Vasopressin and Oxytocin Affect this Behavior
Many hormones influence canine aggression, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Arizona titled, “Endogenous Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Aggression in Domestic Dogs”. This is no surprise given that the hormones testosterone and serotonin have a huge influence on aggressive behavior, but this study provides evidence that high vasopressin levels are associated with aggression, and that high levels of oxytocin are associated with the absence of aggression in dogs. Previous work has shown that oxytocin levels in dogs are elevated by positive interactions with people. (In humans, oxytocin is important in both childbirth and in breastfeeding, and is also known to facilitate social bonding. Vasopressin is also influential in people, with previous research indicating that people with long standing aggression problems have high levels of this hormone.)
Dogs with a history of behaving aggressively to other dogs were recruited for this study, and for every dog recruited, a non-aggressive dog of the same age, sex and breed was also recruited. In one experiment, dogs were on leash and exposed to a recorded sound of a barking dog behind a curtain. then the curtain was pulled back, revealing a realistic dog model with a person. Dogs were also tested with videos showing dogs exhibiting various non-aggressive behaviors. (In control trials, they were also exposed to random sound effects everyday objects such as a box or a yoga ball. No dogs reacted with aggression to these objects.)
In all trials, the dogs’ hormone levels were recorded before and after the exposure to what was behind the curtain. Many of the aggressive dogs did react to the model dog with barking, lunging and growling, but there were almost no reactions to the controls or the videos. The dogs who reacted aggressively had higher levels of vasopressin than dogs who did not react, but no differences in their oxytocin levels were found.
Another experiment in this study compared hormone levels of dogs in an assistance guide dog training program to those of the pet dogs in the study. Researchers found that these assistance dogs had higher levels of oxytocin than pet dogs, but did not find differences in vasopressin levels between these two groups of dogs.
The assistance dogs are from a population of dogs who have been bred for over 40 years for traits such as friendliness, calm temperaments and the lack of aggressive behavior. At the physiological level, they showed a difference in oxytocin levels when compared to pet dogs, suggesting that the selective breeding of these dogs may have been acting on oxytocin levels, and that changes in the levels of that hormone may also influence the likelihood of aggressive behavior.
There is a never ending quest for ways to help dogs overcome aggressive behavior. This study indicates that there may be value in pursuing treatments based on targeting both vasopressin and oxytocin.
Dog's name and age: Sherman, 18 years old
Adoption Story: Sherman came into our lives as a "therapy" puppy; I had recently lost my younger sister and he provided an enornmous amount of unconditional love. He was our first pet as a newly married couple and gave us so much love for 18 years. As a young pug, Sherman loved to play with toys and was always the perfect companion. He went everywhere with us and truly was our "kid"!
This picture was taken last year (2016), one week before he peacefully passed away at home. Sherman was truly a gift and holds a big part of our hearts. As he grew older, he was definitely a Southern gentlemen who loved everyone and everyone loved him!
Art works cited as cruel pulled from Guggenheim Museum show
The recent controversy involving the Guggenheim Museum’s decision to pull three art works from an upcoming exhibition has the art world and animal rights advocates abuzz. The art pieces in question were scheduled to appear as part of a much anticipated exhibition “Art and China After 1989: Theater of the World” slated to open October 6. The three works are intended to symbolize oppression in China. One 7-minute video titled “Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other” by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, shows four pairs of Pitbull dogs on non-motorized treadmills, struggling to make contact and seemingly fight. Another video, “A Case Study of Transference,” shows two pigs mating in front of an audience. The third work removed is an installation, “Theater of the World,” which features hundreds of live lizards, snakes, crickets and other insects and reptiles on display under an overhead lamp. Protesters in favor of removing the works ranged from the ASPCA to PETA and the AKC, plus a host of vocal animal rights activists. An online petition demanding the museum remove the works garnered more than 600,000 signatures over five days, contending that the three works depict animal cruelty.
An initial response to the protests drew this comment from the museum: “Reflecting the artistic and political context of its time and place, Dogs That Cannot Touch Each Other is an intentionally challenging and provocative artwork that seeks to examine and critique systems of power and control,” the Guggenheim said in a statement. “We recognize that the work may be upsetting. The curators of the exhibition hope that viewers will consider why the artists produced it and what they may be saying about the social conditions of globalization and the complex nature of the world we share.”
This week the museum relented to pressure and withdrew the controversial works, citing “concern for the safety of its staff, visitors and participating artists.” They now face criticism from the art community for bowing to public pressure in dictating what is acceptable art and what is not. This dilemma challenges those, like myself, who are both staunch supporters of artistic expression and advocates for animal rights. I have not seen the video featuring the dogs but the written description is sufficient to sicken me at the act of subjecting the animals to unnecessary violence, stress and harm. There is no intellectual argument for allowing this that I can accept. For now, knowing that it is wrong will have to suffice.
Others, such as Sarah Cohen, an art historian at the University at Albany whose research examines the artistic representations of animals, have wisely articulated the reasoning behind the emotions. She cited a perceived failing by the museum curators thus:
The curators themselves do not appear to have considered very deeply the problem of humans forcing certain behaviors in animals,” she said in an email. “Nor did they apparently stop to consider that using pigs as performers to ‘inform’ human spectators about their cultural hangups is a shopworn strategy—as old as dancing bears and the circus.”
“In my opinion,” she added, “the exploitation of animals to make artistic points is, well, bad art.”
When I ran a German Shepherd rescue more than 15 years ago, one of the biggest challenges was emotional blackmail. A dog owner would call me out of desperation or exasperation or they were just done. If I didn’t take the dog right now, he’d end up in the shelter or worse.
Social media didn’t yet exist and online pet adoption websites were brand new. Early on, I felt my only option was to take the dog. The longer I did rescue, I was less inclined to do so. I finally had the experience to know the rescue didn’t have the money or the foster home for it. Squeezing in another dog would affect our ability to care for and advertise the dogs we already had. But it was a horrible feeling, knowing that the owner had come to us as a last resort and we couldn’t offer another option other than the shelter.
Finally, there is a humane alternative: Adopt-A-Pet.com, a nonprofit pet adoption website, just introduced a new, free service for owners who need to rehome their pets. The owner creates an online pet profile that will be viewed by the public. Adopt-A-Pet then guides the owner through a screening process that includes adoption applications, meet and greets, and an adoption contract. The adoption fee can be submitted online and go to the rescue or shelter of the owner’s choice.
This idea is so brilliant it’s a wonder no one thought of it sooner. Perhaps the only negative is that pet owners who don’t care who gets their pet – they just want him out of the house as soon as possible – will not take the time to create an online profile. It was always heartbreaking when an owner would call me and when I asked for a photo, they said they didn’t have any. Clearly, the dog was going to be better off without them.
My hope is that services such as Adopt-A-Pet’s new rehome program will help pet owners take steps well before desperation sets in.
For more info, go to: rehome.adoptapet.com
She was taught to trade money for food
Dogs want food treats so much that they will generally do whatever it takes to get us to hand them over. Different dogs learn different strategies to accomplish this same goal. Some dogs learn to sit, other dogs figure out that making their cutest wide-eyed face works best and there are dogs who have been taught that begging at the table is effective.
One dog named Holly learned that the best way to get treats is to pay for them. As a puppy, she loved to take things from bags or purses in the house, and that included dollar bills. Rather than chase her around or try to wrestle her new treasures away from her, her guardians wisely opted to make trades. Holly would surrender the money to receive a treat. It wasn’t hard for her to figure out that if she had money, she could use it to “buy” treats. In dog training parlance, she had been reinforced (with treats) for having money in her mouth and letting her guardians take it away, so she began to do it more often.
In fact, she learned to search for money so that she could trade it for treats. Her guardians can tell her to go get a dollar if she wants a treat, and Holly will go find one. This family finds it amusing and allows her to have a stash of cash that she can use to “buy” treats. When she runs out, they replenish her supply. (She will often bring a dollar without being asked and put it on one of their laps to let them know she wants to exchange it for a treat.)
When it comes to getting treats, dogs do what works for them. As trainers and guardians, we can use that to our advantage by making a behavior that we like be one that works for them. So, if you want your dog to drop things, make that a strategy that will result in treats for them.
It is possible for this to go awry if what your dog learns to drop for treats is something you don’t want him to have in the first place such as your phone or your glasses case. It’s more fun (and less irksome) if you can teach your dog to drop things you want him to bring to you, such as the newspaper or your slippers. If there is something your dog is always taking that you would prefer not be in his mouth, make it inaccessible while you encourage him to take something else instead. Once he has established a new habit of bringing you the “right” objects, he will be more likely to leave those other things alone.
Has your dog learned that certain objects can be traded for treats?
It’s easier to give medicine to them than to cats
I’m quite fond of cats, though dogs top my list of true loves. I recently had a reminder about one quality I prefer about dogs: It is so much easier to give them their medicine. The typical dog doesn’t care for the taste, but there are plenty of workarounds. Cheese, peanut butter, steak, chicken and just about any other tasty food can be wrapped around the pill.
The result, for a large number of dogs, is that you can easily pop a pill in a dog’s mouth. Due to canine enthusiasm for the delicious smell of the tasty wrapping, it is likely to be swallowed. In fact, it seems that a typical dog’s thought process goes something like this:
“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, that smells so yummy! I hope I get to eat it, I hope, I hope, I hope! Yay, it’s coming towards me, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. [chomp] Hmm, that was mostly good, but it tasted a little funny at the end.” Then, the next day, with the same delicious presentation, the same internal dialogue may as well happen again, because most dogs will once again become excited about the cheese, steak or chicken wrapped around a pill, eat it again, perhaps notice a funny taste, and basically not care at all after that moment.
A few dogs will be hesitant about that particular food in the future or even reject it outright, but it’s not that common. To minimize the chances of having a problem, it is wise to give dogs these special foods without the pill sometimes so that they do not develop a distrust of them. Many dogs never have such issues anyway, but pill-free treats provide some extra insurance.
A large percentage of cats, on the other hand, tend to take more of a, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me” approach to being fed a pill wrapped in tuna, chicken or in another delicious food treat. Sure, you may be able to trick a cat into downing the pill one time, but good luck ever doing it again with any treat even remotely similarly to what you used.
During a recent cat-sitting stint for my neighbor, I needed to give each of her two cats medicine every day. The instructions said to put their medication, which was powdered, into their food. To be certain that each cat received a full does of the medicine and did not get any of the other cat’s share, I needed to stay and watch them eat. That usually took anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. One day, neither cat would touch the food at all, possibly because they did not enjoy the previous night’s dinner. At breakfast, they were even hesitant to eat the medicine-free food unless it was different in flavor than what had been served at any meal with the medicine. Salmon cat food as well as tuna fish (high quality feline cuisine!) were happily eaten until they had been used to serve up the medication, after which point they were avoided. Pill pockets, which are so useful with dogs who object to taking their medicine, were not successful, although they do work for some cats.
Meanwhile, in the hour or so I spent each evening with these sweet cats, I could probably have dosed dozens of dogs with whatever medication they required just by wrapping the medicine in anything I happened to have on hand. The point of reporting this is not to pick on the marvelous creatures we call cats. My purpose is simply to add to the never ending list of reasons to be grateful for dogs.
What has made you grateful to your dog lately?
It’s hard to understand why anyone objected
We have leash laws, and I understand the value of them. Leashes control some of life’s chaos and protect people (and other dogs!) from out-of-control dogs. For those who fear dogs, having them leashed eases many anxieties, and leashes have certainly saved many dogs from injuries. So, please understand that I support leash laws and wish more people complied with them. I also wish that many communities had more places where dogs could be off leash, but that’s a rant for another time.
