Like us, dogs have their own forms of verbal and non-verbal communication. Getting to know your dog and being a careful observer of their behavior helps you to develop a deep understanding of your dog.
We know that our dogs are great observers of our behavior, too. That’s how they learn our cues, moods, and habits.
Having a good understanding of one another pays benefits when you have a dog who is getting older, or has disabilities.
Take Izzy. She is an ex-racing greyhound and we’ve known for some time that she has arthritis in her carpus (wrist) and toes. I picked up on the arthritis quite early. I had noticed that almost every time I looked at her over the course of about a week, she was licking her left foot. A visit to the vet for an x-ray confirmed early signs of arthritic changes. In response, she started getting rub-downs with an anti-inflammatory gel, I started her on additional deer velvet supplements (in addition to her glucosamine and chondroitin supplement) and I also increased the frequency of her visits to a local hydrotherapy pool and her massages.
Over the last year, we’ve also been battling corns – something that plagues sighthounds in particular but has been aggravating her arthritis and was the main cause of her progressively becoming more lame. I knew we were having a corn problem because she would limp only when crossing the road over chip-sealed road (intolerance of rough surfaces is typically the first sign).
As she then developed two corns on the same toe, her lameness became constant and our walks shorter, with a pram when she needed it.
Izzy had a flexor tenotomy surgery last month and this has helped greatly in managing the corns but of course the arthritis is still there, she is that much older, and she’s had months of reduced/shortened walks because of her lameness.
Now the bright side. She is getting fitter and stronger and I’m carefully increasing the amount of activity she has. Today, she didn’t want to go out initially for an afternoon walk and so I put her in her pram.
We got as far as around the block before she let me know she was ready to get out and walk. (This is signaled by a high-pitched bark)
I know Izzy is getting tired when her head drops and she starts taking more and more time sniffing bushes, grass and trees. These are signs that she is tiring and the excess sniffing is both a diversionary behavior and, at times, a sign she is stressed and uncomfortable.
That’s when I put her back in her pram. She gets plenty of stimulation and enrichment by watching the world go by. She also loves the attention she gets from passersby – both on foot and in cars. (Shortly after I stopped this video, the couple who approached on foot spent at least 5 minutes talking to her, giving her treats and chatting about her care).
I am always grateful when people stop to talk to us about ‘what’s wrong with her’ and to ask about greyhounds and their welfare.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand
Earlier this week, two dogs in my practice passed away. As I was leaving one house for the last time, my human client said, “I wish we’d known about you sooner.”
I know it was said in context of a thank-you and while I wanted to reply, “so do I”, I opted instead to thank them for allowing me to work with their dog over the last couple of weeks to make him more comfortable. There was no need to make them feel more vulnerable (or guilty) at such a sad time.
The time for end-of-life and palliative care comes all to soon with our dogs – because they don’t live as long as we do. My real passion is health & wellness care, helping dog parents play ‘the long game’ through preventative health care and, if necessary, rehabilitation.
So I’ll finish this post on a high note. I also saw Blue this week. He’s been a regular since October 2017 when his Dad picked up a brochure for my practice at one of my partner clinics. He figured that since he used massage therapy for his health, Blue would benefit from it, too.
In the years I have been working with Blue, he’s developed arthritis and had one severe episode of breakthrough pain which saw him at the vets and prescribed NSAIDs. But since then, he continues to be a bright and happy boy. Ever so playful, usually meeting me at my car with one of his soft toys in his mouth. He is well looked after and taken for enriching activities including fishing trips to the Mackenzie Country and walks through the Heathcote Valley.
To me, Blue is a great example of health care – not sick care.
We’ve talked about when his time comes and what his Dad will do without his stellar presence in his life. But that day wasn’t today; I hope it won’t be for a while yet. And I hope I’ll be there to help him if his care becomes necessarily palliative.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand
Dog fur is particularly good at cleaning up crude oil, according to a new study investigating sustainable options to clean up oil spill disasters. Together with human hair recycled from salons, recycled dog fur can be used as an effective and sustainable way to mop up dangerous environmental contaminants on land.
Oil spill disasters on land cause long-term damage for communities and the natural environment, polluting soils and sediments and contaminating groundwater. Current methods using synthetic sorbent materials can be effective for cleaning up oil spills, but these materials are often expensive and generate large volumes of non-biodegradable plastic wastes.
Now the first comparison of natural-origin sorbent materials for land-based oil spills, including peat moss, recycled human hair, and dog fur, shows that sustainable, cheaper and biodegradable options can be developed.
The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) project found that dog fur and human hair products – recycled from salon wastes and dog groomers – can be just as good as synthetic fabrics at cleaning up crude oil spills on hard land surfaces like highway roads, pavement, and sealed concrete floors.
“Dog fur in particular was surprisingly good at oil spill clean-up, and felted mats from human hair and fur were very easy to apply and remove from the spills,” said lead author of the study, UTS Environmental Scientist Dr Megan Murray.
Dr Murray investigates environmentally-friendly solutions for contamination and leads The Phyto Lab research group at UTS School of Life Sciences.
“This is a very exciting finding for land managers who respond to spilled oil from trucks, storage tanks, or leaking oil pipelines. All of these land scenarios can be treated effectively with sustainable-origin sorbents,” she said.
The sorbents tested included two commercially-available products, propylene and loose peat moss, as well as sustainable-origin prototypes including felted mats made of dog fur and human hair. Prototype oil-spill sorbent booms filled with dog fur and human hair were also tested. Crude oil was used to replicate an oil spill. The results of the study are published in Environments.
The research team simulated three types of land surfaces; non-porous hard surfaces, semi-porous surfaces, and sand, to recreate common oil-spill scenarios.
“We found that loose peat moss is not as effective at cleaning up oil spills on land compared to dog fur and hair products, and it is not useful at all for sandy environments,” Dr Murray said.
“Based on this research, we recommend peat moss is no longer used for this purpose. Given that peat moss is a limited resource and harvesting it requires degrading wetland ecosystems, we think this is a very important finding,” she said.
The research concluded that, for now, sandy environments like coastal beaches can still benefit from the use of polypropylene sorbents, but further exploration of sustainable-origin sorbents is planned.
The researchers say that future applications from the research include investigating felted mats of sustainable-origin sorbents for river bank stabilisation, as well as the removal of pollutants from flowing polluted waters, similar to existing membrane technology.
Some dog breeds have higher risk of developing certain cancers and joint disorders if neutered or spayed within their first year of life. Until now, studies had only assessed that risk in a few breeds. A new, 10-year study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, examined 35 dog breeds and found vulnerability from neutering varies greatly depending on the breed. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.
“There is a huge disparity among different breeds,” said lead author Benjamin Hart, distinguished professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Hart said there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to health risks and the age at which a dog is neutered. “Some breeds developed problems, others didn’t. Some may have developed joint disorders but not cancer or the other way around.”
Researchers analyzed 15 years of data from thousands of dogs examined each year at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to try to understand whether neutering, the age of neutering, or differences in sex when neutered affect certain cancers and joint disorders across breeds. The joint disorders examined include hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears and elbow dysplasia. Cancers examined include lymphoma; hemangiosarcoma, or cancer of the blood vessel walls; mast cell tumors; and osteosarcoma, or bone cancer.
In most breeds examined, the risk of developing problems was not affected by age of neutering.
Breed differences by size and sex
Researchers found that vulnerability to joint disorders was related to body size.
“The smaller breeds don’t have these problems, while a majority of the larger breeds tend to have joint disorders,” said co-author Lynette Hart, professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
One of the surprising exceptions to this was among the two giant breeds — great Danes and Irish wolfhounds — which showed no increased risk to joint disorders when neutered at any age.
Researchers also found the occurrence of cancers in smaller dogs was low, whether neutered or kept intact. In two breeds of smaller dogs, the Boston terrier and the shih tzu, there was a significant increase in cancers with neutering.
Another important finding was that the sex of the dog sometimes made a difference in health risks when neutered. Female Boston terriers neutered at the standard six months of age, for example, had no increased risk of joint disorders or cancers compared with intact dogs, but male Boston terriers neutered before a year of age had significantly increased risks.
Previous studies have found that neutering or spaying female golden retrievers at any age increases the risk of one or more of the cancers from 5 percent to up to 15 percent.
Discuss choices with veterinarians
Dog owners in the United States are overwhelmingly choosing to neuter their dogs, in large part to prevent pet overpopulation, euthanasia or reduce shelter intake. In the U.S., surgical neutering is usually carried out by six months of age.
This study suggests that dog owners should carefully consider when and if they should have their dog neutered.
“We think it’s the decision of the pet owner, in consultation with their veterinarian, not society’s expectations that should dictate when to neuter,” said Benjamin Hart. “This is a paradigm shift for the most commonly performed operation in veterinary practice.”
The study lays out guidelines for pet owners and veterinarians for each of 35 breeds to assist in making a neutering decision. Read the full list here.
Even today, nobody can reliably predict when and where an earthquake will occur. However, eyewitnesses have repeatedly reported that animals behave unusually before an earthquake. In an international cooperation project, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz/Radolfzell and the Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, have investigated whether cows, sheep, and dogs can actually detect early signs of earthquakes.
To do so, they attached sensors to the animals in an earthquake-prone area in Northern Italy and recorded their movements over several months. The movement data show that the animals were unusually restless in the hours before the earthquakes. The closer the animals were to the epicentre of the impending quake, the earlier they started behaving unusually. The movement profiles of different animal species in different regions could therefore provide clues with respect to the place and time of an impending earthquake.
Experts disagree about whether earthquakes can be exactly predicted. Nevertheless, animals seem to sense the impending danger hours in advance. For example, there are reports that wild animals leave their sleeping and nesting places immediately before strong quakes and that pets become restless. However, these anecdotal accounts often do not stand up to scientific scrutiny because the definition of unusual behaviour is often too unclear and the observation period too short. Other factors could also explain the behaviour of the animals.
In order to be able to use animal activity patterns as a kind of early warning system for earthquakes, the animals would have to show measurable behavioural changes. Moreover, if they do indeed react to weak physical changes immediately before an earthquake, they should react more strongly the closer they are to the epicentre of the quake.
In an international cooperation project, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell/Konstanz and the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, a Cluster of Excellence at the University of Konstanz, have investigated whether animals really do this. On an Italian farm in an earthquake-prone area, they attached accelerometers to the collars of six cows, five sheep, and two dogs that had already displayed unusual behaviour before earthquakes. The researchers then recorded their movements continuously over several months. During this period, official authorities reported about 18,000 earthquakes in the region. In addition to many small and hardly noticeable quakes, there were also 12 earthquakes with a strength of 4 or higher on the Richter scale.
The researchers then selected the quakes that triggered statistically relevant earth movements on the farm. These included strong quakes up to 28 km away as well as weaker quakes, the epicentres of which were very close to the farm. However, instead of explicitly looking for abnormal behaviours in the period before these events, the researchers chose a more cautious approach. They first marked all behavioural changes of the animals that were unusual according to objective, statistical criteria. “In this way, we ensure that we not only establish correlations retrospectively but also that we really do have a model that can be used for predictions,” says Martin Wikelski, director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and Principal Investigator at the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour.
The data—measured as body acceleration of each farm animal (indicating activity level)—were evaluated using statistical models drawn from financial econometrics. “Because every animal reacts differently in size, speed and according to species, the animal data resemble data on heterogenous financial investors,” explains co-author Winfried Pohlmeier, Professor of Econometrics at the University of Konstanz and Principal Investigator at the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour. The scientists also considered other disturbance factors such as natural changes in animal activity patterns over the day.
In this way, the researchers discovered unusual behavioural patterns up to 20 hours before an earthquake. “The closer the animals were to the epicentre of the impending shock, the earlier they changed their behaviour. This is exactly what you would expect when physical changes occur more frequently at the epicentre of the impending earthquake and become weaker with increasing distance,” explains Wikelski. However, this effect was clear only when the researchers looked at all animals together. “Collectively, the animals seem to show abilities that are not so easily recognized on an individual level,” says Wikelski. It is still unclear how animals can sense impending earthquakes. Animals may sense the ionization of the air caused by the large rock pressures in earthquake zones with their fur. It is also conceivable that animals can smell gases released from quartz crystals before an earthquake.
Real-time data measured by the researchers and recorded since December 2019 show what an animal earthquake early warning system could look like: a chip on the collar sends the movement data to a central computer every three minutes. This triggers a warning signal if it registers a significantly increased activity of the animals for at least 45 minutes. The researchers have once received such a warning. “Three hours later, a small quake shook the region,” says Wikelski. “The epicentre was directly below the stables of the animals.”
However, before the behaviour of animals can be used to predict earthquakes, researchers need to observe a larger number of animals over longer periods of time in different earthquake zones around the world. For this, they want to use the global animal observation system Icarus on the International Space Station ISS, which will start its scientific operation in a few weeks.
Icarus, a scientific project directed by Martin Wikelski, is a joint project funded and carried out by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Russian space agency Roskosmos and is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Friedrich Schiller University in Jena have found that dogs adapt their communicative strategies to their environment and that owner behavior influences communicative effort and success. Experimental results found no evidence that dogs rely on communication history or follow the principle of least effort and suggest that owner behavior has a bigger impact on canine communication than previously thought.
Human communication has evolved mechanisms that can be observed across all cultures and languages, including the use of communication history and the principle of least effort. These two factors enable us to use shared information about the past and present and to conserve energy, making communications as effective and efficient as possible. Given the remarkable sensitivity of dogs to human vocalizations, gestures and gazes, researchers have suggested that 30.000 years of domestication and co-evolution with humans may have caused dogs to develop similar principles of communication – a theory known as the domestication hypothesis.
On this basis, researchers designed an experiment that would examine the factors influencing the form, effort and success of dog-human interactions in a hidden-object task. Using 30 dog-owner pairs, researchers focused on a communicative behavior called showing, in which dogs gather the attention of a communicative partner and direct it to an external source.
While the owner waited in another room, an experimenter in view of a participating dog hid the dogs` favourite toy in one of four boxes. When the owner entered the room, the dog had to show its owner where the toy had been hidden. If the owner successfully located the toy, the pair were allowed to play as a reward. Participants were tested in two conditions: a close setup which required more precise showing and a distant setup which allowed for showing in a general direction.
The researchers found no evidence to suggest that dogs adhere to the principal of least effort, as they used as much energy in the easier far setup as they did in the more difficult close setup. However, this might have been a result of the owners influence on their dogs’ effort. Secondly, dogs were not affected by different communication histories, as they performed similarly and used similar amounts of energy in both setups regardless of which condition they began with. Despite putting in similar amounts of effort, dogs adapted their showing strategies to be more or less precise, depending on the conditions.
The findings indicate that a crucial factor influencing the effort and accuracy of dogs’ showing is the behaviour of the dog’s owner. Owners who encouraged their dog to show where the toy was hidden increased their dog’s showing effort but generally decreased their showing accuracy.
“We’ve seen in previous studies that if we keep eye contact with the dog or talk in a high-pitched voice, we seem to prompt a ‘ready-to-obey attitude’ which makes dogs very excited to follow our commands. So when owners asked their dogs ‘Is the toy here?’ and pointed at the boxes, they might have caused dogs to just show any box,” says Melanie Henschel, main author of the study.
Although the researchers found no effects of communication history or the principal of least effort, the current study indicates for the first time that owners can influence their dog’s showing accuracy and success.
“We were surprised that encouragement increased mistakes in dogs` showing accuracy. This could have impacts on the training of dogs and handlers in fields where dogs are working professionals. Future studies should focus on the complex effects of the owner’s influence and the best strategies for handlers communicating with a dog,” adds Juliane Bräuer, senior author and head of the DogStudies Lab at MPI-SHH in Jena.
Izzy is my greyhound and Poster Dog for The Balanced Dog, my practice in Christchurch, NZ.
During our lockdown (quarantine) for Covid-19, Izzy hosted Word of the Day on my Facebook page. Each word was selected for their relevance to canine health, fitness and welfare. I hope you enjoy this compilation.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy,The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand
The research enables you to digitise a dog without an expensive studio motion capture camera set up
Researchers from CAMERA, the University of Bath’s motion capture research centre, have developed motion capture technology that enables you to digitise your dog without a motion capture suit and using only one camera.
The software could be used for a wide range of purposes, from helping vets diagnose lameness and monitoring recovery of their canine patients, to entertainment applications such as making it easier to put digital representations of dogs into movies and video games.
Motion capture technology is widely used in the entertainment industry, where actors wear a suit dotted with white markers which are then precisely tracked in 3D space by multiple cameras taking images from different angles. Movement data can then be transferred onto a digital character for use in films or computer games.
Similar technology is also used by biomechanics experts to track the movement of elite athletes during training, or to monitor patients’ rehabilitation from injuries. However, these technologies – particularly when applying them to animals – require expensive equipment and dozens of markers to be attached.
Computer scientists from CAMERA digitised the movement of 14 different breeds of dog, from lanky lurchers to squat pugs, which were residents of the local Bath Cats’ and Dogs’ Home (BCDH).
Wearing special doggie motion capture suits with markers, the dogs were filmed under the supervision of their BCDH handlers doing a range of movements as part of their enrichment activities.
They used these data to create a computer model that can accurately predict and replicate the poses of dogs when they’re filmed without wearing the motion capture suits. This model allows 3D digital information for new dogs – their shape and movement – to be captured without markers and expensive equipment, but instead using a single RGBD camera. Whereas normal digital cameras record the red, green and blue (RGB) colour in each pixel in the image, RGBD cameras also record the distance from the camera for each pixel.
PhD researcher Sinéad Kearney said: “This is the first time RGBD images have been used to track the motion of dogs using a single camera, which is much more affordable than traditional motion capture systems that require multiple cameras.
“This technology allows us to study the movement of animals, which is useful for applications such as detecting lameness in a dog and measuring its recovery over time.
“For the entertainment industry, our research can help produce more authentic movement of virtual animals in films and video games. Dog owners could also use it to make a 3D digital representation of their pet on their computer, which is a lot of fun!”
The team presented their research at one of the world’s leading AI conferences, the CVPR (Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition) conference on 14 June.
The team has also started testing their method on computer-generated images of other four-legged animals including horses, cats, lions and gorillas, with some promising results. They aim in the future to extend their animal dataset to make the results more accurate; they will also be making the dataset available for non-commercial use by others.
Professor Darren Cosker, Director of CAMERA, said: “While there is a great deal of research on automatic analysis of human motion without markers, the animal kingdom is often overlooked.
“Our research is a step towards building accurate 3D models of animal motion along with technologies that allow us to very easily measure their movement. This has many exciting applications across a range of areas – from veterinary science to video games.”