OUR BEST FRIENDS

whs-logo

The Sergei Foundation

shelterpet_logo

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: study

Aiming high to leave their mark

39384407 - dog

No matter how big your male dog is you’ve probably noticed, and maybe wondered why, when he finally finds what upright object he wants to pee on, he often strains to aim as high as he can.

The answer is — and perhaps this is more a matter of male behavior than canine behavior — he’s trying to impress other dogs.

canine_urine_marking_dog_behaviorScience and conventional wisdom generally concur that sharing urine scents serves to let dogs get to know each other — that it’s a method of honest communication.

But now a group of researchers is saying that — honest as it otherwise is — there is some deception going on, especially along smaller dogs who are even more likely to hike their legs as high as they possibly can to leave the impression that they’re bigger than they really are.

In a study published in the Journal of Zoology, Betty McGuire and her team at Cornell University found smaller dogs tend to urinate more often than larger dogs, and they’re more likely to aim higher when focusing on vertically oriented targets.

handstandpee“Assuming body size is a proxy for competitive ability, small adult male dogs may place urine marks higher, relative to their own body size, than larger adult male dogs to exaggerate their competitive ability,” McGuire said.

Like this little fella (left).

The researchers went so far as to follow adult male dogs while they (the dogs) urinated on walks, then calculated the angle of their legs when raised during marking. They (the researchers) compared those calculations to the dogs’ height and mass and measured the height of the urine marks on the dogs’ chosen targets.

“Small males seemed to make an extra effort to raise their leg high — some small males would almost topple over,” McGuire told New Scientist. “So, we wondered whether small males try to exaggerate their body size by leaving high urine marks.”

The researchers said it’s likely the goal is to deceive other male dogs, but I suspect it is to impress the ladies, too.

D.K.-Metcalf-595x334Perhaps it emanates from that same source that gives some small dogs Napoleon complexes, making them make up for their lack of size by being louder.

But, I’d argue, neither is limited to canines.

Go to any bar and you can see pretty much the same thing, minus the fire hydrants, lampposts and urination, but with the same kind of loudness, strutting, poking out of chests, boasts, and little white (or yellow) lies.

Seems that, when it comes to the male of the species, neither dogs nor humans are above a little showing off.

Twinkle, twinkle little dog, empathetic is what you are

petsmartcharitiesleashes1

Do dogs feel empathy? Of course, all us dog people say. Maybe, scientists have generally said.

Now comes what describes itself as the first scientific proof that pets are empathetic, in tune with their owner’s emotions, and quickly respond when they think their owners are upset.

In a new study, scientists took 34 dogs and positioned them behind a movable door with their owners on the other side.

Then they had those owners either pretend to cry, call for help, or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

The dogs nosed their way through the door three times more quickly when they thought their owners were upset and needed comforting.

“We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling, if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide to help them,” said lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

reddit“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years and they’ve learned to read our social cues,” she said. “Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea, and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action.”

Researchers also determined dogs with lower stress levels were more likely to push through the door to “rescue” their owners.

Senior author Julia Meyers-Manor first conceived of the experiment after her own dog, a collie, rushed to her side after hearing her fake muffled cries for help while she was playing with her children.

A former faculty member at Macalester College and current assistant professor of psychology at Ripon College, she wondered just how far a dog would go for a distressed human companion The Smithsonian reported.

Together with Sanford, an undergraduate at Macalester at the time, and their colleague Emma R. Burt, Meyers-Manor designed a series of experiments to explore the extent of empathy in dogs.

First, 34 dogs were separated from their owners by a clear plastic door held shut with magnets. The owners were instructed to either make crying noises or hum “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for up to five minutes. Every 15 seconds, they would say the word “help” in either an upset or casual tone to match their emotional state.

Half the dogs pushed through the door to get to their humans’ side regardless of the anguish their owners conveyed.

Upon closer inspection of the dogs that entered their owners’ room, Sanford noticed that those who were hearing weeping barged in about four times faster than those hearing nonchalant humming. And when the team assessed the strength of each dog’s bond to its owner, they found that dogs who were more attached to their people were more likely to rush in to the sound of sobbing than those who stayed put.

“This validates what a lot of people already feel: The dogs do respond to the crying,” said Meyers-Manor. “It’s not just your imagination when your dog cuddles you when you’re crying in bed. They do seem to care about how we’re feeling.”

The study, titled “Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs,” was published in the journal Learning & Behavior.

The responding dogs were also calmer when they reacted, and the dogs who barked and paced instead were more highly stressed.

“We think the dogs who opened that door might have been at that sweet spot: they perceived stress, but weren’t so personally distressed that they couldn’t do anything,” Sanford said.

Other variations in the responses could have resulted from that quality of the fake crying — “Some of the owners weren’t exactly actors,” she explained.

Regardless of their dogs’ reactions in the moment, most of the study’s human participants affirmed their dogs generally responded to them when they were troubled or in danger.

(Photo credits: Top, PetSmart Charities, lower, Reddit)

Half of Kentucky’s county animal shelters called substandard — and nobody’s watching

Trixie Foundation dogsleashes1

One day after basking in the nationwide attention the Kentucky Derby brings, Kentuckians woke up to the reality of how another species of animal is being treated by the state.

The Lexington Herald-Leader presented a package of stories addressing the often poor conditions in the state’s rarely monitored animal shelters.

In a state most famous for racing horses — and doing so in manner that almost appears civilized, what with the all the elegant outfits, mint juleps and whimsical hats — many dogs are living far less regal lives, stuck in county-run shelters that, under state law, receive almost no scrutiny from state agencies.

Unlike most states, Kentucky’s animal-shelter law does not include any inspection or enforcement provisions, which means any actions taken against them such shelters must from citizens.

Not until 2004 did state laws even get written to lay down minimum standards for county-run shelters. Those new measures required each county to have access to a shelter and animal-control officer, and set out standards that include protection from the weather; basic veterinary care or humane euthanasia for ill or injured animals; adequate heat in winter; clean and dry pens with adequate room for animal comfort; construction with materials that can be properly cleaned and disinfected; available clean water; uncontaminated food provided daily; and public access to the facility.

Those laws didn’t outline how, or specify who, was responsible for enforcing those standards.

A measure in the 2017 legislative session called for a study of ways to better fund animal shelters and cited the need for a “government entity” to enforce the state’s shelter rules, but it died without consideration.

That lack of enforcement is a large part of the reason the Animal Legal Defense Fund has ranked the state last in animal protection laws for 11 years in a row.

A study by the University of Kentucky, done in 2016, found that of 92 shelters covering Kentucky’s 120 counties – some of them regional facilities – conditions at 57 percent violated three or more provisions of Kentucky’s animal-shelter laws.

More than a fourth were considered “very substandard,” and only 12 percent were meeting all the rules the legislature put in place in 2004.

“Current laws do not appear to be fully satisfactory at accomplishing the goal of providing good shelter animal care across Kentucky,” said the study.

skaggsWhile county-run shelters operate with relative immunity, independent nonprofit sanctuaries and shelters get no such free ride, as was the case last week when the state Department of Agriculture seized 14 dogs from a no-kill sanctuary called Eden.

Randy J. Skaggs, who operates the sanctuary in Elliot County through his Trixie Foundation, faces 179 misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty in connection with poor health and living conditions.

Skaggs defenders say he has devoted his life to caring for animals because so many public shelters in the region were substandard.

Skaggs says he is housing animals no one else wants, and that shelters would end up euthanizing. He refuses to let anyone adopt dogs because believes their best chance to live a healthy and happy life is at his sanctuary.

Skaggs believes the criminal charges against him are retaliation over his efforts to bring attention to Kentucky’s failure to adopt adequate animal protection laws, his criticisms of county shelters and his efforts to push for improvements.

(Photos: Will Wright / Lexington Herald-Leader)

Another example of how humans and dogs are becoming more alike: our poop


It’s never really looked at it in its entirety, as one phenomenon, but how alike dogs and humans are — and keep becoming — continues to astound scientists around the globe.

Compassion? Both species seem to have it. Cognition? Dogs are quite capable of that, perhaps even exceeding us in certain areas. The diseases and disorders we get? Pretty much the same.

Not too many people look at the forest — at what all this, cobbled together, might mean — but scientists from particular disciplines, locked in a lab with a narrow focus, keep discovering new similarities, such as this latest one, deep in our intestines.

The microorganisms that live in dog’s intestines are more similar to the microbes inside us than to those in other animals, says a new study published in the journal Microbiome.

The dog microbiome “has some of the same species [of bacteria] as the human’s,” said lead author Luis Pedro Coelhos, “but different strains.”

The researchers were surprised because they expected that dogs would share only a few strains of bacteria with their owners. Instead, their intestinal flora could be cousins, says a summary of the study in Popular Science.

The study was not really about those similarities; it was aimed at better understanding canine weight loss.

Researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory and Nestlé Purina Research worked with a sample of 32 beagles and 32 Labrador retrievers. Half of the members of each breed were overweight, while the other half were a healthy weight. For four weeks, they fed all of the dogs the same diet of Purina.

Then, they collected poop and conducted DNA analyses as they further altered the diets of the dogs.

They found the leaner dogs’ microbiomes changed much less than that of the overweight dogs. The findings, they say, gave then a baseline for how a healthy dog microbiome should behave, and suggested dogs may be better subjects for research into human weight loss than other species that have been used for that purpose.

Jack Gilbert, a researcher at the University of Chicago’s Microbiome Center who does research for Purina but was not involved in the study, told Popular Science the study was significant for what it showed about the similarities between the guts of dogs and our own.

“You can control a dog’s diet much more than you can do a human’s,” says Gilbert. The same is true for pigs and mice, but the fact that dogs have such a similar microbiomes to humans means that studying their response to certain diets could produce the best results.

The cause of the similarities isn’t entirely understood, but the study pointed out, “Dogs were domesticated early in modern human history and frequently shared food resources with humans.”

Over time, their digestive systems might have grown even more like our’s, and their obesity rates have come to mirror that of humans.

Further proof that we don’t just like each other, we are like each other — and in ways that continue to be discovered, as we sit around learning, bonding, loving, overeating and growing fat together, becoming, more and more, reflections of each other.

(Photo: Digital Vision/Getty)

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: 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)