Category Archives: Dogs

Dogs may not return their owners’ good deeds

Domestic dogs show many adaptations to living closely with humans, but they do not seem to reciprocate food-giving, according to an Austrian study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE

Photo: chalabala 123RF

Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna trained 37 domestic dogs to operate a food dispenser by pressing a button, before separating the button and dispenser in separate enclosures. 

In the first stage, dogs were paired with two unfamiliar humans one at a time. One human partner was helpful—pressing their button to dispense food in the dog’s enclosure—and one was unhelpful.

The researchers also reversed the set-up, with a button in the dog’s enclosure that operated a food dispenser in the human’s enclosure. 

They found no significant differences in the dogs’ tendency to press the button for helpful or unhelpful human partners, and the human’s behaviour in the first stage did not affect the dog’s behaviour towards them in free interaction sessions after the trials.

Previous studies have demonstrated that dogs are capable of directing helpful behaviours towards other dogs that have helped them previously—a behaviour known as reciprocal altruism—and research suggests dogs are also able to distinguish between cooperative and uncooperative humans. 

However, the present study failed to find evidence that dogs can combine these capabilities to reciprocate help from humans. This finding may reflect a lack of ability or inclination among dogs to reciprocate, or the experimental design may not have detected it.

Source: Vet Practice magazine

Genetic enigma solved: Inheritance of coat color patterns in dogs

An international team of researchers including scientists from the Institute of Genetics of the University of Bern has unraveled the enigma of inheritance of coat color patterns in dogs. The researchers discovered that a genetic variant responsible for a very light coat in dogs and wolves originated more than two million years ago in a now extinct relative of the modern wolf.

Wolf (stock image).
Credit: © Matthieu / stock.adobe.com

The inheritance of several coat color patterns in dogs has been controversially debated for decades. Researchers including Tosso Leeb from the Institute of Genetics of the University of Bern have now finally been able to solve the puzzle. Not only did they clarify how the coat color patterns are genetically controlled, but the researchers also discovered that the light coat color in white arctic wolves and many modern dogs is due to a genetic variant originating in a species that went extinct a long time ago. The study has just been published in the scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Two pigments and a “switch” for all coat colors

Wolves and dogs can make two different types of pigment, the black one, called eumelanin and the yellow, pheomelanin. A precisely regulated production of these two pigments at the right time and at the right place on the body gives rise to very different coat color patterns. Prior to the study, four different patterns had been recognized in dogs and several genetic variants had been theorized which cause these patterns. However, commercial genetic testing of these variants in many thousands of dogs yielded conflicting results, indicating that the existing knowledge on the inheritance of coat color patterns was incomplete and not entirely correct.

During the formation of coat color, the so-called agouti signaling protein represents the body’s main switch for the production of yellow pheomelanin. If the agouti signaling protein is present, the pigment producing cells will synthesize yellow pheomelanin. If no agouti signaling protein is present, black eumelanin will be formed. “We realized early on that the causative genetic variants have to be regulatory variants which modulate the rate of protein production and lead to higher or lower amounts of agouti signal protein”, Tosso Leeb explains.

Five instead of four distinct coat color patterns

The gene for agouti signaling protein has several initiation sites for reading the genetic information, which are called promoters. Dogs, on the one hand, have a ventral promoter, which is responsible for the production of agouti signaling protein at the belly. On the other hand, dogs have an additional hair cycle-specific promoter that mediates the production of agouti signaling protein during specific stages of hair growth and enables the formation of banded hair.

For the first time, the researchers characterized these two promoters in detail, in hundreds of dogs. They discovered two variants of the ventral promoter. One of the variants conveys the production of normal amounts of agouti signaling protein. The other variant has higher activity and causes the production of an increased amount of agouti signaling protein. The researchers even identified three different variants of the hair cycle-specific promoter. Starting with these variants at the individual promoters, the researchers identified a total of five different combinations, which cause different coat color patterns in dogs. “The textbooks have to be rewritten as there are five instead of the previously accepted four different patterns in dogs”, Leeb says.

Unexpected insights on the evolution of wolves

As many genomes from wolves of different regions on earth have become publicly available, the researchers further investigated whether the identified genetic variants also exist in wolves. These analyses demonstrated that the variants for overactive ventral and hair cycle-specific promoters were already present in wolves prior to the domestication of modern dogs, which started approximately 40,000 years ago. Most likely, these genetic variants facilitated adaptation of wolves with a lighter coat color to snow-rich environments during past ice ages. Today, the completely white arctic wolves and the light colored wolves in the Himalaya still carry these genetic variants.

