How animals detect odor

Professor  Nowotny, Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange in the University of Sussex’s School of Engineering and Informatics had determined that animals may not single out a specific odor when they look for a substance. He has found that animals may find it easier to detect a collection of odors instead of a single substance. If this is true, then most of the detection dog training that focuses on teaching a dog to look for one odor rather than a scent picture, may not be the best way to train a dog.

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One single odor does not exist in a natural environment, rather there are a collection of odors. When you consider that it is impossible to isolate a single odor in a natural environment, this discovery makes sense. Of course it is possible and often likely that a single odor is stronger than the surrounding odors, but still it is not the only odor present.

Professor Nowotny suggests that animal and human olfactory systems may not be made to do analytic smelling of pure odors. He uses the example of how an animal will give off pheromones, a complex set of odors, as a form of communication and that it is important that an animal recognize the entire chemical message and not a single element in the chemical message.

For years I have maintained that when teaching a dog scent work that there is no such thing as an uncontaminated scent article. Professor Nowotny has confirmed this with his latest research. Although more studies need to be done, and we should still train our dogs as we have in the past, it does open the door for a less narrow view of what dogs detect and how they detect it and may lead to new training methods.

Lifelong learning is important for old dogs and cats

We know that it is critical for humans to learn new things and keep their mind active as they age. It goes a long way to help our minds from deteriorating and creates positive emotions helping to stave off depression.

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The same is true for our dogs and cats as they age. Unfortunately physical limitations may keep an older dog or cat from participating in physical activities or even being physically unable to learn new tricks. However, Cognitive biologists from the Messerli Research Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna have developed a form of K9  “sudoku” to help old dogs stay mentally active.

Using a computer touch screen, they have developed a reward-based brain teaser. Once the dogs learn to use the touch screen the ones tested became avid computer gamers. The success of the project in the laboratory has led researchers to hope that industry will be motivated to develop the touch screen games for home use.

In the meantime, dog owners and cat owners (cats have the same mental needs as dogs) can set up treat puzzles or interactive games for their pets. There are some on the market that work well. You can google “treat puzzles for dogs or cats” to find them.

The main thing is to keep your aging pets mentally active. It will enrich their lives and keep their normal skills sharp.

Another beneficial job for dogs – detecting malaria

Because the malaria parasites cause people who are infected to have a distinctive odor, dogs have been trained to detect malaria from socks worn by the people infected. This study was conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the Medical Research Council Unit the Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and experts from a charity, Medical Detection Dogs.

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While the use of dogs to detect malaria is not widespread, experts hope to be able to train more dogs and use them at ports of entry to detect people who are infected with malaria. It will also give health care professionals a fast and easy way to determine who has malaria in remote villages.

However, more tests need to be conducted to see if the dogs can detect different stages of malaria and also to see if the scent varies with malaria species in different parts of the world. I have no doubt that dogs will become the most useful tool to detect the early stages of malaria.

 

 

Dogs understand words

Scientists are one step closer to unraveling how and if dogs understand specific words in human speech. Research has provided evidence that dogs can understand basic words that they have been taught and know the difference between words they know and words they do not know.

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What scientists are trying to determine is if you say “squirrel” does the dog associate excitement with the word or does the dog actually picture a real squirrel. To do this they did MRI’s on 12 dogs who were taught the name of a specific object. Their studies were not conclusive but did show differences in the dog’s brains when the object they knew was spoken vs the one they were not taught. I think the famous Border Collie, Chaser, is strong evidence that dogs do associate a word with a specific object. But it is fun to keep researching about dog’s minds.

K9 Search and Rescue Troubleshooting: Practical Solutions to Common Search Dog Training Problems

I want to share with my loyal followers that my latest book, K9 Search and Rescue Troubleshooting: Practical Solutions to Common Search Dog Problems, published by Brush Education, has won first place in the bi-annual National League of American Pen Women’s contest, in its category.

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Although this book is written primarily for SAR dogs, it can help owners and trainers of other working and sport dogs solve some of the training issues that they have. If you would like an autographed copy of my book please order it directly from my web site at http://www.sbulanda.com

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Hydrating Working Dogs

Dogs who work in hot weather such as border patrol dogs, search and rescue dogs as well as military dogs often become dehydrated when they work in hot environments.

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Handlers of these dogs do not agree about how to hydrate their dogs to prevent heat stroke and dehydration. There are three major ways that handlers hydrate their dogs.

  1. Free access to drinking water
  2. Subcutaneous hydration (a needle under the skin) of water and electrolytes
  3. Drinks containing electrolytes

Researchers studied all three methods and found that they all worked. However, they found that by using a chicken flavored electrolyte drink, even dogs who were reluctant to drink, would drink more liquid.

The researchers tested the dog’s urine and found that they passed the sodium and therefore did not have a buildup of sodium in their body which had been a concern about using electrolyte drinks. Thus, drinking a chicken flavored electrolyte drink did not have any negative effects on the dogs.

Treatment for noise phobia in dogs

There is a new way to treat noise phobia in dogs that does not sedate the dog. SILEO is administered in a gel form and does help dogs with noise phobia such as fireworks and thunder. An advantage of this product is that it works quickly so that it can be applied just before or at onset of a noise event. Another advantage is that it does not require the owner to use behavior modification techniques for SILEO to work.

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However, it must be obtained through your veterinarian and cannot be used if your dog has certain medical conditions. We can thank Dr. Mira Korpivaara at Orion Pharma for developing this product for dog owners.

 

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.

How dogs understand us – the latest research

Marcello Siniscalchi, Serenella d’Ingeo and Angelo Quaranta of the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy conducted a study to determine if dogs can read human emotions. Their study showed that dogs can understand us by reading our tone of voice, body odor, posture, our faces.

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The researchers showed 26 dogs pictures of a man and women whose facial expressions displayed anger, fear, happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust or neutral. The dogs had a stronger response (greater cardiac activity) when they saw the more emotional faces of the man and woman displaying anger, fear and happiness. Interestingly, the dogs took longer to resume eating when they saw these emotions. What is interesting is the dogs turned their heads to the left when they perceived these emotions.

When they saw the look of surprise on the human faces they turned their heads to the right. This indicates that the right side of the brain is more involved in processing negative emotions and their left side of the brain processes more positive emotions.

The important thing for us to understand is that when we are working with our dogs, they are able to understand a wide range of our emotions. This helps our dogs understand us and hopefully, help us understand our dog’s behaviors.

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