Tag Archives: behaviour

Dog-human cooperation is based on social skills of wolves

Dogs are man’s best friend and partner. The origins of this dog-human relationship were subject of a study, published recently in the journal Frontiers in Psychology,  by behavioural scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna and the Wolf Science Center.

They showed that the ancestors of dogs, the wolves, are at least as attentive to members of their species and to humans as dogs are. This social skill did not emerge during domestication, as has been suggested previously, but was already present in wolves. 

Photo by the Wolf Science Center

Photo by the Wolf Science Center

Commonly accepted hypotheses about domestication suggest: “Dogs have become tolerant and attentive as a result of humans actively selecting for these skills during the domestication process in order to make dogs cooperative partners.”

Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi from the Unit of Comparative Cognition at the Messerli Research Institute question the validity of this view and have developed the “Canine Cooperation Hypothesis”. Their hypothesis states that since wolves already are tolerant, attentive and cooperative, the relationship of wolves to their pack mates could have provided the basis for today’s human-dog relationship. An additional selection, at least for social attentiveness and tolerance, was not necessary during canine domestication.

The researchers believe that wolves are not less socially attentive than dogs. Dogs however cooperate more easily with humans because they more readily accept people as social partners and more easily lose their fear of humans. To test their hypothesis, Range and Virányi examined the social attentiveness and tolerance of wolves and dogs within their packs and toward humans.

Various behavioural tests showed that wolves and dogs have quite similar social skills. Among other things, the researchers tested how well wolves and dogs can find food that has been hidden. Both wolves and dogs used information provided by a human to find the hidden food.

In another study, they showed that wolves followed the gaze of humans. To solve the task, the animals may need to be capable of making a mental representation of the “looker’s” perspective. Wolves can do this quite well. 

Another experiment gave dogs and wolves the chance to observe conspecifics as they opened a box. When it was the observer’s turn to do the same, the wolves proved to be the better imitators, successfully opening the box more often than dogs. “Overall, the tests showed that wolves are very attentive to humans and to each other. Hypotheses which claim that wolves have limited social skills in this respect in comparison to dogs are therefore incorrect,” Range points out. 

At the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn in Lower Austria, Range and Virányi investigated the social behaviour of dogs and wolves that grew up with members of their species and with humans. “The animals are socialized both with conspecifics and with humans. To be able to compare the behaviour of dogs and wolves and to investigate the effects of domestication, it is important that the animals live in the same conditions,” Virányi explains.

Source:  Vetmeduni Vienna media release

Read my other post about the Institute’s research with wolves here

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

The benefits of being dog-friendly (Christchurch take note)

Here’s more research that backs up my position on dogs and the Christchurch rebuild.  Hopefully the CCDU and CERA will take note…

A study from the University of Liverpool has recommended investing in dog owner education and facilities as a strategy to target physical inactivity and problems such as obesity in both people and their pets.

The research team reviewed scientific papers published since 1990 (31 studies from the UK, USA, Australia and Japan) and found that access to dog-friendly walking environments and better education about dogs’ physical needs could all motivate people to get out and take more exercise with their pets.

An exercised dog is a healthy one, less likely to be obese, and who is less likely to develop behavioural problems like aggression and excessive barking. 

Among the most common findings of all studies was that dog owners have a varied understanding of how much exercise their dog needs. This affected how much they took their dog for a walk; something that could be addressed with education programs.

People without access to high quality local areas that support dog walking, for example parks where dogs are allowed off-leash and poo-disposal facilities are provided, were less likely to walk with their dog and missed out on the associated health benefits.

There are a large number of reasons why people do or don’t walk their dog and it is worth considering how we can address this when designing strategies for reducing obesity, or when planning urban areas and public open space. Not being able to let their dog off the leash is a particular put-off,” said Dr Carri Westgarth, co-author of the study.

Study authors Dr Carri Westgarth and Dr Hayley Christian take an off-lead walk (photo courtesy of University of Liverpool)

Study authors Dr Carri Westgarth and Dr Hayley Christian take an off-lead walk (photo courtesy of University of Liverpool)

The study also found that some people are worried about their dogs’ behaviour and may be less likely to take it out to the park – potentially out of embarrassment or worry about how it might act – but lack of walks may also be causing this bad behaviour, due to boredom, frustration or lack of socialisation.”

When I submitted to the CCDU in November 2012, I made the point that by having greater accessibility, owners have more opportunity to take dogs out – and that increases opportunity not only for exercise but also socialisation.   We want good ownership to be more visible in our communities – thus making it the norm.  Poor ownership would also be more visible – and subject to peer pressure combined with enforcement approaches.

Let’s have a dog-friendly central city with walking accessibility from one end to the other!

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

Source:  University of Liverpool media release

 

Kennels may not be something to dread

New research suggests that dogs who spend a short time in boarding kennels may not find it unduly stressful and – quite the opposite – could find the change of scenery exciting.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Green Dog Rescue

Photo courtesy of Jerry Green Dog Rescue

The research team, which included academics from the University of Lincoln, UK, University of Birmingham, Queen’s University Belfast and The Royal Veterinary College, measured a range of stress parameters in 29 privately-owned dogs – both at home and in one of three private boarding kennel establishments in Northern Ireland.

This study aimed to test the validity of a range of physiological, physical and behavioural welfare indicators and to establish baseline values reflecting good dog welfare.

Physical measurements included skin dryness, nose temperature, core body temperature and amount of food eaten. Behavioural measurements included spontaneous behaviours such as lip licking, paw lifting, yawning, shaking and restlessness. Physiological measures included stress hormones (corticosteroids) and epinephrine (adrenaline).

The study revealed that dogs have higher levels of arousal, colder noses and were generally more active in kennels than when they were at home.

Based on existing research it was assumed that dogs would show higher levels of stress in the kennel compared to the home environment.

The most widely used physiological indicator of canine welfare is urinary cortisol (hormone secreted following activation of one of the major stress response systems) and creatinine (chemical waste product created by the liver) ratios (C/Cr), which is considered a valid measure of acute and chronic stress in dogs. However, the reliability of this has been questioned.

The study revealed that C/Cr was significantly higher in the kennel compared to the home environment but cortisol levels have also been found to increase after exercise and excitement, and appear to provide an indication of arousal without specifying the emotional reason of that arousal.

Dr Lisa Collins, from the School of Life Sciences, University of Lincoln, UK, said: “Many owners find leaving their dog at a boarding kennels a stressful experience.  However, this study suggests that although dogs appeared to have a higher level of overall arousal or excitement in kennels compared with their state at home, this arousal is not necessarily due to dogs experiencing kennels as negatively stressful. The emotional reasons for the behavioural and physiological responses of the dogs were ambiguous and no definitive evidence was found to suggest that dogs were negatively stressed by kennelling.”

“Our findings did strongly suggest that C/Cr, epinephrine and nose temperature are robust measures of psychological arousal in dogs. Nonetheless, these measures can be easily misinterpreted and do not provide unequivocal indicators of psychological stress. Findings appear to suggest that the dogs in this study did not perceive admission to boarding kennels as an aversive stressor and perhaps, instead, perceived kennelling as an exciting change of scene, at least in the short-term.”

The team recommends further investigation to determine the validity of measurements tested as indicators of acute and chronic stress in domestic dogs.

Their study has been published in the journal Physiology & Behavior.

Source:  University of Lincoln media release

Bark For Your Park!

Bark for your Park

There are 15 finalists for this year’s Bark for your Park contest, sponsored by PetSafe.

PetSafe evaluated the availability of land, civic leader support, population size, and the total number of votes in the first round of the contest to come up with the finalists.

The contest supports dog parks because they provide a venue and opportunity for dogs to get vital exercise and socialization they need, which are two major factors in reducing behavior issues.  People tend to meet other dog owners, trainers and pet professionals at dog parks and are able to exchange information and resources that can further encourage responsible dog ownership.

You have until July 31 to vote.  Popular vote will determine the winner, who will receive $100,000. Additionally, the runner-up city in each small, medium and large category will win $25,000. The Bark from Your Heart award winner, which will be the city with the highest vote to opportunity to vote, will win $25,000.

Winners will be announced on August 7.

The finalists are:

  • Auburn, NY
  • Beckley, WV
  • Carrollton, TX
  • East Hartford, CT
  • Enfield, NH
  • Hattiesburg, MS
  • Manassas Park, VA
  • Port Chester, NY
  • Potsdam, NY
  • Sanford, NC
  • Springfield, IL
  • Sulphur Springs, TX
  • Taylor, MI
  • Tehachapi, CA
  • Waverly, IA

Behavioural problems in pet store dogs

Dogs purchased from pet stores are more likely to have a range of behavior problems than those purchased from small, non-commercial breeders, says a study by researchers at the Best Friends Animal Society and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The study involved 413 dogs purchased from pet stores.  Psychological and behavioral characteristics of these dogs were compared to the same characteristics in 5,657 dogs obtained from small-scale, private breeders.  (Most puppies sold in pet stores in the USA are sourced from large-scale, puppy mill type commercial breeders).

Results show that dogs obtained as puppies from pet stores showed significantly more aggression toward human family members, unfamiliar people and other dogs. Dogs purchased from pet stores were almost twice as likely to exhibit aggression directed toward unfamiliar dogs than dogs purchased from small non-commercial breeders.

The pet store dogs also a displayed greater fear of other dogs and typical events in pet dogs’ lives, had more behavior problems when left alone at home, and experienced more problems with house-soiling.  These behaviors in young adult dogs are reasons typically cited by people who surrender their pets to animal shelters.

“The results were so one-sided that in the wide range of behavior problems we included in our analysis, pet store dogs failed in every single case to even obtain one more favorable score than the comparison group of dogs” says Dr Frank McMillan of Best Friends Animal Society.

The research team acknowledges that the exact causes of the behavioral problems observed are not known; until these causes are understood, they recommend avoiding purchasing puppies from pet stores.

Source:  BusinessWire media release

See my related post about the ASPCA’s No Pet Store Puppies initiative

 

 

 

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?

Teaching wolves new tricks

The process of learning often involves mimicry or imitation.  In research published in the journal PLoS One, scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna report on their behaviour experiments involving wolves and dogs.

The results show that wolves observe one another more closely than dogs and so are better at learning from one another. 

Photo Credit: Walter Vorbeck

Photo Credit: Walter Vorbeck

The scientists found that wolves are considerably better than dogs at opening a container, providing they have previously watched another animal do so. Their study involved 14 wolves and 15 mongrel dogs, all about six months old, hand-reared and kept in packs.

Each animal was allowed to observe one of two situations in which a trained dog opened a wooden box, either with its mouth or with its paw, to gain access to a food reward. Surprisingly, all of the wolves managed to open the box after watching a dog solve the puzzle, while only four of the dogs managed to do so. Wolves more frequently opened the box using the method they had observed, whereas the dogs appeared to choose randomly whether to use their mouth or their paw.

The researchers think that it is likely that the dog-human cooperation originated from cooperation between wolves. During the process of domestication, dogs have become able to accept humans as social partners and thus have adapted their social skills to include interactions with them, concomitantly losing the ability to learn by watching other dogs.

Source:  University of Vienna media release