Category Archives: Dogs

New dog, old tricks? Untrained stray dogs can understand human cues

If you have a dog, hopefully you’re lucky enough to know that they are highly attuned to their owners and can readily understand a wide range of commands and gestures. But are these abilities innate or are they exclusively learned through training?

To find out, a new study in Frontiers in Psychology investigated whether untrained stray dogs could understand human pointing gestures.

Dogs and gestures research

A new study shows that untrained stray dogs respond to gestures from people, suggesting that understanding between humans and dogs transcends training. Image: Shutterstock

The study revealed that about 80% of participating dogs successfully followed pointing gestures to a specific location despite having never received prior training. The results suggest that dogs can understand complex gestures by simply watching humans and this could have implications in reducing conflict between stray dogs and humans.

Dogs were domesticated 10,000–15,000 years ago, likely making them the oldest domesticated animals on the planet. Humans then bred dogs with the most desirable and useful traits so that they could function as companions and workers, leading to domesticated dogs that are highly receptive to human commands and gestures.

However, it was not clear whether dogs understand us through training alone, or whether this was innate. Can dogs interpret a signal, such as a gesture, without specific training, or even without having met the signaling person previously? One way to find out is to see whether untrained, stray dogs can interpret and react to human gestures.

Stray dogs are a common feature in cities around the world and particularly in many developing countries. While they may observe and occasionally interact with people, such dogs have never been trained, and are behaviorally “wild”. Conflicts between stray dogs and humans are a problem and understanding how humans shape stray dog behavior may help alleviate this.

To investigate, Dr. Anindita Bhadra of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, India, and colleagues studied stray dogs across several Indian cities. The researchers approached solitary stray dogs and placed two covered bowls on the ground near them. A researcher then pointed to one of the two bowls, either momentarily or repeatedly, and recorded whether the dog approached the indicated bowl. They also recorded the perceived emotional state of the dogs during the experiment.

Approximately half of the dogs did not approach either bowl. However, the researchers noticed that these dogs were anxious and may have had bad experiences with humans before. The dogs who approached the bowls were noted as friendlier and less anxious, and approximately 80% correctly followed the pointing signals to one of the bowls, regardless of whether the pointing was momentary or repeated. This suggests that the dogs could indeed decipher complex gestures.

“We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” explained Bhadra. “This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”

The results suggest that dogs may have an innate ability to understand certain human gestures which transcends training. However, it should be noted that the shyer, more anxious animals tended not to participate, so future studies are needed to determine more precisely how an individual dog’s personality affects their ability to understand human cues.

Overall, dogs may be more perceptive than we realize. “We need to understand that dogs are intelligent animals that can co-exist with us,” said Bhadra “They are quite capable of understanding our body language and we need to give them their space. A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict.”

Original article:  Free-Ranging Dogs Are Capable of Utilizing Complex Human Pointing Cues

Source:  Frontiers Science News

WSU study aims to prevent adverse drug reactions in dogs

If not identified before surgery, a rare genetic mutation could result in your dog being exposed to dangerously high levels of anesthetic agents.

Scientists at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine initially discovered the mutation in greyhounds and more recently in other common dog breeds.

The research group, a member of the Program in Individualized Medicine (PrIMe), published its findings in Scientific Reports.

Researchers on genetic mutation anesthetic study

Researchers Stephanie Martinez and Michael Court pose with their dogs Otis (left), Seamus (center), and Matilda (right). Matilda is a carrier of a mutation found by Martinez and Court, which results in less of the enzyme used to break down many popular anesthetics.

For years, veterinarians have known that some greyhounds struggle to break down certain drugs, which results in potentially life-threatening and prolonged recovery periods following anesthesia. The previously unknown genetic mutation that the WSU researchers uncovered in greyhounds causes less of CYP2B11, the enzyme that breaks down these drugs, to be made.

Not surprisingly, the mutation was also found in several other dog breeds that are closely related to the greyhound including borzoi, Italian greyhound, whippet, and Scottish deerhound.

However, when the research team extended their survey to more than 60 other breeds, using donated samples from the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital DNA Bank, they were surprised by what they found.

According to the study, funded by the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation, some popular dog breeds, including golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers, may also struggle to break down the commonly used anesthetics, midazolam, ketamine, and propofol.

“We started with a condition we thought was specific to greyhounds and affected a relatively small number of dogs,” said Stephanie Martinez, postdoctoral research associate and lead author on the study. “It now appears that there could be a lot more dogs affected by this mutation—dogs from breeds that we wouldn’t have expected.”

The study found about one in 50 golden retrievers and one in 300 Labrador retrievers may have low amounts of CYP2B11. According to the American Kennel Club, Labrador retrievers are the most popular breed of dog in the U.S., closely followed by golden retrievers, ranked third.

Even mixed-breed dogs were not spared; although the prevalence was much lower at only one in 3,000 dogs.

“While the mutation is not that common in most breeds—outside of greyhounds and other related breeds—because some of these other breeds are so popular, a relatively large number of dogs in this country could be affected.” Martinez said.

Michael Court, the study principal investigator and veterinary anesthesiologist who began studying slow anesthetic drug breakdown in greyhounds over 20 years ago, said, “Although we have developed special anesthesia protocols that work very safely in greyhounds—the nagging question was—should we be using these same protocols in other dog breeds?”

Court and Martinez are now moving forward to create a simple cheek swab test that could be used by dog owners and their veterinarians to detect the mutation and determine an individual dog’s sensitivity to the problematic anesthetic drugs.

“We also suspect that dogs with the mutation may have trouble breaking down drugs—other than those used in anesthesia.” Court said. “The challenge now is to provide accurate advice to veterinarians on what drugs and drug dosages should be used in affected patients.”

The research team is currently seeking volunteer golden retrievers and greyhounds to participate in a one‑day study at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital to continue their study of drug breakdown in these dog breeds.

Those who are interested in having their golden retriever or greyhound participate in the study can contact courtlab@vetmed.wsu.edu for more information.

Source:  Washington State University media release

Beyond the pram

Izzy, my greyhound, has begun to use a pram (stroller) on some walks.  She’s got a combination of corns and arthritis; she’ll be 11 in just a few weeks.

The pram is only a recent development, however.   We have been on a journey together to manage her aging for the last few years.

So, based on all the questions I get when people see us in our neighborhood, I’m planning a series of posts about Izzy, arthritis, aging, and senior dog care which will draw on my personal experience both with Izzy, and my beloved English Pointer Daisy who preceded her in my life.  (plus of course my professional experience as a canine massage and rehab practitioner).

Stay tuned for more posts and be sure to let me know if you have specific issues you’d like me to cover.

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

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Doga class

I’ve been busy over the last couple of weeks promoting my new doga class.

Greyhound doga

After years of trying, I have found a yoga studio that is willing to give doga (yoga with your dog) a try.  And it’s a bit of a joint venture – with me responsible for the dog aspects of the class, such as writing the class registration rules, and with my partner, MoveWell, handling the professional yoga instruction.

Last Saturday was our first class and it went without a hitch.   We’re starting with greyhounds because they are easy going dogs and will enable us to fine tune the operation of the class.  The intention is that we will offer an all-breeds class after that, paying particular attention to the sociability of the dogs, interaction and parent responsibility.

Dogs enjoy the relaxing music of yoga and the positive energy.  A few bursts of play in the studio (by the dogs) happened, too.

Doga will offer an all-weather, all-seasons option for dog parents wanting to spend quality time with their dogs while getting exercise.  We aim to offer information sessions after the classes with guest speakers on human and dog health topics, too.

So finding our feet (or should I say paws?) with this initial run of 4 classes and looking forward to our larger classes.

Namaste!

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

Turning the page for Spot boosts literacy in young students

Reading in the presence of a pooch may be the page-turning motivation young children need, suggests a UBC researcher.

Golden retriever Abby listens

Golden retriever Abby listens while Annie Letheman (right) reads to her sister Ruby and researcher Camille Rousseau (middle) observes.

Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s School of Education, recently completed a study examining the behaviour of 17 children from Grades 1 to 3, while reading with and without a dog. The study was conducted with Christine Tardif-Williams, a professor at Brock University’s department of child and youth studies.

“Our study focused on whether a child would be motivated to continue reading longer and persevere through moderately challenging passages when they are accompanied by a dog,” explains Rousseau.

Participants were recruited based on their ability to read independently. Prior to the study, each child was tested to determine their reading range and to ensure they would be assigned appropriate story excerpts. The researchers then choose stories slightly beyond the child’s reading level.

During the study’s sessions, participants would read aloud to either an observer, the dog handler and their pet or without the dog. After finishing their first page, they would be offered the option of a second reading task or finishing the session.

“The findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog—regardless of breed or age—was in the room as opposed to when they read without them,” says Rousseau. “In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”

With the recent rise in popularity of therapy dog reading programs in schools, libraries and community organizations, Rousseau says their research could help to develop ‘gold-standard’ canine-assisted intervention strategies for struggling young readers.

“There have been studies that looked at the impact of therapy dogs on enhancing students’ reading abilities, but this was the first study that carefully selected and assigned challenging reading to children,” she says.

Some studies and programs have children choose their own book, and while the reading experience would still be positive, Rousseau adds it’s the educational experience of persevering through a moderate challenge that offers a potentially greater sense of achievement.

She hopes the study increases organizations’ understanding of how children’s reading could be enhanced by furry friends.

Rousseau is continuing her research on how canine-assisted therapy can influence students in other educational contexts through UBC’s therapy dog program—Building Academic Retention through K9’s (BARK).

The study was published in Anthrozoös, a multidisciplinary journal focusing on the interactions of people and animals.

Source:  University of British Columbia media release

Jess has a massage (and I’m interviewed for a podcast)

Jess of Dogs of New Brighton

Jess, a Beardie x Huntaway, is the canine inspiration behind the Dogs of New Brighton podcast. Here she is on my massage table for the first time.

Earlier last month, I was asked to visit with Michele Hollis and Jess who live in New Brighton (east Christchurch).   Together they produce the Dogs of New Brighton podcast.

After I spent an hour with Jess for a relaxation massage, Michele and I sat down for an interview.

Listen to Part 1:  In the first 20 minute segment of our interview, Michele asks me questions about Jess’ session, her reactions during the massage, and my qualifications and background.

Listen to Part 2:  In the second 20 minute segment,  Michele and I have a free-ranging discussion on a number of topics.  I explain in more detail about the use of Fear Free techniques in canine massage and why I use a massage table; I also explain the legal standing of physical therapy on animals in New Zealand and the use of the terms ‘physio’ and ‘physiotherapy’.  Michele asks me questions about the liver dog treats I feed in my practice, our treats and cakes that are made here in Christchurch at The Balanced Dog and I explain our free Birthday Club, too.  I also talk about what I feed my greyhound, Izzy, and we finish our chat about Christchurch and whether it is a dog-friendly city including a discussion of irresponsible dog owners, community standards, and the need to pick up poo.

Jess of the Dogs of New Brighton

Listen to Jess snoring after her massage in Part 1 of my interview with Michele of the Dogs of New Brighton

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

 

Doggy quote of the month for January 2020

“Dogs don’t age like people.   We peak at twenty-five, then hit a slow, gradual decline into oblivion.  Dogs mature fast, then plateau and stay there for a long while.  Then, in the last quarter of their lives, they show steady signs of aging – arthritis, deafness, graying, slowing down.”

– Steve Duno, author of Last Dog on the Hill

Izzy the greyhound

Izzy, a greyhound, is the Poster Dog of The Balanced Dog. In 2020, she will be turning 11. Thanks for reading my blog and we look forward to bringing you more doggy news in the year to come.