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Tag: italy

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

wag

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)

And wait until you try his tabby-oca pudding

Italy’s state-run RAI TV has suspended popular cooking show host Beppe Bigazzi for touting cat stew as a Tuscan delicacy.

The suspension is for an unspecified amount of time,” the Associated Press reports.

Bigazzi, 77, who hosts a popular morning program that offers food tips and recipes, said he had enjoyed cat stew many times. When that startled his female co-host,  Elisa Isoardi, Bigazzi defended his culinary tastes, noting Italians eat rabbit, chicken and pigeons. Horse meat also is sold in Italian shops.

“Cat, soaked for three days in the running water of a stream comes out with its meat white, and I assure you I have eaten it many times,” he said on the program. “Now there will be letters from nature lovers. Why don’t they defend rabbits?”

His critics included Health Ministry Undersecretary Francesca Martini, who said Italian law protects pets from mistreatment and that Bignazzi’s comments contradict the growing public sensibility toward animals in Italy.

Italy says “ciao” to its dangerous dog list

Unlike a lot of American cities, and the U.S. Army, the country of Italy is wising up when it comes to labeling dogs as “dangerous.”

A new law goes into effect in Italy next month that does away with the country’s list of “dangerous” breeds and insteads holds owners responsible for their pets’ behavior — whatever breed it is.

Under the old law, owners of pit bulls, Rottweilers, mastiffs, bull dogs and 13 other breeds, were required to keep them muzzled in public places, and failure to respect the law could result in the animal being put down.

The new law works on the theory that any dog could be potentially high-risk and holds the owners or caretakers responsible for controlling a pet’s behavior.

“This is a historic day because we have established for the first time the responsibility of the owner or the person who is momentarily in charge of the animal,” Health Undersecretary Francesca Martini said earlier this month.

“The measures adopted in the previous laws had no scientific foundation. Dangerous breeds do not exist. With this law we have overcome the black list, which was just a fig leaf (over the larger problem), and we have increased the level of guarantees for citizens,” she said.

The new law requires vets to be responsible for compiling a register of individual dogs who they believe may be potentially high risk. Owners of those dogs will be required to keep them muzzled in public.

The law also requires dog owners to keep their pets on a leash at all times in urban areas, pick up their dog’s mess, and to carry a muzzle with them in case of need.

It also forbids training dogs to be aggressive using sticks and protective body gear, doping, surgery that is not for health purposes and dangerous cross-breeding.

European ban on dog fur takes effect

(Warning: This video contains graphic and disturbing images)

A total ban on dog and cat fur goes into effect tomorrow across Europe.

The ban, endorsed by European Union governments in 2007, prohibits trading in dog and cat fur in the 27 EU countries from the start of 2009. (Five countries have already unilaterally banned the trade – Italy, Denmark, France, Belgium and Greece.)

“The ban comes just in time as I understand there is something of a revival in fur in the fashion world,” said Struan Stevenson, who campaigned for the ban for nine years. “The onus is now on retailers and others to ensure that such demand doesn’t encourage unscrupulous fur dealers to search for ways to break the law.”

Stevenson said the ban would save the lives of millions of animals slaughtered every year in Asia – mostly in China – to serve a European market. But he warned it was now up to importers and retailers to stay vigilant against a “vile” trade in which cats and dogs are rounded up and often skinned alive.

Humane Society International first exposed the trade nearly a decade ago, revealing evidence of a thriving cat and dog fur market in many European countries including France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark.

The proposed ban was supported by Heather Mills and her former husband Sir Paul McCartney. Mills collected more than 250,000 signatures in an on-line petition on her web page demanding an EU ban. More celebrity support came from Dennis Erdman, the director of television show “Sex And The City,” who persuaded Hollywood celebrities to write to the European Commission supporting a ban.

The ban follows similar legislation in America and Australia. China continues trading cat and dog fur.