Today’s rant is about someone screaming at a person in my neighborhood for having his dog off leash. I thought it was an odd battle to choose because this dog is so geriatric and moves so slowly that as you drive by, you can barely tell that the dog is out for a walk. You could just as easily mistake him for a dog waiting at a bus stop. Really.
I see this dog out fairly regularly, because his guardian takes him out daily for a walk, and their schedule often coincides with my drive to school to drop off my kids. The dog travels, on his own four paws, down the block and then returns home, but he is barely moving. The walk is so slow that I sometimes see the dog soon after I leave my house and again 20 minutes later when I return, though the dog’s journey could be covered by a younger dog in two minutes. The guardian shuffles along with him, continuing their 16-year tradition of enjoying the great outdoors together.
Yes, this dog did not have a leash, and yes, I realize that is technically a violation of our local ordinance. Still, I cannot imagine why anyone would be so upset that it would be worth making a fuss about this dog. He is in the latter stages of his golden years and shuffling along the sidewalk, bothering nobody at all and posing no threat to anyone. Yet, someone did make a fuss. A man came up to the guardian, yelling about our leash laws and threatening to call the police. He demanded that the guardian put his dog on leash immediately or that “he would be very sorry.”
I did not witness this firsthand, but heard about it when I commented to a neighbor that I was surprised to see this man was suddenly walking his dog on leash. It seemed so unnecessary after seeing him walk his dog without one for the last year or so. It makes me sad to know that this man was criticized so harshly. Luckily, I don’t think the dog minds the leash, and I’m pleased to see that the guardian has chosen to use the thinnest, lightest leash I have ever seen used on a 50-ish pound dog, and that the leash has a super light clip. I suspect it’s actually a cat leash.
I see plenty of loose dogs who should really be on leash because it adds to the comfort and safety of everyone around the dog. This dog just isn’t one of them. Being on a leash makes absolutely zero difference in his behavior. He is just as old and slow and harmless as ever. In my opinion, all that has changed is that the guardian has been made to feel rotten for no useful reason.
It’s easy to object to my distress on the grounds that the guardian of the dog was violating the law. It’s still hard to imagine what motivates someone to complain about such an extremely old and hobbled dog going on a walk without a leash.
Some dogs prefer recently acquired skills
“The new action is always her favorite!” one of my clients told me. And it’s true—whenever Stella is taught something new, she’s so excited about it.
Stella knows a lot of skills already—sit, down, stay, wait, come, heel, touch, take it, leave it. She needs those skills because she is a service-dog-in-training. Most of these skills she knows really well and can do even in hectic situations. That’s important, because at times, she has lived in a house with up to nine people ranging in age from 6 months old to upwards of 90 years, two other dogs and four cats. Not every dog can hold a stay when a three-year old is running around, cats are zipping by her, and a few adults are talking at the same time in order to work out the day’s complicated logistics, but Stella can!
During the course of her training, Stella has also learned some tricks such as bow, crawl and sit pretty—and it’s about the cutest sit pretty you will ever see. She modified it on her own to grasp her handler’s hand. It always looks to me like she is praying reverently.
One of the reasons Stella has learned these tricks is that she loves to learn new things, so we’ve introduced them along the way. In some training visits to her home, we work on something new just because it makes her happy. She likes to work and enjoys all of her training exercises, but whatever she has learned most recently provides her with a little extra joy.
It’s not clear why that is, but there are a number of possibilities. Some dogs enjoy the puzzle of figuring out what they are supposed to do. Some dogs become bored of any routine and get very excited when something unexpected is happening. Others seem to relish learning something new because of the satisfaction of getting it right. Other dogs love the new trick because many trainers use the best food or especially high rates of reinforcement with new skills to help dogs learn them faster.
Does your dog get excited about learning a new trick or other skill?
Dog's name and age: Peanut, 14 years old
Peanut now well into her senior years has degenerative myelopathy, so her back legs don't work so well anymore. The vet initially thought she might not be the type of dog to take to a doggie wheel chair, but I had faith in Peanut and decided to try. After a few false starts, she got rolling and began taking short walks around the neighborhood.
People driving by often slow their cars down to watch and cheer her on! Peanut is quite happy to take in all of the sniffs and smells through the walk. Sometimes we still visit Peanut's favorite park in the East Bay hills, where this photo was taken. Peanut enjoys a double happy bonus, because she always gets a treat once she's out of her wheels and back indoors. I've learned old dogs really can learn new tricks, and am grateful and inspired by each walk and every day we get to spend together.
My favorite sight in Mérida, Spain
Mérida, Spain is famous for its World Heritage Site—an extensive set of archaeological ruins that include a well-preserved 2000-year old Roman theater. One might expect that it is these ancient treasures that my memory would lock onto most fiercely, but that is not the case. The lasting mental image I took away from my visit to this beautiful city was that of an elderly man sitting on a park bench with his dog lying next to him. Happily, I thought to take a photograph so that I also have a permanent digital image to go along with my memory.
There is simply nothing more endearing than the companionship of a person and a dog, and I find that especially true of the elderly of either species. When I see an old dog accompanied by an unhurried and endlessly patient person, my heart swells. I have the same response when a kind and gentle dog shares a peaceful moment with an older human.
It is especially inspiring to see people and dogs spending time together when they take a leisurely approach to enjoying life that allows a full appreciation of each moment. This man and his dog seem completely content to sit outside together taking in their surroundings. I do not know this man’s story, but I like to imagine that he, like many people, considers all to be right with the world as long as he has his dog for company.
There is no doubt that I will remember this man and his dog long after my memories of the extraordinary Roman relics in Mérida have faded away.
So many hopeful stories of goodwill and humanitarianism are emanating from the tragic circumstances caused by Hurricane Harvey and Irma—good people lending a helping hand in difficult circumstances. We were pleased to find out that our neighbors, the Berkeley Humane Society, have stepped up to assist a Florida shelter prepare for the anticipated disaster heading their way with the arrival of category 4 Hurricane Irma.
Yesterday we visited the Berkeley Humane Society that has just returned from the airport where they picked up 50 dog and cat evacuees from the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale. A number of humane organizations outside of Florida are coming to the aid of shelters helping to “clear” the decks in anticipation of Hurricane Irma. We are proud that our neighbor, who is just down the road from our offices, more than doubled their population with these new arrivals. We visited the shelter shortly after the dogs and cats arrived, and the animal care volunteers were busy taking tallies, and making sure that their new guests have their needs met and have settled in. We were shown around the shelter facility by executive director Jeffrey Zerwekh and Tom Atherr, director of development & communications who generously give us time to tell us about their work and introduce us to the new arrivals.
This Ft Lauderdale-to-Bay Area mission was organized by Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) in nearby Walnut Creek, that also took in a large number of the animal evacuees, along with the East Bay SPCA and the Berkeley Humane Society. The remarkable organization Wings of Rescue provided the airplanes, piloted by volunteer pilots with GreaterGood.org, Freekibble.com and the Rescue Bank helping to pay for the flight. All told, more than 175 cats and dogs were evacuated. Ric Browde with Wings of Rescue noted that, “we wanted to be proactive before the storm and get as many of the animals as we had at the shelter out of the facility.” Christopher Agostino, President and CEO of the Humane Society of Broward County added, “This is a tremendous undertaking and we are grateful for all our partners making this possible. We want to be prepared as much as possible for after the storm and to be able to help our community.”
The rescue flight, with a stopover for refueling, took 10 long hours, with most of the dogs taking it in stride. During our visit, many of the dogs came up to the front of their enclosures to sniff and greet us. The BHS has a full veterinary facility on premise which helps make it an ideal partner in this evacuation project. The shelter medical staff was on hand to review medical records and make sure that everything was in order. The shelter will be arranging foster homes for many of these southern transplants, recognizing that dogs do much better with foster families paving the transition to forever homes. BHS will be waiving the adoption fees in order to help expedite the adoptions of these animals, said Altherr, but welcomes donations, be it online or in person, to help cover the shelter’s costs. “Berkeley Humane is grateful that we are in a position to help animals that were at risk and are now safe. Doubling our animal population with only a few hours notice is difficult and a significant drain on our resources, but we know what we have to do and we are confident our community of volunteers, adopters, and donors will participate in these efforts,” added Zerwekh.
Zerwekh explained that the Broward County people were extremely well-organized and were making evacuation plans, and lining up out-of-state shelters, in anticipation of Irma. Being able to clear their shelters means that the Broward people, in turn, can open their doors to the animals that will be needing assistance during and after the upcoming storm. The Florida shelter evacuation follows another recent transfer of animals from Texas shelters to nearby Oakland. Fifty dogs and 20 cats arrived in the Bay Area via a private jet, thanks to efforts by the San Francisco SPCA, Mad Dog Rescue, Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and the Milo Foundation. The animals were flown in and slated for adoption in order make room for the many pets that got lost during Hurricane Harvey.
It seems that so many lessons, on the humane front, were imparted during Katrina and recent disaster relief efforts. It is wonderful to see that the nation’s humane network, stretching across state and regional boundaries, coming together to assist this long-distance rescue and evacuation collaboration.
Picture this: You’re alone on an elevator and a very large man gets on. The door closes and the man approaches you and starts putting his hands all over your body. What do you do? Tell him to stop? Scream? Fight back? It’s terrifying, right?
Recently I had a call of a dog running around an apartment complex, barking and growling at people. I arrived to find a small mixed breed, obviously someone’s baby, and completely terrified. He wasn’t about to come to me and no amount of sweet talk or cookies was going to do it. I had to corner him, dodge his teeth and slip a leash over his head. Once I had him he settled down a bit and I was able to walk him over to my truck. As I was preparing to scan him for a microchip a man walked up and reached for the dog, who I’ll call Fluffy, to try and pet him. Fluffy’s body language screamed “back off, you’re scaring me. I will bite if you don’t give me space.” The man kept coming and I said, “please don’t touch him, he’s scared enough to bite.” The man said, “oh no, I’m good with dogs.” And I’m thinking, if you were good with dogs, you would not be causing this poor dog more fear and stress, and if you were good with dogs, you would see that this dog is about to bite you. I had to ask the man several more times to stop reaching for the dog and I knew without a doubt that I would be writing a bite report and labeling this poor scared dog with a bite history if I couldn’t get the man to back off.
I finally got the man to stop but he argued with me and I could see that he thought I was being unreasonable. I was able to slowly, gently, scan the dog, pick up a microchip and wrap him in a blanket and get him in my truck. I could see that he wasn’t a bad dog, just a lost dog, scared enough to bite if strangers took liberties. Thanks to the chip, I had him home to his grateful person in a few minutes, but thank goodness I was able to prevent a bite that so easily could have happened.
I also recently had a similar experience at an adoption event for our non-profit rescue. We had a very sweet, 6-month-old border collie mix puppy up for adoption and it was her first event. She had been an absolute delight, wagging her tail, approaching people and really loving the attention. I turned away to look at something for a moment and suddenly she was flipping around on the end of the leash trying to get away and a man was trying to corner her to pet her. She even started snapping at him in her panic and I said, “sir, it’s her first event, please wait and let her approach you.” Shockingly, he kept coming, following her and reaching for her as she retreated in terror. I had to ask him twice more, quite firmly, before he backed down, and then he looked annoyed at me. Even the most un-dog-savvy person should have been able to tell that this puppy did not want him touching her. She literally needed only a few seconds of introduction before climbing in people's laps and he couldn’t even give her that.
