Emotions matter: a dog’s view of facial expressions

A recent study from the University of Helsinki shows that the social gazing behavior of domestic dogs resembles that of humans: dogs view facial expressions systematically, preferring eyes. In addition, the facial expression alters their viewing behavior, especially in the face of threat. The study was published in the science journal PLOS ONE.

The study uused eye gaze tracking to demonstrate how dogs view the emotional expressions of dog and human faces. Dogs looked first at the eye region and generally examined eyes longer than nose or mouth areas. Species-specific characteristics of certain expressions attracted their attention, for example the mouths of threatening dogs. However, dogs appeared to base their perception of facial expressions on the whole face.

Threatening faces evoked attentional bias, which may be based on an evolutionary adaptive mechanism: the sensitivity to detect and avoid threats represents a survival advantage.

“The tolerant behavior strategy of dogs toward humans may partially explain the results. Domestication may have equipped dogs with a sensitivity to detect the threat signals of humans and respond them with pronounced appeasement signals”, says researcher Sanni Somppi from the University of Helsinki.

This is the first evidence of emotion-related gaze patterns in non-primates. Already 150 years ago Charles Darwin proposed that the analogies in the form and function of human and non-human animal emotional expressions suggest shared evolutionary roots.  Recent findings provide modern scientific support for Darwin’s old argument.

Facial expressions research

Dogs view facial expressions on a monitor

A total of 31 dogs of 13 different breeds attended the study. Prior to the experiment the dogs were clicker-trained to stay still in front of a monitor without being cued or restrained.

Source:  AlphaGalileo media release

I have previously blogged about other University of Helsinki research.  These posts include:

 

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A dog’s prayer

A dog's prayer

Dogs in history

As man’s best friend, dogs have been at our side through important moments in history.  Today, I came across this photo in a collection of photos from scrap metal drives held during World War II.

America needed raw materials for the war; a single tank weighed 18 tons.

Scrap metal drives were a way for the community to get behind the war effort, often competing with one another to see who could collect the most metals.

And of course dogs helped…

Dog in World War II scrap metal drive

Image: Leslie Jones/Boston Public Library

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Brushing your dog’s teeth

I see a lot of dogs in my massage practice who have bad breath and/or other noticeable signs of dental disease.  Ask most veterinarians and they’ll tell you that they do a lot of ‘dentals’ during the course of any given week.  If your dog requires teeth to be extracted because of infection, cracking, or gum disease, your healthcare bill will quickly increase.

The first line of defense in keeping your dog’s teeth healthy is a good diet of wholesome ingredients.  That includes chews and bones.  Raw diets excel in this because they use bones as a staple part of the diet but I have also seen dogs with excellent teeth who are fed commercial dog foods – typically supplemented with fresh ingredients – and with bones and chews a regular part of the regime.

Some owners feed a combination of raw and commercial diets; I personally like this balanced approach and it is what I feed my own dog.

But, and here’s the but…bones and chews don’t solve the dental disease problem for a good number of dogs.   Why?

  • Some dogs just aren’t naturally strong chewers; they aren’t motivated by chewing for very long – even on a fresh and meaty bone
  • Dogs who have been rescued or adopted may already have already experienced damage to their teeth or suffered early in life because of a poor diet or starvation
  • I believe that some dogs, like people, have a mouth chemistry that pre-disposes them to tartar build-up.  Dogs are individuals and we simply can’t rule out that nature deals the bad-teeth card to some dogs
  • Dogs who have been born with defects such as cleft palates usually have something wrong with their teeth from the outset; bones and chews may be difficult for these dogs

So what’s the next step?

My view is definitely teeth-brushing.  We train our children to do this daily.  Why would it be any different for a domesticated dog?

[And, with hand on heart, most vets will choose teeth brushing over a special ‘dental diet’ any day.]  The issue here is having the patience and persistence to brush teeth effectively.  Unfortunately, a lot of owners simply give up because of their dog’s protests and vets then become conditioned to ‘water down’ the advice by saying ‘try it a couple of days per week..’ and ‘feed a dental diet.’

I brush my dog’s teeth daily.  Izzy is a retired racing greyhound, a breed known for their bad teeth.  By the time Izzy was adopted at age 5 1/2, her teeth were noticeably unstable and worn down from what must have been chewing on the bars of a kennel or some other surface equally as unforgiving.  She had teeth extracted as part of her adoption medical visit.

