Category Archives: research

Dogs Tell the Difference between Intentional and Unintentional Action

A study published in Scientific Reports compared dogs’ spontaneous reactions to intentional and unintentional human behavior and found that dogs reacted differently depending on the condition.

Over our long shared history, dogs have developed a range of skills for bonding with human beings. Their ability to make sense of human actions, demonstrated by every “sit,” “lay down,” and “roll over,” is just one such skill. But whether dogs understand human intentions, or merely respond to outcomes, remains unclear. The ability to recognize another’s intentions – or at least conceive of them – is a basic component of Theory of Mind, the ability to attribute mental states to oneself and others, long regarded as uniquely human. Do dogs have this basic component of Theory of Mind, the ability to tell the difference between something done on purpose and something done by accident? 

To answer this question, a team of researchers in Germany conducted an experiment that examined how dogs reacted when food rewards were withheld, both intentionally and unintentionally. They found that dogs respond differently depending on whether the actions of the experimenter were intentional or unintentional. This, the researchers say, shows that dogs can distinguish between actions that were done on purpose or accidentally. 

To reach their conclusions, the researchers conducted an experiment using the “unable vs. unwilling” paradigm. This works by examining whether test subjects react differently towards a human experimenter who either intentionally (the unwilling condition) or unintentionally (the unable condition) withholds rewards from them. Despite being an established paradigm in studies of human and animal cognition, the unable vs. unwilling paradigm had never been previously used to investigate dogs. 

Dogs were fed through the gap before the experimenter started to withhold the reward intentionally or unintentionally
© Josepha Erlacher

The experiment was conducted with 51 dogs, each of which was tested under three conditions. In each condition, the dog was separated from the human tester by a transparent barrier. The basic situation was that the experimenter fed the dog pieces of dog food through a gap in the barrier. In the “unwilling” condition, the experimenter suddenly withdrew the reward through the gap in the barrier and placed it in front of herself. In the “unable-clumsy” condition, the experimenter brought the reward to the gap in the barrier and “tried” to pass it through the gap but then “accidentally” dropped it. In the “unable-blocked” condition, the experimenter again tried to give the dog a reward, but was unable to because the gap in the barrier was blocked. In all conditions, the reward remained on the tester’s side of the barrier.

“If dogs are indeed able to ascribe intention-in-action to humans,” says Dr. Juliane Bräuer, “we would expect them to show different reactions in the unwilling condition compared to the two unable conditions. As it turns out, this is exactly what we observed.”

The primary behaviour measured by the researchers was the time dogs waited before approaching the reward they were denied. The researchers predicted that, if dogs are able to identify human intentions, they would wait longer before approaching the reward in the unwilling condition, where they were not supposed to have the reward, than in the two unable conditions in which the reward was, in fact, meant for them. 

Not only did the dogs wait longer in the unwilling condition than in the unable conditions, they were also more likely to sit or lie down – actions often interpreted as appeasing behaviours – and stop wagging their tails. 

“The dogs in our study clearly behaved differently depending on whether the actions of a human experimenter were intentional or unintentional,” says Britta Schünemann, the first author of the study. “This suggests that dogs may indeed be able to identify humans’ intention-in-action,” adds Hannes Rakoczy from the University of Göttingen.

The team acknowledges that their findings may be met with scepticism and that further study is needed to address alternative explanations, such as behavioural cues on the part of experimenters or knowledge transfer from prior dog training. 

“Nevertheless,” the paper concludes, “the findings present important initial evidence that dogs may have at least one aspect of Theory of Mind: The capacity to recognize intention-in-action.”

Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Dogs may not return their owners’ good deeds

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

Photo: chalabala 123RF

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Vet Practice magazine

Genetic enigma solved: Inheritance of coat color patterns in dogs

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

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

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

Two pigments and a “switch” for all coat colors

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

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

Five instead of four distinct coat color patterns

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

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

Unexpected insights on the evolution of wolves

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

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

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

Source: University of Bern

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

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

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

Photo: Janneke van der Laan

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

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

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

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

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

Publication

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

Source: Utrecht University

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Duke University

Canine faeces reveal more about 17th century working sled dogs

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


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

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

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

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

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

Dietary habits

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

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

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

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

Past arctic cultures

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

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

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

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

Source: University of York

Early Antarctic explorers malnourished their dogs

It’s one of the iconic images of early Antarctica exploration: the heroic explorer sledding through the icy wastelands from his loyal team of canine companions.

But new research analyzing a centuries-old dog biscuit suggests that the animals in this picture were likely marching on a half-empty stomach: early British Antarctic expeditions malnourished their dogs.

