Category Archives: research

Hear bark or C-Barq?

I’ve just signed Izzy up so we can complete a C-Barq questionnaire for her.

I know what you are thinking:  you don’t ‘see’ barks, you hear them.  Well actually, C-Barq stands for ‘Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire’ and it’s another example of citizen – or participatory – science.

Created by Dr. James Serpell who is a behaviorist at the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society (CIAS) in Pennsylvania, the questionnaire is designed to provide dog owners and professionals with standardized evaluations of temperament and behavior.    The Center is based within the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn University medicine

Tested extensively for reliability and validity on large samples of dogs of many breeds,  the current version consists of 101 questions describing the different ways in which dogs typically respond to common events, situations, and stimuli in their environment. It should take about 15 minutes to complete (I haven’t done this yet).

Please pay attention, however, to the sign-in page where questions are asked about your dog’s breed, background, and behavior.  This helps in coding the answers for analysis.

So far, over 80,000 dogs have been included in the study. Dr Serpell says, “There is no other breed or species of animal with such a wide variety of appearance and behavior.”

Between 10 percent and 15 percent of dogs can show very high levels of aggression, Serpell says, while 20 or 30 percent show no aggression.

Pit bulls and Akitas, popular breeds for fighting and guard dog duty, show serious aggression toward other dogs. But the title for most aggressive overall actually goes to tiny dachshunds, which display heightened aggression toward dogs, strangers and even their owners.

Source:  Science Friday on pri.org

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

Canine research goes to the Ivy League

Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center has recruited hundreds of dogs for a study into how the dog’s mind works.

In a puppet show-like performance, dogs watch a rat puppet help a hedgehog up a hill.  In another scene, the rat knocks over the hedgehog.  And the researchers want to know what the dogs think about that…

“Similar studies have been done with human infants, and what you find is that human infants — they don’t like the guy who was mean. And so we’re doing the same thing with dogs to try to see — do dogs morally evaluate as humans do?” Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos said.  Santos is the Director of the Center.

So far, the results show that the dogs are wary of the rat.

In another test, the dog sits and watches as their human sits and reads a book. The human puts the book on the floor behind them and, soon after, the book is taken by someone who comes into the room.

“What we’re really trying to see is whether or not dogs know when they’ve missed some information. Can they realize that, first of all, and when they do realize it, are they motivated to help?” Santos said.

Consistently, the dogs not only realize something is wrong, but they also seem to be trying to alert their companions.  Owners regularly give feedback that they believe their dog is observant and knows what they are thinking.  This research seems to back up those (amateur and probably biased) observations.

So far, Yale researchers have tested 300 dogs and found that the dog mind is much more complex than they originally thought.  There’s more work to be done and thousands of dogs on their waiting list…

Source:  CBS News

Can people make their pets happy?

Researchers from Nestlé Purina Petcare are conducting some of the first studies of their kind into how external stimuli can generate joyful emotions in dogs.

While scientific evidence demonstrates that owning a pet can help lower people’s blood pressure, and reduce anxiety and depression, less is known about whether human contact has a similarly beneficial effect on animals’ emotional wellbeing.
A technique being used in this research is thermal imaging:  as blood flow changes to a part of the body, the temperature will also change.

Photo courtesy of Nestle Purina

Photo courtesy of Nestle Purina

Researchers use a thermal camera to measure these temperature fluctuations in pets’ eyes, ears and paw pads.

“Scientists have known for years how to evaluate negative states such as stress and anxiety in animals,” said Ragen T.S. McGowan, Nestlé Purina Petcare behaviour scientist. “Less is known about how to measure positive states such as happiness or excitement.”

“Thermal imaging has been widely used in animal welfare studies, to assess inflammation in racehorses, for example, or to see how certain conditions affect livestock’s stress levels,” she continued.

“This is one of the first times it being used to measure positive responses in pets.”

Source:  Nestlé Purina media release

Pet therapy and how it helps cancer patients

Therapy dogs may improve the emotional well-being of some cancer patients, according to results of a clinical study, the first to document the benefits of animal-assisted therapy in adult cancer patients. The research was published this month in the Journal of Community and Supportive Oncology.

The results show a significant improvement in quality of life for more than 40 patients who took part in a trial at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City, where they interacted with therapy dogs following chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

Photo courtesy of The Good Dog Foundation

The study, conducted by researchers at Mount Sinai Beth Israel, found that patients receiving intensive multi-modal radiation therapy and chemotherapy for gastrointestinal, head or neck cancers experienced increases in emotional well-being and quality of life when they received visits from a certified therapy dog during the course of their treatment.

Increases in emotional well-being were significant over the course of the animal-assisted visits, even as patients underwent marked and significant declines in both physical and functional well-being.

“This study is the first such definitive study in cancer, and it highlights the merits of animal- assisted visits using the same scientific standards as we hold for the cancer treatment itself. It shows the importance of an innovative environmental intervention during cancer treatment,” said Stewart B. Fleishman, MD, principal investigator and Founding Director of Cancer Supportive Services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. “Having an animal-assisted visit significantly improved their quality of life and ‘humanized’ a high-tech treatment,” he said. “Patients said they would have stopped their treatments before completion, except for the presence of the certified Good Dog Foundation therapy dog and volunteer handler.”

“Thanks to this rigorously designed study, we now have strong evidence that pet therapy is an effective tool to help cancer patients get through challenging treatments,” said Gabriel A. Sara, MD, Medical Director, Infusion Suite at Mount Sinai Roosevelt, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The study has been called another piece of ‘mounting evidence’ of how the human-animal bond can enhance emotional and physical health.

If you would like to pass on the journal article to your oncologist/hospital provider,  you can access it here.

