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Tag: behavior

Aiming high to leave their mark

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No matter how big your male dog is you’ve probably noticed, and maybe wondered why, when he finally finds what upright object he wants to pee on, he often strains to aim as high as he can.

The answer is — and perhaps this is more a matter of male behavior than canine behavior — he’s trying to impress other dogs.

canine_urine_marking_dog_behaviorScience and conventional wisdom generally concur that sharing urine scents serves to let dogs get to know each other — that it’s a method of honest communication.

But now a group of researchers is saying that — honest as it otherwise is — there is some deception going on, especially along smaller dogs who are even more likely to hike their legs as high as they possibly can to leave the impression that they’re bigger than they really are.

In a study published in the Journal of Zoology, Betty McGuire and her team at Cornell University found smaller dogs tend to urinate more often than larger dogs, and they’re more likely to aim higher when focusing on vertically oriented targets.

handstandpee“Assuming body size is a proxy for competitive ability, small adult male dogs may place urine marks higher, relative to their own body size, than larger adult male dogs to exaggerate their competitive ability,” McGuire said.

Like this little fella (left).

The researchers went so far as to follow adult male dogs while they (the dogs) urinated on walks, then calculated the angle of their legs when raised during marking. They (the researchers) compared those calculations to the dogs’ height and mass and measured the height of the urine marks on the dogs’ chosen targets.

“Small males seemed to make an extra effort to raise their leg high — some small males would almost topple over,” McGuire told New Scientist. “So, we wondered whether small males try to exaggerate their body size by leaving high urine marks.”

The researchers said it’s likely the goal is to deceive other male dogs, but I suspect it is to impress the ladies, too.

D.K.-Metcalf-595x334Perhaps it emanates from that same source that gives some small dogs Napoleon complexes, making them make up for their lack of size by being louder.

But, I’d argue, neither is limited to canines.

Go to any bar and you can see pretty much the same thing, minus the fire hydrants, lampposts and urination, but with the same kind of loudness, strutting, poking out of chests, boasts, and little white (or yellow) lies.

Seems that, when it comes to the male of the species, neither dogs nor humans are above a little showing off.

Trancing: Zombie-like behavior in dogs is nothing to worry about, scientists say

As “in the moment” as they are said to be, some dogs — like many of we humans — do zone out, and the behavior is nothing to worry about, scientists say.

Pete, the bull terrier above, is trancing, or ghost-walking, and maybe you’ve seen your dog doing the same thing: They stare blankly ahead, or close their eyes, standing either perfectly still or taking small slow motion steps. Most often, this is done in an enclosed space, like a closet, or under a bush.

Caroline Coile, a researcher specializing in canine genetics and behavior at Florida State University, noticed one of her Salukis doing it in her closet. Years later, when she got another Saluki, it did the same thing, except under a backyard bush.

She began researching the behavior and concluded, as others have, that it’s not a disorder, but more like human forms of meditation, Popular Science reports.

Dogs do it because it feels good.

Though many dog owners worry when they see it, though it does look weird, Coile says, “It’s not like they’re in an actual trance where they’re looking into a crystal ball or something. But it does seem like they go into some sort of meditation-like state.”

There does seem to be a tactile element involved. In most cases, dogs seek out a location where they have contact with something, such as clothes hanging in a closet, a curtain, or the fronds of bushes or house plants.

Coile says she believes trancing is more common in some breeds than others, with bull terriers and greyhounds seeming most likely to engage in the behavior, but she adds there is no evidence the behavior is hereditary.

One study published in Veterinary Record found trancing to be “apparently purposeless.”

Alice Moon-Fanelli, a certified animal behaviorist from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, investigated trancing while studying compulsive tail-chasing in bull terriers.

Moon-Fanelli worried that trancing was yet another manifestation of compulsive disorder in the breed, but trancing appeared to be unrelated, and completely harmless.

“The bull terriers would go under Christmas trees, curtains, towels… anything hanging that would cause dorsal stimulation,” she says. “Their eyes glaze over, and they would go into this slow moonwalk. Then they’d come out of it and be fine.”

So before you rush your dog to the doggie shrink, ask yourself this: Is canine trancing really any more bizarre than the things we humans do to relax and comfort ourselves, or to free and rest our brains — be it taking that Xanax, engaging in some meditation, or watching an episode of Law & Order that we’ve seen ten times?

This robot dog would be more than a toy

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Robot dogs are a dime a dozen — well, not quite, the latest Sony Aibo goes for about $1,700 — but the point is they’ve become pretty common in the overpriced toy market.

A researcher at the University of Washington, though, is working on a version of a robot dog that promises to do more than than sit and bark and (though real dogs seldom do this) play music that you program into them.

Normally, when we hear the phrase artificial intelligence we think of intelligence that mimics that of a human.

Kiana Ehsani and colleagues have gathered a unique data set of canine behavior and used it to train an AI system to make dog-like decisions, according to MIT Technology Review.

They say their approach opens up a new area of AI research that studies the capabilities of other intelligent beings on our planet, which strikes me as a good thing — given how humans often botch things up.

To gather their initial data, the team fitted a dog with inertial measurement units on its legs, tail, and body to record. They also fitted a GoPro camera to the dog’s head to record the visual scene, sampled at a rate of five frames per second, and a microphone on the dog’s back to record sound.

It gathered about 24,500 video frames with synchronized body position and movement data to further understand how dogs, act, plan and learn, and to try to predict a dog’s future movements based on those recorded ones.

The researchers say the system got the point that it could accurately predict the next five movements after seeing a sequence of five images.

No actual dog robot was built, just an AI system, but the far away goal appears to be a robot dog that could do everything a real dog does, up to and including sniffing out a trail, and helping the blind.

Of course we already have an abundance of dogs with a built-in knack for those kind of things but, human intelligence being what it is, we want to duplicate it in machine form. And more to the point, there are things to be learned in doing so.

The team loaded up a Malamute named Kelp M. Redmon with sensors, to record movements, video of the dog’s viewpoint, and a microphone.

They recorded hours of activities — walking in various environments, fetching things, playing at a dog park, eating — syncing the dog’s movements to what it saw.

The resulting data was used to train a new AI agent.

Their work so far gathered data from just one dog, and it was primarily on what the dog saw and heard and the movements it made. Much more baseline data would be needed to get anywhere — and giving a robot a nose able to sniff out all that dogs to would surely be daunting, if even doable.

But the research is continuing, and the researchers feel the approach could be used to better understand the intelligence of other animals as well, TechCrunch reported.

“We hope this work paves the way towards better understanding of visual intelligence and of the other intelligent beings that inhabit our world,” Ehsani said.

Darwin’s Dogs: Organization tests dog DNA for free as part of research project

We doubt this is going over well with those companies who want to charge you upwards of $100 to tell you what breeds are in your dog, but a research-based organization is offering to do the same thing for free.

You might have to wait, though, and there will be some paperwork.

Darwin’s Dogs is a research project affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Medical School that uses your dog’s DNA, and other information you supply, to study the connection between DNA and behavior.

Thousands of dogs are now enrolled in the project, the initial goal of which was to look at obsessive-compulsive behavior in dogs. It has since branched into exploring food allergies among pets, CBS in Pittsburgh reports.

The first step in signing a dog up, though, remains providing a dog owner with a free DNA test, and a report on the findings.

That’s followed up with online questionnaires in which dog owners provide information on their dog’s traits and behaviors.

“We can study behavior in dogs really easily by just working with the dog owners, by just asking them with a goal of trying to look at how differences in a dog’s DNA matches up with differences in their behavior,” says Darwin’s Dogs researcher Elinor Karlsson.

They hope that causes to diseases and disorders can be found in dogs’ genetics — and that those could lead to breakthroughs in treating the same conditions in people.

“We don’t understand what causes these diseases and the only way to really find new treatments and new effective ways of treating them is to know what the cause is,” Karlsson said.

“Even though there are a lot of differences between dogs and humans, you look at the really important things that are relevant to health, there’s not that many differences. Dogs get the same cancers, the same psychiatric diseases that we do,” she added.

The DNA information the organization provides on your dog is roughly similar to that offered by products such as Wisdom Panel, DNA My Dog and Embark.

Darwin’s Dogs tests a saliva sample that you mail to them. Commercially available DNA tests use either saliva or, through veterinarians, blood.

Darwin’s Dogs is free — for now.

According to the Darwin’s Dogs website, demand has been so high for the test they might have to limit participants, or start charging in the future.

“We have been brainstorming ways of allowing our participants to contribute financially. We are committed to keeping the Darwin’s Dogs project free to anyone who is willing to participate, but with the cost of the genotyping this means we currently have to pick-and-chose which dogs to genotype based on the grant funding support we can receive. We are considering options to allow participants to contribute to offset those costs.

More information about the project can also be found in this Scientific American description.

Group seeks to ban shock collars in England

shockThe Dogs Trust has launched a campaign to end the use of shock collars in England.

Calling the collars “unnecessary and cruel,” the organization is working to immediately ban their sale.

It is urging members of the public to tweet their representatives in Parliament using the hashtag #ShockinglyLegal.

As part of the campaign, they also plan to hold a “reception” — how civilized! — at the House of Commons where they will ask members of Parliament to sign a letter to the secretary of state backing the proposal.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is already on board, pledging his support to bring an end to a practice he compared to caning a child, the Daily Mail reported.

The Dogs Trust said it conducted a poll that showed most members of the public knew the collars caused dogs pain. Almost a third wrongly thought that the collars, which can continuously shock a dog for 11 seconds, were already banned. Only about 13 percent said they would ever use them.

“The sad reality is that they are still readily available to buy at the click of a button, the organization said. “These torturous devices can send between 100 to 6000 volts to a dog’s neck, and have the capacity to continuously shock a dog for up to 11 terrifying seconds at a time.”

“It is both unnecessary and cruel to resort to the use of these collars on dogs,” said Rachel Casey, director of canine behavior and research at the Dogs Trust.

“This type of device is not only painful for a dog, it can have a serious negative impact on their mental and physical well-being,” she added. “A dog can’t understand when or why it’s being shocked and this can cause it immense distress, with many dogs exhibiting signs of anxiety and worsened behavior as a result.”

Wales, Quebec and parts of Australia — have banned shock collars. There’s a growing chorus of voices trying to prohibit — or at least regulate — the collars in the United States, as well. While no legislation has been passed on the state level, an ordinance in Alexandria, Va., limits their use on public property.

Why dogs eat poop: A new theory suggests the behavior all goes back to wolves

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If you had to pick the one non-violent behavior that most dismays dog owners, it would likely be when their dog consumes dog poop — be it the dog’s own or some other dog’s.

Most of us can tolerate their incessant licking of their privates. We can laugh off them humping the leg of a house guest. But most humans find their dog gobbling up feces a revolting and inconceivable act, and some — believe it or not — have even cited it as a reason for returning a dog to a shelter.

While traditionally it has been speculated that some dogs (a minority) engage in the practice to make up for some deficiency in their diet, a new paper suggests it may be in their genes, Scientific American reports.

Veterinary researchers at University of California at Davis who surveyed nearly 3,000 dog owners found 16 percent of dogs consume canine feces “frequently,” meaning, in this case, they’ve seen them do it more than six times. In a second survey of just owners of poop-eating dogs, 62% of them were described as eating it daily and 38% weekly.

Benjamin Hart, a veterinarian who directs the Center for Animal Behavior at Davis, reviewed the survey results and the scientific literature on poop-eating, most of which he says is speculative and doesn’t provide any sort of definitive answer for the cause of what’s called coprophagy.

The survey showed no link between feces-eating and other compulsive behaviors. Coprophagy wasn’t associated with age, gender, spaying or neutering, age of separation from the mother, ease of house training, or any other behavior problem.

What coprophagic dogs had in common was this: More than 80 percent were reported to favor feces no more than two days old.

To Hart, that suggests that the cause may go back more than 15,000 years and be rooted, like so much else, in wolves. The new study by Hart and others was published in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science.

Typically, wolves defecate away from their dens, but at times of urgency, they may let loose nearby. When that happens, other wolves commonly gobble it up while it’s fresh, possibly, some scholars believe, to prevent the spread of parasitic infections.

Feces contain intestinal parasite eggs, which, after a couple of days, hatch into infectious larvae.

Wolves, he said, figured out that by eating any fresh poop left near the den they could be spared being infected by parasites.

“If they eat it right away, it’s safe to eat. They won’t get infected by parasites,” he said.

He theorizes that today’s poop-eating dogs still carry around that wolfy instinct, even though the feces of modern-day pets, consuming modern-day dog food, tend to be parasite-free.

Hart noted there is no shortage of explanations for dogs eating poop.

“For every person you ask about this, you get a different opinion. Because they’re guessing, whether they’re veterinarians or experts in behavior,” he said.

Some believe that stress, or enzyme deficiencies lead to the behavior. Others suspect dogs picked it up as they adapted to scavenging for food sources in human environments. Many dogs will try to eat anything, and poop, from their own or other species, falls into that category.

The study noted that dogs whose owners considered them “greedy eaters,” were far more like to engage in the behavior.

Dog owners responding to the survey sometimes saw their dogs eating poop, and sometimes just surmised as much, based on “tell-tale breath odor,” or because poop in the house was disappearing before they got around to cleaning it up.

While there are products on the marketplace that claim to correct the problem, most of those do little more than make a dog’s own poop foul tasting, according to the Washington Post blog Animalia.

A dog owner can try and correct the behavior, clean up immediately after their dogs, and monitor them closely while they are outside, but the bottom line is — disgusting as it may strike us — dining on feces isn’t that surprising given where dogs come from and what they’ve been through.

As Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, noted:

“The niche that dogs occupy is essentially one of making a living on people’s leavings — and that isn’t just our leftovers from dinner, but what we put down the toilet, too,” he said. “So it’s only from our human perspective that coprophagy seems strange.”

Dog park humans: A breed apart

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One of the things that strikes you if you spend any time at a dog park is the amazing diversity you see — in appearances, in personality types, in behavior patterns.

And that’s just among the dog owners.

Just as there is a vast array of breeds and mixes, shapes, sizes and behaviors among dogs, there are certain “types” when it comes to the human denizens of dog parks.

So let’s slap some labels on them, shall we?

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Yes, it is wrong. But as much as we tend to slap labels on dogs, it’s only fair to give humans a turn. All in fun, of course. We’re not criticizing any of them (hardly), just making some observations.

All the characters we are about to describe are fictitious, though based on actual observations over the years at dog parks in well over a dozen cities and towns. If one or more bears a striking resemblance to you, old or new friend, it’s purely coincidental. And any exaggeration or irreverence that follows is purely for the sake of humor.

In other words, don’t get mad at me.

DSC06870leashes1The Dog Talker:
This person is constantly talking to their dog — an ongoing one-way conversation: “C’mon Princess, you should you meet these other dogs over here. Oh look, there’s your little friend Barney. And look at this big boy. Do you like him? I think you like him. He looks a little like your friend Bowser, doesn’t he? Let’s play with him for a while before we go home for dinner …”

Often members of this type are also members of another type, making them doubling annoying. The Baby Talkers: “Yesums you’re a good boy, yes you are, yes you are. Did you step on a burr, oh poor baby, come here, let me see your little pawsie. Awwww, it’s OK little baby. There, there, all better now.”

There is one more sub-category of these talkers, and they are those who actually seem to expect their dog to answer them. They are prone to asking their dogs the same question repeatedly, as if, on the third or fourth asking, the dog is suddenly going to respond with words: “Are you ready to go home for dinner, Fluffy? Hmmmm? Fluffy, you want to go home for dinner? Does Fluffy want dinner? You want to go get dinner, Fluffy?”

The Experts: They can and most assuredly will tell you more than you want to know about training, about breeds, about care, about feeding, about anything. Sometimes they may actually have some expertise. More often, they haven’t a clue. Still, they feel the need to conduct mini-lectures that conclude with something like “And that is why dogs eat grass” or, “That’s how they came to be known as Lhaso Apsos.”

DSC06874leashes1The Device-obsessed: They are the largest, fastest growing group at the dog park, and one of the most dangerous, totally ignoring their dogs as they tap away on their little screens. They really should look up now and then. See your dog? He’s living in the moment. You should try it.

The Social Butterfly: Must meet and engage every dog, and every human, in the park. He or she flits about, asking your dog’s name, your dog’s breed, telling you about his or her dog, remarking on the weather, etc., before moving on to the next dog and person. One of these — they often being the sort that prefers a monologue over actual conversation — recently began talking to me, even though I was on the big dog side of the fence and he was on the small side. Without any response, or any acknowledgement from me, he continued talking, non-stop, to the back of my head, for 30 minutes.

DSC06948leashes1The Loners: They go to remotest corner, avoiding interaction and engaging, most likely, in some fetch — silently, relentlessly, repetitiously, and most often using one of those flinging sticks so their hands don’t get slimy. Both owner and dog, generally something like a German shepherd, seem to tense up if you or your dog approach. Often, the loner person has a loner dog, which brings up a point we’re not addressing here: How a dog’s personality comes to resemble its owners.

The Rescue Hero: The second, if not first, sentence out of this person’s mouth about their own dog is “he/she is a rescue” and it is followed by the dog’s tale of woe in its previous life. His coat was matted, his ribs were visible, he was a bait dog used by dogfighters, he was abandoned and left tethered at a Walmart. Often they weren’t involved in any actual rescue, but merely walked into a shelter and adopted the dog. But that’s OK. It still makes them good people. Just don’t expect sainthood.

The Action Hero: This is the young guy — perhaps an off duty firefighter, or someone who just left rugby practice — who rushes over to fearlessly break up any dogfights.

DSC06981leashes1The Date-seeker: He is there to meet some babes. He will lavish attention on your dog because he thinks you are cute. He seems so nice, but might he be a biter? Exercise some caution before going into a play stance with him.

The Over-protector: These people are constantly coddling and babying their (usually) small dog, hovering nearby and becoming alarmed if play becomes a little rough. At that time, they immediately pick it up, making all the larger dogs want to have at it even more. I’ve seen people show up with their dogs and spend their entire time at the park on a bench with their dog (who might be wearing clothing) on their lap.

DSC06847leashes1The control freak: This person is a strong disciplinarian when it comes to their dog, so strict that their dog is barely able to have any fun. Granted some people use dog parks to train their dogs, but even then said dog should have a little frolic time. It’s not boot camp. Sometimes, they seem to want to discipline everyone else’s dog too: “None of that now. Easy, eeeeeasy now,” they’ll say to other dogs. He or she commonly offers training advice to total strangers.

DSC06849leashes1The Poop-spotter: This person has uncanny peripheral vision — to the point he or she can spot any dog in the act of pooping, even if there are two dogs simultaneously pooping at opposite ends of the park. He or she then promptly informs the owner, “Hey, your dog just pooped, about three yards from the fence, to the left of that fencepost.”

The No Boundaries Dog Owner: These are the owners who clearly believe their dog can do no wrong: These dog owners let their dog get away with pretty much everything — digging, snarling, humping to name a few– issuing few corrections and generally only mild ones. They fail to notice signs that things are getting out of hand until it is too late.

No Boundaries Parents: These are even scarier yet, letting their young children chase strange dogs, run from strange dogs while shrieking, and hug strange dogs. These people might pose a bigger risk than even the Device-obsessed. And if you have a combination of the two, well, that’s a recipe for disaster. Often, with these people, their children listen to them with the same disregard their dogs do. No matter how many times they warn little Tommy to close both the gates when he enters and leaves, little Tommy leaves them wide open.

By now you are asking, well “OK Mr. Holier than Thou, which type are you? Or are we to assume you are perfect?”

Far from it.

DSC06880leashes1I am sometimes “the expert,” but only when an unanswered question is looming, and I am sure of my facts, and I feel the information will make the person I am conveying it to a better dog owner. If, while I am talking, they start yawning, or texting, I will stop.

Sometimes I am “the loner,” sometimes “the social butterfly,” depending on my mood — and my dog’s mood — that day.

Sometimes I’m the rescue hero, not the action hero because generally any fights will be over by the time I’m able to make my way over there on my wobbly legs. I will share the tale of where my dog came from, but generally only when asked and without taking credit for any actual “rescue” when all I really did was adopt him. Still, I’m happy to share, and feel it’s important to share, the story of his Korean past, sad as it was.

I’m not the Date-seeker these days, but I’ll admit that possibility may have been in the back of my head — if not ever actually exercised — in earlier times with earlier dogs. And, hey, it might still be lingering back there to a small degree.

Most often, I’m of the type I haven’t mentioned yet.

The Quiet Observer: This is someone like, say, a semi-retired journalist with time on his hands, skilled in observing human behavior, prone to eavesdropping, able to recognize the subtle differences between us, and aware that — above all else — they are what makes life interesting.

DSC06843leashes1So feel free to disregard all this, and just be yourself. It’s true, I’m far more tolerant with dogs than I am with people. Dogs can jump up on me, they can lick my face, they can sit on my lap. People, these days, get on my nerves much more quickly.

Even so, it’s not my place to tell them how — other than observing proper dog park etiquette — they should act. So I almost always stifle myself from saying anything out loud.

When a small child it is chasing my dog, screaming and trying to grab him, I will warn them out loud, “Hey, you might not want to do that.” But I try to not let negative vibes into my head, and try even harder not to let them out of my mouth.

But that said, Tommy, close the damn gates.

(Photos by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)