Tag Archives: human-animal bond

Affection from a dog really is medicinal, according to a new study

Dogs may also be a doctor’s best friend.

For patients suffering from pain in the emergency room, just 10 minutes with a four-legged friend may help reduce pain, according to a study published Wednesday.

The results support what dog lovers everywhere have long suspected — canine affection cures all ills — as well as provides a bit of optimism for patients and health care providers frequently grappling with strapped hospital resources in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There is research showing that pets are an important part of our health in different ways. They motivate us, they get us up, (give us) routines, the human-animal bond,” said lead study author Colleen Dell, the research chair in One Health and Wellness and professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

The study, published in the journal PLOS One, asked more than 200 patients in the emergency room to report their level of pain on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 as the highest level of pain). A control group had no intervention for their pain, while participants in the other group were given 10 minutes of time with a therapy dog, and patients rated their pain levels again, according to the study.

Those who got the visit from the dogs reported less pain.

The study has a strong methodology, said Jessica Chubak, senior investigator with the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. Chubak, who was not involved with the study, noted that there is still a lot to learn about therapy dogs.

“The results of the study are promising,” she said in an email. “Our current understanding of the effects of therapy dog visits in emergency department settings is fairly limited. So, it is particularly important to have more research in this area.”

Dell hopes that research like this study means we can stop asking if therapy dogs are helpful in a medical context and start asking how they help and how to integrate them better with health care teams.

In the hospital

The emergency room experience might actually contribute to patients’ pain.

The bright lights, long waits, anxiety and focus on immediate, acute conditions can make the feeling worse, said Erin Beckwell, a dog owner who has experienced chronic pain for much of her life.

“It’s not a place that you usually get escorted to a comfy room that’s quiet and gives us any sort of specific interventions,” she said. “It’s often suggestions of things you’ve already tried, and then they send you home after a long time of distressing and anxiety-provoking, pain-filled waiting.

You may not come out feeling like you were even really heard.”

Some people have a misperception that utilizing therapy dogs can transmit disease and risk hygiene in a hospital setting, but Dell said there are ways health care providers can utilize them in sanitary ways to make the whole system operate better.

Mike MacFadden, a nurse practitioner based in Canada, said he sees a lot of potential in incorporating therapy dogs as part of a holistic approach to pain treatment in the emergency room, and that it could help everyone involved.

“Emergency service teams can feel conflicted and experience moral distress resulting from their inability to meet their own expectations for optimal care. With people’s experience of pain being multifaceted, we know that a multifacetedapproach is most beneficial to meet the needs of patients,” McFadden said. “The presence of a therapy dog not only has the benefits of supporting the patient’s experience, but I think it also serves as a comfort to the care providers.”

Hunter, a therapy dog, and his handler, Amanda Woelk, sit with Tyler Regier, 2, and his mother, Tina Regier, both of Overland Park, Kan., on Oct. 2, 2015, at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. (Allison Long/Kansas City Star/TNS)

In the home

Pain can be thought of as both a physical and social experience, said Michelle Gagnon, assistant professor of psychology and health studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Gagnon was not involved with the study.

Anxiety, depression, having support or being dismissed can all have an impact on how we experience pain, she said. It makes sense that spending time with a creature that brings you joy and doesn’t invalidate your feelings can help you feel better.

“The things that you can gain from pets and some of the positive emotions that could be elicited from having the pet around you I think could have an impact on the pain experience itself,” she said.

Beckwell said she has experienced it personally with her 10-year-old cocker spaniel, Reilly, as she has experienced arthritis and autoimmune disorders.

“I feel more in control of the situation and less panicked or anxious about the severity of my pain, the duration of my pain, those sorts of things when I have that unconditional support from my dog,” Beckwell said. “She will come in, and she has learned over the years when I’m in pain she can’t sit on my lap.

“I don’t need to tell her — she knows,” Beckwell said.

Source: CNN

Pets’ impact on human gut microbiome to be explored

Could pets offer “probiotic” benefits to their owners?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) are set to investigate whether pets could be a source of microbiota that can help restore deficiencies in their owner’s gut microbiome (i.e. collection of microbes in the intestines).

