Category Archives: research

A close up look at how our dogs drink…

The field of fluid dynamics explains how our dogs drink and why they splash and slop more than cats…

The drinking mechanism of a dog is videotaped from three different angles (A, B, and C). The curved tongue is rapidly withdrawn and a water column is formed underneath. A physical experiment is designed to understand and characterize the underlying fluid mechanics.  Photo by:  Sean Gart and Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung/Virginia Tech

The drinking mechanism of a dog is videotaped from three different angles (A, B, and C). The curved tongue is rapidly withdrawn and a water column is formed underneath. A physical experiment is designed to understand and characterize the underlying fluid mechanics. Photo by: Sean Gart and Sunghwan (Sunny) Jung/Virginia Tech

By studying the drinking habits of various dog breeds and sizes, a group of researchers at Virginia Tech and Purdue University has recently identified and modeled the fluid dynamics at play when dogs drink water.

“Three years ago, we studied how cats drink,” said Sunny Jung, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech. Jung’s research focuses include biofluid mechanics and the nonlinear interactions between soft bodies and surrounding fluids. His current project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Physics of Living Systems program. “I was curious about how dogs drink, because cats and dogs are everywhere.”

As members of the order Carnivora, cats and dogs have incomplete cheeks, which allow them to open their mouths wide to deliver killing blows. But what makes pack hunting possible also makes suction drinking impossible. Unable to seal their cheeks completely, there is no way for a dog to suck up water. Conversely, humans have “complete” cheeks, and we drink by creating negative pressure, allowing us to suck water into our mouths and down our throats.

Cats, too, lack suction, and they compensate by drinking via a two-part “water entry-and-exit” process. This consists of a plunging and a pulling phase, in which a cat gently places its tongue on the water’s surface and then rapidly withdraws it, creating a column of water underneath the cat’s retracting tongue.

“When we started this project, we thought that dogs drink similarly to cats,” Jung said. “But it turns out that it’s different, because dogs smash their tongues on the water surface — they make lots of splashing — but a cat never does that.”

When dogs withdraw their tongue from water, they create a significant amount of acceleration — roughly five times that of gravity — that creates the water columns, which feed up into their mouths. To model this, Jung placed cameras under the surface of a water trough to map the total surface area of the dogs’ tongues that splashed down when drinking.

The researchers found that heavier dogs drink water with the larger wetted area of the tongue. This indicates that an allometric relationship exists between water contact area of the dog’s tongue and body weight – thus the volume of water a dog’s tongue can move increases exponentially relative to their body size.

In order to better understand how the physiology works, Jung and his colleagues could only go so far by watching dogs drink. They had to have the ability to alter the parameters and see how they affected this ability, and since they could not actually alter a dog in any way, they turned to models of the dog’s tongue and mouth. “We needed to make some kind of physical system,” Jung said.

For their model, Jung and his colleagues used glass tubes to simulate a dog’s tongue. This allowed them to mimic the acceleration and column formation during the exit process. They then measured the volume of water withdrawn. They found that the column of water pinches off and detaches from the water bath primarily due to gravity. Dogs are smart enough to close their mouth just before the water column collapses back to the bath.

Source:  Newswise media release

Dogs pay attention to what we are saying

When people hear another person talking to them, they respond not only to what is being said–those consonants and vowels strung together into words and sentences–but also to other features of that speech–the emotional tone and the speaker’s gender, for instance. Now, a report in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on November 26, 2014 provides some of the first evidence of how dogs also differentiate and process those various components of human speech.

I'm listening...new research proves our dogs are paying attention to what we say and how we say it

I’m listening…new research proves our dogs are paying attention to what we say and how we say it

“Although we cannot say how much or in what way dogs understand information in speech from our study, we can say that dogs react to both verbal and speaker-related information and that these components appear to be processed in different areas of the dog’s brain,” says Victoria Ratcliffe of the School of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

Previous studies showed that dogs have hemispheric biases–left brain versus right–when they process the vocalization sounds of other dogs. Ratcliffe and her supervisor David Reby say it was a logical next step to investigate whether dogs show similar biases in response to the information transmitted in human speech. They played speech from either side of the dog so that the sounds entered each of their ears at the same time and with the same amplitude.

The input from each ear is mainly transmitted to the opposite hemisphere of the brain,” Ratcliffe explains. “If one hemisphere is more specialized in processing certain information in the sound, then that information is perceived as coming from the opposite ear.”

If the dog turned to its left, that showed that the information in the sound being played was heard more prominently by the left ear, suggesting that the right hemisphere is more specialized in processing that kind of information.

When presented with familiar spoken commands in which the meaningful components of words were made more obvious, dogs showed a left-hemisphere processing bias, as indicated by turning to the right. When the intonation or speaker-related vocal cues were exaggerated instead, dogs showed a significant right-hemisphere bias.

“This is particularly interesting because our results suggest that the processing of speech components in the dog’s brain is divided between the two hemispheres in a way that is actually very similar to the way it is separated in the human brain,” Reby says.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that dogs actually understand everything that we humans might say or that they have a human-like ability of language.  But, says Ratcliffe, these results support the idea that our canine companions are paying attention “not only to who we are and how we say things, but also to what we say.”

Source:  EurekAlert! media release

Journal reference:  Ratcliffe et al. Orienting asymmetries in dogs’ responses to different communicatory components of human speech. Current Biology, November 2014

The dog effect – what’s a dog story worth for newspaper readership?

A new journal article in PS:  Political Science and Politics outlines research done in tracking coverage of news stories in regional newspapers.
The researchers found that by mentioning a dog in the news story, more people are likely to read the news item and increase readership of that issue of the newspaper.
It’s called the ‘dog effect.’
I’ve included the Abstract and the full journal citation below, but you will have to pay to read the entire article if you are not a subscriber to the journal…
Since I love to blog about news involving dogs, this research doesn’t come as a big surprise to me.
There are dog lovers throughout the world and we love to read about dogs!

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

ABSTRACT

Journalists consider the importance of events and the audience’s interest in them when deciding on which events to report. Events most likely to be reported are those that are both important and can capture the audience’s interest. In turn, the public is most likely to become aware of important news when some aspect of the story piques their interest. We suggest an efficacious means of drawing public attention to important news stories: dogs. Examining the national news agenda of 10 regional newspapers relative to that of the New York Times, we evaluated the effect of having a dog in a news event on the likelihood that the event is reported in regional newspapers. The “dog effect” is approximately equivalent to the effect of whether a story warrants front- or back-page national news coverage in the New York Times. Thus, we conclude that dogs are an important factor in news decisions.

 What’s a Dog Story Worth?
Matthew D. Atkinson,Maria Deam and Joseph E. Uscinski (2014).
PS: Political Science & Politics,
“>Volume 47
, Issue04, October 2014 pp 819-823http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?aid=9365716

An update on the dog of the Mary Rose

Last year, I wrote about the dog of the Mary Rose, the mascot of a ship that was sunk in 1545.

Now researchers using DNA have discovered that the little dog was a male rather than a female as thought previously.

The skeleton of Hatch the dog, Photo by the University of Portsmouth

The skeleton of Hatch the dog, Photo by the University of Portsmouth

The skeleton of the dog lacked a baculum, or penis bone, and so was thought for many years to be that of a female dog. The dog, named “Hatch” by researchers, was discovered in 1981 during the underwater excavation of the ship, which sank defending Portsmouth from a French invasion in 1545.

However recent developments in DNA analysis have found that Hatch was a young male dog, most closely related to modern Jack Russell terriers, with a brown coat.

The team, which included members from University of Portsmouth, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, King’s College London Dental Institute, Durham University and the Mary Rose Trust, were even able to ascertain that the dog was carrier for the canine genetic disorder hyperuricosria. This causes dogs to produce urine with very high levels of uric acid and can lead to bladder stones and, less frequently, kidney stones.

“We extracted the DNA from one of the dog’s teeth to identify the breed of the dog, its gender and even the colour of its fur. This technique could now be applied to further museum specimens, meaning we could find out more about previously unknowable animals.”

Recovered over a period of several months, the dog’s skeleton was found partially outside the carpenter’s cabin, with other bones inside the cabin, under a pile of chests belonging to the carpenter and several gunners. Despite stories claiming he was trapped in the door, the dog probably died fully outside the cabin, with some parts being pulled inside post-death by marine scavengers.

The dog’s skeleton is on display in the new Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Source:  University of Portsmouth media release

Researchers treat canine cancer

A research team at Mississippi State’s College of Veterinary Medicine is working to better understand cancer in dogs, and the work also could advance knowledge of human cancer.

MSU veterinary medicine doctoral student Shauna Trichler (l) takes a blood sample from a patient with assistance from research resident Sandra Bulla (c) and Dr. Kari Lunsford. They are part of a College of Veterinary Medicine team studying the role of platelets in diagnosing canine cancer. Photo by: Tom Thompson

MSU veterinary medicine doctoral student Shauna Trichler (l) takes a blood sample from a patient with assistance from research resident Sandra Bulla (c) and Dr. Kari Lunsford. They are part of a College of Veterinary Medicine team studying the role of platelets in diagnosing canine cancer. Photo by: Tom Thompson

Their investigation began with only a tiny blood platelet, but quickly they discovered opportunities for growth and expanding the breadth of the research.

“We have a lot to gain by looking at platelets and how they influence cancer and healing,” said Dr. Camillo Bulla. “A part of our research is looking at the platelet. The platelet is very small, but it gives us a large picture. We hope to be able to find a tumor much sooner by taking a series of blood samples to look at platelet contents.”

Bulla is an associate professor in the college’s pathobiology and population medicine department. He and Dr. Kari Lunsford, a colleague at the college, have formed the Comparative Angiogenesis Laboratory at the university to better understand this process and treat canine patients.

As he explained, cancers need the creation of new blood vessels, called angiogenesis, to survive and grow, and tumors are able to create new blood vessels as pathways to travel and spread. They also are looking at the way platelets interact with tumor cells as they attempt to spread to the area surrounding the tumor or metastasize to distant sites in the body.

Lunsford, an associate professor in the clinical sciences department, said, “We know that metastasizing tumor cells need platelets but it is not yet known what the platelets do for the migrating (metastasizing) tumor. This is one of the questions we hope to help answer.”

“If treatments are successful and the cancer goes into remission, we would monitor the patient for a relapse of the disease by looking at its platelets,” Lunsford said. “This type of monitoring would be less invasive than taking biopsies and might also be an earlier indicator that the cancer is returning.”

According to Lunsford, platelets also carry information about tumors and metastasizing cancer cells, and the team hopes that by looking at specific proteins expressed in platelets (from a simple blood sample), they can identify new cancer earlier. Even more importantly, they want to identify when tumors are about to metastasize.

“Our lab has developed a new way to separate platelets from blood samples with far less contamination by other blood cells,” she said. “This new technique was developed by doctoral student Shauna Trichler, and is superior to any isolation technique previously used by researchers in human or veterinary medicine.”

For more information, read the entire Mississippi State University press release here.

Dog to human communication supported with technology

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a suite of technologies that can be used to enhance communication between dogs and humans, which has applications in everything from search and rescue to service dogs to training our pets.

“We’ve developed a platform for computer-mediated communication between humans and dogs that opens the door to new avenues for interpreting dogs’ behavioral signals and sending them clear and unambiguous cues in return,” says Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. “We have a fully functional prototype, but we’ll be refining the design as we explore more and more applications for the platform.”

Dr David Roberts with one of his associates  Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

Dr David Roberts with one of his associates. Photo courtesy of North Carolina State University

The platform itself is a harness that fits comfortably onto the dog, and which is equipped with a variety of technologies.

“There are two types of communication technologies,” says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. “One that allows us to communicate with the dogs, and one that allows them to communicate with us.”

“Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and one of our challenges was to develop sensors that tell us about their behavior by observing their posture remotely,” Roberts says. “So we can determine when they’re sitting, standing, running, etc., even when they’re out of sight – a harness-mounted computer the size of a deck of cards transmits those data wirelessly.

“At the same time, we’ve incorporated speakers and vibrating motors, called haptics, into the harness, which enable us to communicate with the dogs,” Roberts adds.

“We developed software to collect, interpret and communicate those data, and to translate human requests into signals on the harness,” says Rita Brugarolas, an NC State Ph.D. student and co-author of the paper.

The technology also includes physiological sensors that monitor things like heart rate and body temperature. The sensors not only track a dog’s physical well-being, but can offer information on a dog’s emotional state, such as whether it is excited or stressed.

These technologies form the core of the technology platform which can be customized with additional devices for specific applications.

“For example, for search and rescue, we’ve added environmental sensors that can detect hazards such as gas leaks, as well as a camera and microphone for collecting additional information,” Bozkurt says.

Other applications include monitoring stress in working dogs, such as guide dogs and other service dogs.  Physiological and behavioral sensors will provide insight into a dog’s mental and emotional state.

“This platform is an amazing tool, and we’re excited about using it to improve the bond between dogs and their humans,” says Dr. Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of animal behavior at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the paper.

The research team has published their research in the paper entitled Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue

Source:  North Carolina State University media release

Doctors believe in the health benefits of pet ownership

DogDoctor

The Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation has released the findings of a survey revealing the views of the family physician (also known as the GP) on the benefits of pets to health.

An online panel survey of 1,000 family doctors and general practitioners explored the doctors’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior regarding the human health benefits of pets.  The 28-question survey was conducted in August 2014 with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.   The physicians in the survey had a median of 18 years in professional practice.

Key findings included:

  • 69% of doctors have worked with animals in a hospital, medical center or medical practice to assist patient treatment
  • 88% believe that interaction with pets improves a patient’s physical condition
  • 97% believe that interaction with pets improves mental health condition
  • 78% found that interaction with animals helped to improve the relationships of patients with staff
  • 97% of doctors reported that they believe there were health benefits resulting from pet ownership
  • 75% of doctors said they saw health improve in one or more patients as a result of pet ownership

The survey also revealed that while 69% of doctors at least occasionally discussed the health benefits of pets with patients, 56% identified ‘time constraints’ as the largest barrier to having these discussions.

“The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative funds research on the evidence-based health benefits on human-animal interaction, and this survey demonstrates that we are on the right track” said HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman.

“HABRI hopes that this survey will help break down the barriers and get more doctors and their patients talking about the important, scientifically-validated health benefits of pets.”

Source:  HABRI media release