Tag Archives: research

At Kindness Ranch

Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary is a unique place, the only sanctuary in the United States that cares for animals used in research and laboratory facilities.  At this property, you’ll find horses, cows, sheep, pigs, cats and dogs.

The small team at Kindness, which is a fairly new sanctuary at only 12 years old (founded in 2006), work hard to care for the animals and maintain their large Wyoming property to the highest of standards.  Animals that can be rehabilitated are put up for adoption; the others will simply remain at the property with a secure and safe home for life.

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I have just finished a week of work with the dog care team at Kindness, discussing things like behavioral adjustment programs, enrichment, gait analysis, physical rehabilitation and senior dog care.    I also introduced them to the range of flower essences I use to support emotional health whilst working on training and rehab.

I chose to travel to Kindness Ranch because, for anyone who follows my blog, I often include items about research.  I’m a self-confessed science geek.  But I am not naive.  I know that much of the research which is published involves dogs as study subjects.  The life of a lab animal, in most cases, isn’t pretty.

The ranch is in remote Wyoming – Hartville to be exact with a permanent population of 69 people.  For this reason, if you’d like to visit Kindness (there are 4 guest yurts on the property which can be hired for your stay – and these are well-appointed and very comfortable), you need to book ahead.  The ranch is also a good place for a digital detox, too,  because the guest yurts do not have television and cell phone reception is patchy at best.  WiFi is available but is slower than most are used to and not suitable for streaming.

Dogs coming from a laboratory situation often have unique needs.  Most have never experienced grass under the feet, the sights and sounds of the home environment, and some will have healthcare issues that require attention before adoption is possible.  Many have never been house trained.  Their ages vary depending on how long they were used for study.

And while Beagles are the dogs most often associated with laboratory research, expect to see other breeds of dogs, too.  Larger breed dogs are often used by veterinary schools, for example, so students can learn blood draws, how to vaccinate, etc.  These dogs become living pin cushions and are not surprisingly fearful whenever a needle is presented.

I deliberately chose Kindness as a destination because of the special niche it holds in the animal rescue world.  It takes special people to liaise with laboratories and encourage them to release their animals rather than choosing to simply euthanize them (described as the ‘cost effective’ option).  Kindness walks a tightrope of sorts to ensure that the animals are given safe passage out of the lab and onto the sanctuary whilst maintaining the confidentiality of the labs.

And it also takes special people to live remotely and care for these  animals.

I hope you enjoy these photos of my time at Kindness and, if you believe in their mission, please consider making a donation.  Every bit helps.

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

 

Hank

Hank was the first dog to stay with me overnight in my yurt. Hank is an older boy who spent the first 7 or 8 years of his life in a laboratory. He’s a bit stiff, and has trouble with stairs (as many of the Beagles do).

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Hank in for a cuddle

One of Hank’s favourite pastimes is being held like a baby on your lap. He makes himself totally relaxed and floppy and will stay for as long as you like. It’s amazing how trusting these dogs can be given their treatment at the hands of others.

 

Rocky

Rocky is a big boy who doesn’t know his own strength (he needs more training about walking nicely on leash) and he’s afraid of men.  We suspect his life as a veterinary school practice animal meant that he didn’t have a positive relationship with a male lab assistant and/or vet students.  So we worked on setting up a system where the men on the ranch will visit and quietly enter and feed him high value treats. Handlers will praise Rocky when he is quiet and doesn’t bark and will start using a ‘click for quiet’ approach to clicker training.

Frieda

Frieda is a pit bull who loves to go to the dog park on the ranch, appropriately called the K9 Corral. She has good recall and knows most of her basic cues including sit and down. She’s very intelligent!

Gus

Gus is another senior Beagle used in pharmacokinetic studies for at least 7 years. (These studies introduce drugs and watch their effects on other organs in the body.) He’s a bit achy in the joints, too. Gabapentin and muscle relaxants prescribed by the vet have helped him a lot and his caregiver says that he is a different dog with the support of his meds.

 

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

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.

OCD – dogs and humans are not that different

The structural abnormalities in the brains of dogs suffering from canine compulsive disorder (CCD) are similar to the abnormalities found in humans suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) according to new research.

A collaboration between veterinarians at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and researchers at the McLean Imaging Center at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts have published their findings in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry.

The study involved 16 Doberman Pinschers, 8 with CCD and 8 without.  Dogs with CCD engage in repetitious and destructive behaviors such as flank- and blanket-sucking, tail chasing, and chewing,  whereas people with OCD tend to have repetitious behaviors that interfere with their daily life.

Here’s a video of a German Shepherd with CCD engaging in a circling behavior:

“While the study sample was small and further research is needed, the results further validate that dogs with CCD can provide insight and understanding into anxiety disorders that affect people.  Dogs exhibit the same behavioral characteristics, respond to the same medication, have a genetic basis to the disorder, and we now know have the same structural brain abnormalities as people with OCD,” said Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, DACVB, professor of clinical sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

It should be noted that the research also provides insight into dog behavior and management.  In some cases, a dog labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘destructive’ may actually have a biological basis for their problems.

Source:  TuftsNow media release

Dogs reduce your risk of heart disease

The American Heart Association has released a scientific statement citing the link between pet ownership and reduced risk of heart disease.

The statement is published online in the association’s journal Circulation.

“Pet ownership, particularly dog ownership, is probably associated with a decreased risk of heart disease” said Glenn N. Levine, M.D., professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and chair of the committee that wrote the statement after reviewing previous studies of the influence of pets.

Research cited to support that statement includes:

  • Pet ownership is probably associated with a reduction in heart disease risk factors and increased survival among patients.  “It may be simply that healthier people are the ones that have pets, not that having a pet actually leads to or causes reduction in cardiovascular risk,” Levine said. (Disclaimer:  These studies aren’t definitive and do not necessarily prove that owning a pet directly causes a reduction in heart disease risk.)
  • Dog ownership in particular may help reduce cardiovascular risk. People with dogs may engage in more physical activity because they walk them. In a study of more than 5,200 adults, dog owners engaged in more walking and physical activity than non-dog owners, and were 54 percent more likely to get the recommended level of physical activity.
  • Owning pets may be associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and a lower incidence of obesity.
  • Pets can have a positive effect on the body’s reactions to stress.

“In essence, data suggest that there probably is an association between pet ownership and decreased cardiovascular risk,” Levine said. “What’s less clear is whether the act of adopting or acquiring a pet could lead to a reduction in cardiovascular risk in those with pre-existing disease. Further research, including better quality studies, is needed to more definitively answer this question.”

Even with a likely link, people shouldn’t adopt, rescue or buy a pet solely to reduce cardiovascular risk, Levine said.

Statement co-writers are: Karen Allen, Ph.D.; Lynne T. Braun, Ph.D., C.N.P.; Hayley E. Christian, Ph.D.; Erika Friedmann, Ph.D.; Kathryn A. Taubert, Ph.D.; Sue Ann Thomas, R.N., Ph.D.; Deborah L. Wells, Ph.D.; and Richard A. Lange, M.D., M.B.A.

Source:  American Heart Association media statement