26 September 2014

Dog Report

Welcome back. Dogs are in the news again. My daughter and son-in-law had to rush a very sick Sydney, one of their two beagles, to Cornell University’s Hospital for Animals. An ultrasound showed a lateral obstruction that turned out to be a five foot piece of baling twine.

In case you missed that: beagle--small dog; ingested baling twine--over twice the length of the beagle’s body. 

Dogs don’t usually chew food; they hulp, which was my father’s guttural onomatopoeic expression for gulp or scarfing it down. Sydney’s hulping went too far. Fortunately, surgery saved her, though she had to surrender the twine and 80% of the middle portion of her small intestine.

In addition to Sydney’s saga, there were two dog studies in the news. Both rank up there with my Dog Tail Wagging blog post, and both are worth highlighting.

Dogs Prefer their Owners


Up close with this dog’s scent detector.
 (www.rachelphilipson.com)
To better understand how dogs perceive humans as well as other dogs, investigators from Emory University and nearby Comprehensive Pet Therapy Inc. exposed 12 dogs to 5 different scents, while monitoring the dogs’ brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Just to be clear, fMRI is a noninvasive neuroimaging procedure. MRI images the brain; fMRI measures activity of brain nerve cells. The 12 dogs had been trained to remain motionless while unsedated and unrestrained in the MRI.

The five tested scents, presented to the dogs on gauze pads, were of a familiar and unfamiliar human, a familiar and unfamiliar dog, and the dog’s own scent.

The analysis found that the area of the brain linked with odors and smell--the olfactory bulb--responded similarly to all five scents. In contrast, the area of the brain that’s been shown to be associated with positive expectations (reward, pleasure)--the caudate nucleus--was most activated by the scent of the familiar human. The dogs not only singled out the scent of the familiar human, they associated it with good stuff.  


Rachel’s un-jealous beagles with one of
the two cats. (www.rachelphilipson.com)
Dog Jealousy

Unrelated to scent or twine, Sydney exhibits a marked preference for my son-in-law, and Sydney’s brother, Beag, favors my daughter. The dogs never act jealous of one another, but then, there’s no cause to be; they’re both completely spoiled by both owners.

Wait. Do dogs get jealous? The answer seems to be yes; at least that’s what researchers from the University of California San Diego found.

The researchers videotaped the behavior of 36 dogs (different breeds etc.) in the dog owners’ homes, while the dog owners deliberately ignored their dogs and spent one minute on each of three tasks: (1) playing with a realistic toy dog (barked, whined, wagged its tail), (2) playing with a plastic jack-o-lantern as if it were a dog and (3) reading aloud a children's book (pop up, played music). After each task, the owners walked away, leaving the object within reach of their dog for 30 seconds, then returned to interact with their dogs for one minute.

Analysis of the videos found that nearly 4 out of 5 dogs exhibited jealous behaviors (e.g., snapping, getting between the owner and object, pushing and touching) when their owners displayed affection toward what appeared to be another dog. The response was about double the reaction to the jack-o-lantern and four times the reaction to the book.

Wrap Up

You might not be surprised that dogs lit up more for a familiar human than for another dog, but was the dogs’ response because of food or play or is there an evolutionary genetic predisposition? Stay tuned for future research.

Finding that dogs get jealous is considered landmark work. Jealousy is commonly assumed to be unique to humans, in part because of the emotion’s complex nature. There is an emerging view, however, that some “primordial” form of jealousy exists, such as that observed in human infants. Again, stay tuned.

As for Sydney, they think they know where she dug up the baling twine, but she continues to whimper plaintively, I almost died, when she doesn’t get what she wants. Stay tuned?

Thanks for stopping by.

P.S.

Research paper on the fMRI study in a special issue on canine behavior in the journal Behavioural Processes: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2014.02.011
Articles on the fMRI study on Science Daily and National Geographic websites:
www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140318112026.htm
newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/03/24/dogs-animals-pets-science-brains-scents/
Research paper on dog jealousy in PLOS ONE:
www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0094597
Articles on the dog jealousy study on Time and Reuters websites:
time.com/3023016/jealous-dogs/
www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/23/us-usa-dogs-jealousy-idUSKBN0FS2G520140723

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