Category Archives: Dogs

Does training method matter?: Evidence for the negative impact of aversive-based methods on companion dog welfare

Your dog may be the apple of your eye, but let’s be honest: she is an animal, with her own instincts and idiosyncrasies, and there are going to be times when she makes you want to tear your hair out.

Much you want to, however, new research suggests that you should never yell at or otherwise punish a mischievous mutt.

No Yelloing

Photo ref: smrm1977/iStock

According to a new study uploaded to pre-print server bioRxiv, aversive training such as positive punishment and negative reinforcement can have long-term negative effects on your dog’s mental state.

“Our results show that companion dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare as compared to companion dogs trained using reward-based methods, at both the short- and the long-term level,” the researchers write in their paper.

“Specifically, dogs attending schools using aversive-based methods displayed more stress-related behaviours and body postures during training, higher elevations in cortisol levels after training, and were more ‘pessimistic’ in a cognitive bias task.”

This sort of research has been conducted before, and found that aversive training has negative effects, but it’s primarily been on police and laboratory dogs. In addition, the aversive training tends to be shock collar training, which is only one of several tools used.

So, led by biologist Ana Catarina Vieira de Castro of the Universidade do Porto in Portugal, the international team of researchers conducted their new study on companion dogs.

The animals were recruited from a number of training schools in Porto – 42 dogs from three schools that use reward-based training like food treats or play, and 50 dogs from four schools that use aversive-based training, such as yelling, physically manipulating the dog, or leash-jerking.

Each dog was filmed during the first 15 minutes of three training sessions, and saliva samples were taken to assess stress levels from training – three from each dog relaxing at home to establish baseline levels of stress hormone cortisol, and three from each dog after training.

The researchers also analysed the dogs’ behaviour during training to look for stress behaviours, such as yawning, lip-licking, paw-raising and yelping.

Unsurprisingly, the dogs in the aversive training classes showed elevated stress behaviours, particularly yawning and lip-licking. Their saliva also had significantly increased levels of cortisol compared to when they were relaxing at home.

By contrast, the positive reinforcement dogs were pretty chill – far fewer stress behaviours, and much more normal cortisol levels.

The next step was to assess the longer term effects of this stress. A month after the dogs were assessed at training, 79 of them were then trained to associate a bowl on one side of a room with a sausage snack. If the bowl was on that side, it always held a delicious treat; if located on the other side, the bowl never had the treat. (All bowls were rubbed with sausage to ensure the smell didn’t give the game away.)

Then, the researchers moved the bowls around the room to ambiguous locations to see how quickly the dogs would approach in search of the treat. Higher speed was interpreted to mean the dog was anticipating a mouthful of deliciousness, whereas a slower speed meant the dog was more pessimistic about the bowl’s contents.

Sure enough, the more aversive training a dog had received, the more slowly it approached the bowl. Interestingly, dogs from the reward-based training group actually learnt the bowl location task faster than the aversive-training dogs.

This suggests that reward-based training may actually be more effective, although the researchers suggest this may be because the dogs already understand treat-based training methods. It’s possible that the other group would learn more quickly were an aversive method applied – more research needs to be done to determine this.

Overall, though, the results seem to imply that aversive training doesn’t necessarily have an edge over reward training, and that reward training is much better for your dog’s happiness.

“Critically,” the researchers said, “our study points to the fact that the welfare of companion dogs trained with aversive-based methods appears to be at risk.”

The full paper is available on bioRxiv ahead of peer review.

Source:  Sciencealert

AI could help diagnose dogs suffering from chronic pain

A new artificial intelligence (AI) technique developed by the University of Surrey could eventually help veterinarians quickly identify Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (CKCS) dogs with a chronic disease that causes crippling pain. The same technique identified unique biomarkers which inspired further research into the facial changes in dogs affected by Chiari-like malformation (CM).

CKCS

Photo by Getty Images

Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are predisposed to CM – a disease which causes deformity of the skull, the neck (cranial cervical vertebrae) and, in some extreme cases, lead to spinal cord damage called syringomyelia (SM). While SM is straightforward to diagnose, pain associated with CM is challenging to confirm and why this research is innovative.

In a paper published by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, researchers from Surrey’s Centre for Vision, Speech and Signal Processing (CVSSP) and School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) detail how they used a completely automated, image mapping method to discover patterns in MRI data that could help vets identify dogs that suffer from CM associated pain. The research helped identify features that characterise the differences in the MRI images of dogs with clinical signs of pain associated with CM and those with syringomyelia from healthy dogs. The AI identified the floor of the third ventricle and its close neural tissue, and the region in the sphenoid bone as biomarkers for pain associated with CM and the presphenoid bone and the region between the soft palate and the tongue for SM.

Dr Michaela Spiteri, lead author of the study from CVSSP, said: “The success of our technique suggests machine learning can be developed as a diagnostic tool to help treat Cavalier King Charles Spaniel’s that are suffering from this enigmatic and terrible disease. We believe that AI can be a useful tool for veterinarians caring for our four-legged family members.”

Identification of these biomarkers inspired a further study, also published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, which found that dogs with pain associated with CM had more brachycephalic features (having a relatively broad, short skull) with reduction of nasal tissue and a well-defined stop.

SVM student, Eleonore Dumas, whose 3rd year project formed part of the study data, said: “Being able to contribute to the development of diagnostic tools that allow for earlier diagnosis of patients suffering from this painful condition has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding.”

Dr Penny Knowler, lead author of the study from SVM, said: “This study suggests that the whole skull, rather than just the hindbrain, should be analysed in diagnostic tests. It also impacts on how we should interpret MRI from affected dogs and the choices we make when we breed predisposed dogs and develop breeding recommendations.”

Adrian Hilton, Distinguished Professor from the University of Surrey and Director of CVSSP, said: “This project demonstrates the potential for AI using machine learning to provide new diagnostic tools for animal health. Collaboration between experts in CVSSP and Surrey’s School of Veterinary Medicine is pioneering new approaches to improve animal health and welfare.”

Both studies were funded by the Memory of Hannah Hasty Research Fund. Hannah was a CKCS unaffected by CM/ SM and a much beloved companion, giving her owner much support and joy. The AI study was also supported by the Pet Plan Charitable Trust.

The findings of the studies are available to read on the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine website here and here.

Our ability to read dogs’ facial expressions is learned, not innate

In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Germany and the United Kingdom assessed how experience with dogs affects humans’ ability to recognize dog emotions. Participants who grew up in a cultural context with a dog-friendly attitude were more proficient at recognizing dog emotions. This suggests that the ability to recognize dogs’ expressions is learned through age and experience and is not an evolutionary adaptation.

Facial expressions study

The study used photos of dogs with wolf-like faces and upright ears for emotion recognition © Juliane Bräuer

Dogs were the first domesticated animal, with humans and dogs sharing more than 40,000 years of social interactions and life together. According to the co-domestication hypothesis, this process allowed humans and dogs to evolve special emotional signals and cognitive skills that favor mutual understanding. We know, for example, that over the millennia, dogs have evolved the ability to understand human words, iconic signs, and other gestures, and research has shown that dogs can even use tone of voice and facial expressions to recognize human emotions. Beyond personal testimony from dog lovers, however, little attention has been paid to how well humans can understand their canine counterparts.

In the current study, led by Federica Amici of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and Juliane Bräuer of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the researchers set out to understand how well humans can understand the emotional displays of dogs, and where that understanding comes from.

How well do we understand our species’ best friend?

In order to test how well humans can understand the emotions behind dog facial expressions, researchers collected photographs of dogs, chimpanzees, and humans displaying either happy, sad, angry, neutral, or fearful emotions as substantiated by the photographers. They then recruited 89 adult participants and 77 child participants and categorized them according to their age, the dog-positivity of their cultural context, and the participants’ personal history of dog ownership.

Each participant was presented with photographs of dogs, chimps, and humans, and asked to rate how much the individual in the picture displayed happiness, sadness, anger, or fear. Adults were also asked to determine the context in which the picture had been taken (e.g., playing with a trusted conspecific partner; directly before attacking a conspecific). The results of the study showed that, while some dog emotions can be recognized from early on, the ability to reliably recognize dog emotions is mainly acquired through age and experience. In adults, the probability of recognizing dog emotions was higher for participants who grew up in a cultural context with a positive attitude towards dogs, regardless of whether they owned a dog themselves.

Without a dog-positive context, we could be barking up the wrong tree

A dog-postive cultural background, one in which dogs are closely integrated into human life and considered highly important, may result in a higher level of passive exposure and increased inclination and interest in dogs, making humans better at recognizing dogs’ emotions even without a history of personal dog ownership. “These results are noteworthy,” says Amici, “because they suggest that it is not necessarily direct experience with dogs that affects humans’ ability to recognize their emotions, but rather the cultural milieu in which humans develop.”

The researchers also found that regardless of age or experience with dogs, all participants were able to identify anger and happiness reliably. While these results may suggest an innate ability favored by the co-domestication hypothesis, it is also possible that humans learn to recognize these emotions quickly, even with limited exposure. Other than anger and happiness, the children in the study were not good at identifying dog emotions. They recognized anger and happiness more reliably in dogs than in chimps, but otherwise identified dog emotions as poorly as they did chimpanzee emotions, suggesting that the ability to understand how dogs are feeling is not innate.

“We think it would be valuable to conduct future studies that seek to determine exactly which cultural aspects affect one’s ability to read dog emotions, and to include real-life stimuli and body expressions in addition to instructed stimuli and facial expressions,” states Bräuer. “In this way, we could develop a better understanding of inter-cultural variation in emotion recognition. Hopefully this information could be used to reduce the occurrence of negative incidents between humans and dogs that are caused by humans’ inability to read dog signals.”

Source:  Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

 

Your dog might be hiding its true colors

If you have a purebred dog, it’s likely that he or she looks fairly similar to other dogs of the same breed, especially when it comes to the color of their coats.

But what happens if a purebred puppy doesn’t look exactly like its siblings when it’s born? Chances are, it might not be a flaw – but rather a hidden gene variant that decided to show itself.

New research from Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine shows that some breeds of dogs have hidden coat colors – and in some cases, other traits – that have been lurking all along.

Purdue university research into coat color

New research from Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine shows that some breeds of dogs have hidden coat colors – and in some cases, other traits – that have been lurking all along. Example: There are around 18 recognized breeds of dogs that have the genetic potential to be born without a tail – such as the popular Australian Shepherd (shown in photo). But the data shows that up to 48 of the breeds analyzed possess the tailless gene variant, usually at a very low frequency.

Led by Kari Ekenstedt, DVM, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and genetics, and Dayna Dreger, Ph.D., the lead scientist in Ekenstedt’s canine genetics research laboratory, the team looked at a dozen different genes in 212 dog breeds. Purdue researchers, together with industry partners at Wisdom Health, analyzed data that had been initially collected by WISDOM PANEL™ for the development of canine DNA tests. The work was published Oct. 28 in PLOS ONE.

“These are purebred dogs with traits that their breed clubs say they’re not supposed to have,” said Ekenstedt, whose research program focuses on canine genetics. “The message of this paper is, ‘Hey, these gene variants exist in your breed, and if a few dogs are born with these traits, it’s not caused by accidental breeding and it’s not a mutt; it’s a purebred showing this known genetic potential.’”

Along with analyzing the data, researchers used standard breed descriptions from major American and international dog breed registries to determine coat colors and tail lengths that were accepted within each breed.

“There was a lot of information we didn’t expect,” Dreger said. “When it comes to different dog breeds, their standards are mostly based on preference and aesthetics. We make assumptions for certain breeds based on what we expect their coat colors to be.”

Ekenstedt says coat color genes have a significant amount of epistasis between them, meaning that what happens at one gene can mask what’s happening at another gene. Because of epistasis, it’s rare to see those masked genes actually expressed in a dog’s coat color.

One example of a “fault” allele – a gene variant that would cause a trait that is not allowed in a breed standard – is an allele that causes the brown color, which affects both hair pigment and skin pigment. The color is allowed in breeds like the Labrador Retriever where it causes the chocolate color. However, researchers observed that in breeds where brown is not allowed, such as the Rottweiler and the German Shepherd Dog, brown alleles exist at low frequencies.

Another example of a fault allele is in the Weimaraner, which exists in both longhaired and shorthaired varieties. At least one dog breed organization does not allow longhaired Weimaraners while several others do allow them.  Of the Weimaraners sampled in this data, the longhaired allele is present at a 4% frequency.

The same goes for other traits, too, Dreger said. For example, there are around 18 recognized breeds of dogs that have the genetic potential to be born without a tail – such as the popular Australian Shepherd. But the data shows that up to 48 of the breeds analyzed possess the tailless gene variant, usually at a very low frequency; one of those breeds is the Dachshund.

“A breeder would certainly be surprised to see a Dachshund born without a tail,” Dreger said. “The chances are low, but our research shows that the potential is there.”

Both Dreger and Ekenstedt hope the research prompts some discussions within the dog community.

“I want this to start science-based conversations,” Dreger said. “We’re not here to make decisions on what a breed should or shouldn’t look like or what a breed club should do. We’re here to say these are the facts, and these are the gene variants that naturally exist in these breeds.”

They also hope it changes some perspectives when it comes to what is to be expected with certain breeds of dogs.

“There’s an assumption that the standards for these different breeds of dogs are set in stone,” Dreger said. “People will often make assumptions that if it doesn’t match this, it’s not purebred. This data shows that there is a lot of variation in some of these breeds, and the standards are not as concrete as we expect them to be.”

Wisdom Health funded a Veterinary Summer Scholar position to Blair Hooser, a student at the Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine and coauthor on the paper, for this work. Partial support for Dr. Ekenstedt was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

Source:  Purdue University media release

Come on, Jacinda, Ban the Boom

Successive governments, including the current Labour Government led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, have refused to heed the growing calls from animal lovers to ban the private sales of fireworks.

That’s a real shame.  Let’s face it, a lot has been said about the Prime Minister because she chose to become a mother while acting as PM.

Here’s Zoe, one of Izzy’s friends, all rugged up for Guy Fawkes.  She’s in a thundershirt, with ear muffs, and music and still nervous and anxious.  There are lots of similar photos and videos of stressed out animals on Facebook this week.

Zoe for Guy Fawkes

Now I wonder if Jacinda would like it if one of these stressed out dogs was her baby, Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford?  Not a nice thought, is it?  I wouldn’t wish it on the Prime Minister’s baby.  Maybe she and her Government shouldn’t wish it on ours.

Maybe what will get action from this government is to remind them that all fireworks are single use and disposable.  Just like the plastic bags that they and their coalition partners banned earlier this year.  These fireworks are filling up our landfills, too.   What’s the deal, Green Party?

I’m not going to apologise if this post is a lot more ‘in your face’ than most of my posts.  I’m entirely sick of the inaction.  Are you?

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

 

Estrogen’s opposing effects on mammary tumors in dogs

Dogs that are spayed at a young age have a reduced risk of developing mammary tumors, the canine equivalent of breast cancer. Early spaying reduces levels of estrogen production, leading many veterinarians and scientists to cast estrogen in a negative light when it comes to mammary cancer.

But the effects of estrogen on cancer risk in dogs aren’t straightforward, according to a new study led by researchers from Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. While it’s clear that spaying dogs greatly minimizes their risk of developing mammary cancer, the findings suggest that the practice may increase the risk of more aggressive cancers. And in spayed animals with mammary tumors, the team found that higher serum estrogen levels were actually protective, associated with longer times to metastasis and improved survival times.

sorenmo_brownie_daube

Veterinary oncologist Karin Sorenmo and colleagues cast new light on the complex role of estrogen in canine mammary cancer. The research emerged from Penn Vet’s Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program, which assists in treating and then finding homes for dogs like Brownie, pictured with former oncology intern, Kiley Daube.

“Dogs that remain intact and have their ovaries develop many more mammary tumors than dogs that were spayed, so removing that source of estrogen does have a protective effect,” says Karin U. Sorenmo, a veterinary oncologist at Penn Vet and senior author on the study, published in PLOS ONE. “Estrogen does seem to drive mammary cancer development. But what it does for progression to metastasis—that I think is more complicated.”

Sorenmo and colleagues have been studying mammary tumors in dogs as a way of improving care and treatment for pets but also to make insights into human breast cancer biology.

“Much of the research we do in veterinary medicine looks at what is done in people and then adapts it,” she says. “But dogs are such a great, comprehensive model for cancer. Yes, there are differences in biology between dogs and people, but here those differences may allow us to ask very probing questions about what estrogen is doing in both dogs with mammary cancer and women with breast cancer.”

The research used data from two prospective studies, including one involving dogs in the Penn Vet Shelter Canine Mammary Tumor Program, through which shelter dogs with mammary tumors receive treatment, are studied by researchers like Sorenmo, and then find foster or permanent homes.

The team evaluated 159 dogs with mammary cancer, 130 that were spayed as part of the study and 29 that remain intact. In addition to surgically removing the dogs’ measurable tumors, the team collected information on serum estrogen levels, tumor type, disease grade and stage, time to metastasis, and survival time.

Despite estrogen’s link with an increased risk of developing mammary tumors, the researchers found that higher serum estrogen levels also seemed to help dogs avoid some of the riskiest aspects of their disease. Unexpectedly, when dogs were spayed at the same time their tumors were removed, those with estrogen receptor-positive tumors that had higher serum estrogen took longer to develop metastatic disease and survived longer than dogs with lower estrogen levels, confirming that these tumors depended on estrogen for progression.

Sorenmo speculates that, in these cases, estrogen’s action may be nuanced. “It drives the cancer, but it also seems to control or modulate it, reining it in,” she says, because most dogs with high serum estrogen levels had lower-grade and estrogen receptor-positive tumors, rendering them susceptible to hormonal deprivation by spaying.

The protective role of estrogen was also surprisingly pronounced in dogs with estrogen-receptor negative mammary tumors. In these higher-risk cancers, high serum estrogen was associated with delayed or absent metastasis. Complementing these findings and supporting a potential broader, tumor receptor-independent anti-cancer effect driven by estrogen, dogs with low serum estrogen had a significantly increased risk for developing other non-mammary aggressive fatal tumors, such as hemangiosarcoma, during their follow-up after mammary tumor surgery.

Some of the findings contradict what has been found in women with breast cancer. For example, higher serum estrogen levels in women following breast cancer therapy have been associated with higher rates of recurrence. But Sorenmo also notes that many cases of breast cancer in women arise just after menopause, when estrogen levels tumble. So there may be a more complex role for estrogen in people’s cancer risk as well.

The work points to new possibilities for examining the role of estrogen in cancer initiation and progression. Already, Sorenmo and colleagues, including Penn Vet’s Susan Volk and Ellen Puré, are pursuing investigations of how the hormone affects the tumor microenvironment, cells that aren’t themselves cancerous but may either stem or encourage a tumor’s growth and spread.

“I think this study opens some really complicated questions,” Sorenmo says. “If we start dissecting exactly what estrogen is doing, what genes or immune cells it’s interacting with, maybe we could harness the power of estrogen to be more clever in our treatment strategies.”

Source:  Penn Today

Doggy quote of the month for November

My fashion philosophy

(I wear dog hair with pride)

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