Some may think that there are too many such dog food recalls but I would say thank goodness there is a system for reporting them.
Real Pet Food Company Recalls Billy + Margot Dog Food
September 22, 2020 — Real Pet Food Company of Phoenix, Arizona, is voluntarily recalling Billy+Margot Wild Kangaroo and Superfoods Recipe because it may be contaminated with Salmonella bacteria.
What’s Being Recalled?
The following product has been recalled:
Billy + Margot Wild Kangaroo and Superfoods Recipe
Package: 4-pound bag
Lot code: V 07 Feb 2022
This recall does not affect any other Billy + Margot products or those sold outside of the USA.
What Caused the Recall?
The recall is a result of a routine sampling program by state officials which revealed that the finished products contained the bacteria.
The company has ceased the production and distribution of the product.
The FDA and the company will continue their investigation as to what caused the problem.
Salmonella can affect animals eating the products… and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products.
While no illnesses have been reported, healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever.
Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms.
Owners exhibiting any signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare provider.
Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea, fever, vomiting and or abdominal pain.
Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans.
If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.
What to Do?
Retailers who have received product from the affected lot code have been asked to remove this product from shelves immediately and dispose of the product with care.
If you have purchased Billy + Margot Wild Kangaroo and Superfoods Recipe in a 4 lb bag, with lot code V 07 Feb 2022 from any retail store nationally, please stop feeding the product to your dogs, dispose of this product immediately, wash your hands accordingly, and sanitize affected surfaces.
Consumers who have purchased the recalled products may call Real Pet Food between 8 am and 10 pm EST immediately for a refund or for additional information at : 1-800-467-5494.
Consumers with questions may contact the company at 800-467-5494 during the above times.
We humans love to be loved and, especially, by our dogs.
I am certain that all of the people who read Learning from Dogs on a regular basis are dog lovers and, just as important, your love for your dogs means that they in turn love you.
But unfortunately not everyone thinks of dogs in such a beautiful manner. For example, not far from here on Hugo Rd are a group of dogs, 4 or 5 I think, that I cycle past, and they live in outside kennels.
If you are an uncertain owner or a new owner you may want to understand more about your dog’s behaviour, or more accurately, whether your dog loves you. This article on The Dodo explains this very well.
Does My Dog Love Me?
How to tell what those happy wiggles really mean ❤️️
Humans loveeee love. Which means we want the people — or animals — we love to show us they love us back.
But it’s sometimes hard for us to tell whether or not our dogs truly, deeply, madly love us — especially if you’re a new pet owner.
Who doesn’t want to feel all warm, fuzzy and loved by our pets?
To help you get that confirmation you’re looking for, The Dodo turned to Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets in New York City, to understand how dogs show their love.
“It is so important to understand your pets’ body language, as that is their way of communicating with us,” Dr. Spano said.
Here are some of the most common ways to tell that your dog, in fact, abso-freakin’-lutely loves you.
Your dog has a relaxed, wiggly body
“When interacting with your dog, body language signs to look out for that may indicate comfort and positivity include a relaxed body (or wiggly body during times of excitement, like play or you coming home), soft, forward ears and soft, rounded eyes,” Dr. Spano said.
He wiggles his eyebrows at you
You read that right! Doggos in love are known to raise their eyebrows when they see their owner. In fact, a 2013 Japanese study used a high-speed camera to record dogs’ faces when their humans walked into the room. It found that dogs raised their eyebrows when they saw their owners, but not when strangers walked in. *happy cry*
He wants your attention
“It is also a good sign if your dog is soliciting attention from you, such as with a play bow,” Dr. Spano said.
This can also be seen when he brings you one of his favorite toys.
He leans against you
A dog will lean on humans for a few different reasons — sometimes it’s because he’s anxious or he wants you to do something — but it’s also a sign of affection. And regardless — even if your dog is leaning against you because he’s nervous — it still indicates that he thinks of you as someone who can protect him and keep him safe.
Confusing body language to look out for
According to Dr. Spano, there are some things dogs do that humans typically consider to be signs of affection, but aren’t always.
“Confusing signs include wagging tails and exposed bellies,” Dr. Spano said. “A dog wagging his tail simply means he is aroused by the situation. This can be a good thing, but not necessarily; it depends on the context of the situation.”
This means that it’s good to notice the situations that cause each of your dog’s behaviors and begin to build an understanding of your individual dog’s moods.
For example, maybe you notice your dog always wags her tail when you walk into a room — you can equate that situation with her being happy in those moments. On the other hand, maybe you’ve also noticed she wags her tail just a bit stiffer when she sees a strange dog, and it’s almost always followed by raising her hair and growling. While she is wagging her tail in both of these situations, it’s not the same kind of tail wag.
“Similarly, a dog showing his belly may be asking for belly rubs, but it can also indicate fear,” Dr. Spano said. “Dogs do have the capability of trusting and loving you, but depending on their own fears, stress level and past experiences, it may take some time.”
So in general, look for those relaxed and wiggly bodies to know how happy your dog is to see you. Other behaviors you’ll learn over time — and it’ll just help your bond grow even stronger since you’ll be the only one who can truly detect your dog’s moods and emotions.
Yes, it certainly takes time to really get to know a dog. Although one might think that having a number of dogs in the household makes it easier, and generally that is the case, even in a largish group one can have tensions that exist between a couple of the dogs. Knowing both dogs as well as you can enables one to adjust things so that the tension no longer exists or it becomes a very rare event.
But it is rare and, luckily, loving dogs is the normal!
I will close with a photograph of dear Oliver who is one of the most loving dogs I have come across.
I am referring to the smoke and fires in this part of the Western edge of the USA.
For a while it seemed as though evacuation was becoming closer but now, I hope, that we are nearing a change in the weather including some rain later on this week.
So time for another post.
This one about speech processing in the dog’s brain.
The article that I want to republish is in The National Geographic magazine but I do not have permission to reproduce it in full.
Luckily the video that is in the article is also available on YouTube.
So first some extracts of the article.
Dogs understand praise the same way we do. Here’s why that matters.
Dogs can’t speak, but their brains respond to spoken words, suggesting human language has deep evolutionary roots
By VIRGINIA MORELL, Published August 6th, 2020
Every dog owner knows that saying Good dog! in a happy, high-pitched voice will evoke a flurry of joyful tail wagging in their pet.
That made scientists curious: What exactly happens in your dog’s brain when it hears praise, and is it similar to the hierarchical way our own brain processes such acoustic information?
When a person gets a compliment, the more primitive, subcortical auditory regions first reacts to the intonation—the emotional force of spoken words. Next, the brain taps the more recently evolved auditory cortex to figure out the meaning of the words, which is learned.
When the scientists studied scans of the brains of pet dogs, they found that theirs, like ours, process the sounds of spoken words in a hierarchical manner—analyzing first the emotional component with the older region of the brain, the subcortical regions, and then the words’ meaning with the newer part, the cortex. (Read how dogs are more like us than we thought.)
It’s much longer than I have presented so I do urge you to go to the article and read it fully; it’s fascinating.
And to close this post I insert the video that is in the article.
This is a post about dogs being of comfort to the Californian firefighters. A post presented on The Dodo that I am republishing.
But yesterday afternoon came news that here in Oregon we have a blaze. As the Washington Post reported it, in part:
An unusually expansive outbreak of large and fast-moving wildfires threatens communities in three states Wednesday, with the greatest risks focused on Medford, Ore., and Oroville, Calif., as large fires advance in those areas.
In Oregon on Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced that four towns have experienced significant damage, and she warned residents to expect news of fatalities.
“Oregon has experienced unprecedented fire with significant damage and devastating consequences for the entire state,” she said. Brown said the communities of Detroit, Blue River, Vida, Phoenix and Talent are “substantially destroyed.”
But back to those Californian firefighters.
Dog Helps Comfort Firefighters Fighting The California Wildfires
Ever since she was a puppy, Kerith has been the bubbliest, most joyful dog, and her mom always knew that she was born to help people.
Kerith was originally being trained to be a guide dog for individuals who are blind, but ended up changing career paths to become a therapy dog instead. For the past year she’s been working with local firefighters, providing them comfort in times of need — and with the recent wildfires spreading across California, they need her now more than ever.
“Kerith has been going to base camps where the crews start their day before they roll out to fight one of the many wildfires in CA,” Carman said. “She lightens the mood first thing in the morning. We walk around to visit all the crews while they are getting ready for their day of fighting fires. Everyone wants to see her to get some love.”
As the fires rage across California, the firefighters’ jobs become more and more stressful as they work hard every moment of the day to save homes and lives. Kerith provides them a moment of relief and joy from the realities of their job — and when many of them see her, they can’t help but envelop her in a huge hug.
Kerith loves all her firefighter friends so much, and is more than happy to let them hug her close. She seems to know that what she’s doing is important, and that the hugs she’s getting are more than just hugs. She’s helping to bring comfort when the firefighters need it most.
“Kerith clearly loves what she is doing,” Carman said. “When she sees a fire engine she gets so excited because she knows she is going to see her firefighter friends.”
Hopefully the wildfires will be under control soon, but until then, Kerith will continue to give her firefighter friends as many hugs as they need.
I find it amazing that there are dogs such as Kerith who love to be loved. Now plenty of dogs fall into that category but Kerith is part of a team; the rest of the team are human and working their backsides off fighting fires.
I will leave you for today with a random photograph I found from the ABC News website of one of those fires in California.
Roll on the rain!
And a photograph taken at 11am PDT today of the hills to the East. It includes our own property.
It shows the extent of the smoke; the nearest run of trees across the photograph are on our property.
Still continuing with another dog-free day because this is a supremely important topic: Dementia.
I’m well into my 75th year and have poor recall. I do everything to fight the loss of memory. We are vegan, or technically pescatarian, we both go to the nearby Club Northwest twice a week and I ride my bike every other day.
The number of cases of dementia in the U.S. is rising as baby boomers age, raising questions for boomers themselves and also for their families, caregivers and society. Dementia, which is not technically a disease but a term for impaired ability to think, remember or make decisions, is one of the most feared impairments of old age.
Incidence increases dramatically as people move into their 90s. About 5% of those age 71 to 79 have dementia, and about 37% of those about 90 years old live with it.
Older people may worry about their own loss of function as well as the cost and toll of caregiving for someone with dementia. A 2018 study estimated that the lifetime cost of care for a person with Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia, to be US$329,360. That figure, too, will no doubt rise, putting even more burdens on family, Medicare and Medicaid.
There’s also been a good deal of talk and reporting about dementia in recent months because of the U.S. presidential election. Some voters have asked whether one or both candidates might have dementia. But, is this even a fair question to ask? When these types of questions are posed – adding further stigma to people with dementia – it can unfairly further isolate them and those caring for them. We need to understand dementia and the impact it has on more than 5 million people in the U.S. who now live with dementia and their caregivers. That number is expected to triple by 2060.
First, it is important to know that dementia cannot be diagnosed from afar or by someone who is not a doctor. A person needs a detailed doctor’s exam for a diagnosis. Sometimes, brain imaging is required. And, forgetting an occasional word – or even where you put your keys – does not mean a person has dementia. There are different types of memory loss and they can have different causes, such as other medical conditions, falls or even medication, including herbals, supplements and anything over-the-counter.
Older people wonder and worry about so-called senior moments and the memory loss they perceive in themselves and others. I see patients like this every week in my geriatric clinic, where they tell me their stories. They forget a word, get lost in a story, lose keys or can’t remember a name. Details vary, but the underlying concern is the same: Is this dementia?
Normal memory loss
As we age, we experience many physical and cognitive changes. Older people often have a decrease in recall memory. This is normal. Ever have trouble fetching a fact from the deep back part of your “mind’s Rolodex”? Suppose you spot someone at the grocery store you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you recognize the face, but don’t remember their name until later that night. This is normal, part of the expected changes with aging.
What’s more of a potential problem is forgetting the name of someone you see every day; forgetting how to get to a place you visit frequently; or having problems with your activities of daily living, like eating, dressing and hygiene.
When you have troubles with memory – but they don’t interfere with your daily activities – this is called mild cognitive impairment. Your primary care doctor can diagnose it. But sometimes it gets worse, so your doctor should follow you closely if you have mild cognitive impairment.
You want to note the timing of any impairment. Was there a gradual decline? Or did it happen all of a sudden? This too you should discuss with your doctor, who might recommend the MoCA, or Montreal Cognitive Assessment test, which screens for memory problems and helps determine if more evaluation is needed.
When memory loss interferes with daily activities, see your doctor about what to do and how to make sure you’re safe at home.
There are numerous types of severe memory loss. Dementia tends to be a slow-moving progression that occurs over months or years. Delirium is more sudden and can occur over hours or days, usually when you have an acute illness. Depression can also cause memory changes, particularly as we get older.
Dementia and other brain issues
Alzheimer’s dementia is the most common type of dementia, followed by vascular dementia. They have similar symptoms: confusion, getting lost, forgetting close friends or family, or an inability to do calculations like balance the checkbook. Certain medical conditions – thyroid disorders, syphilis – can lead to dementia symptoms, and less common types of dementia can have different kinds of symptoms. Alzheimer’s has a distinct set of symptoms often associated with certain changes in the brain.
Focusing on safety and appropriate supervision, particularly in the home, is critical for all people with dementia. Your doctor or a social worker can help you find support.
It’s also important to be aware of two other things that can lead to decreased mental functioning – delirium and depression.
Delirium, a rapid change in cognition or mental functioning, can occur in people with an acute medical illness, like pneumonia or even COVID-19 infection. Delirium can occur in patients in the hospital or at home. Risk for delirium increases with age or previous brain injuries; symptoms include decreased attention span and memory issues.
Depression can happen at any time, but it’s more common with aging. How can you tell if you’re depressed? Here’s one simple definition: when your mood remains low and you’ve lost interest or joy in activities you once loved.
Sometimes people have recurring episodes of depression; sometimes, it’s prolonged grieving that becomes depression. Symptoms include anxiety, hopelessness, low energy and problems with memory. If you notice signs of depression in yourself or a loved one, see your doctor. If you have any thoughts of harming yourself, call 911 to get help instantly.
Any of these conditions can be frightening. But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
And, as with any disease or disease group, dementia is not a “character flaw,” and the term should not be used to criticize a person. Dementia is a serious medical diagnosis – ask those who have it, the loved ones who care for them or any of us who treat them. Having dementia is challenging. Learn what you can do to support those with dementia in your own community.
Please, if you are of the age where this is more than an academic interest then read the article carefully and especially that piece of advice towards the end:
But even more frightening is unrecognized or unacknowledged dementia. You must, openly and honestly, discuss changes you notice in your memory or thinking with your doctor. It’s the first step toward figuring out what is happening and making sure your health is the best it can be.
As is said growing old is not for cissies.
None of us can put off the fateful day when we will die and in our case we do not believe in any form of afterlife, in other words we are confirmed atheists, so all we can do is to live out our remaining years as healthily as possible and loving each other and our precious animals.
But having said that I know that all of us want to live out our lives with healthy, active brains and it’s clear that we can’t leave it to chance.
In closing, I recently purchased the book Outsmart Your Brain written by Dr. Ginger Schechter (and others). It was just $9.99 and contains much advice regarding the best foods and exercise for a healthy brain. I recommend it!
I came upon Elizabeth when she left a comment to my post on the 26th August, The science of dog learning.
This is what she wrote:
Reblogged this on The Last Chapter and commented:
Please visit Paul’s website, something new to read and learn each day. Thank you Paul for bringing your site to the blogging world.
Naturally, I replied:
Elizabeth, thank you for leaving your response, and thank you so much for your republication of my post. I read a little about yourself and, I must say, found it fascinating. And your poem The Last Chapter – wow!
Now I will hopefully republish The Last Chapter for another day. (And I have now heard that I have permission to republish it!)
But today, I want to publish the words of Elizabeth in writing about her dear, dear, recently departed dog.
Mason Murphree was born on January 31, 2012; what can one say about Mason, I bought him off the back of a pick-up truck, only two pups left out of the litter I held both in my hands as they lay upon my chest; one yellow and the other white. I did not see their mother or father; I was told that the father was Bichon Frise and his mother Shih Tzu. The white one instantly begins to crawl into my sports bra, nuzzled himself against my warm flesh and I was instantly in love.
I did not believe that he was six-weeks-old he was still wobbly on his feet when trying to walk. I made him what the old folks call a “Sugar Tit”, a rag rolled on the end tightly and the tip soaked in warm sweet milk. I fed him laying on his back in my hand for a week, the second week I started him on baby food. Then, what I thought to be the seventh-week, he begins to walk with unsteady confidence and I thought was ready for the big world around him.
I found quickly that he had a set of razor-sharp teeth, yep, time for the hard bits of puppy food. I took him to the Vet when I brought him home, and he was given an “A” in health. But, I am getting ahead of myself. When I brought him home I sat him on a potty pad he used until he was six-months-old, then he discovered grass. I might add that in the nine years he was with me he never did his business in the house.
Alas, it was his six-month birthday, and his first time to the groomer, which I found that he had to be calmed down by medicine to get groomed. It was not too long until the Vet announced that he was out of this world’s atmosphere with anxiety. He had “MaMa” withdrawal big time when he was not with me. He would bark for half-an-hour before settling down to wait for me to come back from the store, gym, or anywhere I had gone! He disliked children, anyone less than teenagers. He loved every adult he met. He begins life attached to my hip and me to his.
