Category Archives: animal welfare

The dogs that conquered space -The Guardian

Space walkies … a postcard of Belka and Strelka in their rocket. Photograph: Fuel Publishing

Space walkies … a postcard of Belka and Strelka in their rocket. Photograph: Fuel Publishing

In the Soviet era, space travel was a major goal and stray dogs collected from the streets were the first explorers in the space program.  This article, by Oliver Wainwright, provides some insight into the propaganda behind the program and how they matched with reality.

It is a rather sad tale of how dogs were exploited in the name of progress, but such exploitation still occurs today in the name of science (arguably, with varying degrees of success, with more standards and controls in place).  Read the story by clicking on this link:  The dogs that conquered space | Art and design | The Guardian.

I have previously blogged about Laika the space dog; so be sure to check out that column for more information on Laika.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Hapless huskies, dumped dalmatians: let’s stop treating pets as disposable

I like this opinion piece which discusses puppy mills, exotic pets and even the link between popular culture (movies, etc.) and the demand for certain breeds of dog.

Mr Barkham (no pun intended) talks about the need to strengthen requirements to underpin a culture that expects responsible pet ownership.  My favourite quote “Buying a big pet should be like obtaining a mortgage – an agonising process with loads of ludicrous red tape that ensures we really want the burden of an animal in our lives for a decade or more.

Click on the link to read more:

Hapless huskies, dumped dalmatians: let’s stop treating pets as disposable | Patrick Barkham | Comment is free | theguardian.com.

'The Blue Cross has seen a 700% increase in husky-type dogs being given up or abandoned over the past five years, with 78 taken in last year.' Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

‘The Blue Cross has seen a 700% increase in husky-type dogs being given up or abandoned over the past five years, with 78 taken in last year.’ Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

 

Is your dog an optimist or a pessimist?

Dogs can have either an optimistic or a pessimistic view of the world, new research shows.  The approach used in the research will have uses in assessing animal welfare generally, but also in assessing suitability of dogs for various working roles.

“This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively (important for those concerned about animal welfare in research),” said Dr Melissa Starling, from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.

Dr Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia to investigate whether measuring optimism would assist in selecting dogs for training.

Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs learned the discrimination task, they were presented with ‘ambiguous’ tones.

If dogs responded after ambiguous tones, it showed that they expect good things will happen to them, and they are called ‘optimistic.’ They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water was offered.

“Of the dogs we tested we found more were optimistic than pessimistic but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population,” said Dr Starling.

“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives.”

Dr Starling talks more about her research in this video:

Source:  University of Sydney media release

Is that dog a pit bull?

A recently published Open Access article “Is That Dog a Pit Bull? A Cross-Country Comparison of Perceptions of Shelter Workers Regarding Breed Identification” asserts that shelter workers operating in areas restricted by breed-specific legislation (BSL) are more likely to consciously mislabel a dog’s breed if they felt it were to increase the dog’s chances of being adopted and/or avoid being euthanized.

The study, published in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, compares the breed identification process between workers in the United States and the United Kingdom, noting that often the process relies on the individual worker’s intuition and prior experiences with other dogs. A survey with photos of the same twenty dogs were sent to shelters in the US and UK. American shelter workers were more likely to consider a dog a pit bull than their counterparts in the UK.

These are the photos that the research subjects were shown:

Pit bull identification photos

The pit bull terrier is banned or restricted by BSL in parts of the United States and throughout the United Kingdom. Shelters in both countries are often tasked with accepting unwanted animals and finding new homes for them; many of these animals are pit bulls or other bull breeds. BSL restrictions may include a total breed ban, or some lesser rules such as (but not limited to): higher licensing fees, registering the dog as dangerous with local governments, liability insurance coverage, mandatory sterilization, muzzling on public property, placement of warning signage on private property, and standardized caging requirements.

Shelter workers in areas affected by BSL know that a dog’s identification can influence micro-level trends such as adoption rates, but also macro-level trends such as breed perception nationally and even globally. The study highlights the fact that there exists a lack of consensus on what exactly a pit bull is, and calls to question the validity of determining breeds based on visual assessment.

Source:  Taylor & Francis media release

Facial recognition software for dogs

A new app, Finding Rover, aims to reunite owners with their lost dogs and to support the work of animal shelters.

Simply register (for free), upload a photo of your dog, and go.    When someone finds your dog, they send in a photo of the dog’s face to be scanned and matched through the database.

Of course, micro-chipping  is also a good way to identify your dog in the event it gets lost.  Micro-chipping is now mandatory in New Zealand.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Electronic training collars are a welfare risk

Animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln (UK) have published a study that supports the use of positive reward-based training methods over the use of electronic shock collars.

Shock collar

The immediate effects of training pet dogs with an electronic collar cause behavioural signs of distress, particularly when used at high settings.

The study involved 63 pet dogs referred for poor recall and related problems, including livestock worrying, which are the main reasons for collar use in the UK. The dogs were split into three groups – one using e-collars and two as control groups.

The trainers in the study were industry approved and fully familiar with the guidelines for use of e-collars which are published by collar manufacturers.

Trainers used lower settings with a pre-warning function and behavioural responses were less marked than during a preliminary study (the results of which have since been discounted because the trainers did not follow collar protocols). Despite this, dogs trained with e-collars showed behavioural changes that were consistent with a negative response. These included showing more signs of tension, more yawning and less time engaged in environmental interaction than the control dogs.

Following training most owners reported improvements in their dog’s problem behaviour. Owners of dogs trained using e-collars were, however, less confident of applying the training approach demonstrated.

These findings indicate that there is no consistent benefit to be gained from e-collar training, but greater welfare concerns compared with positive reward-based training.

Lead author Jonathan Cooper, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “e-collar training did not result in a substantially superior response to training in comparison to similarly experienced trainers who do not use e-collars to improve recall and control chasing behaviour.

Accordingly, it seems that the routine use of e-collars even in accordance with best practice, as suggested by collar manufacturers, presents a risk to the well-being of pet dogs. The scale of this risk would be expected to be increased when practice falls outside of this ideal.”

The peer-reviewed journal article for this research is:

Jonathan J Cooper, Nina Cracknell, Jessica Hardiman, Hannah Wright, Daniel Mills ‘The welfare consequences and efficacy of training pet dogs with remote electronic training collars in comparison to reward based training’ PLOSone http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102722

Source:  University of Lincoln media statement

Skull shape and its implication for animal welfare

Syringomyelia (SM) is a painful condition in dogs that is more common in toy breeds like the Chihuahua and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It involves the formation of fluid-filled cavities, known as syrinxes, in the spinal cord.  In these toy breeds, SM is usually secondary to a specific malformation of the skull called Chiari-like Malformation, CM for short.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

New research conducted at the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences has identified two significant risk factors associated with these painful neurological conditions.

Identifying a head shape in dogs that is associated with these diseases would allow for selection away from these conditions and could be used to further breeding guidelines. Dogs were measured in several countries using a standardised “bony landmark” measuring system and photo analysis by trained researchers.

The researchers found two significant risk factors associated with CM/SM in the skull shape of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  These were the extent of the broadness of the top of skull relative to its length, also known as brachycephaly, and the distribution of doming of the skull. The study suggests that brachycephaly, with resulting doming towards the front of the head, is associated with both conditions.

Thomas Mitchell, who was the undergraduate involved in the study, says “The study also provides guidance to breed clubs, breeders and judges that have a responsibility to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be harmful in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of the breed.  It will also provide vets with verified advice to provide to breeders outside the show ring and to occasional hobbyists.”

This research has been published online in the journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

Source:  University of Bristol media release

Please also see my earlier post on Your dog may have a permanent headache, which discusses the Chiari malformation and earlier research on the Griffon Bruxellois.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand