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Tag: anxiety

Nervous dog owners = nervous dogs

nervousdogs

Leave it to scientists to confirm what we already know, and to do so using words we don’t begin to understand.

Case in point: Nervous dogs often have nervous owners. This is not to say a nervous dog can’t have a cool as a cucumber (coolus cucumberus) owner. Nor is it to say some highly twitchy (humanus nervosa) folks can’t have calm dogs.

Only that, as anyone who visits a dog park knows, nervous owners tend to have nervous dog at the end of the leash.

The new study buttresses the concept that our dogs tend to take on our personalities, and that tension — while it may not actually “flow down the leash” — is picked up on by our dogs, and often reflected in their own behavior.

It looks at the chemistry behind that.

The study at the University of Vienna — published in the journal PLOS One “investigated dyadic psychobiological factors influencing intra-individual cortisol variability in response to different challenging situations by testing 132 owners and their dogs in a laboratory setting.”

You might understand that, or, you (like me) might not know spit — or that cortisol levels can be measured through it.

In the study, the researchers measured the levels of cortisol — and the variability of those levels — in the saliva of dogs and owners put through stressful situations.

In addition, they assessed the personality of both dog and human participants — ranging from highly sensitive and neurotic to secure and self confident.

“We calculated the individual coefficient of variance of cortisol (iCV = sd/mean*100) over the different test situations as a parameter representing individual variability of cortisol concentration,” the study’s authors wrote. “We hypothesized that high cortisol variability indicates efficient and adaptive coping and a balanced individual and dyadic social performance.”

For a more reader-friendly account of the study, check out Stanley Coren’s Psychology Today blog:

“You can think of people who are high in neuroticism as being sensitive and nervous while people who score low in neuroticism are secure and confident. In this study, the dog owners who scored high in neuroticism had dogs with low variability in their cortisol. This suggests that dogs with highly neurotic owners are less able to deal with pressure and stress.”

“Conversely, dog owners who were more laid back and agreeable had calmer dogs. Those folks have greater variability in their cortisol response, suggesting that they are better able to cope with situations involving tension and strain.”

The study says the male dogs of female owners often have less variability in their cortisol responses and are often generally less sociable and less relaxed than male dogs belonging to male owners.

(That’s the study saying that females generally score higher on measures of anxiety and neuroticism — not me. I would be way too nervous to say that.)

“Owners behave differently because they are pessimistic or neurotic, and perhaps dogs read the emotions of their owners and think the world is more dangerous — so they are more reactive to it,” the study says. “It looks like people who are pessimistic have dogs which are worse at coping with stress than others.”

Of course, where a dog was before ending up with its owner can play a pretty big role, too.

I, for example, am the cool as a cucumber owner of a nervous dog. He came from a farm in Korea where he was being raised to become meat. That would tend to instill some nervousness in anyone.

Three months after being adopted by me, he still gets pretty nervous — around large groups, when hearing loud noises. I don’t know about his cortisol levels, but at these times he whimpers, sheds profusely — is there such a thing as projectile shedding? — and pees in inappropriate places, such as on my leg.

He is making great strides in every way, but Jinjja still needs to chill, and get less worked up by new situations.

Of all the factors that shape our dogs — genetics, environment, owners — time (and its cousin, patience) may be the most important ones of all.

So my game plan is to provide him with plenty of both, expose him to new settings and situations, and show him that not all the world is a dangerous place — all while being a mellow role model.

In other words, impossible as it might be, I’m going to have to become EVEN cooler.

Stress can turn dogs prematurely gray

SONY DSC

Young dogs who are especially anxious and impulsive can grow gray hair on their muzzles prematurely — just like humans, a new study says.

Scientists involved in the study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, said they had long suspected stress led to premature gray around the muzzle in dogs, even though little research exists on the topic.

SONY DSC“Based on my years of experience observing and working with dogs, I’ve long had a suspicion that dogs with higher levels of anxiety and impulsiveness also show increased muzzle grayness,” said Camille King, a Denver area veterinarian who led the study.

Author Temple Grandin also took part in the study, according to a press release from Northern Illinois University, King’s alma mater.

To investigate, the researchers traveled to dog parks and veterinary clinics in Colorado, giving questionnaires to the owners of 400 dogs, CBS reported.

The owners answered 42 questions about their dogs’ behavior, age and health, while the researchers took photos of each dog.

The researchers excluded dogs with light-colored fur. They focused just on dogs between ages 1 and 4, as older dogs could have gray fur simply from aging, the researchers said.

To gauge anxiety levels, the researchers asked about whether the dog destroyed things when left alone, had hair loss during vet exams or when entering new places, or cringed or cowered around groups of people.

To rate impulsivity, the researchers asked if the dogs jumped on people, whether they could be calmed, if they had difficulty focusing, and if they continued to be hyperactive after exercising.

Female dogs tended to have higher levels of grayness than male dogs did, the researchers found, and dogs that showed fearfulness toward loud noises and unfamiliar animals and people also tended to have increased grayness, they said.

In contrast, they said, grayness had nothing to do with the dog’s size, whether it was fixed and whether it had any medical problems.

(Photos by John Woestendiek)

You’re just the cutest little audience ever … Yes … Yes … Yes, you are!

A business professor at American University is using dogs to help students overcome their fear of public speaking and hone their oratorical skills.

Bonnie Auslander, the director of the Kogod Center for Business Communications, started the program on a trial basis last year, pairing anxiety-prone business school students with patient canine listeners.

The thinking behind it is similar to that of programs around the country in which much younger students read to dogs to gain confidence in their reading skills.

“Addressing a friendly and nonjudgmental canine can lower blood pressure, decrease stress and elevate mood — perfect for practicing your speech or team presentation,” says the program’s promotional material.

For now, evidence of the benefits is mostly anecdotal, reports the New York Times.

With therapy dogs arriving on campus regularly during finals, Auslander got the idea to use dogs as a practice audience and she recruited six dogs with calm personalities.

They included Teddy, a Jack Russell terrier, and Ellie, a Bernese mountain dog.

We think it’s a great idea — assuming the dogs are willing to put up with all those speeches. On top of gaining confidence, students can learn the importance of inflecting their voices and gesturing to hold audience attention — though treats are proving to work better than either of those.

Auslander joked about having “an audience cat program some day that will be for speakers who are overconfident and need to be taken down a peg. The cats will turn away and lick their paws.”

Although we feel a little sorry for them, we wish the best to those dogs taking part in the program. And having had our own issues with public speaking, we wish great success to those students taking part.

We’re confident they will get their MBA’s and become great orators — identifiable only by their tendency to throw Milk Bones to their audiences.

New gel promises to make the 4th of July a less anxiety-filled time for dogs

sileo

A new medication that claims to soothe dogs who are frightened by loud noises, such as fireworks and thunderstorms, will be available to veterinarians in the U.S. within a week — in plenty of time to help make the 4th of July less traumatic.

Sileo (not a very serious sounding name, is it?) comes in a gel form and is the first prescription medicine for treating anxiety over loud noises in canines– a widespread problem that leads to property destruction, running away and life-threatening injuries.

Its U.S. maker, Zoetis of Florham Park, New Jersey, says Sileo (pronounced SILL-lee-oh) works by blocking norepinephrine, a brain chemical similar to adrenaline that pumps up anxiety.

It is applied to a dog’s gums via a pre-filled, needle-less syringe.

Zoetis says the medication will give owners of the estimated third of the 70 million dogs in the U.S. who have problems with loud noises an alternative to human anti-anxiety pills, like Xanax, that sedate dogs for many hours.

Sileo takes effect within 30 minutes to an hour.

The pre-filled applicator costs $30, and contains enough for two doses for a dog of 80 to 100 pounds, four doses for a 40-pound dog, or six doses for a small dog.

Dogs can be re-dosed every two hours, up to five times during each noise event, Zoetis said in a press release.

Zoetis has exclusive rights to distribute Sileo in the U.S. under an agreement with the medication’s developer, Orion Corp. of Finland.

In testing on 182 pet beagles conducted on New Year’s Eve, 75 percent of their owners rated its effect good or excellent. Side effects were rare and minor, the company says.

(Photo: Provided by Zoetis)

High tech device promises to tell a dog’s mood — by monitoring the wag of the tail

Yes, ohmidog! pokes cruel fun at “new technology” from time to time, but only when “new technology” deserves it — as is the case with this tail wagging monitor a group hopes to bring to the market.

Some Cornell University graduates have launched an Indiegogo campaign to finance the manufacturing of DogStar TailTalk, which they describe as a translator of dog emotions.

The device consists of a lightweight sensor that wraps around your dog’s tail, monitoring the speed and direction of the tail’s movement with an internal accelerometer and a gyroscope.

Coupled with a phone app, the developers say, it will tell you when your dog is happy, and when his or her tail wag may be a sign of stress.

wagThere’s some hard science behind it — but not much.

Scientific studies conducted in Italy have concluded that the prominent direction of a dog’s tail wag is an indicator of whether he’s happy or feeling anxiety, aggression or fear.

Wagging more to the right is said to be an indication of positive feelings.

The developers of the device say the direction of the wag isn’t always discernable to the naked eye: “Tail wagging is asymmetric and includes complex emotional signals that the human eye cannot recognize.”

We’re not so sure about that, just as we’re not so sure that a dog owner, seeing their dog’s tail wagging upon meeting, say, another dog, will have time to fire up the app to determine whether the meeting is going to go well.

Like a lot of canine-oriented technology — from treat poppers to automatic ball throwers to spy cams — this little gizmo takes over a task and/or responsibility that we should be doing ourselves, thereby growing closer and better knowing our dog, as opposed to distancing ourselves from our dog and giving them the features of robots.

As the goofy video above shows, the device may have some value when used remotely, such as learning the dog really doesn’t like the dog walker at all, but that — again — is something a dog owner should be able to ascertain beforehand without gyroscopes or apps.

The design team says it consulted on the project with “professors from the famous College of Veterinary Medicine in Cornell University.”

We think we smell a class project resurfacing for the marketplace. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Current plans call for the TailTalk app to work with iOS or Android phones, and to include features like the “Happiness Overview” function, which tracks a dog’s emotional status over the course of a day, a week, or a month. The monitoring device will be waterproof and “chew-resistant.” We can only hope that dogs, annoyed by having a tail attachment, don’t inadvertently chew through something other than the device.

So far, the campaign has raised about a third of its $100,000 funding goal.

If all goes according to plan, the TailTalk device will be ready to hit the market in about a year, and we suspect that — just as there are those who are willing to fund it — there will be those willing to buy it.

Because while the dog may sometimes wag his tail, and the tail may sometimes wag the dog, technology seems destined to almost always wag us.

“All natural” dog sedative pulled off shelves

good-dogPetco  has pulled a “dog calming” medicine from its shelves after customers complained that, according to its ingredient label, it is 13 percent alcohol.

That’s about the same alcohol percentage as wine.

Made by Pet Organics, Good-Dog! is “for dogs that are unruly or hyper” and “helps to make your dog happy & content,” according to its label.

So would a nice merlot, but substantial amounts of alcohol aren’t recommended for dogs, and in large amounts it can by toxic.

More than 750 people signed a change.org petition for Petco to remove Good-Dog!, which claims to be made with “all natural ingredients.”

Petco spokesman initially said the product is safe, when used as directed — only a few drops should be added to the dogs water bowl.

“…This product has no negative effect on pets, and no known pet deaths or illnesses have been associated with this product in the 10 years it has been sold at Petco,” the spokesman said.

But after 7News in Denver reported the story, Petco announced that it has voluntarily recalled Good Dog Pet Calming Supplement, and issued the following statement:

“The health and safety of pets and people is Petco’s top priority. We sell a variety of calming remedies for pets with anxiety and also recommend that pet parents consult with their vet to ensure that there are no underlying health issues. In light of recent concerns expressed by some of our customers with regard to Good Dog Pet Calming Supplement, and this product’s alcohol content, we have decided to issue a voluntary recall, effective immediately…”

Dr. Narda Robinson, a veterinarian and physician at Colorado State University, said the case is indicative of a broader issue — a lack of regulation for homeopathic drugs for pets.

“If this product has a calming effect, it’s probably because of the alcohol, not because of the homeopathic medicine,” she said.

Dr. Tina Wismer, with the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center said many herbal medications have an alcohol base.

“They are supposed to be dosed at a couple of drops per animal. Certainly if they ingested the entire bottle and it was a small animal, they may become intoxicated,” she said.

Tell-tail signs: How to read your dog’s wag

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I’ve got to admit I’ve never paid much attention to which way Ace’s tail is wagging — mostly to the right, or mostly to the left.

More often, it just seems to go back and forth, one side to the other, which is kind of the definition of wag.

But researchers in Italy, who first reported that the prominent direction of the wag signifies whether a dog is experiencing positive or negative feelings, now say other dogs are aware of this subtle distinction, and apparently have been for some time, indicating they — dogs — are much more on top of things than researchers.

Researchers at the University of Trento, in a new study, had dogs watch videos of other dogs wagging their tails. They found, according to a study reported in the journal Current Biology, that dogs watching another dog whose tail is wagging left  showed signs of anxiety, including a higher heart rate. When watching a tail wag right, they remained calm.

When watching “Two Broke Girls” the dogs asked if they might please leave the room. (Not really.)

Returning to seriousness, the Italian researchers first reported in 2007 that dogs convey a wide array of emotions through the tail wag — not just happiness. A wag to the left indicates negative emotions; a wag to the right indicates positive ones. The directions are as seen when standing behind a dog.

In the earlier study, 30 dogs were placed, one at a time, in a large box surrounded with black plastic to prevent any visual stimulus (except maybe to dogs who find black plastic stimulating). The dogs were then shown a stimulus for 60 seconds  — a dominant Belgian Malinois, a cat in a cage, their owners, and a strange human, by which we only mean one they hadn’t met.

A system for measuring the tail movements of each dog was established — far too complex to go into here. Suffice to say, as the scientists put it:

wagchart“Tail wagging scores associated with the different stimuli were analyzed from video-recordings. Positions of the tail were scored every 10 seconds by superimposition on the computer screen of a cursor on the long axis of the body: the maximum extents of the particular tail wag occurring at each 10 second interval was recorded. Using single frames from video recording two angles were identified with respect to the maximum excursion of the tail to the right and to the left side of the dog’s body. Tail wagging angles were obtained with reference to the axes formed by the midline of the dog’s pelvis — the segment extending lengthwise through the dog’s hips, drawn from the largest points as seen from above and the axes perpendicular to it.”

When faced with their owner, dogs exhibited a “striking right-sided bias in the amplitudes of tail wagging.”  Less robust right-sided wags were observed also when the dogs were shown unfamiliar humans. When faced with a cat, dogs showed very reduced tail wagging, but still a slight bias favoring the right side. Seeing a dominant unfamiliar dog led the dogs in the study to wag more to the left.

The first study reported: “How far asymmetric tail-wagging responses are associated with postural asymmetry in preparation to the stimuli is difficult to say.” (You can say that again)  “It is likely that control of the flexure of the vertebral column is the same for the tail as well as the rest of the column, but the method we used for scoring tail-wagging responses and the panels flanking the body of the animal in the test-cage minimized any effect of asymmetric posture associated with spine bending.”

I’ve got to wonder which way the dogs’ tails wagged — or if they tucked them between their legs — when they were listening to the scientists talk.

The researchers stop short of saying wagging tails are a mode of communication between dogs.

“This is something that could be explained in quite a mechanistic way,” said Giorgio Vallortigara, a neuroscientist and an author of both studies. “It’s simply a byproduct of the asymmetry of the brain.” Dogs, he explains, have asymmetrically organized brains, like humans (or at least most of them): “The emotions are associated presumably with activation of either the right or left side of brain,” he said. “Left-brain activation produces a wag to the right, and vice versa.”

But it would seem to me that if one dog is moving his tail, and another is drawing conclusions from that motion, as the scientists say is the case, that’s communication — perhaps even a clearer form thereof than that to which the scientists are prone.

(Photo: Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Bari)