An outbreak of vomiting among dogs has been traced back to a type of animal coronavirus by researchers.
Vets across the country began reporting cases of acute onset prolific vomiting in 2019/20.
The Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network (SAVSNet) at the University of Liverpool asked vets for help in collecting data, with 1,258 case questionnaires from vets and owners plus 95 clinical samples from 71 animals.
Based on this data, a team from the universities of Liverpool, Lancaster, Manchester and Bristol identified the outbreak as most likely to be a variant of canine enteric coronavirus (CeCoV).
Canine coronavirus only affects dogs and is not the same as Sars Cov2 which causes Covid in humans. Researchers found no evidence of any similar illness in people.
The team are working on a project funded by the Dogs Trust called SAVSNet-Agile which aims to develop a national surveillance system for canine health.
Dr Barry Rowlingson from Lancaster University said: “We’ve developed complex statistical models to look for disease outbreaks. Being able to rapidly detect increased incidence, without triggering a false alarm from a natural random variation, is the key problem here. Early detection is crucial to early treatment and enhanced monitoring.
“The SAVSNet Agile project aims to feed information back to local veterinary practices so they can be alert to any new outbreaks.”
Vets began to suspect an infectious cause because vomiting was more frequent than is typical for canine gastroenteritis.
SAVSNet researchers found a specific and significant increase in the number of dogs recorded as exhibiting gastroenteric signs between late December 2019 and March 2020.
As well as reusing health records, SAVSNet also collected questionnaire data from vets and owners caring for affected animals, as well as healthy controls. This showed male dogs were more at risk than females.
Charlotte Appleton, SAVSNet Agile PhD Student, said: “Obtaining such important results at an early stage of my PhD is a wonderful achievement and will hopefully provide a pathway of higher visibility into the health of domestic animals.”
Many long for a return to a post-pandemic “normal,” which, for some, may entail concerts, travel, and large gatherings. But how to keep safe amid these potential public health risks?
One possibility, according to a new study, is dogs. A proof-of-concept investigation published in the journal PLOS ONE suggests that specially trained detection dogs can sniff out COVID-19-positive samples with 96% accuracy.
“This is not a simple thing we’re asking the dogs to do,” says Cynthia Otto, senior author on the work and director of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Working Dog Center. “Dogs have to be specific about detecting the odor of the infection, but they also have to generalize across the background odors of different people: men and women, adults and children, people of different ethnicities and geographies.”
In this initial study, researchers found the dogs could do that, but training must proceed with great care and, ideally, with many samples. The findings are feeding into another investigation that Otto and colleagues have dubbed “the T-shirt study,” in which dogs are being trained to discriminate between the odors of COVID-positive, -negative, and -vaccinated individuals based on the volatile organic compounds they leave on a T-shirt worn overnight.
“We are collecting many more samples in that study—hundreds or more—than we did in this first one, and are hopeful that will get the dogs closer to what they might encounter in a community setting,” Otto says.
Through the Working Dog Center, she and colleagues have had years of experience training medical-detection dogs, including those that can identify ovarian cancer. When the pandemic arrived, they leveraged that expertise to design a coronavirus detection study.
Collaborators Ian Frank from the Perelman School of Medicine and Audrey Odom John from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia provided SARS-CoV-2-positive samples from adult and pediatric patients, as well as samples from patients who had tested negative to serve as experimental controls. Otto worked closely with coronavirus expert Susan Weiss of Penn Medicine to process some of the samples in Penn’s Biosafety Level 2+ laboratory to inactivate the virus so they would be safe for the dogs to sniff.
Because of workplace shutdowns due to the pandemic, instead of working with dogs at Penn Vet, the researchers partnered with Pat Nolan, a trainer with a facility in Maryland.
Eight Labrador retrievers and a Belgian Malinois that had not done medical-detection work before were used in the study. First the researchers trained them to recognize a distinctive scent, a synthetic substance known as universal detection compound (UDC). They used a “scent wheel” in which each of 12 ports is loaded with a different sample and rewarded the dog when it responded to the port containing UDC.
When the dogs consistently responded to the UDC scent, the team began training them to respond to urine samples from SARS-CoV-2 positive patients and discern positive from negative samples. The negative samples were subjected to the same inactivation treatment—either heat inactivation or detergent inactivation—as the positive samples.
Processing the results with assistance from Penn criminologist and statistician Richard Berk, the team found that after three weeks of training all nine dogs were able to readily identify SARS-CoV-2 positive samples, with 96% accuracy on average. Their sensitivity, or ability to avoid false negatives, however, was lower, in part, the researchers believe, because of the stringent criteria of the study: If the dogs walked by a port containing a positive sample even once without responding, that was labeled a “miss.”
The researchers ran into many complicating factors in their study, such as the tendency of the dogs to discriminate between the actual patients, rather than between their SARS-CoV-2 infection status. The dogs were also thrown off by a sample from a patient that tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 but who had recently recovered from COVID-19.
“The dogs kept responding to that sample, and we kept telling them no,” Otto says. “But obviously there was still something in the patient’s sample that the dogs were keying in on.”
Major lessons learned from the study, besides confirming that there is a SARS-CoV-2 odor that dogs can detect, were that future training should entail large numbers of diverse samples and that dogs should not be trained repeatedly on the samples from any single individual.
“That’s something we can carry forward not only in our COVID training but in our cancer work and any other medical detection efforts we do,” says Otto. “We want to make sure that we have all the steps in place to ensure quality, reproducibility, validity, and safety for when we operationalize our dogs and have them start screening in community settings.”
Cynthia M. Otto is a professor of working dog sciences & sports medicine and director of the Working Dog Center in the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.
Dog bones dated between circa 4200 and 4000 BCE discovered
A team of archaeologists in north-west the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has uncovered the earliest evidence of dog domestication by the region’s ancient inhabitants.
The discovery came from one of the projects in the large-scale archaeological surveys and excavations of the region commissioned by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).
The researchers found the dog’s bones in a burial site that is one of the earliest monumental tombs identified in the Arabian Peninsula, roughly contemporary with such tombs already dated further north in the Levant.
Evidence shows the earliest use of the tomb was circa 4300 BCE and received burials for at least 600 years during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic era – an indication that the inhabitants may have had a shared memory of people, places and the connection between them.
“What we are finding will revolutionize how we view periods like the Neolithic in the Middle East. To have that kind of memory, that people may have known for hundreds of years where their kin were buried – that’s unheard of in this period in this region,” said Melissa Kennedy, assistant director of the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (AAKSAU) – AlUla project.
“AlUla is at a point where we’re going to begin to realize how important it was to the development of mankind across the Middle East,” said the AAKSAU director, Hugh Thomas.
This is the earliest evidence of a domesticated dog in the Arabian Peninsula by a margin of circa 1,000 years.
The project team, with Saudi and international members, focused its efforts on two above-ground burial sites dating to the 5th and 4th millennia BCE and located 130 kilometers apart, one in volcanic uplands and the other in arid badlands. The sites were above ground, which is unique for that period of Arabian history, and were positioned for maximum visibility.
The research team detected the sites by using satellite imagery and then by aerial photography from a helicopter. Ground fieldwork began in late 2018.
It was in the volcanic uplands site that 26 fragments of a single dog’s bones were found, alongside with bones from 11 humans – six adults, an adolescent and four children.
The dog’s bones showed signs of arthritis, which suggests the animal lived with the humans into its middle or old age.
After assembling the bones, the team then had to determine that they were from a dog and not from a similar animal such as a desert wolf.
The team’s zoo archaeologist, Laura Strolin, was able to show it was indeed a dog by analyzing one bone in particular, from the animal’s left front leg. The breadth of this bone was 21.0 mm, which is in the range of other ancient Middle Eastern dogs. In comparison, the wolves of that time and place had a breadth of 24.7 to 26 mm for the same bone.
The dog’s bones were dated to between circa 4200 and 4000 BCE.
Rock art found in the region indicates that the Neolithic inhabitants used dogs when hunting ibex, and other animals.
The fieldwork uncovered other noteworthy artefacts, including a leaf-shaped mother-of-pearl pendant at the volcanic uplands site and a carnelian bead found at the arid badlands site.
The researchers expect more findings in future as a result of the massive survey from the air and on the ground, and multiple targeted excavations in the AlUla region undertaken by the AAKSAU and other teams, which are operating under the auspices of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). The AAKSAU team is led by researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia.
The researchers note that AlUla is a largely unexplored area located in a part of the world that has a fertile archaeological heritage of recognized global value.
“This article from RCU’s work at AlUla establishes benchmarks. There is much more to come as we reveal the depth and breadth of the area’s archaeological heritage,” said Rebecca Foote, Director of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Research for RCU.
Past surveys have shown that more than 80% of dog owners report observing jealous behaviors from their dogs—vocalizations, agitated behavior, pulling on a leash—when they give attention to other dogs. New research published in the journal Psychological Science supports these observations and finds that dogs also exhibit jealous behaviors when they merely imagine that their owner is interacting with a potential rival, in this case, a highly realistic artificial dog.
“Research has supported what many dog owners firmly believe—dogs exhibit jealous behavior when their human companion interacts with a potential rival,” said Amalia Bastos with the University of Auckland and lead author on the paper. “We wanted to study this behavior more fully to determine if dogs could, like humans, mentally represent a situation that evoked jealousy.”
Dogs appear to be one of the few species that might display jealous behaviors in ways similar to a human child showing jealousy when their mother gives affection to another child. In humans, jealousy is closely linked with self-awareness, which is one reason animal-cognition researchers are so interested in studying jealousy and other secondary emotions in animals.
To test how and when dogs display jealous behavior, the researchers presented 18 dogs with situations where they could imagine a social interaction between their human companion and either a realistic fake dog or a fleece cylinder. The fake dog served as a potential rival for attention while the cylinder served as a control.
In the experiment, the dogs observed the fake-dog rival positioned next to their owner. A barrier was then placed between the dog and the potential rival obscuring them from view. Despite blocking the line of sight, the dogs forcefully attempted to reach their owners when they appeared to stroke the rival fake dog behind the barrier. In a repeat experiment using a fleece cylinder rather than a fake dog, the dogs pulled on the lead with far less force.
Through their study, Bastos and her colleagues found that dogs showed three human-like signatures of jealous behavior. Jealous behavior emerged only when their owner interacted with a perceived social rival and not an inanimate object; occurred as a consequence of that interaction and not due to a potential rival’s mere presence; and emerged even for an out-of-sight interaction between their owner and a social rival.
“These results support claims that dogs display jealous behavior. They also provide the first evidence that dogs can mentally represent jealousy-inducing social interactions,” said Bastos. “Previous studies confounded jealous behavior with play, interest, or aggression, because they never tested the dogs’ reactions to the owner and the social rival being present in the same room but not interacting.”
“There is still plenty of work to do to establish the extent of the similarities between the minds of humans and other animals, especially in terms of understanding the nature of nonhuman animals’ emotional experiences,” said Bastos. “It is too early to say whether dogs experience jealousy as we do, but it is now clear that they react to jealousy-inducing situations, even if these occur out-of-sight.”
# # #
Reference: Bastos, A. P. M., Neilands, P. D., Hassal, R. S., Lim, B. C., & Taylor A. H. (2021). Dogs mentally represent jealousy-inducing social interactions. Psychological Science. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797620979149
The lists of Earth’s endangered animals and plants are getting increasingly longer. But in order to stop this trend, we require more information. It is often difficult to find out exactly where the individual species can be found and how their populations are developing. According to a new overview study published in Methods in Ecology and Evolution by Dr Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and her colleagues, specially trained detection dogs can be indispensable in such cases. With the help of these dogs, the species sought can usually be found faster and more effectively than with other methods.
How many otters are there still in Germany? What habitats do threatened crested newts use on land? And do urban hedgehogs have to deal with different problems than their rural conspecifics? Anyone wishing to effectively protect a species should be able to answer such questions. But this is by no means easy. Many animals remain in hiding – even their droppings can be difficult to find. Thus, it is often difficult to know exactly whether and at what rate their stocks are shrinking or where the remaining survivors are. “We urgently need to know more about these species”, says Dr Annegret Grimm-Seyfarth of the UFZ. “But first we must find them”.
Remote sensing with aerial and satellite images is useful for mapping open landscapes or detecting larger animals. But when it comes to densely overgrown areas and smaller, hidden species, experts often carry out the search themselves or work with cameras, hair traps, and similar tricks. Other techniques (e.g. analysing trace amounts of DNA) have also been attracting increasing interest worldwide. The use of specially trained detection dogs can also be particularly useful. After all, a dog’s sense of smell is virtually predestined to find the smallest traces of the target species. While humans have about six million olfactory receptors, a herding dog has more than 200 million – and a beagle even 300 million. This means that dogs can perceive an extremely wide range of odours, often in the tiniest concentrations. For example, they can easily find animal droppings in a forest or plants, mushrooms, and animals underground.