Dogs are amazing. They are adorable, and soft and it feels good to touch them. I love dogs, I work with dogs all day and have several adult fosters and a few litters of rescued pups at home most of the time along with my own dogs. I never get enough of cuddling them, stroking them and touching them. But it’s so critical to take a moment to assess how comfortable the dog is and to respect what they are telling us.
I’m sure many of our readers have had similar situations with dogs and pushy people. Tell us your experience.
Study suggests surprising reason
There are lots of programs that allow children to be with a dog when reading. The goal is to help children read better and to feel more comfortable doing so. There’s a general understanding that the presence of a dog is beneficial to children who are learning to read, but not much data about how dogs help. A new study, “Minor Immediate Effects of a Dog on Children’s Reading Performance and Physiology" tested the effects of dogs on kids who are learning to read. The project found that (surprise, surprise) dogs have a positive impact, and that it is largely due to the effect of dogs on psychological factors.
Austrian children who were 9-10 years old and reading at below average levels participated in this study. Each child was involved in two videotaped reading sessions—one with a dog and one without. (It was randomly determined for each child whether the dog was present in the first or in the second session.) All of the dogs were previously certified as school visitation dogs and regularly interacted with kids in the school setting.
The children’s heart rates and heart rate variability were measured as an assessment of stress and excitement and levels of salivary cortisol were measured multiple times during each session. The quantity of various actions by the children were measured with videotape analysis. Behaviors of interest were those indicating nervousness such as coughing, throat clearing, jiggling the foot or leg, and playing with or fumbling with objects. The amount of time children spent talking or engaged in self-manipulation (such as scratching) was also recorded.
In the comprehension tests, reading performance was similar for children regardless of whether a dog was present. However, in a repeated reading (RR) test, the dog was a factor. For this test, children read a passage of text with the instruction to read as fast as they could while making as few errors as possible. They then had an opportunity to review words that gave them trouble and practice those words before reading the passage again. When children had a dog present in their first session, they did better on the repeated reading test. There was no such effect without a dog present or when the dog was present in the second session, suggesting that in the new situation of an experimental reading test, the dog’s presence offered some benefit. The advantage of a dog’s presence may be due to an increase in arousal and motivation that positively impacted children’s reading performance.
Additional evidence for an increase in arousal comes from the physiological measures taken during the study. Children had higher cortisol levels in the second session when a dog was present than when there was no dog, and kids had higher heart rates in the presence of a dog than when no dog was there. However, increased arousal in the children when a dog was present was not seen across the board. For example, children with a dog present in the first session showed fewer nervous movements than children whose first session did not have a dog present.
Most ideas about dogs helping young readers assume that the mechanism is a calming effect of the dogs on kids, including a decrease in their anxiety. This study suggests that increased arousal, which may add to children’s motivation to read, may be at play. The subjects of this study were children who had problems with reading, but most studies have used children whose reading skills were average, so that could be a factor in the findings. As the authors note, studying children over additional sessions would be more likely to reveal long term differences in reading progress.
The AVMA has created a Pet Evacuation Kit for pet owners to assemble, and have ready, in case of an emergency, such as natural disasters like hurricanes. The kit provides a checklist for the items and the tasks to be done before an evacuation.
The kit should be assembled well in advance of any emergency and store in an easy-to-carry, waterproof container close to an exit.
Food and Medicine
*These items must be rotated and replaced to ensure they don’t expire
First Aid Kit
Earlier this year we reported on Mars’ plans to acquire VCA, for $9.1 billion that would mean that the world's largest pet food company would also own the most vet clinics in the US. It is interesting to see that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is charging that this purchase would violate antitrust laws. So Mars had to agree to divest 12 vet clinics, especially those with specialty and emergency services.
The FTC complaint goes on to detail its concerns about how this purchase would affect competition:
These are the veterinary clinics to be divested and their buyers, according to the FTC:
> One clinic each in the Kansas City, New York and Phoenix areas will be divested to National Veterinary Associates.
> One clinic each in Chicago, Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and two clinics in Seattle will be divested to Pathway.
> Two clinics serving the Portland area and two clinics in the greater Washington, D.C., area will be divested to PetVet.
Mars is also prohibited from entering into contracts with any specialty or emergency veterinarian affiliated with a divested clinic for a year after the order takes effect, the release states. Mars is also required for 10 years to notify the FTC if it plans to acquire any additional specialty or emergency veterinary clinics in certain geographic areas.
More information about the divestiture and consent agreement can be found here. Good to know that the FTC is, in this case, looking out for the interest of pet owners. The commission’s vote to issue the complaint was unanimous. The FTC will publish the consent agreement package in the Federal Register shortly.
Comments can be filed electronically here or in paper form by following the instructions in the “Supplementary Information” section of the Federal Register notice once it’s published.
It’s good for them, as it is for many species
It’s easy to feel sorry for this Bulldog when it looks like he falls and rolls down a grassy hill. Within 30 seconds, though, he has twice gone back up the hill and rolled down again. Clearly, he is playing, and having a great time at it.
Many animals engage in play seemingly just for fun, and dogs are arguably the champions, spending huge amounts of time engaged in play. The playful activities that dogs do for the sake of a good time include wrestling, chasing, fetching, tugging, rolling, leaping and pouncing.
To do something “just for fun”, scientifically speaking, is a bit weird because it takes away from the limited time and energy animals have for essential activities such as acquiring food, finding and courting mates, drinking, growing bigger than their rivals and fighting them. Play is costly in other ways, too. Injury is an inherent risk due to the physical, thrill-seeking nature of play. There’s also the danger of being attacked by predators while too absorbed in play to be on the lookout. Play must be highly valuable to offset its considerable costs, and in fact, it is. Generally speaking, playful behavior makes animals more competitive in the game of life. It increases their success by helping them to survive and reproduce more than less playful individuals.