The study, which has received funding from the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), will follow pet owners (60 years or older) who are taking antibiotics for dental implant placement. Antibiotics disrupt the native gut microbiome, HABRI reports, which can result in adverse outcomes, ranging from mild diarrhea to severe “C. diff” (Clostridioides difficile) infection.

Researchers hypothesize the gut microbiomes of owners and their pets will resemble each other prior to the course of antibiotics, diverge during the disruption phase, then steadily converge during the recovery phase.

“A growing number of studies have documented the ability of animal contact to impact the human microbiome in ways that may help prevent certain types of disease, such as cardiovascular disease and asthma,” says principal investigator, Laurel Redding, VMD, PhD, DACVPM, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Penn Vet. “In conducting this study, our goal is to shed light on the microbial exchanges that occur between pets and pet owners and assess whether pets can mitigate disruption of their owner’s gut microbiome following antibiotic therapy.”

Researchers say the study’s results could support the promotion of contact between older adults and household pets, HABRI reports.

“HABRI is proud to fund research that will contribute to our understanding of the physiological health benefits of the human-animal bond,” says the group’s president, Steven Feldman. “We know pets and people are good for each other, and it’s exciting we can still discover new evidence underlying this powerful, mutually-beneficial relationship.”

Source: Veterinary Practice News

Many new college students report pet separation anxiety

Pets are not the only ones who experience separation anxiety; their people do too.

Washington State University researchers surveyed a sample of new first-year college students leaving pets at home and found that 75% experienced some level of pet separation anxiety—with one in four reporting moderate to severe symptoms.

“Students who are struggling with missing their pets should know that they’re not alone,” said Alexa Carr, the lead author of the study which is part of her WSU doctoral dissertation. “There’s nothing necessarily wrong with them if they are experiencing a lot of distress from leaving their pets. It can be an isolating experience to lose that coping resource.”

The students who had higher anxiety tended to be those who treated their pets more like people, identifying them as friends, sleeping in the same room and generally spending a lot of time with them. Interestingly, students who had dogs at home also tended to report more attachment to their pets—and more separation anxiety—than those with cats and other types of pets.

While there are many anecdotal accounts of students missing their pets, the study published in Anthrozoos, is the first known research investigating this kind of pet separation anxiety in humans.

Carr and co-author Patricia Pendry, a WSU associate professor of human development, surveyed a sample of about 150 incoming first-year students who had pets at home. The vast majority of respondents, 81%, were women—which is a limitation of the study but also consistent with trends in college enrollment. In 2020, 60% of enrolled college students were women, according to National Center for Education Statistics.

A woman with dark hair smiling and holding a black cat on her shoulder
Alexa Carr

The researchers surveyed the group before they arrived on campus and after their first two weeks of the semester in fall 2019 before the pandemic forced many universities online. The students answered questions related to their mental health, attachment to their pets and feelings about leaving them behind.

Even after controlling for pre-existing mental health issues, the researchers found that pet-related separation anxiety was very strong in the group during the transition to college, especially among students who were closely attached to their pets.

The findings indicate this is an issue for many students and should be taken seriously by campus counselors, Carr said. It also has implications for pet visitation programs now popular at many U.S.  universities which bring animals to campus to help stressed students. A previous WSU study found that petting dogs or cats for just 10 minutes lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

The authors said more research is needed to understand the implications of pet separation anxiety. For example, whether students’ symptoms are stable or become less severe over the course of the semester; or whether pet visitation programs might have some unintended effects, such as potentially exacerbating separation anxiety for students missing their specific pets back home.

The researchers also cautioned that this study should not be used as justification for students to bring their pets with them when they go to college, particularly if they would be their sole caregivers.

“It’s a big responsibility to take care of an animal and would a student then able to balance their school responsibilities, social lives and jobs?” Carr said. “There are more things to take into consideration and explore before we could advocate for more pets on campus.”

Source: WSU Insider

Long-term stress in dogs linked to the owner-dog relationship

The relationship a dog has with its owner is related to its stress level. This is the conclusion of a study from Linköping University. The results, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also suggest that the link between stress and the owner’s personality traits differs between dog breeds.

Researchers at Linköping University study how the interaction between dog and human is connected to the wellbeing of the animal. Photo credit: Nataba

Researchers at Linköping University have investigated whether the stress levels of dogs are affected by the people they live with. Stress levels for the past several months can be determined in both dogs and humans by measuring the levels of stress hormone stored in hairs as they grow.

The researchers have collected hair from both dogs and owners, and measured levels of cortisol, the most important stress hormone, in them. They were interested in whether there are differences between different dog breeds. Breeding has led to the genetic selection of different breeds for different tasks. The study included 18 dogs from breeds that have been bred for independent hunting, such as the Swedish elkhound, the Norwegian elkhound, and the dachshund. A second group included dogs from ancient breeds that are genetically more closely related to the wolf than other breeds. This group comprised 24 dogs from breeds such as the shiba inu, the basenji, and the Siberian husky. All owners completed questionnaires about their own personality and that of their dog. They also answered questions about their relationship with their dog, including such matters as how the owner experienced the interaction with the dog, degree of emotional attachment to the dog, and the extent to which owning a dog gave rise to problems.

“The results showed that the owner’s personality affected the stress level in hunting dogs, but interestingly enough not in the ancient dogs. In addition, the relationship between the dog and the owner affected the stress level of the dogs. This was the case for both types, but the result was less marked for the ancient dogs”, says Lina Roth, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM).

In a previous study, the same researchers had seen that dogs from herding breeds, which have been genetically selected for their ability to collaborate with humans, mirror the long-term stress level of their owner. When the researchers now added information about the relationship of the herding dogs to their owner, it became clear that the relationship was significant for the long-term stress levels also in these dogs.

The researchers conclude that long-term stress is influenced least strongly by the owner and their relationship to the dog for ancient breeds. The hunting dogs show clear links between both the personality of the owner and their relationship to the dog, but it is only herding dogs that demonstrate the unique synchronisation with the long-term stress in the owner.

“We believe that the synchronisation of stress is a consequence of breeding the herding dogs for collaboration with people, while the relationship to the owner and the owner’s personality are important parameters that influence the synchronisation of stress levels”, says Lina Roth.

Parts of the study have received financial support from the Sveland Foundation.

Translation by George Farrants.

The article: Long term stress in dogs is related to the human-dog relationship and personality traits”, Amanda Höglin, Enya Van Poucke, Rebecca Katajamaa, Per Jensen, Elvar Theodorsson and Lina S. V. Roth, (2021), Scientific Reports, published online 21 April 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-88201-y

Source: Linköping University

Women influenced co-evolution of dogs and humans

Man’s best friend might actually belong to a woman.

Photo by Wade Austin Ellis

In a cross-cultural analysis, Washington State University researchers found several factors may have played a role in building the mutually beneficial relationship between humans and dogs, including temperature, hunting and surprisingly—gender.

“We found that dogs’ relationships with women might have had a greater impact on the dog-human bond than relationships with men,” said Jaime Chambers, a WSU anthropology Ph.D. student and first author on the paper published in the Journal of Ethnobiology. “Humans were more likely to regard dogs as a type of person if the dogs had a special relationship with women. They were more likely to be included in family life, treated as subjects of affection and generally, people had greater regard for them.”

While dogs are the oldest, most widespread domesticated animal, very few anthropologic studies have directly focused on the human relationship with canines. Yet when the WSU researchers searched the extensive collection of ethnographic documents in the Human Relations Area Files database, they found thousands of mentions of dogs.

Ultimately, they located data from more than 844 ethnographers writing on 144 traditional, subsistence-level societies from all over the globe. Looking at these cultures can provide insight into how the dog-human relationship developed, Chambers said.

“Our modern society is like a blip in the timeline of human history,” she said. “The truth is that human-dog relationships have not looked like they do in Western industrialized societies for most of human history, and looking at traditional societies can offer a wider vision.”

The researchers noted specific instances that showed dogs’ utility, or usefulness, to humans, and humans’ utility to dogs as well as the “personhood” of dogs—when canines were treated like people, such as being given names, allowed to sleep in the same beds or mourned when they died.

A pattern emerged that showed when women were more involved with dogs, the humans’ utility to dogs went up, as did the dogs’ personhood.

Another prevalent trend involved the environment: the warmer the overall climate, the less useful dogs tended to be to humans.

“Relative to humans, dogs are really not particularly energy efficient,” said Robert Quinlan, WSU anthropology professor and corresponding author on the paper. “Their body temperature is higher than humans, and just a bit of exercise can make them overheat on a hot day. We saw this trend that they had less utility to humans in warmer environments.”

Quinlan noted there were some exceptions to this with a few dog-loving cultures in the tropics, but it was a fairly consistent trend.

Hunting also seemed to strengthen the dog-human connection. In cultures that hunted with dogs, they were more valued by their human partners: they were higher in the measures of dogs’ utility to humans and in personhood. Those values declined, however, when food production increased whether it was growing crops or keeping livestock. This finding seemed to go against the commonly held perception of herding dogs working in concert with humans, but Quinlan noted that in many cultures, herding dogs often work alone whereas hunting requires a more intense cooperation.

This study adds evidence to the evolutionary theory that dogs and humans chose each other, rather than the older theory that humans intentionally sought out wolf pups to raise on their own. Either way, there have been clear benefits for the dogs, Chambers said.

“Dogs are everywhere humans are,” she said. “If we think that dogs are successful as a species if there are lots of them, then they have been able to thrive. They have hitched themselves to us and followed us all over the world. It’s been a very successful relationship.”

Source: Washington State University

Understanding one another

Like us, dogs have their own forms of verbal and non-verbal communication.  Getting to know your dog and being a careful observer of their behavior helps you to develop a deep understanding of your dog.

We know that our dogs are great observers of our behavior, too.  That’s how they learn our cues, moods, and habits.

Having a good understanding of one another pays benefits when you have a dog who is getting older, or has disabilities.

Take Izzy.  She is an ex-racing greyhound and we’ve known for some time that she has arthritis in her carpus (wrist) and toes.  I picked up on the arthritis quite early.  I had noticed that almost every time I looked at her over the course of about a week,  she was licking her left foot.  A visit to the vet for an x-ray confirmed early signs of arthritic changes.  In response, she started getting rub-downs with an anti-inflammatory gel, I started her on additional deer velvet supplements (in addition to her glucosamine and chondroitin supplement) and I also increased the frequency of her visits to a local hydrotherapy pool and her massages.

Over the last year, we’ve also been battling corns  – something that plagues sighthounds in particular but has been aggravating her arthritis and was the main cause of her progressively becoming more lame.  I knew we were having a corn problem because she would limp only when crossing the road over chip-sealed road (intolerance of rough surfaces is typically the first sign).

As she then developed two corns on the same toe, her lameness became constant and our walks shorter, with a pram when she needed it.

Izzy had a flexor tenotomy surgery last month and this has helped greatly in managing the corns but of course the arthritis is still there, she is that much older, and she’s had months of reduced/shortened walks because of her lameness.

Now the bright side.  She is getting fitter and stronger and I’m carefully increasing the amount of activity she has.  Today, she didn’t want to go out initially for an afternoon walk and so I put her in her pram.

We got as far as around the block before she let me know she was ready to get out and walk.  (This is signaled by a high-pitched bark)

I know Izzy is getting tired when her head drops and she starts taking more and more time sniffing bushes, grass and trees.  These are signs that she is tiring and the excess sniffing is both a diversionary behavior and, at times, a sign she is stressed and uncomfortable.

That’s when I put her back in her pram.  She gets plenty of stimulation and enrichment by watching the world go by.  She also loves the attention she gets from passersby – both on foot and in cars.  (Shortly after I stopped this video, the couple who approached on foot spent at least 5 minutes talking to her, giving her treats and chatting about her care).

I am always grateful when people stop to talk to us about ‘what’s wrong with her’ and to ask about greyhounds and their welfare.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

 

Yes, your dog wants to rescue you

What to do. You’re a dog. Your owner is trapped in a box and is crying out for help. Are you aware of his despair? If so, can you set him free? And what’s more, do you really want to?

That’s what Joshua Van Bourg and Clive Wynne wanted to know when they gave dogs the chance to rescue their owners.

Until recently, little research has been done on dogs’ interest in rescuing humans, but that’s what humans have come to expect from their canine companions — a legend dating back to Lassie and updated by the popular Bolt.

“It’s a pervasive legend,” said Van Bourg, a graduate student in Arizona State University’s Department of Psychology.

Simply observing dogs rescuing someone doesn’t tell you much, Van Bourg said. “The difficult challenge is figuring out why they do it.”

So, Van Bourg and Wynne, an ASU professor of psychology and director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at ASU, set up an experiment assessing 60 pet dogs’ propensity to rescue their owners. None of the dogs had training in such an endeavor.

In the main test, each owner was confined to a large box equipped with a light-weight door, which the dog could move aside. The owners feigned distress by calling out “help,” or “help me.”

Beforehand, the researchers coached the owners so their cries for help sounded authentic. In addition, owners weren’t allowed to call their dog’s name, which would encourage the dog to act out of obedience, and not out of concern for her owner’s welfare.

“About one-third of the dogs rescued their distressed owner, which doesn’t sound too impressive on its own, but really is impressive when you take a closer look,” Van Bourg said.

That’s because two things are at stake here. One is the dogs’ desire to help their owners, and the other is how well the dogs understood the nature of the help that was needed. Van Bourg and Wynne explored this factor in control tests — tests that were lacking in previous studies.

In one control test, when the dog watched a researcher drop food into the box, only 19 of the 60 dogs opened the box to get the food. More dogs rescued their owners than retrieved food.

“The key here is that without controlling for each dog’s understanding of how to open the box, the proportion of dogs who rescued their owners greatly underestimates the proportion of dogs who wanted to rescue their owners,” Van Bourg said.

“The fact that two-thirds of the dogs didn’t even open the box for food is a pretty strong indication that rescuing requires more than just motivation, there’s something else involved, and that’s the ability component,” Van Bourg said. “If you look at only those 19 dogs that showed us they were able to open the door in the food test, 84% of them rescued their owners. So, most dogs want to rescue you, but they need to know how.”

In another control test, Van Bourg and Wynne looked at what happened when the owner sat inside the box and calmly read aloud from a magazine. What they found was that four fewer dogs, 16 out of 60, opened the box in the reading test than in the distress test.

“A lot of the time it isn’t necessarily about rescuing,” Van Bourg said. “But that doesn’t take anything away from how special dogs really are. Most dogs would run into a burning building just because they can’t stand to be apart from their owners. How sweet is that? And if they know you’re in distress, well, that just ups the ante.”

The fact that dogs did open the box more often in the distress test than in the reading control test indicated that rescuing could not be explained solely by the dogs wanting to be near their owners.

The researchers also observed each dog’s behavior during the three scenarios. They noted behaviors that can indicate stress, such as whining, walking, barking and yawning.

“During the distress test, the dogs were much more stressed,” Van Bourg said. “When their owner was distressed, they barked more, and they whined more. In fact, there were eight dogs who whined, and they did so during the distress test. Only one other dog whined, and that was for food.”

What’s more, the second and third attempts to open the box during the distress test didn’t make the dogs less stressed than they were during the first attempt. That was in contrast to the reading test, where dogs that have already been exposed to the scenario, were less stressed across repeated tests.

“They became acclimated,” Van Bourg said. “Something about the owner’s distress counteracts this acclimation. There’s something about the owner calling for help that makes the dogs not get calmer with repeated exposure.”

In essence, these individual behaviors are more evidence of “emotional contagion,” the transmission of stress from the owner to the dog, explains Van Bourg, or what humans would call empathy.

“What’s fascinating about this study,” Wynne said, “is that it shows that dogs really care about their people. Even without training, many dogs will try and rescue people who appear to be in distress — and when they fail, we can still see how upset they are. The results from the control tests indicate that dogs who fail to rescue their people are unable to understand what to do — it’s not that they don’t care about their people.

“Next, we want to explore whether the dogs that rescue do so to get close to their people, or whether they would still open the box even if that did not give them the opportunity to come together with their humans,” Wynne added.

The study, “Pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) release their trapped and distressed owners: Individual variation and evidence of emotional contagion was published last month,” was published online in April 2020 in the journal PLOS.

Source:  Arizona State University

The evolution of puppy dog eyes

Dogs have evolved new muscles around the eyes to better communicate with humans. New research comparing the anatomy and behavior of dogs and wolves suggests dogs’ facial anatomy has changed over thousands of years specifically to allow them to better communicate with humans.

Puppy dog eyes

In the first detailed analysis comparing the anatomy and behavior of dogs and wolves, researchers found that the facial musculature of both species was similar, except above the eyes. Dogs have a small muscle, which allows them to intensely raise their inner eyebrow, which wolves do not.

The authors suggest that the inner eyebrow raising movement triggers a nurturing response in humans because it makes the dogs’ eyes appear larger, more infant like and also resembles a movement humans produce when they are sad.

The research team, led by comparative psychologist Dr Juliane Kaminski, at the University of Portsmouth, included a team of behavioural and anatomical experts in the UK and USA.

It is published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Dr Kaminski said: “The evidence is compelling that dogs developed a muscle to raise the inner eyebrow after they were domesticated from wolves.

“We also studied dogs’ and wolves’ behavior, and when exposed to a human for two minutes, dogs raised their inner eyebrows more and at higher intensities than wolves.

“The findings suggest that expressive eyebrows in dogs may be a result of humans unconscious preferences that influenced selection during domestication. When dogs make the movement, it seems to elicit a strong desire in humans to look after them. This would give dogs, that move their eyebrows more, a selection advantage over others and reinforce the ‘puppy dog eyes’ trait for future generations.”

Dr Kaminski’s previous research showed dogs moved their eyebrows significantly more when humans were looking at them compared to when they were not looking at them.

She said: “The AU101 movement is significant in the human-dog bond because it might elicit a caring response from humans but also might create the illusion of human-like communication.”

Lead anatomist Professor Anne Burrows, at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, USA, co-author of the paper, said: “To determine whether this eyebrow movement is a result of evolution, we compared the facial anatomy and behaviour of these two species and found the muscle that allows for the eyebrow raise in dogs was, in wolves, a scant, irregular cluster of fibres.

“The raised inner eyebrow movement in dogs is driven by a muscle which doesn’t consistently exist in their closest living relative, the wolf.

“This is a striking difference for species separated only 33,000 years ago and we think that the remarkably fast facial muscular changes can be directly linked to dogs’ enhanced social interaction with humans.”

Dr Kaminski and co-author, evolutionary psychologist Professor Bridget Waller, also at the University of Portsmouth, previously mapped the facial muscular structure of dogs, naming the movement responsible for a raised inner eyebrow the Action Unit (AU) 101.

Professor Waller said: “This movement makes a dogs’ eyes appear larger, giving them a childlike appearance. It could also mimic the facial movement humans make when they’re sad.

“Our findings show how important faces can be in capturing our attention, and how powerful facial expression can be in social interaction.”

Co-author and anatomist Adam Hartstone-Rose, at North Carolina State University, USA, said: “These muscles are so thin that you can literally see through them – and yet the movement that they allow seems to have such a powerful effect that it appears to have been under substantial evolutionary pressure. It is really remarkable that these simple differences in facial expression may have helped define the relationship between early dogs and humans.”

Co-author Rui Diogo, an anatomist at Howard University, Washington DC, USA, said: “I must admit that I was surprised to see the results myself because the gross anatomy of muscles is normally very slow to change in evolution, and this happened very fast indeed, in just some dozens of thousands of years.”

Soft tissue, including muscle, doesn’t tend to survive in the fossil record, making the study of this type of evolution harder.

The only dog species in the study that did not have the muscle was the Siberian husky, which is among more ancient dog breeds.

An alternative reason for the human-dog bond could be that humans have a preference for other individuals which have whites in the eye and that intense AU 101 movements exposes the white part of the dogs eyes.

It is not known why or precisely when humans first brought wolves in from the cold and the evolution from wolf to dog began, but this research helps us understand some of the likely mechanisms underlying dog domestication.

Source:  University of Portsmouth

Owning a dog is influenced by our genetic make-up

A team of Swedish and British scientists have studied the heritability of dog ownership using information from 35,035 twin pairs from the Swedish Twin Registry. The results indicate that an individual’s genetic make-up has a great influence on whether they choose to acquire a dog. Genes appear to account for more than half of the difference in dog ownership.

Dog ownership

“Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others” Photograph: Mikael Wallerstedt

Dogs were the first domesticated animal and have had a close relationship with humans for at least 15,000 years. Today, dogs are common pets in our society and are considered to increase the well-being and health of their owners. The team compared the genetic make-up of twins (using the Swedish Twin Registry – the largest of its kind in the world) with dog ownership. The results are published for the first time in Scientific Reports. The goal was to determine whether dog ownership has a heritable component.

“We were surprised to see that a person’s genetic make-up appears to be a significant influence in whether they own a dog. As such, these findings have major implications in several different fields related to understanding dog-human interaction throughout history and in modern times. Although dogs and other pets are common household members across the globe, little is known how they impact our daily life and health. Perhaps some people have a higher innate propensity to care for a pet than others,” says Tove Fall, lead author of the study, and Professor in Molecular Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

Health benefits of owning a dog

Carri Westgarth, Lecturer in Human-Animal interaction at the University of Liverpool and co-author of the study, adds: “These findings are important as they suggest that supposed health benefits of owning a dog reported in some studies may be partly explained by different genetics of the people studied”.

Studying twins is a well-known method for disentangling the influences of environment and genes on our biology and behaviour. Because identical twins share their entire genome, and non-identical twins on average share only half of the genetic variation, comparisons of the within-pair concordance of dog ownership between groups can reveal whether genetics play a role in owning a dog.

Genetics play a major role

The researchers found concordance rates of dog ownership to be much larger in identical twins than in non-identical ones – supporting the view that genetics indeed plays a major role in the choice of owning a dog.

“These kind of twin studies cannot tell us exactly which genes are involved, but at least demonstrate for the first time that genetics and environment play about equal roles in determining dog ownership. The next obvious step is to try to identify which genetic variants affect this choice and how they relate to personality traits and other factors such as allergy” says Patrik Magnusson, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Insitutet, Sweden and Head of the Swedish Twin Registry.

“The study has major implications for understanding the deep and enigmatic history of dog domestication” says zooarchaeologist and co-author of the study Keith Dobney, Chair of Human Palaeoecology in the Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. “Decades of archaeological research have helped us construct a better picture of where and when dogs entered into the human world, but modern and ancient genetic data are now allowing us to directly explore why and how?”

Source:  Uppsala University

Rescue and Jessica

Rescue and Jessica

Children’s books featuring dogs are an integral part of educating children about the human-animal bond and dogs, generally (not to mention encouraging children to learn to read!)

In Rescue and Jessica:  A Life-Changing Friendship, service dog Rescue meets Jessica who is a double amputee.  Not only does he help her with everyday tasks, but he also helps her see a future for herself.

Although a work of fiction, authors Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes, a wife and husband who suffered the loss of limbs in the Boston Marathon bombing, have drawn on their own experiences with their black Labrador service dog, Rescue.  The book includes an endnote which explains how service dogs are trained.

The authors and their illustrator have been recently honored with a Christopher Award. Christopher Award founder Father James Keller created the awards to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.”

Kensky & Downes

Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes (photo by Boston Globe)

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand