Leave it to scientists to confirm what we already know, and to do so using words we don’t begin to understand.
Case in point: Nervous dogs often have nervous owners. This is not to say a nervous dog can’t have a cool as a cucumber (coolus cucumberus) owner. Nor is it to say some highly twitchy (humanus nervosa) folks can’t have calm dogs.
Only that, as anyone who visits a dog park knows, nervous owners tend to have nervous dog at the end of the leash.
The new study buttresses the concept that our dogs tend to take on our personalities, and that tension — while it may not actually “flow down the leash” — is picked up on by our dogs, and often reflected in their own behavior.
It looks at the chemistry behind that.
The study at the University of Vienna — published in the journal PLOS One “investigated dyadic psychobiological factors influencing intra-individual cortisol variability in response to different challenging situations by testing 132 owners and their dogs in a laboratory setting.”
You might understand that, or, you (like me) might not know spit — or that cortisol levels can be measured through it.
In the study, the researchers measured the levels of cortisol — and the variability of those levels — in the saliva of dogs and owners put through stressful situations.
In addition, they assessed the personality of both dog and human participants — ranging from highly sensitive and neurotic to secure and self confident.
“We calculated the individual coefficient of variance of cortisol (iCV = sd/mean*100) over the different test situations as a parameter representing individual variability of cortisol concentration,” the study’s authors wrote. “We hypothesized that high cortisol variability indicates efficient and adaptive coping and a balanced individual and dyadic social performance.”
For a more reader-friendly account of the study, check out Stanley Coren’s Psychology Today blog:
“You can think of people who are high in neuroticism as being sensitive and nervous while people who score low in neuroticism are secure and confident. In this study, the dog owners who scored high in neuroticism had dogs with low variability in their cortisol. This suggests that dogs with highly neurotic owners are less able to deal with pressure and stress.”
“Conversely, dog owners who were more laid back and agreeable had calmer dogs. Those folks have greater variability in their cortisol response, suggesting that they are better able to cope with situations involving tension and strain.”
The study says the male dogs of female owners often have less variability in their cortisol responses and are often generally less sociable and less relaxed than male dogs belonging to male owners.
(That’s the study saying that females generally score higher on measures of anxiety and neuroticism — not me. I would be way too nervous to say that.)
“Owners behave differently because they are pessimistic or neurotic, and perhaps dogs read the emotions of their owners and think the world is more dangerous — so they are more reactive to it,” the study says. “It looks like people who are pessimistic have dogs which are worse at coping with stress than others.”
Of course, where a dog was before ending up with its owner can play a pretty big role, too.
I, for example, am the cool as a cucumber owner of a nervous dog. He came from a farm in Korea where he was being raised to become meat. That would tend to instill some nervousness in anyone.
Three months after being adopted by me, he still gets pretty nervous — around large groups, when hearing loud noises. I don’t know about his cortisol levels, but at these times he whimpers, sheds profusely — is there such a thing as projectile shedding? — and pees in inappropriate places, such as on my leg.
He is making great strides in every way, but Jinjja still needs to chill, and get less worked up by new situations.
Of all the factors that shape our dogs — genetics, environment, owners — time (and its cousin, patience) may be the most important ones of all.
So my game plan is to provide him with plenty of both, expose him to new settings and situations, and show him that not all the world is a dangerous place — all while being a mellow role model.
In other words, impossible as it might be, I’m going to have to become EVEN cooler.
Posted by John Woestendiek February 21st, 2017 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adrenalin, animals, anxiety, cortisol, dog, dogs, environment, factors, farm, genetics, humans, jinjja, korea, levels, meat trade, nervous, owner, owners, personality, pets, research, science, shape, stress, study, university of vienna, variance
A new study by the Scotland SPCA and the University of Glasgow reveals that dogs have a preference for reggae music.
The study concluded that, while each dog has its own musical preferences, reggae and soft rock were the two most favored genres of the five that shelter dogs were exposed to during the tests.
“Overall, the response to different genres was mixed highlighting the possibility that like humans, our canine friends have their own individual music preferences,” said Neil Evans, professor of integrative physiology at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine.
“That being said, reggae music and soft rock showed the highest positive changes in behavior,” he added.
Five types of music were played for the shelter dogs used in the experiment — Motown, pop, classical, soft rock and reggae, according to the BBC.
The dogs’ heart rates showed a decrease in stress levels while listening to soft rock and reggae, and researchers suspect that could have something to do with the tempo and repetitive themes of those genres.
The experiments were conducted at a rehoming center in Dumbarton, and based on its findings the Scottish SPCA says it plans to invest in sounds systems for all its kennels.
“At present both our Glasgow and Edinburgh centers are able to pipe music into their kennels,” said Gilly Mendes Ferreira, education and research manager. In the future every center will be able to offer our four-footed friends a canine-approved playlist, with the view to extending this research to other species in our care.”
Scotland’s animal welfare charity released research in 2015 that showed classical music led dogs to become more relaxed, but that those effects were only short term.
Both that study and the new one were published in the journal Physiology and Behaviour.
(The video above, showing a dog howling along with a Bob Marely song, is unconnected to the study and not presented here as either anecdotal or scientific proof of absolutely anything)
Posted by John Woestendiek January 27th, 2017 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, behavior, bob marley, classical, dog, dogs, genres, kennels, motown, music, pets, pop, preferred, reduce, reggae, rehoming center, repetitive, rescues, research, science, scotland, scotland spca, shelter, shelters, soft rock, songs, soothing, stress, study, university of glasgow
It’s no big surprise — given it’s what led them to befriend us in the first place — that dogs have been dining on our scraps since early in their domestication.
What’s more interesting is how dogs adapted to our junk food ways.
A team of researchers from France, Sweden and Romania has found evidence indicating that domesticated dogs underwent a genetic transformation, developing multiple copies of a gene that aids in the digestion of starch.
That’s the same thing we humans did, when we made the transition from a hunting to a farming society, consuming more starches and vegetable and less meat.
In their paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team describes what they found out by conducting a DNA analysis of ancient dog teeth and other bones.
They conclude that, around 7000 years ago, domesticated dogs were eating so much wheat and millet they made extra copies of starch-digesting genes to help them cope.
That we and dogs can have our genes altered by the food we consume and the repeated behaviors we engage in, is kind of intriguing, and kind of scary — and it brings new credence to the old phrase “you are what you eat.”
Some of the first insights into how farming changed the canine genome came three years ago, according to Sciencemag.com
That’s when a team led by evolutionary geneticist Erik Axelsson of Uppsala University in Sweden discovered that dogs have four to 30 copies of a gene called Amy2B, whereas wolves typically only have two.
The new study sought to get a better handle on when that happened.
Axelsson teamed up with Morgane Ollivier, a paleogeneticist at Ecole Normale Supéieure de Lyon in France and others, who extracted ancient DNA from the bones and teeth of 13 wolf and dog specimens collected from archaeological sites throughout Eurasia.
Four of the ancient dogs — from a 7000-year-old site in Romania and 5000-year-old sites in Turkey and France — had more than eight copies of Amy2B, Ollivier and his colleagues reported in Royal Society Open Science.
The findings rule out a modern origin for the increase in the number of Amy2B genes in dogs.
As humans turned to farming, the number of copies of Amy2B increased — first in us, then in dogs.
Being able to survive on whatever humans discarded likely enabled dogs to become widespread as people migrated across the globe, the scientists say.
It’s food for thought — how what we eat, or other repeated practices, can lead, far down the road, to alterations in our DNA.
Might scientists discover, generations from now, for example, that we humans have developed a selfie-taking gene that won’t let us stop taking excessive photos of ourselves?
They’ll name it 02BME.
Posted by John Woestendiek November 15th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: amy2B, animals, digesting, digestion, dog, dogs, domestication, evolution, farming, gene, genes, genetics, humans, hunting, man, pets, research, science, species, starch, study
Every home has at least one — that drawer in which you place things that have no assigned place: rubber bands, soy sauce packets, take-out menus, the owner’s manual to that extinct VHS player you bought in the 1980s.
Such drawers become a crypt for things you mostly didn’t need to keep in the first place, but often there are some forgotten treasure mixed in with them.
The importance of revisiting the miscellany drawer from time to time is displayed in this story — about a researcher at the Field Museum in Chicago, new on the job, whose opening of a drawer of miscellaneous and not fully identified carnivore fossils led to the establishment of not just one new genus, but two and, in doing so, a better understanding of the evolution of dogs and other mammals.
“I had just started at the Field, and I was getting the lay of the land, exploring our collections,” Susumu Tomiya said. “In one room of type specimens, the fossils used as a standard to describe their species, I stumbled across something that looked unusual.
“There were beautiful jaws of a small carnivore, but the genus the specimen had been assigned to didn’t seem to fit some of the features on the teeth. It made me suspect that it belonged to a very different group of carnivores.”
That specimen, and a similar one Tomiya came across, had both been found 30 years ago in southwest Texas.
The findings were revealed last week in a paper published in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
Tomiya and his coauthor used a computed tomography (CT) scanner to create 3D visualizations, and determined the specimens were those of amphicyonids, and the oldest known members of that family, which went extinct 2 million years ago.
Amphicyonids, commonly called bear dogs, are believed to be the ancestors of both bears and dogs.
“Ever since amphicyonids were given their common name, they have been overshadowed by the bear and dog families, which are more widespread, better known today, and less extinct! Our study provides a renewed sense of identity to a group that left their own mark during their 38-million-year history,” Tseng said.
Amphicyonids ranged from the size of a Chihuahua to the size of a brown bear.
They tended to get larger throughout their evolutionary history, which might have contributed to their extinction.
(At top, artist’s reconstruction of a 38 million year old amphicyonid, by Monika Jurik; lower photo, the jawbone of an amphicyonid; both provided by The Field Museum)
Posted by John Woestendiek October 17th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: amphicyonids, animals, bear dogs, bears, carnivores, dog, dogs, evolution, field museum, fossils, pets, prehistoric, science, texas
While both human children and dogs learn from copying adult humans, dogs are better at spotting the bullshit.
So says (though not in those words) a new study from Yale University’s Canine Cognition Center.
Imitation, in addition to being the sincerest form of flattery, is how we — be we a puppy or a baby — learn. But young humans tend to be more trusting, following adult advice exactly. Dogs are more likely to see a shorter route to accomplishing the goal and opt for it, filtering out unnecessary steps that are just a waste of time.
(Might this explain why dogs don’t watch television all that much, or get on the Internet?)
In the experiment, researchers presented over 40 breeds of dogs with treats hidden inside puzzles.
They showed the dogs the steps necessary to solving the puzzle, but in doing so they included many unnecessary steps.
When the dogs’ turn came to solve the puzzle, they skipped the irrelevant steps that had nothing to do with getting to the treats, showing that dogs are able, or at least more able than human children, to separate bad advice from good advice.
Researchers contrasted their study results with those from a similar study at Yale that examined children, and they found humans relied more on imitation than the dogs. The children, after watching an adult solve the puzzle, tended to duplicate every step — even the unnecessary ones.
The study is similar to one about a decade ago that compared chimpanzees with human puzzle solvers. Chimpanzees, while prone to imitation, were slightly better at discerning the unnecessary steps and avoiding them than humans.
“So this tells us something really important about how humans learn relative to other animals,” said Yale Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos, one of the study’s authors. “We’re really trusting of the information that we get from other individuals – even more trusting than dogs are.”
“And what this means is we have to be really careful about the kinds of information we present ourselves with,” she added. “We’re not going to have the right filter for bad information, so we should stick to looking at information that’s going to be positive, information that’s going to be good.”
Or, as easily duped as our species is, we could just let dogs give us the advice.
Posted by John Woestendiek October 6th, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, brains, canine cognition center, children, cognition, copying, dogs, experiment, filter, humans, imitation, information, pets, problem solving, puzzles, relevance, science, study, trust, yale university
Up to now, DNA testing on dogs has been used mostly to satisfy owner curiosity over what breeds are in their mutt, or by apartment managers who want to identify dogs whose owners didn’t pick up after them.
Now comes a chance to put it to more noble use. (Cue up the “Law & Order” theme.)
A district judge in Michigan ordered Jeb, the Belgian Malinois, to be euthanized after hearing the evidence against him on Sept. 19.
But Jeb’s owners, Pam and Kenneth Job, have filed a motion for DNA testing to be conducted on the dead dog, a Pomeranian named Vlad.
Vlad died Aug. 24, and his owner, St. Clair resident Christopher Sawa, says he saw Jeb standing over his dog’s body. Both dogs were inside his backyard.
St. Clair County Animal Control took possession of Jeb after that.
Vlad was found with severe bruising over both shoulders and a puncture wound on his right front leg. There was another deep wound found on his left side that penetrated his chest and broke two ribs, the Detroit Free Press reported.
Ed Marshall, the lawyer for the Jobs, is asking the judge to allow them time to have an independent lab test conducted on Vlad’s body — to see if traces of Jeb’s DNA can be found in his wounds.
A hearing on his motion is set for Monday.
The Jobs say Jeb is an unofficial service dog who helps Kenneth with a condition that causes his muscles to deteriorate.
They say Jeb is a gentle soul and that Vlad’s death could have been caused by a fox or coyote, both of which can be seen from time to time in the rural area in which they live.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 30th, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animal control, animals, belgian malinois, bitten, crime, dead, died, dna, dna testing, dogs, euthanasia, guilt, innocence, jeb, michigan, pets, pomeranian, science, shaken, st. clair, test, testing, vlad
A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.
We suggest they start with their own.
Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.
If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.
We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.
Canavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.
Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.
Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”
What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?
We’d say none.
Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.
He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.
He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.
The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.
Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.
His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.
In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.
South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.
It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.
In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.
Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?
Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.
But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 22nd, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, china, cloning, controversial, cord, dog, dogs, dr. sergio canavero, experiments, frankenstein, head transplant, heaven, human head transplant, italy, lab, laboratory, medical, neurosurgeon, pets, reattached, research, science, sergio canavero, severed, south korea, spinal, u.s.