I like this very straightforward video from The Whole Dog Journal on the subject of teeth brushing.  The only oversight is that the video doesn’t cover the triple-headed toothbrush design which I prefer.  My concern with the long-handled toothbrushes is that it is easy to poke a dog in the mouth with them, particularly if they are fussing with you over getting their teeth brushed in the first place…

Triple headed dog toothbrush

A triple-headed dog toothbrush – my choice!

There are other natural solutions to dental care which include the use of homeopathics and herbs.  All of these are my choice before a dental diet.  Why?

Well here’s the ingredient list off the label of a well-known prescription diet product.  Does it sound healthy/wholesome to you?

Brewers Rice, Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Powdered Cellulose, Pork Fat, Soybean Mill Run, Lactic Acid, Chicken Liver Flavor, Soybean Oil, Calcium Sulfate, Potassium Chloride, L-Lysine, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Natural Flavors, Beta-Carotene

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Doggy quote of the month for February

Martin Luther King

Treating heart disorders in dogs

A novel therapy tested by University of Guelph scientists for treating a fatal heart disorder in dogs might ultimately help in diagnosing and treating heart disease in humans.

Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) professors Glen Pyle and Lynne O’Sullivan have also identified potential causes of inherited dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) or “weak heart.”

The groundbreaking study was published this month in the American Journal of Physiology.

Cardiology exam

“The cardiovascular systems of dogs and people are very similar,” said Pyle, a professor in OVC’s Department of Biomedical Sciences and a member of U of G’s Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations.

“It allows us to do comparative investigations that can advance understanding of this fatal condition.”

In both dogs and people with DCM, the weakened heart muscle becomes unable to pump blood around the body. The cause of the problem is often unknown, although it’s common to involve genetics.

Researchers suspect malfunctioning muscle proteins cause the heart to weaken, allowing it to dilate like an overfilled balloon.

DCM is the second leading cause of heart failure in dogs, and it’s especially common in large breeds. Dogs typically show no symptoms until the disease is well-advanced.

The condition is often inherited; up to 60 per cent of Doberman Pinschers are affected during their lifetime.  Other breeds such as Irish wolfhounds and Great Danes also have high rates.

In people, 30 to 50 per cent of DCM cases are hereditary.

The end result of DCM is congestive heart failure. While medical advances have reduced deaths from congestive heart failure by 40 per cent in the past decade, the condition still afflicts hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and the five-year mortality rate remains high.

Aging populations worldwide are likely to cause dramatic increases in the rate of heart failure in the upcoming decades, Pyle said.

“The cause of a substantial percentage of DCM cases remains unknown,” he said.  “This is why it’s urgent to develop novel agents that can improve heart function.”

For the study, Pyle and O’Sullivan, a clinical cardiologist in OVC’s Health Sciences Centre, worked with researchers at the University of Washington to test a novel therapy in diseased heart cells.

 The therapy involves introducing a molecule involved in muscle contraction. In heart cells from dogs with DCM, it restored normal function. The next step is developing a gene therapy that would allow the molecule to be produced in heart muscle cells in patients with DCM.

“This suggests it’s a promising therapeutic approach worth further investigating for the treatment of DCM,” said O’Sullivan. One of 10 board-certified veterinary cardiologists in Canada, she runs OVC’s Doberman DCM screening program.

The researchers also discovered some problems in the heart muscle that likely contribute to DCM.  “This may shed light on the mechanical impairment in failing hearts,” Pyle said.

The Guelph scientists are also working with researchers in Finland on DCM genetics and proteins. That work might lead to development of therapies for targeting specific proteins, said Pyle.

Both researchers belong to U of G’s Centre for Cardiovascular Investigations, one of a few centres worldwide studying heart disease from single molecules to clinical applications.

Source:  University of Guelph media release

Izzy’s cabin fever

For the last few days it has been raining when we normally go out for morning walks.  And Izzy doesn’t like walking when it is really raining.  She prefers to do her business and head for home.

But those shorter walks (thankfully, the afternoon walks haven’t been affected by rain) have meant that she has excess energy.  This energy burst forth this afternoon when she had to play with a range of toys before she settled for dinner and a rest. This went on for over 30 minutes – most unusual for my sedate greyhound.

Here she is, in all her glory, playing with her basketball:

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand