Women influenced co-evolution of dogs and humans

Man’s best friend might actually belong to a woman.

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis

In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting and surprisingly—gender.

“We found that dogs’ relationships with women might have had a greater impact on the dog-human bond than relationships with men,” said Jaime Chambers, a WSU anthropology Ph.D. student and first author on the paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology. “Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”

While dogs are the oldest, most widespread domesticated animal, very few anthropologic studies have directly focused on the human relationship with canines. Yet when the WSU researchers searched the extensive collection of ethnographic documents in the Human Relations Area Files database, they found thousands of mentions of dogs.

Ultimately, they located data from more than 844 ethnographers writing on 144 traditional, subsistence-level societies from all over the globe. Looking at these cultures can provide insight into how the dog-human relationship developed, Chambers said.

“Our modern society is like a blip in the timeline of human history,” she said. “The truth is that human-dog relationships have not looked like they do in Western industrialized societies for most of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a wider vision.”

The researchers noted specific instances that showed dogs’ utility, or usefulness, to humans, and humans’ utility to dogs as well as the “personhood” of dogs—when canines were treated like people, such as being given names, allowed to sleep in the same beds or mourned when they died.

A pattern emerged that showed when women were more involved with dogs, the humans’ utility to dogs went up, as did the dogs’ personhood.

Another prevalent trend involved the environment: the warmer the overall climate, the less useful dogs tended to be to humans.

“Relative to humans, dogs are really not particularly energy efficient,” said Robert Quinlan, WSU anthropology professor and corresponding author on the paper. “Their body temperature is higher than humans, and just a bit of exercise can make them overheat on a hot day. We saw this trend that they had less utility to humans in warmer environments.”

Quinlan noted there were some exceptions to this with a few dog-loving cultures in the tropics, but it was a fairly consistent trend.

Hunting also seemed to strengthen the dog-human connection. In cultures that hunted with dogs, they were more valued by their human partners: they were higher in the measures of dogs’ utility to humans and in personhood. Those values declined, however, when food production increased whether it was growing crops or keeping livestock. This finding seemed to go against the commonly held perception of herding dogs working in concert with humans, but Quinlan noted that in many cultures, herding dogs often work alone whereas hunting requires a more intense cooperation.

This study adds evidence to the evolutionary theory that dogs and humans chose each other, rather than the older theory that humans intentionally sought out wolf pups to raise on their own. Either way, there have been clear benefits for the dogs, Chambers said.

“Dogs are everywhere humans are,” she said. “If we think that dogs are successful as a species if there are lots of them, then they have been able to thrive. They have hitched themselves to us and followed us all over the world. It’s been a very successful relationship.”

Source: Washington State University

Stolen

Last week, a 14-year old boy took his 14-week old Staffordshire bull terrier puppy, Billy, to the local dairy and tied him up outside because the dog was not allowed inside. (Dairies are ‘convenience stores’, for those of you located overseas). While the boy was inside, a man and his accomplice stole Billy.

I can only imagine the panic and heartbreak of the boy. It would be hard enough as an adult to discover your dog has been stolen.

Thankfully, the security camera at the dairy captured the theft and, probably because of the age of the boy and Billy, there was widespread public outcry, particularly on social media, to bring Billy home with the public encouraged to identify the offenders and to report sightings of Billy.

The photo of Billy was circulated widely over social media

I am pleased to report a happy ending. The NZ Police, acting on information from the public, saved Billy and we are waiting to hear if charges will be laid. Police officers also visited the boy and Billy, who received a soft toy NZ Police dog to help him recover from the ordeal (this photo was also widely circulated on social media).

This incident serves as a wake-up call to all dog parents and caregivers. It is so tempting to want to include our dogs in everyday activities and, since most of us are time poor, being able to run an errand while walking the dog seems a perfect solution.

Sadly, it isn’t. There are unscrupulous people who think it’s okay to steal dogs and many of them get away with it. They don’t necessarily treat the dogs as pets, either. Some could be abused or used as bait dogs – a totally frightening scenario for anyone who loves their dog.

I recently had someone tell me that it’s okay to tie their dog at the local supermarket because the security guard is watching. But what happens if the security guard gets called away or takes his break? How do you know that the dogs are safe outside?

I admit that over the years I have caught myself thinking I could possibly pick up takeaways and bring the dog for a walk, too. I have always stopped myself because of the risk.

Remember, it’s our job to keep our dogs safe and secure at all times. I certainly do not blame the boy – he made a mistake and he’s learnt such a hard lesson. We can all learn from Billy’s story – leave your dog at home unless you have a companion who can wait outside to supervise.

One solution, of course, would be to have more dog-friendly shops…

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The pledge

With every New Year, I read about how people make resolutions – many of which despite the good intentions don’t last much longer than February. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the lifelong commitment we make to a dog, and of course the number of cases we see each year when people don’t fulfill that commitment.

If we could change the rules of pet ownership, I’d definitely support the case for licensing owners rather than the dogs.

If I could change one thing about my practice, it would be that I would see more dogs for canine fitness and well-being and less for rehabilitation. Rehab means that the dog has been injured in some way, and often when I do the health history as part of my intake process, I can see where the dog was probably going to have a problem and that the early warning signs were missed or ignored.

So here’s my best effort for the Dog Parent’s Pledge for 2021.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Ban this toy from your household

Ball launchers are ‘cheap’ and plentiful – and full of hazards for your dog

I follow a number of Facebook pages dedicated to pets. On some, the main theme appears to be ‘what’s the cheapest?: What’s the cheapest vet? What’s the cheapest groomer? What’s the cheapest food… and, of course, what is the cheapest toy?

These plastic ball launchers are plentiful in supply and sell for about $2 each. It would seem like an easy solution: buy one and stand still in the park while you chuck a ball at high speed for your dog to chase over and over so they come home tired and exercised. Yet, it is this chasing that puts undue strain on your dog’s joints and increases their likelihood of painful injuries – some of which will require expensive surgery and intensive physical therapy.

You’re basically taking a pet dog and asking them to run like a sprint athlete, and then leap and twist to get the ball. They start from a standing position and then sprint before braking hard to catch the ball. At speed, the forces on the dog’s muscles and joints is much greater and the repetitive nature of the exercise is likely to cause micro-tears in the tissues of the muscles and the cartilage of the joints.

It probably is fun, until your dog ruptures a cruciate ligament or develops arthritis over the years of chasing balls in this way.

Often, I see these toys being used in the park on wet grass (a slip hazard) or at the beach over soft sand which isn’t supportive to joints and exacerbates the effects of a twisting and landing.

There’s so much more we can do for our dog’s fitness, flexibility, and stamina as well as enrichment. And we shouldn’t be lazy dog owners – standing in the park chucking a ball is hardly a sign of commitment as your dog’s guardian.

In as little as one session, I will interview you about your lifestyle and your dog’s health and we can come up with the basics of a fitness regime for your dog. Fitness is fun!

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

My calendars

It’s the start of a new year and one of my annual rituals is hanging up my new wall calendars for the year in the office and kitchen. My calendar choices are a reflection of my interest in dogs and the causes I hold dear.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a US-based charity dedicated to providing guide dogs to the vision-impaired. When I was only 10 years old I read Emma and I by Sheila Hocken, a memoir about the chocolate Labrador guide dog who changed Sheila’s life. I have read many other dog books since then, too, but Emma and I continues to be one of my favourites.
Greyhounds as Pets (NZ) is the adoption agency responsible for matching me with Izzy. Buying the calendar each year is a simple way of supporting the work of GAP. This calendar features the photos of greyhounds that have been adopted through GAP – all are submitted by their families in the annual calendar competition

What does your calendar say about you?

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Image

Doggy quote of the month for January

Reflections on 2020, Covid-19, resilience and our dogs

I’m staying home tonight (New Year’s Eve), in my pajamas and with Izzy. As it should be. I don’t particularly like being out and about on New Year’s Eve, which is a holiday that seems to equate to lots of inebriated people, loud noises (often including fireworks), and general debauchery.

