Category Archives: research

Researchers find CBD improves arthritis symptoms in dogs

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

Cannibus study

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:  Baylor College of Medicine via Phys.org

Yes, your dog wants to rescue you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source:  Arizona State University

Collars risk causing neck injuries in dogs, study shows

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

Young Woman Walks Her Dog In California Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The research is reported in the journal Vet Record.

Source:  Nottingham Trent University

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

Detection dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Source:  University of Alberta media release

The origin of feces (aka shit happens)

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

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

Shit happens

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

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

Classification capability provides insights into digestive health

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

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

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

Source:  Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Dogs can experience hearing loss

Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise. Dog owners and K-9 handlers ought to keep this in mind when adopting or caring for dogs, and when bringing them into noisy environments, says Dr. Kari Foss, a veterinary neurologist and professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

hearing loss dog

This puppy does not respond to audible cues unless it can see the person giving them. The puppy’s assessment includes Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response testing, which independently evaluates hearing in each ear. The painless procedure can be done on dogs when they are awake, sedated or anesthetized. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

In a new report in the journal Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, Foss and her colleagues describe cases of hearing loss in three working dogs: a gun dog, a sniffer dog and a police dog. One of the three had permanent hearing loss, one responded to treatment and the third did not return to the facility where it was originally diagnosed for follow-up care.

The case studies demonstrate that those who work with police or hunting dogs “should be aware of a dog’s proximity to gunfire and potentially consider hearing protection,” Foss said. Several types of hearing protection for dogs are available commercially.

Just as in humans, loud noises can harm the delicate structures of a dog’s middle and inner ear.

“Most commonly, noise-induced hearing loss results from damage to the hair cells in the cochlea that vibrate in response to sound waves,” Foss said. “However, extreme noise may also damage the eardrum and the small bones within the inner ear, called the ossicles.”

Pet owners or dog handlers tend to notice when an animal stops responding to sounds or commands. However, it is easy to miss the signs, especially in dogs with one or more canine companions, Foss said.

“In puppies with congenital deafness, signs may not be noticed until the puppy is removed from the litter,” she said.

Signs of hearing loss in dogs include failing to respond when called, sleeping through sounds that normally would rouse them, startling at loud noises that previously didn’t bother them, barking excessively or making unusual vocal sounds, Foss said. Dogs with deafness in one ear might respond to commands but could have difficulty locating the source of a sound.

Owners think their pet is experiencing hearing loss should have the animal assessed by a veterinarian, Foss said. Hearing loss that stems from ear infections, inflammation or polyps in the middle ear can be treated and, in many cases, resolved.

Hearing-impaired or deaf dogs may miss clues about potential threats in their surroundings, Foss said.

New Research Unpicks Root Causes of Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Separation anxiety in dogs should be seen as a symptom of underlying frustrations rather than a diagnosis, and understanding these root causes could be key to effective treatment, new research by animal behaviour specialists suggests.

Separation anxiety photo

Many pet owners experience problem behaviour in their dogs when leaving them at home. These behaviours can include destruction of household items, urinating or defecating indoors, or excessive barking and are often labelled as ‘separation anxiety’ as the dog gets anxious at the prospect of being left alone.

Treatment plans tend to focus on helping the dog overcome the ‘pain of separation’, but the current work indicates dealing with various forms of frustration is a much more important element of the problem.

Animal behaviour researchers have now identified four key forms of separation anxiety, and suggest that animal behaviourists should consider these underlying reasons as the issue that needs treating, and not view ‘separation anxiety’ as a diagnosis.

The team, led by scientists from the University of Lincoln, UK, identified four main forms of distress for dogs when separated from their owners. These include a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom.

More than 2,700 dogs representing over 100 breeds were included in the study.

Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Lincoln, said: ´Until now, there has been a tendency to think of this as a single condition, ie ´My dog has got separation anxiety¡ and then to focus on the dependence on the owner and how to make them more independent. However, this new work indicates that having separation anxiety is more like saying ´My dog’s got an upset tummy which could have many causes and take many forms, and so both assessment and treatment need to be much more focussed.

´If your dog makes themselves ill by chewing something it shouldn’t, you would need to treat it very differently to if it has picked up an infection. One problem might need surgery and the other antibiotics.