Mason loved paper products; he would wait patiently to see if anyone would drop a Kleenex, paper towel, or napkin. The pursuit would begin chasing a four-legged speed demon around the floor, me never winning. We called him the Tasmanian devil, and he looked like it when he tried to defend his catch of the day. It was impossible to go on vacation without him; he would stay with one of his two-legged siblings. Of course, that was only for one day, he would accept his situation for about twenty-four-hours, then once again turn into the Tasmanian devil, the telephones would ring trying to find him another place to stay, he traveled back and forth from house to house until my return. A chore to his brothers and sisters, but finally he must have thought he had caused enough trouble for me to return home, and he did.
He loved everyone he met except children, let me explain; when he was six-months-old I took him to the park. On the playground were about a dozen small children, when they spied him, they came running. He jumped up for me to protect him, and that was that. He loved his favorite human friends and his family.
He was the best companion anyone could have; his personality was so individual those who would see him thought he would start talking at any moment. He look intently at you when you were talking, always smiling. He thought he was a Great Dane when in his protection mode, but a clap of lighting and boisterous thunder would send him under my feet. He loved to walk; he loved all the trees on his block and several other blocks.
I won’t describe Mason’s death other than it was quick and painless, he got to spend one day saying good-bye to his two-legged brothers and sisters. We covered our faces and our tears and sadness until we walked away, he knew. As his MaMa, I watched him go from a lively, wonderful, sweet little dog to one that was holding on to every minute waiting for his family to arrive. There are not enough words for me to describe the heartache and loneliness with him gone.
My heart feels much like a patchwork quilt, many little pieces sewn back together after being shattered. Saying good-bye, he took a piece of my heart and soul with him. I know that I will see him again, that is the only thing I have to hold on to this moment. And, that is how I am living my life one moment at a time until I see my four-legged fur baby again. He loved and he was loved.
Sweet dreams little boy.
How we become so attached to our dogs. Elizabeth not only was beautifully attached to Mason but also wrote perfect words in her tribute.
So who is Elizabeth Ann Johnson-Murphree?
This is her biography but it doesn’t really tell me who she is; in a feeling, living, emotional sense. I suspect one has to read her writings to learn more.
Born in Alabama to a Native American father and an emotionally absent mother.
Raised by her father, her Native American Great-grandmother, her Aunt, and an African-American woman, all magnificent storytellers. Her childhood was filled with listening to the stories her great-grandmother would tell about the grandfathers and grandmothers that perished on the Trail of Tears, of she and the grandmother living in the slave quarters in northern Alabama.
Aunt Francis needed a home when her son went to prison, she would tell the stories of her parents being slaves and how she survived the Civil War. Aunt Vina, her father’s sister a fantastic storyteller; she could bring together characters and build a story that would have you at the edge of your chair, only to find it was all fiction.
As a child, Elizabeth ran free in the woods, fields, and the caves below Burleson Mountain where she grew up. Elizabeth has been writing all of her life, seriously since 2010. She has published a memoir about her daughter who passed in 2010; a small coffee table book filled with pictures of her precious Mason, and ten books of poetry. Her poetry is filled with happiness, sadness, spirit, and anger. The memoir is the private life of her daughter, living with bipolar, and schizophrenia. The books of poetry range from light to darkness that appeared during the creation of each book.
That is a special post, as I said at the start.
I look forward immensely to sharing with you Elizabeth’s poetry.
Dog lovers have two fears in their hearts: their dog dying and their dog going missing.
I think in many ways a dog going missing is the more difficult of the two to handle. There are so many questions unanswered!
So when The Dodo published this story earlier this Summer I immediately put it in my ‘blog’ folder. Somehow I overlooked the story but that is remedied today!
Dog Is Overjoyed To Reunite With His Mom After 2 Years Apart.
“[He] looked me straight in the eyes as if he was saying, ‘I gotta see that this is really you.’”
By Lily Feinn
Published on 7/1/2020.
Two years ago, Linda Harmon’s beloved dog Twixx went missing from her yard.
Twixx had been a bit of an escape artist, known for digging tunnels under the fence. That’s how he ended up with a little scar on the top of his head.
Harmon’s husband had recently installed metal posts around the fence making it impossible for Twixx to get out. After checking the gate and the fence, they couldn’t find any signs of tampering — it was as if Twixx had just disappeared.
Harmon began searching the neighborhood, making posters, posting on Facebook and checking with the local animal control. Then a woman who had been following Twixx’s story on Facebook reached out to Harmon via text.
“She said, ‘I’m so sorry to send you this, but I found your Twixx. He’s been hit on the side of the road and here’s his picture,’” Harmon told The Dodo. The woman sent Harmon a photo of the top of the dog’s head, and there was Twixx’s little scar.
Harmon reported Twixx as deceased to the microchip company, but still had difficulty accepting that he was really gone. “I never truly believed it in my heart,” Harmon said. “My husband said, ‘You’ve got to let this go. You’re grieving over him.’ But I said I would never get another dog and I didn’t for two years.”
Then, earlier this month, Harmon was sitting with her church group when a miracle happened — she received a call from the local animal shelter asking if she had ever owned a chipped pet.
“I just started bawling. I was crying endlessly, and I was around quite a few church members and they rushed to me, thinking I had bad news,” Harmon said. “But when they looked at me I was smiling.”
After so long apart, Harmon worried that Twixx wouldn’t remember her. And the last thing she wanted was to make her dog feel scared or uncomfortable.
So the shelter came up with a plan: When Harmon came to pick up Twixx, they would hold him behind the gate while she called his name, and shelter staffers would watch the dog’s reaction.
When Twixx arrived at the shelter gate, Harmon began to gently say his nickname — Tootaroota — and as soon as the dog heard her, he put his snout on the ground as if sniffing for his mom.
“Finally, when I bellowed out ‘Twixx’ he ran to the gate and stood at attention,” Harmon said. “And I heard the lady say, ‘Let him out because he’s trying to find her.’”
As soon as they opened the gate, Twixx turned the corner and ran straight to his mom. It was as if he remembered every minute they had spent together, and the two years apart faded away.
“He couldn’t stop wiggling — oh my goodness — and he just jumped on me,” Harmon said. “Then he laid his head in my arms and looked me straight in the eyes as if he was saying, ‘I gotta see that this is really you.’”
Soon everyone watching the reunion had tears in their eyes — including Harmon.
Now, Twixx is home safe and sound with the family that loves him. And he hasn’t dug another hole since.
Dogs store the scents of humans that have loved them forever. In a very real sense it is part of their memory system albeit it is very different to the memories that you and I have. For dogs have a scenting ability, call in a nose, that is 100 million times better than ours. It is impossible for us humans to truly comprehend what that means to a dog.
But Twixx demonstrated this superbly because the first thing he did was to “put his snout on the ground as if sniffing for his mom.”
What a Crowdsourced Study Taught Us About How Dogs Learn
A new study looks at the genes that underlie traits from self control to communication
By Viviane Callier, July 31, 2020
Thousands of years of selective dog breeding has created a fantastic diversity of domestic canine companions, from the workaholic border collie to the perky Pomeranian. In cultures around the world, humans bred different dogs to be good at tasks including guarding, hunting and herding. Later, in Victorian England, kennel clubs established breed standards related not only to their behavior, but also their appearance.
As genomic sequencing has become more affordable, scientists have begun to understand the genes behind physical features such as body shape and size. But understanding the genes behind dog cognition—the mental processes that underlie dogs’ ability to learn, reason, communicate, remember, and solve problems—is a much trickier and thornier task. Now, in a pair of new studies published in Animal Cognition and in Integrative and Comparative Biology, a team of researchers has begun to quantify just how much variation in dog cognition exists, and to show how much of it has a genetic basis.
To study canine cognition, the studies’ authors turned to publicly available genetic information from a 2017 study, and a large community science project, Dognition.com, in which dog owners tested their own pets. “These papers offer an exciting integration of two forms of big data,” says Jeff Stevens, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who was not involved in the study.
Previous studies often compared cognition in one breed against another using small sample sizes of dogs from each. This study, by contrast, is the first to examine the variation in cognition across three dozen breeds, and the genetic basis of that variation, explains Evan MacLean, a comparative psychologist at the University of Arizona who oversaw the pair of new studies. MacLean says dog breeds may be an ideal way to study the heritability of cognitive traits because breeds—all part of the same species—represent close genetic relatives with an incredibly diverse range of appearances and behaviors.
To gather a sufficient amount of data on how dogs reason and solve problems, the researchers looked to the Dognition.com portal. The initiative, created by Duke University dog researcher Brian Hare, started with tests in the lab. Researchers developed methods to understand how dogs think. They then stripped those methods down, and simplified them for dog owners to do themselves. In an earlier project, the researchers tested dogs in the lab and compared their results to those from owners testing the same dog at home. The results were the same, giving them confidence that the results from the citizen science project were reliable.
To participate in this project, dog owners tested their pups on 11 standardized tasks used by animal behaviorists on a variety of species that reflect four aspects of cognition: inhibitory control, communication, memory and physical reasoning. One task that measured inhibitory control, for example, involved having an owner put a treat on the floor in front of the dog and then verbally forbidding the dog from taking it. The owner then measured how long the dog would wait before eating the treat. In a task to assess communication skills, the dog owner placed two treats on the ground and gestured towards one of them. The owner then determined if the dog approached the indicated treat. To assess memory, the owner visibly placed food under one of two cups, waited for a few minutes, and then determined if the dog remembered which cup the food was placed under. To test physical reasoning, the owner hid food under one of two cups, out of view of the dog. The owner lifted the empty cup to show the dog that there was no food and then assessed whether the dog approached the cup with the food underneath.
The participating dog owners reported their dog’s scores and breed, producing a dataset with 1,508 dogs across 36 breeds. The researchers analyzed the scores and found that about 70 percent of the variance in inhibitory control was heritable, or attributable to genes. Communication was about 50 percent heritable, while memory and physical reasoning were about 20 percent heritable.
“What’s so cool about that is these two traits that are highly heritable [control and communication] are those that are thought to be linked to dogs’ domestication process,” says Zachary Silver, a graduate student in the Canine Cognition Center at Yale who was not involved in the study.
Dogs are better at following humans’ communicative cues than wolves, and this is something that seems to be highly heritable, explains Silver. In contrast, there’s some evidence that wolves are better than dogs at physical reasoning.
Some of these traits are also influenced by environment and how the dog was handled as a puppy, so there are both genetic and environmental components. In fact, there is so much environmental and experiential influence on these traits that Gitanjali Gnanadesikan, a graduate student in MacLean’s lab and lead author of the new studies, cautions against the idea that these findings support certain breed restrictions or stereotypes. “Even the highly heritable traits have a lot of room for environmental influence,” she says. “This shouldn’t be interpreted as, ‘each of these breeds is just the way they are, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.’”
In the same way that women are on average shorter than men, but there’s quite a lot of overlapping variation within each sex, dog breeds also show a lot of variation within each breed that overlaps with variation among breeds.
Previous work has linked differences in inhibitory control to the estimated size of dogs’ brains. Comparative studies across many different species, ranging from tiny rodents to elephants and chimpanzees, also show that some aspects of self-control are strongly related to brain size. The bigger the brain size, the more self-control the animals seem to have, MacLean says.
Stevens notes that a lot of things—not just inhibitory control—correlate with brain size across species. And brain size, metabolic rate, lifespan, home range size are all correlated with body size. When many traits are correlated with each other, it is not clear which of these factors may underlie the cognitive differences. So there are a number of questions remaining to be explored.
After showing the degree to which different aspects of dog cognition are heritable, Gnanadesikan and MacLean used publicly available information on the genomes of dog breeds to search for genetic variation that was associated with the cognitive traits of interest. The researchers found that, like many other complex traits, there were many genes, each with small effect, that contribute to dogs’ cognitive traits. That is in contrast to morphological features in dogs; about 50 percent of variation in dog body size can be accounted for by variation in a single gene.
One of the limitations of the study is that the researchers did not have cognitive and genetic information from the same dogs; the genomes were breed averages. In the future, the researchers are planning to collect genetic data from the very same dogs that are completing the cognitive tests, to get measures of cognitive and genetic variation at the level of individual dogs. “This gives us a roadmap for places that we might want to look at more carefully in the future,” MacLean explains.
Now this is an article that deserves to be read carefully so if you are in a hurry bookmark this and wait until you can sit and absorb the messages the article contains.
I was minded to look up Gitanjali’s details and I am glad I did. These are the details:
I am an evolutionary biologist and comparative psychologist who is interested in social behavior and cognition. I work with Evan MacLean in the Arizona Canine Cognition Center studying the development and evolution of behavior and cognition in dogs and wolves.
I think I will reach out to her and see if she has more information she would like to share with us all.