Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

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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

Re-branding and going viral

It’s been particularly busy the last few days.  I had expected it to be busy – just not this busy.

The planned part of the weekend was my company re-branding.  At long last, my business is now The Balanced Dog Ltd – a practice focused on professional dog massage and natural care.

When I started in business in 2007, it was as a maker of preservative-free dog treats and cakes and so the company name of Canine Catering suited…but by 2010, my dog massage practice was growing and it is this aspect of natural dog care that has become my passion.

The new name also reflects my interests in Traditional Chinese Medicine and nutrition.  It’s all about balance and health.

But what I didn’t expect this weekend was my first truly viral post on Facebook.  A client of mine shared this cartoon with me and it all took off from there:

This is Jill

You see, last month my column about this subject was published in NZ Dog World magazine.  I’m increasingly concerned about how people are taking to Facebook for medical diagnosis (instead of seeking professional veterinary care).

It’s okay to seek advice from peers when your dog has a known condition.  Support groups for all types of disorders exist on social media; I’ve used them myself.

And I guess a lot of people agree with me – I’ve tripled the number of Facebook likes on my page and have had over 1.5 million views.  Not bad for an independent canine massage practitioner from little old New Zealand…

Thanks for reading my blog; I’ve been writing it for five years now and I still enjoy it and the connections I have made with some dedicated dog parents.

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

Oh…and here’s my column about “Dr Facebook” if you’re interested:

December 2015