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

The migration of dogs in the Americas

A new study suggests that dogs may have first successfully migrated to the Americas only about 10,000 years ago, thousands of years after the first human migrants crossed a land bridge from Siberia to North America.

Photo by Angus McNab

Photo by Angus McNab

The study, which looked at the genetic characteristics of 84 individual dogs from more than a dozen sites in North and South America, is the largest analysis so far of ancient dogs in the Americas. The findings appear in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Unlike their wild wolf predecessors, ancient dogs learned to tolerate human company and generally benefitted from the association: they gained access to new food sources, enjoyed the safety of human encampments and, eventually, traveled the world with their two-legged masters. Dogs also were pressed into service as beasts of burden, and sometimes were served as food, particularly on special occasions.

Their 11,000- to 16,000-year association with humans makes dogs a promising subject for the study of ancient human behavior, including migratory behavior, said University of Illinois graduate student Kelsey Witt, who led the new analysis.

“Dogs are one of the earliest organisms to have migrated with humans to every continent, and I think that says a lot about the relationship dogs have had with humans,” Witt said. “They can be a powerful tool when you’re looking at how human populations have moved around over time.”

Human remains are not always available for study “because living populations who are very connected to their ancestors in some cases may be opposed to the destructive nature of genetic analysis,” Witt said. Analysis of ancient dog remains is often permitted when analysis of human remains is not, she said.

Previous studies of ancient dogs in the Americas focused on the dogs’ mitochondrial DNA, which is easier to obtain from ancient remains than nuclear DNA and, unlike nuclear DNA, is inherited only from the mother. This means mitochondrial DNA offers researchers “an unbroken line of inheritance back to the past,” Witt said.

The new study also focused on mitochondrial DNA, but included a much larger sample of dogs than had been analyzed before.

Source:  University of Illinois press release

 

I may be neurotic…but that makes me a good dog mom

I am conscientious and reliable.  From an early age, I also had a strong sense of self-preservation when it came to putting myself in potentially dangerous situations.  To some, that makes me neurotic.  However, that’s not such a bad thing, according to new research out of the University of California at Berkeley and California State University.


Helicopter parenting may not be the best strategy for raising independent kids. But a healthy measure of clinginess and overprotectiveness could actually be advantageous when rearing dogs and cats, according to new research from UC Berkeley and California State University, East Bay.

A Web-based survey of more than 1,000 pet owners nationwide analyzed the key personality traits and nurturing styles of people who identified as a “cat person,” a “dog person,” “both” or “neither.”

Surprisingly perhaps, those who expressed the greatest affection for their pets also rated among the most conscientious and neurotic, suggesting that the qualities that make for overbearing parents might work better for our domesticated canine and feline companions, who tend to require lifelong parenting.

“The fact that higher levels of neuroticism are associated with affection and anxious attachment suggests that people who score higher on that dimension may have high levels of affection and dependence on their pets, which may be a good thing for pets,” said Mikel Delgado, a doctoral student in psychology at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, recently published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

The results echo those of a 2010 study by University of Texas psychologist Sam Gosling, a UC Berkeley graduate, which showed dog owners to be more extroverted, but less open to new experiences, and cat owners to be more neurotic, but also more creative and adventurous.

While previous studies have focused on people’s attachment to their pets, this is the first U.S. study to incorporate the principles of human attachment theory – which assesses the bond between parents and children or between romantic partners — with pet owners’ personality types, including whether they identify as a “dog person” or “cat person.”

It is also the first to find a positive correlation between neuroticism, anxious attachment and the care of and affection for pets, said CSU-East Bay psychologist Gretchen Reevy, co-author of the paper and a graduate of UC Berkeley.

Delgado and Reevy recruited male and female pet owners of all ages through the Craigslist classified advertising website, their personal Facebook pages and pet-related pages on the Reddit news and social networking site. Nearly 40 percent of those surveyed said they liked dogs and cats equally, while 38 percent identified as dog people and 19 percent as cat people. A mere 3 percent favored neither.

The online questionnaire was based on both human and animal attachment assessments, including one that measures the “Big Five” overarching human characteristics (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism). Pet owners were also rated according to the Lexington Attachment to Pets Scale, which measures affection for pets, and the Pet Attachment Questionnaire, which gauges “anxious attachment” and “avoidant attachment.”

People who score high on anxious attachment tend to need more reassurance from the objects of their affection, and in the survey those tended to be younger people who chose a cat as a favorite pet.

Conversely, people who rate highly on avoidant attachment, which refers to a less affectionate and more withdrawn temperament – and can inspire such rejoinders as “commitment-phobe” in romantic relationships – are much less needy. Both dog and cat lovers scored low on avoidant attachment, suggesting both personality types enjoy close relationships with their pets.

“We hypothesized that more attentive and affectionate pet owners would receive higher affection scores and lower avoidant attachment scores, as higher levels of avoidant attachment would suggest distancing behaviors between the individual and their pet,” Delgado said.

Delgado and Reevy plan to dig more deeply into the link between neuroticism and affection for and dependence on one’s pet.

“We will investigate further whether greater affection for and greater anxious attachment to one’s pet, and neuroticism, are associated with better care and understanding of the pet’s needs,” Reevy said.

Source:  UC Berkeley media release

Autistic children who live with pets are more assertive

Yet another piece of research that points to the value of dogs and other animals.  This time the research was done at the University of Missouri and focused on the social skills of autistic children.

You guessed it – the children who lived with pets developed better social skills including assertiveness.  “When I compared the social skills of children with autism who lived with dogs to those who did not, the children with dogs appeared to have greater social skills,” said Gretchen Carlisle, Research Fellow.

Source:  University of Missouri press release

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