´Labelling the problem of the dog who is being destructive, urinating or defecating indoors or vocalising when left alone as separation anxiety is not very helpful. It is the start of the diagnostic process, not the end. Our new research suggests that frustration in its various forms is very much at the heart of the problem and we need to understand this variety if we hope to offer better treatments for dogs.

The new study, published in the academic journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, highlights how different emotional states combine to produce problem behaviours in dogs. Although it is first triggered by the owner’s departure, the unwanted behaviour arises because of a combination of risk factors that may include elements of the dog’s temperament, the type of relationship it has with the owner and how the two of them interact.

The research team will soon be building on the latest study to examine in greater detail the influence the dog-owner relationship has on problem behaviours triggered by separation. It is hoped the research will open up new, more specific treatment programmes for owners.

Source:  University of Lincoln

New Study Results Consistent With Dog Domestication During Ice Age

Palaeolithic-dog

Analysis of Paleolithic-era teeth from a 28,500-year-old fossil site in the Czech Republic provides supporting evidence for two groups of canids – one dog-like and the other wolf-like – with differing diets, which is consistent with the early domestication of dogs.

The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, was co-directed by Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor of anthropology at the University of Arkansas.

The researchers performed dental microwear texture analysis on a sample of fossils from the Předmostí site, which contains both wolf-like and dog-like canids. Canids are simply mammals of the dog family. The researchers identified distinctive microwear patterns for each canid morphotype. Compared to the wolf-like canids, the teeth of the early dog canids – called “protodogs” by the researchers – had larger wear scars, indicating a diet that included hard, brittle foods. The teeth of the wolf-like canids had smaller scars, suggesting they consumed more flesh, likely from mammoth, as shown by previous research.

This greater durophagy – animal eating behavior suggesting the consumption of hard objects – among the dog-like canids means they likely consumed bones and other less desirable food scraps within human settlement areas, Ungar said. It provides supporting evidence that there were two types of canids at the site, each with a distinct diet, which is consistent with other evidence of early-stage domestication.

“Our primary goal was to test whether these two morphotypes expressed notable differences in behavior, based on wear patterns,” said Ungar. “Dental microwear is a behavioral signal that can appear generations before morphological changes are established in a population, and it shows great promise in using the archaeological record to distinguish protodogs from wolves.”

Dog domestication is the earliest example of animal husbandry and the only type of domestication that occurred well before the earliest definitive evidence of agriculture. However, there is robust scientific debate about the timing and circumstances of the initial domestication of dogs, with estimates varying between 15,000 and 40,000 years ago, well into the Ice Age, when people had a hunter-gatherer way of life. There is also debate about why wolves were first domesticated to become dogs. From an anthropological perspective, the timing of the domestication process is important for understanding early cognition, behavior and the ecology of early Homo sapiens.

The study’s lead author is Kari Prassack, curator of paleontology at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument, which is part of the National Park Service. Co-authors were Martina Lázničková-Galetová of the Moravian Museum in Czech Republic; Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences; and Josephine DuBois, Ungar’s former Honors College student and now student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Dentistry.

This research was supported by the Czech Science Foundation, the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic and the University of Arkansas Honors College. Fossil material for this study came from collections of the Moravian Museum in Czech Republic.

Source:  University of Arkansas Research Frontiers

New dog, old tricks? Untrained stray dogs can understand human cues

If you have a dog, hopefully you’re lucky enough to know that they are highly attuned to their owners and can readily understand a wide range of commands and gestures. But are these abilities innate or are they exclusively learned through training?

To find out, a new study in Frontiers in Psychology investigated whether untrained stray dogs could understand human pointing gestures.

Dogs and gestures research

A new study shows that untrained stray dogs respond to gestures from people, suggesting that understanding between humans and dogs transcends training. Image: Shutterstock

The study revealed that about 80% of participating dogs successfully followed pointing gestures to a specific location despite having never received prior training. The results suggest that dogs can understand complex gestures by simply watching humans and this could have implications in reducing conflict between stray dogs and humans.

Dogs were domesticated 10,000–15,000 years ago, likely making them the oldest domesticated animals on the planet. Humans then bred dogs with the most desirable and useful traits so that they could function as companions and workers, leading to domesticated dogs that are highly receptive to human commands and gestures.

However, it was not clear whether dogs understand us through training alone, or whether this was innate. Can dogs interpret a signal, such as a gesture, without specific training, or even without having met the signaling person previously? One way to find out is to see whether untrained, stray dogs can interpret and react to human gestures.

Stray dogs are a common feature in cities around the world and particularly in many developing countries. While they may observe and occasionally interact with people, such dogs have never been trained, and are behaviorally “wild”. Conflicts between stray dogs and humans are a problem and understanding how humans shape stray dog behavior may help alleviate this.

To investigate, Dr. Anindita Bhadra of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, India, and colleagues studied stray dogs across several Indian cities. The researchers approached solitary stray dogs and placed two covered bowls on the ground near them. A researcher then pointed to one of the two bowls, either momentarily or repeatedly, and recorded whether the dog approached the indicated bowl. They also recorded the perceived emotional state of the dogs during the experiment.

Approximately half of the dogs did not approach either bowl. However, the researchers noticed that these dogs were anxious and may have had bad experiences with humans before. The dogs who approached the bowls were noted as friendlier and less anxious, and approximately 80% correctly followed the pointing signals to one of the bowls, regardless of whether the pointing was momentary or repeated. This suggests that the dogs could indeed decipher complex gestures.

“We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” explained Bhadra. “This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”

The results suggest that dogs may have an innate ability to understand certain human gestures which transcends training. However, it should be noted that the shyer, more anxious animals tended not to participate, so future studies are needed to determine more precisely how an individual dog’s personality affects their ability to understand human cues.

Overall, dogs may be more perceptive than we realize. “We need to understand that dogs are intelligent animals that can co-exist with us,” said Bhadra “They are quite capable of understanding our body language and we need to give them their space. A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict.”

Original article:  Free-Ranging Dogs Are Capable of Utilizing Complex Human Pointing Cues

Source:  Frontiers Science News

Turning the page for Spot boosts literacy in young students

Reading in the presence of a pooch may be the page-turning motivation young children need, suggests a UBC researcher.

Golden retriever Abby listens

Golden retriever Abby listens while Annie Letheman (right) reads to her sister Ruby and researcher Camille Rousseau (middle) observes.

Camille Rousseau, a doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s School of Education, recently completed a study examining the behaviour of 17 children from Grades 1 to 3, while reading with and without a dog. The study was conducted with Christine Tardif-Williams, a professor at Brock University’s department of child and youth studies.

“Our study focused on whether a child would be motivated to continue reading longer and persevere through moderately challenging passages when they are accompanied by a dog,” explains Rousseau.

Participants were recruited based on their ability to read independently. Prior to the study, each child was tested to determine their reading range and to ensure they would be assigned appropriate story excerpts. The researchers then choose stories slightly beyond the child’s reading level.

During the study’s sessions, participants would read aloud to either an observer, the dog handler and their pet or without the dog. After finishing their first page, they would be offered the option of a second reading task or finishing the session.

“The findings showed that children spent significantly more time reading and showed more persistence when a dog—regardless of breed or age—was in the room as opposed to when they read without them,” says Rousseau. “In addition, the children reported feeling more interested and more competent.”

With the recent rise in popularity of therapy dog reading programs in schools, libraries and community organizations, Rousseau says their research could help to develop ‘gold-standard’ canine-assisted intervention strategies for struggling young readers.

“There have been studies that looked at the impact of therapy dogs on enhancing students’ reading abilities, but this was the first study that carefully selected and assigned challenging reading to children,” she says.

Some studies and programs have children choose their own book, and while the reading experience would still be positive, Rousseau adds it’s the educational experience of persevering through a moderate challenge that offers a potentially greater sense of achievement.

She hopes the study increases organizations’ understanding of how children’s reading could be enhanced by furry friends.

Rousseau is continuing her research on how canine-assisted therapy can influence students in other educational contexts through UBC’s therapy dog program—Building Academic Retention through K9’s (BARK).

The study was published in Anthrozoös, a multidisciplinary journal focusing on the interactions of people and animals.

Source:  University of British Columbia media release