Thursday, April 16, 2015

A dog's mental capacity is more sophisticated than previously thought, study indicates

Dogs are intelligent.

They've demonstrated that their mental abilities are on par with that of a 2-3 year old child, but in one area, dogs leap ahead: their ability to pick up on when they are being misled.

Canines have lived alongside of us for a period of time that would make it seem unlikely that they wouldn't be able to figure out many things about our behavior, but some concepts are quite complex, for example, untruthfulness. A research team from Kyoto University wanted to delve into whether or not dogs could recognize that behavior (or how long it would take to do so).

The researchers, led by Akiko Takoka, decided to keep things simple, and the payoff was surprisingly telling. 

A pair of experiments were done in a study titled,  "Do dogs follow behavioral cues from an unreliable human?", with the results appearing in an October 2014 issue of Animal Cognition.

In the first experiment, 24 dogs were used, and it worked in three phases. (It seems important to note that the team was confident that the dogs would follow the prompts given by the humans in the study.) In the first phase, two opaque containers — one of which had a food treat hidden underneath — were presented to each dog. Phase one consisted of the human pointing to the container with the food underneath. The dog then chose that container and got the food reward. Phase two set out to demonstrate that the human couldn't be trusted to give a reliable cue. To achieve this, the dog was shown which container had a treat underneath and which did not. Once the dog was released to choose a container, they were encouraged to select the one without the reward.

Finally, the experiment was repeated, but this time the dog was cued honestly. 

The findings told the story: 

Phase one yielded what one would expect; the dogs demonstrated trust of the human. But in the later phase, each dog had deduced that the person was not to be believed, with less than 10% of the subjects following where they were cued. 

Takoka noted that she was surprised that the dogs had caught on to this concept so quickly. 

But the researchers were interested in learning more about whether or not dogs attached that concept to all humans, or only those that they have had that specific experience with

Repeating the study would certainly help clarify that, so researchers did so with a new group of dogs, 26 in fact — with each phase done exactly the same way. In the final phase, however, a new person was introduced in place of the untrustworthy one. 

The subjects followed where the person encouraged them to go. This of course means that dogs are predictive of behavior from individual people, and they adapt as needed.

It seems that the old adage 'when someone shows you who they are, believe them' is employed by dogs just as their biped counterparts. 

Takoka noted in an interview with"Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans." 

She went further to say that it would be interesting to see how wolves would fare in a like experiment, as that would shed more light on the effects of domestication on the social intelligence in the dogs that we know today. 

Comparatively, how do children fare in studies that test the capacity to discern trustworthiness? 

— at age 3, children are pretty excepting of what they are told, even if the person is dishonest
— four year-olds exhibit dubiousness in the same situation
— by age 5, children can more easily discern that what they are being told is not true

As you can see, the jump in the mental sophistication of humans between ages three and five is vast, and given that an adult canine's mental capacity is said to be that of a 2 to 3 year-old child, a dog's ability to process that concept reliably is certainly intriguing. 

The outcome of the study reinforces a basic tenet in canine training and behavior: relationship and trust building is paramount in developing good communication and cooperation, thusly helping both the canine and human get the most out of of training exercises and establishing a bond. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Chewing is a healthy, beneficial activity and dogs with beef and other allergies need not miss out

Dogs love to chew. They need to. It's satisfying, and can mitigate anxiety.

Indulging this healthy behavior is usually not a problem nor something that we give a lot of thought to since there are so many products on the market that are safe for supervised chew time or when our favorite pups are alone. 

Of course, we need to take some things into consideration, including how powerful of a chewer a dog is or what their preferences are. 

Traditional choices

Beef rawhides are the ultimate in chewing pleasure for dogs, there's no doubt. They're tough, long-lasting and provide they kind of satisfying mouthfeel that dogs crave. They do get a bad rap for their indigestibility and the potential hazard for choking, but honestly I've found that with my own dogs and charges whose owners supply them, they are quite safe so long as chew time is supervised carefully. I simply take the rawhide away when they show evidence of being dangerous. 

Bully sticks, tracheas, bones, hooves and other beef-based chewing toys are popular choices too.

Sound alternatives

But for an ever-widening demographic of the canine population — several of my own charges included — the choices can be somewhat limited because of allergies to ingredients that many chew toys are sourced from. 

If a dog has allergies to beef, then sadly all of the aforementioned products are off limits, and ditto for chicken-based products and the like if the allergies are more complex.

But that doesn't mean that dogs with sensitivity to things like beef and chicken need to miss out on a good chew party. There are plenty of suitable products on the market that can be equally satisfying, and best of all, they are easy to find. 

Available in different sizes, deer antlers are a durable offering for pets that like them. They can be problematic for powerful chewers as they can damage a tooth. 

Rope toys are fun for chewing and playing games like tug-of-war. Though they're tough and relatively long-lasting, care needs to be taken to ensure that the fibers are not ingested, which could lead to an intestinal blockage. 

Vegetable-based chews like Whimzees and Zuke's Z-Bones offer sensitive dogs another option that you can feel good about. Choking on chewed-off pieces (and possible indigestibility, though even my old girl, Gretchen does fine with these) is a consideration. 

Sweet potato chews can provide that leathery, satisfying that dogs love, and while they have that going for them, they just don't last very long. Highly digestible and healthy, you can make your own or buy them from your local pet store. 

Pig ears are a fun chewy treat that offer a little satisfaction, albeit short-lived for some dogs. Pig skin rolls are an equally favorable choice, and usually last a little longer. 

Bison rawhide, with all of the qualities that dogs love in a chew, but with a much lower risk of allergy reaction and may be just the right thing when addressing a pet's chewing needs. As with beef rawhide, products derived from bison do require the same level of mindfulness with regard to safety and indigestibility.

Nylabone products are ever popular, but as with any other type of chew toy, they need to be enjoyed under supervision. Available in edible and non-edible varieties for dogs and puppies, care needs to be taken to see if they're right for your furry friend.

Attractive options — but on second thought 

Yak chews are a relatively new product on the market, and they have the reputation for lasting a long time. They also have a taste that is appealing to dogs, which is a plus. With their high protein and fat content, they are not suitable for some dogs. One caveat that might not be obvious is they are not made solely from yak's milk. Cow's milk is also used to create these products, which despite their price are gaining popularity. If your pet has an allergy to beef, these products would not be suitable.

Finally, synthetic rawhide chews are widely available and since they're largely plant-based (they do contain chicken jerky as well as grain starch and vegetables) by all accounts appear to be a fine option. In theory, yes. Their high level of digestibility is a plus, but in my research, one glaring drawback cannot be ignored: they are made in China. 

Considering the questions that loom with regard to the safety of pet consumables imported from China, the general consensus is that they not be given to pets.

All of that said, chewing on appropriate bones and toys is a healthy activity that dogs not only love, but need to indulge in. It relieves stress, helps clean their teeth and indulges an innate need -- and choosing the right product can make it safe.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer -- most recently as a contributor on MLive -- and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter