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

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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

Doggy quote of the month for September

Puppy therapy

– Sara Paretsky, author

My Dog is My Home

One of the best parts of the day is when I return to my home after a long day’s work and Izzy is there to greet me.  I think most dog owners/parents feel that way.

Now imagine that you are homeless and you have a dog (or two).  Access to a homeless shelter and other social services is out of reach because you refuse to give up your dogs.

That’s the plight of many homeless Americans and the charity My Dog is My Home is working to help them by facilitating co-sheltering projects that allow both humans and pets to be supported.

The project did a series of YouTube videos to highlight the experience of human-animal homelessness.  Here’s one of the videos:  Spirit’s story alongside his dogs, Kyya and Miniaga, in Los Angeles.

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

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

Your dog and a 2-year old have similar social intelligence

Most dog owners will tell you they consider their beloved pets to be members of their families. Now research suggests that dogs may be even more like us than previously thought.

Evan MacLean, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, found that dogs and 2-year-old children show similar patterns in social intelligence, much more so than human children and one of their closest relatives: chimpanzees. The findings, published in the journal Animal Behaviour, could help scientists better understand how humans evolved socially.

Researchers point for treats

Researchers hid treats and toys and communicated their location to dogs with cues such as pointing or looking in the direction of the concealed item. (Photo courtesy of Evan MacLean)

testing dogs with game based tests

Evan MacLean and his colleagues assessed more than 500 dogs using a battery of game-based tests designed to measure various types of cognition. (Photo courtesy of Evan MacLean)

MacLean and his colleagues looked at how 2-year-olds, dogs and chimpanzees performed on comparable batteries of tests designed to measure various types of cognition. While chimps performed well on tests involving their physical environment and spatial reasoning, they did not do as well when it came to tests of cooperative communication skills, such as the ability to follow a pointing finger or human gaze.

Dogs and children similarly outperformed chimps on cooperative communication tasks, and researchers observed similar patterns of variation in performance between individual dogs and between individual children.

A growing body of research in the last decade has looked at what makes human psychology special, and scientists have said that the basic social communication skills that begin to develop around 9 months are what first seem to set humans apart from other species, said MacLean, assistant professor in the School of Anthropology in the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

“There’s been a lot of research showing that you don’t really find those same social skills in chimpanzees, but you do find them in dogs, so that suggested something superficially similar between dogs and kids,” MacLean said. “The bigger, deeper question we wanted to explore is if that really is a superficial similarity or if there is a distinct kind of social intelligence that we see in both species.

“What we found is that there’s this pattern, where dogs who are good at one of these social things tend to be good at lots of the related social things, and that’s the same thing you find in kids, but you don’t find it in chimpanzees,” he said.

One explanation for the similarities between dogs and humans is that the two species may have evolved under similar pressures that favored “survival of the friendliest,” with benefits and rewards for more cooperative social behavior.

“Our working hypothesis is that dogs and humans probably evolved some of these skills as a result of similar evolutionary processes, so probably some things that happened in human evolution were very similar to processes that happened in dog domestication,” MacLean said. “So, potentially, by studying dogs and domestication we can learn something about human evolution.”

The research could even have the potential to help researchers better understand human disabilities, such as autism, that may involve deficits in social skills, MacLean said.

Looking to dogs for help in understanding human evolution is a relatively new idea, since scientists most often turn to close human relatives such as chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas for answers to evolutionary questions. Yet, it seems man’s best friend may offer an important, if limited, piece of the puzzle.

“There are different kinds of intelligence, and the kind of intelligence that we think is very important to humans is social in nature, and that’s the kind of intelligence that dogs have to an incredible extent,” MacLean said. “But there are other aspects of cognition, like the way we reason about physical problems, where dogs are totally dissimilar to us. So we would never make the argument that dogs in general are a better model for the human mind — it’s really just this special set of social skills.”

MacLean and his collaborators studied 552 dogs, including pet dogs, assistance-dogs-in-training and military explosive detection dogs, representing a variety of different breeds. The researchers assessed social cognition through game-based tests, in which they hid treats and toys and then communicated the hiding places through nonverbal cues such as pointing or looking in a certain direction. They compared the dogs’ results to data on 105 2-year-old children who previously completed a similar cognitive test battery and 106 chimpanzees assessed at wildlife sanctuaries in Africa.

Source:  University of Arizona news

 

Busy Dog = Happy Dog

Dogs need enrichment and variety in their day; this is an excellent example of how a simple trip to post a few letters became a fun day out for Abby the Beagle.

allmycaninecompanions

mail1

This morning I told Abby, “We have to go to drop off some mail at the post office.  But, this time you, meaning Abby, will be carrying all 30 envelopes”.  She looked at me with a surprised look.  Yes, like the one above.

mail2

Since Abby “agreed” to carry all 30 envelopes, I decided that as a reward she could smell the flowers – I know there are no flowers in the picture – which she loves to do.  Let’s remember she is part Beagle.

mail3

Abby was so good that she even posed for this picture.  I do my best to give Abby a job.  Why?  Because as a pet parent, I need and have to make sure that her needs are met.  Going to the post office took us almost an hour.  Once we got home, she drank some water and fell asleep.  Like I said, “Busy Dog = Happy…

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