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Tag: science

Some recommended reading: “Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself”

Dog_Medicine.cvr_Seems that hardly a month goes by that we’re not reading about — and duly reporting on — some new scientific study showing how dogs, for us humans, are good medicine.

Whether its lowering our blood pressure, upping our oxytocin (that hormone that makes us feel warm and fuzzy), or keeping us sane (no small task), you can bet there’s a study underway at some university somewhere seeking to unravel — and dryly present to us — more hard evidence of yet another previously mysterious way that dogs enhance our well-being.

Given that, it’s a nice change of pace to plunge into a more anecdotal account — one that looks at the near magical mental health benefits one woman reaped through her dog, and does so with candor and humor, as opposed to sappiness.

“Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself” is a book that shows, far better than any scientific study, just how valuable — no, make that priceless — the human-dog bond is.

The memoir spans a year in the life of the author, Julie Barton, starting when, just one year out of college and living in Manhattan, she had what we used to call a “nervous breakdown.”

A barely coherent phone call from her kitchen floor brought her mother racing to her side from Ohio to take her home.

Barton was diagnosed with major depression — one that didn’t seem to lift, despite the best efforts of family, doctors, therapists and the pharmaceutical industry. She spent entire days in bed, refusing to get up.

Around the same time doctors started her on Zoloft, Barton told her mother she’d like to get a dog. Her mother thought that was a great idea. A few weeks later, they were bringing home a golden retriever pup. Barton named him Bunker.

On that first night, Bunker started whimpering in his crate, and Barton crawled inside with him:

“It occurred to me as I gently stroked his side that this was the first time in recent memory that I was reassuring another living thing. And, miraculously, I knew in that moment that I was more than capable of caring for him. I felt enormously driven to create a space for Bunker that felt safe, free of all worry, fear and anxiety. For the first time in a long time, I felt as if I had a purpose.”

Barton’s depression didn’t lift overnight; it never does. But, as the artfully written story unravels, Bunker gives Barton the confidence she needs to start a new life on her own in Seattle.

The are plenty of bumps ahead, and more than a few tests, but, given we’re recommending you read it for yourself, we won’t divulge them here.

The book is being released in November by Think Piece Publishing, but you can pre-order it here.

Or you can wait for the next scientific study that comes along, proclaiming — in heartless, soulless prose — to prove one way or another what we already know:

Dogs are good for the heart and soul.

Using dog poop to power your home

poopenergyHow many times have you looked at your dog and remarked to yourself, “I wish I had his energy?”

Maybe one day soon you can, and the source of it would be — barring any digestive issues — plentiful, sustainable and renewable.

A young Swiss designer is showing off her prototype of a home appliance that converts dog poop into power.

Océane Izard, who owns three dogs, created “Poo Poo Power” as a conceptual design. “I have always believed in the potential of my dogs’ droppings,” she says.

To use the appliance, dog owners “place a biodegradable bag of dog waste inside, where sludge-eating bacteria belch out methane that is converted to power,” FastCoExist.com reports.

The electricity is stored in detachable batteries that can be used around the house.

The amount of power it produces depends on the size of the dog.

A beagle, for example, will produce between 250 and 340 grams of feces per day — enough only to run a fan for two hours, Izard says. A German shepherd, producing about twice that, could almost power your refrigerator.

Providing enough electricity to power an entire home, she says, would take about seven dogs.

Izard hopes that the appliance might change how dog owners see poop.

“For me it should not be taboo,” she says. “Dog owners pick up their dog turds every day. This is certainly an ordeal. That’s why there’s so much in the streets. But with this machine, people will want to bring (home) this precious gift that their dogs do one to two times a day.”

izardIzard isn’t the only one to consider using dog waste for power. The city of San Francisco considered a pilot program in 2006 to collect poop at dog parks and bring it to digesters, though the program didn’t move forward. Another project aims to use dog poop to power streetlights at parks.

Izard notes that, in addition to creating a renewable source of energy, the concept, practiced on a larger scale, could also help keep cities cleaner.

Paris cleans up an estimated 12 tons of dog poop from city streets every day. In the U.S., dogs produce around 10 million tons of poop each year, most of which either stays where it was dropped or goes to landfills, where it releases methane into the atmosphere. Dog waste also pollutes watersheds.

