Tag Archives: University of Sydney

Is your dog an optimist or a pessimist?

Dogs can have either an optimistic or a pessimistic view of the world, new research shows.  The approach used in the research will have uses in assessing animal welfare generally, but also in assessing suitability of dogs for various working roles.

“This research is exciting because it measures positive and negative emotional states in dogs objectively and non-invasively (important for those concerned about animal welfare in research),” said Dr Melissa Starling, from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.

Dr Starling has been working with Assistance Dogs Australia to investigate whether measuring optimism would assist in selecting dogs for training.

Dogs were taught to associate two different sounds (two octaves apart) with whether they would get the preferred reward of milk or instead get the same amount of water. Once the dogs learned the discrimination task, they were presented with ‘ambiguous’ tones.

If dogs responded after ambiguous tones, it showed that they expect good things will happen to them, and they are called ‘optimistic.’ They can show how optimistic they are by which tones they respond to. A very optimistic dog may even respond to tones that sound more like those played before water was offered.

“Of the dogs we tested we found more were optimistic than pessimistic but it is too early to say if that is true of the general dog population,” said Dr Starling.

“This research could help working dog trainers select dogs best suited to working roles. If we knew how optimistic or pessimistic the best candidates for a working role are, we could test dogs’ optimism early and identify good candidates for training for that role. A pessimistic dog that avoids risks would be better as a guide dog while an optimistic, persistent dog would be more suited to detecting drugs or explosives.”

Dr Starling talks more about her research in this video:

Source:  University of Sydney media release

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Short dog syndrome

You’ve probably heard about Short Man Syndrome.  (In fact, many of us (including me) have experienced it firsthand!)

Did you know that there is growing evidence of Short Dog Syndrome?

Researchers at the University of Sydney have published their research into this topic in the online journal PLoS One.  Professor Paul McGreevy is the lead author of the study and says, “the shorter the dogs the less controllable their behaviour is for their owners.”

Dachshunds and other short breed dogs may be more difficult to train and control

Dachshunds and other short breed dogs may be more difficult to control

The study used owners’ reports on the behaviour of over 8,000 dogs from across 80 breeds and related them to the shape of 960 dogs of those breeds, revealing strong relationships between height, bodyweight, skull proportions (relative width and length) and behaviour.

33 out of 36 undesirable behaviours were associated with height, bodyweight and skull shape

As a breed’s average height decreased, the likelihood of behaviors such as mounting humans or objects (humping), owner-directed aggression, begging for food and attention-seeking increased.

“The only behavioral trait associated with increasing height was ‘trainability’. When average bodyweight decreased, excitability and hyperactivity increased,” said Professor McGreevy.

The researchers admit that there is an aspect here of nature vs nurture.  If aggressive and ‘bad’ behaviours were present in larger dogs, the results could be more dangerous.  Poor behaviour in small dogs is likely to be tolerated more.  Over time, breeding has resulted in the patterns observed by the research team.

Source:  University of Sydney media release