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Showing posts from September, 2013

Why Are Some Breeds of Dog More Popular Than Others?

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Do people choose a breed of dog for its personality, looks, health, or fashion?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

There are so many breeds of dog, it can be hard to choose which one you'd like most. Some are always popular, while other breeds rise or fall in popularity.  A new study by Stefano Ghirlanda et al 2013 investigates whether changes in the most popular breeds over the years reflect personality characteristics, health, or fashion.

We think of different breeds as having different temperaments, such as the “friendly and gentle, but also alert and outgoing” Siberian Husky, the “alert, lively, active, keen” Russell Terrier “with a very intelligent expression,” or the “calm, confident and courageous” Rottweiler. The first question the scientists asked was, is this true?
For their answer, they turned to the C-BARQ, a standardized questionnaire about doggie behaviour and temperament. It has 14 scales including trainability, separation-related behaviour problems, energy levels and so on, and ha…

Perceiving Emotion in Babies and Dogs

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Do babies and dogs process facial expressions in the same way, and if so what does it tell us about the evolution of emotion?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

Darwin suggested that some human emotional expressions could have their origins in the facial expressions of other animals, including primates and dogs. If so, there would be similarities in the way people process emotional faces across these different species. While most research has focussed on other primates, a paper just published in PLoS One by Annett Schirmer et al (National University of Singapore) investigates whether or not there are similarities in processing facial expressions in human infants and dogs.

The study asked sixty-four participants, half of whom were dog-owners, to take part in a series of tests. The experiment included both implicit and explicit tests of emotional processing. The explicit tests asked people to look at photographs and rate the emotion being expressed. For the implicit tests, people were shown a photograp…

Can Dogs Smell Quantity of Food?

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Can dogs tell how much food there is just by using their nose?

By Zazie Todd, PhD

We all know dogs’ noses are amazing. From careful attention to the pee-points on their walk, to working as drug or explosive detection dogs, it’s clear dogs have an excellent sense of smell. So it’s surprising that most studies of olfaction are about specially trained dogs, and less attention has been paid to the average pet dog. A paper in press in the journal Learning and Motivation, by Alexandra Horowitz, Julie Hecht and Alexandra Dedrick, sets out to change all that by asking, can dogs smell whether a closed plate contains a small or large quantity of food?

The research is based on a study of canine preferences by Prato-Previde et al in 2008. They found that when dogs could see two plates, one with a small amount of food and the other with a large amount of food, they preferred the plate with more food. No surprises there! However, when given the same choice but with their owners making a fuss over t…

How Do Dogs Interact With an Unidentified Moving Object?

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By Zazie Todd, PhD

One time when I took my dog for a walk, someone was playing with a radio-controlled car on the road. This was Very Exciting (actually most things in life are Very Exciting!). I asked him to heel as we walked past it, but he would have preferred to investigate the car. How do dogs interact with things like this, and does it change if the object moves in an apparently social way?

Robots have been used in studies with various species as a way of experimentally testing the rules of communication. Perhaps the most interesting for dog lovers is Leaver and Reimchen’s (2008) study in which off-leash dogs interacted with a dog-like robot with one of four different possible tails: short and still, short and wagging, long and still, or long and wagging. With the long tail, dogs were more likely to approach if it was wagging rather than still, but there was no difference between the two short tail conditions.
A new study by lead author Anna Gergeley et al in Hungary tests wheth…