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Tag: canine

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.

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.”

Chinese lab produces what it says is the world’s first “superdog” clone

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Chinese scientists say they have produced a “superdog” clone — and that the technology will enable them to mass produce dogs that are extra strong and extra fast.

And, unless you are a fan of the doggy version of eugenics, you might find that extra scary.

The beagle, named Long Long, was born in May, becoming one of China’s first canine clones and, the scientist’s maintain, the world’s first genetically modified canine clone.

“This is a breakthrough, marking China as only the second country in the world to independently master dog-somatic clone technology, after South Korea,” said Lai Liangxue, a researcher of Guangzhou Institute of Biological Medicine and Health with the Chinese Academy of Science.

The beagle puppy was genetically engineered by deleting a gene called myostatin, giving him double the muscle mass of a normal beagle.

longlongHe was one of 27 puppies created at Sino Gene, a biotech company based in Beijing — all clones of a laboratory research dog named Apple, according to published reports.

The researchers created 65 embryos through cloning, and genetically modified all of them.

Only Long Long had his myostatin deleted.

By combining genetic editing and cloning, scientists say they can produce “superbreeds” that are stronger and faster.

“With this technology, by selecting a certain gene of the dog, we can breed an animal with more muscles, better sense of smell and stronger running ability, which is good for hunting and police applications,” Lai said.

He also suggested that the gene-editing technology could be commercialized and further applied to create dogs with diseases such as autism, Parkinson’s and diabetes, for use in medical research.

It’s just the latest chapter in dog cloning, which has a frightening history and, potentially, an even scarier future.

Efforts to clone dog began in the U.S., with early research at Texas A&M funded by backers who saw cloning people’s pets — often sick, dying or even dead — as a profitable business enterprise.

Canine cloning wasn’t achieved until a few years later at Seoul National University in South Korea when Snuppy, the world’s first canine clone, was born in 2005.

The service would be offered to pet owners by several businesses, only one of which remains, Sooam Bioengineering Research Institute, the laboratory of controversial South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk.

longlong2Twelve years would pass before China became the second country to clone dogs — and clone them with a twist.

Lai says his team will be able to “batch produce” customized dogs through cloning and gene-editing, which in addition to possible military and law enforcement uses, would create an endless supply of dogs for use in laboratories by medical researchers.

The researcher has worked for years on genetically modifying dogs. By mastering cloning, and combining it with his gene-editing, he’s able to endlessly duplicate any successes he achieves.

As with Dolly the sheep and Snuppy the dog, Lai’s achievement is seen as ominous by some.

“It’s true that the more and more animals that are genetically engineered using these techniques brings us closer to the possibility of genetic engineering of humans,” David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, told the Express..

“That does set us on the road to eugenics,” King added. “I am very concerned with what I’m seeing.”

Me, too. Dog cloning raises some significant animal welfare concerns. Technology, especially when coupled with greed or ego, tends to run amok. Eugenics is a nightmarish pursuit, as is its canine version. Creating diseased dogs for medical research is just plain wrong.

On top of all that, this latest twist being touted by the Chinese researchers fails to recognize one simple fact:

Dogs are already super.

(Photos: Sino Gene)

Which motivates more — food or praise?

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A study at Emory University suggests that dogs aren’t strictly the food-obsessed beasts they’ve traditionally been seen as — and that many, maybe even most, prefer attention and praise over a chewy treat.

While only 13 dogs participated in the study, there were only two of them who — judging from their neural reactions — showed a distinct preference for food over praise.

The study, published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore what kind of rewards canines prefer.

“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory and lead author of the research.

“Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”

Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology. It was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.

Their previous research using the technique identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center and showed that region responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.

Phys.org reports that, in the new study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.

The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.

Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.

Berns says the findings run counter to the old view that dogs “just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it … Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”

In another part of the study, dogs were put into a Y-shaped maze in which one path led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner.

The dogs were repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths.

While most dogs alternated between the food and their owner, dogs who showed a greater response to praise in the first part of experiment chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.

Berns said the study “shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”

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(Photos: At top, Kady, a Lab-retriever mix in the study who preferred praise from her owner to food; at bottom, Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix who chose food over his owner’s praise / Emory University)

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

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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)

Making New Year’s resolutions for our dogs is more popular than ever, survey finds

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A survey conducted for Milk-Bone says more Americans than ever are including their dogs in their New Year’s resolutions.

To which dogs, could they respond, would probably do so with a sarcastic “Gee, thanks.”

But fret not canines. Putting you on a diet ranks all the way down at nine in the top 10 list, and the most popular resolutions are mainly ones dogs would wholeheartedly support.

And keep it mind, we humans hardly ever carry out our resolutions, anyway.

Three thousand pet owners were surveyed, and the most popular resolutions were:

1. I will spend more time with my dog. (52%)

2. I will help my dog to have better health and wellness. (42%)

3. I will take my dog on more trips with me. (34%)

4. I will brush my dog’s teeth regularly. (31%)

5. I will help my dog get essential vitamins and nutrients.(30%)

6. I will help my dog become less anxious and stressed. (29%)

7. I won’t feed my dog food from the dinner table. (25%)

8. I won’t leave my dog home alone for quite so long. (23%)

9. I will help my pet lose weight. (21%)

10. I will take my dog to dog training class. (15%)

(Photo: Instagram)

Canines and equines being benign

In a big, impersonal, sometimes mean and generally hurried city, it’s nice to see creatures — especially those of different species — taking the time to get to know each other.

Maybe that (as opposed to it being a slow news day) is why Gothamist seems to be making a Labor Day tradition of presenting videos of dogs bonding with horses, police horses in particular.

This year’s “report” — and I use that term loosely — expands on the collection of videos the website presented about this same time last year — all featuring tender, or at least inquisitive moments between city dogs and police horses.

Perhaps best enjoyed without commentary, the 11 videos show dog-and-horse bonding, sniffing, and or licking — though not all were from the streets of New York. To see them all, go here.