Tag Archives: Scientific Reports

YouTube videos help researchers study dog bites

dog-biting

Researchers at the University of Liverpool have turned to the popular video-sharing site YouTube to study the complex issue of dog bites.

Preventing dog bites is an increasingly important public health and political issue with implications for both human and animal health and welfare. However, it remains difficult for researchers to understand the circumstances leading up to dog bites, with most studies relying on evidence collected after bites happen, such as hospital records and victim interviews.

In a new study published in Scientific Reports researchers have, for the first time, used YouTube videos to directly observe and analyse dog bites in situ.

Lead author Sara Owczarczak-Garstecka said: “Online videos present us with an unexplored opportunity to observe dog bites first-hand, something which is just not possible using other methods. Making more use of this type of shared content for research could help us better understand how and why bites occur and contribute to the development of bite prevention strategies.”

Using search terms such as ‘dog bite’ and ‘dog attack’ the researchers sampled 143 videos that were uploaded to YouTube between January 2016 and March 2017. For each video the context of bites, bite severity, victim and dog characteristics were recorded. For 56 of these videos they were also able to analyse the details of human and dog behaviour leading up to the bite.

The researchers acknowledge that YouTube videos of dog bites are likely subject to some bias, with, for example, bites by small dogs perhaps perceived as ‘comical’ and therefore more likely to be uploaded online.

The findings reveal that despite this potential bias, the demographic characteristics of the victims and dogs seen in YouTube bite videos, such as breed type and victims’ sex and age, are consistent with those found in previous studies. Common dog breeds observed included Chihuahuas, German Shepherds, Pit bulls and Labrador Retrievers. Around 7 in 10 of the bite victims in the videos were male, while more than half of bites observed were to children and infants.

Although this small study did not allow an exploration of the causal relationship between human behaviour and dog bites, some behaviours that have been previously observed within the context of dog bites were observed here to precede a bite. For example, the researchers observed that tactile contact with a dog increased approximately 20 seconds before a bite, as did standing or leaning over a dog.

Sara Owczarczak-Garstecka added: “These findings could offer some valuable new insight for the development of bite prevention strategies. Prevention messages could emphasise the risk of leaning over a dog and simply advise avoiding contact with a dog when possible or in doubt.”

Future research plans to better understand people’s behaviour around dogs and their perceptions of dog bites include a series of interviews with dog owners, people who work around dogs and bite recipients.

The paper ‘Online videos indicate human and dog behaviour preceding dog bites and the context in which bites occur’ is published in Scientific Reports [doi:10.1038/s41598-018-25671-7]

Source:  University of Liverpool media release

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Dog ownership linked to lower mortality

A team of Swedish scientists have used national registries of more than 3.4 million Swedes aged 40 to 80 to study the association between dog ownership and cardiovascular health. Their study shows that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to cardiovascular disease or to other causes during the 12-year follow-up.

A total of more than 3.4 million individuals without any prior cardiovascular disease in 2001 were included in the researchers’ study linking together seven different national data sources, including two dog ownership registers. The results are being published for the first time in Scientific Reports. The goal was to determine whether dog owners had a different risk of cardiovascular disease and death than non-dog owners.

An elderly couple

An elderly couple walks their dalmatian dog. Credit: © Myroslava / Fotolia

“A very interesting finding in our study was that dog ownership was especially prominent as a protective factor in persons living alone, which is a group reported previously to be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and death than those living in a multi-person household. Perhaps a dog may stand in as an important family member in the single households. The results showed that single dog owners had a 33% reduction in risk of death and 11% reduction in risk of myocardial infarction during follow-up compared to single non-owners. Another interesting finding was that owners to dogs from breed groups originally bred for hunting were most protected,” says Mwenya Mubanga, lead junior author of the study and PhD student at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

In Sweden, every person carries a unique personal identity number. Every visit to a hospital is recorded in national databases, accessible to researchers after de-identification of data. Even dog ownership registration has been mandatory in Sweden since 2001. These scientists studied whether being registered as a dog-owner was associated with later diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or death from any cause.

“These kind of epidemiological studies look for associations in large populations but do not provide answers on whether and how dogs could protect from cardiovascular disease. We know that dog owners in general have a higher level of physical activity, which could be one explanation to the observed results. Other explanations include an increased well-being and social contacts or effects of the dog on the bacterial microbiome in the owner,” says Tove Fall, senior author of the study and Associate Professor in Epidemiology at the Department of Medical Sciences and the Science for Life Laboratory, Uppsala University.

“There might also be differences between owners and non-owners already before buying a dog, which could have influenced our results, such as those people choosing to get a dog tending to be more active and of better health. Thanks to the population-based design, our results are generalisable to the Swedish population, and probably also to other European populations with similar culture regarding dog ownership,” says Tove Fall.

The study was conducted by researchers at Uppsala University, Karolinska Institutet, Stanford University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Source:  Uppsala University media release

 

Dogs are more expressive when someone is looking

Dogs produce more facial expressions when humans are looking at them, according to new research from the University of Portsmouth.

Scientists at the University’s Dog Cognition Centre are the first to find clear evidence dogs move their faces in direct response to human attention. Dogs don’t respond with more facial expressions upon seeing tasty food, suggesting that dogs produce facial expressions to communicate and not just because they are excited.

Brow raising, which makes the eyes look bigger – so-called puppy dog eyes – was the dogs’ most commonly used expression in this research.

Puppy dog eyes

Puppy dog eyes

Dog cognition expert Dr Juliane Kaminski led the study, which is published in Scientific Reports.

She said: “We can now be confident that the production of facial expressions made by dogs are dependent on the attention state of their audience and are not just a result of dogs being excited. In our study they produced far more expressions when someone was watching, but seeing food treats did not have the same effect.

“The findings appear to support evidence dogs are sensitive to humans’ attention and that expressions are potentially active attempts to communicate, not simple emotional displays.”KAMINSKI-dog-eyes

Most mammals produce facial expressions – such expressions are considered an important part of an animal’s behavioural repertoire – but it has long been assumed that animal facial expressions, including some human facial expressions, are involuntary and dependent on an individual’s emotional state rather than being flexible responses to the audience

Dr Kaminski said it’s possible dogs’ facial expressions have changed as part of the process of becoming domesticated.

The researchers studied 24 dogs of various breeds, aged one to 12. All were family pets. Each dog was tied by a lead a metre away from a person, and the dogs’ faces were filmed throughout a range of exchanges, from the person being oriented towards the dog, to being distracted and with her body turned away from the dog.

The dogs’ facial expressions were measured using DogFACS, an anatomically based coding system which gives a reliable and standardised measurement of facial changes linked to underlying muscle movement.

Co-author and facial expression expert Professor Bridget Waller said: “DogFACS captures movements from all the different muscles in the canine face, many of which are capable of producing very subtle and brief facial movements.

“FACS systems were originally developed for humans, but have since been modified for use with other animals such as primates and dogs.”

Dr Kaminski said: “Domestic dogs have a unique history – they have lived alongside humans for 30,000 years and during that time selection pressures seem to have acted on dogs’ ability to communicate with us.

“We knew domestic dogs paid attention to how attentive a human is – in a previous study we found, for example, that dogs stole food more often when the human’s eyes were closed or they had their back turned. In another study, we found dogs follow the gaze of a human if the human first establishes eye contact with the dog, so the dog knows the gaze-shift is directed at them.

“This study moves forward what we understand about dog cognition. We now know dogs make more facial expressions when the human is paying attention.”

It is impossible yet to say whether dogs’ behaviour in this and other studies is evidence dogs have flexible understanding of another individual’s perspective – that they truly understand another individual’s mental state – or if their behaviour is hardwired, or even a learned response to seeing the face or eyes of another individual.

Puppy dog eyes is a facial expression which, in humans, closely resembles sadness. This potentially makes humans more empathetic towards the dog who uses the expression, or because it makes the dog’s eyes appear bigger and more infant-like – potentially tapping into humans’ preference for child-like characteristics. Regardless of the mechanism, humans are particularly responsive to that expression in dogs.

Previous research has shown some apes can also modify their facial expressions depending on their audience, but until now, dogs’ abilities to do use facial expression to communicate with humans hadn’t been systematically examined.

Source:   University of Portsmouth news

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Dogs give friends food (prosocial behavior in dogs)

A readiness to help and a positive attitude toward others are considered foundations of human relationships and human cooperation. But not only humans cooperate and support each other, animals do so, too. A group of ethologists from the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna have shown for the first time that dogs also behave prosocially toward others – provided that they know the other dog. The results were published in Nature’s Scientific Reports.

Compared to the rest of the animal kingdom, the human capacity for cooperation is something quite special. Cooperating with one another requires a certain amount of prosocial behaviour. This means helping others without any direct personal benefit.

“Dogs and their nearest relatives, the wolves, exhibit social and cooperative behaviour, so there are grounds to assume that these animals also behave prosocially toward conspecifics. Additionally, over thousands of years of domestication, dogs were selected for special social skills,” explains study director Range. For this reason, Range and her colleagues Mylene Quervel-Chaumette, Rachel Dale and Sarah Marshall-Pescini studied 16 dogs to test their readiness to benefit familiar versus unfamiliar partners.

The researchers studied the prosocial behaviour of the animals using a bar-pulling task in which the dogs had to pull trays and decide whether a second dog would receive a treat or not. In the test, the donor dogs used their mouths to pull a string to bring a tray toward a second dog. They could choose either an empty tray or a tray containing a treat on the partner’s side.

The donor dog (right) can pull a tray and donate food to the receiver-dog (left). (Photo: Mylène Quervel-Chaumette/Vetmeduni Vienna)

The donor dog (right) can pull a tray and donate food to the receiver-dog (left). (Photo: Mylène Quervel-Chaumette/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Dogs donate to familiar partners more often than to unfamiliar ones

Whether the donor dogs knew the recipient made a difference. Donor dogs pulled the giving tray more often for familiar dogs than for unfamiliar ones. “Dogs truly behave prosocially toward other dogs. That had never been experimentally demonstrated before. What we also found was that the degree of familiarity among the dogs further influenced this behaviour. Prosocial behaviour was exhibited less frequently toward unfamiliar dogs than toward familiar ones.

Prosocial behaviour put to the test

In the bar-pulling task, the donor dogs decided whether another dog would receive a treat or not. The donor dog itself did not get the treat. The only purpose of the task was to benefit the other dog. By conducting several control tests, the researchers excluded the possibility that the dogs were simply pulling the trays for the fun of it. Donor dogs were reserved in pulling the tray when an unfamiliar dog was in the next enclosure.

At the end of each test run, the researchers conducted another test to show that the donor dogs knew what pulling the tray meant. They allowed the donor dogs to pull on a tray to give themselves a treat, and all dogs did just that. “This control excludes the possibility that the dogs did not pull on the tray out of fear of the unfamiliar dogs. Given the same situation, the dogs gladly gave themselves a treat,” says Range.

“We were also able to disprove the argument that the dogs pulled the string less frequently because they were distracted by the unfamiliar partner during the test. Only rarely did a donor dog interact with the unfamiliar dog,” Range explains.

Source:   Vetmeduni Vienna media release