Tag Archives: agility

These 59 genes may make your dog more athletic

Compare the sprinting Shetland sheepdog with the sluggish St. Bernard, and it’s clear a dog’s genes play a large role in how athletic it is. Now, at the Biology of Genomes meeting here, scientists report identifying 59 genes linked to canine athletics, which apparently affect everything from heart rate to muscle strength. Early results suggest some may eventually help us understand human superstars.

Athletic dog

Some dogs are great athletes and genome studies are showing why. Gallia Painter Mackinnon/500px

“Across dogs, all sorts of traits have been selected for in an extreme way,” says Alexander Godfrey, a genomicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, who was not involved in the work. As such, dog genomics represents “a pretty unique and powerful system” for studying how genotypes, or sets of genes, result in phenotypes, or sets of observable characteristics in all types of animals, he says.

Past work on dogs has yielded genes for friendliness, hair type, and other relatively simple traits. But this new study looked at more complex ones, thanks to a new resource: a soon-to-be-released global database of the whole-genome sequences of 722 dogs across about 450 breeds, along with sequences for canine relatives, including wolves, foxes, and jackals.

Jaemin Kim, a postdoc working with canine genomicist Elaine Ostrander at the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, focused on athleticism, in part because he wondered why he wasn’t any better at his favorite sport: basketball. He decided to start with the genes that turn sport dogs such as pointers, setters, and retrievers into the Michael Jordans of the canine world. He and colleagues compared the genomes of 21 individuals from 10 sport hunting breeds with 27 individuals from nine terrier breeds.

Fifty-nine genes, or the regions that control them, stood out, with certain versions of the DNA much more common in the sport dogs, Kim reported at the meeting. He and his colleagues could not easily verify their effects on athletic performance, but most are linked to traits including blood flow, heart rate, muscle strength, and even pain perception. One seems to help dogs remain calm after they hear a gunshot, he added, which may make them stable hunting companions; a different version in terriers may account for their well-known neuroticism.

To examine the role of these genes in other breeds, Kim needed a standard way of assessing athleticism. He decided to use agility trials, competitions in which dogs, guided by their owners, maneuver through an obstacle course in the shortest time possible. Data from the United States Dog Agility Association allowed him to calculate the best performing breeds: border collies and Shetland sheepdogs. The worst were Newfoundlands, bulldogs, and mastiffs.

Then, he compared whole genomes from the best and the worst, looking for differences in the 59 genes. Only one proved to be significant, a gene called ROBO1 that affects learning ability. So when it comes to agility, Kim said, it seems that a mental attribute may matter more than physical ones do. “It looks like it’s more of a training thing,” says Sarah Tishkoff, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved with the work.

“It’s interesting to think about what genes are associated with what traits,” Godfrey says. “That it would be a gene that’s not involved with muscles is not obvious.” Even though agility trials are a good measure, Godfrey cautions that in general humans are notoriously bad at objectively evaluating their own and other people’s dogs. And he wonders whether, even in agility, judges wind up “scoring aspects of human[like] behavior that they like” and not agility per se, he points out. Another issue is that there are other types of athleticism. Herding dogs, for example, are great athletes that race around keeping livestock together and headed in the right direction, even though they are not that muscular looking. Kim is starting to look at the genetic basis of that behavior.

Ostrander says the new results might one day help us better understand the genetic basis of athleticism in humans. Already, other researchers have implicated one of the 59 genes in improving human performance by improving blood flow, and it’s likely, she says, that others will also prove important. Dogs suffer many of the same health problems that people do, and canine versions of the relevant genes will be easier to track down. Because breeders work hard to bring out specific traits in their dogs, “you get mutations in pathways that have dramatic effects,” Tishkoff explains.

Source:  Science

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The Golden Retriever obedience fail

This video is a couple of years old; but to me it shows the best in owners who compete in events like obedience and agility.

In this obedience test, the dogs run a gauntlet of diversions including treats and toys.  Their goal is to focus on their handler and reach the end – quickly.

You will see that the first two dogs manage this test fairly successfully.  And then it is the Golden Retriever’s turn…

What I like is that the owner doesn’t yell or visually get upset or angry. She encourages her dog to reach the end of the competition.

And then everyone celebrates!

It breaks my heart to attend competitive events when the owners/handlers are angry or upset with their dogs when they don’t perform.  Dogs, like us, have bad days.  I have even met owners who say they know their dog doesn’t like competitions, but he/she does it because that’s what the owner wants.

My recommendation is that you and your dog take part in things that give you joy – and in this Golden Retriever’s case – he clearly shows he’s enjoying life and having fun.

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

 

 

Dog agility: Do emotions get in the way of a top performance?

dog agility

Researchers have debated human right brain/left brain theory for years.  New research has looked into whether lateralisation of brain function affects dogs.

The study involved 19 dogs and trainers.  The study subjects went through a series of tests, firstly paw preference tests whilst offering food followed by agility tests, using A-frames, jumps and weave poles.  Throughout the tests, the dogs received trainer stimuli from both the right and left sides.

Trainers also completed questionnaires giving more information about the dog’s temperament.  Results showed a correlation between paw preference and agility.  Dogs with stronger paw preferences seemed more predisposed to training, less distracted and had greater agility.

When trainers presented on the left, dogs were more agitated, emotional, and performances deteriorated.  A dog’s left visual field stimulates the right brain hemisphere.

Overall the results revealed that behavioural lateralisation correlates with
performance of agility-trained dogs.  These results support previous evidence that lateralisation in dogs can directly affect visually guided motor
responses.

The results have practical implications for personnel involved in
the selection of dogs trained specifically for agility competitions and for the
development of new training techniques.

You can read the full article on this research here.

 Read my previous blogs about paw preference in dogs:

·        Behaviour in dogs depends on paw preference

·         Is your dog right-pawed or left-pawed?

Resolve to be a great dog owner this year

There are lots of jokes that circulate at this time of year about a dog’s resolutions for the new year (e.g., kitty-box crunchies are not junk food, etc.).  But what about your resolutions for your role as a Doggy Mom or Doggy Dad?

Here are my suggestions for new year resolutions:

1.  Resolve to feed your dog the highest quality dog food you can afford.  Not sure what to feed or even if you are feeding the right amount?  That’s where a nutritional assessment comes in.  People like me are trained in reading the labels of your existing dog food and with some information about your dog’s condition and lifestyle, we can tell you a lot about whether you are feeding the right amount and make un-biased suggestions about your core dog food.

In my case, I’m not affiliated with any veterinary practice or brand of dog food (many professionals take their nutrition training from a programme offered by dog food manufacturer – ask about this when selecting a provider for nutritional advice!)

2.  Exercise more – for your dog and yourself!  Exercise is important mental and physical stimulation for both you and your dog.  Discover new walks, link up with walking partners and doggy buddies for more variety, and manage your exercise according to the temperatures of the day (your dog doesn’t have the heat regulation system that you do in the summer; and their paw pads can be irritated by road salt and ice during the winter).

3.  Groom your dog – regularly.   If you don’t know what to do, then take your dog to a professional groomer and get advice on maintenance that you can do at home.  It breaks my heart to hear about veterinary nurses and groomers that have to work on severely matted dogs because their owner has neglected their grooming responsibilities.

4.  Make time for your dog.  I signed off last month’s newsletter to my Canine Catering customers saying “remember that the best thing you give your dog this holiday season is your time.”  It goes for the rest of the year, too.  Your dog is a social animal and needs your love and attention throughout the year.

5.  Keep a watchful eye on your dog’s health, ensuring they are not overweight (or underweight) and that they receive regular veterinary care.  (For a dog to be accepted into my dog massage and rehabilitation practice, the owner must certify for me that their dog is under regular veterinary care.)

6.  Have fun together – play time is essential.  Dog walks are not the only stimulation for your dog.  Choose an activity that suits both you your dog.  It could be agility or obedience training, rally-o, fetch, cross-country skiing, hiking/tramping, or the use of interactive dog toys.

I wish you and your dog a wonderful 2012.  Contact me through this blog or my website for information on any topic I cover in this blog.