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Tag: food

Lost in translation: In shedding their wolfish past, dogs lost ability to cooperate

wolfanddog

There’s one thing that wolves are still way better at than their domesticated descendants (aka dogs) — cooperating with their own kind.

Domestication may have led to canines becoming more skilled at cooperating, manipulating and melting the hearts of people, but they lost something in the transition.

While they’ll still run together, play together and display other pack-like tendencies, dogs are less likely than wolves to work together as a team to accomplish a goal, says a new study.

To provide a human equivalent, wolves will work together like a team of Navy Seals, while dogs are more like, well, Congress.

Sarah Marshall-Pescini, from the University of Vienna, has found that dogs lag far behind wolves when it comes to accomplishing a task that requires them to cooperate.

She conducted a simple series of experiments in which dogs have to pull on two pieces of rope to bring a piece of distant tray of food within reach. While the dogs almost always failed, the wolves, working together, frequently succeeded.

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“The idea is that we’ve changed their psychology to make them into super-cooperative beings,” says Marshall-Pescini. But that’s only true for their relationships with humans, she added.

By domesticating dogs, humans ruined the pack instinct that makes wolves such great hunters and survivors.

“They adapted to the niche we provided for them and it changed their sociality,” Marshall-Pescini says.

That applies even to dogs living in the wild. They mostly keep to themselves, scavenging alone on human garbage. When they do form packs, they are usually small and loose-knit.

By contrast, wolves live in extremely tight-knit family groups. They rely on their pack-mates to bring down large prey, and they work together to rear each other’s pups.

Fifteen wolves and 15 dogs currently live in Vienna’s Wolf-Science Center, a facility established to look at the differences between wolves and dogs “in as fair a way as possible,” says Marshall-Pescini.

“They’re raised in exactly the same way, with a lot of human contact. This allows us to test a lot of different things without the confounding variables of wolves not being used to humans and pet dogs being super-used to humans.”

In the experiment, a string was threaded through rings on a tray of food on a side of a cage the animals could not access.

If one animal grabs an end of the string and pulls, it just comes out of the rings. If two animals pull on the two ends together, the tray slides close enough for them to eat the food.

All in all, the dog teams did terribly. Just one out of eight pairs managed to pull the tray across, and only once out of dozens of trials. By contrast, five out of seven wolf pairs succeeded, on anywhere between 3 and 56 percent of their attempts.

As The Atlantic explained it in an excellent summary of the study:

“It’s not that the dogs were uninterested: They explored the strings as frequently as the wolves did. But the wolves would explore the apparatus together — biting, pawing, scratching, and eventually pulling on it. The dogs did not. They tolerated each other’s presence, but they were much less likely to engage with the task at the same time, which is why they almost never succeeded.”

“The dogs are really trying to avoid conflict over what they see as a resource,” said Marshall-Pescini. “This is what we found in food-sharing studies, where the dominant animal would take the food and the subordinate wouldn’t even try to approach. With wolves, there’s a lot of arguing and it sounds aggressive, but they end up sharing. They have really different strategies in situations of potential conflict. [With the dogs], you see that if you avoid the other individual, you avoid conflict, but you can’t cooperate either.”

(Bottom photo: Wolf Science Center/Vetmeduni Vienna)

Texas dog seems to have a good grasp of emergency preparedness, and his dog food

otis

It’s not clear where Otis was heading when he escaped during Hurricane Harvey and hit the road.

But it is clear he didn’t leave unprepared.

Otis was photographed by a stranger while he was at large — with a giant bag of dog food in his mouth.

Otis, a German shepherd mix, got loose Friday night from a screened-in back porch in Sinton, Texas, where he had been left in the care of 65-year-old Salvador Segovia.

otis2Segovia was watching the dog for his 5-year-old grandson Carter whose family had fled the city due to flooding.

Segovia noticed the dog was gone Friday night when he went to check on him on the porch.

“I kept yelling his name and yelling his name and he wasn’t around,” Segovia told the Houston Chronicle.

When he checked the porch again Saturday morning, he noticed Otis’ bag of dog food was also missing.

A few people in Sinton — a town of about 6,000 — had seen Otis walking down the street with a bag of dog food in his mouth, including Tiele Dockens, who saw Otis, snapped a photo and posted it on Facebook.

The photo of Otis went viral, and Otis himself was tracked down Saturday and is back with Segovia — happily, all before his young master, Carter, returned home.

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The dog has comforted the boy after several hospital visits, Segovia says, and is well-known around town. Wandering the streets is nothing new for him, though this is the first time he has brought his own food along.

Segovia said Otis is the “only dog allowed to lie down in front of the county court house,” and that he sometimes goes to Dairy Queen for a hamburger.

Maybe Otis was trying to get himself, and his dog food, back to his home. Maybe he sensed an emergency had been declared, and wanted to be prepared. Or maybe he just wanted to go for a walk, and knew the DQ was going to be closed Friday night.

We’ll never know, but it’s fun to speculate.

(Top photo by Tiele Dockens, from Facebook; photos of Carter and Otis courtesy of Salvador Segovia)

A funny — and life-saving — thing happened on the way to the slaughterhouse

jindolThe four new arrivals at the Watauga Humane Society, a no-kill shelter nestled in the hills outside Boone, N.C., started adapting to their new lives not long after they were removed from a farm south of Seoul, Korea.

They continued to grow a little less timid and fearful of humans while they were quarantined in a sanctuary there, flown to the U.S., driven hundreds of miles to five different shelters and quarantined again.

Soon, they’ll be making the final step on the way to becoming pets, instead of meat.

twopartsThe four are among 31 dogs from Korea who arrived at no-kill shelters in North Carolina last week to be put up for adoption.

And those 31 are among 525 who have come to the U.S. and Canada since the beginning of last year, when Humane Society International added a new strategy to its campaign to bring an end to dog farms in Korea — closing them down one farm at a time.

Representatives of HSI, working with local animal activists in South Korea, have succeeded in shutting down five farms since then — usually by negotiating deals with the farmers and persuading them to pursue new, less brutal livelihoods.

One dog farm became a blueberry farm. Another switched from raising dogs to growing chili peppers. One dog farmer agreed to stop dog farming and, with help from HSI, started a water delivery business.

It’s only a small dent, given there are thousands of dog farms in South Korea, some with 1,000 dogs or more, all being raised to be sold for their meat.

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They are commonly abused and neglected and spend their lives in crates before being sold to markets, where things get even crueler.

Farm dogs are sometimes boiled alive, sometimes beaten before slaughter under the belief that it makes their meat more flavorful. Their meat is sold to individuals and restaurants at open air markets, where you can pick a live one for butchering.

It’s all a perfectly legal tradition under laws in Korea, where a minority of the population still eats dogs, and many believe the meat offers health benefits, particularly in the summer months.

That minority is shrinking more as younger Koreans turn away from the practice, a fledgling animal welfare movement grows and the perception of dogs as family members becomes more widespread.

Perhaps, South Korea will, in time, outgrow the practice. Perhaps the Olympics coming to Seoul in 2018 — as it did in 1988 — will lead government officials, who did their best to hide it then, to take more meaningful steps.

Until then, animal activists — locally and globally — do what they can.

My first exposure to dog farms was seven years ago, when I went to South Korea to research a book I was writing on dog cloning. On the road to achieving that “feat,” researchers regularly bought and borrowed meat dogs from farms, using them for experiments, to help clone the first canine and to clone the dogs of pet-owning customers once the practice hit the marketplace.

I ended up at Moran Market — and quickly wished I hadn’t.

Images of what I saw then still pop up in my head, unasked. I’ll spare you the graphic details.

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It is estimated that more than 2 million dogs are slaughtered for human consumption in South Korea each year.

Add in those consumed in China, Vietnam and other Asian countries, and as many as 30 million dogs a year are killed for their meat.

South Korea is the only country where the practice has been industrialized. The New York Times reported in May that government data show there are more than 17,000 dog farms.

The Humane Society program is an attempt to shine a light on the issue, while also giving at least a few of the dogs a chance. On top of that, it strives to show that farm dogs, stigmatized in Korea and often perceived as different from pet dogs, are one and the same.

In one of the largest agreements brokered so far, this past May, a dog farmer in Wonju turned over all 260 of the dogs he was raising — mostly on discarded scraps he collected from restaurants — in exchange for certain considerations.

The particulars of the deal weren’t announced, but HSI offers incentives to farmers — $2,000 to $60,000 depending on the number of dogs involved — who agree to forfeit their dogs and get out of the business.

That farmer, Gong In-young, told the New York Times that many of the dogs were just weeks away from being sent to the slaughterhouse.

Gong, in addition to his farm dogs, had a pet dog, too. Asked about the difference in the lives of his farm dogs and his own dog, a spitz named Snow White, he described it as “the difference between heaven and hell.”

The most recent batch of dogs transported to the U.S. by HSI was small by comparison.

The dogs lived on a small farm in Jeonju, about 120 miles south of Seoul. A Canadian organization, Free Korean Dogs, was tipped off about it by local activists and, upon further investigation, learned it was an illegal operation.

While dog farms are legal, this farmer and his dogs were squatters, occupying land that didn’t belong to him. Law enforcement authorities were contacted and ordered the farmer and the dogs off the land.

That left the farmer willing to negotiate, and he eventually agreed to turn all 30-plus dogs over to a sanctuary at the end of July.

HSI, working with Free Korean Dogs, then took steps to have them shipped to the U.S., making arrangements for them to be taken in and adopted out by no-kill shelters who participate in the Humane Society’s Emergency Placement Partners program.

Those who participate in the program accept dogs the Humane Society has rescued — from everything from puppy mills to natural disasters.

All 31 farm dogs, after their flight and a few days in Maryland, were brought to shelters in North Carolina.

In the parking lot of a shopping center in Cary, the dogs were turned over to volunteers from local humane societies and shelters in the state, the News & Observer reported.

Those shelters included Cashiers Highlands Humane Society, Paws of Bryson City, Moore Humane Society in Carthage, Outer Banks SPCA in Manteo, and the Watauga Humane Society in Boone.

I visited the four who went to Boone last week.

I wanted to take some photos. I wanted to see how anti-social and fearful of humans they might be, or if that resilience dogs are famous for was already becoming apparent.

I wanted to understand how hard it might be for them to shake the past. Many who have adopted them say they’ve gone on to make greats pets — as has been the case with many of Michael Vick’s fighting dogs, puppy mill dogs and other dogs who have seen and suffered from the worst in humans.

And in the back of my head, which is also where those images of meat market dogs linger, I was thinking I might like to have one.

(For part two of this story, click here.)

(Photos: From top to bottom, Jindol, one of the four Korean dogs now at the Watauga Humane Society, by John Woestendiek; caged dogs at a South Korean dog farm, by Jean Chung for The New York Times; dogs awaiting butchering at Moran Market in Seoul, by John Woestendiek)

Which motivates more — food or praise?

kadypraise

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)

Is the quality of dog semen declining? And are contaminants in dog food to blame?


Researchers at the University of Nottingham say they’ve documented a serious decline in the fertility of male dogs — and suggest that dog food or environmental causes may be to blame.

In a study spanning 26 years, researchers tracked the sperm motility levels of five different breeds — Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, curly coat retrievers, border collies and German shepherds.

They took samples from between 42 and 97 dogs each year, according to the study, published in Scientific Reports.

Between 1988 and 1998, the team recorded a 2.5 percent decline in the amount of motile sperm per year. Between 2002 and 2014, this trend continued at a rate of 1.2 percent each year.

The researchers also found that male pups produced by dogs with declining sperm quality had an increased incidence of cryptorchidism, a condition where one or both of the testicles don’t descend properly.

The study suggests that the sperm quality may have been impacted by contaminants in dog food.

“We looked at other factors which may also play a part, for example, some genetic conditions do have an impact on fertility,” said Dr Richard Lea, leader of the study. “However, we discounted that because 26 years is simply too rapid a decline to be associated with a genetic problem.”

Dogs used for the study were all bred, raised and trained as service animals for disabled people at an unidentified center in England, according to the New York Times.

The scientists said that in addition to collecting samples throughout the study, they examined the testicles collected from dogs that had undergone castration.

Both showed environmental contaminants in high enough concentrations to affect sperm motility. These same chemicals were also discovered in various commercially available dog foods.

The researchers say the findings raise the question of whether a reported decline in human semen quality over the last 70 years could also be a result of environmental factors.

(Photos: Roscoe, a yellow Lab who was not involved in the study, and has no interest in the results, by John Woestendiek)

Woof in Advertising: Eukanuba makers agree to drop claims that food extends lifespans

Under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, the makers of Eukanuba dog food have agreed to stop claiming their brand extends the lives of dogs.

In a settlement that resolves a false advertising complaint filed by the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, Mars Petcare will cease making the claim.

The FTC announced yesterday it had reached a settlement with Mars. Eukanuba began an advertising campaign last year claiming the brand could extend the expected lifespan of a dog by 30 percent or more.

woof in advertisingThe ads — like the longer version promotion shown above — featured aging black Labs, inspiring music and the bold claim that Eukanuba had been “scientifically proven” to extend the lives of dogs.

“Two-thirds of all Americans have pets at home, and they spend billions of dollars to ensure that their pets are healthy and well-fed,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Pet owners count on ads to be truthful and not to misrepresent health-related benefits. In this case, Mars Petcare simply did not have the evidence to back up the life-extending claims it made about its Eukanuba dog food.”

The order settling the FTC’s charges prohibits Mars Petcare from making any misleading or unsubstantiated claims that its Eukanuba-brand pet food or any other pet food will enable any dogs to extend their lifespan by 30 percent or more or live exceptionally long lives.

In May 2015, Eukanaba began the marketing and ad campaign on television, in print, and on the Internet.

“Ten years ago, we launched a long life study,” one ad said. “What we observed was astonishing. With Eukanuba and proper care, dogs in the study were able to live beyond their typical lifespan.”

The ad then showed a dog named Iowa who, at 17, had lived five years beyond than the typical Labrador lifespan.

eukanubaThe ads were based on a “10-year Long Life Study” purportedly carried out at the Eukanuba Pet Health and Nutrition Center. Dozens of Labrador retrievers were fed Eukanuba and given “proper care” over that span.

The study found 90% of the dogs lived beyond the typical lifespan of the breed, with 28% living longer than 15 years.

The study was begun while Eukanuba was still owned by Procter & Gamble Co. Last year, Eukanuba, along with Iams and other smaller brands, was acquired by Mars Petcare.

The FTC alleges that the longevity claims are false or unsubstantiated and that the claim that longevity was proven through scientific evidence is false.

“Among other things, the evidence relied on by [Mars] for its representations concerning the Eukanuba brand dog food consisted primarily of results from a single study, the results of which showed no significant difference in the median age at death of the dogs in the study relative to the typical age at death of dogs of the same breed,” reads the complaint. “Therefore, the representations… were, and are, false or misleading.”

The FTC decision does not penalize the pet food company financially, and under it Mars neither admits nor denies any wrongdoing.

(More of our “Woof in Advertising” posts can be found here.)

Did greedy moms fuel domestication of dog?

Mother-dog-overwhelmed-by-pack-of-hungry-pups

Some researchers are suggesting that selfish mama dogs may have played a role in the early domestication of the species by keeping the good food to themselves, as opposed to sharing it with their pups.

As a result, the researchers theorize, pups and young dogs ventured out of the wild and into human communities where they didn’t have to compete as hard for food — at least not with their own mothers.

(Being a cartoonist at heart — albeit one who can’t draw — I am picturing a young pup, sneaking away from the home of his domineering mother with one of those sacks on a stick over his shoulder, muttering to himself, “That bitch. That bitch. That greedy bitch!”)

Sure, there may be some substance to this research, but it mostly makes me laugh.

The researchers conducted experiments with feral dogs in India, then theorized that ancestral dogs thousands of years ago must have behaved the same way.

First, they offered low-quality biscuits to mother dogs, and the mother dogs tended to share those with their pups, with no conflicts arising.

Then they brought out the good stuff. Protein-rich meat seemed to make the mother dogs forget their motherly ways, growling at their pups to keep them away, and even grabbing meat from the mouths of their puppies.

The authors, Anindita Bhadra and Manabi Paul of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, say ancestral dogs, once they reached 8 or 9 weeks old, became able to clearly distinguish between protein rich food sources and the un-nourishing filler their mothers were trying to pass off on them.

At that point, the researchers theorize, many young ancestral dogs would set out for farming communities where they had access to what humans threw away. There is evidence also that the earliest farmers fed these dogs, making life among humans even more appealing.

The theory, outlined in the journal Royal Society Open Science, could help to explain the origins of dog domestication and how some ancestral dogs so willingly elected to live with people instead of with their own kind, Discovery reports.

“Ancestral dogs” is kind of a safe term scientists use — just in case dogs didn’t evolve from wolves, but from some other species.

As for why ancestral dog moms turned so selfish when a good cut of meat became available, Bhadra said, “We feel that the mothers just tend to grab the best resources when available.”

Ancestral mother dogs are not available to respond to those charges, so I will speak for them:

“Hey, you think it’s easy giving birth to 14 kids at once, and then raising them? Alone?

“Yeah, where IS dad? Good question. Haven’t seen him since he knocked me up.

“So, yes, I get a little anxious, a little snippy. But I’ve got to feed the whole lot of them, and protect them. It’s not like I can walk into the Food Lion and get all I need. You have no idea how tired I am. And yes, I get hungry, too. If I am not nourished, how do you expect me to nourish all of them? Go research that, why don’t you?”

(Photo: From Lovethesepics.com)