Category Archives: research

Dog intelligence ‘not exceptional’

Note from DoggyMom:

This research hit mainstream media at the beginning of the month.  It’s an important part of the research process to have results peer reviewed and it is also common for reviews of this nature – across multiple pieces of research.

I don’t necessarily think that dogs must be exceptional, however.  And so the results of cognition research that have been published so far shouldn’t be discounted because of this review.  Rather, the cognition research undertaken with dogs helps to prove that they are sentient (very important for animal welfare laws) and more intelligent than many people (and policy makers) believe.

I certainly don’t expect my dogs to be Einstein, but I do see that they have intelligence and emotions – both of which we should respect.


Scientists reviewed evidence that compared the brain power of dogs with other domestic animals, other social hunters and other carnivorous (an order including animals such as dogs, wolves, bears, lions and hyenas).Dog intelligence photo

The researchers, from the University of Exeter and Canterbury Christ Church University, found the cognitive abilities of dogs were at least matched by several species in each of these groups.

The study examined more than 300 papers on the intelligence of dogs and other animals, and found several cases of “over interpretation” in favour of dogs’ abilities.

“During our work it seemed to us that many studies in dog cognition research set out to ‘prove’ how clever dogs are,” said Professor Stephen Lea, of the University of Exeter.

“They are often compared to chimpanzees and whenever dogs ‘win’, this gets added to their reputation as something exceptional.

“Yet in each and every case we found other valid comparison species that do at least as well as dogs do in those tasks.”

The review focussed on sensory cognition, physical cognition, spatial cognition, social cognition and self-awareness.

“Taking all three groups (domestic animals, social hunters and carnivorans) into account, dog cognition does not look exceptional,” said Dr Britta Osthaus, of Canterbury Christ Church University.

“We are doing dogs no favour by expecting too much of them. Dogs are dogs, and we need to take their needs and true abilities into account when considering how we treat them.”

The paper, published in the journal Learning & Behavior, is entitled: “In what sense are dogs special? Canine cognition in comparative context.”

Source:  University of Exeter media release

Advertisements

Have asthma & a pet? Re-homing your cat or dog may not be necessary

Note from Doggy Mom:  I’ve met parents who think that their asthmatic child shouldn’t keep a pet because of the risks of the pet bringing dander and other environmental allergens into the home.    However, this piece of research refutes that belief.  If asthmatic children are managed appropriately with medication, the dog (or cat) can probably stay!

And don’t forget that other research shows that children born into homes with pets have a lower risk of developing the disease (just type ‘asthma’ in the search box to bring up these citations).

boy-and-dog


A study from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital analyzed environmental exposures, like pet and secondhand smoke, to determine if they have a role in asthma control among children whose asthma is managed per NAEPP (EPR-3) guidelines. Researchers found that once asthma guidelines are followed, environmental exposures to pets or secondhand smoke were not significant factors in overall asthma improvement over time.

Children with the diagnosis of uncontrolled asthma and were followed at a pediatric asthma center were provided asthma care as per NAEPP guidelines. At each visit (3-6 months), families completed asthma questionnaires including acute care needs, symptom control and asthma control test (ACT). Asthma control in patients was evaluated at each visit. Results were compared between patients with or without exposure to secondhand smoking and between patients with or without exposure to pets (cats or dogs) at home at baseline and over time.

Three hundred and ninety-five children, ages 2 to 17 years, were included in this study; 25 percent were exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke, and 55 percent were exposed to a cat or dog at home. Clinical outcomes included over time in this cohort, and this improvement was independent of pet exposure. These findings suggest that asthma treatment is more important than certain types of environmental exposures.

Journal citation here.

Source:  American College of Chest Physicians

 

Why huskies have blue eyes

DNA testing of more than 6,000 dogs has revealed that a duplication on canine chromosome 18 is strongly associated with blue eyes in Siberian Huskies, according to a study published October 4, 2018, in the open-access journal PLOS Genetics by Adam Boyko and Aaron Sams of Embark Veterinary, Inc., and colleagues.

