How you ‘parent’ your pooch has an impact on the kind of dog it grows up to be, a new study shows. An owner who’s highly responsive to a dog’s behavior and needs tends to lead to a more social, secure, and smart canine.
Parenting styles and choices are known to influence the way that children develop and grow. Researchers are now discovering more about a somewhat similar relationship between owners and their pets.
The researchers recruited 48 dog owners and their pets, asking them to complete a pet parenting style survey before participating in three behavioral tests in the lab, assessing attachments and interactions between the dogs and their humans.
“This an important finding because it suggests that dog owners who take the time to understand and meet their dog’s needs are more likely to end up with secure, resilient dogs.”
Based on the initial surveys, researchers put the dog owners into three categories, similar to categories used in human parenting research: authoritative (high expectations, high responsiveness), authoritarian (high expectations, low responsiveness), and permissive (low expectations, high responsiveness).
The three behavioral tests covered attachment (how the dog responded to its owner during close interactions), sociability (how the dog responded when a stranger and its owner traded places with one another in the testing room, and problem-solving(challenging the dog to get a treat from a puzzle with either no interaction at all or verbal encouragement and gestures from the owner).
Overall, dogs with authoritative owners had the highest rate of secure attachment and were highly social and sensitive to social context, compared to dogs with authoritarian or permissive owners. What’s more, the only dogs to solve the puzzle task came from the authoritative group.
The study matches up in some ways with previous research into parents and kids; specifically that children with authoritative parents are more likely to show secure attachment, thought to be because of the consistent, reliable support they get.
“This research shows that the pet dog-human caretaker bond may be functionally and emotionally similar to the bond between a human parent and their child,” says behavioral scientist Lauren Brubaker from Oregon State University.
The research opens up some interesting new questions – why, for example, did the dogs with permissive owners respond to the social cues of the stranger they were with but not their owner in one of the tests?
For now, though, the study is enough to show that there is some kind of relationship between the approach we take as dog owners and the way that those dogs then behave, even with numerous other factors in play.
“More research in this area is needed, especially replications with larger sample sizes and across different populations and cultures,” write the researchers in their published paper.
“However, our findings suggest that in the sampled population pre-existing dog–owner relationship quality served as a significant predictor of dog behavior across all three domains.”
Previous studies into the physiological effects that dogs have on humans often used imaging technology such as PET scans — no, not that type of pet but positron emission topography.
While imaging scans have a variety of medical uses, they do have some drawbacks in a study such as this one. They can be loud, and lengthy, and participants may need to remain still.
These are not characteristics that generally pair well with dogs, so previous studies frequently used pictures of dogs as stand-ins.
In this study, researchers opted to use functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS). Two electrodes were placed on participants’ foreheads to measure prefrontal cortex activity.
This area of the brain plays an important role in social cognitive processing.
Participants were measured first in a neutral state, facing a white wall. Then measurements were taken as contact with a dog was progressively introduced.
First, the participants could see the dog, then sit beside it, and finally pet it before returning to a neutral state. None of the participants had any dog allergies or phobias.
These measurements were taken across 6 sessions for each participant: 3 with a dog, and 3 with a plush animal. The plush held a hot water bottle within it to give it more weight and warmth.
Three actual dogs were used, all females ages 4 to 6. There was a Jack Russel, a goldendoodle, and a golden retriever.
The results showed that brain activity increased substantially through the progressive phases of the experiment and oxygenated hemoglobin remained elevated (indicating increased activity) even after the dog left.
The plush had similar effects but only at first. Researchers said that as participants returned for more sessions, the difference in brain activity between dog and plush sessions significantly increased.
This study found a novel application for fNIRS, but is it a good tool for the job?
Yes, it is, according to Dr. David A. Merrill, a psychiatrist and the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.
“fNIRS is valid. There are decades’ worth of study using the technique measuring brain activity. [It] affords a view into the brain based on blood oxygenation without the need for a big, immobile scanner,” Merrill told Healthline.
Jen Summers, PsyD, a utilization review specialist at Los Angeles-based Lightfully Behavioral Health, told Healthline she agreed the fNIRS is a valid measurement tool but noted other areas she would like to see explored in more detail.
As an example, Dr. Summers pointed out that Labradors are the most common dog breed for therapeutic visitation animals, but none were included in this study.
“The study participants were ‘healthy subjects,’ however, the study did not define ‘healthy.’ It would be curious for future research to determine if participants with known medical conditions (i.e. anemia, autoimmune diseases, or anyone with noted deficits in oxygenated hemoglobin) would have increased frontal brain activation compared to their baseline,” said Summers.
Putting these study results to work is of interest across the medical community.
Dr. Joey R. Gee, a neurologist with Providence Mission Hospital in Orange County, California, told Healthline that dog-assisted therapies are “valuable for many chronic disorders and may be employed in settings where ‘calming’ is needed, such as with children and in long-term care facilities.”
“Pets such as dogs can and should be considered as an important therapeutic option for patients of all ages going through any number of physical or mental health issues,” he said.
Experts noted that one interesting aspect of the study was the increased effect of multiple sessions with a dog.
“Exposure and experience foster familiarity. Psychology studies have consistently demonstrated how the mere exposure effect influences a familiarity preference: we prefer things we are familiar with versus those which are novel,” said Summers.
“This certainty and comfort are undoubtedly bidirectional such that not only do we respond more positively, the dog also tends to respond more positively to humans they are bonded to securely,” said Merrill.
Subaru of America announced the return of Subaru Loves Pets Month, a time dedicated to supporting and celebrating shelter pets through the Subaru Loves Pets initiative. Together with its nationwide network of retailers, Subaru is doubling down on efforts to unite animals with loving homes, with a special focus on the older, physically challenged and “different” dogs Subaru lovingly calls “Underdogs,” often the last to be adopted.
According to the ASPCA(The American Society for the Prevention and Cruelty of Animals), nearly 6.3 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide annually. To help find loving homes for these animals, more than 600 Subaru retailers will partner with local shelters, rescues and animal welfare organizations throughout October to host in-person and virtual adoption events. Participating retailers will donate $100 to the organizations for every pet adopted in October, up to $3,100. In addition, Subaru will donate $20 to the ASPCA with every purchase of select pet-friendly accessories, including pet harnesses, seat protectors and travel bowls, through Subaru Parts Online and $1 for each “Animal” badge ordered through Subaru Badge of Ownership throughout October.
“We advocate for adopting from pet organizations year-round, but October is particularly special as we devote the entire month to uniting pets across the country with the loving homes they deserve,” said Alan Bethke, senior vice president of marketing, Subaru of America, Inc. “Our Subaru community is incredibly passionate about animal welfare, and together with our retailers, we’re proud to help make the world a better place for pets everywhere.”
Subaru Loves Pets Month will culminate in the fourth annual National Make A Dog’s Day on Oct. 22, a Subaru holiday that invites dog-lovers everywhere to go the extra mile for their pup. To celebrate, Subaru invites dog owners to do something special for the furry friends in their lives and share on social media using #MakeADogsDay. For those who are yet to be pet parents, Subaru invites Americans to consider adopting a shelter pet or “Underdog.”
Subaru has a long history of supporting pets in need and the Subaru Loves Pets initiative has helped support the adoption of nearly 60,000 animals from local animal welfare organizations. Since 2008, Subaru has donated more than $42 million to national and local organizations to support the rescue, transport, and adoption of nearly 350,000 pets.
“Animals live from their hearts more than from their heads. When they are rejected or abused and they don’t feel any love, that’s when they withdraw and close up. They may fear punishment, but it’s the absence of love that’s the worst thing in their life.”
A new lab at UBC’s Vancouver campus is looking for research participants—and not just anyone will do. The criteria? Must be furry and four-legged. Enjoy belly rubs and yummy treats? That’s a bonus, too.
The new Human-Animal Interaction Lab at UBC has officially opened and will soon be inviting pet dogs and their owners to engage in canine cognition research. Researchers are hoping to discover new knowledge that will improve animal shelter practices and companion animal welfare in shelters and homes with pets. They will also conduct studies on animal-assisted interventions using trained therapy dogs to benefit the wellbeing of dogs working in assistance roles, as well as refining methods of using therapy dogs in educational settings for the benefit of both the child and dog.
“The goal is to uncover knowledge about why dogs do the things they do and how do we determine the individual differences of specific dogs,” says Dr. Alexandra (Sasha) Protopopova, the lab’s director and an assistant professor in UBC’s Animal Welfare Program in the faculty of land and food systems.
The lab, which was renovated thanks to federal and provincial funding via the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund, has recently undergone inspections by UBC veterinarians to ensure it is safe for pups and their humans. The room is outfitted with specialized flooring for easy cleaning, high-tech 360-degree cameras, and a two-way mirror with an observation room next door where researchers can observe the dogs without being noticed.