Scientists have discovered a number of highly specific benefits of play in different animal species. Ground squirrels who engage in play frequently are more coordinated and rear more young than those who play less. The most playful feral horses are more likely to live until their first birthday than their less playful peers. More playful bears have a greater chance of surviving until they are independent of their moms than less playful cubs. Rats who are deprived of opportunities to play lack social skills as adults. Compared to rats who are able to play, they are more likely to behave badly in tough social situations, either running away and shaking, or having the equivalent of a rat temper tantrum. One study found that the more rats played, the bigger their brains grew.
Though canine survival and reproduction is heavily influenced by humans in many areas of the word, that does not mean that dogs are free of the evolutionary influences that made play such a valuable activity. Play still helps them develop a variety of social and cognitive as well as physical skills. Dogs who lack opportunities to play as puppies often have impulse control issues, poor bite inhibition and lack the social skills to interact properly with other dogs as adults.
Although scientists agree that play is valuable, there is still significant debate about the specific purpose of play, which may vary among species. Perhaps it allows animals a safe way to practice important behavior, such as predation or combat with members of their own species. The purpose of play may be to get physical exercise or to improve dexterity, agility, reaction time, or cognitive skills. Developing creativity or problem-solving skills could make play beneficial. Perhaps the opportunity to practice handling the unexpected is important, so that during life-or-death-situations, animals are capable of responding effectively to the danger. Socialization or relieving anxiety may also be important factors that favor play in animals.
Whether it is swans surfing on ocean waves, dogs treating a river bank like a luge course, dolphins playing underwater catch with seaweed, either by themselves or with other dolphins, many animals love to have fun by playing. Though playful fun is costly in terms of time and energy and imposes serious risks, it is worth it. The fun is just nature’s way of making sure that animals engage in the highly valuable activity of play. That is good news for dog guardians, many of whom view canine play as nothing more and nothing less than one of the great joys in life.
The classic self-recognition test gets a makeover for dogs, using smell not sight
Dogs know individuals. Your dog knows I am not you and you are not me. Your dog knows that Rudy down the block is exceptional at playing, but Spot is not.
If dogs can recognize individuals, and your dog is an individual, might your dog know himself? As an individual? Does he have a sense of “me-ness”?
Alexandra Horowitz wants to know what it’s like to be a dog. Even her Twitter bio is dog-aware: “dogs sniff me; I sniff them back.” Her popular writing and research—at Barnard College’s Dog Cognition Lab in NYC—explore the unique experiences of the dog. Her recent publication in Behavioural Processes tackles the hefty question of their self-recognition.
But first, my teeth.
It was probably a good two hours post-lunch before a bathroom mirror informed me that I had a big piece of green gunk in my teeth. I was able to make this find—accompanied by “#$@&%*! Why didn’t anyone tell me?”—because I know mirrors reflect me, Julie. Faced with a mirror, we see ourselves: our constants (yup, my eyes are still brown), and our changes (#$@&%*! that pimple wasn’t there yesterday). You and I haven’t always done this. An understanding of self-in-the-mirror appears by age two.
Since the 1970s, researchers have used the mirror as a tool to investigate self-recognition in non-human animals. The main components of the mirror-self recognition test are a mirror and an individual who has covertly been marked in some way. In the original mirror test, chimpanzees—who had secretly been marked on the face with red odorless dye—were found to use the mirror to examine the mark. Something about them had changed. They would touch the mark on their face, in the same way you might touch a newly appearing pimple on your face. Not reaching toward the mirror, but instead using the mirror to refer back to themselves. Since then, the mirror test has panned out in a number of species like chimpanzees, dolphins, Asian elephants, and European magpies.
But dogs aren’t on this list. From personal experience or entertaining YouTube videos, you know that young dogs, or dogs unfamiliar with mirrors, often treat mirrors as another dog. Over time, dogs typically come to ignore mirrors. Studies find some dogs use mirrors to gather information or solve a problem—recognizing it as a tool to help see behind themselves or locate hidden food.
If dogs don’t “pass” the mirror test, is this the end of their self-recognition story? Not so fast. Maybe the traditional mirror test isn’t the most fitting medium for questions-of-the-self in dogs.
After all, dogs are beings of smell, not sight. From quivering nostrils to sizable brain regions dedicated to olfaction, dogs are equipped to take in and process smells. Humans have harnessed this skill and taught working dogs to notice smells we designate important, like the presence of cancer or narcotics.
And then there's pee. Dogs find certain smells, like dog urine, intrinsically interesting. Dogs both leave, and investigate, urine deposits. It is pee that leads countless dogs around the world to pull humans this way and that when out on a walk (ok fine, dropped food’s also a high priority). With this in mind, Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, proposed researchers turn to urine for questions of “self” and “other” in dogs.
Bekoff’s “yellow snow” study, published in 2001, explored the topic of “me” / “my” and “you” / “your.” His field experiment was as hands-on as it sounds. Over the course of five winters, when out walking his dog Jethro, Bekoff moved urine-soaked snow to see how Jethro behaved when encountering his own pee versus that of other dogs. Jethro performed as expected, sniffing other dogs’ urine more than his own. Jethro, Bekoff suggested, “clearly had some sense of ‘self’: a sense of ‘mine-ness’ but not necessarily of ‘I-ness’.”
Alexandra Horowitz’s new study takes into account the main features of the mirror test as well as the “yellow snow” study. She devised a test explicitly suited for dogs—an olfactory mirror test. Think about it: In the visual mirror test, individuals attend to something visually different about their appearance. An olfactory mirror test, Horowitz explains, asks whether dogs attend to something changed about their own smell when their “smell image” has been changed by the addition of a new odor. This new odor, of course, aims to be equivalent to the mark, in mirror terms.
Over two experiments, Horowitz measured how long companion dogs sniffed different odor samples simultaneously presented to them in canisters. More sniffing, you can imagine, is akin to more interest. Given my interest in dog attention to chemical information—yes, I mean pee sniffing— you can imagine I was elated to participate in this study and present canisters to 36 wonderful dogs in Experiment 1. Horowitz found that dogs spent more time investigating their own urine that had been marked (modified with the addition of an odor), compared to their urine alone. “Me different,” you might conclude from the dog’s behavior.
Olfactory investigation coded when dog nose within 10 cm of canister. Credit: Horowitz 2017. Figure 3
Or maybe there’s another explanation. Dogs are neophilic, known for their interest in new things. Could it be that dogs spent more time sniffing their marked urine because they were interested in the new smell, independent of their own smell? Dog behavior better translated as: familiar smell over here = boring, but familiar smell mixed with new smell = interesting?
With this possibility in mind, dogs also investigated their own urine marked versus the mark substance itself. These trials eliminated novelty as a factor because both canisters contained the novel odor. In these trials, dogs did not differ in the amount of time spent sniffing each sample. Ruh roh. Where does that leave us?
This is where the scientific process shines. Could it be that the selectedmark itself affected the results? In the classic mirror studies, the mark aims to be inherently neutral, not highly unique or interesting on its own—an ink mark, a piece of tape, a sticker. Ho hum. The mark in Experiment 1 of the olfactory mirror test was a cancerous tissue sample from a dog, an unfamiliar odor (adding novelty) that untrained dogs are said, anecdotally, to notice. It’s possible the cancer cells were too interesting and novel, thus deviating from the neutral mark used in classic mirror tests. In fact, a number of dogs encountering canisters with the mark had pronounced “disgust” responses, highlighting that the selected mark might not have been so neutral.
Horowitz tried a different mark. Experiment 2 tested 12 dogs with a more neutral mark—anise essential oil from the sport of Nose work. In these trials, dogs replicated the main findings, investigating their own urine that had been marked more than their urine alone. But this time, dogs were also more interested in their marked urine than the mark alone, making it less likely that the mark’s novelty explained the results. Horowitz reflects, “This suggests that the longer investigation time is not tied to an interest in the mark, per se, but rather an interest in the mark when it appears in combination with or on the dog's own odour.”
With a new olfactory approach in place, studies will surely continue to refine and tease out the meaning behind dog interest in familiar—yet modified—scents. Inquiries like the olfactory mirror test put the microphone in the paws of the dog. If they could comment, I'd imagine they'd say, “Thank you for considering our pee! After all, pee means so much to us!”
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
EEG study suggests sleep enhances learning
A Harvard Medical School professor recently rocked the Internet: “Since dogs are generally extremely attached to their human owners, it’s likely your dog is dreaming of your face, your smell and of pleasing or annoying you,” psychologist Deirdre Barrett told People magazine.
And then hearts everywhere exploded.
Barrett’s sleep research focuses on humans, while an interest in evolutionary psychology helps her consider the sleep of non-human mammals. Both have similar sleep cycles, she notes, which could suggest parallels in sleep quality or experience.
But an open access study in Scientific Reports out recently moves away from extrapolation and toward hard data. Researchers in Hungary have devised a way to non-invasively peer into the sleeping dog’s brain to explore the content and function of their sleep.
Sleep in dogs is good for a number of things, including, but not limited to cuteness, cuteness, and more cuteness. But you’ve also probably heard that sleep is good for memory. Before a big test we’re often told, “Get a good night’s rest,” which is actually shorthand for—give memory consolidation a chance. “Memory consolidation” is the process where your brain pulls together pieces of information and packages them into memories that can be used in the future.
Memory is also important for dogs. Working dogs need to learn—and retain—a wide variety of job-specific skills, and companion dogs often learn basic skills to successfully live alongside humans. When a dog learns something new, can sleep help the dog perform those skills better? Should training sessions incorporate naptime?
Anna Kis of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and colleagues—including members of the well-known Family Dog Project—set out to explore the relationship between sleep and memory in companion dogs. Their study involved two experiments: the first gave dogs a learning task and then peered into their sleep via non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG)—a test that detects brain electrical activity using small electrodes attached to the scalp. The second experiment explored whether different type of post-learning activities (such as sleep) affect memory consolidation, both in the short- and long-term. All experiments were performed with consenting companion dogs and their helpful owners.
First up, the sleep study, also known as polysomnography if you want to be fancy about it. Fifteen companion dogs participated in both a learning and a non-learning condition. The experimenters taught the dogs the commands for “sit” and “lie down” in a foreign language (English). As you’d expect, no learning took place in the non-learning condition—dogs simply practiced the “sit” and “lie down” commands that they already knew in Hungarian. Nothing new. Old hat. (Most dogs don’t wear hats. Old collar?)
For the critical phase of the experiment, dogs went to sleep (gosh I love science). Dog snoozing-related brain activity was then monitored over the next three hours. Afterwards, dogs in the learning condition were retested on “sit” and “lie down” in English to determine whether sleep helped the dogs process what they had learned.
Recording setup. Credit: Anna Kis
Not only did the sleep affect dogs’ learning, the learning affected dogs’ sleep. Dogs did better responding to “sit” and “lie down” in English after taking a snooze. But even before the dogs in the learning condition were retested, two notable wave patterns stood out in the EEG spectrum in the non-REM phase (the dreamless part of sleep). There was an increase of delta power, similar to what is found in humans, and a decrease in alpha activity, which could suggest “an increase in sleep depth after learning.”
These two findings are related. Dogs learned a task, which alters their brain activity during sleep, then they performed better on the task. “This suggests that the newly acquired information is re-processed and consolidated during sleep,” Kis explained over email. More specifically, the correlation between the post-sleep improvement in performance and certain EEG patterns “is the strongest indicator that the changes in sleep EEG we see after learning are functionally related to memory consolidation,” added Kis.
Neat. Taking a snooze can improve subsequent performance (at least for this type of command learning task). But how do we make things stick? Is sleep more or less effective than other strategies for retaining information? A second behavioral experiment investigated the effect of different post-learning activities (including sleep) on subsequent memory.
Fifty-three new companion dogs learned “sit” and “lie down” to new words (again, English). Dogs were then put in one of four different post-learning groups, spending the next hour either sleeping, walking, learning more (learning new behaviors via the luring training method), or eating from and playing with a Kong dog toy. When the hour was up, dogs were retested on the English commands they’d just learned.*
The type of post-learning activity seemed to affect dog performance in the short term, but not exactly as the researchers had expected. In the short term, both sleeping and walking improved subsequent performance, while more learning and Kong play did not.
On the other hand, when dogs came back a week later, presumably after many sleeps, dogs in the sleep, walk, and Kong play conditions showed marked improvement with the English commands. Dogs who had done more learning did not improve.
Values >0 indicate a performance improvement at the given occasion, while values <0 indicate a decreased performance. Figure 3 Credit: Kis et al. 2017
Dog lovers often think about learning and obedience in terms of dogs doing it “right” or “wrong.” Factors surrounding learning, this study reminds, can affect memory consolidation and later performance.
Kis recommends: “Learning a new command should be followed by an activity that does not interfere with this new memory trace (e.g. sleeping, walking, playing–but not learning other things) in order to achieve the highest subsequent performance in the long run.”
At the same time, Kis noted that dogs in the sleeping condition might have performed even better if the nap extended beyond an hour (possibly for memory consolidation to fully take place), or if, after waking up, the dogs had a few more minutes to shake off their sleepiness before performing the tasks again. Human-sleep scientists refer to this latter phenomenon of decreased cognitive performance in the few minutes after waking up as “sleep inertia.” Don’t pretend you’ve never woken up, walked to the bathroom, and tried to brush your teeth with your comb. Since no sleep inertia interval has been established for dogs, Kis says, they can’t rule out the possibility that the dogs were still sleep zombies when they were retested.
Non-invasive studies of dogs and sleep are new. We haven’t yet studied whether your dog is dreaming of your face or your glorious smell, but if you care about learning in dogs, this study suggests you give sleep a chance.
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* Maybe you’re wondering why there wasn’t a condition after learning where dogs simply rested—rather than slept—and then had their memory tested. This ‘resting’ awake condition is typically found in human memory consolidation studies because it’s the closest match to the ‘sleep’ condition. But this condition was not included for dogs, the researchers explain, “as preventing dogs from falling asleep while requested to stay in a laying position for one hour would presumably induce stress in the animals. Stress is known to have an impact on memory, and also raises animal welfare issues, thus we decided to avoid such a condition.”
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
Dog's name and age: Izzy, 6 years old
Izzy is extremely sweet and in touch with your mood often comforting when you're sick/hurt. It took years for her to get over loud noises and to trust. It's comforting, knowing that she has trust with us and we count on her as much as her with us. Her silliness is evident and her smile makes everyone smile.
Izzy loves running in the field, swimming in the pond, riding in the car, or anything her people are doing.
Removing them makes play safer
It was one of the worst moments of my professional career. During a supervised play session in a group class, the buckles on two dogs’ collars got stuck together. Being attached at the neck caused both of these sweet social dogs to freak out. (That’s a better description than any technical term.) It’s hard to say what they thought was happening, but both of them were receiving a lot of pressure on the neck and the more they struggled, the more panicky they got. Neither was choking, but it was not a safe situation. After a quick attempt to release both collars while several guardians tried to steady the dogs, I ran to the supply closet to grab a pair of blunt-edged scissors, and ran back to the dogs to cut off one of the dog’s collars.
The dogs were safe, and we could then attend to their emotional condition, which wasn’t great. One was whining and the other was shaking. Luckily, neither dog appeared to hold a grudge against the other, and they remained friends. I did encourage the guardians to take their dogs to their veterinarians to make sure that they did not have any injuries requiring medical care. (The dogs were a little bruised but fortunately neither of them suffered any serious damage.)
Why did we have blunt-edged scissors in our supply cabinet? Because one of our trainers had once had a similar situation that was even worse than the one I faced. If a person in that class had not had a Swiss Army Knife and used it to free the dogs, it could have been disastrous. After that, we were always prepared for such worst-case scenarios, and it is now my preference to remove all collars before playtime.
Collars are helpful to dogs in many ways, but also pose dangers. On the up side, collars hold tags that have been responsible for the safe return of countless dogs. They allow people a way to prevent a dog from running into the street or getting into less serious but still dangerous trouble—with a leash or as something to hold onto directly in a pinch. They are stylish, in the opinion of many.
On the down side, they are attached around a dog’s neck and therefore pose a danger. Dogs have been injured, even fatally, when collars have caught in things as random as heating vents, fences, crates, branches and other collars. The most common accident that I have heard about involves another dog’s lower jaw getting stuck in the collar during play and causing strangulation.
I prefer to see dogs play without collars because I know that serious collar accidents can happen. If dogs with collars must play together, I advise having something sharp on hand to cut the collars, such as a pair of blunt-edges scissors. (Pocket knives can also be used, but they are more likely to cause an injury during the attempt to help the dogs.) I don’t like metal collars because of the various risks they pose, and they are especially problematic in the case of an accident during play because they can’t be cut off.
Playing without collars is safer because of the risk of collar accidents, but breakaway (also called quick release) collars are also an option. They have a safety buckle that releases when significant pressure is applied to them. The safety buckle has a D-ring on either side of it so the breakaway section can be bypassed for leash walks by attaching a leash to both D-rings.
Have you ever witnessed an accident involving collars when dogs were playing?
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