African wild dogs sneeze to vote

Dr Neil Jordan, a research fellow at UNSW Sydney and Taronga Conservation Society Australia and Reena Walker, of Brown University in the US, have studied the wild dogs, (Lycaon pictus) of Botswana found that these canines sneeze to vote whether or not they should go hunting.

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A pack of wild African dogs. Photo by Megan Claase

The study showed that if the dominant pair were not part of the vote, that approximately ten more sneezes were needed to make the decision. The team studied 68 social gatherings from 5 African wild dog packs living in the Okavango Delta in Botswana. The act of sneezing to vote shows the cognitive ability and process of these wild dogs.

We know that our pet dogs sneeze to show joy, now we have to wonder if they lived in groups, would they also communicate with each other by sneezing to decide daily activities.  What an interesting thought.

 

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Can humans identify the emotions of all air-breathing animals?

A study by researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Ruhr-Universität Bochum, in collaboration with colleagues from Alberta, Canada, and Vienna, Austria, say yes!

Humans are capable of identifying the emotions of all air-breathing beings via the sounds that they make.

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The research team headed by Dr Piera Filippi, currently at the University of Aix-Marseille and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands, included, among others, three academics from Bochum: philosophy scholar Prof. Dr. Albert Newen, biopsychologist Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Onur Güntürkün and assistant professor Dr Sebastian Ocklenburg.

To test their theory, they used 75 people whose native language was English, German or Mandarin. The participants listened to audio recordings of nine different species of land-living vertebrates to include, mammals, amphibians and reptiles, and birds.

The participants were able to identify both high and low levels of arousal in all species. This suggests that there is a universal ability to communicate emotions. If humans can identify the emotions of other animals, it stands to reason that this ability is not unique to humans and that all animals have the ability.

Of course, pet owners have seen this to be true with their pets. They always seem to know how we feel and we know how they feel.

Blindness in Irish Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier has been attributed to the mother

Researchers at the University of Helsinki, UC Davis and the University of Jyväskylä have discovered that the gene RBP4 for canine congenital eye disease is passed from the mother to the puppies in the womb.

The researchers have discovered that this recessive gene, which blocks the developing eyes of puppies from getting vitamin A, causes blindness. In order for the disease to occur, both the mother and puppy must have the mutated gene, which is why all puppies are not born blind.

It has also been determined that the RPB4 gene may be related to human MAC disease. So again, understanding canine diseases may lead to cures for humans.

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An Irish Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, Photo: Lohi Research Group

The good news is that researchers have developed a DNA test that can identify those dogs that carry the gene. This will help both veterinarians and breeders control and hopefully eradicate blindness in this breed.

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.

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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?

Thinking of getting a pet? Here’s what you need to know.

by guest blogger Jessica Brody

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Photo by Pixabay

Have you been thinking of adding a pet to your family? If you’ve never had pets or are inexperienced in pet ownership, you’ll need to do a little thinking and research first. What kind do you want? What fits your lifestyle? Where do you get it? These are all good questions to get ready.

First, consider your home and lifestyle. What kind of pet can your home handle? If you’re in an apartment or condo, you will have different needs than someone with a big house and a yard. Are you home a lot or do you travel often for work? If you’re a traveler, you’ll need a pet like a cat or rodent who is much more independent. If you’re home a lot and physically active, you might do better with a dog (though not all dogs like to run). Start by assessing your lifestyle.

If you want a dog, you’ll want to consider breeds. One of the great things about dogs is that they come in so many shapes, sizes and personalities. You are almost certainly likely to find one that fits your style. Start reading up on breeds that you like and determine if they fit your personality. Don’t trust what you see on TV. A dog that looks like a calm friend on a sitcom is actually a well-trained actor. For example, Eddie, the super-cool dog from “Frazier” is a Jack Russell Terrier, one of the most high-energy breeds.

Pay attention to grooming and medical needs, too. If you can’t stand dog hair, don’t even think about getting an Akita, Chow Chow or Husky. If you’re not into dog drool, avoid St. Bernards or bloodhounds. If you live in close quarters with your neighbors, you might want to avoid the barky breeds.

Next, consider where you’ll get your dog. Never buy a dog from a pet store or flea market. They get their dogs from puppy mills, which don’t breed with care and often keep their breeders in inhumane conditions. Seek out reputable breeders, preferably those who work or show dogs. Quality breeders are careful to breed out bad temperament and genetic diseases.

If you would like to help an animal in need, stop by your local shelter or rescue organization. There are millions of dogs in shelters that need homes, and many are purebred or close to it.

When it’s time to bring your new pal home, do a little shopping. Make sure you have all the basics that your pal needs, including a dog bed that’s the correct size for your pet, food and water bowls, leashes and even a stroller for your pet who won’t or can’t go for walks.

If you adopt a pet, especially a dog or cat, give him a chance to adjust. If he’s from a shelter, he’s likely been through a lot and can be nervous, so don’t force yourself onto him. Give him a chance to hide out at first, and just sit near him and speak to him softly. He’ll slowly come out of his shell and fall in love with you. Tell children to give him a little space, and remind them that dogs (and cats too) don’t always like being grabbed or hugged. Lay down some ground rules with your child such as leaving pets alone when they are sleeping, eating, and pottying. Of course, a life-size version of their stuffed animal is tempting, so never leave children unattended around pets, no matter how kid-friendly the pet may be.

Before long, you’ll have a great friend who is ready to spend his life hanging out with you. You can take Fido on adventures with you, or just chill on the couch and watch movies. Either way, you’ll learn each other’s quirks and have a life of laughs together. With a little planning, introducing a pet to your home can go smoothly and happily.

It is important to control how much weight your young dog retrieves

A study by the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna showed that young hunting dogs who are trained using  the same weight as adult dogs, can cause damage to the joints and tendons, especially of the front legs.

This is because the extra weight that young dogs carry causes them to tilt forward in much the same manner that a person would who was carrying a heavy load. The researchers felt that adult dogs are suited for carrying loads but young dogs that are growing should use adjusted weight instead of the same weight as adult dogs.

They suggested that young dogs in training be checked regularly by a specialist to be sure that there is no damage to joints, tendons and muscles.

It stands to reason that if a dog associates pain with an activity, he will not enjoy the job or game and may not perform to his best ability, especially if he is being trained for competition.

Although this study was conducted primarily on hunting retrievers, many breeds of dogs enjoy the game of fetch. This means that all dog owners who play fetch with their dogs should be aware of how much weight the object is and not allow young dogs to carry heavy objects.

I personally had a Border Collie who as an adult, loved to play with a bowling ball and would successfully put his canines in the holes and pick it up and carry it for a short distance. You never know what a dog will fancy and play with!

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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.

Dog and human breast cancer is similar

Enni Markkanen of the Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Zurich along with other researchers have determined that breast cancer in dogs is similar to breast cancer in humans.

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What the researches found was that the cancer cells in tumors produce substances that cause the healthy cells around the tumor to support the growth of the cancer cells, thus spreading the cancerous tumor.

The spread of breast cancer works the same in dogs as it does in humans. It does not react the same in rats or cells produced in the laboratory making the study of breast cancer in dogs important in understanding breast cancer in humans.

With permission from the dog’s owners, researchers study the surrounding tissue in dogs who have mammary tumors using molecular biology and immunohistological methods and conduct pathological tests to try and better understand the nature of the disease. This type of research will benefit both humans and dogs, hopefully leading to a cure for breast cancer for both.

Studies show that the family dog is most likely to bite a child

Christine Arhant from the Institute of Animal Husbandry and Animal Protection at Vetmeduni Vienna studied bite incidents involving the family dog. What they found is quite interesting and makes a lot of sense.

Many bite incidents occurred while the parent or an adult was watching the child interact with the family dog. The researchers found that children love to pet their dogs, crawl after them and hug them. However, the dog may not want the constant attention that children give them. Dogs need quiet time away from children and often parents do not give the dog this option. Part of the problem is that adults trust the family dog and while they would not let their child interact with a strange dog, they allow them to harass the family dog to the point where the dog may not be able to take it any longer.

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The dog may snap or bite the child in an attempt to increase distance between them and the child. It is not necessarily an aggressive act but is the dog’s way of correcting the child. Unfortunately, a bite is a bite to authorities.

Parents must learn to recognize when their dog has had enough and separate the dog from the child. The dog must have a safe area where they can sleep and eat without being forced to interact with the child.

In multiple child households, each child may want to interact with the dog and each child may not spend a lot of time with the dog, but collectively it could be too much for the dog.

According to the researchers, “If the dog feels harassed by the child or restricted in its freedom, it will communicate this through body language. Clear signs include body tension, growling, frequent licking of the snout and yawning. Small children have difficulties interpreting this behaviour. Even a growling dog or one baring its teeth is often described by children as smiling.”

It would benefit the family as well as the dog if parents learned how to read canine body language. There are two presentations that are available that the family can watch to learn about canine body language. They are:

“What is My Dog Saying?” by Carol E. Byrnes, at Diamonds in the Ruff at www.diamondsintheruff.com  This is a power point presentation.  You can also get an excellent video, “The Language of Dogs” by Sara Kalnajs, at www.bluedogtraining.com

When a dog, especially a pet dog bites a child, it is often a traumatic event for the entire family. In some cases, it could mean that they will get rid of the dog which will upset the family as much or more than the bite.

This can be avoided by understanding the needs of the dog and learn to read the dog’s body language which is the only way a dog can quietly tell you what he feels.

The study showed that 50% of the parents surveyed did not supervise their child/dog interactions and allowed the child to have free access to the dog.

Young children should always be supervised while interacting with the family dog. This is the only way to teach a child how to appropriately interact with a dog. This will keep both the child and the dog safe.