Category Archives: dog research

Can Dogs and Cats Cry?

By Julia Williams

Have you ever seen your pet cry? And by “cry,” I mean actual tears from their eyes as an emotional response. Most people would say no; the general consensus is that animals lack the capacity for such a thing. We know that animals can “tear up” as a result of allergies, dust, upper respiratory infections, pollutants and such, but crying as an emotional response is believed impossible by most.

I don’t really like that word “impossible,” though. It would imply that we humans think we know everything there is to know about the emotional lives of animals. But how can we? Unless we are a dog, we can’t know what is in a dog’s mind or heart. We can form an opinion based on science and personal experience, but I think it would be arrogant for any human to say they know with certainty what emotions a dog or cat is capable of feeling.

Many scientists definitely have their own rigid thinking about the emotional capacity of animals. They base their opinion on carefully controlled research rather than the one-on-one bonding that takes place between people and their beloved pets. But here’s the thing:  a recent study proved that people could tell what emotion a dog was experiencing by looking at photographs of the dog’s face. The photos were taken after introducing stimuli designed to elicit a specific reaction from the dog.

Happiness was correctly identified by 88% of the study participants; anger was correctly identified by 70%. So if we can tell by a dog’s face whether he is happy, angry, sad, surprised or afraid, is it farfetched to believe we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of the emotional capacity of animals? I don’t think so.

Jeffrey Masson, author of the bestselling book When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals, believes that animals do lead complex emotional lives. To support his theory, Masson found hundreds of anecdotes from the published works and field studies of noted behaviorists, including Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Cynthia Moss.

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Why Did Dogs Become Our Best Friends?

By Linda Cole

No one really knows exactly how dogs were domesticated, although there is evidence pointing towards a mutual benefit for both man and canine. “Why” dogs became our best friend has been more elusive. However, research into dog behavior has been giving scientists a better understanding of the reasons.

Scientific understanding of how dogs came to live with humans has led researchers to conclude there were most likely three females, referred to as the “Eves” in the early years of domestication. In 2004, scientists took 85 dog breeds and traced their genetic pattern. They consider 14 of the 85 to be ancient breeds, and seven of the 14 are classified as having the oldest genetic footprint. However, even the ancient breeds can only be traced back to around 2,000 years or so, which is far from the time when dogs were first domesticated.

The seven ancient breeds are from Alaska (the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute), China (the Chow Chow and Shar Pei), Japan (the Shiba Inu and Akita) and Africa (the Basenji). According to researchers, the history of how dogs became various ancient breeds is difficult to determine because of interbreeding and how they were moved to different areas around the world. It’s a complicated history scientists are still trying to unravel.

Most of the dog breeds we know and love today were created during the 1800s. Different dog breeds were interbred to create our modern day breeds and each one was bred to do a specific job for man. Some of those earlier breeds used are now extinct. Interestingly, the Saluki was isolated by geography during the time when breeds were being created in the 19th century, and their genetic makeup appears to be different than other breeds for that reason.

Dog owners know what scientists are just beginning to discover when it comes to why dogs became our best friends. Anyone who has lived with canines already understands how in tune dogs are with us and our emotions. A study I reported on earlier explained how dogs are capable of being empathic, which is something any dog owner who pays attention to their dog already understands. According to researchers, dogs became our best friend because we reward them when they show empathy towards us. They believe their study suggests that we’ve simply conditioned our dogs to respond to us.

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New Study Shows Dogs are Risk Takers

By Linda Cole

We exercise self control every day to keep our feelings, actions and thoughts under control. But sometimes we all have days when patience is thin and it can be difficult to keep from saying or doing something that could get us into trouble. If we have a hard time controlling our actions at times, imagine how hard it can be for our dogs. In a new study, team of French researchers led by Holly Miller from the University of Lille Nord de France wanted to find out if dogs react like us when they lose self control and become risk takers when their buttons are pushed to the limit.

The researchers wanted to know if dogs would throw caution to the wind and be willing to gamble by making impulsive decisions that could become dangerous or harmful to them. The answer turns out to be yes; dogs will react in much the same way we do when we have a lapse in controlling our emotions due to stress, being over tired or frustrated.

Researchers recruited 10 dogs from home environments for their testing. In one test, the dogs were trained to sit and stay on a mat for 10 minutes. As they sat still, a ZhuZhuPet toy hamster was sent roaming around the room as a distracting annoyance. The toy forced the dogs to maintain self control to remain on the mat. After 10 minutes, the dogs were taken into another room one at a time where they encountered a snarling, barking dog confined in a cage. Each dog was left in the room for four minutes as researchers recorded where the dogs chose to spend their time.

