OUR BEST FRIENDS

whs-logo

The Sergei Foundation

shelterpet_logo

The Animal Rescue Site

B-more Dog

aldflogo

Pinups for Pitbulls

philadoptables

TFPF_Logo

Mid Atlantic Pug Rescue

Our Pack, Inc.

Maine Coonhound Rescue

Saving Shelter Pets, Inc.

mabb

LD Logo Color

Tag: science

Illinois bones said to be earliest evidence of domesticated dogs in America

ancient-dogleashes1

Three dogs unearthed at two burial sites In Illinois decades ago are older than originally thought, and likely date to 10,000 years ago.

That makes them the earliest known domesticated canines in the Americas.

Up until now, the nearly 9,300-year-old remains of dogs eaten by humans at a Texas site were the oldest physical evidence of American canines.

But radiocarbon dating of the Illinois dogs’ bones shows they were 1,500 years older than thought, zooarchaeologist Angela Perri said at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Perri, who presented the paper April 13, said the bones also represent the earliest evidence of dogs being beloved by the humans they lived with.

The previous age estimate was based on a radiocarbon analysis of burned wood found in one of the animals’ graves, Science News reported.

The buried bones also represent the oldest known burials of individual dogs in the world, indicating that some dogs at least were held in high regard by ancient people in America.

Perri, of Durham University in England, said the absence of stone tool incisions on the three ancient dogs’ skeletons indicates that they were not killed by people, but died of natural causes before being buried.

Some researchers have proposed that whoever made the first excursions into the Americas arrived on dog-powered sleds, but no ancient dog remains have been found in northwestern North America, where the earliest settlers crossing a land bridge from Asia would have entered the New World.

“As much as we want to believe that dogs initially pulled us into the New World, that may not have been the case,” Perri said.

Genetic evidence has suggested a second human migration from Asia to North America occurred around 11,500 years ago, with people trekking south through an ice-free corridor into the northern Great Plains. Those people likely brought dogs to the Americas, Perri said.

She and her colleagues studied three dogs excavated at two sites in west-central Illinois, one found in 1960, two others found in the 1970s.

(Photo: Society for American Archaeology)

This robot dog would be more than a toy

canine-aileashes1

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.

Dogs like running, therapy dogs make people feel good, and other “oh duh” studies

In my daily perusal of what in the world is going on with dogs, I am constantly amazed at how many studies are done on things we already know — and how quick news organizations are to pounce on those studies and present them as something new.

Take last week’s Washington Post, which tells us in a headline, “Dogs can get a runner’s high, too.”

Pfffft. Dogs invented the runner’s high. We didn’t need a headline to know, least of all one based on a 2012 study.

The article goes on to tell us that running is healthy for dogs and humans, that running “gives dogs an activity and burns energy,” and, of course, that dogs and humans should check with their vets and doctors before beginning an exercise program.

I don’t know how much of this stating of the painfully obvious that goes on today is because we have run out of new things to say, study and report on; or how much is the result of so-called news websites providing dumbed-down “content,” instead of news.

But it seems like everybody — from scientist to journalist — is in repeat mode. Or maybe I’m just old.

SONY DSCAlso making news last week was the “recent finding” that dogs respond best to high-pitched voices.

This, at least, stems from a new study in which scientists at the University of York have shown that using high-pitched baby-talk voices can help us bond with their dogs.

Of course, the study found basically the same thing as others in recent years, including this one from more than a year ago.

Now any scientist will tell you that’s there is value in these studies that tell us what we already know — whether we already know them from common sense, or because of similar earlier studies that found the same thing. It is always good to confirm things

News organizations, on the other hand, will take the findings of any study, hype them up and present them as the most important breaking news of the day — even if they did the same thing last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.

They know, even with Google, our collective memory is short, so they trot out the same old pieces regularly — should you let your dog sleep with you, should you let your dog lick you, why do dogs eat grass? — and they either find experts or studies to legitimize them.

Just last week, with the news that Barbra Streisand has two cloned dogs, the topic of dog cloning became instantly hot, and many a news outlet presented the story in a you’re-not-going-to-believe-this, dogs-are-being-CLONED!!! kind of way.

Having written a book on the very topic seven years ago, I was amused how the news was suddenly a revelation again.

I’m sure scientists somewhere are studying how short our memories and attention spans are becoming, and that I’ll be reading about it soon.

Until then, there will be plenty of other scientific “revelations” to keep me busy, like this one — unearthed by hardworking researchers at the University of British Columbia:

Therapy dogs make people feel good.

acetWell, that’s kind of why they have been popping up everywhere in the past 20 years — to do just that.

And what led to those initial revelations, years ago? Studies.

This new one, published in the journal Stress and Health, shows that exposure to therapy dogs helps boost students’ well-being. Researchers interviewed 246 students before and after cuddle and petting sessions with therapy dogs.

Students felt significantly less stressed and more energized after interacting with the dogs, though the happy feelings weren’t necessarily lasting, InsideHigherEd.com reported.

In other words, the feel-good vibe a dog gives you — like a news report, like a scientific study, like many a book — will soon be forgotten.

(Photos by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)

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.

Dogs: We feared, and ate them, and exploited them, before we befriended them

dog-bone-wr

OK, so it wasn’t love at first sight.

Before dogs became fully domesticated, there were long stretches of time that humans lived in tension with canines — both wolves and dogs — fearing them, eating them, and skinning them for their pelts.

New research published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports concludes the remains of dogs found in Western Europe shows that domestication was neither a quick nor tidy affair.

And one that obviously didn’t happen everywhere at once.

As a result, both wolves and dogs were hunted — dogs maybe even more because they were easier prey.

The research is outlined in a recent Smithsonian article.

The researchers analyzed stable isotopes in the remains. Stable isotopes are forms of atoms that leave behind signatures in biological samples, revealing details about diet, environment and other conditions.

Through them, scientist say, they can learn more about the changing nature of the relationship between humans and dogs between the Middle and Late Stone Age. Most researchers agree that the domestication of dogs dates back 15,000 years or more, and that it first occurred somewhere in Eurasia.

“At that time (the relationship) obviously fluctuated,” says Stefan Ziegler, a co-author of the study. “Sometimes people ate their dogs and sometimes they just used them as guard dogs and maybe even pets.”

The recent study could also provide a new tool for archaeologists trying to get a better grasp on whether newly discovered remains are those of wolves or dogs.

Archaeologists have traditionally based their belief on whether remains are those of a dog or a wolf by relying on bone size, but the stable isotopes may provide a better clue, the study says.

“The data show that dogs and wolves must generally have had a different diet, which is reflected in the altered isotope ratios. Dogs could occasionally access human food sources and their diet must have been either more omnivorous or monotonous than that of wolves, depending on the feeding regime,” the authors say in the study.

(Photo: Lateral view of a lumbar vertebra of a Late Mesolithic dog from Germany with several cut marks by a flint knife, by Jörg Ewersen, via Smithsonian)

Dogs in space: China reveals it tried it too

chinaspacedogs

Back in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s, the race to space featured two main players — the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Both, in preparation for manned space flight, were experimenting with animals first — in the Soviet Union’s case, most notably dogs, the most famous of which was Laika, who died during the 1957 Sputnik 2 mission, but not until after becoming the first Earth creature to enter outer space.

Now it has been revealed that China was sending dogs into space, too, though its attempts were shrouded in secrecy.

In 1966 at a secret military base in southeast China, a small dog called Little Leopard was chosen from more than 100 other “volunteers” to be launched into orbit. Orbit wasn’t achieved, but at least Little Leopard survived.

The previously unknown details of China’s secret program to launch dogs into space more than half a century ago were revealed last week in an article published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The academy said that, to usher in the Year of the Dog, it wanted to “commemorate their legendary journey into the sky,” according to the South China Morning Post

Little Leopard was chosen from more than 100 puppies bred for the task, all the offspring of performers in an animal circus.

“They were chosen for their looks – the scientists insisted they had to be ‘cute’ — and put through a series of tests that included being shut in a room and subjected to noise at more than 100 decibels to see whether they could tolerate the sound of a rocket blast,” the article says.

Little Leopard and a three-year-old dog named Shan Shan — both mixed-breeds — were selected as the toughest and most intelligent of the group.

But one thing was overlooked by the scientists, and it became apparent soon after Little Leopard was hoisted to the rocket in a basket. He was afraid of heights.

The scientists struggled to get him in the hatch of the 20-story high rocket for take-off.

Once inside, he was attached to equipment to monitor his breathing, circulation, heart rate and body temperature at various stages of the flight. A sensor was inserted in the main artery of his neck to get precise readings of the blood supply to his brain.

Strapped tight inside the capsule, the article says, he “endured unspeakable pain and deafening noise in the 20 minutes that followed. The force of acceleration was up to 12 times the pull of gravity, causing pressure, or G-force, that prevented the dog’s heart from pumping enough blood to his head.”

While that monitoring equipment worked just fine, the rocket didn’t — not entirely. It failed to reach orbit.

chinapsacedogs2As it neared earth, the capsule was ejected and parachute-landed on a mountain not far from the launch site, where Little Leopard was fetched by a helicopter. A crowd gathered at the launch site to welcome his return, according to the academy.

Shan Shan’s journey into space, two weeks later, was even more problematic. It never reached orbit, either, and the equipment that was monitoring her vital signs malfunctioned.

Little Leopard and Shan Shan were the first and only large animals used by China to gather biological data for the human space flight program.

After the experiment, the Chinese space authorities decided to stop sending animals into space.

Both dogs were returned to Beijing where government officials presented them with honorary awards. It’s not known what happened to the dogs after that, and the Chinese space program bit the dust during the chaos and violence of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

(Photos: Chinese Academy of Sciences)

How some dogs came to have floppy ears

It is generally accepted that most species, over time, adapt as the environment in which they live undergoes changes — to the point that their bodies physically alter.

Charles Darwin wrote about it 150 years ago, raising questions about why the once perky, upright ears of certain animals — namely wolves — had evolved to become, often, with domesticated dogs, floppy.

It was subsequently named “domestication syndrome” — the process by which domesticated mammals come to possess heritable traits not seen in their wild progenitors.

But why it happens is still theorized about.

My own theory (and bear in mind, it is coming from a former ape) is that, with dogs, once they started living with humans they no longer needed those alert and upright ears to detect threats; that, just maybe, they found what they more needed was a way to muffle human noise, as that species can be pretty damn loud. So, over time, their ears evolved from being pointy antenna-like sensors to sound-muffling flaps.

Basset hounds and bloodhounds, for example, clearly do not want to hear a single word we have to say.

How, then, would my theory explain the many breeds of dogs that still have pointy ears? Simple: Those are the ones who want to hear everything humans say, most likely because they don’t entirely trust us. (This also explains why cats still have pointy ears.)

As the video above shows, my theory is probably wrong.

It’s from the NPR science show Skunk Bear — which is very good at simplifying science for the increasing number of humans whose attention spans are shortening to the point they require cartoons to understand something.

Cartoons are especially helpful when the explanation involved includes words like “neural crest cells” and “postmigratory embryonic interactions”.

Basically, the latest thinking is that it is a deficiency of neural crest cells — which affect everything from adrenalin to ear cartilage — that is behind the change in appearance in domesticated species.

As Darwin noted, 150 years ago, numerous species with erect ears had become droopy eared after domestication, including “cats in China, horses in parts of Russia, sheep in Italy and elsewhere, the guinea-pig in Germany, goats and cattle in India, rabbits, pigs and dogs in all long-civilized countries.”

All, with domestication, were experiencing a form of erectile dysfunction. Thanks, humans.

“The incapacity to erect the ears,” Darwin concluded, “is certainly in some manner the result of domestication.”

A century later, experiments in the Soviet Union proved Darwin was right on target.

Russian geneticist Dmitry Belyayev took 130 foxes from fur farms and started a breeding program. He started with the tamest foxes and then bred their offspring again and again, always choosing the tamest.

After a few dozen generations, Belyayev’s foxes were totally tame, and becoming more and more floppy eared.

More recent research points to those neural crest cells as the factor.

Does this mean your pointy-eared dog is less tame than its floppy-eared counterpart?

I wouldn’t read that much into it. But I’m often wrong. I’m only human. Perhaps someday another cartoon will come along to give us the answer.

(Photos: John Woestendiek / ohmidog!)