In an article just published in Polar Record, researchers from the Canterbury Museum, Lincoln University and the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed the history and contents of Spratt’s dog biscuits, the food of choice for canine members of early Antarctic expeditions.

The lead author, Canterbury Museum Curator Human History Dr. Jill Haley, has researched the life of dogs in Antarctica and curated the museum’s Dogs in Antarctica: Tales from the Pack 2018 exhibition.

“The early explorers valued their dogs not only because they pulled sleds, but also because of their company in the desolate seclusion of Antarctica,” she says.

“Our analysis of a partially crumbled Spratt dog biscuit, one of four cakes maintained by the Canterbury Museum, found that the contents of the cakes were not that different from modern dog biscuits. However, the amount of dogs fed on the expeditions did not differ not providing enough fuel for their high-energy activities. ”

Pet food was a relatively new invention in the early 20th century and was considered to be superior to older practices of feeding dogs table waste or letting them collect themselves.

Early polar explorers were particularly interested in Spratt’s dog biscuits because they were easy to transport, took no effort to prepare, and did not perish.

The cakes were used on two polar expeditions in the Arctic before being brought south by Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Discovery Expedition (1901-1904). The 18 sled dogs of the expedition were fed the biscuits along with dried fish from Norway; all animals died after eating rancid fish on a sledge expedition.

Perhaps to avoid repeating this episode, the supervisors of Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition (1910-1913) fed the animals alone on Spratts. With a ration of 0.3 kg of biscuits per day, the dogs became very hungry and even ate their own excrement. They recovered when meat was added to their diet.

Ernest Shackleton took Spratts on his Nimrod (1907-1909) and Endurance (1914-1917) expeditions, where they were part of a dog diet that also included meat, bacon, cookies and pemmican, a high-energy blend of fat and protein.

University of Otago researchers, Professor Keith Gordon, Dr. Sara Fraser-Miller and Jeremy Rooney, used laser-based analysis to determine the composition of the materials in the cake with a resolution of micrometers and to identify a range of components such as wheat, oats and bones.

Dr. Craig Bunt, Associate Professor of Animal Science at Lincoln University, compared the cakes to similar foods, including modern dog foods, and calculated how many kilojoules of energy each cookie would have provided.

To meet the energy needs of modern sled dogs, the dogs on the early Antarctic expeditions would have had to eat between 2.6 and 3.2 kg of Spratts dog biscuits a day.

However, historical reports suggest that the daily dog ​​rations on some expeditions were only about 0.5 kg of cookies and sometimes only 0.3 kg.

The researchers concluded that Spratt’s dog biscuits were likely a suitable complete food for dogs in Antarctica; Dogs on the early expeditions just weren’t fed enough of it.

###

Feeding the Team: Analysis of a Spratts Antarctic Dog Biscuit by Sara Fraser-Miller, Jeremy Rooney, Keith Gordon, Craig Bunt and Jill Haley is published in Polar Record, 57, E19. doi: 10.1017 / S0032247421000103.

Source: Fior Reports

Puppies are Wired to Communicate With People, Study Shows

Researchers evaluated social communication skills in 375 budding service dogs with Canine Companions. Courtesy of Canine Companions

Dogs may have earned the title “man’s best friend” because of how good they are at interacting with people. Those social skills may be present shortly after birth rather than learned, a new study by University of Arizona researchers suggests.

Published in the journal Current Biology, the study also finds that genetics may help explain why some dogs perform better than others on social tasks such as following pointing gestures.

“There was evidence that these sorts of social skills were present in adulthood, but here we find evidence that puppies – sort of like humans – are biologically prepared to interact in these social ways,” said lead study author Emily Bray, a postdoctoral research associate in the UArizona School of Anthropology in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Bray has spent the last decade conducting research with dogs in collaboration with California-based Canine Companions, a service dog organization serving clients with physical disabilities. She and her colleagues hope to better understand how dogs think and solve problems, which could have implications for identifying dogs that would make good service animals.

To better understand biology’s role in dogs’ abilities to communicate with humans, Bray and her collaborators looked at how 375 of the organization’s 8-week-old budding service dogs, which had little previous one-on-one interaction with humans, performed on a series of tasks designed to measure their social communication skills.

Because the researchers knew each puppy’s pedigree – and therefore how related they were to one another – they were also able to look at whether inherited genes explain differences in dogs’ abilities. Genetics explained more than 40% of the variation in puppies’ abilities to follow human pointing gestures, as well as variation in how long they engaged in eye contact with humans during a task designed to measure their interest in people.

“People have been interested in dogs’ abilities to do these kinds of things for a long time, but there’s always been debate about to what extent is this really in the biology of dogs, versus something they learn by palling around with humans,” said study co-author Evan MacLean, assistant professor of anthropology and director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona. “We found that there’s definitely a strong genetic component, and they’re definitely doing it from the get-go.”

At the time of the study, the puppies were still living with their littermates and had not yet been sent to live with a volunteer puppy raiser. Therefore, their interactions with humans had been limited, making it unlikely that the behaviors were learned, Bray said.

The researchers engaged the puppies in four different tasks. In one task, an experimenter hid a treat beneath one of two overturned cups and pointed to it to see if the puppy could follow the gesture. To ensure that the pups weren’t just following their noses, a treat was also taped to the inside of both cups. In another version of the task, puppies watched as the researchers placed a yellow block next to the correct cup, instead of pointing, to indicate where the puppy should look for the food.

The other two tasks were designed to observe puppies’ propensity to look at human faces. In one task, the researchers spoke to the puppies in “dog-directed speech,” reciting a script in the sort of high-pitched voice people sometimes use when talking to a baby. They then measured how long the puppy held a gaze with the human. In the final task – a so-called “unsolvable task” – researchers sealed a treat inside a closed container and presented it to the puppy, then measured how often the puppy looked to the human for help opening the container.

While many of the puppies were responsive to humans’ physical and verbal cues, very few looked to humans for help with the unsolvable task. That suggests that while puppies may be born knowing how to respond to human-initiated communication, the ability to initiate communication on their own may come later.   

“In studies of adult dogs, we find a tendency for them to look to humans for help, especially when you look at adult dogs versus wolves. Wolves are going to persist and try to independently problem solve, whereas dogs are more likely to look to the social partner for help,” Bray said. “In puppies, this help-seeking behavior didn’t really seem to be part of their repertoire yet.”

In many ways, that mirrors what we see in human children’s development, Bray said.

“If you think about language learning, children can understand what we’re saying to them before they can physically produce the words,” she said. “It’s potentially a similar story with puppies; they are understanding what is being socially conveyed to them, but the production of it on their end is probably going to take a little bit longer, developmentally.”

MacLean said the next step will be to see if researchers can identify the specific genes that may contribute to dogs’ capacity to communicate with humans.

“We’ve done some previous studies that show that dogs who tend to be successful as service dogs respond to people in different ways than dogs who aren’t successful,” MacLean said. “If you could identify a potential genetic basis for these traits, you might be able to predict, even before the puppy is born, if they are part of a litter that would be good service dog candidates, because they have the right genetic background. It’s a long way down the road, but there is potential to start applying this.”

Source: University of Arizona

Long-term stress in dogs linked to the owner-dog relationship

The relationship a dog has with its owner is related to its stress level. This is the conclusion of a study from Linköping University. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also suggest that the link between stress and the owner’s personality traits differs between dog breeds.

Researchers at Linköping University study how the interaction between dog and human is connected to the wellbeing of the animal. Photo credit: Nataba

Researchers at Linköping University have investigated whether the stress levels of dogs are affected by the people they live with. Stress levels for the past several months can be determined in both dogs and humans by measuring the levels of stress hormone stored in hairs as they grow.

The researchers have collected hair from both dogs and owners, and measured levels of cortisol, the most important stress hormone, in them. They were interested in whether there are differences between different dog breeds. Breeding has led to the genetic selection of different breeds for different tasks. The study included 18 dogs from breeds that have been bred for independent hunting, such as the Swedish elkhound, the Norwegian elkhound, and the dachshund. A second group included dogs from ancient breeds that are genetically more closely related to the wolf than other breeds. This group comprised 24 dogs from breeds such as the shiba inu, the basenji, and the Siberian husky. All owners completed questionnaires about their own personality and that of their dog. They also answered questions about their relationship with their dog, including such matters as how the owner experienced the interaction with the dog, degree of emotional attachment to the dog, and the extent to which owning a dog gave rise to problems.

“The results showed that the owner’s personality affected the stress level in hunting dogs, but interestingly enough not in the ancient dogs. In addition, the relationship between the dog and the owner affected the stress level of the dogs. This was the case for both types, but the result was less marked for the ancient dogs”, says Lina Roth, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM).

In a previous study, the same researchers had seen that dogs from herding breeds, which have been genetically selected for their ability to collaborate with humans, mirror the long-term stress level of their owner. When the researchers now added information about the relationship of the herding dogs to their owner, it became clear that the relationship was significant for the long-term stress levels also in these dogs.

The researchers conclude that long-term stress is influenced least strongly by the owner and their relationship to the dog for ancient breeds. The hunting dogs show clear links between both the personality of the owner and their relationship to the dog, but it is only herding dogs that demonstrate the unique synchronisation with the long-term stress in the owner.

“We believe that the synchronisation of stress is a consequence of breeding the herding dogs for collaboration with people, while the relationship to the owner and the owner’s personality are important parameters that influence the synchronisation of stress levels”, says Lina Roth.

Parts of the study have received financial support from the Sveland Foundation.

Translation by George Farrants.

The article: Long term stress in dogs is related to the human-dog relationship and personality traits”, Amanda Höglin, Enya Van Poucke, Rebecca Katajamaa, Per Jensen, Elvar Theodorsson and Lina S. V. Roth, (2021), Scientific Reports, published online 21 April 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88201-y

Source: Linköping University

Dogs’ ag­gress­ive be­ha­viour to­wards humans is of­ten caused by fear

A study encompassing some 9,000 dogs conducted at the University of Helsinki demonstrated that fearfulness, age, breed, the company of other members of the same species and the owner’s previous experience of dogs were associated with aggressive behaviour towards humans. The findings can potentially provide tools for understanding and preventing aggressive behaviour.

Photo by Shutterstock

Aggressive behaviour in dogs can include growling, barking, snapping and biting. These gestures are part of normal canine communication, and they also occur in non-aggressive situations, such as during play. However, aggressive behaviour can be excessive, making the dog a health threat to both humans and other animals.

“Understanding the factors underlying aggressive behaviour is important. In what kinds of circumstances does aggressive behaviour occur and what is the dog’s motive for such behaviour? In normal family dogs, aggressive behaviour is often unwanted, while some dogs with official duties are expected to have the capacity for aggressiveness. At the same time, aggressiveness can be caused by welfare issues, such as chronic pain,” says doctoral researcher Salla Mikkola from the University of Helsinki.

The canine gene research group active at the University of Helsinki surveyed connections between aggressive behaviour and several potential risk factors with the help of a dataset encompassing more than 9,000 dogs, a sample from a larger dataset from a behavioural survey dataset of nearly 14,000 dogs. The study investigated aggressiveness towards both dog owners and unfamiliar human beings. Dogs were classified as aggressive if they growled often and/or had attempted to snap at or bite a human at least occasionally in the situations described in the survey.

“Dogs’ fearfulness had a strong link to aggressive behaviour, with fearful dogs many times more likely to behave aggressively. Moreover, older dogs were more likely to behave aggressively than younger ones. One of the potential reasons behind this can be pain caused by a disease. Impairment of the senses can contribute to making it more difficult to notice people approaching, and dogs’ responses to sudden situations can be aggressive,” Mikkola adds.

Small dogs are more likely to behave aggressively than mid-sized and large dogs, but their aggressive behaviour is not necessarily considered as threatening as that of large dogs. Consequently, their behaviour is not addressed. In addition, the study found that male dogs were more aggressive than females. However, sterilisation had no effect on aggressive behaviour.

The first dogs of dog owners were more likely to behave aggressively compared to dogs whose owners had previous experience of dogs. The study also indicated that dogs that spend time in the company of other dogs behave less aggressively than dogs that live without other dogs in the household. While this phenomenon has been observed in prior research, the causality remains unclear.

“In the case of dogs prone to aggressive behaviour in the first instance, owners may not necessarily wish to take a risk of conflicts with another dog,” Mikkola muses.

Sig­ni­fic­ant dif­fer­en­ces in ag­gress­ive be­ha­viour between breeds

Differences in the aggressiveness of various dog breeds can point to a genetic cause.

“In our dataset, the Long-Haired Collie, Poodle (Toy, Miniature and Medium) and Miniature Schnauzer were the most aggressive breeds. Previous studies have shown fearfulness in Long-Haired Collies, while the other two breeds have been found to express aggressive behaviour towards unfamiliar people. As expected, the popular breeds of Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever were at the other extreme. People who are considering getting a dog should familiarise themselves with the background and needs of the breed. As for breeders, they should also pay attention to the character of dam candidates, since both fearfulness and aggressive behaviour are inherited,” says Professor Hannes Lohi from the University of Helsinki.

This study is part of a wider Academy of Finland project that investigates the epidemiology of canine behaviour, as well as related environmental and genetic factors and metabolic changes. Professor Hannes Lohi’s research group conducts research at the Faculties of Veterinary Medicine and Medicine, University of Helsinki, as well as the Folkhälsan Research Center. This study was supported, among others, by the Academy of Finland (308887), the European Research Council (Starting Grant), the ERA-NET NEURON funding platform and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation.

Ori­ginal art­icle:

Salla Mikkola, Milla Salonen, Jenni Puurunen, Emma Hakanen, Sini Sulkama, César Araujo, Hannes Lohi. Aggressive behaviour is affected by demographic, environmental and behavioural factors in purebred dogs. Scientific Reports. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-88793-5

Source: University of Helsinki