Praise or food?

Given the choice, many dogs prefer praise from their owners over food, suggests a new study published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. The study is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore canine reward preferences.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory University and lead author of the research. “Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

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Praise Pooch: Most of the dogs in the experiments preferred praise over food, or liked them both equally. Kady, a Labrador-golden retriever mix, was the top dog when it came to the strength of her preference for praise.

Dogs were at the center of the most famous experiments of classical conditioning, conducted by Ivan Pavlov in the early 1900s. Pavlov showed that if dogs are trained to associate a particular stimulus with food, the animals salivate in the mere presence of the stimulus, in anticipation of the food.

“One theory about dogs is that they are primarily Pavlovian machines: They just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it,” Berns says. “Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

Berns heads up the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology, which is researching evolutionary questions surrounding man’s best, and oldest friend. The project was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation. In previous research, the Dog Project identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center. It also showed how that region of a dog’s brain responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

chowhound

Chowhound: Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix, was the only dog in the experiments that chose food over his owner’s praise 100 percent of the time. “Ozzie was a bit of an outlier,” Berns says, “but Ozzie’s owner understands him and still loves him.”

For the current experiment, the researchers began by training the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.
The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

All of the dogs showed a stronger neural activation for the reward stimuli compared to the stimulus that signaled no reward, and their responses covered a broad range. Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

The dogs then underwent a behavioral experiment. Each dog was familiarized with a room that contained a simple Y-shaped maze constructed from baby gates: One path of the maze led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner. The owners sat with their backs toward their dogs. The dog was then repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths. If they came to the owner, the owner praised them.

“We found that the caudate response of each dog in the first experiment correlated with their choices in the second experiment,” Berns says. “Dogs are individuals and their neurological profiles fit the behavioral choices they make. Most of the dogs alternated between food and owner, but the dogs with the strongest neural response to praise chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time. It shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

The experiments lay the groundwork for asking more complicated questions about the canine experience of the world. The Berns’ lab is currently exploring the ability of dogs to process and understand human language.

“Dogs are hypersocial with humans,” Berns says, “and their integration into human ecology makes dogs a unique model for studying cross-species social bonding.”

Source:  Emory University media release

Greyt Vinny and his beds

As Izzy is a greyhound, I like the description of all the beds and their construction. Most dogs will benefit from a comfy bed, particularly as they get older.

THE GREYT KNITTING FRENZY

Greyhounds are boney dogs. They have very little fat or padding. Therefore they need a soft spot to lay. None of the greyhounds that have shared my life would be caught dead laying on a bare floor of wood or tile. There must be at least a rug between them and the hard floor. However, just a rug is rather insulting to a greyhound.

Our Vinny has multiple beds, just count them, . . .
I let our first greyhound sleep on the bed with me at night. This is not a mistake I made the second time. When greys take their share of the bed, they most always stretch out their full length and spread their legs across the bed. There is no curling up in a cute ball for a greyhound, no sirree. Even in a king size bed you are likely to find yourself on the very…

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Awareness of the human-animal bond and how it impacts pet care

The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation partnered with Cohen Research Group to conduct an online survey of 2,000 pet owners, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.2%.

This is the first survey of its kind to explore how pet owners’ knowledge of the health benefits of the human-animal bond impacts pet care and welfare. The survey also looked for generational differences among pet owners on this subject.

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Key findings are as follows:

There is strong awareness of the health benefits of pet ownership

  • 71% of pet owners have heard about scientific research on the human-animal bond that demonstrates pet ownership can help improve physical or mental health in people
  • 88% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce stress
  • 86% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce depression
  • 84% of pet owners were aware that pets reduce anxiety
  • 81% of pet owners were aware that pets increase our sense of well-being
  • 80% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like PTSD in war veterans
  • 68% of pet owners were aware that pets support healthy aging
  • 65% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like autism
  • 60% of pet owners were aware that pets improve heart health
  • 56% of pet owners were aware that pets help with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease
  • 47% of pet owners were aware that pets support child cognitive development and reading skills
  • 45% of pet owners were aware that pets support classroom learning
  • 32% of pet owners were aware that pets help prevent child allergies

The majority of pet owners have personal experience with the health benefits of pets.

  • 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership
  • 75% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s mental health has improved from pet ownership
  • 54% of pet owners reported physical health improvements from pet ownership
  • 55% of pet owners reported a friend’s or family member’s physical health has improved from pet ownership
  • 83% of baby boomers and 82% of greatest/silent generations reported more personal experience with mental health improvements from pets than millennials (62%) and generation X (72%)

The more pet owners learn about scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond, the more likely they are to take actions to improve pet health.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 92% of pet owners are more likely to maintain their pet’s health, including keeping up with vaccines and preventative medicine
  • 89% of pet owners are more likely to take their pet to the vet for regular check-ups
  • 88% of pet owners are more likely to provide their pets with high-quality nutrition
  • 62% of pet owners are less likely to skip visits to the veterinarian
  • 51% of pet owners (78% of millennials) are more likely to purchase pet health insurance

Knowledge of the scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond improves animal welfare.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 89% of pet owners are more likely to take better care of their pets
  • 75% of pet owners are more likely to microchip a pet to ensure it can be found if lost or stolen
  • 74% of pet owners are less likely to give up a pet for any reason

In addition:

  • 77% of pet owners believe that pets benefit from the human-animal bond as much as people
  • 80% of pet owners who were aware of the health benefits of pets reported spending most of the day or a big part of their day with their pets, compared to 71% of pet owners who were unaware

Knowledge of the scientific research on the benefits of the human-animal bond boosts pet ownership.

When educated on the scientific research on the health benefits of pets:

  • 87% of pet owners are more likely to recommend a pet to a friend or family member
  • 81% of pet owners are more likely to get another pet in the future (if the one they have now passes away)
  • 49% of pet owners (74% of millennials) are more likely to get an additional pet
  • 57% of pet owners that currently reported having multiple pets are more likely to get yet another pet

Veterinarians are trusted resources for scientific information on the human health benefits of pets and have an opportunity to further strengthen their relationships with pet owners, especially millennials.

  • Virtually all pet owners (97%) have a favorable opinion of their veterinarian
  • 66% of pet owners (77% of millennials) would have a more favorable view of their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 61% of pet owners (74% of millennials) would be more likely to visit their veterinarian if they discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 25% of millennials always talk to their veterinarians about the health benefits of pet ownership, more than generation X (16%), baby boomers (6%), or greatest/silent generation (4%)

Doctors can also benefit from increased communication on the human-animal bond.

  • 88% of pet owners agree doctors and specialists should recommend pets to patients for healthier living
  • 65% of pet owners would have a more favorable view of a doctor who discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them
  • 59% of pet owners would be more likely to visit a doctor who discussed the health benefits of the human-animal bond with them

Pet owners believe society should be more pet friendly and should act on the scientific research that shows pets improve human health.

  • 93% of pet owners agree the government should provide service animals to veterans with PTSD
  • 69% of pet owners (83% of millennials) agree the government should help make it more affordable to own a pet
  • 84% agree health and life insurance companies should give discounts for owning a pet
  • 87% would be more likely to buy products from pet-friendly businesses
  • 58% of pet owners (74% of millennials) agree employers should consider allowing employees to bring pets to work

Pets are family

  • 98% of pet owners agree that their pet is an important part of their family
  • 95% of pet owners could not imagine giving up their pet for any reason

Source:  HABRI

2 entertaining dog commercials

These two commercials, for Doritos and Amazon Prime, do a great job in using dogs to sell their products.  They certainly got my attention!

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

Changes in Skin “Microbiome” During Canine Atopic Dermatitis Could Lead to Antibiotic-Free Therapies

Atopic dermatitis (AD), a chronic inflammatory skin condition and the most common form of eczema, is estimated to afflict as much as 10 percent of the U.S. population, and is much more common now than it was 50 years ago. Veterinary clinical estimates also show that approximately 10 percent of dogs have atopic dermatitis.

How AD arises isn’t yet fully understood, but a study from researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, have uncovered important insights about the association of AD in dogs compared to humans. The study appears online in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

atopy

To a greater extent than mouse models, canine AD shares important features of the human version. For example, in both humans and dogs AD has been linked to abnormal blooms of Staphyloccocus bacteria on the skin – mostly Staphyloccocus aureus in humans, and Staphyloccocus pseudintermedius in dogs.

In the study, the research team, comprised of veterinary dermatologists, microbiologists, pathologists, and primary scientists, tracked the bacterial populations, or “microbiomes,” on dogs’ skin, and key properties of the skin’s barrier function during an occurrence of AD, and again after standard treatment with antibiotics. During the flare, researchers observed a sharp decrease in the diversity of the skin bacterial population as certain bacterial species proliferated, along with a decrease in the skin’s protective barrier. With antibiotic therapy, both measures returned to normal levels.

“In both canine and human atopic dermatitis we hypothesize there is a similar relationship among skin barrier function, the immune system, and microbes, even if the individual microbe species aren’t identical,” said senior author Elizabeth A. Grice, PhD, an assistant professor of Dermatology and Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “The hope is that insights gained from this study and others like it will enable us one day to treat this condition by altering the skin’s microbiome without antibiotics.”

Thirty-two dogs (15 with canine AD, and 17 without) from Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital were enrolled in the study. On three occasions – first during AD flares in the affected dogs, then after 4-6 weeks of targeted antibiotics, and finally 4-6 weeks after treatment concluded – the team took swabs from several areas of skin on the affected dogs. They surveyed the microbiomes of these samples by amplifying and sequencing copies of a key bacterial gene whose DNA sequence is distinct for different bacterial species.

