Dog’s use facial expressions to communicate to people

Dr. Juliane Kaminski of the University’s Dog Cognition Centre proved that the facial expressions dogs make are not a result of their emotions, but rather are a purposeful act to communicate.  Her research also showed that dogs make more facial expressions when people are looking at them, further illustrating that dogs specifically use facial expressions to communicate to people. This finding further shows us that dogs make choices and decisions to purposely try to communicate with people.

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One of the most common facial expressions that dogs made was to raise their brow. This facial expression often makes people feel that the dog is sad and is often referred to as the puppy dog look.

Of course, it must be understood that dogs use a whole realm of body language to communicate, not just their facial expressions. Keep in mind that dogs who have excessive facial hair may make it difficult, if not impossible for people to see the raised brow.

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Two independent studies show the benefit of dog ownership for children

A study conducted by Darlene Kertes and her colleagues from the University of Florida documented how a pet dog helped children cope with stress. To test this the researchers had children perform stressful things, such as giving a report, or doing a math problem. They compared children who were allowed to have their dogs with them to children who did not and found that the ones who had their dog with them were much less stressed. They also found that a pet dog lowered the stress level of children more than having a parent with them.

Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and co-authors Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand conducted a study to determine how a pet dog could help a child with disabilities.

They determined that children with disabilities do not exercise as much or join in physical activities the way children who do not have disabilities do. So they developed a physical activity program where the family dog would act as a partner for the child.

Although their study initially only involved one child, based on its success, they have expanded the program. What is unique is that their study was one of the first to evaluate animal-assisted therapy.

It is reasonable to assume that children with disabilities who are challenged to exercise and/or socialize are also stressed. Based on the two studies, it appears that children who are stressed and those who are stressed that have disabilities benefit from having a pet dog. This is a win-win situation.

Scout & Tom

Dogs, wolves and some primates understand inequality

A new study by comparative psychologists at the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna has illustrated that both dogs and wolves understand what it means to be treated unequally.

Previously, the studies that illustrated that dogs understood and reacted negatively to inequality, assumed that this reaction was due to domestication. The current study illustrates that this is not true because wolves  reacted the same way as dogs.

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The tests also showed that higher ranking wolves and dogs became frustrated more quickly when they perceived favoritism. Scientists assumed this is because they are not used to receiving lower quality rewards.

What makes this interesting is that the study illustrates that the animals being tested understand and recognize what a lower quality reward consists of. This means that they observed the differences in the rewards, were able to value the reward and determine that they were not getting as much.

The most exciting information from this experiment is how it illustrates an animal’s ability to think, reason and make decisions and judgements. For pet owners, it shows us that when we train our animals, the reward needs to be something valued by the animal. After all don’t people feel the same way too?

How to Fade Food Rewards for Learned Behavior in Dogs by guest blogger, Mat Coulton

There are a lot of folks that think that if you use food rewards to train your dog, then your dog won’t be responsive to direction unless you have food to “bribe” her.

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(all photos from pixabay.com)

In fact, this is an often-used excuse for using punishment-based training methods. Although it certainly doesn’t have to be true, sometimes inexperienced owners and handlers make it true by failing to understand when and how to fade food rewards.

If the only time you ever train your dog is with a bag full of treats hanging on your waist, then yes, it’s very likely that you will be mostly ignored in just about every other situation. Dogs are smarter than you think!

In this article you will learn why food rewards are preferred by most reinforcement based professional trainers, some tips on keeping food rewards healthy, and how to move away from using food rewards once your dog is performing a behavior to your expectations.

Why Most Trainers Use Food to Teach New Behavior:

Both reward and punishment can motivate your dog (and people too!) to learn. The benefit of using reward as the “go-to” training tool is that in addition to being effective, it helps to build a bond of trust with your dog.

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Have you ever been punished for making a mistake when you did not understand what it was that you really did wrong? That is how dogs feel, every time they are punished for failing to be mind-readers! When your dog feels safe in the training environment, she will volunteer new behaviors (critical for some training techniques) as well as give you her eager, confident, focus.

Another big plus of using food as a reward has to do with “rate of reinforcement,” a fancy term that just means the faster you can solicit a behavior and reward it, the faster your dog will learn it. Unlike most other rewards, food rewards can be repeated as fast as every single second, making it the top choice for trainers looking to train complex behaviors like running an agility course or training service animal tasks.