Further comparisons of the gene sequences with other species of the canidae family yielded very surprising results. The researchers were able to show that the overactive variant of the hair cycle-specific promoter in light-colored dogs and wolves shared more similarities with very distantly related species such as the golden jackal or the coyote than with the European grey wolf.

“The only plausible explanation for this unexpected finding is an ancient origin of this variant, more than two million years ago, in a now extinct relative of wolves”, Leeb says. The gene segment must have been introgressed more than two million years ago into wolves by hybridization events with this now extinct relative of wolves. Thus, a small piece of DNA from this extinct species is still found today in yellow dogs and white arctic wolves. “This is reminiscent of the spectacular finding that modern humans carry a small proportion of DNA in their genomes from the now extinct Neandertals”, Leeb adds.

Source: University of Bern

Day off

Things have been so busy this year that I have had to start scheduling time off so I can attend to my own business and have special time with Izzy.

Today, we started the day at the vet for a full health check. We are awaiting some urinalysis to double-check on Izzy’s kidney function but her vet notes tell me that she’s in good shape for a 12 1/2 year old greyhound:

  • Her musculature is ‘reasonable’ despite her arthritic wrists (carpi).
  • She has mild dental wear ‘but otherwise great oral health for age.’
Izzy was ready to go at the vet’s while I paid the bill

Then, we met our friends Marie and Ben for a late breakfast.

Izzy was more interested in watching the wild winter weather out of the window in the cafe than she was in paying any attention to her friend, Ben.

And then, it was time for me to drop Izzy home for a rest. I always leave Izzy with an activity of some type; today was a food toy:

Izzy is a priority for me and it’s very important that we have quality time together; you make time for the ones that you love.

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

Restless nights: shelter housed dogs need days to adapt to new surroundings

Every year, thousands of dogs end up in a shelter in the Netherlands. Experts expect an increase in this number in the upcoming period, when people go back to the office after working from home during the corona crisis.

Despite the good care of staff and volunteers, the shelter can be a turbulent experience for dogs. Researchers at Utrecht University investigated if dogs can adapt to their new environment based on their nocturnal activity. 

Photo: Janneke van der Laan

Janneke van der Laan and fellow researchers from Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine compared the nocturnal activity of 29 shelter dogs and 29 pet dogs in their own homes – similar in breed, age and sex – with the help of night cameras and a small activity tracker on their collar.

They found that shelter dogs rest much less at night than pet dogs, especially during the first two nights in the shelter. This restlessness did decrease over time, but even after twelve days in the shelter, the dogs still rested less at night than the pet dogs. 

“We also saw this restlessness in hormone measurements in the urine of shelter dogs” says Janneke van der Laan. Shelter dogs had higher values of the stress hormone cortisol in their urine than pet dogs, especially during the first two days but also after twelve days. It was also striking that smaller shelter dogs, for instance Shi Tzu’s and Chihuahua’s, were more restless during the first two nights than larger shelter dogs, and they also had higher cortisol values.

The researchers found big differences between individual dogs: some were already quite calm during the first night in the shelter, while others barely slept for a few nights. “It seems that dogs need at least two days, but often longer to get used to their new environment, in this case the shelter,” Van der Laan explains. “Humans usually also sleep less good during the first night in a new environment, for example at the beginning of a vacation.” 

“With our follow-up research we will zoom in even further on the welfare of dogs in shelters. But our current findings already show that it is important to pay close attention to dogs that are unable to rest properly after several nights. The shelter staff may already be able to help these dogs by for example moving them to a less busy spot in the shelter.”

Publication

“Restless nights? Nocturnal activity as a useful indicator of adaptability of shelter housed dogs”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science. doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2021.105377

Source: Utrecht University

Image

Doggy quote of the month for August

You Can Snuggle Wolf Pups All You Want, They Still Won’t ‘Get’ You Quite Like Your Dog

If you feel like your dog gets you in a way that most other animals don’t, you’re right. Credit: canine.org, Jared Lazarus

You know your dog gets your gist when you point and say “go find the ball” and he scampers right to it.

This knack for understanding human gestures may seem unremarkable, but it’s a complex cognitive ability that is rare in the animal kingdom. Our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, can’t do it. And the dogs’ closest relative, the wolf, can’t either, according to a new Duke University-led study published July 12 in the journal Current Biology.

More than 14,000 years of hanging out with us has done a curious thing to the minds of dogs. They have what are known as “theory of mind” abilities, or mental skills allowing them to infer what humans are thinking and feeling in some situations.

The study, a comparison of 44 dog and 37 wolf puppies who were between 5 and 18 weeks old, supports the idea that domestication changed not just how dogs look, but their minds as well.