If you are one of my followers who is currently locked down due to Covid-19, I realise that it has been a tough year and that you are probably itching to get back to a normal social life. Try to see the glass as half-full – you are home safe with your dog.

As we see out 2020 and welcome 2021, I cannot help but reflect on the events of this year and the role our dogs have played in it:

  • The best lockdown companions you can have – dogs. We always knew that dogs are great companions but how much did they prove it to us (and continue to do so in many places) during lockdown?
  • Izzy was the host of Word of the Day during our lockdown and she also was the reason I was outside walking twice every day – as usual for us – but even more important for structure to our lockdown days and for the mental health that physical exercise and fresh air bring.
  • So many office-based jobs can be done from a home office – and how many dogs benefited from this? If my friends and clients are anything to go by – plenty.
  • My hope is that employees have proven their ability to remain productive in a working-from-home environment and, therefore, that employers will be more receptive to work from home arrangements going into the future.
  • Working from home cuts down on commuting times, reducing pressure on the environment from emissions which is good for the environment. And reduced commuting times mean added time for quality of life for everyone. More time typically means that dogs benefit from longer walks and bonding time with their owners – and both benefit from the companionship of having the owner around more. I’m not a big fan of commercial day cares, with dogs in an over-stimulated environment and walking/standing on concrete all day – working from home is such a better option for office-based roles!
  • Olive and Mabel – the rise of the dog superstars and their sports commentator Dad, Andrew Cotter. I loved watching all the YouTube videos with expert commentary by Andrew. What an example of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” With professional sports shut down, Andrew directed his talents in a new direction and he and his dogs have become celebrities because of it. I haven’t read Andrew’s book yet, but it is on my reading list. Here’s one of my favourites from the Olive and Mabel YouTube series:
  • Teaching humans resilience. Dogs live in the moment and how much of that did we need in 2020? They didn’t understand a virus and the need to obey physical distancing. But they did it. And so can (and should) we!
  • A new respect for vaccinations and their role in society. I’m not an anti-vaxxer but I have a healthy respect for what protections proper vaccination can give. How many people are now totally reliant on a global strategy to vaccinate against Covid-19? It makes you think, doesn’t it?
  • Emergency planning – what happens if you can’t be there to take care of your dog? With the prospect of getting ill, many pet parents have finally made the time to make arrangements for their pets.
  • Adoption rates soar – a recognition that it takes time to settle in a new pet and a Covid-induced lockdown provided that time. And while there have been training challenges for puppies raised during periods where socialization hasn’t been possible, overall the role of a pet to support physical and mental wellness has never been more recognised.

The pandemic has also taught us about how much we rely on each other – for trade, for the manufacturing and the movement of goods, and for our economies. I am grateful to all who embraced SUPPORT LOCAL and have deliberately chosen my independent practice to support their dog’s needs, even when faced with reduced incomes and stress brought about by Covid-19.

As many of you know, I embraced Fear Free certification in 2018. Fear Free is about reducing fear, anxiety and stress in animals and promoting these strategies to professionals in pet care and to pet parents. My wish for you is that 2021 is also a Fear Free year – where we see an improvement in the pandemic, and for all those affected, the time and space to begin the healing process.

My best wishes to you and yours for 2021.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Study Sets Baseline for Sleep Patterns in Healthy Adult Dogs

A new canine sleep study from North Carolina State University could serve as a baseline for research on chronic pain and cognitive dysfunction in dogs, potentially improving detection and treatment of these conditions.

“The study was necessary because research on dogs and sleep has outpaced our basic knowledge about what a ‘normal’ sleep/wake cycle looks like,” says Margaret Gruen, assistant professor of behavioral medicine at NC State and corresponding author of the work. “The studies currently available are over 20 years old, only followed small numbers of dogs or dogs that were not in a home environment, and didn’t really capture data that is relevant to how dogs live (and sleep) now. We designed the study to update these findings and fill the knowledge gap.

