Tag Archives: behaviour

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

No correlation between breed and aggression

Researchers from the University of Bristol’s School of Veterinary Sciences have investigated the occurrence of dog aggression towards people with a survey of UK dog owners.

The 4,000 responses revealed:

  • aggression towards unfamiliar people was reported more commonly by owners than aggression to family members
  • 7 per cent of owners responded that their dog barked, lunged, growled or actually bit when people came to the house
  • 5 per cent of owners said that these things happened when out on walks
  • 3 per cent of owners reported aggression towards family members

Dog bearing teeth

The study highlighted that the majority of dogs showing aggression do so in just one type of situation. This indicates that the tendency to categorise dogs as either generally ‘safe’ or ‘vicious’ is a misconception, and that most dogs show aggression as a learnt response to particular situations.  (A lot of trainers working in animal shelters probably already knew this.)

The research also highlighted that although general characteristics, such as breed type, are significant risk factors across large populations they explain only a small amount of the overall difference between aggressive and non-aggressive dogs.   Therefore, it is not appropriate to evaluate the risk of aggressive behaviour in an individual dog using characteristics such as breed type.

That’s another black mark for supporters of breed specific legislation!

The results of this research have been published in the journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

Source:  University of Bristol media release

7 Steps to a Happier Pet

This holiday season, the Humane Society of the United States would like to share its 7 steps to a happier pet:

  1. Make sure your pet wears an identification tag
  2. Make sure you enroll your new puppy in behavioural training classes to prevent problems
  3. Animal behavioural problems can be health-related.  Make sure your pet has a complete medical exam by a veterinarian at least once a year
  4. Prepare for disasters and make sure you have a plan for your pet in the event of a hurricane, tornado, fire, flood or earthquake
  5. Plan for your pet’s future in case something happens to you
  6. Learn how to prevent dog bites and how to prevent your dog from biting; visit the Humane Society’s website.
  7. Have a heart, be smart, and make sure your pet is spayed or neutered.

My dog wags on the right side (that’s the good side)

Whether your dog wags on the right side or the left means something – to other dogs and to observant humans…

Credit:  Siniscalchi et al.

Photo Credit: Siniscalchi et al.

Research by an Italian team has shown that dogs, like humans, have asymmetrically organized brains, with the left and right sides playing different roles.  The team has published their research in the journal Current Biology.

The research team had already found that dogs wag to the right when they feel positive emotions (upon seeing their owners, for instance) and to the left when they feel negative emotions (upon seeing an unfriendly dog, for example). That biased tail-wagging behavior reflects what is happening in the dogs’ brains. Left-brain activation produces a wag to the right, and right-brain activation produces a wag to the left.

The latest research, however, shows that the direction of tail-wagging means something to other dogs.  While monitoring their reactions, the researchers showed dogs videos of other dogs with either left- or right-asymmetric tail wagging. When dogs saw another dog wagging to the left, their heart rates picked up and they began to look anxious. When dogs saw another dog wagging to the right, they stayed perfectly relaxed.

Researcher Giorgio Vallortigara of the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences of the University of Trento says that the direction of tail-wagging a clear indication of right or left brain activation and could have many applications, such as determining state of mind during a visit to the vet.

So now that you know about this research, think about the wags on these dogs and what are they trying to say?

Behaviour in dogs depends on the paw preference

I’ve previously written about how to test if your dog is right-pawed or left pawed.  Researchers at the University of Adelaide led by Dr Luke Schneider tested a group of 73 dogs using 50 manipulations of an object to determine their paw preference.  They then interviewed the dog owners about their dog’s behavior to see if there was a pattern.

“We found that dogs with a preference for left paws were reported by their owners to show high levels of aggression towards strangers. The left pawed dogs scored almost twice as high as ambilateral (ones with no preference) and also higher than dogs with right paws.

“There is research in the human world as well that positive and negative emotions can be located in the left and right hemispheres and it seems to go the same way in humans and other animal species, that the negative emotions are located in the right hemisphere. There are many, many overlaps between human and animal brains.”

Blake the Beagle shows his preference for the right paw

Blake the Beagle shows his preference for the right paw

When testing dogs for paw preference, the research team found a roughly even split between those dogs that had a right paw preference vs those with a left paw preference.

None of the dogs in the study were noted as particularly aggressive, and so the research team wants to do more work with dogs who are noted for aggression-type responses.  A larger testing group would also help to validate results.  The research team’s study has been published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

A mixed news week for dogs in Christchurch

It’s been a variable week of dog news here in Christchurch (to say the least).

The news was all bad by mid-week, when it was reported that two Rottweilers mauled a young boy of eight, named Mason Bennett.  Mason had been staying with his mother and her partner (who owned the dogs).    And there had been a previous incident when the dogs were aggressive with another young boy.

Read Dad’s shock at earlier attack by same dogs

The recent dog attack saw lots of comments about how Rottweilers can't be trusted.  Was it the dog or the owners who are to blame?

The recent dog attack saw lots of comments about how Rottweilers can’t be trusted. Was it the dog or the owners who are to blame?

In the same edition of the newspaper, columnist Rachel Young wrote about My dog was a rottweiler. In general, a defense of the breed, Ms Young also mentions in her story that when her family Rottweiler, Zeb, became unwell with kidney disease he became more aggressive.  Her parents decided to euthanize him.  To quote “Despite the loving environment, at times you can’t beat nature. In Zeb’s case, it seemed the protective, aggressive nature was developing as he got older and sicker.”

Which shows that even some dog owners don’t know a thing about dogs.  Maybe a sick dog lashes out because they are in pain and can’t communicate that in spoken words – and their family doesn’t get it!!!!!

This provoked a Letter to the Editor on my part – which the newspaper largely got right but they decided to edit it by attributing the dog attack to dogs that were unwell (which there isn’t any evidence of – just poor owners!)

The dog news turned for the brighter the next day when police dog Gage was honoured with the PDSA Gold Medal posthumously.  Killed in 2010 during a drug raid, Gage took a bullet that was meant for his handler Bruce Lamb.  The PDSA Gold Medal is known as the Animal’s George Cross, for civilian bravery.

Bruce Lamb tells his and Gage’s story here Shot police dog Gage honoured for bravery

Today is Monday and there is mixed news for dog owners in today’s newspaper.  Front page news is the story of landlords charging special pet bonds to allow tenants to keep pets.  This is when a tenant pays more than the standard four week’s rent upfront to secure their rental and it is illegal.

The story goes on to say that charging more for a pet-friendly rental (week to week, or month to month) is okay.  Unfortunately, since Christchurch is still in earthquake recovery mode, rental housing is at a premium.  Many dog owners don’t dare contest a pet bond because they need a home for all members of the family.  Read Landlords in dog box over pet bonds.

Further into the newspaper, some better news.  A little puppy of about six weeks old was found cowering under the seat of a car when it was stopped by police.  The offenders fled and the dog is believed to be stolen property.  A police constable is appealing for information about the wee puppy.

Read Police pursuit nets puppy

Here’s hoping that the stolen pup is returned home soon…

I’d like to see more positive news about dog and dog ownership in Christchurch.  But it seems that for every bad news story, we need about ten more to gain the confidence of the public.

How does your city/town deal with dog news?  Please get in touch.

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