Malamute) caught the drone and destroyed it. It may be a powerful machine, but a dog’s jaws can easily tear a drone into pieces, especially with the proper motivational factors of fear, annoyance and frustration. Naturally, the owner of the drone was upset, even though most of us would say he had it coming.
The drone owner reacted in two ways. First, he came over to the house where his drone had died its untimely death, swearing up a storm and threatening the dog’s guardian. Second, he served the dog’s guardian with a summons to appear in small claims court. His demands were $900 to replace the drone and $300 for not being allowed access to what was left of his drone for several hours.
Suing the dog’s guardian did not go as planned for the owner of the drone. The judge did not accept claims that the dog’s guardian had purposely trained his dog to destroy the drone. Furthermore, the dog’s guardian had sought legal advice and countersued the drone owner for the costs of veterinary care for his dog ($700 for an x-ray to determine if the dog had swallowed any hazardous part of the drone, $250 to sedate the dog for that procedure, $400 for a full dental exam plus cleaning and repair, miscellaneous costs for anti-anxiety medication and wet dog food in case he had hurt his teeth and couldn’t eat his regular kibble). The guardian brought in receipts along with videos documenting the months of torture his dog endured being pursued by a drone in his own yard.
Not only did the drone owner have to pay nearly $2000 to the dog guardian, he is being investigated by the FAA for a variety of infractions. These include not registering his drone, flying a drone within five miles of an airport, flying it too close to other people, flying it out of his own line of sight and flying it far above the maximum allowable altitude. He is banned from flying a drone over the property where the dog and his guardian live.
It’s a joy to find out that the person who treated a dog (and various people) so badly not only did not get away with it, but got what he deserved.
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Keep your dog (and cat!) feeling safe and in high spirits, and you'll all feel more at peace.
Being around nonthreatening animals, domesticated or otherwise, calms humans. The reason for this seems buried in our prehistory: Back then if we were around other creatures and all was peaceful, that meant predators weren't lurking nearby, about to pounce on us. Plus, the weather was probably fine, too.
When we're less tense, we have more mental energy at our disposal to do whatever we've set out to accomplish, whether that's having a good time hanging out with family members, writing a novel or planning dinners for the next week. But there's a catch: Having animals in our home is good for us psychologically only if those animals are happy and healthy. If they're not, they add to the tension in our lives. (A moping dog or an out-of-sorts cat doesn't enhance anyone's day.)
The good news is that design can make animals happier, just as it can people. You can create a home where your pets feel as good as you do. It's hard to read the minds of pets, but when you learn more about them as they spend time in your home, you'll find ways that you can make your special animal friend feel particularly happy. Here are just a few ways to keep pets in good spirits.
Photo by The Victor Myers Companies - Look for modern home design design inspiration
1. Some privacy, please! Make sure your pet has privacy. Cats feel most comfortable in their litter boxes if they're in a space all their own.
Dogs may need a place in your home where they can get away from demanding children or loud music, too. A covered kennel, doghouse or bed in a laundry room might be just the thing.
2. Create sheltered spaces for pets to lounge in. Pets need places where they can decompress, just as you do. Those areas don't always need to be completely away from humans, however. Our pets are social but good at self-preservation, just like we are.
Most animals, including humans, feel secure when danger can't sneak up on them. While in today's world that's not as likely as thousands of years ago, we're still hardwired to think that way.
So providing a secure spot where a pet can really let down his or her guard is important. This feline feels at peace because the chair has a high back and is in a corner, assuring the cat that nothing's going to sneak up. Provide that security and you'll have a calm, happy pet.
Photo by Diskin Designs - More traditional kitchen photos
3. Build in a view. Pets need to survey their territory. Being able to look out the window while relaxing, as dogs and cats can do on this cushioned shelf, is doubly desirable.
If you don't have high windows, consider putting a secure pet gate on an opened door that leads outside.
4. Let in sounds and scents. Animals rely on smells and sounds more than humans do. To let them feel safe, having open windows allows them to hear and smell what's lurking in their surroundings.
5. Include places for exercising. Cats enjoy climbing on cat trees, shelves, furniture, anything that allows movement and elevates them off the floor. Small dogs enjoy being able to run down long halls without slipping and sliding, so add carpeting when possible.
Photo by - Look for traditional kitchen pictures
6. Support aging pets. As pets get older, their needs change, just as humans' do. Recognizing those changes will prolong the positive relationship you have with your pet.
Dogs' joints, like ours, stiffen up when they get older. Senior dogs enjoy eating from a bowl placed on a stand or short bench that raises the bowl high enough above the floor so they can eat in a regular standing posture — no need to lower the front part of the body or head too much.
Your turn: What is your pet's favorite place in your house?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Study uses fMRI brain scans to help organizations train pups to help people.
As many as 70 percent of dogs that start a service dog training program are let go before graduation. Given that it can cost up to $50,000 to develop one of these valuable pups, organizations that raise these dogs are always looking for better ways to predict who will be up to the task.
You may remember we wrote about a study last year where Emory University neuroscientists looked at dogs' preference for praise over treats. Their lab was the first to conduct functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments on awake, unrestrained pups to understand canine cognition and inter-species communication. Now they're using this technology to help solve the classic service dog dilemma--finding more accurate ways to eliminate unsuitable dogs earlier in the process.
Their study looked at 43 dogs who underwent service training at Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in Santa Rosa, California. All of these pups passed CCI's standard behavioral tests, which selects dogs with a calm temperament to start the formal training program.
Scientists used fMRI to look for higher activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with excitability. They found that dogs showing higher activity here were more likely to fail the training program.
"Data from fMRI provided a modest, but significant, improvement in the ability to identify dogs that were poor candidates," explains research lead Gregory Berns. "What the brain imaging tells us is not just which dogs are more likely to fail, but why."
The team believes that the fMRI would boost the ability to distinguish pups that would ultimately not pass from 47 to 67 percent.
This technology is expensive, so it wouldn't be practical for individual trainers, but could be utilized by larger organizations such as CCI. There's also an additional training component since the dogs must learn to remain still while undergoing the fMRI.
The second part of the study built on Emory's original treat research. In these experiments, the dogs were taught hand signals for "treat" and "no treat," which were shown while the pups were in the fMRI. They found a correlation between training program success and the caudate, a region of the brain associated with rewards.
In response to the treat signal, those who had more activity in the caudate were more likely to complete the service dog training program. In contrast, those with more activity in the amygdala were more likely to fail.
"The ideal service dog is one that is highly motivated, but also doesn't get excessively excited or nervous," explained Gregory. "The two neural regions that we focused on--the caudate and the amygdala--seem to distinguish those two traits. Our findings suggest that we may be able to pick up variations in these internal mental states before they get to the level of overt behaviors."
Gregory's team hopes to refine this evaluation technique and apply it to a broader range of working dogs, such as military and police pups.
News: Guest Posts
What’s your dog’s name and age? Chester, 2 years
Nicknames: Chessy, Bud, Booger Butt and Smiley
After starting a search for the perfect pup pal Chester's person headed over to her local shelter. She spotted little Chester in an restricted area and inquired about his history. Turns out he was recently picked up as a stray along with another dog, found alone in a secluded wooded area. Fortunately, Chester became available for adoption that day and his partner had already found a home. After meeting Chester she knew he was the one and they instantly connected!
Chester loves to go hiking, head to the dog park, and play chase with anyone who will follow. Once he's found a ball there's no getting that ball out of his mouth unless you have a treat to swap! His mom says Chester is always smiling and always so happy and can brighten anyone's day.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
2017 is on trend to be a particularly risky year for disease carrying ticks.
Ticks are a big concern for dog parents, sometimes I feel like my dogs are magnets for the little pests. They pick up the little buggers while hiking, at agility trials, and even in our own backyard. And it can be annoying to search for ticks under all that fur!
According to Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, 2017 is anticipated to be a particularly risky year for Lyme disease. He expects the risk will be high in New York, Connecticut, and possibly areas of the mid-Atlantic region.
This is part of a growing trend, where Lyme contiues to spread in New England and the upper Midwest.
"Reported cases of Lyme have tripled in the past few decades," says Centers for Disease Control epidemiologist Kiersten Kugeler.
On the East Coast, Kiersten says most people catch Lyme near their homes, not just when hiking or camping. So if you live in an area that is tick prone, it's important to check yourself and your pets regularly. Since blacklegged ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and like to hang out in the nooks and crannies of the human body, Kiersten advises people to check behind ears, armpits, and the groin area.
If you find a tick, "very carefully, go under the head of the tick with tweezers and just pull out the mouth of the tick, which is embedded in the skin," instructs Dr. Brian Fallon who directs the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research at Columbia University Medical Center. Don't squeeze the body of the tick which will transfer possible infection into the skin. Don't use Vaseline or fire to remove the tick. Tweezers are the best tool.
There are a few ways to determine your Lyme risk:
All this sounds depressing, but remember, not all ticks carry Lyme, and it takes 24-36 hours to transmit the disease. The sooner you catch them, the better. Kiersten recommends making tick checks as part of your daily routine to combst this preventable disease.
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