“And for me, someone interested in how dogs develop and age, it’s a critically missing gap: we talk about a symptom of age-related cognitive dysfunction in dogs as being a disruption in the sleep/wake cycle without really understanding where the baseline is.”

The study followed 42 healthy adult dogs – 21 male and 21 female – ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old. The dogs wore activity monitors on their collars for a two-week period, and their owners filled out a questionnaire on the dogs’ sleep patterns. Functional linear modeling of the activity data showed that most dogs have two activity peaks during the day: a shorter window from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., followed by a midday lull and a longer active period from about 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. All dogs were more active during weekends than weekdays.

“Since most of the participants were pets of people who work outside the home, we saw that the dogs were most active when human interaction happens,” Gruen says. “There were the occasional outliers – we did capture some midday ‘zoomies’ – but the pattern held true on average across 14 days for each dog. These findings aren’t surprising – they line up with many of the assumptions we’ve been making, but now the data are characterized and documented.”

The research revealed that weight and sex had an effect on the active periods; lighter dogs tended to be more active in a short period just after midnight, while female dogs seemed to be more active during the evening peak than males. Even in these healthy adult dogs, age had an effect; older dogs were less active during the peak activity times.

“Our hope is that this will serve as a foundational study for future work on the relationship between pain, cognitive dysfunction and sleep disruption, and as a study that is relevant to the way dogs live now,” Gruen says. “By establishing norms, we can better identify abnormalities and intervene earlier in the process. We can also use this as a baseline to evaluate development of adult sleep patterns in puppies.”

The research appears in Scientific Reports. NC State graduate student Hope Woods is first author. Duncan Lascelles, professor of translational pain research and management at NC State, also contributed to the work. Evolutionary anthropologist David Samson and his team, from the University of Toronto, Canada, created the functional linear models.

Source: North Caroline State University


Izzy’s thank-you Christmas message

Izzy has a friend named Trevor whom she has never met. But it is Trevor who gives us many egg cartons over the course of a year.

This year, Izzy sent him this Christmas message, along with a video:

“Dear Trevor,

Thanks for all the egg cartonz.

I hope you have a Merry Christmas and eat more eggz.

Love, Izzy”

From our home to yours this Christmas season…

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Training methods based on punishment compromise dog welfare, study finds

Dogs trained using aversive stimuli, which involve punishments for incorrect behavior, show evidence of higher stress levels compared to dogs trained with reward-based methods, according to a study published on December 16 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro from the Universidade do Porto, Portugal, and colleagues.

The researchers observed the behavior of 92 companion dogs from 7 dog training schools in Portugal that use either aversive methods (which use mainly aversive stimuli), reward methods (which focus on rewarding desired behaviours), and mixed methods (which combine the use of both rewards and aversive stimuli). They filmed training sessions and tested saliva samples for the stress-related hormone cortisol. Dogs trained using aversive and mixed methods displayed more stress-related behaviors, such as crouching and yelping, and showed greater increases in cortisol levels after training than dogs trained with rewards.

The cognitive bias test

The authors also conducted a cognitive bias test in an unfamiliar location outside of the dog’s usual training environment with 79 of the dogs, to measure their underlying emotional state. They found that dogs from schools using aversive methods responded more pessimistically to ambiguous situations compared with dogs receiving mixed- or reward-based training.

Previous survey-based studies and anecdotal evidence has suggested that punishment-based training techniques may reduce animal welfare, but the authors state that this study is the first systematic investigation of how different training methods influence welfare both during training and in other contexts. They say that these results suggest that aversive training techniques may compromise animal welfare, especially when used at high frequency.

The authors add: “This is the first large scale study of companion dogs in a real training setting, using the types of training methods typically applied in dog training schools and data collected by the research team. The results suggest that the use of aversive training methods, especially in high proportions, should be avoided because of their negative impact on dog welfare.”

Source: Science Daily

Journal reference: Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro, Danielle Fuchs, Gabriela Munhoz Morello, Stefania Pastur, Liliana de Sousa, I. Anna S. Olsson. Does training method matter? Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (12): e0225023 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225023