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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Early bird tickets through February 28th! Canine Science Symposium April 14-15, 2018 in San Fransisco



In its 6th year running, the Canine Science Symposium returns year after year to the San Francisco SPCA because nothing about the dog is stagnant. Not only do itty bitty puppies inevitably grow, but so does our understanding of dog behavior and cognition. This, in turn, can affect their welfare and wellbeing -- how we care for and interact with them.

As a past and present conference participant, I (this is Julie) always look forward to the Canine Science Symposium for two simple reasons: I learn from my colleagues, and I learn from audience participants. It's that simple. I can't think of a better way to serve dogs. 

Also, this year I hope to meet Officer Edith -- who I follow closely on Twitter (you should too!). She's next door at San Francisco Animal Care and Control; so many dog people in one spot!

The Canine Science Symposium was recently featured among the Top 10 Animal Behavior Conferences for 2018, and here’s why. This year’s two-day conference features 15 speakers and 2 tracks (view speakers, abstracts, and symposium agenda). Themes include dog behavior, shelter enrichment and adoption, training, working dogs, play, and the dog-human bond, and more.


More specifically, talks focus on the efficacy of clickers and other reinforcement methods, offer a constructional approach to playgroups, explore the effect of temporary fostering on shelter dog welfare, dive into K9 scent work and its applications, look into dogs in animal-assisted interventions, consider behavior-based euthanasia decisions, explore the role of neuropeptides in mammalian emotions, social behavior, and cognition, detail adoption and enrichment interventions, and take on the art and science of the shelter meet-and-greet, among other topics!

Clive Wynne and I kick off and close out the conference, respectively (we’re not giving the same talk, promise. We checked). Clive argues, “that how people care for their dogs is not keeping up with the best practices that science is developing,” and I wonder whether more research is really needed. Yes, scientific question begets scientific question, but does this suggest we’re entirely in the dark about dogs What do we know now?

Participants can receive continuing education units, and the early bird special is through Wednesday, February 28:

See you in San Francisco?

Follow on social media: #CSS2018
Conference dates: April 14-15, 2018
Conference location: 
SF SPCA's Education & Training Center
243 Alabama Street
San Francisco, CA 94103

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Is Your Dog a Social Butterfly?


Please welcome today’s guest contributor, Dr. Erica Feuerbacher, an Assistant Professor of Companion Animal Behavior and Welfare at Virginia Polytechnic and State University. And check out Erica’s earlier DYBID post, Less Talk More Touch: What's Your Dog Saying to You?

Sandra Tilkeridisov√°, Unsplash

Hello Dog Believers! 
We dog devotees have an abundance of tales about our special relationship with our dogs. These anecdotes seem backed by the fact that dog lovers often can’t use the bathroom alone, and our dogs are incredibly excited when we come home. The good news is that science backs this up: owners do have a special relationship with their dogs. 

In my own research, I have asked dogs simple questions about their preferences. For example, I present them with two alternatives and ask, “Which do you like better?” The answer is given by the dog’s behavior—which alternative do they spend more time with, and how much more time do they spend with it? I have investigated dogs’ preferences for petting compared to food delivery, and petting compared to vocal praise. In some of this research, we observed effects of the presence of the owner, but I hadn’t looked directly into dog preference for their owners. 

To explore whether dogs display a preference for their owner, Clive Wynne and I gave dogs a similar choice: do you want petting from your owner or petting from a stranger? And does this choice differ if we ask the question in an unfamiliar setting  (an unknown laboratory room) or in a familiar setting (the dog’s home)? 

For 10 minutes each dog was free to interact with either owner or stranger (both of whom were seated), or neither. Dogs spent about 80% of the session near a person, but with whom they spent the most time differed by location: in an unfamiliar location, dogs spent significantly more time with their owner (by a 4 to 1 advantage), but in the familiar setting, they spent more time with the stranger (by a 2 to 1 advantage). Interestingly, dogs tested in the familiar location (the home) still approached their owners first—nearly 70% of the time—before then going to chill with the stranger for the rest of the session. And dogs tested in the unfamiliar location approached their owner first at an even higher rate! 


These results points to two takeaways: first, in a stressful situation—like being in a new, unfamiliar place—you are likely a comfort for your dog, and your dog would prefer to be with you over a stranger or anywhere else in the new place. Second, your dog, while certainly having a special relationship with you, is still a social butterfly and interested in meeting new people, particularly when in a comfortable setting. The suggestion of dogs’ social butterfly-ness aligns with other recent research by vonHoldt and colleagues (2017) which suggests dogs are hypersocial and that this has a genetic component.

But what about shelter dogs who don’t have an owner? Are dogs in shelters equal opportunists, splitting their time evenly between two strangers? Or, do they prefer one stranger over another? We investigated this too! Shelter dogs did show a preference for one stranger over another, and even more interestingly, the degree to which they preferred that stranger was similar in magnitude to the preference that owned dogs had showed for their owners in an unfamiliar setting! Other research has demonstrated that shelter dogs start to show attachment behaviors toward a stranger after spending just three, short 10-minute sessions together. Our data suggest this attachment might start to form even faster than that. We also tested owned dogs with two strangers and they behaved just like shelter dogs. 

Here's Sugar in the shelter at the beginning of the session... 



and Sugar later in the session...



In these experiments, we did not explore on what basis dogs made their choice. Why did dogs prefer one stranger over another? Now that we know how quickly dogs can show a preference for one person over another we can start to explore why—is their preference based on olfactory, tactile, or physical characteristics of the person? 

It’s also useful to remember that we tested socialized dogs. The shelter dogs were up for adoption, and the owned dogs were, we hoped, not dogs likely to aggress towards a stranger. We don’t know whether these results apply to dogs with more stranger-directed issues. 

In the end, though, our results bring up a few points: You do have a special relationship with your dog. This is especially evident when the dog is stressed. Understanding this has potential welfare implications for some of our practices, such as taking the dog in the back at veterinary clinics and separating the dog from the owner. Is this useful or harmful to the dog? Or are the effects of these separations owner- and dog-dependent? But we ought to start asking these questions for our dogs’ sakes. Our results also demonstrate dog hypersociability and that dogs’ can be quite socially fluid, forming many different human-dog relationships. So whether you are on the more introverted side, like yours truly, remember that you might just have to up your social game to keep up with your dog. 

Assistant Professor of Companion Animal Behavior and Welfare
Virginia Polytechnic and State University 


Reference
Feuerbacher, E. N., & Wynne, C. D. L. (2017). Dogs don't always prefer their owners and can quickly form strong preferences for certain strangers over others. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 108(3), 305–317.