Tag Archives: animal behavior

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

 

Research shows why cats are more independent than dogs

Domestic cats do not generally see their owners as a focus of safety and security in the same way that dogs do, according to new research.

Relaxed cat and dog. While it is increasingly recognized that cats are more social and more capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, this latest research shows that adult cats appear to be more autonomous -- even in their social relationships -- and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection. Credit: © bodza2 / Fotolia

Relaxed cat and dog. While it is increasingly recognized that cats are more social and more capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, this latest research shows that adult cats appear to be more autonomous — even in their social relationships — and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection.
Credit: © bodza2 / Fotolia

The study by animal behaviour specialists at the University of Lincoln, UK, shows that while dogs perceive their owners as a safe base, the relationship between people and their feline friends appears to be quite different.

While it is increasingly recognised that cats are more social and more capable of shared relationships than traditionally thought, this latest research shows that adult cats appear to be more autonomous – even in their social relationships – and not necessarily dependent on others to provide a sense of protection.

The research, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, was led by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, along with Alice Potter – who studied as a postgraduate at Lincoln and now works with the Companion Animals Science Group at the RSPCA.

Professor Mills said: “The domestic cat has recently passed the dog as the most popular companion animal in Europe, with many seeing a cat as an ideal pet for owners who work long hours. Previous research has suggested that some cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way that dogs do, but the results of our study show that they are in fact much more independent than canine companions. It seems that what we interpret as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration.”

The Lincoln researchers carefully adapted the Ainsworth Strange Situation Test (SST), which has been widely used to demonstrate that the bond between young children or pet dogs with their primary carer can be categorised as a ‘secure attachment’ – where the carer is seen as a focus of safety and security in potentially threatening (or unfamiliar) environments.

The study observed the relationships between a number of cats and their owners, placing the pets in an unfamiliar environment together with their owner, with a stranger and also on their own. In varying scenarios, it assessed three different characteristics of attachment; the amount of contact sought by the cat, the level of passive behaviour, and signs of distress caused by the absence of the owner.

“Although our cats were more vocal when the owner rather than the stranger left them with the other individual, we didn’t see any additional evidence to suggest that the bond between a cat and its owner is one of secure attachment.”

“For pet dogs, their owners often represent a specific safe haven; however it is clear that domestic cats are much more autonomous when it comes to coping with unusual situations.”

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

New Directions in Canine Behaviour

New directions in canine behavior

The January 2015 special edition of the journal Behavioural Processes is fully online (until January 2016).  This means you can download .pdf copies of fifteen  interesting research articles about dogs and behavior.

In the opening editorial of this journal, Monique A.R. Udell says that research into social development and cognitive evolution of dogs is just beginning to scratch the surface despite the long history of the human-canine relationship.

I am particularly interested in these fields of research (as my many blog postings under the category of ‘research’ show!) because of the work I do with dogs.  Understanding dogs is critical to working with them in a holistic approach to health.

My only criticism of journal articles generally (not just this journal) is the odd and often long names that researchers choose for the title of their articles.  It is just one indication that researchers work in a different world from generalist audiences; they are often judged in peer reviews for language this is technical.  In my experience as a research manager, I have also found that most academic researchers write in a style using long sentences and paragraphs.

Some of these articles are easier to read than others because of this.

The articles in this issue are:

  • Revisiting the concept of behavior patterns in animal behavior with an example from food-caching sequences in Wolves (Canis lupus), Coyotes (Canis latrans), and Red Foxes (Vulpes vulpes)
  • Assessment of attachment behaviour to human caregivers in wolf pups (Canis lupus lupus)
  • Self-regulatory depletion in dogs:  insulin release is not necessary for the replenishment of persistence
  • Dogs and their human companions:  The effect of familiarity on dog-human interactions
  • Scent of the familiar:  An fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors
  • Shut up and pet me!  Domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) prefer petting to vocal praise in concurrent and single-alternative choice procedures
  • A comparison of pet and purpose-bred research dog (Canis familiaris) performance on human-guided object-choice tasks
  • Gazing toward humans:  A study on water rescue dogs using the impossible task paradigm
  • Is that fear?  Domestic dogs’ use of social referencing signals from an unfamiliar person
  • Why do adult dogs ‘play’?
  • Down but not out:  Supine postures as facilitators of play in domestic dogs
  • The advent of canine performance science:  Offering a sustainable future for working dogs
  • Do you see what I see?  Can non-experts with minimal training reproduce expert ratings in behavioral assessments of working dogs?
  • Which personality dimensions do puppy tests measure?  A systematic procedure for categorizing behavioral assays
  • Citizen science:  A new direction in canine behavior research

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

The basics of animal behavior

Nikolaas Tinbergen, who lived from 1907-1988, was a scientist who developed four basic questions that would explain animal behavior; he ultimately won the Nobel Prize for his work.

If you get involved in animal advocacy or rescue work, it helps to have some understanding of animal behavior.   The ‘4 Questions’ help us to understand why an animal is exhibiting a behavior.  Some published resources call these Questions ‘the Four Whys…’ (although the questions aren’t always phrased as a why)

1.  What is the function of the trait, or why does it exist?

2.  What is the phylogeny, or evolutionary history, of the trait?

3.  What is the cause of the trait?  Regardless of history or function, there is likely to be a physical basis for the behavior.

4.  How did the trait develop?  This is where you consider how the animal interacted with its environment and surroundings over time.

Barking dog

So, as a simple example – let’s consider barking.  Barking exists as a form of communication that augments physical body language.  So that’s the function question answered.

As far as evolution is concerned, it is probable that early dogs had different vocal sounds which developed into the barking we know today in the wide range of dog breeds.

The cause of barking is the passing of air through vocal chords – much like in humans.

And how the trait developed…well this is connected to domestication and how dogs could communicate with the canine and human members of their pack.  Animal trainers learn to distinguish the different types of barking and help to pass this knowledge onto their clients.

Most dog owners can also understand the differences in their dog’s barking.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand