Category Archives: research

Oil spill clean-up gets ‘doggone’ hairy

Dog fur is particularly good at cleaning up crude oil, according to a new study investigating sustainable options to clean up oil spill disasters. Together with human hair recycled from salons, recycled dog fur can be used as an effective and sustainable way to mop up dangerous environmental contaminants on land.

Dog photo oil spills

Oil spill disasters on land cause long-term damage for communities and the natural environment, polluting soils and sediments and contaminating groundwater. Current methods using synthetic sorbent materials can be effective for cleaning up oil spills, but these materials are often expensive and generate large volumes of non-biodegradable plastic wastes.

Now the first comparison of natural-origin sorbent materials for land-based oil spills, including peat moss, recycled human hair, and dog fur, shows that sustainable, cheaper and biodegradable options can be developed.

The University of Technology Sydney (UTS) project found that dog fur and human hair products – recycled from salon wastes and dog groomers – can be just as good as synthetic fabrics at cleaning up crude oil spills on hard land surfaces like highway roads, pavement, and sealed concrete floors.

“Dog fur in particular was surprisingly good at oil spill clean-up, and felted mats from human hair and fur were very easy to apply and remove from the spills,” said lead author of the study, UTS Environmental Scientist Dr Megan Murray.

Dr Murray investigates environmentally-friendly solutions for contamination and leads The Phyto Lab research group at UTS School of Life Sciences.

“This is a very exciting finding for land managers who respond to spilled oil from trucks, storage tanks, or leaking oil pipelines. All of these land scenarios can be treated effectively with sustainable-origin sorbents,” she said.

The sorbents tested included two commercially-available products, propylene and loose peat moss, as well as sustainable-origin prototypes including felted mats made of dog fur and human hair. Prototype oil-spill sorbent booms filled with dog fur and human hair were also tested. Crude oil was used to replicate an oil spill. The results of the study are published in Environments.

The research team simulated three types of land surfaces; non-porous hard surfaces, semi-porous surfaces, and sand, to recreate common oil-spill scenarios.

“We found that loose peat moss is not as effective at cleaning up oil spills on land compared to dog fur and hair products, and it is not useful at all for sandy environments,” Dr Murray said.

“Based on this research, we recommend peat moss is no longer used for this purpose. Given that peat moss is a limited resource and harvesting it requires degrading wetland ecosystems, we think this is a very important finding,” she said.

The research concluded that, for now, sandy environments like coastal beaches can still benefit from the use of polypropylene sorbents, but further exploration of sustainable-origin sorbents is planned.

The researchers say that future applications from the research include investigating felted mats of sustainable-origin sorbents for river bank stabilisation, as well as the removal of pollutants from flowing polluted waters, similar to existing membrane technology.

Publication details:
Decontaminating Terrestrial Oil Spills: A Comparative Assessment of Dog Fur, Human Hair, Peat Moss and Polypropylene Sorbents 

Source: University of Technology Sydney

When Should You Neuter Your Dog to Avoid Health Risks?

10 year study on neuteringSome dog breeds have higher risk of developing certain cancers and joint disorders if neutered or spayed within their first year of life. Until now, studies had only assessed that risk in a few breeds. A new, 10-year study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, examined 35 dog breeds and found vulnerability from neutering varies greatly depending on the breed. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

“There is a huge disparity among different breeds,” said lead author Benjamin Hart, distinguished professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Hart said there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to health risks and the age at which a dog is neutered. “Some breeds developed problems, others didn’t. Some may have developed joint disorders but not cancer or the other way around.”

Researchers analyzed 15 years of data from thousands of dogs examined each year at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to try to understand whether neutering, the age of neutering, or differences in sex when neutered affect certain cancers and joint disorders across breeds. The joint disorders examined include hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tears and elbow dysplasia. Cancers examined include lymphoma; hemangiosarcoma, or cancer of the blood vessel walls; mast cell tumors; and osteosarcoma, or bone cancer.

In most breeds examined, the risk of developing problems was not affected by age of neutering.

Breed differences by size and sex

Researchers found that vulnerability to joint disorders was related to body size.

“The smaller breeds don’t have these problems, while a majority of the larger breeds tend to have joint disorders,” said co-author Lynette Hart, professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

One of the surprising exceptions to this was among the two giant breeds — great Danes and Irish wolfhounds — which showed no increased risk to joint disorders when neutered at any age.

Researchers also found the occurrence of cancers in smaller dogs was low, whether neutered or kept intact. In two breeds of smaller dogs, the Boston terrier and the shih tzu, there was a significant increase in cancers with neutering.

Another important finding was that the sex of the dog sometimes made a difference in health risks when neutered. Female Boston terriers neutered at the standard six months of age, for example, had no increased risk of joint disorders or cancers compared with intact dogs, but male Boston terriers neutered before a year of age had significantly increased risks.

Previous studies have found that neutering or spaying female golden retrievers at any age increases the risk of one or more of the cancers from 5 percent to up to 15 percent.

Discuss choices with veterinarians

Dog owners in the United States are overwhelmingly choosing to neuter their dogs, in large part to prevent pet overpopulation, euthanasia or reduce shelter intake. In the U.S., surgical neutering is usually carried out by six months of age.

This study suggests that dog owners should carefully consider when and if they should have their dog neutered.

“We think it’s the decision of the pet owner, in consultation with their veterinarian, not society’s expectations that should dictate when to neuter,” said Benjamin Hart. “This is a paradigm shift for the most commonly performed operation in veterinary practice.”

The study lays out guidelines for pet owners and veterinarians for each of 35 breeds to assist in making a neutering decision. Read the full list here.

Source:  UC Davis

The sixth sense of animals: an early warning system for earthquakes?

Even today, nobody can reliably predict when and where an earthquake will occur. However, eyewitnesses have repeatedly reported that animals behave unusually before an earthquake. In an international cooperation project, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz/Radolfzell and the Cluster of Excellence Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz, have investigated whether cows, sheep, and dogs can actually detect early signs of earthquakes.

To do so, they attached sensors to the animals in an earthquake-prone area in Northern Italy and recorded their movements over several months. The movement data show that the animals were unusually restless in the hours before the earthquakes. The closer the animals were to the epicentre of the impending quake, the earlier they started behaving unusually. The movement profiles of different animal species in different regions could therefore provide clues with respect to the place and time of an impending earthquake.

Experts disagree about whether earthquakes can be exactly predicted. Nevertheless, animals seem to sense the impending danger hours in advance. For example, there are reports that wild animals leave their sleeping and nesting places immediately before strong quakes and that pets become restless. However, these anecdotal accounts often do not stand up to scientific scrutiny because the definition of unusual behaviour is often too unclear and the observation period too short. Other factors could also explain the behaviour of the animals.

In order to be able to use animal activity patterns as a kind of early warning system for earthquakes, the animals would have to show measurable behavioural changes. Moreover, if they do indeed react to weak physical changes immediately before an earthquake, they should react more strongly the closer they are to the epicentre of the quake.

In an international cooperation project, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell/Konstanz and the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour, a Cluster of Excellence at the University of Konstanz, have investigated whether animals really do this. On an Italian farm in an earthquake-prone area, they attached accelerometers to the collars of six cows, five sheep, and two dogs that had already displayed unusual behaviour before earthquakes. The researchers then recorded their movements continuously over several months. During this period, official authorities reported about 18,000 earthquakes in the region. In addition to many small and hardly noticeable quakes, there were also 12 earthquakes with a strength of 4 or higher on the Richter scale.

The researchers then selected the quakes that triggered statistically relevant earth movements on the farm. These included strong quakes up to 28 km away as well as weaker quakes, the epicentres of which were very close to the farm. However, instead of explicitly looking for abnormal behaviours in the period before these events, the researchers chose a more cautious approach. They first marked all behavioural changes of the animals that were unusual according to objective, statistical criteria. “In this way, we ensure that we not only establish correlations retrospectively but also that we really do have a model that can be used for predictions,” says Martin Wikelski, director at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior and Principal Investigator at the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour.

The data—measured as body acceleration of each farm animal (indicating activity level)—were evaluated using statistical models drawn from financial econometrics. “Because every animal reacts differently in size, speed and according to species, the animal data resemble data on heterogenous financial investors,” explains co-author Winfried Pohlmeier, Professor of Econometrics at the University of Konstanz and Principal Investigator at the Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour. The scientists also considered other disturbance factors such as natural changes in animal activity patterns over the day.

In this way, the researchers discovered unusual behavioural patterns up to 20 hours before an earthquake. “The closer the animals were to the epicentre of the impending shock, the earlier they changed their behaviour. This is exactly what you would expect when physical changes occur more frequently at the epicentre of the impending earthquake and become weaker with increasing distance,” explains Wikelski. However, this effect was clear only when the researchers looked at all animals together. “Collectively, the animals seem to show abilities that are not so easily recognized on an individual level,” says Wikelski. It is still unclear how animals can sense impending earthquakes. Animals may sense the ionization of the air caused by the large rock pressures in earthquake zones with their fur. It is also conceivable that animals can smell gases released from quartz crystals before an earthquake.

Real-time data measured by the researchers and recorded since December 2019 show what an animal earthquake early warning system could look like: a chip on the collar sends the movement data to a central computer every three minutes. This triggers a warning signal if it registers a significantly increased activity of the animals for at least 45 minutes. The researchers have once received such a warning. “Three hours later, a small quake shook the region,” says Wikelski. “The epicentre was directly below the stables of the animals.”

However, before the behaviour of animals can be used to predict earthquakes, researchers need to observe a larger number of animals over longer periods of time in different earthquake zones around the world. For this, they want to use the global animal observation system Icarus on the International Space Station ISS, which will start its scientific operation in a few weeks.

Icarus, a scientific project directed by Martin Wikelski, is a joint project funded and carried out by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Russian space agency Roskosmos and is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA).

Source: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft

Owner Behavior Affects Effort and Accuracy in Dogs’ Communications

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and Friedrich Schiller University in Jena have found that dogs adapt their communicative strategies to their environment and that owner behavior influences communicative effort and success. Experimental results found no evidence that dogs rely on communication history or follow the principle of least effort and suggest that owner behavior has a bigger impact on canine communication than previously thought.

Human communication has evolved mechanisms that can be observed across all cultures and languages, including the use of communication history and the principle of least effort. These two factors enable us to use shared information about the past and present and to conserve energy, making communications as effective and efficient as possible. Given the remarkable sensitivity of dogs to human vocalizations, gestures and gazes, researchers have suggested that 30.000 years of domestication and co-evolution with humans may have caused dogs to develop similar principles of communication – a theory known as the domestication hypothesis.

On this basis, researchers designed an experiment that would examine the factors influencing the form, effort and success of dog-human interactions in a hidden-object task. Using 30 dog-owner pairs, researchers focused on a communicative behavior called showing, in which dogs gather the attention of a communicative partner and direct it to an external source. 

While the owner waited in another room, an experimenter in view of a participating dog hid the dogs` favourite toy in one of four boxes. When the owner entered the room, the dog had to show its owner where the toy had been hidden. If the owner successfully located the toy, the pair were allowed to play as a reward. Participants were tested in two conditions: a close setup which required more precise showing and a distant setup which allowed for showing in a general direction.

The researchers found no evidence to suggest that dogs adhere to the principal of least effort, as they used as much energy in the easier far setup as they did in the more difficult close setup. However, this might have been a result of the owners influence on their dogs’ effort. Secondly, dogs were not affected by different communication histories, as they performed similarly and used similar amounts of energy in both setups regardless of which condition they began with. Despite putting in similar amounts of effort, dogs adapted their showing strategies to be more or less precise, depending on the conditions.

The findings indicate that a crucial factor influencing the effort and accuracy of dogs’ showing is the behaviour of the dog’s owner. Owners who encouraged their dog to show where the toy was hidden increased their dog’s showing effort but generally decreased their showing accuracy.

“We’ve seen in previous studies that if we keep eye contact with the dog or talk in a high-pitched voice, we seem to prompt a ‘ready-to-obey attitude’ which makes dogs very excited to follow our commands. So when owners asked their dogs ‘Is the toy here?’ and pointed at the boxes, they might have caused dogs to just show any box,” says Melanie Henschel, main author of the study.

Although the researchers found no effects of communication history or the principal of least effort, the current study indicates for the first time that owners can influence their dog’s showing accuracy and success.

“We were surprised that encouragement increased mistakes in dogs` showing accuracy. This could have impacts on the training of dogs and handlers in fields where dogs are working professionals. Future studies should focus on the complex effects of the owner’s influence and the best strategies for handlers communicating with a dog,” adds Juliane Bräuer, senior author and head of the DogStudies Lab at MPI-SHH in Jena.

Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Digitise your dog into a computer game

Greyhound in motion picture suit

The research enables you to digitise a dog without an expensive studio motion capture camera set up

Researchers from CAMERA, the University of Bath’s motion capture research centre, have developed motion capture technology that enables you to digitise your dog without a motion capture suit and using only one camera.
 

The software could be used for a wide range of purposes, from helping vets diagnose lameness and monitoring recovery of their canine patients, to entertainment applications such as making it easier to put digital representations of dogs into movies and video games.

Motion capture technology is widely used in the entertainment industry, where actors wear a suit dotted with white markers which are then precisely tracked in 3D space by multiple cameras taking images from different angles. Movement data can then be transferred onto a digital character for use in films or computer games.

Similar technology is also used by biomechanics experts to track the movement of elite athletes during training, or to monitor patients’ rehabilitation from injuries. However, these technologies – particularly when applying them to animals – require expensive equipment and dozens of markers to be attached.

Computer scientists from CAMERA digitised the movement of 14 different breeds of dog, from lanky lurchers to squat pugs, which were residents of the local Bath Cats’ and Dogs’ Home (BCDH).

Wearing special doggie motion capture suits with markers, the dogs were filmed under the supervision of their BCDH handlers doing a range of movements as part of their enrichment activities.

They used these data to create a computer model that can accurately predict and replicate the poses of dogs when they’re filmed without wearing the motion capture suits. This model allows 3D digital information for new dogs – their shape and movement – to be captured without markers and expensive equipment, but instead using a single RGBD camera. Whereas normal digital cameras record the red, green and blue (RGB) colour in each pixel in the image, RGBD cameras also record the distance from the camera for each pixel.

PhD researcher Sinéad Kearney said: “This is the first time RGBD images have been used to track the motion of dogs using a single camera, which is much more affordable than traditional motion capture systems that require multiple cameras.

“This technology allows us to study the movement of animals, which is useful for applications such as detecting lameness in a dog and measuring its recovery over time.

“For the entertainment industry, our research can help produce more authentic movement of virtual animals in films and video games. Dog owners could also use it to make a 3D digital representation of their pet on their computer, which is a lot of fun!”

The team presented their research at one of the world’s leading AI conferences, the CVPR (Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition) conference on 14 June.

The team has also started testing their method on computer-generated images of other four-legged animals including horses, cats, lions and gorillas, with some promising results. They aim in the future to extend their animal dataset to make the results more accurate; they will also be making the dataset available for non-commercial use by others.

Professor Darren Cosker, Director of CAMERA, said: “While there is a great deal of research on automatic analysis of human motion without markers, the animal kingdom is often overlooked.

“Our research is a step towards building accurate 3D models of animal motion along with technologies that allow us to very easily measure their movement. This has many exciting applications across a range of areas – from veterinary science to video games.”

Kearney et al (2020) “RGBD-Dog: Predicting Canine Pose from RGBD Sensors” was presented at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in on 14 June 2020.

Source:  University of Bath

Researchers find CBD improves arthritis symptoms in dogs

A team led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in collaboration with Medterra CBD conducted the first scientific studies to assess the potential therapeutic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) for arthritic pain in dogs, and the results could lead the way to studying its effect in humans. Researchers focused first on these animals because their condition closely mimics the characteristics of human arthritis, the leading cause of pain and disability in the U.S. for which there is no effective treatment.

Cannibus study

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Published in the journal Pain, the study first showed both in laboratory tests and mouse models that CBD, a non-addictive product derived from hemp (cannabis), can significantly reduce the production of inflammatory molecules and immune cells associated with arthritis. Subsequently, the study showed that in dogs diagnosed with the condition, CBD treatment significantly improved quality of life as documented by both owner and veterinarian assessments. This work supports future scientific evaluation of CBD for human arthritis.

“CBD is rapidly increasing in popularity due to its anecdotal health benefits for a variety of conditions, from reducing anxiety to helping with movement disorders,” said corresponding author Dr. Matthew Halpert, research faculty in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Baylor. “In 2019, Medterra CBD approached Baylor to conduct independent scientific studies to determine the biological capabilities of several of its products.”

In the current study, Halpert and his colleagues first measured the effect of CBD on immune responses associated with arthritis, both in human and murine cells grown in the lab and in mouse models. Using Medterra tinctures, they found that CBD treatment resulted in reduced production of both inflammatory molecules and immune cells linked to arthritis.

The researchers also determined that the effect was quicker and more effective when CBD was delivered encapsulated in liposomes than when it was administered ‘naked.’ Liposomes are artificially formed tiny spherical sacs that are used to deliver drugs and other substances into tissues at higher rates of absorption.

Halpert and colleagues next assessed the effect of naked and liposome-encapsulated CBD on the quality of life of dogs diagnosed with arthritis.

“We studied dogs because experimental evidence shows that spontaneous models of arthritis, particularly in domesticated canine models, are more appropriate for assessing human arthritis pain treatments than other animal models. The biological characteristics of arthritis in dogs closely resemble those of the human condition,” Halpert said.

Arthritis is a common condition in dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, it affects one out of five dogs in the United States.

The 20 client-owned dogs enrolled in the study were seen at Sunset Animal Hospital in Houston. The dog owners were randomly provided with identical unidentified medication bottles that contained CBD, liposomal CBD, or a placebo. Neither the owners nor the veterinarian knew which treatment each dog received.

After four weeks of daily treatment, owners and veterinarians reported on the condition of the dogs, whether they observed changes in the animals’ level of pain, such as changes related to running or gait. The dogs’ cell blood count and blood indicators of liver and kidney function also were evaluated before and after the four weeks of treatment.

“We found encouraging results,” Halpert said. “Nine of the 10 dogs on CBD showed benefits, which remained for two weeks after the treatment stopped. We did not detect alterations in the blood markers we measured, suggesting that, under the conditions of our study, the treatment seems to be safe.”

Source:  Baylor College of Medicine via Phys.org

Yes, your dog wants to rescue you

What to do. You’re a dog. Your owner is trapped in a box and is crying out for help. Are you aware of his despair? If so, can you set him free? And what’s more, do you really want to?

That’s what Joshua Van Bourg and Clive Wynne wanted to know when they gave dogs the chance to rescue their owners.

Until recently, little research has been done on dogs’ interest in rescuing humans, but that’s what humans have come to expect from their canine companions — a legend dating back to Lassie and updated by the popular Bolt.

“It’s a pervasive legend,” said Van Bourg, a graduate student in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology.

Simply observing dogs rescuing someone doesn’t tell you much, Van Bourg said. “The difficult challenge is figuring out why they do it.”

So, Van Bourg and Wynne, an ASU professor of psychology and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at ASU, set up an experiment assessing 60 pet dogs’ propensity to rescue their owners. None of the dogs had training in such an endeavor.

In the main test, each owner was confined to a large box equipped with a light-weight door, which the dog could move aside. The owners feigned distress by calling out “help,” or “help me.”

Beforehand, the researchers coached the owners so their cries for help sounded authentic. In addition, owners weren’t allowed to call their dog’s name, which would encourage the dog to act out of obedience, and not out of concern for her owner’s welfare.

“About one-third of the dogs rescued their distressed owner, which doesn’t sound too impressive on its own, but really is impressive when you take a closer look,” Van Bourg said.

That’s because two things are at stake here. One is the dogs’ desire to help their owners, and the other is how well the dogs understood the nature of the help that was needed. Van Bourg and Wynne explored this factor in control tests — tests that were lacking in previous studies.

In one control test, when the dog watched a researcher drop food into the box, only 19 of the 60 dogs opened the box to get the food. More dogs rescued their owners than retrieved food.

“The key here is that without controlling for each dog’s understanding of how to open the box, the proportion of dogs who rescued their owners greatly underestimates the proportion of dogs who wanted to rescue their owners,” Van Bourg said.

“The fact that two-thirds of the dogs didn’t even open the box for food is a pretty strong indication that rescuing requires more than just motivation, there’s something else involved, and that’s the ability component,” Van Bourg said. “If you look at only those 19 dogs that showed us they were able to open the door in the food test, 84% of them rescued their owners. So, most dogs want to rescue you, but they need to know how.”

In another control test, Van Bourg and Wynne looked at what happened when the owner sat inside the box and calmly read aloud from a magazine. What they found was that four fewer dogs, 16 out of 60, opened the box in the reading test than in the distress test.

“A lot of the time it isn’t necessarily about rescuing,” Van Bourg said. “But that doesn’t take anything away from how special dogs really are. Most dogs would run into a burning building just because they can’t stand to be apart from their owners. How sweet is that? And if they know you’re in distress, well, that just ups the ante.”

The fact that dogs did open the box more often in the distress test than in the reading control test indicated that rescuing could not be explained solely by the dogs wanting to be near their owners.

The researchers also observed each dog’s behavior during the three scenarios. They noted behaviors that can indicate stress, such as whining, walking, barking and yawning.

“During the distress test, the dogs were much more stressed,” Van Bourg said. “When their owner was distressed, they barked more, and they whined more. In fact, there were eight dogs who whined, and they did so during the distress test. Only one other dog whined, and that was for food.”

What’s more, the second and third attempts to open the box during the distress test didn’t make the dogs less stressed than they were during the first attempt. That was in contrast to the reading test, where dogs that have already been exposed to the scenario, were less stressed across repeated tests.

“They became acclimated,” Van Bourg said. “Something about the owner’s distress counteracts this acclimation. There’s something about the owner calling for help that makes the dogs not get calmer with repeated exposure.”

In essence, these individual behaviors are more evidence of “emotional contagion,” the transmission of stress from the owner to the dog, explains Van Bourg, or what humans would call empathy.

“What’s fascinating about this study,” Wynne said, “is that it shows that dogs really care about their people. Even without training, many dogs will try and rescue people who appear to be in distress — and when they fail, we can still see how upset they are. The results from the control tests indicate that dogs who fail to rescue their people are unable to understand what to do — it’s not that they don’t care about their people.

“Next, we want to explore whether the dogs that rescue do so to get close to their people, or whether they would still open the box even if that did not give them the opportunity to come together with their humans,” Wynne added.

The study, “Pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) release their trapped and distressed owners: Individual variation and evidence of emotional contagion was published last month,” was published online in April 2020 in the journal PLOS.

Source:  Arizona State University

Collars risk causing neck injuries in dogs, study shows

A study led by a canine scientist at Nottingham Trent University looked at the potential impact of pulling on the lead and the related pressure on the neck, using a variety of of collar-types and styles.

Young Woman Walks Her Dog In California Park

The collars and a slip lead were tested on a canine cylinder neck model with a pressure sensor.

A range of forces were applied to the lead representing different interactions—a firm pull (40 Newtons) strong pull (70N) and a jerk (141N) – with the contact area of the collar and the pressure on the neck being recorded.

The study, which also involved the University of Nottingham, found that with all the collar types and styles tested—even those that were padded or had a wide fitting—the pressure exerted on the model neck would be sufficient to risk injury to the dog.

No single collar tested provided a pressure considered low enough to reduce the risk of injury when pulling on the lead, they found.

Lead jerks on the collar may occur when dogs on extendable leads abruptly come to a stop, when a dog lunges on a lead, or is ‘corrected’ by the handler.

The researchers argue that as all collar types will pose some risk, dogs should be trained to walk on a loose lead without pulling, or walked using a harness which applies no pressure to the neck.

“All types of dog collar have the potential to cause harm when the dog pulls on the lead,” said Dr. Anne Carter, a researcher in Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences.

She said: “While collars provide a means to identify a dog or demonstrate ownership, they are also frequently used as a connection between handler and dog and to facilitate control, restraint or movement.

“Even the ‘best’ type of collar is putting too much pressure on the dog’s neck if they pull on the lead and this is risking injury. We suggest that collars should be used to display ID tags and dogs should be walked on a harness or loose lead that avoids any pressure on the neck.

“It is not recommended that collars be used as a means of control for any dogs that may pull on the lead.”

Study co-author Dr. Amanda Roshier, from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, University of Nottingham, said: “Using sophisticated engineering tools, we simulated collar pressures that dogs may be exposed to on the lead and how this varies with different collar models, and the force exerted by a handler. Our tests aimed to give practical insight into how the choice of collar and its use impacts the welfare of dogs.”

Rachel Casey, Director for Canine Behaviour and Research at Dogs Trust, said: “It’s a common problem for owners that their dog pulls on the lead, when excited to get out on a walk. The findings of this research highlight the extent to which all collars exert pressure on the sensitive tissues of dogs’ necks when there is tension on the lead. It is for this reason that we recommend that owners attach a lead to a well fitted harness—particularly if their dog is likely to pull on the lead during a walk or if they use a long line during walks.

“Walks are also made more pleasurable for pet and owner if dogs are taught to walk calmly on a loose lead. Taking a bit of time to teach your dog that he or she can get to the park without pulling, will save a lifetime of pulled arms as well as avoiding possible injury to your dog. We have a range of resources available online on how to teach your dog to walk on a loose lead using a reward-based approach.”

The study was undertaken at the Wolfson Labs, in the Faculty of Engineering with support from bioengineer Professor Donal McNally, also of the University of Nottingham.

The research is reported in the journal Vet Record.

Source:  Nottingham Trent University

Dogs can detect traces of gasoline down to one billionth of a teaspoon

Detection dog

Eza waiting for her handler, Jeff Lunder, to initiate a search of a residential structure fire to check for any indication of ignitable liquid. Photo credit: Joe Towers

Trained dogs can detect fire accelerants such as gasoline in quantities as small as one billionth of a teaspoon, according to new research by University of Alberta chemists. The study provides the lowest estimate of the limit of sensitivity of dogs’ noses and has implications for arson investigations.

During an arson investigation, a dog may be used to identify debris that contains traces of ignitable liquids—which could support a hypothesis that a fire was the result of arson,” explained Robin Abel, graduate student in the Department of Chemistry and lead author of the study. “Of course, a dog cannot give testimony in court, so debris from where the dog indicated must be taken back to the laboratory and analyzed. This estimate provides a target for forensic labs when processing evidence flagged by detection dogs at sites of potential arson.”

The study involved two dog-and-handler teams. The first was trained to detect a variety of ignitable liquids, while the other was trained primarily with gasoline. Results show that the dog trained on a variety of liquids performed well detecting all accelerants, while the dog trained on gasoline was not able to generalize to other accelerants at extremely low concentrations.

Another outcome of the study was the development of a protocol that can be used to generate suitable ultra-clean substrates necessary for assessing the performance of accelerant-detection dogs for trace-level detection.

“In this field, it is well-known that dogs are more sensitive than conventional laboratory tests,” said James Harynuk, associate professor of chemistry and Abel’s supervisor. “There have been many cases where a dog will flag debris that then tests negative in the lab. In order for us to improve laboratory techniques so that they can match the performance of the dogs, we must first assess the dogs. This work gives us a very challenging target to meet for our laboratory methods.”

So, just how small a volume of gasoline can a dog detect?

“The dogs in this study were able to detect down to one billionth of a teaspoon—or 5 pL—of gasoline,” added Harynuk. “Their noses are incredibly sensitive.”

This research was conducted in collaboration with Jeff Lunder, vice president of the Canine Accelerant Detection Association (CADA) Fire Dogs. Funding was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The paper, “A novel protocol for producing low-abundance targets to characterize the sensitivity limits of ignitable liquid detection canines,” was published in Forensic Chemistry (doi: 10.1016/j.forc.2020.100230).

 

Source:  University of Alberta media release

The origin of feces (aka shit happens)

The archaeological record is littered with feces, a potential goldmine for insights into ancient health and diet, parasite evolution, and the ecology and evolution of the microbiome. The main problem for researchers is determining whose feces is under examination. A recent study published in the journal PeerJ, led by Maxime Borry and Christina Warinner of Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), presents “CoproID: a reliable method of inferring sources of paleofeces.”

After thousands of years, the source of a particular piece of feces can be difficult to determine. Distinguishing human and dog feces is particularly difficult: they are similar in size and shape, occur at the same archaeological sites, and have similar compositions. In addition, dogs were on the menu for many ancient societies, and our canine friends have a tendency to scavenge on human feces, thus making simple genetic tests problematic, as such analyses can return DNA from both species.

Shit happens

H35 (Ash pit number 35) coprolites from Xiaosungang archaeological site, Anhui Province, China © Jada Ko, Courtesy of the Anhui Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

In order to access the insights contained within paleofeces, the researchers developed coproID (coprolite identification). The method combines analysis of ancient host DNA with a machine learning software trained on the microbiomes within modern feces. Applying coproID to both newly sequenced and previously published datasets, the team of researchers from the MPI-SHH, Harvard University, and the University of Oklahoma were able to reliably predict the sources of ancient feces, showing that a combination of host DNA and the distinct colonies of microbes living inside humans and dogs allow their feces to be accurately distinguished.

Classification capability provides insights into digestive health

“One unexpected finding of our study is the realization that the archaeological record is full of dog poop,” says Professor Christina Warinner, senior author of the study. But Warinner also expects coproID to have broader applications, especially in the fields of forensics, ecology, and microbiome sciences.

The ability to accurately identify the source of archaeological feces enables the direct investigation of changes in the structure and function of the human gut microbiome throughout time, which researchers hope will provide insights into food intolerances and a host of other issues in human health. “Identifying human coprolites should be the first step for ancient human microbiome analysis,” says the study’s first author, Maxime Borry.

“With additional data about the gut metagenomes of non-Westernized rural dogs, we’ll be better able to classify even more ancient dog feces as in fact being canine, as opposed to ‘uncertain,’” Borry adds. As the catalog of human and dog microbiome data grows, coproID will continue to improve its classifications and better aid researchers that encounter paleofeces in a range of geographic and historical contexts.

Source:  Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History