Category Archives: research

A dog’s life in families with children

Note from DoggyMom:

This research reinforces my advice to families with young children and dogs:  understand your dog’s non-verbal and verbal cues so you can pick up when they are stressed, going over threshold, and need time away from the children.

I have several clients on my books currently who are expecting their first child in 2018; this is a subject that we discuss on a regular basis.


Millions of families know how rewarding and enjoyable dog ownership can be – but now a new study has for the first time examined the quality of life for a pet dog owned by a family with children.

happy dog

Photo courtesy of University of Lincoln

There is now extensive scientific research showing the many benefits that pet dogs bring to families, including improved family functioning and wellbeing for those with children with neuro-developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and ADHD. For all children, dogs can provide valuable companionship, encourage exercise and family activities, and teach them about responsibilities.

Until now, little attention has been paid to how living with children affects quality of life for pet dogs (those not trained as assistance dogs). Funded by Dogs Trust – the UK’s largest dog welfare charity – a team of animal behaviour and welfare specialists from the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences are examining this question.

Published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, their latest research involved interviewing parents who own a dog – half with typically developing children and half with children with Autism or ADHD, with all children aged between four and 10 years old.

The research revealed that the child-dog relationship has a number of beneficial aspects for the dog, including a sense of routine, more time for fun and play, and companionship.

Dr Sophie Hall, a Research Fellow specialising in human-animal interactions at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, said: “Our study involved 36 dog-owning families, who all highlighted some key benefits that their pet dogs receive from living with young children.

“For example children provide close companionship for pets as well as imposing a sense of predictable and consistent routine in the home, in terms of feed and walk times, which we know is extremely important for a dog’s wellbeing. Of course, children also play regularly with their pet dogs and activities such as throwing a ball and doing assault courses represent really valuable opportunities for exercise and positive mental stimulation.

“The study also highlighted some potentially negative impacts on the pet, which it is important for parents to be aware of when bringing a dog into a home with children.”

The negative impact could be brought on by children having tantrums, with parents observing their dogs running away, shaking or hiding on some of these occasions. Parents also observed a change in their dog’s behaviour if it became ‘over stimulated’ – such as barking, becoming agitated, or seeking a place to escape – when their children were very noisy.

Other events that could cause potential distress for dogs in homes with children could include rough play or accidents such as collisions with toys or pulling the dog’s tail.

The study suggests that in a home with small children, it is important for dogs to have a ‘safe haven’ to escape to if needed, and for parents to understand both the obvious and more subtle signs of distress in their pets and to teach their family about these signs. For example, pet dogs often have wide eyes or lick their lips when they are mildly stressed.

Dr Hall added: “The positive and negative aspects of the child-dog relationship were similar in families with typically developing children and in those with children with a neuro-developmental disorder.

“As such, providing they are aware of key risk events and how to cope with these, and ensuring adequate supervision, parents should not necessarily be dissuaded from acquiring a pet dog because of their child’s developmental issues. As we know, pet dogs can really enrich family life and support child development and wellbeing.”

The results of this initial study are now being developed further by the team at the University of Lincoln with support from Dogs Trust.

The paper is freely available to view online at PLOS ONE.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

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Dogs get the Hollywood treatment to make animal animations more realistic

Researchers are creating a library of movement data from different dog breeds, to make animal animations in films and video games more realistic.

Hollywood greyhound

Motion data from the dogs will help create more realistic animal animations for games and films

Films such as the Planet of the Apes used motion capture techniques extensively to transform their human actors into apes, however this process doesn’t work well for true four-legged animals.

Now computer scientists from the Centre for Analysis of Motion, Entertainment Research & Applications (CAMERA), at the University of Bath, are looking to automate this process.

Two legs to four

They are developing a new technique that will be able to use the movements of a two-legged human actor to drive a four-legged animal character, to make it move in a more realistic way.

The team has invited canine residents from local neighbours Bath Cats and Dogs Home to their studio to help collect the motion capture data.

Head of Studio at CAMERA, Martin Parsons, said: “At the moment, actors have to walk around on all fours, and the computer software changes them into an animal.

“What we want to do is to look at the movements of the human actor and then use a kind of translator to look at a library of real animal data to make the character on the screen move in a realistic way.

“It works a bit like a puppeteer, with the actor using their whole body to drive the animal avatar.

“We’re really grateful to the Bath Cats and Dogs Home for letting us work with their dogs.

“It is fantastic to be working with an important local charity just down the road from the University and we’re delighted to be making a donation to contribute towards the valuable work they do.”

Hollywood treatment

Cameras on the greyhound

Cameras in the studio detect light reflected from markers worn by the dogs, so researchers can capture the movement accurately

The dogs will be wearing coats with reflective markers fixed onto them. Infrared light hitting the reflective markers is sensed by special cameras that are placed around the edge of the studio, which can then record the 3D position of the marker. This information can be used to reconstruct the movement of the dogs on the computer screen.

The dogs will play on an agility course set up in the studio with their Animal Carers from the Home and an animal behavioural assistant on hand to help them interact, overcome any camera shyness and of course have fun.

Simon Lynn, Head of Animal Operations at Bath Cats and Dogs Home, said: “This is such an innovative project for our dogs and team to be a part of. It will be so beneficial for the dogs taking part as it is great socialisation for them – meeting new people and seeing different sights and sounds.

“Kennel life can become repetitive so we’re always looking at ways to add enrichment to our dog’s lives whilst they’re waiting to be adopted and a trip to the CAMERA team at the University of Bath definitely fits the bill.

“Their carers are with them at all times so we can check they’re relaxed and happy but we’re sure they are going to love it. Not only that but the donation towards Bath Cats and Dogs Home’s work will help these dogs find new homes and help us to save many other unwanted animals in our area.”

They will be using lots of different breeds to study the different gaits of the animals, and hope to expand the project to use cats next year.

As well as informing the research at CAMERA, the data collected during the shoots will be used as part of collaborative research and developments projects with industrial partners to drive the next generation of tools and processes across the visual effects and games industries.

CAMERA is a £5 million research centre funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) at the University of Bath. CAMERA will create advanced motion tracking technologies for use in the entertainment industry, to enhance training and athlete performance, and to help develop assistive technologies.

Source:  University of Bath press release

The dog on the editorial board

Read through my blog categories and you’ll notice that the research category is one of the largest.  What can I say?  I’m a bit of a science geek.  I trained and worked in environmental science for over 20 years and so I understand the value of research – it creates new knowledge and underpins new developments that can help us and our dogs.

But research comes at a price – and that’s not just the cost of doing the research.  Research quality is often judged on the basis of whether or not the research has been peer-reviewed.  And like any system, the peer review  and publishing system has become a money-maker for some journals.  Academic staff are judged on their production of papers which show not only their name, but also the name of their employing institution.  When I worked at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, this system was commonly referred to as ‘publish or perish.’

There are journals that scam researchers into paying to be published when there is no real peer behind the peer review and the journal is one that may look reputable, but isn’t.

peer reviewer

Professor Mike Daube of Curtin University in Australia thought it would be a good idea to challenge the system in a tongue-in-cheek way.  He offered the services of his Staffordshire terrier, Olivia Doll, as a peer reviewer with expertise in subjects like “avian propinquity to canines in metropolitan suburbs” and “the benefits of abdominal massage for medium-sized canines.”

Olivia was approached to peer review at least one article.    The Global Journal of Addiction & Rehabilitation Medicine appointed her as an Associate Editor (no job interview required) and a journal called Psychiatry and Mental Disorders listed her as a member of its editorial board.  At last count, Olivia served on the editorial board of seven journals.

I hope I’m a bit more discerning in selecting the dog-related research that I share on this blog; and wherever possible I include a link to the original source to respect copyright.

Source:  Science Magazine

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

A chicken-flavored electrolyte drink could help sniffer dogs stay hydrated

The first comparison of three common hydration methods for sniffer dogs shows that while all are effective, dogs drink more and are more hydrated when given a chicken-flavored electrolyte drink compared to plain water or when injected with electrolytes under the skin. The study, published in open-access journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, also shows that the dogs did not suffer from a buildup of electrolytes from the drink, suggesting that electrolyte drinks are a safe hydration alternative for sniffer dogs, who are at risk of heat stroke in hot weather.

Working dogs, such as search and rescue dogs or police dogs, are crucial assistants when authorities respond to disasters or check for contraband at border crossings. These dogs often work in challenging environments, and can sometimes exert themselves to the point of exhaustion and heat stroke. In fact, hot weather can be dangerous for working dogs, as dogs don’t sweat much and rely on panting to cool themselves, meaning they can overheat easily.

detection dog

The risk of heat stroke increases with dehydration, so one effective way to help working dogs stay safe is to keep them hydrated. However, there are different ways to do this. “People use different techniques to hydrate working dogs,” says Cynthia Otto of the University of Pennsylvania, who was involved in the study. “Dog handlers disagree about the most effective method, and since there was no data on the safety or effectiveness of each technique, we wanted to provide some clarity.”

The classic hydration technique is to provide free access to plain drinking water. A second technique involves delivering water and electrolytes through a needle under the skin, which is known as subcutaneous hydration. Drinks containing electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are a third option, but these are controversial. Such drinks make sense as a rehydration aid for humans, as we lose electrolytes when we sweat. However dogs sweat very little, leading critics to say that the drinks could cause an unhealthy buildup of electrolytes in dogs.

The research team investigated these three common hydration strategies in a group of Border Patrol sniffer dogs who inspect vehicles at the Texas border, during the hot summer months. The team took a variety of measurements for each dog, including their hydration levels, fluid intake and work performance.

Happily, all three hydration strategies appear to be effective, and the dogs showed similar behavior, body temperature, and work performance regardless of the way they were hydrated. “In this controlled setting, all the hydration techniques were safe and effective,” says Otto.

However, dogs receiving a chicken-flavored electrolyte drink drank significantly more fluid and had greater hydration levels. Interestingly, these dogs did not suffer from a buildup of sodium, a component of electrolyte drinks that could have negative effects in the body in large quantities. The dogs who drank electrolytes excreted the sodium in their urine, meaning their blood levels remained normal. Overall, the dogs handled the electrolytes well, suggesting they are a safe and effective hydration method.

These results surprised the researchers, as a previous study had reported that dogs who were offered a non-flavored electrolyte drink, drank very little of it. The chicken flavoring may have been key, making the dogs think they were having a tasty treat, but the team will need to investigate this further.

“If a dog is reluctant to drink, then a highly palatable flavored electrolyte solution may give them a boost,” says Otto. “However, these are healthy dogs in a controlled environment, and we don’t know if all electrolyte or flavoring approaches are created equal, so we will need to do further work.”

Journal reference:  Cynthia M. Otto, Elizabeth Hare, Jess L. Nord, Shannon M. Palermo, Kathleen M. Kelsey, Tracy A. Darling, Kasey Schmidt, Destiny Coleman. Evaluation of Three Hydration Strategies in Detection Dogs Working in a Hot Environment. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 2017; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2017.00174

Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or to other causes during the 12-year follow-up.

A total of more than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease in 2001 were included in the researchers’ study linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers. The results are being published for the first time in Scientific Reports. The goal was to determine whether dog owners had a different risk of cardiovascular disease and death than non-dog owners.

An elderly couple

An elderly couple walks their dalmatian dog. Credit: © Myroslava / Fotolia

“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household. Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households. The results showed that single dog owners had a 33% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of myocardial infarction during follow-up compared to single non-owners. Another interesting finding was that owners to dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected,” says Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and PhD student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

In Sweden, every person carries a unique personal identity number. Every visit to a hospital is recorded in national databases, accessible to researchers after de-identification of data. Even dog ownership registration has been mandatory in Sweden since 2001. These scientists studied whether being registered as a dog-owner was associated with later diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or death from any cause.

“These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease. We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results. Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner,” says Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

“There might also be differences between owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, which could have influenced our results, such as those people choosing to get a dog tending to be more active and of better health. Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalisable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership,” says Tove Fall.

The study was conducted by researchers at Uppsala University, Karolinska Institutet, Stanford University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Source:  Uppsala University media release

 

Dogs May Protect Against Childhood Eczema and Asthma

Two studies presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting show there may be even more reason to love your dog.

The first study shows babies born in a home with a dog during pregnancy receive protection from allergic eczema, though the protective effect goes down by age 10. A second study shows dogs may provide a protective effect against asthma, even in children allergic to dogs.

pregnant woman with dog

“Although eczema is commonly found in infants, many people don’t know there is a progression from eczema to food allergies to nasal allergies and asthma,” says allergist Gagandeep Cheema, MD, ACAAI member and lead author. “We wanted to know if there was a protective effect in having a dog that slowed down that progress.”

The study examined mother-child pairs exposed to a dog. “Exposure” was defined as keeping one or more dogs indoors for at least one hour daily. “We found a mother’s exposure to dogs before the birth of a child is significantly associated with lower risk of eczema by age 2 years, but this protective effect goes down at age 10,” says allergist Edward M. Zoratti, MD, ACAAI member and a study co-author.

In the second study, researchers examined the effects of two different types of dog exposure on children with asthma in Baltimore. The first type was the protein, or allergen, that affects children who are allergic to dogs. The second type were elements, such as bacteria, that a dog might carry. The researchers concluded that exposure to the elements that dogs carry may have a protective effect against asthma symptoms. But exposure to the allergen may result in more asthma symptoms among urban children with dog allergy.

