How many hounds needing a home?

Izzy of The Balanced Dog

All of the dogs I have had in my life have been adopted.

Our first family dog came from a no-kill shelter; our second from a supermarket notice board.  A local re-homing group, Dogwatch, facilitated my first adoption as an owner; my second dog, Daisy, came in a private adoption through word-of-mouth, and in 2014 Izzy, a greyhound adopted through the national adoption group Greyhounds as Pets, arrived on the scene.

Worldwide, there are more dogs that need homes than there are adoptive homes to care for them and this situation is no different for the greyhounds of New Zealand’s racing industry.

As of 2018, New Zealand is one of only eight territories in the world with a commercial greyhound racing industry.  The others in alphabetical order are Australia, Ireland, Macau, Mexico, United Kingdom, the United States (five states only), and Vietnam.

But many New Zealanders are unaware of the findings of  The Hansen Report, which was publicly released in the busy pre-Christmas period of December 2017.  Formally titled A Report to the NZ Racing Board on Welfare Issues Affecting Greyhound Racing New Zealand, the report was written by the Hon Rodney Hansen, QC.

I won’t go into all of the findings in this blog post (the report is 93 pages).  But the statistical analysis of the racing industry’s own data show that despite the efforts of all of the re-homing groups in the country combined, re-homing can’t deal with the influx of greyhounds leaving the industry.  The report deems this a ‘current structural imbalance’ and recommends that ‘re-homing alone cannot solve the problems created by excessive numbers of greyhounds entering the industry each year.’

The bottom line?  There’s still a lot to be done to look after the welfare of the greyhounds in the NZ racing industry.  In the four-year period between 2013/14 and 2016/17, the whereabouts of 1,271 dogs could not even be determined and another 1,447 hounds were officially euthanised.

Upon the report’s release, Racing Minister Winston Peters described the findings as both disturbing and disappointing.  While the racing industry has said it intends to act on all findings, those actions will take time.

And that is why I volunteer with Greyhounds as Pets and also offer my fundraising support.  Because there are so many hounds in need of an adoptive home.

As with children, dogs don’t ask to be born.  But it is our responsibility as a society to care for them once they are brought into the world.

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

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The puppy cuteness study

The popular meme proclaiming that all dogs are puppies assumes that humans’ adoration of canines is not conditional on their age. But a new study led by Clive Wynne, professor of psychology and director of Arizona State University’s Canine Science Collaboratory, suggests otherwise.

In a paper published this month in Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People and Animals, Wynne and colleagues describe the study, which found dogs’ attractiveness to humans peaks at roughly eight weeks, the same point in time at which their mother weans them and leaves them to fend for themselves.

While spending time in the Bahamas, Wynne was able to observe the many street dogs there. According to him, there are around a billion dogs in the world, 80 percent of whom are feral. For those dogs, human intervention is crucial to their survival. Wynne wondered if there was a connection between pups’ weaning age — when they are at their most vulnerable — and their level of attractiveness to humans. So he designed an experiment to test his query.

“It came out exactly as I’d hoped it would — that there is indeed an optimal age of maximum cuteness, and that age does line up pretty closely with the age at which mothers wean their pups,” Wynne said.

“This could be a signal coming through to us of how dogs have evolved to rely on human care. This could be dogs showing us how the bond between human and dog is not just something that we find immensely satisfying in our lives. … But for them, it’s the absolute bedrock of their existence. That being able to connect with us, to find an emotional hook with us is what actually makes their lives possible.”

The study was carried out using a series of photographs of puppies at different ages, from the first weeks of life through young adulthood. Fifty-one participants were asked to rank the puppies’ level of attractiveness in each photo. Three distinctive-looking breeds were ranked: Jack Russell terriers, cane corsos and white shepherds.

Results showed that the pups’ attractiveness was lowest at birth and increased to a maximum before 10 weeks of age before declining and then leveling off.

Cane corsos showed a maximum attractiveness at 6.3 weeks of age; Jack Russell terriers showed a maximum attractiveness at 7.7 weeks of age; and white shepherds showed a maximum attractiveness at 8.3 weeks of age.

puppies

Sample images of three breeds at different ages. The top row of images depicts a cane corso, the middle row depicts a Jack Russell terrier and the bottom row depicts a white shepherd. The middle column shows each dog at it’s “most attractive” age, as rated by participants: six weeks for Cane corsos; a little over seven weeks for Jack Russell terriers; and eight weeks for white shepherds

“Around seven or eight weeks of age, just as their mother is getting sick of them and is going to kick them out of the den and they’re going to have to make their own way in life, at that age, that is exactly when they are most attractive to human beings,” Wynne said.

The findings provide insight into the depth and origin of the relationship between humans and dogs, the oldest and most enduring of any human-animal relationship. And while some theories attribute the survival of the canine species to their intelligence, Wynne dissents.

“I think that the intelligence of dogs is not the fundamental issue,” he said. “It’s this tremendous capacity to form intimate, strong, affectionate bonds. And that starts at maybe eight weeks of life, when they’re so compelling to us.”

Though humans and other animals, such as cats and birds, have the capacity to form strong bonds, dogs in particular are especially suited to the task because of their gregarious nature. Even in hand-reared wolves, the species from which all dogs are descended, the willingness to engage humans does not match that of the domestic dog.

“It does seem to me that the dog has something rather special,” Wynne said. “Dogs have a very open-ended social program. That they are ready and willing to make friends with anybody.”

Wynne has thought of a couple of interesting ways to follow up on the cuteness study. One way is to show participants video of puppies at different ages, instead of still photos, to determine if perhaps there is something in the pups’ movement that attracts people. Another is to determine what the pups’ mother thinks about their level of attractiveness at different ages, though that is obviously easier said than done.

The takeaway from the study for Wynne is that extra piece of the puzzle that makes up the human-dog connection.

“[The study] doesn’t mean to say that we stop loving our dogs past [eight weeks],” he said. “The eight-week point is just the point where the hook is biggest, the ability of the animal to grab our interest is strongest. But, having grabbed our interest, we continue to love them all their lives.”

Source:  Arizona State University

These 59 genes may make your dog more athletic

Compare the sprinting Shetland sheepdog with the sluggish St. Bernard, and it’s clear a dog’s genes play a large role in how athletic it is. Now, at the Biology of Genomes meeting here, scientists report identifying 59 genes linked to canine athletics, which apparently affect everything from heart rate to muscle strength. Early results suggest some may eventually help us understand human superstars.

Athletic dog

Some dogs are great athletes and genome studies are showing why. Gallia Painter Mackinnon/500px

“Across dogs, all sorts of traits have been selected for in an extreme way,” says Alexander Godfrey, a genomicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, who was not involved in the work. As such, dog genomics represents “a pretty unique and powerful system” for studying how genotypes, or sets of genes, result in phenotypes, or sets of observable characteristics in all types of animals, he says.

Past work on dogs has yielded genes for friendliness, hair type, and other relatively simple traits. But this new study looked at more complex ones, thanks to a new resource: a soon-to-be-released global database of the whole-genome sequences of 722 dogs across about 450 breeds, along with sequences for canine relatives, including wolves, foxes, and jackals.

Jaemin Kim, a postdoc working with canine genomicist Elaine Ostrander at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, focused on athleticism, in part because he wondered why he wasn’t any better at his favorite sport: basketball. He decided to start with the genes that turn sport dogs such as pointers, setters, and retrievers into the Michael Jordans of the canine world. He and colleagues compared the genomes of 21 individuals from 10 sport hunting breeds with 27 individuals from nine terrier breeds.

Fifty-nine genes, or the regions that control them, stood out, with certain versions of the DNA much more common in the sport dogs, Kim reported at the meeting. He and his colleagues could not easily verify their effects on athletic performance, but most are linked to traits including blood flow, heart rate, muscle strength, and even pain perception. One seems to help dogs remain calm after they hear a gunshot, he added, which may make them stable hunting companions; a different version in terriers may account for their well-known neuroticism.

To examine the role of these genes in other breeds, Kim needed a standard way of assessing athleticism. He decided to use agility trials, competitions in which dogs, guided by their owners, maneuver through an obstacle course in the shortest time possible. Data from the United States Dog Agility Association allowed him to calculate the best performing breeds: border collies and Shetland sheepdogs. The worst were Newfoundlands, bulldogs, and mastiffs.

Then, he compared whole genomes from the best and the worst, looking for differences in the 59 genes. Only one proved to be significant, a gene called ROBO1 that affects learning ability. So when it comes to agility, Kim said, it seems that a mental attribute may matter more than physical ones do. “It looks like it’s more of a training thing,” says Sarah Tishkoff, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved with the work.

“It’s interesting to think about what genes are associated with what traits,” Godfrey says. “That it would be a gene that’s not involved with muscles is not obvious.” Even though agility trials are a good measure, Godfrey cautions that in general humans are notoriously bad at objectively evaluating their own and other people’s dogs. And he wonders whether, even in agility, judges wind up “scoring aspects of human[like] behavior that they like” and not agility per se, he points out. Another issue is that there are other types of athleticism. Herding dogs, for example, are great athletes that race around keeping livestock together and headed in the right direction, even though they are not that muscular looking. Kim is starting to look at the genetic basis of that behavior.

Ostrander says the new results might one day help us better understand the genetic basis of athleticism in humans. Already, other researchers have implicated one of the 59 genes in improving human performance by improving blood flow, and it’s likely, she says, that others will also prove important. Dogs suffer many of the same health problems that people do, and canine versions of the relevant genes will be easier to track down. Because breeders work hard to bring out specific traits in their dogs, “you get mutations in pathways that have dramatic effects,” Tishkoff explains.

Source:  Science

Hunting dogs may benefit from antioxidant boost in diet

Free radicals, those DNA-damaging single-oxygen atoms, are produced in spades during exercise. Dogs that exercise a lot, like hunting dogs, may need to consume more antioxidants than their less-active counterparts to protect against this damage. But what diet formulation best meets the needs of these furry athletes? A new University of Illinois study provides some answers in a real-world scenario.

Hunting dogs

Researchers visited a kennel of American Foxhounds in Alabama over the course of a hunting season, providing one group a high-performance commercial diet and another group a test diet similar to the commercial diet, but with added antioxidants (vitamins C and E, and lutein), zinc, and taurine. During the study, dogs from both groups went on two to three hunts per week, each 2 to 5 hours in length.

“We think of it as unstructured endurance exercise. They’re not running the entire time. They might stop to sniff or go more slowly to pick up a scent,” says Kelly Swanson, corresponding author on the study and Kraft Heinz Company Endowed Professor in Human Nutrition in the Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I.

Before starting the diets and on four occasions during the seven-month study, researchers took blood samples from the dogs to examine oxidative stress markers and other blood metabolites.

“We hypothesized that dogs fed the test diet would have a lower concentration of oxidative stress markers and improved performance compared to the dogs fed the commercial diet,” Swanson says. “It turns out performance wasn’t affected by diet, but the test diet did improve indirect measures of oxidative stress. Therefore, improved performance may be expected with more strenuous exercise when metabolic demands are higher.”

The amino acid taurine, once thought to be non-essential for dogs but now recognized as an important nutrient for heart health, declined over the course of the season for dogs fed the commercial diet. The same pattern occurred with vitamin E. Although one dog did come close to a critically low level of taurine during the study, all dogs fed the commercial diet stayed within the normal range for all blood metabolites.

For dogs fed the test diet, taurine and vitamin E levels were maintained at or above the baseline. The results suggest to Swanson and his co-authors that these compounds are compromised in athletic dogs over months of unstructured exercise, and more-active dogs such as sled dogs may experience greater depletion.

“We can conclude that athletic dogs may benefit from supplementation of vitamin E and taurine to minimize oxidation and maintain taurine status,” he says.

The article, “Longitudinal changes in blood metabolites, amino acid profile, and oxidative stress markers in American Foxhounds fed a nutrient-fortified diet,” is published in the Journal of Animal Science [DOI: 10.1093/jas/skx070]. Funding was provided by The Nutro Company.

Source:  University of Illinois press release

Happy Dog Mom’s Day

National Dog Mom's Day

It’s official.  There’s a national Dog Mom’s Day in the National Calendar (USA).  To be celebrated on the second Saturday of May, this national day was created to celebrate the role of the dog mom – those of us who have children with four legs.

This year (2018) is the first year since the day was officially recognised after a campaign by Dig (the Dog Person’s Dating App) and there are events planned in New York City and New Orleans.  I predict there will be more in the years to come as the day takes hold.

So let’s use this date as a day to celebrate the special role of the Dog Mom.

We don’t get paid parental leave, we don’t get adoption leave, and we don’t generally qualify for mother’s hours when part-time jobs are offered.  But we offer love, care and raise well-adjusted dogs who are contributing members of our communities.

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

Source:  NationalDayCalendar.com

Don’t call them lazy

Izzy and I do a fair amount of volunteering for our local re-homing group, Greyhounds as Pets.  In describing the greyhound, I often hear the term lazy used as in “they are very lazy dogs and like to sleep most of the day.”

The Oxford dictionary defines lazy as “unwilling to work or use energy.”   I don’t find Izzy unwilling to expend energy; she’ll happily join me for walks twice a day (except when it is raining heavily and then she needs some encouragement).    Often she will instigate play time herself – typically in the evening after dinner – when she zooms around the house with one or more of her toys.  Yes, she plays for about 5-10 minutes, but she does play.

And in my mobile service, she often accompanies me in the car to meet and greet clients.  (Yes, she also sleeps in the car but the point is – she is always happy to go in the car and usually bounces into the garage before I have time to clip on her car harness.)

The synonyms for lazy include slothful, inactive,  idle and slow-moving.    These terms remind me of the stereotypical fat person whose preferred activity is sitting on their sofa eating junk food and drinking.

Like Homer Simpson.

And greyhounds are definitely not slow-moving when they decide it’s time for a zoomie.

Izzy is certainly not fat, either.  She’s a svelte girl who has maintained her ideal weight for the 3 1/2 years that she has been in my life.  Most of her greyhound friends are equally as fit.

So I think we do a disservice to the breed by calling them lazy because lazy has many negative connotations. No one enjoys working with someone who is lazy and doesn’t carry their weight, for example.

Instead, I propose:

“Greyhounds are discerning in what activities they choose to undertake.”  (A sign of quality and taste!)

and

“Greyhounds are energy-conserving.” (A dog that is kind to the earth and sustainable!)

Greyhounds – don’t call them lazy.

 

I'm not lazy

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

Demography and disorders of the French Bulldog population

French Bulldogs, predicted soon to become the most popular dog breed in the UK, are vulnerable to a number of health conditions, according to a new study published in the open access journal Canine Genetics and Epidemiology.

Researchers at The Royal Veterinary College (RVC), UK found that the most common issues in French Bulldogs over a one year period were ear infections, diarrhea and conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye surface).

FB

French Bulldog puppy. Credit: © Mary Swift / Fotolia

Dr. Dan O’Neill, RVC Senior Lecturer and the main author, said: “French Bulldogs are a relatively new arrival to the list of common UK breeds so there is very little current research on them in the UK. Our study — the first on this breed in the UK — is based on anonymised records gathered from hundreds of UK vet clinics. It provides owners with information on the issues that they could expect and should look out for in French Bulldogs. It may also help potential new owners to decide if a French Bulldog really is for them.”

Dr. O’Neill adds: “One of the interesting finding from our research is that male French Bulldogs appear to be less healthy than females. Males were more likely to get 8 of the 26 most common health problems while there were no issues that females were more likely to get than males.”

The authors suggest that the distinctive appearance of the French Bulldog, with their short muzzles and wide, prominent eyes, may be a key factor influencing their popularity. However, these characteristics may also increase the risk for some of the health problems seen in French Bulldogs. For example breathing issues, seen in 12.7% of the dogs in this study, are a known problem in breeds with short noses and flat faces. Skin problems overall were the most common group of health issues and the authors suggest that this may be due to the skin folds that are characteristic of the breed.

Dr. O’Neill said: “This study also documents the dramatic rise in popularity of the French Bulldog, from 0.02% of puppies born in 2003 to 1.46% of puppies born in 2013. This level of population growth in a single dog breed is unprecedented. There is a worry that increased demand for the French Bulldog is damaging to these dogs’ welfare because of the health risks associated with their extreme physical features.”

The authors analyzed data on 2,228 French Bulldogs under veterinary care during 2013 from 304 UK clinics, collected in the VetCompass™ database. The French Bulldogs had a median age of 1.3 years old compared to a median age of 4.5 years for the other dog breeds in the VetCompass™ database. This reflects the growth in popularity of French Bulldogs.

The authors caution that the study may even under-estimate the true number of dogs with health problems as the data may include more severely affected animals that require veterinary management. Additionally, as French Bulldogs have only recently become popular the data was mostly collected from young dogs and it is well recognized that health problems generally become more common with age.

Source:  Science Daily

Read the journal article here