Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shocking News! Dogs Know if You're Looking!

Scientists who study dog cognition must never have owned a dog.

A new study has discovered the amazing news that dogs are more likely to steal food when you're not looking than if you are.
I don't think she's looking.
After weeding out the dogs who weren't interested in food (I didn't know there was such a thng), they chose 84 greedy dogs, 42 males and 42 females, put out food, and told them not to touch it.
They shouldn't have left them out if they didn't want me to have them.
Then they turned out the lights.
How handy. Just the right height for me to stand on.
The dogs were four times more likely to steal, and stole more food, when the room was dark.
We can have two apiece.
The search results established that the dogs could differentiate between dark and light (which, according to the Johns Hopkins University zoological lab, even an amoeba can do). They also tested to confirm that dogs understand that darkness does not necessarily mean food (as, for instance, a can opener does).
If only my tongue were a little longer...
In the end, the scientists managed to convince themselves that dogs are more likely to steal if they think we aren't looking.


The thing I find surprising is that the scientists were surprised.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cures for Canine Cancer--Hope for Humans

Dogs get many of the same cancers we do--for many of the same reasons. They share our lives and are exposed to many of the same stressors that are thought to contribute to cancers in humans.

Since their life span is shorter than ours, the cancers develop more quickly. We know sooner whether the chosen treatment has been effective or not.

Also, it's easier to hunt down the bad guys--the genes that have gone wrong--in dogs than it is in people. That's because dogs have been bred for centuries to have the traits we want: speed, silky coats, floppy ears...and riding along with these traits came diseases that are often linked to a specific breed. Great Danes are prone to diabetes. Border Collies are often obsessive-compulsive (Mine certainly tends that way!)

These breed-specific diseases make it easier to locate a rogue gene in a dog than in a person. And that gives scientists a better idea of where they might find it in the human genome.

Scientists have several marvelous new tools at their disposal. Ever since the canine genome was sequenced in 2008, new treatments for cancer and other diseases are being found at an accelerating pace. The same Spanish team that discovered a cure for canine diabetes had already found a treatment for a canine mouth cancer that is currently being translated into a cure for human melanoma.

The opening of a national canine tumor bank, which happened only 3 months ago, will be a vital resource for researchers in the field of canine oncology.

Jasper, the dog pictured below, is one of the first dogs to participate in the tumor bank. He has a lymphoma similar to non-Hodgkins lymphoma in people. The DNA and other information that he contributes may well lead to better treatments, and hopefully a cure, not only for Jasper, but for other dogs and for humans who share his condition.
Jasper, A Dog Undergoing Cancer Treatment in San Jose

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Incredible News for Dogs with Diabetes

This just in! A cure for canine diabetes has been found. Wonderful news for dogs, and probably for humans, too!

The Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona published a news release today, claiming that a single session of gene therapy has achieved a long-term cure (at least four years) for the dogs in their study.

The team, headed by Fatima Bosch, had already tested the therapy in mice. This success with dogs--the first time that a large animal has been cured of Type I Diabetes--paves the way for the therapy to be used by veterinarians, and in the longer term, for human beings.

Fatima Bosch with her team of researchers
The therapy uses genetically modified viruses to introduce genes into the dogs that help them to produce insulin and to regulate their blood sugar. They were able to eat and exercise normally and had none of the secondary complications usually associated with diabetes.

Let's hope it's as good as it sounds.


Fear of Sheep

On Wednesday, Rob and I took Caitlin to Canines 'n Ewe to sign her up for herding lessons. The owner, Jennifer Clark-Ewers, doesn't teach just any dog. Before accepting a new student, she does an evaluation to see whether the dog has the instinct and the talent to be a successful herder.

So..does Caitlin have the right stuff?

Jen's first comment on seeing Caitlin was, "She's cute!" So far, so good.

We took her to meet the sheep--carefully selected for their tameness and exceptional docility.

Caitlin didn't think so. She took one look at them, leaped backwards, barking maniacally.

Jen put her on a long tether and led her into the enclosure.
The high tail shows lack of concentration on the work at hand.
They look dangerous to me
A crescendo of barking. Decibel count nearing the pain threshold.

"Border Collies don't usually bark like that. Does she have any Aussie in her?"

A shocked look from Rob! Might Caitlin hail from convict stock!? Rob didn't think Caitlin was an Aussie.

"I'll get another dog to help her."
Lacey came racing in and began circling the sheep in a most professional manner. "We'll use Lacey as a fence for the sheep--keep them in one area so Caitlin can manage them better." Caitlin paid not the slightest attention to Lacey. She raced helter skelter among the sheep, barking and lunging.
Lacey demonstrating how it should be done.
Lacey is trying to help
"Did you say she's fourteen months old? She's acting like a puppy."

After about 15 minutes of gentle coaxing, Jen was able to lure Caitlin within 2 feet of the sheep. She even looked fairly calm and relaxed--as long as the sheep didn't move.
Being coaxed into becoming more comfortable with the sheep - doesn't look to be working for the sheep!
Don't anybody move!
Unfortunately, there's not much demand for sheepdogs who can herd statues.

"Okay. I'm going to quit coddling her." Jen dragged Caitlin to the sheep. "Man up, Caitlin. Border Collies aren't afraid of sheep "

Caitlin did finally start running around the sheep the way she was supposed to--more or less. Jen decided to end the lesson on this high note.

Caitlin's future as a herding dog is still undecided.

Points in her favor:
     Caitlin is cute.
     She is interested in sheep. She didn't just ignore them.

Points against her:
     She can't keep her mouth shut.
     She is immature for a dog her age.
     She doesn't pay attention to what a more experienced dog is doing.
     She is afraid of sheep.

We're going back in two weeks to see whether a second exposure will find Caitlin more courageous.

If so, Jen will decide whether she has any talent.

If not, maybe Caitlin can take up tracking. She doesn't seem to be afraid of hot dogs.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Does your dog smell in stereo?

It would never have occurred to me that a dog can't tell which smells come from his left and which come from his right. Dogs and humans both have two eyes that see in stereo and two ears that hear in stereo. It seems only common sense that our noses would work the same way.

But then, I'm not a scientist and don't make my living by proving stuff. The weight of scientific opinion, apparently, has until now been that stereo sniffing (at least for moles) is impossible because their nostrils are too close together.
He can't see. How did they expect him to find food if he can't tell where smells are coming from?
Amazingly (to the scientist who conducted the study) the impossible proved to be true. Moles with unblocked nostrils headed straight toward scientifically hidden earthworms. Moles with one nostril blocked made a few false starts, but eventually went in the right direction. Moles with tubes in their nostrils had no trouble either. However, if the scientists put tubes into the moles' nostrils and then crossed the tubes, so that the scent always seemed to be coming from the wrong direction, the moles were completely unable to find their worms.

The shocked scientist now says that all his assumptions have been turned upside down and that his ground breaking new research now "suggests other mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, like dogs and pigs, might also have this ability."

He still doesn't think humans can do it, and I'm not going to volunteer to have tubes in my nostrils for him to find out.


suggests other mammals that rely heavily on their sense of smell, like dogs and pigs might also have this ability