Tag Archives: Golden Retriever

Dogs´social skills linked to oxytocin sensitivity

The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new study. The findings contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet.

Golden Retriever

A golden retriever turns to his owner for help. Photo credit: Mia Persson

During their domestication from their wild ancestor the wolf to the pets we have today, dogs have developed a unique ability to work together with humans. One aspect of this is their willingness to “ask for help” when faced with a problem that seems to be too difficult. There are, however, large differences between breeds, and between dogs of the same breed. A research group in Linköping, led by Professor Per Jensen, has discovered a possible explanation of why dogs differ in their willingness to collaborate with humans. The results have been published in the scientific journal Hormones and Behavior.

The researchers suspected that the hormone oxytocin was involved. It is well-known that oxytocin plays a role in social relationships between individuals, in both humans and animals. The effect of oxytocin depends on the function of the structure that it binds to, the receptor, in the cell. Previous studies have suggested, among other things, that differences in dogs’ ability to communicate are associated with variations in the genetic material located close to the gene that codes for the oxytocin receptor. The researchers in the present study examined 60 golden retrievers as they attempted to solve an insoluble problem.

“The first step was to teach the dogs to open a lid, and in this way get hold of a treat. After this, they were given the same task with the lid firmly fixed in place, and thus impossible to open. We timed the dogs to see how long they attempted on their own, before turning to their owner and asking for help,” says Mia Persson, PhD student at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, and principal author of the article.

Before the behavioural test, the researchers increased the levels of oxytocin in the dogs’ blood by spraying the hormone into their nose. As a control, the dogs carried out the same test after having received a spray of neutral salt water in the same way. The researchers also collected DNA using a cotton swab inside the dogs’ cheek, and determined which variant of the gene for the oxytocin receptor that each dog had.

The results showed that dogs with a particular genetic variant of the receptor reacted more strongly to the oxytocin spray than other dogs. The tendency to approach their owner for help increased when they received oxytocin in their nose, compared with when they received the neutral salt water solution. The researchers suggest that these results help us understand how dogs have changed during the process of domestication. They analysed DNA also from 21 wolves, and found the same genetic variation among them. This suggests that the genetic variation was already present when domestication of the dogs started, 15,000 years ago.

“The results lead us to surmise that people selected for domestication wolves with a particularly well-developed ability to collaborate, and then bred subsequent generations from these,” says Mia Persson.

The genetic variations that the researchers have studied do not affect the oxytocin receptor itself: they are markers used for practical reasons. Further research is necessary to determine in more detail which differences in the genetic material lie behind the effects.

Per Jensen points out that the study shows how social behaviour is to a large extent controlled by the same genetic factors in different species.

“Oxytocin is extremely important in the social interactions between people. And we also have similar variations in genes in this hormone system. This is why studying dog behaviour can help us understand ourselves, and may in the long term contribute to knowledge about various disturbances in social functioning,” he says.

The article: Intranasal oxytocin and a polymorphism in the oxytocin receptor gene are associated with human-directed social behavior in golden retriever dogs, Persson, M.E., Trottier, A.J., Beltéky, J., Roth, L.S.V., Jensen, P., 2017, Hormones and Behavior 95, 85–93, published online 17 August 2017. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.07.016

Source:  Linköping University media release

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Trained dogs most efficient in monitoring hermit beetle larvae

Hermit beetles (Osmoderma eremita) are considered at risk, but in order to be effectively protected, they first need to be identified and consistently monitored.

However, this turns out to be a tough task, given that the species is only present for a short time as an adult while it is also extremely elusive. On the other hand, although it remains as a larva for up to three years, once again, it is difficult to spot as it hides inside hollow trees living in the wood mould.

The standard method for detecting hermit beetles involves wood mould sampling which is not only arguable in its overall efficiency, but is also unreasonably time-consuming and quite damaging to both the species communities and their habitat.

Searching for an alternative, Italian scientists, led by Dr. Fabio Mosconi of the Italian Agricultural Research Council and Sapienza University of Rome, suggested that trained dogs might be more successful. Such conservation detection dogs are currently being widely deployed when searching for mammals, reptiles and birds and have already been tested for locating a number of invertebrates.

In their paper, published in the open access journal Nature Conservation, the team tested a training programme before comparing it with the traditional method. The study has been conducted as part of the MIPP Project aimed at the development of non-invasive methods for monitoring selected saproxylic beetles.

Starting from the choice of a dog, the scientists carefully made their choice from a number of individuals as well as breeds. They settled on a Golden Retriever – a breed widely used in searches for biological targets. As for the particular dog, they chose Teseo – a six-month pup coming from a line with a strong background in locating illegally imported animals and animal parts.

Conservation dog

The training of Teseo began with the assignment of a trainer/handler and some basic obedience training, involving teaching simple commands, search games and agility activities.

The next step was introducing the dog to various types of odours, since the hermit beetles might give off a different odour dependent on their habitats, such as the presence of fungi, sawdust and other organic materials. Immediately after detecting the target smell, the animal would be given a reward such as food or play, so that its behaviour could be positively reinforced.

Then, the dog was taught to differentiate between different odours. The researchers presented a number of targets to the animal where it needed to select the right one. At this stage, the dog was only rewarded for correct signalling. Should the dog be distant from the trainer, a special clicker was used to ‘announce’ the treat in advance. The researchers noted that it was at this stage when the relationship between the dog and the handler needed to be really strong, so that the training was as efficient as possible.

In conclusion, the scientists reported a significantly higher probability (73%) of Teseo successfully detecting a tree colonised by the larvae, as opposed to two people conducting the traditional wood mould sampling (34-50%). Moreover, the dog would cover a particular area in a very short time when compared to the traditional method – on average it would take it 6 minutes and 50 seconds to examine the whole tree, while the operators using wood mould sampling would need about 80 minutes. Additionally, searching for larvae with dogs poses no risk to either the insects or other organisms that might be living in the trees.

Furthermore, the researchers provided a list of precautions in order to increase the efficiency when searching for beetle larvae with the help of trained dogs. The list included familiarising the dog with the survey site beforehand, opting for the part of the day with the most favourable atmospheric conditions and carefully monitoring the dog for signs of fatigue.

“A conservation detection dog is a powerful tool for locating O. eremita and these results can be useful for other related European species of Osmoderma“, commented the scientists.

“In fact, the use of a trained dog is a fast, accurate and non-invasive method that allows the detection of a target species in an area and to identify the colonised trees; this means that a conservation detection dog can locate new populations, can confirm the presence of the target species and can assist in the mapping of colonised trees in an area, accurately and efficiently.”

Source:  Pensoft Blog

Doggy quote of the month for September

“There’s nothing like a wagging tail to make you feel better”

Golden retriever tail wagging

– Dr. J. Michael McFarland, DVM, ‎DABVP, Group Director of US Companion Animal Marketing at Zoetis

Study demonstrates rapid decline in male dog fertility, with potential link to environmental contaminants

A study led by researchers at The University of Nottingham has discovered that the fertility of dogs may have suffered a sharp decline over the past three decades.

The research, published in the academic journal Scientific Reports, found that sperm quality in a population of stud dogs studied over a 26-year period had fallen significantly.

The work has highlighted a potential link to environmental contaminants, after they were able to demonstrate that chemicals found in the sperm and testes of adult dogs – and in some commercially available pet foods – had a detrimental effect on sperm function at the concentrations detected.

Semen study

Researchers believe that the latest results showing that dogs’ quality of semen has diminished may offer a new piece of the puzzle over the reported significant decline in human semen quality. Credit: © jurra8 / Fotolia

As ‘man’s best friend’ and closest companion animal, the researchers believe that the latest results may offer a new piece of the puzzle over the reported significant decline in human semen quality – a controversial subject which scientists continue to debate.

Dr Richard Lea, Reader in Reproductive Biology in the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, who led the research said: “This is the first time that such a decline in male fertility has been reported in the dog and we believe this is due to environmental contaminants, some of which we have detected in dog food and in the sperm and testes of the animals themselves.

“While further research is needed to conclusively demonstrate a link, the dog may indeed be a sentinel for humans – it shares the same environment, exhibits the same range of diseases, many with the same frequency and responds in a similar way to therapies.”

The study centred on samples taken from stud dogs at an assistance dogs breeding centre over the course of 26 years. Professor Gary England, Foundation Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction, who oversaw the collection of semen said: “The strength of the study is that all samples were processed and analysed by the same laboratory using the same protocols during that time and consequently the data generated is robust.”

The work centred on five specific breeds of dogs – Labrador retriever, golden retriever, curly coat retriever, border collie and German shepherd – with between 42 and 97 dogs studied every year.

Semen was collected from the dogs and analysed to assess the percentage of sperm that showed a normal forward progressive pattern of motility and that appeared normal under a microscope (morphology).

Over the 26 years of the study, they found a striking decrease in the percentage of normal motile sperm. Between 1988 and 1998, sperm motility declined by 2.5 per cent per year and following a short period when stud dogs of compromised fertility were retired from the study, sperm motility from 2002 to 2014 continued to decline at a rate of 1.2% per year.

In addition, the team discovered that the male pups generated from the stud dogs with declining semen quality, had an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, a condition in which the testes of pups fail to correctly descend into the scrotum.

Sperm collected from the same breeding population of dogs, and testes recovered from dogs undergoing routine castration, were found to contain environmental contaminants at concentrations able to disrupt sperm motility and viability when tested.

The same chemicals that disrupted sperm quality, were also discovered in a range of commercially available dog foods – including brands specifically marketed for puppies.

Dr Lea added: “We looked at other factors which may also play a part, for example, some genetic conditions do have an impact on fertility. However, we discounted that because 26 years is simply too rapid a decline to be associated with a genetic problem.”

Over the past 70 years, studies have suggested a significant decline in human semen quality and a cluster of issues called ‘testicular dysgenesis syndrome’ that impact on male fertility which also include increased incidence of testicular cancer, the birth defect hypospadias and undescended testes.

However, declining human semen quality remains a controversial issue – many have criticised the variability of the data of the studies on the basis of changes in laboratory methods, training of laboratory personnel and improved quality control over the years.

Dr Lea added: “The Nottingham study presents a unique set of reliable data from a controlled population which is free from these factors. This raises the tantalising prospect that the decline in canine semen quality has an environmental cause and begs the question whether a similar effect could also be observed in human male fertility.”

Source:  University of Nottingham media release

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

 

 

Gabe, Best Man

When veteran Justin Lansford got married last month to long-time girlfriend, Carol, his best man was his support dog Gabe.

A Golden Retriever, Gabe was matched with Lansford when he returned from Afghanistan an amputee thanks to an IED explosion in 2012.

Lansford lost his left leg to that explosion and also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Justin and Gabe wait at the alter (Brad Hall Photography)

Justin and Gabe wait at the alter (Brad Hall Photography)

ABC News’ Good Morning America also covered the story:

A big shout-out to Justin, Carol and Gabe….may you have a long and happy life together!

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

Lola the therapy dog

Lola, as photographed by Nancy Rubin Stuart

Lola, as photographed by Nancy Rubin Stuart

Meet Lola, a nine-year old Golden Retriever, who accompanies her owner, Dr Bodrie of Bourne, Cape Cod, to his office and on Wednesday rounds to one of six nursing facilities.    She’s a certified therapy dog!

In this article from Cape Cod.com, you can read about the Therapy Dogs International certification process that she and Dr Bodrie underwent to make her a certified therapy dog.

Lola and Dr Bodrie

Lola and Dr Bodrie

Lola's official therapy dog badge

Lola’s official therapy dog badge