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Tag: study

Reflections on the dog paddle

dogpaddle

Throw a dog who has never gone swimming into a pool and, pretty much instantly, he’ll start moving his four legs in a series of motions we’ve come to call the dog paddle.

Throw a human who has never gone swimming into a pool and — though the possibilities are much higher for helpless flailing about, cussing, drowning, or becoming traumatized for life — he may eventually come to his senses enough to try and work his way back to the side of the pool. He’ll do so not using a butterfly stroke, breast stroke or Australian crawl, but by doing what dogs do.

The dog paddle: It’s seemingly instinctual. It’s primitive. And though we humans mostly outgrow it, it remains sort of the default mode of propelling ourselves through water.

Just how primitive it may be is under investigation by Dr. Frank Fish, a professor of biology at West Chester University who — maybe because of his name, maybe not — has spent most of his career studying how marine mammals swim.

Most recently, he has been studying the swimming motions of dogs, and he has concluded that they are very similar to the motions dogs use in trotting. That explains the  ease with which most dogs can make the transition from land to water — requiring no lessons, and (generally) little coaxing: They basically propel themselves the same way in water as they do on land.

That their stride and strokes are nearly identical is interesting in itself, but Fish thinks it could also help explain how whales and dolphins ended up in the ocean.

Fish subscribes to the theory that marine mammals were intitially four-legged land dwellers who ventured into the water one day (likely dog paddling at first), decided they liked it better there, then evolved into such super swimmers that they no longer needed legs, or, for that matter, land.

underwater dogsFor his research, Fish set up some underwater video cameras and enlisted eight volunteer dogs (including his own) of six different breeds, ranging from Yorkshire terrier to Newfoundland.

He borrowed a swimming pool used to rehabilitate horses at the University of Pennsylvania.

Analyzing the video, Fish and fellow researchers saw that dogs swim much like they run — with diagonal pairs of legs churning in unison, according to Science Daily. Fish presented his findings at the 2014 Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) meeting in Austin.

While there’s plenty of dog research we’d categorize as a silly waste of time, we find all this pretty intriguing.

First, it reminds us that practice makes perfect — to think that long, long ago there might have been a couple of four-legged dolphins who didn’t know how to swim, hesitating at the edge of the water: “I dunno, it looks dangerous … should we go in?”

Second, in an era when we’re increasingly relying on computers to do our thinking for us, it serves as a warning that those muscles we don’t use can disappear. It raises a host of interesting questions about our future, and our past.

Why is it we humans tend to dog paddle in our first encounters with water? Is that some sort of instinctual nod to a past when we got about on four legs, instead of two?

If cavemen had spent more time at the swimming hole, might we homo sapiens have evolved into something more amphibious?

Given that, might mermaids really exist?

It’s kind of inspiring to think there might have been a day when dolphins, the planet’s most graceful swimmers, were total klutzes in the water — that they started off splashing about with some awkward looking dog paddling and progressed to the point where they could actually leap out of the water.

It reminds us that, maybe, anything is possible with enough hard work — even when it comes to behaviors we might think are genetic and therefore unchangeable. Do we sometimes wear our genes too tightly, and allow them to restrict us from leaping into new things, and getting over old ones?

We wish Fish luck in unraveling how four-legged terrestrial forms evolved into no-legged, finned ones. And as long as the dogs involved in his research are having a good time –  given Fish is letting his own dog be used in the study, we assume they are – we have no problem with them helping the professor prove his point.

In other words: Go Fish!

(Top Photo, Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology; bottom photo, from the book Underwater Dogs)

D-O-Gs with OCD could help further understanding of the disorder in humans

dobermanWith all the research into how the medical issues of dogs often run parallel to our own, it’s no surprise that eight obsessive-compulsive Doberman pinschers are adding to our body of knowledge about that disorder.

A new study made use of MRI brain scans and found dogs and people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have similar brain abnormalities and share certain brain characteristics.

Three years ago, researchers found the shared gene believed responsible for flank-sucking, blanket-sucking and other compulsive behavior in Dobermans.

The new study shows what’s going on in their brains is similar — at least as an MRI sees it — to what’s going on in our’s.

“We have a lot of commonality with our best friend the dog,” said study leader Niwako Ogata, an assistant professor of animal behavior at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana.

Just as elderly dogs with the canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s are being used as models to understand the degenerative disease in people, studying dogs is providing some clues into OCD, an anxiety disorder afflicting anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of Americans.

For the study, Ogata and colleagues recruited eight Doberman pinschers with CCD (canine compulsive disorder) and a control group of eight Dobermans without CCD, according to National Geographic. The team obtained MRI scans for each group and discovered that the CCD dogs had higher total brain and gray matter volumes and lower gray matter densities in certain parts of the brain. That’s similar to the structures of people brains’ with OCD.

It’s not known why both species’ brains show these features, Ogata said, but her team plans to repeat the experiment with more dogs and more breeds.

The team chose Dobermans because of the prevalence of CCD in the breed. About  28 percent of  Dobermans in the U.S. are afflicted.

People with OCD often perform the same rituals over and over again, like washing and rewashing their hands and locking and relocking doors. In dogs, common compulsive behaviors include paw-licking and tail-chasing.

Ogata, whose study was published online in April in the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology & Biological Psychiatry, said the study provides a better idea of “”how brains develop, and when and how genes interact with [their] environment to cause some behavior problems for both humans and dogs.”

Does doggy bling date to prehistoric times?

burieddog

A new study suggests the earliest domestic dogs weren’t just kept for hunting and protection, but for loving — a premise supported by evidence that some prehistoric pet owners actually outfitted their dogs in bling, if not before death, at least after it.

An analysis of ancient dog burials, published in PLoS ONE, found that deceased dogs were often laid to rest not just with respect, but with toys and ornaments, Jennifer Viegas reports on Discovery.com.

The findings show that, at least as recently as 10,000 years ago, dogs were valued for more than their ability to stand sentry and track game.

The researchers also say the earliest dog lovers were fish-eaters, and held spiritual beliefs. Subsisting on diets rich in seafood, they apparently didn’t rely on dogs to help them find dinner, or as dinner.

“Dog burials appear to be more common in areas where diets were rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries,” Robert Losey, lead author of the study told Discovery News.

“If the practice of burying dogs was solely related to their importance in procuring terrestrial game, we would expect to see them in the Early Holocene (around 9,000 years ago), when human subsistence practices were focused on these animals,” Losey, a University of Alberta anthropologist, added. “Further, we would expect to see them in later periods in areas where fish were never really major components of the diet and deer were the primary focus, but they are rare or absent in these regions.”

For the study, Losey’s team researched dog burials worldwide, but focused particularly on ones located in Eastern Siberia. The earliest known domesticated dog was found there, dating to 33,000 years ago. Dog burials in the region are more recent, going back about 10,000 years.

They found that dogs were sometimes buried with meaningful items, sometimes even their human, showing that man’s bond with dog — while it may be ever-strengthening — goes way, way back.

According to the Discovery report:

“…One dog, for example, was laid to rest “much like it is sleeping.” A man was buried with two dogs, one carefully placed to the left of his body, and the other to the right. A dog was buried with a round pebble, possibly a toy or meaningful symbol, placed in its mouth. Still other dogs were buried with ornaments and implements, such as spoons and stone knives.

“One of the most interesting burials contains a dog wearing a necklace made out of four red deer tooth pendants. Such necklaces appear to have been a fashion and/or symbolic trend at the time, since people wore them too.”

The researchers found that most of the dog burials in the area occurred during the Early Neolithic era, about 8,000 years ago.

(Photo by Robert Losey, via Discovery.com)

Puppies in training to detect ovarian cancer

Two chocolate Labs and a springer spaniel are being trained to sniff out ovarian cancer at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a collaboration between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Centers, Ohlin and McBain (above) and Thunder (left) will use their noses to detect the disease in humans.

Ovarian cancer kills more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation.

The collaboration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.

Canines have been detecting lung and breast cancer for years. With an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, the new project will assess their effectiveness in sniffing out ovarian cancer, and continue an investigation that has been underway in Sweden.

The Swedish professor behind that project, who was using his own dogs for the study, is retiring. But he’s lending his expertise to those involved in the Penn project.

“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.

While the disease is often difficult to diagnose, ovarian cancer’s victims have a survival rate of 90 percent. No effective screening protocol yet exists to detect cases in the early stages.

In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients. The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists, computers and the puppies at the Working Dog Center, who will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in vented containers they can’t access, but can smell.

The dogs began their training at 8-weeks of age.

“They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction,” Otto said.

(Photos: Philadelphia Inqurer)

Bully for them: Dogs to be tops again in UK

Dogs, who lost their ranking as the number one pet (not counting fish) in the United Kingdom in 1994, are now poised to take over the top spot again (not counting fish).

Cats displaced dogs as the nation’s favorite pet – or favourite, if you live there – for the first time in 1994, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).

Now, a study by the association predicts dogs will be number one again, possibly as early as this year.

“Rovertaken,” read the headline in the Sun. “It’s raining more dog than cat,” said the Daily Mail.

The study says the number of dogs in Britain is at an all-time high having risen from 5 million in 1970 to 8.3 million today. Cats have fallen from a 2004 peak of 9.6 million to 8.6 million.

Figures from the Kennel Club reveal ‘handbag dog’ breeds have increased sixfold and the number of Chihuahuas have tripled since 2001.

While more households have dogs than cats — both in the U.S. and Britain — there are more cats overall in both countries, given the number of households where mutliple cats reside. As of 2007, census figures showed 82 million cats and 72 million dogs in the U.S.

Researchers unearth evidence of America’s earliest dog … and proof that it was eaten

A University of Maine graduate student says he has found a bone fragment from what he believes is the earliest domesticated dog ever found in the Americas — one that walked the continent 9,400 years ago.

And where he found it — ensconced in a dried-out sample of human waste — gives proof that eating dog was part of America’s culture, at least before America was America.

Graduate student Samuel Belknap III came across the fragment while analyzing a sample of human waste unearthed in  the 1970s. Carbon-dating placed the age of the bone at 9,400 years, and a DNA analysis confirmed it came from a dog — as opposed to a wolf, coyote or fox.

The Associated Press  reports that the fragment — which was the dark orange color characteristic of bone that has passed through the digestive track — was found in Hinds Cave in southwest Texas. 

The fragment provides the earliest evidence that dogs were eaten by humans in North America, and may have been bred as a food source, he said.

Belknap was studying the diet and nutrition of the people  in the Lower Pecos region of Texas between 1,000 and 10,000 years ago when he came across the bone.

Belknap and other researchers from the University of Maine and the University of Oklahoma’s molecular anthropology laboratories, where the DNA analysis was done, have written a paper on their findings, scheduled for publication in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology later this year.

The fragment is about six-tenths of an inch long and three- to four-tenths of an inch wide. Belknap said he and a fellow student identified the bone as a fragment from where the skull connects with the spine. He said it came from a dog that probably resembled the small short-haired dogs that were common among the Indians of the Great Plains.

Other archaeological findings have found evidence of domestic dogs in the U.S. as long as 8,000 years ago.

A 1980s study reported dog bones found at Danger Cave, Utah, were between 9,000 and 10,000 years old, but those dates were based on an analysis of the surrounding rock laters as opposed to carbon dating. In Idaho, researchers believed they’d found 11,000-year-old dog bones, but later tests showed them to be no more than 3,000 years old.

Worldwide, studies have found evidence of dogs going back 31,000 years from a site in Belgium, 26,000 years in the Czech Republic and 15,000 years in Siberia.

The earliest dogs in North America are believed to have come with the early settlers across the Bering land bridge from Asia.

Belknap said eating dogs was once common in Central America, and that some Great Plain Indian tribes ate dogs when food was scarce or for celebrations.

 ”It was definitely an accepted practice among many populations,” he said.

Dog amputates his diabetic master’s toe

Kiko the terrier not only detected his master’s diabetes, he went so far as to perform surgery — chewing off his owner’s toe, and possibly saving his life.

The Jack Russell terrier apparently sensed an infection festering in his master’s right big toe — and, unlike his master, took steps to resolve the situation.

A trip to the hospital afterwards confirmed that Jerry Douthett’s toe required amputation, and Douthett credits the dog with helping him realize he has been suffering from Type 2 diabetes.

Douthett had a dangerously high blood-sugar level of 560 when admitted to the hospital, according to the Grand Rapids Press – many times the recommended 80 to 120.

Kiko apparently even waited until his owner, a 48-year-old musician, was well anesthesized before beginning the operation.

“Jerry had had all these Margaritas, so I just let him sleep,” his wife, Rosee, a registered nurse, told the newspaper. “But then I heard these screams coming from the bedroom, and he was yelling, ‘My toe’s gone, my toe’s gone!’”

Douthett said his toe began swelling several months ago, but he didn’t tell anyone:  “I was hiding it from people, Rosee included … It smelled, and I look back now and realize every time we’d visit someone with a dog, their dog would be sniffing all over my foot.”

At the hospital, doctors determined his toe was infected to the bone, and amputated what was left of the digit.

Researchers have found that dogs may be able to tell when their diabetic owners are in danger of having a severe diabetic episode. In a 2008 survey at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, researchers found that 65 percent of diabetics reported that their pets had reacted by whining, barking or licking when they were having a blood sugar emergency.

At the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs Research Center in Aylesbury, England, dogs are trained and paired with diabetics so that they might be alerted when their blood sugar drops dangerously low.

(Photo: Katy Batdorff / The Grand Rapids Press)

Where to next: In search of Chupacabra?


As we ponder where to go next on our road trip to nowhere, we’re feeling drawn to Texas — where two stories this week have piqued our curiosity.

First is the tale, told yesterday, of the Methodist pastor who’s calling for a stray dog hanging out behind his church to be shot, and the ire that has raised. Second are the two recent sightings — and subsequent terminations — of alleged Chupacabra, the legendary dog-like creatures who, according to myth, suck the blood of goats (which is what Chupacabra means in Spanish).

In the past week, two of the coyote-like creatures were spotted within 10 miles of each other, outside of Dallas, one of which was bagged by an animal control officer. The other was shot by a rancher. News reports seem to give no reason behind the shootings, other than the fact that the animals were “ugly.”

“All I know is, it wasn’t normal. It was ugly. Real ugly,” said Frank Hackett, the animal control officer who killed one of the creatures.

Reports of Chupacabra sightings are fairly rare; there’s one about about every year — including this one, where a law enforcement official followed and videotaped what he thought could have been one.

Of course, there are plenty of modern-day theories — ranging from them being pets left here by extraterrestrials to them being the result of government experiments gone awry. More often than not, though, they turn out to be coyotes with skin problems.

News reports say neither of the two slain creatures has been identified, though the DNA of at least one of them is being analyzed.

There is no documentation that the species or sub-species exists; instead the word ”Chupacabra” has become a catch-all term for anything dog-like, but not immediately identifiable, kind of like Bigfoot is for anything hairy, human-like and not immediately identifiable.

This won’t be the first alleged Chupacabra to have its DNA tested. In 2007, Texas State University biologist Mike Forstner performed a test on what turned out to be a coyote.

Another strong possibility, I’d suspect, is that some of the ”beasts” that have been spotted are actually Xoloitzcuintle, a Mexican hairless dog breed.

In any event, we’re headed east, and Dallas is on the way. If that’s where we end up, we’ll let you know what we find out.

Dogs can detect prostate cancer, study says

A French study says dogs can sniff out signs of prostate cancer in human urine — a finding that could lead to better cancing-sensing technology, according to its lead author.

While some scientists have questioned similar reports of dogs with such diagnostic powers in recent years, French researcher Jean-Nicolas Cornu, who works at Hospital Tenon in Paris, said, “The dogs are certainly recognizing the odor of a molecule that is produced by cancer cells.”

Researchers don’t know what that molecule is,  according to U.S. News & World Report, but the study’s findings could prove useful in the detection of cancer, which often goes undetected until it is too late to treat.

Urine tests can turn up signs of prostate cancer, Cornu said, but miss some cases.

In the study, two researchers spent a year training a Belgian Malinois, a breed already used to detect drugs and bombs.

The dog was trained to differentiate between urine samples from men with prostate cancer and men without. Ultimately, researchers placed groups of five urine samples in front of the dog to see if it could identify the sole sample from a man with prostate cancer. The dog correctly classified 63 out of 66 specimens.

If the findings hold up in other studies, they’ll be “pretty impressive,” said urologist Dr. Anthony Y. Smith, who was to moderate a discussion on the findings Tuesday at the American Urological Association annual meeting in San Francisco.

Pit bull ban hasn’t slowed dog bites

Banning pit bulls has had no significant effect on slowing the number of dog bites in Ontario, Canada, according to a study by the Toronto Humane Society.

Results of a humane society survey of municipalities show no significant drop in dog bite cases since the provincial government passed breed specific legislation in 2005 — a law that required pit bulls to be muzzled in public and resulted in “countless” pit bulls and Staffordshire Terriers being destroyed.

In a statement Wednesday, the humane society called on the provincial government to amend the legislation and ” stop the punishment of innocent animals,” the Toronto Sun reports.

According to statistics, there was a 10 percent drop in dog bite cases in 2005, but after 2006 the number increased to the 2004 level.

The law was touted by the attorney general at the time as one that would “make our streets safer.”

Apparently, it has not, Humane Society spokesman Ian McConachie noted.

McConachie said outlawing specific dog breeds “targets the wrong source of the problem: “Dogs are not born violent,” but are “made that way by irresponsible owners who train them to be that way or neglect them …”

“If we want to reduce the number of dog bites we have to address the route cause of the problem, those irresponsible owners who do not appropriately care for their animals.” he said.