Tag Archives: research

The dog on the editorial board

Read through my blog categories and you’ll notice that the research category is one of the largest.  What can I say?  I’m a bit of a science geek.  I trained and worked in environmental science for over 20 years and so I understand the value of research – it creates new knowledge and underpins new developments that can help us and our dogs.

But research comes at a price – and that’s not just the cost of doing the research.  Research quality is often judged on the basis of whether or not the research has been peer-reviewed.  And like any system, the peer review  and publishing system has become a money-maker for some journals.  Academic staff are judged on their production of papers which show not only their name, but also the name of their employing institution.  When I worked at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, this system was commonly referred to as ‘publish or perish.’

There are journals that scam researchers into paying to be published when there is no real peer behind the peer review and the journal is one that may look reputable, but isn’t.

peer reviewer

Professor Mike Daube of Curtin University in Australia thought it would be a good idea to challenge the system in a tongue-in-cheek way.  He offered the services of his Staffordshire terrier, Olivia Doll, as a peer reviewer with expertise in subjects like “avian propinquity to canines in metropolitan suburbs” and “the benefits of abdominal massage for medium-sized canines.”

Olivia was approached to peer review at least one article.    The Global Journal of Addiction & Rehabilitation Medicine appointed her as an Associate Editor (no job interview required) and a journal called Psychiatry and Mental Disorders listed her as a member of its editorial board.  At last count, Olivia served on the editorial board of seven journals.

I hope I’m a bit more discerning in selecting the dog-related research that I share on this blog; and wherever possible I include a link to the original source to respect copyright.

Source:  Science Magazine

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

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Puppy Up to Cancer

You’ve probably heard the terms ‘man up’ or ‘woman up’ – but how about ‘puppy up’?

That’s the origin of the name for the Puppy Up to Cancer initiative founded by the 2 Million Dogs Foundation.  Through every Puppy Up walk, funds are raised to help with cancer research.

Walks are usually led by human and canine survivors of cancer and often dogs who are infirm or who can’t walk for long distances participate by riding in wagons and carts.

Dogs are often used in comparative oncology studies because their cancers have commonalities with human cancers.

I think this  is a great idea and since we have many dogs in New Zealand who also fall to cancer, fundraising in this way would be a way of contributing to the body of knowledge.

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

What do dogs dream about?

This is a funny compilation of videos – when your dog is asleep, what do you think they are dreaming about?

But on a more serious note, researchers have looked at brain activity when dogs are asleep.  All the evidence points to the fact that dogs do dream.  Read my post on Dog Dreaming.

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

The Genius of Dogs – book review

The genius of dogsI have just finished reading The Genius of Dogs by Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods.  It’s a keeper!

I’ve always felt that many people don’t give our dogs the credit they deserve; they are not ‘dumb animals.’  This book outlines research into dog cognition and what it means for your relationship with your dog.

Hare, who is the founder of the Duke Canine Cognition Center, started his research at the young age of 7 with his dog Oreo.  He used a basic cognitive test involving two cups and a treat to test whether Oreo would respond to hand signals.  Later in life, as part of his research, he travels to places like the Congo to work with bonobos, Australia to observe dingoes on Fraser Island, and New Guinea to test a group of New Guinea Singing Dogs.

Here are a few of my favourite excerpts from this book:

  • People who own pets tend to be more extroverted, less lonely, and have higher self-esteem than people who do not own pets.
  • Breed-specific laws based on appearance as opposed to bad behavior are doomed to fail in protecting the public because it is difficult to judge a dog by her cover.
  • In return for a lifetime of loyalty, they (dogs) depend on us for food, the warmth of a loving family, and a good home.  It is up to us to uphold our end of the bargain.

This book is thoroughly referenced with 67 pages of end notes, something I believe is as an indicator of quality.

Enjoy this book, from its first page to last.  I found the book’s dedication particularly poignant…

For all dogs

Another study about dogs (yawn)

It’s official (again) – dogs yawn more often in response to their owners than to other people.

dog yawning

Last year, researchers in Sweden published research on contagious yawning in dogs.  This year, researchers at the University of Tokyo have published additional research in the open journal PLoS One.

Their research focuses on a ‘familiarity bias’ in contagious yawning by dogs.

Pet dogs in the study watched their owner or a stranger yawn.  They responded more in response to their owners than to the strangers.

The researchers conclude that the dogs have an emotional connection to their owners, which is exhibited through empathy with the yawning movements.

Your dog understands ‘Just Do It’

New research helps to confirm the cognitive abilities of our dogs.

Claudia Fugazza and Adám Miklósi, from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary have shown that dogs can learn, retain and replay actions taught by humans after a short delay.   Because the dogs were able to undertake the actions after a delay (during which they were purposely distracted), the research proves that dogs have an ability to ‘encode’ and ‘recall.’

photo courtesy of Springer Select

photo courtesy of Springer Select

The study involved eight adult pet dogs who were trained by their owners with the ‘Do as I do’ method and then made to wait for short intervals (5-30 seconds) before they were allowed to copy the observed human action, for example walk around a bucket or ring a bell.

The researchers observed whether the dogs were able to imitate human actions after delays ranging from 40 seconds to 10 minutes, during which time the dogs were distracted by being encouraged to take part in other activities. The researchers were looking for evidence of the dogs’ ability to encode and recall the demonstrated action after an interval.

The tests show that dogs are able to reproduce familiar actions and novel actions after different delays ̶ familiar actions after intervals as long as ten minutes; novel tasks after a delay of one minute. This ability was seen in different conditions, even if they were distracted by different activities during the interval.

Because dogs were able to reproduce the novel actions after a delay and without earlier practice, the researchers believe that dogs have a specific type of long-term memory capability – called ‘declarative memory.’    These are memories involving facts or knowledge which can be consciously recalled.

This study is published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Source:  Springer Select media statement

Visual identification of breed – one reason why BSL doesn’t work

I’m ‘on the record’ that I don’t support breed specific legislation (BSL) and I consider it one of New Zealand’s great shames that it has adopted such laws  (just one of the issues I raised when I submitted to the review of the Animal Welfare Act).

Breed specific legislation doesn’t work because, in part, these laws rely on visual identification of breeds.  If a dog is identified as one of the banned or dangerous breeds, it can (literally) be ‘all over, Rover.’

There’s scientific research that shows why visual identification is a fatal flaw in BSL.  Some of this research has been conducted by Dr Victoria Lea Voith who is based at the Western University of Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine.

In 2009, Voith and her colleagues published results of a study comparing visual identification of dog breed with DNA results.   They showed that there was a very low accuracy rate when visual identifications were verified with DNA.  The research team concluded:

  • There is little correlation between dog adoption agencies’ identification of probable breed composition with the identification of breeds by DNA analysis
  • Further evaluation of the reliability and validity of visual dog breed identification is warranted
  • Justification of current public and private policies pertaining to breed specific regulations should be reviewed

This year (2013), Voith and her colleagues published another paper entitled “Comparison of Visual and DNA Breed Identification of Dogs and Inter-Observer Reliability”   Since their previous paper was based on the identification of breed by a single person, the research team wanted to see if the success rate of breed identification improved when multiple people were involved.  The research team presented one-minute video clips of the same 20 dogs to over 900 people who were engaged in dog-related professions or services.

For 14 of the dogs, fewer than 50% of the respondents visually identified breeds of dogs that matched DNA identification. For only 7 of the dogs was there agreement among more than 50% of the respondents regarding the most predominant breed of a mixed breed.  In 3 of those 7 cases, the visual identification did not match the DNA analysis.

This time, the research team concluded:

This study reveals large disparities between visual and DNA breed identification as well as differences among peoples’ visual identifications of dogs. These discrepancies raise questions concerning the accuracy of databases which supply demographic data on dog breeds for publications such as public health reports, articles on canine behavior, and the rationale for public and private restrictions pertaining to dog breeds.

Dr Voith explains her research in this YouTube video:

If you still want to know more about this issue, you can visit the Breed Identification page of the National Canine Research Council.  On this page, you can download color posters that further explain the problems associated with visual identification of breeds.