Tag Archives: stray dogs

New dog, old tricks? Untrained stray dogs can understand human cues

If you have a dog, hopefully you’re lucky enough to know that they are highly attuned to their owners and can readily understand a wide range of commands and gestures. But are these abilities innate or are they exclusively learned through training?

To find out, a new study in Frontiers in Psychology investigated whether untrained stray dogs could understand human pointing gestures.

Dogs and gestures research

A new study shows that untrained stray dogs respond to gestures from people, suggesting that understanding between humans and dogs transcends training. Image: Shutterstock

The study revealed that about 80% of participating dogs successfully followed pointing gestures to a specific location despite having never received prior training. The results suggest that dogs can understand complex gestures by simply watching humans and this could have implications in reducing conflict between stray dogs and humans.

Dogs were domesticated 10,000–15,000 years ago, likely making them the oldest domesticated animals on the planet. Humans then bred dogs with the most desirable and useful traits so that they could function as companions and workers, leading to domesticated dogs that are highly receptive to human commands and gestures.

However, it was not clear whether dogs understand us through training alone, or whether this was innate. Can dogs interpret a signal, such as a gesture, without specific training, or even without having met the signaling person previously? One way to find out is to see whether untrained, stray dogs can interpret and react to human gestures.

Stray dogs are a common feature in cities around the world and particularly in many developing countries. While they may observe and occasionally interact with people, such dogs have never been trained, and are behaviorally “wild”. Conflicts between stray dogs and humans are a problem and understanding how humans shape stray dog behavior may help alleviate this.

To investigate, Dr. Anindita Bhadra of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata, India, and colleagues studied stray dogs across several Indian cities. The researchers approached solitary stray dogs and placed two covered bowls on the ground near them. A researcher then pointed to one of the two bowls, either momentarily or repeatedly, and recorded whether the dog approached the indicated bowl. They also recorded the perceived emotional state of the dogs during the experiment.

Approximately half of the dogs did not approach either bowl. However, the researchers noticed that these dogs were anxious and may have had bad experiences with humans before. The dogs who approached the bowls were noted as friendlier and less anxious, and approximately 80% correctly followed the pointing signals to one of the bowls, regardless of whether the pointing was momentary or repeated. This suggests that the dogs could indeed decipher complex gestures.

“We thought it was quite amazing that the dogs could follow a gesture as abstract as momentary pointing,” explained Bhadra. “This means that they closely observe the human, whom they are meeting for the first time, and they use their understanding of humans to make a decision. This shows their intelligence and adaptability.”

The results suggest that dogs may have an innate ability to understand certain human gestures which transcends training. However, it should be noted that the shyer, more anxious animals tended not to participate, so future studies are needed to determine more precisely how an individual dog’s personality affects their ability to understand human cues.

Overall, dogs may be more perceptive than we realize. “We need to understand that dogs are intelligent animals that can co-exist with us,” said Bhadra “They are quite capable of understanding our body language and we need to give them their space. A little empathy and respect for another species can reduce a lot of conflict.”

Original article:  Free-Ranging Dogs Are Capable of Utilizing Complex Human Pointing Cues

Source:  Frontiers Science News

The dogs that conquered space -The Guardian

Space walkies … a postcard of Belka and Strelka in their rocket. Photograph: Fuel Publishing

Space walkies … a postcard of Belka and Strelka in their rocket. Photograph: Fuel Publishing

In the Soviet era, space travel was a major goal and stray dogs collected from the streets were the first explorers in the space program.  This article, by Oliver Wainwright, provides some insight into the propaganda behind the program and how they matched with reality.

It is a rather sad tale of how dogs were exploited in the name of progress, but such exploitation still occurs today in the name of science (arguably, with varying degrees of success, with more standards and controls in place).  Read the story by clicking on this link:  The dogs that conquered space | Art and design | The Guardian.

I have previously blogged about Laika the space dog; so be sure to check out that column for more information on Laika.

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

 

A food dispenser for homeless dogs

It’s been estimated that almost 150,000 stray dogs and cats make the city of Istanbul, Turkey their home.  Now a company named Pugedon has designed a vending machine “A Smart Recycling Box” that dispenses dog food when an empty plastic bottle is inserted.

The machine also has a water dish so people can empty out remaining water for the animals to drink.

The idea is to support recycling and to help care for strays.  Probably the most important aspect of the machine is that it raises awareness of homeless animals.

Here’s the company’s promotional video on how the machine works.