Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Can Canine Hair Whorls Predict Temperament?

Left dominant dogs are more anxious and fearful than righties. (See my post of canine righties v. lefties.)  The question here is:  Can chest whorls predict temperament?
According to some experts, a horses' 
facial hair whorl can 
predict temperament.

Hair whorls, also called cowlicks, form in a spiral pattern, either counterclockwise or clockwise, tufted or flat, growing toward the center or away from it.

Clockwise and counterclockwise directions

In cattle there's a relationship between the location of
the hair whorl on the face and temperament.  Middle whorls
predict a more cautious personality.

A 2009 study of dogs by Lisa Tomkins and Paul McGreevy found that 80% have typical whorls in four places: chest, rump, elbows and back of the front legs.

A typical spot for a hair whorl, but this one
seems especially pronounced.

Rump whorls are  common to most dogs. Whorls on the left side of the body
 are usually counterclockwise. Those on the right are clockwise. Check out your
dog's elbow whorls and you'll see what I mean.

Some dogs (about 20%) have additional whorls, as many as ten altogether, on the head, shoulders and abdomen.

A unique hair whorl in this Golden Retriever.
Only 5% of dogs have a facial whorl.

Some researcher theorize that there is a link between hair whorl direction and side preference. They found that lefties have a counterclockwise chest hair whorl; righties' chest whorls go clockwise. But some dogs don't fit the mold and are righties with counterclockwise hair whorls.  According to the guide dog school in Australia, (they made a video)  the exceptions, righties with counterclockwise whorls are twice as likely to successfully complete the guide dog program.  (Only 40% of dogs bred to be guides graduate.)

Counterclockwise hair whorls may be related
to left side dominance.

Except for Rhodesian and Thai Ridgebacks, hair whorls are not breed related, 
but are unique to individual dogs. The Ridgeback's ridge is made up
 of two hair whorls, one going clockwise and the other counter.  
What's really interesting is that the researchers found that shelter dogs had significantly more counterclockwise whorls than non-shelter dogs, suggesting that, like in cattle and horses, there may be a relationship between hair whorls and temperament.  Check out the cowlicks on your pooch and let me know what you think.

Read the two part study:


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dog People with October Birthdays

An October birthday salute to famous dog lovers:

President Jimmy Carter
October 1, 1924
Note the guy on left holding a bag of dog food.

Amy Carter
The dog was a gift from Amy's teacher.

Groucho Marx
October 2, 1890
I couldn't find any pictures of Groucho with dogs
but I found plenty of dogs dressed like Groucho.

Buster Keaton
October 4, 1895
The actor with one dog from his menagerie of many.

Pablo Picasso
October 25, 1881
Picasso loved his Dachshunds.  This is his dog, Lump.

And Lump immortalized in this Picasso print.
" Le Chien"

President Teddy Roosevelt 
October 27, 1858

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How Dogs Think - New Science Looks Inside The Canine Mind with MRI Imaging

Updated 10-10-13
Wow. You've got to see this video
Wondering what your dog thinks? Neurocientists are on the right track to figuring it out.

In 2012, A couple of smart guys, Gregory Berns and Andrew Brooks of Emory University, watching a military dog assist Navy Seals as they overran the Osama Bin Laden compound, got a brilliant idea.  If you can teach dogs to jump out of helicopters, surely dogs could be trained to enjoy themselves inside an fMRI machine while scientists calculate what the dogs are thinking by scanning their brains.

The researchers, who are dog-lovers, explained, "We want to understand the dog-human relationship, from the dog's perspective.  From the outset, we wanted to ensure the safety and comfort of the dogs.  We wanted them to be unrestrained and go into the scanner willingly." So they recruited a professional dog trainer, Mark Spivak, and two companion dogs, a Feist Terrier named Callie and a Border Collie named McKenzie.  The team said that both dogs were trained over several months to walk into an fMRI scanner and hold completely still while researchers measured their brain activity.

In this photo Callie wears ear protection as she 
prepares to enter the scanner.  The research team 
includes, from left, Andrew Brooks, Gregory Berns and Mark Spivak.  
(Credit: Photo by Bryan Meltz)

This is what the researchers wrote in the journal article that was published in PLOS in 2012:  "Because of dogs’ prolonged evolution with humans, many of the canine cognitive skills are thought to represent a selection of traits that make dogs particularly sensitive to human cues. But how does the dog mind actually work? To develop a methodology to answer this question, we trained two dogs to remain motionless for the duration required to collect quality fMRI images by using positive reinforcement without sedation or physical restraints. The task was designed to determine which brain circuits differentially respond to human hand signals denoting the presence or absence of a food reward."

To find out what they've discovered in the last 18 months, read this article in the October 5, 2013 issue of the New York Times.
Do dogs feel guilt?

You can read a brief summary of the science here:  What is Your Dog Thinking? Brain Scans Unleash Canine Secrets.

Or read the entire scholarly article here: Berns, Gregory, Brooks, Andrew and Spivak, Mark, Functional MRI in Awake Unrestrained Dogs (April 27, 2012). 

Or read Professor Gregory Berns' new book, How Dogs Love Us: A Neruoscientscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain.

Canine illustrator Robert Dickey assigned thoughts and feeling to his Boston Terrier based on the dog's expressions. Here he illustrates contentment, sympathy and misery. 
(Dogs from Life, Page & Co., 1920)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Canine lefties - side dominance in dogs

Is your dog a southpaw?  When he shakes hands, which paw does he use? 

Whereas only ten to twelve percent of people are lefties, in dogs (and many other non-human mammals), left and right predominance is about fifty/fifty.  The discrepancy isn't clearly understood.  Handedness is connected to the opposite side of the brain.

Because right-handedness is connected to the left hemisphere of the brain, where language is processed, it's possible that in humans, the only species that uses language*, evolution favored right side dominance.

* (I'm using the word language in the scholarly sense of the word - language is a system of arbitrary signs, patterns and sounds that communicate feelings and thoughts. Humans are the only species that use language. This is not to say that other communication systems are any less complicated, rather, they are different.)

"I'm a lefty"
Studies show that in people, lefties are more affected by fear and anxiety than righties, suggesting that the right side of the brain is more involved in these emotions.. Left handed people are more temperamental, too, and studies show they are quicker to react in a negative manner. Scientists at Australia's University of Adelaide  discovered similarities in canine southpaws. Left-sided dogs are more likely to react with negative behaviors when they are frightened or anxious, including aggression, than their right-pawed counterparts.

Dr. Barkman's favorite southpaw, Frazier, contradicts the
scientific findings. He is confident, friendly, and especially gentle. 

Keep in mind that fear is the emotion; aggression is the behavioral response.  In both humans and dogs, it's likely that age, gender, personal history, health and genetic factors contribute to how we respond. Just because a dog is a lefty doesn't mean she will bite.  But it might mean she isn't suited for guide work.  The Australian guide dog school uses left-sided dominance tests to exclude dogs from their training program. They believe that lefties are less likely to be able to maintain the rigors of the work because they are more prone to fear and anxiety.  You can see them testing their dogs in this video.

To figure out if your pooch is a southpaw, put some treats in a Kong toy and see which foot he uses to move it around. Or put a bone under the couch.  Does he use one paw more than the other in his effort to retrieve the goody?

He's a rightie.

She's a leftie.
To read more:

Psychologist and author Stanley Coren, in an article in Psychology Today,  writes, "Tail wagging movements of a dog are biased to the right or left depending upon whether they view a situation as being positive or negative."

13 Facts about (human) lefties

Schneider,  L.A., Delfabbro, P.H., & Burns, N.R. (2013) Temperament and lateralization in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris). Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 8 (3), 124-134. 

"How do you do?"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dog Breed Trademarks

The Elo, pictured here enjoying an Italian vacation with his people, while I was doing the same, is a relatively new breed that's being developed in Germany. The breed name Elo is trademarked.

The idea of trademarking a dog is the result of the much publicized brouhaha surrounding  the Border Collie and Jack Russell Terrier wars, working dogs that for centuries have been bred based on what they do, not on how they look. 

Above: The working Border Collie on the left, dog show Border Collie on the right. Unlike registered purebreds that must prove ancient lineage in studbooks, many Border Collie sheepdog trial champions are registered on merit (ROM), meaning they are awarded the breed name solely because they can perform the required task, creating a population of dogs that do not look exactly the same.

The trademark kerfuffle began in 1988, when the American Border Collie Association and others heard rumblings about registering the breed for AKC conformation showing, which requires a breed standard.  (Breed standards serve three purposes: assessment in competition; deliniation of unique qualities in different breeds - some very similar to one another;  and maintenance of breed similarity throughout the world.)  This idea didn’t go over well with sheep trail enthusiasts because a Border Collie is what it does, not what it looks like. They believed that AKC conformation requirements threatened the future of their breed.

Led by Donald McCaig, who retold the tale in his 2007 book, The Dog Wars, the group prepared for battle: “ Hands off the Border Collie! We own Border Collies. Our dogs are companion dogs, obedience dogs and livestock herding dogs. For hundred of years Border Collies have been bred to strict performance standards and today they’re the soundest most trainable dogs in the world. The AKC wants to push them out of the Miscellaneous Class and into the show ring. They seek a conformation standard (appearance standard) for the breed. We, the officers of every single legitimate national, regional, and state Border Collie association reject conformation breeding. Too often the show ring fattens the puppy mills and creates unsound dogs. We will not permit the AKC to ruin our dogs.”
The ABCA filed to legally trademark the name, but lost, and in 1997, the first Border Collie was shown in conformation at AKC's Westminster Dog Show.

Another trademark kerfuffle - In 1994, the AKC's National Labrador Retriever Club revised its standard to exclude dogs less than 22 inches. (Bitches must be no shorter than 21 inches). Some breeders of dogs that no longer met the standard were part of an eleven million dollar class action suit against AKC, claiming that height restrictions excluding shorter dogs no longer described the Labrador Retriever. If you make a bigger dog, you make a different dog. Litigants said that it’s perfectly reasonable to change a breed, but the dog should have a different name. They tried and failed to trademark the name Labrador Retriever.

A lab bred to work is
a smaller more compact dog.
A lab bred to be a companion
might be larger.
Is it the same breed?

While the Border Collie battle was raging, AKC enthusiasts saw an opportunity to register Jack Russell Terriers, an irascible independent dog with an intense work ethic, an extremely diverse genome and a phenotype as dissimilar as that of the Border Collie.  
JRTs are a group of diverse shapes, sizes and coat types.
Historically, they've been strictly selected on work performance.
Many Jack Russell Terrier breeders vehemently opposed the action, knowing that the breed’s physical and working characteristics would be jeopardized.  Nevertheless, a splinter group formed the requisite national breed club, named itself the Jack Russell Terrier Breeders Association and gained AKC registration in 2001.

Alston Chase tells the story of the breakup
of the breed in his 2008 book.
If you plan to make a different dog, then shouldn't you use a different name?  After a long drawn out court battle the working dog enthusiasts won when the court finally said "yes". The name Jack Russell Terrier was awarded to the working phenotype.  The AKC dog's name was changed to Parson Russell Terrier, and the parent club is now the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America.

To find out how AKC registration is changing the Border Collie, Lab and JRT, read my article, Body Language: Breed Standards and the Words that Define Them, published in the fall 2013 issue of The Bark.

Although the idea of trademarking a dog is a new strategy, the issue of breed name ownership is not.  In the 1870s, when dog shows became popular, sporting dog enthusiasts faced the same problem. More on that another time.