Category Archives: special dogs and awards

Bernese Mountain Dog is a golf ball retriever

Davos is a Bernese Mountain Dog who lives in Minnesota.  He helps his owner, Al Cooper, retrieve his wayward golf balls and in the process, finds lots of others.

The pair re-sells the balls for 25 cents each at their local golf course and recently made a donation to the Humane Society in Golden Valley.

Golf Ball Retriever – a whole new job description for an assistance dog?

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

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Research dog helps scientists save endangered carnivores

Scat-sniffing research dogs are helping scientists map out a plan to save reclusive jaguars, pumas, bush dogs and other endangered carnivores in the increasingly fragmented forests of northeastern Argentina, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

Scat sniffing dog Train

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

The study explores options for mitigating the impact of human encroachment on five predators who cling to survival in isolated pockets of protected forest surrounded by a mosaic of roadways, unprotected forest, plantations and pastures.

“The study details a least-cost plan for the development of a multispecies biological corridor that connects protected areas in the Upper Parana Atlantic Forest Region of Misiones, Argentina,” said co-author Karen DeMatteo, a biology research scientist and lecturer in environmental studies in Arts & Sciences.

DeMatteo, who has spent 10 years working on the project,  said completion of the corridor model will allow researchers and community leaders to begin working with property owners to establish the habitat corridors.

“This plan is exciting not only for the future of the local biodiversity, but also because it involved a lot of collaboration from the local government and universities to make it happen,” she said.

Recent studies have argued that establishing small, protected reserves for endangered species, even in the best of habitats, is not enough to ensure long-term survival because species must move across their range to breed with other scattered populations and maintain genetic diversity.

Using dogs trained to detect the scat of specific species, DeMatteo’s team searched for evidence of the carnivores’ presence across a broad swath of northeastern Argentina, including public and private wildlife reserves, privately owned plantations, farms and pastures, and along roads and pathways leading to scattered communities.

DNA analysis of more than 900 scat samples collected over several summers allowed researchers to develop detailed maps of the species frequenting these habitats, including a sense of how their movements were influenced by habitat quality, topography, roadways and other human disturbances.

For species such as the jaguar, which rarely crosses into territory disturbed by humans, survival may hinge on the creation of habitat corridors linking isolated population pockets. Because the jaguar is so averse to human interaction, some studies have suggested that habitat corridors designed for it also would cover the needs of other predators.

DeMatteo’s study, which examined the habitat needs of jaguars, pumas, ocelots, oncillas and bush dogs, offers a more nuanced approach, suggesting that the optimal footprint for habitat corridors should be drawn with the overlapping needs of many species in mind.

While some species were less intimidated by the presence of humans, each had its own unique requirements in terms of what constitutes a suitable habitat and the length and width of possible corridor connections.

“Despite variation in body size, the jaguar, puma, ocelot, oncilla and bush dog overlap in their ecological requirements,” the study said. “However, this is not without variation in the degree of habitat flexibility. Puma, oncilla, and bush dog have comparatively higher levels of modified habitats in their potential distributions compared to the jaguar and ocelot.”

By combining data on all five of these species, researchers developed a model that provides maximum habitat connectivity for all species while minimizing the cost of establishing these corridors through privately owned lands and communities.

“The findings illustrate the benefit of using multiple species versus a single species to develop corridors, because using only the highly restricted jaguar to develop the corridor would mean that the potential distributions of the other four carnivores would be restricted and decreased by as much as 30 percent,” DeMatteo said. “So, it appears that, at least in the Misiones province, the jaguar should not be modeled as an umbrella species because the results fail to capture the varied requirements of coexisting species across the breadth of potential habitats.”

DeMatteo and colleagues hope the study provides a methodology for identifying the optimal footprint for proposed habitat connection corridors, while incorporating enough flexibility to ensure that the needs and desires of private landholders can be incorporated into the process.

“The approach in making a corridor a reality is multi-pronged and involves a strong investment from the local community, especially when developing corridors that use existing protected areas as ‘stepping stones,’ as private land will inevitably be involved to varying degrees in and around the corridor,” the study concludes.

Source:  Washington University media statement

Audience dogs

There seems to be no end to the list of jobs that can be given to a good dog.

Next up:  Audience dogs

You’ve probably heard of Toastmasters, which are groups that meet where participants practice their public speaking and presentation skills.   But did you know that the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, DC has introduced Audience Dogs into their program?

Students practice their speeches in front of a dog, who has been selected to be secure, calm and confident to make eye contact.  The service is provided free-of-charge.

A non-judgmental, cute, and attentive audience!

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

Trained dogs most efficient in monitoring hermit beetle larvae

Hermit beetles (Osmoderma eremita) are considered at risk, but in order to be effectively protected, they first need to be identified and consistently monitored.

However, this turns out to be a tough task, given that the species is only present for a short time as an adult while it is also extremely elusive. On the other hand, although it remains as a larva for up to three years, once again, it is difficult to spot as it hides inside hollow trees living in the wood mould.

The standard method for detecting hermit beetles involves wood mould sampling which is not only arguable in its overall efficiency, but is also unreasonably time-consuming and quite damaging to both the species communities and their habitat.

Searching for an alternative, Italian scientists, led by Dr. Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Sapienza University of Rome, suggested that trained dogs might be more successful. Such conservation detection dogs are currently being widely deployed when searching for mammals, reptiles and birds and have already been tested for locating a number of invertebrates.

In their paper, published in the open access journal Nature Conservation, the team tested a training programme before comparing it with the traditional method. The study has been conducted as part of the MIPP Project aimed at the development of non-invasive methods for monitoring selected saproxylic beetles.

Starting from the choice of a dog, the scientists carefully made their choice from a number of individuals as well as breeds. They settled on a Golden Retriever – a breed widely used in searches for biological targets. As for the particular dog, they chose Teseo – a six-month pup coming from a line with a strong background in locating illegally imported animals and animal parts.

Conservation dog

The training of Teseo began with the assignment of a trainer/handler and some basic obedience training, involving teaching simple commands, search games and agility activities.

The next step was introducing the dog to various types of odours, since the hermit beetles might give off a different odour dependent on their habitats, such as the presence of fungi, sawdust and other organic materials. Immediately after detecting the target smell, the animal would be given a reward such as food or play, so that its behaviour could be positively reinforced.

Then, the dog was taught to differentiate between different odours. The researchers presented a number of targets to the animal where it needed to select the right one. At this stage, the dog was only rewarded for correct signalling. Should the dog be distant from the trainer, a special clicker was used to ‘announce’ the treat in advance. The researchers noted that it was at this stage when the relationship between the dog and the handler needed to be really strong, so that the training was as efficient as possible.

In conclusion, the scientists reported a significantly higher probability (73%) of Teseo successfully detecting a tree colonised by the larvae, as opposed to two people conducting the traditional wood mould sampling (34-50%). Moreover, the dog would cover a particular area in a very short time when compared to the traditional method – on average it would take it 6 minutes and 50 seconds to examine the whole tree, while the operators using wood mould sampling would need about 80 minutes. Additionally, searching for larvae with dogs poses no risk to either the insects or other organisms that might be living in the trees.

Furthermore, the researchers provided a list of precautions in order to increase the efficiency when searching for beetle larvae with the help of trained dogs. The list included familiarising the dog with the survey site beforehand, opting for the part of the day with the most favourable atmospheric conditions and carefully monitoring the dog for signs of fatigue.

“A conservation detection dog is a powerful tool for locating O. eremita and these results can be useful for other related European species of Osmoderma“, commented the scientists.

“In fact, the use of a trained dog is a fast, accurate and non-invasive method that allows the detection of a target species in an area and to identify the colonised trees; this means that a conservation detection dog can locate new populations, can confirm the presence of the target species and can assist in the mapping of colonised trees in an area, accurately and efficiently.”

Source:  Pensoft Blog

Cena’s story

Last month, a Marine veteran said goodbye to his canine companion, Cena, who was suffering from bone cancer.

Giving Cena one last ride became a community event that Lance Corporal Jeff DeYoung hopes will help raise the profile of the dogs that serve the military, and why they deserve care.

This is their story.

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

Successful guide dogs have ‘tough love’ moms

Much has been written on the pitfalls of being a “helicopter parent,” one who insulates children from adversity rather than encouraging their independence.

A new study seems to back up this finding — in dogs. Researchers showed that doting mothers seem to handicap their puppies, in this case reducing their likelihood of successfully completing a training program to become guide dogs.

Mother dogs nursing style

Mother dogs’ nursing style is one factor that seems to predict their offspring’s success in guide dog training. (Photo courtesy of The Seeing Eye)

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted at The Seeing Eye, an organization in Morristown, New Jersey, that breeds, raises and trains dogs to guide visually impaired people.

“You need your mom, but moms that are too attentive don’t give their puppies a chance to respond to small challenges on their own,” said lead study author Emily Bray, a postdoctoral researcher in the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology. “Puppies need opportunities to deal with obstacles without their mom always being there.”

Early interactions between puppies and their mothers seem to have lasting effects.

“These puppies were with their mom for only five weeks, and it’s having an effect on their success two years later,” Bray said. “It seems that puppies need to learn how to deal with small challenges at this early age, and if they don’t, it hurts them later.”

Bray’s results contribute to an understanding of the long-term effects of maternal style and suggest ways that guide-dog-training organizations might better identify dogs who are more likely to succeed.

Observing Mother-Pup Interactions

Scientists have long been interested in the impact of early-life experiences on adult behavior, studying the phenomenon in rodents, primates and people. But hardly any studies had been done in dogs.

Guide dogs presented a useful group to study for several reasons. First, at The Seeing Eye, many puppies are raised in a single location under fairly controlled conditions. Second, the dogs have a clear measure of success: Either they graduate from the program to become a working guide dog or they are released. And third, success as a guide dog isn’t easy; the dog must be willing and able to navigate a complex and often-unpredictable environment while remaining obedient and attentive to its owner.

To gather information about the puppies’ early-life experiences, Bray and a team of undergraduate research assistants essentially embedded themselves at The Seeing Eye’s breeding facility, taking video and closely observing 23 mothers and their 98 puppies for their first five weeks of life.

“We wanted to know if we could differentiate the moms based on how they interacted with their puppies,” Bray said. “We documented things like her nursing position, how much time she spent looking away from the puppies and how much time she spent in close proximity to her puppies or licking and grooming them.”

Analysis of the data revealed differences across the mothers, with some being particularly attentive and others less so.

When the researchers tracked the puppies a couple of years down the line, they found that those with mothers that were more attentive were less likely to graduate from The Seeing Eye’s training program to become guide dogs. In particular, those dogs whose mothers nursed more often lying down, as opposed to sitting or standing up, were less likely to succeed.

“If a mother is lying on her stomach, the puppies basically have free access to milk, but if the mother is standing up, then the puppies have to work to get it,” said study co-author Robert Seyfarth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “A hypothesis might be that you have to provide your offspring with minor obstacles that they can overcome for them to succeed later in life because, as we know, life as an adult involves obstacles.”

Cognition, Temperament Also Predict Success

The study also found that dogs’ cognition and temperament were associated with program success or failure.

The researchers conducted a second part of the study after the puppies had gone to live with foster families and then returned to The Seeing Eye for specific guide-dog training. The dogs — at this point young adults at 14 to 17 months old — were given tests to measure their cognition and temperament. A test of cognitive problem-solving skills, for example, involved a game in which the dog has to perform a multistep task to reach a treat. Tests of temperament included observing the dogs’ reactions, such as how long they took to bark at an umbrella being opened or how they reacted when they entered a room with a mechanical cat they had never seen before.

“We saw that some dogs were calm and collected and solved problems quickly, while others were more reactive and perseverated at the problem-solving tasks,” Bray said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, dogs that did well at the problem-solving tasks and took longer to bark at novel objects were more likely to succeed in the guide-dog-training program.

Although Bray’s work underscores the connection between maternal behavior and offspring’s behavior later in life, further research is needed to tease out exactly why the attentive mothers were more likely to have puppies that were released from the program, and whether or not genetics could be a factor.

“With mothering, it seems like it’s a delicate balance,” Bray said. “It’s easy to be like, ‘Oh, smothering moms are the worst,’ but we aren’t exactly sure of the mechanisms yet and we don’t want to tip too far in the other direction, either.”

Source  University of Arizona media release

 

The truffle dog

In Canterbury (New Zealand), we are halfway through the third annual Truffle Festival.

This is a celebration of the gourmet fungus known as truffles and of course the food and wine that go with these delicacies.  You can think of truffles as a sort of underground mushroom that only grows in certain soils.

The alkaline soils of Waipara and surrounding areas of North Canterbury make ideal growing media for truffles.

Hard at work in Waipara is Rosie the Beagle who lives at Limestone Hills.  Back in 2013, I visited the farm and watched Rosie in action – she’s a truffle dog – trained to sniff out the truffles so they can be harvested.

Good girl, Rosie!

Rosie the Beagle 2013

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