Embark is a dog DNA startup company headquartered in Boston, MA, and Ithaca, NY, and research partner of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. According to the authors, this represents the first consumer genomics study ever conducted in a non-human model and the largest canine genome-wide association study to date.

Lakota

Embark dog, Lakota, shows off bright blue eyes. Credit: Jamie Leszczak CCAL

Consumer genomics enables genetic discovery on an unprecedented scale by linking very large databases of genomic data with phenotype information voluntarily submitted via web-based surveys. But the promise of consumer genomic data is not limited to human research. Genomic tools for dogs are readily available but the genetic underpinnings of many important traits remain undiscovered. Although two genetic variants are known to underlie blue eye color in some dogs, these do not explain the trait in some other dogs, like Siberian Huskies.

To address this gap in knowledge, Boyko, Sams and colleagues used a diverse panel of 6,070 genetically tested dogs with owners that contributed phenotype data via web-based surveys and photo uploads. They found that a 98.6-kilobase duplication on chromosome 18 near the ALX4 gene, which plays an important role in mammalian eye development, was strongly associated with variation in blue eye color, primarily in Siberian Huskies but also in non-merle Australian Shepherds. One copy of the variant was enough to cause blue eyes or heterochromia (blue and brown eyes), although some dogs with the variant did not have blue eyes, so other genetic or environmental factors are still involved.

Future studies of the functional mechanism underlying this association may lead to the discovery of a novel pathway by which blue eyes develop in mammals. From a broader perspective, the results underscore the power of consumer data-driven discovery in non-human species, especially dogs, where there is intense owner interest in the personal genomic information of their pets, a high level of engagement with web-based surveys, and an underlying genetic architecture ideal for mapping studies.

Aaron J. Sams adds: “Using genetic data from the pets of our customers, combined with eye colors reported by customers for those same animals, we have discovered a genetic duplication that is strongly associated with blue eye color. This study demonstrates the power of the approach that Embark is taking towards improving canine health. In a single year, we collected enough data to conduct the largest canine study of its kind. Embark is currently pursuing similar research projects in a range of morphological and health-related traits and we hope to continue to use our platform to move canine genetics and health forward in a very real way.”

Source:  Science Daily and PLOS Genetics

Sniffing out error in detection dog data

A new study in the journal Scientific Reports gets to the bottom of it: Why do dogs that are trained to locate poop sometimes find the wrong kind of poop?

Sniffer dog reseawrcgh

Washington University researcher Karen DeMatteo and her scat-sniffing dog Train are on a mission to preserve jaguars, pumas, bush dogs and other carnivores in the forests of Northeastern Argentina. (Photo: courtesy of Karen DeMatteo/Washington University)

It happens anywhere from 4 percent to 45 percent of the time, said Karen DeMatteo, a biologist in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. Her new research confirms that there are three viable, alternative explanations beyond errors in handler or dog training that can explain the collection of non-target scats with detection dogs in some ecosystems.

Detection dogs are trained to use scent, not their eyes, to locate specific kinds of scat. They’re useful partners in conservation projects as an alternative to camera photo traps or other more invasive means of identifying which individual animals are present in an area.

And while finding the wrong kind of poop doesn’t ultimately muck up research results — researchers who use scat to track animals usually use DNA tests to confirm the identity of target and non-target evacuators — collecting and testing false positives costs a project time and resources.

“To date, when non-target samples are found in detection dog studies, it is assumed it may be due to errors in detection dog or handler training; however, our study determined that this is not always the case,” DeMatteo said. “Instead, the complexity of ecosystems where a study is conducted can affect the perceived accuracy of detection dog studies because the natural behaviors of non-target species, like coyotes in our study, can alter the genetic profile of target scat, like that from a puma.”

In her own work, DeMatteo has successfully used scat-detection dogs to identify the routes traveled by endangered pumas and other reclusive carnivores along a biologically important corridor in Argentina.

Detection dogs are great at determining the presence of specific animals because they can find droppings hidden in grass, droppings that have been rained on and disintegrated into the mud — or even droppings that have been eaten and then recycled.

Yes, that’s right, and it’s a normal part of life for many animals, DeMatteo said.

“Humans have a natural aversion to coprophagy, which is reflected in the visual horror on an owner’s face when they see their dog gobble down their own scat or the scat of another dog or cat,” DeMatteo said. “Once this shock subsides, the owner typically worries that the scat will cause health problems or there is something psychologically wrong with their four-legged friend.”

“While the reasons underlying coprophagy in domestic dogs are still fuzzy, it is known in wild canids that coprophagy is natural and is often associated with territoriality or nutritional benefits,” she said. “So while the finding that coyotes will consume puma scat is novel and has various ecological implications, coprophagy occurs naturally under a variety of circumstances.”

The tendency of one animal to eat another’s scat is one of three behaviors that might alter the type of scat, or the state of the scat, that a detector dog might encounter, and thus affect the perceived accuracy of the technique.

Researchers also considered how urine-marking by non-target species might affect a detector dog’s ability to locate scat from a species of interest, and also what happens if one animal picks up another’s scat and moves it using its mouth, potentially bringing it into contact with saliva. Field trials were conducted in the St. Louis area and in northwest Nebraska.

The researchers found that each of the proposed behaviors alters the genetic profile of the scat in question, and all were confirmed to play a role in the detection dog indicating on non-target scats.

The pool of conservation-trained detection dogs is constantly growing in number, as are the types of target species and the areas where they are being used, DeMatteo said. One of the continuing questions surrounding their use for these types of projects is how to maintain a high quality standard for training detection dogs and their handlers.

“In reality, the dog is easier to train than the handler, with the latter having a higher chance of introducing error,” DeMatteo said. “Even with these variables, these results are extendable to other dog-handler teams with less experience, as long as consistency is used.”

While this study, “How behavior of nontarget species affects perceived accuracy of scat detection dog surveys,” demonstrates that there are alternative explanations for why dogs sometimes collect non-target samples, it also shines a light on behaviors that humans may not understand — but that could play a role in ecosystem functioning.

“Genetic testing can eliminate these samples and maintain accuracy in the [detection dog-assisted] studies,” DeMatteo said. “However, this non-target interaction with target scat potentially has important implications for other ecological questions, including parasite/disease transmission, zoonotic diseases and general health of wild populations.”

 

Source:  Washington University in St Louis media statement

 

Raw chicken linked to paralysis in dogs

Chicken necks are a common treat for dogs, but pet owners are being warned they have been linked with a potentially fatal form of paralysis

 

As pet ownership increases across the world, our furry (as well as feathered and scaly) friends have become firmly established members of the family.

Wanting the best for our pets, we often offer special treats, and chicken necks are a favourite in many families – often considered a ‘healthy’ option.

Raw chicken photo

Vets are warning raw chicken could be dangerous and owners should stick with regular dog food. Picture: iStock

But vets are warning raw chicken, particularly chicken necks, can lead to a debilitating and potentially fatal form of paralysis in dogs.

A new study, led by the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Werribee Animal Hospital, found the consumption of raw chicken meat increases the risk of dogs developing a paralysing condition called acute polyradiculoneuritis (APN) by more than 70 times.

Dr Matthias le Chevoir, chief investigator on the project, says the cause of APN in dogs has baffled the veterinary community for a long time.

“It is a rare but very debilitating condition where the dog’s hind legs first become weak. It can then progress to affect the front legs, neck, head and face. Some dogs may die from the disease if their chest becomes paralysed,” he says.

“Most dogs eventually recover without treatment but it may take up to six months or more in some cases.

“In our clinic alone we see around 30 cases per year and around three in ten cases would not recover. Watching your pet suffer is obviously very distressing and it can be difficult for owners to nurse their pet if the condition can gradually improve.”

Paralysis results from the dog’s immune system becoming unregulated and attacking its own nerve roots, progressively worsening over several days.

APN is the canine counterpart of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) in humans, a condition that also causes muscle weakness and may require ventilation if chest muscles are affected.

Dr le Chevoir says the bacteria Campylobacter is now considered a triggering agent in up to 40 per cent of GBS patients. It may be present in undercooked chicken, unpasteurised milk products and contaminated water.

“Our team at U-Vet Animal Hospital wanted to understand if consuming raw chicken could also be triggering APN in dogs. Many of us have previously worked overseas and know that a raw meat diet is less common there, so we were intrigued by this potential connection,” Dr le Chevoir says.

The team studied 27 dogs with symptoms of APN and 47 dogs without, examining physical symptoms and interviewing the owners about recent behaviours and diet; focusing on the consumption of raw chicken meat.

Faecal samples collected within seven days of the presentation of clinical signs (such as changes in voice, hind limb weakness or a choppy gait) showed the dogs with APN were 9.4 times more likely to have had a Campylobacter infection than the control group without the disease.

“The microbe Campylobacter is likely to be the reason for the dysregulation of the dogs’ immunity and the symptoms of paralysis,” lead author Dr Lorena Martinez-Antòn says.

“These bacteriological results were consistent with the hypothesis that the uncooked chicken meat was the source of the Campylobacter and as a result, triggered APN.”

In humans, scientists think Campylobacter, which is most commonly found in commercial poultry products, contains molecules similar in structure to part of the nerve cell. This similarity confuses the immune system, which attacks the body’s own nerves, resulting in paralysis.

Dr Martinez-Antòn and Dr le Chevoir say there appears to be a growing trend for feeding dogs raw meat diets, which is concerning given the risks.

“A significant association is also found between APN and smaller dog breeds. Based on our clinical experience this seems to be because smaller dogs are more likely to be fed smaller bones like chicken necks,” the doctors say in the research paper.

“We recommend owners choose regular dog food rather than chicken necks until we know more about this debilitating condition.”

Source:  University of Melbourne press release

The virtual pooch that could help prevent dog bites

A virtual dog could soon be used as an educational tool to help prevent dog bites, thanks to an innovative project led by the University of Liverpool’s Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC).

In collaboration with Dogs Trust and University of Liverpool animal behaviour researchers, the VEC has created a proof of concept virtual reality (VR) experience in which people can approach and interact with a dog displaying signs of aggression in a safe and controlled way.

Virtual reality dog

Virtual reality dog in its environment. Credit: Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC)

The experience aims to help adults and children recognise specific behaviours displayed by dogs, which could potentially lead to an attack or incident if not correctly identified.

6,740 hospital admissions for dog bites and strikes were recorded in the UK in 2013 and University of Liverpool research suggests that the burden of dog bites is considerably larger than those estimated from hospital records.

As part of a desire to better educate children and adults about dog bite prevention, Dogs Trust wanted to explore whether a digital tool could help people identify a range of stress and threat behaviours typically exhibited by dogs, which have the potential to lead to a bite.

In response to this challenge, a team animal behavioural specialists and psychologists from the University worked closely with the VEC to make certain that the body language and detail shown in the virtual environment was both realistic and a truthful reflection of real-world canine behaviour.

As the user approaches the dog, the behaviour and body language of the dog gradually changes, the dog’s behaviour begins to display signs of aggression including licking its lips, lowering of the head and body, front paw lifting, growling, and showing of teeth. These behaviours are referenced from the ‘Canine Ladder of Aggression’ which shows how a dog may behave when it does not want to be approached.

Iain Cant, VEC Visualisation Team Leader said: “This was a really interesting project to work on with a lot of exciting potential for the future.

“The next steps will look to enhance the detail within the immersive environment to ensure the simulation is as realistic as possible. Future developments will also show a wider range of dog behaviours and the dog’s reactions to user behaviour.”

“More broadly the project highlights how immersive experiences can be used by organisations such as Dogs Trust as a valuable educational tool.”

Source:  Science Daily

At Kindness Ranch

Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary is a unique place, the only sanctuary in the United States that cares for animals used in research and laboratory facilities.  At this property, you’ll find horses, cows, sheep, pigs, cats and dogs.

The small team at Kindness, which is a fairly new sanctuary at only 12 years old (founded in 2006), work hard to care for the animals and maintain their large Wyoming property to the highest of standards.  Animals that can be rehabilitated are put up for adoption; the others will simply remain at the property with a secure and safe home for life.

IMG_2624

I have just finished a week of work with the dog care team at Kindness, discussing things like behavioral adjustment programs, enrichment, gait analysis, physical rehabilitation and senior dog care.    I also introduced them to the range of flower essences I use to support emotional health whilst working on training and rehab.

I chose to travel to Kindness Ranch because, for anyone who follows my blog, I often include items about research.  I’m a self-confessed science geek.  But I am not naive.  I know that much of the research which is published involves dogs as study subjects.  The life of a lab animal, in most cases, isn’t pretty.

The ranch is in remote Wyoming – Hartville to be exact with a permanent population of 69 people.  For this reason, if you’d like to visit Kindness (there are 4 guest yurts on the property which can be hired for your stay – and these are well-appointed and very comfortable), you need to book ahead.  The ranch is also a good place for a digital detox, too,  because the guest yurts do not have television and cell phone reception is patchy at best.  WiFi is available but is slower than most are used to and not suitable for streaming.

Dogs coming from a laboratory situation often have unique needs.  Most have never experienced grass under the feet, the sights and sounds of the home environment, and some will have healthcare issues that require attention before adoption is possible.  Many have never been house trained.  Their ages vary depending on how long they were used for study.

And while Beagles are the dogs most often associated with laboratory research, expect to see other breeds of dogs, too.  Larger breed dogs are often used by veterinary schools, for example, so students can learn blood draws, how to vaccinate, etc.  These dogs become living pin cushions and are not surprisingly fearful whenever a needle is presented.

I deliberately chose Kindness as a destination because of the special niche it holds in the animal rescue world.  It takes special people to liaise with laboratories and encourage them to release their animals rather than choosing to simply euthanize them (described as the ‘cost effective’ option).  Kindness walks a tightrope of sorts to ensure that the animals are given safe passage out of the lab and onto the sanctuary whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the labs.

And it also takes special people to live remotely and care for these  animals.

I hope you enjoy these photos of my time at Kindness and, if you believe in their mission, please consider making a donation.  Every bit helps.

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

 

Hank

Hank was the first dog to stay with me overnight in my yurt. Hank is an older boy who spent the first 7 or 8 years of his life in a laboratory. He’s a bit stiff, and has trouble with stairs (as many of the Beagles do).

IMG_2626IMG_2627

Hank in for a cuddle

One of Hank’s favourite pastimes is being held like a baby on your lap. He makes himself totally relaxed and floppy and will stay for as long as you like. It’s amazing how trusting these dogs can be given their treatment at the hands of others.

 

Rocky

Rocky is a big boy who doesn’t know his own strength (he needs more training about walking nicely on leash) and he’s afraid of men.  We suspect his life as a veterinary school practice animal meant that he didn’t have a positive relationship with a male lab assistant and/or vet students.  So we worked on setting up a system where the men on the ranch will visit and quietly enter and feed him high value treats. Handlers will praise Rocky when he is quiet and doesn’t bark and will start using a ‘click for quiet’ approach to clicker training.

Frieda

Frieda is a pit bull who loves to go to the dog park on the ranch, appropriately called the K9 Corral. She has good recall and knows most of her basic cues including sit and down. She’s very intelligent!

Gus

Gus is another senior Beagle used in pharmacokinetic studies for at least 7 years. (These studies introduce drugs and watch their effects on other organs in the body.) He’s a bit achy in the joints, too. Gabapentin and muscle relaxants prescribed by the vet have helped him a lot and his caregiver says that he is a different dog with the support of his meds.