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Monday, 8 January 2018

The owner’s behavior: The elusive puzzle piece in dog-human relationships

Please welcome today’s guest contributor, Giulia Cimarelli, a researcher at the Unit of Comparative Cognition and at the Wolf Science Center of the Messerli Research Institute (Vienna, Austria).

Adam Griffith, Unsplash
When considering the dog-human bond, it’s pretty easy to agree that how we behave can influence dogs. We influence how they perceive and respond to situations and this can inform what they might expect from us in the future. This, of course, goes both ways. For example, if a dog is supported by an owner during a stressful situation, the dog could feel less stressed in a similar situation in the future. 

But of course, social relationships are complicated. Many factors are involved, like the personality and upbringing of both individuals and the social context in which the relationship develops. For decades, scientists from different disciplines have tried to understand and describe the relationships that humans and non-human animals build with one another. Today, there is general agreement that both parties influence one another.

When I first became interested in how human behavior influences dogs, I found that most existing research was based on questionnaires. Being an ethologist (a scientist who studies animal behavior), I wanted to examine owner behavior as I saw it, not just as people reported it. Professionals who work with dogs and their people probably know that people are not always aware of how they behave with their dogs, even though most people seem aware that dogs can respond to subtle human behaviors.
Giulia and dog friend

To understand how owners influence their dogs, we need to see what owners really do. And not only during training sessions. Life is so much more than training! I wanted to see how owners interact with their dogs in everyday situations, both positive and possibly negative. 

With this aim in mind, my colleagues and I at the Clever Dog Lab (Vienna, Austria) invited owners and their pet dogs to our lab to participate in a test that we called the “Owner Interaction Style test”. The experiment consisted of 8 different scenarios where we let the owner and their dog interact with one another. These scenarios were meant to recreate real life situations, but in a controlled environment. For example, we asked owners to leave the dog alone for a few minutes, and then we analyzed how they would greet their dog when they returned. We also asked owners to play “fetch” and “tug-of-war” with their dog, to teach them how to open a bin to retrieve food, and to perform basic obedience behaviors (i.e. sit, lay down, and stay) while an unfamiliar person attempted to distract the dog (i.e. by pretending to look for something in a box full of crumbled newspapers). We also saw how owners behaved when their dog was dealing with a potentially stressful situation (i.e. if the dog’s movements were restricted like during a vet examination). 

In each test we kept track of how many times the owner gave commands, praised, petted, clapped, or whistled to the dog. We also assessed how warm, enthusiastic, and supportive owners were, or if they were cold, authoritarian, or avoidant when interacting with their dog.

We found that owner behavior varies across 3 factors: 1) warmth in positive situations like play, teaching, and greeting, 2) social support in potentially stressful situations, and 3) behavioral control. 

Interestingly, these factors are very similar to those observed in human psychology studies when describing how parents interact with their children, possibly because humans have a general way of interacting with individuals they are caring for. 

Below is a short video of the study in action.


We also wanted to see if the way owners generally behaved with their dog would influence their dog's behavior in a stressful situation. Would dogs behave similar to children? Research has shown that when the parent is helpful and supportive, the child will trust and seek help and support from the parent in the future.

To answer to this question, we conducted a test that you should NOT try at home: owner and dog participants were approached by an unfamiliar person in a threatening way (i.e. stepping slowly toward the dog, with the upper torso bent forward, and staring into the dog’s eyes). In this test, the owner was told not to interact with their dog so that the dog’s reaction would not be influenced by the owner’s current response. Instead, we wanted to see whether the dog’s reaction related to how the owner had previously interacted with the dog, as analyzed in the previous study (warmth, social support, or control). We assumed that because of previous experiences, dogs will know how their owner will behave.

Indeed, we found that dogs’ reactions, either approaching the unfamiliar person independently or remaining close to their owner, depended on how warm the owner had been during the interaction style test described earlier. In particular, dogs who stayed close to their owner had warmer owners than those dogs who reacted more independently. 

Our study suggests that dogs are influenced by how their owner interacts with them outside of training situations. How enthusiastic, warm, and present we are in the everyday lives of our dogs can influence how our four-legged companions rely on us in stressful situations. 

This is important because sometimes people focus too much on training and forget that everything we do can matter. Whenever we interact with our dogs, we are telling them who we are, what we are for them, and whether they can count on us.  

Giulia Cimarelli, researcher at the Unit of Comparative Cognition and at the Wolf Science Center of the Messerli Research Institute (Vienna, Austria).
E-mail: giulia.cimarelli@vetmeduni.ac.at

References
Cimarelli, G., Turcsán, B., Bánlaki, Z., Range, F., and Virányi, Z. (2016). Dog Owners’ Interaction Styles: Their Components and Associations with Reactions of Pet Dogs to a Social Threat. Front. Psychol. 7, 1979.

Cimarelli, G., Turcsán, B., Range, F., and Virányi, Z. (2017). The Other End of the Leash: An Experimental Test to Analyze How Owners Interact with Their Pet Dogs. J. Vis. Exp., 1–11.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Dogs recognize our emotions, and they don’t like it when they see angry

Please welcome today's guest contributor, Natalia de Souza Albuquerque, a PhD Student at the University of São Paulo, Brazil and the University of Lincoln, UK.


Natalia's wonderful dog, Polly.
Hello Dog Believers!

The title of this post might seem obvious to dog owners, but it turns out there’s a lot more to the emotional world of dogs than most people expected. That’s what I want to share here today.

You will probably agree with me that the relationship between dogs and people is quite unique. In fact, dogs seem especially connected to human beings, in a way that no other two animal species are. And the secret of this fascinating relationship may rely on a very important ability: to read and respond to our emotions. 

Emotions are a very interesting (and complex!) research topic. They encompass the mechanisms we have to assess our physical and social surroundings, and they are also linked to how we perceive and respond to different stimuli. 

Recent studies have shown dogs are very sensitive to our emotional expressions: they can discriminate between happy, neutral and angry faces. They look at facial expressions in different ways depending on the content of the image, and they can link together different parts of a face that are expressing the same emotion (e.g. happy mouth with happy eyes).


Happy.

But do dogs actually recognise the information conveyed in certain facial expressions or vocalisations? Do dogs understand that angry facial expressions mean ‘angry’ and respond to them accordingly? Aiming to answer these questions, we (Dr. Briseida Resende from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Prof. Daniel Mills, Dr. Kun Guo, and Dr. Anna Wilkinson from the University of Lincoln, UK and I) decided to run a broad, non-invasive study.

We showed domestic dogs pairs of facial expressions on a screen: one angry and one happy (images were of the same individual, which could be a dog or a human—either female or male). At the same time they saw the facial expressions, dogs also heard a happy, angry, or neutral sound. In this type of set up, if an individual recognises the emotional content of the faces and voices, they will look longer towards the positive face when listening to the positive sound and look longer towards the negative face when listening to the negative sound. Essentially, recognition is indicated by "matching" what they see with what they hear.


Examples of stimuli used in the study: faces (human happy vs angry, dog playful vs aggressive) & correspondent vocalizations.

The first step was to do a thorough analysis of the looking behaviour of each dog. What we found was fascinating! Dogs were really good at linking sound and image of the same emotion, regardless of species (dog or human), gender (female or male), content (positive or negative), or side of presentation (on the left or on the right-side of the screen). This means that dogs have a cognitive representation of positive and negative emotions. 


Dog looking at screen and hearing auditory stimuli.
To clarify what happened, picture this: let’s say you are in a room all by yourself, and you hear someone laughing outside. What would you expect to see? Someone happy or someone angry? Happy, right? This is because we have stored in our memory several features of a “happy emotion” (visual, auditory, etc.) and we use this in our day-to-day lives. The ability to recognise emotions of one’s own species had previously only been shown in humans and other primates, and the ability to recognise emotions of another species was thought to be unique to humans… until dogs showed us they are way more complex than we imagined!

The second step was to undertake a detailed examination of dogs’ mouth-licking behaviour (the behaviour to lick around one’s own “mouth area”). We were particularly interested whether dogs in the study mouth-licked when they saw the different facial expressions and heard the different sounds. Although there is a quite extensive body of literature that uses mouth-licking as a stress response in dogs, no study had systematically investigated its association with the actual perception of negative emotions in dogs. And what we found was that this display has a lot more to tell us than we thought.


The behavior of interest.
Mouth-licking in dogs is more than the expression of a desire to be fed or a simple response to uncertainties and general discomfort. In fact, the occurrence of this display was dependent on (a) the emotion: dogs licked more often when they saw negative faces; (b) the sensory modality: dogs mouth-licked more often when seeing negative emotions, but not when hearing negative emotions and (c) the species of the stimulus: dogs licked more often when they saw angry humans in comparison with angry dogs. 

In other words, dogs seem to have perceived our angry faces as unpleasant, which changed their own emotional state and triggered mouth-licking. Since we found that dogs responded to angry human faces especially, and that only the visual cues influenced the occurrence of the display, we believe that mouth-licking in dogs may be a cue that signals a dog’s perception of negative information. These abilities may have been selected for (probably unintentionally) during domestication, as they facilitate dog-human communication. Want to see the study in action? Here is a short video clip:

 
Dogs are multi-faceted animals and they possess very complex cognitive abilities. Our research findings lead to the idea that dogs are not only able to recognise and respond to emotions of humans, but also may be capable of understanding them at some level. 


Natalia de Souza Albuquerque
~ Stay in touch with Natalia on Twitter, Facebook, & ResearchGate

References
Albuquerque N., Guo K., Wilkinson A., Savalli C., Otta E., Mills D. (2016). Dogs recognize dog and humans emotions. Biology Letters, 12.

Albuquerque N., Guo K., Wilkinson A., Resende B., Mills D.S. (2017). Mouth-licking by dogs as a response to emotional stimuli. Behavioural Processes.


All images copyright Albuquerque.

Friday, 1 December 2017

What Do You Get When You Cross an Anthropologist and a Zoologist?

Please welcome today's guest contributor, Molly Crossman, MS, MPhil, (Twitter) for a brief introduction to the science of Anthrozoology. After reading this post, you'll hopefully add Becoming an Anthrozoologist to your reading list! This new blog is put out by the student committee of the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ website, FB, Twitter), and they're seeking contributions (details below).


Naruto’s Selfie. Credit: David Slater, Wikimedia Commons  
If you like animals* (and I’m guessing you do if you’re reading this), you probably know the story of Balto, the heroic sled dog who saved an Alaskan city from a diphtheria epidemic. Or maybe you remember Clever Hans, the horse who could apparently do arithmetic, but was really just reading unconscious nonverbal cues from the people around him (and taught us all a lot about expectancy effects as a result). More recently, you may have heard about Cecil the lion, who galvanized public interest in wildlife welfare after being shot and killed by big game hunters. The list of infamous animals goes on, from Naruto, the monkey who took one of the most famous selfies of all time, to Duke, the dog who was elected mayor of a Minnesota town three times in a row.  

These stories about animals get widespread attention, capture our hearts, and often lead to changes not only in our attitudes towards animals, but in how we treat and protect them. But these stories aren’t really just about animals. These are stories about human interactions with animals. These stories are about the roles that animals play in our lives, and the roles that we play in theirs’. And there is an entire field of study devoted to understanding these kinds of interactions between people and animals. 

Anthrozoology is the multidisciplinary study of interactions between people and animals. Anthrozoologists come from a wide range of disciplines including ethology, biology, education, environmental science, history, literature, neuroscience, nursing, occupational therapy, psychology, sociology, and veterinary medicine (to name just a few examples). What anthrozoologists all have in common is that they apply their diverse expertise to ask and answer questions about human-animal relationships.


Anthrozoologists are the folks who brought us the revelation that dogs are more important than cats when it comes to online dating, showed that dogs facilitate social interactions for individuals with physical disabilities, revealed serious ethical issues with dolphin-assisted therapy, demonstrated why people think happier chickens lay tastier eggs, helped us understand who owns pets (and who doesn’t), and explained why people are compelled to (illegally) keep primates as pets. In other words, anthrozoologists do some really cool science.  

So, now that I’ve (hopefully) piqued your interest, where should you go to keep up with the latest in anthrozoology? I’m so glad you asked! 

Becoming an Anthrozoologist is the new blog from the student committee of the International Society for Anthrozoology. We started the blog as a way to share information on human-animal science and to help students in the field promote their work. 

Our first post came out in October, and I think it will be of interest to DYBID readers. The post was written by Lynna Feng, of the Anthrozoology Research Group at La Trobe University. In it, Lynna discusses a topic that is as personal, controversial, and polarizing as parenting techniques, and that’s dog training methods. 



Wikimedia Commons 
You are probably already familiar with the ongoing debate around positive, reward-based training methods versus dominance-based methods (if you aren’t familiar with the debate, Dr. Sophia Yin, an advocate for positive training techniques, has a helpful description on her website). But, did you know that there’s controversy even among those who agree about the importance of using positive approaches?

In her post, Lynna addresses the debate surrounding clicker training. She discusses a recent study, in which she and her supervisors evaluated what clicker training is, and why it’s controversial. Lynna gets into why people use clicker training, and what trainers’ think are best practices. For details about what she found, be sure to read the post! 

We plan to publish the blog quarterly, so look for the next edition in January and be sure to follow the ISAZ Student Blog. If you are not already a member of ISAZ, we also hope you will consider joining. Check out the ISAZ website for more information on becoming a member, and be sure to visit the 2018 conference website for information on the upcoming conference in Sydney, Australia. The deadline for conference submissions is January 18, 2018. 

P.S., If you’re a student member of ISAZ, we hope you will consider submitting something to the blog! 

* Humans are, of course, a type of animal. However, for the sake of clarity and consistency with linguistic norms, I use the term “animal” here to refer to specifically to nonhuman animals. 


Grad Student & Co-Director of Innovative Interactions Lab 
Department of Psychology, Yale University 
Email: molly.crossman@yale.edu
Twitter: @mollycrossman

DYBID here! Did you know that Molly first contributed to DYBID with a post about her research: "Can Therapy Dogs Help Students Handle Stress?" Thanks very much for joining us again, Molly!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is BS when it comes to dog bites: A case study in Ireland

Please welcome today's guest contributor, Nanci CreedonCertified Dog Behaviour Consultant (IAABC), director and dog behaviour tutor at Creedons College and graduate of Newcastle University Animal Behaviour and Welfare masters degree programme. 

Photo by Christopher Ayme on Unsplash


Ah, dog bites! Love dogs or hate them, everyone has an opinion, and dog bites are a highly emotive topic. While everyone is entitled to an opinion, when it comes to dog bites, and dog bite prevention, it is vitally important that we attempt to fully understand the characteristics of dog bites to maximise bite prevention.

While people may have an opinion on how to minimise dog bites, the buck usually stops with local governments to put legislation in place to protect the general public from the risk of dog bites. 

Here in Ireland, our government established a ‘restricted breed list’. The Control of Dogs Regulations 1998 impose the below rules in regard to the following breeds (and strains/cross-breeds): American pit bull terrier, English bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, Bull mastiff, Dobermann pinscher, German shepherd, Rhodesian ridgeback, Rottweiler, Japanese akita, Japanese tosa and Bandog. 

The rules state that these dogs (or strains and crosses) must:
  • Be kept on a short strong lead by a person over 16 years who is capable of controlling them.
  • Be muzzled whenever they are in a public place.
  • Wear a collar bearing the name and address of their owner at all times.

Breed specific legislation (BSL) is becoming more and more of a hot topic. Many claim that assuming one dog is more dangerous than another because of its breed (or appearing to look like a particular breed) is not the appropriate way to prevent bites, and there are numerous alternatives to BSL.

Image via Nanci Creedon

In Ireland, calls have been made to the Irish government to review and modify the legislation, with the latest call coming from Veterinary Ireland, the representative body for veterinary surgeons in Ireland. 

However, the government has regularly replied with a similar answer: while they are not claiming that restricted breeds are more likely to bite, if they do bite, the government suggests, these dogs are likely to do significantly more damage than other dogs.

Until now, this claim has not been supported, or discredited, by peer reviewed data.

In 2015, I conducted a widespread anonymous research survey, calling on victims of dog bites to participate in a voluntary survey about the details of the bite incident (at the time of the research we had not had a recorded dog bite fatality).

As the data was examined, we looked for any significant difference between dog bites by dogs on the restricted list and dog bites by non-restricted breeds. We found no difference in bites between dogs on or off the restricted list for the following categories: bite level (depth and type of bite), medical treatment, relationship with the victim, part of body bitten, or whether or not the dog went on to bite again. Our finding discredits the belief that if a dog from the restricted breed list bites, it would cause significantly more damage than other dogs.

The study did, however, find a significant difference between the two groups when it came to whether or not the dog had been reported for being aggressive prior to the bite incident, and whether or not the bite incident was reported to local authorities. In these instances, a dog on the restricted breed list was significantly more likely to be reported than a dog not on the restricted breed list.

This may be due to the public perceiving that a biting dog on the restricted breed list is a greater threat than a biting dog that is not on the restricted breed list, despite the study showing that there is no difference in the bites between the groups. 

This also suggests that the public perceive a biting dog who is not restricted to be of minimal threat to the general public, allowing that bite to possibly go unreported and allowing that dog to potentially go on to bite again. 

Since this study was conducted, Ireland had the first recorded fatality from a dog bite in June of 2017. The incident occurred on private property where legislation would not have put safety provisions in place, and regardless of the location, the dog breed involved in the incident was not one of the 12 restricted breeds.

This research supports the review of current legislation to develop appropriate dog bite prevention strategies to minimise the risk of further fatalities.

Reference
Creedon, N., & Ó’Súilleabháin, P.S. (2017). Dog bite injuries to humans and the use of breed-specific legislation: A comparison of bites from legislated and non-legislated dog breeds. Irish Veterinary Journal70:23


Image via Nanci Creedon

Nanci Creedon M.Sc
Graduate of Newcastle University (Animal Behaviour and Welfare) and University College Cork (Zoology)
Tutor at Creedons College
Email: nancicreedon@creedonscollege.ie

Monday, 28 November 2016

Do Dogs Synchronize Their Behavior with People? Researcher Seeks Participation in Online Study


Please welcome today's guest contributor, Charlotte Duranton, a PhD student at the University Aix-Marseille – Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology. For this online study, Charlotte is seeking participants who own dogs as well as those who do not. Please share the study far and wide!

Our dogs are not only our best friends, they are even our shadows. When you are tired and just want to hang out at home, many dogs will lay down and sleep at your feet. And when you are full of energy and ready to go out, your companion dog is ready to go, waiting to get out, and full of enthusiasm. In both, the dog is a reflection of your own state.

While these behaviors are typically accepted by the general public, they lack extensive scientific study. This is the topic I am investigating for my PhD project: Do dogs display behavioral synchronization with their humans?

Non-conscious synchronized behaviors are found in various species and among all taxa of live beings. Synchronization is observed within intraspecific groups and dyads and has various adaptive values. Being synchronized with others helps: i. decrease the pressure of predation on offspring, ii. increase the effectiveness of anti-predation strategies, and iii. increase social cohesion (see Duranton & Gaunet 2016 for a review). 

This last point is essential when thinking about dog-human groups and dyads. In humans, synchronization helps foster relationships and social bonds between individuals. The more affiliated individuals are, the more behaviorally synchronized they will be (Duranton & Gaunet, 2016).

When considering the dog-human relationship, we know that dogs are very sensitive to our body movements, and such a sensitivity is proposed to be the basis for behavioral synchronization between dogs and humans (Duranton & Gaunet, 2015). 


Social referencing is a type of behavioral synchronization that has recently been identified between dogs and their owners. When confronted with an unfamiliar stimulus, dogs looked at their owners to see their reactions, and then the dogs reacted accordingly. Dogs used their owner’s reaction as a guide when reacting to an unknown object (Merola et al., 2012) and an unknown person (Duranton et al., 2016). Movement alone was sufficient for the dogs to synchronize with the human’s reaction (Duranton et al., 2016).

The scientific question...
We now want to investigate the existence of behavioral synchrony from the dog towards the human when they are alone together without any external stimuli. Do dogs, in a quiet place, with no external events or stimuli, synchronize their behavior with the behavior of their owners?

Get involved!
Help us investigate this question by participating in our online citizen project: www.dog2human-synchrony.fr

Study participants will watch a few short videos and report back on what you observe. The study takes approximately 10-15 minutes.

Study participants
We seek participants who own dogs as well as those who do not own dogs, so please share the study widely!

French or English, your pick!
The study is available in both French and English! 

Access the study here: www.dog2human-synchrony.fr

Please don't hesitate to contact me should you have any questions: charlotte.duranton@cegetel.net

Thank you for considering contributing to this study!


Charlotte Duranton,
University Aix-Marseille – Laboratory of Cognitive Psychology – CNRS
Association AVA

References


Monday, 26 September 2016

What’s Behind Our Lasting Relationships with Dogs? Researcher Seeks Help

Please welcome today's guest contributor, Karen Griffin, a PhD student at the University of Lincoln who is trying to figure what makes relationships with dogs work. Please read on, as she is hoping for your help!

Hi Mia & Julie,

I am currently working on a study to examine factors that affect successful dog relationships and placements.  I am using a new approach to do this, which involves dog owners and shelter/rescue staff assessing dogs using a set of game-like tests.


What makes some relationships work? Flickr Creative Commons
The abandonment of dogs is a problem that affects much of the world.  In the UK between 2014 and 2015, local authorities handled over 100,000 stray dogs.  In the US, the problem is even more monumental; recent estimates suggest that nearly four million dogs enter shelters nationally per year, and over one million of those are euthanized.  

These are frightening statistics, and science has taken notice in recent years, aiming to understand and help reduce this epidemic.  However, much of this research is narrow in focus and scope, by relying on the analysis of retrospective data, that’s collected by shelters when dogs are relinquished, or in the way it conceptualizes the dog-owner relationship.  In the case of the latter, the dog-human relationship is traditionally understood as a static, unchanging one (e.g. Prato-Previde et al., 2003; Marston et al., 2005).  At the same time, there are indications that our lifestyles and relationships with dogs are not fixed, but dynamic. 

Credit: Steve Benisty
This is where my PhD research steps in.  I have applied a very different approach, and have redefined the dog-owner relationship as a dynamic entity that changes over time.  Over the course of the relationship, conflict will inevitably arise, as it does in any close personal relationship, and it is the ability of one member of the party (i.e., the dog or the owner) to resolve the conflict. It is this conflict resolution that will determine if the relationship will continue and be successful or not.  The inability to resolve conflict could lead to the relationship failing and the dog being relinquished. 

So now the question is, what do we do about this?  How can we understand or predict which dogs and owners will be able to resolve conflict and thus which relationships will succeed?  My research has hypothesized that behavioural flexibility (i.e., adaptability) is central to this, so I am assessing this in both humans (i.e., long-term dog owners, dog adopters, and dog relinquishers) as well as dogs.  

Game time
This is where I need help!  I created a citizen science study that dog lovers worldwide can join.  I have developed a set of four game-like tests that assess behavioural flexibility in dogs:
  • L-Shaped Food Finding Test
  • Time Alone Test
  • Three-Toy Test
  • Pointing Test

About you
I am seeking help from people in these two groups:  
  1. Long-term dog owners to participate with their own dog(s) (i.e. people who have owned their dog for at least three years)
  2. Animal shelters, rescue centres, rehoming organizations to participate with dogs without a current home
Time commitment
The study should take approximately 10 minutes per test plus 10 minutes for set-up and background survey completion.  An hour should be sufficient for everything.  Please note, you do not have to complete all four tests to participate.




Please don't hesitate to contact me should you have any questions: kgriffin@lincoln.ac.uk Thank you for considering contributing to this study of what makes relationships stick!

University of Lincoln
School of Life Sciences