What Food to Use for Training:

If you are lucky enough to have an extremely food motivated dog (ahem….like a Lab!), then your canine is likely to work eagerly for their regular kibble. This is a real bonus because it means that you can set aside a portion of his regular feed and save it to be dispensed one piece at a time during training.

If you have a picky eater on your hands, it might be a little trickier. But don’t think you have to go all out and train with nothing but cheese and hotdogs or expensive (and fattening) commercial treats. Instead, use a mix of pea sized safe foods your dog really gets excited about and some of his regular kibble rations. Smush them up in the bag to get the scent of the higher value foods all over boring-old-kibble. This will keep him engaged in learning, while helping you keep his waistline in check.

When to Fade Food:

Knowing when the time is right to fade food rewards is important. Since food is the most effective reward for “shaping” behavior incrementally towards a final goal, it makes sense to wait until AFTER the behavior is exactly where you want it before you start any of the methods listed here to start moving away from food.

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In addition, you want to be sure the behavior is largely “proofed” before taking it out of the regular training routine where food motivators reign supreme. Have you practiced the behavior in a parking lot? Around other people? Around other dogs? Until you have rewarded the behavior in a wide variety of contexts, it isn’t really “learned” so keep the rewards coming.

How to Fade Food:

There are several methods to fading food rewards. Feel free to mix and match these methods…that will keep her guessing!

Randomize Rewards

Once you are getting the right behavior (either on command or in conjunction with a certain stimulus), then you can start choosing only the VERY BEST examples of it to reward with food. For example, if you are working on recall, you can start rewarding only those recalls that are instant, with a very fast speed on that return.

Alternative Rewards

What does your dog love besides food? Once she has a behavior down pat, you can start to reward her with other things such as pets, a toss of the ball or a game of tug. In fact, once you realize the power of motivators, you can start to ask for known behaviors before giving her any of the things she loves.

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Surprise Rewards

Once you are using (mostly) non-food motivators to reinforce known behaviors, it is time to make sure you add in some big-time surprise rewards to the mix. These rewards need to be when he least expects them.

Frankly, they can be food or non-food rewards. Just make them BIG!

The point is, if your canine never knows when he is going to hit the jackpot for giving you the behavior you expect, then he is going to be that much more excited about rolling those dice. (Yes, if you were wondering, this is the principle behind gambling.)

Chaining Behaviors

This technique is perfect for use both in and out of formal training sessions. It’s simple: Instead of rewarding after every single cue/behavior, you can start to ask for several known behaviors in a row, followed by a reward (food or otherwise) for successful completion of the chain. This will get her used to giving you what you are asking for, without expecting food for every single trick.

Conclusion

Just because you are using the power of food to train new behavior, doesn’t mean your stuck with a dog that will only perform when you have treats in hand. By using the techniques outlined in this guide, you can have the best of both worlds: The fastest training method out there, and freedom from food rewards once behavior is learned.

Angus, Canada’s infection sniffing dog

Angus is a Springer Spaniel, trained to sniff out Clostridium difficile (C. diff) an infection caused by a fecal bacterium that can make people very sick. Angus is used in hospitals to ensure that the spores from this illness are not present. He has effectively reduced the spread of infections in hospitals.

Surprisingly, even though rooms are thoroughly cleaned, Angus will sometimes find 5 -6 places where the bacteria are located a week. Hospitals have learned because of Angus, that staff locker rooms and cubby holes used to store items were found to have C. diff often transported on staff worker’s shoes. As a result of these findings, cleaning practices and prevention have been improved.

Although there is another dog in training, I would suspect that specially trained dogs to sniff C. diff would greatly improve cleanliness in nursing homes and other places such as assisted living quarters.

It is always exciting to find new jobs for our dogs that benefit the health and well-being of people.

My Springer Spaniel and Siberian Husky saying “Hi” (many years ago)

Candy and Travis

Dogs anticipate what they will find at the end of a scent trail

A new test conducted by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the Department for General Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience (Institute of Psychology) at Friedrich Schiller University of Jena illustrated that dogs have a mental picture or an expectation of what they will find at the end of a scent trail based on the scent of the object.

The test was conducted on dogs (police and search and rescue dogs) trained to follow a scent as well as pets not trained to follow a scent. Both groups showed surprise when the object that they found was not the one used to lay the scent trail.

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Although this test was not intended to illustrate the mind of the dog, this is further evidence of the mental abilities of dogs showing that they anticipate what will happen in the future based on their surroundings. Many dog owners have seen this behavior in relation to other events. An example is the dog who can anticipate the arrival of a family member when that person comes home at about the same time every day.

It is exciting to anticipate what future studies will show us about the mind of animals.

New research says dogs are smarter than cats!

A recent comparison of the number of cortical neurons in the brains of various carnivores found two things: First, the size of the brain does not necessarily coordinate with the level of intelligence as was previously thought and, Second, dogs have over twice the neurons than cats.

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For example, raccoons have as many neurons as a primate but in the brain about the size of a cat while bears have the same number of neurons as a cat but in a much larger brain.

The research was conducted by Associate Professor of Psychology and Biological Sciences Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who developed the method for accurately measuring the number of neurons in brains.

Herculano-Houzel is convinced that the number of neurons an animal has determines their ability to predict what is about to happen in their environment based on their experience. What that may mean is that dogs are biologically capable of doing more complex and flexible things with their lives than cats.

The study also found that there was no difference between wild and domestic animals or predators or prey. It was always thought that predators were smarter than prey.

My comments: This is an interesting study that adds more fuel to the debate about who is smarter, dogs or cats. One thing to keep in mind is that intelligence varies from individual to individual (human or animal) and having greater intelligence does not necessarily mean it is used to its fullest capability.  In the case of animals, there is no accurate way to measure their true intelligence or their willingness to do what humans want, also known as being biddable.

FMI: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171129131341.htm

A new job for dogs

Dogs are increasingly being trained to detect unusual things. The latest job is detecting the very difficult to find, Hermit beetle and its larva which live for up to three years hidden in places such as hollow trees in wooded areas.

The use of dogs was the brainchild of Dr. Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Spienza University of Rome. They have successfully trained Teseo, a Golden Retriever, to detect the endangered beetle.

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Beetle detection is another job to add to the growing list of things dogs have and are being used to detect. Besides finding the commonly known things, such as drugs, bombs, humans, and agricultural items at airports, dogs have been used to find such items as Wolf scat, Bird nests, toxic mold, old money, lost pets, and gold ore just to name a few. Dogs are also able to alert people to oncoming seizures, low blood sugar and cancer.

Although scientists are still trying to develop a machine that can equal the scenting capabilities of dogs, they have yet to succeed. Dogs are truly man’s best friend performing so many jobs other than detection work.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170828123340.htm

Dog Bites

All dogs bite at one time or another. However, most people do not realize that there are different types of bites. Unfortunately, many dogs have lost their homes, lives or been restricted due to the misunderstanding and misinformation about dog bites.

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Dogs used their mouths the same as we use our hands. Puppies mouth the same way that human babies will put everything in their mouths. The mouth is a very sensitive part of the body, perhaps the most sensitive. The mouth can taste, feel texture, heat, cold, size and shape. The mouth and tongue are so sensitive that the smallest bump or lump in a person’s mouth often feels like a boulder or a cracked tooth feels like a canyon. We have to assume that dogs have the same or similar capabilities. However, dogs do not have the same capability to taste as humans do. They have about 1,706 taste buds compared to a human’s 9,000. A dog’s taste buds are located at the tip of their tongue. They can taste bitter, sweet, sour and salty. Their choice of what they eat depends more on their sense of smell than taste.

Dogs use their mouths to manipulate objects, carry objects, groom themselves and/or companions, to show affection, to play, as a means of correcting another dog, as a way to get another animal or person away from them (distance increasing), and to vocalize. One of the most affectionate things a dog may do is nibble the object of their affection. This is a very gentle nibbling using the small front teeth.

Sometimes dogs will grab a person to try and lead them somewhere, such as a door if they have to go out. This is like a person taking another person by the hand to guide them.

Bites often happen in a few seconds. It may be difficult for an untrained person to analyze a bite because you must consider the rest of the dog’s body language and the circumstances that happened just before and after the bite as well as the breed or type of dog. Dogs also can give mixed signals. For example, a dog can act aggressively and at the same time fearfully. The dog’s life experience including training will influence what and how they bite. However, below is a general explanation of dog bites.

Dog bites follow a progression if, as a puppy, the dog has been allowed to learn how to properly act socially with other dogs. An adult dog will first give the puppy, other animal or person warning looks. If that does not work, next are warning growls or vocalizations. (Never correct a dog for growling, you will remove an important warning, forcing the dog to go directly to a bite.) If a puppy does not heed the body language and then the vocal warning of an older dog, the dog may give the puppy an open mouth correction. This is when the older dog will “hit” the puppy with his mouth open but does not bite.

The next level of bite is the nip. In human terms, it would be equal to a pinch. It is typically done with the little front teeth. It is a corrective measure used to stop the unwanted behavior or to communicate the message to get away or back off.

If the nip does not work the next bite will be a full mouth bite but a quick release and often not bearing down hard. This type of bite may result in a bruise or small puncture. This is also a request to back off or get away. The dog is trying to increase the distance between himself and who he bit. It is also the type of bite that a fearful dog may employ. It could also be a defensive or corrective bite.

If that does no work the next bite may have increased pressure resulting in a deeper puncture or larger bruise. It is also a distance increasing bite or a fear bite.

The aggressive bite that the enraged dog or the dog who is aggressive will use is a bite and hold or a bite, hold and shake. These are the bites that are dangerous where the dog typically intends to hurt.

A dog that has developed strong bite inhibition, may put his mouth on a person if he is in pain. Often that is a reflex and when the dog realizes that his mouth is on a person will either stop before making contact or not put any pressure in the bite. Other times a dog who is in pain may bite. This should not be held against the dog. Also, a dog that is enraged or upset about something may do what is called redirected aggression. This also a reflex where the dog will bite whatever is near him when he cannot get to the object of his anger. The other situation where a dog will bite because of reflex is if the dog is engaged in a fight with another animal and a person tries to grab the dog to pull him away. The dog will bite not realizing that it is not the animal he is fighting but a person. This also should not be held against the dog. In these cases of reflex biting, the humans that are working with the dog should expect it and take precautions to avoid being bitten. The only breed of dog that has been bred not to bite a human when engaged in a fight are the bully breeds, such as Pitbull Terriers.

How likely a dog will bite depends on the breed (or mix) of the dog, the lines of the breed, how well the breeder and then the owner socialized the dog and the dog’s training. Some breeds of dog are less tolerant and quicker to bite than others.

Children are often bitten in the face because they are at face level with dogs. Children of all ages should be taught how to interact with dogs and carefully monitored, always. A dog that bites a child due to a reflex action is rarely forgiven even though in most cases the dog is not an aggressive dog by nature.

It would do the dogs and dog owners a great service if dog owners studied canine body language and learned to understand their dogs. Children should be taught how to interact with dogs. Studies have shown that children can recognize when a dog is angry but not when they are fearful.

There are two excellent resources that help the dog owner learn how to read dog body language.

  1. What is My Dog Saying? By Carol A. Byrnes, diamonsintheruff.com
  2. The Language of Dogs by Sarah Kalnajs bluedogtraining.com

Dogs are smarter than many people realize

In the first five years of a human’s life, a child will develop the ability to understand emotions, intentions, knowledge, beliefs and desires. This is referred to as the Theory of Mind. Until recently tests to determine if dogs can do this have had poor results. But recently, cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna have developed a test that shows dogs are able to do the same thing.

Their experiment involved hiding food in one container and having the other containers smell like food but did not have any food in them. Then two people would point to the containers, one person knew where the food was and pointed to the correct container, the other person did not point to the correct container. The dogs tested were able to determine by looking at the people which one knew where the food was and successfully picked the right container 70% of the time. In another test a third person as added and the dogs still had a high success rate.

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The study showed that dogs are to find out what humans can or cannot see. As scientists continue to find ways to accurately test the knowledge and abilities of all animals we will discover how intelligent the animal world is. As far as what this study means to the average dog owner, it may explain why your dogs can outsmart their owners, such as learning where treats and toys are hidden from them. How many times have dogs managed to open cabinet doors to help themselves to their food or treats? Think about it.

Read the entire article at: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170407091829.htm