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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 
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.

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

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:

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:

Please don't hesitate to contact me should you have any questions:

Thank you for considering contributing to this study!

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


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: Thank you for considering contributing to this study of what makes relationships stick!

University of Lincoln
School of Life Sciences

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Dog Aging Project

Please welcome today's guest contributor, Dr. Silvan Urfer, a veterinarian with a background in population genetics. He is based at the University of Washington and currently working on the Dog Aging Project.

As a researcher working on the Dog Aging Project, I am glad to share some of our current work and results with the readers of this blog. Our project is based at the University of Washington in Seattle under the direction of Drs. Daniel Promislow and Matt Kaeberlein, and we are interested in studying aging in privately owned dogs – both descriptively and by testing interventions that we expect to increase healthy longevity in our four-legged friends. By following 10,000 companion dogs from homes throughout the United States over their lifetime, the Dog Aging Project aims to discover the genetic and environmental factors that determine whether a dog will live a long and healthy life. Moreover, through an intervention study we describe here, we will explore the potential to actually increase the likelihood that a dog will live a healthy long life. 

Meet Zeke, a canine citizen scientist in the Dog Aging Project
Aging is the single most important risk factor for a variety of diseases that affect both dogs and humans, such as cancer, heart disease, cognitive decline, arthritis, or kidney failure. Thus, addressing aging can be expected to result in a wide variety of potential health benefits: In fact, the potential benefits of targeting aging lead us to believe that this approach can be called “The Ultimate Preventive Medicine”, as it would have beneficial effects across the wide spectrum of otherwise unrelated diseases that share aging as their common risk factor.

Interestingly, the basic mechanisms of aging appear to be very similar across species, which has allowed scientists to identify risk factors and interventions in species with very short life spans, which can then be translated to longer-lived species. Thus far, this process has led from yeast through worms and flies to mice. We now argue that establishing the privately owned domestic dog as a model for human aging is the logical next step to take.

Dogs are a very interesting model in that they share our human environment, develop many of the same age-related diseases that we develop ourselves, and also receive comparable medical care, which we argue makes them an ideal model for aging in humans. In addition, the dog’s comparably shorter life span also means that it is better suited as a model for evaluating genetic and environmental risk factors as well as potentially beneficial interventions on healthy aging, seeing as the results will become apparent much more quickly than they would if such studies were to be performed in humans. With this in mind, our goal is to establish a generally accepted definition of what constitutes an aged dog, and then investigate the factors that contribute to that phenotype – be they genetic, epigenetic, metabolic, or environmental.

Apart from their usefulness as a model for human health, identifying interventions that have the potential to make our dogs live and stay healthy for longer would be a highly desirable goal all in itself, and there is also the aspect of keeping service and other working dogs healthy for longer, which has the potential to generate substantial financial savings.
Shadow, of the Dog Aging Project
One such potential intervention is a drug called rapamycin: It is the product of Streptomyces hygroscopicus, a bacterium that was originally discovered in the soil of Easter Island/Rapa Nui in the 70’s. Rapamycin has been FDA approved as an immune modulator since 1999 and has more recently been shown to increase longevity by 30% when given to mice that were biologically about as old as a 60-year-old human. We know that it achieves this effect by activating some of the same metabolic pathways that are activated by eating a low calorie diet, and we also know that feeding dogs a low calorie diet makes them live and stay healthy for longer. Based on this, it follows that giving rapamycin to dogs could be an interesting and potentially very valuable intervention to increase healthy lifespan in our dogs.

We recently completed a double-blind placebo-controlled pilot study on 24 privately owned middle-aged medium size dogs that received either rapamycin or placebo for 10 weeks. This being a pilot study, our main goal was to make sure there were no side effects at the doses we used. In addition to clinical evaluation, we also did bloodwork before, during and after the study, as well as heart ultrasound before and after because rapamycin has been reported to have positive effects on heart function in aging mice.

The results are now in, and we are pleased to report that rapamycin did not cause any clinical side effects in our study population at the doses we used. The bloodwork showed some changes that may indicate longer red blood cell survival and some changes in metabolism, but all blood parameters remained within normal limits in our population.

However, the most interesting part of our results – especially considering our relatively small sample size – is that rapamycin seems to have significant beneficial effects on heart function. Even more interestingly, those beneficial effects seem to be highly specific to the measures of heart function that we know are deteriorating with age, and they seem to apply to both the contraction (systole) and the relaxation (diastole) phases of heart function (Fractional Shortening and E/A Ratio). In short, rapamycin seems to be able to reverse some of the changes that are characteristic of an aging heart when given to dogs for 10 weeks, which is certainly encouraging within the context of improving healthy aging in our dogs.

We are currently seeking funding for a larger, longer term trial of rapamycin in privately owned dogs, which will allow us to determine whether it has a beneficial effect on life expectancy and healthy aging in them. We predict that rapamycin will not only allow the dogs to live longer, but will reduce their risk for several types of cancer, cognitive decline, kidney disease, and other age-associated disorders. For this study, we are planning to recruit several hundred dogs to study over a period of several years, which will allow us to collect more extensive data on health and mortality. More information on the project and how you can help can be found at our web site at

Dog Aging Project
University of Washington Medicine Pathology
1959 NE Pacific Street
Box 357705
Seattle, WA 98195
Waiting Wolfhounds. Credit: Silvan Urfer
Further Reading

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Italy: The Fifth Canine Science Forum is Here

Hello world!

It’s Mia and Julie, and we’re at the 5th Canine Science Forum in PADOVA, ITALY!! This is our third canine science forum together. Do You Believe in Dog? started in 2012 when we first met in Barcelona, Spain. Two years later we had a great conference in Lincoln, UK, and now we’re in Italy where the coffee is very, very, very good. We also like the canine science, but really, the coffee is fabulous.

What’s the Canine Science Forum?
You know when you come across a headline, “Study finds dogs do X!!” The Canine Science Forum (CSF) is where researchers behind the headlines come together to share and discuss their latest studies and theories about dogs, wolves and related canines. It’s a place to get a pulse on the field -- what’s going on, and what’s to come.

The CSF is also a reminder that when a headline states, “Study finds X…” that's typically an oversimplification of what was actually found. There's a lot of discussion of the nuances of dog behavior and cognition. And science is complicated, but each study brings to the table a piece of the puzzle that is understanding more about the wonderful (and also, the not so wonderful) dogs in our lives.

The conference consists of short talks, plenary talks, and poster sessions (and important espresso coffee shot breaks). Today we're presenting a poster about Do You Believe in Dog? and the importance of communicating our fields' findings to everyone. The blog will continue to be a space where researchers can share the findings of their research, helping it jump over the paywalls and without the stuffy scientific language, to help dogs everywhere. If you're a researcher and you'd like to know more, check out the contributors page!

Out poster about Science Communication!
Email if you want a copy: DoYouBelieveInDog @

The conference began earlier this week on Tuesday and concludes tomorrow (here is the entire program). Anyone can follow all conference-based tweets on Twitter at #CSFPadova as well as @DoUBelieveInDog. We of course want to tell you about talk after talk after talk, but space, time, you get the picture... so here are a few highlights:

Doggie brains
Giorgio Vallortigara began the conference looking at brain asymmetry. The dog’s tail offers a pretty nifty insight into the brain — dogs wag more to the right when seeing an owner (associated with left hemisphere activation which is historically associated with approach-type behaviors), whereas seeing a strange person or strange dog prompts more wagging to the left (i.e., right hemisphere activation typically associated with more retreat behavior). Vallortigara also explored why brain symmetry evolved looking at both benefits to the individual as well as on the population level.

Smelly dogs
Márta Gácsi did not discuss why dog feet sometimes smell like Fritos (maybe next time, Márta!). Instead, Gácsi and colleagues from the Family Dog Project devised a simple, new procedure — that requires no pre-training — to test Natural detection task olfaction in canids, both hand-raised wolves and dogs.

In the study, they placed food in a plastic box with a lid to control the amount of smell released, and then placed the container under a ceramic pot to avoid visual cues. They wondered whether dogs would attend to the location of the hidden food, even when the access to the food was made increasingly difficult (see picture above). They found this was a good way to identify dogs who were both motivated and good at scent detection. Scent breeds and wolves were generally better at finding the food then non-scent breeds and short-nosed dogs. But hey, on an individual level, a Hungarian greyhound and Whippet (non-scent breeds), scored very very high, as did a Boston terrier (short-nosed dog).

A wider view of dog domestication
Friederike Range of the Clever Dog Lab, Messerli - Research Institute University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna and Wolf Science Center reminded us that as dogs entered the human environment, it wasn't initially because they wanted to spend time with us, cuddle all night long, look into our eyes, and follow our gaze and gestures. Dogs entered the human environment for food and to scavenge and exploit our fabulous resources. She reminds researchers that dogs are adapted to the human environment as scavengers and this should be considered in terms of its consequences for dog behavior. Check out the Open Access article, Tracking the evolutionary origins of dog-human cooperation: the "Canine Cooperation Hypothesis" (Range & Virányi, 2015)   

Oxytocin. Don’t oversimplify me
Love? Affection? Come on, Anna Kis of the Family Dog Project would say. It’s way more complicated than that. Kis won the Early Career Scientist Award, and she discussed how oxytocin is being investigated in terms of human-directed social behaviors in dogs. She covered three main areas of research: measuring peripheral oxytocin levels using blood or urine, exploring single nucleotide polymorphisms in regulatory regions of the oxytocin receptor gene, and administering intranasal oxytocin. Julie covered her research on the oxytocin receptor gene in dogs here.

Stay in touch with the conference this week on Twitter at #CSFPadova

And drink a coffee with us!