The next day the dogs were put into cages where they waited for 10 minutes. They were free to move around in the cage and didn’t have to exercise any self control by watching an annoying toy running around the room. After 10 minutes in a cage, each dog was again taken into a room with the snarling, barking dog in a cage. The dogs that spent their four minutes close to the angry dog in the cage were said to be more impulsive, and if they stayed away from the caged dog, they were more cautious.

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Does Your Dog Reflect Your Personality?

By Linda Cole

We know it’s important to make sure to pick the right dog for our lifestyle. The other thing that goes along with lifestyle is our own personality. A new study shows more dog owners are picking dogs that reflect their own personality, which does indicate people are choosing dogs that fit their lifestyle. It’s possible this study could be developed into a kind of questionnaire that could help dog owners make that all important decision and ensure they have picked the right dog for them. But just how accurate is the research?

I’m always a bit dubious when it comes to research that claims to answer how dog owners pick their dogs. Maybe some people do fall into a specific category based on their preference in dog breeds, but maybe not. According to a study done by researchers at Bath Spa University and presented at the 2012 British Psychological Society’s yearly conference in London, they concluded dog owners pick out their dogs subconsciously, based on the dog owner’s personality.

Scientists had 1,000 purebred dog owners fill out an online questionnaire and asked them about their own personality traits and which dog breed they owned. According to the researchers, the answers showed a link between personality and the dog breed they decided to bring into their homes. Researchers measured the results of the questionnaire by using the ‘Big Five’ personality traits in humans and dividing dog breeds into seven categories: gun dogs, pastoral breeds (dog breeds used to guard or herd livestock), hounds, terriers, toy breeds, working breeds and utility breeds (breeds that don’t fit into one of the other groups, like the bulldog, Boston terrier, Chow Chow or Shar Pei).

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The Science Behind Why We Love Our Pets

By Linda Cole

What is it about pets that can get a macho, muscular guy to melt as he cuddles a kitten? Or the simple smile that appears on our face as we watch a puppy’s first steps? According to researchers, we are hardwired to love and respond to pets, even those who say they don’t like pets!

Studies on the human brain, done at the California Institute of Technology and the University of California at Los Angeles, indicated that we have a part of the brain that’s considered to be very old. It’s called the amygdala (uh-mig-duh-luh) and when pictures of animals were shown to 41 people who volunteered for this study, the scientists found that neurons in this part of the brain became quite active. Researchers believe we have been hardwired to respond to animals as far back as hundreds of millions of years ago in the early years of human evolution.

Scientists were surprised to discover it didn’t make any difference if the test subjects were shown Cobras and big hairy spiders or kittens and puppies; the same result took place in the brain. This response was totally unexpected, because the amygdala is where fear and anger responses are controlled as well as where emotional memories are found. It triggers our flight or fight response, and is part of the process in storing information for long-term memory. When they started the experiment, it was believed the dangerous and not-so-cuddly animals would give a stronger emotional response, but they found out it didn’t matter. Cuddly and cute or dangerous and ugly, the response in the brain waves was the same.

Scientific studies on how and why we interact the way we do with animals are interesting, and that’s how we know the health benefits we get from sharing our home with our pets. I would have to say, my pets have helped me grow into the person I am today. And I know I’m not alone in giving my pets credit for emotional growth.

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The Canine Behavior Studies of Dr. Udell

By Linda Cole

I’m always interested in reading new studies done about dogs that help us better understand our relationship with them. Dr. Monique Udell is someone who has her name attached to many of these studies. One recent study conducted by Dr. Udell and her research team explores whether dogs can read our minds. I may not always agree with her findings, but she is an important researcher who is unlocking our dogs mind so we can properly care for them by understanding how they think, their amazing ability to understand us, and why they do the things they do.

Dr. Monique Udell is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. In 2006, she helped set up the Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab at the college to primarily study the social behavior of dogs and the human/dog bond. Her research deals with the social behavior of dogs and how they understand us through observation, reasoning and instinct. The studies ascertain that dogs show remarkable awareness in decision making when interacting with us, and explore how well dogs can understand our gestures, facial expression and body language. Shelter dogs that have never been in a home environment or have been in a shelter for a long time don’t respond to humans as well as a dog living in a home or wolves that have daily interactions with their caretakers. Pet dogs and wolves both show they have us figured out and can read us pretty well.

Her work involves canines with different life experiences, like shelter dogs versus family dogs, and compares them with tame wolves, foxes and coyotes to see how they respond to our gestures and body language. She studies the adaptability of the canine social behavior and how it corresponds to living with humans. We have the ability to influence dogs through training and reinforcement. The research done by Dr. Udell and her team is a new way of trying to understand the importance of our interactions with dogs and other canids in the Canidae family. This new way of thinking about our relationship with dogs came after she had visited the Wolf Park in Battle Ground, Indiana and studied how wolves raised by humans and dogs interacted with each other and with their humans. The studies done at the Wolf Park help researchers learn how they read and respond to us, and what kind of signals they show to us.

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