Samples from the dogs with ongoing AD had almost ten times the proportion of Staphylococcus species, compared to the control dogs. Corynebacterium species also rose, as they typically do in humans with AD. A standard measure of the diversity of the dogs’ skin microbiomes also decreased sharply, indicating that the abnormal bacterial proliferation – chiefly from S. pseudintermedius – had crowded out other, harmless or potentially beneficial bacterial species.

At the second visit, immediately following completion of antibiotic therapy, the abundance of Staphyloccocus and Corynebacterium on the skin of affected dogs and the diversity of their skin microbiome had returned almost to the levels seen in the control dogs. Those measures remained largely the same in the third visit, after antibiotic therapy was finished.

Impairment in the skin’s ability to work as a “barrier” to keep moisture in and harmful bacteria out is considered a possible factor in triggering or advancing AD. Under the guidance of Elizabeth Mauldin, DVM DACVP, DACVD, an associate professor of Dermatopathology in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, the researchers also tested skin barrier function in the dogs at each of their three visits. Results showed that the low-bacterial-diversity state of AD flares – corresponding to lesions of AD on the skin – correlated with impairments in the skin barrier, as indicated by a standard test of the water loss rate through the skin (TEWL).

“We don’t know if the bacterial overgrowth is weakening the skin’s barrier function or a weakening of the barrier is enabling the bacterial overgrowth, but we do know now that they’re correlated, and that’s a novel finding,” Grice said.

The research team is now conducting further studies of the microbiome in canine atopic dermatitis, in particular to determine how antimicrobial therapy promotes bacterial resistance.

“This investigation is a prime example of the One Health approach to research, a recognition that we’re dealing with the same disease processes in animals and in humans,” said lead author Charles Bradley, VMD, DACVP, a lecturer and dermatopathologist of pathobiology in Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “The findings highlight the importance of dogs as a model for human dermatitis and help lay the groundwork for new therapeutic strategies, for example involving microbiome transplants to compete with the harmful bacterial overgrowth, as an alternative to antibiotic therapy.”

Source:  University of Pennsylvania media release

Pet therapy can combat homesickness

The expression dog is man’s best friend might have more weight in the case of first-year university students suffering from homesickness, according to a new UBC study.

The study shows that animal-assisted therapy can help students combat homesickness and could be a useful tool in lowering post-secondary drop-out rates.

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John Tyler Binfet, seen with his dog Frances, conducted a study on the effect of pet therapy on homesickness. Binfet runs the Building Academic Retention Through K’9s (B.A.R.K.) program at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Credit: UBC

“Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first-year students,” says Assistant Professor John Tyler Binfet of UBC’s Okanagan campus.

“Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick cohorts to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition.”

In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life and connectedness with campus. Half of the students completed eight weeks of dog therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks’ time. Dog therapy included 45-minute weekly sessions involving small group interactions with the dogs and handlers, and engagement with other first-year students participating in the study.

Following the initial eight-week session, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.

Participants who completed the eight-week program experienced significant reductions in homesickness and greater increase in satisfaction with life. Participants reported that sessions “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.” While the non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.

According to a 2009 report conducted for B.C. Stats, students who left post-secondary happy were almost twice as likely to have felt a sense of belonging compared to students who left unhappy. Students who left university unhappy were almost twice as likely to say they did not feel a sense of belonging on campus.

A total of 29 per cent of students who dropped out cited more interactions and friendships with other students as a factor that would have influenced their decision to stay longer.

While further study is needed, a university’s ability to influence campus connections could be a useful tool in lowering drop-out rates in first-year students, says Binfet.

“Many first-year university students face the challenge of integrating into their new campus community,” says Binfet. “Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.”

“Moving to a new city, I did not know anyone at the university and became very homesick and depressed,” says UBC Okanagan student Varenka Kim. “I was mainly secluded in my dorm room and did not feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life.”

Source:  University of British Columbia media release

Saving the whole family

As the Northern Hemisphere enters its hurricane season, it’s a useful time to review your plans for disaster preparedness regardless of your location in the world.

In New Zealand, as our seismic activity continues to make the news, it’s important to be ready regardless of season.  Things like refreshing your stored water supply, for example.  And if you don’t have a bottled water supply, get one!  This includes storing enough water for 3 days for you and your animals.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) distributed this video last year.  It outlines the things you need as a pet parent and not just things for dogs.  I have clients on lifestyle blocks with horses, for example.  Although I don’t know much about horse care, I can certainly understand the need to have harnesses and a trailer ready for evacuation.

The video mentions how to make a temporary dog tag out of a luggage tag. This may work for larger dogs, but is impractical for small breed dogs.

What I prefer is to have an old dog registration tag in my emergency kit.    It’s been covered with a blank label and I have a pen in the kit.

If we had to evacuate to a temporary location, I will write our contact details on this temporary tag.

I’m also a supporter of micro chipping, which is compulsory for dogs in New Zealand.

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