A study at Emory University suggests that dogs aren’t strictly the food-obsessed beasts they’ve traditionally been seen as — and that many, maybe even most, prefer attention and praise over a chewy treat.
While only 13 dogs participated in the study, there were only two of them who — judging from their neural reactions — showed a distinct preference for food over praise.
The study, published in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, is one of the first to combine brain-imaging data with behavioral experiments to explore what kind of rewards canines prefer.
“We are trying to understand the basis of the dog-human bond and whether it’s mainly about food, or about the relationship itself,” says Gregory Berns, a neuroscientist at Emory and lead author of the research.
“Out of the 13 dogs that completed the study, we found that most of them either preferred praise from their owners over food, or they appeared to like both equally. Only two of the dogs were real chowhounds, showing a strong preference for the food.”
Berns heads the Dog Project in Emory’s Department of Psychology. It was the first to train dogs to voluntarily enter a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and remain motionless during scanning, without restraint or sedation.
Their previous research using the technique identified the ventral caudate region of the canine brain as a reward center and showed that region responds more strongly to the scents of familiar humans than to the scents of other humans, or even to those of familiar dogs.
Phys.org reports that, in the new study, researchers trained the dogs to associate three different objects with different outcomes. A pink toy truck signaled a food reward; a blue toy knight signaled verbal praise from the owner; and a hairbrush signaled no reward, to serve as a control.
The dogs then were tested on the three objects while in an fMRI machine. Each dog underwent 32 trials for each of the three objects as their neural activity was recorded.
Four of the dogs showed a particularly strong activation for the stimulus that signaled praise from their owners. Nine of the dogs showed similar neural activation for both the praise stimulus and the food stimulus. And two of the dogs consistently showed more activation when shown the stimulus for food.
Berns says the findings run counter to the old view that dogs “just want food and their owners are simply the means to get it … Another, more current, view of their behavior is that dogs value human contact in and of itself.”
In another part of the study, dogs were put into a Y-shaped maze in which one path led to a bowl of food and the other path to the dog’s owner.
The dogs were repeatedly released into the room and allowed to choose one of the paths.
While most dogs alternated between the food and their owner, dogs who showed a greater response to praise in the first part of experiment chose to go to their owners 80 to 90 percent of the time.
Berns said the study “shows the importance of social reward and praise to dogs. It may be analogous to how we humans feel when someone praises us.”
(Photos: At top, Kady, a Lab-retriever mix in the study who preferred praise from her owner to food; at bottom, Ozzie, a shorthaired terrier mix who chose food over his owner’s praise / Emory University)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 18th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, attention, behavior, brain, canine, dogs, emory university, experiment, fmri, food, gregory berns, humans, imaging, love, motivation, mri, pats, pets, praise, responses, rewards, science, study, training, treats, ventral caudate
The wife of a Philadelphia police officer is proving that police dogs don’t have to be expensive European imports.
Carol Skaziak, after seeing too many dogs languishing in shelters, started an organization called Throw Away Dogs.
Established two years ago and based outside Philadelphia, the program rescues neglected shelter dogs and works to rehabilitate and train them for police work like narcotics detection and patrolling.
Since beginning her work, nine out of 12 dogs she has rescued have been placed with police departments across the country.
“I pour my heart and soul into it and all I ask for these departments is to just give my dogs a chance,” she told NBC News.
Unlike most police dogs, who commonly are expensive purebreds purchased from Europe, these home-grown mutts are donated to departments in need.
Assisting her in the effort are K-9 handlers from area police departments.
The program puts the dogs through a three-month training period, and while not all will earn spots on police forces, Skaziak says all dogs that go through the program find a home — something they didn’t have before.
“I will follow through with every dog from start to finish. Not all dogs will make it through K-9 school and I am OK with that outcome. I will then find a perfect loving family for that dog that will love and treat them like part of their family. It’s just a different kind of badge they will be wearing,” she notes on the organization’s website.
While she doesn’t believe every dog can be trained to be a police dog, there are many in shelters who have the high play drive it takes for the job.
After a graduation ceremony this year, two “throwaway” dogs were placed with the Roanoke Police Department, and a third with the police department in Roanoke, Va.
Skaziak, who is married to a Philadelphia police traffic officer, came up with the idea for Throw Away Dogs in 2013, while doing public relations work for a shelter in Philadelphia.
“I was upset about it, because people were throwing these dogs away like trash,” Skaziak told the Roanoke Times.
(Photos: Officer Bill Tars and Throw Away Dog Kayos in Roanoke, by Heather Rosseau / The Roanoke Times)
Posted by John Woestendiek July 18th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, carol skaziak, dog, dogs, europe, imported, K-9, law enforcement, officers, pets, philadelphia, police, police dogs, rescue, roanoke, rocky mount, shelter, Throw Away Dogs, training, virginia
A Florida company that makes synthetic humans for medical training has branched out to synthetic dogs — and it says it’s hoping to place packs of them in every veterinary school in the world.
If successful, SynDaver Labs says, the mission would save thousands of animals by preventing shelter dogs from being used in veterinary training.
SynDaver — a combination of words synthetic and cadaver — wants to raise $24 million to give 20 synthetic dogs to every accredited veterinary medicine college in the world. It says the schools will receive the artificial canines for free.
The company worked with the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine to develop the synthetic canine, which has a full list of functioning bodily systems, including a heartbeat and a circulatory system. It even bleeds when cut.
Speaking of bodily fluids, fans of the television show “Shark Tank,” may remember the company’s founder, Christopher Sakezles, appearing on an episode last year. Despite sweating profusely — unlike any of the sharks — he managed to persuade one investor to contribute $3 million to his company, in exchange for 25 percent ownership.
The deal later fell through, when Sakezles and investor Robert Herjavec disagreed over specifics. Conjecture is Herjavec wanted to replace the company owner with a new CEO, who would be a more profit focused than Sakezles.
That was last year. This year, the company has announced it will seek backers for the veterinary school program, according to WFLA.
“The product will immediately end the need for terminal surgery labs in veterinary medical schools and represents the beginning of the end of animal testing in general,” the company said.
The synthetic dogs have the capability to simulate customized diseases, illnesses and medical complications, the company says.
If more than $24 million is raised, SynDaver says it will start creating a synthetic cat, followed by a horse and cow.
The Tampa Bay Times described SynDaver as a small player in the $2 billion medical simulation industry, with about 150 employees split between offices in Tampa and Phoenix.
(Photos: SynDaver Labs)
Posted by John Woestendiek June 1st, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, artificial, Christopher Sakezles, dog, dogs, functioning, investors, lab use, laboratories, labs, medical, pets, Robert Herjavec, shark tank, shelter, shelter dogs, surgery, SynDaver, SynDaver Labs, synthetic, training, university of florida, veterinary schools
There’s nothing, in my view, that can make a neighborhood bar more homey than having its own dog.
You’ve likely met the bar dog. Though not a breed, he or she has particular characteristics: A laid back, borderline lazy demeanor; a 100 percent friendly disposition; a tendency to be large and situate him or herself in such a way to block the maximum amount of traffic.
The bar dog happily greets customers, but does not jump on them. The bar dog lusts after what you might be eating, but does not snatch it out of your hand. The bar dog is sociable, generally well behaved and not the least bit hyperactive. He goes with the flow.
My dog Ace (on the left in the picture above, taken at a bar in North Carolina) served as a surrogate bar dog for a while at a corner bar in Baltimore. (Bar dogs must also love bars, and Ace, being a reflection of his owner, does.)
At the Idle Hour in South Baltimore, Ace unofficially filled in after the owner’s dog, Higgins — now there was a bar dog — passed away.
Ace, it seemed, was born to be a bar dog. At the Idle Hour, there was no one he didn’t want to meet and greet and spend a while sitting next to, but he wasn’t prone to jumping up, or licking faces — unless such action was requested.
Not every dog has what it takes to be a bar dog.
Mark Thorp, who owns Vaughn — and who owns Little Miss Whiskey’s on H Street and Jimmy Valentine’s Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg Road –says his dog is big, and active, and harmless.
But two customers have sued Thorp, claiming otherwise.
Kathleen Moran says she was sitting on a couch at Jimmy Valentine’s one night in July 2015 when Vaughn bit her face, causing “gashes to the outside of her eye, cheek, and lip.”
In an earlier lawsuit, a customer at Little Miss Whiskey’s claimed Vaughn bit her face.
Thorp said both the lawsuits and other legal troubles stem for an ongoing neighborhood feud.
Thorp was arrested in February of 2015 on drug and animal cruelty charges — both of which he claimed were trumped up charges he thinks stem from his beef with a neighborhood official he successfully sued for libel for remarks she made about one of his establishments.
It’s a long, involved story that’s not too related to our point, but you can find a synopsis in the Washingtonian.
Numerous legal matters are still pending, but Thorp, who temporarily lost custody of Vaughn, now has him back.
And, legal issues aside, maybe it would best to not allow him to freely roam the bars — at least not until he becomes better schooled in how to be a bar dog.
A bar dog, like a bartender, should be compassionate, calm, patient and mellow. He must show up when you want him to. And go away when you want him to.
Unleashing just any dog in just any bar is a mistake — and one that might come with costs.
Ace never had a problem — or caused any, at least that I’m aware of — at the Idle Hour. A lot of that was because it was among, since puppyhood, his top three places to be.
When, years later, I did a little bartending myself, and brought him along to the golf club where I worked, his behavior was always exemplary.
So, yes, I’m all for bar dogs. They can make a place seem like home. They can make a laid back bar even more laid back. They can promote bonding and conversation and help lower an entire room’s blood pressure.
But they should be chosen carefully, have the right personality, and be able to stay within certain boundaries.
Then and only then can they do what they were meant to do — make us all chill out, get along, and not sue each other.
(Photos: Top photo, Ace and friends at Recreation Billiards in Winston-Salem; bottom photo of Vaughn from his Twitter page)
Posted by John Woestendiek May 19th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, baltimore, bar dog, bar dogs, bars, bartender, bartending, behavior, dc, doberman, dogs, duties, feud, idle hour, jimmy valentine's, lawsuits, little miss whiskey's, mark thorp, neighborhood bars, personality, pets, responsibility, training, vaughn, washington
It has been more than five years since Congress approved a $12 million Veterans Administration study into whether veterans with PTSD can benefit from psychiatric service dogs.
Since then hundreds of veterans with PTSD have been learning first hand of those benefits — but either on their own dime, or with help from nonprofit agencies.
Meanwhile, the study hasn’t gotten too far. It has been suspended twice, and reinstated twice, moving along at a snail’s pace. Or what some might call the VA’s pace.
There are even those, such as Rick Yount, executive director of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection, who have questioned whether the study had been set up to fail so that the VA wouldn’t have to pick up expenses for psychiatric service dogs, as it does for service dogs helping veterans with physical disabilities.
The VA’s chief veterinary medical officer, Michael Fallon, called that insinuation “ludicrous.”
And yet, during the past five years, the study has gone anything but smoothly.
The VA cut off two of the three dog vendors following biting incidents involving participants’ children. Only 17 dogs had been placed with veterans when the final contract was terminated in August 2012 amid allegations of lax veterinary care and placement of dogs “with known aggressive behavior,” according to VA records.
Meanwhile, questions have arisen about how the dogs that have been placed are being trained, and whether the tasks they are learning to perform benefit a veteran with PTSD or only reinforce their paranoia, according to the Associated Press.
Specifically, the dogs are being trained to do things like sweeping the perimeter of a room before a veteran enters, or protecting the veteran by “blocking.”
“Isn’t that saying that al-Qaida could be behind the shower curtain? That’s supporting paranoid, pathological thinking,” said Meg Daley Olmert, chief research adviser for Warrior Canine Connection and author of a book on how contact with a dog can create a sense of well-being.
Warrior Canine Connection, a Maryland-based nonprofit that uses veterans to train service dogs for other veterans, believes the dogs should be trained to pick up on cues from PTSD sufferers and then provide the appropriate support, such as learning to wake someone up during a nightmare or detecting when a veteran is anxious, and interacting in a way that helps calm him.
Between the questionable training protocol, all the studies delays (only about 40 dogs have been placed with veterans), and the VA’s ongoing contention that the benefits for service dogs for PTSD sufferers has not been proven, some wonder how objective the study is going to be.
Not everyone is willing to wait for the study to run its course.
U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis recently introduced a bill that would take $10 million from the VA’s budget to immediately begin pairing service dogs with post-9/11 veterans for whom traditional PTSD treatments hadn’t worked.
At a hearing before a Congressional committee last week, Dr. Michael Fallon, Chief Veterinary Medical officer Fallon, repeated that “the benefits of service dogs in assisting people with mental health diagnoses have not been established in scientific literature.”
But Rory Diamond, the executive director of K9s for Warriors, told the committee that research already shows veterans with PTSD receive extraordinary benefits from service dogs, including allowing them to elminate their use of medications, handle anxiety better, and reduce suicidal thoughts, nightmares, and night terrors.
“There are thousands of veteran suicides that could have been prevented if they would have had access to a service dog,” Diamond told Congress.
(Photo: Army veteran Joe Aguirre with his service dog Munger; by Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 22nd, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, blocking, congress, controversy, delays, dogs, hearing, k9s for warriors, pets, post traumatic stress disorder, protocol, psychiatric service dogs, ptsd, questions, service dogs, study, sweeping, therapy, training, trauma, va, veterans, veterans administration, warrior canine connection
Cesar Millan will not be charged with animal cruelty in connection with an episode of “Cesar 911” in which a dog he was training attacked a pot-bellied pig.
Los Angeles County animal control authorities said Monday that they’d completed a month-long investigation into the complaint and found no evidence of neglect or harmful intent, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“After a comprehensive investigation by our officers, we presented a very thorough and complete report to the District Attorney’s office and they were unable to find anything to charge Mr. Millan with,” said Aaron Reyes, deputy director for animal care and control. “It’s a fair decision.”
Reyes said investigators watched the full video “several times,” interviewed people involved in the episode and reviewed veterinary reports.
“You can tell that it was not intentional and [Millan’s] reactions were swift and effective,” Reyes said. “The injuries to the pig looked worse than they really were, and they got immediate veterinary care.”
In the episode, which aired Feb. 26, a French bulldog Millan was training bit a pot-bellied pig standing nearby.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney David Jacobs wrote in a case evaluation statement that “there is no evidence that the pig was used as bait, and all parties who witnessed the incident felt it was an accident. Although in the video the pig is seen bleeding, the dog’s act was merely a nip and did not tear or bite the skin off.”
The dog, named Simon, remains with his owner.
“The clip caused some concern for viewers who did not see or understand the full context of the encounter,” National Geographic Wild said in a statement. “The pig that was nipped by Simon was tended to immediately afterward, healed quickly and showed no lasting signs of distress.”
Millan said in a statment he was pleased with the investigation’s findings.
“My team and I are 100% dedicated to the proper care of all animals, including the farm pig in this case,” he said. “I am continuing my work rescuing and rehabilitating even the most difficult problem dogs, which has saved the lives of thousands of animals that otherwise would have been euthanized.”
(Photo: National Geographic Wild)
Posted by John Woestendiek April 13th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animal control, animals, attack, bite, bitten, cesar, cesar 911, cesar millan, charges, district attorney, dog trainer, dog training, dogs, french bulldog, investigation, national geographic wild, pets, pig, pot bellied pig, simon, television, training, tv
A man in Oklahoma decided to use a similar hi-tech strategy to locate a missing dog. He walked through the neighborhood, repeatedly punching the remote that operates the dog’s shock collar, assuming any reaction that produced might help him track her down.
And the man was a dog trainer, no less.
His strategy resulted in one woman being bitten, and in animal cruelty charges being filed against him.
Lukas Miller, who owns the Sit Means Sit franchises in Oklahoma City and Edmond, called Edmond Animal Services after the two-year-old boxer mix chewed through a leash and ran off while being trained.
Miller admitted that, as he searched, he repeatedly triggered the remote, according to a News9 report.
What he didn’t know is that the dog, named Nala, had stopped outside a house, where a woman, seeing the dog in pain, went to her aid.
“She’s an animal lover, so first her instinct was to come outside to see if the dog was OK. As soon as she came outside, the dog got aggressive and lunged at her,” said the woman’s husband, Justin O’Feery.
O’Feery said his wife quickly realized an electronic training collar around Nala’s neck was being activated. When she tried to remove it, the dog bit her.
Miller and the animal services officer arrived at the home after the dog bite had been reported to 911.
“We don’t blame the dog one bit. We’re not mad at the dog. We are mad at the trainer,” O’Feery added.
A spokesperson for Miller said Nala, who he was training for the dog’s owner, was being taken for a bathroom break when she chewed through her leash and ran off.
He called animal control and began searching for the dog immediately because she had a reputation for being aggressive with humans and other dogs. It was Nala’s first training session, the spokesperson said.
A lawyer representing the dog trainer said he plans to fight the charge. A court hearing is scheduled for later this week.
According to the Sit Means Sit website, Miller was an Air Force fire protection specialist for eight years before becoming a dog trainer.
Sit Means Sit says it sometimes uses a “a proprietary remote electronic training collar” that gives dogs a “slight tingle” when necessary to get their attention. The collar works for up to half a mile.
According to the spokesperson, Nala, after being held in quarantine, finished up her training sessions, and that her owner was “super happy” with the results.
Posted by John Woestendiek April 8th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, behavior, bite, dog, dog bite, dog trainer, dogs, edmond, electricity, idiot, lukas miller, oklahoma, oklahoma city, pets, remote, shock collars, sit means sit, training, zapping