“Among urban children with asthma who were allergic to dogs, spending time with a dog might be associated with two different effects,” says Po-Yang Tsou, MD, MPH, lead author. “There seems to be a protective effect on asthma of non-allergen dog-associated exposures, and a harmful effect of allergen exposure.” The researchers believe that a child’s contact with factors other than dog allergen, such as bacteria or other unknown factors, may provide the protective effect. “However, dog allergen exposure remains a major concern for kids who are allergic to dogs,” says Dr. Tsou.

People with dog allergy should work with their allergist to reduce exposure. ACAAI has additional tips for those with dog allergy who keep a dog in the home:

  • Keep your dog out of your bedroom and restrict it to only a few rooms. But know that keeping the dog in only one room will not limit the allergens to that room.
  • After you pet or hug your dog, wash your hands with soap and water.
  • High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) cleaners that run continuously in a bedroom or living room can reduce allergen levels over time. Regular use of a high-efficiency vacuum cleaner or a central vacuum can also reduce allergen levels.
  • Giving your dog a bath at least once a week can reduce airborne dog allergen.

Abstract Title: Effect of Prenatal Dog Exposure on Eczema Development in Early and Late Childhood.
Author: Gagandeep Cheema, MD

Abstract Title:  The Effect of Animal Exposures on Asthma Morbidity Independent of Allergen Among Inner-city Asthmatic Children.
Author: Po-Yang Tsou, MD, MPH

 

Source:  American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology media release

Dogs are more expressive when someone is looking

Dogs produce more facial expressions when humans are looking at them, according to new research from the University of Portsmouth.

Scientists at the University’s Dog Cognition Centre are the first to find clear evidence dogs move their faces in direct response to human attention. Dogs don’t respond with more facial expressions upon seeing tasty food, suggesting that dogs produce facial expressions to communicate and not just because they are excited.

Brow raising, which makes the eyes look bigger – so-called puppy dog eyes – was the dogs’ most commonly used expression in this research.

Puppy dog eyes

Puppy dog eyes

Dog cognition expert Dr Juliane Kaminski led the study, which is published in Scientific Reports.

She said: “We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention state of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited. In our study they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing food treats did not have the same effect.

“The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans’ attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays.”KAMINSKI-dog-eyes

Most mammals produce facial expressions – such expressions are considered an important part of an animal’s behavioural repertoire – but it has long been assumed that animal facial expressions, including some human facial expressions, are involuntary and dependent on an individual’s emotional state rather than being flexible responses to the audience

Dr Kaminski said it’s possible dogs’ facial expressions have changed as part of the process of becoming domesticated.

The researchers studied 24 dogs of various breeds, aged one to 12. All were family pets. Each dog was tied by a lead a metre away from a person, and the dogs’ faces were filmed throughout a range of exchanges, from the person being oriented towards the dog, to being distracted and with her body turned away from the dog.

The dogs’ facial expressions were measured using DogFACS, an anatomically based coding system which gives a reliable and standardised measurement of facial changes linked to underlying muscle movement.

Co-author and facial expression expert Professor Bridget Waller said: “DogFACS captures movements from all the different muscles in the canine face, many of which are capable of producing very subtle and brief facial movements.

“FACS systems were originally developed for humans, but have since been modified for use with other animals such as primates and dogs.”

Dr Kaminski said: “Domestic dogs have a unique history – they have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years and during that time selection pressures seem to have acted on dogs’ ability to communicate with us.

“We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is – in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed or they had their back turned. In another study, we found dogs follow the gaze of a human if the human first establishes eye contact with the dog, so the dog knows the gaze-shift is directed at them.

“This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition. We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention.”

It is impossible yet to say whether dogs’ behaviour in this and other studies is evidence dogs have flexible understanding of another individual’s perspective – that they truly understand another individual’s mental state – or if their behaviour is hardwired, or even a learned response to seeing the face or eyes of another individual.

Puppy dog eyes is a facial expression which, in humans, closely resembles sadness. This potentially makes humans more empathetic towards the dog who uses the expression, or because it makes the dog’s eyes appear bigger and more infant-like – potentially tapping into humans’ preference for child-like characteristics. Regardless of the mechanism, humans are particularly responsive to that expression in dogs.

Previous research has shown some apes can also modify their facial expressions depending on their audience, but until now, dogs’ abilities to do use facial expression to communicate with humans hadn’t been systematically examined.

Source:   University of Portsmouth news

Link to publication