At the UFZ, the detection dogs have already proven their abilities in several research projects. “In order to be able to better assess their potential, we wanted to know how detection dogs have previously been used around the world”, says Grimm-Seyfarth. Together with UFZ employee Wiebke Harms and Dr Anne Berger from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, she has evaluated 1220 publications documenting the use of such search dogs in more than 60 countries. “We were particularly interested in which breeds of dogs were used, which species they were supposed to track down, and how well they performed”, explains the researcher.
The longest experience with the detection dogs is in New Zealand, where dogs have been tracking threatened birds since around 1890. Since then, the idea has been implemented in many other regions, especially in North America and Europe. The studies analysed focused mainly on finding animals as well as their habitats and tracks. Dogs have been used to find more than 400 different animal species – most commonly mammals from the cat, dog, bear, and marten families. They have also been used to find birds and insects as well as 42 different plant species, 26 fungal species, and 6 bacterial species. These are not always endangered species. The dogs sometimes also sniff out pests such as bark beetles or invasive plants such as knotgrass and ragweed.
“In principle, you can train all dog breeds for such tasks”, says Grimm-Seyfarth. “But some of them may require more work than others”. Pinschers and Schnauzers, for example, are now more likely to be bred as companion dogs and are therefore less motivated to track down species. And terriers tend to immediately snatch their targets – which is, of course, not desirable.
Pointers and setters, on the other hand, have been specially bred to find and point out game – but not to hunt it. This is why these breeds are often used in research and conservation projects in North America, Great Britain, and Scandinavia in order to detect ground-breeding birds such as ptarmigans and wood grouse. Retrievers and herding dogs also have qualities that make them good at tracking species. They are eager to learn, easy to motivate, enjoy working with people, and generally do not have a strong hunting instinct. That is why Labrador Retrievers, Border Collies, and German Shepherds are among the most popular detection dogs worldwide.
Grimm-Seyfarth’s Border Collie Zammy, for example, learned as a puppy how to track down the droppings of otters. This is a valuable contribution to research because the droppings can be genetically analysed to find out which individual it comes from, how it is related to other conspecifics, and what it has eaten. However, even for experienced experts, these revealing traces are not so easy to find. Especially small and dark coloured droppings are easy to overlook. Dogs, on the other hand, sniff even the most unremarkable droppings without distinction. In an earlier UFZ study, they found four times as many droppings as human investigators alone. And the fact that Zammy is now also looking for crested newts makes his efforts even more rewarding.
According to the overview study, many other teams around the world have had similarly good experiences. In almost 90% of cases, the dogs worked much more effectively than other detection methods. Compared with camera traps, for example, they detected between 3.7 and 4.7 fold more black bears, pied martens, and bobcats. They are also often reach their destination particularly quickly. “They can find a single plant on a football field in a very short time”, says Grimm-Seyfarth. They are even able to discover underground parts of plants.
However, there are also cases where the use of detection dogs is not the method of choice. Rhinos, for example, leave their large piles of excrement clearly visible on paths so that humans can easily find them on their own. And animal species that know feral dogs as enemies are more likely to find (and fight) the detection dogs than to be found. “However, in most cases where the dogs did not perform so well, poor training is to blame”, says Grimm-Seyfarth. She believes that good training of the animal is the most important recipe for success for detection dogs. “If you select the right dog, know enough about the target species, and design the study accordingly, this can be an excellent detection method”. She and her colleagues are already planning further applications for the useful detection dogs. A new project that involves tracking down invasive plant species will soon be launched.
Sure, your dog plays with other pooches to have some fun and let off a little steam. But what if their decisions on when and how to play is largely based on making you happy?
New research published by a Monmouth University scientist suggests our dogs base their playful behaviors on what they believe their owners expect of them.
Lindsay Mehrkam, the director of Monmouth’s Human and Animal Wellness Collaboratory, conducted the research as part of her dissertation. The study was published in February in the journal Animal Cognition.
“The goal of the study was whether or not owner attention could promote play between dogs,” Mehrkam said.
The experiment involved 10 pairs of dogs who lived together with their owners. Each pair was filmed during three separate, 15-minute-long play sessions. Those sessions were subdivided so that five minutes would have the owner be present, attentive and encouraging play, then five minutes with the owner not paying attention, and close with five minutes of the owner not being in the room.
“We saw that overall as a group, the dogs played more when the owners paid attention to them, which isn’t terribly surprising,” Mehrkam said. “The things that made it interesting was trying to figure out the why.”
One thing the study doesn’t do, according to Mehrkam, is definitively say that dogs are only playing with each other if they think it makes their owners happy.
“If you look back at the research on play, it’s pretty well regarded that dog-dog play is a self-rewarding behavior,” she said.
Still, the effect of an owner’s presence is undeniable.
“There’s something about our attention that seems to indicate ‘this is an appropriate time to play’ or that may enrich the environment,” Mehrkam said.
The new research lays the groundwork for further study of dog psychology. Mehrkam said her team is looking into long-standing questions about the relationships between dogs and their owners, and more contemporary questions posed by life under lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic — like if dogs can perceive a virtual audience, or if they’re made more anxious by an owner’s constant presence at home.
Honest Paws, manufacturer of organic CBD products for pets, surveyed 600 U.S. singles seasoned in the art of online dating, to find out if dog ownership is the secret to success on dating apps and to uncover which apps are most ideal for meeting fellow dog lovers.
Do dogs improve your chances on dating apps? U.S. singles certainly think so. 70% of respondents, overall, and 72% of millennials think having a dog in their profile photos helps them get more matches, while 63% of respondents are more tempted to match with someone who has a dog in their profile.
Samantha Ross, the editor at Romantific, offers a solid rationale for this:
“Men, in particular, can be seen as committed and trustworthy when they are seen with a pet. In some case studies, men with dogs are more likely to be approached as they are found to be charming and appealing. Having a pet also assures a potential partner that you are capable of taking care of another creature.”
In many cases, pets take on the role of wingman (or wing-woman) in addition to man’s best friend. According to survey results, 50% of singles have no issue using their dog as a ploy to meet someone they’re attracted to while out and about. Sometimes ditching the canned pick-up lines and leaving the ice-breaking to the dogs is your best bet for success – a real-life “meet-cute.”
Tractive, a real-time GPS for pets, agrees, calling doggos our “fearless, filter-free socializers, who not only boost our happiness levels but encourage us to interact with new people.”
When asked which dog breeds singles love seeing most on dating app profile photos, a few lead the pack. German Shepherds, Pitbulls, Huskies, Labs, and Golden Retrievers were named favorites by the largest percentage of respondents.
Other beloved breeds like Chihuahuas, American Bulldogs, Pomeranians, and Poodles followed closely behind.
More respondents who are dog owners would rather quarantine with their dogs (55%) over a romantic partner (45%). Pandemic stress and countless more hours at home with significant others certainly exacerbate the willingness of couples to take some time apart. But overall, most dog parents can’t bear to be away from their pets for too long.
Almost half of respondents say they would break up with someone they were dating if their dog did not like them, and a quarter of respondents even admit to staying in a relationship because they didn’t want to risk losing the dog – proof that the bond between humans and our canine partners runs deep.
21% of Gen Z respondents and 24% of male respondents would even go as far as borrowing a friend’s dog for their dating profile photos – even though (eventually) they will be found out. And when they are, the outlook isn’t promising. 64% of respondents would cut ties with someone who lied about owning a dog on their dating app profile.
Osteosarcoma is a painful and aggressive bone tumour in dogs that is known to be more common in certain breeds than others. New research has now confirmed that larger breeds, such as Rottweiler, Great Dane and Rhodesian Ridgeback, have a greater risk of osteosarcoma than smaller breeds, as well as showing that breeds with shorter skulls and legs have lower osteosarcoma risk. The findings could inform future breed health reforms as well as studies into the way tumours develop from normal bone.
The study led by the University of Bristol Veterinary School in collaboration with Cardiff University and Royal Veterinary College (RVC) London, and using data from VetCompass™ and Veterinary Pathology Group (VPG) histology, looked at the epidemiology surrounding which dog breeds get osteosarcoma, and what this means for canine welfare. This study also shows the huge benefits from studying dogs as a model to study this cancer. The findings are published in Canine Medicine and Genetics on 10 March 2021.
The study included 1,756 laboratory-confirmed osteosarcoma cases in dogs compared with 905,211 dogs under veterinary care in the VetCompass™ database during 2016.
The research team found twenty-seven breeds, mainly larger breeds, had an increased risk of osteosarcoma compared to crossbreeds. Thirty breeds, mainly smaller breeds, including Jack Russell, Border Terrier, Bichon Frise, French Bulldog, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had reduced risk of osteosarcoma compared to crossbreeds.
The study also compared various measures of body mass and leg length, and confirmed previous findings that heavier dogs with longer legs and longer skull shapes are at greatest risk of bone tumours. The results could inform breed health reforms, especially in predisposed breeds such as the Rottweiler, Great Dane and Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mastiff and German Pointer. Whereas previous studies have identified high-risk breeds for bone tumours, this paper is novel by being able to identify breeds at lowest risk because of the huge size of the study population. The breeds identified here could be researched and compared to recognise novel genetic differences which cause bone tumours.
The findings that bone tumours are more common in certain breeds and conformations indicates that a dog’s genetics play a role in bone tumour development. This link between the biology of conformation and the biology of bone tumours in dogs provides valuable opportunities for further study into what causes bone tumours to develop, and how they could be treated in the future.
Osteosarcoma can affect any dog breed. However, owners of high-risk breeds should be especially alert for signs of the disease. These include lameness and painful, bony swelling and dog owners should contact their vet if concerned.
Dr Grace Edmunds, Clinical Veterinary Research Fellow and lead author at Bristol Veterinary School, said: “As a vet, I am always focussed on improving animal welfare by looking outwards to find new treatments for their diseases. As osteosarcoma also affects adolescents, it is hugely exciting that by understanding the biology of bone tumours, and working with my collaborators in human cancer research, we may make a difference to both canine and human cancer patients.”
Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer in Companion Animals Epidemiology at the RVC, added: “There are increasing concerns about the wisdom of breeding dogs with extreme body shapes such as flat-faced breeds like French Bulldogs or breeds with long backs such as Dachshunds.
“This study highlights the health risks from another extreme body shape – large body size. The breeds at highest risk of osteosarcoma were large-sized breeds such as Rottweiler, Great Dane and Mastiff. To reduce the risks of picking a dog that may develop bone cancer, owners may need to consider choosing puppies from smaller-sized parents of these giant breeds or opting for different smaller breeds instead.”
Professor Rachel Errington at Cardiff University explained: “As a human cancer researcher at the School of Medicine this study shows that we can propose similar questions in human and canine disease with the aim of determining new therapies and diagnostics for both and this provides an exciting opportunity of joining forces across a diverse group of expertise.”
The research team is currently developing a project that will sequence certain genes in at-risk and protected breeds for osteosarcoma, with the aim of identifying those genetic pathways that cause bone tumours to develop from normal bone. Identifying such pathways will allow new drugs, or older, repurposed drugs, to be used to see if the outcomes when treating bone tumours in dogs can be improved.
Drs Grace Edmunds and Helen Winter, members of the study team, will be engaging with owners of dogs with cancer and younger patients who have had cancer as part of a One Health approach, and they would welcome contact from patients or dog owners who would like to participate in this research.
Dogs are generally considered the first domesticated animal, while its ancestor is generally considered to be the wolf, but where the Australian dingo fits into this framework is still debated, according to a retired Penn State anthropologist.
“Indigenous Australians understood that there was something different about the dingoes and the colonial dogs,” said Pat Shipman, retired adjunct professor of anthropology, Penn State. “They really are, I think, different animals. They react differently to humans. A lot of genetic and behavioral work has been done with wolves, dogs and dingoes. Dingoes come out somewhere in between.”
Wolves, dogs and dingoes are all species of the canidae family and are called canids. In most animals, hybridization between closely related species does not happen, or like female horses and male donkeys, produce mules — usually non-fertile offspring. However, many canid species, including wolves, dingoes and dogs, can interbreed and produce fertile offspring. Defining species boundaries in canids becomes more difficult.
Domestic dogs came to the Australian continent in 1788 with the first 11 ships of convicts, but dingoes were already there, as were aboriginal Australians who arrived on the continent about 65,000 years ago. A large portion of dingoes in Australia today have domestic dog in their ancestry, but dingoes came to Australia at least 4,000 years ago according to fossil evidence. Shipman believes that date may be even earlier, but no fossils have yet been found.
“Part of the reason I’m so fascinated with dingoes is that if you see a dingo through American eyes you say, ‘that’s a dog,'” said Shipman. “In evolutionary terms, dingoes give us a glimpse of what started the domestication process.”
Shipman reports her analysis of wolves, dogs and dingoes in a January 2021 special issue of the Anatomical Record.
Dingoes, and the closely related New Guinea singing dogs, look like the default definition of dog, but they are not dogs.
“There is a basic doggy look to dingoes,” said Shipman.
Genetically and behaviorally they differ from dogs and are more like wolves in their inability to digest starches and their relationships with humans.
Most domestic dogs evolved along with humans as humans became agriculturalists and moved to a diet containing large amounts of starch, whether from maize, rice, potatoes or wheat. Their genome changed to allow the digestion of these starches. Dingoes, like wolves, have very few of the genes for starch digestion.
While indigenous Australians stole dingo puppies from their dens and raised them, these puppies generally left human homes at maturity and went off to breed and raise offspring. The ability to closely bond with humans is limited in dingoes, although present in dogs. Native Australians also did not manipulate dingo breeding, which is a hallmark of domestication.
Dingoes are also well-adapted to the Australian outback and fare well in that environment. Domestic dogs that become feral do not survive well in the outback.
“Aboriginal Australians were not well-regarded as holders of knowledge or special skill when Europeans came to the continent,” said Shipman. “So, no one thought to ask them about dingoes. Even recently, asking aboriginals for their scientific or behavioral knowledge really was not common.”
However, aboriginal Australians have a long history of living with dingoes in their lives. Many people argue that dingoes are just dogs — strange dogs, but just dogs, said Shipman. But, according to aboriginals, dingoes are not dogs.
With dingoes showing behaviors somewhere between wolves and dogs and exhibiting only slight genetic ability to consume starchy foods or tolerate captivity, Shipman concluded that “A dingo is a wolf on its way to becoming a dog, that never got there.”
A new UBC Okanagan study finds children not only reap the benefits of working with therapy dogs–they enjoy it too.
“Dog lovers often have an assumption that canine-assisted interventions are going to be effective because other people are going to love dogs,” says Nicole Harris, who conducted this research while a master’s student in the School of Education. “While we do frequently see children improve in therapy dog programs, we didn’t have data to support that they enjoyed the time as well.”
Harris was the lead researcher in the study that explored how children reacted while participating in a social skill-training program with therapy dogs.
The research saw 22 children from the Okanagan Boys and Girls Club take part in a series of sessions to help them build their social skills. Over six weeks, the children were accompanied by therapy dogs from UBC Okanagan’s Building Academic Retention through K9s (BARK) program as they completed lessons.
Each week the children were taught a new skill, such as introducing themselves or giving directions to others. The children would first practice with their assigned therapy dog before running through the exercise with the rest of the group. In the final phase, the children —accompanied by their new furry friend and volunteer handler —would practice their new skills with university students located in the building.
“Therapy dogs are often able to reach children and facilitate their growth in surprising ways. We saw evidence of this in the social skills of children when they were paired with a therapy dog,” says Dr. John-Tyler Binfet, associate professor in the School of Education and director of BARK. “The dogs helped create a non-threatening climate while the children were learning these new skills. We saw the children practice and hone their social skills with and alongside the dogs.”
While the children were learning and practising their new skills, the research team collected data.
“Findings from our observations suggested that canine-assisted social and emotional learning initiatives can provide unique advantages,” says Harris. “Our team saw that by interacting with the therapy dogs, the children’s moods improved and their engagement in their lessons increased.”
In fact, 87 per cent of the team rated the children’s engagement level as very or extremely engaged during the sessions.
At the end of the six weeks, Harris interviewed eight children, aged 5 to 11 years old, who regularly attended the sessions. Each child indicated the social skill-training program was an enjoyable and positive experience and the dogs were a meaningful and essential part of the program.
One participant noticed that the children behaved better at the sessions than at their regular after-school care program, and they thought it was because the children liked being around the dogs.
Half of the children mentioned ways that they felt the dogs helped with their emotional well-being, with one participant crediting a dog with helping him “become more responsible and control his silliness.”
As a full-time elementary school teacher, Harris notes that schools have become increasingly important in helping students develop social and emotional skills, and this research could contribute to the development of future school-based or after-school programs.
“Dogs have the ability to provide many stress-reducing and confidence-boosting benefits to children,” says Harris. “It was really heartwarming to see the impact the program had on the kids.”
The research stemmed from the Building Confidence through K9s program, which was offered in partnership with the TELUS Thompson Okanagan Community Board.