Izard thinks, rather than viewing it as an evil scourge, it’s time to make dog poop start working for us.

“My project is an opportunity to say it is possible even at a small scale,” says Izard. “The future of poop is here.”

(Photo: Oceane Izard)

Why some dogs chase their tails

tailchaser

Why do some dogs seem so obsessed with chasing their tails?

Researchers at Bristol University in the UK have entered the second phase of a study aimed at finding the answer.

Scientists from the two-year “Bristol Spinning Dog Project” will visit the homes of the 50 non-spinning dogs to collect urine samples and cheek swabs, and complete training tasks aimed at assessing the pet’s personality and ability to learn, The Independent reports.

In the first phase of the study, the researchers examined spinning dogs, delving into everything from their DNA to their environments to their personalities.

After examining dogs that chase their tails, the researchers will use the non-spinners to act as a control group.

Tail-chasing, while the topic of many a YouTube video, is likely something we shouldn’t be laughing about — out loud or otherwise — at least in those cases where the behavior is obsessive.

The researchers say reasons for the behavior aren’t fully understood — some spinning dogs may be merely seeking attention or expressing a desire to play, but spinning frequently or while alone could be a sign of frustration or a more serious disorder.

“There isn’t much information in the research literature about why dogs spin,” said Beth Loftus, one of the lead researchers. “We think this behavior develops because of personality and genetics, as well as the environment during a dog’s first 16 weeks and learning throughout life. But we don’t really know what it means for dogs’ welfare.”

“We hope to be able to identify dogs that are starting to spin and stop it from developing to the point where they are doing it almost to the complete exclusion of other, more normal types of behavior,” she added.

The research is being funded by the Dogs Trust charity.

(Photo : Flickr Commons / Tim Mowrer)

Wayne State urged to end dog experiments

wsurally

A physician’s organization led a rally this week urging Wayne State University to end its long-running series of cardiac research experiments on dogs.

About 45 people joined in the protest, led by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

According to the nonprofit organization, the heart failure experiments have been going on for 20 years, at a cost to taxpayers of about $8 million, and have provided no information beneficial to treating human heart disease.

No dogs leave the program alive.

“These research experiments have not garnered anything that has advanced human health,” said Jennifer Giordano, a Detroit-area doctor representing the committee. “We want them to use human-relevant research methods.”

In the experiments, heart problems are induced in the dogs by the use of implanted electrodes, which cause their heart rates to more than double.

The dogs are then put through multiple surgeries and are required to run on treadmills. About 25 percent of the dogs die during or after the surgery. Those who do survive are euthanized when their participation is no longer needed.

The experiments are funded in part by the National Institutes of Health.

At the Wednesday rally the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine presented a letter signed by actress Lily Tomlin to Wayne State University officials, calling on them to end medical experiments on dogs. Tomlin is a Detroit native and attended the university.

In the letter, Tomlin wrote: “I understand that Wayne State is spending millions of taxpayer dollars using dogs in heart failure experiments that have not benefited human health in any way. I urge you to end these senseless experiments as soon as possible.”

A copy of the letter was given to Matt Lockwood, a university spokesman who came to the rally and a read a statement defending the experiments, the Detroit News reported.

“Almost every medical advance in the last 100 years was due to research on animals — chemotherapy, hip replacements, transfusions, dialysis — was all tested on dogs,” Lockwood said. “We need to continue to do research to advance science.”

He said the animals in the experiments are under the constant supervision of veterinarians.

“There’s a committee that’s sole purpose is to ensure the animals are as comfortable as possible,” he said. “We’re also under the oversight of the federal government and the state. Never once has any animal been found to have been mistreated at any time.”

He said the dogs are euthanized after taking part in the experiments, but he declined to provide numbers.

(Photo: Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

How a dog sees a rainbow

SONY DSC

Dogs aren’t truly color blind, but they do see a lesser range of hues than humans do.

They may have better hearing than us, and be far superior to us at sniffing things out, but when it comes to seeing rainbows they don’t have as much to get excited about as we do.

Dogs have only two types of cone cells, which are responsible for color vision, enabling them to see blue and yellow — and their various mixes.

Most of us humans have three different types of cone cells, allowing us to see red, green and blue, and all combinations of those colors.

As this graphic from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog shows, dogs miss out on reds and oranges and generally enjoy a less vivid spectrum of colors.

rainbow

But before you start feeling superior, consider that we’re probably not seeing all there is to see in a rainbow, either.

Butterflies may have up to five cone receptors, while the mantis shrimp has 12. They are fluttering around, or swimming around, seeing colors we’ve never seen.

(Imagine what a butterfly shrimp might see, if it weren’t breaded and fried.)

Quick science lesson: Colors are just different wavelengths of visible light, so the color of an object depends on what kinds of light it absorbs and reflects. What bounces back and hits our eyes is processed by our brain. Then and only then can we pronounce that the sky is blue, or that the dress is black and blue, or white and gold.

dressHumans on the Internet (which are slightly different than humans) recently spent weeks debating whether a dress shown in a picture was blue with black fringe, or white with gold fringe.

And everyone of them — unlike shrimp, butterflies and dogs — was absolutely sure that what they saw was right.

While other species may have more finely honed senses of smell, sight and sound, we humans have a much more refined sense of smugness, and we lead all species when it comes to the senses — or are they sins? — of pride, envy and greed.

That’s why,  when it comes to rainbows, many of us are most concerned with the pot of gold (or is it blue?) that’s at the end of it.

I’ve given up on finding that, but I would, just once, like to see a rainbow as a butterfly does.

As for that dress, the fact that its color was more debated by women than men isn’t too surprising.

Not only are women less affected by colorblindness (because the genes encoding red and green receptors are located on the X-chromosome, of which men only have one and women have two), but they also have a higher potential of being “tetrachromats” – people with four types of color receptor cells instead of three.

Though the evidence remains inconclusive, some researchers believe this fourth receptor allows tetrachromats to see a wider range of colors.

I’m not sure if consensus was ever reached in the great dress debate, and I don’t really care.

But if you simply must have a final answer, ask a shrimp.

(Photos: Ace at Salvation Mountain in California, by John Woestendiek / ohmidog!; graphic from the Washington Post; photo of dress from ABC News)

Who’s the fool: Why do we humans persist in our efforts to trick the dog?

SONY DSC

Most of us have probably tried a version of this at home — be it with the fake tennis ball toss, the hidden treat or the imitation door knock.

How easily, and how many times in a row, can we fool the dog?

For some reason — maybe to test their intelligence, more likely because of the puckish tendencies of our own species — we seem to like to prank our pets.

Even many of your more admirable dog owners aren’t above punking their pugs, confusing their corgis, tricking their terriers or discombobulating their dachshunds.

My dog Ace has fallen victim to most of them. I’ve rapped against the wall to make him think someone’s at the front door. I’ve pretended to throw sticks and balls and hidden them behind my back as he gives chase. (This may explain why he’s not great at fetch). And, in perhaps the cruelest torment of all, I’ve made him think I’m holding a treat in one of my hands, holding out two closed fists and letting him pick one, then the other, only to find both are empty.

With each, he quickly caught on to the fact he was being played, and, despite my attempts to continue teasing him, moved on to something more interesting than me — like a shrub, or a rock, or the couch.

Dogs, due to their trusting nature, can be pretty easily fooled the first time. But you’re not likely to fool them with the same trick more than once or twice, according to a new study, published in the journal Animal Cognition.

Thirty four dogs were involved in the study, conducted at Kyoto University in Japan. One at a time, they were taken to a room where a researcher pointed to where food was hidden in a container. All the dogs followed the cue and got the treat. The second time around, the researchers pointed to an empty container, and all the dogs followed the cue , only to be disappointed.

The third time around, when the researcher again pointed to a full container of food, hardly any of the dogs bought it.

When a new experimenter came in to try again, the dogs initially trusted him — at least until he duped them, too. (Thank you, dogs, for not judging our entire species based on the acts of one.)

The leader of the team that conducted the study, Akiko Takaoka, says its findings suggests dogs are pretty good at determining how reliable an individual human is.

“Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans” she told BBC. Dogs understand what it means when a human points at something. If a dog’s owner points in the direction of a ball, stick or food, the dog will run and explore the location the person is pointing to.

But Takaoka said she was surprised that the dogs “devalued the reliability of a human” so quickly.

I wonder if the results might have been different if dog owners — rather than strangers — were the ones trying to fool them. Would they, based on the bond they have with their owners, be a little more trusting, and follow the cues a few more times before giving up?

Maybe … assuming their owner hasn’t raised them with a steady diet of pranks.

Fun as they may be, they should probably be done in moderation, and not during puppyhood. And, when it comes to training, it’s probably best to avoid duping our dogs into doing what we want them to do — as in tricking him into a bath, or into the crate, or using the word “treat” to get him to come. Deception — with the possible exception of putting his pill in a shroud of cheese — shouldn’t be something we regularly practice to control our dog.

Dogs like things to be predictable, John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol notes in the BBC article, and not knowing what’s going to happen next can make them stressed, fearful or even aggressive.

“Dogs whose owners are inconsistent to them often have behavioral disorders,” he said.

Still, many of us (perhaps due to our own behavioral disorders) persist — even those who know fooling the dog runs counter to good training, and works against building a relationship of trust.

Why we’re that way might be equally worthy of a study. Why, long after the dog has lost interest and moved on to something else, do some of us humans continue to try and amuse ourselves by tricking them?

Maybe those people are scientists at heart, and want to test their dog’s cognitive abilities. Maybe they justify it by telling themselves — as I did when teasing my little brother — that it’s building character, or teaching our dog that life isn’t always fair. Maybe they’re trying to establish their dominance, or at least their feeling of mental superiority, or re-establish the fact they are in control. Maybe they have a tiny cruel streak.

More likely, they are just seeking a laugh, or feel the need to confirm how much their dogs trust them.

The occasional prank, I think, is OK, but pulling too many of them might be an indication we’re not worthy of that trust, leading it to erode, as maybe — based on the experiment in Japan — it is already.

Dogs are continuing to figure us humans out (no small task). They learn our schedules. They predict our actions. Apparently, they have also learned when, amid our trickery, to turn us off, in which case the joke just might be on us.

Study says dogs go back no more than 12,000 years

skulls

A new study has a bone to pick with earlier researchers who concluded the domesticated dog has been around for 30,000 years.

New 3D analysis of skulls that had been identified as two of the earliest dogs shows they were actually wolves, a research team writes in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

Fossilized remains that scientists said showed dogs date back at least 31,680 years — specifically those remains unearthed at Goyet Cave in Belgium — actually belonged to a wolf, according to a new study. So too, the new study says, did a 13,905-year-old fossil that was identified as belonging to a dog after it was found at a site called Eliseevichi in Russia.

The new study concludes that the the domestication of dogs happened during the Neolithic era (10,200 B.C.-2,000 B.C.) as opposed to the Paleolithic era (2.6 million years ago to 10,200 B.C.)

“Scientists have been eager to put a collar on the earliest domesticated dog,” lead author Abby Grace Drake said. “Unfortunately, their analyses weren’t sensitive enough to accurately determine the identity of these fossils.”

“Previous research has claimed that dogs emerged in the Paleolithic but this claim is based on inaccurate analyses,” Drake told Discovery News. “We reanalyzed some of the fossil canids from the Paleolithic and show that they are, in fact, wolves.”

“We did confirm that the Neolithic specimens Shamanka II (around 7,372 years old) and Ust’-Belaia (about 6,817 years old) are dogs, and therefore domestication took place by this time period or earlier,” added Drake, an assistant professor of biology at Skidmore College.

That means the wolves — who are generally (but not unanimously) believed to have evolved into dogs, possibly as a result of their interacting with humans — first appeared on earth after humans were farming and living in settlements, as opposed to when they were living in caves and hunting and gathering.

Drake and colleagues Michael Coquerelle and Guillaume Colombeau used scans and 3D visualization software to study the shape and size of the two oldest skulls and compare the data with measurements from the skulls of other dogs and wolves, according to a report on Phys.org.

That technique allowed the team to identify subtle morphological differences between dogs and wolves, such as the direction of the eye cavity and the angle between the muzzle and forehead.

(Photo: Abby Grace Drake, Skidmore College)

They will have to order, what needs to find on the fragment of the joys of matrimony till the second process.