At the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota, wolf puppies were first genetically tested to make sure they were not wolf – dog hybrids. The wolf puppies were then raised with plenty of human interaction. They were fed by hand, slept in their caretakers’ beds each night, and received nearly round-the-clock human care from just days after birth. In contrast, the dog puppies from Canine Companions for Independence lived with their mother and littermates and had less human contact.

Then the canines were tested. In one test, the researchers hid a treat in one of two bowls, then gave each dog or wolf puppy a clue to help them find the food. In some trials, the researchers pointed and gazed in the direction the food was hidden. In others, they placed a small wooden block beside the right spot — a gesture the puppies had never seen before — to show them where the treat was hidden.

The results were striking. Even with no specific training, dog puppies as young as eight weeks old understood where to go, and were twice as likely to get it right as wolf puppies the same age who had spent far more time around people.

Seventeen out of 31 dog puppies consistently went to the right bowl. In contrast, none out of 26 human-reared wolf pups did better than a random guess. Control trials showed the puppies weren’t simply sniffing out the food.

Even more impressive, many of the dog puppies got it right on their first trial. Absolutely no training necessary. They just get it.

It’s not about which species is “smarter,” said first author Hannah Salomons, a doctoral student in Brian Hare’s lab at Duke. Dog puppies and wolf puppies proved equally adept in tests of other cognitive abilities, such as memory, or motor impulse control, which involved making a detour around transparent obstacles to get food.

It was only when it came to the puppies’ people-reading skills that the differences became clear.

“There’s lots of different ways to be smart,” Salomons said. “Animals evolve cognition in a way that will help them succeed in whatever environment they’re living in.”

Other tests showed that dog puppies were also 30 times more likely than wolf pups to approach a stranger.

“With the dog puppies we worked with, if you walk into their enclosure they gather around and want to climb on you and lick your face, whereas most of the wolf puppies run to the corner and hide,” Salomons said.

And when presented with food inside a container that was sealed so they could no longer retrieve it, the wolf pups generally tried to solve the problem on their own, whereas the dog puppies spent more time turning to people for help, looking them in the eye as if to say: “I’m stuck can you fix this?”

Senior author Brian Hare says the research offers some of the strongest evidence yet of what’s become known as the “domestication hypothesis.”

Somewhere between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago, long before dogs learned to fetch, they shared an ancestor with wolves. How such feared and loathed predators transformed into man’s best friend is still a bit of a mystery. But one theory is that, when humans and wolves first met, only the friendliest wolves would have been tolerated and gotten close enough to scavenge on the human’s leftovers instead of running away. Whereas the shyer, surlier wolves might go hungry, the friendlier ones would survive and pass on the genes that made them less fearful or aggressive toward humans.

The theory is that this continued generation after generation, until the wolf’s descendants became masters at gauging the intentions of people they interact with by deciphering their gestures and social cues.

“This study really solidifies the evidence that the social genius of dogs is a product of domestication,” said Hare, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Duke.

It’s this ability that makes dogs such great service animals, Hare said. “It is something they are really born prepared to do.”

Much like human infants, dog puppies intuitively understand that when a person points, they’re trying to tell them something, whereas wolf puppies don’t.

“We think it indicates a really important element of social cognition, which is that others are trying to help you,” Hare said.

“Dogs are born with this innate ability to understand that we’re communicating with them and we’re trying to cooperate with them,” Salomons said.

CITATION: “Cooperative Communication with Humans Evolved to Emerge Early in Domestic Dogs,” Hannah Salomons, Kyle Smith, Megan Callahan-Beckel, Margaret Callahan, Kerinne Levy, Brenda S. Kennedy, Emily Bray, Gitanjali E. Gnanadesikan, Daniel J. Horschler, Margaret Gruen, Jingzhi Tan, Philip White, Evan MacLean, Brian Hare. Current Biology, July 12, 2021. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.06.051

Source: Duke University

Buddhism for Pet Lovers

Within the last seven weeks, I have seen several dogs in my practice reach end of life. This is never an easy time, as I work in the energy field of a dog that is leaving while supporting their parents who often do not recognise that their dog is failing. Eventually, the family acknowledges the reality that they will soon face a decision about euthanasia.

For Christmas 2019, I was given the book Buddhism for Pet Lovers by David Michie and it has been a wonderful resource for my practice. This book, subtitled Supporting Our Closest Companions Through Life and Death, explains our partnership with our animals through life and death using Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

When discussing end of life, the book explains the process of dying from physical dissolution to mental dissolution and it emphasises the need for us to put our pets first by being supportive and staying calm and loving. The importance of pain management is also discussed because our dogs do not show pain in the same way we do – so we need to be keen observers and use our intuition. At this stage of life, I am focused on keeping the dog comfortable and sharing my observations with my human clients. At this point, as in any point along our journey together, I am focused on the dog’s health and needs. I often find myself being an advocate for the dog at this critical point in time.