Although the room is a laboratory, the researchers have worked to make it feel warm and inviting with the careful placement of silly artwork, faux plants (to disguise the cameras), and dog toys, so that the animals and their companions feel safe and comforted.
“The comfort of the animal is a priority,” says Dr. Protopopova, who also holds the NSERC/BC SPCA Industrial Research Chair in Animal Welfare. “Our work is completely non-invasive, and we take that very seriously. All research is made to benefit the welfare of animals and the dogs that come in.”
UBC PhD student Bailey Eagan and her dog Rupert demonstrate the new Human-Animal Interaction Lab at UBC. Credit: Lexis Ly/UBC
UBC PhD student Bailey Eagan and her dog Rupert demonstrate the new Human-Animal Interaction Lab at UBC. Credit: Lexis Ly/UBC
While there will be a variety of different studies underway in the lab, the overarching goal of the research is to understand individual differences in dog cognition, both in terms of breed differences and individual differences in dogs, says Dr. Protopopova.
“We take a behavioural angle to our research and look for differences between dogs on a small-scale level,” she explains. “For example, we will be looking at how dogs interact with the world and what kinds of differences we might observe in fundamental aspects of their learning, like speed of knowledge acquisition and how quickly or slowly the dog might engage with a new item.”
An example of a simple cognitive experiment that the lab could run involves the “touch” command, where the pup is taught to touch its nose to the palm of the owner’s hand. The researchers might then change the rules by having the dog learn to touch both palms of the owner’s hand. They would then monitor to determine how long it takes the dog to both learn the task and adapt to the new rules.
The lab will also serve a teaching purpose to help students understand how dogs learn, see the world, and navigate their environment. Ultimately, the research will also help inform behaviour rehabilitation practices for dogs and cats and help improve resources and knowledge for animal shelters to support the behavioural needs of the animals in their care.
From the moment a dog arrives at the lab for their appointment, Dr. Protopopova says they are continuously assessed to determine their willingness to take part. After consent is obtained from the dog owner, the dog must also demonstrate their active willingness to participate throughout the research process.
“It’s important for us to ask the dogs if they would like to participate in the same way we would invite children to participate in studies,” she says. “While we have consent forms for the owner, we also have assent procedures for the dog as well, just like we would have for children. The dogs are always given the opportunity to engage and re-engage in the experiment. If the dog does not want to go forward, or if we observe any stress signs, we let the owner know and immediately stop the experiment.”
Regardless of whether they finish, all pups earn a certificate for participating—complete with a photo of them wearing a doggie graduation cap and sash, if they wish.
“We like to think of it as earning their Ph-Dog,” says Dr. Protopopova with a laugh.
For more information on how to apply, please click here.
Leptospirosis, a disease that dogs can get from drinking water contaminated with Leptospira bacteria, can cause kidney failure, liver disease and severe bleeding into the lungs. Early detection of the disease is crucial and may mean the difference between life and death.
Veterinarians and researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine have discovered a technique to predict leptospirosis in dogs through the use of artificial intelligence. After many months of testing various models, the team has developed one that outperformed traditional testing methods and provided accurate early detection of the disease. The groundbreaking discovery was published in Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation.
“Traditional testing for Leptospira lacks sensitivity early in the disease process,” said lead author Krystle Reagan, a board-certified internal medicine specialist and assistant professor focusing on infectious diseases. “Detection also can take more than two weeks because of the need to demonstrate a rise in the level of antibodies in a blood sample. Our AI model eliminates those two roadblocks to a swift and accurate diagnosis.”
The research involved historical data of patients at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital that had been tested for leptospirosis. Routinely collected blood work from these 413 dogs was used to train an AI prediction model. Over the next year, the hospital treated an additional 53 dogs with suspected leptospirosis. The model correctly identified all nine dogs that were positive for leptospirosis (100% sensitivity). The model also correctly identified approximately 90% of the 44 dogs that were ultimately leptospirosis negative.
The goal for the model is for it to become an online resource for veterinarians to enter patient data and receive a timely prediction.
“AI-based, clinical decision making is going to be the future for many aspects of veterinary medicine,” said School of Veterinary Medicine Dean Mark Stetter. “I am thrilled to see UC Davis veterinarians and scientists leading that charge. We are committed to putting resources behind AI ventures and look forward to partnering with researchers, philanthropists, and industry to advance this science.”
Detection model may help people
Leptospirosis is a life-threatening zoonotic disease, meaning it can transfer from animals to humans. As the disease is also difficult to diagnose in people, Reagan hopes the technology behind this groundbreaking detection model has translational ability into human medicine.
“My hope is this technology will be able to recognize cases of leptospirosis in near real time, giving clinicians and owners important information about the disease process and prognosis,” said Reagan. “As we move forward, we hope to apply AI methods to improve our ability to quickly diagnose other types of infections.”
Reagan’s group is actively pursuing AI for prediction of outcome for other types of infections, including a prediction model for antimicrobial resistant infections, which is a growing problem in veterinary and human medicine. Previously, the group developed an AI algorithm to predict Addison’s disease with an accuracy rate greater than 99%.
Other authors include Shaofeng Deng, Junda Sheng, Jamie Sebastian, Zhe Wang, Sara N. Huebner, Louise A. Wenke, Sarah R. Michalak and Jane E. Sykes. Funding support comes from the National Science Foundation.
Cornell researchers have provided the first documentation that dogs’ sense of smell is integrated with their vision and other unique parts of the brain, shedding new light on how dogs experience and navigate the world.
“It makes a ton of sense in dogs,” she said. “When we walk into a room, we primarily use our vision to work out where the door is, who’s in the room, where the table is. Whereas in dogs, this study shows that olfaction is really integrated with vision in terms of how they learn about their environment and orient themselves in it.”
Erica Andrews, a former analyst in Johnson’s lab, is the paper’s first author and currently works in canine aging research.
Johnson and her team performed MRI scans on 23 healthy dogs and used diffusion tensor imaging, an advanced neuroimaging technique, to locate the dog brain’s white matter pathways, the information highways of the brain. They found connections between the olfactory bulb and the limbic system and piriform lobe, where the brain processes memory and emotion, which are similar to those in humans, as well as never-documented connections to the spinal cord and the occipital lobe that are not found in humans.
“It was really consistent,” Johnson said. “And size-wise, these tracts were really dramatic compared to what is described in the human olfactory system, more like what you’d see in our visual systems.”
Tractography, a 3D-modeling process, allowed Johnson and her team to map and virtually dissect the white matter tracts. The findings in the digital images were later confirmed by a co-author and white matter expert at Johns Hopkins University.
Johnson said the research corroborates her clinical experiences with blind dogs, who function remarkably well. “They can still play fetch and navigate their surroundings much better than humans with the same condition,” Johnson said. “Knowing there’s that information freeway going between those two areas could be hugely comforting to owners of dogs with incurable eye diseases.”
Identifying new connections in the brain also opens up new lines of questioning. “To see this variation in the brain allows us to see what’s possible in the mammalian brain and to wonder – maybe we have a vestigial connection between those two areas from when we were more ape-like and scent-oriented, or maybe other species have significant variations that we haven’t explored,” Johnson said.
Johnson plans to examine the olfactory system’s structure in the brains of cats and horses, which aligns with the broader goals of her research program – to leverage the most advanced imaging techniques, used commonly in human clinical research, to better understand animal brain physiology and disease.
Earlier this month, owner Helen Fraser was found not guilty of a single charge – owning a dog that caused serious injury. Now that the initial flurry of social and traditional media coverage has died down, I want to put my thoughts together about what this case means.
This post is entirely my opinion as a Fear Free certified professional; I am not a veterinarian but I work with dogs every day in my canine massage and rehabilitation practice. I specialise in in-home care and my caseload of clients with reactive dogs is steadily increasing. One reason for this is that I receive referrals from a reputable dog training business which recognises that some behaviours may be caused by pain and discomfort. Referrals from previous clients with reactive dogs are also common.
You can disagree with my opinion. If you do simply be kind, courteous and professional when making comments.
The charge under the Dog Control Act was laid by the Tauranga District Council after vet Dr Liza Schneider was bitten by Chopper on 14 October 2021 when he was brought to her clinic for de-sexing. Dr Schneider fractured her arm, requiring screws and a plate to fix it, and had consequent nerve and muscle damage.
Dr Schneider was injured badly and no one has disputed that (nor should they). I have great regard for Dr Schneider because she was an early adopter of integrative therapies (her practice is called Holistic Vets). She is the President of the Complementary Medicine branch of the NZ Veterinary Association. She is knowledgeable in her field and is well-respected by her colleagues.
After the incident, Chopper was seized by the Council and kept locked in the Tauranga Pound – all up he was kept there for 271 days.
The issue before the court was whether Ms Fraser had taken all reasonable steps to ensure Chopper did not hurt anyone. Judge David Cameron had to weigh up the evidence including statements from witnesses; these statements were conflicting including differing information from Dr Schneider and staff working at her practice about what instructions Ms Fraser had been given for when she arrived at the clinic.
In his decision, Judge Cameron felt that Ms Fraser’s account of the incident and the circumstances she, her son, and Chopper found themselves in was more believable. With the not guilty verdict, Chopper has been allowed to go back to his family.
Care of impounded dogs , the Animal Welfare Act, and the Save Chopper campaign
Advocates for Chopper have sought, in my view rightfully so, to highlight the conditions Chopper was kept in. During his confinement, he was never allowed out to exercise and, having been labelled as an aggressive dog, he was kept in an enclosure measuring 4x4m, 2.5m high. The enclosure would be hosed out to clean it with him in it and it was reported that Chopper developed pressure sores from being kept in the enclosure with only a plastic bed for bedding. Ms Fraser was allowed to visit (many councils in New Zealand do not allow visitors) and so she witnessed him living in these conditions many times.
Anyone who has ever called the SPCA about a dog left outdoors in all weather conditions will know that the definition of what is shelter, food and water is so basic that dogs are frequently left in poor conditions around New Zealand on a regular basis with no one able to legally intervene on their behalf.
Since dogs are not allowed out on bail, like humans accused of crimes are, supporters of Ms Fraser and Chopper started the Save Chopper campaign to highlight Chopper’s situation.
It has been said that from this case there are No Winners because Dr Schneider has been hurt and suffers lasting damage, Chopper has likely been emotionally scarred from his time in captivity, and his owners have had to incur legal costs to defend themselves. These are the lowlights.
In my opinion, however, there are also some highlights:
#1 We now have some case law that looks at the merits of the circumstances leading up to a dog bite.
This is critically important for animal welfare advocates. If you are appalled by the conditions Chopper was kept in, please understand that this was allowed in large part because in New Zealand, it is assumed the dog will be destroyed at the end of the case with a guilty verdict. Judges rely on case law – the collective body of knowledge of all decisions made in the past, considered to be a powerful source of law. Previous cases have always resulted in a guilty verdict (that is, if the dog owner has even defended the charge in the first place); therefore having a case with a not guilty verdict is incredibly powerful.
#2 Ms Fraser was doing the right thing – it’s lost in the media, but let’s remember that she was taking Chopper to the vet to be neutered. This has now been done at another clinic since Chopper’s release. The spay/neuter message is critically important to managing the number of unwanted animals in NZ.
#3 The case is a wake-up call for animal professionals about the principles of working with potentially anxious and stressed dogs and the need to educate staff and clients so they can work as a team. It’s an endorsement of the Fear Free approach, too.
There are things we can do to reduce the stress of a clinic visit and that is well beyond the ‘muzzle the dog and keep them in the car’ evidence that was discussed in the court proceedings. Anxious dogs can be given a pre-med at home, for example, to help reduce their starting point before they even arrive at their vet’s clinic. This is called the Chill Protocol in some of the practices that I deal with, and it is something I often recommend to clients to talk with their vet about.
Fear Free veterinary professionals learn about the concept of Considered Approach, understanding a dog’s body language, being prepared to take your time, and also being willing for the owner and the professional to delay procedures while visits are undertaken to de-sensitise the dog to the fear of the clinic and unfamiliar people wearing masks. All of these things could have, in hindsight, been implemented to help with Chopper’s reactions on the day. (It should also be noted that owners have to be willing to fund the time it takes for professionals working with them using Fear Free principles, something that I have found is not always the case.)
Like it or not, Ms Fraser and her family have a lot resting on their shoulders. They need the right support to ensure that Chopper is able to recover from his ordeal, set him up to succeed through training and the gaining of good dog citizen/life skills, and to never-ever have another incident where Chopper bites or hurts another creature. If that happens, all the case law in the world will not save him and the animal welfare agenda in NZ will be set back for years to come.
From what I understand, the family has already sought assistance from a trainer and had Chopper fitted for a muzzle. Fingers crossed, they have started a long and effective journey together.
It is said that the Tauranga District Council is considering an appeal. I hope they do not and I hope that organisations like the NZ Veterinary Association do not push for an appeal with the goal of a guilty verdict so that Chopper can be destroyed.
Instead, it is my hope that these organisations will use the verdict as a learning opportunity – working together to help dog owners and animal professionals to understand their obligations and what they can and should do to set up all dogs for success and to keep humans safe.
Will my hopes be realised? Only time will tell.
Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand