Tag Archives: time

Yes, your pet can tell time

Are you taking your time when feeding your pet? Fluffy and Fido are on to you — and they can tell when you are dawdling.

time dog

A new study from Northwestern University has found some of the clearest evidence yet that animals can judge time. By examining the brain’s medial entorhinal cortex, the researchers discovered a previously unknown set of neurons that turn on like a clock when an animal is waiting.

“Does your dog know that it took you twice as long to get its food as it took yesterday? There wasn’t a good answer for that before,” said Daniel Dombeck, who led the study. “This is one of the most convincing experiments to show that animals really do have an explicit representation of time in their brains when they are challenged to measure a time interval.”

The research was published online this week in the journal Nature Neuroscience. Dombeck is an associate professor of neurobiology in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

When planning the study, Dombeck’s team focused on the medial entorhinal cortex, an area located in the brain’s temporal lobe that is associated with memory and navigation. Because that part of the brain encodes spatial information in episodic memories, Dombeck hypothesized that the area could also be responsible for encoding time.

“Every memory is a bit different,” said James Heys, a postdoctoral fellow in Dombeck’s laboratory. “But there are two central features to all episodic memories: space and time. They always happen in a particular environment and are always structured in time.”

To test their hypothesis, Dombeck and Heys set up an experiment called the virtual “door stop” task. In the experiment, a mouse runs on a physical treadmill in a virtual reality environment. The mouse learns to run down a hallway to a door that is located about halfway down the track. After six seconds, the door opens, allowing the mouse to continue down the hallway to receive its reward.

After running several training sessions, researchers made the door invisible in the virtual reality scene. In the new scenario, the mouse still knew where the now-invisible “door” was located based on the floor’s changing textures. And it still waited six seconds at the “door” before abruptly racing down the track to collect its reward.

“The important point here is that the mouse doesn’t know when the door is open or closed because it’s invisible,” said Heys, the paper’s first author. “The only way he can solve this task efficiently is by using his brain’s internal sense of time.”

By using virtual reality, Dombeck and his team can neatly control potentially influencing factors, such as the sound of the door opening. “We wouldn’t be able to make the door completely invisible in a real environment,” Dombeck said. “The animal could touch it, hear it, smell it or sense it in some way. They wouldn’t have to judge time; they would just sense when the door opened. In virtual reality, we can take away all sensory cues.”

But Dombeck and his team did more than watch the mice complete the door stop task over and over again. They took the experiment one step further by imaging the mice’s brain activity. Using two-photon microscopy, which allows advanced, high-resolution imaging of the brain, Dombeck and Heys watched the mice’s neurons fire.

“As the animals run along the track and get to the invisible door, we see the cells firing that control spatial encoding,” Dombeck said. “Then, when the animal stops at the door, we see those cells turned off and a new set of cells turn on. This was a big surprise and a new discovery.”

Dombeck noted these “timing cells” did not fire during active running — only during rest. “Not only are the cells active during rest,” he said, “but they actually encode how much time the animal has been resting.”

The implication of the work expands well beyond your impatient pooch. Now that researchers have found these new time-encoding neurons, they can study how neurodegenerative diseases might affect this set of cells.

“Patients with Alzheimer’s disease notably forget when things happened in time,” Heys said. “Perhaps this is because they are losing some of the basic functions of the entorhinal cortex, which is one of the first brain regions affected by the disease.”

“So this could lead to new early-detection tests for Alzheimer’s,” Dombeck added. “We could start asking people to judge how much time has elapsed or ask them to navigate a virtual reality environment — essentially having a human do a ‘door stop’ task.”

Source:   Northwestern University media statement

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Health benefits of owning a dog (video version)

Throughout this blog, you’ll find articles about research involving dogs.  Some of these articles can be quite lengthy, so I was pleased when Time published this short video – all of the key points about the health benefits of owning a dog in one place.

If you’re really busy, or simply not interested in reading the full research, this video is for you!

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

A perspective on time, a precious resource

Time is a precious resource.  We only have so much time in our day – you don’t get any more or any less than anyone else.

I have often said that one of the most important things we have to give our dogs is our time.  Time for play, time for love, time for care…That said, since I often work with sick or elderly dogs in my massage practice, I am also very mindful of how time can get away on us.

Our dogs live at a different time scale than we do.  There are many illustrations of the this  – here’s just one:

dog age chart

With our dogs aging at a faster rate than we do,  we don’t always understand the impact of a delay.

For example:

I meet many dog owners who come to see me because they have a fear of putting their dog on medications such as those that are used for arthritis.  Let me be clear on this – although I practice natural therapies – I am not against using traditional medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  Actually, quite the opposite.

Many dogs benefit from pain relief just like we humans do.

One of the better ways to assess the levels of pain in a dog is to give it a short course of NSAIDs and simply watch for changes in the dog’s behaviour and levels of activity.   If the dog improves, this is often the best indicator we have about the dog’s level of discomfort.

If pain is managed, then we can do even more hands-on work like acupressure, stretching, acupuncture and massage and this often means dosages of the ‘hard drugs’ can be reduced without sacrificing pain management.

In this example, the owner is hesitating to make a decision on using medication – even with the idea that we go into the arrangement knowing the medications will be used for only a short period – perhaps 2-3 weeks.

The dog weighs 25 kg and is 10 years old.

I start working with the dog and suggest a number of times that I believe the dog is in pain or at a minimum – uncomfortable.

The owner takes 2 months to make a decision before agreeing to try some pain relief.

In human years, since the dog is aging at a rate of 6 years to 1 human year at this life stage… 

The owner has waited the equivalent of one human year to make a decision!

 I will ask– if this was your grandma/grandpa/father/mother –  would you allow them to live like this without pain relief?

The answer has always been ‘no.’

We have a duty to care for our dogs which involves acting in their best interests.  They can’t tell us in words how much pain they are in, it’s up to us to figure it out.  And in deciding what to do, we must always be mindful of how precious time is.

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

My diary

I still use a paper diary despite having access to online calendars and tools. There’s a reason for that.

Diary photo

I successfully managed my time through the Auckland Power Crisis of 1998 without a hitch, thanks to my paper diary. My colleagues, who were already relying on electronic schedules, didn’t know where they were supposed to be for weeks.  Meetings had to be rescheduled; service delivery slowed.

My diary also helped me through the days and weeks following the Canterbury Earthquake of February 2011. During these trying times, I could still make and keep appointments, keep notes as reminders, and generally have something to hold onto that was part of ‘normal’ life.

Most pages include reminders of what I need to finish that day.

And reflecting on my diary over the weekend, I see that it includes Izzy’s social calendar.

Going forward over the next couple of months, Izzy has engagements for play dates, appearances at the Riccarton Market for Greyhounds as Pets, and dates for sleepovers when I have to travel for business.  She also has a birthday party date with her best mate (and boyfriend) Bergie.

I often say that the best thing we can give our dogs is quality time.  One way of ensuring you make time for your dog is to commit to them in writing.  I’m pretty confident that I’ve got the right priorities and tools to do just that.

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

 

On time percentage

If Daisy was a commercial airline, she’d happily report a 100% on time percentage for flight arrivals and departures.  But Daisy isn’t an airline, she’s my adored dog who doesn’t understand public holidays.

Today is Waitangi Day in New Zealand and many people would have taken the opportunity to sleep in for a while.  Not me.

Daisy arrived at my bedside at 6:30 am to remind me that it was time for breakfast.  I fed her and then tried to go back to sleep.  At 7:00 am she was back – what are you doing in bed?!  It’s time for walkkies!

Daisy reminds me that is is 7:00 am and time for walkkies

Daisy reminds me that it is 7:00 am and time for walkkies

Dogs have a remarkable grasp of time and routine.  I think it is essential for dog owners to establish a good routine for their dog, because it gives the dog security and a sense of well-being – they know their needs will be taken care of.

I just wish we could establish a Plan B routine – for public holidays….