Although the Buddhist philosophy does not support the concept of euthanasia, particularly for convenience reasons, the book endorses practices such as at-home euthanasia because if the aim is a peaceful passing, then an at-home passing is greatly preferable. (This is the same reason why I choose to practice massage and rehabilitation at home – because our dogs are most comfortable there).

And for those of you who have experienced the decision to euthanise, the book explains those feelings often put into words such as ‘he told me he was ready’ or ‘I get the feeling she isn’t ready to go.’

What many dog parents may not realise is the importance of the seven weeks following physical death, a time known as the Bardo state. This is a transition period where Buddhists believe the process of re-birth takes place. Although I have not had clients who have identified themselves as Buddhists, for example, I do know that many dog parents instinctively leave the dog’s bowls and bed in place for some time as they grieve their loss. The book explains what you can do in the seven weeks following your pet’s passing to help ease the transition, as their spirit may re-visit the home as part of their journey to re-birth.

In this post, I’ve focused solely on the ninth chapter of the book. But the entire book offers some useful insights and perspectives on our lives with our pet companions. Well worth a read.

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

Canine faeces reveal more about 17th century working sled dogs

Editor’s Note (tongue in cheek): Talk about a shitty job…


Proteins from frozen canine faeces have been successfully extracted for the first time to reveal more about the diets of Arctic sled dogs.

Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge sampling in the laboratory Credit: Katharina Dulias

Researchers – led by the University of York –  say the breakthrough will enable scientists to use palaeofaeces (ancient faeces), to reveal more about our ancestors and their animals.

The recovered proteins revealed that sled dogs at the Nunalleq archaeological site, near Quinhagak, Alaska consumed muscle, bone and intestines from a range of salmon species including chum salmon, often called,  “dog salmon.”

Proteins deriving from the dogs that deposited the samples were also detected. The majority of these were associated with the digestive system and confirmed that the samples passed through the gastrointestinal tract. However, a bone fragment found in one of the samples was identified as being from a canid, suggesting that the dogs also ate other dogs, which is supported by previous observations of gnaw marks on discarded bones.

Dietary habits

Lead researcher, PhD student Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge from the Department of Archaeology said that the study demonstrated the viability of frozen palaeofaeces as a unique source of information.

She said: “The lives of dogs and their interactions with humans have only recently become a subject of interest to archaeologists. This study of their dietary habits reveals more about their relationship with humans.  

“In the Arctic, dogs rely exclusively on humans for food during the winter but deciphering the details of provisioning strategies has been challenging.

 “In places like the Arctic the permafrost has preserved palaeofaeces. Now they can be used as a unique source of information by which we can learn more about the past.”

Past arctic cultures

The researchers used palaeoproteomics, a technique based on tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) to recover proteins from the faecal samples. Unlike more established or  traditional analyses, proteomics can provide insight into which tissues the proteins originated from and makes it possible to identify which parts of animals were consumed.

Complementary analyses were performed with Zooarchaeology by Mass Spectrometry (ZooMS), an analytical approach pioneered at the University of York, on bone fragments recovered from within the palaeofaeces. This technique uses the collagen protein preserved in archaeological and historic artefacts to identify the species from which it derives.

“Arctic dogs rely exclusively on humans for food during the long winters, but may have been fed differently or less frequently in summer, or been let loose to fend  for themselves. Working sled dogs are a particularly expensive resource, requiring up to 3.2 kg of fish or meat every day and provisioning of dogs would therefore have played a significant role in the food procurement strategies of past arctic cultures,” added Anne Kathrine Wiborg Runge.

The University of Copenhagen, the University of Aberdeen, the University of British Columbia and the Qanirtuuq Incorporated village corporation were also part of the research project which was funded by EU Horizon 2020, Danish National Research Foundation, and the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council.

Source: University of York

The importance of a greeting

The Balanced Dog is a fully mobile practice. Working in home gives me much better information than if I practiced in a clinic setting. Clinics are not a normal environment for a dog and so they often don’t act normally when they are there. A common issue is that the owner reports lameness but the dog isn’t lame in the clinic – because their nervousness overrides any pain signals and the muscles are tighter than normal.

Another benefit to me and the dog when I arrive is that I am often greeted off-leash, as Dalmatian Velo did with me on Saturday.

In the act of greeting me, I got to watch Velo’s gait (a relaxed doggy on a Saturday morning at home) and I was able to confirm also that he’s being kept warm in his jumper.

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 July

Man has much power of discourse which for the most part is vain and false; animals have but little, but it is useful and true, and a small truth is better than a great lie.

– Leonardo da Vinci

Stan